Sunday, January 31, 2016

Prominent Catholics want Seattle Archdiocese to open all sex-abuse files

Lewis Kamb
The Seattle Times
January 30, 2016

Two prominent legal professionals and practicing Catholics want straight answers from the Seattle Archdiocese to questions about its recently published list of clergy members identified as admitted or credibly accused child-sex abusers.

Terry Carroll, a retired King County Superior Court judge, and Mike McKay, former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, said they’re frustrated with what appears to be more of a public-relations move than a sincere effort at transparency and accountability.

In 2004, the two men headed an appointed review panel charged with examining clergy sex-abuse cases that recommended the archdiocese publicize names of credibly accused clergy. This month, the archdiocese essentially did that — disclosing names of 77 priests and others “for whom allegations of sexual abuse of a minor have been admitted, established or determined to be credible.”

The list is posted on the archdiocese’s website. For each offender, it offers a name, a current status with the church, and details about dates and assignments within the archdiocese spanning from the 1920s to 2007.

But the accounting provides no details about when and where the alleged sex abuse occurred — information Carroll and McKay contend parishioners and the public deserve to know.

“Congratulate them on publishing these names, but that’s hardly the full story,” Carroll said. “Not so fast. Fill in the gaps and let us talk about it. I think that would be healthiest thing moving ahead.”

The two men urged the archdiocese to provide a thorough public airing about the church’s work in addressing child-sex-abuse issues leading up to the list, as well as answering several key questions:

• Why did it take so long for the archdiocese to publish the list?

• Why aren’t the names of certain credibly accused priests from other religious orders included in it?

• How many children were victimized by each offender?

• How much money has the archdiocese spent in attorneys’ fees fighting sex-abuse claims, and how did it pay for them?

Carroll and McKay also want the archdiocese to release each listed clergy member’s secret file in full, other than redacting names of victims.

“Put it all out there,” Carroll said. “Open these files and let us finally know exactly what happened so that we can put it behind us, instead of this type of an approach they’re doing with talking points and all of the spin that goes along with it.”

Since it published the list on the Friday afternoon before the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, the archdiocese has said it will continue reviewing cases to determine if additional information or names should be included.

But it hasn’t responded to a number of follow-up questions, and rejected a request to provide additional information about those on the list and the allegations against them. Archbishop Peter Sartain has declined interview requests.

Archdiocese spokesman Greg Magnoni, in responding to Carroll’s and McKay’s question about attorneys’ fees, said it’s “nearly impossible” to determine what has been spent because the fees were part of settlement costs covered by insurance.

Transparency and healing

The archdiocese has said publication of the list was motivated by Sartain’s commitment to transparency and healing for victims, not by outside pressure or legal concerns.

The endeavor came after months of work by a consultant hired to evaluate case files and an appointed board that reviewed her recommendations, Magnoni has said.

But Carroll and McKay believe fallout from parishioners’ criticism over the archdiocese’s mishandling of an accused priest in 2014 prompted Sartain to act. The priest, the Rev. Harold Quigg, was among 13 clergy that Carroll, McKay and eight others on the 2004 review board investigated for child-sex-abuse claims.

The board supported accusations against nine priests and did not substantiate claims about three others. It also found allegations against Quigg to be credible, but determined they didn’t amount to child-sex abuse because the minor involved was 17 — a year older than the age of consent under church law.

Still, the panel wrote to then-Archbishop Alex Brunett, “This priest’s actions were so egregious so as to make him unsuitable for the priesthood.”

Among recommendations in a June 2004 report, the board advised Brunett to seek to defrock or bar from public ministry Quigg and the nine others, and to publicize their names.

Brunett resisted publishing the board’s report and wanted it rewritten, Carroll and McKay said. Brunett at the time said the board had exceeded its charge and that most of the recommendations were already in place.

Only after board members threatened to resign did Brunett publish the report, including the names of the nine priests. But Quigg’s name wasn’t released.

Brunett told the board Quigg “would live this life of private contemplation and penitence, but there would be no public ministry,” McKay said.

A few months later, when McKay attended a Catholic funeral of a friend in Bellevue, Quigg was officiating at the Mass.

“There he is up on the altar, and I’m very sure I’m the only one in the congregation that knew he shouldn’t be there,” McKay recalled.

In a December 2004 letter to Burnett, six review-board members called him out about Quigg and took issue with him for not adequately responding to their recommendations for more accountability for perpetrators and improved safeguards to reduce further abuse.

But 10 years later, North End parishioners at St. Bridget Church who learned Quigg was supposed to be barred from public ministry complained he still occasionally performed baptisms, funerals and weddings.

In May 2014, the archdiocese issued a statement about Quigg, detailing that starting in 1980, he and a teenager had “engaged in a 15-year-relationship.”

“The information was not made public because of the determination that the sexual contact did not involve a minor,” said the statement, which noted Brunett had ordered Quigg barred from public ministry.

The statement also said the archdiocese “learned recently” that Quigg had disobeyed the orders and that parish leaders weren’t alerted to the restrictions on him.

Carroll and McKay fired off a letter to Sartain, who replaced Brunett in 2010. It criticized the archdiocese’s statement about Quigg for errors and for downplaying the serious nature of his abuse.

“We had to call them on that for a couple reasons,” McKay said. “One, it was false. But secondly, it reflects a lack of vigilance on the Chancery’s part. We put them on notice about Quigg, and 10 years later, they said they didn’t know he was in active ministry.”

A short time later, Carroll and McKay sent another letter to Sartain, asking for an update on the nine other credibly accused priests from their 2004 review.

In July 2014, Sartain responded with an update saying all nine had been removed or restricted from ministry. His letter added he hadn’t had to discipline a priest for child-sex abuse since taking over as archbishop, nor was he “aware of any priests who have been disciplined for sexual abuse by Archbishop Brunett after 2002 that were not made public.”

Sartain concluded: “There is no place in the church for those who abuse minors, and I intend to do everything in my power to be sure that the vulnerable are protected and safe in our parishes and schools.”

Within three months of his letter, the archdiocese’s legal counsel had hired Kathleen McChesney, a consultant who specializes in investigating child-sexual abuse in religious institutions. She was tasked with compiling the list of credibly accused clergy.

The investigation

McChesney reviewed dozens of files to compile the list of 77 names by April 2015, she said.

“This was not an investigation by any means,” said McChesney, a former King County police officer and FBI administrator. “People were not contacted and interviewed.”

Instead, McChesney mostly focused on information already in the files.

“For the names we put forth, we felt we had enough information to make those determinations,” she said.

Because she was hired by the archdiocese’s legal counsel, McChesney said her work is covered by attorney-client privilege. She noted that means she can’t be forced to testify in court if someone sues the archdiocese later about claims related to the list.

“Some people might think (the archdiocese) did this for protection, but that’s not the case,” McChesney said. “There’s integrity in this and the people who worked with me. We didn’t have to do this. Our goal is to encourage others to come forward.”

Lucy Berliner, a member of both the 2004 review board and the current one that evaluated McChesney’s recommendations, added that the panel thoughtfully considered each case.

“The reason it took so long was because of this sort of caring, deliberative process we took,” said Berliner, who directs the Harborview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress. “And in my view, it was very transparent.”

