Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pope's most important step on sex abuse may come in Kansas City

John L. Allen, Jr.
September 30, 2014

News yesterday that the Vatican is investigating Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, first reported by Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter, is potentially a prelude to the most significant step Pope Francis may ever take with regard to the church’s child sexual abuse scandals.

Francis has already met with victims, pledged himself to zero tolerance, and launched a criminal procedure against a former archbishop and papal diplomat accused of paying underage boys for sexual acts in the Dominican Republic. He’s also created a new papal commission to lead the press for reform.

While those moves were arguably important in demonstrating Francis’ resolve, none really broke new ground. Even the trial of the former papal diplomat, while novel in that it’s taking place in a Vatican court, builds on prosecutions in other venues of prelates accused of committing abuse themselves.

What would be new in the Finn case, if he’s removed or otherwise sanctioned, is that a bishop would be held accountable not for the crime of sexual abuse, but for the cover-up, meaning failure to respond appropriately when someone else under his supervision is accused.

In September 2012, Finn became the first US bishop to be criminally convicted on those grounds when he pled guilty to a misdemeanor count of failure to alert police of charges against one of his priests, Shawn Ratigan. After admitting to taking pornographic images of children, Ratigan eventually was sentenced to 50 years in prison and also laicized, meaning expelled from the priesthood.

The indictment against Finn charged that he learned about images found on Rattigan’s computer in December 2010, sending him away for counseling and ordering him to have no contact with children. Police were not informed until May 2011, after Finn was told that Ratigan was still taking lewd pictures of minors.

Finn was sentenced to two years of probation for that delay in making a report, and has remained the bishop of the diocese.

Though victims and their advocacy groups have several complaints with what they see as a sluggish response from the church to the abuse scandals, none looms larger than accountability. The criticism is that “zero tolerance” remains words on paper until there are consequences for failing to make it stick, and to date there hasn’t been a clear-cut case in which a pope imposed accountability in that sense.

The fact that Finn has remained in power following a criminal conviction has made him a lightning rod for this perceived lack of accountability, meaning that if Francis were to act in his case it would have wide symbolic resonance.

The investigation is being led by Archbishop Terence Prendergast of Ottawa, Canada. Such a Vatican investigation of a bishop, usually conducted under the auspices of the Congregation for Bishops in Rome, is rare but not unprecedented.

It’s already happened twice under Francis, once in 2013 with regard to Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst in Limburg, Germany, the “bling bishop” who spent more than $40 million remodeling his residence, and again this year with Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano from the small diocese of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, accused of being a divisive force in the bishops’ conference and other offenses.

The Livieres Plano case might have been a turning point on the scandals, since one of the complaints was that he had sheltered an Argentine priest accused of sexual abuse in the United States, but a Vatican official clarified that wasn’t the basis for the move.

Further back in time, Bishop William Morris of the Toowoomba diocese in Australia was removed in 2011 following a Vatican inquest led by Archbishop Charles Chaput, then of Denver and now of Philadelphia. In that case, charges included Morris’ support for women priests.

It remains to be seen if the current review of Finn, known in Vatican argot as an “apostolic visitation,” will lead to his resignation or removal. One thing that does seem clear is that the time it takes to reach resolution has been abbreviated under Francis.

Chaput’s review of Morris took place in 2007, but Morris wasn’t forced to resign until four years later. The inquiry into Tebartz-van Elst took place in September 2013, and by the next month he was assigned to an unspecified period of sabbatical. He resigned in March 2014. Similarly with Livieres Plano, Francis dispatched an investigator in July and the bishop was removed by September.

In that light, we may not have to wait long for a denouement in the Finn case.

US Cardinal Raymond Burke mounts defense on Catholic teaching on divorce

David Gibson
Religion News Service
September 30, 2014

Public disagreements over whether the Roman Catholic Church can change its teachings on Communion for remarried Catholics are growing sharper on the eve of a major Vatican summit, with conservatives led by U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke making another push against loosening the rules.

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday (Sept. 30), Burke, who currently heads the Vatican’s high court, singled out the leading proponent of reforms, German Cardinal Walter Kasper, and his claims that critics of his proposals are really attacking Pope Francis.

Kasper has said that the pope supports his efforts to find ways to fully reintegrate divorced and remarried Catholics into church life. The proposals have become a prime focus of the upcoming Vatican meeting, called a synod, which will convene on Sunday for two weeks to consider changes in family life in the modern world.

“I find it amazing that the cardinal claims to speak for the pope,” said Burke, the former archbishop of St. Louis, speaking from Rome. “The pope doesn’t have laryngitis. The pope is not mute. He can speak for himself. If this is what he wants, he will say so.”

“But for me as a cardinal to say that what I am saying are the words of Pope Francis? That to me is outrageous,” said Burke, who is reportedly set to be sidelined by Francis to a largely ceremonial post as patron of the Knights of Malta, a global church society based in Rome.

Burke also said whatever Francis thinks about a more lenient approach on Communion for remarried Catholics, the pope can’t change current church teaching because he and all bishops “are held to obedience to the truth” about marriage, and that cannot change.

Burke’s comments were echoed by others on the call and represent the latest effort by church conservatives to try to head off any possibility that the bishops and cardinals meeting at the Oct. 5-19 synod would open the door to changing any Catholic teaching, especially on marriage.

Under current church law, divorced Catholics who remarry without first obtaining a church annulment — a complicated and sometimes expensive venture — are barred from Communion because they are considered to be living in sin. Critics say the practice alienates otherwise faithful Catholics and perpetuates the stigma around divorce.

The high-level summit will cover a range of other hot-button issues, such as same-sex partners and the rise of cohabiting couples. The discussions will set out a road map for discussions at a larger, follow-up synod in 2015 where bishops could decide to make changes in church policies, or leave things as is.

The focus of the debate as the process gets underway has come down to whether the church can change its doctrines or practices at all — and that argument has come down to whether Rome could allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

Kasper, with the encouragement of Francis, last February opened the debate with a lengthy lecture to the world’s cardinals in which he said the church could and should adopt a more merciful approach to Catholics living in unorthodox relationships.

A test case for such adaptations, Kasper said, is on Communion for the divorced and remarried. Kasper said that would not require changing church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage but only on the “discipline” related to receiving Communion.

Opponents, including Burke, say that you can’t separate the discipline from the doctrine without undermining Christianity’s moral truths. They’ve become increasingly vocal and organized in lobbying against the reformers.

* Earlier this week some 48 mainly conservative Catholic clergy and intellectuals — as well as prominent evangelical leaders such as Rick Warren – published an open letter to Francis and the synod delegates urging them not to dilute church teaching on marriage but to fight secularizing trends that they say have weakened marital standards.
* This month, Burke and several other influential cardinals in the Roman Curia, including Cardinal Gerhard Mueller and Cardinal George Pell, collaborated on a book designed to counter Kasper’s ideas.
* All told, as many as 10 cardinals aligned with the hierarchy’s conservative wing have written in opposition to Kasper.

In an interview this week, Kasper expressed confidence that bishops at the back-to-back synods would ultimately back some change, and he hit back at critics like Burke, saying they are engaged in political maneuverings. He said they are afraid that any changes would lead to a “domino effect.”

“This is all linked to ideology, an ideological understanding of the gospel that the gospel is like a penal code,” Kasper, who is retired from a curial job but lives in Rome, told America magazine.

Critics of change in church policies are displaying “a theological fundamentalism which is not Catholic.”

“If fear is at work,” he said, “fear is always a bad counselor. The church should not act out of fear. The church should be the people of hope.”

Kasper: some fear a domino effect at the Synod on the family

Gerard O'Connell
Vatican Insider
September 30, 2014

Not since the Second Vatican Council has a gathering of representatives of the world’s Catholic bishops sparked such interest and controversy as the extraordinary synod of bishops on the family which opens in the Vatican on October 5. While the agenda is very wide, public interest has mainly focused on how this synod, and the follow-on synod in October 2015, will address the situation of Catholics who are divorced and remarried, and whether they can be re-admitted to communion.

As is well known, Pope Francis asked the German cardinal-theologian Walter Kasper, emeritus President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, a former university professor and diocesan bishop, and author of a book of mercy that he greatly appreciates, to give the keynote address on the family to the College of Cardinals when they met last February to discuss this subject. In one part of that long presentation Kasper envisaged a possible way forward on the question of the divorced and remarried. The subsequent debate revealed two very different theological approaches to the question.

Several cardinals – including the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Gerhard Muller, and the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Segnatura, Raymond Burke, have opposed Kasper’s opening on the question of the divorced and remarried, but Pope Francis publicly praised his contribution.

The temperature rose significantly, however, on the eve of the synod when five cardinals – including Muller and Burke – published a book rejecting Kasper’s line, while another Vatican cardinal, George Pell, wrote a preface to a different book in the same vein. Many in Rome perceived these initiatives as a clear attempt to close the discussion on this delicate topic even before the synod opened, some interpreted it as resistance to the Pope.

In this context, America magazine and La Nación – Argentina’s leading daily, interviewed Cardinal Walter Kasper in his apartment in Rome, September 26, and asked how he reads the opposition and the contrasting theological visions at work here, and what he expects to happen at the synod. This is what he said.

Q. There is much interest in this synod, especially regarding how it will deal with the question of whether there will be some opening towards Catholics who are divorced and remarried.

A. Yes, this interest in Church questions is a positive thing and we should be grateful for it. But the problem is that some media reduce everything at the synod to the question of Communion for the divorced and remarried people. The agenda of the synod is much, much broader and concerns the pastoral challenges of family life today. The problem of divorced and remarried is one problem, but not the only one. Some media give the impression that there will be a breakthrough and start a campaign for it. I too hope there will be a responsible opening, but it’s an open question, to be decided by the synod. We should be prudent with such fixations otherwise, if this doesn’t happen, the reaction will be great disillusion.

