Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Gregory R. Ollick National Catholic Reporter Sep. 30, 2015 VIEWPOINT There is a profound discussion about divorce, remarriage and the sacraments taking place in Catholic circles all over the world in response to the Synod of Bishops on the family that convenes for the second time in Rome in October. There is a case for allowing divorced and remarried Catholics, in certain cases, to continue to receive the sacraments, including Communion. There are valid issues that need to be addressed on both sides. There is an objective and subjective side to every act. Because of this, we can never say that a divorced and remarried person is culpable of committing ongoing mortal sin. The church teaches that there are three aspects to culpability/guilt for sin: the objective act, the circumstances, and the intent of the individual. To be guilty of a mortal sin, one must know fully that what he or she is doing is gravely sinful, and freely chose to do it anyway and thus separate himself or herself from God. The following is a typical example that will help illustrate my case: A young Catholic woman marries (licitly and with the proper canonical form) a Catholic man who she believes is "Mr. Right." They have three children together. The woman is very happy; she loves her husband and family. She thanks God every day for her blessings. Gradually, the woman's husband begins to act distant, avoiding affection and spending a lot of time "out of town." The husband finally comes home late one night and announces that he wants a divorce. The woman's whole world is shattered. After the divorce, the woman tries to make life as normal as she can for the children and to do the job of both parents alone. Her ex-husband remarries after a few years, and has a child with his new wife. Finally, the woman meets a man who really loves her children and spends a lot of time with them. He treats them as his own. He is loving, kind, affectionate and, most of all, faithful. After two years together, he asks her to marry him and she says yes. Things are finally looking up. The woman knows that she can't get remarried in the Catholic church without an annulment. They go to his Protestant minister, who listens to her sad story and agrees to the wedding. The woman truly believes that she has done what is best for herself and her children. She feels that she is not responsible for what happened with her first marriage. She wants to start all over again with a clean slate. When she goes to confession and tells the priest the whole story, he informs her that he cannot grant her absolution and that she must stop receiving Communion. He says that she is living in sin. The usual Catholic answer is to seek an annulment, but reliving the experience and heartbreak of the past is something that she can't bear to do. Her ex-husband also would want nothing to do with it. If the tribunal denied her the annulment, what would she be expected to do? She feels abandoned by a church that simply can't understand her situation and continues to judge her as a grave sinner, unfit to come to Communion. The young woman feels in her heart that she has not sinned. It seems to me that she cannot be found guilty of sin. She followed her conscience as best she could. This type of thing even happens to Protestants in similar situations who later feel called to become Catholic. They are also turned away from full Communion and the sacraments until they go through the long and painful annulment process. Many are sorely disappointed and, as a consequence, simply walk away from the church, never to return. Jesus warned his followers about judging others. He said, "Judge not, lest ye be judged" (Matthew 7:1). In my opinion, the church should not make itself the judge of what is in the human heart. That is something that can be seen clearly and fully by God alone. What would Jesus do? I believe he would love her and sympathize with her for the pain that she has endured. He would do what I feel we, as church, should do. He would meet her where she is, and help to move her and her family forward into a more intimate and loving relationship with God and with others. When Jesus met the woman at the well, he didn't call for the tribunal, though she had had several husbands. No, he loved her, met her where she was and moved her forward. What about Matthew 19, when Jesus says that if a man divorces his wife, he commits adultery? The Pharisees had approached Jesus in order to test him. He stood up to them and defended the bond of marriage. "It was because of the hardness of your hearts that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so" (Matthew 19:8). Jewish men could dismiss their wives with a bill of divorce with no sense of wrongdoing. Jesus raised the institution of marriage to the level of a sacrament. He taught that marriage is a lifelong vow, not to be broken without consequence. He was condemning the man who would simply dismiss his wife because she no longer pleased him, and then marry another. Jesus consistently taught against this type of selfishness. "What God has joined together, no human being must separate" (Matthew 19:6). In the new covenant, if you ignore Jesus' admonition, you may well be guilty of adultery. The church must continue to teach and promote the sanctity and the lifelong vows of marriage. This doctrine can never change. On the other hand, when this vow is broken by the selfishness of one of the two parties, the innocent should not be forced to suffer any more than they have already. The church should be offering them the love, understanding and forgiveness of Christ, meeting them where they are and helping them to renew the commitment of the new marriage. The goal should be to continue to move forward while learning from the past but then leaving it behind. This line of moral reasoning can be carried a step further. Suppose the man, in the case that I presented, finally repented. He realizes that he was wrong. He committed adultery. He deeply injured the woman who loved him, trusted him and bore his children. He abandoned his family in order to satisfy his selfish desires. He was influenced by a culture that tells us that if it feels good, go for it, a culture in which more than half of his friends may have been divorced. He is now truly sorry. If he could do it all over again, he would never have left his wife for another woman. What can he honestly do now? He is remarried. His former wife is also happily remarried. If he wants to reconcile with the church and is drawn to the sacraments, he should receive the forgiveness of the God who is always waiting and longing for the sinner to repent. This, I believe, is a better approach than to try and prove that the original marriage was invalid. The sincere disposition of the heart, required for a truly sacramental marriage, is something known only to God. This man's marriage may well have been sacramentally valid, and vows were broken, sin was committed. No sin, however, is above the mercy of the God who loves us and wants to give himself to us in Communion. Our God is a God of second chances who always welcomes the repentant sinner back with open arms. It has always seemed unreasonable to me that we readily grant annulments and permit remarriage in cases of "defect of canonical form" (a Catholic party is married outside of the church without proper paperwork/permission), but we cannot seem to forgive people for certain human failures when it comes to marriage. People who find themselves in situations like this need the church. They need to continue to receive the graces of the sacraments in Communion with a faith community that supports them and encourages them to live as Jesus has enjoined -- to love as he has loved them and to become what they are called to be -- a sacrament, a visible sign of God's invisible grace. This is just my opinion as to how the church's mind and practice could change in regard to certain cases of divorce, remarriage and the sacraments. The final determination is up to Pope Francis with the council of the bishops, and we must respect their decision. Let us pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as the synod continues to discern the church's official response to one of the most controversial questions since the Second Vatican Council. [Gregory R. Ollick was ordained as a permanent deacon for the Atlanta archdiocese in 2007. He earned his bachelor's degree in theological studies and his master's degree in theology at St. Joseph's College of Maine.]
