Monday, May 30, 2016

Bishop to donate kidney to poor, lower-caste Hindu in India

Normal Carvalho
May 30, 2016

Pope Francis has declared this a Holy Year of Mercy, but most likely even a pope known for his flair for dramatic gestures could not have foreseen the extent to which one of his bishops would take the message to heart – or, actually, to his kidney, as it turns out.

Catholic news from India often pivots these days on anti-Christian bias, even outright persecution from the majority Hindu population. The way one Catholic bishop has chosen to put mercy into practice, however, is a reminder that inter-religious tension and conflict is hardly the only narrative.

Bishop Mar Jacob Muricken is an auxiliary in the Palai diocese, part of India’s Syro-Malabar Eastern church, located in the southern state of Kerala where the country’s small but influential Catholic population is concentrated.

Recently, Muricken, who’ll turn 53 in mid-June, received the necessary clearances from a governmental medical college in Kottayam to take one of his healthy kidneys and have it transplanted into the sick body of E. Sooraj, a thirty-year-old poor and lower-caste Hindu man from Kottakal, on June 1, 2016.

Sooraj was diagnosed two years ago with kidney failure, and has been on dialysis ever since. He’s the sole breadwinner of his family and is struggling to take care of his mother and wife.

His father died from snake bite four years ago, and his younger brother died of a heart attack. He was forced to sell off his house and property to meet the expenses of the surgery.

Sooraj approached the Kidney Federation of India, a social service organization that helps people find donors for kidney transplants, and they had good news.

Father Davis Chiramel, chairman of the Kidney Federation of India was invited by the Palai Diocese last year to preach at a charismatic convention, where Muricken was present. Chiramel told the story of his own donation of a kidney to C. G. Gopinathan, a Hindu and a stranger, in 2009.

Muricken later phoned Chiramel expressing his desire to be a donor. He registered his name volunteering to be part of a transplant with the Kidney Federation of India.

The bishop said he was saddened to learn of Sooraj’s condition, but excited about his opportunity to make a life-saving donation.

“I was inspired by a talk of Father Chiramel. I had decided that, like Chiramel, I will also donate my kidney,” said Muricken.

“I came to know about this youth from Father Chiramel, and decided to extend a helping hand, especially in this ‘Year of Mercy,’” he added.

In an interview with Crux, Chiramel said, “it’s the first time that a bishop is donating his kidney to a Hindu man.”

“[It’s significant that he is doing it] in the Holy Year of Mercy, following the call by Pope Francis to love each other without the barrier of caste or creed,” Chiramel said.

“This is perhaps the first time in history that a serving bishop is donating one of his kidneys to save a life,” he said.

Chiramel was clearly elated with the bishop’s decision and unprecedented gift, saying, “30-year-old Sooraj is getting life from this Catholic bishop, who’s forming the bridge of love and God’s grace.”

Muricken told Crux that while he did not actually need permission to make an organ donation from his ecclesiastical superiors, he’s informed the other bishops and “received a lot of encouragement from them.”

“Pope Francis has repeatedly appealed to make Our Lord Jesus more visible through works of mercy,” he said.

Muricken said the fact the recipient is from another religion was never a concern, and only pressed by Crux would he confirm that the man also belongs to the “backward community,” a phrase referring to members of disadvantaged lower classes under India’s ancient caste system.

“Pope Francis backs such acts of organ donation,” Muricken said. “It’s in the spirit of the Church. I believe this should be a strong message for people around me, to be open to donate organs,” and concluded by asking for prayers.

The authorization committee for unrelated donors, made up of medical experts and government officials, approved Muricken as a donor at a meeting held at Kottayam medical college in late May.

The bishop had earlier undergone medical examinations for the donation at the hospital.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

India has plenty to hide about its religious freedom record

Father Cedric Prakash, SJ
May 28, 2016

At a recent Congressional hearing on India convened by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. several top U.S. Senators voiced their concern over religious freedom in India, just ahead of a trip by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s to the United States.

The hearing also came barely three months after thirty-four leading U.S. lawmakers, senators and congressmen, wrote an open letter to Modi on growing intolerance and violence against religious minorities in India, and asked him to take immediate steps to protect these fundamental rights and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Very naturally, supporters of Modi and the BJP party, which is the political wing of India’s Hindu nationalist movements, have not taken too kindly to what they describe as ‘interference in the internal affairs’ of the country.

This is sheer hypocrisy.

There is not a whimper of protest though from these very people when the Indian government agrees to allow the U.S. to use its military bases, or for that matter, if U.S. investments in India flagrantly violate environmental laws or the human rights of its citizens — for instance, Union Carbide and a Coca-Cola plant in Kerala.

So, what’s wrong if U.S. senators and congressmen are concerned about religious and civil liberties in India? Why tolerate, even welcome, one form of “interference” but complain about the other?

What does India have to hide about its record on religious freedom? Plenty.

Let’s begin with the fact that members of the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) were once again denied visas for a fact-finding visit to India. (Some senators raised this point at the congressional hearing.)

In its Annual Report released on May 3, USCIRF once again castigated the Indian government over attacks on religious minorities, and simultaneously praised U.S. President Barack Obama for speaking out against growing intolerance during his visit to India in January 2015.

A few days later, at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Obama once again referred to the religious intolerance in India saying that “it would have shocked Mahatma Gandhi — who helped liberate the nation.”

It’s exactly two years since the Modi Government came to power; since then, the minorities of the country are on the back foot. Fali Nariman, one of India’s most eminent jurists delivering the Annual Lecture of the National Commission for Minorities, lambasted the Government for doing nothing to stop the attacks by fundamentalist Hindu groups against minority communities.

“Hinduism is losing its traditional tolerance, because some Hindus have started believing it is their faith that has brought them political power – and because this belief is not being challenged by those at the top,” Nariman said in his lecture.

“We have been hearing on television and reading in newspapers, almost on a daily basis, a tirade by one or more individuals or groups against one or another section of citizens who belong to a religious minority, and the criticism has been that the majority government has done nothing to stop it,” he said.

The ‘Sangh Parivar’, the term for the constellation of India’s various Hindu nationalist groups, has been calling the shots from day one. Their posturing, utterances and actions lay bare their agenda.

There has been a spate of attacks, directly or subtly, on the minorities in several parts of the country.

Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the main nationalist body RSS, calls for the establishment of a Hindu ‘Rashtra’ (nation).
Bhagwat also makes derogatory remarks about Mother Teresa.
A government minister, Niranjan Jyoti, turns abusive, saying that in India one is either ‘ramzadon’ (those born of Ram) or ‘haramzadon’ (illegitimately born).
Another minister, through a circular, states that Christmas Day, December 25, should be a working day for schools (and then denies it); the Government however continues to insist that it is not a holiday for Government employees.
School text-books with an anti-minority stance are propagated by several BJP state governments.
Christians in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and elsewhere continue to be attacked.
Muslims too face threats. On September 14, 2014, a BJP parliamentarian, Sakshi Maharaj, made a strong allegation that, “the Madrasas of the Muslims are teaching terror.”
On January 5, 2015, Maharaj boldly proclaimed, “the concept of four wives and 40 children will not work in India, and the time has come when a Hindu woman must produce at least four children in order to protect Hindu religion.”

Those involved in conversion must be punished with death, Maharaj said, though simultaneously arguing that “ghar wapsi,” reconversion, is not the same thing. Wait for some time, he said, and “a law will be passed in parliament in which anyone indulging in cow slaughter and conversion will be punished with the death sentence.”

“Ghar wapsi” programs in different parts of the country are aimed at reconverting those Hindus who have accepted Christianity or Islam as their faith. These programs have to be seen as a clever ploy, so when key BJP functionaries cite law-and-order issues created by resistance to reconversion, they very conveniently throw in the need to introduce an anti-conversion law for the country.

A September 2015 lynching of a Muslim man named Akhlaq because of a rumors that ‘he ate beef’ should not be seen as a spontaneous act of violence by a mob, but a well thought-out and barbaric act by people who know that they can do things with impunity.

