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Last month, the University of Notre Dame announced that it would comply with Obamacare's contraception mandate, after the school's legal challenges failed. "Pursuant to the Affordable Care Act," a university statement explained, "our third-party administrator is required to notify plan participants of coverage provided under its contraceptives payment program." In other words, university employees would receive contraceptive coverage at no cost to them. But the statement warned that “the program may be terminated once the university's lawsuit on religious-liberty grounds...has worked its way through the courts."
That dismayed some of the university's more conservative critics. Notre Dame law professor Gerard V. Bradley, for example, argued that the university's compliance with the mandate amounted to "facilitating abortions." And Notre Dame historian Wilson Miscamble, CSC, worried that the university's heart wasn't really in the fight. But after listening to Notre Dame counsel's oral arguments last week at the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals, they may have something else to worry about.
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.
On Wednesday, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child published a report strongly criticizing the Vatican for its handling of the sexual-abuse crisis. It hasn't gone over very well. John Allen argued that it might actually hurt the reform movement within the Catholic Church. Austen Ivereigh called the committee a "kangaroo court." (While I don't agree with everything Ivereigh has to say about the report--for example, he claims the Holy See has been a "catalyst" on abuse reform "at least since 2001"--he's catalogued its many mistakes.) Michael Sean Winters declared, "To hell with the UN." Mark Silk criticized the report for treating the Holy See as it would any other state, calling it "worse than idiotic. It's counterproductive."
Apart from that significant error, the report foolishly wades into doctrinal waters, suggesting the Vatican revise its teachings on abortion and contraception. The committee urges the Holy See to provide "family planning, reproductive health, as well as adequate counselling and social support, to prevent unplanned pregnancies." At one point the UN committee asks Rome to remove from Catholic-school textbooks "all gender stereotyping which may limit the development of the talents and abilities of boys and girls and undermine their educational and life opportunities." At another it complains that the Code of Canon Law refers to children born out of wedlock as "illegitimate." The report says that in canon law instances of sexual abuse ought to be "considered as crimes and not as 'delicts,'" seemingly ignorant of the fact that "delict" means crime. (The committee's work is so sloppy that it doesn't even seem to know where to cut off a quote: That part of the report reads, "Child sexual abuse, when addressed, has been dealt with as 'grave delicts against the moral' through confidential proceedings...")
Even when the committee bumps up against a good idea, it seems uninterested in context. For example, it asks Rome to establish "clear rules, mechanisms and procedures for the mandatory reporting of all suspected cases of child sexual abuse and exploitation to law enforcement authorities," but fails to note that the world's law-enforcement authorities are not all made in the image and likeness of North America's and Europe's. That's why some diocese--in Africa, for example--haven't implemented mandatory-reporting rules. Shouldn't a UN committee show some awareness of that?
Some of their confusions could have been cleared up with a few clicks of a mouse, or by speaking to someone who knows something about the inner workings of the church. Apparently that didn't occur to the them.
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.
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.
Last August, just five months after Pope Francis was elected, Damon Linker emerged from the balcony of St. Wieseltier's to dump a vat of cold water on the gathering masses anxiously awaiting the doctrinal liberalization of the Catholic Church. Progressives who thought Francis's pastoral gestures heralded the end of the celibate priesthood, or the reversal of church teachings against contraception, birth control, and sex outside of marriage, were deluding themselves, Linker argued. "Even an analyst normally as sober and sensible as John L. Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter," he wrote, "has gone so far as to conclude that nothing less than a Vatican 'revolution' is underway. It isn’t."
Perhaps the New Republic's editors thought Linker's observation that a new pope wasn't about to upend Catholic doctrine amounted to big news. For my part, I don't know anyone who's expecting Francis to abrogate Humanae Vitae. So I found the piece largley unobjectionable, apart from Linker's misperception of the extent to which a pontiff can remake the Curia in his preferred image. "A new pope," Linker claimed, "has comparatively little freedom to remake the ideological cast of the Roman Curia." He "must choose new appointees solely from the existing ranks of cardinals and archbishops, all of whom will have been promoted to their positions by his predecessors." Well, yes. But that doesn't mean the world's bishops are carbon copies of the popes who appointed them. After all, the man who made Bergoglio archbishop of Buenos Aires was John Paul II.
Of course, Linker's TNR piece was written five months ago. Today at the Week, he's back with a reassessment of liberal Catholic hopes for the new pope. Have the past five months changed his opinion of them, or of Francis's pontificate? The shakeup at the Congregation for Bishops? The Vatican's attempt to get parishioners to weigh in on controversial church teachings like gay marriage and contraception? The fact that almost none of Francis's first cardinals are professional theologians, and most are from the global south? What about that time he baptized the baby of a couple who were married outside the church--a first for a pope? Not really.
Late yesterday, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted the request of a community of nuns in Colorado to delay enforcement of the Obama administration's contraception mandate. Her order applies to the Little Sisters of the Poor in Colorado and other nonprofit groups whose health plans are administered by Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust. Sotomayor intervened after a U.S.
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?
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.
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: