Saturday, December 29, 2012

From compliant to complaint

Fr. Norm's Notebook (Cincinnati,OH)
Dec. 17, 2012

A thought-provoking phenomenon is taking place among a growing number of Catholic clerics, religious, and laity. These men and women are no longer simply compliant but are publicly criticizing the way the hierarchy is running the Church today.

Calls for reform of the "Church" are as old as the Church itself. The New Testament gives witness to Paul's complaint to the authorities in Jerusalem that insistence on compliance to Mosaic practice (for example, circumcision) was an unnecessary hindrance to conversions (cf. Acts 15, Galatians 2). When Peter, James and John saw the fruits of Paul's work, they agreed with his complaint.

Fifteen hundred years later there was the great upheaval and resulting schism known as the Protestant Reformation. And sandwiched in between there were other complaints about how the Church was carrying out the Father's business, led by men and women such as Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Catharine of Siena.

Complaints contemporary to our time have been leveled by theologians (for example, Hans Kung), cardinals (for example, Carlo Maria Martini), Benedictine abbots (for example, Martin Werlen and Peter von Sury), priests (such as Father Helmut Schuller and the Austrian Priests' Initiative), and religious (such as Sister Theresa Kane, RSM).

In 1979 Kane, as president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, made an appeal to Pope John Paul II during his visit to the United States: "I urge you, Your Holiness, to be open to and respond to the voices coming from the women of this country who are desirous of serving in and through the Church as fully participating members." The pope refused her request.

Werlen and von Sury, Benedictine abbots in Switzerland, have publicly appealed for Church reforms, for example, the reinstatement of the practice that would allow dioceses to elect the men who would be their ordinaries (their bishops). The people of the diocese of Chur in Switzerland remember when in 1990 Bishop Wolfgang Haas, newly appointed by Pope John Paul II, was forced to enter his cathedral by the backdoor because 200 protesters blocked the front entrance with their bodies.

The head of the priests council in the diocese of Chur assessed Haas as a "madman at the head of the diocese, and he's wrecking it." Later Haas was moved and appointed bishop for the newly-formed diocese of Vaduz in Lichtenstein, leading to division in the Church community in that tiny Alpine principality as well. Werlen and von Sury want to prevent such disruption and divisiveness in the future.


Even a cursory reading of the signs of the times recognizes that there is significant unrest in the Church. Huge numbers of European Catholics no longer celebrate Sunday Mass, and the drop-off in the United States is obvious too. The shortage of priests, the decline in religious communities, the loss of young people as Church members are all alarming signs of disorder and unrest.

Something is happening in the Catholic Church. Many Vatican II-priests believe that implementation of the pastoral as well as dogmatic directions given by the Second Vatican Council will stem the decline and enliven the Church body. Others among the clergy blame the Council and insist that only strict adherence to canon law and the magisterium is viable.

Complaint and compliance are struggling with each other, and the outcome of this match has far-reaching effects for the Catholic Church.


Original article here

Phillipines president signs law easing access to contraceptives

Kenneth R. Weiss and Sol Vanzi
Los Angeles Times
Dec. 29, 2012

MANILA — Philippines President Benigno Aquino III has signed legislation that will provide modern contraceptives to the nation’s poorest people and mandate sex education in public schools, a spokeswoman announced Saturday.

Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines immediately vowed to challenge the new law in the nation’s Supreme Court and rally demonstrations in the streets, alluding to the bishops’ role in inspiring the “People Power” revolution in 1986 that helped topple former President Ferdinand Marcos.

“The fight is far from over,” said Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, a vice chairman of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, in a radio interview Saturday. “The church will continue to protect and defend life. The church will not stop.”

The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act was passed by the Philippines Congress this month after the bishops and their supporters had successfully blocked it for 14 years.

Access to birth control is a particularly acrimonious issue in the Philippines, which has the highest birthrates in Southeast Asia and millions of impoverished parents struggling to feed their large families. Half of all pregnancies are unintended and access to modern contraception is mostly limited to those who can afford it.

The bishops, who hold large sway in a nation that’s more than 80% Catholic, oppose birth control pills, condoms, IUDs and other forms of modern contraception, equating them with abortion or suggesting that they promote promiscuity. Instead, they sanction only Vatican-approved “natural” family planning, such as withdrawal or abstinence during a woman’s fertile periods.

Yet the people in the Philippines have been edging away from the Catholic hierarchy on such personal matters, following the path of Catholics in Europe and the Americas. For the last decade, polls have shown that 70% of Filipinos support the reproductive health bill that will take effect in January.


Government surveys show that 39% of married women in the Philippines want to postpone pregnancy or have no more children, but are not using modern contraception. Similar patterns exist across the developing world, where an estimated 222 million women want to avoid pregnancy but do not have access to effective contraceptives.

If they did, unplanned births would fall by two-thirds, as would the number of abortions, according to the U.N. Population Fund and the Guttmacher Institute, a New York think tank that supports universal access to contraceptives and safe abortion.


Full article at the Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Leader of the Catholic church attacks government's 'Orwellian' plans for gay marriage

Daniel Martin
Daily Mail (UK)
Dec. 25, 2012

The most senior Roman Catholic in England and Wales has lambasted the Prime Minister for his ‘un-democratic’ and ‘Orwellian’ plans to legalise gay marriage. Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols said the proposals were a ‘shambles’, and accused David Cameron of pushing through the changes without a mandate. In his Christmas Eve sermon at Westminster Cathedral, he said that only marriage between a man and a woman shares in ‘the creative love of God’.

The criticism follows that of the Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury, Mark Davies, who used his Christmas homily to liken moves to legalise same-sex marriage to the way Nazis and Communists tried to undermine religion.

Mr Cameron wants to allow gay couples to get married in churches but he says religious organisations will be able to opt out.

Archbishop Nichols criticised successive governments for failing to stand up for marriage and promoting sex before marriage instead.

In an interview with the BBC, he attacked parties who were promoting same-sex marriage, saying the plan was ‘Orwellian’ because there was no mandate from the public. ‘From a democratic point of view, it’s a shambles,’ he said. ‘George Orwell would be proud of the manoeuvre. I think the process is shambolic.’

The Archbishop’s comments come despite the fact polls show the public is largely in favour of allowing gay couples to marry.

Read full article at the Daily Mail

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Wisconsin priest moves on after mysterious suspension

Marie Rohde
National Catholic Reporter
Dec. 21, 2012
Ashippun, Wis.

Fr. David Verhasselt, then pastor of St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish in Oconomowoc, Wis., was apprehensive when the Milwaukee archdiocese's vicar for clergy, Fr. Patrick Heppe, called in April 2010 to set up a meeting at the parish office.

"He would not tell me what it was about at all," Verhasselt said, speaking publicly on the matter for the first time. "I had never had such a visit before and it was mysterious."

Heppe, accompanied by Fr. Paul Hartmann, the archdiocese's judicial vicar, told Verhasselt that he had been accused of breaking the seal of confession. In a scene similar to firings in corporate America, Verhasselt was told to collect his private belongings, leave the parish and not return. As he was walked from the building, he was told to have no contact with parishioners. Placed "on leave," Verhasselt could not perform any of the functions of a priest.

"I was in shock," Verhasselt recalled. "I told them I had never done such a thing."

Deacon David Zimprich announced Verhasselt's removal to stunned parishioners at a Saturday evening Mass a day later, on April 17, 2010. Others learned of it from a television newscast.

Tim Clark, then parish council president, said some wanted to picket the archdiocese or go to Rome to make the case for their priest. A member of an archdiocesan strategic planning committee -- one that studied how to deal with the increasing shortage of priests -- Clark thought picketing was a bad idea. Instead, he met with the archbishop and the chancellor four times, arguing canon law in support of the accused priest.

All to no avail.

Verhasselt, now 65, said he was never given details of his alleged misdeeds -- he was not told who had complained or what it was that he supposedly had revealed. His canon lawyer was not allowed to question the accusers. This is the story that he has been able to piece together.

An unknown person approached Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba in November 2009, accusing Verhasselt of breaking the seal of confession. Verhasselt did not learn of the allegation until April 2010, when Heppe ordered him from the parish. In May 2010, the archdiocese sent the results of its investigation to the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in Rome. The congregation responded in July 2010; it said the evidence was lacking and asked for additional information.

The archdiocese responded in December 2010, informing the Vatican office that it had found a second, unrelated violation: Verhasselt had indirectly, that is, unintentionally, broken the seal of confession. The congregation responded again in February 2011, saying it would not take action against Verhasselt, but that the second violation could be handled locally.

Oblate Fr. Francis Morrisey and Jesuit Fr. Ladislas Orsy, prominent canon lawyers with decades of experience, told NCR that violating the seal of confession is among the most serious of crimes in church law, but it is also an extremely rare accusation.


Orsy pointedly asked concerning Verhasselt's case: "What did he really do?"

On March 16, 2012, Verhasselt was called into the chancery to meet Archbishop Jerome Listecki -- their first meeting since this ordeal had started. The archbishop told Verhasselt that he had been found guilty of indirectly violating the seal of confession. He said he wanted the priest to spend a year in prayer at a Missouri abbey and take a course on the rite of reconciliation. At the end of the year, the archbishop said, he would consider reinstating Verhasselt, but there would be no guarantees that Verhasselt could resume active ministry.