Q. Some cardinals and bishops seem to be afraid of this possibility and reject it even before the synod meets. Why do you think there is so much fear of a development in the Church’s discipline?

A. I think they fear a domino effect, if you change one point all would collapse. That’s their fear. This is all linked to ideology, an ideological understanding of the Gospel that the Gospel is like a penal code.

But the Gospel is, as the Pope said in ‘The Joy of the Gospel’ (Evangelii Gaudium), quoting Thomas Aquinas, the Gospel is the gift of the Holy Spirit which is in the soul of faithful and becomes operating in love. That’s a different understanding. It is not a museum. It is a living reality in the Church and we have to walk with the whole people of God and see what the needs of the people are. Then we have to make a discernment in the light of the Gospel, which is not a code of doctrines and commandments.

Then, of course, there is also a lack of theological hermeneutics because we cannot simply take one phrase of the Gospel of Jesus and from that deduce everything. You need a hermeneutic to see the whole of the Gospel and of Jesus’ message and then differentiate between what is doctrine and what is discipline. Discipline can change. So I think we have here a theological fundamentalism which is not Catholic.

Q. So you mean you cannot change doctrine but you can the discipline?

A. Doctrine, in so far as it is official binding doctrine, cannot change. So nobody denies the indissolubility of marriage. I do not, nor do I know any bishop who denies it. But discipline can be changed. Discipline wants to apply a doctrine to concrete situations, which are contingent and can change. So also discipline can change and has already changed often as we see in Church history.

Q. What did you feel when you learned that this book of the five cardinals was being published which attacks what you said?

A. Well first of all everybody is free to express his opinion. That is not a problem for me. The Pope wanted an open debate, and I think that is something new because up to now often there was not such an open debate. Now Pope Francis is open for it and I think that’s healthy and it helps the Church very much.

Q. There seems to be fear among some of the cardinals and bishops because as the Pope said we have this moral construction which can collapse like a pack of cards

A. Yes, it’s an ideology, it’s not the Gospel.

Q. There’s also a fear of the open discussion at the synod.

A. Yes, because they fear all will collapse. But first of all we live in an open pluralistic society and it’s good for the Church to have an open discussion as we had at the Second Vatican Council. It’s good for the image of the Church too, because a closed Church is not a healthy Church and not inviting for the people of the day. On the other hand when we discuss marriage and family we have to listen to people who are living this reality. There’s a ‘sensus fidelium’ (‘sense of the faithful’). It cannot be decided only from above, from the Church hierarchy, and especially you cannot just quote old texts of the last century, you have to look at the situation today, and then you make a discernment of the spirits and come to concrete results. I think this is the approach of Pope Francis, whereas many others start from doctrine and then use a mere deductive method.


See entire interview at the Vatican Insider

Monday, September 29, 2014

Kansas City Bishop Finn under Vatican investigation

Rachel Zoll
Associated Press
September 29, 2014

The Vatican is investigating Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, Missouri, two years after he was convicted of failing to report suspected abuse.

Finn was notified of the investigation by the papal ambassador in Washington and has "cooperated with the process," according to Jack Smith, the bishop's spokesman.

As part of the inquiry, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa visited the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph last week and spoke with several people, asking if they considered Finn fit for leadership, according to the National Catholic Reporter. A spokeswoman for Prendergast said Monday she could not comment because the archbishop's visit was private.

Finn is the highest-ranking U.S. church leader to be convicted for failing to take action in response to sex abuse allegations. He was charged in the case of the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, whose computer contained hundreds of lewd photos of young girls taken in and around churches where he worked. Diocesan officials waited six months before they notified civil authorities of the photos. Ratigan pleaded guilty to child pornography charges and was sentenced to 50 years in federal prison.

Finn was sentenced in 2012 to two years' probation for the misdemeanor, and ever since has faced pressure from local Roman Catholics to step down. Some parishioners petitioned Pope Francis to remove the bishop from the diocese.

Francis has promised he would hold bishops accountable for how they responded when confronted with cases of abusive priests. No U.S. bishop has been removed for covering up for guilty clergy.

The pope last week removed a conservative Paraguayan bishop who clashed with fellow bishops on ideological grounds and promoted a priest accused of inappropriate sexual behavior. In March, Francis ousted the bishop of Limburg, Germany, whose $43 million new residential complex angered the faithful.

The Finn investigation is being conducted under the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Pope revisits 'punishing' rules on Catholic divorce

Lizzy Davies
The Observer
September 27, 2014

Elio Cirimbelli, a 66-year-old family counsellor from Bolzano in north-eastern Italy, goes to church most Sundays. He is a devout Roman Catholic but when he attends mass he cannot receive holy communion and must stay in the pew while the rest of the congregation goes up to receive the sacramental bread and wine. "It's very hard, let's put it that way," Cirimbelli says. "We have a church that can be a mother, but sometimes it is a mother which not does embrace but which punishes."

Millions of Catholics around the world are similarly affected by the church's ban on communion for those who have divorced – as Cirimbelli did in 1987 – and then remarried.

In a global community divided by headline-grabbing issues such as abortion, contraception and gay sex, divorce is far from the most inflammatory topic of conversation. But for a huge number of ordinary people it is a regular and painful reminder that their church considers them ineligible for a right it grants to almost all other Catholics – murderers included.

True to his image as the pontiff who listens to the people and wants to build a less hectoring and more inclusive church, Pope Francis now wants to start talking about it.

Before a meeting of international bishops in Rome next Sunday, hopes are high that the pope might decide to set in motion a loosening of the ban which would finally allow Cirimbelli, who married his second wife in 1991, to take holy communion after 23 long years.

"I met Pope Francis in 2013 and I said, 'We are what the Catholic church considers an irregular family, but we entrust our sufferings – and the sufferings of many people I meet as part of my work – to your hands'," said Cirimbelli, a father of three. "But we hope and believe in a merciful church.' The pope embraced me and said, 'No, the church will not abandon you'."

As the director of a support centre for separated and divorced people in Bolzano, this year Cirimbelli also met Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the synod of bishops. "I can't tell you everything he said, but I can say that they believe the pope this time – unlike other times when he was not pope – does not want the discussion to become solely academic. The pope believes, and they believe, that the time has come for concrete responses."

What Cirimbelli would like to see is the adoption of an idea put forward most prominently by a German cardinal, Walter Kasper, according to which Rome would look to the Eastern Orthodox church for a way forward and allow some people who had remarried civilly to do a period of penance that would eventually lift their ban on holy communion. He is keen to stress that his proposed reform would leave the indissolubility of marriage intact and would merely involve taking a more accepting, tolerant attitude towards the person's second – civil – marriage.

A theologian whose views used to bring him into conflict with Vatican hierarchy, Kasper is a man whose time has, perhaps, now come: praised for his pragmatic and merciful approach by Francis in his first Sunday blessing last year, he was chosen by the pope to make the introductory address to the synod in February this year and, while the pope is being careful about what he says, many believe they are on the same page.

Tina Beattie, a liberal Catholic theologian, believes that the stage has been set for a change, but also for "an epochal, defining struggle".

"The ground has been well-prepared for a shift on the readmission of divorced and remarried Catholics to the sacraments," she said. "I don't think this will involve any change in doctrine. It will be a pragmatic shift which will put pastoral practice before doctrinal rigidity."

But not everyone wants this, and opponents of the proposal are not willing to go down without a fight. In the weeks leading up to the extraordinary synod on the family, due to run from 5-19 October, the conservative chorus has been growing louder among the so-called princes of the church, with six cardinals coming out publicly against Kasper and a collection of "anti" essays being published in five different countries on Wednesday. Among the critics are Gerhard Ludwig Müller, head of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and George Pell, the Australian picked by Francis to run the Vatican's new secretariat for the economy.

Robert Dodaro, Rome-based professor of theology and editor of the essays, said the Kasper model advocates a form of "pseudo-mercy" which would, in effect, lead the church to treat remarried divorcees as though they were in a "second-class marriage".

"How would you feel if you were told: well, your second marriage – we're tolerating it but we're not accepting it?" he said. "The Catholic church doesn't recognise divorce, so those individuals are still married … in the eyes of Christ. They are still married to their original spouses." The second marriage is a contradiction in terms because as long as that original spouse remains alive that bond is still in effect."

At least one of the cardinals writing in the book advocates the hiring of more canon lawyers to marriage tribunals to enable the streamlining of the marriage annulment process.

And some observers believe that, rather than Kasper's suggestion, this could be the area of eventual compromise. Last Saturday, the Vatican announced a new commission that seemed to be heading in that direction. A statement said its aim would be to reform the annulment-granting process, "with the objective of simplifying its procedure, making it more streamlined, and safeguarding the principle of the indissolubility of matrimony".

But for a reformist who has built his papacy on reaching out to the margins and who constantly repeats the need for the church to be less obsessed with rules and more concerned with real people, the stakes in the coming months – big decisions are not expected to be made until another synod next year – are high. "This is in my view an epochal-defining struggle," says Beattie, professor of Catholic studies at Roehampton University. "Will the church emerge from this as a church more in the image of Vatican II and Francis, or will Francis be defeated by very powerful conservative forces so that we might see the emergence of an even more doctrinally rigid and unyielding ethos?"

For Cirimbelli, the stakes are also high, and the conservatives clearly make him angry. "I can say that it [their book] made me come out in a rash," he says. "The thing that hurts me is that these illustrious cardinals, these illustrious eminencies, talk too much theory. If you'll allow me a provocation, they should maybe spend a bit less time behind their desks and more time among the people. Which is what the pope has done. Francis is not a pope, priest, bishop, cardinal of the curial palaces. He is the pope, priest, bishop and cardinal of the streets."