Saturday, September 26, 2015
Rose Marie Berger Religion News Service September 26, 2015 At his speech before Congress on Thursday, Pope Francis listed Trappist monk Thomas Merton as one of four exemplary Americans who provide wisdom for us today. Out on the National Mall, thousands cheered when the pope named two other exemplary Americans: Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. Fewer recognized Merton (or the fourth exemplar the pope mentioned, social activist Dorothy Day.) The pope did not choose to hail anyone associated with the institutional Catholic Church as his models. Instead he chose a former president, a Protestant minister, a lay Catholic, and a monk. That monk was significant because 10 years ago, when the first national Catholic catechism for adults was published in the United States, Merton’s name was omitted as not Catholic enough. The editors had included Merton in an earlier draft. In fact, the opening chapter told the story of Merton’s conversion. The editors understood that Merton’s story was quintessentially American and that he was central to 20th-century American Catholicism. At the time, however, two influential conservatives involved in drafting the catechism described Merton as a “‘lapsed monk’ who in his last days went ‘wandering in the East, seeking consolations, apparently, of non-Christian, Eastern spirituality.” They were appalled that anyone would hold Merton up as a model of faith, according to Deborah Halter’s 2005 National Catholic Reporter essay, “Whose orthodoxy is it?” When it was leaked that Merton was being excised from the new catechism, Catholics implored the bishops’ catechism committee to reverse its decision. Hundreds of letters flowed in. A petition was signed by 500 Catholic leaders. The International Thomas Merton Society sent a letter to then-Bishop Donald Wuerl, chair of the committee charged with writing the catechism, and US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ president Bishop William Skylstad, saying they were “deeply disturbed” by the Merton exclusion. “Merton,” they wrote, “has played a crucial role in the faith journeys of thousands upon thousands of Catholics (as well as other Christians and even non-Christians) both during his lifetime and since his death, and we believe his inclusion in the catechism can and should be a significant way to extend the powerful witness of his life and writings to a new audience.” Now-Cardinal Wuerl — so prominent at the pope’s side this week in his current role as archbishop of Washington — stated that Merton was removed because young Catholics didn’t know who he was. Even at the time, that was a weak excuse. So the catechism was published with no mention of Merton. And since then the popularity of Merton’s writings and spiritual wisdom has continued to grow. His monastery in Kentucky is a place of pilgrimage for thousands each year. He is avidly read among the young as well as the old. He continues to provide opportunities for encounter and dialogue. The International Thomas Merton Society’s membership extends across the globe. Yet the institutional Church as it is embodied in diocesan bureaucracy and managerial bishops continues to shut doors rather than open them. As recently as last week, the Northern California chapter of the International Thomas Merton Society attempted to host a talk by a Merton scholar and well-respected theologian on the topic of Merton’s interreligious dialogue. But the bishop asked the local Catholic Church to host it off-site. What a missed opportunity. When Francis chose to lift up Merton before the Congress as an exemplary Catholic American, he knew what he was doing. “Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions,” the pope said. It is time for the Catholic Church in America to restore Thomas Merton to his rightful place as an exemplar of Catholic faith within the genius of American democracy in our catechism, in our churches and in our body politic.
Friday, September 25, 2015
Joshua J. McElwee National Catholic Reporter September 25, 2015 In front of one of the last remnants of the World Trade Center and among representatives of various faith traditions Sept. 25, Pope Francis movingly called for families of victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks to honor those killed by becoming instruments of peace and reconciliation. After praying alongside those of Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths at an interfaith service at the Ground Zero memorial, the pontiff said he hoped their presence together at a place of such destruction would be a sign that peace is truly possible. "I trust that our presence together will be a powerful sign of our shared desire to be a force for reconciliation, peace and justice in this community and throughout the world," said the pope, speaking in front of the retaining wall of the fallen towers, which is preserved at the memorial. "For all our differences and disagreements, we can live in a world of peace," Francis said. "We can and must build unity on the basis of our diversity of languages, cultures and religions, and lift our voices against everything which would stand in the way of such unity," he said. "Together we are called to say 'no' to every attempt to impose uniformity and 'yes' to a diversity accepted and reconciled." Saying such unity "can only happen if we uproot from our hearts all feelings of hatred, vengeance and resentment," the pope asked the hundreds present for the occasion to "implore from on high the gift of commitment to the cause of peace." "In this way, the lives of our dear ones will not be lives which will one day be forgotten," he said. "Instead, they will be present whenever we strive to be prophets not of tearing down but of building up, prophets of reconciliation, prophets of peace." Francis was speaking Friday as part of a service which saw poignant reflections from Jewish and Muslim leaders, a prayer of remembrance from the pope, and Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian, and Muslim meditations. The multitude of different colors and patterns on the various religious attire worn by the 400 to 500 people in the audience stood out in the drab, concrete room: pink caps and red sashes of cardinals, pastel yellow and burgundy turbans of Sikh religious leaders, saffron robes of Buddhists, traditional prints of Native Americans, embroidered yarmulkes of Jews, embroidered jubba robes of Muslims. The service was marked with evocative imagery. Before entering the memorial, the pope left a white flower on one of the new reflecting pools at the site where the towers once stood. He spoke only feet away from the 36-foot-tall “Last Column," the last steel beam removed from the World Trade Center site. Before the service, Francis met with 20 family members of first responders who were killed while trying to help after the attacks on 9/11. Meeting those families, the pontiff said, "made me see once again how acts of destruction are never impersonal, abstract or merely material." "They always have a face, a concrete story, names," said the pope. "In those family members, we see the face of pain, a pain which still touches us and cries out to heaven." "At the same time, those family members showed me the other face of this attack, the other face of their grief: the power of love and remembrance," he continued. "A remembrance that does not leave us empty and withdrawn." "The name of so many loved ones are written around the towers’ footprints," he said. "We can see them, we can touch them, and we can never forget them." Francis then praised the brotherly spirit with which New Yorkers helped each other on that terrible day. "In a metropolis which might seem impersonal, faceless, lonely, you demonstrated the powerful solidarity born of mutual support, love and self-sacrifice," said the pope. "No one thought about race, nationality, neighborhoods, religion or politics." "It was all about solidarity, meeting immediate needs, brotherhood," he said. "It was about being brothers and sisters. New York City firemen walked into the crumbling towers, with no concern for their own wellbeing. Many succumbed; their sacrifice enabled great numbers to be saved." In his reflections before the pope's words, Muslim Imam Khalid Latif said the gathering of the diverse religious leaders should be an impulse for them to become partners for peacemaking. "Through our knowing of each other today, let us move beyond a mere toleration of our differences and work towards a much-needed celebration of them," said Latif, a chaplain at New York University. "Let us be bold enough to build partnerships with new friends and allies and together be the reason that people have hope in this world, not the reason that people dread it," he said. In his remembrance prayer, Francis asked God for "eternal light and peace" for those who died in the attacks, healing to those who continue to suffer injuries or illnesses, and that God may "bring your peace to our violent world." "Comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope, and give us wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among nations and the hearts of all," he prayed, using the same prayer Benedict XVI used in his 2008 visit to the site.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Tom Roberts National Catholic Reporter September 24, 2015 For an hour or so the first full day of his U.S. visit, Pope Francis was immersed in a setting quite different from the raucous scenes of adoring throngs lining the streets, the crush of thousands at an official White House greeting and thousands more gathered for the liturgy during which Fr. Junipero Serra was canonized. The pope had a relatively quiet hour at midday prayer Wednesday with his brother bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. His talk here, which registered as a few highlight points in most of the immediate coverage, may have the deepest and most enduring consequence for the Catholic community. His speech before Congress, for instance, will be mined and dissected in the way expected in a pluralistic democracy. There is far less room for parsing the words of the Bishop of Rome speaking to brother bishops. In five intense paragraphs mid-homily, Francis laid out an insistent call for dialogue – with everyone and in all directions – and explained what he considered the requirements for “authentic dialogue.” He also rejected “harsh and divisive language” which may temporarily satisfy but does not persuade in the long run. Though Francis did not state it as such, his “reflections” on the matter were the clearest repudiation to date of the style of some U.S. bishops who have become characterized as “culture warriors,” loudly condemning the culture and often its leaders and others who voice disagreement with or challenge church positions. The pope’s instruction, said Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, either “has to confirm a style a person already has or has to judge those whose style isn’t