Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Catholic church's total ban on contraception challenged by scholars

Jamie Mason
National Catholic Reporter
September 21, 2016

Nearly 50 years since Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, the encyclical that rejected the use of artificial birth control, a group of prominent Catholic theologians, ethicists and physicians has produced a report reassessing and challenging the papal document.

The report, entitled, "Promoting Good Health and Good Conscience: The Ethics of Using Contraceptives," was commissioned by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research, an independent think-tank based in London.

The 20,000-word academic report, which was co-authored by 22 Catholic scholars from Australia, Colombia, Europe, India, the Philippines, South Africa and the United States, evaluates, from within the Catholic tradition, the morality of using artificial contraceptives for family planning. The authors include U.S. ethicists Michael Lawler and Christine Gudorf and African theologian Nontando Hadebe.

A five-page statement summarizing the report's key arguments was signed by 149 Catholic scholars from around the world, including former heads of state, members of Parliaments, priests, religious, a bishop and scholars working at Catholic universities.

The statement calls for a development of the doctrine of contraception that would make it compatible with current scientific and theological knowledge. It also calls the Vatican to form a commission to reopen the discussion of the morality of using contraceptives through an independent process of consultation.

Signatories included former President of Ireland Mary McAleese, Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, and U.S. theologians Fr. Charles Curran and Fr. Peter Phan.

The statement was launched during a side event of the U.N. General Assembly called "Keeping the Faith in Development: Gender, Religion and Health," a symposium that examined the intersections and areas of contention between health, human rights and lived theology.

Luca Badini Confalonieri, director of research at the Wijngaards Institute and the principal author of the report, introduced the statement to an audience of 60 participants that included members of multiple U.N. agencies, as well as Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu religious leaders, and several women religious with posts at the U.N.

Badini Confalonieri explained that the scholarly report, which took nearly a year to produce, concludes that "contraception for the purpose of family planning is not 'intrinsically evil,'" as Paul VI declared.

"On the contrary, it can be a good, to the extent that family planning is indeed a requirement of what popes call 'responsible parenthood,'" he said.

"When Paul VI declared that the use of artificial contraception is intrinsically evil, he said that it was always immoral regardless of the intentions of the agents, the circumstances of the situation or the consequences of the action," Badini Confalonieri continued. "Our report argues that there are circumstances when it can be used legitimately and it can be morally good."

The Wijngaards report is "grounded in the ethical and social justice teaching of the Church," Badini Confalonieri said. "According to Catholic teaching, 'responsible parenthood' is a moral duty and it requires that couples determine the number, spacing, and timing of their children taking into account their own 'physical, economic, psychological and social conditions,' as well as their ability to provide for the health, education and growth of the children."

Though the church's ban on contraceptives is often dismissed or ignored by Catholics in the U.S. and Europe, in the developing world the lack of access to contraceptives remains a life or death issue. An estimated 25 percent of healthcare facilities in developing countries are operated by Catholic institutions. The ban on contraceptives continues to be significant point of tension for U.N.-based aid agencies that have declared that sexual and reproductive health care is a Sustainable Development Goal.

The launch of the Wijngaards statement was part of an event initiated by the United Nations' Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development, a group that seeks to foster dialogue between faith-based organizations and development agencies. The symposium was intended to address taboo issues that faith communities encounter when seeking to address sexual and reproductive health challenges in the developing world.

The task force invited the Wijngaards Institute to present their statement in conjunction with the launch of two other reports, "Religion, Women's Health and Rights: Points of Contention, Paths of Opportunities," a paper produced jointly by the U.N. Population Fund and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation. The third report, "Dignity, Freedom and Grace: Christian Perspectives on HIV, AIDS, and Human Rights," published by The World Council of Churches was also presented. The event was also co-hosted by U.N.AIDS, U.N. Women, and Islamic Relief USA.

The symposium's ten-person panel discussion offered insights from interfaith voices into the struggle for gender equality and sexual and reproductive health in the poorest regions of the globe. Many speakers emphasized the ways in which the faith-based groups can be either agents for justice or obstacles to progress in parts of the world in which girls and women suffer untold discrimination, poverty and disease.

According to the "Religion, Women's Health and Rights," report, each year there are "290,000 maternal deaths, 74 million unintended pregnancies and 3 million newborn deaths."

It is grim statistics like these that motivated the Wijngaards Institute to challenge the Vatican's ongoing ban on contraception and to contribute broader Catholic perspectives in a U.N. environment where typically the Holy See is the dominant Catholic presence. For decades the Holy See, which has permanent observer status at the United Nations, has used its influence at the U.N. to object to declarations, charters, and sustainable goals that make reference to sexual and reproductive health, contraception and family planning.

