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Irreparable Damage
Paul Gray, M.A.                                         May 2014 

It's been a hard winter, and the weather has received its fair share of blame for altering our landscape. In many areas, the clean up will take months and millions to accomplish. The same can be said of the church, which has suffered its fair share of upheavals in recent times. Because of the continued presence of one deeply entrenched attitude, storm damage may well be the easier to overcome.


The Oxford English Dictionary  describes  "arrogance" as "unduly appropriating authority or importance," citing Charles Darwin's use of the word, "... the arrogant man looks down on others, and with lowered eyelids hardly condescends to see them." The word picture is superb, conjuring in our minds countless experiences we have had with arrogant people in multiple settings. Whether the motor vehicles department clerk, the supervisor at work, or the car dealership because of a recall notice, abusive or belittling talk dashes all hope for understanding and relationship.


Unfortunately, arrogance is widespread among those who are supposed to be helpful. Confronting them, you are put on the defensive with no hope of just treatment. Stifling or even killing the possibility of developing relationships, arrogance insures that very outcome. The wall built by arrogance, topped as it is by razor wire, allows no scaling. Wherever it is found, arrogance is a builder of walls.


"Something there is that doesn't love a wall," claimed poet Robert Frost in "Mending Wall." Still we keep building walls or fences in the foolhardy conviction that they are necessary to keep us safe by keeping others out. In an excellent op-ed on August 27, 2012, in The New York Times, Reece Jones lampooned the venture of wall construction undertaken by so many democracies.Showing the folly of exorbitant cost,the gargantuan humaneffort to erect and maintain, as well as the questionable effectiveness in keeping  "undesirables" out,  the author calls upongovernments to, like the poet, consider firstwhether we really need the walls. Concluding that they do irreparable damage to a country's image, Reece Jones urges those considering such drastic measures to count the full price.


The American bishops would do well to undertake the same kind of evaluation. I have known a few who are genuinely good shepherds, doing their best to lead the church entrusted to their care. But most, it seems, especially in recent years, havegiven the impression by statements and actions that they are arrogant, and arrogance is the stuff that walls are made of. Instead of engaging in dialogue, they issue decrees. 


The recent decision by the Bishop of Oakland to evict the Paulists from the Newman Center where they have served for over seventy years-- without any warning or discussion -- is a prime example of arrogance. That countless bishops have decided to protect the reputation of the institution, rather than the people they are supposed to be caring for, by reassigning priests who have been credibly accused of child abuse is arrogance in the extreme. The Bishop of Kansas City, in spite of his civil conviction for this precise crime, still occupies the Bishop's office. The Archbishop of Newark, accused of the same, is now spending the peoples' money on an extravagant addition to his house where he will be able to retire in luxury. The list could go on and on. Unfortunately for the church, it does.


Each arrogant statement or action from a bishop or priest erects a wall within the body of Christ.And "something there is that doesn't love a wall."



That "something" spoken of in the poem is, in this case, the dignity received in baptism. The peoplewho make up the body of Christ have an innate sense that they deserve respect, and anyone who disrespects them increases the gulf. It can be a simple matter of dress or furnishings. More often, it is expressed in words. If intimidation instead of respectful equality is intended, it will be perceived, and it will do damage to any relationship, hoped for or already existing.


"Gaps," as the poem describes, will surely appear:

"No one has seen them made or heard them made,

But at spring mending-time we find them there."


In my early years of teaching theology at a diocesan college, I well remember being summoned to the bishop's office because the bishop had been told by a seminarian that I had said something in class that I would never havesaid. It was obvious to me that the seminarian had only been half-listening, and had concluded that I said exactly the opposite of what I actually said. No matter. The bishop had already concluded that the seminarian was accurately reporting. I wasdirected to a seat at the end of a substantial boardroom table. The bishop eventually entered and took his seat at the far end of the table. As he proceeded to tell me what had been reported to him, I was immediately able to explain what had been twisted, the half story that led to the seminarian's misinterpretation. But the damagehad been done. The setting made clear that I was not an equal in the discussion of the event, but rather a defendant in an adversarial procedure that did not include the possibility of appeal to a jury of peers.


Try to imagine Jesus, the original shepherd, conducting himself in an arrogant manner towards the woman at the well, or the rich young man, or the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. It is utterly impossible.He had no reason or need to do so. And neither will our bishops when they are no longer attached to defending the riches and prestige of the institution, rather than the people who are to be their rightful focus.

Paul Gray is Secretary of the ARCC Executive Board. 
Some things we have been reading  
Hans Küng knows church's problems - and that change is inevitable
Leonard Swidler      May 1, 2014

. . . .

It was in the midst of the frenetic excitement of the council that my wife, Arlene Anderson Swidler, came up with the idea of filling a then-gaping hole in theological scholarship, and we launched a scholarly periodical devoted to ecumenical dialogue: the Journal of Ecumenical Studies. We gathered a key group of associate editors, including Markus Barth (one of Karl Barth's sons) and Hans Küng. The first issue in 1964 (50 years ago this year) contained articles by two young periti at Vatican II, which was reaching its crescendo by then: Küng and Ratzinger. For Hans, Arlene and me, this was just the beginning of a more than half-century-long friendship and collaboration on innumerable projects.  It is through the lens of our long relationship that I read Volume 3 of Hans' memoirs.


It is vintage Küng. Hans must have -- with German-Swiss clockwork -- saved and carefully filed every paper and note he took on his myriad travels, meetings, conferences and conversations. All is carefully documented, not in a pedantic manner, but in a way that assures the reader that she or he is getting wie es eigentlich gewesen, or what really happened.

. . . .  

The title of the mere 350-page English-language book, Can We Save the Catholic Church?/We Can Save the Catholic Church!, says it all. The second half of the English title is not in the original German (which was Ist die Kirche noch zu retten? -- "Can the Church Still Be Saved?"), but it echoes a sentiment that can be found in all seven chapters of the book. Küng sees long-term history moving through an ongoing series of lesser and larger paradigm shifts that are always resisted until a tipping point is reached and the new paradigm takes the center of thought and action.


He is convinced -- as I am, as well -- that we are in the midst of a major paradigm shift that, expectedly, is vehemently resisted. Nevertheless, it is replacing the old -- in this case, the Catholic medieval/Counter Reformation -- paradigm.

. . . . 

Hans obviously knows intimately more about the deep problems of the past and present Catholic church than anyone else alive today, and he distills these structural, deadly flaws with scorching clarity. However, he doesn't simply criticize. He also lays out a set of suggested action plans. Hans, and now his readers, sees the depth of the disease in each portion of the church. But, learning the lessons of history, he knows that change is not only possible, but also inevitable. 