In Gujarat, several Muslim youths have been killed by the police in what are infamously known as “encounters’. The youth were certainly innocent, and those responsible for their deaths have got away with murder.

To add fuel to the fire, those trigger-happy policemen and other terrorists belonging to the Hindutva brigade have been very conveniently released from prison, and some of the policemen have even received promotions because of their unflinching loyalty to their political bosses.

Modi himself piloted a controversial “Freedom of Religion Act” in 2003 in Gujarat, when he was at the helm of the state. It’s an anti-conversion law which can easily be rated as the most draconian piece of legislation in post-independence India.

If Modi is serious about promoting religious tolerance in India, the first thing that he would do would be to abolish this law.

The senators at the Congressional hearing cited several examples of violations of religious and civil liberties in India. An India which adheres to the principles of democracy and pluralism must demonstrate the maturity to pay heed to them, and to act on facts immediately and objectively.

Father Cedric Prakash, S.J., is a human rights activist from India. He is currently engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service in the Middle East, working on advocacy and communications. In June 2002, he testified before USCIRF in Washington on the Gujarat carnage.

A twin cities Catholic's open letter to the new archbishopp

Zach Czaia
Minneapolis Star Tribune
May 27, 2016

Dear Archbishop Bernard Hebda:

I am a Minnesota Catholic. I was baptized in a Twin Cities parish. I received my first communion at a Twin Cities parish. I took the oils of confirmation on my forehead at the cathedral in St. Paul. I have gratitude for the work that you do and your fellow priests do — the marrying and burying, the listening and absolving, the steady presence in the lives of those you pastor. You have a difficult job, a challenging vocation, and the present environment here has not made it any easier. So, before I say anything else, I want you to know that I value your work. At its best, I believe it is God’s own work.

I’m writing because I would like to see a radical change in the way our local church approaches victims of clergy sexual abuse. I believe our current approach is not nearly honest or generous enough to provide real healing to those who have been harmed. We need to do more. We need to give more.

At my home parish, every Sunday at the offertory, the ushers walk up the aisles and pass the baskets down the pews. I put my money in like many others. I hope you can understand that over these past two years, in light of what has been revealed through the witness of Jennifer Haselberger and the reporting of local news outlets, I have lost confidence that this money is doing much good for the community. Nevertheless, I give. I give because I was taught it was right to tithe, to give back to the church, to support it.

Sometimes your priests present “second collections” — on behalf of missions the local church in St. Paul and Minneapolis supports in other parts of the world. Sometimes they are on behalf of retired members of religious communities or food shelters or homeless shelters or any number of praiseworthy purposes. But I have never once heard a second collection taken up for the victims of sexual abuse, many of whom were victimized in the very spaces where we sit. I have never once heard a financial appeal for support of victims, whose lives have been uprooted at the hands of abusive priests. Good therapy is not cheap, but I have never once seen the collection basket passed around for good therapy so a victim of sexual abuse could heal. Never once, not in 33 years sitting in the pews.

I have heard, recently, that my parish is being served with lawsuits by victims of sexual abuse. I have heard that the parishes are employing legal counsel, but I have not heard how much that legal counsel costs. Is it reasonable to assume that the money I place in the basket on Sundays may pay for a lawyer to defend the parish against the claims of a victim of abuse? I do not know. I would prefer not to support a lawyer defending the parish. I would prefer to support the victims of abuse directly. I think many of my fellow Catholics feel the same way.

In January 2015, our local church declared bankruptcy. Some say this was to avoid a trial, one that would have likely put key church leaders on the stand (your predecessor among them), and that would have aired the church’s dirty laundry in an even more public way than has already happened. I think this would have been better than the bankruptcy proceedings I read about now, which are not honest, which I believe could do even further damage to those harmed by clergy sexual abuse. From what I understand, your lawyers have claimed the archdiocese has $45 million in assets, a number that doesn’t include parishes, schools or other foundations, which the church says it doesn’t control. I read that your lawyers argue they are “separately incorporated.” I do not understand what they mean by this phrase.

These parishes have been under the direct control of the archbishop and his vicar general since the beginning of the local church. If the archbishop and vicar general have found it useful to extract money from parishes, they have found ways and means to do so. If the archbishop and vicar general have found it useful to merge or close schools, they have found ways and means to do so — despite the voices of parishioners and teachers who objected. In her May 22 affidavit opposing your lawyers’ vision of the church, Haselberger cites numerous examples of ways in which so-called “separate” bodies within the church were treated anything but separately — from schools, to parishes, to foundations. I encourage local Catholics to read this document and find surprising revelations pertinent to their own particular church communities.

The upshot of Jennifer’s statement, and of the argument of victims of abuse generally, is that the church cannot have it both ways. If, as we’ve always understood and been taught, the church is a body, the body of Christ, and certain members of the body have been wounded, it is not good (or honest) to deny that those members are part of the body when it is financially inconvenient for us to admit it.

Your reorganization plan was unveiled in the days just preceding the feast of Corpus Christi, the high feast of the Eucharist, of the body and blood of Jesus. I cannot help but think of St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, and how far his words seem from the words of your lawyers. “There are many parts, yet one body,” Paul writes. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’ … If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.”(1 Cor. 12: 21, 26)

Archbishop, the wounded body of Christ stands before us, bleeding. Let us go to minister to him. Let us all go together. And let us not go empty-handed.

Zach Czaia is a high school English teacher and poet. He recently published the poetry collection “Saint Paul Lives Here (In Minnesota),” Wipf & Stock Press, in response to the revelations of coverup in his local church.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Squabbles over the French language missal translation

Unlike the English speaking bishops' conferences which gave in to pressure from Rome, most European linguistic groups are resisting adopting stilted non-natural language in an attempt to mirror the Latin text.

Pray Tell
May 27, 2016

It seems there is a fight about liturgical translations in French-speaking countries, according to La Croix.

The newly translated French language Missal was scheduled for Lent 2017, but could be delayed until Advent 2017. This is because of a fight between the Francophone bishops and the Congregation for Divine Worship, which for now is refusing to approve the French text. Rome refused a first re-translation in 2007.

The bishops of France approved another text this past March, allowing for adjustments to be made by a mixed commission involving other Francophone countries. Opposition to the endeavor is said to be stronger in French-speaking Switzerland, Canada, and Belgium. An example of a contested point is the opposition in Canda to a change in the Eucharistic Prayer from “coupe” to “calice.”

The outgoing president of the bishops’ conference in France, Archbishop Bernard-Nicolas Aubertin of Tours, did not want to leave unfinished business to his successor, and he has strived for agreement with Rome. On April 7, Aubertin was to take up the matter with the pope. But CDW prefect Cardinal Sara is entrenched in his position, and he told the weekly Famille chrétienne, “In the audience he granted me on Saturday, April 2, the pope confirmed to me that new translations of the Roman Missal must respect the Latin text.”

La Croix notes that in Germany the bishops opposed “a liturgical language which is not the language of the people” and in 2013 rejected the work of a commission imposed by Benedict XVI. The Spanish translation is stalled, and the Italian bishops are dragging their feet.

La Croix also notes that since the beginning of the year, Il Sismografo, which is close to Vatican Radio, has published long articles by Andrea Grillo, liturgy professor at Sant’ Anselmo, which are highly critical of the 2001 Roman translation document Liturgiam authenticam.

One French bishop had this comment: “It is most surprising that, at a time when the pope insists on inculturation and synodality, a text voted on by 120 French bishops is blocked by one lone cardinal.”

Friday, May 27, 2016

Vatican accuses woman at heart of leaks trial of 'calumny'

Ines San Martin
May 27, 2016

As the soap-opera of a Vatican trial against three former members of a papal commission and two journalists accused of leaking secret documents continues to unravel, the pope’s spokesman on Thursday said that statements made by one of the defendants during the trial may be “subject to legal action.”

On Tuesday, Francesca Chaouqui, an Italian lay PR expert who worked at the Vatican on a now-defunct papal panel studying financial reform, and who is one of the five people being prosecuted, accused a high-ranking Vatican official of “waging a war against her” during testimony.