that.” The point, he said, is that “you don’t get very far building walls. It never happens that way. People first have to be able to listen to each other,” he said. “You don’t accomplish anything with a stalemate.” Zubik, who was in the cathedral with the pope declare himself “thrilled by the direction he is calling us to.” The appeal to dialogue applied to the bishops themselves as well as the wider culture, he said. “We have to continue to talk about how we become partners together” to “serve the faith and the country.” About 300 bishops were assembled for the service in the Romanesque style cathedral on Rhode Island Avenue. As the bishops filled the front and center rows, dressed in “house cassocks,” with magenta, watered-silk sashes around their waists and wearing the same color zucchettos, or skull caps, the image was unmistakable of a very exclusive, men-only organization. The point was underscored by two women interviewed by NCR. Both are enthusiastic about Francis and his various initiatives while at the same time critical of the fact that despite this pope’s frequent references to inclusiveness, this meeting of church leadership was a conversation among men only. Francis began by lavishing gratitude on the church of the United States and its leaders. Only two lines of the talk inspired spontaneous applause. The first in which he voiced his support, speaking of himself in the third person: “He puts his hand on your own, a hand wrinkled with age, but by God’s grace still able to support and encourage.” The second came a paragraph later when he said he was “conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice.” He ended that segment by saying he understood “how much of the pain of recent years has weighed upon you and I have supported your generous commitment to bring healing to victims – in the knowledge that in healing we too are healed – and to work to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated.” The reaction was immediate. Victims and their support groups are clear that they consider the bishops just about anything but courageous in their handling of abuse. And the question remains for many whether the bishops – whose steps to remedying the situation came only after public opinion and legal intervention forced their hand – were applauding themselves for their courage or the pope’s assertion that “such crimes will never be repeated.” An attentive quiet accompanied the rest of the speech, delivered in Italian and simultaneously interpreted for attendees, who included some parishioners and other invited guests. Francis told bishops it was “not my intention to offer a plan or to devise a strategy,” and he said he did not “come to judge you or to lecture you. He was, instead, offering “some reflections which I consider helpful for our mission.” Some of the reflections, however, left no questions about what he wanted his bishops to do and how he wanted them to act – toward one another, their priests, the faithful and the wider culture. “The speech was diplomatic in tone but very Pope Francis in substance,” said Massimo Faggioli, director of the Institute for Catholicism and Citizenship at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. It was “very carefully packaged not to sound too judgmental.” The temptation in these challenging times, Francis said, is “to give in to fear, to lick one’s wounds to think back on bygone times and to devise harsh responses to fierce opposition. “And yet we are promotors of the culture of encounter.” In Francis’s vision, encounter occurs through dialogue, which he describes as “our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the market place, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love.” The dialogue should be with everyone – among bishops, in their presbyterates, with lay persons, families and with society. “I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly,” he said. Faggioli was especially struck by Francis’s insistence on dialogue. In the years before Francis’s election in 2013, he said, “the word dialogue had become a bad word, a signal of becoming a liberal.” The insistence on dialogue he thinks is especially on the pope’s mind because of the upcoming Synod on the Family in Rome next month and the possibility of very contentious debate. “This church has to learn to dialogue again,” he said. “It is the only way out of this difficult moment.” The same is true in the secular world, he said. “ There’s no alternative to dialogue. The alternative is to circle the wagons and wait for the end of the world.” Gina Messina-Dysert is “thrilled with Pope Francis and all that he is bringing not only to the Catholic community but to the general community” but she also wishes that among the invitees to the dialogue were women and that among the subjects were those also of interest to women. A feminist theologian and dean of graduate and professional studies at Ursuline College, she said she “would like to see women welcomed in to the conversation. Women are not individuals to be feared.” The co-author of the recently released Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Feminists and Why We Stay, said the pope’s focus on social justice and poverty is “so wonderful,” but she wishes the church would get around to recognizing that poverty “is deeply intertwined with gender-based violence” and that the violence, in turn, is abetted by traditional church views on women and restrictions on reproductive rights. The same tension — loving what she heard, disappointed in what was missing — was apparent to Marti Jewell, associate professor in the school of ministry at the University of Dallas. On one hand, she said, Francis was very affirming to the bishops even during the tough parts of the talk. “On the other hand, he was pure Francis. He has almost a dystopian view of life – he sees the pain and suffering of this life – but he really believes that Jesus and the gospel has something to bring to it. I heard the Beatitudes,” she said, “I heard the corporal works of mercy.” What she didn’t hear were any women, references to women or discussions of issues important to women. While she was heartened to hear him speak as a bishop in plain language to his fellow bishops, she also recognizes that “this is a men’s club. He is a bishop speaking to bishops.” Still, Jewell expresses a tolerance because of all the other things he is doing, his advocacy for immigrants and his emphasis on mercy and dialogue. “I think he is doing fabulous things for migrants, the climate, for cleaning up Rome. I’m not going to ask him to do everything. “Would I have liked to see more invitations to women? Of course. I’d like to see much more support of lay ministry, the one place women can now be involved. But I don’t think he can do everything.”
Mr. Vice-President, Mr. Speaker, Honorable Members of Congress, Dear Friends, I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”. I would like to think that the reason for this is that I too am a son of this great continent, from which we have all received so much and toward which we share a common responsibility. Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility. Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you. Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face. Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people of the United States. Here, together with their representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and –one step at a time – to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society. They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which offer a helping hand to those most in need. I would also like to enter into dialogue with the many elderly persons who are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience, and who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer work, to share their stories and their insights. I know that many of them are retired, but still active; they keep working to build up this land. I also want to dialogue with all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations, who are not led astray by facile proposals, and who face difficult situations, often as a result of immaturity on the part of many adults. I wish to dialogue with all of you, and I would like to do so through the historical memory of your people. My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans. The complexities of history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women, for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and self-sacrifice – some at the cost of their lives – to build a better future. They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people. A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity. These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves. I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that “this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom”. Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity. All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world today. Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject. Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good. The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience. In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort. Here too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his “dream” of full civil and political rights for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of “dreams”. Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people. In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this. Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12). This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development. This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation. In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints. How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem. It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (ibid., 3). “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (ibid., 14). In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (ibid., 231) and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (ibid., 139). “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology” (ibid., 112); “to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power” (ibid., 78); and to put technology “at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead. A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: “I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions. From this perspective of dialogue, I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223). Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade. Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God. Four representatives of the American people. I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life. In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family. A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton. In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream. God bless America!
