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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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Telling Vatican 'Secrets.'

Did you catch this week's episode of Frontline, "Secrets of the Vatican" (you can watch online right here)? Probably not the best title, given that the subjects it covers have been pretty well reported: Benedict's resignation, curial dysfunction, sexual abuse, Maciel's crimes, a gay clerical subculture in Rome, the Vatileaks scandal, corruption at the Vatican Bank. If you've been keeping up with those stories, you probably won't learn a lot viewing this film.

The first time I watched "Secrets of the Vatican," I found it slightly annoying.

The music: Is there some law requiring documentarians who cover the Catholic Church to score their work with spooky chant or cheese-ball action-movie music? It's distracting, especially when played behind the film's powerful interviews with victims of sexual abuse--including Maciel's son Raul Gonzales. (N.B.: When the film turns to Pope Francis's election and his focus on the poor, the music takes an appropriately humbler turn, replacing pipe organs with pan flutes. Cue Carson Zamfir joke.)

The reenactments: In the segment on the Vatican Bank scandals, the narrator describes the Italian authorites' surveillance operation, just as the camera pans across a roomful of official-looking men intently staring at computers, holding on a young man wearing headphones, leaning in toward the screen as though the thing was about to whisper the location of Jimmy Hoffa's body.

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Dredging Wobegon.

In early December a judge ordered the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to release its list of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse. Plaintiffs' attorneys received the names in a 2009 lawsuit, but the court sealed the list. The archdiocese long fought its release, but reversed course after Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reported that for years bishops had failed to inform police about a priest who had admitted to molesting boys. Archbishop John Nienstedt made the list public on December 5. It included the names of thirty-three men. But last week MPR reported that the actual number of accused priests was seventy. "Some of the...men remain in ministry," according to MPR. "Others are long dead." They worked in nearly every parish in the archdiocese.

(The same judge also ordered the archdiocese to release the names of all priests accused of abuse--not just those "credibly accused"--by February 18. The archdiocese appealed the order on that date, and has until February 26 to provide answers to a judge's questions.)

The archdiocese disputes MPR's account. In a statement released the day after MPR published its report online, the archdiocese claimed that "the twenty-eight clergy members identified by MPR have not been publicly disclosed by the archdiocese because they do not, to date, constitute substantiated claims of sexual abuse of a minor." The statement continued: "At least sixteen of the twenty-eight clergy members identified by MPR were the subject of false, meritless or unsubstantiated accusations against them."

What about the other twelve? "Over ten" of them, the archdiocese claims, "are not from our archdiocese and the allegations against them concern alleged conduct that occurred outside of this archdiocese." Still, they worked in the Twin Cities. According to the statement, such priests "are subject to the authority of other orders and dioceses and...the archdiocese does not have sufficient information or even jurisdiction to determine whether those foreign claims are credible or have been substantiated."

The list of the thirty-three released by the archdiocese was originally compiled by then-Vicar General Fr. Kevin McDonough in response to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' first sexual-abuse audit. So why did MPR find more than double that figure? The archdiocese, it turns out, had more than one list. "There were handwritten lists and e-mailed lists and memos about lists stored on computers and in filing cabinets at the chancery," according to MPR. Perhaps that's why in 2004 the archdiocese publicly acknowledged that it had received sixty-nine allegations over the previous fifty years, but two years later an internal memo obtained by MPR listed one hundred eighty victims. Obviously the record-keeping was a mess.

Apparently not all of it was accidental.

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Survey says.

Last week, Univision released a survey of twelve thousand Catholics in a dozen countries across five continents. The idea occurred to them after the Vatican asked the world's bishops conferences to find out what their people think about a range of social issues and report back. But, as the Univision survey's executive summary notes, "the papal questionnaire is not an opinion-gathering instrument." True, it's not exactly reader-friendly (several dioceses chose to adapt it in order to make it more intelligible to the people whose views it was designed to gather). Nor were its results easy to compile. So Univision sponsored a large-scale survey that would adhere to contemporary standards of data collection, and allow us to say with a measure of confidence: This what the world's Catholics think now.

