Monday, April 29, 2013

Women Catholic deacons 'no longer taboo'

The Local (Germany)
April 29, 2013

Germany's top Roman Catholic has called for women to be allowed to become deacons, which would enable them to perform baptisms and marriages outside of mass - a novelty for Catholic women.

Archbishop of Freiburg Robert Zollitsch, who chairs the German Bishops' Conference, called for the change at the end of a four-day meeting to discuss possible reforms.

The conference, the first of its kind, invited 300 Roman Catholic experts to propose reforms. Zollitsch's comments echo year-long calls from the Central Committee of German Catholics to permit women to become deacons. On Sunday, Zollitsch said that aim was no longer a 'taboo.'

Zollitsch said the Catholic Church could only regain credibility and strength by committing to reform. He described an "atmosphere of openness and freedom" at the conference.

Deacons assist priests during church services and can perform baptisms and marriages outside of mass. Their primary role however is to serve the needy in their community and their duties are considered secular rather than pastoral.

Another proposal to emerge from the conference was to extend the rights of remarried divorcees to sit on church bodies such as parish councils. Conference members also discussed the possibility of granting them the right to receive Holy Communion and attend confession.

"It's important to me that, without undermining the sanctity of marriage, these men and women are taken seriously within the church and feel respected and at home," said Zollitsch. At present the reforms remain speculative and there is no proposed time-frame for their implementation. The position of divorcees remains highly controversial within the Church.

The conference also touched on the difficulty, particularly in eastern Germany, of recruiting people to work for Catholic institutions such as hospitals and kindergarten. At present the Church can only employ Roman Catholics. However Zollitsch called for work permits to be extended to non-Catholics and to those with "different lifestyles." This would technically apply to homosexual people too. However Church labour reforms are unlikely to be introduced in the next three years.

While reform might be slow to come, the sentiments expressed at the conference are a signal to many that change is on the way. "I have never experienced a process of strategy development as transparent as this one," said Thomas Berg, of the Baden-Württemberg Leadership Academy, who attended the conference.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Trip to Assisi on the horizon for Pope's top men

Vatican Insider
April 27, 2013

The eight cardinals appointed byt he Pope to help and advise him on the issue of Curia reform could be joining Francis on his visit to Assisi. The cardinal advisors have been summoned to Rome at the start of October (probably 4 October, the feast day of the patron saint of Italy), when the Pope intends to visit St. Francis’ tomb. On 2 May, Franciscans are expected in the Holy See and a meeting between the Pope and his “board” of advisors in the sacred land of St. Francis’ pilgrimage, could be on the cards. The objective of the meeting would be to pray and discuss how to reform, streamline and moralise the Vatican machine and ecclesiastical bureaucracy, turning them into a support and a useful tool for faith rather than an obstacle.“ The trip could last several days,” the Holy See stressed. Until now, the Church has tried not to jump the gun in terms of the “geopolitics” of the Pope’s journeys. Preparation for the World Youth Day in Rio is well underway and a visit to Assisi looks likely.


The idea of kick starting Church reform in Assisi is highly significant, historically. One day, when the young Francis was still at the beginning of his spiritual journey, he went out into the countryside to meditate. As he passed by St. Damien’s Church, which was old and on the verge of ruin, Francis felt the Holy Spirit pushing him to enter so he did so, to pray, and heard a voice addressing him from the cross three times, saying: “Francis, go and repair my church; as you can see it is in ruins.”

Full article at the Vatican Insider

Oakland priest holds vigil for church reform while on voluntary exile

Monica Clark
National Catholic Reporter
April 24, 2013

Every Sunday morning for the last three years, Tim Stier, former pastor of Corpus Christi Parish in Fremont, Cailf., has stood outside Oakland's Cathedral of Christ the Light to call attention to the need for what he calls "structural reform" within the church. Sometimes he is alone, holding a large sign that reads, "Include the Excluded: Women, Gay Persons, Abuse Survivors." At other times, a handful of supporters joins him in the two-hour vigil.

On April 14, the third anniversary of his demonstration, about two dozen adults gathered in solidarity with him. Some were members of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests. Others belonged to Women of Magdala, a local group advocating for the ordination of women. There were also gay and lesbian Catholics and a few of his Fremont parishioners.

"It's important to stand with him," said Patty Leal, who has known Stier since he presided at her wedding 32 years ago. "I have such great respect for him. I know what it has cost him to follow his conscience."

Stier, 64, went into voluntary exile from active priesthood in 2005, taking inspiration from Walter Brueggemann's "The Prophetic Imagination," which explores the biblical call to be a prophetic voice within society. His decision emerged during a six-month sabbatical that included time at Weston School of Theology. He said he'd become "increasingly frustrated and hopeless" about the inability or refusal of church authorities to talk openly about such topics as married priests, women priests and clerical sexual abuse.

He'd already had a life-changing meeting in his rectory with a man who was abused as a child by the late Fr. James Clark, who was pastor at Corpus Christi Parish for 21 years.

"I listened for two and a half hours. I haven't been the same since," Stier said. After going into exile, he began reaching out to other abuse survivors, including several who said they were victims of Msgr. George Francis, the now-deceased pastor in nearby Hayward.

Stier found a job with the YMCA, where one of his tasks was to plan the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Fellowship Breakfast. Searching for a theme for the event, he reread King's letter from a Birmingham jail and took to heart King's admonition that when one observes injustice, there is an obligation to speak publicly against it. The idea for the weekly vigil began to take shape.

A few days prior to his vigil's third anniversary, Stier met with Archbishop Alex Brunett, apostolic administrator for the Oakland diocese. Stier told NCR he asked the archbishop to release the names and files of all priest abusers who served in the diocese and to provide full disclosure of all financial costs related to the abuse settlements.

The archbishop "seemed sympathetic, and I was treated respectfully," Stier said. Brunett is archbishop emeritus of Seattle and was named administrator of Oakland last year. He will serve in that capacity until a permanent replacement is made.

Mike Brown, diocesan communications director, said the meeting was "cordial" but said in an email to NCR that "there was no discussion of any requests made by Tim Stier over the years." Rather, Brown said, the meeting was "very much a get-to-know you between bishop and priest."

Stier said the conversation took place, saying the specific purpose of the meeting was to make his requests. He added that he had not had any contact with the two previous bishops -- Allen Vigneron, now archbishop of Detroit, and Salvatore Cordileone, now archbishop of San Francisco -- because he did not feel they were open to dialogue.

Stier said he urged Brunett to be transparent instead of waiting for the courts to make the abuse files public, as happened recently in Los Angeles, Milwaukee and Joliet, Ill.

"Releasing the names of abusers not only tells people, especially survivors, that the church is serious, but it also can help those who have not yet come forward to have the courage to do so," Stier told NCR.

Stier said he believes at least 24 diocesan priests had credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors. Brown could not confirm the number but said it "is in the ballpark." Brown said it would take Dominican Sr. Glenn Anne McPhee, chancellor and victims' assistance coordinator, "days/weeks of research and audit time to formally and accurately" respond to NCR regarding the number of abusers who served in the diocese.

There is no diocesan database where parishioners can learn who these men are.

Brown said all accused abusers are either dead or have been removed from ministry.

Some were named in 2004 during a series of 12 apology services Vigneron held that year in parishes where abuse had taken place in the diocese. Vigneron held another service for survivors at the new Cathedral of Christ the Light in 2008 and formally blessed a Healing Garden on the cathedral grounds requested by abuse survivors.

Oakland Bishop John Cummins held the first "Reconciliation and Healing Service" between the victims of clergy abuse and the diocese on March 25, 2000.

In the April 1, 2013, issue of The Catholic Voice, the diocesan newspaper, McPhee said "priests who have been accused of molestation are regularly monitored by a professional investigator hired by the diocese to ensure that no children or youth are at risk."

Stier, who lives on Social Security while caring for his 92-year-old mother, said he plans to continue his weekly vigil. "I need for my soul to keep doing something public."

Archbishop Quinn advocates new power-sharing structures in the Catholic church

Gerard O'Connell
Vatican Insider
April 26, 2013

After serving as archbishop of San Francisco for 18 years (1977-95) and before that as archbishop of Oklahoma, John Raphael Quinn, who was ordained bishop at the age of 38, decided that the time had come for him to resign in 1995. Since then he has devoted himself to a life of study, teaching at several universities, giving retreats and spiritual direction, writing and delivering occasional lectures

A former president of the US Bishops Conference (1977-80), Archbishop Quinn gave a highly praised seminal lecture on The Exercise of the Papacyat Campion Hall, Oxford University, on 29 June 1996. He later developed that lecture into an important book – The Reform of the Papacy: the costly call to Christian unity (Herder &Herder, New York, 1999), which has been translated into several languages, including Chinese.