Many clergy on the list previously had been named in news reports and by victims’ advocates. That includes Quigg, who died in last November. A number of other accused clergy — and lay employees — are missing from the list, some say.

McKay and Carroll said they believe McChesney and the board’s work is competent.

“We’re not disputing that,” Carroll said. “But there are other questions, and for the sake of transparency, much more needs to be known.”

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Pope plans to visit Sweden to commemorate Reformation anniversary

Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service
January 26, 2016

Pope Francis will visit Sweden in October to participate in an ecumenical service and the beginning of a year of activities to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Leaders from the Catholic church and the Lutheran World Federation had already been set to meet Oct. 31, 2016, for the ecumenical celebration in Lund, Sweden, where the LWF was founded in 1947.

Francis "intends to participate" in the joint ceremony to commemorate next year's anniversary, the Vatican press office said in a written communique. The announcement came Jan. 25, the feast of the conversion of St. Paul -- "an important day with regard to ecumenism," said Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman. It is the last day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Francis will lead the ecumenical commemoration in Lund alongside Bishop Munib Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, and the Rev. Martin Junge, federation general secretary, said a joint press release by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the LWF.

"The event will include a common worship based on the recently published Catholic-Lutheran 'Common Prayer' liturgical guide," and will highlight ecumenical developments between Catholics and Lutherans over the past 50 years, the press release said.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, council president, said in the press release, "By concentrating together on the centrality of the question of God and on a Christocentric approach, Lutherans and Catholics will have the possibility of an ecumenical commemoration of the Reformation, not simply in a pragmatic way, but in the deep sense of faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ."

Junge said in the joint statement that the federation "is approaching the Reformation anniversary in a spirit of ecumenical accountability."

"By working toward reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics, we are working toward justice, peace and reconciliation in a world torn apart by conflict and violence," he added.

But some critics have questioned whether Francis could undermine distinctive Catholic teachings in the process.

Francis will not be the first pontiff to visit Sweden: Pope John Paul II visited the country in 1989 as part of a tour of Protestant countries in Scandinavia that included Norway, Iceland, Finland and Denmark.

The church of Sweden had been the official state church until 2000; most Swedes are members, but very few attend services. Last year, the country was ranked in a Gallup poll as “the least religious in the Western World,” with 78 percent describing themselves as not religious or as convinced atheists.

The common prayer document, released Jan. 11, is the first jointly developed liturgical material prepared by a task force made up of representatives of the official Lutheran-Catholic Commission on Unity.

Catholic bishops' conferences and Lutheran churches around the world are invited to use the Common Prayer as part of local commemorations of the Reformation anniversary in 2017. The prayer includes materials to be adapted to the local liturgical and musical traditions of the Catholic Church and Lutheran communities.

Martin Luther posted his "95 Theses" on a church door Oct. 31, 1517, which is usually marked as the beginning of the Reformation. While the Reformation fractured Western Christianity, Catholics and Lutherans have been committed to dialogue the past 50 years in an effort to restore full unity.

The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Geneva-based Lutheran World Federation released a joint document in June 2013 titled, "From Conflict to Communion," which outlined ideas for joint commemorations in 2017.

The document looks at the central points of Luther's call for the reform of the church, the points addressed later by the Council of Trent and, especially, the Second Vatican Council and issues that still divide Catholics and Lutherans.

"Luther had no intention of establishing a new church but was part of a broad and many-faceted desire for reform," the document said. "In 2017, when Lutheran Christians celebrate the anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, they are not thereby celebrating the division of the Western church. No one who is theologically responsible can celebrate the division of Christians from one another."

In a meeting in October 2013 with representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and members of the Catholic-Lutheran international theological dialogue, Francis said commemorations of the beginning of the Reformation must take place in a spirit of dialogue and humility.

"Catholics and Lutherans can ask forgiveness for the harm they have caused one another and for their offenses committed in the sight of God," he said.

"I believe that it is truly important for everyone to confront in dialogue the historical reality of the Reformation, its consequences and the responses it elicited," the pope told the group.

While theological dialogue is important, he said, the key to unity lies in prayer and trying to follow more closely the teachings of Jesus.

In other news regarding papal travel, the president of Colombia's Catholic bishops' conference told reporters Jan. 23 that Francis would visit their country early in 2017.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Sr. Julia Thundathil serves people with leprosy who are discard by their families and ostracized

Sami Thomas
Global Sisters Report
January 22, 2016

"This is my new life and I am indebted to my Ma [mother]," says Gundeli Bai, who has lost fingers on both hands due to leprosy. "I would have died, and my body could have been eaten by dogs long ago," says Bai, who has been living for more than two decades in an enclave for leprosy patients started by her "Ma," Sr. Julia Thundathil.

Leprosy, or Hansen's disease, is a skin disease considered to be a curse in India. Those infected with it are ostracized from family and society.

Thundathil, an Augustinian nun, set up the enclave for leprosy patients at Sendhwa, a village in Barwani district in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

Bai is among six leprosy patients who had a chance meeting with the Catholic nun in 1994. The septuagenarian woman says her parents had died early, and after she was detected with leprosy, her only sister left her on the road. At the enclave, she earned the nickname "Sundari Bai" (beautiful woman) because of her cheerful disposition.

Thundathil met Bai and others during a visit to Sendhwa. "I found them on the roadside with worms coming out of their wounds," Thundathil told Global Sisters Report. The encounter motivated her to dedicate her life to restoring dignity to lepers.

"All of them" she said, "were in their 60s and they were begging for food, as they had not eaten for days." Their wounds were attracting flies, and people often chased them away, she added.

"I approached them and inquired how they reached there, and their stories were really heartbreaking," Thundathil recalls.

"I immediately returned to the convent, collected cotton and medicines to dress their wounds and a bucket to give them baths." She bathed all of them, including Bai, the lone woman among them, and dressed their wounds and fed them there.

"As I had no place to accommodate them, I had to leave them there and return to the convent with a heavy heart," she says.

Sundari Bai is among 258 lepers from 85 families living in Harsha Nagar (joyful city), the leprosy patients' enclave.

Sub Divisional Magistrate Mahesh Badole, a top official of the district, says, "Whatever you see here is the outcome of the perseverance and hard work of Sister Julia."

The official is the president of the Harsha Nagar Trust, which Thundathil formed in 1995 for managing the enclave. The trust's constitution stipulates that its president should be the magistrate. Thundathil said she insisted on that provision because she hoped to get government help and public participation. Otherwise, the enclave would have become "purely a church-run institution," she explains.

The government allotted 7 acres of land to set up the enclave, which gets nothing else substantial for its maintenance.

Badole says Thundathil provided "proper accommodation for every family in the [enclave] with the resources she had mobilized from donors and other funding partners."

What impresses him is that the nun cleans the lepers' wounds and dresses them "one after another, every day, without any hesitation, as if caring for a small kid."

He says the residents in the enclave have survived so long "precisely on account of her dedication and hard work."

The officer, however, is skeptical that it could continue without her. "There is nobody to look after them in her absence, even when she goes out for a day or two," he explains. "There is nobody to take up her task."

Contrary to Badole's view, the nun is confident the service will continue. "It's not my project. It's God mission, and it will continue even after me," she says.

