Saturday, May 31, 2014

Eastern Ukraine bishop: Catholics are too frightened to attend Mass

Jonathan Luxmoore
Catholic News Service
May 29, 2014

A Catholic bishop in eastern Ukraine said church members are afraid to attend Mass in Donetsk and other towns after a priest from Poland was abducted by pro-Russia separatists.

“Local Catholics are living in conditions of great danger — the terrorists are doing what they like and shooting at people indiscriminately,” said Bishop Marian Buczek, outgoing bishop of Kharkiv-Zaporizhia, whose diocese includes Donetsk, Luhansk and other conflict-torn cities.

“People can do nothing but stay at home and await better times, like everyone else. In places where there’s shooting, the Catholic and Orthodox churches have simply stopped functioning.”

Bishop Buczek spoke to Catholic News Service, a day after Father Pawel Witek, a priest from the Society of Christ for Poles Abroad,was abducted by rebel fighters in central Donetsk.

A statement from the Society of Christ for Poles Abroad said Father Witek had ministered in Kazakhstan since 2003 and had traveled to Ukraine to renew his Kazakh visa. It said he had been visiting order members at a Donetsk parish, and members of the society were working with Polish diplomats to secure his release.

Poland’s Catholic information agency, KAI, reported May 28 Father Witek had disappeared on his way to an ecumenical peace service in Donetsk’s Constitution Square and was believed held in the city’s rebel-occupied Ukrainian Security Service headquarters.

Bishop Buczek told CNS there was “no reason why clergy should now become targets,” since “most Catholic priests in this region are Ukrainian citizens simply doing their jobs.”

“Many parishes are functioning normally — with the exceptions of Kramatorsk, where our chapel was machine-gunned by separatists last week, and Sloviansk, where the whole town is blocked,” he added.

Confirmation of the abduction came as Ukrainian army units claimed to have restored control of Donetsk’s airport after a two-day battle with separatists.

Donetsk Mayor Alexander Lukyanchenko said at least 40 people had been killed May 27, although rebel leaders said the final toll could rise above 100.

Bishop Buczek told CNS the church had continued its charitable work of helping those made homeless or injured in the fighting with food, medicines and other aid. He added that the parish in Donetsk held Masses for local Catholics in Ukrainian and Russian, as well as in English, French and Vietnamese, and had never received complaints. “We’re just a small minority here, so we can do little else,” the bishop said.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Oakland bishop softens on controversial morality clause in Catholic teacher contract

Joe Garofoli
SF Gate
May 28, 2014

Oakland Bishop Michael Barber is reconsidering the controversial morality clause he ordered to be inserted into the contracts of Catholic school educators in the East Bay this year. Several teachers did not sign the contract because of a new clause, which said educators must obey Catholic teachings in their private, as well as professional lives. Roughly 20 percent of the diocese’s teachers are not Catholic.
But after a meeting Tuesday afternoon with teachers and administrators at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, where the outcry has been most prominent, Barber “has committed to readjusting the contract language for the 2015-16 academic year,” according to an account from both O’Dowd administrators and teachers.

But that might be overstating things, diocese spokesman Mike Brown told The Chronicle when informed of the characterization of the meeting.

“‘Commitment to readjusting’ the contract language is way too strong,” Brown said. He emphasized that while the bishop found the meeting to be “very positive,” changing the contract language for next year is “a good possibility, but there is no commitment.”

UPDATE: After reading this blog, Barber called Bishop O’Dowd president Steve Phelps Thursday morning to reaffirm that he is “committed to readjusting the contract language,” according to a note that Phelps sent to O’Dowd staff and family. Barber told Phelps that his spokesman’s statement was made “without the Bishop’s knowledge.”

According to Phelps’ note:

Last night a story appeared in the SFGate blog that could be interpreted as lessening the Bishop’s commitment to readjusting the 2015-16 contract language. The Bishop called me this morning to say that the statement made by Diocesan spokesperson Mike Brown is not correct and was made without the Bishop’s knowledge.

He did not direct Mr. Brown to make that statement, and wanted me to assure you that that he is committed to readjusting the contract language as was discussed in our meeting with him and outlined in our Tuesday afternoon e-mail to you. He will also have Mr. Brown issue a statement to this effect and we will forward that to you.

UPDATE No.2: In a statement Thursday, the Bishop said:

“I’m very happy that both the O’Dowd and De La Salle faculty invited me to meet with them. The meeting at O’Dowd was a very positive experience for me. We had a rich discussion of their concerns and I came out of that meeting understanding that we are working together. I heard their concerns and believe they understand both my intent and goodwill for them as teachers in our Catholic schools. “I am committed to further clarifying my meaning for all of our Catholic school teachers. I also committed to collaborating further in making decisions about any related language in our 2015-16 teachers’ contracts.

“Most importantly, I came away from the discussion very pleased with our strengthened commitment to the mission and ministry of Catholic education.”

At the meeting with O’Dowd staffers, Barber did not mention bringing back teachers who refused to sign their contract.

Next week, Barber will meet with staff from DeLaSalle High School in Concord, “perhaps about this and other issues,” Brown said. After that meeting, Barber may make a general statement explaining his reasoning — again — for suggesting the language change. And then, before next year’s contracts go out, “perhaps” he will adjust them, Brown said.

The tone coming from O’Dowd administrators — who are facing parents withholding contributions and a demonstration Friday at the school in support of teachers — was decidedly more positive Wednesday.

Here is what O’Dowd administrators said, according to a note sent to O’Dowd parents and community members Wednesday afternoon by president Steve Phelps and principal Pam Shay:

Representatives of our faculty and staff and Bishop Barber came together on May 27 to discuss our school community’s concerns regarding changed language in the Diocese of Oakland school contracts. The Bishop met with a group of concerned students that day as well.

Bishop Barber spoke openly about his rationale for changing the contract language, his view of the importance of the role of Catholic school educators in the lives of young people, and about his ongoing pastoral work that supports the full diversity of humankind.

Faculty and staff members had the opportunity to ask the Bishop questions and engaged in an open, honest exchange with him about their concerns. During this process it became evident to all present that there is a shared understanding and support of our common mission to provide a Catholic Christ-centered education.

Bishop Barber agreed to draft a statement that clarifies the intention of the new contract language, and has committed to readjusting the contract language for the 2015-16 academic year based on further discussion with leaders of the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Oakland.

The Bishop made it clear that he does not intend to monitor the private lives of teachers and staff – he simply wants them to refrain from doing anything in their private lives that results in public scandal or which could cause harm to the students. He also wants to ensure that educators present moral codes aligned with Catholic teachings.

We have faith in the Bishop’s word that he will not monitor our private lives and of his support for our shared mission.

We’d like to thank the faculty and staff representatives, as well as the students, who met with the Bishop. As soon as we receive the Bishop’s clarifying statement it will be posted on our website.

Thank you,

Steve Phelps, President

Pam Shay, Principal

An account of Tuesday’s meeting with the bishop written by teachers who attended the meeting also indicated that Barber seemed open to adjusting the contract language for next year. Here is a note that O’Dowd faculty received, which was obtained by The Chronicle:

Rather than reading from a prepared statement, the Bishop chose to speak openly about his rationale for changing the contract language and his view of the importance of the role of the educator in a Catholic school.

The members of the faculty and the staff were then able to express their concerns to the Bishop, engaging in healthy discussion. As a result, we found that we shared more common ground than we previously believed. Based on this meeting, and following additional meetings with another high school, the Bishop agreed to draft a statement that clarifies his intention behind the new contract language. The Bishop doesn’t want to invade the private lives of teachers, but is concerned that teachers not do anything in their private lives that can become an occasion for public scandal which could cause harm to the students. He also wants to ensure that educators not use their classroom to present divergent moral codes contrary to Catholic teachings.

The dialogue will continue with the Bishop and Catholic schools in the Diocese next year to readjust the contract language for the 2015-2016 academic year. We all walked away with a renewed sense of hope and trust in our shared mission of Catholic education.


Carlos Trujillo and Bonnie Sussman

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Former church official suggested Twin Cities Archbishop Nienstedt resign over clergy abuse cases

Emily Gurnon
Pioneer Press
May 28, 2014

A former top deputy of the Twin Cities archdiocese said he suggested last fall that Archbishop John Nienstedt resign in the wake of allegations that leadership mishandled clergy sexual abuse cases.

The Rev. Peter Laird, former vicar general and moderator of the curia, said in a May 12 deposition that resignation was "among options" he suggested to Nienstedt in late September or early October.

Laird himself resigned Oct. 3. Ten days earlier, Minnesota Public Radio reported that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis possessed, but did not give to police, information regarding convicted St. Paul priest Curtis Wehmeyer's sexual behavior.

The media report prompted Laird's resignation, and his suggestion that Nienstedt do the same, Laird said.

Leaders in the archdiocese "have a responsibility to be accountable for decisions whenever they take place in an organization and -- and to signal trust and that the most important thing is, is that the archdiocese doesn't have anything to hide," Laird said.

St. Paul attorney Jeffrey Anderson released the transcript and video recording of the deposition, taken as part of the case of Doe 1. Doe 1 is the pseudonym of a man who sued the archdiocese, the Diocese of Winona and former priest Thomas Adamson in May 2013. He claimed that Adamson sexually abused him in the 1970s and that the archdiocese moved him from parish to parish despite hearing of allegations of child abuse.

