Thursday, December 8, 2011

Colbert and the "New" Mass...

Stephen Colbert, the TV comedian/political wag has a reoccurring bit called “Yahweh or No Way”. It gives him a chance to pontificate about religious news events. His attention was recently drawn to the “new” English Missal translation, among other things. You can view his commentary at:

Monday, October 10, 2011

Godspeed, Marty

Marty Hegarty
October 7, 2011 RIP

Marty Hegarty “went home”, passing quietly on Friday evening, surrounded by his wife Carole and friends. Marty was ordained for Chicago in 1954 and left active ministry 15 years later and married. However, he retained his passion for faith, fairness and Notre Dame Football. He was instrumental in the creation of the organization WEORC, to help men and women transitioning out of priesthood or religious life to find support and employment in the secular world. Just one year ago WEORC celebrated 40 years of ministry.

Plans for Marty’s Celebration of Life are being planned for midweek. Contact WEORC ( for fuller details. Marty has left this world a better place for his being here.

Friday, July 29, 2011

New Missal Propoganda

The diocese has started it's promotion of the "wonderful" new missal. Someone else commented "don't give me crap sprinkled with sugar and try to convince me it's candy... it's not!" Other critiques also shows up in places such as Commonweal....

It Doesn’t Sing
The Trouble with the New Roman Missal
Rita Ferrone

Beginning in Advent of this year, the language of the Mass will be very different. A new translation of the Roman Missal—the book of prayers used in the Mass—will be put into use in all Catholic churches in the English-speaking world. Some who have read the new prayers are pleased with the changes. Others are gravely concerned.

Beginning in Advent of this year, the language of the Mass will be very different. A new translation of the Roman Missal—the book of prayers used in the Mass—will be put into use in all Catholic churches in the English-speaking world. Some who have read the new prayers are pleased with the changes. Others are gravely concerned.
In recent months, priests in Ireland, Australia, the United States, and elsewhere have voiced objections, saying this translation is not what the church needs—and that it will be divisive. What is it about the new translation that has caused such an uproar?

We come to you, Father,
with praise and thanksgiving,
through Jesus Christ your Son.
Through him we ask you to accept and bless +
these gifts we offer you in sacrifice.
We offer them for your holy catholic Church....

So begins the first Eucharistic Prayer of the Roman Missal as it has been prayed by English-speaking Catholics since 1973. When the new Missal goes into effect in November, Catholics throughout the English-speaking world will hear these words instead:

To you, therefore, most merciful Father,
we make humble prayer and petition
through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord:
That you accept
and bless + these gifts, these offerings,
these holy and unblemished sacrifices
which we offer you firstly
for your holy Catholic Church.

The current translation is simple and direct. It follows the speech patterns and rhythms of contemporary spoken English. It flows easily off the tongue. Its meaning is clear. The new translation, on the other hand, is mannered and complex. We arrive at the subject of the sentence only after we have heard the dative “to you”; the conjunction “therefore”; a superlative adjective “most merciful”; and a noun in apposition, “Father.” The new translation is wordy. In place of “these gifts,” we offer “these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices.”

Having offered these gifts, offerings, holy and unblemished sacrifices firstly for the church, you might be thinking there is a secondly coming along in a paragraph or two. If so, you would be wrong. There is no secondly. So what does firstly mean in this context? It’s not clear that it means anything at all.

Different words, same prayer? Both are translations of the same Latin text, yet the results are quite different. Change the words and you change the prayer.

The Problem of Clarity
Clarity and intelligibility were principles of liturgical renewal specifically named by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Until 2001, those who translated liturgical texts into English placed a high priority on the council’s mandate for clarity and intelligibility. Those were essential guiding principles of liturgical reform, not secondary considerations.

Since the publication of the new Vatican instruction on translation Liturgiam authenticam in 2001, however, other principles are deemed more important. They include: the exact rendering of each word and expression of the Latin, the use of sacral vocabulary remote from ordinary speech, and reproduction of the syntax of the Latin original whenever possible. When a choice must be made, those principles trump the principles of clarity and intelligibility. The result has been, not surprisingly, a translation that is filled with expressions not easily understood by English speakers. It has resulted in prayers that are long-winded, pointlessly complex, hard to proclaim, and difficult to understand.

There are many places in the new translation where the words simply don’t make sense in English. On the First Sunday of Advent, we pray that we may “run forth with righteous deeds.”
What does that mean? Many expressions sound pompous: “profit our conversion,” “the sacrifice of conciliation,” “an oblation pleasing to your almighty power.”

Some prayer texts are simply bewildering, such as this one from Preface VIII for Sundays in Ordinary Time:

For when your children were scattered afar by sin,
through the Blood of your Son and the power of the Spirit,
you gathered them again to yourself,
that a people, formed as one by the unity of the Trinity,
made the Body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit,
might, to the praise of your manifold wisdom,
be manifest as the Church.

What is the main point? It is hard to tell. We are wandering in a dense forest of theological and biblical allusions here. There are traps for the unwary, too. If the speaker is not careful to separate the first line from the second and join the second with the third, separating them from the first, he ends up suggesting that the Blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit are instrumental in scattering God’s children. Even read well, this prayer will likely lose all but its best-educated and most highly attentive hearers.

The new translation includes sentence fragments, odd locutions, opaque expressions, and redundancies. There are also historical oddities preserved for no good reason. Here is an example from Eucharistic Prayer I: “For them and all who are dear to them / we offer you this sacrifice of praise / or they offer it for themselves / and all who are dear to them....” Enrico Mazza, in his magisterial work The Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Rite, explains that this mid-eighth-century addition (“or they offer it for themselves...”) was originally a rubric, providing alternative wordings depending on whether those who requested the Mass were present or absent. The translators of the 1973 translation (and the 1998 version) spared us the useless puzzlement caused by such a text. The translators of the text we are about to receive did not. Why? Each word of the Latin had to be accounted for.

Not every passage Catholics will hear exhibits such strict adherence to the literal meaning of the Latin, however. In the second Eucharistic Prayer, the Latin text says quite clearly that we “stand in your presence.” The Latin word astare means to stand. It doesn’t mean anything else. The translation was changed by Vox Clara, the Vatican committee formed to advise the Holy See on the approval of liturgical texts. It was feared that use of the verb “to stand” would imply it is acceptable for the people to stand during the Eucharistic Prayer. (In fact, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal assumes that the common posture for the Eucharistic Prayer is standing, even though some individual bishops conferences have decreed otherwise.) The English now reads “be in your presence.”

Other changes introduced by Vox Clara lack evident rhyme or reason. For example, the Latin word profusis, which appears at the conclusion of every preface of the Easter Season, is translated as “overcome.” Profusis means “overflowing.” When the world is described as overflowing with paschal joys, as the 2008 translation had it, one imagines graceful scenes from Botticelli. When reference is made to being overcome, one imagines smelling salts. This is one of an estimated ten thousand changes Rome made in the Missal after the bishops approved the translation in 2008.

The Problem of Length
The current translation is not without problems. At times it is simple to the point of banality. The richness of imagery and the theological depth of the Latin original does not always come through. The first retranslation of the Missal, which was approved by all the conferences of English-speaking bishops in 1998, addressed most of these problems quite effectively. Yet the Vatican judged that it did not go far enough. Now, with the 2010 translation, we have swung to the opposite extreme. The new translation is mired in long-winded complexity.

Overall, the length of the sentences in the new translation is staggering. The longest sentence of the Eucharistic Prayers has 82 words, the second longest, 72. All but one of the sentences in Eucharistic Prayer I are more than 40 words long. The current translation of that prayer has 18 sentences before the consecration. The new translation has 8.

The average number of words per sentence in the new Eucharistic Prayers is 35.4, compared to 20.6 at present—an increase of 78 percent. Are spoken texts in liturgy generally so wordy? Pope Benedict is not averse to using long, complex sentences. Yet his Ash Wednesday homily averaged 23.2 words per sentence. Certainly Scripture offers long sentences, especially in the writings of St. Paul. Yet the beloved eighth chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans has an average sentence length of only 27.38. This final example provides the closest comparison, yet the new Missal far surpasses it.