In an attempt to engage the Holy See in dialogue, Miriam Duignan, communications director for the Wijngaards Institute, hand-delivered an invitation to the event and a copy of the statement to the Holy See's office near the United Nations in New York City.

Duignan says that she received confirmation that the Holy See received and read the materials, but no representative attended the event.

In an emailed response to NCR, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the U.N. stated that it had no official comment on the event.

Backlash to the statement and the event, however, was noteworthy at the Catholic University of America, where several members of the faculty produced a counterstatement to the Wijngaards report and hosted a press conference, which was live-streamed on the CUA Facebook page, at the exact time of the U.N.-hosted symposium.

Addressing these objections during the launch, Badini Confalonieri said, "allow me to ease some predictable concerns: we are not advocating sexual promiscuity, abortion, or population control on the part of governments."

Badini Confalonieri insisted that the report comes out of a deep commitment to the church's social justice doctrine. In an interview with NCR before the symposium, he said that it is precisely Pope Francis' "emphasis on the social gospel, sustainability, and care for poorest people" that motivated the Wijngaards Institute to develop the report.

"All of these social justice issues are linked with contraception," Badini Confalonieri said. "We had an acute awareness that there were so many Catholics with expertise in this field. The lack of debate is glaring."

The Wijngaards Institute was further emboldened by the pope's encouragement of frank dialogue during the Synod of Bishops on the family.

"It was stunning," Badini Confalonieri said, "that there were two meetings by bishops on the family and no formal discussion of contraception. We decided to commission a report to try to kick start dialogue."

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Vatican administrator wants Archbishop accused of abuse to resign

Associated Press
September 19,2016

HAGATNA, Guam - A Roman Catholic administrator is urging the Vatican to remove Guam’s archbishop, who has refused to resign amid accusations of sexual abuse against altar boys.

The move comes after a letter delivered in July from leaders in the Archdiocese of Agana did not move Archbishop Anthony Apuron to leave his post.

Archbishop Savio Hon, a temporary apostolic administrator for Guam who was appointed by the Vatican after the allegations surfaced, also is urging parishioners to sign a petition upholding the statute of limitation on civil lawsuits for child sex abuse. He said the archdiocese “will be exposed to unlimited financial liability” forcing the sale of church property. Guam’s population is about 80 percent Catholic.

A bill that lifts the current statute of limitation passed the Guam Legislature and is expected to be delivered to the governor’s desk on Sept. 21. The Guam church has not submitted any substitute bill for consideration.

“Right now we hope any legislation would not damage the social service agencies and the schools that are not a part of these accusations,” said Father Jeff San Nicolas, who is Guam’s apostolic delegate.

Priests of the island’s 26 Catholic churches were asked to read a two-page letter during Sunday masses, which Hon sent from Rome, in which he addressed these matters and also stated that Apuron would undergo a canonical trial.

Parishioner Roland C. Flores, 40, who heard the letter being read at a Sunday mass, said he signed the petition “so they won’t shut down Catholic schools.” He attended Catholic schools and does not want to see them turned into government facilities.

Hon in the letter also announced the creation of a trust fund to provide compensation for Guam’s survivors of clergy sex abuse.

“We are already in the process of assessing certain assets to create this fund. We will address this financial obligation-financial settlements through this fund that we create,” said San Nicolas.

Apruon, 70, was appointed as archbishop in 1986 by then-Pope John Paul II and has been beset by recent allegations from former altar boys that he sexually abused them in the 1970’s.

Hon is expected to return to Guam on Wednesday.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Six of eight Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses under investigation

Steve Esack Morning Call
September 17, 2016

Four more Catholic dioceses — Erie, Greensburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton — have been swept into a grand jury investigation of clergy sex abuse and cover-up allegations in communities stretching from the Delaware River to the Monongahela.

On Friday, officials in all four dioceses confirmed they received subpoenas from the Pennsylvania attorney general's office. Their confirmations come a day after the Harrisburg Diocese told the newspaper that it, too, had gotten a subpoena.

The Allentown Diocese also is part of the grand jury probe, according to a state lawmaker who testified before the grand jury in Pittsburgh. Allentown diocesan officials have declined to comment on the probe.

State prosecutors have been taking testimony in Pittsburgh for months in a wide-ranging investigation that started with a scathing March report detailing allegations of abuse by about 50 priests and other religious leaders in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese and a cover-up by church officials.