Laird said Nienstedt didn't say anything in response to his suggestion the archbishop resign. Nienstedt has retained his position.

Attorney Michael Finnegan, who works with Anderson, said Laird's suggestion was striking.

"In all the years I've been doing this, I've never heard of any top official suggesting that his bishop resign," Finnegan said.

Laird maintained at several points in the deposition that the archdiocese had greatly improved its response to child sexual abuse by priests. But the fall reports were too big to ignore, he said.

"It had become clear and apparent to me that this was going to be -- how the archdiocese responded to this situation was going to be a defining moment for the archdiocese," Laird said. "And not because there had ever been an effort to do anything criminal ... in fact, I think that a lot of good work had been done over the last three years."

The archdiocese declined to comment on the deposition because it is part of ongoing litigation. It posted the deposition transcript on its website.

Laird also said he notified the archbishop as soon as he learned in 2012 that a local priest was accused of sexually abusing two boys.

Laird believed the day was June 20, he testified. He learned later that day or June 21 that the priest was the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer of Blessed Sacrament Church in St. Paul. He said the archdiocese reported the matter to police "within hours" of learning it was Wehmeyer.

Nienstedt said in his deposition that he got the information on June 22 from Andrew Eisenzimmer, who was then the chancellor for civil affairs for the archdiocese.

But Nienstedt signed a decree to the Vatican on June 20, 2012, that said the archdiocese received a complaint June 18 that Wehmeyer had abused a child.

Nienstedt said in his deposition that Jennifer Haselberger, then chancellor for canonical affairs, drafted the letter and that the date was wrong. He did not notice the date at the time he signed it, he testified.

Wehmeyer was sentenced in February 2013 to five years in prison for criminal sexual conduct and possession of child pornography.

Haselberger resigned in protest in April 2013, saying that archdiocesan officials repeatedly blundered in their response to clergy sexual abuse cases and did not make required reports to police.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Pope's comment about bishop investigations raises questions in Kansas City

Judy L. Thomas
Kansas City Star
May 27, 2014

This much seems clear: The Vatican is investigating three bishops over issues relating to child sexual abuse.

Beyond that, however, comments made by Pope Francis to reporters during a Monday flight from the Holy Land to Rome have left the world wondering about who those bishops are and what they did.

Some, both in Kansas City and elsewhere are speculating that Bishop Robert Finn is one of them.

“If I were Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, I’d be nervous,” wrote Mark Silk, a professor of religion in public life at Trinity College in Connecticut, on a Religion News Service blog on Tuesday.

Finn, after all, is the highest-ranking U.S. Catholic Church official convicted of criminal charges related to child sexual abuse at the hands of a priest.

But others, including a spokesman for the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, doubted the pope was referring to Finn.

“The diocese has had no indication of any investigation of Bishop Finn,” Jack Smith said in an email Tuesday.

Finn was convicted in 2012 on a misdemeanor charge of failing to report suspicions of child abuse involving the Rev. Shawn Ratigan. He was placed on two years of court-supervised probation. Ratigan was convicted of child pornography and sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Pope Francis’ remarks came as the pontiff returned home from a three-day visit to the Middle East. He told reporters that he would meet soon with a small group of sex abuse victims and declared “zero tolerance” for any cleric who would violate a child.

Then the pope revealed that “at the moment, there are three bishops under investigation.”

“One has already been found guilty and we are now considering the penalty to be imposed,” he said, adding that there would be no “daddy’s boys” who received preferential treatment when it came to child abuse.

It was not clear, however, if the bishops to whom the pope was referring had been accused of committing abuse themselves or whether they’d been accused of mishandling allegations of abuse against other priests. (Slightly differing translations of the comments also exist.)

“The fact that they’re investigating bishops, that’s actually good news for the people who have been pressuring the church to take this more seriously,” said Nicholas Cafardi, a law professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and former chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Youth.

“They’re doing the right thing. But goodness gracious, why not be more clear about it?”

Cafardi said he doubted that Finn was among the three bishops under investigation.

“Given the lowball number the pope is using, he must be talking about bishops who have directly abused youngsters,” he said.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter publication and author of “Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church,” said the pope’s comments were significant.

“We’re going to have to wait and see what happens,” he said. “But at least we have an indication he’s taking seriously that bishops have to be held accountable.”

Reese said it was “totally unclear” whether Bishop Finn is one of those being scrutinized. Though the pope said one of the bishops had already been convicted but was awaiting punishment, he could have been talking about a procedure involving canon law, he said.

“That doesn’t sound like Finn, because he’s already been punished under civil law,” Reese said.

But Silk, in a commentary Tuesday, suspected Finn might have been among those mentioned by the pope.

“Finn, of course, is the one bishop on God’s green earth who has been convicted of failing to report a suspected case of child abuse by a priest,” Silk said. “And so far, he has received not so much as a verbal rap on the knuckles from either the Vatican or his fellow bishops.

“Now, it seems, a punishment is in the works.”

Some Catholics have been calling for Finn’s removal ever since Ratigan’s arrest. In February, a group of Roman Catholics based in Kansas City took the rare step of petitioning Pope Francis to discipline Finn.

The formal request, initiated by a Milwaukee priest and parishioners in the Kansas City area, was sent to the Vatican along with an online petition on signed by more than 113,000 people worldwide asking for the bishop’s removal.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Pope Francis to meet with sexual abuse victims

Dana Ford
May 26, 2014

Pope Francis spoke out against sexual abuse by Catholic clergy on Monday and said he plans to meet with victims in early June.

Stressing that such abuse constitutes a horrific crime, he told reporters aboard the papal plane that three bishops are under investigation.

It was not clear whether the bishops are under investigation for alleged abuse, or for purported involvement in some sort of cover-up.

A priest who abuses a child betrays the body of the Lord, the Pope said, according to pool reports. He called for zero tolerance.

The meeting at the Vatican will not be the first time a pope has met with sexual abuse victims, according to John L. Allen Jr., CNN's senior Vatican analyst. However, it will mark the first time Pope Francis has done so.

"This is a clear indication that Francis is trying to get the message out that he 'gets it' about the need to confront the church's abuse scandals," Allen said.

Among the expected invitees to the meeting are abuse victims from Germany, England and Ireland, and Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston.

Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for the cardinal, said the time and date of the meeting have not been finalized.

"Cardinal O'Malley has been asked by the Holy Father to assist with the planning for a meeting with survivors of sexual abuse in the coming months," said Donilon. "The cardinal looks forward to supporting this effort by Pope Francis in whatever manner will be most helpful."

The pontiff spoke as he was returning to Rome from a three-day trip to the Middle East.

During that trip, the Pope extended an invitation to the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to travel to the Vatican for peace talks.

In comments aboard the plane, he clarified the talks would not focus on finding a solution.

"It will be a meeting of prayer," he said.

The Pope also appeared to open the door to the possibility he might resign one day, like his predecessor, if he no longer had the strength to carry on.

"I think that Pope Benedict XVI was not a unique case," Francis told reporters. "I will do what God tells me to do."

Mass grave of up to 800 dead babies exposed in County Galway

Cahir O'Doherty
Irish Central
May 26, 2014

According to a report in the Irish Mail on Sunday, a mass grave has been located beside a former home for unmarried mothers and babies in County Galway. The grave is believed to contain the bodies of up to eight hundred babies, buried on the former grounds of the institution known locally as “The Home” in Tuam, north of Galway city, between 1925 and 1961.

Run by the Bon Secours nuns, “The Home” housed thousands of unmarried mothers and their “illegitimate” children over those years.

According to Irish Mail on Sunday the causes of death listed for “as many as 796 children” included “malnutrition, measles, convulsions, tuberculosis, gastroenteritis and pneumonia.”

The babies were usually buried without a coffin in a plot that had once housed “a water tank,” the report claims. No memorials were erected, the site was left unmarked and unmourned.

The staggering mortality rate of “The Home” was apparently replicated elsewhere in Ireland.

The Sean Ross Mother and Baby Home, portrayed in the award winning film “Philomena” this year, opened in Roscrea, County Tipperary in 1930. In its first year of operation 60 babies died out of a total of 120, a fifty percent infant mortality rate, more than four times higher than in the general population at the time.

Statistics show a quarter of all babies born outside marriage in the 1930’s in Ireland died before their first birthdays. As observers have remarked elsewhere, these were infant death rates from the 17th century.

In one year alone in the mid 1940’s in the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in County Cork, out of the 180 babies born 100 died.

Given the shockingly high mortality rates, it is hard not to conclude that the destabilizing threat these children represented to Irish society and its conservative religious ethos may have contributed to their untimely demise.

If 60 babies died in first year of the Sean Ross Abbey home alone, it’s a mathematical probability that hundreds more deaths could have occurred in the decades that followed (an estimated 50,000 babies were born in mother and baby homes throughout Ireland before they closed in the 1990’s).

Sean Ross Abbey was just one of the many mother and baby homes operated in the state, but the “illegitimate” stigma was not confined to Catholics alone. Reports show that 219 infants died in the Protestant Bethany home in Rathgar, County Dublin between 1922 and 1949.

As “Philomena” shows, many of the children who survived in the mothers and babies homes were later forcibly adopted, most often to the USA. Between 1945 and 1965 more than 2,200 Irish infants were forcibly adopted, an average of 110 children every year, or more than two a week.