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Thomas C. Fox National Catholic Reporter September 22, 2015 Two days after appearing at a women’s ordination conference in Philadelphia, Precious Blood Fr. Jack McClure said today he has been told he can no longer celebrate Mass at Most Holy Redeemer parish in San Francisco where he has been pastor and parochial vicar for the past 15 months. According to McClure, he was informed by Precious Blood Fr. and Most Holy Redeemer pastor Matthew Link that the secretary for San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said McClure can no longer celebrate Mass at the beyond the end of this month. McClure said his last Mass will be Sunday, Sept. 27. “I feel bad about this. I feel bad for the parish. I feel bad about this silencing,” said McClure. “But I want to make it known I appreciate the generosity Archbishop Cordileone has shown me and my religious community for allowing us to serve in his archdiocese. However, in conscience I needed to break my silence.” The result of this new development, McClure said, is not all bad. “I feel the pain of being silenced,” he said, “and in this silencing I am beginning to feel the deep pain women feel all over the church.” He said he came to the Philadelphia conference in the spirit of the dialog he said Pope Francis had called for in the church. “I really feel I want to participate in this dialog,” he said. McClure and Link began their ministry at Most Holy Redeemer parish, located in the San Francisco Castro district, in July 2014. The parish had been looking for priests, and Link approached the archdiocese with the idea of allowing him and McClure to come to Most Holy Redeemer to serve as a team. Most Holy Redeemer has a history of being a “welcoming” parish, and over the years it has attracted many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics, some of whom have felt unwelcome in other Catholic parishes. McClure, 71, initially served as pastor at Most Holy Redeemer. Link took over as pastor last July 1. Since then McClure has served as parochial vicar. Just before traveling to Philadelphia, McClure submitted a resignation letter to Link, relinquishing his position as parochial vicar. His intention had been to move across the San Francisco Bay, live in Berkeley, and help out on weekends at Most Holy Redeemer, offering support to Link as he could. The Precious Blood Fathers have a residence and small community in Berkeley. “I am no longer able to be ‘on call’ during the week for MHR pastoral needs as required of a Parochial Vicar,” McClure wrote Link Sept. 17. “As you know, [Precious Blood Provincial] Fr. Joe Nassal has asked me to have a presence in our CPPS Berkeley Community.” However, following conversations Link said he had with San Francisco archdiocesan staff over the weekend, McClure will no longer be able to celebrate Mass at any time at Most Holy Redeemer beyond the end of this month. Link said he had spoken with several members of the archdiocesan staff, including Vicar for Clergy Fr. Raymund M. Reyes. Asked for a comment Link said: “It’s tough.” The archdiocese did not return a phone call. McClure appeared at the WOW conference on a panel of three men, Tony Flannery, Roy Bourgeois and Paul Collins, all priests who have been dismissed, excommunicated or forced to resign based on their support for women’s ordination. Before McClure spoke he asked the women to join him in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to help guide him as he spoke. He cited scripture, which told a story of Jesus walking with women. He talked about Pope Francis’ call to dialog. He told the women he wanted to support them in their efforts to end discrimination. Miriam Duignan, a member of the WOW leadership team, said today she felt bad about the McClure sanctions. “I don’t want him to be homeless. I don’t want him to be an outcast. It’s crazy.” Said Duignan: “I am shocked that our church is still capable of causing this kind of harm -- to punish a 71-year-old man for saying publicly what thousands of priests are saying privately all over the world.”
Sunday, September 20, 2015
Francis A. Quinn New York Times September 18, 2015 I AM a Catholic, born in 1921 of Italian and Irish families and raised in California seminaries. After decades of work as a priest, I was astonished that Pope Paul VI appointed me a bishop in San Francisco. I love my church, and every night I pray that I might die in her warm, loving arms. Yet I worry about my church’s future. Basic doctrines will not change. But the church may change policies and practices after doing serious study. So, as we await Pope Francis’ visit to America, I offer a peaceful contribution to the controversies that convulse the church today. American Catholics are divided, primarily, by three internal church conflicts. The first is over priestly celibacy. Observers within and outside the church point to mandatory celibacy as a principal factor driving down the number of American priests. A celibate life is admirable for a priest who personally chooses it. For 1,000 years, great good has been accomplished because priests could fully devote their lives to their ministry. Nevertheless, in recent years married clergy of other Christian churches have been accepted into service in the Catholic Church. So far, the ministry of these married priests has appeared successful. The church should start relieving the desperate shortage of clergy members by also accepting for ordination men of mature age, of proven character and in stable marriages. Optional celibacy allows a choice between an abstinent life, totally free for ministry, or a married life that enables better understanding of the lives of parishioners. American Catholics are also divided over the ordination of women as priests. Recent popes have said publicly that priesthood for women cannot be considered because the gospel and other documents state that Christ ordained men only. Yet women have shown great qualities of leadership: strength, intelligence, prayerfulness, wisdom, practicality, sensitivity and knowledge of theology and sacred Scripture. Might the teaching church one day, taking account of changing circumstances, be inspired by the Holy Spirit to study and reinterpret this biblical tradition? Finally, why is a divorced Catholic who has remarried denied the Eucharist? Such people are considered living in an irregular union. Valid marriages remain indissoluble. However, in confession a priest, after reviewing the circumstances with a remarried penitent, already can assist that person to develop a clear conscience with God and resume receiving the Eucharist. Last month, Pope Francis stated that divorced and remarried Catholics were “not excommunicated,” perhaps suggesting that prohibition of the Eucharist is under review. In surveys today, the question “to what church do you belong?” increasingly prompts the answer “none.” Polls show that many high school and college students have gradually come to believe that what they learned as children about the nature of God can be erased as readily as Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. The culture that surrounds them focuses on science, growing out of the long history of Copernicus, Darwin, Freud, Einstein and Hawking. Still, most young people become not atheistic but agnostic, still searching even as they entertain doubts about God. Pope Francis prefers the simple title “bishop of Rome.” So I ask my brother bishop: Should we not convene a third Vatican Council just as ethical and paradigm-shifting as Vatican Council II of the 1960s? A Vatican Council III would bring together the world’s bishops under the unifying guidance of Peter. It would include representative major theologians, scholars of sacred Scripture, scientists and appropriate academics, lay people of all ages, clergy members and parishioners, and officials of other faiths. In addition to the three issues dividing the church, this council and future councils would explore the morality of world economies, spiritual life, human sexuality, peace and war, and the poor and suffering. Such a council might slow or reverse the flow of the faithful out of the church. It would also stimulate a new conversation about God, one that shows young people that God is not an old man with a long white beard. God is infinite and unlimited. This is not easy to grasp. God is incomprehensible to our finite minds. We surmise that God is spirit, straddling the universe and parallel universes. At the same time God is intimate to each of us. We cannot prove existence by reason, nor can science disprove God’s existence. Moreover, faith and science are not in conflict. Many of the young say they relate to God personally and do not need a church. We applaud this personal relationship, but it is also truly human to do things in community: We party together, we play sports together, we enjoy meals together. The three generations of my own nieces and nephews are just as moral as I am, if not more so. Could it be that they know more clearly what Pope Francis has been asking of us for the past two years — to be more loving and accepting? What caused much of the church over the centuries to underestimate the gospel’s core message, which is love? After the emperors Constantine and Theodosius embraced Christianity in the fourth century, one strain in the church developed a spirit of power and dominance, seen most clearly in the Crusades and the Inquisition. Many, including Pope Gregory VII, tried heroically, but unsuccessfully, to stop this trend. Therefore, the main challenge facing the church today is not simply to resolve questions like celibacy, but to relearn how to communicate a deeper, more intelligent, more relevant religion that leads to a life of acceptance and love. Francis A. Quinn is the retired bishop of Sacramento and the author of “Behind Closed Doors: Conflicts in Today’s Church.”