In texts for oral proclamation, the length of sentences matters. When reading a text on paper, one can go back and examine it again. Not so for spoken prayers, especially those spoken on one particular day of the liturgical year, rather than those repeated throughout the year or liturgical season. A collect such as this one, which follows the Isaiah 54 reading in the Easter Vigil, offers a good example of what the new translation will bring us:

Almighty, ever-living God,
surpass for the honor of your name
what you pledged to the patriarchs by reason of their faith
and through sacred adoption increase the children of your promise
so that what the saints of old never doubted would come to pass
your Church may now see in great part fulfilled.

That 53-word sentence makes sense if one has the leisure to study it and perhaps to draw a diagram. But the person in the pew does not have that luxury. She or he will hear this prayer once a year at most. An individual word or phrase may ring a bell. But the essential meaning of the prayer will be lost. As an act of oral communication, a text such as this cannot but fail for the vast majority of Catholics. Like so many of the newly translated prayers, it will come across as theo-babble, holy nonsense.

There are already formidable challenges to oral comprehension built into the pastoral situations in which the liturgy is celebrated. International priests make up 22 percent of the active diocesan priesthood in the United States today. Accented English can make even our current translation difficult to understand. Many parish communities include a significant number of people whose first language is not English. They will be asked to digest sentences that even native English speakers will have a hard time comprehending. Children and youth and those who are less educated will also be placed at a great disadvantage.

Some Texts Heard at Every Mass
Several texts that are a regular part of every Mass are going to change. Not all the changes will be for the worse. For example, in the preface dialogue (which appears at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer), the people will answer “It is right and just” in place of the familiar “It is right to give him thanks and praise.” The phrase “It is right and just” comes from a Roman acclamation of public approval. It entered the liturgy at an early date. It is crisp, and easily understood in English. Furthermore, many of the prefaces that follow it begin “It is truly right and just....” The rhetorical force of this construction is blunted if one removes “It is right and just.” Its reintroduction also happily avoids the tangle over inclusive language, which has divided assemblies into some who say “right to give him thanks and praise” and others who say “right to give God thanks and praise.”

Despite such occasional bright spots, however, the overall picture is deeply discouraging. Here are a few examples.

And with your spirit

This response will replace the familiar “And also with you.” The new text will remove a common element from the ecumenical consensus regarding liturgical texts. English-speaking Catholics, Protestants, and Anglicans have collaborated over the years to produce common liturgical texts as a way forward on the path to Christian unity. The greeting “The Lord be with you / And also with you” is an example of one such shared liturgical text. Yet, our dialogue partners have been completely excluded from the making of this new translation. “And with your spirit” exemplifies Rome’s decision to “go it alone.”

For you and for many

No longer will the Mass proclaim that Christ’s sacrifice was offered “for all, so that sins may be forgiven.” Rather, we will hear that it was offered “for many.” Much attention has been paid to this change (see “All In?” by Toan Joseph Do, Commonweal, December 19, 2008); we do not need to rehearse all the arguments here. Suffice it to say that this little phrase is what one might call a “false friend”—an expression you’re sure you understand, until you find out it means the opposite of what you were sure it meant. In normal English, many does not mean all. It means many. In the Mass, however, in our new sacral language, we have to remember that many means all. We can’t say Christ died for all, because that’s not what it says in the Latin. But we have to mean all because that is our Catholic theology.

Enter under my roof

When I first learned that the words of the Centurion were going to appear in the new translation, my expectations were positive. I remembered from my childhood this lovely acclamation: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. Speak but the word and my soul shall be healed.” I loved its poetry and rhythm. It sang.

Alas, the translation we are about to receive is clunky. “Enter under” doesn’t sing. It plods. It’s also not idiomatic English. One has to stop and puzzle over the idea that the Lord is entering something or someplace by means of passing under my roof. I’ve found that not a few Catholics have assumed that the word roof refers to “the roof of my mouth.”

He took the precious chalice in his holy and venerable hands

The new translation aims at creating a sacral language used only in church. The fact that a word is arcane or uncommon is no barrier to its usage. In fact, such words are sometimes preferred to those that have everyday usage. Thus the Latin word calix has been translated as “chalice,” rather than “cup.” The demand to translate every Latin word in the new translation has also resulted in the use of multiple adjectives. Yet English is especially effective when plain and unadorned. Multiple adjectives weaken a text rather than strengthen it. When adjectives pile up, the results seem stagy or false. English speakers are accustomed to hearing “When supper was ended, he took the cup.” Such spare language is forceful. The new translation, by comparison, is fussy.

An especially unfortunate effect is created in this instance because it transforms Jesus into a priest saying Mass in a church. A chalice is put into the hands of Jesus at the Last Supper. Of course chalice is a word never used in modern English except to describe our sacred vessel in the Mass. The holy hands of the priest at Mass, so much a staple of the mystique of ordination, provide the template for how to describe the hands of Jesus. This sort of language is jarringly anachronistic. It compromises Jesus’ historicity in order to exalt the clergy.

Because prayer engages the heart and the imagination, differences on the affective level are highly significant. The image of the assembly’s relationship to God and the emotional tone accompanying that relationship will not be the same come November. The old is marked by an attitude of reverence, joy, and trust. God is great and we are small, but the relationship is one of love. As a child might run to a parent with unaffected gladness, so we come into the presence of our God (“We come to you, Father...”).

Not anymore. Now we come before God as a suppliant might address a monarch, with flattery and self-abasement. Because we are sinners, it is necessary to ingratiate ourselves with him. We do this by courtly address (“We make humble prayer before you”). This change is underlined in the Confiteor in the Penitential Act that takes place at the beginning of Mass. This moment will become an occasion to beat our breast and say “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”

All these dispositions—joyful trust, fear of the Lord, consciousness of sin—are part of the Christian life. But the dominant note will change. Will this change be welcomed? Or will it be greeted with incomprehension and confusion? The presumption that God prefers courtly language in prayer, a settled presumption of the Latin text, has had more than forty years to recede from public consciousness. Will its sudden reintroduction invite the faithful into more authentic worship, or will it merely distance them from the God whom Scripture calls “my joy, my delight” (Ps. 43:4)?

Where is this new translation taking us? It is important to realize that negative responses to the new translation reflect both dismay at the wording of the text and disagreement with the principles that guided its production. Yet the conflict goes deeper than an argument over theories of translation. That the new translation of the Roman Missal should come to us replete with embarrassing gaffes, nonsensical passages, and a near-total lack of accountability is as clearly a symptom of the misuse of authority as it is the fault of the questionable set of translation principles enunciated in Liturgiam authenticam. Yet even the misuse of authority is not the root cause of the immense disquiet and even outrage that this translation has aroused.

Beneath the words of the new translation, one senses a drive to minimize the practical effects of Vatican II. The reforms of Vatican II prized clarity and intelligibility in the liturgy; they gave priority to the work of ecumenism and evangelization; they respected the local work of bishops conferences; they invited aggiornamento and engagement with the world. This vital heritage is being eclipsed by another agenda. We are seeing a wooden loyalty to the Latin text at the price of clarity and intelligibility. We are seeing a retreat from advances already made in ecumenism. We are seeing the proper role of local bishops and bishops conferences increasingly taken over by the authorities in Rome. We are seeing the liturgy reimagined as an event taking place in some sacral space outside of our world, rather than the beating heart of a world made new.

Yes, we can get used to the new translation of the Roman Missal. But we shouldn’t. The church can do better, and deserves better, than this.

Published on Commonweal magazine (

Friday, July 1, 2011


It was a shock to learn that advertising researchers have predicted that Sears will soon disappear as a viable brand in America. Of course many familiar stores, products and brands disappear regularly without much fanfare. Over the years Weibolts, Goldblatts, Lyttons, Woolworths, and Polk Brothers have all slipped quietly into oblivion. However, Marshall Fields put up quite a struggle before being swallowed by Macy’s. Perhaps Sears also might not go easily into that dark night. Many of us have fond memories of those fat mail order catalogues that once displayed so many treasures, and those famous Sears house brands like Kenmore appliances, Craftsman tools and Allstate insurance, as well as their downtown headquarters in the famous Sears (now Willis) Tower.

