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Koched up.

In the fall of 2013, the Catholic University of America announced a $1 million pledge from the Koch Foundation, one of the many not-for-profit outfits with strong ties to the billionaire libertarians David and Charles Koch. The money, according to the university, would go to the business school, allowing it to hire professors and offer a course on "principled entrepreneurship." You may remember the Kochs from their charitable efforts to undermine public-employee unions, to support a campaign against renewable-energy standards, to suppress the vote, or to discredit the minumum wage (which the U.S. bishops want to raise).

A group of about fifty Catholic theologians certainly remembered. They sent a disapproving letter to Catholic University, voicing their concern that by accepting the grant, the university was sending "a confusing message to Catholic students and other faithful Catholics that the Koch brothers’ anti-government, Tea Party ideology has the blessing of a university sanctioned by Catholic bishops." But university president John Garvey and business-school dean Andrew Abela remained unmoved. They replied by pointing out that several of the professors cash paychecks from universities that accept Koch money, and accused them of trying to "score political points."

If any of those theologians were clinging to the hope that, given enough time, Garvey and Abela might come around to the idea that there's something odd about a Catholic business school accepting money from people who are so deeply committed shrinking the social safety net, cutting taxes, weakening environental regulations, ending the minimum wage, and busting unions, they can let go now. Because Catholic University's business school recently accepted another $1.75 million pledge from the Charles Koch Foundation (in addittion to $1.25 million from other donors).

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An interview with Archbishop Blase Cupich.

A few days before Christmas, I interviewed Blase Cupich, who was recently installed as Chicago's ninth archbishop. We spoke about the Synod on the Family, immigration, the sexual-abuse scandal, the bishops conference, and more. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

GG: As you mentioned, the pope speaks often about the need to foster a culture of encounter and accompaniment. This seems key to his idea of church—a church that goes out of itself and should not fear the discomfort that entails. How is that approach changing the temperament of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops?

BC: Institutions are constitutionally prone to protecting themselves, and being conservative in that sense. There are any number of forces in our society today that erode institutional life. We can’t be naïve about that. There are those who would like to truncate the freedom of religion—especially of the Catholic Church, given its footprint in society. At the same time, we can’t let that drive our agenda. That’s what the business of “Be not afraid,” which John Paul II said, is about. We have to be mission-oriented.

In the readings for the Feast of the Assumption, Mary goes off to the hill country to visit Elizabeth, and the image that one comes away with is that this dragon—mentioned in the first reading from Revelation—is chasing Mary. But Mary is not directed by the dragon’s pursuit. In the Gospel we hear that she is directed by her desire to help Elizabeth. The church has to use that image of itself. The trajectory of our pilgrimage is not going to be determined by an escape from forces that are out to harm us. It has to be a trajectory that is determined by helping people. That’s why the pope said we can’t be a self-referential church.

GG: The ethic of accompaniment seems to have guided the pope’s design of the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family. Some bishops expressed some confusion about that meeting—whether it was over the media’s coverage of the synod, or what actually took place.

BC: The media is not to blame at all. I think the media reported what actually took place. What really took place at the synod was that a majority of the bishops voted for all the proposals that were there in the final summary document. And I think Cardinal Timothy Dolan said that at the November bishops meeting. It’s true that three of the paragraphs [about divorce and gay people] did not get two-thirds majority support, but they got more than a majority. That’s what’s new. That’s the story. Those hot-button topics had been highlighted, and the majority of synod bishops voted for proposals that said we need to consider aspects of these issues.

The pope has a firm belief that the spirit of the risen Lord is working in our midst and is alive in the hearts of people—and we cannot squelch that voice. We have to look for ways to listen to how the Lord is working in the lives of people. That’s why the pope said to the synod fathers, “Don’t come to the synod and say ‘You can’t say that’”—because it may be the spirit of Christ who is calling us to say these things. And we have to listen to that.

Read the rest right here.

The Curious Case of Carlos Urrutigoity (VIII)

This is the conclusion of a series of posts on the Urrutigoity case. Read the first part here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here, the fifth here, the sixth here, and the seventh here.