Six of the state's eight Catholic dioceses have gotten subpoenas, which The Morning Call has learned seek personnel files and testimony from church officials Only the Allentown Diocese has not confirmed receipt of the subpoena. After Mass Saturday evening at St. Ann's church in Emmaus, where the pastor was charged days earlier with possessing child pornography, Allentown Bishop John O. Barres refused to address a Morning Call reporter's questions about the subpoena and probe.

Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik issued a statement Friday evening saying that with its subpoena, the diocese received a letter from Deputy Attorney General Daniel Dye, which said, "Our efforts do not have to be adversarial. ... Our work to protect children and seek the truth should be a joint endeavor."

Zubik noted he agreed with Dye, adding, "In the ongoing need to protect children from abuse, I welcome the opportunity to work closely with the state attorney general's office."

The Greensburg Diocese in southwestern Pennsylvania "received a subpoena from the statewide investigative grand jury," spokesman Jerry Zufelt said in a statement.

The findings of an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse related to child pornography committed by John Mraz, a member of the Roman Catholic clergy.

"The diocese is cooperating, and will continue to cooperate, with law enforcement officials in this matter," Zufelt said. "The Diocese of Greensburg takes the protection of all children and young people seriously. Names and facts of any allegation of misconduct will continue to be reported immediately to the proper civil authorities."

Scranton Diocese spokesman Bill Genello also confirmed the subpoena, saying in a statement: "In its commitment to protecting children and young people and to providing support to victims of sexual abuse, the Diocese of Scranton cooperates fully with all civil authorities in their investigation of such matters."

An Erie spokeswoman also confirmed a subpoena.

Allentown spokesman Matt Kerr said Friday the diocese would have no further comment beyond the statement it released Thursday.

It read in part: "The Diocese of Allentown is committed to the protection and safety of children and young people. To this end, it is the policy of the Diocese of Allentown to cooperate with law enforcement."

On Tuesday, Monsignor John Stephen Mraz, pastor of St. Ann's in Emmaus, was charged with viewing and downloading child pornography after the diocese reported to state and county authorities that a parishioner found images on Mraz's computer that made him feel "uncomfortable," court records say.

The Altoona-Johnstown Diocese did not get a subpoena because the attorney general's office released its grand jury report of that region in March. The report led to charges against three Franciscan friars for alleged child endangerment and criminal conspiracy. The agency also set up a hotline for people to call to report abuse claims across the state.

Likewise, the Philadelphia Archdiocese, the state's largest Catholic division, is not part of the new investigation. Since 2003, city prosecutors had two grand juries and issued three reports that uncovered allegations of sexual abuse against hundreds of priests that church officials never reported to law enforcement.

The attorney general's office does not comment on secret grand jury matters, agency spokesman Jeffrey Johnson said. However, he added, the hotline has generated hundreds of calls and remains open.

The statewide probe was revealed Thursday by The Morning Call, citing state Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, who said he recently testified before the grand jury. On Friday, Rozzi, who says he was abused by an Allentown Diocese priest in 1984, called police after a man phoned his office with threatening comments.

"We just had a really overzealous constituent who is very Catholic, who called and was making crazy remarks to my staff," Rozzi said. "He's called before and my staff was just very concerned. We wanted to make sure we alerted Capitol police and local police."

There is a lot of blame to go around for why a grand jury is probing dioceses, said Gregory P. Lloyd, a Catholic from Whitehall Township who runs an organization dedicated to restoring church tradition.

"The church is at fault for inadequate preparation or unfaithful teaching of young men in the Christian way to serve others, principally by self-sacrifice while in seminary," he said. "There is a long period of preparation of a man, to cure him of what ails every human being, before he can be sent to serve, and heal, others."

At the same time, he added, given that former state Attorney General Kathleen Kane resigned after being found guilty of perjury, the office can not be trusted to conduct a fair investigation. He also takes issue with why it would target this one institution.

Grand jury investigations are the only way to uncover abuses that were allowed to happen for decades, said the Rev. Thomas Doyle, an inactive priest from Virginia, who has testified before a Philadelphia grand jury and in other probes across the country and world.

"It goes beyond priests abusing kids," Doyle said. "It's the cover-ups by the Catholic bishops."

In light of the Pittsburgh grand jury, the Pennsylvania Catholic League, the leading Harrisburg lobbying group for dioceses and Catholic religious orders, urged survivors of clergy sex abuse to contact law enforcement and their local diocese for help.

"The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference encourages survivors of child sexual abuse — no matter when or where it occurred — to contact authorities and report it," association spokeswoman Amy Hill said. "We want to be sure everyone who wants help has access to support resources."