Friday, September 18, 2015
Amanda Erikson Washington Post September 18, 2015 When Steven Skojec heard that Jorge Mario Bergoglio had been elected pope, he got a queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. He can’t say why, exactly — though he follows Vatican politics closely, he didn’t know much about Francis then. But as he watched the new Catholic leader greet the crowds on his office television in Manassas, Va., he was filled with dread. “I felt a discontinuity,” he said. “A disruption.” At first, he didn’t want to make too big a deal of it. Though Skojec blogs regularly about Catholicism at the Web site he founded, OnePeterFive (tag line: Rebuilding Catholic culture. Restoring Catholic tradition.), he mostly avoided the subject. “I wanted to withhold judgement,” he said. Six months later, he was ready to judge. What really turned Skojec against Francis was the pope’s October 2013 interview in the Jesuit magazine America. Buried in the transcript was a comment, by Francis, that the world’s biggest evils are youth unemployment and loneliness. “That’s a jarring statement . . . when you’re on the front lines of the culture wars, looking at the death toll of abortion,” Skojec said. “There was definitely a sense that this could be trouble.” Among Americans Catholics, Francis is wildly popular, with an approval rating hovering near 90 percent. The faithful are flocking back to the pews, pollsters say, drawn by the pope’s humility and inclusive message. But a growing number in the church’s conservative wing don’t feel so welcome. Just 45 percent of conservative Catholics have a favorable opinion of Francis, down from 72 percent a year ago. They worry that Francis is loosening the church’s strict teachings on morality (he famously told a prominent Italian atheist that “everyone has his own idea of good and evil” and has said “who am I to judge” when asked about gay priests). They accuse him of deserting them on issues such as abortion and contraception (he has said he avoids those issues because the church has become too “obsessed” with them.) And they say his attacks on capitalism are ill-conceived and amount to a plea for redistribution of wealth — or worse. Those fears make sense to Julie E. Byrne, a Hofstra University professor who studies American Catholics and was raised Catholic herself. “The so-called bedroom issues have always been important to conservatives, and to Catholic conservatives in particular,” she said. “There’s a sense that the church is the only place holding the line on divorce [and] on adultery.” Though Francis hasn’t changed church doctrine on these issues, he’s shown a willingness to loosen the rules on who should receive Communion or forgiveness for their sins. “When Francis lightens up on that,” Byrne says, “people wonder what’s next.” That, in a nutshell, is Skojec’s question. He was raised Catholic, though his parents took him to a modern church. As a young adult, however, he became curious about the more traditional components of his faith. He pored over old encyclicals, he said, and read church history. Today, he and his wife, who run a real estate business, strive to live up to these ideals. They take their seven children to Latin Mass at churches such as St. Mary Mother of God in Northwest Washington. Few parishes offer Latin services, which went out of fashion after Vatican II the ecumenical council that modernized church doctrine. He has spent his life making hard choices — sticking with his marriage in the moments when things seemed hard, following the church’s prohibition on using artificial contraception, and advocating for a variety of what he sees as essential Catholic teachings (particularly the fight against abortion) in his spare time. Francis, he worries, has made it seem like these priorities, the ones he’s framed his life around, are no longer central to the church. “He’s giving the impression that he’s changing teachings that cannot be changed,” Skojec said. “He makes it seem like even if the rules on the books can stay the same, but if we change the practice, that’s not a problem. . . . He’s sowing confusion about what we believe.” That worries Skojec, and not just because it means some Catholics now feel free to disregard church doctrine. When people are confused, they may sin without knowing it. And that could reshape their “eternal outcome.” Skojec hears these concerns echoed by friends, by priests whose parishioners think adulterers can now receive Communion and by professors who wonder about what they’ll tell their students. He also dislikes the pope’s focus on economics. Francis’s talk of the poor, his encyclical on climate change and his criticism of capitalism make Catholicism “sound more like a social program. . . . It’s like this dropping away of focus.” That criticism has been echoed in opinion pieces by prominent Catholics in the Wall Street Journal, in free market think tanks, and by business leaders around the world. This summer, the Heartland Institute sent a delegation to Rome to “educate” the pope on climate change (the organization believes that manmade climate change is a myth). The Heritage Foundation warned that the pope has aligned himself “with the far left and has embraced an ideology that would make people poorer and less free.” Even Catholic publications have piled on, in unusally harsh language. A writer for the conservative Catholic publication First Things has called Francis “an ideologue and a meddlesome egoist.” An August church bulletin from the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in St. Hedwig, Tex., bemoaned the pope’s encyclical Laudato Si, writing that “it’s too bad that he acquired and used phrases that are scientifically unproven and used by the segment of world leaders that strive to ‘control people’ by controlling energy issues usages.” Cardinal Raymond Burke has even suggested it might be necessary to “resist” the Pope’s doctrinal shifts. One of those critics is the Rev. Robert A. Sirico, who heads the Action Institute, a conservative think tank. Though he applauds the pope’s inclusive approach, he’s skeptical of his economic message. “Pope Francis is not an economist,” he says. “He talks about how his father would bring home work having to do with finance and the economy and he ‘had an allergy to it.’ He just doesn’t understand economics very well.” And really, Sirico says, the Vatican shouldn’t be thinking about markets at all. Its job is to guide people’s spirits, not their purchases. “The church doesn’t profess to be an economic think tank,” Sirico says. “If that’s allowed to persist, it in effect dilutes the church’s brand.” Sirico says he’s heard echoes of Skojec’s critiques from a wide swath of conservative Catholics. Many, he says, are not anti-Francis exactly. But they’re confused by his message. Francis often speaks off the cuff, without much preparation. “But as the pope, he speaks simultaneously to a wide variety of cultures and context,” he says. “In my memory, I’ve never seen the papal spokesman having to walk back as much as this in just two years.” That uncertainty puts conservative Catholics in a tough position. More so than most other lay people, they are invested in the hierarchy of the church and the infallibility of its leaders. When the pope challenges the very core of their beliefs, they don’t know how to react. “Progressives are more interested in the message, the politics,” Sirico says. “But conservatives believe the church needs the pope. So it’s hard when they don’t feel like the pope is an ally.” Skojec grapples with this, too. When he writes that Francis is wrong to suggest that we all have our own definition of good and evil, or that the pope’s position on evangelization is misguided, Skojec’s readers accuse him of leading them to sin because advising against church doctrine is forbidden. But Skojec says they’re wrong. He is simply highlighting the truth of the church. “Popes make mistakes,” he says. “There are good popes and there are bad popes.” Over the past few months, though, he has begun to wonder whether Francis might harm the church more permanently. He has even started to worry that there might be a schism — a break between some Catholics and the Vatican. Experts say that seems unlikely. “American Catholics have always felt that the pope doesn’t understand their situation,” said Kathleen Cummings, who directs the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame. “It’s a recurring phenomenon.” In the 1950s, she said, some Catholic schools resisted integrating even after being ordered to do so by Rome. Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, there was widespread disregard of the church’s teaching on contraception — a trend that continues today. “Conservative Roman Catholics who are really outraged were outraged long before Francis,” she said. “But most Roman Catholics who care, care enough about church unity not to split.” The contrast between what Francis says and how little actual doctrine has changed was on display at a recent panel on marriage, hosted by the Opus Dei-funded Catholic Information Center. About 50 people gathered in the center’s small back chapel to hear Father Antonio Lopez and Nicholas J. Healy lay out the theological reasons why Communion should not be granted to divorced or remarried Catholics. “Marriage is indissolvable,” Lopez told the audience, and they nodded in agreement. To treat it otherwise, he went on, trivializes sex, harms intimacy and fundamentally reshapes our relationship with God. After his talk, a questioner asked whether she would be allowed to disregard the Vatican if it suggested otherwise. A synod of bishops will consider this question in October. Healy brushed off the question. “It would be impossible,” he said. “The fundamentals of the church cannot be changed.”
