Friday, July 31, 2015

Pope Francis: 'Facts are more important than ideas'

Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ
National Catholic Reporter
July 31, 2015

"Facts are more important than ideas" is a statement from Pope Francis that one would have never heard from Popes Benedict XVI or John Paul II.

It is not that Pope Francis is dumb or an anti-intellectual. He is well-read and thoughtful, but by no stretch of the imagination can he be called a scholar. His training as a scientist and his life experience make him approach theory in a different way than John Paul and Benedict. It also helps explain his approach to the environment in Laudato Si'.

John Paul was trained first as a philosopher and then as a theologian, and as a priest, he taught ethics at a university. He wrote in a style that was not easily digested. Benedict was trained in theology and became one of the leading theologians of his generation. Both wrote scholarly books that promoted a particular perspective.

On the other hand, Francis' initial training prior to entering the seminary was as a chemist. He never finished his doctorate in theology. He is what academics refer to as ABD, "all but dissertation." He never wrote scholarly books. He was a wide-ranging consumer of theology, not the proponent of a particular view.

For John Paul the philosopher and Benedict the theologian, ideas were paramount. But for Francis the scientist and pastor, facts really matter.

For John Paul and Benedict, if reality does not reflect the ideal, then reality must change, whereas for Francis, if facts and theory clash, he, like a good scientist, is willing to question the theory.

The personal histories of these three popes also marked them. For John Paul, it was the experience of a church under siege, first by the Nazis and then by the communists. Church unity was paramount in such a struggle. Even after the fall of communism, his model of the church was still that of a church under siege, except now the enemy was much of Western culture -- relativism, consumerism, etc.

Likewise, Benedict was influenced first by the Second Vatican Council and then by the upheaval that followed it and the 1968 student riots, which reminded him of the Nazi Brownshirts of his youth. As with John Paul, unity and order were important values.

As a teacher of graduate students and a director of dissertations, Benedict spent much of his time guiding and correcting students. He did not interact all that well with his theological colleagues. It was not surprising that as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he saw his job as guiding and correcting theologians whom he treated like graduate students, not intellectual equals.

Francis, on the other hand, as a young priest was quickly thrust into the spiritual formation of young Jesuits and became director of novices, provincial and rector of the Jesuit seminary. He dealt with people, not ideas; discernment, not logic, was the guiding principle.

This experience of Jesuit governance was rewarding but not irenic. He experienced conflict and failure. He acknowledges that he was too young for the authority he was given and that he made mistakes. He learned that he needed to listen and consult before making decisions. He brought these learned lessons to his work as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he spent much of his time with people in the slums.

Francis also lived in Argentina at a time when there was a clash of ideologies going on, and he grew to hate ideological thinking. I define an ideology as a system by which we ignore data and experience in order to preserve our opinions. Peronism, communism, and libertarian capitalism were fighting for power. The military, following the idea of the national security state, violently suppressed all opposition.

At the same time, while John Paul experienced communism as a foreign oppressor, Francis met communism as a young man in the person of his first boss and mentor, whom he admired and with whom he maintained friendship for life. He learned early that a communist could be a good person.

Pope Francis is uncomfortable with ideologies on the left and the right. He was critical of certain forms of liberation theology because they incorporated Marxist analysis and supported violent revolution. He felt that these theologians were imposing their ideas on the poor rather than listening to their views.

But Francis is even more critical of libertarian capitalism, which blindly claims that all boats would rise with the tide of economic growth, because the people he met in the slums of Buenos Aires were in fact drowning without boats.

All of this background influenced the writing of Francis' encyclical Laudato Si'. Rather than starting with philosophy and theology, the first chapter of the encyclical starts with science. What are the facts?

The pope and his collaborators began by consulting widely with the scientific community. What is happening to the environment? They went to the scientific community not to argue with it, but to learn from it. If there was a consensus in the scientific community, they accepted it.

Although the church gets a bad rap for Galileo, in fact, the Catholic church has been a supporter of science through the centuries (Jesuit astronomers, Gregor Mendel, Georges Lemaître, etc.). This was grounded in Catholic theology that argued that there can be no conflict between faith and reason because both are from God.

This does not mean that there were not bumps along the road (Galileo, Darwin, Freud), but Catholicism was usually able to reconcile itself with new science faster than those for whom the Bible was the only source of authority. Today, conflict is over how science is used, not over what science discovers.

What did the pope learn about the environment from scientists?

Chapter 1 of the encyclical first reports on air pollution: "Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes mil­lions of premature deaths." Pollution is "caused by transport, industrial fumes, substances which contribute to the acidification of soil and water, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and agrotoxins in general."

Then the chapter moves on to the pollution caused by waste. "Each year hundreds of millions of tons of waste are generated, much of it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive, from homes and businesses, from construction and demolition sites, from clinical, electronic and industrial sources."

The pope also learned that "a very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system" and that "a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity."

Chapter 1 includes a discussion of how global warming can lead to melting of glaciers and polar ice, rising sea levels, and the release of methane gas from the decom­position of frozen organic material. It also notes that "carbon dioxide pollution increases the acidification of the oceans and compromises the marine food chain."

"If present trends continue," the encyclical states, "this century may well witness extraordinary cli­mate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us."

Chapter 1 devotes an entire section to the loss of biodiversity, its causes and consequences. "Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity." These are resources that will not be available to future generations.

The encyclical reports on polluted water supplies, dying coral reefs, and deforestation. It summarizes the current thinking of scientists about environmental issues.

Later in the encyclical, Francis writes, "Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leav­ing to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and envi­ronmental change has so stretched the planet's capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsus­tainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes."

Facts matter when it comes to the environment, which is why Francis begins his encyclical with a presentation of the scientific consensus on the state of the environment and where we are going. These facts present the world with a moral dilemma that will be explicated later in the encyclical.

Facts, in Francis' universe, should not be twisted to fit our ideas. Rather, facts can force us to change our ideas. For example, what it means to be a Christian in the 21st century must change when confronted with environmental crisis we face.

' In rigorism there is an innate brutality that goes against God' says Cottier

Vatican Insider
July 30, 2015

“In rigorism there is an innate brutality that goes against the gentle way God has of guiding each person,” says the Dominican Georges Cottier, pontifical Theologian Emeritus (he was appointed to this position by John Paul II and his “mandate” extended by Benedict XVI) in an interview with the director of Italian Jesuit periodical La Civiltà Cattolica, Fr. Antonio Spadaro. The theme of the interview – which will appear in the next issue of the fortnightly periodical – was mercy given the upcoming Synod and Jubilee. La Civiltà Cattolica also interviewed Jean Miguel Garrigues, another Dominican theologian in recent months.

“Mercy is doctrine, It is the crux of Christian doctrine,” the Swiss cardinal said. “Only a narrow-minded person can defend legalism and imagine that mercy and doctrine are two separate things. In this sense, today’s Church has realised that no one, no matter what their position, can be left alone. We need to guide people, both righteous and sinners.

Cottier said “it seems that people of today no longer feel the need for marriage, a public commitment for life. By now cohabiting seems to be a private thing that is always open to change.” From a Christian point of view, marriage is “the elevation of a natural institution to the dignity of a sacrament. It does not mean that a supernatural element should be added to a reality that essentially remains natural; it means that sacramentality gives this reality – which then presents itself as a material cause – a new form, a new essence and identity. One may ask oneself,” the Theologian continued, “whether some representatives of ecclesial authority may have been influenced by the first concept when acting, as if the thing that requires the greatest attention is the support that one believes legislative structures of temporal society should give Christians in their ecclesial faith”. What concerns the Swiss theologian the most “is the fact that no real innovations have been introduced on an ecclesial level to implement a new pastoral care programme for marriage preparation that addresses the crisis in the sacrament. Current practice has become inadequate and often come across as a mere formality rather than an education towards a commitment for life.”

As far as the term “remarried divorcees” is concerned, the Theologian sees it as “unfortunate” from a canonical point of view: “It is too generic and is applied in fundamentally different situations. It indicates that one or more persons who have divorced from an indissoluble sacramental marriage, have entered into a civil marriage. This second marriage des not annul the first, neither does it substitute it, because the first remains the only marriage and the Church does not have the power to dissolve it. Pastoral judgement cannot ignore the origin of each of these two unions, it is purely a question of equity.” Cottier describes two very different cases which come under the “remarried divorcee” category: One case is that of a person who has been abandoned by their spouse and who holds custody of their children. This person meets someone who offers them help and security and the two marry. The other case involves a married person with adolescent children who “meets a younger and brilliant individual. They are carried away by passion, abandon their family, divorce and enter into a civil marriage” and “take part in parish life”: “These are different cases. The second one involves a “scandal”, while the first is linked to solitude, a difficulty is moving on, vulnerability, need, including for companionship”. “Generally, in every situation, justice requires certain important factors to be taken into account”: “The duty one has towards the abandoned spouse, who often remains faithful to their sacramental vows,” “the rights of the children born during the first and legitimate marriage” (“Strangely, the 2014 Synod focused little on this aspect, at least in terms of media coverage”).

What is needed instead, is “prudent judgement”. Cottier stated: “I believe that the solution to some problems should come from the prudent judgement of the bishop. I say this not without hesitation and doubt, seeing division between bishops. My claim refers first and foremost to certain situations where there is a big likelihood of the first marriage being null but it is difficult to provide canonical proof”. More generally, “in accordance with its pastoral mission, the Church always needs to be attentive to historical changes and the evolution of mentalities. Not because it should subordinate itself to these but in order to overcome the obstacles that can prevent others from embracing its advice and guidelines.”

According to Cottier, “the existential coordinates of peoples’ spiritual lives must be respected. “In rigorism there is an innate brutality that goes against the gentle way God has of guiding each person,” he added.

“There is no doubt” therefore “that the Year of Mercy will enlighten the work of the 2015 Synod and will shape it. There are still people who are scandalised by the Church, men and women who, due to a negative judgement which was expressed in an impersonal and insensitive way, have felt a terrible rejection. This is where confessors have a huge responsibility. Whenever they express a judgement and whatever this judgement is, it needs to be expressed and explained in a way that communicates the Church’s maternal concern. Pope Francis repeatedly speaks about the beauty and joy of Christian life which the Church needs to get across. Through the voice of its pastors, the Church must always show that it is guided by divine mercy,” Cottier concluded.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Defense reviewing evidence in former Los Banos priest's child porn case

Corey Pride
Los Banos Enterprise
July 29, 2015

A former Los Banos Catholic priest who has been charged with possession of child pornography appeared in court Wednesday.

The Rev. Robert Gamel entered the courtroom on crutches, nursing a left foot injury he suffered while hiking, according to his attorney Roger Litman. Gamel appeared in Merced Superior Court in Los Banos for a pre-preliminary hearing on a felony count of possession of matter depicting sexual conduct of a person under the age of 18.