Read more

Leonard Swidler is a founder of and former president of ARCC  

Vatican's doctrine chief blasts U.S. nuns for disobedience 
David Gibson      May 5, 2014

Catholic nuns in the U.S. have been thumbing their nose at Rome's demands to toe the doctrinal line and they need to obey or face serious consequences, the Vatican's enforcer of orthodoxy said in a surprisingly tough talk to women representing most American sisters.

. . . .

Mueller said the LCWR - which represents about 80 percent of the more than 50,000 Catholic nuns in the U.S. - is dependent on the Vatican for its bona fides as a church body. He indicated that the group's status, and the Catholic faith of the sisters, was at risk if they did not heed Rome's directives.


"Canonical status and ecclesial vision go hand-in-hand, and at this phase . we are looking for a clearer expression of that ecclesial vision and more substantive signs of collaboration," Mueller said.


Mueller's talk was dated April 30, apparently at the opening of talks with the four LCWR leaders; it was published by the Vatican on Monday (May 5).

. . . . 

As some American bishops worked behind the scenes to ease the tensions with the sisters, Pope Francis' election last year also seemed to signal a detente. As a Jesuit, Francis is a member of a religious order himself and has often expressed solidarity with other religious orders of men and women.


Last June, he told a group of priests and sisters from Latin America not to worry too much if they get a critical letter from Mueller's office, but to deal with it and move on. The pope also retained officials at Vatican congregations who are seen as more sympathetic to the LCWR.


But Francis also kept on Mueller, who was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI soon after the action against the LCWR was unveiled. The cardinal told the nuns that he was particularly upset by two developments:

One was the LCWR's ongoing focus on a topic called "conscious evolution," which was the subject of the LCWR's annual conference two years ago. In Rome, it's seen as a nebulous, New Age-sounding concept of spiritual development that critics say is unmoored from traditional Christian doctrine.

. . . . 

A second point of contention, Mueller said, is that the LCWR is honoring a prominent Catholic theologian, Sister Elizabeth Johnson of Fordham University, at this year's conference in August despite the fact that one of Johnson's recent books was challenged by the U.S. bishops as straying from accepted doctrine.

. . . . 

The choice to honor Johnson without Sartain's approval, Mueller said, "will be seen as a rather open provocation against the Holy See. . Not only that, but it further alienates the LCWR from the bishops as well."


Mueller said that if Sartain had been informed, Johnson may not have been chosen. He said he would not attempt to undo the invitation to Johnson but said that Sartain must have final say over next year's LCWR convention, adding that the Vatican mandate is now "fully in force." 

Read more

Cardinal Kasper, the 'pope's theologian,' downplays Vatican blast at U.S. nuns
David Gibson      May 6,\

The German cardinal who has been called the "pope's theologian" said fresh Vatican criticism of American nuns was typical of the "narrower" view that officials of the Roman Curia tend to take, and he said U.S. Catholics shouldn't be overly concerned.

"I also am considered suspect!" Cardinal Walter Kasper said with a laugh during an appearance on Monday (May 5) at Fordham University. "I cannot help them," he added, referring to his critics in Rome.

. . . . 

In many ways, Kasper may better reflect Francis' outlook than the crackdown on U.S. nuns launched by the Vatican's doctrinal office. Just as Francis has downplayed the focus on rule-following and hot-button issues in an effort to widen the church's appeal, Kasper has pushed the importance of pastoral flexibility and realism in walking with Catholics throughout their imperfect lives.


Kasper is in the U.S. to discuss his book, "Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life." It includes a blurb from Pope Francis, who has made mercy a cornerstone of his ministry since he was elected last year. 

This ground-breaking website reports on the work of women religious around the globe, giving greater voices to the sisters and the work they do. The site also features columns from sisters themselves, designed to highlight the diverse ministries in which sisters are active.

The site is made possible by a three-year grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. We are grateful to engage in this important work. 

Read more


At United Nations, Vatican sex abuse compared with torture
AssociatedPress      May 5, 2014

A U.N. committee compared the Vatican's handling of the global priest sex abuse scandal with torture Monday, raising the possibility that its failure to investigate clergy and their superiors could have broader legal implications.


But the Vatican's top envoy in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, claimed that the Holy See was getting its house in order after a decade-long effort to deal with a global priest sex abuse scandal.

. . . .

Experts said a finding by the committee that the systematic abuse amounted to torture could have drastic legal implications for the church as it continues to battle civil litigation around the world resulting from the decades-long scandal that saw tens of thousands of children raped and molested by priests.


Katherine Gallagher, a human rights attorney for the New York-based nonprofit legal group, the Center for Constitutional Rights, said such a finding could open the floodgates to abuse lawsuits dating back decades because there are no statutes of limitations on torture cases. Gallagher, whose group represents Vatican sex scandal victims, said rape can legally constitute a form of torture because of the elements of intimidation, coercion, and exploitation of power.

. . . .
But Markus Wagner, an associate professor of law at the University of Miami School of Law, said it was unclear how much U.S. courts would be swayed by a decision by the U.N. committee that clergy sex abuse constituted torture. 

. . . . 

The U.N. committee, which is composed of independent experts, will issue its final observations and recommendations May 23.


In January, a U.N. committee that monitors a key treaty on children's rights accused the Holy See of systematically placing its own interests over those of victims. That committee rejected the Vatican's argument that it had limited geographical responsibility.

Read more

Statistics: How the Vatican dealt with abuse cases
Cindy Wooden     May 7, 2014

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican representative to U.N. agencies based in Geneva, appeared yesterday before the U.N. Committee Against Torture to reply to members' questions.

The session was part of the committee's normal review of reports submitted by the Holy See and other countries that had ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment.

. . . .

Archbishop Tomasi told the committee that between 2004 and 2013, the congregation had received "credible accusations" against 3,420 priests. Of those accused, he said, 848 have been dismissed from the priesthood and 2,572 have received other penalties always involving a ban on contact with children and usually including a ban on public ministry.


In providing the statistics, the archbishop also gave numbers for each year 2004-2013. Click here to see the numbers. 

Read more

Nichole Golden      Apr.30, 2014

Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta pledged to restrict the presence of guns in Catholic institutions in response to a new Georgia law that would allow licensed gun owners to carry arms into schools, churches and other locales.


Set to take effect July 1, the law was opposed by the Georgia Catholic Conference.

Writing in his column in the May 1 issue of the Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Atlanta archdiocese, the archbishop said he regrets the enactment of the new law "more than I can possibly express."