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Brian Roewe National Catholic Reporter September 15, 2015 The soon-to-be successor of Bishop Robert Finn acknowledged here Tuesday he will need time to get up to speed with the issues of his new diocese, one bereft with divisiveness amid the fallout of a clergy sexual abuse scandal. Still, he recognized unresolved matters will require additional attention before focus can turn to what lies ahead. “I believe that the diocese still has a great need for some healing,” said Bishop James V. Johnston at an introductory press conference held at the diocesan Catholic Center in downtown Kansas City. “But I also believe that the one that truly heals is Jesus. And so I see my role as the bishop as sort of being a physician’s assistant, to be a person that facilitates some of that healing and actually also bringing the church together, providing some clarity so that we can really put our focus and our energy, our passion on what we’re called to be as church,” he said. The Vatican’s announcement of Johnston’s move to Missouri’s northwestern corner from its southern Springfield-Cape Girardeau diocese came nearly five months after a similar Vatican bulletin brought word that Finn, 62, would step down as its leader. Kansas City, Kan., Archbishop Joseph Naumann who in the interim has served as apostolic administrator of his neighboring diocese, said that people have continually asked him, particularly in recent weeks, when a new bishop would arrive. “[To them] it seemed like a long time. Actually, this announcement is kind of lightning speed within the church. It shows the solicitude that Pope Francis has for this local church,” the archbishop said in introducing Johnston. Naumann will remain administrator until Johnston’s installation as bishop on Nov. 4 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. In his prepared remarks, Johnston, 55, said he was at first surprised upon learning from the apostolic nuncio that Pope Francis had appointed him the seventh bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, but ultimately “humbled and honored.” “I pledge to serve you with generosity, kindness, and charity. … Every one of us has an important place and mission within the church, which comes through our baptism. I am eager to join all of you in putting our focus and passion on loving Jesus, serving Jesus, and sharing Jesus,” he said. The press conference left Greg Vranicar, director of planned giving for the diocese, optimistic that Johnston could “heal the wounds” of the diocese for both its priests and its people, particularly those who have left. “We’ve unfortunately suffered grave losses because people have left, and I think now this is an opportunity for us to get back and start over. Start anew,” said Vranicar, who has worked for the diocese since 2002. Along with thanking God, Naumann, and St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson, Johnston thanked the people of the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese. “You have recently been through uncertain and often difficult days. I am grateful to you for your strong faith and commitment, for your love for the Lord and His Church, your Church,” he said. A diocese already divided over initiatives instituted by Finn reached its head in May 2011 when now-former priest Shawn Ratigan was arrested on child pornography charges. In September 2012, Finn was convicted of a misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse related to Ratigan, who a year later was sentenced to 50 years in prison. As the Ratigan case unfolded, Johnston served on the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Child and Youth Protection (2011-2014). He told the media at the press conference that he did not recall the committee deliberately addressing the Finn case, though it did come up. “It was not under our purview to make any decisions, but we were acutely aware of the public nature of what was going on here, and we were very concerned about it,” he said. Johnston added that the 2002 resignation of Knoxville, Tenn., Bishop Anthony O’Connell -- following his admission that he molested teenaged seminarians decades earlier as rector of the Hannibal, Mo., high school seminary -- “hits very close to home,” and shaped his outlook on the abuse issue. Johnston was among the first priests O’Connell ordained for the Knoxville diocese, which formed in 1988. “Finding out about his past has caused me to realize the importance of some of the things, a lot of the things, that the church is doing now in terms of prevention. But I also am very much aware up-close of how much pain the actions of priests and bishops have caused many people, individually, and the importance of taking seriously the need for healing and for calling people to responsibility.” The bishop added he was “very disappointed” hearing O’Connell admit his abuse, “but there is no excuse for it. If anyone commits sexual abuse toward minors, it is inexcusable. It’s a crime and it’s a serious sin.” In a statement David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said that in appointing Johnston, “Pope Francis has made another poor choice.” Clohessy said that Johnston ignored a recent request to reach out to possible victims of three religious order priests, shown as credibly accused in part of a Minnesota settlement, who worked in the Springfield-Cape Girardeau diocese. He also said Johnston did not reply to a 2011 letter sent him in 2011 requesting similar action regarding Msgr. Thomas O’Brien, whose name was included in a dozen lawsuits among the 30 the Kansas City diocese settled last October. Fr. Charles Rowe, Kansas City vicar general, told NCR that Johnston’s time on the child protection committee was one of aspects that pleased him with the appointment, along with his proximity to Kansas City and his experience in running a diocese. “As we all know, our shortcomings, our lapses [on the abuse issue] have caused a lot of people, especially vulnerable people, a lot of pain,” Rowe said. “And having a man who is in the know about the magnitude of the problem and also about the resources to address the problem is a real, real plus.” Rowe believed the new bishop’s experience on the abuse issue would bring, as well as reinforce, credibility to the diocese as it continues to make strides both in abuse prevention and regaining trust. In recent weeks, the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese has hosted two healing services for survivors of clergy sexual abuse, the most recent on Sept. 9 at St. Elizabeth Parish in Kansas City. A first for the diocese, the services are part of its preparation for the Year of Mercy that Francis has declared, set to begin Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Johnston said he intends to visit parishes shortly after his installation, not only to celebrate Confirmation but to meet their parishioners. Last August, he embarked on a 17-day, 2,300 mile journey across the Springfield-Cape Girardeau diocese to visit each parish in the mission diocese. Ordained in the mission diocese of Knoxville, Tenn., he said the makeup of a mission diocese pushes the bishop out of the office and into the community. “People live so far away they can’t come to you, so it’s up to the bishop to go to them. And so that’s sort of what I’m used to, and I enjoy it,” Johnston said. He speculated his experience in mission dioceses may have played a role in his appointment, in that they require people to rely on and help each other. “I think the church is a family and we have to assist one another, but in order for that to happen, you do have to have trust. And so, that’s what I would work on immediately, is to get to know people so they can get to know me so that I can be a good shepherd for people here,” Johnston said. The former electrical engineer-turned-priest emphasized his missionary background in his opening statement, saying a challenge of the Gospel and key theme of Pope Francis’ papacy “is to not be an inward-looking church.” “Our energy and identity is to be in mission mode: to be mindful of the poor, the lost, those hungering and thirsting physically and spiritually, of those needing healing, including people who have been harmed by those within the church,” Johnston said. “I am eager to join all of you in this mission that Jesus has entrusted to us.”
