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Once people start to believe change is possible, 
the drive to achieve it accelerates.
                                          _  Patrick Edgar, ARCC President
A Reality Check-up
John A. Dick, Ph.D., S.T.D                                           Jan.31, 2016
A couple years ago a young ordained minister in California told me that he couldn't wait to become pastor of his own parish. He told me he had lots of ideas about pastoral ministry and he was anxious to implement them "to get the church back on track." The more he talked, and the more I listened, the more I realized that he wanted to push people back into a 1950s religiosity built on male chauvinism, silent obedience to the clergy, a medieval morality, and an unquestioning dogmatic rigidity. 

This young fellow would resonate completely with Raymond Burke, the US Roman Catholic cardinal - wrapped up gloriously in his fancy lace and flowing red dress - who complained that the church is no longer "manly" enough. He reiterated last week that women and girls are the source of the current crisis in the church: all part of a "radical feminism which has assaulted the church and society since the 1960s." 

"Apart from the priest," the cardinal stressed, "the sanctuary has become full of women. The activities in the parish and even the liturgy have been influenced by women and have become so feminine in many places that men do not want to get involved." (How ironic then that the first Christians to proclaim that Jesus had been raised from the dead were women......)

Since we will soon be in Lent 2016, here a seven-point reflection for all in pastoral ministry of one form or another - some questions for personal and possibly group reflection:

(1) The good old days: Do we want to be anchored in the past or engaged with today and preparing for tomorrow? As an old man and a retired professor of history, I have a pretty good understanding of the past. I have no desire to live like back then.

We also have to ask what one means by the past. Cardinal Burke is a Renaissance era ecclesiastic in dress, manners, and modes of thought. Some of my friends and former colleagues, on the other hand, are locked in the 1960s: repeating again, and again all their old complaints about the church but demonstrating in fact that they have become as out-of-date as the contemporary hierarchs they complain about. 

So where am I today in this discussion? Am I dealing with contemporary reality or still enjoying fighting yesterday's windmills?

(2) The City of God and the Human City: I have no desire to get into a professional argument about the pros and cons of Augustinian theology. (Not today at least.) There is a problem, however, when we fail to understand that the Human City - in which we live - is the place where we encounter and live with the living God. 

It is sometimes tempting perhaps but neither healthy nor authentically Christian to run away from contemporary life, condemn it as "heathen" or "secularized," and ignore the men and women wrapped up or crushed under a broad array of human concerns, problems, and agonies. The world is not our enemy. It is where we live with our brothers and sisters. 

INCARNATION means God-become-one-with-us. And what is God-become-one-with-us asking me to do this day?

(3) Building temples: My old friend (who died much too young) Ken Untener, formerly RC Bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, often reminded people that building-temples can be very seductive but has very little to do with Christian ministry and witness. If we follow the example of Jesus, he said, we cease being temple-builders and become traveling pilgrims pitching their tents: following and living with God's people wherever their lives take them.

Am I often too wrapped up in building and maintaining my own temples?

(4) Finding scapegoats: It is easy to find scapegoats in today's church. I agree that problematic and abusive people need to be sanctioned and removed. (Some need to be sent to a federal prison.) 

On the other hand, if we spend most of our energy only on finding and heaping abuse on our scapegoats, we risk becoming alarm bells incapable of being change agents. By only focusing on the sawdust in another's eyes we risk ignoring the planks in our own. We need to be critical but we also need to pick up and carry our own crosses. We need to take charge. 

Who is my scapegoat and how am I going to make constructive change?

(5) Having the truth: No one has all the truth. No theology, whether progressive or conservative, has all the truth. No single religious tradition has all the truth. We are all truth-seekers and we need each other as we move along in our truth-seeking-journeys. 

Arrogance and self-righteousness have no place in the lives of the truth-seekers. Collaboration, humility, and compassion are the key virtues for all seeking the truth. 

Have I become arrogant about my own positions? Am I really willing to listen and collaborate with others?

(6) Exercising authority: Authority in the church is greatly misunderstood and greatly abused. Authority comes from Latinauctor which means the capability to influence people. It is connected with agency and encouragement. Jesus provided the model for Christian authority: service and the work of the Spirit. Authority in the church should be practiced as the ministry to motivate and transform people, based on trusting relationships. Authority is horizontal not vertical. 

We all have authority; but how do we exercise it? Jesus says in the Gospels that whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Servant ministry = Servant leadership.