Other sisters in her congregation will take up the task after her because the mission is unique, Thundathil says.

Everyone in the enclave has stories of rejection by loved ones.

One resident, Sumaria Ganga Ram, says his family not only ostracized him, but performed last rites over him, considering him as good as dead. According to Hindu tradition, the last rites liberate the soul of the deceased from this earth.

Ganga Ram, 60, told GSR: "I lived happily with my wife and three children, but when I was detected with leprosy, they chased me away from my home."

He owned 5 acres of land in a remote village. The illiterate farmer recalls that his family members stopped serving him food and water, eventually forcing him to leave the home.

"I lived on begging for five years until I met Ma," he says. Even begging was not easy for him. "I had to hide my wounds, otherwise no one would come near me to offer alms." Even hospitals chased him when he went to them for treatment.

"I am happy here and never want to go back to my family, which abandoned me when I need them the most."

Thundathil says many people dump their leprosy-infected relatives outside the enclave at night.

One such person is Shanti Bai, a mother of five children. The 65-year-old woman (not related to Sundari Bai) said her family members dropped her off outside the enclave 21 years ago. However, she found Shiva Lova, a man who had a similar background, and married him and settled on the campus. The couple has a 19-year-old son, Chandar Singh, who is doing his course in ophthalmology in Andhra Pradesh, a state in southeastern India.

Thundathil says the trust encourages the residents to marry and lead a normal family life. The nun helps their children grow up like other children, providing education and skill development courses so they can eke out a living as adults.

"Every child born to them," she says, "is separated from the parents at the age of 5 and put into schools."

Since they cannot be admitted to nearby regular schools because of the social stigma, she sends the children to faraway places. Currently, 87 sons of leprosy victims are studying in a school managed by the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church in Itarsi, 215 miles northeast of Sendhwa. At least 33 girls are studying in Pune, the cultural capital of the western Indian state of Maharashtra, 264 miles south of Sendhwa.

The children are aged 6 to 18, and some, such as Dilip Arya, progress to work part time as teachers while attending the 12th grade.

"I have not told anyone in the school that I am the son of a leprosy couple," the 21-year-old youth told GSR. Asked why, he said, "The school management will not allow me to teach, and students also will not sit in my class."

He said he was studying in another school earlier and shared with some friends that he was the son of lepers. They stoned him and he had to be shifted to another school.

Thundathil bemoans that Indian society still cannot accept leprosy patients or their children, "despite the fact that it is a curable disease," she says. "People still look at them with contempt. It should change."

She blames ignorance and prejudice for such views, adding that her own attitude toward lepers changed only after she joined the convent.

The native of the southern state of Kerala joined the Order of St. Augustine after 10th grade in 1985 and made her first profession four years later. She took her final vows in July 1995.

Since she wanted to dedicate her life to social work, her first appointment was with the St. Augustine Social Service Society in Sendhwa. "At that time my concept of social service was restricted to visiting the poor, sick and aged," she says.

Later, in 1991 to 1994, she completed a bachelor's course in social work from Bombay University in Maharashtra (now Mumbai University). She also earned a master of social work degree in 2004 from Devi Ahilya University in Indore, the commercial capital of Madhya Pradesh.

"This helped me understand that social work is not merely visiting people but transforming the lives of the poor, sick and needy." She then rejoined the congregation's social work department and started working among the poor.

Sr. Julia Thundathil with Shiv Lova, a leprosy patient in Harsha Nagar. (GSR photo / Saji Thomas) She met the six lepers during one of those visits. "Until then I was not much aware of the plight of lepers," she recalls.

She had her share of hardships on her way to this stage. Initially, the congregation – used to more traditional ways – was not enthusiastic about her mission. But they learned to value her work and appreciate her.

In 2000, she was struck with breast cancer at the peak of her activities. The disease was detected at the critical third stage and she underwent immediate surgery. "I still have pain in the body as fallout from the operation," she says.

The disease prompted her to expand her work, and she began working with differently abled persons.

A survey she conducted in the district a few years ago revealed that about 20,000 people among a population of 1.4 million were disabled.

The nun has formed a network of self-help groups whose members visit the homes of disabled people and counsel their families to accept them as a blessing rather than a curse. She appointed one caretaker for each family who would help build their self-esteem. These self-managed groups are composed of poor community people helping themselves out of adverse circumstances through financial planning under the guidance of experienced volunteers.

More than 150 self-help groups have been set up to assist 1,800 people with disabilities. "Work is in progress to link the entire 20,000 disabled under one umbrella," says Sr. Navya Thomas, an Augustinian nun who assists Thundathil in her ministry.

"We have also formed a Disabled Persons Organization to bring together every differently abled person and educate them about their rights and responsibility. They will get special training for livelihood projects so that they don't have to rely on the mercy of others," says Thomas.

About 1,800 disabled persons have been trained so far in tailoring, weaving, and spice and clothing production. Each person earns an average of 300 rupees (about U.S. $4.50) every day. "This gives them confidence and hope to lead a dignified life," Thomas says.

Thomas reports that Thundathil recently led the congregation to launch community health intervention and HIV/AIDS screening, awareness and control programs.

"We also work among the tuberculosis patients in this backward tribal-dominated district," Thomas adds.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Scandal plagued archbishop leaving Battle Creek

Battle Creek Enquirer
January 21, 2016

The controversial former Minnesota archbishop who came to Battle Creek to assist the Rev. John Fleckenstein is departing immediately, St. Philip Catholic Church parishioners were informed today.

A letter from Fleckenstein to parishioners dated Thursday said Archbishop John Nienstedt chose to leave in the face of concerns from churchgoers, and Fleckenstein agreed.

Nienstedt had resigned last summer as archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis,10 days after the archdiocese was criminally charged for its leaders' handling of allegations of sexual abuse by its priests. One, Curtis Wehmeyer, pleaded guilty to sexually abusing two boys and possessing child pornography; he's serving a five-year prison sentence.

A longtime friend of Fleckenstein, Nienstadt offered to help out at St. Philip while Fleckenstein underwent health treatments. He was to serve here for six months.

Some parishioners expressed concern about the safety of children in the church in the presence of a leader who had resigned in the face of the Minnesota scandal.

In his letter to parishioners today, Fleckenstein wrote:

"I wish to inform you that Archbishop John Nienstedt has decided to discontinue his pastoral assistance for St. Philip Parish, effective immediately. After discussions with the Archbishop conveying the expressed concerns by the faithful people of our community, he offered to withdraw from the diocese and I agreed. Archbishop Nienstedt has a deep concern for the Church, and in light of the unintended discord that his presence was causing, he decided that this would be the best course of action so the Church can remain focused on its mission. At the same time, the Archbishop shared with me the deep gratitude he has for the hospitality he received from so many of our parishioners."

The letter continues:

"A very regrettable circumstance of Archbishop Nienstedt’s presence within our community has been anger and fear. I’m proud of the good works of our parishes and our Catholic schools as well as our valuable place in our community. I wish for us to continue growing and striving. My hope is that we can move forward together.

"I wish Archbishop Nienstedt well and I know many of you do as well. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, as called for by Pope Francis, I pray we may find peace, support, and healing for ourselves and with each other, and that we continue to care for all people with charity."

