We are in a time of increased tensions, uncertainties and changes in the Catholic Church . Particularly troubling is the loss of moral authority resulting from the continuing sexual abuse crisis and evidence of institutional coverup. The purpose of this site is to examine what is happening by linking to worldwide news stories, particularly from the English speaking church and the new breath of fresh air blowing through the church with the pontificate of Pope Francis.
The brown brick building at 4860 15th Street is at the center of the next downsizing to hit this failing city: the restructuring of the Archdiocese of Detroit.
St. Leo Catholic Church was built more than 120 years ago as Detroit was developing into a manufacturing powerhouse - first in shipbuilding and later in car making.
Today its neighborhood is one of the most abandoned pockets in one of the nation's most desperate cities. Like many Catholic churches around urban America, it has been hit by a shortage of priests and a dwindling supply of parishioners.
The Church's woes are all the more acute in the Motor City, where St. Leo and the archdiocese are stark examples of the impact of the near-death of the U.S. auto industry. Detroit's population-and the parish's flock-have withered along with the car factories. The Christmas Eve Mass performed this past weekend by 81-year old Bishop Thomas Gumbleton may be among the last ever held here.
Last month, Archbishop Allen Vigneron released a preliminary draft of the Catholic Church's third downsizing in Detroit in little more than a decade. The archdiocese has cut its parish count in Detroit's city limits to 59, down from 79 in 2000.
St. Leo is among nine parishes earmarked for closure in the Detroit area within the next few years. In 2012, its congregation is due to be subsumed by the larger St. Cecilia, about three miles away.
There is still hope for a reprieve. Vigneron is considering a plan to save the charity work in the basement by potentially moving it to a new site, and the pastor currently running both St. Leo and St. Cecilia has proposed keeping it open as a worship center used only occasionally.
But both are prohibitively costly considerations for an archbishop looking to shore up finances. Vigneron will deliver his final plan for the region in February.
"Almost all of us recognize that this world in the 21st century is very different than the 1950s and 1960s," Vigneron said in an interview. "We have to not accept it, but to deal with it."
The cuts will hit Detroit particularly hard, however. The city is on the verge of insolvency and is already having a hard time providing basic services, such as functioning streetlights and removal of debris from demolished buildings.
In the absence of government, the Church is among the last institutions keeping neighborhoods afloat.
"Not unlike General Motors and Chrysler..., in order to be a vibrant player in the community, we have to do painful things," he said. "GM surely would have preferred to not discontinue Pontiac and GM surely would have preferred not to discontinue Oldsmobile, but they did what they had to do."
As for the Church, Vigneron said there is a point where the buildings and other property go from being assets to liabilities - no matter how sacred they may be.
"I have to make a discernment," he said. "It's never not about finances; we all have to pay our bills."
"If a building sits vacant for even a little while it's an excellent candidate for vandalism," said Kevin Messier, who runs Real Estate Professional Services in Southfield, Mich. Thieves often strip the building of copper or pluck out stained glass.
The abandoned Martyrs of Uganda church in Detroit, closed by the Archdiocese in 2006, is an example of this decay.
It is littered with rubble, collapsed confessionals, a broken organ. Moss grows on its floors. The windows are gone and support pillars are crumbling because stones have been removed.
Messier's firm sold about three Michigan churches per month in 2011. The firm currently lists 32 churches for sale in the city of Detroit alone with an average selling price of $337,000.
Opened in 1889 at the start of Detroit's shipping and manufacturing boom, St. Leo was built to serve a parish in excess of 1,000 families. It still shows signs of an opulent age: massive murals hanging on the ceiling above the alter, towering windows dressed in stained glass.
Now it serves about 170 families. The parish generates $1,800 in weekly giving - not enough to cover an annual budget of at least $100,000 required just for building maintenance, repairs and utilities.
The streetlights a block away are wrapped in black plastic bags. Several houses stand vacant and, on a street where new houses were recently built, piles of debris from recent demolitions are uncollected.
Last week, the Detroit Public Library system closed four branches libraries to save on utility bills and librarian salaries. The city recently shut several schools amid declining enrollment.
Another proposal calls for the sale of the entire church, with proceeds going to open a new building for the charitable operations.
But that might be a tough challenge, considering the glut of empty churches on the market.