If convicted, Gamel faces up to three years in jail or prison. He has pleaded not guilty.

Litman told Judge Harry Jacobs the prosecution is still in the process of providing discovery evidence and he needs more time before going forward with the case.

“We will need time to review those items, which to my understanding is at least four DVDs and some other evidence we’ve asked to view,” Litman said. “I have a plan as far as how to proceed, accomplish review of the items, and what needs to be done to prepare for the next appearance in this matter.”

Jacobs set Gamel’s next court appearance for Sept. 30 at 1:30 p.m. at the Robert M. Falasco Justice Center in Los Banos.

Gamel, 64, was arrested June 10, following a 10-month investigation by the Los Banos Police Department.

In August, church officials told police the now-former head of Los Banos’ St. Joseph’s Catholic Church may have obtained nude photographs of a teenage parishioner through the Internet, according to court records.

According to a search warrant affidavit, Gamel told other priests he had sought out nude photographs of the teenage boy, possibly from a social networking website. Gamel “bragged” to several people “about (his) anonymous Instagram account and how none of them would ever suspect who he was on Instagram,” the affidavit says.

The Rev. Guadalupe Rios told police that Gamel had informed him “that (the teenager) had posted nude photographs of himself on the Internet and that Gamel had located the photos and seen them firsthand.”

Gamel, who is commonly known around Los Banos as “Father Bob,” was removed from the church rectory on Center Avenue to a location where he reportedly ministered to senior citizens. Gamel is no longer working in the ministry pending the outcome of the criminal case.

Gamel is free on bond and, according to Litman, has stayed in Los Banos to fight the allegations.

San Francisco Catholic school teachers close to deal, but 'morality' fight goes on

Jill Tucker
San Francisco Chronicle
July 29, 2015

Teachers at four Catholic high schools emerged from an emotional and drawn-out contract battle this week with a tentative agreement that limits the ability of San Francisco’s archdiocese to link their private lives to their job description.

Yet amid the gains at the bargaining table, critics feared a morality war ignited by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone was not over. He has asserted that Catholic school teachers should never “contradict, undermine or deny” church doctrine — which opposes abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception — in or out of the classroom.

The archbishop’s push prompted protests in San Francisco. It raised the question of whether a gay teacher could be fired in one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world. And it played a central role in the labor negotiations.

With the current teacher contract set to expire Friday, teachers learned of the tentative contract late Tuesday, though final language is pending and a teacher vote has not been scheduled. The deal would give teachers at the four high schools under the archdiocese a raise and some assurance of job protection, even if their private lives don’t line up with church teachings. Cordileone had sparked outrage among hundreds of teachers, students and parents earlier this year when he proposed adding morality clauses to the contract and an employee handbook. It said sex outside marriage, homosexual relations, the viewing of pornography and masturbation are “gravely evil,” and that administrators, faculty and staff should “affirm and believe” the statements.

In a letter early this year to teachers at the four high schools, Cordileone wrote that the schools must buck the “tremendous pressure the contemporary culture places on everyone to conform to a certain agenda.”

Cordileone also sought in the contract to redesignate teachers, calling them ministers, a label that teachers said could give the archdiocese greater power in punishing or firing those whose words or actions contradicted Catholic doctrine.

But Cordileone backed off on both counts. The handbook has been put on a back burner pending community discussion in the upcoming school year, and any reference to teachers as ministers was removed from the contract.

More than 300 union members are under the archdiocese contract, teaching at Sacred Heart Cathedral and Riordan in San Francisco, Marin Catholic in Kentfield and Serra in San Mateo.

“We are grateful that the (archbishop) recognized the damage caused by the proposed changes and he decided on a different approach,” said Lisa Dole, union president and a social studies teacher at Marin Catholic. “We urge that he keeps listening to the men and women, union and nonunion, who work at our four high schools.”

Both sides, however, agreed to include language clearly stating that “the purpose of Catholic schools is to affirm Catholic values,” and that “teachers are expected to support the purpose of our Catholic schools in such a way that their personal conduct will not adversely impact their ability to teach in our Catholic high schools.”

But disputes over teacher conduct on and off the job would be subject to grievance procedures, offering teachers increased protection should their personal or professional actions be questioned, according to the tentative agreement.

The new contract would also give teachers up to a 2 percent raise each year of the three-year contract, the amount varying a bit among the schools.

“We strongly believe there are no remaining issues between the negotiating teams to be dealt with,” said Mike Brown, spokesman for archdiocese. “The ball is in the union's court. We're optimistic and unaware of any further negotiating points that must be discussed.”

It might not be a done deal, though.

The agreement heading toward a teacher vote has not assuaged the concerns of vocal critics who say Cordileone has shown the community his cards and could still play them in the future — firing or punishing teachers for being gay, for example, or having a child through artificial insemination.

While the contract doesn’t say teachers are ministers, federal law and legal precedent offer religious institutions “ministerial exemption” from anti-discrimination laws, giving them wide berth in who they hire and fire. Cordileone could claim that exemption. “We celebrate the fact that we've been able to stop him to date,” said Kathy Curran, a parent at Sacred Heart and one of the founders of, a group formed to oppose the archbishop’s proposals.

Still, behind it all is a “homophobic and anti-union agenda” that remains, she said. “We hold onto the fact that we've been able to stave this off to date.”

Dole called on union members to consider the new contract language carefully.

“The reality of the situation is that teachers are considered role models whether they are in a public, private, or religious school,” she said in a letter to teachers. “As such if personal conduct becomes public and is viewed as adversely impacting the school, the teacher can be disciplined or terminated. That is established case law.”

There is no 100 percent protection from the ministerial exemption, no matter what’s in the contract, she said.

What the union won at the bargaining table, however, was a guarantee that the archbishop would have to prove that any action by a teacher adversely impacted the classroom. The action itself, Dole emphasized, couldn’t be grounds for discipline or dismissal. “While we still have to work ahead in order to get our tentative agreement ratified by our members, I am confident that we will,” she said. “And I am proud of the work that we have done to reach an agreement.

Advocates seek Vatican inquiry of Newark, NJ archbishop

Rachel Zoll
Associated Press
July 29, 2015

Priests, nuns and canon lawyers who advocate for molestation victims urged Pope Francis on Wednesday to use the new Vatican tribunal he formed on negligent bishops to investigate the archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, who has long been accused of sheltering abusive priests.

The plea comes as Francis prepares for his first visit to the U.S. in September, a trip which will take place against the backdrop of the broad unfinished business of the molestation scandal. The crisis erupted in 2002 with the case of one pedophile priest in the Archdiocese of Boston before spreading nationwide, then engulfing the Roman Catholic Church.

The advocates, who call themselves the Catholic Whistleblowers, said they will present evidence to the Vatican that Archbishop John Myers has been persistently hostile toward people who come forward with abuse allegations, and had left guilty clerics in parishes in the Newark archdiocese and in his previous post as bishop of Peoria, Illinois. Myers has repeatedly defended his record, noting that he has removed many guilty priests, but he has been dogged by revelations about cases bungled on his watch in both states.

"When Pope Francis last month announced the new tribunal, instantly — within 24 hours — we were saying, 'Myers has to be one,'" said the Rev. James Connell, a canon lawyer and retired priest from Milwaukee, who is part of the whistleblower group. "It's a place to start."

Three American dioceses — Gallup, New Mexico, Milwaukee and St. Paul and Minneapolis — are in bankruptcy court trying to limit settlements with victims and preserve church assets; the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is being prosecuted on charges of failing to protect children from a now-convicted priest, and the Diocese of Honolulu is facing a raft of new claims after Hawaii lawmakers temporarily abolished time limits on lawsuits over child sex abuse.

Francesco Cesareo, president of Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, and head of the National Review Board, a panel formed by the U.S. bishops to monitor child safety in dioceses, said accountability for bishops is the most pressing issue for restoring trust, after revelations that church leaders for decades had moved guilty clerics from parish to parish without warning parents or alerting police.

Hundreds of accused clergymen have been barred from serving as priests under the reforms the U.S. bishops enacted following intense public pressure in 2002, but there has been no direct penalty for bishops who covered up allegations and kept the clerics on the job.

A few prelates have stepped down. Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, Missouri, resigned last April, three years after he was convicted of failure to report suspected child abuse by a now-imprisoned priest. Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis also resigned this year — just days after the Vatican announced the new tribunal and after prosecutors filed child endangerment charges against the archdiocese. Nienstedt said he wanted to give the archdiocese a "new beginning." Nienstedt is also accused of misconduct with adults. He said he left his post with "a clear conscience."

"The problem is that every time a new incident emerges, it erodes the good work that the bishops have done," Cesareo said in a phone interview.

In Newark, Jim Goodness, a spokesman for Myers, said the archbishop has been "very aggressive" in pursuing abuse claims and has removed 19 accused priests from ministry since he was installed in Newark in 2002.

But the archbishop came under heavy criticism in 2013 after news reports that now defrocked priest Michael Fugee, who had been accused of groping a teenage boy, attended youth retreats and heard confessions from minors despite an agreement with prosecutors and an archdiocesan official barring him from contact with minors. The archdiocese also had privately allowed another priest who had been removed over molestation claims to live in the rectory of a church with a school and youth groups.

In Peoria, Larry and Helen Rainforth, whose son Lance was among 13 people who received settlements from that diocese over abuse by former priest Norman Goodman, said Myers threatened people who came forward with libel lawsuits and excommunication.

Within about two months of taking over from Myers in Illinois, Bishop Daniel Jenky ousted several accused priests, a development that Connell and others point to as evidence of Myers' negligence. (Goodness said he did not have information about specific claims from Peoria.)

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said it was "premature" to comment on what cases would be considered by the tribunal, which he said has not yet been organized.

Francis' decision last month to form the tribunal was his biggest step yet toward tackling that issue. The pope has said he takes personal responsibility for the "evil" of priests who raped children. He formed an advisory commission on protecting young people led by Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley and including abuse victims. A year ago, he met with European victims at the Vatican, begging for their forgiveness.

Nothing on the official Vatican itinerary for the pope's U.S. trip starting Sept. 22 indicates Francis plans to address the issue. Still, he is widely expected to do so in some forum.

In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI, on his only trip to the U.S. as pontiff, held an unannounced private meeting with a few victims in the chapel of the papal embassy in Washington. The extraordinary gathering, revealed only after it was over, had been organized by O'Malley. Don Clemmer, a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said of any meeting of Francis and American victims, "we would not be able to confirm such an event until it had already taken place."

Francis will end his three-city tour in Philadelphia, where a 2011 grand jury investigation threw the archdiocese into turmoil. The panel alleged about three-dozen offending priests were still working in the archdiocese. The then archbishop, Cardinal Justin Rigali, retired a few months later.

In 2012, Monsignor William Lynn, who had overseen Philadelphia clergy for about a dozen years ending in 2004, was convicted of felony child endangerment for covering up abuse claims. In an awkward moment for organizers of Francis' trip, after the Vatican announced he would visit a prison in Philadelphia, it was learned that Lynn was housed there. He has since been moved.

Bernie McDaid, now 59, of Marblehead, Massachusetts, was among victims at the 2008 meeting with Benedict, which McDaid said had made him "hopeful" that the Vatican was ready to acknowledge the scope of the problem. But he said now, such a meeting with Francis would serve no purpose, because it would be symbolic and not substantive.

"It's already been done," said McDaid, who argued church leaders continue to treat victims poorly. "They want to say, 'This is over.'"

McDaid said he'd be more encouraged if the pope came to Boston and told the church, "We still have a long way to go."

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Diocese wants to hold 'bling' bishop accountable for excesses

Tom Heneghan
Religion News Service
July 24, 2015

A German Catholic diocese wants to take episcopal responsibility to a new level by making its disgraced former “bishop of bling” responsible for the 3.9 million euros ($4.9 million) in losses incurred during the luxury makeover of his residence and office.

Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst earned the “bling” label in 2013 when aides revealed he had spent 31 million euros ($34 million) — over six times the original estimate — on the stately complex opposite the Romanesque cathedral in Limburg, north of Frankfurt.

The Vatican banished him from the diocese several months later and, subsequently, quietly reassigned him to a low-profile post in the Roman Curia. He seemed to be going the way of other failed bishops, such as the few punished in the clerical sexual abuse scandals by being removed from their dioceses.

Any costs incurred in those abuse cases, such as compensation for victims, were left to the diocese to pay. Twelve U.S. dioceses overwhelmed by such claims have filed for bankruptcy protection.

The Limburg diocese, which was kept in the dark while Tebartz-van Elst paid out millions from an off-the-books fund only he controlled, has discovered the losses in the building scandal and wants its money back. It is now in discussions with the Vatican to see if and how it can make him pay.

When it opened in June 2013, the diocese said the Saint Nicholas Diocesan Center had cost almost 10 million euros ($11 million) to build, about twice the original price.

The diocese’s finance officials, its priests council and lay leaders promptly demanded to see the bills and the media began uncovering details the secretive bishop could not explain.

It turned out no expense had been spared on restoring the center’s 16th-century “Old Vicarage” and erecting a stark new modernist building behind it. The complex boasted a private chapel that alone cost 2.9 million euros ($3.2 million) to build, a conference table worth 25,000 euros ($27,400) and a free-standing bathtub in the bishop’s residence with a price tag of 15,000 euros ($16,500).

After two months of uproar in parishes and the press, Pope Francis sent a senior Vatican diplomat to investigate the bishop, who clearly hadn’t understood the pope’s “poor church for the poor” message. Tebartz-van Elst was banished from his diocese that October. Only 53 at the time, he later resigned and, after several months out of sight, quietly re-emerged as an official in the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.

Auxiliary Bishop Manfred Grothe, whom the Vatican appointed as an apostolic administrator for Limburg until a new bishop is chosen, has led a thorough investigation of the construction scandal and found the overall bill included 3.9 million euros of outright losses that had to be written off. Tebartz-van Elst ran up the bill by demanding late and costly changes, requiring earlier work to be scrapped, and ordering design studies that were not used.

READ: Pope Francis to open homeless shelter a few steps from Vatican walls

“The apostolic administrator has raised canon law questions and the issue of material compensation in talks at the Vatican several times, the last being in April 2015. There will be another meeting on this topic in the autumn,” diocesan spokesman Stephan Schnelle said in a statement on Thursday.

“The decision about whether payment demands can be made of the bishop emeritus, including how much and how, can only be made in cooperation with the Vatican. In principle, the Holy See is responsible in cases of legal action against a bishop.”

Schnelle made clear that the Limburg diocese had kept the Vatican fully informed about its investigation and has not brought canon law charges against Tebartz-van Elst in a Vatican court. It was also still trying to establish the full extent of the losses written off.

The diocese was also reviewing the pension it pays its former bishop, Schnelle said, without commenting on media reports that Tebartz-van Elst received the sum of 7,000 euros ($7,700) a month from Limburg in addition to his monthly Vatican salary of about 3,000 euros ($3,300). “The pension agreement provides for an adjustment if a new salary is paid. The diocese is also discussing this with the Vatican,” he said.

Tebartz-van Elst, a strict conservative cleric who was fined for lying under oath about another scandal concerning a first-class flight he took to India, was able to spend so much money without supervision because he took most of it from a special unreported fund that many German bishops have at their disposal.

These reserves, known as the Bischoeflicher Stuhl (“bishop’s chair”), are diocesan nest eggs that are neither taxed nor mentioned in the annual financial reports where dioceses list how much they receive in revenues, donations and the special German church tax on parishioners.

Richer dioceses — usually in western Germany — have age-old properties, donations from former princely rulers and revenues from real estate investments tucked away in these funds that only the bishop and a few advisers have access to. Dioceses in the former communist eastern states have much less to fall back on.

Before the Limburg uproar, only two of Germany’s 27 dioceses had revealed how much wealth was hidden in their reserves. Many didn’t even have full records, or undervalued their holdings because they never had to report them. But under pressure from the “bling” scandal, they slowly began publishing reports of their overall wealth.

Cologne, long reputed to be Germany’s richest diocese, revealed in February 2015 an overall worth of 3.35 billion euros ($3.7 billion), more than the Vatican’s known wealth at the time. (New Vatican financial standards have since uncovered over 1 billion euros that were previously undeclared.) Its “bishop’s chair” held 166.2 million euros ($181.8 million) in 2012.

Limburg said that its “bishop’s chair,” which provided most of the funds Tebartz-van Elst spent, was worth 92.5 million euros ($101.2 million) at the end of 2013.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Call to priesthood 'not the same' as call to celibacy says senior Catholic academic

Christa Pongratz-Lippett
The Voice
July 24, 2015

The dean-elect of Salzburg University’s Catholic theological faculty has called for married priests and women deacons in the Church. “Married priests and women deacons should be reintroduced as soon as possible. That would bring new dynamism to the Church”, the future dean of Salzburg University’s Catholic theological faculty, Professor Dietmar Winkler, told the Austrian daily Salzburger Nachrichten.

The interview was published during the Salzburg Festival and immediately hit the headlines. Professor Winkler said he could not see why men who felt called to the priesthood should be forced to remain celibate. Asceticism, which Religious felt called to, was a charism that could not be forced on people, while compulsory celibacy was not introduced for several hundred years and then for diverse reasons - one of which was to prevent imperial dynasties from inheriting church possessions.

Asked what would happen if priests who had married were to get divorced, Professor Winkler replied that there were many priests who failed to remain celibate. “Jesus came to the broken and not to the perfect”, he recalled. The Orthodox Church had found a good solution, he recalled, allowing married priests and under certain conditions remarriage in church after divorce.

According to present Catholic teaching, partners of a second marriage lived in permanent sin. “I think that is really wrong and this question will be a crunch point at the Synod in October. Discussion of marriage theology is a must”. The issue of women priests was “theologically complicated” but women deacons “which is well documented up to the Middle Ages” should be reintroduced as soon as possible, he said. Professor Winkler, 52, was appointed adviser to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity by Pope Benedict XVI and confirmed in this office by Pope Francis. He is also adviser to Congregation for the Oriental Churches.

San Francisco's 'teachers as ministers' debate continues, this time in judiciary hearing

Mandy Erikson
National Catholic Reporter
July 24, 2015

A Catholic school that recruits non-Catholic students, promises not to proselytize, and follows a curriculum approved by the state may not be able to hide behind religious freedom rights, a lawyer said at a state assembly hearing.

"These Catholic schools have entered the public square," Kathleen Purcell said about the four Bay Area high schools whose teachers are in an employment dispute with San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone.

Purcell, a former teacher at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif., and a constitutional lawyer, said the schools "have to decide who they are." Are they religious institutions that cater to students of a particular faith and teach according to that faith, or are they private schools that adhere to state standards and welcome students of all religions?

"They want it all," Purcell said of the archdiocese.

Purcell and three other lawyers spoke at a California State Assembly judiciary hearing Thursday in San Francisco. Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) requested the hearing.

Calling the four high schools -- Archbishop Riordan High School and Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in San Francisco, Marin Catholic High School in Kentfield and Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo -- "extremely prestigious," Ting said the schools "have a history of graduating many leaders in the Bay Area and California."

Ting said he called the hearing -- the purpose of which was to gather information about the controversy -- because he was worried about the impact of the archbishop's proposed changes on the schools.

Earlier this year, Cordileone inserted a morality clause into the teacher handbook that described homosexuality, reproductive technology, masturbation and other behavior as "gravely evil" and added that teachers are expected to follow the Catholic church's teaching in their private as well as professional lives. The archdiocese later rewrote the clause to tone down the language, but maintained that teachers would be reclassified as ministers.

The lawyers debated the significance of the ministerial classification on employment protection as well as its importance for religious freedom. Leslie Griffin, a law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said the ministerial classification is a "silver bullet" for employers.

"It's a big exception," she said: Discrimination laws apply "unless an employee is a minister."

Jeffrey Berman, an attorney with Seyfarth Shaw in Los Angeles, agreed that being classified as a minister is an exception to laws barring discrimination but said, "It's just another exemption."

The minister classification has applied to administrators, kosher cooks and choir directors, said Berman, who represents religious organizations. "Teachers qualify because they are role models in fulfilling the religious mission of the school."

Michael Blacher, whose firm, Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, represents private schools in California, added that the purpose of many of his religious school clients, whether Christian, Islamic or Jewish, is to promote the faith. The schools hire teachers who can carry out that task, he said.

But Purcell noted that many Catholic schools, including the four archdiocesan schools, make a point of reassuring non-Catholic parents that they do not pressure students to convert. In addition, a large portion of the student body is non-Catholic, and the schools actively recruit students who are not Catholic.

Purcell added that the archdiocesan schools are accredited by the University of California, which requires that religion classes, for example, teach objectively about religion and that science classes teach evolution. Some Catholic schools in the state are not accredited by the university.

Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), chairman of the judiciary committee, asked the lawyers: If a school adheres to state accreditation standards but requires teachers to follow Catholic values in their private lives, "aren't these morality clauses being arbitrarily enforced?"

Berman responded that some of the institutions his firm represents have made decisions to forgo government funds, for example, in order to remain true to their faith. "My clients anguish over these decisions."