Pope Francis allows women to Holy Thursday foot washing

Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB
Pray Tell
January 21, 2016

Pope Francis made the news, and raised eyebrows, when he washed the feet of women, including non-Christians, at Holy Thursday Mass immediately after being elected pope – not least because the rules only allowed for the feet of men to be washed. Now the Holy See has issued a decree making official what he – and many other priests around the world – had been already doing in contravention of the official rule.

Pope Francis washes the foot of a prison inmate during Holy Thursday Mass in 2013 (CNS)

The decree was issued today by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Vatican’s liturgy department which has Cardinal Robert Sarah as its head. Pope Francis also wrote a letter to Cardinal Sarah regarding the changes.

As NCR reports, the previous wording about “men” is to be changed to this:

Those chosen from among the People of God are accompanied by the ministers’ (and consequently in the Caeremoniale Episcoporum No. 301 and No. 299 b referring to the seats for the chosen men, so that pastors may choose a group of faithful representing the variety and unity of every part of the People of God. This group may consist of men and women, and ideally of the young and the old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated persons and laypeople.

Look for much to be made of two words in that passage: “may” and “ideally.” Note that women may be included, but there is no obligation to do so and one may still include only males. But note that ideally the group should be diverse and representative of the People of God. But does “ideally” only refer to the second part of the sentence, and not the first part saying that women may be admitted?

And then there is “People of God.” Does that include only Christians? Only Catholics? Or all God’s people of any religion (including Islam)?

I also expect much discussion about how significant the change is. Is this a real turning point and a sign of significant movement at high official levels? Or is too much being made about a rather insignificant matter? Either view has merits, whatever side of the issue you’re on. And of course there is the important question of how liturgical law functions and how it should be interpreted. One school of thought says that it may well be legitimate to wash women’s feet – if the rules allow for it. According to this line of thinking, Pope Francis should have changed the rule first, and then changed the practice. Otherwise he’s modeling a cavalier attitude toward the Church’s norms.

But on the other side, some people would say that Francis’s violation of a liturgical rule for pastoral reasons was itself a good model for the whole church. It sent the right kind of message to those who are overly legalistic and think that the Roman Curia ought to micromanage every liturgical practice in the whole world.

For those people, we’ve now lost the sign value of a Pope admirably violating the rules for pastoral reasons. With today’s decree, rules and practice will again be in sync when Francis celebrates Holy Thursday.

Be that as it may, I’m pretty sure Francis has already made clear in many ways what he thinks about people who put rules above all else

Monday, January 18, 2016

Pope Francis: obstinate Christians are rebels and idolators

Vatican Radio
January 18, 2016

Christians who say “it’s always been done that way,” and stop there have hearts closed to the surprises of the Holy Spirit. They are idolaters and rebels will never arrive at the fullness of the truth. That was the message of Pope Francis at Mass on Monday morning at the chapel in the Casa Santa Marta.

In the first reading, Saul was rejected by God as King of Israel because he disobeyed, preferring to listen to the people rather than the will of God. The people, after a victory in battle, wanted to offer a sacrifice of the best animals to God, because, he said, “it’s always been done that way.” But God, this time, did not want that. The prophet Samuel rebuked Saul: “Does the Lord so delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obedience to the command of the Lord?” Jesus teaches us the same thing in the Gospel, the Pope explained. When the doctors of the law criticized Him because His disciples did not fast “as had always been done,” Jesus responded with these examples from daily life: “No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.”

“What does this mean? That He changes the law? No! That the law is at the service of man, who is at the service of God – and so man ought to have an open heart. ‘It’s always been done this way’ is a closed heart, and Jesus tells us, ‘I will send you the Holy Spirit and He will lead you into the fullness of truth.’ If you have a heart closed to the newness of the Spirit, you will never reach the full truth. And your Christian life will be a half-and-half life, a patched life, mended with new things, but on a structure that is not open to the voice of the Lord—a closed heart, so that you are not able to change others.”

This, the Pope emphasized, was the sin of Saul, for which he was rejected by God. “It is the sin of so many Christians who cling to what has always been done and who do not allow others to change. And they end up with half a life, [a life that is] patched, mended, meaningless.” The sin, he said, “is a closed heart,” that “does not hear the voice of the Lord, that is not open to the newness of the Lord, to the Spirit that always surprises us.” This rebellion, says Samuel, is “the sin of divination,” and obstinacy is the sin of idolatry:

“Christians who obstinately maintain ‘it’s always been done this way,' this is the path, this is the street—they sin: the sin of divination. It’s as if they went about by guessing: ‘What has been said and what doesn’t change is what’s important; what I hear—from myself and my closed heart—more than the Word of the Lord.’ Obstinacy is also the sin of idolatry: the Christian who is obstinate sins! The sin of idolatry. ‘And what is the way, Father?’ Open the heart to the Holy Spirit, discern what is the will of God.”

Pope Francis noted that in Jesus’ time, good Israelites were in the habit of fasting. “But there is another reality,” he said. “There is the Holy Spirit who leads us into the full truth. And for this reason he needs an open heart, a heart that will not stubbornly remain in the sin of idolatry of oneself,” imagining that my own opinion is more important than the surprise of the Holy Spirit.

“This is the message the Church gives us today. This is what Jesus says so forcefully: ‘New wine in new wineskins.’ Habits must be renewed in the newness of the Spirit, in the surprises of God. May the Lord grant us the grace of an open heart, of a heart open to the voice of the Spirit, which knows how to discern what should not change, because it is fundamental, from what should change in order to be able to receive the newness of the Spirit.”

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Samantha Pearl: the diocese of Kalamazoo has lost its way

Samantha Pearl
Battle Creek Enquirer
January 16, 2016

Editor’s note: Samantha Pearl, a Battle Creek resident, parishioner at St. Philip Roman Catholic Church with children attending Battle Creek Area Catholic Schools, wrote this in reponse to a letter from Monsignor Michael Osborn, vicar general at the Diocese of Kalamazoo. It is posted here with her permission.

— With all due respect, this letter is an outrageous response to an already inflammatory situation.

Let us look at the information available to us: the Kalamazoo Gazette article, the Battle Creek Enquirer article, the investigative article published by the Minnesota Public Radio. This man has been accused of improprieties by almost a dozen seminarians and two fellow priests.

He has been accused of protecting and relocating Curtis Wehmeyer, the priest who confessed and was convicted of raping two young boys. He has been accused of failing to report sex crimes, giving extra payments to priests who admitted abusing children, keeping some abusers in the ministry, and choosing not to warn the public or the parishioners most directly affected.

Investigators have provided sworn statements that he withheld information and impeded the investigation into the Diocesan handling of sex abuse cases in his Diocese. His Diocese settled three cases with victims of child sex abuse at the hands of priests under his watch. His Diocese is the first in the United States to be indicted for its role in covering up sex abuse scandals.

Two auxiliary Bishops in his own Diocese traveled to Washington to bring the situation to the attention of the Pope’s ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, and to ask for an intervention.