Monday, September 14, 2015
Peter Smith Pittsburgh Post-Gazette September 13, 2015 The pipe organ thundered during Sunday morning Masses as worshipers gathered inside the grand Basilica Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul in central Philadelphia. Outside in the hot August sun, artists and others were busily preparing an eyeful for Pope Francis’ visit here in late September. Their project: building a makeshift grotto and displaying tens of thousands of strips of cloth in which individual visitors have written their prayers, many in English or Spanish, asking for the welfare of their families, friends, immigrants, the homeless and the hungry. “Hopefully this will give voice to those who otherwise may not have a voice,” said Meg Saligman, the local artist coordinating the project, who said some 30,000 prayers have been contributed. And some of those prayers are for the Catholic Church in Philadelphia — which by all accounts will need it, and not just amid the bewildering logistics of hosting the largest public events of Francis’ first visit to the United States. Francis’ appearances will include an outdoor festival on Sept. 26 and an outdoor Mass the following day. Philadelphia is one of the cradles of American Catholicism, an immigrant gateway that weathered deadly anti-Catholic rioting in the 19th century and became home to the first American parochial school system and pioneering saints Katharine Drexel and John Neumann. But more recently, the city became the dateline for some of the most devastating revelations of sexual abuse by priests in the world. Grand jury reports in 2005 and 2011 found that cardinals and other clerics shifted numerous known abusers from one unsuspecting parish to another. A priest in the archdiocese’s hierarchy is behind bars for his conviction for keeping a known abuser in a parish setting where he could and did molest again. Compounding the archdiocese’s troubles were an embezzlement conviction in 2012 of a chief financial officer involving nearly $1 million. Then there are more systemic problems plaguing many older dioceses in the Northeast, including an aging and shifting population. While the archdiocese says its Catholic population has remained stable since the turn of the century — one of the nation’s largest at about 1.4 million — its rates of school enrollment, baptisms, confirmations and church weddings are plunging, and numerous parishes and schools have closed. “We had an ugly time in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” acknowledged Archbishop Charles Chaput, who took office in 2011, in a recent speech to the Religion Newswriters Association. “...Nearly everybody in the church was angry about something.” He said the archdiocese has been able to stabilize its finances and other structural issues, but that “doesn’t automatically fix its spirit.” He described the upcoming papal visit, to be preceded by a major international Catholic gathering, the World Meeting of Families, as offering a chance for a “turnaround moment that renews the spirit.” But not without controversy. Liberal Catholic groups have complained that dissenting voices on issues of marriage and sexuality are being excluded from the World Meeting of Families. Archbishop Chaput has said the church isn’t going to provide a platform for opponents of church doctrine. Francis has upheld church teachings that preclude sexual activity outside a marriage between a man and a woman, but he has taken a conciliatory tone, famously answering a question about gay priests: “Who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?” Stephen Seufert, state director of Keystone Catholics, which advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons in the church, hopes for more of the same in Francis’ visit. “There’s room for a lot of different opinions on the LGBT issue,” he said. “One of the long-lasting effects is that he’s going to open up dialogue.” In his talk to the religion newswriters, Archbishop Chaput, a staunch culture warrior, sought to pre-empt any media story line contrasting “a compassionate Pope Francis versus conservative American bishops.” The archdiocese, he said, puts far more money and people to work fighting poverty than to opposing abortion. He said he hopes Francis sees the church’s charitable efforts while also seeing “the gravity of the challenges we face on family life, marriage, human sexuality and religious freedom.” Those challenges also include convincing the Catholic flock itself on such things. Majorities of Philadelphia Catholics, for example, say same-sex marriage and abortion should be legal, according to surveys by the Public Religion Research Institute. The archdiocese recently instituted a requirement that parents in Catholic schools sign a memo of understanding that the schools reflect Catholic identity and that the archbishop has final say in matters of church law. Earlier this year, a teacher with a same-sex spouse was fired at a private Catholic academy not directly under the archdiocese’s purview. Archbishop Chaput said Catholic leaders need to be “open and loving but at the same time confident in what the church teaches.” In interviews at the cathedral between Sunday Masses, worshipers said Francis has already had an impact on the local church, citing his tolerance and recent encyclical urging environmental protection in the face of global warming. “He’s done a lot in terms of bringing the church into the modern age because of his stance on climate changing and homosexuality and taking a more accepting tone,” said Joe Benci, 25, a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania. Added Sierra Vandendries, 24, a dental student at Penn: “I feel like we’re having a religious awakening regarding Catholicism in the city, which is really exciting.” “Just the fact that they call him the people’s pope is fantastic,” said Philomena Stephen-King, 54, a greeter at the cathedral and a social-service caseworker. “He’s very inclusive and down-to-earth.” But there were also cautions that there will be no quick turnaround from the archdiocese’s scandals. “There’s no way to apologize for what happened to those kids,” said Mr. Benci. “It was a very horrible thing. Hopefully the church can move forward and be more vigilant and catch these things before they happen.”
Timothy R. Rice Philadelphia Inquirer September 11, 2015 As I rounded Lombard Street the other day, heading west in Philadelphia, I was greeted by a life-sized, cardboard cutout of Pope Francis on a balcony at Second and Lombard Streets. His arms were outstretched and he was wearing a shirt with the word “Hope” on his chest. My first thought was: Does this poor soul know what he is in for in Philadelphia? As our pope continues to preach tolerance, forgiveness, and humility, the Catholic Church in Philadelphia escalates its ground war against such crazy notions. The local archbishop, Charles J. Chaput, rules with a fist clenched in a velvet glove. Cloaked as a man of God, his message is simple: Follow all rules or leave the Church; we have no need for dissent or diversity in our ranks. Judging from some of his email replies to the faithful, he is less than kind about delivering the message. Lately, he has taken off his gloves and started delivering bare-fisted body blows. Some days it seems he is auditioning to be a modern-day Rocky Balboa in clerical garb, pounding away on a side of beef at a slaughterhouse at the Italian Market. On Tuesday, Rocky Chaput pronounced that all parents of Catholic school students must sign a loyalty pledge, acknowledging allegiance to Church doctrine and to him as their supreme moral authority. Parents, who often work two jobs to afford a Catholic education for their children, are being lectured that Catholic education is a privilege, not a right. If they don’t agree with every Church doctrine, they should head for public school. His edict comes only a few years after he shuttered dozens of Catholic schools, often without consulting parents, and after Catholic bishops have been targeted for concealing sexual abuse of children by clergy. The edict follows on the heels of Rocky Chaput’s praise for the firing of Margie Winters, a devoted teacher at Waldron Mercy Academy. Her only crime was to love another woman. Is this a new pattern for the Catholic Church in the City of Brotherly Love? Purge the infidels? I hope not, but it’s a pattern that’s hard to ignore. So when Pope Hope arrives in a couple of weeks, I hope that he is able to reverse this trend. I hope that he can show that all Catholics are welcome in this Church, even those who seek discourse with Church leaders, have the courage to challenge authority, or simply want to be welcomed as children of God in our church pews. When our pope visits a local prison, I hope Rocky Chaput breaks from the fight and lets Pope Hope be greeted by the rank-and-file chaplains, those who minister to inmates daily under the most difficult conditions. The pope shouldn’t just have by his side Rocky Chaput, greeting inmates who he rarely, if ever, has offered ongoing spiritual counsel. I also pray that our pope will be greeted by Sr. Mary Scullion, a domestic Mother Teresa, who has ministered to the homeless for decades and built a dynamic organization that is gradually eliminating the vicious cycle of homelessness. All with little or no help from the archdiocese’s treasury. Yes, she has risen to the defense of the Waldron teacher fired at Rocky Chaput’s direction, or at least with his holy blessing. But, for years, she has practiced what Pope Hope, and Jesus Christ, preach about mercy, compassion, and reaching out to those less fortunate. Let Pope Hope see our best side, not just doctrinal purists who fit Rocky Chaput’s image of a good Catholic. And I hope that our pope sees and talks to local priests who may not always walk in lockstep with Rocky Chaput. At my parish, Annunciation B.V.M. in Havertown, the pastor blasts homosexuals and gay marriage from the pulpit, denounces the U.S. Supreme Court, and defiantly refuses to pour even a drop of water on the feet of women who devoutly worship in his congregation on a daily basis. All of this while our pope urges his priests to humble themselves, be less arrogant, and be like Christ. When confronted with such irony, our pastor proudly proclaimed from the pulpit that “just because the pope washes women’s feet, does not make it right.” No doubt my pastor will be distributing the Holy Eucharist on the Parkway after ignoring Pope Hope’s homily. This week, my granddaughter walked off to her first day of kindergarten — at a public school. She is the first in our family not to attend a Catholic school in generations. Although it was a bittersweet day for us, Rocky Chaput will no doubt rejoice in another infidel purged from the ranks. I hope my granddaughter prays, like many of us, that Pope Hope can bring some sanity to the madness in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, I will continue to worship every Sunday until the purge finally comes to my door. Until then, the pope is our only hope. Timothy R. Rice is a U.S. magistrate judge. The views expressed are his own.