What happened to Sears? It was once one of the stars of the Fortune 500. How did upstarts like Walmart, Target, JC Penny, Nordstroms, Macys and Costco elbow it aside? Did the rise of the Internet do them in? Did they become too stodgy, too old fashioned, too blue collar for younger generations of shoppers? Will they be missed?

Some business experts have said that, if the Catholic Church were traded on the stock market, its value would be in the dumpster. It might be the religious version of Sears. Unimaginative leadership, ineffective marketing strategies, tired product lines, inattention to its customer base. Of course, there is the important pledge of the founder that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. But we’d best not get too complacent. There are some alarming omens such as the recent CARA study which indicated an alarming decline in Catholic weddings in the last 40 years.

In 1972 the official Kennedy Directory reported 415,487 Catholic weddings. In 2010 that number had fallen to 168,400, a decline of almost 60%. Four decades ago there were 8.6 weddings per 1,000 Catholics. Today there are 2.6 weddings per 1,000. So what happened? For one thing it has become more acceptable for couples to live together without benefit of matrimony. Also many weddings are performed without benefit of clergy. An admired relative or friend can be “ordained” via Internet for a modest fee. Also in many states an unordained individual (female or male) can be designated as a one-time officiant.

Young Catholics from observant families report that the Church is not “user friendly” when it comes to matrimony. Some clergy are obviously over-worked and unwilling to invest much energy in what they see as one of the biggest days in their lives. Others seem to create a lot of legalistic hoops through which engaged couples must jump. In some dioceses, marriage preparation seems focused on natural family planning, liturgical regulations, and the evil of cohabitation rather than insightful help for building a successful relationship as a married couple. Negative experiences are spread by social media as well as word of mouth, and parents who have been disillusioned by the Church’s handling of the sex abuse crisis are now more likely to agree to a wedding outside the Church. In fact, some married priests perform more marriages than do their classmates who have remained in active ministry.

This is but one example, among many, of the way in which the Catholic Church has lost “market share” in recent years. One might say, “Watch out, Sears, here we come.”

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Deacon Candidate Declines Ordination

The sex scandals in the Church don’t happen any more, unless they do. Recently in Kansas City, Bishop Finn appears to mishandled a couple situations. Despite his public “apologies”, a Deacon candidate, Jim McConnell, decided to forgo ordination rather than kneel before Bishop Finn and promise his obedience and respect. The pastor of the parish that was sponsoring McConnell addressed the issue from the pulpit last week…

Kansas City pastor homily on clarifying thought
by Thomas C. Fox [1] on Jun. 07, 2011

The pastor of Holy Family parish in the Kansas City - St. Joseph diocese, Fr. Matthew Brumleve, spoke the following words last Sunday, Ascension Sunday, about Jim McConnell, a member of his parish who stepped away from the permanent diaconate program, saying he could not kneel before Bishop Robert Finn and offer his unqualified obedience. This is an excerpt from his homily:

Another way ... to clarify one’s thinking on what is valuable andimportant in life – is to make a difficult decision – as Jim McConnell had todo within the last week. Jim and his wife Cindy prayed about and struggledwith his ordination to the diaconate – in light of all that has come out aboutwhat Bishop Finn did, and failed to do, in the recent sexual abuse caseconcerning Father Shawn Ratigan.

Jim decided that he could not just go through the motions of the ordination rite in which he would have to kneel before the Bishop and promise to respect and obey a person he no longer had respect for. And I say better that this faith community has lost a deacon than to just have one more person lose their integrity. Someone better than I once said that evil exists in the world because good people stand idly by and say and do nothing. So I say to Jim, and I hope it is with the backing of this community, thanks, Jim, for leading the way in not standing idly by. Jim from the very beginning, and Cindy, almost from the very beginning, have been members of Holy Family.

And so it is with a bit of pride that I hope in some small way it is due to the fact that Sunday after Sunday they were nurtured and formed by the Word of God in this place and were constantly being comforted and challenged by us – and this is whatgave Jim the strength and conviction to do what he did. So standing among the poor, losing someone you love, and making a tough decision are all ways that we can tell if we stand for the things Jesus stood for: compassion, understanding, integrity, acceptance, forgiveness and mercy.

Every day, each of us has to be able to say and do the things that allow us to sleep peacefully at night. In preaching this homily, I will sleep peacefully tonight. In standing against the exploitation and harm of children, Jim will sleep peacefully tonight. I hope that all of us can have a peaceful sleep tonight because we have been effective witnesses of the risen and ascended Christ this day. That today, in large and small ways, we have stood for the things Jesus challenges and expects us to stand for. AMEN!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Detroit Archbishop in a Dither...

The Detroit Archbishop is a dither about the “American Catholic Council” gathering on the 35th Anniversary of the original Call to Action. Vigner0n warns any Detroit clerics that they may be “reduced to the lay state” (besides going to hell?) if they participate. An NCR article gives more details.

Detroit archbishop warns clergy not to attend Catholic gathering

Jun. 07, 2011
Article Details
By Jerry Filteau

Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron warned his priests and deacons June 3 that they could be “dismissed from the clerical state” if they participate in a eucharistic liturgy June 12 closing an international American Catholic Council convention in Detroit.
The ACC, a coalition of liberal Catholic groups seeking changes in the church, said Vigneron’s warning brought a sharp spike in visits to its Web site [3], and in registrations for the convention.
“There are good reasons for believing forbidden concelebration will take place by the laity and with those not in full communion with the church” at the June 12 Mass,Vigneron said in his June 3 letter.
He did not explain why he thought lay people or clergy not in full communion with the church would be engaged in concelebration of the ACC’s closing Mass. The ACC Web site gave no such indications, and leaders of the convention said there was no such intention.

In an e-mail to NCR June 7, John Hushon, co-chairman of the ACC, said, “We stated categorically to Msgr. [Robert] McClory [Detroit archdiocesan moderator of the curia] that ‘There will be only one presider, an ordained priest in good standing.’ We could not have been any clearer.”

Under church law, a local bishop has full authority over all liturgical celebrations in his diocese, and Vigneron emphasized that he has given no authorization for the closing Mass at the convention of the American Catholic Council.

The June 11-12 gathering is to be held at Detroit’s Cobo Hall – a historic venue symbolically recalling the church’s famous American bicentennial Call to Action conference on social justice in 1976, hosted by then-Detroit Cardinal John Dearden.

That conference, featuring mainly social action personnel from dioceses across the country, spun out of hierarchical control and produced many resolutions in apparent conflict with traditional Catholic teaching. The bishops subsequently adopted some of its proposals but rejected many of them. An independent progressive Catholic organization based in Chicago, Call to Action, was later formed to advance many of the conference’s proposals and goals.

Among featured speakers on the ACC agenda is Sr. Joan Chittister, former prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pa., and an NCR columnist.

Swiss-born theologian Fr. Hans Kung, 83, long a leading ecumenist and professor at the University of Tubingen, Germany, is expected to address the group in a video recording if health prevents him from appearing personally. Kung’s 1971 critique of papal infallibility led to a 1979 Vatican order declaring he could no longer teach as a Catholic theologian.

In a news release June 4 ACC organizers said the convention will draw “several thousand center-left Catholics committed to the principles of Vatican II.”

One of the goals of the gathering is to endorse a “Catholic Bill of Rights [4]and Responsibilities” which stresses the primacy of conscience and the rights and responsibilities of lay Catholics, by reason of their baptism, to participate in the ministry and governance of the church and in working for social justice.

An archdiocesan announcement for parish bulletins sent out to Detroit Catholic parishes [5] for the weekend of June 11-12 reiterated Vigneron’s warning against participation in the meeting or its June 12 liturgy. It said the archbishop has “serious concerns over the ACC’s distortion of church teachings and issues, and most notably the group’s expressed opposition to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.”

Friday, June 3, 2011

A way forward for Catholic Charities on adoption?

Rockford was the first diocese to pull out of adoptive services after the law on civil unions went into effect. The executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, Bob Gilligan, said other dioceses will decide on the fate of their programs within a week to 10 days after the new state law takes effect.