Our pastor introduced this man to our parish through our bulletin as an “old and trusted friend.” You have told our children in the high school not to listen to the accusations against this man; that he is safe and to be trusted. You have told us, as parents, through Father Osborn’s Diocesan letter, that you “sought additional reassurances” regarding Archbishop Nienstedt and that the environment at our schools is safe.

What you are asking us to do is suspend reason, judgment, and prudence — to ignore independent evidence and information, to accept your “assurances” that this man’s integrity and behavior entitle him to continue to serve in the ministry, in parish life, in proximity to children.

You have placed a man clearly known to have failed to protect children from sexual predators in a position of ministry — the highest calling of God's work. The letter from Father Osborn at the Diocese asserts that you are not responsible for bringing him here — as though it is not your doing — at the same time you assure parents that you have done your due diligence regarding his past.

For too long, parishioners in this Diocese have been given no say in our pastoral leadership and our concerns fall on deaf ears. Our concerns as parents are your responsibility, and platitudes about this person being "safe" are a disrespectful and trite response to a serious and concerning situation.

You urge "reason and charity," as though we're expressing unfounded or mild concerns, as though there is no evidence or information to warrant caution. Let us be honest, Bishop Bradley, your permission to allow this to happen, despite the repeated and egregious failure of Archbishop Nienstedt to protect children, suggests you place the protection of this man and his reputation above the protection of our children. You are the spiritual, pastoral, and executive leader of this Diocese. This occurrence is your responsibility.

As a victim of a child sex predator, I am infuriated at your ignorant and irresponsible behavior. Victims of sex abuse suffer a pattern of abuse after the sexual abuse, perpetrated by our parents and pastoral leadership, including the inherent message that we will not be protected, that the crime is not heinous, that the rights and reputation of the perpetrator take precedence over the rights and protection of the victim. You will not silently perpetrate the continuation of these crimes in my parish. I am deeply grieved by the leadership of the Diocese and the need to speak publicly given the lack of integrity and Godly leadership shown by you, by the Diocese, and by the pastor in my parish.

Bishop Bradley, the Diocese has lost its way. Do the right thing. Remove Archbishop Nienstedt from ministry at any church in our Diocese or step down from your post.


Here is the diocesan letter referred to above.

Letter regarding Archbishop Nienstedt from Msgr Osborn

Diocese of Kalamazoo
Office of the Bishop
January 15, 2016

 Dear St. Joseph School Parents,

In the event that you didn’t receive this information earlier, and In light of recent concerns expressed regarding Archbishop John C.Nienstedt’s temporary stay in the Diocese, we wish to share with you the following information:

 • Archbishop Emeritus Nienstedt is a retired priest temporarily visiting the Diocese who voluntarily offered his assistance to Fr. John Fleckenstein, who is addressing serious health concerns. He has not been appointed, assigned or “hired” by the Diocese.

 • As arranged by himself and Fr. John, he has simply agreed to celebrate Mass at St. Philip Parish and assist in hospital ministry as needed. The Archbishop will not be scheduled for any interaction or involvement with our schools.

 • Bishop Bradley gave approval to this arrangement, following the standard procedures for any visiting priest who wishes to exercise priestly ministry within the Diocese in order to make sure that he was a priest in good standing.

 • We take very seriously our commitment that safe environments are maintained for our precious children and for all people. It is because of this that Bishop Bradley sought additional assurances regarding Archbishop Nienstedt, in addition to making sure he meets the stringent requirements it takes to be a “priest in good standing.”

We remain confident that the environment at St. Joseph Elementary and Middle School is safe. Please find for your information and background Fr. John Fleckenstein’s letter published in the St. Philip Parish bulletin along with the Diocesan statement on this matter. We regret that this important information was not more widely distributed, as was originally intended. Together let us pray that reason and charity prevail.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Msgr. Michael Osborn

Vicar General


For response from an affected parishioner, see letter from Samantha Pearl.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Archbishop John Nienstedt, Bishop Robert Finn have new homes outside former dioceses

Brian Roewe
National Catholic Reporter
January 14, 2016

Two U.S. bishops who prematurely resigned their posts amid clergy sexual abuse scandals each have found new landing spots outside their previous dioceses.

A southern Michigan parish announced over the weekend that Archbishop John Nienstedt, formerly head of the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese, will help out temporarily in the coming months, while Bishop Robert Finn, former head of the Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo. diocese, began last month as chaplain for a Nebraska community of women religious.

Within the span of two months last spring, Finn, 62, and Nienstedt, 68, stepped down -- years before the traditional age of 75 when bishops must submit their resignations to Rome -- as shepherds of their respective dioceses, both of which teemed with anger and anguish for their church's handling of child sexual abuse allegations. In the case of Finn, it was a 2012 misdemeanor conviction for failing to report suspected child abuse that drew a probationary sentence in civil court but no recourse from the church. For Nienstedt, his abdication, along with Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché, came just 10 days after the Ramsey County prosecutor brought criminal charges against the archdiocese for its handling of abuse allegations.

Both Finn and Nienstedt now have new homes.

Nienstedt has agreed to assist in pastoral ministries at St. Philip Roman Catholic Church in Battle Creek, Mich., in the Kalamazoo diocese, or about two hours west of his hometown Detroit diocese. He took up residence in Battle Creek on Jan. 6.

The St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese said it would not comment on Nienstedt's move and directed questions to the Kalamazoo diocese. Victoria Cessna, executive director of the Kalamazoo secretariat of communications and public affairs, told NCR that Nienstedt is a retired priest offering his assistance to a friend, and was not appointed or assigned to the parish.

The Kalamazoo diocese in a statement said Nienstedt is welcome in the diocese, while reiterating its commitment "to providing safe environments for all people."

"As is the case for any priest or bishop ministering in the Diocese, Archbishop Emeritus Nienstedt begins his temporary ministry at St. Philip Parish as a priest in good standing, having met the Church's stringent standards required to attain that status," it said.

It remains unclear, though, if the Kalamazoo diocese was made aware of, or given access to, the investigation to alleged sexual improprieties by Nienstedt with seminarians and other adults, which extended to his time in Michigan in the early 1980s. Two years ago, Nienstedt himself commissioned the St. Paul law firm Greene Espel to look into the charges against him. Last July, Nienstedt again denied the allegations to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, calling them "entirely false and based wholly on rumor, hearsay, or innuendo." At the time, the Star Tribune reported that the archdiocese was considering making the investigation's report public. The archdiocese declined comment to NCR Tuesday on the status of the investigation.

David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, objected to Nienstedt's move and urged people in Kalamazoo to educate themselves on the abuse crisis in Minnesota.

"This decision shows that Catholic officials still put the wishes and needs of their brother bishops ahead of nearly every other consideration, including the safety of the flock," he said in a statement.

"The diocese, after checking with others in higher positions of ecclesiastical authority, was given assurances that there was nothing standing in the way of Archbishop Nienstedt being considered a priest in good standing and helping out a brother priest who is ill in providing pastoral care to people proper to a priest," Cessna told NCR.

In the Jan. 10 parish bulletin, St. Philip pastor Fr. John Fleckenstein said that the archbishop will join the parish for about six months, while also describing health issues that have necessitated assistance at the parish. While Fleckenstein has led the parish on his own since the summer, he anticipated his health, and role as Episcopal Vicar for Education, would require additional help in coming months.