Last week, he published a new book as a follow up to that major work, entitled - Ever Ancient, Ever New: Structures of Communion in the Church (Paulist Press, USA). In this highly readable, stimulating 57 page-book he reviews the structures of communion that developed in the Church over the centuries, and concludes by proposing that, in line with the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on collegiality, new patriarchal structures be created in other parts of the world, and that the synod of bishops be given decision-making power. He believes these proposals, if implemented, would remedy the excessive centralization and strengthen communion in the Catholic Church today.

I talked with him about all that in this exclusive interview for Vatican Insider.


I see your new book as an important follow-up, or addendum to your earlier book - The Reform of the Papacy: the costly call to Christian Unity, and your Oxford lecture.  Is that a correct reading?

You are right! In actual fact my work on this whole subject began with that Oxford lecture in June 1996. The text of that lecture was given directly to Pope John Paul II at the same time as I delivered it in Oxford. I chose to speak on the reform of the exercise of papal authority because the Pope himself had invited bishops to dialog with him on the subject. He issued this invitation in his landmark encyclical Ut unum sint on Christian unity (May 1995). So, in actual fact it was not I but the Pope himself who had raised the topic of how the exercise othe primacy could be changed. My book, published three years after that Oxford lecture, went into greater detail and gave more background than was possible in the space of an hour's lecture. I myself went to Rome and presented a copy of that book personally to Pope John Paul II in a private audienceand also - that same day – to Cardinal Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The cardinal kindly referred to the book in his own publication God and the World and later made a positive reference to it when the Californian bishops visited the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2004.

Your new book takes the whole discussion a step further by proposing the creation of new patriarchal structures in parts of the world where they do not yet exist, and by advocating that deliberative or decision-making power be granted to the synod of bishops to enable it to function more effectively. Could you explain this?

To begin with, patriarchal structures are not a novelty in the Church. They began almost 1500 years before the modem democracies arose. The Council of Nicaea in 325 called the patriarchal structure ancient. In the Western Latin Churchthe Roman synods held in the later part of the first millennium and during the first half of the second millennium were deliberative, decision-making synods. Consequently, these structures are not newnor are they mechanisms to weaken papal authority since the  Popes themselves used them, and the patriarchal structures, certainly as they exist in the Catholic Church, are all in communion with Rome. It should be noted as well that the theologian, Joseph Ratzinger, raised the idea of new patriarchates being created in Asia and Africa.

The new patriarchal structures that you propose in your new book would involve considerable decentralization in the present system of governance of the Catholic Church; it would mean a moving away from the centralized Roman Curia system that prevails to day. Is this so?

Patriarchal structures would involve some administrative decentralization. I emphasize, however, that this would always be in communion of faith and unity. Underlying everything is the truth that "There is one faith, one Lord, one baptism." At the same time there has been longstanding dissatisfaction with what the earlier Joseph Ratzinger called "excessive Roman centralization."  In fact, St. Bernard using the strongest possible language warned against the increasing movement of administrative centralization of his time. So my book does propose the creation of new patriarchal structures in the Latin Church and these would mean some decentralization.

If these new patriarchal structures were created in the Latin Church then the bishops who would belong to those structures, say for example, the bishops of the United States or the bishops of Japan, would then have to take on new responsibilities. Could you mention some of the new responsibilities they would have?

Two major responsibilities which would fall within the competence of new patriarchal structures would be the appointment of bishops and the creation of dioceses. There would be other things as well such as
the determination of liturgical texts.

Clearly such far reaching responsibilities could not be assumed by regional structures without some preparation. I would think it very useful if this were to be done, that the planning might begin with taking a look at how the Religious Orders went about renewal after the Council. It would be wise to adopt some such process if these new structures were to be used in the Latin Church.

In your new book you also advocate that the synod of bishops should be given deliberative or decision-making power. Why do you propose this? And what difference do you think this would make in the life of the Church?

A deliberative or decision-making synod would have several advantages. First, its members would be the presidents of Episcopal conferences and the patriarchs and major archbishops of the Eastern Churches. In the case of the Episcopal conferences, the presidents are elected by the bishops of the conference, except for the Italian Bishops Conference. The patriarchs are elected by the patriarchal synod. These members would be bishops actually involved in the pastoral care and government of a diocese in various parts of the world. A second advantage is that they could meet for a relatively brief period to deliberate and make decisions with the Pope on matters of grave and urgent importance to the whole Church. In a world of rapid change and instant communication the ability to call on wide input such as this would be a very great advantage.

You have been a bishop for many years, and were also president of the US Bishops Conference.  How do you think these two proposals - the establishment of patriarchates and the giving of decision-making power to the synod of bishops –might effect the life of the US Church in the future?

 I think that these structures would have the effect of strengthening communion with Rome. One reason for this is that there would be an experience of the Churches in the United States as true churches, working with and experiencing practical communion with Rome.

These structures would increase respect for Rome too, because Rome would not be making important decisions without the participation of the regional Churches. In the modem world of electronic communication and the twenty-four hour news cycle I would think that new patriarchal structures would mean increased communication among the various regional churches and with Rome. In regard to communication with Rome, this could enable the regional churches to have a better understanding of the concerns of Rome and vice versa. It would also help the regional churches to sharpen their universal view and increase their sensitivity to other parts of the Church.

read original article at Vatican Insider

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

'Tainted by radical feminism'? More like 'living the gospel'

Joan Chittester
National Catholic Reporter
April 24, 2013

The BBC just called, an incident that in itself may well be a measure of the larger import of the situation. It's a strange moment in history: Suddenly everyone in the world, it seems, wants to know what is happening to the nuns and what they can do next. "Next," of course, means what they can do now that the Vatican is back to questioning both their intelligence and their faith.

In fact, what self-respecting journalist could possibly skip the story? After thousands of years of life-giving service to the church at poverty level -- building its schools, its orphanages, its hospitals, its missionary outposts, its soup kitchens, its homes for the indigent, its catechetical centers -- the nuns are told the problem with their work is that it has been "tainted by radical feminism"? And that by a group of men whose chance of knowing what the term "radical feminism" even means is obviously close to zero.

So what is going on? Especially at what seems to be a moment of the great change in the church of the autocrats and monarchs to the church of the Jesus who walked among the people and loved them?

Well, for one thing, what's going on is the same thing that's been going on for more than 1,500 years: Nuns everywhere are working with the people, hearing their stories, attempting to meet their needs, having a presence in their lives, simply intent on being the caring face of a merciful church -- their ministers in the midst of confusion. Not their dogmatizers, not their judges, only witnesses to the Gospel of unconditional love.

At another level, what is going on now is a mysterious work in progress. This so-called "evaluation" of the life of women religious and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the United States is a process begun long before this papacy and so, perhaps, difficult to stop midstream.

It may be difficult to halt the process for reasons of personal papal politics. Or perhaps it's difficult by reason of the amount of work already expended. Or maybe it's difficult to stop without resolution for fear of leaving festering sores likely to erupt again, by whim and fancy, without either cause or warning. In which case, the whole renewal of these efforts may well be benign and without issue, strengthened by increased understanding, and the first sign of a "These-are-my-beloved-daughters-in-whom-I-am-well-pleased" verdict the sisters have not heard since the Second Vatican Council.

On the other hand, the announcement has some very worrisome dimensions. Instead of planning to "complete the evaluation" or "continue the dialogue," the report says this new pope has reviewed and condoned the present "plan of reform." So it seems the plan is for the church to set up a dummy receivership that leaves a woman's organization of 57,000 women being run by three men. Case closed. Spiritual criminality determined. Hostile takeover complete. The membership disenfranchised. The body merely another extension of Rome. Its creativity suppressed; its blinders secured; its study of new issues and ideas monitored; its voice for the poor muted by the personal agendas of three men.

So why bother to have an avant-garde among the people if the church does not really want to know the needs of the people to begin with? If the sisters have been anything in these post-Vatican II years, they have been, at very least, a bridge between the people on the streets and the people in the sacristies.

And what is the reason given for continuing the external control of the LCWR? Because, they say, the work of the nuns has been "tainted by radical feminism." Well, if working to elevate the role and status of women around the world is tainted work, then we are obviously guilty as charged. After all, nuns were the first people in the church to set up schools to educate Catholic girls. The only difference is that we don't do it because we're "tainted by radical feminism"; we do it because it is at the center of the Gospel.