“I want to assure everyone,” Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano wrote in 2008, “that I have never hidden or protected anyone convicted of any crime.” The bishop was attempting to quell the outcry of Catholics in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, over his decision to invite an accused priest and his followers—the Society of St. John—to establish themselves in his diocese. “My track record in these cases is very clear,” Livieres continued. “Just as I have not hesitated to convict the guilty, neither will I punish an innocent victim of slander.” The victim, according to Livieres, was Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity, an Argentine native who has been followed by allegations of sexual misconduct across three countries over three decades.

That troubling history, readily available to anyone with an internet connection, made it difficult for many Ciudad del Este Catholics to take their bishop at his word. So in 2009 they mounted a campaign against him, enlisting the support of other Paraguayan bishops and priests, who took the case to Pope Benedict XVI. But, unbeknownst to them, Livieres claimed to have the support of Benedict—in part because of their shared fondness for the Latin Mass. Livieres’s critics would not receive a satisfying response to their complaints until Benedict retired—and Pope Francis was elected.

Livieres was installed as bishop of Ciudad del Este in 2004. Before he even arrived, Livieres—a member of the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei—caused consternation among the bishops, priests, and laypeople of Paraguay. The bishops were surprised by John Paul II’s decision to appoint Livieres because his name was not on the terna—the list of three names recommended by the local bishops conference. Soon after Livieres took over in Ciudad del Este, more than one hundred fifty clerics wrote to Pope Benedict XVI to protest the bishop’s “renewal of church discipline” and “new pastoral guidelines,” as Livieres would later put it. But Benedict did not respond, according to an account Livieres wrote in 2014. Instead, Benedict told him to “form a new clergy,” according to the bishop. He took that advice, and established his own seminary. That failed to go over with other bishops, who wanted to know what was wrong with the main seminary in Asunción.

Livieres also clashed with his fellow bishops over the candidacy of former bishop Fernando Armindo Lugo Méndez, who ran for president of Paraguay in 2008—and won. Lugo had ties to the liberation-theology movement, which Livieres long opposed. But Livieres also criticized Lugo for fathering children before he left the episcopate—and his brother bishops for remaining “silent” about it. During a radio interview, the archbishop of Asunción, Pastor Cuquejo Verga, publicly called for the Vatican to investigate Livieres. In a follow-up interview, Livieres rebuffed Cuquejo’s suggestion, and called him a homosexual.

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The Curious Case of Carlos Urrutigoity (VII)

This is the seventh in a series of posts on the Urrutigoity case. Read the first part here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here, the fifth here, and the sixth here.

In November 2003, Joseph Martino attended his first meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops after succeeding James Timlin as bishop of Scranton, Pennsylvania. During the weeks following his October 1 installation Mass, Martino had been briefed on the scandal Timlin brought to the diocese in 1997 when he allowed the Society of St. John, a band of traditionalist clerics looking for a home, to set up shop in Scranton. As Martino walked down the aisle of the USCCB convention hall, flanked by nearly all the nation’s bishops, he turned to his auxiliary bishop, John Dougherty, and said, “I think we need to suppress that group.”

But Dougherty wasn’t convinced. Canonically suppressing the Society of St. John, he worried, might put Martino “in the position of attempting to undo an administrative act of his predecessor,” he wrote to a canon lawyer in early 2003. The “administrative act” Dougherty had in mind was Bishop Timlin’s decision to approve the Society of St. John as a “public association of the faithful,” which afforded the group certain rights under canon law—including the right to appeal to the Vatican.  

Timlin’s “Decree of the Erection of the Society of St. John” was issued just a year after he met the group, then led by Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity—a native of Argentina. In the spring of 1997, Urrutigoity and his followers were ousted from the Society of St. Pius X—a schismatic organization that rejects the reforms of Vatican II—after it was discovered that they planned to establish a more spiritually rigorous group within the SSPX. Urrutigoity convinced Bishop Timlin that SSJ priests and deacons wanted to return to the Catholic Church in order to promote the old Latin Mass. Timlin was known as a friend to those who preferred the pre-Vatican II liturgy. Urrutigoity claimed that his fondest hope was to establish a seminary, a liberal-arts college, and a Catholic village. None of that would come to pass, as the Society’s efforts became mired in allegations of financial and sexual misfeasance.

Without running background checks on SSJ members, Bishop Timlin secured their reconciliation with Rome and made them priests of the Diocese of Scranton. But a year later, in 1999, Timlin learned that Urrutigoity had been accused of fondling a seminarian before arriving in Scranton. Urrutigoity denied the allegation. Even though three diocesan investigators told the bishop they found the accusation “credible,” Timlin did not sanction Urrutigoity. Later, when Society members were accused of sharing their beds with, and providing alcohol to, high-school boys, Urrutigoity promised that nothing immoral had transpired. Timlin just told SSJ members to stop such practices. The bishop did not discipline any SSJs until 2002, when a federal lawsuit alleged that Fr. Eric Ensey, a member of the Society of St. John, had sexually assaulted the plaintiff—and that Urrutigoity had fondled the young man while he slept. Timlin suspended the priests. Both of them denied the accusations under oath, and the lawsuit settled in 2005 for nearly half a million dollars. (Ensey, Urrutigoity, and Timlin could not be reached for comment.)

The canonical cover Timlin helped to provide for the Society of St. John would make it difficult for his successor to discipline the group. Adding to that difficulty was a letter of support for the SSJ that Timlin wrote in 2007, which found its way to the Vatican. Timlin’s efforts on behalf of the SSJs may have helped pave the way for their reappearance after Martino finally suppressed them in 2004. Ten years after Martino issued that decree, Urrutigoity would be named second in command of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. Last September, amid public outcry over the promotion of Urrutigoity, Pope Francis removed Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano, the man who reestablished the SSJ in South America, where several members still reside.

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Through dry bones.

CHICAGO -- The sea of black rose last night as the procession music began: a spiritual, complete with drums and tamborine and energetic choir, a Spanish hymn, followed by another spiritual. The mostly clerical congregation turned toward the rear of the church as the third selection came to a close. "Plenty good room," the chorus sang, "just choose your seat and sit down." The assembled stood in silence, waiting for the new archbishop to seek admittance to Holy Name Cathedral. He knocked three times. The sound echoed through the church, the bronze doors were opened by Msgr. Dan Mayall, pastor of the parish, and Blase Cupich entered what was about to become his cathedral. He was met with uproarious applause.

"All Are Welcome," accompanied the procession, as ecumenical and interrelegious guests moved up the aisle, impressing the assembly with their traditional dress--the colors popping bright against the surrounding black suits. Cupich ascended the sanctuary steps, and turn to face the church. His face took on a look not too dissimilar from the expression on Pope Francis's face when he first appeared on the balcony of St. Peter's. But if the congregation sensed trepidation in his countenance, it was dispelled as soon as he saw Cardinal Francis George approach. Cupich smiled broadly, extended his arms toward the cardinal, and applauded emphatically. The whole church joined him.

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Archbishop Cupich to Chicago Catholics: I am your servant-leader.

CHICAGO -- In his first homily as archbishop of Chicago, Blase Cupich finally answered the question he's been asked over and over since it was announced that he would succeed Cardinal Francis George: What is your agenda? "If I have learned anything over these past four decades as a pastor, I know it is a disaster for me to have my own agenda." That's not because he doesn't have his own hopes and dreams, Cupich explained. Rather, it's that his agenda is "always too small." His agenda, he continued, is "prone to be self-serving, and ultimately unworthy of the people I am called to serve." Rather, "the agenda has to be God’s, which is beyond our imagining and our abilities."

Preaching on Ezekiel (37: 1-14), Cupich highlighted the prophet's concern "to inspire new life in the people living in exile, by offering a vision of the new city to be built by God.... They are like dry bones strewn carelessly to rot in an abandoned field under the scorching sun of oppression."

The archbishop named the dryness we find in our own lives today:

It is the dryness elderly and sick persons can experience when their strength gives way and their bones become unsteady, to the point that they begin to question their worth, their sense of purpose and even the faith that has heretofore directed their lives. We see that dryness caked in on the faces of the homeless street people, in the fatigue of the underemployed worker cobbling together three or four low paying jobs to make ends meet, but also in the hectic pace of the successful business owner whose long hours in the office leave little time for family meals and sharing, for rest and recreation.

Those in public service, Cupich admitted, experience their own dryness "in the tedium of attending to administrative details, which most often go unnoticed or unappreciated, in the frustration we feel as we are called upon to face enormous challenges with limited energies and shrinking resources, and whenever opportunities for real improvement are squandered by petty squabbles and divisive discourse."