US Catholic blogger Bryan Cones looks for a way forward for Catholic Charities.

A way forward for Catholic Charities on adoption?

Thursday, June 2, 2011
By Bryan Cones

With civil unions taking effect today in Illinois, the $30 million in state-funded adoption money Catholic Charities in the state receives is on the line. The diocese of Rockford in northwest Illinois has already withdrawn from adoption and foster care services, forfeiting $7.5 million in state contracts, laying off 58 employees, and releasing 350 children into the state system. Catholic Charities in other dioceses, notably here in the archdiocese of Chicago, have yet to make a decision.

In my own opinion--and I am speaking only for myself--I think it is both possible and preferable that Catholic Charities continue to provide adoption and foster care placements, even though state law now requires them (as part of their state contract) to serve same-gender couples who wish to adopt or foster. Here's why:

1. The decision to place a chlid in foster care or an adoptive home has never been on the basis of religion. Catholic Charities serves people of any religion and no religion at all. Criteria for accepting someone as a foster or adoptive parent are based on psychological and economic evaluations, among others, and their fitness to serve in that capacity is determined by social workers, not priests. There is great evidence that same-gender couples quite successfully raise foster and adoptive children by those measures. Further, there is no evidence whatsoever that children placed with same-gender couples are in any way less successful than children placed in other homes. Further, there is great need for foster and adoptive parents, and great numbers of children to serve.

2. Catholic Charities is known and respected for the work that it does on behalf of all people, regardless of religion or sexual orientation or race or country of origin. It is not, or at least has not been, a sectarian enterprise, only a charitable enterprise supported by the local diocese. As many have put it: Catholic Charities serves people because it is a Catholic agency, not because the people it serves are Catholic--both the children and the adoptive and foster parents. I fear that reputation of universal service has already been tarnished. I would rather have Catholic Charities serve and place children in good homes, including those of same-gender couples, than to have them withdraw completely from this important work. Seriously, that would mean that Catholic Charities would stop caring for "orphans," one of the biblical categories of those in need that the Hebrew prophets are constantly calling us to serve.

3. Catholic Charities has a duty to its employees who work in this area. It isn't the employees' fault that the state legislature has determined that justice requires that same-gender couples should have access to legal recognition for their families. It seems to me an injustice that the Rockford diocese laid off 58 employees to make a point about church teaching.

Of course, Catholic Charities could withdraw from its state contracts because it will be required to serve same-gender couples, but I for one would see that as a diminishment of our charitable work as Catholics. I hope they can find another way.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Credibility Problem for Bishops?

At the same time bishops are attempting to bolster their authority over their “sheep”, Catholics are having a harder time finding their Shepherd’s words and actions credible.

In Phoenix, the Bishop Olmsted criticized a Catholic hospital’s efforts to save a mother’s life. He then excommunicated the hospital administrator, Sr. Margaret McBride, and declared St. Joseph hospital no longer “Catholic.” In a recent poll, 71% of Catholics in Phoenix felt the hospital was still Catholic, and most (79%) sided with the Nun and not the Bishop (16%) in the dispute.

Reacting to some bishops complaints about a 2007 book by Fordham University Professor, Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson, the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine summarily condemned it as being erroneous and damaging to the faithful – without ever discussing the issue with Sr. Johnson. The condemnation was then questioned by the two main organizations of Catholic theologians, the Catholic Theological Society of American (CTSA) and the College Theology Society, as well as from Johnson’s own religious community, the Sisters of St. Joseph. Will Elizabeth Johnson's accusers please step forward?

In Chicago, Cardinal George sent a message to controversial Fr. Mike Pfleger and the press simultaneously that Pfleger was being suspended. He then ducked out to the Vatican and then to a bishops meeting in Arizona, rather than be available for conversation with Pfleger or comment to the media. This controversy has ramifications not only for an individual priest, but for black Catholics in Chicago. A Good Week for the Church of JPII

Now the US bishops have released their own analysis of the Sex Abuse Scandal. It blames the sexy 1960s, and priest’s poor sex education, social isolation and stress at that time for the crisis. The abuse is seen as an aberration in the Church and since relegated to the dust bin of history. Bishops largely exonerated themselves from the mess by blaming others. (Ironically, seminaries are becoming more closed communities with less interaction with the “real world”, and priests are increasingly isolated and stressed by large one-man parishes.). Authors defend their report on sex abuse…

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bishop's firing makes pope's priorities clear

The sacking last week of an Australian bishop in the wake of pastoral letter he wrote aimed at facing the growing priest shortage in his diocese adds new emphasis to Pope Benedict's priorities. Sadly it tells us that any bishop who expresses need for structural changes in the church is viewed as more threatening than is one who turns a blind eye on priests molesting children in his diocese. This NCR editorial explores the situation.

The Australian Catholic diocese of Toowoomba, encompassing more than 300,000 square miles, has just a relative handful of healthy priests to serve the church’s 35 parishes. So it came as no surprise to Toowoomba’s Catholics when the area’s bishop, William M. Morris, addressed the priest shortage in a candid but still cautious Advent 2006 pastoral letter.

“We do face an uncertain future with regard to the number of active priests in our diocese,” wrote Morris. “Other options,” he wrote, “may well” need be considered. These include:

1. “ordaining married, single or widowed men who are chosen and endorsed by their local parish community;
2. welcoming former priests, married or single, back to active ministry;
3. ordaining women, married or single;
4. recognizing Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church Orders.”

For these words, this week the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI has fired Morris.

Eighteen years as bishop ended with the stroke of a papal pen.

Some obvious but necessary points need making:
First, it turns out it’s really not that difficult for the pope to give a bishop a pink slip. In the course of the quarter-century clergy sexual abuse cover-up, there’s been considerable handwringing over just this question. Bishops don’t “work for” the pope, we have been told. Bishops are “fathers” to their flock – with all the unconditional love and commitment that entails – not employees subject to the whims, well-intentioned or otherwise, of the boss. Canonical procedures must be followed.

Apparently, that’s just so much hooey. If the pope and his advisers care deeply about an issue about which a bishop has publicly raised questions – such as women priests and optional celibacy – a way can be found to dismiss that bishop.

And – noteworthy because it goes to some underlying issues – a bishop who acts against church teaching and law related to sexually abusive priests apparently need fear no such reprisal.
Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali, for example, continues a life befitting a prince in splendorous surroundings, even as his flouting of church procedures (and perhaps civil law) resulted in nearly 30 diocesan priests facing administrative suspension and heat from local prosecutors.

And not to forget Cardinal Bernard Law, orchestrator of the Boston clergy abuse cover-up. His punishment? An extended Roman holiday and a healthy pension. Meanwhile, Morris gets the door.

The pope’s priorities are clear.

The pervasive intellectual chill in the church reaches beyond the towers of academia (note the recent chastisement of theologian St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson) or to those who directly challenge the rules – Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois’ open support for women’s ordination a most recent case in point. (Bourgeois is facing excommunication for saying what he thinks on the subject.)

Now even those directly in the line of apostolic succession are forbidden to speak freely.
Note that Morris did not offer answers to the provocatively posed semi-questions on celibacy and ordination he raised that Advent. Instead, employing what one advocacy group terms the “progressive bishop’s style book,” he couched his concerns more obliquely. (No doubt to avoid Rome’s wrath. Lot of good that did him.)

Today, it seems, even such carefully couched queries are completely verboten; such so-called “open questions” (non-doctrinal in every sense of the word) such as the ordination of married men are grounds for dismissal. That the overwhelming majority of clergy (not to mention laypeople) think the failure to even consider options like married priests in the midst of a clergy shortage crisis goes beyond Dilbertesque mismanagement. It is, to employ the psychobabble of the era, completely dysfunctional.

As we prepare to celebrate the feast of the first pope next month, are we still permitted to remind church fathers that Peter was a married man? That this Holy Father was likely a human father? Or should Mrs. Peter and her progeny, like so many nettlesome Stalin-era apparatchiks, be airbrushed from history?

Because of Morris, we know that the dysfunction flows right from the top. Canon law may be more flexible than previously promoted, but a bishop’s dismissal cannot be shuffled to an underling, buried, as in Bourgeois’ case, in a bureaucratic chain of command. No, the canning of a bishop is a task only a pope can command.

