Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bail revoked: William Lynn going back to prison

MaryClare Dale
NBC Philadelphia
April 30, 2015

A Roman Catholic church official was sent back to prison Thursday after the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court reinstated his 2012 child endangerment conviction over his handling of priest sexual abuse complaints.

Monsignor William Lynn, the longtime secretary for clergy at the Philadelphia archdiocese, is the first U.S. church official ever prosecuted or convicted in the clergy abuse scandal.

A judge on Thursday agreed that Lynn's case presented a "novel" issue that she could have gotten wrong when she sent the case to trial: the question of whether Lynn actually "supervised" children under the law in 1998, when the boy at issue in Lynn's case was molested by a parish priest. But in a case full of twists and turns, the state Supreme Court this week said he did and called his conviction legal.

So after 18 months in prison and 16 months on house arrest at a city rectory, the 64-year-old Lynn — wearing jeans and a gray sweatshirt instead of his usual black shirt and collar — found himself back before Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina. The issues raised in Lynn's case have entangled prosecutors, defense lawyers and at least 10 Pennsylvania judges since 2005, when the city's top prosecutor blasted the archdiocese after a grand jury investigation into 63 accused priests but concluded the law applied only to parents and caregivers.

A new prosecutor felt differently and in 2011 brought charges against Lynn but not against longtime Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who died in 2012.

Lynn had served half his minimum three-year sentence when the state Superior Court threw out his conviction in December 2013 and ordered him released. But the state Supreme Court reversed that decision in the 4-1 opinion Monday.

"His conviction's back in. He should go back in," trial prosecutor Patrick Blessington argued Thursday to Sarmina, who had presided over his three-month trial.

She had allowed the jury to hear weeks of agonizing testimony from adults who said they were sexually assaulted by Philadelphia priests to show what prosecutors said was the church's pattern of transferring predators to unsuspecting parishes and hiding complaints in locked files.

Lynn had control of those "secret archives" and perhaps wanted to address the brewing crisis, Sarmina found. But he stood silent when Bevilacqua had his list of known and suspected predator priests destroyed.

Defense lawyers will now challenge other aspects of his trial, especially Sarmina's decision to let about 20 other church accusers testify about abuse they said they suffered decades ago when their allegations were not directly part of the case.

The conviction involved only Lynn's oversight of the Rev. Edward Avery, who admitted assaulting an altar boy at a northeast Philadelphia parish where he landed after earlier complaints about his relationship with another boy.

"There are enough unusual issues in this case (that Lynn) ultimately could be exonerated, and he'll have done his whole sentence," defense lawyer Alan Tauber, one of Lynn's trial lawyers, said as Lynn was handcuffed and taken into custody.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

labor leaders, union members join rally against Cordileone's new handbook language

Mandy Erikson
National Catholic Reporter
April 28, 2015

Labor leaders and union members joined teachers, parents and students from archdiocesan high schools here Monday to rally against Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone's proposal to change aspects of their employment.

Gathering in front of the archdiocesan offices at 1 Peter Yorke Way, a crowd of more than 200 protested the archbishop's plan to reclassify the teachers as "ministers," thereby providing them with fewer legal protections, and to insert a morality clause into their handbook.

The morality clause condemns same-sex marriage, contraception and use of reproductive technology, among other things, and expects employees to accept "these truths" outside the workplace.

"The church has told us that it honors all civil rights and labor rights," said Art Pulaski, chief officer of the California Labor Federation, speaking before the crowd gathered in the blocked-off street. "You cannot profess social justice if within your own walls you refuse to practice it. We call on the archbishop to adhere to the principles of social justice."

The morality clause and minister reclassification would affect teachers and staff members at four high schools: Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory and St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco, Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, and Marin Catholic High School in Kentfield.

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In February, the archdiocese released the proposed changes, which are under the purview of the archbishop and not subject to contract negotiations between the archdiocese and the teachers union. Since then, students, teachers and parents have denounced the changes with demonstrations, rallies and a petition signed by more than 80 percent of teachers at the four schools.

On Monday, the archdiocese released a statement saying that the archbishop met with administrators from the high schools to stress that he has no intention to fire teachers. "The men and women who have been called to a career in Catholic education, and who serve our schools and students with distinction, have our greatest admiration and respect," the statement said.

"There will be no 'witch hunts,' no prying into people's personal lives, no shaming, no hidden agendas," it added. "This is something the Archdiocese has sought to make clear from the beginning."

Paul Hance, a history and English teacher at Serra and member of the executive board for the teachers union, questioned why the morality clause was necessary. "For 40 years, we've served loyally," he said in an interview before the rally, referring to the four decades the schools' teachers union has negotiated with the archdiocese.

"We've never needed this language before," he added. "We sincerely hope that the archbishop will not come to use this language."

Several speaking before the crowd said they felt the morality clause hurt LGBT students as well as those who were conceived through artificial means.

"We are with these kids, some fragile, hurt, lonely and questioning," said Peggy Farrell, an arts teacher at Serra. "This contract and handbook language drives a wedge" between the teachers and the archdiocese, she added. "The only way to heal this broken relationship is to drop the language."

Farrell joined other teachers in saying she prefers to teach at a Catholic school. "I know I uphold my contract," she said. "I teach Catholic values."

At the rally, teachers and labor representatives remembered Peter Yorke, a San Francisco priest and labor leader who died in 1925. They also sang, accompanied by a guitar and trumpet, "Teach acceptance is our call. Love your neighbor as yourself. For God loves us all."

"Teach acceptance" is the phrase the opponents of the archbishop's changes have adopted for their website, Facebook and T-shirts, worn by parents and students at the rally.

Representatives from two dozen labor unions attended the rally, many wearing their own T-shirts from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, National Union of Health Care Workers and others.

Fred Seavey of a health care workers union said he joined the rally "to support the teachers. It's unfair, the archbishop's position, wanting to control their home lives."

Monday, April 27, 2015

Pennsylvania supreme court reinstates conviction of Catholic clergyman in abuse case

April 27, 2015

(Reuters) - Pennsylvania's highest court on Monday reinstated the conviction of the first U.S. Catholic church official sent to prison for mishandling sexual misconduct complaints against priests.

In August 2012, a Philadelphia jury found Monsignor William Lynn, 64, guilty of one count of child endangerment for failing to supervise a pedophile priest who eventually sexually assaulted a 10-year-old altar boy in 1999.

That conviction was overturned by the state’s Superior Court in December 2013.

Monday’s ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upholds the original August 2012 judgment.

The high court said Lynn “as a high ranking official in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was specifically responsible for protecting children from sexually abusive priests.”

Lynn, a former secretary of the clergy for the Philadelphia Archdiocese who oversaw the work of 800 priests, was convicted of covering up sex abuse, often by transferring predatory priests to unsuspecting parishes.

But, in overturning the conviction, a three-judge panel later ruled that the abuse law applied only to those with direct responsibility for the care and welfare of children.

Lynn, one of the highest-ranking clergyman convicted in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church child sex abuse scandal, has been under house arrest since December 2013.

His lead attorney, Thomas Bergstrom, said he will file a motion to continue that status while the defense team takes up issues not yet resolved by the court. Lynn may also appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“That’s an option, but I’m not sure if we’re going to take it,” Bergstrom said. “It’s a waking nightmare. It’s unending. We just have to keep fighting.”

Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams released a statement on Monday saying his office was “gratified that the court supports our interpretation of the evidence.”

The prosecutor had argued that Lynn violated his duty to protect children from predator priests.

“Today’s announcement sends the clear message that if anyone — priest, layperson, citizen, police officer or elected official — knowingly puts children at risk of being sexually molested, they will be held accountable,” Williams said.

Lynn was accused of allowing the transfer of Father Edward Avery, whom he knew to be a pedophile after complaints surfaced in 1992. Avery was transferred to St. Jerome’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia even after the diocese’s own psychiatrists recommended Avery not be allowed contact with adolescents.

At St. Jerome's, Avery molested an altar boy, prosecutors said. Avery pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Editorial: Bishop Finn pays the price for misusing power, placing secrecy ahead of child safety

Kansas City Star
April 26, 2015

The departure of Robert W. Finn as bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, although overdue, is a step forward for the diocese and thousands of area Catholics.

Finn’s conduct in office made him a symbol of the Catholic church’s failure to adequately address child sexual abuse by priests. He was the first Catholic bishop to be convicted of a crime related to that crisis.

Finn, 62, should have resigned after his 2012 conviction, if not sooner. He received two years of probation for failing to notify law enforcement authorities after pornographic images were found on the computer of a diocesan priest, Shawn Ratigan.

Finn’s decision to place secrecy above his moral and legal obligations enabled Ratigan to harm additional children. The former priest is serving a 50-year prison sentence for producing child pornography.

Finn remained in office despite the scandal, a circumstance that anguished and angered many Catholics. The news Tuesday that Pope Francis accepted Finn’s resignation is a triumph for the lay persons who wrote letters, collected more than 250,000 petition signatures and spoke up for Finn to leave.

Challenging the world’s most powerful church hierarchy isn’t easy or comfortable, and Finn has powerful allies, including Bill Donohue, the fiery head of the ultra-conservative Catholic League. The persistence of lay Catholics is a testimony to how much they care about their church.

Finn, who traveled to Rome about a week ago, resigned under a section of church law that requests a diocesan bishop who has “become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause” to offer to step down.

While we do not know the precise reason for Finn’s resignation, sustained pressure from lay Catholics and mounting concerns from church leaders would seem to constitute a grave cause.