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Cardinal George to Chicago Catholics: 'You are my legacy.'

CHICAGO -- The congregation gathered early at Holy Name Cathedral this morning. A half-hour before Cardinal Francis George would begin his final Mass as archbishop before Blase Cupich succeeds him this week, the narthex was nearly full. The people waited for 9:30 Mass-goers to vacate. Msgr. Dan Mayall, pastor of the cathedral (an associate pastor of my childhood parish twenty-odd years ago), greeted arriving parishioners as they came in from the snow, and departing ones as they returned to it.

A bank of cameras on the north side of the transept turned in toward the pews to watch them fill with a very Chicago crowd: Catholics of every ethnicity, some dressed up, others down, some draped in furs and others in NFL jerseys (the Bears were playing at home), suits and jeans, some with toddlers in tow, others carrying babies, or pushing grandparents, some single, others not, some fingered rosary beads, others scanned the expansive wooden ceiling with their smartphones for the perfect Instagram shot. Cameramen moved toward the center aisle, just before the break in the pews. One leaned down to let a couple know that he wouldn't be obstructing their view for the whole liturgy. "Why are all these video cameras here?" the husband asked. The cameraman explained: the cardinal's last Mass. From within his coat pocket the husband produced a camera of his own.

An usher approached as the procession was about to start. "No one in the aisle," he warned the journalists. Besides, "the cardinal doesn't always do the procession." This time he did.

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Was Bishop Livieres sacked for abuse-related reasons or not? (UPDATED)

"Vatican Says Bishop's Dismissal Not the Result of Sexual Abuse," read a Catholic News Service headline published Saturday. The story, written by Francis X. Rocca, tut-tuts those who interpreted the firing of Bishop Livieres of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, as a sign of a Vatican crackdown on sexual abuse. The diocese was investigated by the Vatican in July after local Catholics, including the archbishop of Asuncion, Paraguay, Pastor Cuquejo--the metropolitan bishop--reportedly complained to Rome about several aspects of Livieres's leadership. Among his concerns was Livieres's decision to accept and promote a priest, Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity, who had been accused of sexual misconduct by several people dating back to the late 1980s. Rocca's story suggests that Urrutigoity had little to do with Pope Francis's decision to replace Livieres.

Coming two days after the Vatican's arrest of former Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, pending a criminal trial on charges of paying for sex with boys during his time as nuncio to the Dominican Republic, the dismissal of Bishop Livieres appeared to be the latest step in a Vatican crackdown on sex abuse. But the Vatican says sex abuse was not a significant factor in Bishop Livieres's dismissal.

Here's what Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, SJ, told Rocca: "Let's not confuse Wesolowski and Livieres; one is a case of pedophilia, the other is not." Lombardi continued: "Livieres was not removed for reasons of pedophilia. That was not the principal problem." What was? "There were serious problems with his management of the diocese, the education of clergy, and relations with other bishops," Lombardi said."

That sounds a bit like what Lombardi said to the New York Times last week: “The important problem was the relations within the episcopacy and in the local church, which were very difficult.” He explained that the accusations against Urrutigoity were “not central, albeit have been debated.”

For his part, Livieres, a member of Opus Dei, maintains that he was the victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by nefarious practitioners of liberation theology, presumably not those who were recently invited to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith--or were they? Considering this explanation comes from a man who on more than one occasion publicly called his metropolitan gay, it may not be totally reliable.

But is Lombardi's?

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Divided on Religious Liberty

A new poll finds Americans are sharply divided on the question of religious liberty. The Public Religion Research Institute reports:

Nearly half (46%) of Americans say they are more concerned about the government interfering with the ability of people to freely practice their religion, while an equal number (46%) say they are more concerned about religious groups trying to pass laws that force their beliefs on others.

Despite the U.S. Catholic bishops' campaign to highlight religious liberty as an issue, a majority of Catholics (51 percent) fall into the latter camp, while 42 percent said they were more concerned that the government was trying to interfere with the practice of religion. The poll highlights generational and gender differences among Catholics.

Millenials, aged 18 to 34, are far more likely to be concerned about religious groups tyring to impose thier beliefs on others, while those 69 and older are much more likely to be concerned about government interference. Catholic men were evenly divided on this issue, but women were more likely to be concerned about religious groups (55 percent) than they were about government interference with religion (36 percent).