"I asked him, what do I do about the house I own?" Verhasselt said. "The response was, 'Sell it.' " Verhasselt asked for time to think.

"The archdiocese made it very clear that they did not want me to serve as one of their priests, so I decided to move on with my life."

Listecki spoke at a Saturday evening Mass the same day. Many parishioners were visibly angry. Parishioners David Wiesehuegel and Norbert Stuczynski walked out of the Mass. Others wept.


Verhasselt was named administrator for St. Catherine in 1994. The congregation worshiped in a brick church built by Irish farmers in the 1840s, in an area where subdivisions are taking over farm fields. Politically, it is among the most conservative parts of Wisconsin.

"It was a dying parish and I was sent to close it," Verhasselt said.

Instead, the congregation thrived, drawing members from 25 zip codes. Membership grew and an addition, including a new sanctuary, was built in 2000, the same year Verhasselt was formally named parish pastor.


"It was well-known that as quickly as St. Catherine's grew, participation at other churches diminished," Wiesehuegel said. "That created a sort of jealously among priests and the archbishop."

Verhasselt had a reputation of welcoming everyone to St. Catherine.

"There were people who were turned away from other parishes and Father Dave's attitude was, 'Who am I to judge?' " Clark recalled. "Couples who were living together would come to him to be married. Mothers who were not married asked him to baptize their babies. His attitude was that if you turn away young people at this stage in their lives, do you really think they will come back to the church later?"

When other priests were unavailable to anoint the sick, hospitals and nursing homes in the area always knew that Verhasselt would come, no matter what time, Clark said.

Parishioners tell of a time when a member of a neighboring parish was dying. The family called the parish priest, Fr. John Yockey, who could not -- or would not -- come to anoint the man. Verhasselt was called and went to the dying man's bedside. The family asked Verhasselt to say the funeral Mass.

Yockey wrote a letter chastising -- and personally attacking -- Verhasselt. Yockey wrote that Verhasselt was obliged to contact him before going out on the call. Verhasselt allowed the letter to be read at a parish council meeting and he asked for advice on how to respond. The council advised that the letter was not worthy of response.

Yockey declined to comment for this story. He referred questions to Fr. Ralph Gross, a former chancellor for the archdiocese who now serves as the archbishop's representative in the area.


Verhasselt's suspension and ultimate resignation rocked not only members of his former congregation but also archdiocesan priests.

Clark said he has spoken with several priests who are troubled by Verhasselt's experience. "Some have said they are worried about hearing confessions. They say it's almost impossible to give a homily about sin and not have someone think, 'He's talking about me.' "

Sheridan reflects the views of many parishioners: "It was apparent that the archdiocese wanted to get rid of Father Dave one way or another. There was another area priest who had a personal vendetta against him and had been trying to cause him problems."

Most parishioners believe that Verhasselt's fall from grace came because he crossed what Wiesehuegel calls "the good old boys' club."

After resigning from the priesthood, Verhasselt knew he wanted to return to the ministry, he said. The 10th of 12 children reared near Green Bay, Wis., he remembered playing the priest with his siblings as a child. The call to the priesthood was there but he resisted it, working for 15 years as a nursing home administrator before entering the seminary. He was ordained in 1989.

He describes his experience with the archdiocese as essentially house arrest.

"I was not even allowed to anoint or say the funeral Mass for my brother or sister, both of whom passed away during this ordeal," Verhasselt said. "I did request a temporary lifting of the restrictions for [their] funerals but it was not granted."

He said he is speaking out now at the urging of his surviving siblings.

Verhasselt has joined the Evangelical Catholic Church, a fledging denomination formed in 1997 that boasts seven missions in the upper Midwest and others in Ireland. With headquarters in Chicago, it accepts married men, women and gays to the priesthood. It leaves open the question of church teaching on the Virgin Mary. It bills itself as "a welcoming community of faith rooted in the Catholic tradition."

On Aug. 6, Verhasselt opened a new parish, Holy Name of Jesus, in nearby Ashippun, Wis. More than 100 worshipers routinely attend Saturday night services in the Zion Lutheran Church. Many of them are young families, and two services in November included baptisms. Sunday morning services were to begin earlier this month.


All those interviewed said they like and support Fr. Michael Strachota, the new pastor at St. Catherine who also serves another nearby parish.


The Catholic Herald, official newspaper of the archdiocese, noted that people attending Verhasselt's new parish could be excommunicated. No formal action has been taken.

"There is something really broken in the Roman Catholic Church," Eileen and Dennis Kester told NCR in a letter. "It has been for years with all the pedophile priests and cover ups. It sickens us to see them 'crucify' one of the truly kind and humble servants of God." Once parishioners at St. Catherine, the Kesters now belong to Holy Name of Jesus.

Verhasselt said he is content now that he can move on and minister in the community.


Full article at the National Catholic Reporter

Friday, December 21, 2012

Remaking the knights of Columbus as a brotherhood

Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo
Washington Post
Dec. 12, 2012

It was wrong for the Knights of Columbus to spend over a half million dollars in 2012 during four failed campaigns against same-sex marriage laws. My claim that the expenditures were “wrong” has nothing to do with moral and doctrinal opinions on same-sex marriage, abortion, contraception, etc. The paid political propagandizing was wrong because it contradicts the original organizational purpose of the Knights of Columbus. We were founded in New Haven, Conn., in 1881 to provide spiritual and material brotherhood to Catholic men. The chasm separating the original vision from the current drift, I contend, is unhealthy to the Knights of Columbus future.

I joined the K of C some 15 years ago, attracted to a hands-on practice of Catholicism. Our council sponsored pancake breakfasts to raise money for parish youth ministry, ran the parking during the parish carnival, and rented buses for father-son (and some grandfather-grandson) outings. I welcomed the departure from academic armchair Catholicism that had me talking more about Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day than in acting like them. Moreover, this K of C council was a “brotherhood,” supplying healthy male fellowship -- and a great insurance plan as well!

I am not the only one alarmed that the current national leadership is squandering material resources on causes that are purely political and dangerously partisan. While the Knights in my current local council sustain my original expectations, the well compensated Supreme Knight Carl Anderson (over $1 million per year) is busy gathering national headlines for bankrolling political “stuff. Doubtlessly, his record of service outweighs my undistinguished 15 years as a Knight, but has he chosen the right direction for the long-term good of our membership?

At issue are not my political opinions or those of Supreme Knight Anderson: the discontent rises from the use of money that could be better spent on the Knights of Columbus traditional role in alleviating poverty by direct material aid to those in need, like the victims of Hurricane Sandy, where our contribution to date is far less than what was made to 2012 same-sex marriage politics. Admittedly, the sum spent on political causes is dwarfed in the total K of C budget, but “image” counts, as Supreme Knight Anderson should know from his time in the Reagan White House’s public relations effort. Why has he allowed our national image to be politicized at the expense of our grass-roots charity?


At issue is our vision: are the Knights of Columbus to be restored as a grass-roots charitable movement or to continue in the corporate business model of today? Are we to be more like the Catholic Workers of the saintly Dorothy Day or a financial cow for causes the bishops can’t or won’t fund on their own? At stake is not some partisan political stance, but the future of the Knights of Columbus. Since the average Knight these days is middle-aged, middle-class and white, unless we attract younger and more diverse Catholics, we may go the way church membership nationally, where one third of those raised Catholic have left the church.

Remaking the K of C, I would say, is part of the remaking of American Catholicism. We need to reject the worldly ways of the corporate model for church institutions. The Knights of Columbus can be in the vanguard by returning to our legacy as a Catholic brotherhood.

Full article at the Washington Post

Priest shortage means dying lose access to sacraments

The Tablet (UK)
Dec. 21, 2012

Overburdened priests in England and in Ireland are struggling to provide the Sacraments of the Sick (anointing), confession and Communion to those who are ill or on their deathbed.

At least three hospital chaplains in Dublin have said that recently patients have died without being able to see a priest. Caroline Mullen, a chaplain at Connolly Memorial Hospital in Dublin, said: "There are many people who die who don't have the Sacrament of the Sick. [The priest] can't be there all the time."

The Archdiocese of Dublin has admitted that, due to a lack of clergy and cuts in hospital funding, they have a policy of not replacing chaplains who have retired.

Increasingly in England, priests are no longer employed as full-time chaplains to hospitals, with parish priests visiting patients and being on call.

Bishop Tom Williams, chairman of the Healthcare Reference Group of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, said that the shortage of priests meant that the role of lay chaplains was becoming increasingly important. He said: "There are fewer priests, that is a fact. He added that priests "must not be killed off with unreachable expectations".

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lawyer who foretold church scandals writes his story

Angus MacSwan
London (Reuters)
Dec. 20, 2012

Ray Mouton was a successful young lawyer in Lafayette, Louisiana, respected in the community and blessed with a loving family, when he received a call from a vicar in the Roman Catholic diocese for a lunch meeting on a fateful day in 1984. The diocese asked him to defend an errant priest, accused of abusing dozens of children in a rural community. Mouton reluctantly agreed to take on the task.