Finn’s successor, who has not yet been named, will have his work cut out. As the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests has noted, other church staff members knew of Ratigan’s act and remained silent, and other area priests over the years have been accused of abusing children.

Finn presided over a conspiracy of silence and legal resistance that will be difficult to displace.

Deputy U.S. Attorney Gene Porter, who prosecuted the Ratigan case, described that resistance after his sentencing.

“When it becomes clear at the outset of the investigation that the entire hierarchy of a centuries-old religious denomination does not seem willing to recognize that the children depicted in the images are, in fact, victims of child exploitation, nor seem very willing to help establish the identity of the children depicted, and instead are spending millions of dollars on legal counsel in an ill-advised effort to avoid having the priest and bishop accept legal responsibility for their crimes, then you know, as an investigator, that your work is cut out for you,” Porter said.

Finn, who declared his intent to lead the diocese in a conservative, “strict constructionist” obedience to Vatican teachings, showed few qualms during his 10 years as bishop about dislodging clergy and lay persons who failed to meet his theological litmus test. His arbitrary style wounded many area Catholics even before his role in protecting Ratigan came to light.

Outright removal by Pope Francis would have sent an unmistakable message. Still, it is rare for a bishop to step aside, and the reasons for Finn’s departure should not be obscured.

This is a man who held great power and used it to cover up a crime and protect a calcified inner circle. He needed to go. Others in the church should heed his fate.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Terrorism experts: Italian arrests broaden war on Christians by Jihadists

Todd Beamon
April 24 2015

The arrests of 10 people in Italy Friday linked to an al-Qaida plot to attack the Vatican and other cities represented a widening of the battle Islamic jihadists are waging against Christians around the world, terrorism experts said.

"What disturbs me is the target, the Vatican," intelligence analyst Bob Baer told CNN. "We're seeing a radicalization of Islam that I haven't seen before.

"The Vatican is not a participant in any of the wars in the Middle East. There's no justification that we can understand why they're at war with the Vatican."

Noting the recent beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians by Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists in Libya, Baer told Wolf Blitzer, "things seem to be getting worse rather than better."

Idaho Sen. James Risch, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Blitzer earlier that the arrests of the Pakistanis and Afghans in early morning raids by Italian authorities "shouldn't surprise anyone. We're probably going to see more of this in the future."

Based on the jihadist propaganda on the Internet, "it's both Christians and the Jewish populations they are targeting," Risch said. "There is good reason to believe that these radicals ... will continue to target Christian people.

"They're going to continue to do it," the senator said.

Italian police said they were looking for eight others linked to the terror plots, which also were planned for sites in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The 10 were arrested after authorities raided the home of the group's suspected leader in Bergamo, which is northeast of Milan.

Their arrests were captured on video. Based on wiretaps over seven years, police investigations determined that two of those arrested are suspected of being part of a group that had protected al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden — whom U.S. special forces killed in his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011, Italian police said.

The wiretaps also showed that the Vatican attack was planned for March 2010 as part of "a big jihad in Italy," said Mario Carta, head of the police unit on the case. They reference the word "baba," which could mean the Pope, Carta said.

Pope Benedict XVI was serving at the time. He was succeeded in March 2013 by Pope Francis.

"We don't have proof, we have strong suspicion," that Pope Benedict was a possible target, Carta said. In recent years, the group "realized that we were watching their movements," he said, and that may have been why the attack was never carried out.

The wiretaps also revealed the presence in Rome of a Pakistani man "described as a kamikaze," Mura said — someone who "was destined for martyrdom," The New York Times reports.

The attacks may also have targeted the huge crowds who gather at St. Peter’s Square twice a week to hear the Pope speak, Mura said.

"Kamikaze, crowded place, these are the clues," he said, according to the Times.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said that the issue was in the past and that Friday's disclosures were not a matter for concern.

However, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said: "We are all afraid because we don't know what can happen."

Italy and other European countries have been on heightened alert for terrorist activity in the wake of the January attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo at its offices in downtown Paris.

European capitals are particularly worried about possible "sleeper" militants, apparently living normal lives in their countries, who may eventually be activated to stage attacks at home or abroad.

"This is really serious," Risch told Blitzer on CNN. "This is coming out of Europe.

"Europe is much different than the U.S. in a lot of ways — not the least of which it's a much softer target, easily penetrated," he added. "There are large groups of radical people that are moved into Europe and can move in and out of there fairly easily."

According to Italian police, the group supported the "armed struggle against the West," and wanted to incite a popular uprising against the Pakistani government so it would stop supporting U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The United States has pulled out most of its forces from Afghanistan, though a small number remains for training and special operations. Washington is also carrying out drone strikes on Taliban militants.

Some of those under investigation were believed to be involved in attacks that have already occurred in Pakistan, including one that killed more than 100 people in a market in the northwestern frontier city of Peshawar in 2009, according to police.

The group arranged for Pakistanis and Afghans to get into Italy on work contracts or as refugees seeking asylum and later sent some to cities in northern Europe, the authorities said.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Old court cases further raise San Francisco parents' dissatisfaction with pastor

Dan Morris-Young
National Catholic Reporter
April 23, 2015

San Francisco - Canonical and court documents from 2003 and 2005 that cast a negative light on the ministry of Fr. Joseph Illo during his time in the Stockton, Calif., diocese -- including a court ruling that he inflicted "intentional emotional distress" on an 11-year-old girl -- have further enraged parents at Star of the Sea School who have sought the priest's removal as Star of Sea Parish administrator.

A San Francisco Examiner story posted Thursday reports that a civil case settled in San Joaquin County Superior Court in 2005 ruled that Illo emotionally abused the child when he was pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Modesto and that "the girl was ultimately awarded $20,000 in damages."

According to court documents provided to NCR, the event took place Sept. 11, 2001. The girl reportedly went to Illo to tell him of alleged sexual misconduct against her and her sister in their home about two months earlier by associate pastor Fr. Francis Arakal.

According to a "settlement conference statement" filed in February 2005 by attorneys of the girls' guardian ad litem and mother, Kathleen Machado: "Rather than protect and minister to the 11-year-old ... Fr. Illo breached the child's confidences by forcing the child to confront the offending priest. The pastor and offending priest then called the child a 'liar,' yelled at her and defamed her mother by insinuating to the 11-year-old that her mother was 'fabricating' the allegations ... because 'all [Machado] wanted to do was have sex' " with Illo.

The statement alleges a strong relationship between Machado and Illo, saying, "Fr. Illo wrote Kathleen reciprocating letters as well, and it is crystal clear that he harbored some strong feelings for Kathleen. The mutual strong attachment was noticeable to others."

A Jan. 6, 2003, canonical investigation into "Allegations of Harassment and Defamation of Character Raised by Ms. Kathleen Machado against Reverend Joseph Illo" stated: "Fr. Illo's handing of the incident with the child, and ... other incidents, indicate a need for improvement of his pastoral management skills."

"There is sufficient testimony to indicate that Fr. Illo on occasion can exhibit two opposite facets of a personality -- on the one hand kind and helpful and sensitive and on the other hand dictatorial, manipulative and insensitive."

"Perhaps counseling for Fr. Illo in gender boundaries and pastoral care of women would be appropriate," the investigation report said in its "conclusions and recommendations."

The report, submitted to Stockton Bishop Stephen Blaire, also said: "The Petitioner [Machado] needs to be aware of her own vulnerability as a woman suffering the trauma of divorce. She needs to be aware of how this vulnerability drives her into continued and frustrating attempts at establishing relationships."

Via email, Illo declined comment. "I'm sorry but Archbishop [Salvatore] Cordileone has asked me not to respond to questions from the media. I refer you to our legal counsel, Larry Januzzi," he wrote.

Star of the Sea School parent Christy Brooks told NCR that she and other parents want answers about the vetting process used before Illo was assigned to the parish not only as administrator but as initiator of transforming the parish into what is known as an oratory.

"Did Archbishop Cordileone know about this?" she asked. "If he did, why weren't we told? If he didn't, he should have."

School parent and vice chair of the archdiocesan Board of Education Scott Bialous agreed. "We have seen Fr. Illo in repeated patterns of inability to deal well with women and children, especially children. We have questions about whether he followed through on the recommendations to undergo counseling. At this point, we have a hard time trusting him."

Requests for comment from the archdiocese had not been acknowledged by late Thursday morning, but the Examiner story quoted archdiocesan spokesperson Larry Kamer as saying parents are encouraged to express any concerns with the parish or archdiocese.

"Any matter concerning even the allegation of abuse is something the church takes quite seriously," Kamer told the Examiner. "In this particular case, the police and the jury both found that there was never any abuse and the matter was resolved on other issues."

Parents did express concerns to Auxiliary Bishop William Justice and vicar for clergy Fr. Raymund Reyes at a March 25 meeting attended by about 200 people at the school auditorium.

Sixteen parents delivered brief statements describing the changes instituted by Illo and the impact on their children. Most of the speakers concluded, "We respectfully ask that Fr. Illo and Fr. Driscoll be removed from Star of the Sea." Fr. Patrick Driscoll is associate pastor.

Justice told the audience he would convey the parents' concerns to Cordileone. Bialous told NCR that no response has yet been provided to the parental group.

Vivian Dudro, who told the Examiner she has known Illo for 25 years, defended the priest. "He's a very dynamic and vigorous guy. If there's anybody who can pump new life into this church, it's Father Illo," she told the newspaper.

