Sunday, May 26, 2019

'No words to express our shame': 
Polish bishops apologize for abuse

 May 22, 2019
by Jonathan Luxmoore, Catholic News Service AccountabilityWorld

 Polish Archbishop Wojciech Polak of Gniezno speaks during a news conference in Warsaw May 22, 2019, after bishops met to discuss steps the Catholic Church will take to tackle the problem of clergy sex abuse. (CNS/Agencja Gazeta, Slawomir Kaminski via Reuters) WARSAW, POLAND

WARSAW, POLAND — The Polish bishops' administrative council met in emergency session May 22 and later admitted the church failed to act against clerical sexual abuse.
The meeting came amid outrage over a two-hour documentary, "Just Don't Tell Anyone," that included drastic accounts of cover-up of clerical sex abuse in Poland. The film had more than 19 million views within six days of its May 11 YouTube posting.
"The whole church community in Poland has been shaken by the latest painful information — these crimes have caused deep suffering for harmed people," the bishops said in a pastoral letter to be read in parishes nationwide May 26.
"There are no words to express our shame at the sexual scandals clergy have participated in. They are a source of great evil and demand total condemnation, as well as severe consequences for the criminals and for those who concealed such acts."
The bishops said they had been "deeply affected" by "shocking testimonies" in the film, as well as by its portrayal of a "lack of sympathy, sinful neglect and myopia" shown toward abuse victims.
It added that Catholic clergy and laity now had to act together in support of victims and to "rebuild trust in priests and bishops" in Poland.
"Everyone with any sensitivity, hearing of the fate of these harmed people, will feel pain, emotion and sadness toward their suffering, and we thank all those who have had the courage to speak about it," the bishops said.
"We admit that, as pastors of the church, we did not do everything to prevent this hurt. For many faithful, especially young people sincerely seeking God, sexual scandals involving clergy have been a heavy challenge to faith and a cause of terrible outrage."
The two-hour film, made with internet fundraising by investigative journalist Tomasz Sekielski, was the first that graphically detailed the cover-up of sexual abuse in the Polish church and follows a cinema drama on church corruption, "Kler" (Clergy), which broke box-office records last fall.
Besides alleging prevalent child sexual abuse, it shows the evasive behavior of perpetrators when confronted by victims and links abuse with secretive church structures and procedures.
The film, which makes accusations against Fr. Franciszek Cybula, personal chaplain to former President Lech Walesa, also accuses several bishops and archbishops of concealing abusive clergy from law enforcement and says priests continued working with children and celebrating Mass despite being sentenced for abuse and defrocked by the church.
Speaking in mid-May, Sekielski said he was negotiating with Netflix to distribute the film, which has since been broadcast on two Polish TV channels. He also said he was considering a whole documentary series.
Several dioceses and religious orders also issued statements in response to the film's claims.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Pope Francis may alow married Catholic men as Priests

Della Gallagher
March 10, 2017

Rome (CNN)Pope Francis has said he is open to married men becoming priests to combat the Roman Catholic Church's shortage of clergy.

In an interview with German newspaper Die Zeit, Pope Francis said the lack of Catholic priests was an "enormous problem" for the Church, and indicated he would be open to a change in the rules governing eligibility for the priesthood.

"We need to consider if 'viri probati' could be a possibility," he said. "If so, we would need to determine what duties they could undertake, for example, in remote communities."

Viri probati is the Latin term for "tested men" or married men of outstanding faith and virtue.

The option would allow men who are already married to be ordained as priests. But single men who are already priests would not be allowed to marry, according to the Pope.

"Voluntary celibacy is not a solution," he said.

The Catholic Church already allows some married men to be ordained priests.

Protestant married priests who convert to Catholicism can continue to be married and be a Roman Catholic priest, providing they have their wives' permission.

And Eastern Catholic churches that are in communion with the Roman Catholic Church can also maintain their tradition of married priests.

The Roman Catholic Church believes priests should not marry based on certain passages in the Bible, and because it believes that the priest acts "in persona Christi" (in the person of Christ) and should therefore be celibate, like Christ.

This teaching was re-affirmed by St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis in his book, "On Heaven and Earth," said that "For the time being, I am in favor of maintaining celibacy with the pros and cons that it has, because it has been ten centuries of good experiences more often than failure."

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

"Make the Mass Latin Again" - the Pope Francis backlash comes home

Kaya Oakes
Religion Dispatches
January 4, 2017

On December 3, 2016, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone confirmed sixteen Catholics, both young and mature adults, at Mary Star of the Sea Church in San Francisco.

There would be nothing notable about an Archbishop performing a confirmation ceremony except for this: according to the Traditional Latin Mass Society of San Francisco, it was the first confirmation in San Francisco performed in Latin—the “Extraordinary Form” of the Catholic Mass—since the reforms of Vatican II in the 1960s.

The San Francisco diocesan newsletter ran only a small blurb about the event, stating that the people being confirmed had been undergoing instruction in Catholicism from Rev. Bill Young at Saint Monica church, which is one of two parishes in San Francisco that regularly offer a Latin Mass. The confirmation class made a special request of the Archbishop in 2014 that they would be confirmed in the Extraordinary rite.

Cordileone has long had an interest in reviving the Latin Mass. In 2014, just a year after Pope Francis was elected, Cordileone told Latin Mass Magazine that when he chose to celebrate Mass in Latin, he was promoting the vision of the recently resigned Pope Benedict: “to make this form of the Mass more easily available” and “to promote it” as a “useful tool of evangelization.” When asked if Latin Mass would continue to appeal to small groups of people “at odd hours in out of the way locations,” Cordileone said that younger Catholics who might be drawn to Latin Mass “did not go through liturgy wars” after Vatican II and “are not jaded by that.”