"Before this legislation takes effect in July, I will officially restrict the presence of weapons in our Catholic institutions except for those carried by the people that civic authorities have designated and trained to protect and guard us -- and those who are duly authorized law and military officials," Gregory said. 

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Unwanted Advances
Ry Rivard       May 5,2014

A theology professor who is a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican is moving from one Roman Catholic university to another after an investigation found it likely that he sexually harassed a married couple where he now works.


Miguel H. Díaz, who was President Obama's representative to the Holy See from 2009 to 2012, was found to have likely engaged in "unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature" toward a married couple who were his colleagues at the University of Dayton, according to a confidential letter written by Dayton's provost. 


The married couple - husband and wife professors who teach in the humanities - accused Diaz of making various sexual requests and references to sexually explicit feelings. The suggestion that a Catholic theologian suggested an adulterous encounter involving both another man and another woman and that he made unwelcome requests of fellow academics could be problematic for Diaz, a Catholic theologian, who is a married father of four. 

Read more

Loopholes for Catholic Schools?
Michael O'Loughlin     Apr.30 2014

Are teachers at Catholic schools educators or ministers?


That's the question facing Catholic school administrators throughout the U.S. as they set policies and contracts for the 2014-15 school year.


The debate over which role teachers fill is set against several high-profile cases of openly gay employees being fired from Catholic institutions.

. . . .

The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 in favor of a ministerial exemption that frees some religious employers from certain federal antidiscrimination and labor laws.


Steve Pehanich, senior director for advocacy and education at the California Catholic Conference, rejects the notion that classifying teachers as ministers is a ploy to avoid compliance with the laws.


"Some might say the most important aspect of a Catholic school is to pass on the faith," he told NCR. "Everybody who works at a Catholic school is in that sense a minister in one way or another because they represent the school."

. . . .

It's not just Catholic schools that are struggling with the issue.


In Virginia a "gifted" musician was fired from his church after marrying his partner. 

Read more

Where are all the saints without cassocks?
 Francis J. Butler        Apr.8 2014

In a move to unite left and right polarities in the church, Pope Francis chose two candidates who have been cultural icons in their lifetimes, acclaimed by the contemporary world as hallowed leaders. Catholics throughout the globe laid aside their differences on pressing church problems and joined together to applaud the heavenly entrance into the company of Christian saints two outstanding popes of modern times.

. . . . 

As the canonizations of these two popes and the 2003 beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta illustrate, we are moving away from an age when Catholics come to know their saints only through stories, statues and stained glass windows. Instead, we are witnesses to their goodness firsthand.


But though we are getting closer to our saints, canonization is still weighed much too heavily toward religious celebrities. The ranks of candidates for sainthood remains stunningly thin when it comes to ordinary laypeople, Korean martyrs notwithstanding.

. . . . 

Where are the ordinary laity? Will obscurity continue to remain the destiny of a righteous layperson lacking a large religious community or diocese to plead his or her cause for sainthood?

Many of us can promptly think of deceased members of the faithful who lived very holy lives and make inspiring examples of the kind of people Francis has said the church is looking for -- "saints without cassocks and without veils."

Read more

Records show that John Paul II could have intervened in abuse crisis - but didn't
Thomas P. Doyle      Apr.25, 2014

Sitting on a bookshelf in my office is a red leather-bound copy of the Code of Canon Law. This isn't just any copy of the church's rulebook. It was signed by Pope John Paul II for me at the request of my former boss, the late Cardinal Pio Laghi. It is dated 6-6-1983 in the late pope's own hand. I was definitely a fan in those days.


On Sunday after John Paul is promoted to sainthood, it will become a second-class relic. I will not venerate it, nor will I join the cheering crowds.


The past 30 years have led me to the opinion that his sainthood is a profound insult to the countless victims of sexual assault by Catholic clergy the world over. It is an insult to the decent, well-intentioned men and women who were persecuted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during his reign, and it is an insult to the memory of Pope John XXIII, who has the misfortune being a canonization classmate.


This soon-to-be relic is a symbol of the shame and the failure of the book's content, the collection of church rules, and of the pope who autographed it. People more eloquent than I have publicly stated the many reasons why this is so. I won't repeat their words here. However, I believe it is important to clarify some of the bizarre statements John Paul's two main cheerleaders have been making.


George Weigel claimed there was an information gap between the United States and the Holy See in 2002. This is nonsense. There was no gap then, and there was no gap in 1984, when the abuse issue boiled to the surface of public awareness. I was working at the Vatican embassy in 1984 and have firsthand experience of the transmission of information to the Vatican.


The papal nuncio, Laghi, then an archbishop, received a letter in the summer of 1984 from the vicar general of Lafayette, La., telling him that a couple whose little boy had been violated by Gilbert Gauthe was suing Gauthe, the bishop, the diocese, the archbishop of New Orleans, the papal nuncio and the pope. Soon after, the nuncio received the official complaint. From then on, there was a constant flow of information from Lafayette to the nuncio and from another diocese that popped onto center stage for the same reason -- Providence, R.I.


I was the conduit for most of the information and prepared daily memos for Archbishop Laghi. The usual procedure would have been to prepare a report for the Holy See, but that didn't happen at this stage. Laghi was on the phone to various officials in the Vatican, including the Secretariat of State, which is as good as going directly to the pope.  

. . . .

Fast forward to June, bypassing the famous Collegeville, Minn., meeting at which the bishops spent an entire day in executive session hearing about clergy sexual abuse but apparently learning nothing given the long-range outcome. In mid-June, as I recall, the late Cardinal Silvio Oddi visited the nunciature. At the time, he was prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy.  

. . . . 

He told Laghi that he wanted to hear about the sex abuse crisis. The nuncio told me to meet with the cardinal and brief him. I prepared a "briefing paper." This was June, and a lot had transpired since February. The nuncio had become aware of many more reports of sexual abuse by clergy from a number of different dioceses. I prepared my report and knew enough to be factual and detailed and, in some areas, graphically explicit. Oddi sat for about two hours while I in essence read the report, with occasional diversions to add more detail.


Normally very affable, the good cardinal was clearly in a dark mood when I finished. He asked a number of pointed questions about both the abusers and the abused and wanted to know why the accused priests were not subjected to a canonical trial. I will never forget his closing comments. "I will speak of this to the Holy Father. We will have a meeting of the prefects of all the dicasteries [Vatican departments], and we will issue a decree!" Subsequent to his departure, I recall Laghi assuring me that something would be done because Oddi would report to the pope. Whatever happened is anyone's guess. There was no decree, and even if there had been, it would have been useless. 