(7) Protecting the church: Certainly the greatest reason given by church leaders for their allowing unethical and unchristian behavior is that they are or were "protecting the church" or "safeguarding the name of the church." Gay people who get married are fired from church positions to protect the name of the church. Clergy who abuse children are allowed to continue their immoral behavior but in a different parish, in a different state, or are sent to "minister" in foreign country: to protect the good name of the church. It goes on and on. At all levels. 

A church that condones and promotes immoral behavior has no name worth defending.

The English word "Lent" is a shortened form of an Old English word meaning "spring." In the Dutch language "lente" still means "spring." Wherever there is winter in the institutional church, spring can and will return, because the church is first of all not an institution but a community of faith: women and men alive with the reality of God-with-us.
Jack Dick is ARCC Vice-President
Some things we have been reading  
Irish American Cardinal Raymond Burke blames women for church's problems
Dara Kelly     Jan.27, 2016
The crisis in Catholicism apparently has one source: women. According to Cardinal Raymond Burke, since the 1960's women have "feminized" the church and discouraged "manly" men from participating in clerical life.
Burke, 66, the firebrand conservative who was recently demoted by Pope Francis to the ceremonial post as patron of the Order of Malta, pointed to the introduction of altar girls as an example.
Serving mass is a "manly" job argues the Irish American Cardinal, and so the participation of women and girls in the daily life of the church has had a chilling effect that has led to a drop in morale and priestly vocations.
. . . .
"The radical feminism which has assaulted the Church and society since the 1960s has left men very marginalized," said the Cardinal, a member of one of the oldest and most enduring men's groups on earth.

"Apart from the priest, the sanctuary has become full of women. The activities in the parish and even the liturgy have been influenced by women and have become so feminine in many places that men do not want to get involved."
Pope Francis to hold prayer service along US-Mexico border
Michael O'Loughlin      Jan.29, 2016
Pope Francis will hold a prayer service at the border when he visits Mexico next month, and among the participants will be migrants - some undocumented - gathered just 65 feet away on the US side of the divide.

New details were released Friday about what promises to be a politically potent visit to the US-Mexico border Feb. 12 to 17. It comes at a time when President Barack Obama faces fresh criticism from liberal members of his own party about renewed raids on undocumented families, set against the backdrop of increasingly hostile rhetoric from some GOP candidates about US immigration policy.

The pope's visit will conclude with an outdoor Mass in Juarez. Behind the altar, the fence that separates the two nations will be visible.

Before the Mass begins, however, Francis is expected to walk to the edge of the Rio Grande, the river that separates the two nations, kneel, and pray for the more than 6,000 people who lost their lives trying to cross the border in the past 15 years.

Across the river in El Paso will be a group of a few hundred people, including undocumented women and children from Central America.
Read more
Pope Francis, Catholics and Lutherans Will Recall Reformation
Laurie Goodstein      Jan.25, 2016
. . . .
On Monday, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis will participate in a joint Lutheran-Catholic worship service in Sweden this October, kicking off a series of events planned for 2017 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

The effort to mend relations with Protestants has been on the agenda of many popes before Francis, but it is a delicate endeavor. The worship service in Sweden was billed by its sponsors, the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation, as a "commemoration," not as a "celebration," in order to avoid any inappropriate note of triumphalism. Some Catholics have criticized the notion  of a pope celebrating the anniversary of a schism.
. . . .
Dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics has been "on the front burner" of both churches for years, and has resulted in more significant progress than many other ecumenical initiatives, said Michael Root, an expert on and participant in Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, and a professor of systematic theology at Catholic University of America, in Washington.

He said it was notable that the joint worship service would be in Sweden.

"There's been a great recognition that particularly the Scandinavian Lutherans have a greater affinity for the Catholic world than the Germans or Americans," Professor Root said. "They kept a more traditional church structure and style, and oddly enough, because there are virtually no Catholics in Sweden, it makes relations easier. There's no history of competition and no history of warfare."
. . . .
The two churches released a liturgical guide last month, "Common Prayer," to be used in commemorations of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. A website for Catholic traditionalists, Rorate Caeli, pronounced some of the prayers "scandalous," claiming they extolled Martin Luther.
Download digital version of "Common Prayer"
Eucharist must create culture that welcomes all, says Manila cardinal
ASimone Orendain    Jan.29, 2016
The Eucharist is supposed to create a new culture, one that is welcoming and only sees the flaws and failures of others as a reminder of one's own need for God's mercy, said Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.
The Eucharist is the Lord's meal and "when the Lord hosts the meal, be prepared to be with surprising 'others,'" Tagle told participants at the 51st International Eucharistic Congress Jan. 24-31.
"In the meal hosted by the Lord, persons recognize a close neighbor, a fellow sinner, a sister, a brother with a place at the table," he said. "In each one, I see myself ... sinful but loved, undeserving but invited, shamed but embraced, lost but trusted."