And he has made his priorities quite clear.

While the reasons for Morris’ dismissal are relatively clear, the process remains an unholy mess, shrouded in secrecy.

Soon after Morris’ 2006 Advent pastoral was released, Benedict sent Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput to “investigate” the incident, which is a little like sending the fox to investigate the hens. Given his well-known views on the concerns raised by Morris (Chaput is more Catholic than the pope on these issues), we are skeptical that Toowoomba’s bishop got a fair hearing. There’s a relatively small number of right wing Catholics in the diocese (Morris and others call them the “Temple Police”) who have long been after the bishop. That Chaput gave them undue weight and deference seems more than plausible.

You know the type. In the U.S., they are the crowd that takes marching orders from The Wanderer, their time at Mass searching for a violation of a rubric rather than receiving whatever wisdom or grace might come their way. Then, having detected an “Alleluia” where an “Amen” was called for, they write letters to Vatican congregations, hoping for a sympathetic ear to their pathetic pleas.

Their Australian equivalents were, it appears, successful in transforming Morris’ molehill into a mountain.

But, we acknowledge, our skepticism is partly emotional, or perhaps ideological. We’re inclined to give Morris a break because we’re inclined to agree with him that the issues he raises require airing.

But, and here’s the point, we simply don’t know what Chaput found because no one’s talking. Not even Morris has received a copy of Chaput’s report (assuming something has been reduced to writing).

We presume, given the public nature of Morris’ offenses, that Chaput’s findings have something to do with the bishop brainstorming some remedies to the priest shortage in the face of the real crisis in his local church.

Did Chaput find something more dastardly, such as a bishop speaking like an adult to his church? Heaven forbid. We likely will never know. When NCR asked Chaput to respond to a series of questions regarding his apostolic visitation to Morris’ diocese, he declined to answer, explaining that “any apostolic visitation is governed by strict confidentiality. This is for the benefit of all parties involved.”

So are we to believe Morris has benefitted from being tossed out without ever having been allowed to defend himself against Chaput's findings, which were never shared with the Australian prelate? This is the kind of trial and judgement one more often associates with China or Iran. The Catholic church?

The real scandal to the faithful in this matter has nothing to do with the way Morris has conducted himself. It has everything to do with priorities and processes within our church today. It has much to do with the trampling of human rights and professed values of decency and charity by our church’s prelates, in this case including, sad to say, Benedict himself.
This is no way, shall we say, to set a Christian example – or manage the church.

In 2003, Fred Gluck, a former managing partner of McKinsey & Company who currently serves on the board of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, wrote a memo to church leaders. It’s crafted in managementese, but disregard the jargon for the moment and pay attention to the message.Wrote Gluck:

· “Your organization [the church] has no effective central point of leadership that can energize the necessary program change.
· “Your leadership is aging and also largely committed to the status quo or even the status ante.
· “Your tradition of hierarchy dominates most of your thinking about management.”
· “Coming to grips with this formidable set of challenges in an organization as historically successful as yours will be a daunting challenge, and can only be accomplished by a comprehensive program of change with strong leadership from the top,” he concluded.
No one in a position of authority paid any discernable attention to Gluck eight years ago. Sadly, we don’t expect that to change.

The pope has made his priorities all too clear.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Can the bishops ever be trusted?

Anne M. Burke is a justice on the Illinois Supreme Court and former interim chairwoman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops National Review Board. This editorial was published in the Chicago Tribune April 29, 2011.

Can the bishops ever be trusted?
By Anne M. Burke
April 29, 2011

Just when it appeared that the fallout over the abuse scandal in the U.S. Catholic Church could not get any worse, another shoe dropped in Philadelphia.
On Feb. 10, 2011 three veteran priests of the archdiocese of Philadelphia were charged with rape and indecent assault, accused of the abuse of minors dating back to the 1990s. Monsignor William Lynn, who served as the archdiocese's point person for investigating reports of clerical sexual abuse from 1992 to 2004, was charged with child endangerment for allegedly covering up abuse by priests.

The archdiocese has placed another 21 priests on leave while accusations of child abuse are investigated. The district attorney's office in Philadelphia says there was "a pattern of the church looking the other way when it came to investigating these charges."
It appears that even after years of investigation of child abuse by priests, the cover-up of that abuse has been further institutionalized. Some of the alleged crimes in Philadelphia transpired while the National Review Board of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, on which I served, was trying to get to the truth of the scandal. The indicted monsignor is accused of turning a blind eye to things in his chancery office. Of course, to blame a clerical official, and not his archbishop, of such deviousness presents a mistaken analysis of how the church works.

The bishops say they responded to this scandal, and hold up as evidence the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which they put into motion back in 2002. I do not denigrate that historic step. It did a lot to make children safer in our Catholic institutions. It permitted the National Review Board the opportunity to examine the causes and effects of the scandal.

But the news that more than 24 active priests in Philadelphia face abuse accusations, and that some were allowed to remain in active ministry after accusations were made against them years ago, raises new fears.

For me, these are much more than institutional nightmares. This makes me wonder what kind of people we are dealing with when we engage the bishops. How is it that they say one thing and secretly intend something else? Are they ever to be trusted?

I remember the sometimes vicious response some members of the church hierarchy gave to the National Review Board when we were doing our work some years ago. Cardinal Edward Egan, the former archbishop of New York, actually wanted to ban us from his fiefdom, as if we were coming from some rival kingdom to challenge his rule.

All the events of our investigation and audit get colored with new meaning in light of the charges in Philadelphia. Little has changed.

Thomas Jefferson put it best: Honesty is the first chapter of the book of wisdom. I'm curious: How do the cardinals of the United States view the behavior of Cardinal Justin Rigali in Philadelphia, and the behavior of his predecessor, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua?
I traveled on St. Patrick's feast day this year to Dublin for a law conference and was refreshed by the lyrical camaraderie that is such a part of Irish life. The journey was particularly energizing and fulfilling, but there also was an element of sadness to the visit.

It was easy to spot the first morning when I made my way to daily Mass. Since it was Lent, I expected to see an enlarged congregation. I found the opposite.

My hosts told me that the abuse scandal in the church in Ireland and the poor response from the Vatican seemed to have sealed the fate of Catholicism in Ireland for some time to come. A government investigation into the horror of Irish clerical abuse — both sexual and physical — brought everything to the surface. All the usual elements were there, thanks to the Irish bishops — cover-up, lying, bullying, threats, the hiding of evidence, the sealing of witness testimony, and most of all the willingness to let the guilty clergy get away with the crime.

During the most abject period of Irish history, when the English prohibited the practice of our faith, our Irish ancestors would walk for miles in the dark and rain to find a remote field in which a brave secret priest would celebrate Mass at the risk of his life for people desperate for the nourishment of the sacraments. The people risked all to celebrate the Eucharist in spite of every physical hazard imaginable.

The faithful have not been as absent from the celebration of sacraments as they are today since the Irish religious emancipation in 1826. What has changed? You don't have to look far. You see it in the distressed faces of the faithful. You hear it in the voices of the legal profession in Ireland who find what they have learned to be heartbreaking.

What is really sad is that the Vatican's understanding of what people really need is so totally off the mark. Perhaps if the pope had taken himself to O'Connell Street in Dublin or stood along the cobbles of old Dublin and wept with those who were passing by, he might have achieved a semblance of healing.

But he issued a papal letter, which, no matter how well-intentioned, is not the stuff that brings healing. People want their trust restored. No papal letter will do that. Certainly not for people whose ancestors risked their lives for the faith.

I believe that the virtue of truthfulness has been in trouble for a long time in the Catholic Church. Who could ever see this coming? Not me. I was an obedient Catholic schoolgirl, a true believer. It is not easy for us to unlearn being Catholic. I, for one, don't want to.

But I expect truthfulness at all costs from our leadership. If that cannot be supplied then we must go back to the drawing board. Do we not have the right to truthfulness? Perhaps a Council on Truthfulness might help to expand the importance of this critical virtue. Perhaps it could be a meeting of bishops and the faithful in which they share ideas and dreams for the church. Perhaps we could let the power of the virtue of truthfulness help redefine the proportions of holiness in the church. Liberal or conservative, truthfulness is a gift to all.

