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Once people start to believe change is possible, 
the drive to achieve it accelerates.
                                          _  Patrick Edgar, ARCC President
It takes more than a great reformer 
to reform the Church
Massimo Faggioli                                   Jun.9, 2015 

One of the most acclaimed biographies of Pope Francis in English is Austen Ivereigh's, The Great Reformer, a profile that effectively captures the change factor of the pontificate.


But the book's very title risks raising extremely high expectations of one man whom the cardinals elected to be many things at once - Bishop of Rome, Sovereign of Vatican State, a global leader, pastor of the universal Catholic Church and so forth. (The Annuario Pontificio, the annual "who's who" of the Roman Catholic Church has an even more extensive list of the pope's titles.) 


The problem with expectations is both political and theological. Is it appropriate for Catholics to give their pope such a messianic role, as if he were able to heal all the ills of the Church? Is this not another version of the ever-mutable virus of clericalism? But the most complex issue related to the idea of the pope as being the reformer is systemic; that is, it's related to the gap between the Church as it is supposed to be officially and the Church as it really is. This gap is very visible if we dissect the body of the Church following the different agents of change in Church history.


First of all, the papacy is now more visible and globally popular than is used to be. But probably it also is less powerful, even within the Church. The idea of an all-powerful pope is a myth that works much better in a Dan-Brown-kind of narrative. This perpetuates the myth that the institutional Church is never-changing and it feeds the idea of both reformers and the irreformable that there is something coded that can be changed only by the ultimate insiders.


But the reality is that the Catholic Church today is much more complex than ever before. The pope's hands are more tied than most would think, owing to the various levels in the ecclesiastical bureaucracy and accountability to secular institutions. He also has to make do with less - fewer ordained ministers, smaller congregations and less leverage in the face of political power and cultural change. Even Pope John XXIII was unable to control the way L'Osservatore Romano  reported important news related to his pontificate. For example, when he received in the Vatican the daughter of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and her husband the official Vatican media refused to give publicity to the event.


Secondly, bishops are less able than before to be agents of change, even when they want to be. In some countries, like Germany, they run the Church. In others, such as Italy, their public face is mostly a political one. And in others still, like the United States, the bishops are just one part of a very big Church that includes many elements operating under the banner of Catholicism - widespread lay ministries, a lay cultural elite, new Church movements, schools at every level, think tanks and self-appointed watchdogs of orthodoxy.

All of this is part of an American Catholic Church that is extremely multicultural and multiethnic in a way that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops simply is not.


The bishops that were at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) were great agents of change, but their successors in episcopacy today are very different. Much of the reason for this is that John Paul II and Benedict XVI had a clear policy of appointing bishops that were ideologically aligned with the pope. Today there are diverse "cohorts" of bishops that are culturally different. On the one side there are men that John Paul II and Benedict XVI appointed to the episcopacy. On the other side are those whom Francis has appointed and the few remaining active bishops whom Paul VI named.


This dichotomy also is true, to a certain sense, in the rest of the clergy. But while there are already those that identify as JP2-Benedict priests, it is still not clear if a generation of Pope Francis priests will ever really emerge.


Thirdly, the nonordained members of the Church are also much more fragmented than before. The Catholic laity was once shaped by Catholic Action (in Europe) and by tight-knit Catholic neighborhoods and schools (in North America). In general, they were inserted into a strong and all-embracing cultural Catholicism that no longer exists.

Today's Catholics are more ideologically diverse from each other and in some countries they are even quite polarized politically. In some cases their parish life has grown completely separated from other Catholics that are theologically different. A few years ago journalist Bill Bishop in his book The Big Sort talked about the clustering of the like-minded in America. Something like that has also happened within the Catholic Church, which is now more diverse, but also more divided.


Ecclesiastically this means the vast majority of lay Catholics want a less clerical Church. But when it comes to other issues of Church reform, they vary a lot, even within the same country and local Church. This increased fragmentation has also affected the so-called class of professional lay Catholics - Catholic journalists and writers, Catholic politicians (an endangered species that has almost completely disappeared even in a key-country for the Church like Italy) and Catholic theologians. There are very few places (real or virtual) where all these Catholics can meet despite their differences, especially when their theologies differ.  


At a big Vatican II conference held at the Jesuit university Unisinos in Porto Alegre (Brazil) at the end of May, French Jesuit Christoph Theobald (one of the most acute interpreters of the council) said the Church needed more than just reform. He said it first of all needs a "pedagogy of reform."


And this would require Catholics to become acquainted again with the difference between true and false reform in the Church, which was the title that Yves Congar, the most important theologian at Vatican II, gave to one of his books.


The Second Vatican Council is, to date, the latest important chapter in the history of great Church reforms. It worked on theological ideas, but it was also part of a general movement of even larger reforms, such as civil rights, labor laws and decolonization. That culture of reform, which was also part of the political culture of the 1960s, is no longer part of our current cultural landscape. It is enough to look at how difficult it has been in our day to forge a path of reform in places like Washington D.C. or in Brussels and Strasbourg, the twin capitals of the very much depressed European Union.


The Vatican of the post-World War II period was part of a political-cultural alignment that linked a newly unified and peaceful Europe and United States. The papacy can no longer count on this North Atlantic geopolitical alignment, not least because the future of Catholicism is elsewhere. More common today are the cases - for example, regarding immigration, the environment and global economic injustice - where secular politicians invoke the pope's authority. This is mainly because of their inability to bring about reform. Unfortunately, this, too, places yet another burden and unrealistic expectations on the shoulders of that lone man in Rome. 