Only time will tell whether the people's pope will disappoint him or give him reason to cheer.

Vatican says bishop's dismissal not the result of sex abuse

Francis X Rocca
Catholic News Service
September 27, 2014

The Vatican denied Pope Francis had dismissed a controversial Paraguayan bishop because of his mishandling of sex abuse accusations, attributing the decision instead to other failings of governance and friction with fellow bishops.

Meanwhile, the bishop described his dismissal as a case of "ideological persecution" because of his opposition to liberation theology.

Bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano, 69, was told to step down as head of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este effective Sept. 25, a Vatican statement said, citing unspecified "serious pastoral reasons."

Bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, is pictured after an interview with Catholic News Service in Rome Sept. 27. (CNS/Paul Haring)

News reports at the time noted the bishop's vocal support for Msgr. Carlos Urrutigoity, whom he appointed a high diocesan official even though the priest had been accused of mol
esting seminarians before coming to Ciudad del Este.

Coming two days after the Vatican's arrest of former Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, pending a criminal trial on charges of paying for sex with boys during his time as nuncio to the Dominican Republic, the dismissal of Bishop Livieres appeared to be the latest step in a Vatican crackdown on sex abuse.

But the Vatican says sex abuse was not a significant factor in Bishop Livieres' dismissal.

"Let's not confuse Wesolowski and Livieres; one is a case of pedophilia, the other is not," Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told Catholic News Service Sept. 27.

"Livieres was not removed for reasons of pedophilia," Father Lombardi said. "That was not the principal problem."

"There were serious problems with his management of the diocese, the education of clergy and relations with other bishops," Father Lombardi said.

The spokesman declined to enter into detail, but mentioned differences with other bishops over seminary education and alluded to Bishop Livieres' remarks, in a television interview earlier this year, describing one bishop as homosexual.

Father Lombardi noted that the Vatican's Sept. 25 statement said the bishop's dismissal was for the "greater good of the unity of the church in Ciudad del Este" and among Paraguay's bishops.

Bishop Livieres, speaking with CNS in Rome Sept. 27, agreed that the case of Msgr. Urrutigoity was "completely marginal" to the pope's action, though he said other Paraguayan bishops had used the priest -- whom he insisted was entirely innocent of sex abuse -- as a "weapon" with which to attack Bishop Livieres.

He said his conflict with fellow bishops centered on his opposition to liberation theology, a movement that emerged in Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s, and which the Vatican later criticized for the use of Marxist methodology by some of its practitioners.

Bishop Livieres said he was appointed to the diocese by St. John Paul II in 2004 with a mandate, communicated to him by the nuncio at the time, to oppose Paraguayan bishops' "monolithic" support for liberation theology. He said Pope Benedict XVI personally told him in 2008 that liberation theology was "the problem in all of Latin America."

But Pope Benedict "had a very different orientation from the present pontificate," the bishop said. "This is a pontificate opposed to the previous pontificate."

Father Lombardi characterized the bishop's analysis as "naive," calling it "absolutely reductive to interpret this decision in a way limited to an argument over the theology of liberation."

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Historic meeting of clergy abuse survivors with Archbishop Nienstedt

Jean Hopfensperger
Star Tribune
September 23, 2014

It was a first in Minnesota, and perhaps a first in the nation. A support group for survivors of clergy sex abuse hosting the man who represents the church they believe betrayed them — Archbishop John Nienstedt.

The ground rules for last weekend’s meeting quietly were laid in advance. No media allowed. No robes or collar on the archbishop. The survivors would be respectful.

Held in a suburban library conference room, the unlikely meeting allowed survivors to share their painful stories with Minnesota’s top Catholic leader and provided Nienstedt a rare and inside look at the impact of abuse.

“I really didn’t think he’d be there until he actually showed up,” said Shawn Plocher, a Minneapolis man who was abused as a child. “This is a group of hurting people who want some sense of healing or closure. … I’m hoping things are heading in the right direction.”

Nienstedt said after the session that he was “honored and thankful that so many have shared their experiences with me.”

“I have been deeply moved by the devastating stories I have heard …” he said in an e-mail. “Their stories have been very touching and further encourage me to continue in our direction of protecting children from any abuse …’’

David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said he was unaware of any similar event elsewhere. Former Twin Cities Archbishop Harry Flynn met with Louisiana clergy abuse victims in a prayer group several times, he said. And SNAP met with some bishops at the 2002 U.S. Conference of Bishops meeting in Dallas that hammered out the church’s policies on clergy sexual abuse.

“In Dallas we heard, ‘This isn’t the last time you hear from us,’ ” said Clohessy. “Without exception, we heard nothing when we got home.”

Conversations spark forum

The meeting originated in conversations between the archdiocese and Bob Schwiderski, former Minnesota SNAP director. Schwiderski said he had suggested the archbishop attend a support group, provided members approved.

“I was concerned about an opportunity for survivors to confront some of the anger they had because the church did not listen to them before,” Schwiderski said.

It wasn’t supposed to be a church-bashing session or a lovefest, he said. Just the opening of a door that had always been locked shut.

Humble location

The group met in a conference room in the Wayzata Public Library. The shades on the glass doors were drawn, and about 25 people — abuse victims and some family members — gathered around a large table.

Introductions were first names only. Each person had three minutes to speak his or her piece. The format was identical to other meetings of the support group, said Schwiderski — except one of the men at the table happened to be in charge of the archdiocese.

Plocher, 42, who said the abuse drove him to drink and drugs, addictions from which he only now is recovering, said he reminded the archbishop that continuing psychological care is critical for survivors.

“I can’t speak for everyone, but I know in my case that door was closed when the civil case was over,” said Plocher, recalling his remarks.

“Mike,’’ the father of a boy abused in the 1990s in a Hopkins church, said he told the archbishop about how both his church and the archdiocese did nothing to help his family.

“The church should be a safe haven for kids, not for pedophiles,” said Mike, who didn’t want to reveal his last name.

Schwiderski, accompanied by his daughter and son-in-law, said his message was that the impact of abuse does not stop with the child. He said he never hugged his daughter while she was growing up, because the priest who abused him used to hug him. Without those hugs, he said, his daughter grew up thinking he didn’t love her.

The archbishop listened to the group’s stories, as did the other invited guest, the Rev. Tim Norris, the priest at the Church of St. Paul in Ham Lake, which held the first meeting between survivors and an archdiocese vicar general in May.

“Their suggestions will be extremely helpful as we move forward,” Nienstedt said.

Tough sell for some

It was a tough sell for some group members to attend, said Schwiderski. Some were nervous about the possibility of seeing a collar, which sparks memories of their own abuse, he said. Hence the no-collar rule. Some worried that the archbishop might “use what I say against me.” Others worried the media would show up and wanted to protect their anonymity.

Others, however, joined in with little concern about sharing their story with an archbishop.

“The veneer has worn off,” said Mike. “At one point, I would have been intimidated.”

When the meeting was over, there were “handshakes and thank yous” said Schwiderski.

But Clohessy said the historic gathering signified an archbishop “is under fire.” Public appearances are a common tactic to diffuse tension and shore up support, he said.

In addition, Nienstedt participated Monday night in his first “Mass of Healing, Reconciliation and Hope” at St. Patrick’s Church in Inver Grove Heights. Participants could pray with clergy and lay professionals after the service, as well as obtain information on postabortion resources and annulments, according to the archdiocese.

Plochor is hoping that the stories from Saturday’s meeting stay with the archbishop. He sent Nienstedt an e-mail Monday thanking him for attending, adding, “You can’t change the past, but you can have a significant role in determining the future.”

Paraguayan bishop who shielded priest abuser removed from office

Dennis Coday
National Catholic Reporter
September 25, 2014

Pope Francis has removed a bishop from his diocese in eastern Paraguay following an apostolic visitation that found he had shielded a priest from accusations of sexual abuse.

Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano, 69, has been removed from heading the Ciudad del Este diocese, a statement from the Vatican press office said Thursday.

"This was a difficult decision on the part of the Holy See, taken for serious pastoral reasons and for the greater good of the unity of the Church in Ciudad del Este and the episcopal communion in Paraguay," the Vatican statement said.

Pope Francis sent a cardinal and an archbishop to investigate in the diocese of Ciudad del Este in July. After the July 21-26 visit, the Vatican ordered that a priest, Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity, who had been accused of sexual abuse in the United States, be removed from ministry and restrict the activities of Livieres Plano.

In 2002, Urrutigoity was accused of sexual abuse of minors in a highly publicized lawsuit in the diocese of Scranton, Pa. He and another priest, Eric Ensey, were suspended by then-Bishop James Timlin amid allegations that they had sexually molested students at St. Gregory's Academy. The diocese reportedly reached a $400,000-plus settlement in the case in 2006.

Urrutigoity, a native of Argentina, was transferred to Canada before settling in Paraguay.

Earlier this year, Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera expressed concern about Urrutigoity's career advancement in Paraguay, saying "warnings regarding this cleric's suitability for ministry have not been heeded."

In a message on the diocesan website, the bishop went further and urged anyone who has "suspected, witnessed or suffered abuse at the hands of Father Urrutigoity" to report it to authorities.

In July, Francis sent Cardinal Santos Abril y Castello, the archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome, and another archbishop to Paraguay to investigate Urrutigoity and Livieres Plano, who is a member of the conservative order Opus Dei.

The Vatican and has appointed Bishop Ricardo Jorge Valenzuela Rios of Villarrica del Espiritu Santo, Paraguay, as apostolic administrator of the diocese of Ciudad del Este.

During an in-flight news conference on his return to Rome from the Holy Land in May, Pope Francis described the abuse of children by priests as "such an ugly crime" and a "very grave" problem, the betrayal of a priest's duty to lead young people to holiness, comparable to performance of a "black mass."