When Cordileone was installed as Archbishop of San Francisco in 2012, the principle co-consecrator was Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, who has mentored Cordileone for many years and is also an enthusiast for the pre Vatican II form of worship. And just a few weeks before Cordileone performed the Latin Mass confirmation, Burke was among four cardinals who announced to the media that they had filed a “dubia”—a request for formal clarification—with Pope Francis regarding Amoris Laetitia, the pope’s recent exhortation on families.

Particularly, the four cardinals were concerned about actions perceived to be “intrinsically evil,” including communion for the divorced and remarried. When they failed to get a response from the pope, they alerted the media. The Catholic Herald noted it is highly unusual for cardinals to “go public like this.”

But “going public” is long what Cardinal Burke has tended to do. Known for his love of silk, brocade, lace, and other forms of Catholic clerical fashion, Burke, who was created cardinal by Pope Benedict in 2010, rose to prominence as one of the American church’s “culture warriors,” stating that the “feminized” church has a “man crisis,” suggesting families should not allow their children to have contact with “evil” gay family members, stating that Catholic politicians John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi should be denied communion, and serving on the advisory board to the Human Dignity Institute, which invited Steve Bannon to a conference at the Vatican in 2014.

More recently, Burke has remained in the public eye for his repeated criticisms of Pope Francis’ attempts at church reform. Francis has responded in kind by demoting Burke from the highest Vatican court in 2014 and demoting him again from the Congregation for Divine Worship in 2016. Burke is currently the prefect of the Knights of Malta, which is under investigation for dismissing an official. Burke was at the meeting where the official was asked to resign and claimed the pope was behind the request for resignation, which turns out to be a lie.

Meanwhile, in October of last year, Pope Francis elevated three Americans to cardinals, including Chicago’s Archbishop Blaise Cupich and Indiana’s Joseph Tobin. In both cases, the new cardinals represent Francis’ vision for the church, not Burke’s or Cordileone’s. Both have made immigrant rights a top priority; Tobin battled Mike Pence on the issue, and Cupich asked the USCCB to make immigration a key priority (America magazine’s Mike O’Loughlin notes that “[Cupich’s] request was denied”). Cupich is also a vocal supporter of the activist priest Fr. Michael Pfleger, who has fought back against gun violence in Chicago. Tobin, who worked at the Vatican during the investigation of American women religious and criticized the investigation, is also an open supporter of women’s ordination to the diaconate.

Cordileone, meanwhile, who was considered to be a rising star in the church under Pope Benedict, has mostly gone quiet since the controversy he created in 2015. At that time, he tried to re-classify Catholic school teachers as ministers who would have to abide by church teaching on marriage and same sex relationships, even if those teachers were not Catholic. Cordileone also failed to reverse Fr Joseph Illo’s ban on altar girls at Star of the Sea parish in the same year. This followed his earlier role in getting Proposition 8 passed and his joking statement in 2015 that “more genders will be invented” as time goes on. Those actions resulted in a full page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle signed by 100 Catholics, asking Pope Francis to remove Archbishop Cordileone.

Instead of removing Cordileone, the pope elevated San Francisco’s auxiliary bishop Robert McElroy to bishop of San Diego, Cordileone’s former diocese. McElroy, like Cardinals Cupich and Tobin, is a “social justice” bishop who said in a talk last year that being judgmental is a “cardinal sin for religion,” and he has frequently put poverty, not abortion or same sex relationships, at the forefront of the issues he thinks Catholics should be most concerned about.

Turmoil in the San Francisco seminary, however, reveals how smaller-town power players like Cordileone can have an impact even when they’re unlikely to receive a red hat. St. Patrick’s seminary has been run by the religious order of the Sulpicians since 1898. Like most dioceses, San Francisco has seen a precipitous drop in the number of seminarians in formation, and there are currently only 93 students enrolled. The Sulpicians were informed in October of last year “that we are no longer invited to provide Sulpician administrative leadership to St Patrick’s,” and the rector, Fr. James McKearney, was forced to resign, in a decision that “just came out of the blue for reasons that are still not clear.”

Cordileone appointed new seminary staff from among the higher ups in the dioceses of San Francisco and San Jose, including Jesuit Fr. John Piderit as the seminary’s vice president for administration. Piderit is the former president of Loyola University in Chicago, and in 2000, he stepped down from that position after budget crises at Loyola brought the university nearly to the breaking point and calls for his removal were heard from faculty, staff and students. As professor Paul Jay put it at the time, “people will be very relieved to have the nightmare over.” Piderit’s biography at the San Francisco archdiocese’s website, however, mentions only that he “induced significant cost-cutting at Loyola.”

Cordileone also announced in 2014 that the seminary would be the home to the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music, where lay people could be formed for ministering in the church, with a special emphasis on the Extraordinary Rite and Gregorian chant. However, the institute’s website two years later still says “full site coming soon,” with a video featuring stock music rather than chant, and its Facebook page has not been updated since 2014.

Articles about the turmoil at the seminary repeatedly mention that Cordileone intends for a greater focus on Latin in priestly formation. But only two parishes in San Francisco continue to offer Latin Mass, leaving an open question: if the archbishop intends to train more priests in the Extraordinary Rite, where will they serve, and whom will they serve?