The St. Philip pastor said that Nienstedt, his friend of 20 years, will celebrate some weekend and weekday Masses at the church and at a local nursing home and assisted living facility, and will visit the sick and homebound. Nienstedt will maintain an office at the parish but reside at the St. Clare House at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Kalamazoo.

"While the Archbishop is not 'assigned' to the parish, I'm grateful he will assist us in these next few months," said Fleckenstein, who added that Nienstedt "anticipates moving on to a new ministry" at some point in the summer.

As Nienstedt found a new home, his old one moved closer to sale. As part of its ongoing bankruptcy proceedings, the Twin Cities archdiocese asked a bankruptcy court judge last week to approve a $2.75 million sale of its chancery building and archbishop's residence to commercial developer United Properties. The deal isn't expected to finalize until mid-March.

As for Finn, in December he began as chaplain of the School Sisters of Christ the King in the Lincoln, Neb., diocese, appointed to the position by Lincoln Bishop James Conley. Both his former and current dioceses announced the new role in their diocesan newspapers. Finn will reside at the School Sisters' Villa Regina Motherhouse.

While rumors have floated in Kansas City that Finn might also teach at the St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward, Neb., attended by several Kansas City seminarians, its rector, Fr. Jeffrey Eickhoff, told NCR that the bishop is currently not teaching, and at this point nothing further has been determined.

Cardinal Rodriguez: homosexual lobby exists in the Vatican

Edward Pentin
National Catholic Register
January 13, 2016

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga has confirmed the presence of a homosexual “lobby” in the Vatican and revealed that Pope Francis is trying “little by little to purify it.”

The Honduran Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, who coordinates the Council of Nine cardinals advising the Pope on reform of the Roman Curia and Church governance, was responding to a question from a Honduran newspaper reporter who asked him whether there had been “an attempt to infiltrate the gay community in the Vatican, or a moment when that had actually happened?”

Cardinal Rodriguez replied: “Not only that, also the Pope has said there is even a ‘lobby’ in this sense. Little by little the Pope is trying to purify it.” He added: “One can understand them [members of the lobby] and there is pastoral legislation to attend to them, but what is wrong cannot be truth.”

The Pope acknowledged the presence of a homosexual network of priests at the Vatican during a private conversation with leaders of a Latin American confederation of religious in June 2013. In the context of saying he found reform of the Roman Curia difficult, the Pope said: "The 'gay lobby' is mentioned, and it is true, it is there … We need to see what we can do."

He alluded to it again a month later, telling reporters on the plane back from Rio de Janeiro that “you must distinguish between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of someone forming a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. This one is not good.”

A homosexual lobby was also suspected to have been influential on both Synods on the Family when controversial passages relating to homosexuals made their way into the interim report during the 2014 meeting despite being hardly discussed, and external lobby groups sought to pressure the participants.

There was also a common perception that the Communion for remarried divorcees issue, which dominated both synods, was a “Trojan horse” to allow Church recognition of same-sex relationships and other extra-marital unions.

During last year’s synod, statements on homosexuality “seemed to come out of nowhere” at press briefings when the issue was hardly raised by synod fathers during the three week meeting.

The comments from the Pope and now Cardinal Rodriguez contradict those made by Father Krzysztof Charamsa, a homosexual Polish priest who was dismissed as an official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith after publicly announcing his homosexuality just ahead of the Synod on the Family last October. He told Italian television he had "never met a gay lobby in the Vatican".

Also in the interview with Heraldo de Honduras, Cardinal Rodriguez was asked whether the Pope would ever support same-sex “marriage.”

“No,” he replied. “We must understand that there are things that can be reformed and others cannot. The natural law cannot be reformed. We can see how God has designed the human body, the body of the man and the body of a woman to complement each other and transmit life. The contrary is not the plan of creation. There are things that cannot be changed."

The cardinal also tried to reassure readers there would be “no major” changes to doctrine as part of the Pope's reforms. “We should not expect there will be major reforms in the doctrine of the Church. The reform is the organization of the curia.”

He also said there has not been much resistance to curial reform. “There is resistance of course, there are people who, precisely because they do not know the life of the Church, resist any changes.

“These, of course, are wrong attitudes,” he continued. “As I’ve said, to be able to understand the Church, we must see that it is not merely a human institution, it is humane-divine, it is natural and supernatural and, by consequence, there are things that do not really depend on what is human.”

Sunday, January 10, 2016

In new interview, Pope Francis pushes for a church big on mercy, tough on law

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
January 10, 2016

Pope Francis has offered his most detailed outline yet for the role of the Catholic church in the modern era, saying in a new book-length interview the church needs to follow Jesus' example more closely and seek to "enter the darkness" in which many of today's people live.

The pontiff has also responded sharply to church leaders who have criticized his focus on the boundless nature of God's mercy and who suggest that the focus obscures church teachings.

Francis compares such criticisms to "angry mutterings" that Jesus also heard "from those who are only ever used to having things fit into their preconceived notions and ritual purity instead of letting themselves be surprised by reality, by a greater love or a higher standard."

In the new book, titled The Name of God is Mercy and to be released Tuesday, the pope states: "Jesus goes and heals and integrates the marginalized, the ones who are outside the city, the ones outside the encampment. In so doing, he shows us the way."

Reflecting on Jesus' healing of lepers -- who were forbidden to be visited or touched under Mosaic law for fear of causing contamination to the rest of the community -- the pontiff says the Gospels show there are two types of logic of thought and faith.

"On the one hand, there is the fear of losing the just and saved, the sheep that are already safely inside the pen," says Francis. "On the other hand, there is the desire to save the sinners, the lost, those on the other side of the fence."

"The first is the logic of the scholars of the law," says the pope, using a term he frequently references in homilies to speak of those who emphasize strict adherence to church teaching over the practice of mercy.

"The second is the logic of God, who welcomes, embraces, and transfigures evil into good, transforming and redeeming my sin, transmuting condemnation into salvation," he continues.

"Jesus enters into contact with the leper," says Francis. "He touches him. In so doing, he teaches us what to do, which logic to follow, when faced with people who suffer physically and spiritually."

The new book is the result of an interview between the pope and Andrea Tornielli, an Italian journalist and the coordinator for the Vatican Insider news website. The book is being published in 86 countries and about 20 languages on Tuesday. NCR received an advance copy of the English-language version of the text.

The book contains an extensive conversation Tornielli had with Francis in July 2015, just after the pope's visit that month to Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay and before he presided over the contentious worldwide meeting of Catholic prelates known as a Synod of Bishops in October.

Tornielli states in the forward that he wanted to ask the pope questions on the themes of mercy and forgiveness "to analyze what those words mean to him, as a man and a priest" in the context of the Jubilee year of mercy Francis opened Dec. 8.

Throughout the 99 pages of the interview -- broken into nine interconnected parts in the book -- the pontiff speaks expansively about how he understands mercy and what it means to him personally and to the wider church.

He also responds at several points to those who say he has focused too much on mercy, and offers a clear vision for how the church should act in the future. He frequently bases his thoughts on the parables offered by Jesus, even saying once: "We must go back to the Gospel."