The results won't shock you. (The German and Swiss bishops certainly weren't surprised.) They represent "an alarming trend for the Vatican," because the "majority of Catholics worldwide disagree with Catholic doctrine on divorce, abortion, and contraceptives," according to Bendixen and Amandi International--the communications firm that conducted the study. (It's been published a few ways: as an interactive feature, a slideshow, and an executive summary--which explains the survey's methodology.)

The country-by-country breakdown also holds few surprises. Generally speaking, the more developed a country is, the less likely its Catholics are to fully agree with certain church teachings. So, while a significant majority of U.S. Catholics (59 percent) say that women should be ordained priests, 81 percent of Ugandan Catholics disagree (the breakdown is similar on the question of married priests). Of course huge majorities of American Catholics (88 percent) have no problem with the use of artificial contraception. Ninety-four percent of French Catholics support the use of contraceptives--edging out Brazil's 93 percent to take the top spot in that category. And when it comes to divorce, the percentages line up similarly: 60 percent of U.S. Catholics believe that being divorced and remarried outside the church should not bar one from receiving Communion, while 72 percent of Catholics in the Democratic Republic of the Congo agree with that church teaching. On gay marriage, most Catholics agree with their bishops: about 40 percent of U.S. Catholics oppose it, compared with 99 percent of Catholic Africans.

The abortion results are more interesting.

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The prosecution rests.

Last Wednesday, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced that he would not charge Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis officials with failing to report suspected child abuse in the case of Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer. (He's still investigating several others.) In November 2012, Wehmeyer pleaded guilty to three counts of criminal sexual conduct and seventeen counts of possession of child pornography. He's serving a five-year prison term. Civil authorities began investigating after Minnesota Public Radio reported that the archdiocese had known about Wehmeyer's sexual misbehavior for years, failed to inform his parish staff, and left him in ministry--with disastrous results. (In another case, Washington County prosecutors announced that they would not charge a priest with possession of child pornography--more on that later in the week.)

Minnesota law requires a priest to notify the police when he suspects child abuse--within twenty-four hours, unless he acquires the information during confession or spiritual counseling. The archdiocese claims it received an allegation against Wehmeyer on June 19, 2012, and reported it to police the following day. "It is our belief," Choi explained at last week's press conference, "that a criminal jury would conclude that members of the archdiocese did not fail to comply with the mandatory reporting law in this case." At the same event, St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith claimed officers lacked probable cause for a subpoena or a warrant to search archdiocesan files. Hours later, MPR published a document signed by Archbishop John Nienstedt indicating that the archdiocese had received the allegation on June 18--two days before the archdiocese reported it to the police.

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Cardinal George revises history.

On Tuesday, the Archdiocese of Chicago released six thousand pages of documents related to the cases of thirty priests credibly accused of sexual abuse. The files, made public as part of a settlement with victims' attorneys, offer a predictably depressing view of archdiocesan failures over the past several decades. You know the dirge: priests quietly shuttled from parish to parish, civil authorities kept in the dark about some cases (and colluding with church officials to keep others from public scrutiny), laypeople and clergy failing to report allegations, bishops refusing to suspend dangerous priests.

For releasing these documents and for making public the names of known abuser-priests, Cardinal Francis George--archbishop of Chicago since 1997--takes some credit. "Publishing for all to read the actual records of these crimes," he wrote in a letter warning Chicagoans about the document dump, "raises transparency to a new level." Perhaps. But he didn't volunteer these files. They wouldn't have come out if it hadn't been for victims who pressed for their release as part of a legal settlement. Still, it's difficult to take seriously Cardinal George's brief for transparency when he seems so intent on obfuscating his own role in the scandal.

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Nienstedt's apologia tour.

Two days before the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced that it had received an allegation of sexual misconduct against Archbishop John Nienstedt, he visited a parish to apologize for the way he responded to accusations of sexual abuse by priests.

When I arrived here seven years ago, one of the first things I was told was that this whole issue of clerical sex abuse had been taken care of and I didn’t have to worry about it. Unfortunately I believed that. And so my biggest apology today...is to say I overlooked this. I should have investigated it a lot more than I did. [When the story broke] at the end of September, I was as surprised as anyone else.