When it comes to continued calls for more availability of Latin Mass from Burke, Cordileone and other prelates, Pope Francis is paying attention. In July of last year, after Cardinal Robert Sarah called for priests to return to consecrations “ad orientum,” facing away from the people, Francis told Antonio Spadaro S.J. that Pope Benedict’s call for recognizing a return to old forms of worship was “right and magnanimous.” However, Francis, who called any attempt to return the church norm to Latin mass “an error,” was more pointed in his criticism:

I always try to understand what is behind persons who are too young to have experienced the preconciliar liturgy but who nevertheless want it. At times, I find myself in front of persons who are very rigid, an attitude of rigidity. And I ask myself: How come such rigidity? This rigidity always hides something: insecurity, or at times something else…. Rigidity is defensive. True love is not rigid.

Even former Catholic-turned-Orthodox conservative writer Rod Dreher admitted last year that Americans may have reached “peak Latin Mass”; attendance rose for a bit when it was offered in more parishes, then appeared to flatline. Dreher says the risk is similar to that of American Orthodox churches, and that Latin Mass has become a “boutique niche.”

For right now, however, Latin Mass has become one more chess piece in the war for Catholic cultural identity in America. On the one side, Pope Francis is making his moves, elevating bishops like Cupich and Tobin, keeping an eye on the “rigid” and “defensive” Catholics calling for a return to old ways of worshipping. On the other side, Cardinal Burke and the others are using tactics like the dubia to try and force the Pope to bend to their will, while many US bishops stubbornly refuse to recognize the fact that they increasingly lead a church of immigrants who could care less about brocade or lace when their very existence in this country is being threatened by the president-elect and his cabinet.

The white, elderly, conservative leaders of the American church are a vocal minority, as are those who insist that Latin mass will somehow make a miraculous comeback leading to the salvation of the rapidly shrinking American Catholic church. The seminarians who learn to perform it will stand in front of parishes that are increasingly made up of speakers of Spanish, Tagalog, and multiple Asian and African languages.

Yes, at one point Latin was a universal language in the church. But that point is long gone. If “Make America Great Again” was based on a return to a glorious but largely mythological past, “Make the Mass Latin Again” is likewise a callback to a mythological past of Catholicism. There’s beauty in mythology, to be sure. But there is also grave danger in believing mythologies can save broken institutions. They are merely bandages covering bleeding wounds, and Jesus, who knew Latin only as the language of the empire that killed him, would probably agree.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Brazil may soon have married priests says Leonardo Boff

Christa Pongratz-Lippitt
National Catholic Reporter
December 30, 2016

Pope Francis may soon fulfill the Brazilian bishops' special request to allow married priests to resume their priestly ministry, liberation theologian Leonardo Boff said in a Dec. 25 interview in the German daily Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger. "The Brazilian bishops, especially the pope's close friend Cardinal Claudio Hummes, have expressly requested Pope Francis to enable married priests in Brazil to return to their pastoral ministry," Boff said. "I have recently heard that the pope wants to fulfil this request — as an experimental, preliminary phase for the moment confined to Brazil."

With its 140 million Catholics, Brazil needs at least 100,000 priests but it only has 1,800, which is a "catastrophe," Boff said. "No wonder the faithful are going over to the evangelical churches or to the Pentecostals in droves, as they are filling the personnel vacuum. If the many thousands of priests who have married are once again allowed to practice their ministry, that would be a first step to improving the situation but at the same time also an impulse for the church to free itself of the fetters of celibacy."

Asked if he, as a former Franciscan, would reassume his priestly ministry should the pope decide to acquiesce to the Brazilian bishops' request, Boff replied, "I personally do not need such a decision. It would not change anything for me as I have continued to do what I have always done: I baptize, bury and when I come to a community that has no priest, I celebrate Mass with the faithful. Up to now, as far as I know, no bishop has ever objected, let alone forbidden me to do this. On the contrary, bishops often tell me to keep it up, as people have a right to the Eucharist."

The late Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, under whom Boff studied theology, had always been very open on this issue, Boff said. Whenever Arns noticed married priests in the pews, he would invite them to come up to the altar and concelebrate with him, saying, "They are still priests and they will remain priests!"

As far as inner-church reforms were concerned, it is possible that the pope has further surprises up his sleeve, Boff said.

"Only recently, Cardinal Walter Kasper, who is close to the pope, said we could expect some big surprises shortly. So, who knows, maybe we can expect women deacons?"

Francis has sought reconciliation with the most important representatives of liberation theology, Dominican Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez, Jesuit Fr. Jon Sobrino and himself, Boff said.

"Francis is one of us. He has made liberation theology the common property of the church and he has, moreover, extended it," Boff said. "Whosoever speaks of the poor nowadays must also speak of our planet Earth, which is being plundered and desecrated. To hear the cry of the poor means to hear the cries of animals, trees and the whole of tortured creation and Pope Francis says we must hear the cry of both the poor and of creation. That is what is principally new in Laudato Si'."

According to Boff, Francis asked the theologian to send material for the pope to use in the environmental encyclical, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home." Francis called and thanked Boff the day before the encyclical was published in May 2015.

Boff admitted that Francis is experiencing fierce opposition from within his own ranks, "particularly from the USA."

U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, along with German Cardinal Joachim Meisner, has "once again" written to the pope, said Boff, who called Burke the "Donald Trump of the Catholic church." But unlike Trump, Boff said, Burke has now been "sidelined" in the Roman Curia.

Burke and Meisner were two of four cardinals who sent Francis a letter, made public in November, questioning the pope's teaching in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Some have interpreted the letter, along with some of Burke's public comments, as accusing Francis of heresy, though Burke has denied making such a charge.

"The way Burke has behaved is unusual, although not absolutely unprecedented in the course of church history," Boff said. "One can criticize the pope and argue with him. I have done so myself often enough. But for cardinals to publicly accuse the pope of disseminating erroneous theology, let alone heresy, is too much. That is an affront that a pope cannot tolerate."