This was in 1985, not 2002. It is hard to believe that this pope, who was supposed to be one of the smartest men alive at the time, could not have understood the gravity of significant numbers of priests raping and violating little children. The excuse that he did nothing because of his "purity of thought" is as ridiculous as the excuse that he wanted to preserve the priesthood for which he held such high esteem.


Joaquín Navarro-Valls, John Paul's press officer, said Friday that he didn't think the pope or anyone else understood the gravity of the crisis. Other than the fact that this assertion is also ridiculous, a number of people in the church did understand the gravity: the mothers and fathers of the children who were violated and even the general public, who were clamoring for action even back in the mid-'80s.


Navarro-Valls said after 2002, Pope John Paul immediately began taking action. Other than making nine recorded public statements, all of which were sufficiently nuanced to be innocuous, and calling a meeting of the U.S. cardinals to tell them what everyone already knew, he did nothing positive.


He did, however, do a few negative things. He was ultimately responsible for short-circuiting the investigation of Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado. He refused to investigate the accusations against Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër of Vienna. He promoted the careers of some of the bishops and cardinals who intentionally inflicted horrendous damage on victims and expended vast amounts of donated money to stonewall the process of justice, e.g., Cardinals Bernard Law, Roger Mahony and George Pell, to name but a few. Perhaps the most egregious nonaction was completely ignoring the pleas of thousands of victims, many of whom wrote directly to him. Victims and victims' groups bombarded the Vatican with letters and requested audiences or at least recognition by the pope, especially at the World Youth Day celebrations. Not only were their requests ignored, but not one ever even received an acknowledgement of the receipt of their communication. 
. . . .

On Sunday, the institutional church will accord its highest honor to the one man who, more than any other alive, could have ended the nightmare and saved countless innocent and vulnerable victims. But he did not. It was not a question of he could not, but he would not.


The red book on my shelf may be a relic, but it is also a reminder of the very dark side of the institutional church, a side John Paul helped reveal.

Read more

Tom Doyle is an ARCC Presidential Advisor and former ARCC board member.

Vatican: 848 priests defrocked for abuse since '04
John Heilprin and Nicole Winfield      May 6, 2014

The Vatican revealed Tuesday that over the past decade, it has defrocked 848 priests who raped or molested children and sanctioned another 2,572 with lesser penalties, providing the first ever breakdown of how it handled the more than 3,400 cases of abuse reported to the Holy See since 2004.


The Vatican's U.N. ambassador in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, released the figures during a second day of grilling by a U.N. committee monitoring implementation of the U.N. treaty against torture.
. . . .

Tomasi also provided statistics about how the Holy See has adjudicated sex abuse cases for the past decade. The Vatican in 2001 required bishops and religious superiors to forward all credible cases of abuse to Rome for review after determining that they were shuffling pedophile priests from diocese to diocese rather than subjecting them to church trials. Only in 2010 did the Vatican explicitly tell bishops and superiors to also report credible cases to police where local reporting laws require them to. 

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Campaigner 'positive' about Vatican child protection policy
Paddy Agnew    May 3, 2014

Clerical sex abuse campaigner Marie Collins today said that she had a "positive" feeling about the Holy See's new child protection body, the Pontifical Commission for Minors.


Speaking at a Vatican press conference at the end of three days of meetings in Rome, Ms Collins, who is one of eight people currently serving on the commission, said: "I come away with a very positive feeling from the meetings.


"We are coming from very different perspectives but we all have one aim in mind, the protection of children and part of that is accountability for those who don't protect children.


"I am happy at the moment that the meeting is addressing the issues I hoped it would address. Obviously we are just starting and you can only achieve a certain amount in two days but I think that what we have achieved in these two days has given us a very good idea of the direction we want to go in, what our initial aims will be."

Read more

Minnesota Public Radio Abuse Investigation

For decades, leaders of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have been reassigning, excusing and overlooking sexually abusive priests among their ranks. Some received additional retirement benefits. In August, a top church lawyer, shocked at what she saw, brought the story to MPR News. What happened next is still unfolding. 


 Ryan Hutchins       Apr.28 2014

The Archdiocese of New York took a major step last week toward consolidating its dense network of 376 parishes, entering the final stages of planning for what is likely to result in the most significant sweep of parish closings seen here in recent memory.


Early last week, an advisory board that has been working for months with outside consultants to find ways to streamline the centuries-old archdiocese quietly sent its preliminary recommendations to local working groups-known as clusters-for review. It is the first time a broad consolidation plan such as this has been handled this way.

. . . .

The bulk of the closures are expected to take place in the Bronx and Manhattan, where many parishes were built as little as a block or two from the next as the church flourished in the last century. Some of those parishes may have attracted 800 people for Sunday Masses, but now struggle to fill the pews.


The closures could have significant real-estate implications, ushering onto the market hundreds of millions of dollars worth of coveted land across Manhattan.


While Zwilling said the value of property the churches are built on is not a factor in preparing a plan for the closures, it could become an issue if-hypothetically-the cardinal were left to decide between closing two parishes.

Read more

Book Review - Science and theology both reveal splendor of our natural world


By Elizabeth A. Johnson 

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing, $32.95

. . . . 

In Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love, theologian St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson embraces the task of showing how Christian theology can speak productively with Darwin's theory of evolution. This book begins with the question, "What is the theological meaning of the natural world of life?" The importance of nature in cosmic existence is something that theologians have only recently begun to examine seriously, but scientists have been at it for centuries. Why not, then, look to science to find insights that can be considered from a theological perspective?


Johnson's book is a sustained dialogue between science and theology, and she notes that although each discipline answers different questions, both are bearers of important truth about the world. Her specific dialogue partners are Darwin's On the Origin of Species and the Nicene Creed.


She accepts the theory of evolution that was described in On the Origin of Species as a scientifically demonstrated interpretation of the natural world. She embraces the Nicene Creed as a narrative of divine engagement. It is a bold move, but one that sparks fire to the heart and the imagination.

 . . . .

Johnson unloads the argumentative baggage stacked over the years, and shows that Darwin's work was not a direct assault on religion. Instead, she describes a theory that simply challenged the existing 19th-century scientific concept that each species of life in the world were the result of special acts of creation, with nothing new entering the system. Yes, this scientific theory was developed through the lens of Genesis, but, in truth, Darwin's ideas were as offensive to the scientists of his age as they were to the religious thinkers.


Johnson sees no reason to do war with the theory of evolution, but embraces it as a scientific insight that can further our theological thinking about nature and creation. She writes, "What a great scientific advance like this offers is certainly not an answer to every question but a suite of insights that lead to new ideas and new questions which deserve attention."