 

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What Is a "Francis Bishop," Anyway?

The appointment of a successor for Chicago's Cardinal Francis George had been anticipated as Francis's first big chance to make a major impact on the U.S. church. When his selection of Blase Cupich was announced, the religion journalist Amy Sullivan tweeted, "Since March 2013, we've all been saying, Wait until he fills the Chicago seat--that'll tell us whether he's for real. @Pontifex is for real." The choice, many observers agreed, was proof that Francis really does want to develop a different kind of leadership, not just in Rome but in America too.

I noted in a post last week that Francis had surprised me by doing what I most hoped he would do -- articulating a vision of episcopal leadership that deemphasized culture-war posturing and called for bishops to be "dedicated to repairing divisions, not deepening them." News accounts of the "Francis effect" tend to refer to his noteworthy personal choices since he became pope -- things like living in a small set of rooms instead of the papal apartments, eschewing some of the more regal vestments of the office, and saying friendly, almost offhand things like "Who am I to judge?" when speaking to reporters about controversial issues. Certainly the pope is setting an example when he does these things. But he has also spelled out the changes he wants to bring about in explicit terms, and anyone who wants to know what a bishop in the era of Francis ought to be like need only read what Francis has said on the subject. 

Francis's apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium is specifically addressed to the church's mission of evangelization, but for Francis that subject provides an opportunity to spell out in detail the ways in which the church itself needs to undergo "conversion" to communicate the Gospel more faithfully and effectively. This paragraph, in which he lays out a set of goals and desired traits for bishops, ought to  be tacked above the desk of every ordinary in the U.S. If Francis really was intimately involved in the selection of Bishop Cupich for Chicago -- which I have no reason to doubt -- it's safe to conclude that he found in Cupich a candidate likely to fulfill this vision:

31. The bishop must always foster this missionary communion in his diocesan Church, following the ideal of the first Christian communities, in which the believers were of one heart and one soul (cf. Acts 4:32). To do so, he will sometimes go before his people, pointing the way and keeping their hope vibrant. At other times, he will simply be in their midst with his unassuming and merciful presence. At yet other times, he will have to walk after them, helping those who lag behind and – above all – allowing the flock to strike out on new paths. In his mission of fostering a dynamic, open and missionary communion, he will have to encourage and develop the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law, and other forms of pastoral dialogue, out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear. Yet the principal aim of these participatory processes should not be ecclesiastical organization but rather the missionary aspiration of reaching everyone.

More than what they wear or where they live or what kind of car they travel in, if you want to know whether a bishop is living up to the expectations of Pope Francis, you can look to this striking vision of pastoral leadership. It's not vague or empty of substance. It's quite specific, and demanding. (There's even a footnote in the original indicating which specific canons he refers to.) Is your bishop an "unassuming and merciful presence" in your midst? Is he doing everything he can to "reach everyone"? Is he the kind of shepherd who "above all" is concerned with "allowing the flock to strike out on new paths," as he walks behind giving merciful assistance to stragglers? That's what Francis thinks the church needs. That's a Francis bishop.

UPDATE: You can hear more from me about Francis and his plans for the church by attending the Feast of St. Francis Lecture at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on October 2. Details here.

Archbishops Playing House

If anyone were keeping a list of Flimsiest Religious Exposes of the Year, here is a contender.  It’s a report from CNN’s Belief Blog exposing “The Lavish Homes of American Archbishops,” and it is now eliciting predictably self-righteous comments around the Web.  

It’s a pretty pretentious piece of work, complete with photos that will shock almost everyone who has never driven through an upscale neighborhood and concluding with a bragging note on “How We Reported This Story.”

“Records reveal that 10 of the country's top church leaders defy the Pope's example and live in residences worth more than $1 million,” the story begins breathlessly. 

“Defy” the Pope’s example?  $1 million?  Please remember that the infamous German “Bishop of Bling” whom Francis ousted was spending $43 million to remodel a palatial residence, $300,000 for a new fish tank, $2.38 million for bronze window frames, almost $1 million for the garden, etc., etc.

If you know anything about real estate prices and about the number of archdiocesan residences built in the day when American Catholics expected their leaders to live like VIPs, as well as about the number of archbishops’ residences that also house offices, reception areas, chapels, and rooms for other priests—well, then, you might be surprised that CNN’s Belief Blog found only ten of 34 archbishops so shamefully lodged.  Certainly I was.  And I suspect CNN was also. 