What followed over the next few years was the uncovering of an institution riddled with pedophile priests on a national scale and efforts at high levels in the Catholic Church to hide the problem away.

For Mouton, it meant the end of his law career, health problems, and anger, depression and guilt.

After many years of writing from his self-imposed exile in France, he finally tells his story in the novel "In God's House". It is a harrowing read laden with sickening detail, but also for Mouton, a work of atonement.

"There's not a day I don't think about the children. When I was writing the book, whenever I wanted to quit, I thought about the victims and their families," he told Reuters.

In person, Mouton, now aged 65, looks like a southern lawyer from central casting, with a head of thick white hair and a sonorous Louisiana drawl. He chose to tell the story in novel form although the characters, from the lawyer to a senior Vatican official who proves an obstacle to addressing the scandal - are based on real figures.

"The novel is a dramatic experience. My experience was a traumatic one. Every day there were revelations. I didn't want to believe, the country didn't want to believe," he said.

Mouton and his family - Cajuns whose ancestors came to Louisiana as part of the Acadian diaspora - were strongly Catholic. His family had donated land for the cathedral in Lafayette and built schools, churches and a seminary. When he first agreed to defend the priest, Father Gilbert Gauthe, he believed he was dealing with an isolated case.

"I believed priests were somehow superior. I had never heard of a priest having sex with a child. I could not believe a Catholic priest could do this. I thought he was just one then it all unraveled. In that diocese alone there were a dozen more." The church preferred to deal with the problem by paying off victims' families. But one family wanted to see justice done.

As a lawyer, Mouton believed Gauthe had the right to a fair trial. He soon realized the church was deeply compromised. It had known about Gauthe's crimes since his days in seminary but had moved him around various parishes, where the abuses continued. The church was in effect harboring criminals, Mouton said.

"I did start out on the side of the church. I couldn't imagine they had foreknowledge," he said.

Mouton joined forces with Father Tom Doyle, a canon lawyer in the Vatican Embassy in Washington, and Father Michael Peterson, a psychiatrist priest who treated sexually deviant clergymen. The two had heard many other cases across Louisiana and the United States - and attempts to bury the problem.

Believing they had the support of the church hierarchy, they set out on a crusade to bring it into the open and seek justice for the victims. They spent a year working on a document detailing the scale of the abuse, the steps the church should take to address it and the consequences if it did not. It stated that there was a national crisis involving dozens, if not hundreds, of priests. "It told them what the deal was - you'll lose 1,000 priests and a billion dollars." They hoped to present the document to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for debate. But after a meeting in a Chicago hotel in 1985 with a cardinal, they were told to kill it.

"They put the reputation of the church above the value of the little children. They did all they could to avoid scandal."


However, a senior jurist in Louisiana involved himself personally in Gauthe's case. Instead of going to a prison that was a treatment facility for pedophiles, the priest was sent to a prison where juveniles were held. He was released after serving only half of his sentence.

Gauthe was picked up in Texas soon after his release for molesting a 3-year-old boy, but put on probation rather than being sent back to prison.

Mouton's marriage broke up and he became an alcoholic.

"It was a cataclysmic event. It broke me in half. I did fall from grace," he said. It took many years but subsequent events have vindicated Mouton as widespread sexual abuse by priests came to light across the United States and the world, from Ireland to Australia.

The church and its insurance companies have paid out more than $2 billion dollars in the United States, bishops have been disgraced, and its reputation has suffered to the point that the faithful have deserted in droves.


He is still bitter about the cover-ups and that many of those responsible have never been brought to justice. Nor has the problem been eradicated, he believes. "I don't think we've reached critical mass on it yet. The question is what can the church do? The church needs to release all the documents and demand the resignations of those involved."


"I was haunted by my experience. I felt I had to do something," he said.

Full article at Reuters

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Archbishop Müeller: disunity harming church

The Tablet
Dec. 15, 2012

The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has decried the disunity in the German Church, and called for a halt to the infighting between its progressive and traditionalist wings.

In an interview with the Munich-based Focus magazine, Archbishop Gerhard Müller said the two sides were drifting further and further apart. The time had come for the CDF to insist that the in-fighting stop because it was harming the Church, he said. Factionalism was a symptom of disease, he pointed out.

Catholics must ask themselves whether their loyalty to a particular group is greater than their desire for unity, he said. The conservative Society of St Pius X (SSPX) was a "loose association of priests who cannot claim to represent the Catholic Church", he added.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Swiss Benedictine Abbot speaks of reform

[Chronologically, I should have posted this before the last item from Switzerland ]

Anthony Ruff
Pray Tell
Nov. 13, 2012

The Benedictine abbot of Einsiedeln in Switzerland, Abbot Martin Werlen, penned a brochure which has caused a bit of uproar: “Discover Together the Embers under the Ashes.” The abbot of Einsiedeln is a member of the Swiss Catholic bishops’ conference.

All the baptized and confirmed of a diocese, he suggests, should be involved appropriately in the naming of their bishop. Maybe cardinals could have term limits – “For example, people from the whole world, women and men, young and not so young, could be called for five years into the college of cardinals,” wrote the abbot. Further: “If, for example, these people could meet every three months with the Pope, it could bring a new dynamism into the leadership of the Church.”

The abbot isn’t making demands; he intends rather to offer some starting points for a broad discussion within the Church. He said, “Fire is missing. We have to face the situation and see what’s behind it.” And this: “The problems are known. But little is happening by way of solution for the problems.”

The title of the brochure hearkens to Cardinal Martini’s last interviewi in which he said, “I see in the Church today so many ashes above the enbers that I’m often assailed by a sense of powerlessness.”

The abbot speaks of “disasters of our own making” (selbstverschuldete Schlamassel) in the Catholic Church today. Some church officials complain that the same problems keep being brought up since 40 years, to which the abbot remarks, “When problems are not taken up, or one is not permitted to speak about them, such behavior puts at risk the credibility of the church and even the very content of the faith.” Playing off the “Appeal to Disobedience” (Pfarrer-Initiative) of the rebel Austrian priests, the abbot states that it is an “act of disobedience” when people and realities are not taken seriously.” (The word “obedience” has as its stem the Latin word for “listening.”) “Because officials do not do their duty and thus are disobedient, initiatives are begun as emergency measures and cries for help. This is understandable, but can also lead to schism and abandoning the institution.” Although he has understanding for such initiatives, he wishes to go down another path: together, discovering embers in the ashes.

European media are reporting great interest in the abbot’s provocative statement. The brochure sold out in the abbey gift shop on the third day and is now in its second printing.

Swiss Abbot harshly criticizes church; calls for reform in system of naming bishops

Pray Tell
Dec. 15, 2012

The Benedictine abbot of Mariastein in the diocese of Chur in Switzerland, Peter von Sury, has harsh criticism for the system of appointing bishops in the Catholic Church. He spoke recently in the context of ongoing turmoil around the leadership of Bishop Vitus Huonder in Chur. He said, “A bishop is of central importance. He is a pontifex, which means ‘bridge builder’; he must be a person who integrates. Unfortunately, we repeatedly experience the opposite, as is the case now in the Diocese of Chur. Here the bishop is obviously not a bridge builder, but a divider.” The abbot said “It is disastrous in every respect when a bishop is divisive. In my opinion, he is morally obligated in such cases to resign from office. The same holds true for an abbot or a pastor.”

In an interview published at KIPA the abbot said, “In our church we have serious structural problems. It is important to me that questions [such as clerical celibacy and women’s ordination] simply be dealt with. Topics can only be solved when the structures are minimally functional and the procedures are worked out. One unresolved question concerns the selection of bishops. Many other problems in the church stem from this.”

On the naming of bishops, the abbot said, “Today only the pope names bishops. This practice stands in contradiction to many theological convictions. It must be changed. Through exclusive naming by pope the system reinforces itself and is not renewed. In these nominations, issues of church politics are oftentimes emphasized more than the good of the diocese. But that is what it is about. On this issue, bishops and theologians must offer decisive resistance. There were other criteria for bishops’ selection in the first millennium of our church. Three levels were decisive in the election: the faithful of the diocese, the clergy of the diocese, and the bishops of the region. Today this would be the Swiss Bishops’ Conference. Such a process makes sense.”

[Benedictine Abbot Martin Werlen of Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland recently called for church reforms, including greater involvement of all the baptized in the selection of bishops. See Pray Tell's report.]


Abbot von Sury has strong criticism for centralism in the Catholic Church. “Even if it is denied, in fact the dioceses are treated by Rome as administrative entities. The problem is that bishops achieve their position through this system, and consequently they have no interest in questioning the current system. The church thus becomes a closed system. Perhaps it eventually has to collapse or fall apart before anything happens. Or the money runs out and brings the system to a still stand. “A closed system is no longer capable of accepting critique or correction from the outside,” he said. “And then when the local churches are disempowered, it is especially dire.”

The abbot stated, “Church institutions, and also the pope, must have a counterweight. In economics or politics we speak of ‘checks and balances.’” He lamented that this is lacking at the level of the universal church.