. . . . 

Our world evolved in all its splendor without human help, Johnson reminds us. In fact, the brief existence of humans in this creation, for all of our intelligence and talk of virtue, has quickly brought destruction and exponential extinction to the natural world. She invites us to conversion and suggests that we might even embrace a new asceticism- -- an earth-affirming discipline that frees us from enslavement to market practices that harm other living creatures.


This book is a call to broaden our focus, beyond the hierarchy we have perceived in Genesis, beyond the individualistic angst of human sin and redemption. It shows us that biblical revelation is bigger than this -- God is bigger than this. 

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U.S. Religious Progressivism "Way of the Future"
Michelle Tullo      May 2, 2014

The future of religion in U.S. politics lies not with conservatives but rather with religious progressives, social scientists here are suggesting, with a faith-based movement potentially able to provide momentum to a new movement for social justice.


According to a new report from the Brookings Institute, a think tank here, the current religious social justice movement can be compared to the period of civil rights activism in the mid-20th century. 


"There really is an opening now for a religious movement for social justice that is similar in many ways to the civil rights movement. We see it around issues of minimum wage, budget cuts, and immigration," E.J. Dionne, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and one of the authors of the report, told IPS.


"On social justice issues, religion has long been a progressive force, and Pope Francis is challenging people's assumptions that religion is an automatically conservative force ... After years of paying lots of attention to religious conservatives, religion by no means lives on the right."

. . . .

This schism underscores two trends that have defined the U.S. religious landscape over the past two decades: a decline in those who regularly attend religious services, and a rise in the conservative "religious right".


According to the report, these trends are interrelated, as "many young Americans were not turned off by faith itself but by the rightward trend they perceive among leaders. To young adults ... 'religion' means 'Republican,' 'intolerant,' and 'homophobic.'"


Yet despite these trends of growing secularisation, Dionne said, "a religious voice will remain essential to movements on behalf of the poor and the marginalised and also on behalf of the middle-class Americans who are under increasing pressure at a time of inequality."


Further, demographics indicate that this religious voice will not be from the conservative wing, Dionne suggests.

. . . .

"One of the reasons religious voices are so important now is that, especially with the weakening of the labour movement, the churches are the only mass organisation representing many, many poor people," said Dionne.


"Some research we did showed that, for example, in neighbourhood community development, the pastors are the only people who could get the attention of the banks."


The report notes that these religious progressive groups are very active and often successful, but lack the fanfare that can receive broad public attention. 

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Francis: Bishops, lay people 'all on the same level'
Joshua J. McElwee      May 2, 2014

Making remarks to a new Vatican council to review the central church's economic and administrative structures Friday, Pope Francis stressed that the council's eight cardinals and seven lay members should work together as equals.


The seven lay members, Francis said, "represent various parts of the world and contribute with their experience to the good of the church and its particular mission."


"The laity are full members of the new council: not members of the second class, no!" Francis said. "All on the same level." 

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Anti-Christian slogans alarm Church before Pope's Holy Land visit
Jeffrey Heller       May 8, 2014

The Roman Catholic Church in Jerusalem, preparing for a visit by Pope Francis later this month, has expressed alarm over threats to Christians scrawled by suspected Jewish extremists on church property in the Holy Land.


In an incident on Monday, "Death to Arabs and Christians and all those who hate Israel" was daubed in Hebrew on an outer column of the Office of the Assembly of Bishops at the Notre Dame Center in East Jerusalem.


"The wave of fanaticism and intimidation against Christians continues," the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem posted on its website, referring to so-called "price tag" incidents.


"Mere coincidence?" the patriarchate statement asked. "The Notre Dame Center is property of the Holy See and this provocation comes two weeks before Pope Francis' visit to the Holy Land and Jerusalem." 

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Style & Substance
Commonweal Editors       Apr.30 2014

. . . .

Despite official denials from the Vatican, there is little doubt that Francis's decision to canonize John XXIII and John Paul II at the same time is part of a broader effort to reconcile warring factions within Catholicism. This aim was manifest in Francis's homily during the canonization Mass, where he boldly enlisted the legacies of his two predecessors in support of his upcoming Synod on the Family. Pope John was open to and guided by the Holy Spirit in an unprecedented way, Francis noted, while John Paul II wanted to be remembered as "the pope of the family." Shrewdly uniting these complementary visions, Francis insisted that the upcoming synod would be "open to the Holy Spirit in pastoral service to the family.


In calling the synod, Francis has raised the expectation that the church will readmit divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion. This in turn has heightened the fears of some that Francis will alter church doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage. Certainly the pope's call for "pastoral service" and "divine mercy" suggests that he thinks this is an issue where the church has erred on the side of legalism, and he ended his homily by characteristically urging the synod to embrace the "mystery" of God's infinite forgiveness.  

. . . .
The most profound changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council were not essentially doctrinal. Rather, change had to do with how the church presented itself and its teachings to both the faithful and the larger world. By rejecting condemnations and anathemas, embracing other Christians and those of other faiths, and opening a dialogue with modernity, the council transformed the church without altering its fundamental message or character. Francis will need all the spiritual authority of his office if his welcome style of governance is to bring to fruition the transformation initiated by the council.   

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Cardinals approve miracle attributed to Paul VI
Andre Tornielli       May 6, 2014

Giovanni Battista Montini's beatification is near: this morning cardinals and bishops of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints unanimously approved the miracle attributed to the intercession of the Italian Pope from Brescia, who died in August 1978. The year which marked the canonization of two Popes - John XXIII and John Paul II - will also be the year of Paul VI's beatification. 


In the next few days Pope Francis will be promulgating the decree on the miracle attributed to the late Pope and the date suggested for the actual beatification is 19 October. The beatification is expected to take place in Rome on the occasion of the concluding ceremony of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family: it was Paul VI himself who established the Synod in September 1965 in response to a request made by the Council fathers. It should be noted that next August will mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of Paul VI's first big encyclical, the "Ecclesiam Suam", which he wrote and edited entirely by himself. 

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Vatican lifts sanctions on silenced Irish priest
Patsy McGarry      Apr.28, 2014

It was confirmed to The Irish Times in Rome last night that Marist priest Fr Fagan, who has been subject to sanction by the Vatican for six years, is no longer so.


The superior general of the Marist congregation in Rome, Fr John Hannan, said last night that Fr Fagan is now "a priest in good standing" where the church is concerned.


It has also emerged that the change in Fr Fagan's circumstances may have involved direct intervention by both Pope Francis and the former President of Ireland Mary McAleese.