Dudro told the Examiner that the civil case against Illo is "an unfortunate situation" in which there was no misbehavior by Illo.

"I'm a mother, and I don't doubt that the child would have felt at the very least uncomfortable and intimidated in a situation like that," Dudro said. "However, I believe from the bottom of my being that Father Illo would have never intended harm of a child, ever."

According to the Examiner, "hundreds of parishioners are voicing support for Illo, who they say has revived the Star of the Sea Parish since arriving in August. In fact, within the past month a petition with more than 500 signatures was delivered to Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone urging that Illo be kept in the parish."

In a yes-or-no checklist of accusations against Illo and Arakal accompanying its "Judgment on Special Verdict in Open Court" filed April 4, the court clears Arakal of "intent to harm or offend" the 11-year-old and of acting "with the intent to cause harmful or offensive contact with an intimate part" of her.

Arakal was also ruled not to have caused of "intentional infliction of emotional distress" to either of the sisters.

Illo, however, was confirmed to have purposefully emotionally abused the 11-year-old and acted "with reckless disregard of the probability" of causing emotional harm.

According to a May 2014 story in Catholic San Francisco, Illo and Driscoll were to be the initial residents of what is called a fraternity, "the first step toward the canonical establishment of an Oratory of St. Philip Neri" at Star of the Sea.

An oratory is a " 'Clerical Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical Right,' first begun by St. Philip in Rome in 1575," Catholic San Francisco reported. "Its members are secular priests and brothers who live in community without formal vows and carry out pastoral ministry, usually in an urban parish."

Some archdiocesan priests have expressed concerns about the oratory initiative, calling it divisive.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Reform of the curia unnecessary says Benedict XVI's personal secretary

Christa Pongratz-Lippett
The Tablet
April 22, 2015

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s personal secretary said he believes reform of the Vatican bureaucracy, which has become a key theme of Pope Francis’ papacy, is not necessary.

Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who is also Prefect of the Papal Household, said: “I personally can see no significant reason which would necessitate a reform of the Curia at the moment. One or two changes have been made but that is part of the normal run of things. To speak of ‘Curial reform’ is, if I may say so, somewhat of an exaggeration.”

Gänswein, whose view of the status quo in the Vatican are probably supported by a not inconsiderable number of the hierarchy, according to insiders, was giving an interview to the German website

He was asked whether the Vatican and the Church in general are polarised at the moment. “There is no polarisation as far as I can see and I haven’t experienced any. Certain measures here and there have been criticised and if the criticism is justified, that can surely benefit the general climate,” he said.

What did he expect of the forthcoming Synod on the Family in October – would it bring reforms or just a few changes? “It is to be wished that the main topic, namely ‘Evangelisation and the Family’, will occupy centre stage and that the debates do not get lost on certain side issues,” he replied. Since last October’s synod meeting there has been increasing polarisation over whether there should be reform of the Church’s view of civil remarriage and gay relationships. The archbishop said it was most important to discuss the challenges the Church was facing but to remain on the “secure basis of Catholic church teaching and tradition”.

Supporters rally around Cordileone after influential San Francisco Catholics call for his removal

Mandy Erikson
National Catholic Reporter
April 21, 2015

As San Franciscans have rallied in opposition to Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone's policies, even taking out a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle asking Pope Francis to remove him, his supporters have launched a counterattack.

The conservative national political organization Catholic Vote has asked its supporters to sign a petition in support of the archbishop with an article headlined "Big political donors in San Francisco bully the archbishop."

"It's a little fishy that these 'concerned Catholics' have consistently contributed to politicians who radically oppose Church teaching," it said, listing contributions by signees of the ad to Democratic politicians and organizations.

In February, supporters launched a Facebook page, "I support Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone," that has more than 2,700 likes. And the Cardinal Newman Society ran an opinion piece, "Where's the tolerance in San Francisco?", that was reprinted on, a conservative website that also started a petition in Cordileone's support.

Cordileone is "just currently the biggest target in a bastion of the fully-empowered tyrannical Left who will not tolerate any deviance from their liberal orthodoxy," the opinion piece said.

The archbishop ran into opposition when he inserted a morality clause into the teacher handbooks of four Catholic high schools in San Francisco, Kentfield and San Mateo. The clause warned teachers against any activities that contradict church teaching. Presumably, such activities include marrying a same-sex partner or supporting abortion rights.

Cordileone has also faced criticism for his appointment of Fr. Joseph Illo and Fr. Patrick Driscoll to Star of the Sea Church in San Francisco. The pastors have riled parents of the parish school for prohibiting girls from serving at the altar and for distributing a pamphlet to elementary school students that discussed sodomy, masturbation and adultery.

Supporters of Cordileone in San Francisco have been fairly quiet. As about 400 parents, students, teachers and community members rallied at the University of San Francisco campus on March 16 to oppose the teacher handbook insertion, for example, a group of about 15 stood outside the campus church with signs in support of the archbishop.

Lisa Hamrick, a lifelong Catholic and San Francisco resident, said she fully supports the archbishop. "I think he's doing a marvelous job under very difficult circumstances," she said. "Taking ads out in the local paper against the archbishop only brings discord and divisiveness and serves no purpose."

After the newspaper ad ran April 14, Eva Muntean, the marketing manager at Ignatius Press who organizes the annual Walk for Life in San Francisco, issued a press release on a recently created website,

"The newspaper ad is a slur on a good and decent man who has devoted his life in service to others," it said. "It grossly misrepresents the position of the Archbishop on critical issues, attempting to suggest that he is at odds with Pope Francis. He is not."

The website announced a family picnic day in San Francisco on May 16, asking Cordileone's supporters to show up, sign guest books and speak to the archbishop on video.

Parishioners of Star of the Sea Church have also started a petition in support of their pastors.

In other developments in the archdiocese, the parent-student group Concerned Students & Parents: Teach Acceptance announced Tuesday that a "Support Our Teachers Labor Rally" will be held at 4:30 p.m. April 27 at the chancery.

Organizers said the chancery's address, 1 Peter Yorke Way, honors a famed Irish-born San Francisco labor activist, Fr. Peter Yorke (1864-1925).

A petition asking Cordileone to set aside his announced insertions into the faculty handbooks of the four archdiocesan schools was signed by 80 percent of the teachers and staffs of those schools last month, the group said.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

US Bishop Finn, symbol of church's failure on sexual abuse, resigns

Joshual J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
April 21, 2015

Vatican City and Kansas City,MO: U.S. Bishop Robert Finn, the Catholic prelate in the U.S. heartland who became a symbol internationally of the church's failures in addressing the sexual abuse crisis, has resigned. He was the first bishop criminally convicted of mishandling an abusive priest yet remained in office for another two and a half years.

The Vatican announced Finn's resignation as head of the diocese of St. Joseph-Kansas City, Mo., in a note in its daily news bulletin Tuesday.

While the note did not provide any reason for the move, it is rare for bishops in the Catholic church to resign without cause before they reach the traditional retirement age of 75.

Finn, who is 62 and had led the diocese since 2005, was neither assigned a new diocese nor as yet given a new leadership role in the church.

Other than for reasons of health, only one other bishop among the some 200 U.S. Catholic dioceses and eparchies has resigned his role in such a manner in at least the past decade.

Tuesday's Vatican note read: "The Holy Father Francis has accepted the resignation from the pastoral government of the diocese of St. Joseph-Kansas City, Mo. (U.S.A.) presented by His Excellency Msgr. Robert W. Finn."

The announcement cites the portion in the Code of Canon Law that states that a bishop who "has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office."

Francis has not named a replacement as bishop of the diocese.

While the Vatican bulletin does not indicate whether the pope appointed an apostolic administrator for the diocese, Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., diocesan director of communications Jack Smith said in a statement that Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., was named as the diocese's administrator.

In a letter to addressed to the people of the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese, Naumann asked for prayers, acknowledging the "vitality and beauty" of the community but also stating "I am also keenly conscious of some of challenges and difficulties this Diocese has suffered in recent years." He added that the role of an administrator, by its definition, "is for a very short season."

"This will not be a time for innovation or change, but a time to sustain the ordinary and essential activities of the Church and where possible to advance the initiatives that already are under way," Naumann said.

Naumann said he hoped the coming months would be "a time of grace and healing for the Diocese."

Finn's resignation will have significance beyond the borders of Missouri. The issue of holding bishops accountable has long been the largest and most provocative unresolved element in the church's handling of sexual abuse cases.

In diocese after diocese and country after country, abuse victims, parents and advocacy groups have asked why bishops who inappropriately handle dangerous priests are rarely, if ever, held accountable.

Finn's leadership has long been under question in the Missouri diocese, at least since his September 2012 conviction of a misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse in the case of a now-former diocesan priest who was producing child pornography.

Because of that incident, Finn served a two-year suspended sentence in Jackson County, Mo., and struck a deal later that year with a Clay County, Mo., judge to avoid a similar charge by entering a diversion compliance agreement that included regular meetings with the county prosecutor for five years.

Local Catholics began calling for Finn's resignation in May 2011. An online petition asking for the Vatican to remove Finn was opened in 2012 and gathered more than 260,000 signatures.

In February 2014, Kansas City Catholics engaged a canon lawyer and made a formal request that the Vatican initiate a penal process to determine whether Finn violated church law in the case of Shawn Ratigan, a then-priest of the diocese convicted of child pornography charges, whom Finn failed to report to civil authorities.