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Till Death Do Them Part?

Those who are opposed to Cardinal Walter Kasper's proposal that some divorced and remarried Catholics be allowed to receive the Eucharist might want to reconsider whether the Church has been wise in allowing the widowed to remarry.

In their critique of Kasper's proposal, a group of American Dominicans points out that there was much disagreement in the early Church about whether widows and widowers should be allowed to remarry. Even many of those who believed they should be allowed to do so thought remarriage should at least be discouraged. But the case for not allowing an abandoned spouse to remarry is very similar to the case for not allowing the widow or widower to remarry—namely, that marriage is indissoluble, a sacramental figuration of Christ's covenant with his Church, a covenant not even death can dissolve. Can one think of another sacrament whose effects are supposed to be nullified by death? [For an obvious answer to this, see Fritz Bauerschmidt's comment below.]

Defenders of the Church's current practice demand that the abandoned spouse persevere in chastity. Why should the Church not demand the same of the widowed? Both are victims of a circumstance beyond their control. One possible response is that the dead never come back to life (or never come back to this life), whereas it is never impossible that someone who abandons his or her wife or husband may repent of it and seek reconciliation. This sort of thing has been known to happen, after all, and when it does, it's can be a profound evidence of grace. It's also exceedingly rare, especially when the unfaithful spouse goes on to have children with another partner.

Practically, then, the abandoned spouse is in the same position as the widow or widower: in both cases, chastity would seem to require heroic virtue. From very early in its history, the church decided not to demand such virtue of widows and widowers, despite its original preference that they not remarry. The question now is why it should demand such virtue of those whose first spouse is "dead to them," often through no fault of their own.

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Archbishop Nienstedt under investigation. (UPDATED)

Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis is being investigated for “multiple allegations” of inappropriate sexual conduct with seminarians, priests, and other men, according to the archbishop’s former top canon lawyer, Jennifer Haselberger. The investigation is being conducted by a law firm hired by the archdiocese. Nienstedt denies the allegations.

The investigation was spurred by information the archdiocese received late last year, according to another person with knowledge of the investigation. (This inquiry is not related to a December 2013 accusation that Nienstedt touched a boy’s buttocks during a confirmation photo shoot. The archbishop denied that allegation, and, following an investigation, the county prosecutor did not bring charges. Reportedly the case has been reopened.) Near the end of the year, it came to light that a former Twin Cities priest had accused Nienstedt of making unwanted sexual advances.

The archbishop agreed to hire an outside law firm to investigate the accusation. By early 2014, the archdiocese had selected the top-ranked Minneapolis firm of Greene Espel. Nienstedt, along with auxiliary bishops Lee Piché and Andrew Cozzens, flew to Washington, D.C., to inform the apostolic nuncio of the allegations. Over the course of the investigation, lawyers have interviewed current and former associates and employees of Nienstedt—including Haselberger, who resigned in protest in April 2013.

“Based on my interview with Greene Espel—as well as conversations with other interviewees—I believe that the investigators have received about ten sworn statements alleging sexual impropriety on the part of the archbishop dating from his time as a priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit, as Bishop of New Ulm, and while coadjutor and archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis,” Haselberger told me. What’s more, “he also stands accused of retaliating against those who refused his advances or otherwise questioned his conduct.”

The allegations are nothing more than a “personal attack against me due to my unwavering stance on issues consistent with church teaching, such as opposition to so-called same-sex marriage,” Nienstedt said in a written statement. He also suspects that accusers are coming forward because of “difficult decisions” he has made, but, citing privacy laws, he would not elaborate.

“I have never engaged in sexual misconduct and certainly have not made any sexual advances toward anyone,” Nienstedt told me. “The allegations are a decade old or more, prior to my service as archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis,” he continued, emphasizing that “none of the allegations involve minors or illegal or criminal behavior.” The “only accusation,” Nienstedt explained, is of “improper touching (of the person’s neck),” and was made by a former priest.

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USCCB meeting live

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meets today. Watch live here.

How should the church be governed?