Friday, September 16, 2016

Expect worse cases of clergy abuse: Witnesses in state investigation into abuses in dioceses of Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Allentown

Ivey de Jesus
Penn Live
September 16, 2016

Several of the witnesses called to testify before a grand jury investigation by the (Pennsylvania) state Attorney General's office into allegations of clergy sex abuse across dioceses in the state are warning that they expect those findings to dwarf an earlier report this year out of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

"After reading the Altoona-Johnstown report, I thought it couldn't get much worse but from hearing stories from victims about their abuse in Allentown it's going to make the Altoona-Johnstown report look mild," said Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks), who gave testimony to investigators a month ago in Pittsburgh.

"The number of people that I know that want to testify clearly outweighs the number that they were able to get in Altoona-Johnstown," he said on Friday. "I think you are really going to see some horrific stories of abuse that you didn't see in Altoona."

The Harrisburg Diocese on Friday confirmed that it had received a subpoena from the Attorney General's office to testify in a statewide probe into allegations of child sex abuse by priests from dioceses across the state, including those in Allentown and Pittsburgh.

While he could neither confirm nor deny an ongoing investigation, Jeffrey Johnson, a spokesman for the Attorney General's office, said the office was doing its "due diligence" following up the increasing numbers of allegations reported to the state's child sex crime hotline.

"I think we are just hitting the tip of the iceberg," said George Foster, Altoona businessman who played a critical role in the investigation into his diocese. Foster, a Catholic, for months kept records on priests with credible allegations and unsuccessfully attempted to get church officials in Altoona to address the allegations. In 2014, he turned his documents over to state officials, who launched a grand jury investigation into the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

Investigators uncovered a decades-old systemic abuse of hundreds of children by priests and church leaders - and its cover-up by the church and even local law enforcement officials.

"Unless the dioceses have destroyed evidence, I'm very confident they are going to find the same thing going on," said Foster, who remains deeply involved as a victim's advocate. He says he continues to receive calls from across the state from parents who say their children have been sexually molested by priests.

"We are fooling ourselves," Foster said. "We are not being smart here. Where there's smoke, there's fire."

Marci Hamilton, a scholar at the University of Pennsylvania and CEO of CHILD USA, said the latest grand jury investigation into possible child sex abuse in Catholic dioceses across the state confirms that state residents still do not comprehend the magnitude of child sex abuse across the state.

"It is important to remember that there are child sex abuse scandals in many institutions, and that every prosecutor in the state should be looking in his or her own backyard to uncover the hidden predators and the survivors who are being ignored by Pennsylvania's inadequate legal system," she said. "The time has come to cease deferring to powerful local institutions and to simply do the right thing for our children."

Hamilton has led an effort to reform Pennsylvania's statute of limitations - which set the time period in which victims of sex crimes have to seek legal recourse.

In the wake of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese grand jury report, the General Assembly fast tracked a bill to reform the state's child sex crime law - known as statute of limitations. Hamilton testified before a Senate Judiciary Committee on the constitutional merits of reforming the law to extend to victims retroactive measures. Both chambers of the Legislature approved the bill, but the Senate stripped the retroactive measure. The bill goes before House again for concurrence this fall.

"These investigations are especially important as Pennsylvania's lawmakers dither on meaningful reform of the states' increasingly antiquated statutes of limitations for child sex abuse," Hamilton said. "Many other states are moving forward making Pennsylvania's worse and worse by comparison. The tried and true method for identifying hidden predators, negligent institutions, and improving health outcomes for survivors and families is through statute of limitations reform. That is a simple fact."

Hundreds of children were sexually abused over a period of 40 years by priests or church leaders in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, a grand jury investigation has concluded.

Richard Serbin, an Altoona-based attorney who has represented scores of victims of child sex abuse, says that bishops and other church leaders who have over the decades turned a blind eye to the abuse of children by priests should be prosecuted.

"The reality is that under existing laws most of these predators have escaped prosecution and will escape prosecution not because justice requires it but because the law limits criminal prosecution for certain time period," said Serbin, who testified in the current state grand jury investigation in November.

The law, he said, will impede the investigation by the Attorney General's office, although he is emboldened by the conviction of Philadelphia Archdiocese Monsignor William Lynn, who became the first U.S. Catholic Church official to be charged and convicted in the clergy sex abuse scandal.

"That's what's so disappointing," Serbin said. "Historically what has happened in our state is that there have few prosecutions. That's because of the power of the church."