In September 2014, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, Ontario, came to Kansas City for a Vatican investigation known as an apostolic visitation to interview more than a dozen people as part of an investigation into Finn's leadership.

Prendergast told those he interviewed from Sept. 22-26 that he was there on behalf of the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops.

Smith said in a brief interview Tuesday that Finn had met with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops, April 14 in Rome. The bishop, Smith said, then spoke with U.S. apostolic nuncio Archbishop Carlo Vigano on Monday, at which final details of the resignation were determined.

There "probably were conversations that went on all the way up to yesterday about when or how this transition would take place," Smith said.

The overlap of Finn's Rome visit with a meeting of the new Vatican commission on clergy sexual abuse on April 12 was a "kind of coincidence," Smith said.

Members of that commission, known formally as the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, met April 12 with Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the president of the commission and a member of Francis' Council of Cardinals.

Commission member Peter Saunders said in an interview Tuesday that the members discussed Finn's case at the meeting.

"I believe that there was already some movement on the Finn case, from what Cardinal O'Malley said, so I think this was going to happen," Saunders said. "But maybe we were in some small way instrumental in ensuring that it did."

While the Vatican bulletin does not say Finn was removed from office (instead, it says the pope accepted his resignation), such moves are still rare in the church.

The last Catholic prelate to be removed from diocesan office was Paraguayan Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano, whom Francis removed in September mainly over accusations that he had not adequately managed his diocese and had caused strife with other prelates.

The last U.S. bishop who resigned at such an early age was former Scranton, Pa., Bishop Joseph Martino, who resigned in 2009 at age 63 mainly over concerns that he was mismanaging and was divisive in his diocese.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the former archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Scotland, who resigned in 2013 after admitting to sexual misconduct, on March 20 resigned "the rights and privileges of a cardinal." Those include advising the pope, holding membership in Vatican congregations and councils, and electing a new pope.

The news of Finn's resignation was met with relief in Kansas City.

"It has been a hard time, a painful time for our diocese," said Fr. Michael Roach, a priest of more than 30 years in the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese.

"In this Easter time, a time of new life, we are grateful that our diocese will be able to begin a time of healing and coming together," Roach told NCR.

The diocese's struggles had caused discontent and concern even among some of Finn's highest-ranking officials, with one saying in an interview recently that after the bishop's departure, the diocese would need concerted efforts focused on healing.

Jude Huntz, who served as the diocese's second-in-command from 2011 until August 2014, said Finn's successor would have to "take on the task to bring healing for everybody involved."

"I think that's what everybody needs the most," Huntz said. "It's been painful for everybody. I don't think anybody has been exempt. It's been a hard thing for everybody to endure."

The former chancellor of the diocese also said healing efforts could not be led by just one individual.

"Everybody has got to kind of come together in some sort of a liturgical and communal way just to bring healing," he said. "This isn't just about sex abuse. This is about a whole lot of other things that are ideological."

May would have marked Finn's 10th anniversary as bishop in Kansas City.

Pressure on Finn to resign began in the spring of 2011, when it became public that diocesan officials had months before found suspect photographs of children on a computer owned by Ratigan, then the pastor of St. Patrick Parish in North Kansas City, Mo., but had not contacted civil authorities.

In January 2011, Finn removed Ratigan as pastor and sent him for evaluation and counseling. But by late winter, Ratigan was assigned as a chaplain to a sisters' convent and to live with a group of Vincentian priests in a suburb east of Kansas City.

There was no known supervision of Ratigan, and he remained in contact with families from his former parishes, attending family gatherings and meals. It was later learned that Ratigan used these occasions to take images of children using his cellphone, some of them questionable.

Ratigan was found guilty in federal court in September 2013 of producing child pornography and sentenced to 50 years in jail. He was laicized in January 2014.

Questions about Finn's handling of the Ratigan case emerged during the Prendergast investigation, according to Fr. Pat Rush, pastor at Visitation Parish in Kansas City.

Rush, who was interviewed as part of the apostolic visitation in September, told NCR that the Canadian archbishop asked how the accusations against Ratigan were handled, what legal advice was given, and the fallout from the conviction.

The costs of Finn's legal defense totaled $1.39 million, the diocesan paper reported in 2012. At that time, the diocese had spent nearly $4 million for other clergy sexual abuse claims.

In March 2014, an arbiter ruled the diocese had violated five of 19 child safety measures it agreed to as part of a 2008 settlement that awarded $10 million to 47 plaintiffs. In August of that year, a Jackson County circuit judge upheld the arbiter's decision that the diocese pay $1.1 million for breaching the terms.

"There can be no doubt that the diocese, through its leadership and higher-level personnel, failed in numerous respects to abide by the terms," Jackson County Circuit Judge Bryan E. Round said in his decision then.

In October, the diocese resolved all its outstanding historical sexual abuse claims through a $9.95 million global settlement of 30 cases -- including one which had progressed to final statements in trial.

At the time, the diocese said only one case related to Ratigan was still pending.

The cumulative amount spent by the diocese on sexual abuse claims and defense is a "staggering figure," Huntz, the former diocesan chancellor, told NCR in September. "[The Vatican] needs to see those numbers and recognize it for what it is."

Huntz also said that to offset expenses, the diocese had raised parish assessments -- the money the diocese collects from parishes -- with some "going up 33 percent." Huntz attributed higher operating costs to increased insurance payments.

"A parish can't afford those things," he said. "It's really hurting a lot of the parishes from a financial point of view."

While the pope is considered the supreme earthly authority in the Catholic church, canon law does not specify by name his ability to fire or remove diocesan bishops. It instead says that "privation" of office can be "made known to the bishop."

Highlighting that sensitive area of law, the Vatican bulletin announcing Livieres Plano's removal said Francis had "provided for the alternation of the bishop" of the Paraguayan diocese.

An Australian bishop removed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011, William Morris, was not said to have been removed from or have resigned his office, but instead to have accepted retirement.

News of the $1.1 million judgment against the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese prompted another letter to Pope Francis requesting an investigation of Finn.

Fr. James Connell, a Milwaukee canon lawyer who had helped local Catholics write to the Vatican in February 2014, wrote again in August of that year.

"It just struck me that it would be wise to get it documented that further court actions confirmed Finn being wrong with the way he handled things and the church really ought to be doing something about that," Connell told NCR then.

The Ratigan case

The day after Ratigan's arrest May 19, 2011, Finn held a meeting with parents of St. Patrick's parish to address the situation and hear their concerns. It was an event that pointed to the ongoing feeling of many parents in the diocese, who expressed anger at the bishop's inaction.

Standing alone at the lectern next to the parish altar for just under three hours, Finn fielded questions as mother after mother, father after father, lined up to ask why the priest was not brought to the police when the diocese first knew of his troubles the December before.

Several parishioners asked how they could ever trust Finn, or even the Catholic church, again.

One, a woman who identified herself as a member of the parish for over 10 years, recounted how she had seen Ratigan tickling young children at the school's daycare program.

"As soon as you knew what was going on, why the hell didn't you tell me something?" she asked, her voice shaking.

"When a priest becomes our priest, he becomes a part of our family. And this family deserves to know what is going on in this church."

The full details of how Finn and the Kansas City diocese responded to reports about Ratigan's behavior became part of the public record in 2012.

As part of the nonjury trial at which Finn was found guilty of failing to report suspected child abuse, both the prosecutors and defense lawyers submitted a set of 69 mutually agreed-upon facts that formed a timeline of the diocese's handling of the Ratigan case.

Many of the facts are graphic. Key points among them included:

The diocese had received a memo in May 2010 concerning Ratigan from Julie Hess, the principal of the school attached to the parish Ratigan was serving. That memo outlined several concerns about the priest and stated teachers at the school thought "Father Shawn's actions fit the profile of a child predator."
Following examination by a computer technician, the diocese became aware of a number of lewd photos on Ratigan's laptop on Dec. 16, 2010. Among those photos were those of a "little girl's naked vagina." Included in those who saw those photos was Msgr. Robert Murphy, then the diocese's vicar general.
Ratigan attempted suicide on Dec. 17, 2010, leaving behind a note that said, "I am sorry for the harm caused to the children."
In early January 2011, Finn sent Ratigan to Pennsylvania for psychiatric evaluation from Rick Fitzgibbons, who told Finn in an email that Hess "may have orchestrated false accusations" against Ratigan.
Following Ratigan's return from Pennsylvania, Finn assigned Ratigan to live at a community of religious priests and assigned him to say daily Mass for a community of women religious.
Finn received an email from Ratigan on Feb. 7, 2011, that began: "I am going to give you a brief summary of how I got to where I am with my addiction to pornography."
Finn emailed Ratigan in response Feb. 9, 2011, giving the priest seven restrictions, including to "avoid all contact with children." Finn was informed March 31, 2011, that Ratigan had attended a St. Patrick's Day parade and a birthday party for a sixth-grade girl.
On May 11, 2011, Murphy reported the existence of "hundreds of photographs" of children on Ratigan's computer to police.
Ratigan was arrested for possession of child pornography May 18, 2011.
The stipulated facts also state that in testimony, Murphy reported the incident to police because he thought the diocese's response to Ratigan was "moving along with no direction, and I thought, 'I have got to do something.' "

According to the facts, Murphy also testified that Finn was "upset" upon hearing Murphy had reported Ratigan. According to the testimony, Murphy told his sister at the time, "I think I made a decision that will not make the bishop happy."