As Catholics we know that we must act with wisdom — we must forgive, but not forget. We must exercise good judgment and courage — both gifts of the Holy Spirit given at the time of confirmation. This means that we must be blunt with the Holy Father and the other men who continue by either business as usual, or misguided loyalty, to permit the unspeakable to occur.

I believe that when the truth flourishes we will see the return of those who have walked away from the church. We will see people choose holy orders as a way of life for the service of others.

We will have no dark places to which misguided princes can abandon reality. We will not have criminal charges brought against those who choose the commission of a felony over the mandate of the gospel to be people of truth.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Hidden Exodus: Catholics becoming Protestants

Now that the “Creasters” (Catholics who only attend Mass on Christmas and Easter) have disappeared until December, Church attendance will return to normal. Most places it means about 1/3 of Catholics will attend on Sundays. Creasters represent about another third. It’s the final third of baptized Catholics who have simply disappeared. Rev. Tom Reese considers this third in a recent article…

The hidden exodus: Catholics becoming Protestants
Apr. 18, 2011
Any other institution that lost one-third of its members would want to know why
By Thomas Reese

The number of people who have left the Catholic church is huge.
We all have heard stories about why people leave. Parents share stories about their children. Academics talk about their students. Everyone has a friend who has left.

While personal experience can be helpful, social science research forces us to look beyond our circle of acquaintances to see what is going on in the whole church.
The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life has put hard numbers on the anecdotal evidence: One out of every 10 Americans is an ex-Catholic. If they were a separate denomination, they would be the third-largest denomination in the United States, after Catholics and Baptists. One of three people who were raised Catholic no longer identifies as Catholic.

Any other institution that lost one-third of its members would want to know why. But the U.S. bishops have never devoted any time at their national meetings to discussing the exodus. Nor have they spent a dime trying to find out why it is happening.

Thankfully, although the U.S. bishops have not supported research on people who have left the church, the Pew Center has.

Pew’s data shows that those leaving the church are not homogenous. They can be divided into two major groups: those who become unaffiliated and those who become Protestant. Almost half of those leaving the church become unaffiliated and almost half become Protestant. Only about 10 percent of ex-Catholics join non-Christian religions. This article will focus on Catholics who have become Protestant. I am not saying that those who become unaffiliated are not important; I am leaving that discussion to another time.

Why do people leave the Catholic church to become Protestant? Liberal Catholics will tell you that Catholics are leaving because they disagree with the church’s teaching on birth control, women priests, divorce, the bishops’ interference in American politics, etc. Conservatives blame Vatican II, liberal priests and nuns, a permissive culture and the church’s social justice agenda.

One of the reasons there is such disagreement is that we tend to think that everyone leaves for the same reason our friends, relatives and acquaintances have left. We fail to recognize that different people leave for different reasons. People who leave to join Protestant churches do so for different reasons than those who become unaffiliated. People who become evangelicals are different from Catholics who become members of mainline churches.

Fr. Reese spends some time analyzing the data (For the full article go to ,) but his summation includes….

Lessons from the data

There are many lessons that we can learn from the Pew data, but I will focus on only three.
First, those who are leaving the church for Protestant churches are more interested in spiritual nourishment than doctrinal issues. Tinkering with the wording of the creed at Mass is not going to help. No one except the Vatican and the bishops cares whether Jesus is “one in being” with the Father or “consubstantial” with the Father. That the hierarchy thinks this is important shows how out of it they are.

While the hierarchy worries about literal translations of the Latin text, people are longing for liturgies that touch the heart and emotions. More creativity with the liturgy is needed, and that means more flexibility must be allowed. If you build it, they will come; if you do not, they will find it elsewhere. The changes that will go into effect this Advent will make matters worse, not better.

Second, thanks to Pope Pius XII, Catholic scripture scholars have had decades to produce the best thinking on scripture in the world. That Catholics are leaving to join evangelical churches because of the church teaching on the Bible is a disgrace. Too few homilists explain the scriptures to their people. Few Catholics read the Bible.

The church needs a massive Bible education program. The church needs to acknowledge that understanding the Bible is more important than memorizing the catechism. If we could get Catholics to read the Sunday scripture readings each week before they come to Mass, it would be revolutionary. If you do not read and pray the scriptures, you are not an adult Christian. Catholics who become evangelicals understand this.

Finally, the Pew data shows that two-thirds of Catholics who become Protestants do so before they reach the age of 24. The church must make a preferential option for teenagers and young adults or it will continue to bleed. Programs and liturgies that cater to their needs must take precedence over the complaints of fuddy-duddies and rubrical purists.

Current religious education programs and teen groups appear to have little effect on keeping these folks Catholic, according to the Pew data, although those who attend a Catholic high school do appear to stay at a higher rate. More research is needed to find out what works and what does not.

The Catholic church is hemorrhaging members. It needs to acknowledge this and do more to understand why. Only if we acknowledge the exodus and understand it will we be in a position to do something about it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Thursday: Who Sat at Table with Jesus?

Holy Thursday recalls the creation of the sacrament of Eucharist with the last Supper. Were women present? Why not? Some parishes don’t let women wash feet or have their feet washed, less someone think women were present and participating in the Last Supper/ First Mass. We do know that there were many married men there who were charged by with the ministry of service and with breaking of the bread “in memory of me.” So editorialist, Tim Padgett, found this Holy Week an appropriate time to suggest a return to a married priesthood.

Sunday, Apr. 17, 2011
Palm Sunday Plea: Let Priests Marry
By Tim Padgett

One of the best Roman Catholic priests I've ever known, Father Berns, was a widower. He had a mind as broad as his faith was deep; he served a dry martini but never a dry homily. And I've always wondered how large a role the gloriously messy life experience of a wife and children played in making him such an unusually engaging, and engaged, Catholic cleric.
The answer, of course, is that there is no real answer, especially when I consider all the lifelong celibate priests whom I've admired as much as I did Father Berns. Still, he's on my mind right now because of the Catholic Church's latest sexual abuse scandal, playing out in Philadelphia. There, on Friday, April 15, three priests and a former Catholic school teacher pleaded not guilty to charges of raping and sexually assaulting minors. What makes this case different, however, is that for the first time in the U.S., a higher-ranking Catholic official, Monsignor William Lynn, former secretary of the clergy for the Philadelphia archdiocese, is being charged with trying to cover up the abuse. (Lynn too pleaded not guilty on Friday.)

It's that twist that has me thinking of Father Berns — and it has made me more convinced than ever that the Catholic Church has got to drop its celibacy requirement for priests. I say that not because I think letting priests marry would have prevented priestly abuse. Pedophiles prey regardless of marital status. I say it, especially after having interviewed abuse victims, because I think letting Catholic clergy have wives and families may well make the hierarchy, from guys like Lynn on up to bishops and the Vatican, more concerned about safeguarding youths than about protecting priests.

For U.S. Catholics, the arraignment of Lynn and the four other men was a lousy way to kick off Holy Week, which starts today, Palm Sunday, and ends next Sunday on Easter. Then again, what better time than the week that includes Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified, to wrestle with it. (And the conservative Catholic League's full-page ad last week in the New York Times — which, astonishingly, blamed much of the abuse crisis on "homosexuality" — is just another reminder why it's so important we keep wrestling with this.)

So since I'm a hack and not a theologian, I'd suggest Catholics could start that process this week by recalling another, more benign scandal that hit the church two springs ago. That was the case of the Rev. Albert Cutié, the Catholic priest and Spanish-language television talk-show star who left the church in 2009 after a tabloid printed photos of him and his covert girlfriend (now his wife) cuddling on a Miami beach. Cutié, aka "Padre Alberto," became an Episcopal priest and, this past December, the father of a baby girl. In the process he's refueled the Catholic debate about clerical celibacy, and the upcoming Philadelphia trial makes his story especially relevant.

That's because Cutié, despite the double life he once led, has forced Catholics to consider a key question: Why did his romantic relationship with a woman — a peccadillo most Catholics shrugged at when the scandal broke — seem to elicit as much if not more outrage from the church hierarchy as the priestly sexual abuse of minors has?