As Stone and Ting noted in their opening remarks, the legal questions regarding the archbishop's actions boil down to religious freedoms versus labor rights. Agreeing that those rights were clashing in the archbishop's proposals, the lawyers provided arguments for both sides. Blacher said from the schools his firm represents, "one refrain I keep hearing is how fortunate they are to live in a country that protects their religious freedoms."

Yet Griffin warned that religious freedom is not absolute. Noting that children are protected from sex abuse by religious leaders, she asked, Shouldn't employees receive protections?

"Contracts that ask people to give up their constitutional rights are problematic," she said.

After the discussion by the lawyers and the lawmakers, two dozen people from the audience of 100 or so condemned the archbishop's moves to change the teacher contract. Teachers, students, parents and community members said they were worried about the morality clause's effect on students who are LGBT or who were conceived through artificial means.

For gay kids who come from conservative families, said Gregg Cassin, who counsels gay youth at The Shanti Project in San Francisco, "the schools are a sanctuary. The teachers open up their rooms, and it's a safe place for them."

Mike Brown, director of communications for the archdiocese, attended the hearing but did not speak. He later wrote in an email that Berman and Blacher "well represented the perspective of all religious employers."

He added that the labor negotiations "are ongoing and it is important to respect the seriousness and confidentiality of those negotiations."

Ting concluded the meeting by saying, "We don't believe when you enter these schools you leave part of yourself at the door. I think we want to make sure that all the rights we have fought for are continued."

"We're trying to strike a balance and be respectful" of an institution's religion, he continued. "But people have their rights."

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Pope Francis' US approval rates slump sharply, led by conservative dismay

David Gibson
Religion News Service
July 23, 2015

Growing conservative disaffection with Pope Francis appears to be taking a toll on his once Teflon-grade popularity in the U.S., with a new Gallup poll showing the pope's favorability rating among all Americans dropping to 59 percent from a 76 percent peak early last year.

Among conservatives, the drop-off has been especially sharp: Just 45 percent view Francis favorably today, as opposed to 72 percent a year ago.

"This decline may be attributable to the pope's denouncing of 'the idolatry of money' and attributing climate change partially to human activity, along with his passionate focus on income inequality -- all issues that are at odds with many conservatives' beliefs," Gallup analyst Art Swift wrote Wednesday when the survey was published.

But liberal fervor for the Argentine pope, who was elected to great acclaim in March 2013, has also cooled, dropping an average of 14 points.

Some observers have predicted that many who embraced the pope's candor and his views on a range of social justice issues would temper their ardor as they realized he would not change church teachings on hot-button issues such as abortion, contraception or gay marriage.

Another major factor is that the number of those who expressed "no opinion" about the pope or said they don't know enough about him rose from 16 percent to 25 percent. That may be linked to fewer magazine cover stories on the pope or more critical stories.

The poll comes just as American Catholics are set to welcome the pope in September for his first visit to the U.S. It essentially returns Francis to approval levels he had in the first months after his election.

The fall-off appears to be relatively recent: A Pew Research Center survey from February showed Francis' approval rating among all Americans at 70 percent and at a remarkable 90 percent among all Catholics.

That number had been steadily increasing, among Republicans and conservatives, as well, despite their concerns that Francis was not stressing issues such as abortion while highlighting social justice themes.

But the Gallup poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points for results based on the total sample, was conducted earlier this month in the middle of Francis' visit to three countries in Latin America during which he delivered some of his most powerful remarks on economic justice and environmental protection.

That prompted Western journalists on the papal plane, with a view to Francis' upcoming U.S. visit, to ask whether he needs to say more about "the middle class, that is, the working people, the people who pay taxes, normal people."

Francis responded by saying that he needed to address that aspect of his message and would read his critics ahead of the Sept. 22-27 U.S. trip.

Stephen Schneck, head of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at Catholic University of America in Washington, blamed pundits on the right and left, like Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow, for "politicizing" the pope's teachings.

"He's not a conservative or progressive, not a Democrat or Republican. So stop trying to clobber him with those yardsticks," Schneck wrote in an email. "How many times do our pundits need to be told that he's carrying the same message as John Paul II and Benedict XVI?"

Schneck said as the visit approaches, he expects Francis' poll numbers "to rebound to his strong, earlier levels -- that is, if both the right and the left will stop dragging him into their partisan squabbles."

Is it too late? Has "Francis fatigue" displaced the "Francis effect"?

After the Latin America trip, popular conservative Catholic blogger Elizabeth Scalia wrote a lengthy post saying she is "frankly just tired of feeling scolded."

"I love His Holiness Pope Francis, but for a while now, I have been feeling harangued by him, as he's been harping on us to do more, and ever more, to practice mercy on the world; to welcome the stranger, to clean up the rivers, to bring about justice and peace in our time; to level the playing fields, visit the sick, and so on," Scalia wrote.

That lament was picked up by other conservatives, such as Carl Olson, editor of Catholic World Report, who complained about what he sees as Francis' constant "haranguing, harping, exhorting, lecturing."

"It probably doesn't help," Olson added, "that Francis obsesses over particular points, to a degree that is, frankly, grating."

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

India tolerant? its Christians beg to differ

John L. Allen, Jr.
July 19, 2015

At the level of sweeping stereotypes, most Westerners tend to think of India and its dominant religion, Hinduism, as bastions of tolerance. Ever since the Beatles traveled to an ashram to study meditation, there’s been a chic about Indian spirituality as the ultimate in “all paths lead to the same place.”

One might profitably ask Christians in today’s India, however, whether those stereotypes have anything to do with their reality. The answer you’re likely to get is, “Are you kidding?”

In truth, India’s small Christian minority has felt under the gun for a long time, and they say things have become considerably worse since a political party called the BJP, backed by fundamentalist Hindu movements, swept to power in May 2014.

(Calling the Christian presence “small,” by the way, is relative. Christians comprise around 2.5 percent of the national population, though some put it as high as 4 to 6 percent if house churches and independent movements are counted. India is so huge, however, that even the low-end estimate works out to almost 25 million people.)

Recently an Indian website was created to collect reports of anti-Christian persecution, called Speak Out Against Hate, and it claims that so far in 2015 there’s an average of at least one violent episode every week.

Here are some typical examples:

On July 7, a band of Hindu radicals burst into the Jeevan Jyoti Convent School in Isagarh, Ashoknagar, hassling a Catholic nun and beating up a priest. A police report was filed, but so far no action has been taken.

On June 28, in Adoni, Kurnool, the Christu Calvary Konda Church was attacked by radicals shouting Hindu nationalist slogans. The mob attempted to assault the pastor and his wife, who were forced to hide until police arrived.

A week before, a Catholic shrine in Tangasseri, Kollam, was desecrated. The assailants left behind posters using derogatory language about Christian clergy, and also threatening to bomb a nearby shopping center affiliated with the local Catholic diocese.

In response to such incidents, a cross-section of Christian leaders in January launched a new movement called the United Christian Forum for Human Rights. Lay activist John Dayal presented the initiative at a Delhi news conference.

“2014 was a particularly traumatic year,” Dayal said. “It was conceived in sin, in a campaign based on hate.”

Yet Dayal stressed that the problems facing Christians hardly began with the BJP’s resounding victory in last year’s national elections.

“Since 1997, we have been recording between 150 and 350 cases of violence a year,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who runs the government … the non-state actors and the problems with the criminal justice system remain the same.”

For many Christians in the country, a cataclysm that unfolded in the eastern Indian state of Orissa (Odisha) in August 2008 still colors the way they see their situation.

Early that month, a revered Hindu spiritual leader named Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati was assassinated, most likely by Maoist guerillas. Radical Hindus, however, blamed his death on Christians and unleashed their rage on the local Christian population.

In an orgy of violence that quickly spread to 600 villages, half of the 100,000 Christians in the area found themselves homeless, forced to seek refuge in a nearby forest. Some 120 Christians are believed to have been killed, some of them hacked to death by machete-wielding radicals. Three hundred churches were burned along with 6,000 private homes.

During the rampage at least three women were gang-raped, including a Catholic nun. The tragedy was compounded during the exile in the forest, as more Christians died of either starvation or snakebite while waiting to go home.

Dayal said Christians are still waiting for justice to be done for the victims of Orissa.

“Out of 120 killed, there have been only two convictions,” he said. “One was a life sentence for murder, and one just seven years for abduction … as if nobody killed the rest of them.”

While anti-Christian persecution is a global problem, the form it takes in India is especially noteworthy for three reasons.

Religious prejudice is often bound up with ethnicity and poverty. India’s Christians are disproportionately drawn from the ranks of the Dalits, meaning the “untouchables” under the old caste system, and are therefore likely to be poor. By some estimates, 60 to 75 percent of the country’s Christians are Dalits, making them easy targets.

Anti-Christian persecution isn’t all about Islam. The truth is that Muslim radicalism in places such as Iraq and Syria could disappear tomorrow, and that wouldn’t mean that Christians elsewhere are safe.

It’s not just rogue states such as North Korea where Christians are at risk. India is a vibrant democracy and among the emerging superpowers of the early 21st century, with a constitution that guarantees religious freedom, though that’s hardly the reality on the ground.

Dayal says that despite the threats, India’s Christians do not intend to passively accept their plight.

“We claim our rights as children of God and as citizens of the state,” he said, “with the Bible in one hand and the constitution in the other.”

For all kinds of reasons, including India’s capacity to use its growing power wisely, everyone – not just Christians – has a stake in hoping that Dayal and his fellow believers prevail in that effort.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Will the pope change the Vatican or the Vatican change the pope?

Robert Draper
National Geographic
August 2015

When about 7,000 awed strangers first encounter him on the public stage, he is not yet the pope—but like a chrysalis stirring, something astounding is already present in the man. Inside Stadium Luna Park, in downtown Buenos Aires, Argentina, Roman Catholics and evangelical Christians have gathered for an ecumenical event. From the stage, a pastor calls out for the city’s archbishop to come up and say a few words. The audience reacts with surprise, because the man striding to the front had been sitting in the back all this time, for hours, like no one of any importance. Though a cardinal, he is not wearing the traditional pectoral cross around his neck, just a black clerical shirt and a blazer, looking like the simple priest he was decades ago. He is gaunt and elderly with a somber countenance, and at this moment nine years ago it is hard to imagine such an unassuming, funereal Argentine being known one day, in every corner of the world, as a figure of radiance and charisma.

He speaks—quietly at first, though with steady nerves—in his native tongue, Spanish. He has no notes. The archbishop makes no mention of the days when he regarded the evangelical movement in the dismissive way many Latin American Catholic priests do, as an escuela de samba—an unserious happening akin to rehearsals at a samba school. Instead the most powerful Argentine in the Catholic Church, which asserts that it is the only true Christian church, says that no such distinctions matter to God. “How nice,” he says, “that brothers are united, that brothers pray together. How nice to see that nobody negotiates their history on the path of faith—that we are diverse but that we want to be, and are already beginning to be, a reconciled diversity.”