Lynn, who has served nearly three years in prison, is set to face a new trial in May after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed a lower court's decision to overturn his conviction. Police say Lynn endangered thousands of children throughout the city's Catholic parishes when he knowingly transferred predator priests to cover up abuse.

While victims advocates say the Pennsylvania statute of limitations is likely to hamper prosecution of predatory priests, they say they are emboldened by the conviction of Monsignor William Lynn of Philadelphia, the first U.S. Catholic Church official to be charged and convicted for endangering the welfare of children.

"Of course the church is not the only institution that has protected child predators," Serbin said. "But certainly the numbers are staggering."

Serbin maintains a list of 109 priests who have been named as possible predators by former or current clients. Some of the clients who contacted him had no desire to file claims but only to alert others of predator priests, he said.

In some cases, Serbin had to inform clients that they had no legal recourse because the statute of limitations had expired for them.

"That's how this law is so backwards," he said. "In a sense, instead of protecting children by publicly identifying predators, we are protecting those who abused children."

Foster bemoans that the church has not taken it upon itself - regardless of police action - to remove predators and priests with credible allegations.

He said the Catholic Church has not put in place enough changes to stop, prosecute and remove predator priests.

"People think that just because they know this happens, because they are aware that their kids are somehow safe," Foster said. "Your children are not going to let you know they were molested for maybe 10, 12 years. People are fooling themselves it they think their children are any different than the thousands of children that were molested before them and kept silent. That's what people don't understand. They are sending their kids to schools where priests are not safe, confessions are not safe."

A request for comment from the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the legislative arm of the church, was not immediately granted on Friday.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Pope Francis on the correct interpretation of the 'Amoris Laetitia'

Andrea Tornielli
Vatican Insider
September 12, 2016

The “text is very good and fully captures the meaning of chapter VIII of the ‘Amoris Laetitia’. There are no other interpretations”. For the first time, Pope Francis puts his opinion on the correct interpretation of the post-synodal exhortation on the family, in writing, in a letter sent to the bishops of Argentina. As is known, the document in the eighth chapter is about the integration of “wounded” and irregular families and calls for a process of discernment which could lead to readmission to the sacraments depending on each individual case, without venturing into the realm of casuistry or hammering rules into people. The papal document has been subject to a variety of interpretations. Some commentators were quick to claim that previous norms essentially remained unchanged.

The Pope had already given a verbal response to this on the return flight from the Greek island of Lesbos last April. He was asked whether there were any real new possibilities for access to the sacraments that did not exist prior to the publication of the “Amoris Laetitia” encyclical. “I could say “yes” and leave it at that”, Francis had replied. “But that would be too brief a response. I recommend that all of you read the presentation made by Cardinal Schönborn, a great theologian.”

The document which the bishops of Buenos Aires sent to members of the clergy at the start of September was a letter outlining a set of criteria based on the eighth chapter of the exhortation and in particular on the possibility for divorcees who enter a second union to gain access to the sacraments. First of all, it states that it is not proper to “speak about ‘permission’ for accessing the sacraments but rather about a process of discernment under the guidance of a pastor. Along this path, “the pastor should accentuate the fundamental announcement, the kerygma, that stimulates or revives a personal encounter with Christ”. This “pastoral accompaniment” requires the priest to show “the maternal face of the Church”, accepting the honest intention of the penitent and his sincere intention to live his life according to the Gospel and practice charity”. This path “does not necessarily lead to the sacraments but can lead to other forms of greater integration in the life of the Church: a stronger presence of community, participation in prayer or reflection groups, a commitment to different areas of service within the Church.”

In the fifth point made in their document, the bishops of Buenos Aires explain: “Commitment to continence could be considered as an option when the concrete circumstances of a couple allow it, especially when the two are Christians following a path of faith,” leaving “open the possibility of accessing the sacrament of reconciliation in such cases”. This possibility is already present in the teachings of John Paul II. In the following paragraph they explain that in the case “of other more complex circumstances and when it is not possible to obtain a declaration of annulment, the abovementioned option (continence, Ed.) may not be viable. Despite this, a path of discernment is still possible. When there is acknowledgement, in a concrete case, of the existence of limitations that diminish the degree of responsibility and culpability – particularly when a person believes they would commit another mistake that could harm any children born into the new union - ‘Amoris Laetitia’ introduces the possibility of access to the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist.”