SAN DIEGO -- At the Catholic Theological Society of America meeting on Saturday, Archbishop John R. Quinn, emeritus of San Franciscio, responded to critiques of his 2013 book on reforning structures of church governance, Ever Ancient, Ever New. Quinn, who served as president of the U.S. bishops conference from 1977 to 1980, previewed that volume's arguments in a talk he delivered at Stanford last year. "Media reports dealing with reform tend to focus on clerical celibacy and on the ordination of women and on the reform of the Curia," he said. "These are important topics, but it would be a mistake to stop there."

The reform he urges involves decentralizing papal authority and increasing the authority of local bishops conferences. In order to achieve those goals, Quinn argued, the church has to establsh regional bishops conferences and episcopal synods that would carry out the administration of the local church (e.g., appointing bishops, handling liturgical issues, etc.). These reforms were called for by the bishops at Vatican II, according to Quinn. After Pope John Paul II asked for recommendations on reforming the papacy in Ut Unum Sint, Quinn published a book about these issues called The Reform of the Papacy (1999). Yet throughout his ponificate, John Paul continued to centralize authority in the office of the pope. Local bishops conferences lost authority. "To date," Quinn told the Stanford audience, "fifty years after the council, no deliberative synod has ever been held." His latest book is an attempt to reignite the conversation he began nearly twenty-five years ago.

The first respondent to Quinn's book was Amanda Osheim of Loras College, and the second was Joseph Komonchak (who requires no introduction here). I've collected my tweets of the session below, so remember: you may find some typos; unless you see quotation marks, I'm paraphrasing; and owing to the density and speed of the remarks, I may not have captured the speakers' intent with total clarity. The tweet parade begins after the jump.

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Why isn't academic theology conservative?

Are conservatives underrepresented in the theology and religion departments of our nation’s colleges and universities?

This was one of the questions discussed at the 2014 annual meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America and already here on this blog. It’s a question I’ve been pondering for some time, and I wrote about it once in these pages.

The basic answer is Yes. When compared to the overall percentage of conservatives in religious communities or society at large, conservatives are underrepresented in academic theology.

However, when compared to conservatism as represented in other academic fields, theology is not very different.

That’s why I think the more interesting question concerns academia on the whole, of which theology is just one field that fits the trend reasonably well. The results of the limited sociological studies on this issue, notably that of Matthew Woessner and April Kelly-Woessner (good summary here) and, more recently, that of Neil Gross, show that self-selection is the primary reason the professoriate leans liberal. There are few conservative professors because, under the current conditions, few conservatives want to become professors.

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An interview with Cardinal Kasper.

Cardinal Kasper (CNS/Paul Haring)Last week Matthew Boudway and I spoke with Cardinal Walter Kasper here in New York. We covered a lot of ground over the course of an hour. Naturally, some territory was left unexplored, but here's a sample of our conversation, which we just posted to the homepage.

Commonweal: In your book Mercy, you argue that mercy is basic to God’s nature. How is mercy key to understanding God?

Cardinal Walter Kasper: The doctrine on God was arrived at by ontological understanding—God is absolute being and so on, which is not wrong. But the biblical understanding is much deeper and more personal. God’s relation to Moses in the Burning Bush is not “I am,” but “I am with you. I am for you. I am going with you.” In this context, mercy is already very fundamental in the Old Testament. The God of the Old Testament is not an angry God but a merciful God, if you read the Psalms. This ontological understanding of God was so strong that justice became the main attribute of God, not mercy. Thomas Aquinas clearly said that mercy is much more fundamental because God does not answer to the demands of our rules. Mercy is the faithfulness of God to his own being as love. Because God is love. And mercy is the love revealed to us in concrete deeds and words. So mercy becomes not only the central attribute of God, but also the key of Christian existence. Be merciful as God is merciful. We have to imitate God’s mercy.

[...]

CWL: You also note that mercy and justice cannot be finally established here on earth, and that whoever has tried to create heaven on earth has instead created hell on earth. You say that this is true of ecclesiastical perfectionists too—those who conceive of the church as a club for the pure. How dominant is that view among church leadership today?

Kasper: There are those who believe the church is for the pure. They forget that the church is also a church of sinners. We all are sinners. And I am happy that’s true because if it were not then I would not belong to the church. It’s a matter of humility. John Paul II offered his mea culpas—for the teaching office of the church, and also for other behaviors. I have the impression that this is very important for Pope Francis. He does not like the people in the church who are only condemning others.