Some things we have been reading  
Pope Francis, in Sweeping Encyclical, Calls for Swift Action on Climate Change
Jim Yardley & Laurie Goodstein      Jun.18, 2015

Pope Francis on Thursday called for a radical transformation of politics, economics and individual lifestyles to confront environmental degradation and climate change, as his much-awaited papal encyclical blended a biting critique of consumerism and irresponsible development with a plea for swift and unified global action.


The vision that Francis outlined in the 184-page encyclical is sweeping in ambition and scope: He described a relentless exploitation and destruction of the environment, for which he blamed apathy, the reckless pursuit of profits, excessive faith in technology and political shortsightedness. The most vulnerable victims are the world's poorest people, he declared, who are being dislocated and disregarded.


The first pope from the developing world, Francis, an Argentine, used the encyclical - titled "Laudato Si'," or "Praise Be to You" - to highlight the crisis posed by climate change. He placed most of the blame on fossil fuels and human activity while warning of an "unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequence for all of us" if swift action is not taken. Developed, industrialized countries were mostly responsible, he said, and were obligated to help poorer nations confront the crisis.

. . . .

"Humanity is faced with a crucial challenge that requires the development of adequate policies, which, moreover, are currently being discussed on the global agenda," Cardinal Peter Turkson said during the morning news conference at the Vatican.


"Certainly, Laudato Si' can and must have an impact on important and urgent decisions to be made in this area."


In the news conference, Cardinal Turkson said that Francis had already noted that humanity had played a role in climate change. He said that there was "heated debate" on the topic and that Francis was not trying to intervene in that.


Francis has made clear that he hopes the encyclical will influence energy and economic policy and stir a global movement. He calls on ordinary people to pressure politicians for change. Bishops and priests around the world are expected to lead discussions on the encyclical in services on Sunday. But Francis is also reaching for a wider audience when in the first pages of the document he asks "to address every person living on this planet."

. . . .

Yet Francis has also been sharply criticized by those who question or deny the established science of human-caused climate change and also by some conservative Roman Catholics, who have interpreted the document as an attack on capitalism and as unwanted political meddling at a moment when climate change is high on the global agenda.


Governments are now crafting domestic climate change plans before December's United Nations summit meeting on climate change in Paris. The goal of the meeting is to achieve the first sweeping global accord in which every nation on earth would commit to enacting new policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Many governments have yet to present plans, including major emitters like Brazil, which also has a large Catholic population. The encyclical is seen as an unsubtle nudge for action, even as it provides support for leaders faced with tough choices in countries with large numbers of Catholics.


"It gives a lot of cover to political and economic leaders in those countries, as they make decisions on climate change policy," said Timothy Wirth, vice chairman of the United Nations Foundation.

Catholic theologians say the overarching theme of the encyclical is "integral ecology," which links care for the environment with a notion already well developed in Catholic teaching - that economic development, to be morally good and just, must take into account the need of human beings for things such as freedom, education and meaningful work.

. . . .

Central to Francis' theme is the linkage between the poor and the fragility of the planet. He rejects the belief that technology and "current economics" will solve environmental problems or "that the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth." He cites finance as having a distorting influence on politics and calls for government action, international regulation and a spiritual and cultural awakening to "recover depth in life."


Amid the broad themes, Francis also touches on a wide range of specific topics, from urban planning (calling for better neighborhoods for the poor) and agricultural economics (warning against the reach of huge agribusinesses that push family farmers off their land) to conservation and biodiversity (with calls to protect the Amazon and Congo basins), and even offers up small passages of media and architecture criticism.

. . . .

Above all, Francis has framed the encyclical as a call to action, imbuing environmental protection with a theological and spiritual foundation. He praises the younger generations for being ready for change and said "enforceable international agreements are urgently needed." He cited Benedict in saying that advanced societies "must be prepared to encourage more sober lifestyles, while reducing their energy consumption and improving its efficiency."


"All is not lost," he wrote. "Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start."

Read more
The poem from Saint Francis that inspired the ecology encyclical, "Laudato Si'"
Rome Reports      Jum.15, 2015


Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.
To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You; through those who endure sickness and trial.
Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility. 

Read more

Follow the Footnotes
Kevin Ahern      Jun.18, 2015

In addition to the use of gender-inclusive language, a first in official Catholic social encyclicals, one of the most amazing aspects of "Laudato Si'" are the footnotes. To be honest it was one of the very first things I looked at. Francis departs from the tradition of Catholic social encyclicals by citing several non-official Catholic sources including U.N. documents, national bishops' conferences and, most surprisingly, a Sufi mystic!


Now, while this may seem somewhat pedantic for most readers, the footnotes of Francis are a significant departure from tradition. Most official papal encyclicals of Catholic social teaching have a specific style and the footnotes play an important role. Unlike the citations that my students use in their papers to attribute the origin of ideas, footnotes in papal teaching have functioned as a way to alert the reader to the text's continuation of a tradition. Papal footnotes are generally concerned less with proper attribution and more with communicating that this teaching is in line with a long tradition on the matter-even when they may disagree slightly from the source.

. . . 