Hands outstretched, his face suddenly alive, and his voice quavering with passion, he calls out to God: “Father, we are divided. Unite us!”

Those who know the archbishop are astonished, since his implacable expression has earned him nicknames like “Mona Lisa” and “Carucha” (for his bulldog-like jowls). But what will also be remembered about that day occurs immediately after he stops talking. He drops slowly to his knees, onstage—a plea for the attendees to pray for him. After a startled pause, they do so, led by an evangelical minister. The image of the archbishop kneeling among men of lesser status, a posture of supplication at once meek and awesome, will make the front pages in Argentina.

Among the publications that carry the photograph is Cabildo, a journal considered the voice of the nation’s ultraconservative Catholics. Accompanying the story is a headline that features a jarring noun: apóstata. The cardinal as a traitor to his faith.

This is Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis.

“I really need to start making changes right now,” Francis told a half dozen Argentine friends one morning just two months after 115 cardinals in the Vatican conclave vaulted him from relative obscurity into the papacy. To many observers—some delighted, others discomfited—the new pope already had changed seemingly everything, seemingly overnight. He was the first Latin American pope, the first Jesuit pope, the first in more than a thousand years not to have been born in Europe, and the first to take the moniker Francis, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, champion of the poor. Shortly after his election on March 13, 2013, the new leader of the Catholic Church materialized on a balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica all in white, without the traditional scarlet cape over his shoulders or gold-embroidered red stole around his neck. He greeted the roaring masses below with electrifying plainness: “Fratelli e sorelle, buona sera—Brothers and sisters, good evening.” And he closed with a request, what many Argentines already knew to be his signature line: “Pray for me.” When he departed, he walked past the limousine that awaited him and hopped into the bus ferrying the cardinals who had just made him their superior.

The next morning the pope paid his bill at the hotel where he had been staying. Forswearing the traditional papal apartments inside the Apostolic Palace, he elected to live in a two-bedroom dwelling in Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican’s guesthouse. In his first meeting with the international press he declared his primary ambition: “How I would like a church that is poor and for the poor.” And instead of celebrating the evening Mass for Holy Thursday (commemorating the Last Supper) at a basilica and washing the feet of priests, as was traditional, he preached at a youth prison, where he washed the feet of a dozen inmates, including women and Muslims, a first for a pope. All this took place during his first month as bishop of Rome.

Still, the new pope’s Argentine friends understood what he meant by “changes.” Although even the smallest of his gestures carried considerable weight, the man they knew was not content to purvey symbols. He was a practical, streetwise porteño, as residents of the port city of Buenos Aires call themselves. He wanted the Catholic Church to make a lasting difference in people’s lives—to be, as he often put it, a hospital on a battlefield, taking in all who were wounded, regardless of which side they fought on. In the pursuit of this objective, he could be, according to Rabbi Abraham Skorka, an Argentine friend, “a very stubborn person.”

Though to the outside world Pope Francis seemed to have exploded out of the skies like a meteor shower, he was a well-known and occasionally controversial religious figure back home. The son of an accountant whose family had emigrated from the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy, Bergoglio had distinguished himself from the moment he entered the seminary in 1956, at 20, having worked as a lab technician and briefly as a bouncer at a club. Soon after, he chose the intellectually demanding Society of Jesus as his path to the priesthood. As a student at Colegio Máximo de San José in 1963, he possessed both “heightened spiritual discernment and political skills,” according to one of his professors, Father Juan Carlos Scannone, such that he quickly became a spiritual adviser to students and teachers alike. He taught unruly boys, washed the feet of prisoners, studied overseas. He became the rector of Colegio Máximo as well as a fixture in blighted shantytowns throughout Buenos Aires. And he rose in the Jesuit hierarchy even while navigating the murky politics of an era that saw the Catholic Church enter into fraught relationships first with Juan Perón and later with the military dictatorship. He fell out of favor with his Jesuit superiors, then was rescued from exile by an admiring cardinal and made bishop in 1992, archbishop in 1998, and cardinal in 2001.

Shy in disposition, Bergoglio—a self-described callejero, or street wanderer—preferred the company of the poor over the affluent. His own indulgences were few: literature, soccer, tango music, and gnocchi. For all his simplicity, this porteño was an urban animal, an acute social observer, and in his quiet way, a natural leader. He also knew how to seize a moment—whether in 2004, lashing out at corruption in a speech attended by the Argentine president, or at Luna Park in 2006, falling to his knees. As Father Carlos Accaputo, a close adviser since going to work for Bergoglio in 1992, says, “I think God has prepared him, throughout his entire pastoral ministry, for this moment.”

Moreover, his papacy was not a fluke. As the Roman author Massimo Franco would put it, “His election arose from a trauma”—from the sudden (and for nearly six centuries, unprecedented) resignation of the sitting pope, Benedict XVI, and from the mounting sentiment among more progressive cardinals that the hoary and Eurocentric mind-set of the Holy See was rotting the Catholic Church from within.

Sitting in the living room of his apartment that morning, the pope acknowledged to his old friends the daunting challenges that awaited him. Financial disarray in the Institute for the Works of Religion (more crassly referred to as the Vatican bank). Bureaucratic avarice bedeviling the central administration, known as the Roman Curia. Continuing disclosures of pedophile priests insulated from justice by church officials. On these and other matters Francis intended to move swiftly, knowing that—as one friend who was there that morning, Pentecostal pastor and scholar Norberto Saracco, puts it—“he was going to make a lot of enemies. He’s not naive, OK?”

Saracco remembers expressing concern about the pope’s boldness. “Jorge, we know that you don’t wear a bulletproof vest,” he said. “There are many crazy people out there.”

Francis replied calmly, “The Lord has put me here. He’ll have to look out for me.” Though he had not asked to be pope, he said the moment his name was called out in the conclave, he felt a tremendous sense of peace. And despite the animosities he was likely to incur, he assured his friends, “I still feel the same peace.”

What the Vatican feels is another story.

When Federico Wals, who had spent several years as Bergoglio’s press aide, traveled from Buenos Aires to Rome last year to see the pope, he first paid a visit to Father Federico Lombardi, the longtime Vatican communications official whose job essentially mirrors Wals’s old one, albeit on a much larger scale. “So, Father,” the Argentine asked, “how do you feel about my former boss?” Managing a smile, Lombardi replied, “Confused.”

Lombardi had served as the spokesman for Benedict, formerly known as Joseph Ratzinger, a man of Germanic precision. After meeting with a world leader, the former pope would emerge and rattle off an incisive summation, Lombardi tells me, with palpable wistfulness: “It was incredible. Benedict was so clear. He would say, ‘We have spoken about these things, I agree with these points, I would argue against these other points, the objective of our next meeting will be this’—two minutes and I’m totally clear about what the contents were. With Francis—‘This is a wise man; he has had these interesting experiences.’”

Chuckling somewhat helplessly, Lombardi adds, “Diplomacy for Francis is not so much about strategy but instead, ‘I have met this person, we now have a personal relation, let us now do good for the people and for the church.’”

The pope’s spokesman elaborates on the Vatican’s new ethos while sitting in a small conference room in the Vatican Radio building, a stone’s throw from the Tiber River. Lombardi wears rumpled priest attire that matches his expression of weary bemusement. Just yesterday, he says, the pope hosted a gathering in Casa Santa Marta of 40 Jewish leaders—and the Vatican press office learned about it only after the fact. “No one knows all of what he’s doing,” Lombardi says. “His personal secretary doesn’t even know. I have to call around: One person knows one part of his schedule, someone else knows another part.”

The Vatican’s communications chief shrugs and observes, “This is the life.”

Life was altogether different under Benedict, a cerebral scholar who continued to write theological books during his eight years as pope, and under John Paul II, a theatrically trained performer and accomplished linguist whose papacy lasted almost 27 years. Both men were reliable keepers of papal orthodoxy. The spectacle of this new pope, with his plastic watch and bulky orthopedic shoes, taking his breakfast in the Vatican cafeteria, has required some getting used to. So has his sense of humor, which is distinctly informal. After being visited in Casa Santa Marta by an old friend and fellow Argentine, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, Francis insisted on accompanying his guest to the elevator.

“Why is this?” Celli asked. “So that you can be sure that I’m gone?”

Without missing a beat, the pope replied, “And so that I can be sure you don’t take anything with you.”

In attempting to divine the 78-year-old pope’s comings and goings, the closest Vatican officials have to an intermediary has been Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Francis’s secretary of state, a much respected veteran diplomat—and, importantly, trusted by his boss, according to Wals, “because he’s not too ambitious, and the pope knows that. That’s a fundamental quality for the pope.” At the same time, Francis has drastically reduced the secretary of state’s powers, particularly with respect to the Vatican’s finances. “The problem with this,” Lombardi says, “is that the structure of the curia is no longer clear. The process is ongoing, and what will be at the end, no one knows. The secretary of state is not as centralized, and the pope has many relations that are directed by him alone, without any mediation.”

Valiantly accentuating the upside, the Vatican spokesman adds, “In a sense, this is positive, because in the past there were criticisms that someone had too much power over the pope. They cannot say this is the case now.”

Like many institutions, the Vatican is unreceptive to change and suspicious of those who would bring it. Since the 14th century, the Catholic epicenter has been a 110-acre, walled city-state within Rome. Vatican City has long been a magnet for tourists, thanks to the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, as well as a pilgrimage destination for the planet’s 1.2 billion Catholics—which is to say that the world comes to it and never the other way around. But it is also just as its designation implies: a self-contained territorial entity, with its own municipal administrators, police force, courts, fire brigade, pharmacy, postal service, grocery store, newspaper, and cricket team. Its press corps, the Vaticanisti, monitors the institution’s vagaries with the gimlet-eyed skepticism of city hall reporters. Its entrenched workforce pays no sales taxes in Vatican City. Its diplomatic bureaucracy, in the familiar way of bureaucracies, rewards favored bishops with cushy postings while relegating the less favored to comparatively dismal sectors of the world. For centuries it has weathered conquests, plagues, famine, fascism, and scandals. The walls have held.

Now comes Francis, a man who despises walls and who once said to a friend as they strolled past the Casa Rosada, where Argentina’s president lives: “How can they know what the common people want when they build a fence around themselves?” He has sought to be what Franco, who has written a book on Francis and the Vatican, calls an “available pope—a contradiction in terms.” The very notion seems to have drained the blood from the Vatican’s opaque face.