"We must move ahead, ahead, zero tolerance," he said.

Francis said the church cannot have privileged "daddy's boys" exempt from punishment when it comes to sex abuse of minors. He said three unnamed bishops were under investigation by the Vatican for misdeeds related to sex abuse, and another had been found guilty and was awaiting punishment.

In July, the Vatican announced the apostolic investigation of Livieres Plano, and in August, the Vatican announced that Jozef Wesolowski, a former archbishop and papal ambassador, had been laicized because he had sexually abused boys while serving in the Dominican Republic.

On Tuesday, the Vatican announced that Wesolowski was under house arrest in Vatican City and would face a criminal trial under the laws of Vatican City State.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Traditionalist leader meets at Vatican to discuss reconciliation

Francis X Rocca
Catholic News Service
September 23, 2014

The leader of a breakaway group of traditionalist Catholics met with Vatican officials Tuesday for the latest in a long series of reconciliation talks.

Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the Society of St. Pius X, met for two hours with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican said in a statement.

"Various problems of a doctrinal and canonical nature were examined, and it was decided to proceed gradually and over a reasonable period of time in order to overcome difficulties and with a view to the envisioned full reconciliation," the Vatican statement said.

The SSPX effectively broke with Rome in 1988, when its founder, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, ordained four bishops without the permission of St. John Paul II in a protest against modernizing changes that followed the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65.

In 2012, after years of on-again-off-again talks, the Vatican announced that the traditionalists had been formally offered terms of reconciliation, but the SSPX did not accept, citing unresolved "doctrinal difficulties," including the form of the Mass introduced by Pope Paul VI.

Also present at the meeting Tuesday were Archbishops Luis Ladaria Ferrer and J. Augustine Di Noia, secretary and adjunct secretary, respectively, of the doctrinal congregation; Archbishop Guido Pozzo, secretary of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei"; and two SSPX officials: Fr. Niklaus Pfluger and Fr. Alain-Marc Nely.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Vatican puts former nuncio accused of sexual abuse under house arrest

Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service
September 23, 2014

The Vatican has placed a laicized papal ambassador under house arrest as he awaits a criminal trial for sexually abusing young boys.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, released a statement Sept. 23 regarding the case of former Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, a Pole who served as nuncio to the Dominican Republic until August 2013.

The Vatican announced in June that a canonical court had investigated Wesolowski on charges of sex abuse in the Dominican Republic and concluded by dismissing him from the clerical state, depriving him of all rights and duties associated with being a priest except the obligation of celibacy. Wesolowski would face a criminal trial under the laws of Vatican City State, the Vatican said at the time.

On Sept. 23, Father Lombardi said, a Vatican prosecutor summoned Wesolowski and informed him of the charges against him.

Because of the "gravity of the accusations," investigators decided to arrest the former ambassador, the spokesman said, but "in light of the medical condition of the accused, supported by medical documentation," he was placed under house arrest in Vatican City.

Father Lombardi said Vatican authorities had acted in accordance with the "will expressed by the pope, that such a grave and delicate case might be addressed without delay, with the just and necessary rigor, with the full assumption of responsibility by the institutions of the Holy See."

In August, the Vatican denied covering up for Wesolowski by bringing him back to Rome last year and suggested he might also have to stand trial on the charges in the Dominican Republic.

Divorce: Catholic church seems to have forgotten how to forgive - Cardinal

John Bingham
The Telegraph
September 23, 2014

Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric has warned that the Church has effectively forgotten how to forgive and must face up to the fact that people’s private lives do not always live up to an its “idealised vision” of family life.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols said compassion for the difficulties people face in their personal lives had not been the Church’s “strongest suit” in recent years.

He said it must create a “culture of mercy” as it approaches issues such as whether remarried divorcees should receive Holy Communion. The Cardinal’s comments came as he prepares to join bishops from around the world at a special gathering in Rome called by Pope Francis to discuss the Church’s stance on the family including controversial questions of marriage and divorce.

Cardinal Nichols said the extraordinary synod on the family, which begins in just under a fortnight, could mark a major new direction for the 1.2 billion-strong Catholic Church.

But he said that resolving issues such as admitting remarried divorcees to communion without abandoning the Church’s teaching that marriage is forever could require a “radical rethink” of some of its most central doctrines.

The decision to call a special synod to discuss the family is seen as one of the most significant acts of Francis’s pontificate.

Attention has focused on the issue of divorce following an address given by Cardinal Walter Kasper, a German theologian who has influenced Pope Francis, calling for divorcees to be treated with greater “mercy” by the Church.

Pope Francis has also made mercy the main theme of many of his public messages.

Earlier this month a powerful group of traditionalist Cardinals issued a public warning against any relaxation of key doctrines about marriage.

But Cardinal Nichols said that the first thing he would have in mind as he set off for the synod was a recognition that “the gift of God’s mercy” had come to the fore, particularly since the election of Pope Francis.

“I grew up very firmly in a church that understood itself as a church of sinners,” he said.

“I don’t think it has been our strongest suit in the last 30 years.

“And I think what Pope Francis is calling for is a return to that lived sense of the mercy and compassion of God who always accompanies us. “I think one of the challenges, one of the invitations that we face, is finding ways of creating a culture of mercy in the Church.”

He insisted that the Church’s view that marriage is indissoluble would remain a “foundational rock” of its teaching but said it could not ignore the “frailty of the human reality”.

Significantly, he said it must not only recognise the fact that marriages break down but also the “emergence and celebration of new relationships”.

“The Pope over and over again says we start from the wrong place if we start from an idealised form or vision of marriage,” he said. “But we start from the reality of two people often who enter marriage with complex wounded histories who have all sorts of personal dimensions to their lives.”

He went on: “In facing reality we also see and acknowledge that human relationship breaks down and so the two realities that are also there for us to hold in heart and in mind are the pain and distress of the breakdown of the marriage and the emergence and celebration of new relationships.”

But he emphasised the difficulty the Church would face in trying to reconcile its teaching about marriage and the Eucharist as sacraments. “These two aspects of Catholic faith have deep roots and deep implications and I don’t see for myself where the area of manoeuvre opens up without quite a radical rethink on one or the other," he said.

"And therefore I go to this synod really intent on listening to what people have to say.”

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cupich of Spokane to be named archbishop of Chicago

Dennis Coday
National Catholic Reporter
September 19, 2014

The Vatican is to announce Saturday the appointment of Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Wash., as the new archbishop of Chicago, NCR has learned. He will succeed Cardinal Francis George, who has been archbishop of Chicago since May 1997. Cupich, 65, has been bishop of Spokane since September 2010. He served as bishop of Rapid City, S.D., from 1998 to 2010*, and before that he was a priest with the Omaha, Neb., archdiocese.

At 77, George is two years past the usual retirement age of bishops. He has also been battling cancer. In May, the archdiocese announced that the Vatican's representative to the U.S. had begun the vetting process to find a replacement and suggested the announcement would be made this fall.

Chicago is the third most populous Catholic diocese in the U.S. and is historically one of the most important. Since the election of Pope Francis in 2013, church watchers have been saying the replacement for George would be the pope's most important U.S. appointment because it would be interpreted as sign of the direction Francis wants the American church to take.

Patrick T. Reardon, a lifelong Chicago Catholic and a member of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council in Chicago, told NCR in an interview that the greatest challenge facing the next archbishop of Chicago “is how to serve a modern American society that isn’t much interested and doesn’t want to listen to a religious and moral leader.”

“The archbishop of Chicago,” Reardon said, “is a leader not just for Chicago but for the whole church and the world, really. The tone he sets will have an effect, positive or negative, it will have an effect.

A hint of the pastoral sensibilities Cupich will bring to Chicago could be found in a pastoral letter he released last month in Spokane, “Joy Made Complete.”

The letter spells out a four-year pastoral plan for the Spokane diocese. The basis for the plan is a list of priorities established by the Know Love and Serve (KLS) Leadership Summit, a weekend conference for 50 Catholic leaders, lay and clerical, from the Spokane diocese that Cupich hosted last spring.

To prepare for the summit, Cupich had participants read Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” which he said “beautifully articulates a vision for the Church in our time.”

Cupich’s pastoral letter begins with a Scripture quote, 1 John 1:1-3, and then says:

“The brave souls who wrote these stirring words nearly 2,000 years ago were facing dark threats from within and without. Divisions were tearing at community life. Public persecution throughout the Roman Empire threatened their very survival. Yet, these first disciples of Jesus of Nazareth did not fix their attention on the crisis of the present moment, nor on their own personal interests or impulses of self-preservation.

“As daunting as these concerns were, the life-transforming experience of encountering the Risen Lord compelled them to set their sights higher. Jesus spoke to them in a way that left their hearts burning for more, and that “more” was sharing Him with others. Nothing else mattered."

Cupich offers this challenge in his letter: “Are you ready to join me and your fellow parishioners and take personal responsibility for the work of renewing the Church? Simply put, this is about making sure that Know Love Serve are not just three words on a page or a catchy slogan, but that they are the distinguishing actions which define each of our lives as believers, as intentional disciples of Christ.”

Reardon said, “The new archbishop must be a shepherd to believers and non-believers -- and a good shepherd, not one that scolds, but one that guides and takes care.”

Cupich has served as an associate pastor and pastor in Omaha parish and the director of worship for that archdiocese. He has a doctorate in sacramental theology and wrote is dissertation on Advent. He studied at the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., the North American College and Gregorian University in Rome and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Last March after national bishops’ conferences from around the world had turned in reports to the Vatican on a 39-question survey about issues such as contraception, same-sex marriage, divorce and other topics touching on family life as preparation for the a synod of bishops on the family, many lay Catholics were wondering if the synod, which opens Oct. 5, may presage a change in church teachings. Many bishops and other church leaders tried to tamp down expectations.