While not welcome by everyone, "Laudato Si'" affirms the authority of these regional structures with 20 citations of statements of 18 national and regional bishops' conferences. This includes the 2001 statement of the U.S.C.C.B., "Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good." The selection of statements from multiple regions of the world appears to make a point about the concerns expressed by bishops to the problems at hand. Indeed, it constructively shows how the fostering of an integral ecology is not simply the concern of Pope Francis. Although subtle, this is also a nod to an inductive and more decentralized vision of church, where the statements of bishops' conferences have value in the formation of universal Catholic social teaching.


In addition to breaking tradition by citing statements from national conferences, Pope Francis draws from a range of Catholic thinkers. He cites Romano Guardini, an influential priest-theologian (1885-1968) eight times. He makes a surprise reference to the controversial Jesuit, Teilhard de Chardin, in footnote no. 53, and quotes, at length, Patriarch Bartholomew early on in the text. He also makes reference to a book published by Fordham University Press in footnote no. 15.


Perhaps the most surprising reference is to a Sufi Muslim mystic, Ali al-Khawas, in footnote no. 159, which beautifully reads: 


The spiritual writer 'Ali al-Khawas stresses from his own experience the need not to put too much distance between the creatures of the world and the interior experience of God. As he puts it: "Prejudice should not have us criticize those who seek ecstasy in music or poetry. There is a subtle mystery in each of the movements and sounds of this world. The initiate will capture what is being said when the wind blows, the trees sway, water flows, flies buzz, doors creak, birds sing, or in the sound of strings or flutes, the sighs of the sick, the groans of the afflicted.


This is even more striking when it comes in a section entitled, "Sacramental Signs and the Celebration of Rest" (No. 232). From a theological point of view, the inclusion of explicitly religious texts from outside the Catholic tradition raises interesting questions about the development of doctrine. What does it mean for an official statement of social doctrine to draw from a Muslim mystic? What does this say about the role of the Holy Spirit beyond the church? 

Among the 172 footnotes in the encyclical, not all are from such surprising sources. The writings of John Paul II get referenced 37 times-the most for any one-figure reference is Pope Benedict XVI, a close second with 30 citations in the text. While some may try to distance the social teachings of Francis on the environment and the economy from his predecessors, these references, as is their purpose, should help remind the reader that he is building on a deeply established tradition of social concern.


As with other papal encyclicals, "Laudato Si'" highlights the importance of paying attention to the footnotes. As I tell my students in my courses on Catholic social teaching, follow the footnotes. You may be surprised where they will lead you.

Read more
Angry US republicans tell Pope Francis to 'stick with his job and we'll stick with ours'
Suzanne Goldenberg      Jun.13, 2015

. . . .

The prospect that the pope, from his perch at the pinnacle of the Catholic church, will exhort humanity to act on climate change as a moral imperative is a direct threat to a core belief of US conservatives. And conservatives - anxious to hang on to their flock - are lashing out.


"The pope ought to stay with his job, and we'll stay with ours," James Inhofe, the granddaddy of climate change deniers in the US Congress and chairman of the Senate environment and public works committee, said last week, after picking up an award at a climate sceptics' conference.


Rick Santorum, a devout Catholic and a long-shot contender for the Republican nomination, told a Philadelphia radio station: "The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we're good at, which is theology and morality."

. . . .

"If I were a Catholic climate denier, I would be worried about the pope," said Patrick Regan, who teaches the politics of climate change at the University of Notre Dame. "And if I had a vested interest in not changing climate policy, the pope would be a threat to my political stance."


In the case of climate change, conservatives face multiple threats to the world view.


This week, the pope will cast climate change as the moral cause of our times. Over the summer, Barack Obama will finalise new rules cutting carbon pollution from power plants. In September, the pope will be back to stir up talk of climate change again, in the first ever speech by a pope to Congress - just at a time when hard-core conservatives had hoped to be voting on long-shot legislation to block the power plant rules or cut climate aid to developing countries.

Read more

Pope Francis's Encyclical on the Environment, and the Impossibility of Discussing Violence Against the Environment Without Discussing Gender Issues
William D. Lindsey     Jun.18, 2015
Call me crazy, but if I were a world religious leader writing a major document about ecology today - one which stresses that it is addressing every member of the human community - and if I chose to use the word "sister" fourteen times in that major document, I'd find some way, I think, to include the voices of the sisters of my own faith community in what I had to say. Say, Hildegarde of Bingen and Julian of Norwich, who have a wealth of significant things to tell us about our relationship to the cosmos and the spiritual implications of that relationship.
. . . 
Or Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena, both profoundly important spiritual theologians . . . . Or leading sister theologians and sister thinkers today who have written critically important works about these very matters, from Elizabeth Johnson to Rosemary Radford Ruether to Elizabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza to Mary Hunt, Ivone Gebara, Teresa Forcades and on and on . . . .
Instead, Pope Francis's ground-breaking encyclical Laudato Si' is interlarded throughout with citations of one male religious authority figure after another, including Blessed Paul VI, Saint John Paul II, Saint John XXIII, Pope Benedict XVI, Saint Francis of Assisi and Blessed Charles de Foucauld, one bishops' conference after another (all men, as far as I know), theologians including Saint Basil the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Teilhard de Chardin, Romano Guardini, etc.
Laudato Si' is full of valuable reminders that the earth is sister to all of us, and that we all originate from the womb of primal Mater, who gives birth to the mater-ial world. But nowhere in the encyclical does one really hear the voice of the many sisters and mothers who, throughout the course of Catholic history and today, have fostered these significant insights, made them shine in the discourse of the church, and reminded us that we forget these insights to the peril of all of creation.
How is it possible, I ask myself, for us to hear the voice of Sister Earth, when we refuse to hear the voices of our own human sisters and our sisters in faith?
Instead, Pope Francis's ground-breaking encyclical Laudato Si' is interlarded throughout with citations of one male religious authority figure after another, including Blessed Paul VI, Saint John Paul II, Saint John XXIII, Pope Benedict XVI, Saint Francis of Assisi and Blessed Charles de Foucauld, one bishops' conference after another (all men, as far as I know), theologians including Saint Basil the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Teilhard de Chardin, Romano Guardini, etc.
Laudato Si' is full of valuable reminders that the earth is sister to all of us, and that we all originate from the womb of primal Mater, who gives birth to the mater-ial world. But nowhere in the encyclical does one really hear the voice of the many sisters and mothers who, throughout the course of Catholic history and today, have fostered these significant insights, made them shine in the discourse of the church, and reminded us that we forget these insights to the peril of all of creation.
How is it possible, I ask myself, for us to hear the voice of Sister Earth, when we refuse to hear the voices of our own human sisters and our sisters in faith?