Church officials have consistently denied that they ever received payments for these adoptions, insisting many of the papers and documents from that period were lost in a fire.

Since there was simply no question of the birth mothers keeping their children – the shame was thought too ruinous – they lost all future claim to them. Their punishment was to work without wages for two or three years in atonement for their sins. In the homes they wore uniforms at all times, they had their names changed and they had their letters censored.

Critics contend that the ongoing reluctance of Irish religious orders to hand over their internal records or compensate past victims of mothers and babies homes, Magdalene laundries and reform schools, can be traced to their alarm over being compelled to offer mandatory payments or fear that further horrors could come to light.

But calls for investigation of the various sites are growing. In the end, critics say, it should fall to the state itself to open the unmarked graves and count the dead.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Teachers quit, parents withhold money over Catholic school morality clause

Doug Oakley
Oakland Tribune
May 21, 2014

OAKLAND -- Catholic school teachers under the Diocese of Oakland are quitting and parents are withholding donations over new faith and morals contract language teachers at 54 schools must sign that references their private lives.

Diocese of Oakland spokesman Mike Brown said Wednesday three teachers at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland and two at St. Joseph Notre Dame High School in Alameda have quit over the new contract language.

O'Dowd parents and teachers plan a protest at the school May 30 in the morning and later that day at the Diocese of Oakland offices.

The new contract language, authored by Diocese of Oakland Bishop Michael Barber, that says that in their "personal and professional lives" teachers must "promote behavior in conformity with the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith in matters of faith and morals."

Parents, teachers and students upset with the new contract language worry teachers could be fired for being gay, having sex outside marriage or even for using birth control.

Kathleen Purcell, a history teacher at Bishop O'Dowd and director of the school's career partnership program, got her contract for next year and signed it but crossed out the two new paragraphs that reference the faith and morals clause. Her contract was not accepted and she refused to back down.

"I could have taken back what I did and said I could go along, but I can't do that," Purcell, 62, said. "My life is about advancing civil rights."

Purcell said last year she delivered a eulogy for a gay friend at her funeral that was videotaped and put on the Internet. The way she see's her teacher contract, that would not be allowed and she could be fired.

Annette Tumolo, a gay parent of an O'Dowd junior said she is considering pulling her daughter out of the school and she may not write the $5,000 donation check she pledged to the school on top of the $15,000 a year tuition.

"We were attracted to the school because of its inclusive and diverse nature," Tumolo said. "We want a moratorium on this new wording because the environment and the culture of the school will be damaged by it."

Barber responded to the uproar over his new contract language in a question and answer forum in the Diocese of Oakland newspaper, "The Catholic Voice," last week.

"I have heard it said that we are targeting teachers who might be gay," Barber said. "This is manifestly untrue. The Catholic Church treats all people, regardless of sexual orientation, as children of God. Sexual orientation does not lessen the dignity, worth or rights of any person. Pope Francis said, 'Who am I to judge?' I say the same."

He also said he has no "interest in monitoring or prosecuting personal private lives."

If that is the case, Tumolo said Barber should just take the language out of the contract.

"Good intentions are not ephemeral," Tumolo said. "He could leave tomorrow but the language could still be in the contracts for someone else to interpret differently."

Eva Marlatt, director of academic support at O'Dowd, did not sign her contract because it represents "an unworkable dilemma forced upon us: the moral dilemma between our loyalty to a wonderful (and wonderfully diverse) school community and the demands of our personal sense of integrity and our dedication to social justice and civil rights."

She said the new language was introduced by the diocese with no dialogue on April 15 and teachers had until May 1 to sign.

Brown said he hopes parents read what the bishop has said in "The Catholic Voice" before they make decisions on donations or enrollment for their kids.

He also had a message for teachers: "Wait to make that dramatic decision about your job until you are able to attend a proposed meeting that probably will happen next week with the Bishop at O'Dowd. Let's not give up yet."

Friday, May 23, 2014

UN board urges Vatican to punish bishops who mishandle abuse claims

Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
May 23, 2014

The U.N. Committee Against Torture urged the Vatican to impose "meaningful sanctions" on any church authority who fails to follow church law in dealing with allegations of sexual abuse and asked that church officials worldwide be required to report abuse allegations to local police.

The committee's recommendations were issued Friday as a follow-up to a May 5-6 session at which Vatican representatives were questioned about the Holy See's report on its adherence to the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment.

In a statement Friday, the Vatican said it would "give serious consideration" to the committee's recommendations, although it said the committee mistakenly gave "the impression that all the priests serving around the world are directly, legally tied to the Vatican as a sovereign."


Read full article at National Catholic Reporter

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Contracts that define teachers as ministers raise labor questions

Joshua J. McElwee
Oakland bishop Michael Barber

National Catholic Reporter
April 28, 2014

Just what does a teacher do at school? And just what can a teacher do at home?

Catholic educators in dioceses across the country are facing those fundamental questions as they decide this spring whether to sign contracts pledging to work for the 2014-15 academic year.

Seeking to define the role of Catholic education as more identifiably Catholic, several dioceses this year are specifying in their teachers' contracts more clearly -- sometimes with lists of dos and don'ts -- how their teachers are to act in their personal lives.

Some are even redefining teachers not as educators but as ministers.

Legal experts and union organizers say it's a mix that could have sharp implications on teachers' ability to bring civil suits when they believe their employers treat them inappropriately -- and could even prevent them from forming unions to bargain for better wages or conditions.

One scholar who specializes in the intersection of law and religion says the changes are effectively an end-run around legislation protecting employees from discrimination in the workplace.

"It's about churches trying to do everything they can to avoid the anti-discrimination laws, because they don't want to be held to gender equality, sexual orientation equality, racial equality or equal pay," said Leslie Griffin, the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"They want to do their best to get outside all of these laws," said Griffin.

She was referring specifically to new teachers' contracts in the Cincinnati archdiocese and the Oakland, Calif., diocese. New contracts distributed to teachers by those dioceses in April call the educators ministers, with the Cincinnati contract dozens of times referring to teachers as "teacher-ministers."

The shift in language follows a January 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established a "ministerial exception" for religious employers from federal anti-discrimination and workplace labor laws. The court ruled those laws do not necessarily apply to people whom religious groups deem ministers.

"When dioceses start to call their employees ministers, I look at that as a way for a diocese to tell an employee, 'Well, you're a minister, you can't unionize,' " said Rita Schwartz, president of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers. The Philadelphia-based teachers' union has about 20 local and regional affiliate unions in dioceses across the country.

"If that's what they're aiming to do, I have serious issue with that," she said.

Ministry and ministerial rules

Those speaking for the dioceses, however, see the issue differently.

Mike Brown, director of communications and community outreach for the Oakland diocese, said Bishop Michael Barber simply "considers teachers teaching in Catholic schools as having a ministry."

Barber, who was appointed bishop in May 2013, finds that ministry "more than casually important" as he is a former teacher himself, Brown said.

Regarding whether there is a "side benefit" when it comes to anti-discrimination laws, Brown said, "I know that obviously we have an employment lawyer who looks at whatever contracts we draw up so that it's clear and concise. Whether he added something or not, I don't know."

Steve Pehanich, senior director for advocacy and education at the California Catholic Conference, likewise said that he considers all teachers as ministers. "Some might say the most important aspect of a Catholic school is to pass on the faith," he said.

"Everybody who works at a Catholic school is in that sense a minister in one way or another because they represent the school," he said.

The new contracts in the Oakland diocese make two small additions to contracts from previous years, adding sections on the philosophy of Catholic schools and on the duties of teachers.

The philosophy section states that the mission of the school "is to develop and promote teaching the Catholic faith within the philosophy of Catholic education." The duties section states that employees are, in their personal and professional lives, "expected to model and promote behavior in conformity with the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith in matters of faith and morals."

Employees, it states, "shall perform [their] duties as a minister and steward of principles characteristic of an educator in a Roman Catholic School, including without limitation, teaching the doctrines, principles, beliefs of Roman Catholic Church, and conducting himself or herself in accord with these Catholic standards."

In a letter sent with the new contracts to school principals and presidents in the diocese, Barber said the changes came about after discussions among California's bishops "about the importance of Catholic identity and especially how it is expressed in our Catholic schools."

Pehanich said that California's bishops have not decided together to insert the Oakland diocese's new language into their teachers' contracts but are each considering the matter.

"The bishops talk about education all the time," Pehanich said. "There's no formal statement or something that they've done. But every bishop has schools and every bishop is concerned with it."

The new contracts in the Cincinnati archdiocese are much more extensive, taking what was a two-page document in previous years to six pages.

The largest additions are eight statements that teachers -- or "teacher-ministers" -- must affirm regarding their work; a list of actions that could lead to their firing; and specifications for how religion teachers can obtain required certification from the archdiocese that they know the Catholic catechism.

Another diocese that has adopted new language for their teachers' contracts is Honolulu, which encompasses the entire state of Hawaii. Like Cincinnati's new version, that contract specifies what teachers can and cannot do — specifically prohibiting "unmarried cohabitation," "homosexual activity" and "same sex unions."

'Thou shalt not'

Cincinnati's contract additions

Among the eight statements teachers who work for the Cincinnati archdiocese must agree to are:

The teacher will "share the common purpose of working diligently to maintain and strengthen the Catholic Church and its members" and "by word and example ... will reflect all the religious values of the Catholic Church";
He or she will "act and speak in a way that supports the Catholic Church and its teachings";
He or she understands "that serious actions contrary to the Church's teachings ... will not be tolerated."