Anti-Catholic bigotry was once widespread in this country. In 1959, nearly a quarter of Americans — 24 percent — said they would not vote for a Catholic for president, no matter how well-qualified.
John F. Kennedy overcame this prejudice in part by insisting that, if elected, he would not be a tool of the Vatican.
He said he believed in “an America where the separation of church and state is absolute . . . in a president whose views on religion are his own private affair . . . I am not the Catholic candidate for president, I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters — and the church does not speak for me.”
Pope John XXIII did not contradict him.
Such discretion, alas, is not the style of Cardinal Francis George, who over the weekend decreed that Gov. Pat Quinn isn’t using his own conscience correctly.
Quinn met with Cardinal George and nine other bishops Saturday. This being Christmas week, Quinn put a bright spin on the meeting, telling the Sun-Times that they mainly talked about aiding the poor.
A wiser man might have left it at that. The cardinal chose to respond, challenging Quinn, saying, basically: The hell we did!
“As Catholic pastors, we wanted to remind the Governor that conscience, while always free, is properly formed in harmony with the tradition of the Church, as defined by Scripture and authentic teaching authority. A personal conscience that is not consistent with authentic Catholic teaching is not a Catholic conscience. The Catholic faith cannot be used to justify positions contrary to the faith itself.”
Sure it can. The cardinal might not like it — I’m sure he doesn’t. But plenty of the faithful join the governor in considering themselves good Catholics while conducting parts of their lives in ways “not consistent” with church policy — just last week a survey showed 98 percent of Catholic women use birth control banned by the church. (We’re fortunate that the cardinal has not challenged the governor over which form he uses, at least not yet). Much Catholic doctrine isn’t even followed by Catholics, yet church leaders would dragoon government to force it upon the rest of the state anyway.
Some readers will complain that I am commenting upon their religion — a Jew bashing Catholics! — and I will observe that their leader is more than commenting, he is pressuring and berating the governor of my state, a state whose voters elected him based on his merits, not upon his faith.
If at election time I were to say, “You can’t vote for Pat Quinn — he’s a Catholic and will be bullied into strictly following church doctrine” — I’d be accused of bias and rightly so. Yet the cardinal is trying to do exactly that, to exercise an authority over public life he does not and should not possess.
Quinn attended 13 years of Catholic school — the church already had its chance to mold him. Now he is 63 and an adult. It is Quinn, and not Cardinal George, who gets to decide how his faith influences his life. I’m sorry to be the one to deliver the news.
MIKE CORDER Associated Press
THE HAGUE, Netherlands
December 16, 2011
Thousands of children suffered sexual abuse in Dutch Catholic institutions over the past 65 years, and church officials knew about the abuse but failed to adequately address it or help the victims, according to a long-awaited investigation released Friday.
Archbishop of Utrecht Wim Eijk apologized to victims on behalf of the entire Dutch Catholic organization and said the report "fills us with shame and sorrow."
The report said Catholic officials failed to tackle the widespread abuse, which ranged from "unwanted sexual advances" to serious sex abuse, in an attempt to prevent scandals. Abusers included priests, brothers, pastors and lay people who worked in religious orders and congregations, it said.
The investigation followed allegations of repeated incidents of abuse at one cloister that quickly spread to claims from Catholic institutions across the country, echoing similar church-related scandals around the world.
The suspected number of abuse victims who spent some of their youth in church institutions likely lies somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000, according to a summary of the report investigating allegations of abuse dating back to 1945.
The commission was set up last year under the leadership of former government minister Wim Deetman, who said there could be no doubt church leaders knew of the problem.
"The idea that people did not know there was a risk ... is untenable," he said.
Archbishop Eijk said victims would be compensated by a commission the Dutch church set up last month and which has a scale starting at euro5,000 ($6,500) and rising to a maximum of euro100,000 ($130,000) depending on the nature of the abuse.
He said he felt personally ashamed of the abuse. "It is terrible," he said.
(The same pattern appears in country after country. Can there be any doubt that this was a deliberate conscious policy of the hierarchy of the Church?When found out, they apologize, but does it mean anyting other than embarassment at being publicly revealed.)
By David O'Reilly
December 10, 2011
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, in a pastoral letter to be read Sunday, is warning the region's Roman Catholics that 2012 could be a "painful" year for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, marked by school and parish closings, a bruising sex-abuse trial, and tough decisions on the status of dozens of priests accused of misconduct with minors.