Read more

Fault lines surface as Vatican climate encyclical leaks

Jason Berry & Valeria Fraschetti    Jun.15, 2015


An hour before L'espresso magazine leaked an Italian-language PDF of Pope Francis's long-awaited encyclical on ecology, Massimo Faggioli was unwinding over orange juice in a café near St. Peter's Square after a day's research in the Vatican Archives.

"American Catholic conservatives have already dismissed the letter because of Cardinal [Peter] Turkson's role in the drafting process," said Faggioli.


"An African cardinal in charge of drafting a document for a Latin American pope is too much for some of these people."


A few minutes later, Faggioli checked his iPhone and saw that the conservative Vatican correspondent Sandro Magister had posted the entire encyclicalLaudato Si: On the Care of Our Common Home, on L'espresso - three days before its scheduled release at noon Thursday.


"I believe this was leaked to Magister by one of the enemies to embarrass the pope and deflate the hyped launch," Robert Mickens, Vatican correspondent for the Jesuit-edited news magazineGlobal Pulse, said in a tweet.

. . . . 

The papal encyclical will be a challenge for many bishops who historically rely on support for diocesan charities and schools from wealthy donors aligned with the Republican agenda. 

. . . .

Marquette University theologian Jame Schaefer, in an interview before the release of the papal letter, predicted that "Catholic colleges and universities will include the study of the encyclical in pertinent courses - theology, ethics, environmental sciences, economics, political science - and offer programs that address concerns from interdisciplinary perspectives oriented toward Earth's flourishing. 

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Pew survey: 71 percent of Catholics believe in global warming
Soli Salgado      Jun.16, 2015


new survey by Pew Research Center shows that U.S. Catholics are slightly ahead of the curve compared to the general public regarding climate change. And like the rest of the country, views among Catholics can be largely predicted by political partisanship.


While 68 percent of the general public said they believe that Earth is warming, 71 percent of all Catholics do. When broken down by political parties, factions among Catholics have a clearer rift: 85 percent who identify themselves as Democrats agree that the Earth is warming, with 72 percent of independents and about half of Republicans (51 percent).

Read more

Towards a sustainable Creation
Graham Gordon      Jun.18, 2015

The Pope's document published this week is not just for the benefit of the faithful, but has been deliberately timed to influence decision-makers at a trio of key United Nations summits this year culminating in the climate-change conference in Paris in December.


For the United Nations, 2015 is a key year. The challenge is to reach potentially transformative agreements following each of three summits that will deliver meaningful change for people living in poverty and protect the environment. 


It is no coincidence that Pope Francis has chosen to release his encyclical ahead of the first of these summits, to be held in Addis Ababa next month on financing for development. 


He will also be addressing the UN General Assembly in New York in September at the second summit, where leaders will sign up to the new Sustainable Development Goals - the successor agreement to the Millennium Development Goals. World leaders will need to agree a deal on tackling climate change at the third summit in Paris at the end of the year. 


This trinity of summits has the potential to set out the path toward a more just and sustainable world over coming generations. So, what relevance might the encyclical have for them? Primarily it keeps the focus on tackling poverty and protecting the environment for both governments and business.

It has been clear in the run-up to publication that the thinking behind the encyclical is to focus on human development that is both integral and authentic - about the whole person and about every person. This is development not merely for some, nor even for the many, but for all people, both current and future generations. It is also development that is about respecting and protecting creation. Development is not authentic if it harms the environment, nor is environmental protection enough if it is not also about human development. 

Read more

Confidence in Religion at New Low, but Not Among Catholics
Lydia Saad      Jun.17, 2015

Americans' confidence in the church and organized religion has fallen dramatically over the past four decades, hitting an all-time low this year of 42%. Confidence in religion began faltering in the 1980s, while the sharpest decline occurred between 2001 and 2002 as the Roman Catholic Church grappled with a major sexual abuse scandal. Since then, periodic improvements have proved temporary, and it has continued to ratchet lower.

. . . .

U.S. Protestants' confidence in the church and organized religion also hit a new low this year, with 51% now saying they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in it. While confidence among U.S. Catholics is also at 51%, this represents a steadying after more than a decade of varying confidence during which their ratings reached as low as 39%.