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

While Francis frustrates foes with silence, Fr. Antonio Spadaro nails them with tweets

David Gibson
Religion News Service
December 27, 2016

Since the moment he was elected in 2013, Pope Francis has sought to steer the Catholic church away from a focus on doctrinal rules and formulas and toward a more pastoral ministry — a campaign that has sparked widespread hand-wringing among traditionalists and unusually public opposition to the pontiff.

In recent weeks, however, the critics have grown bolder and more demanding than ever as several conservative cardinals and various pundits have issued warnings that Francis may be leading the church into heresy and schism.

They have openly speculated about how Francis could be disciplined, or if he should resign for incompetence — basically, the sort of topics that haven’t been bandied about in Catholic circles in the last 1,000 years or so.

So far, Francis himself has declined to engage his foes directly, preferring to let his writings, periodic interviews and daily sermons speak for themselves.

Yet Francis is hardy without champions in what some are calling a “Catholic civil war,” with perhaps the most prominent and vocal among them a soft-spoken Italian priest, Fr. Antonio Spadaro.

Indeed, Spadaro is so ubiquitous in his mission to defend the pontiff that critics like to call him “the pope’s mouthpiece” — a label seemingly designed to undermine Francis by denoting Spadaro as a kind of papal puppet master, as well as making Spadaro a target in his own right.

The "mouthpiece" epithet is one that makes Spadaro smile. “The pope doesn’t need anyone to speak for him,” he said in lightly accented English during a late November interview at the Villa Malta, headquarters of La Civilta Cattolica, the Vatican-approved magazine Spadaro has edited since 2011.

'I am only doing my job'

Spadaro certainly comes off as an improbable paladin in this crusade. A Jesuit like Francis, he has a winsome affect and the bookish look of a scholar; he holds degrees in theology and philosophy.

But Spadaro, a 50-year-old Sicilian, is anything but reticent. Nor is he a head-in-the-clouds intellectual.

On the contrary, he is intense, always in motion, and dogged in mixing it up on Twitter with both critics and trolls, which should not be surprising given that he also has a degree in social communications and curates a blog called CyberTeologia, “understood,” as its mission statement reads, “as the intelligence of faith in the age of the Internet.”

In keeping with that digital focus, Spadaro has even begun to turn Civilta Cattolica from a rather staid journal that hadn’t changed format much since its founding in 1850 to a more accessible publishing venture with a robust online presence in various languages. (One recent feature was Spadaro's lengthy interview with Martin Scorsese, director of the new movie “Silence,” about 17th-century Jesuit missionaries in Japan.)

Spadaro’s own office reflects the different eras he inhabits — a simple room with contemporary furnishings on the ground floor of an enormous old Italianate palazzo sitting on a hill across Rome from the Vatican.

What hasn’t changed about the Jesuit-run magazine in all these years is its loyalty to the pope, whoever he might be.

From the archconservative Pius IX (who reigned from 1846-1878) to the social justice pontiff Leo XIII (1878-1903) to the anti-modernist Pius X (1903-1914) and every pope since, Civilta Cattolica has vigorously defended papal teachings — even if some of those later proved embarrassing. In the past, popes personally reviewed its articles before publication, and a draft of the magazine is still given the once-over by senior Vatican officials.

Since the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s launched the church on a path of reform and opened Rome to the world, the journal has also become more engaged — and engaging — though it still aims to reflect the Vatican's views rather than counter them.

“In reality I am only doing my job as director” of the magazine, Spadaro wrote in a follow-up message in December as the criticisms of Francis continued to mount. “All of the popes throughout history have been attacked, in one way or another. And ours has always been a simple and humble service.”

Two Jesuits, one opinion

The other reality is that Spadaro is particularly close to Francis. They are both Jesuits (Francis is the first member of the Society of Jesus ever to become pope) and it was Spadaro whom Francis called out of the blue on a May morning before 7 a.m., two months after Francis was elected.

Spadaro had not known Cardinal Bergoglio before he became Pope Francis, and when his cellphone rang he hesitated on seeing an unknown number.

"I was wondering whether to pick it up because I was in a hurry. In the end, I decided to pick up and was going to ask the calling person to call back later. Then I heard: 'Good morning, this is Pope Francis speaking,'" Spadaro told the Catholic website Aleteia last July.

"After a moment of complete shock, like, ‘Oh, my God!,' I said perhaps a little incredulously: 'His Holiness?' Then I asked, how do I respond to the Holy Father. And he said: 'There is nothing to be alarmed about,' and we began to talk freely."

During that conversation, Francis agreed to Spadaro's request to give his first extended interview. That took place in August 2013 and set out many of the themes and tropes that have become familiar hallmarks of Francis’ pontificate, and it forged a strong bond between the two men.

Spadaro is now a regular visitor to the Casa Santa Marta, the pope’s residence inside the Vatican, and is frequently seen consulting with Francis and networking with many of the other power players in the church who live in Rome or regularly pass through the Eternal City.

The priest and the pope also recently collaborated on a collection of the pope’s homilies from the years he was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina (Francis is also the first pope from Latin America, and the first from outside the European orbit).

But to those who follow all things Catholic, it is Spadaro’s efforts to champion the pope’s ideas and blunt the latest round of attacks on Francis that draw the most attention.

The spark for this recent, and possibly most serious, furor is a document Francis published in April that offered his summation of the deliberations of two major Vatican gatherings — called synods — of cardinals and bishops from around the world to discuss the realities of modern families. The meetings, each three weeks long, were aimed in part at figuring out how and whether the Catholic church could accommodate those who don’t conform to the ideal of the catechism.