Specifically mentioned on the list of non-tolerated actions are:
"Public support or publicly living together outside marriage";
"Public support of or sexual activity out of wedlock";
"Public support of or homosexual lifestyle";
"Public support of or use of abortion";
"Public support of or use of a surrogate mother";
"Public support of or use of in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination";
"Public membership in organizations whose mission and message are incompatible with Catholic doctrine or morals."

Schwartz of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers called the Cincinnati document "overkill."

While she said she understood the need for a morality clause in Catholic teachers' contracts -- "I don't think you can be a Catholic school teacher without one," she said -- the organizer called the Cincinnati contract "six pages of 'thou shalt not.' "

"There's no reason for that," she said. "There's got to be a happy medium here."

Jim Rigg, superintendent of Catholic schools and director of the department of educational services for the Cincinnati archdiocese, said in a column for The Cincinnati Enquirer in early April that the new contracts were "not an excuse for some type of witch hunt, but merely a clearer verbalization of what it means to be a Catholic schoolteacher."

The head of the National Catholic Education Association would not respond to specific inquiries for this story, saying his group did not have legal expertise on contract matters, but he did give a short statement via email.

"Teachers in Catholic schools are held to high standards and each diocese determines their own employment policies," said Lasallian Br. Robert Bimonte, president of the association, which represents some 150,000 educators serving 6 million students across the country.

"In upholding those standards, each local diocese must ensure that mutual respect, compassion and pastoral sensitivity prevail," Bimonte said.

Griffin, the lawyer at the University of Nevada, said it is likely that diocesan claims that their teachers are ministers will have to be decided by courts across the country "one by one."

That's because in the decision for the Supreme Court in the January 2012 case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that a "ministerial exception" exists, but said the justices "express no view on whether the exception bars other types of suits."

Griffin, who has written briefs opposing the ministerial exception, said different lower courts have issued different rulings about whether teachers can be considered ministers.

In one instance, a non-Catholic technology teacher in Pennsylvania who was called a minister by a Catholic school was deemed not a minister by the federal district court. In another case, however, judges ruled that a Jewish professor of religious history at a Christian seminary was a minister.

"Eventually, a court might start saying it's bad as a matter of public policy to let all the religious employers write contracts that free them of any liability," Griffin said.

"I think that eventually we'll start to come around and the anti-discrimination laws will dominate again," she said. "But right now these contracts are a huge effort by these churches to avoid the anti-discrimination laws."

No matter what happens with court cases on the matter, Schwartz said she and her group will be working to unionize teachers.

Most Catholic teachers, she said, "have no job security, have no due process. They just work at the pleasure of the employer."

"They need to stop doing that," she said. "They need to organize themselves into an association, they need to petition for recognize and collective bargaining. That's the only way that they're going to have a say over the conditions under which they work. And the sooner they do it, the better."

Griffin suggested that teachers consider consulting with lawyers if they have to sign contracts defining them as ministers. Particularly, she said, those teachers might consider trying to insert language into their contracts that specify that while they are ministers, they still claim their rights to sue for workplace discrimination.

Ultimately, said Griffin, "Catholics have to stand up to this."

"The laws won't change unless people start seeing it more from the employee perspective," she said.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Cardinal seeks a truce in fight between US nuns and Vatican doctrinal office

Josephine McKenna
Religion News Service
May 20, 2014

A senior Vatican official on Tuesday tried to defuse the damaging rift between the Vatican and U.S. nuns after a recent rebuke over obedience and doctrinal differences.

Cardinal João Bráz de Aviz, who heads the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life that oversees men’s and women’s religious orders, said there had been “sensitive times,” but relations between religious orders and the Holy See remained “very close.”

“There are positive aspects and less positive aspects,” the Brazilian cardinal said during a press conference on human trafficking ahead of the World Cup. “We have chosen the path of dialogue. We have to speak positively.”

Bráz de Aviz was speaking at the launch of a campaign by Catholic nuns, backed by the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican, to fight human trafficking at the soccer World Cup in Brazil next month.

A question about the thorny relationship between the Holy See and the American sisters was put to Sr. Carmen Sammut, head of the International Union of Superior Generals, but the cardinal jumped in before she could respond. She, too, stressed the need for dialogue.

“What is important for us is to dialogue together. We are starting to work together. Like every other organization, we can have differences but it is important that we can be true to each other and we can try and find solutions together,” she said.

Sammut’s group is roughly the worldwide equivalent of the Maryland-based Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group that represents the leaders of 80 percent of the United States’ 57,000 Catholic sisters.

In early May, the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, Cardinal Gerhard Müeller, reprimanded officials from the LCWR for honoring a Catholic theologian whose work was judged “seriously inadequate” and promoting ideas considered out of step with official church doctrine.

After a series of tense meetings with Müeller’s office, the LCWR issued a statement saying it was “saddened” to learn that impressions of the organization had become “institutionalized” at the Vatican.

“Communication has broken down,” the sisters said, “and as a result, mistrust has developed.”

The investigation falls under Müeller’s doctrinal office, but Bráz de Aviz, who is seen as more sympathetic to the sisters, has tried to serve as a peace broker in the standoff. Because religious communities fall under his portfolio, his office is expected to have some role in the final outcome of the investigation.

Cardinal Bertone 'probed' in Vatican reports Germany's Bild

Gazzeta del Sud
May 20, 2014

Berlin, May 20 - Vatican prosecutors have opened an investigation into allegations that former Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone embezzled 15 million euros from Vatican accounts, German daily Bild reported Tuesday citing unofficial Holy See sources. The newspaper said the money went to an unidentified television producer friend of Cardinal Bertone's. It said it was moved in a transfer in December 2012 despite resistance from the Vatican Bank. Bild reported that Renè Bruelhart, the head of the Vatican's Financial Information Authority (AIF), said that he could "neither confirm nor deny" the reports that Bertone is being probed. Bertone was appointed Vatican Secretary of State by Benedict XVi in 2006 and served in the position until last year, when Pope Francis replaced him with Cardinal Pietro Parolin. His time in the role was hit by the so-called VatiLeaks scandal, which saw confidential Church documents leaked to the media by the Benedict's butler in 2012. The leaked documents included letters a prelate sent to Benedict and Bertone on alleged corruption and mismanagement in the administration of the Vatican City. The prelate, Carlo Maria Vigano', was subsequently switched from his position as secretary-general of the governatorate of Vatican City State to a new post as Apostolic Nuncio to the United States. Last month Bertone strongly denied Italian media reports claiming that the prelate had a luxurious 700-square-meter flat renovated for himself while Pope Francis makes do with humbler lodgings at a Vatican guest house.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The culture war and the self-destruction of Catholic schools

Charles J. Reid, Jr
Professor of Law, University of St Thomas
Huffington Post
May 14, 2014

Let's begin with a basic premise: The culture war is bad for the life of the mind. And let us consider why: If education is the life of the mind, then the food upon which the mind feasts is the asking of questions.

"Why?" That single word is the most important question in the universe. It is the asking and the answering of that question which has allowed the human mind to understand the physical and the social sciences. Because we know how to respond to the "why?" questions, we are able to grasp the vastness of the cosmos and appreciate the tiniest subatomic particles. Because we know how to deal with "why?" questions, we are can organize our lives in dense and complex patterns. Human society works, in other words, because we know how to address "why?" questions.

Catholic schools were once places where such questions could be openly pursued. But a culture war is ravaging the Catholic primary and secondary school systems of the United States, and as I survey the scene I am increasingly convinced that these skirmishes represent an actual threat to the health and integrity of Catholic schools.

In saying this, I have in mind particularly the schools of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. For what has happened in Cincinnati is absolutely tragic.

Let's begin with some background. Dennis Schnurr, the Archbishop of Cincinnati, only arrived in that city in 2008 when he was appointed coadjutor ("assistant") bishop. He was elevated to Archbishop the following year. A born-and-raised midwesterner, he has been content to remain behind the scenes where he built the reputation of a sensible, hard-headed administrator One wishes that he might now show some of his famous pragmatism at a time that is looking like a tragic, needless, preventable descent into irrelevance for the Catholic Church in Cincinnati.

Matters began to unravel in Cincinnati in February, 2013, when Mike Moroski, the assistant principal of Purcell Marian High School was terminated from his position for declaring that as a matter of civil law same-sex couples should be permitted to marry.

Moroski did not challenge Catholic doctrine. He did not say that the Catholic Church must begin the practice of marrying gay couples. All he said was that secular society should permit gay marriage. Two gay non-Catholics should be free to go to the courthouse, take out a marriage license, and marry one another.

In truth, the State authorizes all sorts of marriages that the Catholic Church's canon law forbids -- most especially, the State permits divorced couples to remarry. Catholic bishops do not insist that the State must deny the right of re-marriage to divorced non-Catholics. To do so would be ridiculous. And from the standpoint of Catholic Church law, the marriages of gays and divorced persons are both considered invalid.

The Archdiocese should have left Moroski undisturbed in his political views. Instead, however, officials took the extraordinary step of terminating him from his position. This overreaction led to the predictable petition drives and cries of outrage.

And now the Cincinnati Archdiocese has compounded the original error. The new employment contracts teachers are being asked to sign are designed to chill free inquiry. They can only be said to be aimed at shutting down the freedom to ask questions that must be the heart of education.