Really? Because in 2009 Nienstedt's former top canon lawer, Jennifer Haselberger, warned him not to promote a priest with a history of sexual misconduct. Nienstedt made him a pastor (the priest was already administrator of the parish, thanks to the previous archbishop's bad judgment). The priest went on to abuse children in the parish. Haselberger provided Nienstedt with a golden opportunity to "investigate it more." Why wasn't he more alarmed? Where was his sense of urgency? Calmed by the assurance that in the Twin Cities "this whole issue of clerical sex abuse had been taken care of"?

And just last year Haselberger informed Nienstedt about another time bomb--this one was sitting in the chancery basement: a report indicating that "borderline illegal" pornographic images had been found on a priest's computer. Nienstedt did not report it to the police (in Minnesota, priests are mandated reporters). Haselberger did, just before she resigned.

Nienstedt was so troubled by the case that he considered contacting Rome for advice. In a detailed unsent letter to the Vatican, he acknowledged that this priest had possessed "borderline illegal" photographs of young people. He explained that he and the archdiocese could be subject to criminal prosecution for possessing such images (some were kept in the priest's long-buried personnel file). Nienstedt even expressed his "hesitation to assign [the priest] to any form of parochial ministry, given my doubts regarding his fitness for ministry and the potential harm and scandal that could ensue." That letter is dated May 29, 2012. But the archbishop wants Twin Cities Catholics to believe he was surprised when all this made headlines last September? Does he think they don't read the news?

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On the homepage: Minimal wages; Kaveny on ACLU & bishops

Two new items featured on the homepage today. First, the editors on working for less than a living wage:

Contrary to popular misconceptions nourished by some in the media, most of the low-wage workers who would benefit from a higher minimum wage are not teenagers earning a little pocket money and learning some basic job skills. More than 90 percent of them are adults and almost a third are parents. The federal government spends around $7 billion a year on public assistance just for the families of fast-food workers. If conservative lawmakers are serious about streamlining entitlement programs and promoting self-reliance, they should be lining up behind proposals to raise the minimum wage.

So why aren’t they? It isn’t for lack of public support. A large majority of voters from both parties are in favor of raising the minimum wage. Whatever their opinions about welfare, most Americans agree with Adam Smith that those who work for a living should actually make one. Opponents of a higher minimum wage say it will only hurt the poor by reducing the number of jobs: when labor costs are higher, they warn, employers will hire fewer workers. This argument has a certain intuitive force, but several recent studies suggest that modest minimum-wage increases have no significant effect on employment levels. Lobbyists for retailers and fast-food restaurants also argue that higher wages will drive up business costs, which will be passed along to consumers as higher prices. But research suggests that a $10.10 minimum wage would add only a few pennies to the price of a hamburger. The lobbyists don’t mention that the big corporations they represent could also absorb some of the higher labor costs by accepting lower profit margins.

Read the whole thing here.

Also, Cathleen Kaveny looks deeper into the ACLU's complaint against the USCCB in the case of Tamesha Means, who allegedly received medically negligent treatment in the course of her pregnancy and miscarriage at a Catholic health facility:

The alleged negligent act: promulgating the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.

According to the complaint, the USCCB is responsible because it “directed the course of care Plaintiff received.” ... According to the plaintiff, Directive 27 does not require Catholic hospitals to disclose the option of a “previability pregnancy termination,” because (she claims) the church does not see it as morally legitimate. The plaintiff also blames Directive 45, which prohibits abortion. That directive reads: “Every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion, which, in its moral context, includes the interval between conception and implantation of the embryo.” The plaintiff contends that Directive 45 prevented [the hospital] from either completing the miscarriage or referring her to a place that would do so.

But has Means identified the right defendants? Contrary to popular belief, the USCCB does not have the power to tell individual bishops—or Catholic health-care systems—what to do and what not to do.

Read the whole thing here.

Archbishop Nienstedt steps aside after sexual-misconduct allegation.

Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis has stepped aside after it was alleged that he inappropriately touched a minor on the rear end during a group-photo shoot in 2009. In a letter to Twin Cities Catholics, the archbishop denies the allegation. "I do not know the individual involved," he wrote. "He has not been made known to me. I presume he is sincere in believing what he claims, but I must say that this allegation is absolutely and entirely false." After consulting with the papal nuncio, Nienstedt decided to voluntarily relinquished his public duties until an investigation is complete (Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché will take over).