“I believe we haven’t yet seen the real changes,” says Ramiro de la Serna, a Franciscan priest based in Buenos Aires who has known the pope for more than 30 years. “And I also believe we haven’t seen the real resistance yet either.”

Vatican officials are still taking their measure of the man. It is tempting for them to view the pope’s openhearted reactions as evidence that he is a creature of pure instinct. “Totally spontaneous,” Lombardi says of Francis’s much commented-on gestures during his trip to the Middle East—among them, his embrace of an imam, Omar Abboud, and a rabbi, his friend Skorka, after praying with them at the Western Wall. But in fact, Skorka says, “I discussed it with him before we left for the Holy Land—I told him, ‘This is my dream, to embrace beside the wall you and Omar.’”

That Francis agreed in advance to fulfill the rabbi’s wish makes the gesture no less sincere. Instead it suggests an awareness that his every act and syllable will be parsed for symbolic portent. Such prudence is thoroughly in keeping with the Jorge Bergoglio known by his Argentine friends, who scoff at the idea that he is guileless. They describe him as a “chess player,” one whose every day is “perfectly organized,” in which “each and every step has been thought out.” Bergoglio himself told the journalists Francesca Ambrogetti and Sergio Rubin several years ago that he seldom heeded his impulses, since “the first answer that comes to me is usually wrong.”

Even in the seemingly drastic lifestyle changes Francis has brought, he has made commonsense concessions to the realities of the Vatican. He had suggested that his Swiss Guards didn’t need to follow him everywhere, but he has since become resigned to their near-constant presence. (He often asks the guards to take his photograph with visitors—another concession, since Bergoglio long recoiled from cameras.) Though he has eschewed the bulletproof-glass-enclosed popemobile frequently used since the assassination attempt on John Paul II in 1981, he recognizes that he no longer can ride the subways and mingle in the ghettos, as he was famed for doing in Buenos Aires. This led him to lament, four months after he assumed the papacy, “You know how often I’ve wanted to go walking through the streets of Rome—because in Buenos Aires, I liked to go for a walk in the city. I really liked to do that. In this sense, I feel a little penned in.”

Friends say that as the head of the Vatican and an Argentine, he has felt duty bound to receive his country’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, even when it has been painfully evident to him that she has used these visits for her own political gain. “When Bergoglio received the president in a friendly way, it was out of pure grace,” says Buenos Aires evangelical pastor Juan Pablo Bongarrá. “She didn’t deserve it. But that’s how God loves us, with pure grace.”

To Wals, his former press aide, Bergoglio’s careful entry into the papacy is completely unsurprising. Indeed, it was foreshadowed by the manner in which he vacated his previous office. Realizing there was a chance the conclave would elect him—after all, he had been the runner-up to Ratzinger after John Paul II’s death in 2005—the archbishop left for Rome in March 2013, says Wals, “with all letters finished, the money in order, everything in perfect shape. And that night before he departed, he called just to go over all the office details with me, and also to give me advice about my future, like someone who knew that maybe he would be leaving for good.”

Leave for good though he did, and in spite of the serenity he exhibits, Francis has nonetheless approached his new responsibilities with gravity leavened by his characteristic self-deprecation. As he said last year to a former student, Argentine writer Jorge Milia, “I kept looking in Benedict’s library, but I couldn’t find a user’s manual. So I manage as best I can.”

He is, the media would have it, a reformer. A radical. A revolutionary. And he is also none of these things. His impact thus far is as impossible to miss as it is to measure. Francis has kindled a spiritual spark among not only Catholics but also other Christians, those of other faiths, and even nonbelievers. As Skorka says, “He is changing religiosity throughout the world.” The leader of the Catholic Church is widely seen as good news for an institution that for years prior to his arrival had known only bad news. “Two years ago,” says Father Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit and a senior analyst at the National Catholic Reporter, “if you asked anybody on the street, ‘What’s the Catholic Church for and against?’ you would’ve gotten, ‘It’s against gay marriage, against birth control’—all this stuff. Now if you ask people, they’ll say, ‘Oh, the pope—he’s the guy who loves the poor and doesn’t live in a palace.’ That’s an extraordinary achievement for such an old institution. I jokingly say that Harvard Business School could use him to teach rebranding. And politicians in Washington would kill for his approval rating.”

Of course, as is evident when speaking to Vatican officials, the spectacle of a papal personality cult—Francis as rock star—is unseemly to such a dignified institution. To some of them the pope’s popularity is also threatening. It reinforces the mandate he was given by the cardinals who desired a leader who would cast aside the church’s regal aloofness and expand its spiritual constituency. Recalls one, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, “Just before the conclave, when all the cardinals gathered, we shared our views. There was a certain mood: Let’s get a change. That kind of mood was strong inside. No one said, ‘No more Italians or no more Europeans’—but a desire for change was there.

“Cardinal Bergoglio was basically unknown to all those gathered there,” Turkson continues. “But then he gave a talk—it was kind of his own manifesto. He advised those of us gathered that we need to think about the church that goes out to the periphery—not just geographically but to the periphery of human existence. For him the Gospel invites us all to have that sort of sensitivity. That was his contribution. And it brought a sort of freshness to the exercise of pastoral care, a different experience of taking care of God’s people.”

For those such as Turkson who wanted change, Francis has not disappointed. Within two years he had appointed 39 cardinals, 24 of whom came from outside of Europe. Before delivering a searing speech last December in which he ticked off the “diseases” afflicting the curia (among them, “vainglory,” “gossip,” and “worldly profit”), the pope tasked nine cardinals—all but two of them outsiders to the curia—with reforming the institution. Calling sexual abuse in the church a “sacrilegious cult,” he formed the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors headed by Seán Patrick O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston. To bring transparency to the Vatican’s finances, the pope brought in a tough former rugby player, Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, and named him prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy—a designation that puts Pell on a par with the secretary of state. Amid these appointments, the pope paid a notable act of deference to the old guard: He kept in place Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Benedict’s hard-line appointee, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which enforces the church’s beliefs.

Such moves signify much—but it is hard to say what they will lead to. The early clues have been tantalizing to reformists as well as more traditional Catholics. Even as he accepted the resignation of a U.S. bishop who was the first to be convicted of failing to report suspected child abuse, Francis also appointed as bishop a Chilean priest alleged to have covered up the sexual abuses of another cleric, sparking protests at the bishop’s installation ceremony. Additionally, the preliminary Synod on the Family that Francis convened last October produced no sweeping doctrinal changes, which mollified conservative Catholics who had feared exactly that. But the actual synod this October could produce a different outcome. On the issue of lifting the ban on Communion for divorced Catholics whose marriages were not annulled, Scannone, the pope’s friend and former professor, says, “He told me, ‘I want to listen to everyone.’ He’s going to wait for the second synod, and he’ll listen to everyone, but he’s definitely open to a change.” Similarly, Saracco, the Pentecostal pastor, discussed with the pope the possibility of removing celibacy as a requirement for priests. “If he can survive the pressures of the church today and the results of the Synod on the Family in October,” he says, “I think after that he will be ready to talk about celibacy.” When I ask if the pope had told him this or if he was relying on intuition, Saracco smiles slyly and says, “It’s more than intuition.”

Then again, the pope’s words and gestures have become a Rorschach inkblot that his audience can interpret as it wishes. For a man of such simple words and habits, this seems ironic. But it is also not new.

In 2010, Yayo Grassi, a Washington, D.C.–based caterer, fired off an email to his former teacher, the archbishop of Buenos Aires. Grassi, who is gay, had read that his beloved mentor had condemned legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage. “You have been my guide, continuously moving my horizons—you have shaped the most progressive aspects of my worldview,” Grassi wrote. “And to hear this from you is so disappointing.”

The archbishop responded by email—though no doubt providing a handwritten draft in his tiny script to his secretary, as Pope Francis, then and now, has never been on the Internet, used a computer, or even owned a cell phone. (The Vatican press office prepares the tweets on his nine @Pontifex Twitter accounts—which have 20 million followers—and sends them, with the pope’s approval.) He began by saying that he had taken Grassi’s words to heart. The Catholic Church’s position on the subject of marriage was what it was. Still, it pained Bergoglio to know that he had upset his student. Grassi’s former maestrillo assured him that the media had badly misconstrued his position. Above all, said the future pope in his reply, in his pastoral work, there was no place for homophobia.

The exchange offers a glimpse into what one should, and should not, expect from his papacy. In the end, Bergoglio did not disavow his stance against gay marriage, which, as he wrote in one of those letters, he views as a threat to “the identity and survival of the family: father, mother, and children.” None of the dozens of friends I interviewed believed that Francis would reassess the church’s stance on this matter.

What renewed Grassi’s reverence for his former teacher is precisely what today rivets throngs in St. Peter’s Square and is sure to do so on his September visit to the United States: the blinding whiteness of his papal attire reimagined as an accessible simplicity. It is the porteño’s affinity for the street fused with the Jesuit’s belief in vigorous engagement with the community—el encuentro, the encounter, which involves both seeking out and listening, a decidedly more arduous undertaking than the impersonal laying down of edicts. For it requires the courage of humility. It is what prompted Bergoglio to drop to his knees and ask for the prayers of thousands of evangelical Christians. It is what caused his eyes to flood with tears when he visited a Buenos Aires shantytown where a man declared that he knew the archbishop was one of them because he’d seen him riding in the back of the bus. It is what compelled him, as pope, to refuse to have his hand kissed by an Albanian priest who had been imprisoned and tortured by his government—and instead to attempt to kiss the man’s hand, and then to weep openly in his arms. And it is what staggered millions two years ago when Pope Francis, in his emblematic rhetorical moment, uttered these simple and astonishing words, coming as a gentle query in response to a question about gay priests: “Who am I to judge?”

This would appear to be the pope’s mission: to ignite a revolution inside the Vatican and beyond its walls, without overturning a host of long-held precepts. “He won’t change doctrine,” insists de la Serna, his Argentine friend. “What he will do is return the church to its true doctrine—the one it has forgotten, the one that puts man back in the center. For too long, the church put sin in the center. By putting the suffering of man, and his relationship with God, back in the center, these harsh attitudes toward homosexuality, divorce, and other things will start to change.”

Then again, the man who told his friends that he needed “to start making changes right now” does not have time on his side. His comment this spring that his papacy might last only “four or five years” did not surprise his Argentine friends, who know that he would like to live out his final days back home. But the words were surely a comfort to hard-liners inside the Vatican who will do their best to slow-walk Francis’s efforts to reform the church and hope that his successor will be a less worthy adversary.

Still, this revolution, whether or not it succeeds, is unlike any other, if only for the relentless joy with which it is being waged. When the new archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Mario Poli, commented to Francis during a visit to Vatican City about how remarkable it was to see his once dour friend with an omnipresent smile, the pope considered those words carefully, as he always does.