Chaouqui, who’s almost nine months pregnant, amplified that charge on her Facebook page, where she wrote that Italian Archbishop Angelo Giovanni Becciu, the number two official at the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, has staked his credibility on her going to prison, so she’ll be “condemned without evidence.”

She also wrote that she’s “not afraid of four feet of pure evil,” in reference to Becciu’s diminutive height, and that she stands by her accusations.

Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s spokesman, released a statement Thursday responding both to her sworn testimony and her subsequent Facebook post.

“It has become necessary — without desiring in any way to condition the action of the Court — to deny, in a most absolute way, such accusations and to state that, since they are calumnious affirmations, they are absolutely unacceptable, and subject to legal action,” Lombardi said.

In turn, Chaouqui, who’s already said she plans to publish a book about her experience, responded to the spokesman, saying that “the calumny and unacceptable thing is what the Vatican, in the figure of the substitute, is doing against me.”

Becciu’s post is referred to as the “substitute” because he acts on behalf of the Cardinal Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

In a Facebook post published on Thursday and addressed to Lombardi, Chaouqui writes that he knew about an alleged dossier with “lies” about her, and which apparently Becciu had received three years ago, when she was hired by the Vatican.

She claims that the document, which among other things compiled a series of embarrassing Tweets by her against senior Vatican officials, was leaked to the press by Becciu, and that Lombardi too had received the dossier.

Chaouqui also gives details about the night of her arrest almost nine months ago, after which she was released the next day. Among other things, the PR expert writes that during her interrogation Becciu would constantly call the two men questioning her, and that she knows this to be true because “we witches have a long eye.”

“He [Becciu] was next to the phone, like a wolf that’s waiting to catch its next prey,” she wrote, adding that there’s no evidence to back the allegations against her.

She closes the post writing that she awaits the sentence “serenely,” and challenging the Vatican to go through with it.

“I will not yield,” she writes, adding that those accusing her now will have to face “divine” justice.

Chaouqui and the other defendants are being tried under a reform to Vatican criminal law instituted by Pope Francis, which makes the offense of revealing confidential documents punishable with up to eight years in prison.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Cardinal Müller expects SSPX to recognized disputed Vatican II teachings

Edward Pentin
National Catholic Register
May 24, 2016

Cardinal Gerhard Müller has said he expects the Society of St. Pius X, which has always opposed the Second Vatican Council's declarations on religious freedom and ecumenism, to “unreservedly recognize” freedom of religion as a human right, and an obligation to ecumenism.

In an interview in the June edition of the German publication Herder Korrespondenz, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that if one “wants to be fully Catholic, one must recognize the Pope and the Second Vatican Council.”

Cardinal Müller said he expects a recognition of all the Council declarations that deal with these issues, according to the interview, reported on the Austrian Catholic website, Kathpress, May 24.

His comments come after reports that the Society of St. Pius X, which continues to oppose key teachings of the Second Vatican Council regarding ecumenism, freedom of religion and aspects of liturgical reform, may be close to being recognized by the Holy See.

In 1988, the Society’s founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, along with Bishop De Castro Mayer, ordained four bishops claiming necessity, but the move went against the express wish of Pope St. John Paul II. The Pope had given permission for one bishop to be ordained. All five incurred automatic excommunication and, although Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications on the four bishops in 2009, the society has remained in a canonically irregular situation.

Earlier this month, the SSPX’s superior general, Bishop Bernard Fellay, told the Register that some in Rome were signaling to the Society that it was now possible to question the Council’s teachings on these issues “and remain Catholic.”

“That means, also, the criteria they would impose on us, to have us prove to them that we are Catholic, will no longer be these points,” he said. “That, to us, would be very important.”

Furthermore, he stressed that Rome had two different approaches: “We have to distinguish the position of the Pope which is one thing, and then the position of the CDF,” said Bishop Fellay, who also insisted the SSPX would not compromise on its position. “They don’t have the same approach but have the same conclusion which is: Let’s finish the problem by giving recognition to the Society.”

He added that he was “persuaded, at least in part, by a different approach” that meant giving “less importance to the problem which we consider important, which is the Council: that means by lessening the binding of the Council.” The Pope, Bishop Fellay said, sees doctrine as “quite an obstacle in dealing with people” and, in his wish to see “everybody saved”, unties a secure rope “to get to us.”

But Cardinal Müller, whose insistence on the SSPX adhering to the Council's teaching is clearly more pronounced than that of the Holy Father, told Herder Korrespondenz that one cannot discount the Council as “only pastoral chatter" just because it adopted no binding dogmas.

The CDF prefect said that no pope has ever proclaimed Christ's Resurrection as an ex cathedra [infallible] dogma, and yet it “belongs in the center of the creed, it is the foundation.”

“Key statements, even if they are not proclaimed ex cathedra [and thus infallible], are, for us Catholics, still essential,” he said, adding that it is “not acceptable to take one and reject the other."

Cardinal Müller also said in the interview that one must not be fascinated by every homily from a bishop or pope. Only the magisterium, which is a declaration of faith, needs to be accepted, the cardinal stressed, according to the Kathpress report.

"Religious freedom as a fundamental human right and freedom to protect religion regarding the supernatural revelation in Jesus Christ are recognized by every Catholic without reservation", he said in reference to the relevant Council declarations.

The recognition of the Second Vatican Council is "not an unreasonably high hurdle” to overcome, he said, adding that it was rather “the adequate remedy to enter into full communion with the Pope and the bishops in communion with him.”

The CDF prefect further asserted that Pope Francis’ relationship to the SSPX does not differ from that of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. "He sees this and similar groups as Catholic, but still on the way towards full Catholic unity."

Earlier this month, Pope Francis hinted reconciliation could be close, telling the French Catholic daily La Croix May 16 that the SSPX are “Catholics on the way to full communion” and that “good dialogue and good work are taking place.”

He also received Bishop Fellay for the first time in a private audience last month, and told La Croix he is “a man with whom one can dialogue.”

Last year, the Pope made his first overture to the Society by announcing that SSPX confessions would be valid and licit during and after the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Until that time, because of their irregular canonical status, their confessions were considered invalid because they lacked the necessary jurisdiction.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Minnesota abuse victims claim church shielded $1.7 billion in assets

Tom Corrigan
Wall St Journal
May 24, 2016

Hundreds of clergy sexual abuse victims raised the stakes in their clash with the Catholic Church on Monday, with victims’ lawyers claiming that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has worked for decades to keep some $1.7 billion in assets beyond their reach.

The Twin Cities archdiocese, home to more than 180 parishes and 825,000 parishioners, has been in bankruptcy for more than a year, facing liabilities stemming from about 450 people who say they were sexually abused by clergy members, often decades ago. A judge ordered victims, the archdiocese and its insurance carriers to mediation more than a year ago, but talks failed to produce a settlement.

Now victims are looking to force the archdiocese to dip into assets—like parishes and charitable foundations stocked with cash—they say the archdiocese has shielded using a legal playbook more often associated with large, for-profit corporations.

In court papers filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Minneapolis late Monday, the victims, who are seeking compensation from the archdiocese, said its overall net worth, including property that is legally distinct but alleged to be controlled by the archdiocese, is about $1.7 billion. In bankruptcy court papers filed last year, the archdiocese pegged its total assets at about $45 million.

Attorney Robert Kugler, who represents abuse victims in the bankruptcy, said the two sides are “worlds apart.”

And victims’ lawyers say they expect the archdiocese will soon propose a so-called cram-down chapter 11 repayment plan, a bankruptcy reorganization plan that permanently dismisses their claims over their objections, paying out what the victims consider to be a pittance. At least two other bankrupt Catholic dioceses—the Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee—have filed nonconsensual plans. Those two cases, like more than a dozen other Catholic bankruptcies, ultimately resulted in compromises with victims.