"Upon learning of the allegation last week, the archdiocese instructed the mandated reporter to make the matter known to the police," according to a diocesan statement. The archdiocese promises to cooperate with civil authorities. Nienstedt's decision to withdraw from public ministry, the statement claims, demonstrates "the archdiocese’s commitment to disclosure. These steps further confirm that all within the archdiocese will be subject to the internal policies we have established."

For months the archdiocese has been buffeted by a seres of damning revelations about the way Nienstedt and his predecessors have handled abuse allegations. News of this allegation comes just as Nienstedt has started working to restore his people's trust (more on that later). But even if the allegation seems difficult to believe--no one else noticed a bishop touching a kid's buttocks during a post-confirmation group photo?--it won't help his cause.

Pope Francis remakes bishop-naming team in new image.

This morning the Vatican announced the revised membership of the influential Congregation for Bishops--that would be the body that recommends the men who run Catholic dioceses around the world. Pope Francis confirmed Cardinal Marc Ouellet as prefect of the congregation, but he removed ultraconservative Cardinal Raymond Burke--he of the substantial vestment--and Cardinal Justin Rigali, long known as a bishopmaker in the U.S. church. The pope added Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., as well as Cardinal João Braz de Aviz--a semi-papabile who has said that the crackdown on U.S. women religious caused him "much pain."

This is a big deal. And if the Vatican ever figures out how to create stable web links, I'll happily drop one into this post. Till then, here's the full announcement:

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John Paul II said what now?

Last Monday, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, Vatican ambassador to the United States, reminded the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that Pope Francis prefers shepherds who smell like the sheep, not ermine. The speech was remarkable for its directness. "[Francis] wants 'pastoral' bishops," Vigano told the USCCB, who were preparing to vote for their next president, "not bishops who profess or follow a particular ideology." What's more, Vigano cited a text well loved by liberal Catholics, Pope Paul VI's Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975): "It is primarily by her conduct and by her life that the church will evangelize the world, in other words by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus — the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of this world, in short, the witness of sanctity."

That Vigano chose to lean on Evangelii Nuntiandi is even more interesting because of its history. The document was written in response to the synod of bishops on evangelization, and it conceives of the church not only as teacher but also as learner:

The Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself. She is the community of believers, the community of hope lived and communicated, the community of brotherly love, and she needs to listen unceasingly to what she must believe, to her reasons for hoping, to the new commandment of love.

In advance of next year's synod, Pope Francis has asked the world's bishops to ask their parishioners about a range of issues, including gay marriage and contraception, and report back. He wants to know where his people are. "For the church," Paul VI wrote, "evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new." Sound familiar? (For more of Pope Francis's commentary on the missionary character of the church, and the kinds of bishops required to carry it out, see his recent message to Guadalupe pilgrims: "The attitude of the true shepherd is not that of a courtier or of a mere functionary, focusing principally on discipline, rules and organizational mechanisms.")

Most of Vigano's speech reads like a rearticulation of Pope Francis's call for Christians not to get trapped in the sacristy. But about two-thirds of the way in, it gets weird. Vigano drops in an apocalyptic  passage attributed to John Paul II, in which the late pope warns that "we are now facing the final confrontation between the church and the anti-church, between the gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the antichrist." Sounds scary. Vigano claims John Paul delivered those remarks in a 1976 speech at a Eucharistic congress in Philadelphia. But that address doesn't contain those words.

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News on the HHS mandate?

Following a closed-door discussion of the contraception mandate, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued an unsigned (but unanimousy passed) "special message" that, for the most part, sounded a familiar tune. So why does religion-journalism watchdog Terry Mattingly think the media dropped the ball by not focusing on this "crucial" statement? Does this look new to you?

Beginning in March 2012, in United for Religious Freedom, we identified three basic problems with the HHS mandate: it establishes a false architecture of religious liberty that excludes our ministries and so reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship; it compels our ministries to participate in providing employees with abortifacient drugs and devices, sterilization, and contraception, which violates our deeply-held beliefs; and it compels our faithful people in business to act against our teachings, failing to provide them any exemption at all.