Francis also offers a number of personal anecdotes from his priestly work and notably quotes four times from homilies and writings by Albino Luciani, the man who served as Pope John Paul I for only 33 days before his sudden death on Sept. 28, 1978.

Outlining what the church should be doing today, Francis states plainly: "We need to enter the darkness, the night in which so many of our brothers live. We need to be able to make contact with them and let them feel our closeness, without letting ourselves be wrapped up in that darkness and influenced by it."

"Caring for outcasts and sinners does not mean letting the wolves attack the flock," says the pontiff. "It means trying to reach everyone by sharing the experience of mercy, which we ourselves have experienced, without ever caving in to the temptation of feeling that we are just or perfect."

Speaking more specifically about the so-called "scholars of the law," the pontiff again speaks plainly.

"I will say that there is often a kind of hypocrisy in them, a formal adherence to the law that hides very deep wounds," states Francis. "Jesus uses tough words; he defines them as 'whited sepulchers' who appear devout from the outside, but inside, on the inside . . . hypocrites."

"These are men who live attached to the letter of the law but who neglect love; men who only know how to close doors and draw boundaries," says the pope.

"Chapter 23 of the Gospel of Matthew is very clear on this; we need to return there to understand what the Church is and what it should never be," Francis continues.

"He describes the attitudes of those who tie up heavy burdens and lay them on other men’s shoulders, but who are unwilling to move so much as a finger; they are those who love the place of honor and want to be called master," states the pope.

"This conduct comes when a person loses the sense of awe for salvation that has been granted to him," he continues.

"When a person feels a little more secure, he begins to appropriate faculties which are not his own, but which are the Lord’s," he says. "The awe seems to fade, and this is the basis for clericalism or for the conduct of people who feel pure. What then prevails is a formal adherence to rules and to mental schemes."

"At times I have surprised myself by thinking that a few very rigid people would do well to slip a little, so that they could remember that they are sinners and thus meet Jesus," Francis states.

[this is part 1 of a 3 part column.
part 2:the pope's personal encounters with mercy
part 3: Francis explains "who am I to judge"]

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Catholic story, conservative vs progressive

Fr. Tom Reese, SJ
National Catholic Reporter
January 8, 2016

Ross Douthat is a thoughtful and articulate conservative who converted to Catholicism in his teens and now writes for The New York Times. He infuriates many of my progressive friends, but I usually find his writings interesting and thought provoking even if I often disagree with him.

This month, First Things has published his 2015 talk, "A Crisis of Conservative Catholicism," which is a thoughtful address to conservative Catholics in the era of Pope Francis. He is attempting to help conservatives cope with the changes happening in the church today.

I hope I will be forgiven for entering this intraconservative conversation. Although no one today would label me a conservative, I was raised in the conservative church of the 1950s, entered a conservative Jesuit novitiate in 1962 before the Second Vatican Council, and had a very difficult time making the transition to the post-Vatican II church.

In short, I have some sympathy with what conservatives are experiencing today because I went through a similar experience in the late 1960s.

For another view, see "Ross Douthat's Erasmus Lecture" by Michael Sean Winters, which I did not see until after I wrote this column.

Douthat begins his talk by relating the accepted conservative narrative explaining the last 50 years of Catholicism, beginning with Vatican II. The goal of the council was "to reorient Catholicism away from its nineteenth-century fortress mentality, to open a new dialogue with the modern world, to look more deeply into the Catholic past in order to prepare for the Catholic future, and to usher in an era of evangelization and renewal."

But "the hoped-for renewal was hijacked, in many cases, by those for whom renewal meant an accommodation to the spirit of the 1960s, and the transformation of the Church along liberal Protestant lines."

The post-conciliar church was divided into two camps. "One followed the actual documents of the council and urged the Church to maintain continuity with Catholic teaching and tradition, and the other was loyal to a 'spirit of the council' that just happened to coincide with the cultural fashions that came in its wake."

Douthat writes that in the period immediately after the council, the second party controlled seminaries, religious orders, Catholic universities, and diocesan bureaucracies. "The results were at best disappointing, at worst disastrous: collapsing Mass attendance, vanishing vocations, a swift erosion of Catholic identity everywhere you looked."

Fortunately, according to this narrative, a new pope was elected from the first party "who rejected the hermeneutic of rupture, who carried the true intentions of the council forward while proclaiming the ancient truths of Catholicism anew." This pope and his successor "inspired exactly the kind of renewal the council fathers had hoped for: a generation of bishops, priests, and laity prepared to witness to the fullness of Catholicism, the splendor of its truth."

Liberal Catholicism was dead and the future belonged to the conservatives.

Douthat acknowledges that this narrative is in crisis. The sex abuse crisis and its cover-up "cast a shadow over John Paul II’s last years, raised significant questions about his governance of the Church, and discredited Catholic leaders (from Bernard Law in Boston to the nightmare that was Marcial Maciel) who had once seemed pillars of a conservative revival."

The rout of conservatives in the cultural wars, the continued decline in church numbers, and the rise of the "nones" show that the conservative program has not succeeded. He might have also added the growing alienation of women from the hierarchy.

Finally, according to Douthat, Benedict proved an administrative failure who could not finish John Paul’s work of restoration or control an "essentially ungovernable Vatican, blind to contemporary media realities, corrupt and leak-riddled."

Before moving on to Douthat’s recommendations, let me first respond to his outline of the conservative narrative and what went wrong.

First, I think it is necessary to push the timeline back to the 19th century, when the Catholic hierarchy after the catastrophic experience of the French Revolution, aligned itself with the conservative political establishment in fighting all things modern (free press, free speech, democracy, unions, etc.). The church lost European intellectuals and the working classes (especially men) long before Vatican II. The response of Europe to the church’s alliance with political conservatism was anticlericalism.

The American experience was different because while in Europe the church fought against the expansion of freedom, in America the church was on the side of freedom and accepted the separation of church and state. As a result, until the sex abuse crisis and the culture wars, there was no significant anticlerical movement in the United States. American bishops were seen as defenders of unions and working class families from which they had come. The bishops faced anti-Catholicism but not anticlericalism.

Today, on the other hand, anticlericalism is alive and well in America among political liberals, because of the bishops' political agenda, and among women, because of the bishops' stance on women's issues both in and outside the church. Much of what is labeled anti-Catholicism by conservatives is really anticlericalism. The liberal elites do not hate Catholics; they hate the bishops.

Second, Douthat’s narrative passes over the actual events of Vatican II as if there was no conflict or disagreements at the council. In the progressive narrative, a conservative Roman Curia attempted to foist its draft documents on the council fathers who revolted and turned to theologians for help in drafting alternatives.

The bishops did not arrive in Rome as reformers. Rather the first couple of years of the council proved to be a continuing education program where bishops became educated in contemporary developments in theology. Only after updating their theology were they ready to work on documents.

The Curia and its conservative allies fought tooth and nail against these reforms, which they certainly saw as revolutionary and a rupture with the past. Putting the liturgy into the vernacular, giving the cup to the laity, promoting ecumenism, acknowledging freedom of conscience and religion -- all of these were seen as Protestant innovations, and they were right. After hundreds of years of opposition, the church finally accepted some of the reforms that came out of the Reformation and the Enlightenment.