“These in turn allow the person to continue to mature and grow through the strength of grace,” the document goes on to say. It is important, however, to ensure that this window is not seen as providing unrestricted access to the sacraments or as if any situation could justify it. What is being proposed is a discernment that adequately distinguishes between cases. Some cases require special attention, for instance, situations where a new union is forged shortly after a divorce or where a person repeatedly falls short of their commitments towards the family. Or in cases where a person defends or brags about their own situation as if it formed part of the Christian ideal.” People need to be guided in placing themselves and “their conscience before God,” especially “when it comes to their behaviour towards their children or towards the abandoned spouse. When there are injustices that remain unresolved, access to the sacraments is particularly controversial.”

Finally, bishops observe that “should access to the sacraments be granted in some cases, it could make sense for this to be kept confidential, especially when conflict is foreseen”. At the same time, however, “the community needs to be given guidance so that it can grow in a spirit of understanding and openness”.

The Pope’s response came on 5 September, praising them for their work, “a true example of the accompaniment of priests”. The key phrase of his letter followed: the document issued by the bishops of Buenos Aires “is very good and fully captures the meaning of chapter VIII of the ‘Amoris Laetitia’. There are no other interpretations. I am sure it will do much good”. Regarding the “path of welcome, accompaniment, discernment and integration,” he said: “We know it is tiring, this is ‘hand-to-hand’ pastoral care, where programmatic, organisational and legal mediation is not enough, albeit necessary”.

Friday, September 2, 2016

New Jersey priest fired for backing gay rights

David Gibson
Religion News Service
September 2, 2016

Father Warren Hall said he was notified by phone on Wednesday that Newark Archbishop John Myers, an outspoken conservative, says Hall’s actions are “confusing the faithful" by supporting gay advocacy groups and backing a counselor fired for being in a same-sex marriage.

The Catholic archbishop in New Jersey has barred a gay priest from ministry because the cleric supports gay advocacy groups and has backed a Catholic high school counselor who was fired when church officials discovered the woman was in a same-sex marriage.

Father Warren Hall said he was notified by phone on Wednesday (Aug. 31) that Newark Archbishop John Myers, an outspoken conservative who has submitted his retirement papers to Pope Francis, says Hall’s actions are “confusing the faithful.”

As a result, Hall will no longer be able to celebrate Mass in public, present himself as a priest or work in the New Jersey parishes where he has been ministering.

“The problem is that we have an archbishop who doesn’t believe you can be gay and Catholic,” Hall, who is on vacation, wrote in an email.

Myers’ issues with Hall go back to May of last year, when the archbishop fired Hall from his job as chaplain at Seton Hall University for a Facebook post in which Hall showed support for the anti-bullying “NOH8” campaign that encourages respect for gay people and gay rights.

Hall, who said he remains committed to his vocation as a priest and to his vow of celibacy, a few weeks later acknowledged that he is gay.

The Newark Archdiocese said that was also a problem because “someone who labels himself or another in terms of sexual orientation or attraction contradicts what the (Catholic) Church teaches.”

The tensions seemed to have eased two months later when Myers assigned Hall to assist at two parishes in northern New Jersey across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan.

But Hall has continued to publicly back several gay groups and gay Catholics in particular.

He is set to speak next week to a New Jersey chapter of PFLAG, founded as a support group for parents and friends of gay people, and he has expressed support for the gun control group Gays Against Guns, the LGBT Community Center in New York and New Ways Ministry, a Catholic LGBT organization.

Hall said that in the phone call informing him of the suspension, Monsignor Thomas Nydegger, Myers’ second-in-command, also cited Hall’s support for an unofficial gay and lesbian ministry at the church’s World Youth Day in Poland in July and his support for a guidance counselor who has sued the archdiocese for firing her over her same-sex marriage.

The woman, Kate Drumgoole, last month filed suit against Paramus Catholic High School - where she was a guidance counselor and basketball coach until her dismissal in January - and the archdiocese for violating anti-discrimination laws and intentionally inflicting emotional distress.

Lawyers for the archdiocese said she violated church teachings and the school’s code of ethics when she married her partner. In his email, Hall said he was “upset” by Myers’ actions against him and that it would be hard to break the news to parishioners at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Hoboken and St. Lawrence Church in Weehawken, where he has served for the past year: “They fully welcomed me after my firing from Seton Hall last year, they know my personal story and made me a member of the family.

“Since my firing from Seton Hall and coming out last year I felt an obligation to use this as an opportunity to more directly let people know of God’s love for all of us and that gay Catholics should stay in the church and work for more wider acceptance,” he wrote. “I do not feel I ever preached or taught anything contrary to the Gospel (and) this is true from my entire 27 years of ordination” as a priest.

A spokesman for Myers, James Goodness, said in an email on Thursday that the suspension was not about Hall’s sexual orientation but about his public stands.