. . . .

For many years Fr Fagan, who has suffered ill health for some time, had been critical of rigid stances by the Vatican on issues to do with conscience and sexual morality notably in letters to this newspaper. In 2003 he published the book Does Morality Change? And in 2008 Whatever Happened to Sin?


In 2010 he was informed by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that he would be laicised should be write for publication any material it considered contrary to Church teaching and should he disclose this to media. 

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New era for Irish-Vatican relations as Kenny invites Francis to visit and Vatican lifts sanctions against censured priest
Sarah Mac Donald       May 2, 2014

Relations between Ireland and the Holy See appear to have turned a corner following an invitation to Pope Francis to visit the country and the lifting of sanctions against an Irish priest.


In the coming days the Irish Government is also due to appoint a new Irish Ambassador to the Holy See to head up a re-opened but scaled down delegation comprising of just one diplomat.

In November 2011 the Irish Government announced that it was shutting one of country's oldest missions, ostensibly for financial reasons.


But the shock closure was widely perceived as a reaction to the findings of the Cloyne Report into clerical sexual abuse and the Vatican's recall of the then apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, following the Taoiseach's strongly worded criticisms of the church in his Dáil speech on the Cloyne report.

. . . .

Speaking at the Irish College in Rome, Mr Kenny said relations between church and state in Ireland were now "closer and healthier" and that the Church in Ireland had moved to "deal with the many problems of the legacy, the scars of the sex abuse crisis".


In another sign of improved relations between Rome and the Irish Church, it has been confirmed that the Vatican has lifted its sanctions against a censured Irish priest, 86-year-old Fr Sean Fagan.


The move follows what is understood to have come from the personal intervention of the Pope and a letter written to Francis by the former Irish president Mary McAleese. 


Sanctions were imposed on Fr Fagan, a member of the Marist Order, by the Vatican in 2008 due to his contentious views on sexual morality, as set out in his 2008 book, Whatever Happened to Sin. 

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Christian practice in the Netherlands drops to its lowest point
Alexandra Gowling      Apr.29, 2014

Confidence in churches, both Protestant and Catholic, has reached a nadir in the Netherlands, with numbers of Dutch churchgoers halving since 1970. The greatest drop is among Roman Catholics.

. . . .

Fifty years ago, over a third of the Dutch population considered their minister or priest their major point of contact for problems. Now, this applies to only 10 per cent.


Instead, people are increasingly likely to see churches merely as a kind of public utility, used only when needed, such as for weddings or a funerals.

. . . .

Along with attendance, belief among churchgoers is also lessening. In 1966, 51 per cent of churchgoers still believed that you must comply with all the rules of your church. In 2006, that was 34 per cent.


While 25 per cent of Dutch people never go to church and are not members of one, only 40 per cent of these are atheists. The majority of non-churchgoers say they do believe in a god or some kind of higher power. 

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Vatican statistics: Church growth remains steady worldwide 
Carol Glatz      May 5, 2014

The number of Catholics in the world and the number of priests, permanent deacons and religious men all increased in 2012, while the number of women in religious orders continued to decline, according to Vatican statistics.


The number of candidates for the priesthood also showed its first global downturn in recent years.


The statistics come from a recently published Statistical Yearbook of the Church, which reported worldwide Church figures as of December 31, 2012.


By the end of 2012, the worldwide Catholic population had reached 1.228 billion, an increase of 14 million or 1.14 per cent, slightly outpacing the global population growth rate, which, as of 2013, was estimated at 1.09 per cent. 


Catholics as a percentage of the global population remained essentially unchanged from the previous year at around 17.5 per cent.


The latest Vatican statistical yearbook estimated that there were about 4.8 million Catholics that were not included in its survey because they were in countries that could not provide an accurate report to the Vatican, mainly China and North Korea.


According to the yearbook, the percentage of Catholics as part of the general population is highest in the Americas where they make up 63.2 per cent of the continent's population. Asia has the lowest proportion, with 3.2 per cent. 

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BC study says Latinos are key to future of US Catholicism
Peter Schworm     May 5, 2014

The future of Catholicism in America rests heavily on the church's ability to attract and retain young Hispanics whose connection to secular life is stronger than to the faith that sustained their parents, according to a new national study led by Boston College researchers.


The three-year study, which will be released Monday, said that failing to bring  more young Hispanics into the church has broad consequences at a time when Latinos constitute 40 percent of all Catholics in the United States.


"The secularization of Hispanics is the biggest threat to the future of the Catholic Church in America," said Hosffman Ospino, an assistant professor of theology and ministry at Boston College and lead author of the report. "We run the risk of losing a whole generation of Catholics."

. . . .

The study makes a clear call to action, urging the church to develop a strategy to address the issues facing Hispanics and their parishes.


The issues take on added importance as the Catholic Church becomes more reliant on Hispanics, specialists said. By 2050, Hispanics will probably account for more than 60 percent of American Catholics.

. . . .

But without a shift in focus, the parish structure in the United States will decline dramatically, as it did in Europe, Ospino said. 

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Pa. Supreme Court to decide Msgr. Lynn's case
Joseph A. Slobodzian      May 8, 2014

Pennsylvania's Supreme Court agreed on Thursday to resolve the contested key legal theory underpinning the landmark 2012 prosecution of the first Catholic Church official charged in the clergy child sex-abuse scandal.


The decision by the state's highest court will decide the future of Msgr. William J. Lynn, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's former official responsible for investigating and recommending punishment for priests accused of sexual and other misconduct.


It could also dictate the standards for prosecutors to bring future charges against church officials accused of covering up misconduct by the clergy they supervise.


The Supreme Court did not set a date for oral argument, or even a briefing schedule for what will be months of legal filings by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office and lawyers for the Archdiocese and for Lynn. 

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Conservatives squawk over pope's tweet on inequality
David Gibson       Apr.29, 2014

Another week, another communications controversy for Pope Francis?

. . . . 

The latest dust-up began routinely enough, with a Monday (April 28) morning post to Francis' Twitter feed that said: "Iniquitas radix malorum."


"Inequality is the root of social evil," is how the English translation ran, and that tracked closely with other language versions.

. . . .

At Catholic Culture, a conservative news site, editor Phil Lawler called the pope's tweet "a fairly radical statement" and as "a piece of economic analysis a very simplistic one." He added that Francis probably doesn't know what's going onto his Twitter feed anyway, and the pope definitely does not speak English.


"So we can be sure those aren't his exact words," Lawler said, echoing previous conservative efforts to downplay or explain away some of Francis' more provocative statements.