Then Francis, no doubt smiling, said, “It’s very entertaining to be pope.”

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Martini: Benedict XVI's resignation and the 2005 conclave conclave

Andrea Tornielli
Vatican Insider
July 18, 2015

The disclosures made by the Jesuit Biblicist, Fr. Silvano Fausti, Carlo Maria Martini’s confessor and spiritual guide, who passed away on 24 June, have turned the spotlight back onto the role played by the formed Archbishop of Milan in the 2005 Conclave that elected Benedict XVI Pope. In a video interview published on Italian news website Gli Stati Generali, Fausti talked about two moments. One was Ratzinger’s resignation and the last conversation with Martini on 2 June 2012 in Milan, on the occasion of the World Meeting of Families. The Jesuit cardinal, who was seriously ill with Parkinson’s (he died three months later), met Ratzinger in the archbishop’s residence in the early afternoon.

During that meeting, according to Fausti’s version of events, Martini told Benedict XVI that the time had come for him to resign because the Roman Curia seemed irreformable: “it’s right now, one cannot do anything here.” Fr. Fausti is a primary source given the relationship he had with Martini. It also widely known that Ratzinger and Martini esteem each other, despite their different positions. There is no doubt that during that painful period the Holy See was going through, with the Vatileaks scandal in full swing, the Archbishop of Milan spoke frankly to Benedict XVI suggesting he resign.

It is also widely known that Ratzinger had been contemplating the possibility of resigning for some time, probably since the start of his pontificate. He had experienced John Paul II’s final years first hand and had witnessed how the Pope’s illness had ended up increasing the power of his entourage. Peter Seewald’s book-length interview “Light of the World”, published in November 2010, testifies Benedict XVI’s thoughts about a potential resignation. His closest collaborators admitted that Ratzinger made his decision following his visit to Mexico and Cuba in March 2012. The Pope was completely burnt out after this intercontinental voyage and had realised that he was not going to be able to go ahead with the already scheduled visit to Brazil for World Youth Day in July 2013. The Vatileaks scandal then added to this situation and paradoxically pushed his resignation forward rather than speeding it up.

Benedict XVI’s Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, stated that he was informed about Benedict XVI’s decision to resign “in mid 2012”, so presumably in the month of June. Bishop Georg Gänswein, Prefect of the Papal Household and Ratzinger’s personal secretary said the same thing. Fr. Georg, categorically denied that the reason for the Pope’s resignation had anything to do with the Vatileaks scandal, pointing out that the announcement was made after the affair had drawn to an end, that is, once the papal butler Paolo Gabriele’s trial was over and after Benedict XVI pardoned him. Both Bertone and Gänswein had tried – in vain – to convince Ratzinger to stay in office. It was in this context that Martini spoke. It is impossible to know whether Benedict XVI spoke to Martini of his intentions during their last brief meeting in the archbishop’s residence on 2 June. It is more likely that the Jesuit cardinal spoke to him about it, as Fr. Fausti said.

The disclosures Fr. Fausti made regarding the 2005 Conclave are far more complex to interpret. According to his reconstruction, Martini apparently handed his votes over to Ratzinger in order to avoid “foul play” which attempted to eliminate both in order to elect “a thoroughly obsequious member of the Curia, who didn’t make it”. According to Fausti, Ratzinger and Martini “had more votes, Martini a few more” than Ratzinger. There had apparently been a scheme to elect a Curia cardinal. “Once the ploy had been unveiled, Martini went to Ratzinger in the evening and said to him: tomorrow, you agree to become Pope with my votes… He said to him: you accept, you have been in the Curia for 30 years and you are intelligent and honest: if you manage to reform the Curia great, if not, you step down.”

Given the authority of the source and his role as Martini’s confessor and spiritual guide, there is no reason to doubt that in his first and only Conclave, the Archbishop Emeritus of Milan in the end voted for Ratzinger himself and had his supporters vote for Ratzinger too. However, the bit where Martini is assigned a significant number of votes, more than the number Ratzinger received, at least initially, is both questionable and disputed. There is no doubt that in that papal election, the only organised group that had begun a persuasion campaign with the other cardinals, was the group of Ratzinger’s supporters. Various figures were working on this: Cardinal Bertone, who was Archbishop of Genoa at the time and had been the Bavarian cardinal’s right hand man at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Colombian Curia cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo; a number of Ratzinger’s students, including the Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schönborn, for example.

According to the most reliable reconstructions of that Conclave, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a figure who was recognised and respected even by those with different positions, a figure who had, as Dean of the College, led the pre-Conclave phase in a very balanced and wise way, had gained a steady batch of votes right from the first evening voting session (between 30 and 40 votes some say, while others claim it was over 40). Martini’s group of supporters had mustered far fewer votes (about ten or so). The Archbishop Emeritus of Milan, who was already suffering from Parkinson’s disease (the same illness John Paul II - the Pope who had just died - had suffered from), agreed to be considered as a candidate but only as a “flag-bearer”, in order to allow his supporters to count how many there were . He made it very clear that he would not able to accept his potential election due to his state of health.

So the second favourite in that Conclave, was not Martini but Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, who according to Lucio Brunelli’s account on Limes magazine thanks to the publication of a cardinal’s diary, gathered as many as 40 votes in the third voting session of the Conclave. (the second session held in the morning of the day of the election). A consistent number of votes that got Ratzinger’s supporters in a tizzy. Lunchtime was a decisive moment. When they returned to the Sistine Chapel, cardinals voted for Benedict XVI in the fourth voting session. It is not hard to imagine that, faced with the possibility of retreat in the case of an impasse which would have led to new candidates emerging on the third day of the Conclave in addition to the two main ones, Martini preferred to back a figure like Ratzinger.

There are, however, other witnesses who say that during the lunch of April 19th, some cardinals, including Martini, apparently believed the day could have ended without an election. And this would have eliminated both Ratzinger (had accepted to be considered as a candidate on the condition that the election was quick and it did not split the College of Cardinals) and the second favourite, Bergoglio, from the race. This would in turn have led a third candidate to emerge from the shadows.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Bishops' strategy endangering religious freedom

Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J.
National Catholic Reporter
July 17, 2015

Being on the losing side of a revolution can be very dangerous for churches, according to Douglas Laycock, professor of law and religious studies at the University of Virginia. He argues that by continuing to fight on the losing side of the sexual revolution, churches endanger their religious liberty. He calls on churches to defend their religious liberty but not to try to impose their sexual values on others.

Laycock believes that "human liberty is a good thing, and especially with respect to matters that are deeply personal." Therefore, he believes that "the free exercise of religion is a good thing and that control of our own sex lives is a good thing."

For many years, he reports, "I have been urging the two sides in the culture wars to concentrate on protecting their own liberty and to stop trying to regulate the liberty of the other side. And for the most part, I have had zero success whatsoever."

In recent years he warned religious conservatives that they must make this move while the outcome of the same-sex marriage debate was still in doubt, while they still had some bargaining leverage. They should support gay rights laws and marriage equality laws, he argued, with religious exemptions.

"No one listened to those warnings either," he complained. "The disagreement over sexual issues is seriously undermining support for religious liberty. ... Hostility to religious liberty is breaking out all over."

Laycock made his case in a talk at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University and in an article in the University of Illinois Law Review.

Interpretation of religious liberty

He begins by looking at religious liberty as practiced in the United States and France. "The basic French statute on religious liberty has all the same key phrases as the American First Amendment," he says. Both claim to respect the free exercise of religion and prohibit the establishment of religion, but in practice they have been interpreted very differently.

In France, girls can wear scarves to school as a fashion statement, but they are forbidden to wear them for religious reasons. Exemptions from laws for religious reasons, which are in the thousands in the United States, are not made in France. There are restrictions on religious speech, especially evangelism. The French state owns and maintains churches. It also pays for religious schools. "The whole body of [French] law seems designed to keep the religious groups dependent on the state and on a short leash," he concludes.

Laycock argues that these differences have more to do with history and culture than with legal texts. While the churches in America supported the American revolution, in France, "the Catholic church opposed not just the [French] revolution’s excess, but the revolution itself." It continued its opposition by supporting counterrevolutionary movements through most of the 19th century.

"The church was seen as opposed to the liberties of the people; it made itself the subject of enmity, suspicion, and hostile regulation," he writes. "The result has been a very narrow view of religious liberty in French law and in French public opinion."

In contrast, in the United States, the churches sided with the revolutionaries. "In the United States, religion and liberty were perceived as natural allies; in France, religion and liberty were perceived as natural enemies."

There is a lesson here for conservative churches who have been fighting a losing battle against the sexual revolution for 50 years: they may well be endangering their religious liberty. "Persistent Catholic opposition to the French Revolution permanently turned France to a very narrow view of religious liberty; persistent religious opposition to the sexual revolution may be having similar consequences here."

"The reaction we are seeing, the increasing hostility to religious liberty, the increasing reluctance to make any kind of exemption, is a function of that opposition," he said. "We are well down the path to a much more French-like understanding of religious liberty both in our law and in public opinion."

The blame for this reaction cannot be pinned only on the left. The tactics of the right in opposing the sexual revolution have encouraged this response.

"For tens of millions of Americans, conservative churches have made themselves the enemy of liberty." He fears that more and more Americans are coming to perceive claims of "religious liberty" as a cover for believers who are trying to impose their views on others. This will move America from its traditional approach to religious liberty to a more French approach.

A risky step

This warning comes from a friend. Laycock is a strong supporter of religious liberty. He supported the federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act and state RFRAs modeled on the federal statute. He supports exemptions for religious nonprofits.

He agrees with conservative churches who see "any requirement that they buy insurance that covers contraception coverage as imposing secular morality inside religious institutions." But he acknowledges that "those demanding contraception do not see themselves as imposing secular rules on the church; they see the church as imposing religious rules on them."

He warns the bishops, "it is a risky step to interfere with the most intimate details of other people’s lives while loudly claiming liberty for yourself. If you stand in the way of a revolution and lose, there will be consequences."

As a result, he argues that the bishops should accept the Obama administration's final rules for implementing the Affordable Care Act, which exempted churches from paying for contraceptives and required that insurance companies provide free contraceptives to the employees of religious colleges, universities, and hospitals if the institution notified the insurance company of its objections to coverage.

"These final rules offer a serious plan to protect religious liberty without depriving women of contraception," he writes. "These final rules are utterly inconsistent with the common charge that the Obama administration is engaged in a 'war on religion.' "

"The bishops would be well advised to accept a compromise that gives them reasonable insulation from the provision of contraceptives, even if that insulation is not air tight." His rationale is even stronger now that the government has said that instead of notifying the insurance company, religious institutions can notify the Department of Health and Human Services of their objections.