Francis asked the church leaders to be honest and frank in their talks; many of them were all that and more, especially conservatives who reacted sharply against proposals to welcome families led by gay couples, for example, or to approve ways that Catholics who have divorced and remarried without an annulment could receive Communion in some cases.

In his apostolic exhortation delivering a definitive papal take on the synods, titled Amoris Laetitia, Latin for “The Joy of Love,” Francis delivered a wide-ranging reflection on family life, recognizing the myriad challenges but pledging that the Catholic church would accompany families of whatever form and size and in whatever situation they found themselves.

Conservatives wished that the pope’s exhortation had been stronger in emphasizing traditional church doctrine on sexual morality and marriage. But they were especially concerned, and then increasingly angry, as it became clear that one element of the document could in fact be seen as allowing pastors latitude to give divorced and remarried Catholics Communion.

Such a development, the critics said, would undermine Jesus’ own teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and would in effect “Protestantize” (a favorite characterization) Catholicism if it were allowed to stand. This crisis, some have claimed, is as serious as the fourth-century debates over the nature of Jesus Christ — as both God and man — that deeply divided Christianity; they were only resolved over several decades through the development of a common creed.

'He is the vanguard in taking down the critics'

The attacks on Francis over Amoris Laetitia mounted along with conservative frustration, and in November four leading conservative cardinals — including the Rome-based U.S. churchman Cardinal Raymond Burke, a chief papal gadfly — finally released a letter demanding that Francis answer five yes-or-no questions, known in Latin as “dubia.” They said answering those questions would clarify whether Amoris Laetitia contravened church doctrine or not. By implication, the answers could also determine whether Francis was promoting heresy.

The publication of the letter came just days before Francis was to create a new batch of cardinals, ensuring that it would generate maximum publicity, and controversy.

The yes/no format of the “dubia” was also seen as a trap, and one that Francis apparently hopes to avoid. He has made it clear he sees the issue as a pastoral matter for Catholics and their priests to resolve and he is not going to try to give a one-size-fits-all response that conservatives could use to shortcut that process.

Spadaro, however, is happy fill the silence.

“He has become the vanguard in taking down the critics of Amoris Laetitia or even anyone who would question the thinking here,” Raymond Arroyo, a popular host on the conservative Catholic cable network EWTN, said during a recent interview with Burke (who also took the opportunity to blast Spadaro as “in error”).

Indeed, in these past weeks Spadaro has been everywhere, physically and virtually. A sought-after speaker, he has given talks on Francis’ pontificate in Spain, South Korea and elsewhere; given interviews; and penned a firm rejection of the cardinals’ questions for CNN’s website.

And, of course, he has been all over social media. “The Pope has ‘clarified,’” he tweeted in mid-November. “Those who don't like what they hear pretend not to hear it!”

Which is of course the sort of response that, in turn, has made Spadaro as big a target as Francis himself.

But in their eagerness to take down the pope’s apologist, the passion of the critics sometimes outstrips their facts.

A case in point: A Spadaro critic on Twitter compared the priest and the pope to Grima Wormtongue and Saruman, a pair of evil characters from the “Lord of the Rings” epics. Rather than taking it too seriously, Spadaro tweeted a video clip of Gandalf, another Tolkien protagonist, declaring that he refused “to bandy crooked words with a witless worm” — a joking reference to his critic’s view of Spadaro himself as Wormtongue.

The critics, however, overlooked the original tweet comparing Spadaro to Wormtongue and instead saw Spadaro’s video clip as a villainous attack on the four cardinals who were demanding answers from Francis. Thus a viral meme was born — that a top papal adviser was calling the pope's enemies, and cardinals to boot, "witless worms."

It got to the point that even New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, a conservative Catholic who has been one of the pope’s most persistent foes, recycled the false slam in a piece about the pontiff's standoff with the four cardinals.

Spadaro did not sit still for that, and on Twitter pressed Douthat for a correction; the columnist eventually complied, and apologized.

“The whole thing is ridiculous,” Spadaro later told the Catholic news site Crux. "And deeply offensive, that anyone should believe that I could ever refer to a cardinal as a ‘worm.’ I might not agree, or make a light-hearted joke, but offense is something else together.”

Critics in media outlets that are less susceptible to persuasion than the Times continue to repeat the story, however. Some also went on to accuse Spadaro of being a “sock puppet” — using a fake online identity to promote his own views anonymously — when he tweeted from a little-used personal account to say that the “4 cardinals sounds like the title of a rock and roll band from the early 1960s that sang trite songs.”

Once again, outrage ensued, and Spadaro rolled his eyes. “If I had really wanted to throw stones from an anonymous account I would never, obviously, have re-tweeted it,” Spadaro told Crux. “And why should I feel any need to hide?”

'To follow the pope up close is a profound joy'

So how does it feel to be the designated spear catcher for such a controversial pope?

Spadaro insisted that it’s not about engaging in online spats but is instead about advancing a much larger, and more crucial, narrative — one he is also privileged to witness firsthand.

“I feel that we are living through an important phase in the history of the world and the church,” he told RNS. “It is not an easy moment and it is full of contradictions and risks. Francis’ outlook is profoundly evangelical, prophetic and open: He is one of the few figures who gives hope. To follow the pope up close is a profound joy that overcomes all possible problems along the way and all possible attacks by the critics.”

Spadaro also downplays the number of critics, even if they have an outsized profile, especially in the English-speaking world where the opposition seems most vocal.

“The problem is that some opponents make a lot of noise, especially on social media,” he said. “They create an echo chamber. But you can hear the noise only inside the sacristies” — the rooms in a church where priests and bishops change into their vestments. “If you get out of the sacristies you can’t hear anything. So only the people inside the sacristies can hear this big noise.”