Although confidence among Protestants has been sliding since 2009, Catholics' has remained above 50% each of the last two years, the first time it has achieved this since 2003-2004. The leadership of the popular Pope Francis, including his recent initiative to hold high-ranking leaders of the Catholic Church accountable for their role in past child sex abuse scandals, may be a factor.

Confidence in religion
 . . . .

In addition to serious scandals that have come to light surrounding various religious leaders and church institutions in recent decades, the increase in the share of Americans identifying as nonreligious or as members of a non-Christian faith is another reason that confidence in the church has declined. The total percentage of Americans identifying as Catholic, Protestant or other Christian in Gallup polls has fallen, while the percentage with no religious affiliation has risen considerably.


The church and organized religion is losing its footing as a pillar of moral leadership in the nation's culture. Once reliably at the top of Gallup's confidence in institutions list, it now ranks fourth behind the military, small business and the police, and just ahead of the medical system. The good news for the church is that it still ranks among the more well-respected institutions at a time when fewer than one in four Americans have confidence in several others, including Congress and the media.


Poor behavior on the part of some religious leaders has caused serious self-inflicted wounds for the church and organized religion -- damaging its image among Protestants and Catholics as well as among non-Christians. At the same time, the nation is becoming less Christian and less religious, and those outside of Christianity naturally view the church with less respect. Any progress that organized religion can make in restoring confidence among the faithful may help stabilize its numbers, and perhaps soften others' skepticism.

Read more

Nienstedt resigns after archdiocese charged with cover-up
Madeleine Baran , Tom Scheck , Jon Collins         Jun.15, 2015

 LISTEN Madeleine Baran talks with MPR News host Cathy Wurzer

NeinstedtNearly two years into a clergy sex abuse scandal, Archbishop John Nienstedt has resigned as head of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.


The Vatican said Pope Francis accepted the resignations of Nienstedt, 68, and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piche, 57. They resigned under the church law that allows bishops to resign before they retire because of illness or some other "grave" reason that makes them unfit for office.

. . . .

The Rev. Bernard Hebda, who is set to become archbishop of Newark, N.J., in 2016, will temporarily fill the role of archbishop as apostolic administrator of the archdiocese.


In a letter to members of the Twin Cities archdiocese's clergy, Hebda indicated that his role in Minnesota would be part-time as well as temporary. "[I]t is my intention to be as available as possible, while still fulfilling my responsibilities as the Coadjutor Archbishop of Newark," he wrote.

. . . .

Hebda is a Pittsburgh native and Harvard graduate with a law degree from Columbia University. He worked for a high-profile Pittsburgh law firm before being ordained a priest in 1989. He served briefly as a parish priest, then became a canon lawer - an expert in church law - before returning to the Diocese of Pittsburgh to work in various roles in the 1990s. He worked in Rome as a canon lawyer and then as bishop of Gaylord, Mich., before his appointment to Newark.


"There will be many unanswered questions as we take this significant transitional step to new leadership," Twin Cities Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens said in a brief statement late Monday morning. "I pledge to you personally though that Archbishop Hebda and I will work closely to bring our archdiocese into a new day."

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Archbishop's Departure Sparks Reaction from Twin Cities Church Community
Brett Hoffland      Jun.15, 2015

The decision of Archbishop John Nienstedt to step down is prompting reaction all across the church community.


For years, some groups have been calling for Nienstedt to step down, but whether this was the right decision, now the focus is on the future and what that may look like for Catholics across the Twin Cities

"We were lied to, things were kept from us," Reverend Mike Tegeder at the St. Frances Cabrini Church said.


Betrayal, concern, relief and hope. These are just a few of the emotions felt by members of the Catholic Church community following Nienstedt's exit.

. . . .

"We have to win back a lot of trust, that's for sure," Tegeder said. 

"I think it's not a good thing for the diocese, and I'm a little worried about what comes next," St. Paul resident Chris Conway said.

For years, the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform has waited for this day.


"There's an opportunity for healing here, and I think this resignation opens the door for that healing for all the local Catholics," Mary Beth Stein with the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform said.

Stein says this is an opportunity for a new leader and for Nienstedt's replacement to represent the average Catholic.

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Our View: Archbishop's resignation was inevitable
Minn. Post-Bulletin       Jun.17, 2015

When John Nienstedt was appointed archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, it was noted that his outspoken management style would be a contrast to his predecessor, Harry Flynn, a decidedly low-key personality.


"Much ink has been spilled in the press over speculation about how (I) will differ from the present archbishop," Nienstedt said during his welcome Mass nearly eight years ago at the Cathedral of St. Paul. "But frankly, I believe that speculation is misplaced."


It turns out it wasn't. Nienstedt called for unity when he celebrated his first Mass in St. Paul, but instead, he presided over the most turbulent period in the diocese's history. He resigned Monday, 10 days after criminal charges were filed against the archdiocese by the Ramsey County Attorney's Office for its "role in failing to protect children and contribution to the unspeakable harm" in priest sex-abuse cases.


"My leadership has unfortunately drawn attention away from the good works of his church and those who perform them. Thus, my decision to step down," Nienstedt said in a statement posted by the archdiocese.

. . . .

In his resignation statement, Nienstedt said, "I leave with a clear conscience knowing that my team and I have put in place solid protocols to ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults."