Finn has rarely addressed the Ratigan situation in public after the May 2011 meeting with parents. He has not given an interview in years.

Seen walking near the Vatican in Rome April 14, the bishop shook hands pleasantly -- but quickly walked away once introductions had been made.

Beginning with a clean sweep

Finn came to the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese as a coadjutor bishop in March 2004.

He was then a 53-year-old St. Louis priest and member of the conservative Opus Dei movement. He had served as a high school principal and oversaw the St. Louis archdiocesan newspaper.

Finn succeeded Bishop Raymond Boland as the diocese's leader on May 24, 2005. Within a week of his appointment, he:
Dismissed the chancellor, a layman with 21 years of experience in the diocese; the vice chancellor, a religious woman stationed in the diocese for nearly 40 years; and the chief of pastoral planning for the diocese since 1990. He replaced them with a priest chancellor.
Canceled the diocese's nationally renowned lay formation programs and a master's degree program in pastoral ministry.
Halved the budget of the Center for Pastoral Life and Ministry, effectively forcing the almost immediate resignation of half the seven-member team. Within 10 months, all seven would be gone and the center shuttered.
Ordered a "zero-based study" of adult catechesis in the diocese and appointed as vice chancellor to oversee adult catechesis, lay formation and the catechesis study a layman with no formal training in theology or religious studies.
Ordered the editor of the diocesan newspaper to immediately cease publishing columns by Notre Dame theologian Fr. Richard McBrien and announced he would review all front-page stories, opinion pieces, columns and editorials before publication.
By most accounts, Finn reached these decisions without consulting any of the senior leadership of the diocese or the people in the programs affected. Virtually no staff at the diocesan headquarters knew of the changes until they were announced at a news conference two days after his appointment.

Many parish staff members and priests would first learn of the changes when they read about them in the local or diocesan newspaper.

As his first year in office unfolded and as budgets were prepared for a new fiscal year, the new bishop's priorities emerged.

Budgets for the peace and justice office and Bolivian missions were cut in half and more. A diocesan-sponsored master's program was transferred from the Aquinas Institute of Theology, a Dominican school affiliated with Jesuit-run St. Louis University, to the Institute for Pastoral Theology at Florida-based Ave Maria University.

A Latin Mass community, which had been using a city parish for liturgies, was given a parish in its own right, and Finn appointed himself pastor. Later, he asked the parish that the Latin Mass community would be leaving to donate $250,000 of the estimated $1.5 million the Latin group needed to renovate the old church Finn gave them.

NCR documented Finn's first year in office in a 2006 cover story titled "Extreme makeover."

The new bishop "came with an agenda," Fr. Richard Carney told NCR in 2006. Carney was then a priest of more than 50 years and a respected leader in the diocese. He died in 2008.

"[Finn] didn't ask us who we are and what we are about," Carney told NCR. "He looked at it from the vantage point of a coadjutor bishop and made decisions of what he was going to do about us."

"Well, we're not used to that kind of authoritarianism," the priest continued. "It didn't show much respect for prior bishops who established it that way. We feel beaten up."

Unhappiness had reached such a level by the fall of 2005 that Finn had his new chancellor and vice chancellor host a series of town hall meetings in various regions of the diocese.

NCR described these meetings as "the first and only chance [lay parishioners had] to confront officials regarding the changes they had only heard about. Much of the discussion focused on that. Much was passionate, some of it heated."

Fr. Norman Rotert, another highly respected priest and leader in the diocese who had also retired by 2006, told NCR about the listening sessions.

"[Finn] is the king. I heard [vice chancellor Claude] Sasso said that at one of the listening sessions," said Rotert, who died in 2014. "Jesus is a king and the bishop is king in his diocese. That hardly works as a leadership style today. People demand a voice. The people know as much about things today as the bishop does and sometimes more."

Rotert told NCR then that his great fear was that "instead of speaking up and holding bishops accountable, people will just gradually fade away," a development he said would be "terribly, terribly unfortunate."

According to Huntz, the former chancellor, in September 2014: "Ten years ago ... when Bishop Finn came to Kansas City, the diocese had 165,000 Catholics. This past year, I submitted our official statistics to Rome, and we only had 128,000 Catholics. That's a 25 percent decline."


Finn was popular among area Catholics, especially those who appreciated his traditional approach to ecclesiology and liturgy. He also attracted a good number of men to the seminary. This year, the diocese has 32 men in various stages of formation. Seven are to be ordained priests by the end of 2015.

Other projects have not gone as well. Finn announced in 2010 an ambitious plan to build a new $30 million high school in an eastern suburb of Kansas City. With this came the launch of a $15 million capital campaign.

The campaign struggled to take off, and fundraising is reportedly far behind projections. Though a name for the school has been chosen -- Michael the Archangel High School -- and a mascot -- the Guardians -- opening of the new school has been moved back from fall 2015 to fall 2016.

Another long-term dream of Finn's was to build a dormitory for Catholic college students. He hoped to build a dorm on the site of the closed school of St. Francis Xavier Parish, which is located between the campuses of Jesuit-run Rockhurst University and the University of Missouri, Kansas City.

The parishioners and neighborhood groups had other dreams for the property. Each side had feasibility studies conducted and hosted meetings and shared ideas, but never reached a consensus.

"We met several times [to discuss proposals], and the bishop clearly said he was only interested in the Catholic student housing project," parishioner Ken Spare said.

Finn's last chance was a March 17 meeting of the City Plan Commission of Kansas City.

Finn wrote to his priests and deacons before the hearing, inviting them "to be present at the meeting and support the Diocese's plan. If you attend it would certainly be appropriate for you to wear your collar."

Eleven women religious and one priest attended alongside Finn. The City Plan Commission unanimously voted against the project.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Archbishop blessed with celestial job security

Kevin Fagan
SF Gate
April 19, 2015

All those praying that Pope Francis will take notice of their pleas and bounce Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone from his post in San Francisco had better settle in for a lot of time on their figurative knees.

Just about the last thing the Vatican ever does, experts say, is strip a bishop of his job because of political trouble in the pews — such as that being caused by a group of more than 100 local Catholics so upset about Cordileone’s conservative policies that they took out a full-page open letter in The Chronicle last week asking the pope to replace him.

“It’s so unusual for a bishop to be removed from office by the pope that there is a Latin term for it,” said the Rev. James Bretzke, professor of moral theology at Boston College. “It’s promoveatur ut amoveatur, which means, 'Let him be promoted so that he can be removed.’

“That’s the way it’s been for centuries. And that’s the way it is now.”

Church watchers say that’s how St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke wound up being “promoted” to a legal post in the Vatican in 2008, four years after declaring that he would refuse communion to pro-abortion-rights presidential candidate John Kerry, among other provocations. And it’s reportedly how Bishop Joseph Martino was allowed in 2009 to gracefully retire at 63 — 12 years before the usual retirement age for bishops — after alienating his flock in Scranton, Pa., by espousing authoritarian views and closing nearly half the schools and parishes in his diocese.

“People are free to complain to the Vatican about bishops, but there is no formal process for removing them,” said Patricia Miller, an author who writes nationally on Catholic issues. “You can lobby it, and if you have the Vatican’s ear because you are a big donor or someone with big influence, you might get heard some. But the Vatican is not a democracy. It is literally a feudal court, a monarchy.

Pope calls the shots

“There is no expectation of transparency there,” Miller said. “Pope Francis is trying to open it up ever so slightly — he’s created a layperson committee now looking into sex abuse in the church — but in the end, he makes all the decisions.”

So does that mean he has heard the cries from San Francisco and is ready to act?

“The short answer is no,” said Miller.

“The pope is kind of like the president,” she said. “He has staff who hear things, so I’m sure that likewise someone in the Vatican has heard all of what’s going on in San Francisco. But does the pope himself know? There’s just no way of knowing.”

The Vatican’s leadership office in the United States, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, referred all questions last week to the Vatican, where officials could not be reached for comment.

Standing firm

As for Cordileone, he shows no sign of backing down. He has maintained since he was appointed to his San Francisco post in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI that his goal in emphasizing traditional church doctrine is to foster a greater appreciation of Catholicism. In doing so, he’s pushed for teachers and staffers at Catholic schools to agree to a morality code that calls sex outside marriage and homosexual relations “gravely evil.” This week, he’ll in in Washington to take part in a rally backing a traditional definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.

The San Francisco Archdiocese issued a statement calling last week’s full-page ad “a misrepresentation of Catholic teaching,” and saying the signers don’t speak for the city’s Catholic community.

The Vatican has been known to stand by even in cases where its bishops become embroiled in scandal. Thousands of people, for example, have signed petitions asking the national Catholic leadership to force the resignation of Bishop Robert Finn, of Kansas City-Saint Joseph, Mo., who in 2012 became the first U.S. bishop to be convicted of failing to report suspected child sex abuse by a priest to police. He is still in office.

Sent to Rome

In St. Louis, those who reviled Burke consider his transfer to Rome a major victory. They took particular pleasure last year when now-Cardinal Burke was demoted to a ceremonial post as patron of the sovereign military order of Malta after publicly criticizing Francis for his statements professing a more open attitude than previous popes.