Joseph Kueppers, the Twin Cities archdiocese’s chancellor for civil affairs, declined to comment on the bankruptcy until a reorganization plan is filed “due to the sensitive nature of ongoing negotiations and mediation efforts—which the court requires remain confidential.” But he said the archdiocese’s goal is to arrive at a settlement.

“We must come together to care for all those who have been hurt during this tragic time in our church’s history,” former Archbishop John Nienstedt said when the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy. The archdiocese sought chapter 11 protection last year to halt several abuse-related lawsuits from going to trial and has since been hit with criminal charges for its alleged role in endangering children.

Mr. Kueppers said Monday the archdiocese is continuing to cooperate with prosecutors on the criminal charges. The archdiocese also settled civil charges in December related to the abuse scandal but didn’t admit wrongdoing.

Archbishop Nienstedt resigned last year, just days after the criminal charges were filed. He wasn’t charged. The Rev. Bernard Hebda, a lawyer with a degree from Columbia Law School, had been in line to become the Archbishop of Newark but instead took the helm of the troubled Twin Cities archdiocese earlier this month.

Filing for bankruptcy, holding money in trusts and spinning off assets into separate corporations are common business practices in big chapter 11 cases. And to be sure, bankruptcy has come at a significant cost to the Twin Cities archdiocese, which has laid off staff and, according to its annual financial report, made the “difficult, but necessary” decision to put the chancery building, the archbishop’s residence and several other properties near the Cathedral of St. Paul up for sale. The iconic cathedral, a national shrine, isn’t among the properties being sold.

But victims say the archdiocese has sought to wall off its most valuable assets by using trusts or separate corporations that the archdiocese says it doesn’t control, steering hundreds of millions of dollars into those entities.

James Stang, a lawyer not involved in the Twin Cities bankruptcy but who has helped victims negotiate settlements in other diocesan bankruptcies, says he has witnessed similar actions in those cases. “What we’ve seen is that, in some cases, parishes and the dioceses are taking formal actions to protect themselves by setting up separate entities,” he said.

Jeff Anderson, a lawyer who represents most of the alleged victims in Minnesota and who supports the consolidation request, says the archdiocese is hiding its ability to account for past actions, which further harms victims.

“It is to the survivors a double betrayal and a revictimization,” he said.

The archdiocese’s official list of assets filed with the bankruptcy court includes cash, investments and even $265,000 worth of “furs and jewelry.” But it excludes the hundreds of parishes and schools in the archdiocese, including the cathedral, which sit on potentially valuable real estate.

The Twin Cities and other U.S. dioceses have separately incorporated parishes and schools for decades, but victims say the properties are still controlled by the archbishop and should be counted among its assets in bankruptcy. Court papers filed Monday point to what lawyers say is the archbishop’s influence on the parishes’ board seats and his power to merge parishes over their objections.

“Since 1858, parishes in Minnesota have been incorporated separately, and we did not disclose their assets—or those of schools and foundations—because we do not control them,” Mr. Kueppers said Monday.

The archdiocese says the cathedral is leased to a separate corporation for $1 a year and has “no realizable value,” although tax records show an estimated market value of $21 million, according to court papers. Of the archdiocese’s roughly 90 schools, county tax records show three alone sit on property worth at least $13.7 million and victims said in court papers that the three schools’ total value approaches $30 million. But because the schools have occupied the land for decades, the archdiocese says they shouldn’t be counted as part of its estate.

Abuse victims say they aren’t asking for parishes and schools to be closed and sold off. “What would be nice is if that they would recognize that they have some value and figure out how to extract some of that value to compensate victims,” Mr. Kugler said.

Susan Boswell, who has represented a number of dioceses in bankruptcy, says victims’ efforts to consolidate the archdiocese’s properties could result in a “very lengthy and incredibly expensive fight,” one that could ultimately go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It’s a drastic remedy,” she said.

Archbishop Hebda, in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio Friday, said the church’s bankruptcy strategy has always been to maximize the recovery for abuse victims.

“We’ve been putting all of our efforts...into how it is that we might be able to provide the most for the most,” he said.

One of the largest assets being pursued by victims is the Catholic Community Foundation, an approximately $280 million fund that makes grants to archdiocese schools and parishes as well as Catholic and secular nonprofits, like the American Red Cross and Catholic Relief Services.

Created in 1992, the foundation is legally distinct from the archdiocese and therefore shielded from victims’ claims—which church officials have testified was intentional.

In a taped deposition in 2014, Rev. Kevin McDonough, a former high-ranking archdiocese official who incorporated the Catholic Community Foundation, explained the foundation was created, in part, to protect the archdiocese’s donations from the growing threat of abuse liability. Donors, he said, were concerned that a civil court could force the church to surrender such gifts to victims.

“We obviously were in a climate that many people were concerned and brought into our attention that they don’t want to give any money to the appeal because their fear that the money would be used to support lawyers and pay victims,” Thomas Mertens, the archdiocese’s chief financial officer, said of a similarly situated foundation, the Catholic Services Appeal Foundation, in sworn testimony last year.

Lawyers for the archdiocese said in bankruptcy court papers that the archdiocese didn’t believe creating either fund involved any transfer of property “outside the ordinary course of business.” The funds, however, sought more distance from the archdiocese after state lawmakers temporarily lifted the statute of limitations on sexual abuse, unleashing the litigation that ultimately forced the Twin Cities archdiocese as well as the Diocese of Duluth, Minn., into chapter 11.

Tax records show that less than six months after the legislation was enacted, the Catholic Community Foundation changed its official name from the Catholic Community Foundation in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to the Catholic Community Foundation of Minnesota.

“We’re a completely separate and independent Catholic community foundation,” Anne Cullen Miller, the foundation’s president, said in an interview Monday. “We have funds and relationships all over the state of Minnesota, and so the name reflects the work that we do.”

Jennifer Haselberger, a former canon lawyer for the Twin Cities archdiocese who publicly accused its leadership of covering up abuse in 2013, says the archdiocese’s leadership didn’t follow its own internal process for formally separating the foundations from the archdiocese until a growing cohort of abuse-related lawsuits and a looming bankruptcy threatened their safety.

“They absolutely refused to do it until bankruptcy was coming down the pipe,” she said in an interview.

To be sure, over the past decade the Twin Cities Archdiocese, like most Catholic dioceses in the U.S., has also worked to protect children and increase transparency. The church’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People calls for extensive—and costly—training programs and background checks for all personnel in contact with children and requires annual audits to ensure compliance.

Since 2004, more than 99% of clergy members, candidates for ordination, educators and other employees who minister to children have had their backgrounds checked at least once. And nearly 99% of priests and candidates for ordination in 188 participating dioceses and eparchies had received training in ways to maintain safe environments for children, according to the most recent audit available.

And dioceses in bankruptcy say chapter 11 is an unavoidable step needed to fairly and equitably compensate victims while also preserving the ministry and mission of the church. Without bankruptcy, lawyers for dioceses say big payouts to the first victims to file lawsuits could prove ruinous and leave nothing for victims who come later.

“The bishop felt strongly, and I did too, that the only way to fairly compensate everyone was to have everybody participate in the same forum, otherwise we were just engaged in a race to the courthouse,” Richard Davidson, a lawyer who represented the Diocese of Davenport during its 2006 bankruptcy, said in an interview.

But some disagree with efforts by the church to protect assets that could be used to pay out abuse-related compensation.

“The philosophy, the ideology, has always been to protect the assets of the church,” Ms. Haselberger, the former canon lawyer, said. ”The question that was never asked is whether our obligation to care for people who have been harmed wasn’t also the work of the church, especially considering that these people were our people.”

Rev. George Leo Thomas, the Bishop of Helena, Mont., shepherded his diocese through bankruptcy in 2014. “It’s instinctual for a bishop to protect the diocesan assets,” he said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal several weeks after his diocese exited chapter 11 protection. “I think the mistake comes when a bishop allows the attorneys to set the tone and the direction and the pace of the proceedings and get in the way of pastoral healing.”