“Every Catholic priest promises to be reverent and obedient to his bishop,” Goodness said. “A priest’s actions and statements always must be consistent with the discipline, norms and teachings of the Catholic Church. When they are ordained, priests agree to accept the bishop’s judgment about assignments and involvement in ministry.”

In a statement lamenting Hall’s suspension, Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, called Hall “courageous” and said “the archbishop is saying that his church fears associating with LGBT people - a fear which is contrary to the gospel.”

Hall’s ministry, DeBernardo said, “is in line with the church’s own authentic teaching that its ministers must reach out to all those who have been marginalized. He is in line with Pope Francis’ more pastoral and welcoming approach towards LGBT people.” Myers submitted his resignation to Francis in July when he turned 75, as required by canon law. But the pontiff, who is reportedly overhauling the episcopal search process to find candidates in tune with his pastoral agenda, has not yet named a replacement.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Parishes meet Oakland bishop's call to sponsor refugees

Monica Clark
National Catholic Reporter
September 1, 2016

In the San Francisco Bay Area, where the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Oakland is $3,252, parishes helping to resettle refugees face a serious challenge -- how to secure affordable housing for them.

Each arriving refugee receives a one-time grant of $925 from the U.S. State Department to cover initial costs, including food and housing, for the first 30 days -- a sum that doesn't stretch very far, even when parishioners have stepped up to help. Entry-level jobs, the most likely first step for refugees, offer no relief from high rents.

This housing crisis was unforeseen when Oakland Bishop Michael Barber, in his Christmas message, invited the diocese's 84 parishes to each adopt a refugee family during the Year of Mercy. Response to the call was enthusiastic.

Within weeks of the bishop's request, the first family in the new initiative, part of refugee services at Catholic Charities of the East Bay, arrived from a camp in Thailand.

Their co-sponsoring parish, St. Raymond in the East Bay suburb of Dublin, had quickly mobilized to ready a low-rent house, procured for them by Catholic Charities. When Cha May Htoo, Paw Sher Blay and their three young sons walked off the plane at the Oakland Airport, a small group of parishioners and St. Raymond's pastor, Fr. Lawrence D'Anjou, welcomed them, settled the children into car seats, and drove the Burmese family to their new home in an Oakland neighborhood where other ethnic Karen people were already living.

Very soon, however, housing costs began to skyrocket. Sponsoring parishes, along with the resettlement staff at Catholic Charities, were having great difficulty finding safe and affordable rentals for other refugee families.

In the island city of Alameda, the 80-member four-parish resettlement team had to place their refugee family in an extended-stay hotel for several weeks as they searched throughout the area for an affordable rental.

"I kept thinking about the Holy Family's struggle to find a room at the inn, and I knew that our efforts were the work of Christ," said Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Patricia Nagle, who headed the team's housing committee and is a member of St. Philip Neri-St. Albert the Great Parish.

Nora Peterson, a parishioner of St. Joseph Basilica and part of the core team, placed announcements about the housing search in the four church bulletins, explaining that some landlords had turned them down because of the family's refugee status.

Finally, the relative of a parishioner offered an apartment at below-market rent and the Afghan family of three had a small place they could call home. By the time they moved in, the husband was working at a halal grocery.

The Catholic Community of Pleasanton has had its Afghan refugee family in a local hotel since their arrival three months ago.

"Landlords generally have been unwilling to rent to someone who has no U.S. credit record, rental history or job history, and most require that tenants earn monthly income of some multiple of the monthly rent," Deacon Joe Gourley wrote on the parish website. "I understand their desire to avoid financial risks, but I am disheartened by hints of prejudice. We need to pray for one another about this."

Steve Mullin, parish outreach manager at Catholic Charities of the East Bay, said he hopes Catholic landlords will come forward to help. If the affordable housing situation continues to deteriorate, he said, the agency's resettlement efforts are at risk.

Despite the housing challenge, parishes remain committed to the effort, said Mullin. Twelve parishes have already welcomed families and another 26 are either waiting for a family or discerning how to get involved.

Each family is matched to a parish through Catholic Charities' refugee services. Under the direction of Dominican Sr. Elizabeth Lang, the agency has been resettling refugees in the Oakland diocese since the end of the Vietnam War. Refugees resettled through the current co-sponsorship program came from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Eritrea, Iraq and Yemen. A Syrian family will arrive in late September.

Every refugee coming into the U.S. today has undergone a long and thorough vetting process that starts with registration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The UNHCR determines whether the refugee can be resettled in their native country, in the country to which they fled, or in a third country.