“Not a week goes by even now where someone doesn’t say to us, 'Oh, thank goodness Burke is gone,’” said David Clohessy of St. Louis, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, who had advocated for his ouster. “It became very clear to us that once you are a bishop, you are pretty much untouchable. Almost never do any of them get disciplined, demoted or even denounced.” The most prominent example of a bishop taking a dive publicly was when Boston Archbishop Bernard Law resigned his post in 2002 after church documents showed he had apparently covered up sex abuse by priests in his archdiocese. The hit was not lasting, though. Two years later, Pope John Paul II appointed him archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. He held that post until he retired in 2011 at age 80.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Vatican ends battle with U.S. Catholic nuns group

Laurie Goodstein
New York Times
April 16, 2015

The Vatican has abruptly ended its takeover of the main leadership group of American nuns two years earlier than expected, allowing Pope Francis to put to rest a confrontation started by his predecessor that created an uproar among American Catholics who had rallied to the sisters’ defense.

Anticipating a visit by Francis to the United States in the fall, the Vatican and the American bishops were eager to resolve an episode that was seen by many Catholics as a vexing and unjust inquisition of the sisters who ran the church’s schools, hospitals and charities.

Under the previous pope, Benedict XVI, the Vatican’s doctrinal office had appointed three bishops in 2012 to overhaul the nuns’ group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, out of concerns that it had hosted speakers and published materials that strayed from Catholic doctrine on such matters as the all-male priesthood, birth control and sexuality, and the centrality of Jesus to the faith.

But Francis has shown in his two-year papacy that he is less interested in having the church police doctrinal boundaries than in demonstrating mercy and love for the poor and vulnerable — the very work that most of the women’s religious orders under investigation have long been engaged in.

Ending the standoff with the nuns is one of several course corrections that Francis has set in motion. He has also worked on reforming the Vatican Curia, the Vatican’s central administration, instituting tighter oversight of Vatican finances, and has created a commission to deal with sexual abuse by clergy members.

He has made no changes in doctrine — on Wednesday, he reiterated the church’s teaching that marriage can be only between a man and a woman — but Catholics worldwide say he has done much to make the church’s tone more welcoming.

On Thursday, that included calling an unexpected meeting with four of the leaders of the Leadership Conference. The four women were photographed in his office and said afterward in a statement that they were “deeply heartened” by Francis’ “expression of appreciation” for the lives and ministry of Catholic sisters.

“He met with them himself for almost an hour, and that’s an extravagant amount of papal time,” said Eileen Burke-Sullivan, a theologian and consultant for women’s religious orders and vice provost for mission and ministry at Creighton University, a Jesuit school in Omaha. “It’s about as close to an apology, I would think, as the Catholic Church is officially going to render.”

Francis has never talked explicitly in public about the imbroglio with American nuns. But he has spoken about creating “broader opportunities” for women in the church, and the value of nuns and priests in religious orders. He is a member of the Jesuit order.

A clear signal that the Vatican under Francis was taking a more conciliatory approach to American sisters came in December with the announcement of the conclusion of another, separate investigation of American women’s orders, which was known as an apostolic visitation. That process involved sending questionnaires to 350 religious communities and teams of “visitors” to 90 of them, asking about everything from their prayer practices to living arrangements.

Both of these investigations of American women’s religious orders began at the urging of American and some foreign prelates who accused the sisters of disobeying the bishops and departing from Catholic doctrine. It set off protests by Catholic laypeople across the country, who signed petitions and sent letters to the Vatican in defense of the sisters.

It even became a movement with its own anthem, “Love Cannot Be Silenced,” composed by a folk-singing sister in Chicago.

The news came in a brief report issued jointly by the Leadership Conference and the three American bishops who had been appointed by the Vatican three years ago to take over and overhaul the organization.

The report cast the process as one of collaboration, saying, “Our extensive conversations were marked by a spirit of prayer, love for the church, mutual respect and cooperation. We found our conversations to be mutually beneficial.”

It was a far cry from three years ago, when the Vatican’s doctrinal office, led by an American cardinal, William Levada, issued a report finding that the Leadership Conference had “serious doctrinal problems.” It said the sisters were promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” It also accused the nuns of spending more time working against poverty and social injustice than abortion and same-sex marriage.

The Vatican’s doctrinal office in 2012 appointed Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, with assistance from Bishop Leonard Blair of Hartford and Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., to spend as many as five years assessing and overhauling the Leadership Conference.

Leaders of the nuns’ group, which represents about 80 percent of Catholic sisters in the United States, insisted all along that the accusations were unfounded and that the Vatican simply did not understand the culture and process of American women’s religious orders, many of which emphasize open discussion and communal decision-making.

They decided that rather than take a confrontational approach, they would engage in rigorous dialogue with Archbishop Sartain and the other overseers, using the same process the sisters employ among themselves to settle disagreements and make decisions.

Ultimately, the report issued on Thursday said that the nuns’ group would take care in selecting the speakers and programs at its conferences, and have “competent theologians” review its publications. It did not specify who would select the theologians, and indeed, women’s religious orders are full of trained and competent theologians.

The report said the goal was “to promote a scholarly rigor that will ensure theological accuracy and help avoid statements that are ambiguous with regard to church doctrine or could be read as contrary to it.”

On Thursday, neither the nuns nor the bishops involved would grant interviews. The Vatican’s doctrinal office also would not speak. The nuns’ group said that the doctrinal office had asked all of those involved not to speak to the news media for 30 days.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said in a telephone interview: “Once they discussed and cleared the issues on the table, they published a joint report. That’s it.”

In a statement, Sister Sharon Holland, president of the Leadership Conference, said, “We are pleased at the completion of the mandate, which involved long and challenging exchanges of our understandings of and perspectives on critical matters of religious life and its practice.”

Archbishop Sartain, striking a similar tone, said in a statement, “Our work together was undertaken in an atmosphere of love for the church and profound respect for the critical place of religious life in the United States, and the very fact of such substantive dialogue between bishops and religious women has been mutually beneficial and a blessing from the Lord.”

The friendly resolution came as a great relief to the sisters and their supporters, who had feared that the Vatican could dissolve the Leadership Conference or take permanent control of it, said the Rev. James Martin, editor at large with the Jesuit magazine America, who wrote often about the conflict. “What you see with the sisters is true courage, which is being faithful to the church authority and also to who they are,” he said.

He said that there was no way to know how involved Francis was in the resolution, but that “as a member of a religious order who himself felt under the gun many times by his superiors, he would have some natural sympathy toward the sisters.”

Influential Catholics call for removal of San Francisco archbishop in full page ad

Dan Morris-Young
National Catholic Reporter
April 16, 2015

A powerful cross-section of Catholics in the San Francisco archdiocese is asking Pope Francis to replace Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, saying the archbishop has "fostered an atmosphere of division and intolerance."

In an April 16 full-page advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle, more than 100 signers say the embattled archbishop pursues "a single-issue agenda," coercing teachers with a "morality code which violates individual consciences as well as California labor laws" and "[isolating] himself from our community" as he "relies ... on a tiny group of advisors recruited from outside of our diocese and estranged from their own religious orders."

Referring to themselves as "committed Catholics inspired by Vatican II," signers include well-known philanthropists in the archdiocese, members of school and university boards, the former director of Catholic Charities CYO, high-profile attorneys and physicians, major figures in the business and corporate world, and officials of trusts, foundations and charitable organizations.

The archdiocese issued a press release Wednesday afternoon calling the open letter "a misrepresentation of Catholic teaching, a misrepresentation of the nature of the teacher contract, and a misrepresentation of the spirit of the Archbishop."

"The greatest misrepresentation of all is that the signers presume to speak for 'the Catholic Community of San Francisco.' They do not," the release states. "The Archdiocese has met with a broad range of stakeholders. Together, we have engaged in a constructive dialogue on all of the issues raised in this ad. We welcome the chance to continue that discussion."

The statement was likely a response to a piece posted on the Chronicle website Wednesday by columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross, who had been tipped to the ad's pending publication. A copy of the ad serves as a graphic for their commentary.

"According to a source familiar with the drafting of the open letter to Francis, the disaffected Catholics first considered running the ad weeks ago. They held off while they appealed to church higher-ups -- including the papal representative in Washington -- to address their concerns. When nothing came of that, they went public," the two wrote.

There is a press conference scheduled for 10:30 a.m. today at the Merchants Exchange Building owned by Clint Reilly, reportedly one of the major drivers behind the open letter and a prominent figure in San Francisco civic life. Reilly is a former chair of Catholic Charities CYO's board and is president and chairman of Clinton Reilly Holdings.

The signers of the Chronicle ad criticized what they called "the absolute mean-spiritedness of [Cordileone's] required language for the Archdiocesan high school faculty handbook" that "sets a pastoral tone that is closer to persecution than evangelization.

"Students, families and teachers have been deeply wounded by this language, yet the Archbishop refuses to withdraw his demands," the ad continues.

A 2,000-word statement developed by Cordileone for inclusion in 2015-16 faculty handbooks of the four high schools owned by the San Francisco archdiocese was made public Feb. 3. It delineates areas of sexual morality and religious practice the archbishop said need increased clarity, emphasis and understanding by students, faculty, staff and administrators.

The narrative also cautions "administrators, faculty and staff" to "arrange and conduct their lives so as not to visibly contradict, undermine or deny" church teaching.

Many say the document runs roughshod on individual conscience, stands in contrast to Pope Francis' pastoral and inclusive teaching, and criticize what they say is an overemphasis on sexual topics. They say some passages are insensitive and incendiary, notably usages such as "intrinsically evil," "grave evil," and "gravely evil,"

"Such language has no place in our handbooks" and "is harmful to our community and creates an atmosphere of mistrust and fear" said a petition signed by 80 percent of the faculty and staff of the four schools in early March and read into the minutes of the March 2 San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting.