He reiterated that Francis “likes opposition,” likes to hear different opinions and critiques because tensions means the church is alive, and differing views can lead to the discernment of the best way forward.

“This is the meaning of the Incarnation — the Lord took flesh, which means we are involved with real humanity, which is never fixed or too clear. So the pastor has to get into the real dynamic of human life. This is the message of mercy. Discernment and mercy are the two big pillars of this pontificate.”

Spadaro said Francis also distinguishes between the constructive criticism of those who “really want, in good conscience, the good of the church” and “another kind of opposition, which is just imposing one’s own view, which is ideological opposition.”

“The pope listens to the first and is open to learning. But he doesn’t pay too much attention at all to the second kind.”

Besides, for those opponents the pope has Antonio Spadaro.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Knights of Malta to Pope: stay out of our internal affairs

The maneuvering between Cardinal Burke and Pope Francis continues with Burke becoming more and more opening hostile to the Pope.

Associated Press
December 24, 2016

In an extraordinary rebuke of the pontiff, the Order of Malta has said the replacement of its grand chancellor was an "act of internal governmental administration of the Sovereign Order of Malta and consequently falls solely within its competence."

VATICAN CITY - The Order of Malta, the ancient Roman Catholic aristocratic lay order, has told Pope Francis that his decision to launch an investigation into the ouster of a top official over a condom scandal is “unacceptable.”

In an extraordinary rebuke of the pontiff, tahe group said the replacement of its grand chancellor was an “act of internal governmental administration of the Sovereign Order of Malta and consequently falls solely within its competence.”

Francis on Thursday appointed a five-member commission to investigate the ouster of Albrecht von Boeselager amid evidence that Francis’ own envoy to the group helped engineer it without his blessing.

One charge used against von Boeteslager concerned a program that the order’s aid group participated in several years ago to help sex slaves in Myanmar, including giving them condoms to protect against HIV infection. Church teaching bars artificial contraception.

An internal investigation was conducted and von Boeselager admitted he knew about the condoms, which were distributed by other aid programs, not his. The Vatican was informed, Malteser International’s participation in the program ended and an ethics committee was launched to ensure that future projects adhered to Catholic Church teaching, the officials said.

In a statement, von Boeselager said he had been asked to resign during a Dec. 6 meeting attended by Burke. During the meeting, the order’s grand master indicated that the request to resign “was in accordance with the wishes of the Holy See.”

However, no such request was ever made. Von Boeselager said since his ouster, the Holy See has written to the order “confirming that such a wish was never raised.”

By naming an independent commission to look into the case, Francis appears to be seeking an objective assessment of von Boeselager and his ouster without the input of Burke, who has been among Francis’ fiercest critics.

Burke is one of four cardinals who have publicly questioned Francis’ flexible approach to whether civilly remarried Catholics can receive Communion. Burke, a native of Richland Center, Wis., is a hard-liner on the issue, as well as on the absolute prohibition on the use of artificial contraception. Francis removed him as the Vatican’s supreme court justice in 2014 and named him to be the patron of the Order of Malta, an ancient Catholic order that runs hospitals and clinics around the world and has an army of volunteers who respond to natural disasters and war zones.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Coming to Newark archdiocese: a different kind of Cardinal

Sharon Otterman
New York Times
December 22, 2016

For about a year, the guys at the gym just called him Joe. He lifted weights in the early mornings wearing a skull-printed do-rag. He worked out on the elliptical, wiping it down when he was done.

Then one day Shaun Yeary, a salesman at a landscape supply company, asked him in the locker room what he did for a living. “I used to be a priest,” Joe recalled telling him. “And now,” he said, his voice growing quieter so as not to scare anyone in earshot, “I’m the archbishop of Indianapolis.”

v “I was like, for real?” Mr. Yeary recalled. “This guy is benching two and a quarter!” — gymspeak for 225 pounds.

Joe, also known as Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, recently became one of the 120 men in the world who will choose the next pope. But he wants to be judged by his actions, not his lofty position in the Roman Catholic Church.

Though he has led the Archdiocese of Indianapolis since 2012, a status that usually comes with perks like a driver, he drives himself around in a Chevy Tahoe and helps with the dishes after lunch meetings. He introduces himself simply as Padre José to the children at a local Catholic school. He showers and shaves at the Community Healthplex gym like any other member, and calls his workout buddies his Band of Brothers.

In short, he is just the kind of leader Pope Francis is elevating to realign the church in the United States with his priorities.

As the pope has made clear over the past three years, fancy lifestyles, formality and regal titles like Prince of the Church are out of style for cardinals. So is an emphasis on the divisive issues of abortion and same-sex marriage, even though the church’s underlying position on those issues has not changed.

Instead, in the pope’s view, the church should emphasize humility and service to the poor. It should be multicultural, welcoming different styles of worship. It should reach out to other faiths and stand up for immigrants, refugees and nuns.

And that, church experts and members of his flock say, is a close description of the priorities of Cardinal Tobin, who will be heading east just after Christmas to lead the approximately 1.5 million Catholics in the Archdiocese of Newark. He is replacing Archbishop John J. Myers, 75, who preferred to be addressed by the formal title Your Grace, and who achieved notoriety when the church spent some $500,000 to outfit the house he will retire to with an indoor exercise pool and an elevator.

Cardinal Tobin’s appointment in October as one of the nation’s 18 cardinals came as a surprise to many, including the man himself. But perhaps it should not have. For what his unassuming bearing does not reveal is that he is no stranger to the corridors of power in the church. He is a friend of Pope Francis. And under Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, he had helped lead the Vatican office that oversees the roughly one million men and women in religious orders around the world.