Cutié feels that the hierarchy's overreaction to his indiscretion reflects how celibacy has helped condition the church's lame reaction to the abuse horror. He's of course not suggesting that a man has to have a wife and kids to be sensitive to these issues. But the Catholic Church risks breeding insensitivity by segregating its diocesan priests and bishops from the world of wives, children and the loving sex that begets them. It risks sending the message that those human joys would somehow sully their vocations — that those things are inferior to the priesthood, and so protecting the holy fraternity is what matters most during a crisis like the sexual abuse plague.

If the Philadelphia ugliness isn't enough of a convincer, consider Belgium — where last week former Catholic Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, who has admitted to sexually abusing two nephews, turned stomachs all over Europe by insisting his pedophilia was a harmless "little piece of intimacy." Civil authorities can't collar Vangheluwe because the crimes occurred too long ago. But so far neither the Vatican nor the head of the Belgian church has done a thing to punish him or any of the Belgian priests involved in a string of recent abuse accusations.

Celibacy was not a clerical requirement in the early church — in fact, many popes were married during Christianity's first few hundred years. But as Catholicism became more affixed to the Roman Empire, the church fathers fell increasingly under the influence of Stoicism and its demonization of sex, an attitude the medieval church codified.

Today the church would argue that celibacy isn't about demonizing sex but rather nobly sacrificing it as part of being alter Christus, or "another Christ."
I and most other Catholics can respect that — if it's a priest's choice. Unfortunately, we're also aware that mandatory celibacy has led to an unnecessary isolation of our clergy — and, in turn, to the harmful sense of clerical superiority we've seen so much of during the abuse crisis. All I know is, I saw a lot less of it in Father Berns.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In Plain Sight

This lenten reflection comes from Justin Sengstock, a Catholic young adult blogger.

When I was at Mass for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, I was astonished at the dissent the Catholic Church was promoting within its ranks. At least, that was what I had to conclude from the Gospel (John 9). It was the story of the man born blind. Rehash: Jesus meets a man blind from birth. Jesus anoints the man with mud and tells him to wash it off, whereupon he sees. When the Pharisees and the Jewish leadership find out, they are horrified.

Yeah, sure, the guy can see, whatever; what’s really important is that Jesus is doing this stuff on the Sabbath. That means he worked, and you can’t work on the Sabbath. Therefore Jesus can’t possibly be from God. God wouldn’t act through somebody who didn’t do what Moses said. Jesus' mercy obliges the authorities to condemn him, not respect him.

But wait, says the former blind man. God wouldn’t fulfill sinful requests from sinners, right? Here, let him speak for himself: "It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything" (9:32-33). This logic is almost a problem for the leaders and the Pharisees…almost. But see, they get a loophole. That’s the thing with legalism in any religion: it’s full of loopholes for powerful opportunists who know how to use them.

Here’s the loophole this time: sin was believed to afflict sinners and their descendants with concrete misfortunes, physical and otherwise. The misfortunes could be a lot of things. Could be poverty, could be leprosy, could be blindness.

So the man born blind was born in sin. That’s his essential reality, his source. He and the Sabbath-flouter must be two peas in a pod, brothers in crime, pulling off some kind of stunt. As a group of petulant scribes had said elsewhere, “By the prince of demons [Jesus] drives out demons” (Mark 3:22). So why listen to this punk? "You were born totally in sin, and you are trying to teach us?" (John 9:34). And they throw him out.

I felt myself about to bust out in a chuckle. I had to fold my arms and look down, suppressing my reaction, filing away for future reference the rebellious little insight that went with it: namely, that this first-century Gospel sounded so much like the twenty-first-century Roman Catholic Church.

Don’t the Catholic hierarchy and the opponents of Jesus sound uncannily alike? Neither group readily accepts an insight that it doesn’t come up with by itself. Neither group likes the idea of God saying or doing something that hasn’t been said or done yet, never mind all that stuff about doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19) and the new heavens and the new earth (Isaiah 65:17, Revelation 21:1).

God may only work through carefully approved channels, all of them under strict copyright. Grace through improper channels is null, void, a deception. And even when the efficacy of those improper channels is staring the authorities in the face, they will ignore it--or even just "throw the bums out"--if they have no other way to preserve business as usual.

The late Patty Crowley, a leader in the Christian Family Movement and a Call To Action member, was also a member of the papal birth control study commission in the 1960s. Marcelino Zalba, S.J., a priest who sat on the commission with her, argued that the prohibition on contraception had to remain intact no matter what the evidence. His reasoning: "What then with the millions we have sent to hell, if these norms were not valid?" Crowley quipped, “Father Zalba, do you really believe God has carried out all your orders?"

Do the scribes and Pharisees, both ancient and new, really believe God is carrying out all their orders? That, and not just the blind man's healing (or the spiritual enlightenment that resulted from it), is integral to John 9.

But "sight" is an awesome metaphor to consider here. Because somehow, some way, our resources for renewal (and for acting out) have always been right there, in plain sight, if you know what you're looking at. These resources may even be read aloud on weekends by priests who really have no idea that their voice is the match, that the red book on the ambo is the fuse, or that the people standing placidly in front of them are the bomb.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Popular EWTN evangelist Father John Corapi, SOLT has been placed on administrative leave by his superior after recent allegations of misconduct. The allegations, which came to light in March with a three-page letter sent to several bishops, claimed the priest took part in sexual encounters with several women and engaged in habitual drug use. Corapi vehemently denied the allegations, blaming a disgruntled female former-employee. He stated, "I'll certainly cooperate with the process, but personally believe that it is seriously flawed, and is tantamount to treating the priest as guilty 'just in case,' then through the process determining if he is innocent."

Corapi is an outspoken and flamboyant preacher, with one of his favorite stories being his path of conversion from a successful businessman, to a drug addict living in the streets, to a “manly man” crusading priest.

The interesting thing is that even if Corapi is found innocent of the accusations, his life-style and financial dealings have attracted more scrutiny. He is currently a priest with SOLT (Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity), While many other Society members give all money earned back to the Society and live on a modest stipend, Corapi is not bound by a vow of poverty. In fact, Corapi is the president and CEO of his own “for-profit” company, Santa Cruz Media, Inc, that produces tapes, CDs, DVDs, books and promotional materials for “his” ministry. He lives independent of his order in his own home. Given his religious “rock-star” status, Corapi is a roman-collar who hardly answers to any religious authority.

Monday, April 4, 2011


When he was Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill proclaimed that, “All politics is local.” Recent events remind us that the same is true of the Catholic Church – “All religion is local.”

March 2011 was a tough month for the Church. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia was disgraced by the discovery that it had covered up sex abuse accusations concerning 37 of its priests. The Jesuits of the Oregon Province announced they would pay 133 million dollars to past victims of abuse at their schools for Native-American youngsters. Meanwhile, newly discovered documents revealed that the Jesuits of the Chicago Province had mishandled numerous complaints of repeated sexual abuse by their Father McGuire, who is now in prison. And Chicago’s Cardinal George, who has his own story of mishandling the abuse case of Father Dan Mc Cormack, decided to wield his Episcopal blunderbuss to wound one of his most creative priests (Father Mike Pfleger), one of the nation’s most vibrant African-American parishes (St. Sabina’s) and a legendary Chicago sportswriter (Dan McGrath) who had dedicated his retirement years to salvaging Leo High School on the Southside of the city. Also Church leaders continued their crusade against women priests, gays and lesbians, as well as Democratic politicians.

So that’s some of what was happening on the non-local scene.

Meanwhile, the local manifestation of the Church was doing quite fine on its own, thank you very much. For example, how did some Chicago parishes fill the gap created by their decision to cancel their annual St. Patrick’s Day parade down 103rd Street? It had grown to gargantuan proportions and had been bedeviled by a bevy of drunk and disorderly collegians. But nature abhors a vacuum, so they came up with a St. Baldrick’s Day celebration on March 17. It started with the seventh graders at St. Barnabas school. In seeking to support a classmate who had suffered from cancer since he was in second grade, they discovered St. Baldricks, an organization in California which seeks to fund research on childhood cancer by sponsoring communal head shavings. So the kids mobilized students, families and fellow parishioners who would pledge support for those willing to lose their locks for the cause. You can view the results on You Tube. It was wonderful.