He thinks that the bishops should have separated out the issues of abortion and emergency contraception, which may interfere with the implantation of a fertilized ovum. Even people who disagree with the bishops, he believes, can at least understand their argument and why they seek more stringent protections there.

He also argues that churches should drop their opposition to gay marriage but should support exemptions for religious believers. What he proposes is a "live and let live" approach to the culture wars, except on the issue of abortion.

"One of the ironies of the culture wars is that religious minorities and gays and lesbians make essentially parallel demands on the larger society," he writes. "I cannot fundamentally change who I am, they each say. You cannot interfere with those things constitutive of my identity; on the most fundamental things, you must let me live my life according to my own values."

Each side of the sexual revolution sees itself as opposing a grave evil and protecting a fundamental human right.

Laycock believes that it is possible to resolve the culture wars if each side agrees to respect the freedom of the other. He notes that the issue is no longer whether contraceptives are available or whether gays can have a wedding with flowers, caterers, and photographers. These are readily available in the market place. "The issue is whether the religious conscientious objector must be the one who provides these things."

In order to divert us from the path toward a French interpretation of religious liberty, Laycock recommends that the religious side should "focus on protecting its own liberty, and to give up on regulating other people’s liberty." They should "stop seeking legal restrictions on other people’s sex lives and other people’s relationships."

A restricted view

What evidence does Laycock present to show that America is moving towards a more restricted view of religious liberty?

Laycock notes that "for too many on the pro-choice, gay rights, and women’s health care side of these issues, the free exercise of religion begins to look like a bad idea. It is a bad idea because it empowers their enemies." As a result, there is growing opposition to religious exemptions to any laws.

Laycock quotes Colorado State Sen. Pat Steadman as telling those who wanted a religious exemption to a bill he authored, "Get thee to a nunnery and live there then. Go live a monastic life away from modern society, away from people you can’t see as equal to yourself, away from the stream of commerce where you may have to serve them."

He also notes that although the 1993 Religious Freedom and Restoration Act passed almost unanimously in Congress, within five years Congress was deadlocked over passage of a bill in response to the Supreme Court's decision saying RFRA could not be applied to the states. Gay and civil rights groups demanded removing religious exemptions for civil rights laws, so the bill died. An amendment to only exempt very small business was defeated. The churches should have embraced that amendment, says Laycock.

By 2014, RFRA had become politically toxic. Laycock writes that "an overreaching bill in Kansas that was not a RFRA at all, and proposed amendments to clarify that the Arizona RFRA applies to business people, combined with anti-gay statements from the Arizona bill’s sponsor, enabled opponents to create an overwhelming public reaction that took down the Kansas and Arizona bills and proposed state RFRAs in Georgia and Ohio."

Likewise, there were many falsehoods from both sides in the recent debate over the Indiana RFRA, which Laycock supported. Republican sponsors, who did not bother to understand the legal language they were enacting, pandered to their base promising that "it would let them discriminate and told the rest of the country that it would not let anyone discriminate." In response, the left launched "a massive propaganda campaign. 'This bill is a license to discriminate,' which of course it wasn't. 'This bill is different from the federal RFRA,' which it wasn't." And they piled it on with intimidation and boycotts. "It was a campaign of lies, but it fooled most of the press," he said.

Sadly, religious freedom's so-called supporters were often its worst enemies by stirring up opposition.

Laycock argue that federal and state RFRAs have not permitted discrimination.

"Nobody has ever won an exemption from a discrimination claim under a RFRA standard," he explained. "Not in 50 years of federal law, not in any of the 32 states that have had the RFRA standard in place." Courts have either said that the RFRA does not apply or that the government has a compelling interest that must be upheld.

RFRA "was meant to be highly protective," he said. "It has been deeply disappointing in practice." The Hobby Lobby win is not typical. "There are few cases in most states and there are fewer wins," he said. And these wins have been noncontroversial cases with little opposition. Churches have usually won in feeding the homeless against objections of neighbors. Muslims and Native Americans have won the right to grow beards and long hair. Amish buggies have been protected. Sabbath observers have sometimes won.

Laycock objects that gay activists are saying "that they are entitled to have personal services available even when the services are entirely unwanted." Thus they are insisting that all marriage counselors agree to counsel gay couples even though "no same-sex couple in its right mind would want to be counseled by a counselor who believes that the couple’s relationship is fundamentally wrong." The only purpose of "such arguments is not to obtain counseling, but to drive conservative believers out of the profession."

He notes that in Washington state, Planned Parenthood spent years trying to find "even one woman who was unable to promptly obtain emergency contraception when she needed it, or when she went as a test shopper and claimed to need it. They never found a single example that stood up in court. But they are still litigating fiercely to require a handful of small pharmacies and individual pharmacists to stock and deliver emergency contraception."

His conclusion: "This litigation is not to solve a problem; it is to drive those pharmacies out of the profession or force them to conform to the plaintiffs’ view of the matter."

"The same logic is applied to every other occupation or profession in any way connected to one of these disputes," he writes. "If you don’t want to do abortions, do not work in obstetrics and gynecology. You should not be permitted to deliver babies unless you are also willing to kill babies on request. If you don’t want to do same-sex weddings, don’t be a wedding planner or a caterer or the owner of a bridal shop, however small."

The argument also applies to religious nonprofits. If they "don’t want to provide contraception, they don’t have to run a hospital, school, or charity. Never mind that churches for centuries have treated education, and care of the sick and the destitute, as part of their missions."

There is even talk of removing the tax exempt status of religious institutions that refuse to recognize same-sex marriage. "If you want to see social conflict," he says, "try stripping the tax exemption from every Catholic institution in the United States, every evangelical institution, every Orthodox Jewish institution, every religious institution in the country that does not do same-sex weddings or recognize same-sex marriages."

Laycock notes that a baker in Colorado refused to do a cake with depictions opposed to gay marriage. Also a printer in Kentucky refused to print brochures for a religiously conservative anti-gay rally. The administrative agency in Colorado supported the baker, as did the judge in Kentucky for the printer. But a florist, who had gay employees and normally served gay customers, lost in court when he refused on religious grounds to provide flowers for a gay wedding.

"We should protect the printer or baker who doesn't want to do any anti-gay messages," Laycock says, but "we should also protect the printer or baker who does not want to do messages that he believes are religiously prohibited."

He does not think we should have exemptions for serving gays and lesbians outside of weddings, nor should there be exemptions for large and impersonal businesses even in the wedding context. "But for very small businesses where the owner has to be involved in providing the services herself, I think we should exempt them from doing same-sex weddings as long as another provider is available."

Laycock admits that these exemptions are very hard to negotiate and are getting harder as our nation becomes more polarized and as the gay rights side believes it can win without compromise. Most early gay rights and marriage equality laws contained exemptions for religious nonprofits, but "those exemptions got narrower as time went on and as the marriage equality side had more votes and less need to make deals."

It is too late to make these deals in blue states, but such deals might be possible on gay rights legislation in red states where church support could make the difference for passage. But the problem is "the Republicans don't want the gay rights laws and the Democrats don't want the exemptions." Gay rights groups have withdrawn their support for the federal gay rights bill because it still contains exemptions for religious institutions.

Laycock holds up Utah as an example of such compromise that outlawed discrimination in employment and housing, while exempting the Boy Scouts and religious institutions. But he notes that gay groups outside the state have condemned the exemptions and Utah Republicans are having second thoughts about the law.

He also notes that "huge monetary liabilities are being imposed on religious objectors who litigate and lose" ($135,000 to a little bakery in Oregon; $800,000 reportedly is being requested from a little flower shop in Washington; $500,000 in damages and a petition for legal fees amounting to $750,000 against the Fort Wayne, Ind., diocese). "You got to be awfully sure of your ground before you litigate with exposure to that kind of risk," he said. On top of that is pressure from consumer boycotts that can put a small shop out of business.

On the other hand, Laycock acknowledges that problems can arise when a religious provider is the only one in a region that can provide the services. Thus a small rural pharmacy should not be allowed to deny contraceptives to customers if it is the only pharmacy available. Likewise, "Catholic hospitals should not seek, and should not be permitted, to acquire local monopolies over women’s health care," he says. "Those who seek to live by their own values should avoid acquiring monopolies that block that same possibility for others."

Firing teachers

I asked Laycock whether he thought Catholic schools would be allowed to fire gay teachers who got married.

"The teacher who enters a same-sex marriage presents the school and the bishop with a hard choice," he acknowledges. "Firing him inflames public opinion and causes people to view the church as hateful, discriminatory, and wholly out of touch. And isn't it better for gay teachers to be in a stable relationship than not? But letting a teacher so publicly flout such a core teaching is a real problem for the church; how can it possibly preserve the teaching in the next generation if the students in its schools see role models who flout it and remain on the payroll?"

Laycock believes that such employees can be terminated if they are considered "ministers" under the 2012 Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School vs. EEOC decision, which gave religious groups complete freedom in the hiring and firing of ministers. "Teachers who teach religion, or lead worship, are ministers for purposes of the ministerial exception," he argues. "Teachers of secular subjects, whose only or principal religious duty is to be good role models, are not." Laycock's interpretation is authoritative since he argued and won the Hosanna-Tabor case before the Supreme Court.

With respect to employees who are not ministers, "a school may still be protected by RFRA or the Title VII exception that allows religious institutions to hire on the basis of religion, and by state RFRAs, state constitutions, and exceptions in state discrimination laws against state-law claims," he says.

Laycock thinks a religious school should be protected when it fires a teacher who enters a same-sex marriage, but there is no guarantee it will be. "Gay teachers have a right to get married, but they should have no right to hold themselves out as representatives of the Catholic church," he argues. "Inside Catholic institutions should be a place where the church's rules control."

"Getting courts to provide that protection is a difficult challenge," he says. "Plainly in some blue states, schools are going to lose on this. Maybe in federal court too." He notes that "both the Cincinnati and Fort Wayne dioceses have lost cases when they fired teachers for in vitro fertilization. That was partly hostile courts and partly bad lawyering, but the hostile courts are very widespread, and good lawyering may not have mattered."

"Many of these claims will be filed under state law, and there will be no federal protection," he says. "The cases will land in state supreme courts, and many blue states will tell the church it has no right to practice its own teachings if any individual is inconvenienced, or offended, on the basis of sexual orientation or sexual identity."

Although Laycock believes that live-and-let-live solutions should be possible for the issues raised by the sexual revolution except abortion, he doesn't see much support for compromise on either side.

"Religious liberty in America is at risk," he concludes. "The fight over sexual morality has greatly endangered and undermined it. Maybe things will calm down after the sexual issues are resolved, and maybe cooler heads will prevail on less emotional issues, or maybe not." If not, being on the losing side of the sexual revolution may endanger religious liberty across the board.