In Helena, the diocese reached a $21 million settlement with about 380 victims, spending less than five hours in court. But in Wisconsin, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee spent nearly five years in chapter 11, until the soaring costs of the litigation threatened to leave victims with nothing. Much of Milwaukee’s bankruptcy battling centered on victims’ access to about $60 million in cemetery funds, a dispute which reached the Supreme Court last year before it was finally settled with proceeds from the cemetery used to fund the bankruptcy plan.

Since then, in the Twin Cities, victims’ lawyers said in court papers that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has sought to detach itself from its own cemeteries, painting over signs at their entrances that once bore the archdiocese’s moniker.

Mr. Kueppers said Monday that the cemeteries have been separately incorporated for about 40 years and that the archdiocese has no control over their signs.

But within weeks of the archdiocese’s bankruptcy, the cemeteries changed a statement on their website explaining that “the Catholic Cemeteries is a separate corporation,” adding the word “separate” and that it “receives no financial support from the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.” The site also removed a reference to the former Twin Cities Archbishop Nienstedt as chairman of the board governing the cemeteries.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Pope and the Imam exchange an embrace" "our meeting is the message"

Jacopo Scarammuzi
Vatican Insider
Mary 23, 2016

Pope Francis embraced the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Muhammad al-Tayyib, after the audience he granted today to the spiritual leader of the prestigious Egyptian Sunni Muslim Center which marks a resumption of dialogue after years of frosty relations. The meeting was centred around “the common commitment of the authorities and faithful of the great religions to peace in the world, the rejection of violence and terrorism, the situation of Christians in the context of conflict and tension in the Middle East, and their protection.”

The conversation was “very cordial” and lasted about thirty minutes, said the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi. Francis and Al-Tayyib “highlighted the great significance of this new meeting in the framework of dialogue between the Catholic Church and Islam. They went on to focus on the common commitment of the authorities and faithful of the great religions to peace in the world, the rejection of violence and terrorism, the situation of Christians in the context of conflict and tension in the Middle East, and their protection.”

The meeting took place behind closed doors in the presence of a single interpreter, the Pope’s Egyptian Coptic secretary Yoannis Lahzi Gaid. At the end of the conversation Francis gave the Imam a copy of his Encyclical Letter Laudato Sì and a Medallion of the olive tree of peace, one of the Pope’s traditional gift to his guests, which depicts an olive tree born from a rock. “Our meeting is the message,” said the Pope to Al-Tayyib, as reported by his entourage. After his meeting with the Pope, which took place in Francis’ library, the Imam and his entourage met in the corner room with a Vatican delegation led by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the secretary of the dicastery, Bishop Ayuso Guixot.

The Grand Imam was accompanied by a “large delegation”, specified Father Lombardi, including: Professor Abbas Shouman, under-secretary of Al-Azhar; Professor Mahmoud Hamdi Zakzouk, member of the Council of Senior Scholars of the Al-Azhar University and director of the Al-Azhar Centre for Dialogue; Judge Mohamed Mahmoud Abdel Salam, advisor to the Grand Imam; Professor Mohie Afifi Afifi Ahmed, general secretary of the Academy for Islamic Research; the ambassador Mahmoud Abdel Gawad, diplomatic advisor to the Grand Imam; Tamer Tawfik, advisor; and Ahmad Alshourbagy, second secretary, as well as the ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt at the Holy See, Hatem Seif el Nasr. The Grand Imam was welcomed and accompanied to the meeting with the Pope by Cardinal Tauran. Al-Tayyib left the Apostolic Palace shortly after 1 p.m.

In January of 2011, the prestigious Egyptian Sunni Centre decided to terminate their collaboration with the Holy See after Pope Benedict XVI cited an attack on the Copts of Alexandria among the reasons why there is an “urgent need for the governments of the region to adopt, in spite of difficulties and dangers, effective measures for the protection of religious minorities.” Those words were interpreted in Cairo as political interference. So much so that the Egyptian government recalled its ambassador to the Holy See and the Sunni University made the decision to suspend their dialogue also evoking Joseph Ratzinger’s speech in Regensburg as the reason. Last February, a Vatican delegation visited the University of Al-Azhar and expressed a willingness to host the great Imam for a meeting with Pope Francis.

The Imam of Al-Azhar is expected in Paris tomorrow. Later in the day he will participate in the second international meeting entitled “East and West: dialogue of civilizations”, states a note by the Community of Sant’Egidio. The long-prepared event is al-Tayyib’s second official European visit after an historic meeting held in Florence in June 2015. The prestigious Islamic institution wanted the meeting to take place in Paris, said the note, because the French capital was the victim of last November’s attacks. The meeting, continues the note, does not fit within the framework of the dialogue between Islam and the West but seeks to respond to a growing desire in both the Middle East and in Europe to write a new page in the history of relations between these two great civilizations. The conference, sponsored not only by Sant’Egidio and Al-Azhar but also by the Muslim Council of Elders, will be inaugurated tomorrow morning by the Grand Imam and by Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio. At 5:30 p.m. al-Tayyib is expected at the Elysée by French President Francois Hollande.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Bishops seeking plea bargains

Ken Briggs
National Catholic Reporter
May 19, 2016

The letter was like one of those from the bank, reminding you how special you are to them, reviewing everything they've done to upgrade your life, then offering you a chance to return the love by taking out a home equity loan.

Except this one from Bishop John Barres, dated three days after Easter, circled around to another kind of pitch. As read to Catholics attending mass in his Allentown, PA, diocese, it began by acknowledging the "prevalence of the sin and crime of child abuse," noting that the diocese was "not untouched" by this scandal but hastening to add that it was "just as important" that the church was enforcing "zero tolerance" through a wide variety of strategies. The bishop wanted Catholics to know that the church was doing its utmost to protect their children. While admitting no culpability in fostering the menace, which was inferred to be much bigger than the church, parishioners could be sure the diocese was on the prevention side.

That billboard was the prelude to the punch lines at the end of the letter. Bishop Barres hoped that goodwill spawned by the diocese's initiatives would impel parishioners to urge their state legislators to kill a bill that would end limits on the right to file lawsuits against dioceses by victims of church-related sex abuse. The bill's leading backer was a committed Catholic, Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Bethlehem) who claimed he was raped by an Allentown priest during his teens.

Bishop Barres warned that passage of the law (two weeks later it won House approval handily, 180-15) could trigger dire results including "crippling damage awards" and the "very existence of some ministries." Understandable disaster from an institutional standpoint. Similar letters were being dispatched from lecterns in parishes across the state at the behest of the PA conference of bishops.

Two cradle-Catholic friends who trundle to their respective churches every weekend told me separately that they were outraged by the letter and came close to walking out of church. They were appalled by by the suggestion that they join the bishops' fight against an opening of lawsuits on behalf of victims. Each said he'd never before even thought of storming out of church in protest. But there they were.

The PA bishops made it clear they weren't trying to prevent legitimate crimes against church personnel from being prosecuted. Their priority, as guardians of the property, was to stem the tide of court awards from suits claiming that church leadership had enabled abusers to evade prosecution. Juries had tended to sympathize with such litigants.

Bishops' conferences had been campaigning against similar vulnerability across the country. Among their arguments, one was quasi legal, that older cases could be undermined by poor memory, deceased witnesses and missing evidence. The burden of the challenge, however, was that it would ruin the church.

It might, even though it offers a measure of justice to victims. But it comes across as hardly adequate to the larger task of reconciliation. A lawsuit might be the best achievable end, but it doesn't answer the call to the kind of community envisioned in Acts, I John and the Last Supper, among other places. That would require a much more profound experience of honest confession and forgiveness than the courts or public rituals and gestures can accomplish.

One requirement, I believe, is that both accuser and victim grasp vulnerability. Victims had it forced on them, though sometimes it takes a long time for it to be understood. The ordained clergy may have known a form of that feeling but generally don't show anything like it in their public roles. There's where this discussion comes in. In order for bishops to approach a level of vulnerability at all equivalent to that of victims, I think they'd have to be willing to give up their entire store of goods. If the courts take away the whole material diocese, all the symbols of authority, is the church lost or does holding on to as much as possible make reconciliation impossible?