The pastor went first, receiving a mighty cheer as his primal baldness was revealed. Then 120 others followed. Boys and their Dads were shaved. Girls and their Moms had their long tresses shorn. Neighboring parishes joined in with their own events. At the end of the day they had raised $47,000 for the cause. Everyone was so proud of the spirit of generosity and compassion which flowed out into the entire community. And just as we wince, when Church officials on the non-local level besmirch the word, “Catholic”, we can be proud together when we hear about the abundant goodness at the grassroots.

There is hope.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fr. Michael Ryan Changes His Tune

Over a year ago Seattle priest, Fr Michael Ryan, launched a project called, "What If We Just Said Wait?" The project, recommended a delay in use of the new translation of the missal because the word-for-word translation from Latin was "clumsy, awkward and alien to spoken English. Ryan’s web site, , has gathered over 22,000 signatures to-date.

Enter the new bishop for Seattle, J. Peter Sartain (formerly of the Joliet diocese of Illinois). The rumor was that Sartain called Ryan on the carpet and told him there would be no dissension in the ranks, particularly from the rector of St. James Cathedral. Now Ryan has publicly stated that the implementation of the new texts was inevitable and that his parish would cooperate in their use despite his personal reservations. Hmmm….

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Stalag 13

Cardinal George has hit again on one of his recently favorite themes: the hierarchical authority to govern others. In his farewell address as Chairman of the USCCB, George said “bishops are more prepared to “take possession of their vocation,” not just as teachers and preachers, but as governors who exercise, however reluctantly, “the power to punish.”

Most recently, in breaking ground on a frat-house sized college seminary on the grounds of Loyola University he talked about priesthood as the authority to “govern” others.

The Archdiocesan paper, the “Catholic New World” provides a few highlights of the Cardinal’s speech.

* The Archdiocese of Chicago is building a new facility to educate and form priests, men who are entrusted with the governance of the church, the cardinal said.

* The need for governance as Jesus would have governed is so important that it is one of two things the cardinal said he asks seminarians to particularly consider — in addition to celibacy — as they discern whether they are called to the priesthood.

* For a generation, the cardinal said, some church leaders have declined to govern, falsely interpreting “pastoral” to mean approving of things that are not in accordance with God’s law. To be a true pastor, a priest must “love his people in Christ’s name. If he doesn’t, his governance is illegitimate. But in that love, the priest is to act in such a way that the people become holy because they follow his instructions.”

The Cardinal’s insistence on bishops’ and priests’ (not deacons?) authority to dictate to the “Church above” is vaguely reminiscent of Colonel Wilhelm Klink’s and General Burkhalter’s authority at Stalag 13 in the old Hogan Heroes TV series. Confident in their own leadership, they are largely oblivious to a whole range of activities and agendas that are going on unnoticed and underground. A whole society is productively humming along, while letting the powers-that-be pretend to be in charge.

While there are several Sargent Schultzes out there, many parishes, pastors and parishioners play the game of nodding assent to the hierarchy’s grand schemes and pretenses of authority, all the while knowing that the real love and work of Jesus is in the base faith communities – the Church as the People of God. They are the humble “Church Below”.

I even think that Francis George looks a little like Werner Klemperer. What do you think?

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Chicago Seminaries – The Plan That Never Happened

The Chicago Archdiocese once boasted two high-school seminaries. The consolidated Quigley Seminary closed its doors in 2007. The property is now Archdiocesean office space. The College seminary has shrunk into the size of a frat house at Loyola’s Lakeshore Campus. The major seminary, St. Mary of the Lake, is still in the “enchanted forest” in Mundelein.

According to a former seminary rector, some innovative plans were discussed for the seminaries decades ago, but were never implemented…

The years were in the late 1960’s. The college years had already been transferred to Niles. (John) Gorman, (Gene) Lyons, (John) O’Donnell, and (John) Fahey were rectors of our four seminaries. I think that it was Gorman who suggested a seminary study to Cody. The Cardinal assigned Bishop Tom Grady to head the study. A management consulting firm was hired. The study took two years, many joint committee meetings, with each seminary faculty providing members. I never saw a print-out of the final report that was given to Cody. I know that it proposed a Chicago seminary that would be “ urban, university-centered, and ecumenical.”

In the end, a group of Mundelein faculty disagreed with the draft consensus. I think that they found a way to inform the cardinal of their dissent. The cardinal called a formal meeting of his consultors. The results of the study (with whatever data had been gathered) were shelved.

The implementation of the recommendations would have been startling. The proposed seminary would have been unique in American Catholic education, more like Louvain than Catholic University. I think that other bishops would have shrunk away from the idea. The proposal was still-born. But who knows? If the study itself were re-examined, it might be more feasible now.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Priests threaten Mass exodus over changes to liturgy

Bob McClory recently reflected that the New Mass revisions may be a tough sell It seems that many local pastors are resigned that the new liturgy is “a done deal” and “you can’t fight city hall”. One Chicago “married priest” stated “For myself, I haven’t decided if I would boycott the “new” Mass,or if I will simply come out of “forced retirment” as a priest, find a location, and start saying Mass for others who are also repulsed by this change.” Yet in Ireland and Australia there seem to be many canonical priests who would rather fight than switch.

Priests threaten Mass exodus over changes to liturgy

by Leesha McKenny and Barney Zwartz

February 19, 2011

THE Catholic Church is facing open defiance over its new Mass, with at least a dozen Australian priests indicating they will refuse to use it when it comes into force later this year.

Hundreds more are angry about the lack of consultation for the new, more literal translation of the 400-year-old Latin text, which was heavily influenced by a Vatican advisory committee headed by the Sydney Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell.

What supporters say is a suitably elevated and poetic text more faithful to the original Latin is seen by detractors as an outdated, contrived and less inclusive version that ignores modern English and could further alienate Catholics from the church. It has become the latest battleground in the culture wars between progressive Catholics and traditionalists over the direction of reforms stemming from the 1960s Vatican Council, which allowed the faithful to celebrate the liturgy in their own language for the first time.

To be gradually introduced from June, the new Mass will be the compulsory version of the English mass by November.

But Father John Crothers, the parish priest of St Declan's parish in Penshurst, said he could not in good conscience use the text, which he believed to go against the 1960s Vatican Council's spirit of ''aggiornamento'', meaning ''up-to-date''.

''I've no problems with changing things - it's part of my philosophy that you've got to change and grow and develop. It's the fact that this is going backwards instead of going forwards,'' he said. ''I won't be saying the priest part. If the people wanted to do the responses in the new translation, it's up to them.''

In Ireland this month a group representing more than 400 priests publicly denounced the new translation as ''archaic, elitist and obscure'' and urged their bishops to delay the changes for at least five years until the clergy and laity were consulted.

The chairman of the National Council of Priests of Australia, Father Ian McGinnity, said hundreds of its 1600 members were ''pretty steamed up'' at the Vatican's lack of consultation but most had not yet decided how to respond. At least a dozen had indicated they would not use the new English translation, he said.

''We're also very concerned that the language, the idiom, might perhaps estrange more Catholics from participation in the Eucharist,'' he said.
Asked what sanctions a local bishop could apply to defiant priests, Father McGinnity said: "I really don't know. I suppose he could suspend a bloke. But given the [priest] shortage, it's unlikely."

Father Crothers said he had told Cardinal Pell his position at a clergy conference last year.

''I said at the conference, 'I won't be doing it, and where do I stand there?' And he's just said that he expected all the priests will do it.''

Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, the vice-chairman of the international translation committee, said consultation had been extensive but there would have to be ''dialogue and encouragement'' with opponents. ''I think a lot of the criticism is really a fear of what we think the thing is, and when we get to the reality, it's not like that at all.''

The executive director of the National Liturgy Commission, Peter Williams, who has spent the past year travelling the country to explain the new Mass, said it had already been successfully introduced in New Zealand.

''I think that's what's going to happen here. Of course there will be some irritability, but in due course people will have made the change."