.... The abbot recalled that, according to canon law, the faithful have the right and obligation to express their opinions to their shepherds. “This is a good statement of intention. But when no implementation stipulations exist, it’s worth absolutely nothing.”

The abbot returned to his main point: “I emphasize forcefully that the important question of bishops’ selection is primary and absolutely must be regulated differently. In terms of church history and theology, the process now in force in the church stands on weak footing.”

full article at Pray Tell

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Who can safely be allowed to speak?

[The banning of the former head of the USCCB's secretariat of the diaconate from speaking to deacons in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is drawing a lot of attention since it widens the recent trend of suppression of theologians. ]

Women deacons? Best not to talk about it.
Mollie Wilson O'Reilly
December 11, 2012

The archdiocese of Philadelphia is looking for someone to address its deacons this spring. Former heads of the USCCB’s secretariat for the diaconate need not apply. Not, that is, if they have publicly acknowledged the unsettled question of whether women may be ordained deacons. That might be “doctrinally confusing,” and Catholics these days are just so easy to confuse.


I knew the paranoia was getting pretty bad out there. Nobody wants to risk running afoul of the orthodoxy police; easier to just preemptively cancel any speakers/visiting professors who might give you trouble, regardless of whether the objections are well founded. But this is the most ridiculous example I’ve heard of yet. This diocese is afraid to allow the former head of the USCCB office for the diaconate to speak to its deacons, because said deacon has demonstrated an awareness of and interest in scholarly study of…the diaconate?

original article at Commonweal

The thought police never sleeps
Meinrad Scherer-Emunds
US Catholic
Dec. 11, 2012

And the crackdown continues. The latest in the continuing saga of speaking bans, censures, and reprimands for theologians comes from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where a prominent and widely respected deacon theologian, who previously headed the bishops’ secretariat for the diaconate, is no longer allowed to speak.

Deacon William Ditewig has been disinvited from a talk he was scheduled to give to the archdiocese’s deacons in March. The cancellation of this talk comes after the archdiocese’s Speaker Approval Commission recommended that he not be approved to speak in the archdiocese because his appearance would “cause doctrinal confusion.”

So which church teaching has Ditewig dared to question? Actually none. The thought crime he is being accused of committing is entertaining the possibility that women could again be ordained to the diaconate, a practice that was well established in the church for many centuries.


original article at US Catholic

Someone should tell Bishop Finn to step down if he won't do it himself

Bill Tammeus
National Catholic Reporter
Dec. 12, 2012

I wish at least one of America's Catholic bishops had the courage of the late Sen. Barry Goldwater.

Goldwater had stuck with Richard Nixon all the way through the Watergate scandal until, on Aug. 5, 1974, newly released transcripts revealed a conversation Nixon had six days after the Watergate break-in that showed the president directed the CIA to stop investigating the crime. Stunned by this smoking gun, Goldwater went to the White House to tell Nixon there was no hope for him to remain president and he should resign.

Because Goldwater wasn't among those who had called for Nixon to quit earlier, it required a special kind of courage to face his president and tell him to get out.

Maybe one day, we'll learn that one of Bishop Robert Finn's peers told him privately that his continued presence as bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., was hurting the church in many ways and that he should quit.


All we know is Finn remains in office, and none of his fellow bishops has said publicly that Finn needs to go now that he's been found guilty in a court of law of covering up for a priest suspected of child abuse. A smoking gun, but silence from bishops and silence from Rome.

Any book written about Finn's fellow bishops in this affair should be called Profiles in Cowardice.


Turning against a peer or co-worker can be terribly difficult, especially in the world of business. Quite often in such cases, the whistleblower pays by getting fired while the one who needs a remedial course in ethics keeps his or her job or even gets promoted.

But for heaven's sake, the church is not a business. It's the called-out people of God who, having received the saving grace of Jesus Christ, are deputized to proclaim the Gospel to others through word and deed.

No one is suggesting Finn can't be forgiven his sins. Indeed, forgiveness is precisely what God always stands ready to offer.

But when someone in a position of ecclesial authority has failed in so spectacular a way that even a secular court has found him guilty, he has the obligation to do what he can to avoid further damage to what Finn often calls -- in words that should make him quake -- Holy Mother Church.


full article at National Catholic Reporter

Rhetoric, yes but also cause for optimism

Betty Zwartz
Brisbane Times
Dec. 13, 2012

ONCE bitten, twice shy, the adage says, and Catholic bishops in Australia over the decades have made all sorts of promises about learning the lessons of abuse, putting victims first and the like that have crumbled under the pressure of expediency.

So the wider community might be doubly sceptical about what changes the church's new lay-led Truth, Justice and Healing Commission might actually produce, especially as the two men appointed yesterday to run it could not give any examples.

New chief executive Francis Sullivan gave fine promises about truth, justice and listening.

''We are really genuine in saying this process is about healing, which will never happen unless we first listen,'' he said. ''And to listen, we need to be in the other person's shoes, and to step into these shoes won't be easy - it will take an open heart and compassion. But that's our brief.''

 So far, it is only rhetoric. It can't be anything else until it is tested. But it is also grounds for cautious optimism.
The church has moved on from what many saw as its lowest point this year: the widespread revulsion at the aggressive defensiveness of Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell at a press conference last month, in which he blamed a smear campaign by the media and said the Catholic Church was not ''the only cab on the rank''.

Many Catholics joined non-Catholics in observing that the only appropriate response was words that would be familiar to the cardinal, ''mea culpa, mea maxima culpa'' (''through my fault, through my most grievous fault'', as the new English liturgy has it).

The new council offers a tentative hope that the church has heard its critics, will use the enormous lay expertise at its disposal to avoid its besetting clericalism, and plans a more open, less defensive stance.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Attempt to ressurect pre-Vatican II mass leaves church at crossroads

[This opinion piece is long, but worth reading as it spells out what is at stake in the church and some of the litugical history. Also note Pope Paul VI's response to reviving the Latin Mass ]

Fr. Ron Schmidt, Pastor St. Anne Church (Byron, CA)
National Catholic Reporter
Dec. 8, 2012

It was curiosity and a sense of irony that moved me to open the Oct. 1 issue of our diocesan newspaper (Oakland Catholic Voice). On the cover was the headline "Moving Forward in Faith" next to a picture of our former bishop vested as would be a prelate from more than 50 years ago. This was a photo from a liturgy in the "extraordinary form" (pre-Vatican II 1962 Latin Mass), welcoming a group of very traditional Carmelite nuns to the diocese.

Lately, there seems to be an increasing interest in this "extraordinary form" in our diocesan paper and among some of our clergy. In the past my attitude has been "so what." If people are into antiquarianism, let them. Some people like to spend weekends reenacting the Civil War. They dress in period costume. They stage mock battles of Union and Confederate soldiers. It's a harmless hobby. I just figured that the people attached to this "extraordinary form" were the liturgical version of societies for anachronistic re-enactment.

However, I have come to change my opinion. Those attached to the extraordinary form are not like Civil War re-enactment societies. At least those people know they are play-acting about a time that can never return. The people attached to the extraordinary form are seriously trying to enact a particular worldview and understanding of church. And it is an understanding that we left behind at the Second Vatican Council. It is a worldview that is incompatible with the council.

Liturgy is not about taste or aesthetics. It is how the church defines itself. Those who rejected Vatican II and its liturgy were the first to understand the connection between liturgy and our self-understanding as church.

Pope Paul VI also understood this. The rejection of the Vatican II liturgy is a rejection of its ecclesiology and theology. In his newly published book True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Concilium, Massimo Faggioli narrates Paul's response when his philosopher friend Jean Guitton asked why not concede the 1962 missal to breakaway Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his followers. Paul responded: Never. This Mass ... becomes the symbol of the condemnation of the council. I will not accept, under any circumstances, the condemnation of the council through a symbol. Should this exception to the liturgy of Vatican II have its way, the entire council would be shaken. And, as a consequence, the apostolic authority of the council would be shaken.

Paul knew that permitting the old form would be not only divisive but would call the whole council into doubt, and that would be a sin against the Holy Spirit. Now we are experiencing the unfortunate fruit of the recent permission to celebrate the extraordinary form.

The definition of who we are as church comes alive in the liturgy. Vatican II described the church as a priestly people called on a mission. This priesthood is rooted in our baptism. Once Pope John Paul II was asked what was the most important day in his life. He replied, "The day I was baptized."

Baptism is our sharing in Christ's victory over death. We are incorporated into the paschal mystery of the risen Christ and now share in the life of God. What higher calling can there be than this? Marriage, religious or single life and ordained ministry are but specific ways in which one is called to live out his/her baptismal vocation. This is why St. Augustine would tell his people, "With you I am baptized; for you I am ordained." The council tells us that baptism calls everyone to holiness.

The council's vision of a priestly people on mission necessitated a liturgy that could prepare disciples ready to take up their responsibilities. The council looked to the church's distant past to recover ritual elements that were instrumental in preparing the baptized to take active responsibility for Christ's priestly, prophetic and royal mission.