Looking at culture in concrete, simple terms -- such as seating arrangements or how parish property is organized -- should help people make "individual and corporate examinations of consciences," he said.

The Manila cardinal pointed to the eucharistic congress itself as an example. In a mock haughty tone, the prelate pointed at the front rows of the pavilion, then to the faithful far in the back.

"The venerable cardinals, bishops here. And then those there ... I could not see [them] anymore," he said. "What culture is being lived out here?" After a moment of uncomfortable silence, he made a peace sign and was greeted with laughter and applause.
. . . .
The same culture of unity should be found in every parish, he said, insisting that Jesus created a new culture by breaking from cultural norms. He "offered a new way of living, thinking and acting" and used space in a way that let children come close, allowed a woman known to have sinned to anoint him, touched a leper. While he "ate a lot," Jesus was always sharing those meals with people who would never be invited to dine at anyone's table, said Tagle.

"Do the wounded, lost, shamed, humiliated and despised find a family in our community?" he asked.
Georgian ambassador speaks on role of women at IEC in Cebu
Vatican Radio      Jan.29 2016
The 51st International Eucharistic Congress is set to conclude this weekend in Cebu in the Philippines. Over the past week cardinals, bishops, clergy and lay people have been worshipping together, sharing testimonies, listening to presentations and reflecting on the theme of this year's Congress, 'Christ in you, our hope of glory.'

The event, which is normally held every four years, also includes speakers from other Christian Churches. Among those presenting theological reflections this past week was Tamara Grdzelidze,  Georgia's ambassador to the Holy See. An Orthodox theologian and former staff member of the World Council of Churches, she spoke on the theme 'The Church is Woman: the missionary and pastoral role of women in the Church'.

Ambassador Tamara noted there were only two women presenting theological papers at the Congress and that she felt honoured to be sharing her views as one of the few non-Catholic presenters.

She said she decided to speak about the role of women in the Church in the first centuries and how they were "active and much more visible", often honoured with titles, such as Mary Magdalene, known in the Orthodox world as 'Apostle to the Apostles', or St Nino, the woman revered as one of the first evangelisers of Georgia, known as 'equal to the Apostles'.

The ambassador said she also reflected on the episode from St Luke's Gospel where Jesus goes to visit Martha and Mary, an episode which is interpreted by the 3rd century theologian Origen, explaining how the contemplative and the practical ministries are inseparable ways of serving the Lord.

Finally she said her major question was related to the Orthodox Church, asking if it was time that the all-male hierarchy should question the fact that "women are not in decision-making positions in the Church". She said she drew a parallel with the Catholic Church where women are able to teach theological subjects in academies or seminars or take part in theological dialogues and are thus held in higher regard. 
The solution for a more inclusive church? Look to the seminary
Nicole Sotelo      Jan.28, 2016
Last week when the Vatican issued its approval for washing women's feet, I had been researching women faculty at Catholic seminaries. What will help church officials move away from their myopic gaze on women's body parts to a vision of their full humanity? It seems part of the solution may be in the classroom.

It turns out that Catholic seminaries employ few full-time women faculty to train the next generation of priests. I looked at official seminaries used by the five largest Catholic arch/dioceses in the United States (Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Brooklyn). Among these schools, women represent only 10 to 17 percent of faculty.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the most common disciplines for which these women faculty have been hired are music, languages, and library services. Among the seminaries I studied -- St. John's Seminary, Mundelein Seminary, St. John's Seminary (Camarillo, Calif.) and St. Joseph's Seminary Dunwoodie (for New York and Brooklyn) -- I did not find one woman who taught systematic theology. I did not find that any offered a course on feminist theology.

Compare this to other Catholic graduate schools of ministry in the same geographical areas, and one finds 24 to 45 percent of full-time women faculty who teach a range of subjects: Boston College, Catholic Theological Union, Loyola Marymount University, and Fordham's Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education.