Consider the language of the contract: Teachers are forbidden from showing "public support of ... the homosexual lifestyle." What does that mean, precisely? Pretty obviously, it is directed at the Mike Moroski situation. Catholic school teachers will have to be much more circumspect in their politics if they want to remain employed. And they had better be careful where their gay friends and relatives are concerned. Show up to your gay son's or daughter's wedding and you could face termination.

But the broad, open-ended contractual language reaches beyond politics or displays of friendship and support. It attacks the essence of what it means to be a teacher. Teachers must live the life of the mind. They must be free to ask questions. "Why are some people gay?" Teachers must be free to ask this question. It goes with the territory of being a teacher.

But Cincinnati Catholic school teachers dare not ask that question under the onerous terms to which they being asked to assent. Because the truth is, they don't know what that word "support" means. If it means asking questions that could point in a direction other than back to "intrinsically disordered" language of the Catholic Catechism, then they may find themselves in breach of their contract and subject to termination or discipline.

What makes the situation in Cincinnati so sad is that the Catholic Church under Pope Francis is beginning to display signs of flexibility on the question of gay relationships. In Argentina, Pope Francis's home country, the daughter of a lesbian couple was baptized by an Argentinian bishop. Talk about support! And Pope Francis has sent signals that he might accept "civil unions." And, of course, he said famously with respect to gays, "Who am I to judge?"

Just as sadly, the health of the Catholic Church in Cincinnati has been in a downward spiral since Archbishop Schnurr assumed office. Consider some statistics: In 2008, the year he became coadjutor, there were 6,362 infant baptisms. In 2013, there 5,523 such baptisms, a decline of 13.20 percent. In 2008, there were 7,534 First Holy Communicants in the Cincinnati Archdiocese. And in 2013, there were 6,686, a decline of 11.25 percent. At the same time, overall population in the Archdiocese inched upward from around 2,988,000 to around 3,000,000. And these numbers do not yet reflect the impact of the recent, entirely unnecessary struggle over the future of Catholic education in the Archdiocese. One hopes it is not too late revise that contractual language.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Bishop O'Dowd program director refuses to sign Oakland Diocese's new 'morals' code

Sam Levin
East Bay Express
May 13, 2014

In recent weeks, the Diocese of Oakland has increasingly come under fire for requiring teachers in East Bay Catholic schools to agree to a new "morals" code in their contracts — a controversial revision that covers expected behavior in their personal lives. For background, check out the story we published last week on the backlash against the new clause. One of the central concerns from critics is that schools will lose out on good teachers who simply refuse to sign a morality code that could be used to discriminate against certain employees. Those fears, it turns out, are not unwarranted: I spoke today with Kathleen Purcell, director of the career partnerships program at Bishop O'Dowd High School, who has declined to agree to the new language — and thus won't be returning next year to the Oakland private school.

"I found the language to be way out of line and totally unacceptable," said Purcell, who has been at Bishop O'Dowd for six years. "I look at this contract, and it very much looks to me like an attempt to universally remove all employees from the protection of civil rights and labor laws. I cannot put my name to that. ... I spent most of my life trying to move forward civil rights.

Purcell echoed a concern that employees throughout the diocese have raised for months since Oakland Bishop Michael Barber first unveiled the new language: that is, that officials will use the clause to target a wide range of employees — LGBT teachers or non-Catholic staffers, for example — for actions in their own personal lives. The most contentious addition to the 2014-15 contract reads: "In both the employee's personal and professional life, the employee is expected to model and promote behavior in conformity with the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith in matters of faith and morals, and to do nothing that tends to bring discredit to the school or to the Diocese of Oakland." And because teachers within the Diocese of Oakland do not have tenure and do not have union representation, they have few protections in the first place.

"It's overly broad and it has every appearance of being a legal strategy," Purcell, who is a lawyer, said of the new language. "The hierarchy at their whim could fire someone for any reason, really."

Officials with the Diocese of Oakland have repeatedly emphasized that this clause is not part of a "witch-hunt" and that there is no list of behaviors that the bishop is trying to forbid. Other dioceses across the country have brought forward morality clauses that go farther by explicitly banning employees from publicly supporting homosexuality, abortion, or even artificial insemination, for example. The Oakland clause does not include this kind of list and spokesperson Mike Brown has said that the contract change simply underscores a commitment to Catholic doctrine that has always been in contracts. For more of Brown's response to a wide range of criticisms, check out my conversation with him on KQED's Forum yesterday.

In response to mounting protests, Brown has also argued that critics are misunderstanding the bishop's intentions with this change. But regardless of his intentions, Purcell, who is Catholic, emphasized that the contract is a legal document: "The perniciousness of it is that they can be inconsistent. They can be arbitrary. Nobody gets to question them."

She continued: "Whether it's about reproductive rights or whether it's about marriage status or whether it's about any of the other details of people's personal lives, this puts it all up for grabs."

At O'Dowd, she said, "This has really engendered a sense of vulnerability. ... It's a blow to morale."

Barber met with O'Dowd administrators last week to discuss concerns, according to a letter the principal sent parents on Friday, which noted that the bishop also plans to meet with concerned faculty and staff at the school.

But unless the bishop removes the language, Purcell said she won't agree to the new contract. She did sign and hand in the document — but crossed out the controversial language in question. Unsurprisingly, officials told her this would not be accepted.

It remains to be seen if other employees at O'Dowd or schools throughout the region are leaving because of the contract. A new petition with more than 1,400 signatures calls on the diocese to reinstate the old contract — or at the very least extend the deadline an additional year so that schools can "adapt and negotiate a new contract in an open dialogue."

For Purcell, the decision not to return to O'Dowd is a difficult, but necessary one: "I love this school. I love this community. I love my work. Walking away from it is not something I do lightly." But, she added, "I have to deal with the language of the contract. I picture the language and my name next to it and I can't do it."

Senior bishop calls for church to listen to calls for communion for divorcees and married clergy

Hannah Roberts
The Tablet
May 13, 2014

The Catholic Church should listen to all the arguments in favour of gay relationships, Communion for remarried divorcees, and ending mandatory celibacy for priests, a senior Italian bishops has insisted.

The secretary-general of the Italian bishops’ conference (CEI), Nunzio Galantino, bishop of the southern diocese of Cassano all’Jonio, told the Florence-based La Nazione newspaper yesterday that he wanted church leaders to open their mind to different views on these issues. He said: “My wish for the Italian Church is that it is able to listen without any taboo to the arguments in favour of married priests, the Eucharist for the divorced, and homosexuality."

Bishops from around the world are due to debate the Church’s teaching on such issues at their Extraordinary Synod for the Family in October, having dispatched questionnaires to every diocese for feedback.

Bishop Galantino, 65, said that the Church had invested a lot of its time on issues relating to the sanctity of life, perhaps at the expense of other important issues. He said: “In the past we have concentrated too much on abortion and euthanasia. It mustn’t be this way because in the middle there’s real life which is constantly changing.

“I don’t identify with the expressionless person who stands outside the abortion clinic reciting their rosary, but with young people, who are still against this practice, but are instead fighting for quality of life, their health, their right to work.”

He said he believed the arrival of Pope Francis represented a unique chance to usher in liberal reforms. “With Pope Francis the Italian Church has an extraordinary opportunity to reposition itself on spiritual moral and cultural beliefs,” he said.

Pope Francis appointed Galantino interim secretary-general of the CEI last December and made the position permanent last month.

Galantino appears to echo the views of the Pope, who said last year that the Church risked falling “like a house of cards” if it was “obsessed” only with issues related to “abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods”. John Smeaton, the Chief Executive of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said he was “deeply troubled” by the bishop’s comments. “I do identify with the person outside the abortion clinic praying their rosary, whether or not the person is expressionless,” he wrote in an open letter to Bishop Galantino on his blog.

He said a pro-life group in south-west London often told him that “young women who, seeing the people outside the abortion clinics praying, change their minds and keep their baby.”

Oakland bishop to meet with teachers upset about morality clause

Joe Garofoli
SF Gate
May 9, 2014

Our story about how Catholic school teachers must sign a new contract Friday with the Diocese of Oakland pledging to conform to church teachings outside the workplace is getting some serious reaction.

After his spokesman said he would not meet with teachers, Oakland Bishop Michael Barber agreed to sit down with teachers from at least three high schools — St. Joseph Notre Dame and St. Elizabeth and Bishop O’Dowd — to explain the intent of the new contract language.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, called a press conference Friday morning in reaction to our story, calling the new clause in the contract “hateful.” As a Catholic, former Catholic school student and the mother of a gay child, the issue hit Skinner personally.

She worried about teachers who face an ethical dilemma: Don’t sign the contract and risk losing their job or be less than truthful and sign it. She wrote a letter to Barber Friday expressing her concerns.

“I feel for these teachers who are facing a sort of double jeopardy,” Skinner said. “I hope the bishop reconsiders what he is asking them to do.”

On Friday night, O’Dowd students were planning to out leaflets protesting the new language outside a performance on campus of “The Laramie Project,” a play based on the murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was gay.

Late Friday, O’Dowd administrators sent a note to parents saying that they had met with Barber and “it is clear that there has been a great misunderstanding about the intent of the new contract language.” The note, signed by school president Steve Phelps and principal Pam Shay, said that no educators had been “released from employment” because of the new contract language.