This is more or less what the USCCB has been saying since the original, onerous form of the mandate dropped. The bishops restate their plan to pursue relief legislatively (not going anywhere) and judicially (maybe going somewhere). We've heard this before.

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USCCB about to elect new president & VP (live video).

Update: The USCCB goes back on script and elects the current vice president, Archbishop Kurtz, to become the next president. And, nearly repeating the results of the previous VP election, Archbishop Chaput came close to winning but lost out to Cardinal DiNardo. More on the candidates here.

Watch a livestream of the public sessions here.

Apostolic nuncio to USCCB: be pastoral, not ideological.

As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops prepares to elect its next president, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, delivered a remarkably pointed address urging bishops to be "pastoral," not ideological.

Pope Francis, Vigano said, "wants bishops in tune with their people." The pope

is giving us by, his own witness, an example of how to live a life attuned to the values of the gospel. While each of us must take into consideration our adaptability to the many different circumstances and cultures in which we live and the people whom we serve, there has to be a noticeable life style characterized by simplicity and holiness of life. This is a sure way to bring our people to an awareness of the truth of our message.

Vigano quoted liberally from Pope Paul VI's Evangelii Nuntiandi, which, he noted, Francis has called "the greatest pastoral document written to date." It was promulgated in 1975.

"The first means of evangelization," Paul VI wrote,

is the witness of an authentically Christian life, given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy and at the same time given to one's neighbor with limitless zeal. As we said recently to a group of lay people, 'Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers. and if it does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.'"

That witness, Vigano suggested, is what's required in order to carry on the work of Vatican II.

Vigano also cited John Paul II and John XXIII to highlight the constant "call to attentiveness, watchfulness, and preparedness for whatever proclaiming the gospel may mean for us as successors of the Apostles, who were called to give radical witness to their faith in Jesus Christ."

Noting that American culture is marked by a diversity of views, Vigano observed that "this is also true of the church." But, he warned, "we must take care that, for us as a church, this diversity does not grow into division through misinterpretation or misunderstanding, and that division does not deteriorate into fragmentation."

In conclusion, Vigano mentioned an article describing the past half-centuray of U.S. politics. Its subtitle: "The era of polarization began as Americans lost confidence in their leaders."

"Well said," Vigano continued, "since the Catholic Church will preserve her unity and strength as long as its people have trust in their bishops."

 

The Nienstedt shuffle.

Yesterday, after shying away from the press for weeks, Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis responded to the disturbing revelations about the way his diocese has been handling priests accused of sexual misconduct. He apologized to victims and their families. He promised to do better. And he pledged "before God and in memory of my beloved parents"--whose deaths he recounts at the top of his weekly column--"to do all in my power to restore trust here in this local church."

A tall order--made taller still by Nienstedt's reluctance to come clean about the facts of the cases in question. (Last month, Nienstedt's former top canon lawyer, Jennifer Haselberger, publicly revealed that the current and past archbishops of St. Paul-Minneapolis promoted a priest with a history of sexual misconduct--who later went on to abuse children--and failed to notify civil authorities when they learned that another priest had possessed "borderline illegal" images of what appeared to be minors.) In an e-mail interview with Minnesota Public Radio (MPR)--his first since they started reporting on this fiasco weeks ago--Nienstedt answers relatively straightforward questions with something shy of the whole truth.

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Archdiocese of Wobegon

 

Last week, Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced a new task force that will examine issues related to archdiocesan sexual-abuse policies. Nienstedt has been under scrutinty since late September, when Jennifer Haselberger, his former chancellor for canonical affairs, went to the police and the press with damning accounts of the ways her superiors--and their predecessors--handled the cases of priests accused of sexual misconduct. She resigned in April after deciding that, given her ethical commitments, "it had become impossible for me to stay in that position."

The task force will be composed of at least six members--all laypeople, none employed by the archdiocese--and their findings will be made public. The archdiocese seems to believe that this group will find and fill the gaps in its policies that permitted these lapses to occur. Others agree. “These are very significant charges,’’ Don Briel, director of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "This was larger than the process and procedures [to halt sexual misconduct] were able to address.’’ But a review of facts of these cases fails to support that claim. The problem in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is not with its sexual-abuse policies, but with the people entrusted to carry them out. 