When I compared Catholic seminaries to other single-gender schools, it is clear that seminaries singularly lag behind other institutions in hiring and promoting a gender diverse faculty. In Boston, Wellesley College is 51 percent female, for example; Alverno Catholic Women's College has a 78 percent female faculty; in Los Angeles, Scripps College's faculty is 59 percent female; and Barnard's is 62 percent female.
. . . .
Catholic Theological Union (CTU) in Chicago is an example of a coeducational environment that has successfully balanced gender among its faculty and student body. CTU is comprised of 45 percent women faculty and 41 percent women students. The institution serves lay women and men, in addition to women and men religious and diocesan priests.

Multiple studies have shown that diversity within an institution spurs innovation and often increases growth.  reveal that men's meaningful interactions with women often reduce stereotypes and increase generosity.

Meaningful connection between genders during ministerial training is part of what the church needs in order to evolve into a more inclusive and sustainable church over time.

While I appreciate that the Vatican has caught up with Catholic parishes in approving priests to wash women's feet on Maundy Thursday, I am more concerned about how women are treated the other 364 days of the year.

The Vatican may not be ready to recognize women's ordination or equality yet, but we can work to ensure that seminaries employ and educate both genders. Over time, church officials may finally start issuing policies and treating all its members as Jesus would: equally.
Mother Church and her battered daughters
Kaitlin Campbell      Jan.28, 2016
Archbishop Baurillo Rodríguez of Toledo, Spain, drew deserved social media scorn from around the world for remarks in his Feast of the Sacred Family homily on Dec. 27, 2015. 
Addressing the rise in divorce and perceived causes for family division, Rodríguez demonstrated his - and by extension, the church's - view of the relationship between women and men as a fundamentally hierarchical one. 
"Most women who are murdered by their husbands," the archbishop said, "do not accept them, or have not accepted their demands. Frequently, the macho reaction has its origin in a time when the woman asked for a separation." 
Put aside, if you can, the archbishop's blaming of the victim and exoneration of the murderer. There's also a big problem with his logic.
Domestic violence can't be adequately solved by "just talking it out" because abuse isn't just about disagreement between male and female; it's about power and control. Emphasizing the differences in gender in this context serves to legitimatize male dominance.
The United States Catholic bishops say as much in a relatively unknown document on pastoral responses to domestic violence, "When I Call for Help": "Domestic violence is learned behavior. Men who batter learn to abuse through observation, experience, and reinforcement. They believe that they have a right to use violence; they are also rewarded, that is, their behavior gives them power and control over their partner." In complete contradiction to Rodríguez, the bishops write: "Ultimately, abused women must make their own decisions about staying or leaving," and "violence and abuse, not divorce, break up a marriage."
"Many abusive men hold a view of women as inferior," another section of the document explains: "Their conversation and language reveal their attitude towards a woman's place in society. Many believe that men are meant to dominate and control women." Now, where do you think they got idea?

As helpful and informative about "women's issues" the USCCB's "When I Call for Help" might be, there are nonetheless parts of it that reinforce the sexism at the root of church teaching on gender. The first instruction for church ministers responding to domestic disputes is: "Listen to and believe the victim's story." Even having to stipulate this acknowledges the fact that most automatically don't believe, unconsciously, because of the victim's gender. To abusers, the bishops say: "Admit that the abuse is your problem, not your partner's, and have the manly courage to seek help." What is the difference between manly courage and womanly courage? And why insist on a difference?

The way the bishops position themselves publicly on domestic violence (e.g. releasing a statement of concern about Obama's Prevention of Violence Against Women Act in 2013 because of clauses suggesting acceptance of same-sex marriage and language referring to birth-control coverage in the Affordable Care Act) you'd think they didn't believe 90 percent of their own words anyway. And who would? Hoping that the very institution that remains a symbol of male power over women will adequately and courageously work to end domestic violence is delusional, especially considering how uncompromising it has been about excluding women from decision-making at all levels.
For some recent examples, Pope John Paul II formally declared the door to all conversation on the subject of ordaining women "closed" in 1994 by publishing Ordinatio sacerdotalis ("On Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone"). Pope Benedict reaffirmed the ban in 2012, saying it was part of the Church's "divine constitution," after it was challenged by a group of Austrian priests; and in 2013 when rumors began circulating that Pope Francis might name some women cardinals, the pontiff told the Italian daily La Stampa: "I don't know where any such an idea came from.... Women in the Church must be valued, not 'clericalized.'"
All of these cases follow a familiar, calculatedly circular argument that opponents to women's ordination make: being a priest shouldn't have anything to do with power, and so using civil-rights rhetoric to demand inclusion goes against the very function of the sacrament of Holy Orders. It's really an ingenious argument, because by branding women who advocate for themselves as un-priestly (thereby supposedly un-Christlike), it cancels any opportunity for a conversation about women's ordination. If women can't advocate for themselves, who will?