Here is a portion of the note:

After meeting with the Bishop this morning and learning in detail of his intent, we can tell you that he fully supports the Bishop O’Dowd High School community and its core values.

We want to assure you that, as the leaders of O’Dowd, we are committed to ensuring that our school remains the inclusive, diverse community it has always been, and that we will continue to educate our students in an affirming environment that fosters mutual respect, acceptance and trust.

Following our meeting with the Bishop, it is clear there has been a great misunderstanding about the intent of the new contract language. Bishop Barber has agreed to come to our school as soon as it can be arranged and speak with members of our faculty and staff regarding their concerns.

Please understand that no one on our staff has been released from employment due to this new language.

We ask your patience as we work through the challenges of our new contract language and the unfounded fears it has generated for some of our faculty and staff. We will continue to work with the Bishop, our faculty, staff and Board of Regents concerning this matter and will keep the parents and students informed as we move forward.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Davis (CA) priest arrested on sexual abuse charges

CBS Sacramento
May 10, 2014

A Davis priest has been arrested on charges that he had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a minor, Davis Police announced Saturday. Police have been investigating Fr. Hector Coria, a priest at St. James Parish in Davis, after allegations arose earlier in May that he had been sexually abusing a 17-year-old girl. Investigators found that Coria had befriended the girl while he was a priest with the Catholic Church. Investigators believe that, since late 2013, Coria had been in a sexual relationship with the girl.

Friday, authorities served a warrant on Coria’s residence and arrested him on charges of statutory rape and oral copulation with a minor. “In keeping with diocesan policy, Fr. Coria has been placed on administrative leave, his faculties have been withdrawn and he may no longer publicly function as a priest while this matter is under investigation by local law enforcement and Davis Police,” wrote Kevin Eckery, spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, in a statement on Coria’s arrest.

Echoing the Davis Police Department, the Diocese of Sacramento asks anyone who may have been a victim of Coria to call authorities at (530) 747-5420.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Morality clause for Oakland Catholic schoolteachers wrong, parents say

Doug Oakley
San Jose Mercury News
May 9, 2014

A new faith and morals clause for Catholic schoolteachers in the Diocese of Oakland implies that teachers who are gay, have sex outside marriage or use birth control could be fired, and that is wrong, according to some angry parents and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner.

New language in the contract for teachers at 54 Catholic schools in the East Bay says teachers in their professional and personal lives are expected to "model and promote behavior in conformity with the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith in matters of faith and morals." As with last year's contact, the new one says teachers can be fired for "failure to teach in accordance with the doctrine and moral teachings of the Catholic Church."

Skinner, whose district includes Oakland and parts of the East Bay, held a news conference Friday with two parents whose children go to Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland to denounce the new contract language. Skinner, D-Berkeley, did not bring along any teachers.

Denise Pinkston has a daughter who is a freshman at O'Dowd.

"The bishop and Diocese of Oakland no longer welcome teachers who don't fit their definition of morality," Pinkston said. "We need to rise up and say, 'This is wrong.'"

In a March 15 letter to Catholic school teachers, Bishop Michael Barber said bishops statewide had been discussing Catholic identity in schools and the new language in a "philosophies and duties" section was designed to "spell out what we are about."

But Skinner, a Catholic whose goddaughter attends O'Dowd, said the new pope is embracing a "wider inclusion" and that Barber needs to "put a stop to these Inquisition-style tactics now."

Skinner said the clause could be interpreted to mean that gay teachers are not allowed.

"It puts teachers in a terrible jeopardy," Skinner said. "There are very likely some gay teachers in these schools, so if they sign the contract and they are found out to be gay, they could be fired. They will be forced to live a lie, and what does that say to their students?"

When asked why she is questioning the philosophy of the Catholic Church, Skinner answered: "Because it is intolerant and seems completely contrary to the message of Pope Francis, who is giving a message of acceptance."

Mike Brown, spokesman for the diocese, acknowledged that the language in the contract is broad. But he said Skinner, as well as the parents, teachers and administrators at O'Dowd who have aired their dislike for the contract have it all wrong.

"This is not a witch hunt or a laundry list of personal behaviors that the diocese wishes to scrutinize in one's private life," Brown said. "The contract is saying, 'If it doesn't bring discredit to the school, go about your life.' Don't expect the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Oakland to intervene in your private life. It is not an attempt to categorize individuals; there is no litmus test, nor has there been in previous contracts."

Brown said most of the uproar about the contract is coming "from a small community at O'Dowd that is being activated, and that's why we are going out and talking to them."

He said representatives from the diocese already met with the president of O'Dowd and a couple of board members.

"What came out of it was an offer to talk more with interest groups, and the bishop will make it if he has time," Brown said.

May 1 was the guideline for teachers to sign the contract, but Brown said it was up to the principal at each school to decide when they must be signed.

Brother Robert Wickman, principal of De La Salle High in Concord, said no teachers at the school have expressed concerns about the new contract language.

"The bishop is trying to reaffirm the relationship between employment in Catholic schools and the Catholic identity of those schools," he said. "That's certainly something in my experience that most Catholic schools communicate in policies and employee handbooks."

The school sent the bishop's letter to its staff April 24 and Wickman said it has not adversely affected its offer of employment process for next year.

"We have people leave the school every year," he said. "A bunch of people are relocating, but I know there's no relationship with this."

Maggie Cooke, who has two children who attend Bishop O'Dowd, said she heard about the contract language from her kids as they were riding in the car.

"In the grand scheme of things, this is not the Crusades, but in our immediate community, it could have a snowballing effect," Cooke said. "It's denying the diversity in our lives that should be celebrated. For a teacher to come in and teach and not be expected to be themselves is wrong."

LCWR on accusations : 'communication has broken down';' mistrust has developed'

Thomas C Fox
National Catholic Reporter
May 8, 2014

A U.S. women religious leadership group expressed regret today that two years of private meetings with the Vatican doctrinal congregation have not borne fruit and have "broken down" and, as a result, "mistrust has developed."

But the leaders also rededicated their organization to continued dialogue with Vatican officials, saying, "The continuation of such conversation may be one of the most critical endeavors we, as leaders, can pursue for the sake of the world, the Church, and religious life."

"In our meetings at the [Congregations for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF)], [the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR)] was saddened to learn that impressions of the organization in the past decades have become institutionalized in the Vatican, and these institutionalized perceptions have led to judgments and ultimately to the doctrinal assessment," the LCWR leaders said in a statement released Thursday.

"During the meeting it became evident that despite maximum efforts through the years, communication has broken down and as a result, mistrust has developed. What created an opening toward dialogue in this meeting was hearing first-hand the way the CDF perceives LCWR. We do not recognize ourselves in the doctrinal assessment of the conference and realize that, despite that fact, our attempts to clarify misperceptions have led to deeper misunderstandings."

LCWR has been under a cloak of doctrinal congregation suspicion since 2009, when the Vatican congregation said it was looking into unresolved issues dating back to 2001. In 2012, the doctrinal congregation, having completed its doctrinal assessment, issued a reform mandate. Two years of further discussions set the scene for the LCWR leadership visit to Rome and its meeting at the CDF April 30.

Thursday's LCWR statement, meanwhile, said the women were heartened by the attempt by all parties "to find a way through that honors the integrity and mission of both offices."

"What created an opening toward dialogue in this meeting was hearing first-hand the way the CDF perceives LCWR," the statement reads. "We do not recognize ourselves in the doctrinal assessment of the conference and realize that, despite that fact, our attempts to clarify misperceptions have led to deeper misunderstandings."

The women's group affirmed that recent public statements by CDF head Cardinal Gerhard Müller and Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, the CDF delegate overseeing the implementation of the reform mandate, had been accurate.

"For LCWR, this conversation was constructive in its frankness and lack of ambiguity. It was not an easy discussion, but its openness and spirit of inquiry created a space for authentic dialogue and discernment."

The LCWR statement said the CDF meeting must be viewed within the context of LCWR's entire visit to Vatican dicasteries, or departments.

"In our first visit on April 27 to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Monsignor Paul Tigue, Secretary, shared that Pope Francis insists upon creating, as part of the New Evangelization, a culture of encounter, marked by dialogue and discernment. We experienced this culture of encounter in every Vatican office we visited in the Curia, an encounter marked by genuine interaction and mutual respect."

The women said they plan to continue discussions with the doctrinal congregation.

"Passion for all that the Church can be deepens our commitment to stay at the table and talk through differences," the statement said.

"In some ways, for LCWR, nothing has changed. We are still under the mandate and still tasked with the difficult work of exploring the meaning and application of key theological, spiritual, social, moral, and ethical concepts together as a conference and in dialogue with the Vatican officials. This work is fraught with tension and misunderstanding. Yet, this is the work of leaders in all walks of life in these times of massive change in the world."

The women's statement came more than a week after the CDF meeting. LCWR said it was necessary to review the situation with its top leadership before issuing a statement.

The depth of the rift between CDF and LCWR became public early this week, when Müller's opening remarks to the women at their April 30 meeting appeared on the Vatican website.

Müller accused LCWR of bad faith and of not abiding by a reform agenda the Vatican imposed in 2012 as part of its doctrinal assessment.

In his remarks, he also criticized the group for having ignored procedures for choosing speakers for their annual conferences and questioned if their programs were promoting heresy.