In an interview with NCR, Cupich took another tack. The church "must allow the Holy Spirit to move us," he said.

Citing the change in hearts of church leaders following the Second Vatican Council, he said that ordained leaders must take seriously the "joys, sorrows, heartaches, and challenges of laypeople."

In the winter of 2013, when the U.S. bishops conference and the Obama administration had locked horns over the contraction mandate in the health care reform law, Cupich wrote a letter to church employees who might have become worried that their ministries would be shut down or their health insurance cut-off. He wrote:

In visiting with many of you about the issue of insurance coverage, I know you have been concerned by calls for the Church to shut down her organizations or withdraw health coverage to those who serve in our various institutions as a protest to regulations that may infringe on our religious freedoms. These kinds of scare tactics and worse-case scenario predictions are uncalled for and only unnecessarily disturb the hardworking and dedicated people who are employed by the Church. I am confident that we can find a way forward, and this latest response of the government appears to provide some new openings, which we need to explore and for which we should express appreciation.

Cupich’s homily for a Prolife Mass in January 2013, seemed to have echoes of another Chicago archbishop, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who spoke of a “seamless garment” or consistent ethic for life that embraced equally anti-abortion, anti-poverty and anti-war strains of Catholic social teaching. In the 2013 homily, which fell on President Obama’s second inauguration and the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, and came a month after 20 schoolchildren where shot to death in Newton, Conn., Cupich seemed to stitch together the prolife, anti-voilence and anti-poverty themes in a similar way.

The Gospel today gives us the image of the futility of trying to patch a torn old cloak with new unshrunken cloth, for “the fullness of the new eventually will pull away.” That is an apt image for what we want to say to our fellow citizens on this day, a day that offers so much promise. The tear in the fabric of our nation wrought by no defense of the children of the future cannot be fixed with a patchwork of defending only those fortunate to see the light of day, permitted to take that first breath or enjoy the work of their own hands. No, we are saying that we need a new cloak that covers all.

He then adds:

We should not be disheartened or bitter if many of our fellow citizens do not heed us at this moment, nor should we pull back on our efforts to join hands with others to improve the lot of suffering people in need just because they don’t fully agree with us on everything. The truth will win out and we have to believe that a nation whose collective heart can break and grieve for babies slaughtered in Newtown has the capacity and God’s grace to one day grieve for the babies killed in the womb.

Reardon said that the new leader in Chicago to rebuild a working relationship with legislators and government officials “so that we’re not banging our heads between our beliefs and laws.”

An effective leader “will listen to people -- even when he has an answer they don’t want to hear -- but they will know that he heard them.”

A 20102 NCR editorial cited Cupich as a good model for how bishops should conduct themselves in the public square. Cupich, NCR said, “wrote a letter to all Catholics in his diocese on the issue of same sex-marriage. Without vitriol, without mischaracterizing the positions of those who disagree, with a presumption of good faith, Cupich set forth the teachings of the church clearly but not obnoxiously, and affirmed the innate human dignity of all people, including gay men and women. We disagree with his conclusion, but not his approach.”

Cupich served on the U.S. bishops’ ad hoc committee on sexual abuse 2002 - 2005 during the time the bishop wrote the Dallas Charter for youth and child protection, the guidelines diocese are to us when dealing with the sexual abuse of minors by clergy.

He served on the bishops’ Committee on Protection of Children and Young People in 2005 and 2006 and chaired that committee 2008- 2011

In April 2011 Cupich was a speaker at a two-day conference at Marquette University law school titled "Harm, Hope and Healing: International Dialogue on the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal."

At the conference Cupich said that church officials need to maintain a “visceral connection” to the pain and damage done to those abused by priests, and that bishops need to remain “at that soul-searching level” or risk “regression or complacency.”

After hearing wrenching stories from victims and stinging critiques of their handling of the crisis, the bishops in Dallas in 2002 placed healing as the top priority and that was “a public admission that an entirely new direction was needed.”

As part of that new direction, Cupich said, the bishops recognized “that we cannot respond to the crisis by ourselves; we need a community of learning.”

While bishop of Rapid City, S.D., Cupich was the episcopal adviser for the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership Project, a collaboration of the six national Catholic groups: the National Association for Lay Ministry, Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development, National Association of Church Personnel Administrators, National Association of Diaconate Directors, National Catholic Young Adult Ministry Association and National Federation of Priests' Councils.

At a gathering of the group in Orlando, Fla., in 2008 he spoke of the expanding role for professional lay ministers. Cupich said laypeople who were increasingly involved in ministry were answering the call to holiness that is part of their baptismal heritage.

"Lay ministry is not about filling in the gap because of a shortage of ordained ministers and it's not about a struggle for the rights of people," he said.

The growing emphasis on lay involvement is a sign of maturation and ongoing conversion in the church that "flows out of a call to holiness in which we see ourselves as the body of Christ."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Fear and loathing in the Vatican

Damian Thompson
The Spectator
September 18, 2014

Here is a picture of Cardinal Raymond Burke, whose grand title of Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura is matched only by the magnificence of his ecclesiastical dress. He is famous for his willingness to don the cappa magna, the astonishingly long silk cloak often worn by bishops before the Second Vatican Council but now confined to traditionalist ceremonies. The mere sight of this garment is like a scarlet rag to Catholic liberals, and they especially resent it being worn by Burke, who is (a) very conservative in matters of faith and morals and (b) the most powerful American cardinal in the Vatican.

It’s is true that, judging by the all those photographs of him looking as if he’s just stepped off the set of The Borgias, one would not infer that Burke is personally the most humble of cardinals. But he is. There are few more devout and obedient priests in the Vatican than Raymond Burke, which makes it all the more distressing that this week he is being ritually humiliated.

The legendary Italian Vatican blogger Sandro Magister reported yesterday that Cardinal Burke is about to be ‘decapitated’. He will lose his job as head of the Vatican’s ‘Supreme Court’, which has the power to overrule unjust decisions by other curial departments. According to Magister, he will instead become patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, an honorary position normally reserved for ancient retired cardinals. Burke, a former Archbishop of St Louis greatly admired by Benedict XVI, is only 66 – a mere teenager in Vatican years. The ultra-traditionalist blog Rorate Caeli says this would be ‘the greatest humiliation of a curial cardinal in living memory’, and for once it is not overstating its case.

Why is this happening? The priest-blogger Fr Z, an ally of Burke’s, warns us not to jump to conclusions: it’s possible that the cardinal’s department is being merged with another as part of Pope Francis’s radical simplification of the Roman Curia. But we can’t ignore two factors:

1. Burke has highly placed enemies, who use the ‘progressive’ American magazine the National Catholic Reporter to make fun of his elaborate liturgical style. What they really hate about Burke, however, is his pugnacious attitude towards politicians (including nominally Catholic ones) who subvert traditional Catholic teaching on sexual morality. In 2009, for example, Burke said the following about President Obama, then still an icon of the Catholic Left (click here for an example of Obama-worship at its most sycophantic):

If a Catholic knowingly and deliberately votes for a person who is in favour of the most grievous violations of the natural moral law, then he has formally cooperated in a grave evil and must confess his serious sin. Since President Obama clearly announced, during the election campaign, his anti-life and anti-family agenda, a Catholic who knew his agenda regarding, for example, procured abortion, embryonic-stem-cell research, and same-sex marriage, could not have voted for him with a clear conscience.

As soon as Pope Francis was elected, Burke’s enemies seized their chance. They suspected that a pontiff who, as I noted in a recent Spectator article, deplored the Vatican ‘court’, and who also conveniently spoke little English, would be unimpressed by the sight of the roly-poly Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura donning yet another set of antique vestments. Burke has always brought out the bully in his opponents: in 2009, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor invoked Canon Law in order to rescind the Latin Mass Society’s invitation to then-Archbishop Burke to celebrate the Tridentine Mass in Westminster Cathedral. Burke accepted this humiliation with a good grace, as he did his dismissal from the Congregation for Bishops in January.

2. Cardinal Burke has become embroiled in the controversy surrounding the Synod on the Family in October. Conservative Catholic blogger Pat Archbold argues that his demotion would be

… in response to a book to which Cardinal Burke contributed, to be published soon by Ignatius Press, in which the propositions proffered by Cardinal Kasper in his keynote speech in preparation for the Synod on the Family are systematically dismantled. The book defends the traditional Catholic understanding of marriage, its history, and the praxis of withholding communion from those divorced and remarried as well as rebutting some arguments in favour of toleration of these arrangements.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, an old German liberal (and also a good and holy man) has proposed that although remarried Catholics aren’t in a sacramental marriage, their partnerships possess ‘elements’ of the sacrament just as the Anglican Communion isn’t part of the Catholic Church but possesses elements of it. Many cardinals think this is such a batty idea that they have publicly opposed it before the Synod starts. They include Cardinal Müller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Cardinal Pell, newly appointed head of Vatican finances. These are heavy hitters by any standards: liberals think twice before picking fights with them. Cardinal Burke, though, is an easier target – and a visible one, thanks to his fondness for dressing up. (I’m sorry to keep mentioning this, but even his friends think he should have toned things down on the sartorial front.)

Anyway, rumours of a high-profile ‘decapitation’ against a background of confusion about what the Synod is going to discuss have well and truly poisoned the atmosphere in the Vatican. Traditionalists who have been arguing (until now, on the basis of highly debate evidence) that Pope Francis is engaged in a process of ‘de-Ratzingerisation’ are winning a wider audience. They include liberals, who hope their conspiracy theory is true.