Saturday, September 12, 2015
Frank Freeman Letters, St. Louis Dispatch September 12, 2015 Archbishop Raymond Burke says that the pope cannot change doctrine. He is right, of course. Change in the Roman Catholic Church is much more seminal. Long ago, the Jew, Boaz, married Ruth, a Moabite woman. The marriage represented a cultural change because, technically, the marriage was illegal. Naomi, Ruth’s Jewish mother-in-law, brought them together. Her son had died, but she still wished for grandchildren and recognized an opportunity for this to happen. In the story, Boaz returned to his farm after yet another fruitless discussion with the city fathers about their problems. He was down. Then he greeted his workers saying, “The Lord be with you.” The phrase is important. Boaz actually used God’s name, which is not used in print. We still use that same expression in church when the sacrament is done and when the Scriptures are read. The words haven’t lost any of their power. Apparently, God takes it from there, and Burke is mistaken if he thinks he can stop all this. This apparently illegal but very loving marriage gave us King David, who was their great-grandson. That's change.
Thursday, September 10, 2015
Kieran Tapsell National Catholic Reporter September 10, 2015 Dying of cancer, Bishop Emeritus Geoffrey Robinson appeared Aug. 24 before the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to testify to the prevalence of child sexual abuse in the church. He painted a sad picture of a brave and lonely Sisyphus with his band of bishops in tow, pushing a boulder with a reasoned response to the crisis up the Vatican Hill, only to have it pushed back by popes and cardinals who had no idea about the issue and a blindness about the incapacity of canon law to deal with it. "However great the faults of the Australian bishops have been over the last 30 years, it still remains true that the major obstacle to a better response from the church has been the Vatican," Robinson told the commission. Most of the Roman Curia saw the problem as a "moral one: if a priest offends, he should repent; if he repents, he should be forgiven and restored to his position. ... They basically saw the sin as a sexual one, and did not show great understanding of the abuse of power involved or the harm done to the victims." Robinson entered the seminary at 12-years-old, was ordained a priest, and became a canon lawyer and then auxiliary bishop of Sydney. In 1996, when revelations of clergy sexual abuse of children in Australia had reached a crescendo, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference appointed him to find a solution. In 2004, he resigned as auxiliary bishop of Sydney after concluding that the church's response was still inadequate. "I eventually came to the point where I felt that, with the thoughts that were running through my head, I could not continue to be a bishop of a church about which I had such profound reservations," Robinson wrote in a 2008 book Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church. "I resigned my office as Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney and began to write this book, about the very foundations of power and sex within the church." He wrote books and went on lecture tours, calling for radical reforms within the church, and in the process lost and gained many friends. He quickly came to the conclusion after his appointment by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to draw up a protocol to deal with child sexual abuse in 1996, that canon law was so inadequate for cases of sexual abuse that it would be a sham to use it. "We would have to invent something of our own," he told the Royal Commission. Prior to 1983, when he was consulted by the Vatican about a new draft of the Code of Canon Law, he found the words "pontifical secret" stamped over the document. He complained that if he were to give a reasoned response, he needed to discuss it with colleagues. He was told: "Just don't give it to the media." In 1996, Robinson devised a protocol called "Towards Healing," a system that was "outside, and indeed contrary to canon law." In the first draft, he required these crimes to be reported to the police as the police were not the media. Pope Paul VI's instruction, Secreta Continere of 1974, imposes the pontifical secret over allegations of clergy sexual abuse of children and contains no exception for reporting to the police. The barrage of statements by senior Curia figures from 1984 to 2002 made it abundantly clear that bishops should not report these allegations to the police. But that was not the only conflict that "Towards Healing" had with canon law. It had its own system of investigation, and clergy could be placed on permanent "administrative leave." None of this complied with canon law. In his perceptive notes of the meeting in the Vatican in April 2000 to discuss child sexual abuse, Robinson wrote that the members of the Roman Curia showed an "an overriding concern to preserve the legal structures already in place in the Church and not to make exceptions to them unless this was absolutely necessary." He told the Commission how Italian Archbishop Mario Pompedda told the delegates how they might get around canon law, but he did not want a law that he had to get around. He wanted one he could follow, but "they never came up with it." Robinson came away from that meeting knowing that the Australian bishops had no choice but to continue to go it alone, irrespective of what the fall out might be. The extent to which he and the other Australian bishops were prepared to do that is starkly illustrated in the minutes of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference of Nov. 28, 2002, where they resolved to disobey Pope John Paul II's 2001 Motu Proprio, Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, which required all complaints of child sexual abuse to be referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which would then instruct the bishop what to do. They would only refer those cases where there was no admission by the priest that the abuse had occurred. Robinson told the Commission that the purpose behind that was to avoid being told by Rome what to do with those priests who admitted the abuse. That decision was well justified given the figures presented to the United Nations by the Vatican that only one third of priests against whom credible allegations of child sexual abuse had been made, have been dismissed. The claim that the Vatican has a policy of zero tolerance is pure spin. This defiance of canon law was never going to last. Patrick Parkinson, professor of law at Sydney University, appointed by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to review "Towards Healing," pointed out the problems of a local protocol that conflicted with canon law: priests permanently removed from the ministry simply appealed to Rome which ordered their reinstatement. The bishop had to comply or be sacked. Robinson told the Commission that "Towards Healing" was initially successful because a number of priests accepted that they could not continue to work as a priest, but "it later fell down because both sides changed." Priests started to defend themselves with canon lawyers, and the victims went to civil lawyers. Robinson was very critical of Pope John Paul II for a lack of leadership on this issue, and particularly his imposition in 1983 of a five-year limitation period that effectively meant that there could be no prosecution of priest paedophiles under canon law because their crimes had been "extinguished." Prior to 1983, there was no limitation period for these crimes. After 1983, if a child was abused at the age of 7, and did not complain by the age of 12, there was no possibility of dismissing the priest under canon law. Figures presented to the Commission indicate that in Australia, the limitation period meant that only 3 percent of accused priests could be dismissed, and that figure only increased to 19 percent with the extension of the period to 10 years from the 18th birthday of the victim in 2001. Robinson said the church has still not had the appropriate leadership on child sexual abuse from Pope Benedict XVI and not even from Pope Francis. Robinson also criticized Australian Cardinal George Pell for refusing to join the other Australian bishops in adopting the "Towards Healing" protocol. Pell was party to the two-year consultations leading up to its adoption in November 1996, but, without reference to anyone, announced he was setting up his own system, the "Melbourne Response," and then claimed he was the first in Australia to do something about clergy sexual abuse. Apart from accusing Pell of destroying a unified response from the Australian bishops, Robinson said he was an "ineffective bishop" for having lost the support of the majority of his priests who wished for him to be transferred somewhere else. Their wish was fulfilled. He is now in charge of the Vatican finances. A reading of the many documents tendered to the Royal Commission provides even more evidence that the Vatican's all but useless disciplinary system caused far more children to be abused than would otherwise have occurred. Robinson fought the good fight, but was ultimately defeated and resigned, exhausted. In the end, the Australian bishops abandoned the courage they displayed under his leadership, and followed the lead of Pope Benedict XVI who, in his 2010 Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, ignored the Murphy Commission's criticisms of canon law, and blamed the Irish bishops for failing to follow it. In submissions to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry and to the Royal Commission, the Australian bishops ignored what they knew of canon law's failings, and blamed their predecessors for making "terrible mistakes" when their predecessors were demonstrably complying with canon law. Australia has a peculiar cultural habit of creating heroes who struggle in vain, and are defeated -- from the bushranger, Ned Kelly to the soldiers who were massacred at Gallipoli in the First World War. The Catholic church needs some heroes. Robinson, now terminally ill, is one of them.