It is modeled by the Jesus who walked with women and saved the woman taken in adultery and cured the Canaanite woman and raised a little girl from the dead. He brought back to life a little girl who by very reason of her femaleness was considered worthless in that society -- and in many societies now, and in all of them to some extent. How better to demonstrate the real value of a woman than to raise her, despite the despise around her, to life again? And when that kind of Gospel work becomes unacceptable in the church, why bother with any of it?

"Do you have any hope for any of this?" the BBC reporter asked me. And I answered without hesitation: "Absolutely, I do." But how can you? the reporter went on. "Easy," I said. "The church now has as its model, it seems, a man who is committed to the poor."

And what does that have to do with this issue? Everything, I think. After all, who are the poor?

It is impossible to say you are committed to the poor and not know that two-thirds of the hungry of the world are women who get only the leftovers after their husband and children have eaten; two-thirds of the illiterate of the world are women enslaved by their lack of education as the chattel of men; two-thirds of the poorest of the poor, according to UN statistics, are women. And all of them ignored, rejected and omitted even from the language and the official theological development of the church. So much for life; so much for baptism.

It is simply impossible to be really committed to the poor and not devote yourself to doing something to change the role and status of women in the world.

As the developing The Shriver Report on women, to be released in January 2014, demonstrates with sobering clarity that to invest in women is to strengthen their husbands and children, their families and nations, their economic level and social status, their institutions and their intellectual contributions to the world at large.

From where I stand, if that's what it is to be "tainted by radical feminism," then finally, finally, let the Gospel begin in this entire church.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Archives reveal LA Cardinal Mahony's attempts to head off John Jay investigation

Tom Roberts
National Catholic Reporter
April 23, 2013

In 2003, with the country newly focused on the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church, a senior U.S. church leader attempted behind the scenes to head off the investigation of the crisis by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, disparaging the institution and its researchers as inadequate.

Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, in a strongly worded letter to then-Bishop Wilton Gregory, at the time president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, complained at length about the forms that John Jay researchers produced. He described them as "designed by people who apparently have no understanding of the Roman Catholic Church, ecclesiastical culture, hierarchical structure, or the language of the Roman Catholic Church."

The previously unpublished letters that circulated among Mahony, Gregory, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, Justice Anne Burke and others provide a behind-the-scenes view of some of the tensions in the air the year after the U.S. bishops formulated their Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People during their June 2002 meeting in Dallas. Public outrage had forced the bishops to take a dramatic step to deal with the scandal of sexual abuse of children by priests and the cover-up of the abuse by scores of bishops across the United States.

The letters are part of Burke's archives, held by DePaul University in Chicago. Burke, a member of the Illinois Supreme Court, initially served as vice chairperson of the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People, established under the charter. She later took over as chairperson when Keating resigned. The correspondence provides a window into the high-stakes tensions of that period, as questions swirled regarding the board's independence and whether bishops would cooperate with or undermine investigations.

In an April 4 phone interview, Burke said she thought the letters would provide further insight, given the recent disclosures in Los Angeles, of hierarchical attitudes in dealing with the crisis.

She described Mahony at the time as "an obstructionist" and said he represented "a pattern of conduct of circling the wagons so they [the bishops] could protect the clerics and themselves. The first thing they thought of in every instance was 'protect, protect, protect,' and not about the truth or the victims."


Mahony also expressed fear that the information being collected by John Jay researchers, though it went through an elaborate system to disguise the dioceses and keep accused perpetrators and victims anonymous, would be both leaked and subject to legal discovery.

He was convinced that "perpetrators will almost certainly be reported multiple times, as both Religious Orders and Arch/Dioceses report the same person in accord with the present format." He was also certain that the procedures would mean "that statistics -- and indeed, individual records, will be attached to reporting Dioceses and that individual Diocesan and/or Religious Order records will become discoverable in both criminal and civil legal actions."

Gregory, who was then bishop of Belleville, Ill., and is now archbishop of Atlanta, apparently wrote a response on April 24 that didn't satisfy Mahony.

The following day, the cardinal sent another letter that, while expressing his agreement with the necessity to collect "valid data and information about the extent of the sexual abuse of minors by clerics," still listed strong complaints about John Jay.


On May 9, Mahony received the backing of the bishops in the California Catholic Conference. In a resolution that passed unanimously, the bishops said they had "regrettably concluded that they cannot accept the proposed Jay Study process or survey instruments to accomplish their commitment to cooperate in a comprehensive study" mandated by the charter.

Meanwhile, Gregory wrote a brief letter of thanks, dated May 1, to Keating for allowing him to be the first respondent to Mahony's concerns. He was referring to an email that high-powered Washington attorney Robert Bennett had sent to other review board members regarding "what I view to be an outrageous letter" sent to Gregory by Mahony. "This letter was sent to all cardinals and United States Metro Archbishops," Bennett said, and its effect "is to basically give cover to those who do not want to cooperate with our Board. The Board, after much consideration, decided what information we needed. Cardinal Mahoney [sic] should not be an obstructionist. This unnecessary and unjustified attack on John Jay is absolutely irresponsible." Bennett wanted the board to immediately respond to Mahony.

Support for review board

Gregory wrote to Keating, "It was essential that I be the one to respond to a letter addressed to me, taking the opportunity to reassure him and any other bishops who might be struggling with how they might best respond to the forms completely and accurately." Gregory also noted that he took the opportunity in his letter to the cardinal "to reinforce the importance of the role of the National Review Board" and "to urge strongly for Cardinal Mahony's cooperation with this important project."

Gregory sent a note to Bennett on May 23 voicing "my heartfelt thanks for your very generous service on the National Review Board. Though there have been some very difficult moments along the way, I am grateful to you for your readiness and willingness to seek the positive solution."

That same day, Gregory faxed a seven-page, point-by-point rebuttal to Mahony. The letter was based in part on responses Gregory had received from John Jay College officials, including the chief researcher for the project, to whom the board had sent a copy of Mahony's concerns.


On May 5, 2003, Keating weighed in on the controversy with a letter to Gregory as a response to the Mahony criticisms. Keating's response covers much of the same ground, though in less temperate language, describing the cardinal's objections as "puzzling," "unfair," "without any basis in fact," and "unjustified and baseless."

Keating said, "While Cardinal Mahony is possessed of expertise in many areas, the Board places greater weight on the expertise of John Jay and others rather than Cardinal Mahony in this area. We are fully satisfied that adequate pre-testing was done."

Mahony, in an April 9 email response to questions, told NCR that the "coding and processing systems originally proposed were very inadequate, and actually, John Jay College responded to the concerns of the diocesan bishops and attorneys and improved the research instruments greatly, thus avoiding breaches of confidentiality that would have affected both victims and perpetrators."


Mahony told NCR April 9 that he had wanted an approach "far more expansive and inclusive" than that proposed by John Jay researchers. He said he had recommended the University of Chicago and the Pew Research Center "because they had a far broader capability in all phases of the church's inquiry than JJC, which as a small part of the NYU [New York University] system, it just didn't possess."


'Criminal conduct'

In his May 2003 letter to Gregory, Keating took special exception to Mahony's claim that the forms were designed to create a media "feeding frenzy" by people "who have a vested interest" in making the crisis seem worse than it was. "Implying that the crisis is the result of a 'media feeding frenzy' is inaccurate. The crisis arose out of the criminal conduct of certain priests and the inadequate response of certain bishops to that conduct. Inaccurate and occasionally malicious reporting will always occur, but it is not surprising that the media have reported on this criminal conduct, and we do not believe it is constructive to blame the media for the problems of the church." The charter itself, Keating said, blamed the crisis on " 'the ways in which we bishops addressed these crimes and sins,' not by the ways in which the media have reported them."

Keating resigned in June 2003, a week after comparing bishops who did not cooperate with the board to the mafia. In his resignation letter to Gregory, he wrote, "My remarks, which some bishops found offensive, were deadly accurate. I make no apology. To resist grand jury subpoenas, to suppress the names of offending clerics, to deny, to obfuscate, to explain away; that is the model of a criminal organization, not my church."


The archdiocese would eventually pay out $722 million in global settlements agreed upon in 2005 and 2007 with 550-plus victims in clergy abuse cases. The archdiocese would also eventually lose a protracted fight, the cost of which has yet to be revealed, to keep sealed thousands of documents that it had agreed to release as part of the settlements with hundreds of victims.