Remember the young ruler who grilled Jesus about how to get into heaven? He'd done everything he knew to earn a spot, following every one of those commandments, which was no small thing, but something told him he'd missed something. Well, there was one thing, Jesus said. Just sell all you have and give the returns to the poor. Scripture says the young man went away "very sad, for he had many possessions."

By the same token, you'll recall that Jesus got angriest over child abuse, implying that legal solutions were not by themselves enough and radical divestment of some kind might be necessary. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble," read his words, "it would be better to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea."

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Vatican PR aide warns Catholic blogs create 'cesspool of hatred'

Ed Wilkinson
Catholic News Service
May 17, 2016

Although Pope Francis has succeeded in rebranding the public profile of the Church, according to a Vatican PR aide, his positive tone isn’t always reflected when Catholics themselves take to the use of social media.

On the contrary, to hear Father Thomas Rosica tell it, sometimes Catholic conversation on-line is more “culture of death” than “culture of life.”

“Many of my non-Christian and non-believing friends have remarked to me that we ‘Catholics’ have turned the Internet into a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, all in the name of defending the faith!” he said.

“The character assassination on the Internet by those claiming to be Catholic and Christian has turned it into a graveyard of corpses strewn all around,” said Rosica, who assists the Vatican Press Office with English-speaking media, on May 11 as he delivered the keynote address at the Brooklyn Diocese’s observance of World Communications Day.

“Often times the obsessed, scrupulous, self-appointed, nostalgia-hankering virtual guardians of faith or of liturgical practices are very disturbed, broken and angry individuals, who never found a platform or pulpit in real life and so resort to the Internet and become trolling pontiffs and holy executioners!” Rosica said.

“In reality they are deeply troubled, sad and angry people,” he said. “We must pray for them, for their healing and conversion!”

Both Rosica and his “Salt and Light TV” Catholic network in Canada have occasionally been targeted for on-line criticism, especially from conservative and pro-life Catholic organizations.

The Internet, Rosica said, “can be an international weapon of mass destruction, crossing time zones, borders and space.” He also described it as “an immense battleground that needs many field hospitals set up to bind wounds and reconcile warring parties.”

“If we judged our identity based on certain ‘Catholic’ websites and blogs, we would be known as the people who are against everyone and everything!” he said. ” If anything, we should be known as the people who are for something, something positive that can transform lives and engage and impact the culture.”

The good news, according to Rosica, is that in the broader media universe, Pope Francis has had exactly that effect.

“Prior to Pope Francis, when many people on the street were asked: ‘What is the Catholic Church all about? What does the pope stand for?’ The response would often be, ‘Catholics, well they are against abortion, gay marriage and birth control’,” Rosica said.

“They are known for the sex abuse crisis that has terribly marred and weakened their moral authority and credibility,’” he said.

“Today I dare say that the response is somewhat different,” Rosica said.

“What do they say about us now? What do they say about the pope? People are speaking about our leader who is unafraid to confront the sins and evils that have marred us,” he continued.

“We have a pope who is concerned about the environment, about mercy, compassion and love, and a deep passion, care and concern for the poor and for displaced peoples roaming the face of this earth,” he added. “Pope Francis has won over a great part of the media.”

The pontiff “has changed the image of the church so much that prestigious graduate schools of business and management are now using him as a case study in rebranding,” the priest added.

While the pope has caused more people to take notice, that doesn’t mean that everyone agrees or follows the message he preaches, Rosica said.

He explained that Pope Francis has opened up a dialogue with the world, and the Catholic media is a big part of showcasing the work of the Catholic Church.

He referred to Francis’ message for World Communications Day to explain how church media should go about its work.

“Our primary task is to uphold the truth with love,” he said.

That means that Catholic media should “listen,” rather than merely “hear,” as it engages in dialogue.

It also means that church media should communicate with everyone, without exception.

It further means that “Christians ought to be a constant encouragement to communion and, even in those cases where they must firmly condemn evil, they should never try to rupture relationships and communication.”

Rosica further added that “political and diplomatic language would do well to be inspired by mercy, which never loses hope.”

“May our way of communicating help to overcome the mind-set that neatly separates sinners from the righteous,” he said. “We can and we must judge situations of sin – such as violence, corruption and exploitation – but we may not judge individuals, since only God can see into the depths of their hearts.”

Rosica said the work of the Catholic media is to build bridges that encourage encounter and inclusion and to avoid misunderstandings that add to wounds and vengeance.

“The Church must shine with the light that lives within itself, it must go out and encounter human beings who — even though they believe that they do not need to hear a message of salvation — often find themselves afraid and wounded by life,” he said.

“The light of Christ reflected in the church must not become the privilege of only a few elect who float enclosed within a safe harbor or ghetto network of communications for the elite, the clean, the perfect and the saved.”

Sponsored by the DeSales Media Group, the event in downtown Brooklyn drew about 250 people. Rosica was presented with the Brooklyn Diocese’s St. Francis DeSales Distinguished Communicator Award by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.

Monday, May 16, 2016

More twists and turns as Vatican trial enters Dan Brown territory

Paddy Agnew
The Irish Times
May 16, 2016

The more you attend the so-called Vatileaks 2 trial in the Vatican, the more it seems the whole thing has been dreamed up by a Dan Brown wannabe.

For example, when Msgr Alfredo Abbondi, head of office in the Vatican’s prefecture for economic affairs, took to the witness stand for a three-hour long deposition last Saturday, he spoke of “secret services”, “electronic bugs”, “threatening letters” and “secret meetings”. He even told how a colleague had offered to “break a chair over my back”, while he said the atmosphere in his office was so bad he had asked to be transferred four times.

Vatileaks 2 is the Vatican City State trial which opened last November and in which five people are accused of “illegally procuring” and “successively revealing” confidential Holy See documents.

All those indicted – Spanish Msgr Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, his Italian lay assistant Nicola Maio, lay consultant Francesca Chaouqui and journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi – have been charged under section IX of the Vatican’s “Crimes against the Security of the State”.

Financial reform

The significance of Msgr Abbondi’s office is that for a period it housed the archives and meetings of the Cosea commission, a 2013-2014 group set up by Pope Francis to advise him on financial reform.

Church investigating cardinal’s apartment renovation

Two of the defendants, Chaouqui (33) and Balda (54), served on the commission and are accused of stealing and leaking documents to the media. These featured in best-selling books by Nuzzi and Fittipaldi, published in November.

When Msgr Abbondi started to tell the hearing about electronic bugs and how Balda would take him out to the office terrace for fear of being bugged, judge Giuseppe Della Torre sat up in his chair and said: “What were you worrying about bugs for? Had you something terrible to hide? This is Mafia-style behaviour . . . ”.

However, they were indeed worried about electronic bugs in that Vatican office.

Msgr Abbondi said Chaouqui was so convinced they were being bugged that she turned up in the office one day with a “technician” to debug the place. While the technician was there, Chaouqui climbed up a ladder, poked around in an electrical junction box and then seemed to throw something out the window.

Msgr Abbondi never knew what, if anything, she had thrown out the window, he said.

Chaouqui, who was formerly employed in the Rome office of Ernst & Young, generated a lot of mystery about herself, Msgr Abbondi said. For example, she encouraged Balda to believe she worked for the Italian secret services, he said.

Chaouqui is not the only mystery in this story. Vatican insiders recall how Balda had told people he would be ordained a bishop in January 2013. He even advised the Spanish ambassador to the Holy See to leave the date open so that he could attend.

When the ordination did not happen, he said the then cardinal secretary of state, Tarcisio Bertone, had told him not to worry and that he would be made a bishop “when and where you want”. All of which, for those who know how the Holy See works, sounds like pure fantasy. Nor did Saturday’s main witness, Msgr Abbondi, manage to sound reassuring when he told the court he had been “cursed” because he had been mentioned in an earlier book written by Nuzzi.