When it comes to the CDF’s criticisms of some theologians, there was not always due process. That’s evident, and here we must change our measures. This is also a problem when it comes to the question of Communion for divorced and remarried people, which is now under consideration in preparation for the Synod of Bishops this autumn. On the other hand, we have positive signs of mercy within the church. We have the saints, Mother Teresa—there are many Mother Teresas. This is also a reality of the church.

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Archbishop Gregory apologizes.

Last week I pointed out that Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta had recently moved into a $2.2-million, 6,200-square-foot home--an expense made possible by a $15-million bequest. Gregory had been living at the cathedral rectory, but apparently that parish is growing rapidly. The rector of the cathedral asked Gregory whether the parish could purchase the property from the archdiocese, and Gregory agreed. That's why he built the new residence. But in January, Gregory met with parishioners who weren't happy with that plan. They wanted him to sell the new building, move into the old one, and use the money to help the poor.

In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this month, Gregory and McNamee said the expenditures were necessary for their living arrangements and that it was too late to reverse course. They also noted the plans had been approved by governing bodies within their respective institutions.

“To undo what has been publicly announced for two years wouldn’t be a prudent use of archdiocese resources,” Gregory said.

Gregory also said he thinks the new home would have the pope’s blessing.

“He wants his bishops to engage with his people,” said Gregory, who was installed as archbishop in Atlanta in 2005. His new home, he said, allows for larger groups to visit; the grounds also are good for cookouts and other outdoor activities. In this way, said Gregory, he can follow the pope’s admonition to “smell like the flock” — to be close to parishioners.

“It’s important for me to connect,” he said. “And that’s another dominant theme for Pope Francis.”

The archbishop has had a change of heart. Yesterday he issued a long, remarkably candid apology, leading with a tough letter he received from a parishioner. “We are disturbed and disappointed to see our church leaders not setting the example of a simple life as Pope Francis calls for," she wrote.

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Francis ineffective?

BREAKING: Francis has not reversed decades-long trends in Catholic practice over the course of one year.

A new Pew Research poll shows what many Catholics might expect: Francis is really popular among the faithful. And lots of them still don't go to Mass very often. (Also Catholics still disagree with a bunch of church teachings.) Still, you'll find plenty of news stories leading with the claim that for all the excitement the pope has generated, it seems not to have put more people in the pews. Catholics say they're praying more--just not in church.

Aggregated Pew Research survey data reveal "no change in self-reported rates of Mass attendance among Catholic," according to the new report. And "in the year since Francis became pope, 40 percent of U.S. Catholics say they attend Mass at least once a week, unchanged from the months immediately preceding the papal transition."

That's not surprising. Mass attendance has been holding steady for years. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, for example, estimates the percentage of Catholics who attend Mass weekly somewhere in the mid-20s. CARA's data differ from Pew's because it uses both phone surveys, in which people tend to over-report socially desirable behavior, and self-administered surveys--respondents fill out a form--which seem to suffer less from over-reporting. (Read all about it.)

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Early warning.

If you read enough about the Catholic Church's sexual-abuse scandal--and I do--you come across several truisms. The cover-up was worse than the abuse. Ideology was no predictor of episcopal misfeasance. Americans failed to grasp the gravity of sexual abuse until relatively recently. But that last one has never sat very well with me. I remember joking with grade-school and high-school classmates in the 1980s and '90s about priests who seemed a little too interested in engineering alone time with students. We didn't know any priests who had abused, but we were aware of the phenomenon of abusive clerics. We sensed the threat they posed--enough to develop an appropriately morbid coping mechanism. (Lots of Irish Catholics among us, naturally.)

It's not that I reject the notion that it took a long time for Americans to figure out what sexual abuse does to kids--and how difficult it is for some abusers to stop. Of course, in the bad old days nobody wanted to talk about sex at all--let alone its perversion. And it's true that even when bishops were convinced that a priest had abused a minor, they tended to view the abuse as a sin, not a crime. Remove the temptation (reassign the priest), remove the occasion for sin. And yes, later, when psychologists got involved, many told bishops that chronic abusers could be treated and returned to ministry. We know better now. But didn't anyone know better then?

At least one person did. Her name is Sr. Peg Ivers. The Chicago Tribune caught up with her this week.

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