In January this year, following release of the documents, which showed Mahony had covered up for and transferred priests known to have abused children, the current archbishop, José Gomez, said he had notified his predecessor "that he will no longer have any administrative or public duties" in the archdiocese.

full article at the National Catholic Reporter

Monday, April 22, 2013

Argentine ex-bishop's widow wants Pope Francis to make priestly celibacy optional

Associated Press
Washington Post
April 22, 2013

She uses a wheelchair and carries the weight of her 87 years, but Clelia Luro feels powerful enough to make the Roman Catholic Church pay attention to her campaign to end priestly celibacy.

This woman, whose romance with a bishop and eventual marriage became a major scandal in the 1960s, is such a close friend with Pope Francis that he called her every Sunday when he was Argentina’s leading cardinal.

Luro’s convinced that he will eventually lead the global church to end mandatory priestly celibacy, a requirement she says “the world no longer understands.” She believes this could resolve a global shortage of priests, and persuade many Catholics who are no longer practicing to recommit themselves to the church.

“I think that in time priestly celibacy will become optional,” Luro said in an interview with The Associated Press in her home in Buenos Aires, after sending an open letter to the pope stating her case. “I’m sure that Francis will suggest it.”

John Paul II, Benedict XVI and other popes before them forbade any open discussion of changing the celibacy rule, and Francis hasn’t mentioned the topic since becoming pope last month.

“I don’t see how in any way this would form part of his agenda,” said the Rev. Robert Gahl, an Opus Dei moral theologian at the Pontifical Holy Cross University in Rome.

But as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, he referred to the issue of celibacy in ways that have inspired advocates to think that the time for a change has come.

.......... full article at the Washington Post

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Another Vatican voice backs civil unions for same-sex couples

John L. Allen,Jr.
National Catholic Reporter
April 21, 2013

Another veteran Vatican figure has signaled openness to civil recognition of same-sex unions, in the wake of similar comments in early February from the Vatican’s top official on the family. It’s a position also once reportedly seen with favor by the future pope while he was still Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The latest expression of support for civil recognition as an alternative to gay marriage comes from Archbishop Piero Marini, who served for 18 years as Pope John Paul II’s liturgical Master of Ceremonies.

“There are many couples that suffer because their civil rights aren’t recognized,” Marini said.

Marini, now 71, is currently the President of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses. He spoke in an interview with the newspaper La Nación in Costa Rica, where the local church today wraps up a Eucharistic congress.

Though Marini has no responsibility to frame policy on matters of marriage, his comments may reopen questions about the Vatican’s line in the wake of a similar position expressed in early February by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

During a Vatican news conference on Feb. 4, Paglia said that while the church is opposed to anything that treats other unions as equivalent to marriage between a man and a woman, it could accept “private law solutions” for protecting people’s rights.

In some quarters that comment was styled as undercutting bishops in both France and the United States who at the time were fighting off proposals for gay marriage, though Paglia insisted it’s not what he meant.

The Marini comments may also reawaken interest in the new pope’s history on the issue.

On March 19, The New York Times reported that when Argentina was gearing up for a bitter national debate on gay marriage in 2009 and 2010, Bergoglio quietly favored a compromise solution that would have included civil unions for same-sex couples.

That report was denied by Miguel Woites, director of the Argentinian Catholic Information Agency, a news outlet linked to the Buenos Aires archdiocese. Woites insisted Bergoglio would “never” have favored any legal recognition of same-sex unions and said the Times report was a “complete error.”

In early April, however, a senior official in the Argentine bishops’ conference told NCR that Bergoglio did, in fact, favor civil unions.

Mariano de Vedia, a veteran journalist for Argentina’s leading daily, told NCR he could confirm Bergoglio’s position had been correctly described in the Times account.

Guillermo Villarreal, a Catholic journalist in Argentina, said it was well known at the time that Bergoglio's moderate position was opposed by Archbishop Héctor Rubén Aguer of La Plata, the leader of the hawks. The difference was not over whether to oppose gay marriage, but how ferociously to do so and whether there was room for a compromise on civil unions.

Villareal described the standoff over gay marriage as the only vote Bergoglio ever lost during his six years as president of the conference.

Speaking today on an Italian cable news network, church historian Alberto Melloni, seen as a voice of the progressive wing of Italian Catholicism, predicted that "sooner or later, this openness [to civil unions] will arrive in the magisterium of the pope." However, Melloni also said he believes Francis will move with "caution" and "prudence."

On other matters, Marini said in his interview in Costa Rica that the election of Francis has generated a “different air of freedom” in the Vatican, “opening a window onto springtime and hope.”


For you, what has the change in the papacy meant?

It’s a breath of fresh air, it’s opening a window onto springtime and onto hope. We had been breathing the waters of a swamp, and it had a bad smell. We’d been in a church afraid of everything, with problems such as Vatileaks and the pedophilia scandals. With Francis we’re talking about positive things; he puts the emphasis on the positive and talks about offering hope.

Can you describe the atmosphere that prevails now in the Vatican?

In these first days of his pontificate there’s a different air of freedom, a church that’s closer to the poor and less problematic. He doesn’t like living surrounded by great paintings and gold.


Full article at the National Catholic Reporter

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Pope's strongman blasts old guard aside

John Follain
The Sunday Times (UK)
April 21, 2013

POPE FRANCIS plans to appoint lay women to top jobs in the Vatican and to dilute the power of Italian cardinals in a radical shake-up of the Catholic Church’s government following a series of scandals.

In a move branded as “revolutionary” by Vatican watchers, the Pope last weekend appointed eight cardinals to advise him on the governance and reform of the Curia, the church’s bureaucracy which has been tainted by controversies over child sex abuse by priests, leaks of papal files and allegations of corruption.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, whom Francis named to head the panel and who is now seen as a “power behind the papal throne”, predicted a difficult fight ahead for the Argentine pontiff.

“What we’ve seen during this month and the reactions of the whole world have conveyed hope to millions of the faithful and brought closer many people who felt distant from the church,” said Maradiaga, who is the Archbishop of Tegucigalpa.

But he cautioned: “His task will not be an easy one, especially when he has to make some necessary changes.”

Tipped as a papal contender in the conclave which picked Francis, Maradiaga, 70, is known for his dynamism. He is a pilot, plays the saxophone and the piano and speaks six languages. As the head of Caritas Internationalis, the church’s charitable arm, he has criticised the Curia and shares the Pope’s vision of “a poor church, for the poor”.

Asked about hopes that the Pope will appoint more women to top Vatican jobs, Maradiaga replied: “This wish is eagerly shared by [all] the continents.”

Last month Francis, in a break with tradition, washed the feet of two young women at a juvenile detention centre, a surprising departure from church rules that restrict the Holy Thursday ritual to men.

“Francis’s predecessor [Benedict XVI] started to promote women by appointing them to be the secretaries of some departments. But if there are cases where a woman can do a better job than a man as the head of a department, then why not?” said a Vatican prelate.

Maradiaga spoke of the need to give the global church a greater voice amid calls for change in the 200-member, European-dominated College of Cardinals, traditionally the Pope’s primary advisers.

“The holy father wants to listen to voices from the whole church and therefore has nominated cardinals from every continent [to the panel],” said Maradiaga.

During pre-conclave meetings, he said, several cardinals had criticised the “very large and disproportionate number of cardinals from Europe compared with the other continents and within Europe a greater number of Italians”. The cardinals had urged “a greater presence from the rest of the church”.

Only one Italian, Giuseppe Bertello, the governor of the Vatican, has been put on the new panel. The Pope intends to dilute the domination of both cardinals and top Vatican officials from Europe — and especially Italy — and to shift the focus from the developed north to the developing south, which contains most of the world’s Catholics.

Asked how future reforms could help to turn the page on past scandals, including allegations of money laundering that had involved the Institute for Religious Works, better known as the Vatican Bank, Maradiaga said: “The Curia fulfils a well deserving role and the majority of those who serve within it are people of excellent quality.

“If some have failed we’ll find a way to turn these weaknesses into opportunities,” he added.

The new panel headed by Maradiaga is Francis’s first significant decision, so much so that it is seen as a radical step towards more democracy in the church.

Alberto Melloni, an Italian church historian, called it “the most important step in the history of the church for the past 10 centuries”.

Although the panel will have an advisory role, it will bypass the Vatican bureaucracy and give the Pope what Maradiaga calls “first-hand information” from bishoprics worldwide.