In her article "Summorum Pontificum and the Unmaking of the Lay Church" (Worship, July 2012), scholar Georgia Masters Keightley identifies those elements recovered by the council from the ancient church. These express the active exercise of the priestly people of God: the prayer of the faithful, the offertory procession and the kiss of peace. These were visible signs that expressed the church's priesthood. These signs incarnate for the priesthood of all believers the task to proclaim the Gospel and to make intercession for the world and all people.

Over time, these elements were lost or obscured. By the time we get to the Council of Trent (1545-63), new prayers and rites had replaced the ancient rites. Keightley writes:

These made no room for the laity's intercessions for the world and its people. Gone was any visible sign of the sacrificial offering of self that takes form in those daily efforts to welcome the stranger, care for the poor, and steward the earth's resources. Neither was there allowance for that sincere expression of the fellowship and communion the Church claims to celebrate and witness. With their disappearance, an important dimension of the liturgy also receded, i.e., the primitive Church's appreciation of the Eucharist as a sacrificium laudis (sacrifice of praise).

The liturgy that came out of the Middle Ages and Trent placed a different emphasis on the eucharistic liturgy. Focus was not on preparing all the baptized for mission but on the power of the ordained to transform bread and wine. The idea of the "unbloody reenactment of the sacrifice of the cross" pushed "thanksgiving for creation and consecrating the world" to the margins of eucharistic theology. The power of the clergy to make Christ present in Eucharist eclipsed the Eucharist's power to transform the baptized -- equipped to make Christ a real presence in the world through their everyday lives. Keightley again:

This not only introduced a deep divide between creation and redemption; it gave rise to a lay spirituality focused narrowly on the individual's future salvation to the neglect of one's priestly ecclesial duties for the here and now renewal of creation.

The 1570 missal (the basis of the 1962 missal) was, and continues to be, a liturgy in which the baptized -- once subjects of the liturgy and co-celebrants of the eucharistic sacrifice -- were and are reduced to mere spectators. They are there to watch the priest say "his" Mass. The emphasis is hierarchical and legalistic (who has the power and how are they lawfully exercising that power). Rather than the risen Christ working through the whole people of God (lay and ordained), we have a powerful clergy ministering to a passive people. Instead of church as sacrament, we have church as a juridical hierarchy.

The attempt to resurrect and popularize the 1962 pre-Vatican II Mass has serious ramifications. Will we be a church that looks narrowly inward -- where God is found only in piety and private devotion, or will we be a church as Vatican II defined it -- a Spirit-filled people on fire with an urgent sense of mission? We are at a crossroads. The extraordinary form is incapable of activating us as the priestly people of God -- the vision of Vatican II. Which path will we follow?

Sts. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross were great reformers of the Catholic Counter Reformation. As those at Vatican II, they tried to reform their community by returning to the sources and restoring religious practice (discalced) that had become obscured over time. They also had to struggle with those who fought the reforms they were initiating. We need their intercession to persevere in the aggiornamento (updating) that Pope John XXIII inaugurated by calling the council together.

The feisty, joyful perseverance of St. Teresa of Avila is reflected in one of my favorite quotes of hers: "From sour-faced saints and silly devotions, good Lord, preserve us!" Amen.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Catholic university faculty rebukes president over academic freedom

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
Dec. 7, 2012

The primary representative body of University of San Diego faculty has firmly rebuked the Catholic institution’s president, saying her leadership has created a “climate of apprehension” and has been “inconsistent with the mission of the university.” The vote by the University Senate, which represents the institution’s seven colleges, came Thursday after weeks of dispute over president Mary Lyons’ cancelation of a visiting fellowship for noted British theologian Tina Beattie.

Beattie, a theologian at London’s University of Roehampton known for her work in contemporary ethical issues, had been scheduled to begin a fellowship at the San Diego’s Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture on Nov. 6.

Lyons, who says the theologian publicly dissented from church teaching by suggesting Catholics could support civil same-sex marriage, canceled the appointment Oct. 27.

Prominent theologians and academics in both the U.S. and the U.K. have criticized the decision, saying it represents a significant crackdown on academic freedom.

San Diego faculty and students have also said Lyons’ reasoning for the cancelation has shifted over the past weeks, leaving unclear exactly what process the president followed in making her decision and what influence pressure from financial contributors played in the move.

“The Senate finds President Lyons’ decision … and her evolving justifications for this action to be incompatible with the principles of academic freedom and shared governance, and inconsistent with the mission of the university,” reads one of three motions approved by the Senate Thursday.

Addressing the issue in a four page resolution composed of 23 clauses giving justification for their motions, the Senate also stated that:

University donors “must not limit or impede in any way” scholarship or teaching;
No part of the university “can be excluded or exempt from the protections of academic freedom”;
The university’s “international and national reputation was damaged” due to Lyons’ decision;
The decision may “produce a negative impact on recruitment and retention efforts”;

Lyons has “created a climate of apprehension and distrust in which self-censorship has the potential to hinder academic thinking” and, The president has “provided neither sufficient clarification … nor any compelling justification for her decision.”


Ron Fowler, the chair of the university board, said in a Nov. 16 letter to the university community that the board believe Lyons made the decision to cancel Beattie’s fellowship “in good faith and with the best interest of the University in mind.”

Read entire article at the National Catholic Reporter

Friday, December 7, 2012

Association of Catholic Priests supports Fr. Roy Bourgeois

Association of Catholic Priests
Dec. 7, 2012

The Association of Catholic Priests (Ireland) is saddened and disappointed by the dismissal of Maryknoll priest Fr. Roy Bourgeois from the priesthood and from his religious congregation, and his excommunication from the Church that he has served for almost half a century. We believe that this type of action, ordered by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and implemented by the Maryknoll Order, is unjust, and ultimately counter-productive. Dismissing people because they have sincerely held views that are contrary to those of the Vatican, but which are widely shared by the Catholic faithful, will not end discussion and debate on these topics. In fact it will only serve to highlight the urgent need to face the problems around ministry in the Church. Participants in a year long ‘listening process’ in the diocese of Killaloe, a mainly rural diocese in Ireland, expressed the opinion that the ordination of women should be openly discussed, particularly in view of the projected shortage of priests in the next few years. Surely this is yet another of many examples of the sensus fidelium calling for change so that, in future, the Eucharist can be available to the Church community. We call on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to cease this type of abuse, to restore Fr. Bourgeois to the full exercise of his ministry and to allow for open and honest discussion on issues that are of crucial importance for the future of the Church.

On behalf of the Leadership of the ACP:
Fr. P.J. Madden; Fr. Sean McDonagh; Fr. Brendan Hoban; Fr. Tony Flannery

Former bishops' staffer banned over women deacons

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
Dec. 6, 2012

A former key U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference staffer has been told he is not allowed to speak publicly in the Philadelphia archdiocese because he co-authored a book investigating the possibility of ordaining women as deacons. William Ditewig, a theologian and deacon who previously served as the head of the bishops’ secretariat for the diaconate, has been told his public presence in the archdiocese would cause “doctrinal confusion.”

Ditewig, who has authored 10 books on the permanent diaconate and lay ministry, told NCR he had no intention of discussing the question of women deacons during his talk, which was to be an update on the state of the diaconate.

Ditewig served in the role at the bishops’ conference from 2002-2007. He had been scheduled to give an address to the archdiocese’s deacons, wives, and deacon candidates in March 2013 before being told of its cancellation in September.

Notice of the cancellation, which was made available to NCR Monday, came from the archdiocese’s speaker approval commission, a group of six priests and one lay female theologian tasked with reviewing speakers for archdiocesan events.

Their cancellation came without consultation with the deacon.

Ditewig, the commission alleged in a short letter explaining the matter, “has publications … in which he argues for women deacons based on a reading of historical data that is not in accord with the data of Tradition considered globally.”

“The Archdiocesan Speaker Approval Commission recommends that Deacon William T. Ditewig not be approved to speak in the Archdiocese,” it states.

Currently a professor of theology at Jesuit-run Santa Clara University, Ditewig co-authored Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future last year with fellow Santa Clara theology professor Gary Macy and Hofstra University theology professor Phyllis Zagano, who is also an NCR columnist.


In his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II declared that the church “has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women.”

“When the Holy See says it does not have the authority to ordain women to the priesthood, that’s a very specific thing,” said Ditewig. “It leaves the diaconate out of it because the diaconate is not part of the priesthood.”


Read entire article at the National Catholic Reporter

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Response to abuse has been slow, stymied by vatican

Chris McGillion (former religious affairs editor for The Sydney Morning Herald)
National Catholic Reporter
Sydney, Australia
Dec. 5,2012

[This article is long, but worth reading as it describes the history of Australia's bishops response to the abuse crisis. Findings that clerical culture and psycho-sexual immaturity were involved were ignored, Rome over-ruled local church's terms of response, etc. Comparable to situations in Ireland and USA. ]

The Catholic church in Australia is about to be put under the spotlight of the most sweeping inquiry into child sexual abuse ever conducted in this country.

Describing child abuse as "vile and evil," Prime Minister Julia Gillard said a national royal commission will examine the treatment of children in all churches, charities and private bodies. But it is clear that a major factor in her decision has been the mounting public outcry at ongoing scandals involving Catholic personnel and procedures.