Paul VI, fearing schism on the right, forced the progressive majority to accept numerous compromises in order to get the conservatives to vote for the final documents. This led to documents with ambiguous and sometimes contradictory language.

Progressives accepted the compromises because they saw the council as the beginning of a process of reform not as a conclusion. The compromises and ambiguous texts were simply ways of postponing until a later time discussions that they thought would continue in the church.

The fight between conservatives and progressives continued after the council, but it is false to portray it simply as conservatives promoting the documents while the progressives promoted the "spirit" of the council. In fact, the argument was also over the interpretation of the documents, which sometime were purposefully ambiguous.

Douthat’s narrative also skips Humanae Vitae and its impact on the church. In the United States, this marked the end of clerical dominance over the faithful who rejected out of hand the conclusion that all artificial contraception is immoral. When papal teaching contradicted their own personal experience, the laity rejected the teaching. Earlier generations might have felt compelled to leave the church over such a serious disagreement, but that did not happen here.

Humanae Vitae also had a profound impact on Karol Wojtyła, who had been in the minority on the papal birth control commission that had recommended a change in church teaching. He was scandalized by dissenting bishops and theologians who questioned the encyclical. His experience in the Polish church had taught him the importance of unity for a church under siege first by Nazism and then Communism.

As pope, he made loyalty to papal teaching (especially Humanae Vitae) the litmus test for episcopal appointments. Loyalty trumped theological, pastoral, or administrative skills. His long reign, plus the shorter reign of his successor, insured that the episcopacy was remade in his image.

John Paul also brought in Joseph Ratzinger to rein in dissenting theologians, removing or silencing priests and religious who questioned papal teaching. He also presented an authoritative and often conservative interpretation to ambiguous texts in conciliar documents. Topics that had been postponed at the council became closed to discussion.

Loyalty became the critical requirement for seminary professors and theological advisors. Since the vast majority of theologians disagreed with Humanae Vitae, this meant the alienation of this important constituency in the church. In order to avoid conflict and keep their jobs, most priest theologians simply stopped discussing controversial topics. Even lay theologians, who were not subject to vows of obedience, avoided controversy at least until they got tenure.

Whether by design or by accident, the John Paul papacy broke the alliance between bishops and theologians which had proved so successful against the Roman Curia at Vatican II. In fact, the bishops appointed by John Paul either attacked theologians or avoided them. As I have written elsewhere, this is the ecclesial equivalent of a corporation where management is not on speaking terms with the research and development division.

In short, the renewal process started by the council was stopped and sometimes rolled back, according to the progressive narrative. For example, if married clergy had been allowed and Humanae Vitae had not happened, we would have a very different church today. The church ran into trouble after the council because the reform agenda was abandoned not because of the reforms that were implemented.

Finally, in the United States, Republican operatives saw a unique opportunity to bring white Catholics into their party. They wanted to turn the Catholic church and the Evangelicals into the Republican Party at prayer. On the campaign trail, they promised aid to Catholic schools and an end to abortion, but never made these priorities once they were in office.

Many American conservative Catholics downplayed Catholic social teaching because it went contrary to their political and economic views or because they felt it would distract attention from the culture wars. They ignored or spun what John Paul and Benedict had to say about war and peace and economic justice.

I agree with Douthat that the conservative narrative is undercut by the sexual abuse crisis and the continued exodus of people (especially young people) from the church under John Paul and Benedict. I also agree that the progressive narrative is undercut by the rise of the Evangelicals and the decline of the mainline churches. While half those who leave the church become unchurched or "nones," about a third become Evangelical. Few in comparison join mainline churches.

Neither the conservative nor the progressive narrative has a good explanation for the Catholic exodus. My personal belief is that it has little to do with theology and more to do with a desire for emotionally charged worship services and a sense of community, which are absent from most Catholic parishes.

Narratives are important for explaining the world to ourselves and others. These competing conservative and progressive narratives help define the church of today. Can we have a conversation about them without name calling and stone throwing? I hope so.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Texas bishop rips 'cowboy mentality' against gun control

David Gibson
Religion News Service
January 6, 2016

In a blistering critique of what he describes as congressional kowtowing to the “gun lobby,” the Roman Catholic bishop of Dallas is praising President Obama’s new actions on gun control and ripping the "cowboy mentality" that allows open carry laws like one that just went into effect in Texas.

"Thank God that someone finally has the courage to close the loopholes in our pitiful gun control laws to reduce the number of mass shootings, suicides and killings that have become a plague in our country," Bishop Kevin Farrell wrote in a column, posted on his website on Jan. 5.

"President Barack Obama’s executive actions, though modest, are first steps in correcting gun laws so weak that they are ludicrous," he wrote. "Congress has unabashedly sold itself to the gun lobby. If there was ever any doubt, its recent action to kill legislation to ban people on the terrorist no-fly list made it obvious."

Farrell’s remarks are notable not only because they are so pointed and his diocese is in the heart of one of the most pro-gun states, but also because the Catholic hierarchy in the U.S. is coming under increasing scrutiny for its reticence to speak out on the gun control issue.

When Pope Francis addressed Congress during his first-ever visit last September, he delivered a vivid denunciation of gun violence, telling the representatives the reason weapons are so readily available is because of money -- "money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood."

In October, Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich -- whom Francis personally picked for the high-profile post -- echoed the pontiff’s exhortation in a column in which he said the original intent of the Second Amendment protecting the right to bear arms had been “perverted” and the nation needed to pass tougher gun control laws like those that have sharply reduced gun violence in other countries.

Cupich and some other bishops were hoping the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops would vote to make gun control a priority in its public policy agenda when the bishops met the following month, in November.

But the bishops were sharply divided over how much they should adapt their agenda -- which has focused on fights over gay marriage, abortion and birth control -- to Francis’ priorities, and in the end they largely maintained the status quo.

Since then, gun massacres in places such as San Bernardino and Colorado Springs, along with the daily toll in Chicago and other cities, have prompted a few bishops to speak out and have prompted some Catholics to push them to do more.

"(W)hen it comes to the epidemic of gun violence afflicting American society, the Catholic Church has been, for some time now, largely quiet,” Michael Bayer wrote in The Washington Post on Wednesday. “This needs to change."

A few hours later, Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, issued a cautious statement that endorsed "reasonable regulation" of guns.

He avoided directly praising Obama -- a longtime nemesis for conservative bishops -- and called on Congress to strengthen social services for people with mental illness.

"Violence in our society is a complex issue with many facets, taking many forms," Wenski said. "While no measure can eliminate all acts of violence which involve firearms, we welcome reasonable efforts aimed at saving lives and making communities safer. … We hope Congress will take up this issue in a more robust way, considering all of the varied aspects involved."

Farrell’s broadside this week was also informed by the new law that went into effect on Jan. 1 that allows Texans to openly carry weapons, including in houses of worship, unless expressly forbidden.

The state’s Catholic bishops, as well as many other religious leaders, objected to the law and have said worshippers cannot carry arms into church. Farrell said the statute is evidence of what he provocatively called a "cowboy mentality."

"It is difficult to see how this new law allowing persons with concealed handgun licenses … to openly carry firearms can accomplish anything other than cause people to feel threatened and intimidated."