Before the last conclave several cardinals had appealed for more “collegiality” in the way the church is run and for sharing more power with local churches. The panel’s other members are from Chile, America, Italy, Germany, Australia, India and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Many have called for a radical shake-up of the Curia.

Some cardinals have called for term limits on Vatican jobs to prevent priests from becoming career bureaucrats and for better financial reporting to clean up the Vatican’s finances. Budget cuts are also likely.

In a taste of austerity to come, Francis last week scrapped the tradition that the Vatican’s 4,000 employees are paid a bonus when a pope is elected. He chose instead to give the money, €500 (£430) for each worker, to charity.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Vatican, LCWR approaching critical crossroads

National Catholic Reporter
April 19, 2013

A church that does not go out of itself, sooner or later, sickens from the stale air of closed rooms,” Pope Francis has written in a letter released Thursday to his fellow Argentine bishops. This is a similar message to the one he delivered to his fellow cardinals before the conclave, impressing them enough to elect him bishop of Rome.

In his new note he went on to say in the process of “going out” the church always risks running into “accidents,” adding, “I prefer a thousand times over a church of accidents than a sick church.”

A church of accidents … a church willing to take risks on the edges … a church dedicated to service of the most needy … a church working on behalf of mercy, peace and justice…

This sounds a lot like the church U.S. Catholic sisters have been building in recent decades. Not only U.S. women religious, but also women religious around the world have been at this work. It is the women who have lived closest to the marginalized; it is the women who have worked on the “peripheries;” it is the women who have gone precisely where Francis is encouraging others to go.

And what has been their reward?

Have they been lifted up by others?

Have they been acclaimed by their church leadership?

No. Despite occasional laudatory words to the contrary, these faith-filled women have been too often demeaned and too often tarnished with accusations of alleged infidelity. The most ironic element in this sad story has been that these accusations have arisen out of the ranks of the very men who have inflicted great damage to the church by repeated patterns of sex abuse cover-up.

Christians have learned to expect persecution. Being voices for the poor, the marginalized, gays and lesbians, the uninsured or pregnant young mothers are rare undertakings. But the women religious have toiled endlessly to assist and represent these largely voiceless people.

While persecution comes with the territory of living and working in the “accidental” church, we don’t expect such attacks to come from our own clergy. Yet, too often they have.

Hiding behind highly exaggerated accusations of infidelity, certain bishops have revealed stunning ignorance. In the process they have abused their authority. It’s been the easier course.

The takeover of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the result of an extended “doctrinal assessment,” knowledgeable Catholics understand has much less to do with core beliefs than with episcopal obedience.

Our women religious are among those who understand this firsthand. We have all come to see too many of our prelates feel uncomfortable around women. The result is they stay away from them. This results, over time, in more fear and almost certain misunderstandings. Only open, sustained discussions -- on equal footing -- can set a new course toward church health.

We need conversations in which Catholic women and men -- religious, clergy and laity -- can talk freely in a spirit of mutual support about their faith and church lives.

It would be a healing experience and needs to take place in dioceses across the country. This would be a step.

Our women are the most theologically educated in the history of the church. The differences between their thinking and our bishops’ thinking has less to do with faith and doctrine than church structure, and more to do with applications of church teachings and mission. There is plenty of core common ground.

The first step, however, is to recognize that women carry vital insights necessary to restoring health to the “sick” church of which Francis speaks. Without women participating as equals in engaged discussions there is little hope such health can be found.

Even more fundamentally, then, the Vatican/LCWR issue is really about whether the current male clerical decision-making system can sustain church life in the 21st century. Huge numbers have concluded it cannot.

The Vatican’s current path, which excludes women religious from any semblance of self-determination, ostensibly in a spirit of mutual episcopal cooperation, threatens the continue life of the church. Moreover, it is an assault on all women. In turn, it is an assault on all Catholics.

We are fast approaching a perilous moment. This highly visible rift between the Vatican and Catholic sisters begs a question: Can our church sustain theologically literate women in its ranks? More widely, can it attract dedicated women of any stripe? We are losing these women faster than one can imagine. Ask almost any parent of a grown daughter.

The Vatican congregation’s doctrinal assessment of LCWR, apparently for now upheld by Francis, is, then, a blow to all who want to restore community and health to the church.

If the Vatican insists on carrying out its LCWR takeover, the group will have no choice but to end its canonical relationship with the institutional church. This is because the entire LCWR body almost unanimously voted last August to continue a dialogue with the bishops as long as the effort does not compromise LCWR integrity.

At issue is not obedience. It is rather the dignity of every person and the rights of every person in the church, stemming from his or her baptism.

We are coming perilously close to a point of rupture. Some, of course, would relish such a break. However, their satisfaction would be short lived. For such a break would send out a loud signal, one that would echo through history, that the most significant U.S. women religious body had concluded fidelity to conscience and fidelity to the values of the Gospels required separation. It would be a stunning blow to all Catholics.

LCWR, canonically or not, in reality or in spirit, will continue to serve our communities of women religious and, through them, the neediest of human beings.

Our women religious will remain Catholic to the core despite efforts by some to paint them otherwise. Indeed, they will have concluded church dedication to mission required separation.

Charges and counter-charges will ensue. But an honest evaluation would find that the women took action only following the deepest of soul searching in a spirit of community, dedication and love.

It would also find the final straw was not doctrinal. Instead, it was finally about faithfulness to the very Gospel ideals which Francis preaches each day.

original editorial at National Catholic Reporter

Thursday, April 18, 2013

LCWR president asks Pope Francis to promote women

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
April 18, 2013

The president of the primary group of U.S. Catholic sisters has asked Pope Francis to consider appointing women to "major leadership posts" in the church and to be open to dialog with women religious. Franciscan Sr. Florence Deacon, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), makes those encouragements in the May issue of U.S. Catholic, the magazine published by the Claretians.

"Recent popes have expressed gratitude for Catholic sisters’ deep love of the church and generous service to God’s people," Deacon, whose organization represents some 80 percent of the country's 57,000 sisters, writes.

"However, there were two investigations of Catholic sisters undertaken during Pope Benedict’s era. We hope that Pope Francis, a member of a religious order himself, will be open to a dialogue with women religious and will work with us to support our mission."

"Today young women in the United States are leaving the church in larger numbers than young men, and parents are questioning raising their daughters in a church that doesn’t seem to value women’s participation," Deacon continues.

"We hope Pope Francis hears their concerns and appoints significant numbers of women to major leadership posts in the universal church."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Pope Francis' LCWR reaffirmation leads sisters to hard questions

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
April 17, 2013

Within hours of the Vatican's announcement Monday that Pope Francis had reaffirmed a controversial takeover of the primary group of U.S. Catholic sisters, reactions from prominent American sisters ranged from "wait and see" to the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.

It may be too early to tell what the news means for the country's 57,000 Catholic sisters, said several former leaders of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Others said it could signal it is time to reconsider their energy in trying to tamp down potential tensions with bishops.

"LCWR has spent an enormous amount of energy in conversations and in preparation materials and in actual meetings" with Vatican prelates, Mercy Sr. Helen Marie Burns, a former LCWR president, said. "The question becomes, How fruitful is the continued use of that energy for the church as well as for the LCWR organization?"

"It's a question of limited energy and what's the best use of that energy in the present moment," said Burns, who served in LCWR's presidency from 1988 to 1990.

The Vatican announced Monday that LCWR leaders had met that day with Archbishop Gerhard Müller, the head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

During the meeting, the Vatican said Müller told the sisters' leaders he had "recently discussed" with Pope Francis his congregation's April 2012 order that the group revise and place itself under the authority of three U.S. bishops.

The pope "reaffirmed the findings of the Assessment and the program of reform," the Vatican said Müller told the sisters.

That mandated reform, announced after a three-year investigation of the group launched by the congregation's previous head and former San Francisco archbishop Cardinal William Levada, has attracted wide attention and spurred nationwide protests of support for the sisters last year.

The congregation placed the sisters' group under the control of Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, who was a given a five-year mandate to oversee reforms as its archbishop-delegate. Sartain was also present for Monday's meeting.

Announcement of Francis' reaffirmation of the move disappointed some.

"Nothing has changed," said Margaret Thompson, a professor of history and women's studies at Syracuse University in New York and an associate of the Monroe, Mich., Immaculate Heart of Mary community.

"We were hoping, some of us, that Pope Francis would be very, very different from Pope Benedict," Thompson said. "For us to expect anything radically different was probably wishful thinking."