After Pope Francis appoints a successor, the next archbishop undoubtedly will reiterate the call for unity. It's our hope that Nienstedt's failed goal will finally be achieved among the 825,000 Catholics in the archdiocese's 187 parishes.

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Archdiocese asks for big-name legal help
Jon Collins  & Martin Moylan      Jun.17, 2015

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis will have the help of a former federal prosecutor to fend off criminal and civil charges filed against the archdiocese in Ramsey County earlier this month.

The federal judge overseeing the bankruptcy of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis approved the hiring of Joseph Dixon III Wednesday afternoon.


Dixon, of the Fredrikson & Byron law firm, will cost the cash-strapped archdiocese about $400 an hour, which Dixon said in an engagement letter "represents a substantial discount" over his normal rates. The assistance of a second associate at the firm would cost the archdiocese $320 an hour.


The archdiocese asked the bankruptcy court to allow the expenses in order to protect its assets from repercussions of the Ramsey County charges.


"The County Attorney Actions are directed against the Archdiocese as an entity, rather than against any individuals within the Archdiocese organization, and require immediate response by the Archdiocese," according to documents filed by the archdiocese Tuesday. "The County Attorney Actions may affect the availability to the estate of insurance coverage for claims based on the same facts."

The archdiocese also argued that a conviction in the criminal case could increase the archdiocese's liability in claims related to clergy abuse.


"The criminal action against the Archdiocese could have serious repercussions on the estate's finances, which relies on the goodwill and support of parishioners," according to court filings by the archdiocese.

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Questions and answers about legal case against St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese
Amy Forliti       Jun.14 2015

Minnesota prosecutors have taken legal action against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, accusing church leaders of failing to protect children from an abusive priest. The case includes criminal charges as well as a civil petition that asks the court to order the archdiocese to restrain from its alleged behavior. Some questions and answers about the case:



 . . . .

The criminal case charges the archdiocese with six gross misdemeanor counts. The archdiocese could face a maximum of $18,000 in fines if convicted.


While the criminal charges hold the archdiocese accountable for past crimes, the civil petition seeks "legal remedies to prevent the archdiocese from allowing this behavior to ever happen again," Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said earlier this month. It seeks no monetary damages. In the petition, prosecutors are asking the court to restrain the archdiocese from repeating the behavior, require it to correct and eliminate conditions that allowed the cover-up and order any other remedies the court deems appropriate.

 . . . .

Under church law, the bishop has ultimate supervision of his priests and priests take vows to obey. If the state intrudes on that relationship, the church can claim it infringes on religious liberty, said Charles Reid Jr., a professor of canon law at St. Thomas University.


Reid said Ramsey County's civil petition is carefully worded to avoid that. He said the document seeks assurances that the archdiocese is doing what it promised to do and following its own charters to protect children.

. . . . 

Reid said if the court grants the petition and the archdiocese doesn't abide by its own rules, the church could be held in contempt or fined.



Not exactly, but there have been similar cases where some amount of oversight was part of a settlement.


In 2002, for example, the Diocese of Manchester reached an agreement with the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office that included an annual audit to keep the diocese accountable. In exchange, prosecutors agreed not to charge the diocese or any individuals for the way they handled allegations of past abuse. The audits were delayed by a few years as both sides wrangled over their scope.



That's unknown. While prosecutors have detailed many instances in which specific church leaders failed to disclose information, Choi said there wasn't enough evidence to prove that anyone committed a crime. But he also said the investigation continues.

. . . . 


That depends on how both sides proceed. Reid said the archdiocese has three options: plead guilty and pay the fine, go into negotiations with prosecutors or contest the matter and go to trial.

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Interim Archbishop Bernard Hebda arrives in Minnesota, says Mass for priests in Rochester
Marcus E. Howard     Jun.17, 2015

Interim Archbishop Bernard Hebda met with the state's Catholic priests Wednesday as he assumed the reins of an archdiocese rocked by the resignation of its leader and charges of clergy sex abuse.

Hebda arrived in Minnesota Tuesday evening and on Wednesday joined a few hundred priests gathered in Rochester for an assembly that convenes every two years.

. . . .

The Rev. Mike Tegeder of St. Frances Cabrini Church in Minneapolis, a frequent critic of Nienstedt, said priests in the archdiocese are divided between a sizable number still loyal to Nienstedt and a majority who are not. But he said Hebda, who shook hands with priests following the mass, was "very warmly received."

. . . .

Hebda issued a statement to the archdiocese's 800,000 Catholics referring to his experience as bishop in northern Michigan, "where I first came to know the vibrancy of the faith shared by Catholics of the Upper Midwest. I am hopeful that there will be opportunities to meet many of you in the weeks ahead."

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Holding bishops accountable
Mark Silk      Jun.11, 2015

It is hard to overstate the importance of Pope Francis' decision to establish a standing tribunal at the Vatican to deal with bishops who fail to deal properly with charges of child sexual abuse against priests and other diocesan personnel. Ever since the issue of the sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church began to be raised publicly three decades ago, the principal cause of scandal has not been the abuse itself, but its coverup by diocesan officials - bishops above all.


After years of pretending that all that was needed were procedures for handling accusations of abuse, Rome has finally recognized the necessity of a formal mechanism for holding accountable bishops who "abuse their office" by flouting them. All credit is due to the papal commission on sex abuse for proposing the tribunal, to the pope's Council of Cardinals for approving it, and to the pope himself for giving it his blessing.