Yet Vatican officials have said that in fact Francis personally approves all of his tweets, and did so in this case as well. Moreover, they noted that the tweet is taken directly from Francis' blockbuster exhortation from last year, The Joy of the Gospel (see paragraph No. 202).

. . . .

Francis stated the case so categorically that even liberal Catholics such as Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne were surprised.


"We are more accustomed to hearing popes talk about personal virtues and vices as the root of all evil and not to hear someone talk so clearly about structural sins," said Dionne, who is also a scholar at the Brookings Institution, which just produced a report on social justice and the future of religious progressives in U.S. politics.


"Although his tweet in consistent with Catholic social thought, I think it struck people because of the forceful stress on inequality, as opposed to a more general critique of social injustice that they often hear from religious leaders," he said.

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Opinion: 3 reforms the pope must make now
Paul V. Kane      May 5, 2014

With three bold reforms, Pope Francis can reinvigorate the billion-strong Catholic tradition, spur a renaissance in church attitudes, bring redemption for past failings and give hope to the many poor and ordinary people of our world.


While predecessor popes sought to circle the wagons in defense, evangelize and convert the rest of the world, since becoming head of the Catholic Church Pope Francis has sought instead to "convert the church."


The last 50 years have seen the priorities and conduct of the Catholic Church become muddled. The church has had an abundance of leaders, but a deficit of real leadership.  

. . . .  

The reforms needed today are right in front of us, but they will not be easily seen.

. . . .
  1. The mandatory retirement age for bishops and cardinals should be dropped to age 70. Exceptional leaders over age 70 should be given waivers to continue serving. . . . 
  2. The celibacy requirement for priesthood should be ended. We ought to return to the practices of the Early Church. A rich irony of the Early church is that the first Christian leaders were not only Jews, but most were married with children.  . . . .
  3. Local parish leadership needs to shift away from being built around an all-powerful pastor to one where a council of elected lay women and men act as a board partnered over a pastor. This would be a healthy progression and help develop a cadre of lay leaders able to fill the impending void created by a shortage of priests.

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Who could be the next archbishop of Chicago?
Manya Brachear Pashman      Apr.27, 2014

There is no public "short list" for who will succeed Cardinal Francis George at the helm of the Chicago Archdiocese, and the process appears to be in the early stages. But here are some possible candidates cited by experts:

  • New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond  . . . .  "He's made consistently good impressions as a good pastor and a capable administrator," said the Rev. Robert Schreiter, a professor at Catholic Theological Union who knew Aymond when he served as rector of the seminary in New Orleans. "He takes the flock into consideration."  
  • San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller  . . . .  "It would be not unreasonable to wonder whether or not, given the importance of the Latino presence in the Catholic Church in the U.S., it might be the time to see a Latino clergyman put in charge of Chicago," said Michael Budde, chair of Catholic Studies at DePaul University.
  • Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory . . . .  As bishop of the downstate Belleville diocese and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002, Gregory oversaw the creation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in the wake of the clergy sex abuse scandal.   
  • Louisville, Ky., Archbishop Joseph Kurtz     

    Months after the election of Pope Francis seemed to shift the church's priorities, America's Catholic bishops elected Kurtz to lead the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "He obviously has the confidence of the bishops to be elected to that post," Schreiter said. 

  • Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki . . . .  If called to Chicago, he or Gregory would be the first archbishop to return after serving as a local priest. (Though George is a Chicago native, he served in a religious order.)  

  • Portland, Ore., Archbishop Alexander King Sample  . . . .  Sample is considered a shooting star. Not only is he among the youngest American archbishops at age 53 (some have dubbed him the "Baby Bishop"), he wasn't ordained until he turned 30, earning an engineering degree before deciding to pursue the priesthood. If longevity is the goal, Sample could be the best bet. 

  • Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain   . . . .  "Although he's very much orthodox and even conservative, he is very pastoral," said Bosco. "He fits the mode of Pope Francis' desire to accentuate the pastoral side of the leadership of the church." 

  • Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr   . . . .  He served at the papal embassy, worked for the bishops conference and organized the only U.S.-hosted World Youth Day in Denver in 1993. 

  • Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph Tobin    

    Tobin earned a good name for the way he worked with people as general consultor and then superior general of the Redemptorist order in Rome from 1991 to 2009. That's why he got called to lead the Vatican's congregation that oversees religious orders in 2010. But he was relegated to Indianapolis a few years later after expressing support for the Catholic sisters who were under investigation and are now supervised by Sartain. 

  • Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski  . . . .  Wenski, the son of a Polish immigrant father, has been outspoken on immigration and, as a Florida clergyman, also speaks fluent Spanish and Haitian Creole. "Miami has become a very important diocese in this country because of the whole population it has," Schreiter said. "He could come under consideration." 

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Pope creates cardinal commission to address Peruvian university
CNA      Apr.30, 2014

The Apostolic Nunciature in Peru announced that Pope Francis has created a Commission of Cardinals to find a solution to the case of the former Pontifical Catholic University of Peru.
. . . .

 The Vatican has asked the university to write new statutes that would align with Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which offers norms governing Catholic colleges. University administrators have repeatedly refused to do so, claiming that they were limited by Peruvian law.

In August 2012, a decree authorized by Pope Benedict XVI stripped the university of the titles "Catholic" and "pontifical," while reinforcing that Canon Law still applied to the university.

The election of the university's new rector will take place July 4 of this year. The current vice rector, Pepi Patron, is a leading contender to assume the post. She has defended the institution's position against the Vatican.

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The Tablet parts ways with longtime Vatican analyst Robert Mickens
Joshua J. McElwee      Apr.24, 2014

The weekly British Catholic magazine The Tablet and its Rome correspondent Robert Mickens, an American who is a longtime Vatican analyst, have severed ties after nine years of working together.


The publication announced the news on its website Thursday and also tweeted an announcement.


Separation by Mickens and The Tablet comes after the magazine announced March 25 on Twitter that it had suspended the writer, claiming it needed to conduct an investigation of a comment Mickens made on Facebook.


"After serious consideration, The Tablet and Robert Mickens have come to a mutual agreement that he will no longer be the journal's Rome correspondent," reads the official statement posted by the publication on its website.

. . . .

Other longtime Catholic journalists expressed anger with the announcement Thursday. In one example, Religion News Service's national reporter, David Gibson,  responded to The Tablet's tweet: "Shameful decision by the Tablet. The charges were false. Your loss."


While Mickens has not announced whether he will be writing for another publication, he is expected to continue providing regular commentary on television for the British broadcaster BBC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and the Irish broadcaster RTE.