Contacted by Matier and Ross about today's open letter message, signer and attorney Frank Pitre said: "It seems [Cordileone] is going in a direction that is completely opposite where Pope Francis is going and creating an atmosphere of complete intolerance. Hopefully, this is going to get someone's attention.'' He and his wife, Diane, both signed.

Larry Nibbi, CEO of Nibbi Brothers Construction, told Matier and Ross he thinks Cordileone "is just causing a lot of discord, especially with the young people in the diocese."

"The crux of our worry is that the faithful are going to become very disenchanted and stop going to church because they don't like the message, and the message is not the way they lead their lives," said Nibbi, a donor and former chair of the trustees of Archbishop Riordan High School, one of the four high schools affected by the handbook insertion.

"Neither The Chronicle's business department nor those associated with the ad would say how much it cost. We're told, however, that full-page ads typically run in the tens of thousands of dollars," the columnists write.

"We believe in the traditions of conscience, respect and inclusion upon which our Catholic faith was founded," states the introduction to the open letter advertisement. "From Archbishops Alemany, Hanna, Mitty and McGucken, to Quinn, Levada and Niederauer, our Archdiocese has been 'an immigrant Church' built on a rich tradition of diversity."

The open letter also rebuked Cordileone for his appointment of "a pastor for Star of the Sea Parish who marginalizes women's participation in the church by banning girls from altar service and who has inexplicably distributed to elementary school children an age-inappropriate and potentially abusive, sexually-oriented pamphlet."

Star of the Sea administrator Fr. Joseph Illo and associate pastor Fr. Patrick Driscoll have been at the center of controversy over developments at the parish school that have generated wide media coverage. Tensions led to a March 25 gathering at the school attended by nearly 200 at which Auxiliary Bishop William Justice and vicar for clergy Fr. Raymund Reyes listened to 16 brief talks by parents.

The Star of the Sea gathering, the four schools' faculty-staff petition, and the new full-page appeal to Pope Francis are three of several pushbacks against the initiatives Cordileone has undertaken since he was installed in 2013:

• A March 21 letter to Cordileone signed by 21 retired priests of the archdiocese faulted him for lack of consultation and collegiality and questioned the tone and thrust of the faculty handbook language.
• Two requests for statements disavowing the Star of Sea ban on altar girls surfaced during a February Council of Priests meeting but were set aside by Cordileone, who argued that Illo was acting within his rights as a pastor.
• Three vigils have been staged at St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral organized by a student-parent organization, #teachacceptance, formed following revelation of the handbook language. The most recent, March 30, drew more than 500 participants who processed from historic Mission Dolores Church in San Francisco to the cathedral, where a petition signed by more than 6,500 protesting the handbook narrative was attached to a church door.
• The Chronicle ran a front-page analysis charging that the faculty handbook statement flew in the face of Pope Francis' call for embracing the marginalized and editorialized against the initiative.
• Eight San Francisco Bay Area state lawmakers jointly signed a letter to Cordileone accusing him of sending "an alarming message of intolerance" to students and urging withdrawal of the handbook section.
• The California Federation of Teachers issued a release objecting to language proposed by the archdiocese for pending labor contracts and to the handbook statement's warning to school employees to avoid off-campus activities that contradict church stances.

Matier and Ross called attention to Cordileone's scheduled participation in the April 25 March for Marriage in Washington, D.C., "three days before the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in a case that could result in the justices declaring a constitutional right for gays and lesbians to wed."

Do not "expect Cordileone to start soft-pedaling his opposition to same-sex marriage," they wrote.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

San Francisco Archbishop Cordileone wanted a fight, and now he has lost

C.V. Nevius
San Francisco Chronicle
April 16, 2015

Ever since he arrived in San Francisco more than two years ago, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has courted controversy. He attended rallies against same-sex marriage unapologetically, imposed “morality classes” on teachers at local Catholic schools, and supported the extreme views of Star of the Sea pastor Joseph Illo.

Through it all, Cordileone has maintained a serene equanimity. Illo, his surrogate, said in a January interview with Catholic World Report that when there was a backlash to Illo’s decision to ban girls from becoming altar servers, the archbishop told him, “the negative press coverage was par for the course for this kind of announcement, and we expect it to just be a flash in the pan.”

It’s now clear that was a naive miscalculation. Thursday’s full-page ad in The Chronicle calling on the Vatican to replace Cordileone, signed by more than 100 prominent Catholics, that was just the latest volley. These people aren’t going away.

It is important to note that these aren’t cliche San Francisco radical activists — who, by the way, have been conspicuous by their absence in this discussion. These are parents, teachers and families. These are everyday people galvanized to action.

It can be said that Cordileone has gotten exactly what he wanted. As Illo gleefully said in the January interview, courting controversy with extreme views serves as “a poke in the eye of the liberal culture of San Francisco.”

So if the archbishop wanted a fight — mission accomplished.

Teachers worry they may lose their jobs for failing to reach the standard of an archaic and small-minded set of “morality clauses” in the teacher handbook requiring them to “affirm and believe” that “adultery, masturbation, fornication, the viewing of pornography and homosexual relations” are “gravely evil.”

Meanwhile, Illo has created controversy with his decision to ban girls from becoming altar servers and handing out a pamphlet at Star of the Sea that asked the kindergarten through eighth-grade students if they engaged in masturbation, fornication or sodomy.

If the archbishop’s actions were just an opportunity to express an unpopular view and trigger a civic debate, it might be understandable and defensible.

Discriminatory agenda

But Cordileone’s actions have real consequences. They are hurtful, mean and affect the lives of teachers, parents and students. As the ad in The Chronicle says, this kind of attitude “sets a pastoral tone that is closer to persecution than evangelization.”

The ad is addressed specifically to the Vatican. But it highlights the question: How can the pope continue to promote a vision of inclusion and acceptance while his representative in San Francisco pursues an agenda of discrimination?

Is it because this controversy isn’t important enough for the leader of the Catholic Church to get involved? Surely the Vatican isn’t that clueless. This city is not just a recognizable and acknowledged global urban center, it is international shorthand for acceptance of the rights of same-sex couples.

The church may disagree, but Cordileone is simply grandstanding by demonizing same sex-marriage as “gravely evil” in his morality clause.

How can the city of St. Francis remain silent when its religious representative espouses such archaic and hateful views?

We’ve already seen how the archbishop’s supporters are trying to marginalize opponents. In a statement this week, the archdiocese said those who signed the ad “presume to speak for the Catholic community of San Francisco. They do not.”

Vote of public opinion

This is a consistent tactic. When Illo announced that girls would no longer serve as altar servers, he maintained that the majority of school families supported his views.

“I’ve received over 300 e-mails about altar boys — mostly positive, except for the ones from the Bay Area,” he wrote.

As subsequent angry public protests demonstrated, this claim of widespread support was an exaggeration at best. This direct, full-page appeal directly to the pope reinforces the idea. It is the archbishop who is out of step — with San Francisco, this country and the faithful members of this church.

This isn’t so different from any other political cause. There are always times when a political party gets hijacked by an extreme, righteous wing. But there’s always an election, a vote.

We’ve had one here in the electorate of public opinion. The archbishop lost.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Prominent Catholics call on pope to oust San Francisco's Archbishop Cordileone

San Francisco Gate
April 15, 2015

In an unprecedented move, more than 100 prominent Roman Catholic donors and church members signed a full-page ad running Thursday in The Chronicle that calls on Pope Francis to replace San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone for fostering “an atmosphere of division and intolerance.”

The plea follows months of dissent within the archdiocese over Cordileone’s emphasis on traditional, conservative church doctrine — including asking high school teachers and staffers at Catholic schools to sign a morality clause that characterizes sex outside of marriage and homosexual relations as “gravely evil.”

In their open letter to the pope, Cordileone’s critics say his morality-clause push is mean-spirited and “sets a pastoral tone that is closer to persecution than evangelization.”

The ad drew swift condemnation from the archdiocese, which said those who signed it don’t speak for San Francisco’s Catholic community

Council of cardinals has bishop accountability 'on the table'

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
April 15, 2015

The cardinals advising Pope Francis on reforming the church's central bureaucracy have discussed the issue of accountability for Catholic bishops who mishandle cases of clergy sexual abuse, the Vatican spokesman said Wednesday.

Addressing the latest meeting of the Council of Cardinals during a press briefing, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi said the prelates have put the issue "on the table" after being presented with it by Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley.

"It is not that they might have made a precise project or a document" on the issue, Lombardi said. "But the theme is explicitly, let's say, on the table of the C9, and the intention is now to find a way to proceed in the deepening of the competence in these cases."

The Council of Cardinals is a group of nine prelates advising the pope on reforming the Vatican bureaucracy, known as the Roman Curia. The council is frequently referred to as the C9.

O'Malley serves as a member of the cardinals' group and is also the president of the new Vatican commission on clergy sexual abuse.

The question of accountability for bishops who mishandle abuse cases has long been seen as the most unresolved issue in the church's response to clergy sexual abuse.

The issue has come up again in recent days as four members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors came to Rome on Sunday to meet with O'Malley to express concerns about the appointment of a Chilean bishop accused of covering up abuse.

After that meeting, commission members told NCR that O'Malley promised to pass on their concerns about Bishop Juan Barros Madrid to Pope Francis in coming days.