These scandals include:
Recent suicides of victims of sexual abuse by priests;
Allegations of children dying in the care of Catholic institutions;
Ongoing arrests and convictions of priests in relation to matters involving child sexual abuse;
New allegations that some church authorities failed to report abusive priests;
Claims by police in two state jurisdictions -- three states are currently conducting their own inquiries into child abuse in institutional care -- that existing church protocols fail to address the long-term interests of victims and that the Catholic church, in the words of one detective, "covers up, silences victims, hinders police investigations, alerts offenders, destroys evidence and moves priests to protect the good name of the church."

"Beyond the evidence of abuse," Gillard told a press conference, "there is also cause for concern that other adults who could have done something to make a difference to the lives of these children didn't do what they should have done, either by becoming complicit in people being moved around, for example, or by averting their eyes and by acts of omission."

Few observers of recent events and public disclosures could have had much doubt that Gillard had the Catholic church very much in mind when she made that comment and, interestingly, Sydney's archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, was the only religious leader with whom she discussed her plans before announcing the royal commission.

If what is to come proves extremely gut-wrenching for the Catholic church, it only has its leadership to blame: At a national level, the bishops were slow to respond to the mounting evidence of clerical sexual abuse through the 1980s and 1990s; at an even more senior level the Vatican has stymied the national response that eventually did emerge in the Australian church.

Back in 1988, the Australian bishops set up a special committee to examine the issue of sex abuse in the church and to prepare a set of principles to govern the appropriate response to the problem. Four years later, the bishops issued a pastoral letter in which they acknowledged that mistakes had been made in dealing with abusive clergy in the past but it was almost another two years before the special committee made public a draft document.

That draft did make some courageous admissions: Sex abuse, it stated, "will not be stopped in a climate of deception, hypocrisy and lies," and the church had to commit itself to a "spirit of openness and truth" in dealing with allegations of abusive behavior. In cases involving children, the document insisted the church should "cooperate fully with child-protection agencies and the judiciary, not claiming preferential treatment" for any of its members suspected or accused of sexual offenses. The document concluded by arguing, "It is simply intolerable that we should degenerate to the extent of closing [the church's] eyes to the injustices which are destroying the foundations on which people build their identity."

......... it was another two years before the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference issued a formal statement expressing "deep regret" for clerical sexual abuse and adopting a plan of action promising the preparation of a code of conduct for priests, members of religious orders, and other church employees.

That code, titled "Towards Healing: Principles and procedures in responding to complaints of abuse against personnel of the Catholic Church in Australia," was finally approved in December 1996. It clearly stated in its introduction that this new way of dealing with abuse would "become credible only to the extent that it is actually put into effect" and that "if we do not follow the principles and procedures of this document, we will have failed according to our own criteria." Although church authorities claim that there has been no such failure since 1996, many victims say otherwise and their criticisms are now echoed by some police.

In 1996 the bishops also undertook to commission a study into the factors inside the church that might produce abusive clergy. That study, titled "Towards Understanding: A study of the factors specific to the Catholic Church which might lead to sexual abuse by priests and religious," was concluded three years later.

This was a bold attempt to drill to the core of the church's institutional culture. It found that clerical sexual abuse was a "direct consequence" of the failure of the Catholic church to treat men and women equally. "As long as the culture of the Church does not put men and women on a basis of true equality, then women and children will remain vulnerable to abuse," it argued. While the study found no evidence to suggest that the incidence of sexual abuse by priests and religious brothers was any higher than for males generally, it did find that the pattern of abuse was the "complete opposite" of that found in the general community, with boys more likely to be victims than girls. This fact it ascribed to occupational factors (many of the offenses against children were committed by clergy engaged in ministries that involved male environments), although it did acknowledge a consensus among those consulted in the study that the "arresting of human psycho-sexual and psychological development accompanied entry to the seminary or religious life directly from secondary school."

"Towards Understanding" also ruled out celibacy as a significant factor in contributing to child sexual abuse, although it did concede that attitudes toward celibacy (seen by many as simply "part of the package" of priesthood rather than a considered choice) may be a factor. It also found celibacy was inappropriate for a "considerable number" of clergy. The study was critical of images of God that emphasized notions of lordship and control rather than community and participation, and it criticized the all-male environment of seminaries and the "hibernation" of seminarians from psychological growth and authentic social interaction.

By implication, "Towards Understanding" was arguing that the culture of clericalism should be fundamentally reformed. Not surprisingly, the report was never made public, never acted upon in any serious manner, and, like a similar report into the priesthood -- with similar findings -- commissioned by the U.S. bishops in 1971, effectively buried. What had happened between 1996 and 1999 was a meeting in Rome in 1998 in which 13 of the 38 Australian bishops attending the Synod for Oceania were summoned by Vatican officials responsible for matters of doctrine, clergy, worship and the sacraments, bishops, religious orders and Catholic education. Three weeks after the meeting, a summary of its deliberations, known as "The Statement of Conclusions," was presented to all the Australian bishops to sign. Under the circumstances, they had little choice.

The statement referred to a "crisis of faith" in Australia and presented a blueprint for responding to it. The church "does not create her own ordering and structure," that blueprint insisted, "but receives them from Christ himself." Many of the subsequent prescriptions laid out in the document entrenched the clerical culture "Towards Understanding" was to criticize. The statement also, by implication at the very least, dashed any hopes the bishops might have harbored that they were free to act in ways they saw necessary to respond comprehensively to the problem of clerical sexual abuse. Since then, it has only been lone bishops who have dared to speak out on the need for reform or criticize the lack of a more forceful response from the church on the clerical sexual abuse issue.

Senior Australian hierarchs have welcomed the prime minister's announcement of a royal commission into child sexual abuse. The current chairman of the bishops' conference, Melbourne's Archbishop Denis Hart, said, "Our procedures that we have used since 1996 to address matters of abuse should be subject to appropriate scrutiny and that scrutiny has my full support and we will cooperate fully with the royal commission."

Likewise, Pell said that he believed "the air should be cleared and the truth uncovered" and also promised his full support. Other bishops have made similar encouraging remarks.

But these are early days. The precise terms of reference of the commission have yet to be decided. A royal commissioner -- or commissioners -- has yet to be appointed. The question of how long the commission will have to conduct its inquiry remains uncertain -- the Ryan inquiry in Ireland took 10 years to issue its report -- and the implications of a federal inquiry dealing with offenses that occur in state jurisdictions remains uncertain.

But it is no longer 1998, the royal commission has bipartisan political support, and the Australian public expects answers. Perhaps that will be enough to tilt the balance -- even in Rome.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Catholic teen's gay marriage stance unsettles Minnesota town

Jenny Deam
Los Angeles Times
December 4, 2012

It's a fight straight from the Vatican now landed on the wind-swept prairie of western Minnesota — all because of a Magic Marker, a yard sign and a 16-year-old boy with an iPhone.

Lennon Cihak, a high school junior in the Minnesota town of Barnesville — population about 2,500 — was raised Roman Catholic like his parents and grandparents. His mother and father, Shana and Doug Cihak, were baptized, confirmed and married in Barnesville's century-old Assumption Church, the same one where Lennon had been attending confirmation classes since spring.

Then on Oct. 24 — 13 days before the vote on a proposed state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman — everything changed.

That night, Lennon attended a run-through for the ceremony of his confirmation, the sacrament in which believers reaffirm their faith. Lennon, who was named after Beatles member John Lennon, says nothing special happened at church to set the fateful events in motion, but for weeks he had been thinking about the marriage amendment. A lot of his friends were opposed, saying it didn't seem fair.

"In the Constitution it says all men are created equal. If they can't get married, they aren't equal," he remembers thinking.

So that night he took a pro-amendment yard sign, changed "Vote Yes" to "Vote No" with a black marker and scrawled the words "Equal Marriage Rights." He then posed with the sign, snapped a photo with his phone, and posted the picture on his Facebook page.

That's when things got messy.

Shana Cihak, a City Hall billing clerk, says the next day there was an urgent message on the family answering machine for her and her husband to meet with Father Gary LaMoine, the parish priest. That conversation on Oct. 25, according to her version, started cordially, with the priest telling them they needed to come to church more often.

But then, she says, LaMoine told her that Lennon's opinions on same-sex marriage were in conflict with the church and that her son could not be confirmed.

She was stunned. Lennon had only expressed an opinion. He wasn't even old enough to vote. Why should he be denied a sacrament when others who break church rules are not?

"Do you mean to tell me," Shana Cihak says she told LaMoine, "that when you stand up there on Sunday and you see all of those families with two or three kids, you don't know they are using birth control?" She says she was told she could no longer serve as sponsor of one of the kids in the confirmation class. She came home in tears.