That position did not end so well. It was an open secret that Cardinal Tobin was sent to Indiana as a kind of exile most likely because he questioned an inquiry by his office into supposed doctrinal lapses among the roughly 50,000 nuns in the United States. As he got to know the faithful in the chancery of Indianapolis, he would joke with them about it.

“I was kicked out and I’m grateful for it,” the chancellor of the archdiocese, Annette Lentz, recalled his saying about how he turned up on her doorstep. And she would tell him, “Their loss is our gain.”

How Cardinal Tobin, 64, an amiable 6-foot-3 Irish-American who likes Bob Seger, plays piano and speaks five languages, went from being the oldest of 13 children living in Detroit to the pinnacle of the global church is a story that bears telling.

He grew up in a working-class neighborhood where the big houses were perfect for the large families of Irish, Polish and other Eastern European backgrounds that filled them. The local parish, Holy Redeemer, was run by an order of priests called the Redemptorists, and was unusually large, with 14 Masses each Sunday for up to 20,000 worshipers, he recalled in a Dec. 5 interview.

His mother was a public-school teacher who quit her job to raise her brood; nine of her cousins and three of her aunts were nuns. Growing up in a deeply Catholic environment, Cardinal Tobin had two role models: the parish priests and his father, a cost analyst at General Motors who attended 6 a.m. Mass daily.

Joe Tobin was a rough-and-tumble child, who once crashed through the back-porch window when he was being chased. But he also learned the deeper lessons taught by the nuns at the parish school.

“Joe came home in second grade and said to me, ‘Mom, I need a pair of socks,’” his mother, Marie Tobin, 93, recalled before Cardinal Tobin’s emotional farewell Mass in Indianapolis on Dec. 3. “And I looked at his feet and saw his socks were fine. ‘Mother,’ he said, ‘there’s a boy in my class who has rags around his feet and a safety pin.’”

In 1977, when the cardinal was in seminary in Esopus, N.Y., his father died of a heart attack. By that time, the family had moved across the border to Canada, and his father had been commuting to Michigan.

“I idolized my dad,” Cardinal Tobin said. “He was everything I think a man should be. He was strong, he played in the Orange Bowl as a freshman in Boston College. He lost his leg in World War II, so he never played football again. He had a quiet, unpretentious faith. He was chivalrous with women.

“And I remember when he died,” he added, “and I was waiting at the seminary for someone to drive me to La Guardia, and one of my teachers came and said, ‘If you can be a man like your father, when they call you Father you will be all right.’ And I suppose I am still trying to do that.”

He remains close with his siblings. And in the Redemptorists, an order that requires a vow of poverty and emphasizes missionary outreach, he found a second family.

He dreamed of being sent to far-flung locales once he was ordained in 1978. Instead, because he spoke Spanish, he was sent right back to Holy Redeemer, which had a growing Hispanic population.

There, he learned about serving the poor. An older priest modeled what was to become a signature of Cardinal Tobin’s ministry: an intense focus on each person.

“When he is there and you are talking to him, it’s as if you have known him all your life,” said Bernice Guynn, 89, a parishioner at St. Rita in Indianapolis.

From Detroit, he was moved during the AIDS epidemic to Chicago, where he ministered at the bedsides of the dying. The church’s stance against homosexuality was not a barrier to him. “It’s important to be there for people,” he said.

By 1991, the higher-ups of his order had taken notice and he was moved to Rome. For 12 years, he led the Redemptorist order, finally traveling the world to missions in more than 70 nations.

In that capacity, he made an impression on Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then the Vatican official responsible for enforcing Catholic doctrine. In 2010, five years after Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict, he offered Father Tobin the title of archbishop and the position of secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in the Vatican.

Cardinal Tobin recalled that he was painting his mother’s porch in Ontario when he got the call from the Vatican secretary of state. “I turned white and started stuttering,” he said. He did not want the job, he said, but how does one refuse the pope?

The office he had been tapped to administer was investigating American nuns for supposedly adopting a “secular mentality” and straying from Catholic orthodoxy. In other words, the nuns were accused of being too liberal, and Cardinal Tobin was to oversee the inquiry. But he had an “extremely positive” view of the nuns, he told The National Catholic Reporter at the time, and he wanted to explain their good works.

“My first job, I thought, was to ask, ‘What were people trying to accomplish with this?’” he said this month. But the problem, he came to believe, was structural: the investigation of 55,000 religious women by a tiny staff for the alleged errors of a few.

“It made as much sense as an ophthalmologist trying to do cataract surgery standing in center field in Yankee Stadium and pointing his laser gun up at the bleachers,” he said.

Two years into his five-year term, his priest secretary surprised him with the news. “We are so sorry you are going,” Cardinal Tobin recalled him saying. “And I said, ‘Really, where am I going?’ And he said, ‘Indianapolis.’” The official news did not come for four months. “It was like death by 1,000 cuts,” he said.

When he arrived in Indiana in December 2012, most American Catholics had never heard of him. But to the nuns he was something of a hero.

“We thought that he was a tremendous individual,” said Mother Anne Brackmann, the prioress of the Carmelite Monastery in Terre Haute, Ind. “And he was welcomed very, very warmly.”

Someone else took note of his dismissal: Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, who would become Pope Francis.

The two men met in 2005 during a synod of bishops in Rome, and they bonded over a shared view of the church.

There were conservative bishops in their group who wanted, for example, to ban girls from being altar servers. “I have eight sisters, and at the time, I had nieces who were serving at the altar, and I didn’t see the justification for it,” Cardinal Tobin said. “Bergoglio was on the same page. There are more important things to talk about.”