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Oregon priest leaves Catholic church, files legal demand for personnel files
Dan Morris-Young       Apr.23, 2014

Fr. James Radloff's status as a priest in good standing in the diocese of Baker, Ore., has come to an end as he announced in an open letter Tuesday that he is leaving the Roman Catholic Church to "continue my journey as a priest" with a breakaway denomination, the Evangelical Catholic Church.


In addition, Radloff told NCR he has sent a demand through his civil attorney to Baker Bishop Liam Cary to "turn over a complete copy of my personnel records, and everything he used to make his decision."


That decision was to implement a formal removal of Radloff as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Bend, effective Oct. 1, 2013. At the time of the ouster, Cary praised Radloff's ministry at the diocese's largest and Bend's only parish. The bishop said Radloff remained a priest in good standing and had done nothing illegal. Cary refused to reveal the reasons for the termination, stating that he was "not at liberty to do so."


No change in Radloff's status with the diocese was announced even after the Vatican Congregation for Clergy rejected the pastor's appeal of Cary's action. Dated Jan. 31 and made public in Bend on Feb. 14, the ruling let Cary's removal of Radloff stand, allowed the bishop to keep the reasons private, and did not require lifting the ban on public ministry imposed on Radloff.


Breaking silence on his view of the ruling, Radloff told NCR he was "terribly disappointed with the entire process." 

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Ex-priest stole $300K and could face up to 20 years in prison
Crimesider Staff/AP      Apr.23, 2014

A priest who was the former leader of one of America's top clergy treatment centers was sentenced Wednesday to serve at least four years in prison for stealing $300,000 from a hospital, a dead priest's estate, and the state's Roman Catholic bishop.


Monsignor Edward Arsenault held several senior positions in the New Hampshire diocese from 1999 to 2009, when he became president and CEO of Saint Luke Institute in Maryland. He resigned in May of 2009 after allegations arose involving an inappropriate adult relationship and misuse of church funds.


Details of the thefts revealed Wednesday show a priest who billed the church for lavish meals and travel for himself and often a male partner. He was convicted of writing checks from the dead priest's estate to himself and his brother and billing Catholic Medical Center $250 an hour for consulting work he never did. 

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Faith Leaders Call on Sarah Palin, NRA, to Repudiate Statement Equating Waterboarding with Baptism
Samantha Friedman       Apr.30, 2014

Today, religious leaders sent letters to the National Rifle Association and Sarah Palin, asking them to denounce torture and to apologize to the U.S. Muslim and Christian communities for statements made by Palin at the NRA's Annual Meeting in Indianapolis this past weekend. Referring to those whom she declares have "information on plots to carry out jihad," Ms. Palin said on Saturday, "If I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we'd baptize terrorists."


The letters were organized by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and eighteen religious leaders signed the letter to the NRA. Rev. Ron Stief, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, sent the letter to Palin under his own name.


As the letter to the NRA says, "For Christians, baptism is a profoundly holy act. It is in stark contrast to the abhorrent act of waterboarding. Equating baptism to an act of torture like waterboarding is sacrilegious - and particularly surprising coming from a person who prides herself on her Christian faith."  

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A Bishop's Decision to Divorce
Gene Robinson       Apr.3, 2014

. . . .

As my marriage to Mark ends, I believe him to be one of the kindest, most generous and loyal human beings on earth. There is no way I could ever repay the debt I owe him for his standing by me through the challenges of the last decade. I will be forever grateful to him, and as I tell couples in pre-marital counseling, "Marriage is forever, and your relationship will endure-whether positively or negatively-even if the marriage formally ends." 


I know this flies in the face of the common practice of regarding one party in a divorce as the bad guy and one the good guy. The fact remains that it takes two people to make a marriage and two people to make a divorce. The reasons for ending a marriage fall on the shoulders of both parties: the missed opportunities for saying and doing the things that might have made a difference, the roads not taken, the disappointments endured but not confronted.


It is at least a small comfort to me, as a gay rights and marriage equality advocate, to know that like any marriage, gay and lesbian couples are subject to the same complications and hardships that afflict marriages between heterosexual couples. All of us sincerely intend, when we take our wedding vows, to live up to the ideal of "til death do us part." But not all of us are able to see this through until death indeed parts us.


My belief in marriage is undiminished by the reality of divorcing someone I have loved for a very long time, and will continue to love even as we separate. Love can endure, even if a marriage cannot. It will take a lot of work, a lot of grieving, and a large measure of hope to see it through. And that's where my faith comes in. 

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Steven Spielberg Boards Religious Drama 'Edgardo Mortara'
Justin Kroll     Apr.21, 2014

Though he's still mulling what his next directing gig will be, Steven Spielberg has added another project to his development slate: religious drama "The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara," written by "Lincoln" and "Munich" scribe Tony Kushner. Spielberg plans to produce and may direct the drama, which would be a co-production between DreamWorks and the Weinstein Co.


The script is based on David Kertzer's nonfiction book about the true-life story of an Italian Jew who became the center of an international controversy in 1858 when he was removed from his parents at the age of 7 by authorities of the Papal States and raised as a Catholic. He went on to become a priest in the Augustinian  

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Spanish government to face court after policing award given to the Virgin Mary
Ashifa Kassam     Apr.29, 2014 

Spain's government is being taken to court over a minister's decision to give the country's top policing award to a statue of the Virgin Mary.


The country's interior minister, Jorge Fernández Díaz, singled out an icon of the Virgin Mary, in Málaga, to receive the gold medal of police merit - which is normally reserved for police who have died in terrorist attacks.


Announcing the award in February, Díaz lauded the Virgin and her congregation for "maintaining a close collaboration with police, particularly during the acts celebrated in Holy Week, and for sharing police values such as dedication, caring, solidarity and sacrifice".


The award has infuriated secularists, who are demanding the medal be revoked, given that the Virgin and her congregation had "failed" to meet any of the minimum requirements. 

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Janet Kalven Remembered Fondly
Mary E. Hunt      Apr.30 2014

Janet Kalven, Grail member and feminist pedagogue, died April 24, 2014 at the age of 100. She was a veritable force of nature-a feminist who shaped the field of religion by providing various spaces for women to meet, learn, write, and strategize. See my WATER remembrance of her  here.


Her memoir, Women Breaking Boundaries: A Grail Journey, 1940-95, is must reading for a history of the Grail Movement and one woman's remarkable century-long life of justice seeking through education, ecology, economics, and theology. Janet had a full life as a student (University of Chicago), "Great Books" teaching assistant, Grail pioneer, adult educator, and one of the founders of Grailville all long before we met.

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