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.