Sr. Mary Ann Hinsdale, a theologian at Boston College and member of the Immaculate Heart of Mary community, said she was "very disappointed" with the news and said it may suggest Catholics are still learning how Pope Francis will handle delicate matters.

"All these nice gestures" -- for example, the decisions to wash women's feet on Holy Thursday and to wear more basic liturgical vestments -- "don't necessarily say what he thinks theologically or with regard to his understanding of religious in North America," Hinsdale said.


Mercy Sr. Patricia McDermott, who as president of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas leads one of the largest groups of Catholic sisters in the western hemisphere, wrote in an email to NCR that she had hope for those conversations.

"What is public is only the first glimpse of the conversations that occurred," wrote McDermott, whose organization represents approximately 4,000 sisters serving in the United States and 11 other countries.

"And while it is painful to hear the announcement, we continue to hope for greater understanding of one another's perspectives on religious life as we live this life in the United States today."


Burns, however, said Monday's statement renewed "feelings of frustration and anger" that many of the reasons given in April 2012 for LCWR's takeover were unsubstantiated.

Current LCWR leadership has repeatedly made the same claim, pointing to inconsistencies in the doctrinal congregation's document that gave Sartain authority over the group, including quotations from speeches at the group's assemblies the sisters say misrepresent the authors' viewpoints.

The assessment, LCWR said in June 2012, "was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency."


After considering the Vatican order at its annual assembly in August, about 900 LCWR members approved a resolution saying the group would continue discussions with church officials on the matter but "will reconsider" if it "is forced to compromise the integrity of its mission."


Another question Burns posed is what kind of dialogue is now possible between the bishops and the sisters. Quoting from Pope Paul VI's 1964 encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, which describes dialogue partially as the "discovery of elements of truth in the opinion of others," she said she wondered if the two groups might be at a conversational impasse.

Paul VI, she said, "spoke of dialogue being ... about people sitting down with openness and a possibility of changing their own viewpoint." For some bishops, she said, dialogue seems to mean "sitting down and talking through their understanding of the truth in a way that then they expect will enlighten the hearer so there can be agreement."

"It's a whole different concept of dialogue," she said. "I do think, perhaps, that's creating the impasse. Is the conversation on the part of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith open to change? It would appear not."


"We know what authority Sartain has been given," she said. "But we don't know how he's going to exercise it now."

"There's a whole lot that we just don't know," Thompson said.

full article at National Catholic Reporter

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pope Francis and Vatican II: 'There's no turning back'

Vatican Insider
April 16, 2013

The Council is a” fruit of the Spirit” but many want to “turn back time.” Roncalli seemed to be “a good parish priest” and the Second Vatican Council remains current. “50 years on, have we done everything the Holy Spirit told us to during the Council? In that period of continued growth in the Church that was marked by the Council?”

The person asking these questions is Pope Francis. ....

So the Second Vatican Council represented a historical occasion for a great ecclesiastical revolution, which has not quite happened yet. That to the spirit of the Council, the Church opened itself up to the world; a number of steps remain to be taken however. “Let us celebrate this anniversary – he said – let us make a monument that doesn't bother anyone. We don't want to change. Indeed, there are some who wish to go backwards. This is what is called being stubborn, this is called wanting to tame the Holy Spirit, this is called poor judgement and slow hearted.” “The same thing happens in our personal lives,” the Pope said. In fact, “the Spirit pushes us to take a more evangelical path, “ but we resist. Finally, he urged: “don't try to fight the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that sets us free, with Jesus' freedom, with that freedom of God's children.”


full article at

Pope Francis: Vatican II 'a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit'

Thomas C Fox
National Catholic Reporter
April 16, 2013

Pope Francis on Tuesday offered his most explicit support in his young papacy to the work of the Second Vatican Council, saying it was "a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit." He made his remarks in a homily at a Mass celebrated at the Santa Marta residence inside the Vatican.

He criticized those who resist change and "wish to turn back the clock" and "to tame the Holy Spirit," asking if, 50 years after the council, "we have we done everything the Holy Spirit was asking us to do during the Council?"

The answer is "no," Francis said, according to a Vatican radio report.

"We celebrate this anniversary, we put up a monument but we don't want it to upset us. We don't want to change and what's more there are those who wish to turn the clock back." This, he went on, "is called stubbornness and wanting to tame the Holy Spirit."

Francis' homily was centered on the theme of the Holy Spirit and our resistance to it. It took its inspiration from the first reading of the day, which was the story of the martyrdom of St. Stephen who described his accusers as stubborn people who were always resisting the Holy Spirit.

He said: "The Holy Spirit upsets us because it moves us, it makes us walk, it pushes the church forward." He said it's wrong to try to tame the Spirit, adding, "the Holy Spirit is the strength of God, it's what gives us the strength to go forward, but many find this upsetting and prefer the comfort of the familiar."

Nowadays, he went on, "everybody seems happy about the presence of the Holy Spirit but it's not really the case and there is still that temptation to resist it."

He concluded his homily by urging we not resist the pull of the Holy Spirit. "Submit to the Holy Spirit," he said, "which comes from within us and makes go forward along the path of holiness."

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Pope Francis to revolutionise running of church with new advisory panel

John Hooper
The Guardian (UK)
April 14,2013

Pope Francis presaged a revolution in the running of the Catholic church when, at the weekend, he announced the formation of an eight-strong panel of cardinals from all parts of the world who are to advise him on governance and the reform of the Vatican.

The Italian church historian Alberto Melloni, writing in the Corriere della Sera, called it the "most important step in the history of the church for the past 10 centuries". For the first time, a pope will be helped by a global panel of advisers who look certain to wrest power from the Roman Curia, the church's central bureaucracy.

Several of the group's members will come to the job with a record of vigorous reform and outspoken criticism of the status quo. None has ever served in the Italian-dominated Curia in Rome and only one is an Italian: Giuseppe Bertello, the governor of the Vatican City State.

The panel will be headed by one of the most dynamic figures in the Catholic leadership: Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, the archbishop of Tegucigalpa in Honduras and head of the global charity Caritas Internationalis. A polymath who plays the saxophone and piano, Maradiaga has trained as a pilot and speaks six languages. Like Pope Francis, he has long been a tenacious critic of economic inequality.

In an interview with the Italian television news service Tgcom24, Maradiaga said his group would "certainly" be tackling the ever-controversial Vatican bank.

The remaining members of the group were each chosen to represent one of the six continents. They include Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who imposed a "zero tolerance" policy on clerical sex abuse in his archdiocese of Boston, and George Pell, the archbishop of Sydney, who gave an unusually forthright interview before the election of Francis in which he said the leaking of the former pope Benedict's correspondence last year had identified "substantial problems" that needed to be addressed "in a real way".

Another formidably savvy member of the panel will be Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, the archbishop of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the 1990s, he was handed the responsibility of overseeing his country's transition to democracy following the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko.

A statement from the Vatican said the group would not be meeting until October. But it added that Francis was already talking to its members.

The statement said they had been entrusted with drawing up a scheme "for revising the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, Pastor Bonus", which dates from 1988 and was drafted by Pope John Paul II. The last thoroughgoing shake-up of the Curia, however, was by Pope Paul VI more than 40 years ago.

Pope Francis appeared to be doing more than just initiating a much-needed bureaucratic reform. A global panel of mostly diocesan archbishops will give some real meaning to "collegiality": the idea that the church's pastoral leaders should have a role in its overall governance. Collegiality was enjoined by the Second Vatican Council which ended its work in 1965, but only very partially implemented under Paul and the charismatic, but autocratic, John Paul.

Maradiaga said: "Above all, we shall be giving first-hand information in contact with the bishoprics – perspectives other than those that get to the Holy See."

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Pope Francis tasks cardinals with studying reform of Catholic church

April 13, 2013

Pope Francis has appointed a group of eight cardinals from around the world to look into ways of reforming the Catholic Church, the Vatican said Saturday.

The group, which includes U.S. Cardinal Sean O'Malley from Boston, will examine ways to revise the Vatican constitution, Pastor Bonus, which sets the rules for running the Roman Curia, or church hierarchy.

The cardinals -- who come from North America, Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe -- will first meet in October, the Vatican said.

The move follows on from suggestions made during the General Congregations, a series of meetings that brought together all the cardinals last month before they elected Francis as pope, the Vatican said.

The other seven cardinals are: Giuseppe Bertello, president of the Vatican City State governorate; Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa from Chile; Oswald Gracias from India; Reinhard Marx from Germany; Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya from the Democratic Republic of the Congo; George Pell from Australia; and Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga from Honduras.