They had also laughed together: Cardinal Tobin recalled telling Cardinal Bergoglio that he had been his mother’s choice for pope that year, because she had read how he picked up after himself and cooked his own food. Still, Cardinal Tobin was surprised to get a note from Cardinal Bergoglio in 2010 wishing him luck in his Vatican position.

“He said: ‘I remember our time together, I remember our conversations, and I remember your mother’s good taste. I’m praying for you.’”

By the time Cardinal Tobin came to the Vatican in 2013 to receive his pallium — the cowl that would mark his status as the archbishop of Indianapolis — Pope Francis had been elected. He was not sure the new pope would remember him. But Francis again surprised him.

“I’ve been praying intensely for you since I heard what happened,” Cardinal Tobin said the pope had told him.

What happened next was a kind of rehabilitation. Francis appointed him to the oversight committee of the same Vatican office he had been removed from. Then, in October, came the announcement: The pope was naming him a cardinal. He would be the youngest one in the United States.

Cardinal Tobin was shocked. “It’s kind of like you are sleeping in class and all of a sudden the spotlight is on you,” he said.

At a news conference last month in Newark, he put it this way: “Sometimes I think Pope Francis sees a lot more in me than I see in myself.”

Cardinal Tobin said he loved his time in Indianapolis, where he visited parishes in 39 counties, ministered to prisoners on death row and baptized about 1,000 new Catholics each Easter.

He was up by 4 many mornings to pray before arriving at the gym by 5:30. With the help of a trainer, Shane Moat, he learned how to deadlift 425 pounds. “Big breath, explode, keep it close,” Mr. Moat coached him earlier this month. Cardinal Tobin strained and hoisted the weight to his waist. “You the man!” someone shouted.

“No, I’m not,” Cardinal Tobin said after dropping the weight with a bang.

That morning, Mr. Yeary, the salesman, presented him with a goodbye gift: a framed photo of the cardinal with his seven workout buddies, whose ages range from 27 to over 70. “Oh, man, that’s wonderful, thank you,” the cardinal said. Then he reverted to his lighthearted tone: “None of those Sopranos are going to mess with me. This is my crew.”

Cardinal Tobin has had a hard time saying goodbye. He choked up at his farewell Mass and had only one request of the congregation that had packed the cathedral: Pray for him. But his admirers here and elsewhere are hoping that Cardinal Tobin will become a more public voice for Pope Francis and his priorities.

He has already done that once, in a showdown with Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, a Republican who is now the vice president-elect, over welcoming Syrian refugees.

In November 2015, Mr. Pence announced that he would suspend Syrian refugee resettlement programs, citing security fears. Cardinal Tobin felt that was not only illegal, but also immoral. He met with Mr. Pence, discussed his objections and told him he would continue the Catholic Charities resettlement program. A federal court has since overturned the governor’s directive.

In an email, Mr. Pence said, “Cardinal Tobin is a personal friend, and I deeply respect his commitment to his faith and his ministry.”

While Cardinal Tobin did not tell anyone whom to vote for in the presidential election, he said he was disturbed by appeals to fear during the campaign of Donald J. Trump, particularly his views of refugees and immigrants.

Mr. Trump, he said, “was appealing to the dark side of the divisive forces, to the unredeemed part of us.” And while the cardinal believes American democracy will ultimately resist such appeals, “you can’t be too Pollyannish about things.”

In Newark, he said, his first job after his installation on Jan. 6 will be to listen. Encompassing Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Union Counties in northern New Jersey, the archdiocese has pockets of great wealth and poverty, and an array of immigrants so diverse that Mass each Sunday is celebrated in 20 languages. About 30 percent of the parishioners are Hispanic.

It is also a community in need of healing. In July, citing the failure of the archdiocese to effectively remove priests accused of sexual abuse from contact with children, the editorial board of The Star-Ledger of Newark called the departure of Archbishop Myers a “true blessing.”

“During his 15-year tenure as New Jersey’s highest-ranking Catholic, he protected pedophile priests,” the board said. “He urged his flock to vote based on two issues — abortion and gay marriage — at the threat of being denied Holy Communion.”

Jim Goodness, the spokesman for the archdiocese, denied those allegations, saying that Archbishop Myers had permanently removed from ministry some 20 abusive priests and that he had “never threatened to deny Communion to anyone.”

Cardinal Tobin will bring a different message. One of his priorities, he said, would be to ensure that the archdiocese is fully compliant with church and criminal protocols on handling sexual abuse allegations.

At the Vatican in the late 1990s, the cardinal recalled, it was difficult to convince people that the abuse issue was serious. “I think they just believed it was an American problem,” he said, adding, “I don’t want to make it like I was a great crusader over there, but I did take it seriously.” He later led an effort to establish protocols for abuse claims in his order.

Yet the most outspoken American victims group, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said that Cardinal Tobin, like the church as a whole, must do more, such as posting the names of all credibly accused priests online. “Certainly there are worse bishops, but that fact should comfort no one,” David Clohessy, the organization’s national director, said.

Cardinal Tobin assumes his role in an uneasy time. He said that he hoped to lead with joy and transparency, and that he intended to encourage dialogue to bridge divisions. But he would go further if he believed that policies ran counter to the moral values that Jesus taught.

On the threats by President-elect Trump to carry out mass deportations of illegal immigrants, for example, Cardinal Tobin was clear. He recalled how Pope John XXIII, before he became pope, issued false baptismal certificates to help Jews escape the Nazis in World War II.

“We have to resist,” he said. “With public statements, and then, you do what you got to do.”