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The Church Francis wants

Mass for Pope Francis, Church of the Good Shepherd, Our Lady of Peace Center, Amman, Jordan

Last week, here in Amman, we celebrated the feast of St. Francis of Assisi and the pope who bears his name. Parishes held large Masses, and the Franciscans friars at the well-known Catholic school Terra Sancta College performed their annual ritual commemorating the life and work of their patron. The Jordanian Catholic television channel Noursat/Telelumiere (Light TV) live-streamed Francis’s visit to Assisi and provided immediate Arabic translation of his remarks.

The most important event was a Mass in honor of the pope hosted by Apostalic Nuncio Giorgio Lingua, the Vatican’s ambassador to Jordan. Though the Mass was an elaborate affair with many non-Catholic guests, a large youth choir, posters of the pope, and a post-Mass reception, it has not yet been covered in English-language news outlets.

This post isn’t an attempt to cover the event from a journalist’s perspective. Instead, because I was in attendance as a worshipper, I hope to share some of my own reflections on the significance of the service. The Mass reflected ways in which the spirit of the two Francises is alive and well the Catholic Church in Jordan, and it illustrates what the global church can learn from the church in the Holy Land.

Nuns on a bus

Many of those in attendance at the Mass, which was held outside Amman at Our Lady of Peace Center, a Catholic-run complex that serves individuals with special needs, were nuns. Nuns from numerous orders and nationalities live in Jordan, including the Comboni Sisters who work in Amman’s Italian hospital. I met these sisters, who hail from Italy, Egypt, Syria, Poland, and Singapore, on the bus ride to the service, and I continue to see them at morning Masses at Amman’s Jesuit Center. Their humble ministry reflects two of the values promoted by Pope Francis and his namesake: simplicity and accompaniment. These sisters left their home countries to live and work among the sick of Jordan. These nuns are a reminder that the church is not just one in service of the poor, but of the poor. 

What Christian unity looks like

The Mass was not just a celebration by Catholics, but by leaders of other faiths in this religiously diverse area. Representatives from Orthodox and Coptic Churches were easily noticeable from their distinctive garb. Other Eastern leaders entered alongside dozens of Roman Catholic priests as the Mass began, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who sat beside the Catholic leaders on the altar, beneath a large icon of Jesus the Good Shepherd.

In his homily, Archbishop Fouad Twal, head of the Archdiocese of Jerusalem, which includes Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, and Cyprus, spoke about the unifying nature of Pope Francis’s papacy: “His Holiness is a source of pride for us, because during the short time of his papacy, not more than seven months, the pope has been able to seize the hearts of many people, enthrall them with his goodness and simplicity and angelic smile, whether they be Christians or non-Christians.”

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Now on our homepage: Joseph Bottum on the case for same-sex marriage

Just posted to the homepage, Joseph Bottum’s essay “The Things We Share: A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage.”

Bottum, former chief editor of First Things, writes: “We are now at the point where, I believe, American Catholics should accept state recognition of same-sex marriage simply because they are Americans.” He goes on:

For that matter, plenty of practical concerns suggest that the bishops should cease to fight the passage of such laws. Campaigns against same-sex marriage are hurting the church, offering the opportunity to make Catholicism a byword for repression in a generation that, even among young Catholics, just doesn’t think that same-sex activity is worth fighting about. There’s a reasonable case to be made that the struggle against abortion is slowly winning, but the fight against public acceptance of same-sex behavior has been utterly lost.

I find these practical considerations compelling, just as I think most ordinary Catholics do.

Read the whole essay here. And after that, see Mark Oppenheimer’s latest Beliefs column in the New York Times. An excerpt:

In the past couple of years, conservative opposition to same-sex marriage has clearly started to erode. Prominent Republicans like Senators Rob Portman and Lisa Murkowski and former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell have come out in support of gay marriage. Even David Blankenhorn, the expert witness in the Proposition 8 trial in California and a Democrat, announced that he had changed his mind.

They are, for the most part, moderate conservatives using secular, democratic arguments. None come from the Christian right. Among religious conservatives, opposition to same-sex marriage has remained essentially unquestioned.

Which is why “The Things We Share: A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage,” an essay by Joseph Bottum, published Friday on the Web site of Commonweal magazine, is something new in this debate.

Indeed.