An Italian bishop, Monsignor Marcello Semeraro, will act as secretary for the group.

Pope Francis has already been in touch with the chosen cardinals, the Vatican said.

The Catholic Church has faced calls for reform in the wake of scandals involving the sexual abuse of children by priests and allegations of corruption.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Irish Catholic church sees hope in 'new Irish'

Paige Brettingen
Annenberg Digital News
April 10, 2013

Iseult Ward completed her Irish Catholic school education, received all of the required sacraments and then left the Church.

“I suppose I’ve become disillusioned by the whole structure of the Church and all the bad stories that have been coming out over the years,” the 22-year-old student at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, said. “I just have no interest in being associated with them whatsoever.”

The cover-ups of clergy sex abuse and the increased secularization of Ireland have prompted many young people like Ward to leave the Church. Yet in their absence, another group’s presence is gaining prominence and giving the Church leaders hope.

Each year brings a greater influx of immigrants known as “New Irish” who want to become Catholic in the Dublin Archdiocese, says Fr. Damian McNeice, director of the archdiocese’s Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA)– a program that helps non-Catholics join the Church. The number of new Catholics has risen steadily since the archdiocese began the program in the late 1990s.

“One may think, ‘Who would want to be part of the Catholic Church in Ireland given all its mess?’” said Fr. McNeice. “But God is still calling people and that is just extraordinary.”

This year, 83 candidates– up from 46 last year– received all of the sacraments necessary to become Catholics at Easter Vigil. For most of them, it marked not only their Catholic initiation, but their initiation to Christianity as a whole, says Fr. McNeice. The majority of new Catholics joining the archdiocese include immigrants from China and Africa as well as Poland, Slovakia and Russia.

Eric Tchanga wasn’t Catholic when he first arrived in Ireland from Cameroon, Africa 12 years ago. After enrolling at University College Dublin to study business, Tchanga, 37, began going to Catholic masses that were said in Latin– a language he could understand well. Eventually the masses started affecting him outside the church doors.

“It made me see life in a different way,” he said. “When you are faithful, you tend to… trust God that things are going to be OK.”

Two years ago, after going through the RCIA process, Tchanga was baptized, confirmed and received his first Holy Communion at Easter Vigil.

The length of the RCIA process in Dublin differs for each candidate. Instead of a one-size-fits-all structure, Fr. McNeice says the program is tailored to the individual. The process starts with discernment in deciding why one wants to be Catholic, and continues with a series of weekly faith formation discussions. Most complete the initiation process within a year, but it may take longer for those who come from non-Christian backgrounds, says Fr. McNeice.

While Tchanga received an individualized initiation into the Church, students like Ward experience more of a “conveyor belt of Catholicism,” as Fr. McNeice describes. The process becomes more of a rite of passage, which often results in students going through the motions without finding personal meaning in the sacraments, says Fr. McNeice.

“People think they’ve had an experience of Catholic formation, but actually young people can come out of school after 12 years of Catholic education and know very little. There’s something seriously wrong there,” said Fr. McNeice.

It may take more than an overhaul of religious education to get people like Ward back to Mass. Any attempt to reach out to former Catholics would feel contrived, she says, unless the Church– and especially the newly elected Pope Francis– can change its staunchly conservative image.

“I think you’d have to do something really extreme and radical to change people’s minds,” she said. “I think so many people are so cynical about the Church now that any efforts they do will be seen as them doing it for their own marketing rather than genuine.”

Pope Francis has launched 'new phase' on Vatican II

John Thavis
April 11,2013

Cardinal Walter Kasper has an important piece in today’s Osservatore Romano, saying that Pope Francis, with his focus on poverty and social justice issues, has launched a new phase of implementation of the Second Vatican Council.

Cardinal Kasper makes a strong argument that the council’s journey of renewal is not over and that the decades of discussion over its teachings should lead to new “practical consequences.”

Pope Francis, he said, has pointed the way with his emphasis on a church that becomes poor and serves the poor.

“In this sense, Pope Francis from the first day of his pontificate has given what I would call his prophetic interpretation of the council, and has inaugurated a new phase of its reception. He has changed the agenda: at the top are the problems of the Southern hemisphere,” Cardinal Kasper wrote.

It’s useful to remember that it was Pope John XXIII who presented the image of “the church of all, and in particular the church of the poor” shortly before opening Vatican II in 1962.

Cardinal Kasper said Pope Francis’ election had also underlined a related point: that the church's make-up has changed greatly since the time of the council.

“At the beginning of the last century, only a quarter of Catholics lived outside Europe; today only a quarter live in Europe and more than two-thirds of Catholics live in the Southern hemisphere, where the church is growing,” he said.

Cardinal Kasper also noted that Pope Francis appears to be open to a more collegial exercise of papal authority. The role of the pope as a unifying figure in the church should not lead to an “exaggerated centralism,” Kasper said.

“Therefore it was very significant that Pope Francis made reference to the bishop of Rome who presides in charity, echoing the famous statement of Ignatius of Antioch. This is of fundamental importance, not only for the continuation of ecumenical dialogue, above all with Orthodox churches, but also for the Catholic Church itself,” he said.

Cardinal Kasper made several other interesting points in the lengthy article, which so far is available only in Italian:

-- The spirit of optimism toward progress in the world and the sense of journeying toward new frontiers, which marked the beginning of Vatican II, are long gone, the cardinal said. “For most Catholics, the developments put in motion by the council are part of the church’s daily life. But what they are experiencing is not the great new beginning nor the springtime of the church, which were expected at that time, but rather a church that has a wintery look, and shows clear signs of crisis,” he said. That doesn't mean Vatican II is no longer relevant, he said, but that “the church needs to take seriously the legitimate requests of the modern age. It needs to defend the faith against pluralism and postmodern relativism, as well as the fundamentalist tendencies that run from reason.”

-- Kasper credited Pope Benedict XVI with promoting a balanced approach to Vatican II, and said the retired pope had a goal of “renewal in continuity.”

At the same time, the cardinal seemed to respond to a talk given by Pope Benedict two weeks before his resignation, in which Benedict said a dominant misinterpretation of the council had “created so many disasters, so many problems, so much suffering: seminaries closed, convents closed, banal liturgy.”

Kasper said some critics still consider Vatican II as “a disaster and the greatest calamity in recent times.” But the cardinal said it was wrong to presume that “everything that happened after the council also happened because of the council,” and that the critics need to look more closely at more general social trends of that era.

-- One reason Vatican II documents have “an enormous potential for conflict” is that compromise language was adopted on many crucial issues, opening the door to selective interpretation in one direction or another, Kasper said.

-- Overall, Vatican II teachings have given new impetus to life in dioceses, parishes and religious communities, especially through liturgical renewal, new spiritual movements, better knowledge of Scripture and dialogue with non-Catholics, he said.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Lapsed Catholics lured back by Pope Francis

Tracy Connor
NBC News
April 10, 2013

Twenty million Americans consider themselves lapsed Catholics, but Pope Francis is convincing many to test the holy waters again with his bold gestures and common touch.

After years of disenchantment with the church's hierarchy and teachings, former members of the flock say they are willing to give the Vatican a second chance under new leadership.

Dallas teacher Marilyn Rosa is one of them.

"It was a sign," Rosa, 57, said of the Argentine Jesuit's election as pontiff last month. "It was like a miracle."

Born and raised Catholic, Rosa attended parochial schools and had a church wedding for her first marriage. Over the years, she drifted away from the religion that had been such an integral part of her Puerto Rican family's life.

She questioned the relevance of church policies in the modern world. As a divorced woman, she felt cast out. The pedophile-priest scandals disgusted her.

Three years ago, she quit going to Mass and joined an evangelical church. But she didn't feel at home and she started to wonder how she could fill the void.

"The day the pope got elected, I turned on the TV and when I learned he was Latin, I went crazy at home," said Rosa.

"When they started to talk about how he lived by himself and didn't move into the archbishop's residence, how he took the bus to work, I said, 'I know God is talking to me. This is the man we needed.'"

On Palm Sunday, she and her second husband "reverted," attending services at Dallas' St. Pius X Catholic Church.

"It was packed. I had to stand up the whole time. But I felt so happy. It was like a revival," she said.

Father Peter Mussett of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center in Boulder, Colo., had five people tell him they were returning to the faith in a week because of Pope Francis. Rosa has kept going to back to St. Pius, encouraged by what she's seen of the pope: from the simple white robe he wears to his rejection of the opulent papal apartment in favor of a spartan guest house.