The reality is, however, that anyone who claims to know how Burke’s demotion or the agenda of the Synod fits into Francis’s game plan is bluffing. The Pope likes Kasper; that doesn’t mean he agrees with him. He is the first Jesuit pontiff, but certainly not the first Jesuit leader to allow radical ideas to be floated only to encourage someone else to shoot them down. If he is de-Ratzingerising the Church, then why did he today appoint Anthony Fisher, the most brilliant young conservative bishop in the Anglosphere, to succeed Cardinal Pell as Archbishop of Sydney? If only England and Wales had such a leader! As it is, I hear reports that the ‘retired’ Cardinal Cormac is still trying to get some of his ‘boys’, ambitious lefty monsignors blacklisted under Benedict, eased into English sees.

So we should not rush to judgment – except, perhaps, in the matter of Cardinal Burke’s ordeal. Pope Francis loudly deplores gossip, yet he is watching one of his most loyal servants being crucified by rumour. The poor man has been briefed against like a doomed cabinet minister. This is the sort of curial backstabbing that Cardinal Bergoglio always despised; why is he permitting it to happen now?

Doctrinal wars? Both sides fire over communion for divorced, remarried

Francis X Rocca
Catholic News Service
September 18, 2014

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family will not open until Oct. 5, but some of its most prominent members are already publicly debating what is bound to be one of its most controversial topics: the eligibility of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

In an interview published Sept. 18, a proponent of changing church practice to allow such Catholics to receive Communion answered criticism from some of his fellow cardinals, suggesting they are seeking a "doctrinal war" whose ultimate target is Pope Francis.

Cardinal Kasper (CNS/Paul Haring) "They claim to know on their own what truth is, but Catholic doctrine is not a closed system, but a living tradition that develops," German Cardinal Walter Kasper told the Italian daily Il Mattino. "They want to crystallize the truth in certain formulas ... the formulas of tradition."

"None of my brother cardinals has ever spoken with me," the cardinal said. "I, on the other hand, have spoken twice with the Holy Father. I arranged everything with him. He was in agreement. What can a cardinal do but stand with the pope? I am not the target, the target is another."

Asked if the target was Pope Francis, the cardinal replied: "Probably yes."

Cardinal Kasper, who will participate in the upcoming synod by personal appointment of the pope, was responding to a new book featuring contributions by five cardinals, including three of his fellow synod fathers, who criticize his proposal to make it easier for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

According to church teaching, Catholics who remarry civilly without an annulment of their first, sacramental marriage may not receive Communion unless they abstain from sexual relations, living with their new partners "as brother and sister."

Pope Francis has said the predicament of such Catholics exemplifies a general need for mercy in the church today, and has indicated that their predicament will be a major topic of discussion at the synod. In February, at the pope's invitation, Cardinal Kasper addressed the world's cardinals at the Vatican and argued for allowing some Catholics in that situation to receive Communion.

The Oct. 5-19 synod is not supposed to reach any definitive conclusions but instead set the agenda for a larger synod on the family in October 2015, which will make recommendations to the pope, who will make any final decisions on change.

"Remaining in the Truth of Christ," which Ignatius Press will publish Oct. 1, includes essays in response to Cardinal Kasper's proposal by three synod fathers: Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature; and Cardinal Carlo Caffarra of Bologna, Italy.

On the same day, Ignatius Press will also publish two other books in which synod fathers respond to Cardinal Kasper's proposal: "The Hope of the Family," an extended interview with Cardinal Muller; and "The Gospel of the Family," which features a foreword by Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy. (Cardinal Kasper's address, published by Paulist Press, is also titled "The Gospel of the Family.")

Cardinal Pell calls for a clear restatement of the traditional ban on Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried, to avoid the sort of widespread protests that greeted Pope Paul VI's affirmation of Catholic teaching against contraception in 1968.

"The sooner the wounded, the lukewarm, and the outsiders realize that substantial doctrinal and pastoral changes are impossible, the more the hostile disappointment (which must follow the reassertion of doctrine) will be anticipated and dissipated," writes Cardinal Pell, who sits on the nine-member Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis on Vatican reform and governance of the universal church.

Cardinal Muller's essay, previously published in the Vatican newspaper, reaffirms the traditional ban. However, the cardinal notes that many Catholics' first marriages might be invalid, and thus eligible for annulment, if the parties have been influenced by prevailing contemporary conceptions of marriage as a temporary arrangement.

In the book-length interview, Cardinal Muller, whom Pope Francis made a cardinal in February, makes an apparent reference to Cardinal Kasper's argument, which underscores the importance of mercy.

"I observe with a certain amazement the use by some theologians, once again, of the same reasoning about mercy as an excuse for promoting the admission of divorced and civilly remarried persons to the sacraments," Cardinal Muller is quoted as saying. "The scriptural evidence shows us that, besides mercy, holiness and justice are also part of the mystery of God."

Cardinal Burke, head of the Vatican's highest court, warns that any reform of the process for annulling marriages -- something both Pope Francis and Cardinal Kasper have said is necessary -- should not oversimplify the judicial process at the cost of justice, since Catholics seeking an annulment deserve a decision that "respects fully the truth and, therefore, charity."

Cardinal Caffara, whom Pope Francis personally named to participate in the synod, argues that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics may not receive Communion because their situation "is in objective contradiction with that bond of love that unites Christ and the church, which is signified and actualized by the Eucharist."

To lift the ban, Cardinal Caffarra argues, would be to legitimize extramarital sexual relations and effectively deny the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage.

also see article on Cardinal Pell's position

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Cardinal Pell rules out change on communion for divorced, remarried

Francis X Rocca
Catholic News Service
September 17, 2014

In a book coming out just before October's extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family, Cardinal George Pell rules out proposed changes to church practice that would allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

"Doctrine and pastoral practice cannot be contradictory," writes Pell, a former archbishop of Sydney who now serves as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy. "One cannot maintain the indissolubility of marriage by allowing the 'remarried' to receive Communion."

The cardinal calls for a clear restatement of traditional teaching, to avoid the sort of widespread protests that greeted Pope Paul VI's affirmation of Catholic teaching against contraception in 1968.

"The sooner the wounded, the lukewarm, and the outsiders realize that substantial doctrinal and pastoral changes are impossible, the more the hostile disappointment (which must follow the reassertion of doctrine) will be anticipated and dissipated," writes the cardinal, who will participate in the synod.

The eligibility of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion is bound to be a major topic of discussion, inside and outside the synod hall, during the Oct. 5-19 gathering. According to church teaching, Catholics who remarry civilly without an annulment may receive Communion only if they abstain from sexual relations, living with their new partners "as brother and sister."

Pope Francis has said the predicament of such Catholics exemplifies a general need for mercy in the church today. In February, at the pope's invitation, German Cardinal Walter Kasper addressed the world's cardinals at the Vatican and argued for allowing some Catholics in that predicament to receive Communion.

Pell's statement appears as the foreword to "The Gospel of the Family," a book-length response to Kasper's proposal that Ignatius Press will publish Oct. 1. Kasper's address, published by Paulist Press, has the same title.

"A courteous, informed and rigorous discussion, indeed debate, is needed, especially for the coming months to defend the Christian and Catholic tradition of monogamous, indissoluble marriage," Pell writes.

But focusing on the question of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried, he suggests, is a "counterproductive and futile search for short-term consolations."

"Healthy communities do not spend most of their energies on peripheral issues and, unfortunately, the number of divorced and remarried Catholics who feel they should be allowed to receive holy Communion is very small indeed," the cardinal writes.

"The issue is seen by both friends and foes of the Catholic tradition as a symbol -- a prize in the clash between what remains of Christendom in Europe and an aggressive neo-paganism. Every opponent of Christianity wants the church to capitulate on this issue," the cardinal writes.

Pell acknowledges that the virtue of mercy, whose importance both Pope Francis and Kasper have underscored in this connection, "is central when we are talking about marriage and sexuality, forgiveness and holy Communion."

But the cardinal also emphasizes the "essential links between mercy and fidelity, between truth and grace."

"Jesus did not condemn the adulterous woman who was threatened with death by stoning, but he did not tell her to keep up her good work, to continue unchanged in her ways," the cardinal writes. "He told her to sin no more."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Exile to Malta for Cardinal Burke

Sandro Magister
September 17, 2014

VATICAN CITY, September 17, 2014 – The “revolution” of Pope Francis in ecclesiastical governance is not losing its driving thrust. And so, as happens in every self-respecting revolution, the heads continue to roll for churchmen seen as deserving this metaphorical guillotine.

In his first months as bishop of Rome, pope Bergoglio immediately provided for the transfer to lower-ranking positions of three prominent curial figures: Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Archbishop Guido Pozzo, and Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca, considered for their theological and liturgical sensibilities among the most “Ratzingerian” of the Roman curia.

Another whose fate appears to be sealed is the Spanish archbishop of Opus Dei Celso Morga Iruzubieta, secretary of the congregation for the clergy, destined to leave Rome for an Iberian diocese not of the first rank.

But now an even more eminent decapitation seems to be on the way.

The next victim would in fact be the United States cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, who from being prefect of the supreme tribunal of the apostolic signatura would not be promoted - as some are fantasizing in the blogosphere - to the difficult but prestigious see of Chicago, but rather demoted to the pompous - but ecclesiastically very modest - title of “cardinal patron” of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, replacing the current head, Paolo Sardi, who recently turned 80.

If confirmed, Burke’s exile would be even more drastic than the one inflicted on Cardinal Piacenza, who, transferred from the important congregation for the clergy to the marginal apostolic penitentiary, nevertheless remained in the leadership of a curial dicastery.

With the shakeup on the way, Burke would instead be completely removed from the curia and employed in a purely honorary position without any influence on the governance of the universal Church.

This would be a move that seems to have no precedent.

In the past, in fact, the title of “cardinalis patronus” of the knights of Malta, in existence since 1961, like the previous one of Grand Prior of Rome, has always been assigned to the highest ranking cardinals as an extra position in addition to the main one.