Those designated to come to the United States must be approved by the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, coordinated by the State Department. "Because of all the security vetting, these refugees are the safest people coming into the U.S." said Christopher Martinez, chief program officer for Catholic Charities of the East Bay.

Upon approval, the individual refugee or refugee family is assigned to one of nine approved agencies for resettlement, among them the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bishops' conference only accepts refugees who have a recognized "U.S. tie," a person already living in the U.S. who is either a relative or friend of the refugee.

Based on the tie's location, the bishops' Migration and Refugee Services asks a local Catholic sponsoring agency, usually Catholic Charities, to receive them. These affiliated Catholic agencies resettle about 30 percent of the up to 70,000 refugees coming to the U.S. each year. The entire process can take about 18 months, but once the final approval takes place, the refugees often arrive very quickly.

In the case of Htoo and Blay, the Dublin parish's resettlement team had less than a week to clean and furnish the two-bedroom rental, stock the kitchen with culturally appropriate foods, and begin planning how to help the couple and their sons adjust to life in northern California.

Both adults had been living in the Thai camp since they were young teenagers. They had fled civil war in their native Burma (also known as Myanmar) because of their ethnic Karen identity and Christian faith. The couple met at the camp, where their three sons, now 7, 5 and 2, were born.

"There would be no hope for us if we stayed in the camp," said Htoo in a video posted on the Catholic Charities' website. "Every day was the same. There was no future." Added his wife, who'd lived in the camp since she was 12: "I felt like my children had no future."

Tess Chiampas, a Filipina who came to the United States in 1995, led St. Raymond's team in resettling the family. She called upon parish groups, including the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Daughters of the Americas, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society, to help with what she describes as a "gigantic task."

Besides preparing the house, team members took the family to apply for assistance programs, arranged for the couple to get private tutoring in English (paid for by the parish), and helped enroll the two older boys in an Oakland public elementary school with special programs for newly arrived immigrants.

The youngest child remains at home with his mom while the dad travels daily with other Burmese refugees to a job at a high-volume thrift store in neighboring Hayward.

Six months after the family's arrival, Chiampas and other team members continue to offer emotional support as well as help with shopping and how to use public transportation, parks and libraries. The parish's financial assistance has also continued. Recently, they bought public school uniforms for the two older boys.

In Alameda, the deanery-based resettlement team is relieved that its young family was housed in time for a child's first birthday. But other needs remain, including ongoing assistance with government paperwork to qualify for certain benefits. Members found a pediatrician who treated the baby at no charge when he got sick, and one parishioner bought some bilingual (Dari/English) books to help the 21-year-old mother begin to learn English. The couple's families in Afghanistan are still at great risk, so the resettlement team asked that the couple's identity remain anonymous.

Peterson and Anna Rossi, co-chair of the resettlement core team, extol the generosity shown by parishioners who donated more than $20,000 toward the family's resettlement. Initially, the money covered the hotel bill and now helps the couple make up the difference in rent between what is owed and what the husband earns.

What advice do Rossi, Peterson and Nagle have for other parishes that will soon welcome a refugee family?

Learn as much as possible about the distinct cultural and social mores of the area from which the refugees are coming. For example, when their Alameda family was offered a chance to share a house with another Muslim refugee family, neither husband would agree. The reason? To leave a wife in a house occupied by an unrelated man would bring permanent public shame to the woman. What seemed to the team like a logical solution to the housing search clearly was not.

Be sensitive to the traumas refugees have experienced. "Most of us don't know what it's like to live with war, with constant fear, with no freedom to move, with family members saying each time someone leaves the house, 'I hope to see you again,' " Rossi said.

Be slow about imposing American customs and beliefs. This is particularly important around differing expectations of women, said Nagle.

Remember that the family is likely to feel isolated, especially if they are living in an area without many members of their ethnic or faith community. Yet be careful about making introductions unless you know it is culturally appropriate to do so. The U.S. tie can be helpful with adjustment, but might not have many financial or social resources to offer.

Foster the refugee family's independence rather than rushing in too quickly to fix every situation. The goal is to have each refugee family achieve self-sufficiency as soon as possible, added Jude Stephens, Family to Family coordinator at Catholic Charities, who is assisting in the resettlement effort. Every refugee receives an orientation before leaving for the U.S., she said. They are told that they will be expected to find work as soon as possible. Those who left behind good jobs and a level of influence or affluence are reminded to lower their expectations. It will take time and lots of hard work to achieve success.

Keep parishioners informed through bulletin announcements about the team's activities and how the family is progressing.