A blue-ribbon panel appointed to study the needs of archdiocesan schools will issue its report in January and "likely counsel that some, and perhaps many, schools must close or combine," Chaput wrote in his two-page letter, which is to be read aloud at all parishes.
"The archdiocese remains strongly committed to the work of Catholic education," he continued, but "that mission is badly served by trying to sustain unsustainable schools."
He also said he expects to decide in "the first months" of the new year which of 27 priests under investigation for suspected misconduct with minors should be restored to ministry, and which will permanently removed.
The priests were suspended in March after a Philadelphia grand jury said 37 archdiocesan priests in active ministry had unresolved misconduct accusations against them. A team appointed by the archdiocese concluded that about 10 of the charges were frivolous, and is investigating the others.
"To whatever degree complacency and pride once had a home in our local church," Chaput wrote, "events in the coming year will burn them out. The process will be painful," he warned, but the goal is to "restore the joy and zeal of our discipleship."
The letter was dated Thursday, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which also marked the third month since his installation as archbishop.
Chaput also touched on the impending trial of three current and former priests and a former parish schoolteacher on child sexual assault charges.
On trial with them will be Msgr. William Lynn, the archdiocese's former secretary for clergy and one of the highest-ranking church officials charged to date in the priesthood sex abuse scandal. He is accused of child endangerment for his alleged role in assigning known sex abusers to parishes.
It was not clear if a later reference to his determination to "defend" the archdiocese's "limited resources" was a pledge to resist expanded right-to-sue legislation for adults molested as children.
The archdiocesan school system educates 49,000 youngsters at 156 parish schools and 16,000 students at 17 high schools.
There were 167 parish schools when Rigali appointed the panel a year ago, and 211 a decade ago. In 1965, a record 208,000 youngsters attended Catholic schools in the archdiocese.
Aftershocks of the U.S. bishops' doctrine committee's moves against theologian Sr. Elizabeth Johnson spread Monday as the College Theology Society issued a statement saying the bishops' moves represent a "fundamental breach" in the call for dialogue in the church and wounds the "entire community of Catholic theologians."
The Monday statement from the College Theology Society, which represents lay and religious undergraduate theology faculty, is the latest in a months-long saga over Johnson's book Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God, which the bishops first blasted in March.
In late October, the bishops' Committee on Doctrine reconfirmed their condemnation, which touched off questions of why the bishops hadn't first attempted dialogue with the St. Joseph sister and what that might mean for the practice of theology.
The theology society's statement, signed by its seven board members and four officers and addressed to the society's membership, expresses "sadness and grave concern" over the bishops' October statement because the bishops went forward "without entering into a process of dialogue with [Johnson] about the issues being raised."
"The course of action taken by the Committee on Doctrine represents a fundamental breach in the call for dialogue within the church and in particular between theologians and bishops, a call that is one of the hallmarks of the documents of the Second Vatican Council," reads the statement, which was posted to the society's website .
Johnson's book, which the bishops said in their March statement was not in "accord with authentic Catholic teaching on essential points," was reaffirmed as "inadequate as a presentation of the Catholic understanding of God" in the committee's Oct. 28 statement.
Johnson responded to the bishops the same day, saying their statement "paints an incorrect picture of the fundamental line of thought the book develops." She also said she lamented the fact that her attempts to meet with members of the committee to discuss the book were rebuffed.
That response touched off a firestorm of controversy after a statement on the bishops' conference website claimed that Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the committee's chairman, had made several attempts to meet with Johnson that went unanswered.
Johnson responded in a letter to Wuerl that those claims were "demonstrably and blatantly false," and a series of letters between the two that were made public seemed to show that the theologian made several attempts to meet with the cardinal and had responded to each of his communications.
In its statement Monday, the College Theology Society said the doctrine committee's reluctance to meet with Johnson contradicts the U.S. bishops' own guidelines on how to handle doctrinal disputes with theologians, as laid out in a 1989 document titled "Doctrinal Responsibilities."
The society also writes that the committee's actions violate the Vatican's norms for examinations of theologians by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as outlined in a 1997 document titled Ratio Agendi, or "The Regulations for Doctrinal Investigation."
Asked whether the bishops' doctrine committee would still be open to meeting with Johnson to discuss her book, Weinandy told NCR on Wednesday that Johnson is free to "send a letter" to Wuerl.