Burke is 66 years old, and therefore still in his ecclesiastical prime. Ordained a priest by Paul VI in 1975, he worked at the apostolic signatura as an ordinary priest with John Paul II, who made him bishop of his native diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1993. It was again pope Karol Wojtyla who in 2003 promoted him as archbishop of the prestigious see, once cardinalate, of St. Louis, Missouri. Benedict XVI called him back to Rome in 2008, and made him a cardinal in 2010.

With a very devout personality, he is also recognized as having the rare virtue of never having struck any deals to obtain ecclesiastical promotions or benefices.

In the liturgical and theological camp, he is very close to the sensibilities of Joseph Ratzinger. He has celebrated a number of times according to the ancient rite, even donning the “cappa magna,” as do cardinals George Pell and Antonio Cañizares Llovera, without being punished for this by Pope Francis.

A great expert in canon law, and appointed to the apostolic signatura for this reason, he is not afraid to follow it to the most uncomfortable consequences. Like when, to the tune of articles of the Code - number 915 to be precise - he upheld the impossibility of giving communion to those politicians who stubbornly and publicly uphold the right to abortion, bringing the rebukes of two colleagues in the United States valued by Pope Francis, Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston and Donald Wuerl of Washington.

Free in his judgments, he has been among the very few to make critical remarks on “Evangelii Gaudium,” pointing out that in his view it is orientational but not truly magisterial. And in view of the upcoming synod of bishops, he has repeatedly taken a stand against the ideas of Cardinal Walter Kasper - well known to be in the good graces of Pope Francis - in favor of communion for the divorced and remarried.

The dicastery headed by Burke, eminently technical, recently accepted an appeal from the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate against a provision issued for them by the congregation for religious. A courageous move on the part of Burke, situated within the context of the punitive action undertaken by the Vatican congregation against one of the most substantial realities of Catholic traditionalism, an action that Pope Francis endorsed by approving in specific form the congregation’s decision to prevent the Friars of the Immaculate from celebrating the Mass according to the “Tridentine” rite. It is only with this kind of pontifical approval, in fact, that a decree of the curia can overturn standing law, in this case the motu proprio of Benedict XVI “Summorum Pontificum.”

It is difficult to identify among these episodes the ones that may have have had the greatest influence on the fate of Cardinal Burke.

But it is easy to predict that his definitive downgrading will provoke both a tumultuous reaction within the traditionalist world, where Burke is seen as a hero, and a corresponding wave of jubilation in the opposite camp, where he is instead considered a bogeyman.

On the latter side it can be recalled that the “liberal” Catholic commentator Michael Sean Winters, in the “National Catholic Reporter” of November 26, 2013, had called for the head of Cardinal Burke as a member of the congregation for bishops, because of the nefarious influence, according to him, that he was exercising over episcopal appointments in the United States.

On December 16, in effect, Pope Francis humiliated Burke by crossing him off from among the members of the congregation. To the hosannas of “liberal” Catholicism, not only in the United States.

The pope certainly did not do so out of obedience to the wishes of the “National Catholic Reporter.”

But now he seems right at the point of giving the go-ahead for the second and more grave demotion of one of the most untarnished personalities the Vatican curia knows.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Clergy scandal needs more healing, less legalese, St. Thomas theologians tell Nienstedt

Madeleine Baran
Minnesota Public Radio
September 15, 2014

A group of tenured theology professors at the University of St. Thomas sent a letter to embattled Archbishop John Nienstedt on Saturday urging him to "leave the legal talk to the lawyers" and reach out to lay people to repair the spiritual harm caused by the year-long clergy sex-abuse scandal.

"We believe that without such public steps the pastoral state of the archdiocese is not sustainable," they wrote. "The Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis has had a distinguished place in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States. The current crisis is a grave blot on that history. Legal action alone will not remove it."

The letter, signed by 12 of the private Catholic university's 21 tenured theology professors, does not call for Nienstedt's resignation. Instead, it asks him to change his approach to the crisis. The archbishop should turn his focus to reconciliation, outreach to the faithful and greater involvement of lay people, it said.

"The Archdiocese is in a spiritual crisis as well as a legal crisis," the professors wrote. "The resolution of the legal actions now underway will not undo the spiritual damage."

Massimo Faggioli, an assistant theology professor who signed the letter, told MPR News that in the last several months he has watched Nienstedt increasingly focus on legal battles while the faithful have grown disenchanted with their spiritual leader.

"It's not a step that we took lightly, but we believe that it was something that ... as Catholic theologians we were called to say," he said.

Faggioli called Nienstedt's approach "not sustainable." He emphasized that he was sharing his personal view and not speaking on behalf of the group.

"I noticed in the last few months especially the conversation in the diocese has been dominated by legal talk or by the understandable anxiety of having a better image," Faggioli said.

"My worry is that we will become delusional in the sense that we think that a legal solution to the crisis...will solve the big problem."

In a response to the professors on Monday, Nienstedt wrote that many Catholics had shared similar sentiments. The archbishop said he has taken steps to reach out to lay Catholics and that in last week's issue of The Catholic Spirt and he described a series of "healing Masses designed for all those who feel they have been hurt by the Church."

Niensted also wrote that he has met with victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse, their family and friends, and will continue to do so.

"I am also reaching out to community leaders, ecumenical leaders and parish leaders to talk and learn about how we can be a part of the healing process," the archbishop said in the letter. "I often spend my weekends celebrating Mass at local parishes or going to community events."

But Nienstedt has said little publicly about the scandal since MPR News broke the story of a decades-long clergy sex abuse cover-up last fall. According to documents and former church officials, Nienstedt approved secret payments to priests who had admitted to sexually assaulting children and allowed at least one accused priest to continue to say Mass at Twin Cities parishes.

In December, Ramsey County Judge John Van de North ordered the archdiocese to release the names of priests "credibly accused" of child sex abuse as part of a lawsuit brought by a man who claims Thomas Adamson, a priest in the 1970s, sexually abused him. In an order released Monday, Van de North divided the case into two trials.

The judge said he would decide the first case, which centers on allegations that the Twin Cities archdiocese and the Diocese of Winona each created a public nuisance by keeping secret information on priests who committed abuse. That trial is set to begin Nov. 3.

Van de North ruled that a jury would then decide the second case, which alleges that both institutions were negligent in their handling of Adamson.

Church lawyers had argued that the cases should be tried separately, and that the negligence case should go first. Attorney Jeff Anderson, who represents the plaintiff had urged the judge to try the cases together, but if not, that the nuisance case should be tried first to protect children.

While the lawsuits against the church have made their way through the courts, priests have urged Nienstedt to focus on the spiritual needs of Catholics. Some priests have said that the faith of parishioners has been damaged by revelations that Nienstedt and other church leaders protected priests who sexually assaulted children.

Several hundred people have signed online petitions calling for the archbishop to resign. Nienstedt has denied breaking any laws in his handling of abuse cases and has defended his 2009 decision to assign the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer as pastor despite Wehmeyer's sexual interest in younger men. Wehmeyer is now in prison for sexually abusing two boys.

Doug Hennes, a spokesman for the University of St. Thomas, declined to say whether University president Julie Sullivan agreed with the letter. "Faculty are free to say what they want" as long as they do not claim to speak for the university, he said.

The professors who signed the letter are: Cara Anthony, Bernard Brady, Massimo Faggioli, Paul Gavrilyuk, Michael Hollerich, John Martens, Stephen McMichael, Paul Niskanen, David Penchansky, Gerald Schlabach, Ted Ulrich and Paul Wojda.

They called for Nienstedt to give lay people "positions of responsibility in priestly formation, in the governance of the Archdiocese, and especially in the management of the scandal.

"The harsh light now being shone on the inner governance of the Archdiocese makes clear that the problems are not merely personal. They are systemic, the product of a long-standing and deeply entrenched clericalism that does not have to be the corollary of the ordained priestly ministry," they wrote.

In a separate letter in July, five female theology professors at the University of St. Thomas called for new leadership in the archdiocese, though they did not specifically call for Nienstedt to step down.

"For genuine healing to occur, we believe it is necessary to have new leadership at the archdiocesan level, leadership that includes individuals who are neither perpetrators nor enablers of abuse," Cara Anthony, Corrine Carvalho, Sherry Jordon, Sue Myers and Kimberly Vrudny wrote in that letter.

Scandal spreads to University of St. Thomas

Although the University of St. Thomas is not run by the Twin Cities archdiocese, the two organizations are closely connected.

Last fall, former archbishop Harry Flynn and former vicar general Kevin McDonough resigned from the university's board of trustees amid reports about their roles in the cover-up.

University administrators also commissioned an investigation last year into the handling of an abuse allegation against the Rev. Michael Keating, an associate professor of Catholic Studies who was sued in October 2013 by a woman who alleges he sexually abused her as a teenager. Keating, who remains on leave, has denied the allegations.

The investigation followed an MPR News report that showed internal archdiocesan documents raised questions about what University of St. Thomas administrators knew about the allegations years earlier.

Documents showed the woman's family first reported the allegations to the archdiocese in 2006. The archdiocese's clergy review board investigated and concluded in November 2007 that there was insufficient evidence of child sexual abuse. Nonetheless, it recommended to Flynn that Keating not be allowed to mentor teenagers and young adults.

McDonough had planned to inform Don Briel, the university's director of the Center for Catholic Studies, of the conclusion of the investigation. "To the extent that others in the University have to be notified, we should see to that as well," McDonough wrote in a March 13, 2008 memo to Flynn. Briel retired in August.

The investigation into the matter has not been completed, a university spokesman said Monday.