. . . .

To be sure, there is much that is unclear about how the tribunal will operate. Cases of clerical abuse are currently referred to the CDF by their bishops. What will be the procedure for referring "abuse of office" cases against bishops? With what degree of openness will such cases be handled? Will there be a set of rules for how bishops should handle abuse cases and a set of sanctions for failure to observe them? If anyone in the Vatican imagines that a closed and obscure process will solve the problem, he should think again.


Of course, even the best designed judicial structure will fail if the wrong people are running it. In this regard, all eyes must now be on Cardinal Gerhard Müller, whom Pope Francis appointed to head the CDF in 2012. Prior to that, as Bishop of Regensburg, Müller was faced with the case of Peter Kramer, a diocesan priest who had been convicted of child abuse in 2000 and given a probated sentence. In 2004, Müller assigned Kramer to a parish without informing the parishioners of the priest's past. There, he abused more children and was again criminally convicted.


In 2007, Müller explained his decision to reassign Kramer based on the priest's assurance that he had not reoffended and on the importance of forgiveness. Far from assuming blame, the bishop told Der Spiegel, "The culprit bears the responsibility for the offense. I am not responsible for everything that our clerics and co-workers do."

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On the Papal Tribunal
Ray Mouton       Jun.10, 2015

This is the biggest non-story in the history of the clergy child sex abuse scandal. 


Read the headline and then read the whole story


The headline proclaims that Pope Francis has created an abuse tribunal for cases of bishop's negligence. 


First, it should be noted a bishop does not "negligently" cover up heinous crimes committed by priests against innocent children. A bishop's actions in covering up crimes are "intentional" actions, not "negligent" actions. 


The body of the article that explains the headline is inaccurate. 


The pope has authorized the formation of a tribunal. No tribunal has been formed. 


Much more importantly, the tribunal to be formed has been given no substantive guidelines to be employed in reviewing a case of any bishop or how the case would be brought before the tribunal or what kind of punishment would be authorized by the tribunal. 


The formation of the tribunal was a recommendation of the Vatican commission on child protection, the group studying clergy sex abuse. 


The man the pope selected to head the commission, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who is the pope's roommate in the papal apartment when he is in Rome is himself a bishop who has for over ten years refused to divulge the identity of a number of priests in Boston against whom credible abuse complaints were brought, and thus one wonders whether this close friend of the pope should be a bishop in line to receive punitive measures like removal from office. 


If one goes to @ will access on this website the names of 114 American bishops who are guilty of covering up clergy sex abuse and the note of documentary proof that exists for each bishop's lapses. 


Priests sexually abuse children and bishops are equally guilty in that they enable and empower the criminal clerics and cover up their crimes. 


In monitoring the crisis and scandal for over 30 years all over the world I am only convinced of the innocence of two bishops worldwide. 


Yes, almost every bishop at some point in his ecclesiastical career has either been guilty or had guilty knowledge of the cover up of clergy sex abuse crimes. 


The very pool of men available for appointment to this Vatican tribunal, if they are to come from Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as this article implies, will be coming from the very office that has had all authority and responsibility for clergy sex abuse from the beginning and has been the Vatican office that covered up crimes at the highest level of the Roman Catholic Church. 


Not once, not a single time, has the Vatican acted to discipline a bishop for mishandling cases of clergy sex abuse, and with the coming appointment of this tribunal, there is not even a hint about what powers the tribunal may have to mete out discipline, if any, against a bishop. 

. . . .

One thing is certain. There are organizations like SNAP and Bishop-Accountability.Org. who have the documentary proof in their hands that proves hundreds of bishops, archbishops and cardinals in the United States, Canada, Ireland, Australia, Germany, Poland, Austria, Belgium, England, Scotland, Netherlands, Italy, Spain, France, Switzerland, Mexico and all Latin American countries, Scandinavian countries, Malta, Puerto Rico, and other countries are bishops, archbishops, and cardinals have committed actions that should cause their removal from not only their positions, but also the priesthood. 


When the tribunal is formed it should immediately make a call to any and all persons having evidence relating to bishops mishandling abuse cases to come forward and present their evidence.  

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Ray Mouton is a lawyer and co-author of the report offered to the bishops in 1985 and subsequently ignored by them. This report urged the bishops to take several concrete steps lest they face disastrous consequences in the future. They ignored the report, refused to take any steps and suffered the consequences predicted. 

Former papal diplomat faces a Vatican trial for sexual abuse
Inés San Martín      Jun.15, 2015

A Vatican prosecutor has ordered a defrocked Polish archbishop to stand trial for allegedly paying for sex with children while serving as a papal ambassador in the Dominican Republic.


WesolowskiA Vatican spokesman said Wednesday that ex-Archbishop Józef Wesolowski has been charged with two counts - sexual abuse of minors and possession of child pornography - and will stand trial July 11.


It will be the first criminal trial of a sexual abuse case conducted by the Vatican. The Vatican's criminal courts have jurisdiction over Wesolowski because he is a papal diplomat and citizen of the Vatican City State.

. . . .

If found guilty, Wesolowski could face six to seven years in prison. That sentence could be served in a Vatican facility, although in the past, for lengthy sentences the Vatican has usually transfered the convicted party to an Italian prison.
. . . .

Wesolowski is also the subject of independent investigations in Poland and the Dominican Republic. If either country makes the request, he could be extradited after the trial, the Vatican said.