In case the Vatican press pool had missed the point, Msgr Abbondi appeared in the cloakroom at the end of the session telling us, yet again, that his career had been ruined. The implication of his words was that, one day, he would have a lot of stories to tell. Arguably, the biggest question posed by Vatileaks 2 concerns Pope Francis himself. What will he decide in relation to these strange goings-on, taking place just across the road from him in the Uffizi Giudiziari on Piazza Santa Marta?

Vatileaks 1, the trial four years ago of Pope Benedict’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, accused of an almost identical crime, ended with a guilty verdict, an 18-month prison sentence and, two months later, a papal pardon. In this holy year of mercy, it would hardly be a surprise if Pope Francis followed his predecessor’s example.

Bishops in India take dramatic steps for Christian 'untouchables'

By Nirmala Carvalho
May 16, 2016

Although Pope Francis repeatedly has expressed his preference that Catholic clergy stay out of politics, at least in the sense of explicit partisan alliances, the bishops of Tamil Nadu state in southern India have apparently decided that extreme times call for extreme measures.

Throwing any pretense of neutrality to the wind, the Tamil Nadu bishops’ conference issued a statement May 3 explicitly endorsing the rival party, known as the DMK-Congress alliance, in Monday’s legislative elections.

Just to make sure no one missed the message, the bishops had their statement read aloud at all parishes in the state ahead of the May 16 vote. They say they’re acting primarily on behalf of India’s most vulnerable people, including Christian “untouchables” under the old caste system, and in favor of ethnic and religious tolerance.

Tamil Nadu is current governed by a party known as AIADMK, which, under its charismatic female leader known as Jayalalithaa, has been in and out of power since 1991.

Father Augustin Prabhu, secretary of the Tamil Nadu bishops’ conference, explained that the conference president, Madurai Archbishop Anthony Pappusamy, signed the statement, which was written in Tamil and then translated into English.

Prabhu said the unusual decision to make an explicitly partisan endorsement was based on “the need of the hour to safeguard secular and democratic values.”

Specifically, the bishops said they were endorsing the opposition party in the state as a way of expressing several demands:

Including Dalit Christians (“untouchables”) among India’s “scheduled castes,” meaning groups that benefit from various government-sponsored affirmative action programs. At present, Christian members of the Dalits are excluded from those benefits.
Including converts to Christianity in government social programs for their respective castes. Better government pay for teachers working in institutions that serve minority communities.
Better security for minorities from harassment by “communalistic forces,” generally a euphemism for radical Hindu nationalists.
A ban on liquor and the opening of rehabilitation centers.

Xavier Arulraj, a legal expert who earned his doctorate on the Indian Constitution, said that the bishops are reacting to a real problem, which is that Dalit Christians suffer “gross discrimination” in the country.

“It’s urgent and pressing that this demand of the Tamil Nadu Christian community be made public during these assembly elections,” he told Crux.

Although Christians are generally a tiny minority in India, overall representing just 2.3 percent of the population, Arulraj said there are pockets within Tamil Nadu in which movement of Christian votes from one party to the other “could definitely make a difference.”

He emphasized that in his view, the bishops are endorsing the opposition not because they’re convinced it’s “clean,” but because it represents a “lesser evil.”

Jayalalithaa, the incumbent chief minister and AIADMK chief, has reacted to this sort of criticism aggressively, sending a letter to party workers recently insisting that she has successfully implemented a host of schemes, both short-term and long-term, to benefit families in Tamil Nadu, including “freebies” such as 44 pounds of rice for ration card holders, mixers, grinders, milk cows, and goats.

She’s also promised that women will get a 50 percent government subsidy for buying scooters or mopeds. She’s also offered a waiver on farm loans, a considerable number of units of power free of cost, and also increasing the amount of gold sold at a discount to help impoverished families cover the expenses of weddings and other family milestones.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

San Francisco Catholic school won't fire transgender teacher

Dan Morris-Young
National Catholic Reporter
May 12, 2016

In a letter released to parents of San Francisco's Mercy High School students last evening, the president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas West Midwest Community confirmed that the order, the San Francisco school's administration, and the school's board president are supporting the continued employment of English department chair, Gabriel Stein-Bodenheimer, who recently self-identified to administrators as a transgender male.

"Because some students and parents, faculty and staff may appreciate having assistance with processing their views regarding the teacher, who identifies as a transgender man, we have arranged for counselors to be available for you this week at the School," wrote Mercy Sr. Laura Reicks.

She said there would also "be an optional informal meeting with the administrative team and me for parents between 6 and 7:30 p.m. at Rist Hall" on campus today, May 12.

In a statement released to NCR this afternoon by the San Francisco archdiocese, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said he was "grateful that leadership of the Mercy Sisters spoke to me in advance and explained their reasoning and their plan on how to address the situation. In so doing the Sisters strongly affirmed our Catholic beliefs and values and that they and the school do not advocate for policies or causes that contradict these values and beliefs."

"I expressed my appreciation for this affirmation," Cordileone continued. "Often in such situations a balance must be struck in a way that distinct values are upheld, such as mercy and truth, or institutional integrity and respect for personal decisions affecting one's life. In this particular personnel matter I am thankful to the Sisters for seeking a response consistent with Mercy and Gospel values and the corporate identity of the school as a Catholic institution of secondary education."

The archbishop indicated he felt that the school's officials' decision falls within the "legitimate range of prudential judgment."

Reicks wrote to parents, "We are grateful to you for your consideration and proud of how the Mercy High School faith community demonstrates its strong commitment to Mercy and Gospel values — respect for human rights and dignity, compassion for others and the courage to act — as well as its Catholic Identity."

"We also believe the Sisters of Mercy's statement of Catholic Identity for our secondary schools underscores the importance of quality relationships for everyone associated with the School," the educator added. "And, we strive to witness to mercy when we honor the dignity of each person in a welcoming culture that pursues integrity of word and deed."

The Mercy Sisters also sponsor Mercy High School in Burlingame, also an all-girls campus.

Pope Francis says he supports studying the possibility of female deacons

Julie Zauzmer and Anthony Faiola
Washington Post
May 12, 2016

Pope Francis on Thursday reportedly told an international conference of nuns at the Vatican that he supports the idea of studying whether women can serve as deacons in the church.

It was not immediately clear whether Francis’s remark, offered during a question-and-answer session, means he supports only studying more deeply the role of women in the early church or rather is open to allowing women to serve as deacons now.

In the Catholic Church, deacons are clergy who may baptize in a similar way to priests, may officiate at weddings and may preach. Unlike priests, they may marry.

The National Catholic Reporter and the Catholic News Service first reported that a sister at the conference of the International Union of Superiors General on Thursday asked the pope about women serving as deacons — and about women’s role in the past — and that Francis said he would appoint a group to study the issue.

“Constituting an official commission that might study the question?” Francis said, according to the National Catholic Reporter. “I believe yes. It would do good for the church to clarify this point. I am in agreement. I will speak to do something like this.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says there are currently more than 13,000 deacons in the United States.

Francis reportedly noted during his talk with the nuns in Vatican City on Thursday that in the early centuries of the church, women did serve as deacons. He said he once asked a professor to educate him on the role of those early female deacons — including whether they were ordained. The answer, he said, “was a bit obscure.”

The pope’s words on Thursday immediately generated confusion over what, precisely, he was aiming to do. Senior Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told the Washington Post that it was not yet clear what the pope’s intentions were. He said Vatican officials will need to more closely examine transcripts of his comments, which Lombardi described as coming in the form of a “spontaneous conversation” with a nun who asked a question at Thursday morning’s meeting.

The pope may, Lombardi said, have simply been calling for a study into the historical role of women as deacons in the early church.

Asked if that also opened the door to a commission on whether women should be permitted to serve as Catholic deacons today, Lombardi said: “I think it‘s too early to say what [the pope] has exactly in mind.”