For related earlier story see here

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Church with verve is at risk in Ukraine

John L. Allen, Jr.
September 13, 2014

No one should need persuading that what’s happening in Ukraine right now is alarming. A fragile cease-fire between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces could unravel at any moment, and even more lives may be at risk this winter as the country scrambles to make up for lost Russian gas.

Pope Francis met Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Greek Catholic Church at the Vatican last year. (Photo/AP)

Most basically, if one nation can slice off a piece of another with impunity, it’s hard to know what international law means.

Yet if Catholics require an additional reason for concern, it’s this: What’s at stake in Ukraine isn’t just geopolitics or the military balance of power, but also one of the most remarkable Catholic communities anywhere in the world.

The Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine is the largest of the 22 “Eastern churches” in the Catholic fold. Mostly located in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, these churches follow Eastern Orthodox rituals and spirituality, but acknowledge the pope as their leader. There are roughly 3 million Greek Catholics in Ukraine, around 7 percent of the population, and 6 to 10 million worldwide.

Though little known in the West, the church’s recent history is the stuff of Hollywood drama.

In the Soviet era, the Greek Catholic Church was the largest illegal religious body in the world, and suffered mightily for it. In percentage terms, no church produced more 20th century martyrs. Pope John Paul II beatified more than two dozen victims during a trip to the country in 2001, and most experts believe the total number of Greek Catholics who perished in that era of violent oppression is in the thousands.

After Communism, the church experienced a rebirth that has flowered in some extraordinary creative energy. One example is the Ukrainian Catholic University in L’viv, founded in 1994. It’s the only Catholic university in the former Soviet sphere; as they like to say, it’s the only Catholic university “between Poland and Japan.”

Its bold aim is nothing less than to rethink what a Christian university can be in the 21st century. During a reflection process in the early 1990s, planners identified two challenges:

Building on the legacy of the martyrs. The idea, according to Bishop Borys Gudziak, the founding rector, is to pioneer “a new social, intellectual, and theological synthesis” of that experience – a theology of the catacombs.

Repairing social trust. Gudziak said “the Ukrainian soul and psyche were profoundly damaged” by the Soviet period, because they were taught from early childhood “to think one thing, say another and do a third,” and to never fully trust anyone, even family and friends.

To address that deficit, the university turned to the insights of Catholic luminaries Henri Nouwen and Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, a movement that emphasizes building friendships with disabled persons.

Gudziak’s idea was that because people with mental disabilities tend to trust others instinctively, having them around could produce an emotional leaven. The university invited them to join the community, not as charity cases but as “professors of human relations.” Residences include apartments for the disabled to live among the students, becoming part of the daily fabric of their lives.

Greek Catholics have also become prominent players in national affairs. They were major proponents of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004/2005, and helped lead the Maidan protests earlier this year that swept pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych from power.

The Catholic cathedral of Kiev was converted into a makeshift field hospital during the uprising, which saw at least 100 people killed by security personnel. At times, emergency operations were performed on the church’s main altar.

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the charismatic 44-year-old leader of the Greek Catholic church, emerged as a forceful advocate for the Maidan protestors, insisting they weren’t “nationalist extremists” but rather supporters of a “free, democratic, and European” Ukraine.

At the moment, Shevchuk and other church officials are leading the charge against Russia’s intervention and calling on the international community to stiffen its resolve.

Meeting this week in L’viv, the Greek Catholic bishops put out a statement titled “Ukraine is bleeding,” which included this warning about Russian aggression: “Whoever kills people in Ukraine will not hesitate to turn their weapons to attack any country in the world tomorrow.”

Given that track record, it’s no surprise that whenever a pro-Moscow regime takes over, tightening the screws on Catholics tends to be high on the to-do list.

Under Yanukovych, Gudziak got chilling visits from Ukrainian security agents. Rather than kowtowing, he published a memo outlining the campaign of harassment, which included tapping his phones.

More recently a Greek Catholic priest was briefly kidnapped in eastern Ukraine, and most clergy and bishops have been driven from the region. The Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow has issued worrying statements blaming “uniates” and “schismatics” for fomenting the violence — both are pejorative terms for Greek Catholics.

What all this means is that when Greek Catholics speak out, they know they may pay a price.

In their statement on Wednesday, the bishops called for “coordinated efforts … to stop the bloodshed, to defend human dignity, and to restore life-giving peace,” warning that war isn’t just the fault of those waging it, but also those who could have stopped it but did nothing.

Anyone with eyes can see how urgent the appeal is. Catholics inspired by the verve of this courageous Ukrainian flock, however, have a special motive for paying heed.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Guardians of the galaxy: Vatican style

Eddie Siebert,S.J.
National Catholic Reporter
September 13, 2014

Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J.

"I'm not religious. I believe in science," said my TV and film costume designer friend Jennifer in a recent conversation. I asked her what she meant, and she responded, "I'm not smart enough to understand it all, but I trust in a system that values rational evaluation." I'm not exactly surprised by how many people regard religion and science as two opposing forces. We all remember that unfortunate tiff the church had with Galileo. (But we can't forget Rome did apologize -- sure, it may have taken a few centuries, but it's the thought that counts, right?) So, yes, I agree, there are some complications in the relationship between science and faith, but generalizing Catholicism as science-phobic just doesn't sit well with me ... almost as much as the idea that faith doesn't value rational evaluation.

Now, I'm not trying to get into one of those debates Christopher Hitchens used to have with religious people. It's just, particularly as a Jesuit, I feel like I should make a PSA to clear a few things up. To put it simply, we LOVE science. (Well, not me personally -- I'm definitely more of a humanities guy. There's a reason I'm working in the entertainment industry and not teaching organic chem. But on the whole, as a group, there are plenty of us who just can't get enough of equations, theorems, and the like.) Still not convinced? OK. That Big Bang theory Christians supposedly hate? A Jesuit came up with it [1]. The first mathematically correct theory of flight? That was a Jesuit, too [2]. This year's Carl Sagan Medal award recipient? You guessed it! Another Jesuit!

The award's recipient, Br. Guy Consolmagno, works at the Vatican Observatory, a center whose mere existence some find perplexing. The church actually has a long history with astronomy, initially constructing the Gregorian Tower in 1580 so Jesuit Fr. Christoph Clavius could collect data to create the Gregorian calendar we use today. Since Clavius, there's been a long line of Jesuit astronomers. Indeed, there are over 30 craters on the moon named after Jesuits. (They were the ones making the maps, so are you surprised?) Since the 1930s, the pope has entrusted the Vatican Observatory to us, and Jesuits continue to work in the observatory's headquarters in Italy and, more recently, in its second location in Arizona (a place with a lot less light pollution than Rome), mapping the universe, studying meteorites and asteroids and, yes, looking for signs of extraterrestrial life.

Side note: I absolutely love space. As a kid, I'd rush home after 5 p.m. Mass at St. Rita's to catch "Space: 1999." I waited in line several times for "Star Wars," and I was thrilled to read Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow about Jesuits in space [3]. Of course it's probably telling that it's stories about space that captivate me, not necessarily the science. But I think the same sense of wonder that excites people who love space stories is the same kind of wonder that excites those who spend their lifetime studying its scientific intricacies.

Brother Guy put it well when my team and I interviewed him for this week's video: "Looking at the sky reminds you that there's more to the universe than what's for lunch." Indeed, there's something so universal about looking up on a clear night, exclaiming, "Wow!" and letting yourself imagine the infinite possibilities. As Guy says, "Looking at the stars and wondering what they are about and how we fit in -- that is something that makes us human."

Now back to this idea that you can't be religious and scientific. There's this assumption out there held by many nonreligious AND religious folks that if you're religious, you believe you have all the answers and you end up abandoning all rational evaluation and curiosity. OK, I'm a priest with degrees in theology and philosophy, and I'll be the first to admit I don't have all the answers. (On my best days, I'll have ONE answer, if I'm lucky.) And why would I abandon rational evaluation using the mind God gave me? Indeed, the more you know, the deeper you go into your relationship with God, the more you realize you simply don't know. Brother Guy said it well at a talk at the Mount Street Jesuit Centre in London:

Faith is not accepting a bunch of facts in the absence of evidence. It is making choices in the absence of all the facts ... whether it is your choice of school, or job, who you will marry, where you will live. When you made those choices, there was no way you could know how it would turn out. That's life, making choices in the absence of sufficient data. But you make these choices in the expectation that things will turn out well. That's faith. Sometimes that expectation is going to be shattered, but you go ahead anyway; what else can you do? For Brother Guy and the other Jesuit scientists, their faith doesn't dictate what facts to believe. Their faith gives them the reason to go looking to try to understand those facts. Healthy faith requires curiosity and doubt, and so does good science. "Science is not the facts, it's the conversation," he says. In order to go deeper into spirituality or science, you have to get comfortable with mystery and resist the temptation for black-and-white simplification.

I write all this acknowledging that I'm neither a theologian nor a scientist, but that's the beauty of spirit and science: No one's excluded. We're all permitted to wonder, to "converse," about these things and consider our place in it all. I suppose the same is true for good storytelling. If I produce a compelling film, the opportunity for it to resonate shouldn't be reserved for a select few.

In a world where technology is king (it seemed like discussion about the new iPhone 6 momentarily trumped the Islamic State, Ebola, and immigration on Tuesday) and so many feel like they must choose between science and spirituality, the Vatican Observatory is worth learning about. Give the video a look, and let's remember those Jesuit scientists the next time we come across one of those fundamentalist religious types who says science is a farce. But let's also think of them the next time someone tells us they have all the answers in science and have no need for spirit.

And if you'll permit me, consider going outside tonight and looking up at that mysterious sky and indulge in a little wonder! If you're feeling particularly adventurous, you may want to think of this quote by Jesuit scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: "Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire."

Science and faith as two opposing forces? I don't think so.