Briefing reporters, spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said the trial could last until early 2016, because of the summer break in August, the synod of bishops in October, and Christmas break.


The Holy See recalled Wesolowski in 2013 after rumors surfaced in Santo Domingo that he allegedly paid shoeshine boys to masturbate. In 2014, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith defrocked him - expelled him from the priesthood. He has been under modified house arrest inside Vatican City pending a decision by the Vatican criminal court on whether to indict him.

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Pope Francis meets Putin for a diplomatically difficult talk
Rosie Scammell      Jun.10, 2015

A serious-looking Pope Francis on Wednesday (June 10) spoke with Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, in a meeting focused on conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East that pose complex and contrasting diplomatic challenges for the two leaders.


Francis spent 50 minutes in a private meeting with Putin, to which the Russian leader arrived more than an hour late.


A serious atmosphere reportedly hung over the start of the Vatican visit, with the pope lacking his usual jovial persona.


Putin was greeted by Archbishop Georg Ganswein, head of the papal household, and a line of dignitaries before being ushered inside to see Francis.


During the meeting, the pope affirmed the need to work sincerely toward peace in Ukraine and emphasized the importance of rebuilding a climate of dialogue, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told journalists.


The pope also talked about the grave humanitarian situation in the country and the need to give access to relief workers, Lombardi said.

The Vatican did not say whether Francis challenged Russia on its role in the Ukraine conflict, as the U.S. government had urged him to do.

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Irish bishop seeks to discuss ordaining of married men
Michael Kelley      Jun.11, 2015

An Irish bishop urged his colleagues to establish a commission to discuss the possibility of ordaining married men.


Bishop Leo O'Reilly of Kilmore also wants the Irish bishops' conference to empower the commission to further study female deacons.


The proposal stemmed from a 10-month listening process that O'Reilly led in the Kilmore Diocese, which led to a diocesan assembly and a new diocesan pastoral plan to tackle challenges facing the Catholic Church, including the declining number of priests.


O'Reilly told The Irish Catholic newspaper he plans to ask that the idea of the new commission be discussed at the next meeting of the bishops' conference in October and "take it from there."

"I think the other bishops would be open to the idea of a discussion and we are reaching a situation where we have to look at all the options possible," he said.


O'Reilly said his proposal came in response to Pope Francis.

"Pope Francis has encouraged individual bishops and bishops' conferences to be creative in looking at ways to do ministry in the future, so I think we have to consider all options," he said.

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Francis to open a 30-bed homeless shelter near the Vatican
Rosie Scammell       Jun.11, 2015

Pope Francis will open a homeless shelter on the edge of Vatican City, the latest move by the pontiff to help poor people in Rome.

The shelter is under construction on Via Penitenzieri, just a few steps away from the Vatican walls, a Holy See spokeswoman said.

Once completed, the center will be run by volunteers, who will host 30 people at a time.

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Pope Francis will meet with a married gay activist on trip to Paraguay
Rosie Scammel      Jun.12, 2015

Pope Francis will meet a gay married activist in Paraguay next month, according to an LGBT rights group in that country.


The pontiff is due to meet Simon Cazal, co-founder and executive director of SomosGay, on July 11 at the Paraguayan Episcopal Conference in Asuncion, the country's capital.


Catholic conference organizers approached Cazal earlier this month with an invitation in which they noted the "impact of your organization on Paraguayan society."


SomosGay said the letter marked a significant shift in the Catholic Church's attitude towards gay rights groups.

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In latest book, Garry Wills turns sword on array of beliefs
Raymond A. Schroth      Jun.10, 2015
By Garry Wills   Published by Viking, $27.95

. . . .

The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis, which says little about Pope Francis, can present itself as Catholic Teaching Not to Be Believed, by a Believer Who Has Done His Homework.


Having knocked off the priesthood, Wills turns his sword on certain beliefs, some of which have been reformed, but whose influence lingers in the dark corners of chanceries. These include:

  • The role of Latin in clerical education and the liturgy, a form of intellectual imprisonment;
  • The exaggerated stories of Christian persecutions and the "pathological yearning for martyrdom";
  • The role of Constantine in running the church, even when he was not a Christian;
  • The exaggerated role of Peter, who was not the first pope;
  • The academic isolation of the American Catholic church and the persecution of Jesuit Fr. John Courtney Murray;
  • The prevalence of anti-Semitism and the Second Vatican Council's courageous response;
  • The failure of natural law to produce a credible set of principles to guide modern sexual morality;
  • The refusal to ordain women;
  • The absolute banning of abortion when there are cases when it should be allowed.

That's quite a list. Yet Wills speaks not from left field, but from inside the church, a regular Massgoer with a devotion to the rosary, whose sources include, along with St. Augustine, leading Catholic scholars: Murray, John Noonan, Raymond Brown, Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, Peter Hebblethwaite, John Henry Newman, John O'Malley, Gregory Baum, John Connelly, J.N.D. Kelly, Eamon Duffy, Peter Brown, Candida Moss and Joseph Fitzmyer.


Many of his points are familiar to scholars, but not to the faithful. Why? Perhaps because, as he says, in the training of priests in liturgy, Scripture and theological literature, the language was Latin, a mysterious cloud to which only the power people had access, and that kept the ordinary believer enchanted and ignorant.

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For the bishop of planet Xarchon?
Spacey miter


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