The April 30 meeting at the Vatican included the LCWR leadership -- St. Joseph Sr. Carol Zinn, Franciscan Sr. Florence Deacon, Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Sharon Holland, and St. Joseph Sr. Janet Mock, LCWR executive director -- Müller and officials of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Sartain.

LCWR is an umbrella organization representing more than 90 percent of the nation's Catholic women religious congregations.

When the doctrinal assessment began in 2009, the doctrinal congregation said it had become necessary because of three unresolved issues that surfaced at a 2001 meeting between LCWR and the doctrinal congregation in Rome: the ordination of women, the theology of religious pluralism, and homosexuality.

The full text of the LCWR statement follows:

Over the past several days, there has been much public commentary on the opening remarks of Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the Presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) at their annual meeting April 30, 2014. In a public statement after the promulgation of the Cardinal's beginning remarks, in separate releases, both Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, archbishop delegate overseeing the implementation of the CDF mandate, and the LCWR Presidency affirmed the accuracy of the Cardinal's remarks and commented on the positive conversation that followed. For LCWR, this conversation was constructive in its frankness and lack of ambiguity. It was not an easy discussion, but its openness and spirit of inquiry created a space for authentic dialogue and discernment.

The meeting with CDF must be viewed within the context of LCWR's entire visit to Vatican dicasteries. In our first visit on April 27 to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Monsignor Paul Tigue, Secretary, shared that Pope Francis insists upon creating, as part of the New Evangelization, a culture of encounter, marked by dialogue and discernment. We experienced this culture of encounter in every Vatican office we visited in the Curia, an encounter marked by genuine interaction and mutual respect.

We also experienced the Church Universal as we learned about the many international meetings the Holy Father has convened and is planning to convene, addressing global issues like the economy, environment, family life, hunger, poverty, water, violence, trafficking, and the desire to engage all people -- the young, the old, the rich, the poor in communion, working together for the common good of the planet. We felt the energy flowing from these initiatives which are not new for the Vatican but have a renewed sense of urgency and possibility.

In our meetings at CDF, LCWR was saddened to learn that impressions of the organization in the past decades have become institutionalized in the Vatican, and these institutionalized perceptions have led to judgments and ultimately to the doctrinal assessment. During the meeting it became evident that despite maximum efforts through the years, communication has broken down and as a result, mistrust has developed. What created an opening toward dialogue in this meeting was hearing first-hand the way the CDF perceives LCWR. We do not recognize ourselves in the doctrinal assessment of the conference and realize that, despite that fact, our attempts to clarify misperceptions have led to deeper misunderstandings. This is a very complex matter, yet LCWR was heartened by the attempt of both CDF and LCWR to find a way through that honors the integrity and mission of both offices.

Passion for all that the Church can be deepens our commitment to stay at the table and talk through differences. We want to be part of the universal Church rooted in the Gospel, a Church that hears the cry of the poor and is united in its response. At the same time, we cannot call for peace-making in Syria, the Middle East, in South Sudan, unless we too sit at tables with people who hold varying views and work patiently and consistently for a genuine meeting of minds and hearts.

In some ways, for LCWR, nothing has changed. We are still under the mandate and still tasked with the difficult work of exploring the meaning and application of key theological, spiritual, social, moral, and ethical concepts together as a conference and in dialogue with the Vatican officials. This work is fraught with tension and misunderstanding. Yet, this is the work of leaders in all walks of life in these times of massive change in the world.

At our meeting with the CDF officials, we experienced a movement toward honest and authentic conversation on some of the matters that lie at the heart of our faith and our vocation. We have come to believe that the continuation of such conversation may be one of the most critical endeavors we, as leaders, can pursue for the sake of the world, the Church, and religious life

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Cardinal Kasper, the 'pope's theologian', downplays Vatican blast at US nuns

David Gibson
Religion News Service
May 6, 2014

The German cardinal who has been called the "pope's theologian" said fresh Vatican criticism of American nuns was typical of the "narrower" view that officials of the Roman Curia tend to take, and he said U.S. Catholics shouldn't be overly concerned.

"I also am considered suspect!" Cardinal Walter Kasper said with a laugh during an appearance Monday at Fordham University. "I cannot help them," he added, referring to his critics in Rome.

The 81-year-old Kasper, who served as the Vatican's chief ecumenical officer under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, is seen as a close ally of Pope Francis. When Francis summoned bishops for a two-day summit on family issues in February, he tapped Kasper to give an opening address to lay the groundwork.

In many ways, Kasper may better reflect Francis' outlook than the crackdown on U.S. nuns launched by the Vatican's doctrinal office. Just as Francis has downplayed the focus on rule-following and hot-button issues in an effort to widen the church's appeal, Kasper has pushed the importance of pastoral flexibility and realism in walking with Catholics throughout their imperfect lives.

Kasper is in the U.S. to discuss his book, Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life. It includes a blurb from Pope Francis, who has made mercy a cornerstone of his ministry since he was elected last year.

On Monday, Kasper told the audience that after Francis praised him by name just days after his election, "an old cardinal came to him and said, 'Holy Father, you cannot do this! There are heresies in this book!' "

As Francis recounted the story to Kasper, he said, the pope smiled and added: "This enters in one ear and goes out the other."

It was Kasper's way of providing context to the news that the Vatican's doctrinal czar, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, had sharply criticized leaders of more than 40,000 American nuns for disobedience to Rome and for "fundamental errors" in their beliefs.

Müller's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been trying to rein in the American sisters for two years. Talks were believed to be going well, especially after the election of Francis. But Müller's criticisms and stark warning that the nuns must heed his demands seemed like a major setback to those hopes.

Kasper said he hoped the confrontation between the Vatican and the Leadership Conference for Women Religious would be overcome.

"If you have a problem with the leadership of the women's orders, then you have to have a discussion with them, you have to dialogue with them, an exchange of ideas," he said. "Perhaps they have to change something. Perhaps also the Congregation (for the Doctrine of the Faith) has a little bit to change its mind. That's the normal way of doing things in the church. I am for dialogue. Dialogue presupposes different positions. The church is not a monolithic unity."

"We should be in communion," he continued, "which also means in dialogue with each other. I hope all this controversy will end in a good, peaceful and meaningful dialogue."

At Fordham, Kasper also praised an American feminist theologian, Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, who is scheduled to be honored by the U.S. sisters and whom Müller singled out for criticism.

Müller had ripped the LCWR for deciding to honor Johnson without seeking Rome's approval. Johnson, a renowned theologian who teaches at Fordham, was rebuked by the U.S. bishops' doctrinal committee in 2011 for arguments she made in her popular book Quest for the Living God.

Asked about Johnson and another feminist theologian, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, whose views have also been disputed by the hierarchy, Kasper said he has known them both for years and added: "I esteem them both."

Kasper -- often a sparring partner with his fellow German theologian Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Benedict XVI -- said critiques are part of academic discourse but said the doctrinal congregation sometimes "sees some things a little bit narrower."

He said the criticism of Johnson "is not a tragedy and we will overcome," and he noted that St. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval theologian now considered one of the greatest minds in the church, was condemned by his bishop and lived under a shadow for years.

"So she is in good company!" Kasper said of Johnson.

See also confrontation of LCWR for non-cooperation

Monday, May 5, 2014

Head of Vatican doctrinal congregation confronts LCWR for non-cooperation

Dennis Coday
National Catholic Reporter
May 5, 2014

The Vatican chief of doctrine has accused U.S. women religious leaders of not abiding by a reform agenda the Vatican imposed on their leadership organization following a doctrinal assessment of the group.

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told the leadership group they were ignoring procedures for choosing speakers for their annual conferences and questioned if their programs were promoting heresy.

Using the most direct and confrontational language since the Vatican began to rein in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious two years ago, Müller told leaders of the conference that starting in August, they must have their annual conference programs approved by a Vatican-appointed overseer before the conference agendas and speakers are finalized.

Müller also told the women religious that their choice of conference speakers and the printed material they make available to their membership cause him to question if LCWR has "the ability truly to sentire cum Ecclesia (feel with the church)."

"This concern is even deeper than the Doctrinal Assessment's criticism of the LCWR for not providing a counter-point during presentations and Assemblies when speakers diverge from Church teaching," Müller said. "The Assessment is concerned with positive errors of doctrine seen in the light of the LCWR's responsibility to support a vision of religious life in harmony with that of the Church and to promote a solid doctrinal basis for religious life."

A copy of Müller's address to the LCWR leadership has been posted to the Vatican website. It is dated April 30, when the leadership team was in Rome for its annual visit to the Vatican.

The April 30 meeting at the Vatican included the LCWR leadership -- Sr. Joseph Sr. Carol Zinn, Franciscan Sr. Florence Deacon, Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Sharon Holland, and St. Joseph Sr. Janet Mock, LCWR executive director -- Müller and officials of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, the Vatican-appointed delegate to LCWR.

A statement Monday from LCWR said that Müller's remarks "accurately reflect the content of the mandate communicated to LCWR in April 2012. As articulated in the Cardinal's statement, these remarks were meant to set a context for the discussion that followed."

The discussion that followed, the LCWR statement said, "was an experience of dialogue that was respectful and engaging."

The spokeswoman for LWCR told NCR Monday that the organization would not be granting interviews.

Müller specifically challenged the LCWR leaders for deciding to bestow its 2014 Outstanding Leadership Award to "a theologian criticized by the Bishops of the United States because of the gravity of the doctrinal errors in that theologian's writings." Although he does not name her, Müller is referencing St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, a theologian at Fordham University.