LaMoine and Bishop Michael Hoeppner, who oversees the Diocese of Crookston, which includes Assumption Church, did not respond to requests for an interview. But in a strongly worded letter LaMoine sent to church members on Nov. 15, the priest tells a very different story:

"It is to my dismay that what should have been kept an internal church matter has now become a public controversy," LaMoine wrote, adding that he knew nothing about the Facebook posting until his secretary found it the day after his meeting with the Cihaks to talk about issues he did not specify. He called Lennon's Facebook picture — which was "liked" by several members of the confirmation class — a "defacement" and apologized to the parish for the Cihaks' behavior.

He also said Lennon was the one who decided to end the confirmation process.

LaMoine wrote that he never denied Lennon's confirmation, but added: "Even if he had not withdrawn … I would have had no choice but to remove him from consideration given his rejection of marriage as we understand it. Rejection of the church's teaching on marriage is a very serious breach of faith."

Lennon says the idea that he quit is untrue.

The Catholic Church's highest leadership has been vehement in its opposition to same-sex marriage. In March, Pope Benedict XVI urged a delegation of U.S. bishops, including those from Minnesota, not to back down in the global fight against same-sex marriage. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has also taken up the fight. "We should be strengthening marriage, not redefining it," says Tim Roder, associate director for the promotion and defense of marriage at the conference.

St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt crusaded in support of Minnesota's proposed marriage amendment, sending two letters — one just before the election — to every priest in the state telling them to advocate for it in their congregations. He wrote that the issue of preserving traditional marriage was "one of the greatest challenges of our times," and that any priest who disagreed must remain silent.

Of the $4.5 million raised to support the measure, about a third came from the Catholic Church. About $50,000 came from the Diocese of Crookston, says Gary Goldsmith, executive director of Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.

The dust-up in Barnesville quickly escalated. It was featured on talk radio in nearby Fargo, N.D., where callers split evenly between those who applauded the church for sticking to its rules and those who said "maybe it's time they need to open their eyes," says show producer Daniel Gunderson. A Facebook page, "I Support Lennon Cihak," has nearly 3,000 "likes." Reader comments on Catholic blogs have come down solidly in support of LaMoine.


Although the amendment failed statewide, in Barnesville it passed easily, leaving the Cihak family unsure of their next step. "We don't have anything bad to say about the Catholic Church. I've been a Catholic my whole life. I'm 53. I don't plan to do anything else," Doug Cihak says.

Lately he has been rethinking once-steadfast beliefs. "Before, I was always one man, one woman. I am a conservative," he says. But at the polling place, he paused when it came to voting on the Marriage for Minnesota Act.

"In the end, I sided with my son."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Editorial: ordination of women would correct an injustice

National Catholic Reporter editorial board
Dec. 3, 2012

The call to the priesthood is a gift from God. It is rooted in baptism and is called forth and affirmed by the community because it is authentic and evident in the person as a charism. Catholic women who have discerned a call to the priesthood and have had that call affirmed by the community should be ordained in the Roman Catholic church. Barring women from ordination to the priesthood is an injustice that cannot be allowed to stand.

The most egregious statement in the Nov. 19 press release announcing Roy Bourgeois' "excommunication, dismissal and laicization" is the assertion that Bourgeois' "disobedience" and "campaign against the teachings of the Catholic church" was "ignoring the sensitivities of the faithful." Nothing could be further from the truth. Bourgeois, attuned by a lifetime of listening to the marginalized, has heard the voice of the faithful and he has responded to that voice.

Bourgeois brings this issue to the real heart of the matter. He has said that no one can say who God can and cannot call to the priesthood, and to say that anatomy is somehow a barrier to God's ability to call one of God's own children forward places absurd limits on God's power. The majority of the faithful believe this.

Let's review the history of Rome's response to the call of the faithful to ordain women:

In April 1976 the Pontifical Biblical Commission concluded unanimously: "It does not seem that the New Testament by itself alone will permit us to settle in a clear way and once and for all the problem of the possible accession of women to the presbyterate." In further deliberation, the commission voted 12-5 in favor of the view that Scripture alone does not exclude the ordination of women, and 12-5 in favor of the view that the church could ordain women to the priesthood without going against Christ's original intentions.

In Inter Insigniores (dated Oct. 15, 1976, but released the following January), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said: "The Church, in fidelity to the example of the Lord, does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination." That declaration, published with the approval of Pope Paul VI, was a relatively modest "does not consider herself authorized."

Pope John Paul II upped the ante considerably in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (May 22, 1994): "We declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." John Paul had wanted to describe the ban as "irreformable," a much stronger stance than "definitively held." This met substantial resistance from high-ranking bishops who gathered at a special Vatican meeting in March 1995 to discuss the document, NCR reported at the time. Even then, bishops attuned to the pastoral needs of the church had won a concession to the possibility of changing the teaching.

But that tiny victory was fleeting.

In October 1995, the doctrinal congregation acted further, releasing a responsum ad propositum dubium concerning the nature of the teaching in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: "This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium." The ban on women's ordination belongs "to the deposit of the faith," the responsum said.

The aim of the responsum was to stop all discussion.

In a cover letter to the responsum, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then head of the congregation, asked presidents of bishops' conferences to "do everything possible to ensure its distribution and favorable reception, taking particular care that, above all on the part of theologians, pastors of souls and religious, ambiguous and contrary positions will not again be proposed."

Despite the certainty with which Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and the responsum were issued they did not answer all the questions on the issue.

Many have pointed out that to say that the teaching is "founded on the written Word of God" completely ignored the 1976 findings of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

Others have noted that the doctrinal congregation did not make a claim of papal infallibility -- it said what the pope taught in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was that which "has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium." This too, however, has been called into question because at the time there were many bishops around the world who had serious reservations about the teaching, though few voiced them in public.

Writing in The Tablet in December 1995, Jesuit Fr. Francis A. Sullivan, a theological authority on the magisterium, cited Canon 749, that no doctrine is understood to have been defined infallibly unless this fact is clearly established. "The question that remains in my mind is whether it is a clearly established fact that the bishops of the Catholic Church are as convinced by [the teaching] as Pope John Paul evidently is," Sullivan wrote.

The responsum caught nearly all bishops off-guard. Though dated October, it was not made public until Nov. 18. Archbishop William Keeler of Baltimore, then the outgoing president of the U.S. bishops' conference, received the document with no warning three hours after the bishops had adjourned their annual fall meeting. One bishop told NCR that he learned about the document from reading The New York Times. He said many bishops were deeply troubled by the statement. He, like other bishops, spoke anonymously.

The Vatican had already begun to stack the deck against questioning. As Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese reported in his 1989 book, Archbishop: Inside the Power Structure of the American Catholic Church, under John Paul a potential episcopal candidate's view on the teaching against women's ordination had become a litmus test for whether a priest could be promoted to bishop.

Less than a year after Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was issued, Mercy Sr. Carmel McEnroy was removed from her tenured position teaching theology at St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana for her public dissent from church teaching; she had signed an open letter to the pope calling for women's ordination. McEnroy very likely was the first victim of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, but there have been many more, most recently Roy Bourgeois.

Blessed John Henry Newman said that there are three magisteria in the church: the bishops, the theologians and the people. On the issue of women's ordination, two of the three voices have been silenced, which is why the third voice must now make itself heard. We must speak up in every forum available to us: in parish council meetings, faith-sharing groups, diocesan convocations and academic seminars. We should write letters to our bishops, to the editors of our local papers and television news channels.

Our message is that we believe the sensus fidelium is that the exclusion of women from the priesthood has no strong basis in Scripture or any other compelling rationale; therefore, women should be ordained. We have heard the faithful assent to this in countless conversations in parish halls, lecture halls and family gatherings. It has been studied and prayed over individually and in groups. The brave witness of the Women's Ordination Conference, as one example, gives us assurance that the faithful have come to this conclusion after prayerful consideration and study -- yes, even study of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.

NCR joins its voice with Roy Bourgeois and calls for the Catholic church to correct this unjust teaching.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Missouri bishop's conviction leaves clergy divided

New York Times
Dec. 2, 2012

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In the three months since Bishop Robert W. Finn became the first American prelate convicted of failing to report a pedophile priest, lay people and victims’ advocates have repeatedly called for his resignation.

Now, recent interviews and a private survey by a company working for the Roman Catholic diocese here show for the first time that a significant number of the bishop’s own priests have lost confidence in him.

Bishop Finn, who oversees the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, is serving two years of court-supervised probation after his conviction in September on a single misdemeanor count. The survey by Church Development, a consulting firm the diocese hired to run a capital campaign, was of 40 priests. In the 32 responses obtained by The New York Times, half of them seriously doubted whether the bishop should continue as their leader, and several suggested that he resign.

“I think it would be easier for us to move forward without Bishop Finn as our bishop,” the Rev. Michael Clary, the pastor at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Lee’s Summit, Mo., which is part of Bishop Finn’s diocese, said in an interview. He added, however, that the bishop’s resignation may not be the only way forward.

Such sentiments raise the question of whether Bishop Finn can successfully continue to oversee a diocese of 87 parishes and more than 130,000 people, or whether he will go the way of Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who gave up his post in Boston a decade ago after an outcry over his practice of reassigning priests accused of abuse to new parishes. A national online petition calling for Bishop Finn’s resignation has collected nearly 110,000 signatures.