Father Peter Mussett, pastor of the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center, which serves the University of Colorado at Boulder, agrees.

"I had five people in a week who were saying, 'Pope Francis has inspired me to return to my faith,'" he said. "It's pretty remarkable."

Brian O'Neill, 48, an Irish-American cop from Washington State, went to Catholic elementary school and a Jesuit high school but hasn't practiced since graduating from a secular college. He says that could change soon.

The Vatican's stance on social issues, along with the gilded lifestyle of some higher-ups previously drove O'Neill away. Francis' embrace of the poor and his background as a service-minded Jesuit might bring the father of two back.

"I was shocked and amazed when he started doing those things -- you know, 'No Popemobile for me,'" said O'Neill, who wrote a column for his local newspaper about possibly returning to Catholicism.


Full article at NBC News

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Vernacular liturgy and Pope Francis’ “hermeneutic of continuity”

Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB
Pray Tell
April 6, 2013

Here is the liturgy booklet for Pope Francis’ Mass this Sunday at St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the diocese of Rome, at which he will take possession of his chair (“cathedra,” from which we get “cathedral”) as bishop of the diocese.

This is significant: the liturgy is all in vernacular, except for the Gregorian Chant Latin Mass ordinary and propers, and all the vernacular is Italian. This isn’t an international event that calls for Spanish and English and Vietnamese and so forth, though people from all over will be there. This is a celebration of the diocese of Rome, and they speak Italian there.

To be sure, eight years ago when Benedict took possession of the cathedral, the liturgy didn’t look that much different from this. Benedict began his administration in continuity with what went before. But gradually over the course of Benedict’s eight-year papacy, at the behest of Benedict or his MC Guido Marini, papal liturgies increasingly shifted to Latin. Near the end, in Rome or elsewhere, Benedict was pretty much always doing the Eucharistic Prayer in Latin. But now with Pope Francis it’s in Italian.

* * * *

* ........ But Benedict also took a sour, pessimistic view of liturgical renewal since Vatican II, including a pretty sharp critique of the supposed invention of a new liturgy under Pope Paul VI. He couldn’t bring himself to accept the “new thing” (cf. Isaiah 43:19) the Spirit was doing.

Benedict’s “hermeneutic of continuity” was never about continuity with the past fifty years of Catholic liturgical renewal. It wasn’t about the sensitivities of current-day worshipers or continuity with current liturgical practices. It was about establishing continuity with practices lost fifty years ago. It was about re-doing the liturgical reform as it supposedly should have been done. Ironically, Benedict’s “hermeneutic of continuity” meant a rupture with present practices and became a pretext to introduce liturgical changes, sometimes great changes, of a traditional sort. (Think wall of candles between celebrant and congregation, or two forms of the Roman rite.)

It was always a rather small group which supported Pope Benedict’s liturgical thing, albeit a very vocal and enthusiastic group. Most of those by far in liturgical and musical ministry saw their life’s work being called into question by the new direction under Benedict, and they had reason to feel confused or worried or demoralized. (Think new English missal.)


But for those of us who track what’s going on behind the scenes and what it means for the future of Catholic liturgical renewal, Pope Francis’ Mass this Sunday at the Cathedral of John Lateran is one more indication of the direction of his papacy. It is part of Francis’ “hermeneutic of continuity” – with Vatican II, with Pope Paul’s reform of the rites, and with the rest of the Catholic Church.

Full article at Pray Tell

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Reporting on Benedict and Francis from Bavaria

Pray Tell
April 4, 2013

In the Süddeutsche Zeitung from Munich – most likely a newspaper Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reads daily – Matthias Drobinski is noting the contrast between Pope Francis and his predecessor.

“The Opposite of Benedict’s Program” reports on the “sensation” of the short speech Jorge Mario Bergoglio made at the cardinals’ meetings before the conclave, made public with his permission. Dobrinski sees it as the “program of the new pope,” like the 2005 homily of Joseph Ratzinger at the Mass before the 2005 conclave.

Efforts are underway to put Bergoglio in the light of continuity with Ratzinger, Drobinski says. Both are against relativism and for the truth of the Gospel. Bergoglio warn of a “worldly” church, which fits with Benedict’s desire for “desecularizing” the church.

But note the contrasts:

In 2005 Joseph Ratzinger described the church as a little ship threatened by the high waves of the “dictatorship of relativism.” What can a ship crew do in a storm? Shorten the sails, close the hatches, raise the ship sides, close oneself off from the danger from the outside. In 2005 Joseph Ratzinger preached hermeticism, securing of what one has, preservation of the entrusted treasure in a secure place. This is – to put a fine point on it – what his successor castigates as an “egocentric church” which “seeks Jesus within.”

The image of a church that goes to the borders of the world and human existence is not compatible with the image of a ship in a hostile storm. A church that goes to the borders risks something. It risks losing its own security. And the treasure of Catholic tradition, in view of the cries of the present day, appears as something beautiful but secondary.

To go to the periphery: the notion derives from Latin American liberation theology, whose proponents left their rectories in the 70s to live with the poor. For many in the curia – but by no means for all – this is a battle cry: to be a liberation theologian and thus naturally a Marxist is a curse. It is a battle cry just like the demonstrative renunciation of insignia, trappings, and formalities of papal existence, the renunciation of forms that have long since broken free from their content, that have become self-referential and narcissistic.

The cardinals have voted for this battle cry – with full knowledge of the inflammatory speech of the cardinal from Buenos Aires, Argentina. With a two-thirds majority, they are fed up with the royal court carrying one of the curia, the sacralization of form over existential content, a church leadership scandalously concerned with itself, with a pope at the peak who is, to be sure, a man of integrity and well-educated, but increasingly out of his depth.

They voted for a change that they had not yet wanted in 2005. These cardinals will now have to support their Pope Francis over against the mentality of adamancy, of closed hatches. For those powers are very strong in the Catholic Church.


Full article at Pray Tell

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Washing the feet of women on Holy Thursday

Fr. John A. Coleman, SJ
April 1. 2013

Most of my adult life, since Vatican II, at every parish I have either worshipped or celebrated Holy Thursday, the priest and others have washed the feet of men and women, boys, girls and elderly people. I have never in my life given much extra thought to this practice because it struck me that Jesus, of course, washes the feet of all those in need as a sign to us also to do likewise. That conservative and reactionary Catholics seemed aghast that Pope Francis, for the first time for a pope, washed the feet of women on Holy Thursday took me by surprise and stunned me! It literally stunned me in showing how out of touch so many in our church can sometimes be. But maybe I have not been paying attention. I now know that a number of "self-referential" bishops and priests (Pope Francis' great term about those who do not meet people where they are in their struggles, real lives and, as he puts it, "in the streets"), including the bishop of a neighboring diocese of mine, have forbidden the washing of women's feet on Holy Thursday. I saw a recent right-wing Catholic blog expressing disdain and disgust at the pope for washing the feet of women and Muslims and conjecturing that, perhaps, next year he would wash the feet of cats and dogs! This may be a harbinger of Catholic conservative back lash on our pope.

I am saddened by such narrow and not terribly theologically informed ecclesial theology. I suspect that they think that, because Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at the last supper, if we wash the feet of women soon they will want to consider themselves also disciples and want to be ordained! Actually, I have never imagined that there were no women at the Last Supper, if indeed it was held on the Passover. Jewish ritual assumed that the seder at the Passover was not legitimate if there were no women present. In the patriarchal society at the time of Jesus, who else would have served the meals? Jesus had, himself, just been anointed by a woman in costly nards and said something that, in fact, the church has largely ignored through most of its history: "Amen, I say to you, wheverever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be spoken of, in memory of me" ( Matthew 26:13). In point of fact we have very rarely heard of this act of the woman proclaimed far and wide about her washing Jesus' feet with her tears.

Hurray for Bishop of Rome and also Pope Francis for washing the feet of women and few Muslims in the detention facility on Holy Thursday. Of course, they would have felt left out if their feet could not be washed. What a breath of fresh air—so necessary after such a long period of overly self-centered church activity—this pope represents. Let all of us call narrow, self-referential bishops and priests who do not allow the washing of feet of women in our parishes on Holy Thursday to some kind of ecclesial accounting and conversion. We need to address their narrow ecclesiology which slights women and the role of the whole laity--and the inclusive ministry of Jesus. At a time when people lament the narrow roles allowed to women in the church, what does it symbolize if you can not wash their feet on Holy Thursday?