"This is a decision that will be seen as a rather open provocation against the Holy See and the Doctrinal Assessment," Müller said. "Not only that, but it further alienates the LCWR from the Bishops as well."

His harshest criticism, however, was reserved for the LCWR's promotion at its assemblies and printed resources of conscious evolution, which Müller compared to gnosticism, a term that describes various sects that arose in the second century that exalted arcane knowledge, mixing Christian belief with pagan speculation and theories. "Gnosis" is the Greek word for knowledge.

"We have seen again and again in the history of the Church the tragic results of partaking of this bitter fruit," Müller said. "Conscious Evolution does not offer anything which will nourish religious life as a privileged and prophetic witness rooted in Christ revealing divine love to a wounded world."

Two years ago, a keynote speaker at LCWR's annual conference was a leading thinker on conscious evolution, Barbara Marx Hubbard. Since that address, Müller said, "every issue of your newsletter has discussed Conscious Evolution in some way. Issues of Occasional Papers have been devoted to it. We have even seen some religious Institutes modify their directional statements to incorporate concepts and undeveloped terms from Conscious Evolution."

"Again, I apologize if this seems blunt, but what I must say is too important to dress up in flowery language," Müller said in one of several apologies for blunt language. "The fundamental theses of Conscious Evolution are opposed to Christian Revelation."

In April 2012, the Vatican appointed Sartain as the LCWR's "archbishop delegate" and gave him authority to revise its statutes and programs. In Müller's statement, he said this appointment has been criticized as "as heavy-handed interference in the day-to-day activities of the Conference. For its part, the Holy See would not understand this as a 'sanction,' but rather as a point of dialogue and discernment."

That LCWR did not discuss with Sartain the outstanding leadership honoree this year "is indeed regrettable and demonstrates clearly the necessity of the Mandate's provision that speakers and presenters at major programs will be subject to approval by the Delegate.

"I must therefore inform you that this provision is to be considered fully in force. ... Following the August Assembly, it will be the expectation of the Holy See that Archbishop Sartain have an active role in the discussion about invited speakers and honorees," Müller said.

Müller concluded with this warning: "At this phase of the implementation of the Doctrinal Assessment, we are looking for a clearer expression of that ecclesial vision and more substantive signs of collaboration."

Read Müller's statement: Meeting of the Superiors of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with the Presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Papal commission on sex abuse to push for accountability

Phillip Puella
May 4, 2014

A commission advising Pope Francis on the sexual abuse crisis will recommend that negligent clerics be held accountable regardless of their rank in the Church, Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley said on Saturday.

In many cases of abuse, most of which took place decades ago but surfaced in the past 15 years, bishops seeking to protect the Church's reputation moved priests from parish to parish instead of defrocking them or handing them over to police.

The commission, made up of four men and four women from eight countries including an Irish woman who was a victim of abuse, met for the first time since its formation in March, holding talks with the pope and Vatican officials.

"We see ensuring accountability in the Church as especially important," the commission said in a statement.

O'Malley, known as a pioneer for a more open and forceful approach to tackling the scandal since he published a database of Boston clergy accused of sexual abuse of minors online in 2011, said a person's rank in the Church should not be cause for special treatment or protection.

"Our concern is to make sure that there are clear and effective protocols to deal with superiors in the Church who have not fulfilled their obligations to protect children," he told reporters.

Victims' groups have pressed the Vatican to hold bishops who either shielded abusers or were negligent in protecting children to account, along with abusers themselves.

Ignorance and denial

O'Malley said accountability should apply to "every one in the Church regardless of what their status is ... both for those who perpetrate the crime of sexual abuse and those who are negligent in child protection".

The commission, which includes Baroness Sheila Hollins of Britain, will draw up protocols for the pope to consider.

O'Malley said they would "lead to an open process that will hold people accountable to their responsibility to protect children" around the world.

Procedures to protect children and punish abusers are most advanced in countries such as the United States and Ireland.

But O'Malley said there was still "so much ignorance, so much denial" in some parts of the Church about sexual abuse.

"There are a lot of people who think it's limited to certain countries and that it's been dealt with and now we can move on to something else and that is simply not true," he said.

"The Church needs to always be reviewing what we have done, trying to improve what we have done, monitoring what we have done because it's possible to have beautiful policies but if they are not implemented it's only window dressing," he said.

Last month, Pope Francis sought forgiveness for the "evil" committed by priests who molested children.

In February, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child accused the Vatican of systematically turning a blind eye to decades of abuse and attempting to cover up sex crimes. The Vatican called the report unfair and ideologically slanted.

One key member of the Church commission is Marie Collins, a victim of abuse by a priest in her native Ireland and who has campaigned for the protection of children and for justice for victims.

"I know there are many, many survivors around the world who are hoping and have great expectations of this commission," she said.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Bold reforms for a better Catholic church

Paul. V. Kane
Olean (NY) Times Herald
May 2, 2014

WASHINGTON — With three bold reforms, Pope Francis can reinvigorate the billion-strong Catholic tradition, spur a renaissance in church attitudes, bring redemption for past failings, and give hope to the many poor and ordinary people of our world.

While predecessor popes sought to circle the wagons in defense, evangelize and convert the rest of the world, since becoming head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has sought instead to “convert the church.”

The last 50 years have seen the priorities and conduct of the Catholic Church become muddled. The church has had an abundance of leaders, but a deficit of real leadership. But in 2013, the extraordinary happened, Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis. A rare man and gifted leader, who lives the message of Jesus.

The reforms needed today are right in front of us, but they will not be easily seen.

First, the mandatory retirement age for bishops and cardinals should be dropped to age 70. Exceptional leaders over age 70 should be given waivers to continue serving.

From 1978 to 2012, it became more important to church officials to promote men into leadership whose orthodoxy and embrace of traditionalism were beyond question. Many were ascetics. Most were possessed by a severe theology that saw the church under siege in a hostile world. This emphasis came at enormous expense. It denied the advancement of sounder, more dynamic leaders, willing to move in new directions. As a direct result, mediocre churchmen inspired and presided over a massive exodus of good people from the church, this accompanied by a wave of horrific child sex abuse scandals.

Today, there are 75 million American Catholics.

According to Pew Research, their level of religious practice and attachment has been waning. Pew found there are an additional 22 million Catholics who left the American church. If these former Catholics were a single denomination, it would be the second largest religion in America.

Like Ahaz, a misguided king in the Book of Isaiah, most bishops cried out, “Lord, send me a sign!” This after abundant signs had already been sent, but ignored. Many bishops have blamed anything else but their own failed leadership: pop culture, secularism, feminism, the media, too much education, too little education, Satan, weak belief, television, general moral decline.

Confronted with child sex abuse and predators that required the cunning of a fox to stop, like sheep, the bishops bleated, scattered then ran. Many have yet to stop running.

Pope Francis is not among these. But last week he graciously asked for forgiveness for the scandal. But, without the Greek’s “metanoia” — - evident change of heart — - and a reckoning and price paid by the many who led us into this spiritual cul-de-sac, can there really be forgiveness?

Changing the retirement age will remove much of this disgraced, desert generation. It will cull the ranks of current cardinals by 63 percent from 119 to 44, and ensure more than half of all bishops would be retired. After this, the way will be cleared for fresh leadership that can flourish, and the many good bishops over age 70 can be kept.

Second, the celibacy requirement for priesthood should be ended. We ought to return to the practices of the Early Church. A rich irony of the Early Church is that the first Christian leaders were not only Jews, but most, were married with children.

During the church’s first thousand years of priests, there was no rule barring their service due to marriage. The rule of celibacy arose mainly for human, not divine, reasons. The motivation for keeping priests unmarried came as some bequeathed church land to their sons. The popes wanted to protect church’s property. Fortunately, at the Council of Lateran in 1132, men like Bishop Ulric of Italy expressed strong opposition to mandatory celibacy as unjust.

Since 1970, a priest shortage has bedeviled the church. The number of priests has declined, with the average age now well above 55 and rising, while during this same period, the total number of Catholics doubled to 1.2 billion people. We now have nearly 50,000 parishes worldwide without a resident priest.

A papal commission should be established, composed of lay Catholics and clergy, to end celibacy. The ideal co-chairs for this undertaking could be the accomplished Archbishop of Boston, Sean O’Malley; and the committed Catholic, wife, mother, canon lawyer, and former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese.

Ending celibacy will enlarge the pool from which qualified individuals can be drawn; it will ensure there are enough priests to minister to people and promote faith.

Last, local parish leadership needs to shift away from being built around an all-powerful pastor to one where a council of elected lay women and men act as a board partnered over a pastor. This would be a healthy progression and help develop a cadre of lay leaders able to fill the impending void created by a shortage of priests.

Such a reform would place more power in the hands of the people instead of one person. It would highlight that God frequently provides valuable insight, wisdom and revelation to ordinary people, not just to the ordained.

Recall, Jesus appeared, first and for the poor and ordinary, not the high and mighty.

These Franciscan reforms could go a long way toward the redemption of the church. They may allow her to regain a role in the Public Square, doggedly pursuing the repair of a broken, yet wonderful world that remains, well worth fighting for.



Paul V. Kane, a former fellow of Harvard’s Kennedy School and Marine veteran of Iraq, is president of the parish council for the largest Catholic parish in the District of Columbia.