But the bishop also has a strong base of supporters who contend that the critical priests do not appreciate Bishop Finn’s doctrinally conservative approach. He belongs to Opus Dei, a conservative Roman Catholic organization.

“Yes, there is a divide in the presbyterate, but in my opinion it’s the same old tired divide that has existed from the day he arrived,” the Rev. Vince Rogers, the pastor at St. Andrew the Apostle in Gladstone, Mo., and a 20-year veteran of the diocese, wrote in an e-mail. “In a word, some of the priests wish that we had a more liberal bishop, and they are willing to use any means to achieve that end.”

Bishop Finn’s conviction stemmed from his failure to report the Rev. Shawn Ratigan to the authorities after hundreds of pornographic pictures that Father Ratigan had taken of young girls were discovered on his laptop in December 2010.


Critics are troubled by the silence of church leaders in the United States and Rome.

Bishop Finn attended the most recent meeting of the American bishops, in Baltimore in November — the first since his conviction — but no bishop addressed the matter publicly. Asked to comment on Friday on Bishop Finn’s situation, the chairman of the bishops’ child protection committee, Bishop R. Daniel Conlon, of Joliet, Ill., declined.

Only the pope can remove a bishop from office. Several priests in Kansas City have written to Pope Benedict XVI’s representative in the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, calling for Bishop Finn to resign. The archbishop did not respond to an e-mail requesting his comments.

Regardless of where the diocese’s priests stand on the bishop, most find themselves stuck between a bishop they want to see succeed and angry parishioners.


Festering anger and mistrust throughout the diocese present huge challenges in persuading parishioners to open their wallets. Priests critical of Bishop Finn said that for that to happen, he needed to admit wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness.

“Some say he has made that apology, he has said he’s sorry, but he hasn’t told us what he’s sorry for,” said the Rev. Matthew Brumleve, pastor at Holy Family in Kansas City and another 20-year veteran of the diocese. “Is he sorry he got caught? Is he sorry we don’t see things the way he sees them? Or is he truly sorry for letting down the children of this diocese?”


During the priests’ annual retreat at a resort in the Lake of the Ozarks in November, one priest told an anecdote about when he had been caught speeding in Kansas. As the bishop stood before them in a windowless room, the priest explained that he had not realized he had been driving too fast until he had gotten pulled over and received a ticket. Even though he did not mean to break the law, he still did, the priest said, likening his situation to the bishop’s.

But during the meeting, Bishop Finn denied that he had done anything wrong, according to two priests there.

The bishop’s supporters raise their brows at the demands of their brother priests for further apologies. “I believe he’s accepted responsibility for what happened and he’s paying the price for it,” said the Rev. Angelo Bartulica of St. Columban in Chillicothe, Mo. “I don’t understand what more people want.”

Full article at the New York Times

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Catholic church 'must excise moral cancer of sex abuse'

Scotland on Sunday
2 December 2012

THE man widely tipped to be the next Pope told an audience in Glasgow yesterday that the Catholic Church will not grow unless it deals with the sex abuse scandal that has rocked it in recent years.

Cardinal George Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, warned the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland that sex abuse was a “criminal moral cancer” and that the Catholic Church will not recover 
“until every cell is excised”.

He said: “Few, if any, people 50 years ago expected the dark stain of sexual abuse to have spread so widely across the church, while varying in extent even within countries. It does not need to be said that this is the most important and powerful barrier to the New Evangelisation.”

He also admitted the Catholic Church in Australia had not dealt properly with sexual abuse within the church.

“It is shameful and shocking that this abuse, with its tragic toll on those who were abused and on their families, was committed by Catholic priests and church workers,” he said during a speech at the Glasgow City Chambers.

“That church officials have sometimes failed to deal appropriately with those who have been abused, and with priests and church workers accused of abuse, is deeply disturbing.”

He continued: “Much still needs to be done in Australia and will be done, but substantial steps have been 
taken procedurally in the 
last 16 years and generally these procedures have been followed.


Philip Tartaglia, Archbishop of Glasgow and president of the Bishops’ Conference 
in Scotland, said: “Cardinal Pell has been a hugely influential figure in Australian 
society and a powerful voice in the English-speaking Catholic world for more than a decade.”

full article at Scotland on Sunday

editorial: (San Jose) sex offender incident offers some lessons

Mercury News
Nov. 30, 2012

Of all the institutions caught up in child sexual abuse allegations -- public and private schools, the Boy Scouts, the disaster that is Penn State University -- wouldn't you think the Catholic Church by now would know how to deal with it?

Not the Diocese of San Jose. Its handling of an incident with a registered sex offender on an elementary school campus last month is a worst-case example of institutional culture making it all but impossible to restore public trust. Registered pedophile Mark Gurries' volunteer work at the St. Frances Cabrini Parish fiesta and its ugly aftermath is a textbook example of what not to do.

Registered sex offenders are barred from schools, with good reason. But soon after Gurries' release from jail, someone at the diocese gave him a letter of permission to be there. A young woman who knew Gurries' victim recognized him at the Oct. 6 festival and mobilized parents to protest his presence, but the parish priest resisted asking him to leave for hours.

That alone was appalling. Compassion for Gurries should never have trumped the risk to children or the discomfort of members of the school community at the pedophile's presence. But Bishop Patrick J. McGrath quickly could have calmed the waters if he'd spoken openly about the incident from the start. Instead, he issued a brief statement that Gurries' permission was not consistent with diocese policy and would be investigated.

It took six weeks for him to write a full apology -- and even then, he left the origin of the permission letter unclear. A former personnel department employee has taken the fall, but many parents believe there had to be higher authorization and wonder if the problem really is resolved. Some think the parish priest, who has resigned, is another scapegoat. At a community meeting Wednesday night, emotions were as raw as they were at the festival.

Complicating all this are recent lawsuits from former children in the diocese alleging abuse by a priest who used to live at the Cabrini rectory. The diocese responds to the lawsuits with a statement that, while the Fresno priest was allowed to live here, he "has never been a priest of the Diocese of San Jose." Why would that matter?

It was victims of abuse by priests who pioneered the national cavalcade of adults coming forward over the past decade to report childhood sexual abuse at various institutions, many of which handle it badly. Just this fall, the Moraga School Board considered a legal strategy of blaming a teenage victim for her abuse.

Still, the diocese's handling of the Gurries incident is incomprehensible. It should be a beacon to whatever organization next has to deal with something like it. The lessons? Victims and people in fear of known abusers come first. And straight talk, the sooner the better, is the best antidote to public bitterness and mistrust.

Friday, November 30, 2012

"Cold war" between rebel priests and the vatican

Allesandro Speciale
Vatican Insider
Nov. 30, 2012

The decision to revoke Mgr. Helmut Schueller’s title comes just as the Austrian rebel priest movement prepares for a big international event

This punishment, which is more symbolic that anything, is nevertheless the sign of a certain cooling towards the activity of Austria’s rebel priests, just as they prepare for a big international event in 2013, which is aimed at creating links between priests across the world who are becoming restless with the Vatican’s ultra-conservatism and are seeking deep reforms in the Catholic Church.

Yesterday, the Vatican announced it was stripping Helmut Schueller, former vicar general of the Archdiocese of Vienna who has led the Pfarrer Initiative for some years now, of title “monsignor”. The Pharrer Initiative is a movement of Austrian priests that is asking for ecclesiastical reforms in areas such as obligatory celibacy and the administration of communion to divorcees and same-sex couples. Scheuller remains a priest to all effects and purposes but is not longer the “Chaplain of His Holiness”, an honorary title he received when he was president of Caritas Austria.


The news comes just days after Schueller’s interview with Austrian news agency APA, in which he announced an international meeting of movements that have sprung up across the world in recent years, either following in the footsteps of the Austrian rebel priests or presenting their own requests.

The meeting is expected to take place in 2013 and groups of priests from Germany, Ireland, France, the U.S. and Australia who have links with the Pfarrer Initiative, have apparently already expressed their interest in attending. 2013, Schueller explained, is going to be “a year of internationalisation for the movement and a congress will probably be held in Germany.”

A tenth of the entire Austrian clergy, that is, more than 500 priests and deacons, are members of the “rebel parish priest” movement. The Austrian initiative, which was launched in 2005, attracted worldwide interest in 2011 with the publication of its “Call to Disobedience”. In this manifesto, priests called for radical changes in the Church on issues such as the administration of communion to remarried divorcees, women’s ordination, ordination and married priests, giving more power to faithful and the local clergy to choose bishops. They also called for lay people to be given a more active role in the celebration of the liturgy, in preaching and in the Eucharist in cases where there is a shortage of priests. This would take some weight off the shoulders of priests, preventing them from becoming officials overloaded with work and making mass a bureaucratic affair; it would also prevent them from having to run up and down the country to administer the sacraments in different dioceses.

Although Austrian bishops have always sought to keep the doors of dialogue with “rebel” priests open, in a recent speech he gave in the Vatican, the new Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Mgr. Gerhard Ludwig Müeller, responded directly to one of the ideas carried forward by the Pfarrer Initiative: giving faithful the possibility to choose their own “pastor” is a “Protestant idea”, Müeller said.