Lombardi said Wednesday that the cardinals' group spoke specifically about "abuse of office, of neglect of responsibility" by leaders in the church in reporting abuse. He said those leaders included "bishops, priests, religious superiors."

"This is a subject that I have heard spoken of," the spokesman said, describing the cardinals' meetings. "The question remains open; namely, how to confront these cases in an efficacious way."

Barros was installed as the bishop of Osorno, Chile, last month amid protests in the cathedral. Chilean survivors say that as a priest, Barros not only worked to cover up abuse by Fr. Fernando Karadima, but witnessed some of the abuse as it happened. In 2011, the Vatican found Karadima, a once-renowned spiritual leader and key Chilean church figure, guilty of sexually abusing minors.

The Council of Cardinals met Monday through Wednesday at the Vatican. It is the ninth meeting of the group, which Francis first assembled in 2013.

The cardinals are discussing reorganization of the various Vatican offices in view of the likely publication of a new constitution for the organization of the Curia. Lombardi said Wednesday that reorganization is still going forward but the new constitution should not be expected in coming months.

The spokesman said the cardinals had also talked about a recent review of the various communications offices of the Vatican and suggested that there might be creation of a new commission to continue that review.

Lombardi said the cardinals are also still discussing the idea for the creation of two new large Vatican congregations dealing with the realms of justice and charity and with laity and family. Pontifical councils, not congregations, currently cover those areas.

The Vatican bureaucracy is split between 12 such councils and nine congregations. The congregations are normally considered more powerful, as they handle matters like church doctrine and appointment of bishops.

Lombardi said the next meeting of the cardinals' council would be held June 8-10 and would be followed by similar meetings in September and December.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Pope Francis uses 'genocide' for killing of Armenians

Jethro Mullin
April 12, 2015

Pope Francis risked Turkish anger on Sunday by using the word "genocide" to refer to the mass killings of Armenians a century ago under the Ottoman Empire.

"In the past century, our human family has lived through three massive and unprecedented tragedies," the Pope said at a Mass at St. Peter's Basilica to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian massacres.

"The first, which is widely considered 'the first genocide of the 20th century,' struck your own Armenian people," he said, referencing a 2001 declaration by Pope John Paul II and the head of the Armenian church.

His use of the term genocide -- even though he was quoting from the declaration -- upset Turkey.

The nation summoned its ambassador to the Vatican for "consultations" just hours after Francis' comments, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. Earlier, Turkey summoned the ambassador from the Vatican for a meeting, Turkish state broadcaster TRT reported.

Turkey's former ambassador to the Vatican, Kenan Gursoy, told CNN in a telephone interview that while it is the first time Turkey has summoned its ambassador home from the Vatican, "This does not mean that our diplomatic ties with the Vatican are over."

"Since this is a situation that we do not approve of, as a first reaction, (the ambassador) is summoned to get consultation," Gursoy said, adding that the Pope's use of the word "genocide" was "a one-sided evaluation."

In a tweet Sunday on his official account, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called the Pope's use of the word "unacceptable" and "out of touch with both historical facts and legal basis."

"Religious offices are not places through which hatred and animosity are fueled by unfounded allegations," the tweet reads.

More than a million massacred

Armenian groups and many scholars say that Turks planned and carried out genocide, starting in 1915, when more than a million ethnic Armenians were massacred in the final years of the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey officially denies that a genocide took place, saying hundreds of thousands of Armenian Christians and Turkish Muslims died in intercommunal violence around the bloody battlefields of World War I.

The Armenian government and influential Armenian diaspora groups have urged countries around the world to formally label the 1915 events as genocide. Turkey has responded with pressure of its own against such moves.

Pope Francis said Sunday that "Catholic and Orthodox Syrians, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Greeks" were also killed in the bloodshed a century ago.

He said Nazism and Stalinism were responsible for the other two "massive and unprecedented tragedies" of the past century.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Cardinal to religious: those who abandon Vatican II are 'killing themselves'

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
April 9, 2015

The cardinal who leads the Vatican's congregation for religious life told members of religious orders globally that they must live their vocations "inserted" into the world, not closing themselves off to new things but open to changes of modern life.

Brazilian Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, speaking to a first-of-its-kind congress of many of the world's religious formation directors, also warned the religious against trying to abandon the changes in the church brought about by the Second Vatican Council.

"We feel today new geographical and cultural contexts that manifest in intense ways," Braz de Aviz said Wednesday to some 1,200 formation directors at the Rome conference.

"The contexts have changed," he said. "We are disoriented. In our identity, we are a bit insecure. We need a new deepening, a new pausing, a new listening."

Continuing, the cardinal told the formation directors: "Do not distance yourself from the great lines of the Second Vatican Council."

"In fact, those that are distancing themselves from the council to make another path are killing themselves -- sooner or later, they will die," Braz de Aviz said. "They will not have sense. They will be outside the church. We need to build, using the Gospel and the council as a departure point."

The Brazilian, who is the prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, spoke at the opening of the conference, which is being held Wednesday through Saturday at a Rome-area hotel.

The Second Vatican Council was a 1962-65 global meeting of Catholic bishops that led to many reforms in the church, such as using vernacular language during the liturgy, but has sometimes also been a flashpoint of discussion about whether and how the church can change.

Braz de Aviz told the formation directors that they must know that the needs of people considering religious life in today's age "are not the same" as when the founders of their orders first received their charism, or fundamental characteristic, of the orders.

"These contexts have changed," the cardinal said. "And the council reminds us that consecrated life must be Christian discipleship ... must be discipleship of the founders that we remember, but also must be open to the culture of the present moment."

"When we look only to the past and are not perceiving this moment that we are passing through, we run the risk of not being understood," he continued. "Also, [we risk] having [kept] inside ourselves a unique treasure like the consecrated life."

Developing his thoughts later on the role of discernment in community life, Braz de Aviz told the formation directors: "We must not be closed to new things."

"God is not static," the cardinal said. "God is always new movement -- of light, of heat, of demonstration. He speaks in every time to men and women with the true language of that time."

The Rome conference is one of several events the Vatican congregations will hold to mark the Year of Consecrated Life, called by Pope Francis and being held through the beginning of 2016.

The conference, which has the theme "Living in Christ according to the way of life of the Gospel," will see almost a dozen presentations on various aspects of religious formation, or preparing and working with people who feel called to enter religious orders or institutes.

Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, the Vatican congregation's secretary, said in brief remarks Wednesday that the conference was the first of its kind, calling together religious formation directors from many parts of the world.

Rodríguez said just under 1,200 people were attending, with a fairly even split between the five languages being used at the event -- English, Italian, Spanish, French and Portuguese.

Braz de Aviz spoke for nearly 40 minutes, giving a wide overview in his remarks of the themes of the consecrated life year, a letter to religious order members from Francis, and on the struggles particularly facing orders and their formation directors.

A primary question faced by orders: "What are the fundamentals of our identity?"

"There is a trademark of this that is very significant," he told the directors. "Namely, this consecrated life is in the church; it is not only within its own charism. In the world, not only outside the world -- even for the monastic life."

"This is the first point that is important for us, this context in which the identity is made," the cardinal continued. "A consecrated life, a life in God but inserted in the ecclesial family, in the church -- inserted in the world."

"Not in conflict with the world, but inserted in continuity," he said.

During his remarks, Rodríguez also referred to the Second Vatican Council, saying that the theme of the event was taken from one of the council's documents: Perfectae Caritatis, the 1965 decree on the renewal of religious life.

"With this explicit reference to the Second Vatican Council, we point to our profound conviction that the council is the point of reference, non-negotiable, in the formation to the consecrated life," Rodríguez said.

The archbishop also thanked the religious formation directors at length for their ministry, which he called "sacred, non-substitutable, and precious."

Rodríguez said their work was sacred because they are forming people to be like Christ. "In your ministry, remember always that you have in hand a precious vase," he told the directors.

The archbishop said the directors' work is precious. "You are bridge-builders between the liberty of that God that calls and the liberty of men and women who respond."

"You were chosen as collaborators of God in the great work to help our young people learn the way of Christ, to assimilate the thoughts and feelings of Christ," Rodríguez told the directors. "You have in your hands the present that gives the future of your institutes and therefore of your charisms."

The archbishop also told them that they must have three passions: to listen, to give hospitality, and be communities of communion.

"A formation director is a person that more than speaking must listen," Rodríguez said. "May you be men and women of listening, dedicating most of your time to listening, knowing that to learn to listen you must have a real awareness of yourself."

"Remember that the protagonist in formation is not you, but God that calls and the young person that responds," he said.

Another speaker Wednesday reflected on the theological background of religious life, focusing on St. Paul's writing that Christians should "have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus."

Reflecting particularly on the image of the Trinity, theologian Michelina Tenace said the Trinity shows how vocation is fulfilled in giving of self.

"What makes us different is our way of becoming gifts to each other, and in this gift, we can grow in different ways thanks to love," said Tenace, a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

"Formation needs to encourage people to give of themselves," she said.

One participant of the international conference said Wednesday he already finds it helpful.

"I think it is a great help for those who are involved in formation, because each person has his own difficulties and his own experiences but now has the possibility of sharing to discover that others are going through the same difficulties," said Capuchin Fr. Theo Jansen.

Jansen, a Dutch native who has lived in Rome for decades for his order, also said he appreciated the speakers' focus on diversity in the church.

"The principle of unity in diversity is very important," he said. "Because until now in the Catholic faith, many times, unity meant uniformity."

"Now we are discovering that is ... not wrong but very limited," Jansen said.