Francis has repeatedly surprised Catholics and others with his willingness to question long-standing Catholic traditions. Although he has said that women cannot be priests, he released a major document that was interpreted as an opening to offering communion to Catholics who have divorced and remarried. He suggested that contraception might be permissible, in the case of the Zika virus. And in perhaps his most famous moment as pope, he said of priests who are gay, “Who am I to judge?”

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Archbishop of Brussels speaks out for married priests

Rita Ferrone
Pray Tell
May 10, 2016

Jozef De Kesel, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and primate of Belgium, has spoken in favor of allowing the ordination of married men. In a wide-ranging interview with De Zondag, a Flemish publication, the 68-year old Archbishop was asked whether the Latin Rite should maintain priestly celibacy. He said in reply:

“I am not in favor of the abolition of celibacy. A single life is not meaningless. I have consciously chosen it: it was also the way of life of Jesus. However, I do not think we can require that of all priests, especially at a time when sexuality plays a big role. I am a supporter of the model of the Eastern Catholic Church. There, married men can enter the priesthood.”

His remarks were also reported in Le Soir, a francophone Belgian publication.

An article in noted that Archbishop De Kezel had made a similar proposal in 2010. He was supported by the bishop of Antwerp, Johan Bonny, and the bishop of Hasselt, Patrick Hoogmartens. The article went on to observe that Mainz Cardinal Karl Lehmann also recently noted signs from Pope Francis of an openness to discussing the question of married priests and perhaps to a limited experiment with “different models of priesthood.”

Thursday, May 5, 2016

German cardinal says 'unauthorized people' in Rome veto bishop nominations

Jonathan Luxmoore
Catholic News Service
May 5, 2016

A German cardinal said names of candidates submitted to the Vatican as potential bishops are being vetoed by "unauthorized people" in Rome. "In the name of the law, these unlawful outside influences must be set aside and a proper voice given to those who'll be living with the chosen candidate," said Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz, who was president of the German bishops' conference from 1987 to 2008.

"If there really is something against a candidate, then the nuncio or Rome must talk about it with the cathedral chapter. Rome cannot just reject names without any comment," he said.

The cardinal made his criticisms in a German-language book, published by Freiburg-based Herder-Verlag. Extracts were published May 3 by the German Catholic news agency, KNA.

Lehmann said "unauthorized people" were interfering in episcopal nominations "also today, unfortunately, under the pontificate of Pope Francis."

"In recent years, the official list of names has been crossed out and a new list sent from Rome," said Lehmann, who has been bishop of Mainz since 1983. "This represents a burdensome, intolerable disrespect for the church in a given country."

Church leaders are required by canon law to maintain a secret list of episcopal candidates, who must be "outstanding in strong faith, good morals, piety, zeal for souls, wisdom, prudence and human virtues."

A set of three, or "terna," for a vacant see is sent to Rome by the Vatican nuncio after consultations with local priests and bishops.

However, the final choice rests with the pope, following recommendations from the Roman Curia, which can reject the "terna" and request new names.

A cathedral chapter is a group of priests, usually senior clerics, who perform solemn liturgical functions and other duties in the cathedral. In 13 of Germany's 27 dioceses, as well as in some dioceses of Switzerland and Austria, the cathedral chapters also traditionally propose their own candidates for bishop.

However, Lehmann said he believed the nomination process was being disrupted by people "focused on a strict church policy allowing no deviation" and who had "knowledge of how things work in Rome."

"Much greater attention should be given to an episcopal candidate's theological competence than his formal orthodoxy," said Lehmann. "There's an urgent need for clarification -- otherwise, the whole appointment process will come into question."

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Church laws may justify calls for French cardinal's resignation

Kieran Tapsell
National Catholic Reporter
May 4, 2016

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, France, -- who last week admitted to "errors in managing ... certain priests" -- is being investigated by French police for failing to report in 2007 and 2009 allegations of sexual abuse by his priests, in contravention of French law. There have been calls for his resignation or sacking.

Central to every coherent legal system based on the rule of law is that people can only be punished for disobeying the law, not for obeying it. The calls for Barbarin's resignation or sacking raise the issue of how he breached canon law.

In failing to report the allegations, Barbarin was complying with the pontifical secret imposed by Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela of Pope St John Paul II which applies Article 1(4) of the 1974 Instruction of Pope Paul VI, Secreta Continere. It has no exceptions for reporting allegations of child sexual abuse to the civil authorities. In 2002, the Holy See granted to the United States a dispensation from the pontifical secret with a direction to report where there were civil reporting laws, but that direction was not extended to the rest of the world until 2010. Whatever Barbarin's culpability under French civil law, canon law in 2007 and 2009 forbade him from reporting the allegations to the police.

In 2001, Bishop Pierre Pican of Bayeux-Lisieux, France, was given a three-month suspended jail sentence for failing to inform authorities about a serial paedophile priest. Pican is now bishop emeritus, retiring in 2010 at the mandatory age of 75. In September 2001, Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, at the time the prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy, wrote to Pican congratulating him for the cover up. He said that he was sending a copy of his letter to all the bishops of the world, holding up Pican as a model to follow. He also said his congratulatory letter was approved by Pope St John Paul II. Similar statements condemning the reporting of paedophile priests to the police by bishops were made in 2002 by high ranking prelates in the Roman Curia and Church leaders in France, Germany, Belgium and Honduras.

Apart from obeying canon law, Barbarin was acting in accordance with the overwhelming weight of opinion of the church's most senior cardinals and canon lawyers about his moral, ethical and canonical obligations at the time — go to jail rather than report. It is hardly surprising that he acted the way he did.

Significantly, the latest news reports about Barbarin have pointed to a different basis for which he might be punished under canon law. The vicar general for the archdiocese Fr. Yves Baumgarten told a press conference: "We failed to fulfil our obligation to investigate and to seek the truth." There was no suggestion that any such "failure" had anything to do with Barbarin's failure to report to the police.

Canon 1717 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law requires a bishop to conduct a preliminary investigation of allegations of child sexual abuse by clerics that have any semblance of truth. Under Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, the allegations and the information gained in that investigation are to be sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which will then instruct the bishop how to proceed. The admission by Baumgarten suggests that these investigations did not take place. If that were the case, Barbarin can rightly be held accountable under canon law.

But what would have happened if he had conducted such investigations in 2007 and 2009 as required? The pontifical secret prevented him from reporting to the police the allegations and information gained in that investigation at least until 2010 when the direction to obey civil reporting laws was extended to France.

Even after 2010, there was still a problem. On July 15, 2010, when the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi announced the extension, he said that such reporting should take place: "in good time, not during or subsequent to the canonical trial." The "trial" under canon law commences the moment the preliminary investigation commences.

It was not entirely clear if Lombardi was simply giving bishops advice about the best time to report, or that he was putting restrictions on the direction. The matter is of some importance, because if it were the latter, the bishop would be precluded from reporting once the preliminary investigation starts, even where there are local civil reporting laws.

In 2015, the Holy See seemed to confirm these limitations on reporting in the case of Fr. Mauro Inzoli, accused of abusing dozens of children over a ten year period. He was dismissed by Pope Benedict in 2012, but Pope Francis reinstated him with restrictions on his ministry. When Italian investigating magistrates wanted to see the documentation of his canonical trial, the Holy See refused, saying: "The procedures of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are of a canonical nature and, as such, are not an object for the exchange of information with civil magistrates."

The Vatican statement suggests that even where there are civil reporting laws, the pontifical secret prevents the disclosure of any information arising out of the preliminary investigation or penal trial.

The calls for Barbarin's resignation or sacking may now be justified if he did not initiate preliminary inquiries under Canon 1717, but that has nothing to do with his alleged cover up.

The solution to this problem is for Pope Francis to agree to the demands of two United Nations Committees and the wishes of the Catholic Bishops Conferences of the United States, England and Wales, Ireland and Australia to impose mandatory reporting under canon law irrespective of whether there are civil reporting laws. Regrettably, in September 2014, Pope Francis rejected the requests of the United Nations Committees. He is an absolute monarch when it comes to canon law, and he can change it with the stroke of a pen. The problem of the cover up will continue to fester until he does so.