"If she wants to get in touch with the committee she's free to -- anybody's free to get in touch with the committee if they want," Weinandy said.
Asked how the committee would answer Johnson's claims that her previous attempts at contact had been rebuffed, Weinandy said he had no comment.
The College Theology Society, which is made up of more than 600 college and university professors, represents lay and religious undergraduate theology teachers. Monday's statement by the society is its second on the Johnson situation. Its first, issued in April after the bishops' first condemnation of the theologian, said the doctrine committee's move "breeds disillusionment, fear, and mistrust among younger theologians in their relation to bishops."
Summing up its latest critique, the society writes that the U.S. bishops' move against Johnson harms the "entire community of Catholic theologians."
Detroit Catholic Archbishop Allen Vigneron said Thursday that he is likely to shutter about 48 churches in the next five years.
In doing so, Vigneron would be following the recommendations of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, which were released Wednesday night. The affected parishes, among the first to close as soon as next year, would be in Detroit, Livonia, Wyandotte, Roseville, Harper Woods, and River Rouge or Ecorse.
"I would need a pretty good reason to move away from the recommendations," said Vigneron, the spiritual leader of 1.4 million Catholics in the Archdiocese of Detroit. "It's not set in stone. New factors may emerge."
The proposed closings would affect nearly 20% of the parishes in the archdiocese, reducing the number from 270 to 222 across six counties in southeastern Michigan.
Critics of the reorganization said archdiocesan leaders didn't listen to them or value their work in small parishes, particularly in Detroit.
Longtime activist and retired Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton decried the proposed closings and mergers as "abandoning the city."
Gumbleton said that "it disappoints him greatly" to hear that his former longtime parish, St. Leo on Detroit's near-west side, is targeted for likely closure next year. The panel recommends merging it with St. Cecilia, then closing and selling St. Leo, while retaining a building there for community outreach. The building would be named after Gumbleton.
"To me, it looks like a disaster in a way," Gumbleton said. "The institutional presence of the Catholic Church is going to be gone from the city of Detroit in any way."
But Sister Jolene Van Handel, a parish minister at Nativity, said her parish sustains itself, has 200 families and is in a historic building that should be preserved.
"People say we have these beautiful, historical churches that need to be preserved, and you want to build a new one. That's stupidity," Van Handel said. "We have a lot of alumni who help keep our parishes going. If this is closed, they don't care about somebody else's building."
She urged Vigneron to think creatively about using lay leadership to keep parishes going, even when priests are in short supply.
"I think if they allowed lay leadership, we could manage to keep our parishes going. We could have communion services, even if we didn't have a priest for mass. These things can happen if they allow us to have creative planning," Van Handel said.
(same theme as the Austrians, Germans, Belgians - Mike)
More than 6,000 Belgian Catholics have signed a manifesto urging their bishops to let lay people celebrate Sunday services in parishes left without priests due to a severe shortage of vocations in the Church. More than 200 priests are among signatories of the manifesto launched two weeks ago in Flanders, the traditionally Catholic Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, one of the organisers told Reuters.
The initiative echoed a grass-roots movement in Austria, where 2,000 Catholics — including 361 priests — called in June for lay-led Masses and the ordination of married men and women to maintain parishes that no longer have a priest. “We Flemish believers urge our bishops to break through the impasse we have landed in,” declared the Dutch-language manifesto entitled “Believers have their say”.
“It’s time for the Church to open its functions to people who are not only celibate men,” Mark Deweerdt, a layman among the 12 priests and parishioners who drew up the document, told Reuters.
The steady fall in vocations in recent decades has left the Catholic Church with ever fewer priests in many developed countries, forcing it to merge small parishes into larger districts led by increasingly overworked clerics.
The manifesto said religiously trained men or women should be allowed to take over these unstaffed parishes. “We don’t understand why these fellow believers should not be able to preside over Sunday services,” it said. The Vatican opposes ordaining married men or women to the priesthood or allowing trained lay people to celebrate Mass in place of the priest, as the Austrians have suggested. It asks the faithful to pray to God for more vocations.
Deweerdt said the Belgian group had not asked for lay people to celebrate Mass in place of a priest, a reform proposed by Dutch Dominican theologians in 2007 and promptly rejected by the Vatican.