Many of the few men who have spoken up on behalf of women's ordination are put under extreme pressure from Rome and - as in the  of Roy Bourgeois of Maryknoll - sometimes excommunicated. As Benedict suggested to the defiant Austrian priests who supported women's ordination "disobedience" is not a "path for renewal in the church."
. . . .

Although little data is available - due in part to victims' reluctance to report and a lack of surveys conducted - the UN's 2013  found that of all women who were the victims of homicide globally in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members, compared to less than six percent of men killed in the same year.

The World Health Organization  that 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives, and according to United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs in some nations the  is as high as 70 percent.

In the United States, 63.8 percent of women who  being raped, physically assaulted, and/or stalked since age eighteen were victimized by a current or former husband, cohabiting partner, boyfriend, or date. It can be argued that the very concept of exerting power over someone, which is often at the root of violent crime, is patriarchal. The entire system depends on the belief that by virtue of your sex you have a right to control someone else, to the degree of having ownership over that person.

An all-male priesthood not only reinforces patriarchy, but also elevates it to an absurd dimension: men are Christlike, made somehow more in the image of God as Jesus was, being God's son, than women are. This is extremely problematic for many women, not only ideologically, but physically. The way that women internalize such subordination aids abusers in continuing to abuse, creating a cycle of violence that becomes normal as it is passed down from generation to generation.
Bread and circuses during the Year of Mercy? No, grazie!
Robert Mickens       Feb. 1, 2016
The man Pope Francis put in charge of coordinating events for the Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy -- Archbishop Rino Fisichella -- has announced that the fledgling Jubilee of Mercy is already off to a roaring success. 
The archbishop, whose day job is heading the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, told journalists at a press conference on Jan. 29 that in just less than two months since the jubilee was launched (last Dec. 8) nearly 1.4 million people have already taken part in Holy Year events in Rome. 
He said 40 percent of those were non-Italians.
Presumably that means all these pilgrims walked through one of the many holy doors located at a number of basilicas, shrines, the main international airport and even a soup kitchen (though hopefully not the several prison chapels) throughout the Eternal City. 
But is counting noses really the measure of success? 
Fisichella, to his credit, admitted that it is not. 
. . . .
But before he made that important clarification, the 64-year-old archbishop let the mask slip and acknowledged that, in fact, it is a point of pride for the Vatican that the crowds flock to Rome. 
"All these people did not sleep at my house or under the bridge," said the archbishop of the more than one million pilgrims that have already come for the Holy Year. 
His remark was a clear swipe at Rome's hotel association, which has complained that tourism in the Eternal City has plummeted due to fears of terrorist attacks and bad planning by the jubilee organizers.
. . . .
Pope Francis is popular and influential, but it's unlikely that even he will be able to spark a revival in a practice that most Catholics know (correctly) is not essential to their membership in God's household. 
But this is one verdict of the "sensus fidelium" that it seems the pope does not want to acknowledge.
Instead, he will be commissioning more than a thousand priests from all over the world to be "missionaries of mercy". He'll do that on Ash Wednesday at a big Mass in St Peter's Basilica, sending these priests back to their local churches with special authority to forgive sins that are normally reserved to the Holy See. 
Archbishop Fisichella noted that these envoys would have the "mandate to announce the beauty of the mercy of God while being humble and wise confessors who possess a great capacity to forgive those who approach the confessional.
" We don't have a list of these 1,071 missionaries of mercy, because the archbishop said if the names of these "super confessors" were published they might be subjected to an avalanche of emails and phone calls. Really? Are there that many people out who have committed one of the five sacrileges that only the pope's delegates can forgive? 
In any case, the "missionaries of mercy" concept sounds extremely dubious. Some would even say kooky. 
But not nearly as kooky and outright weird as the second Holy Year "event" that Fisichella unveiled last week. Here it is: the Vatican will be displaying the bodies of two dead Capuchin saints for an entire week for its Holy Year pilgrims to venerate.
They are shipping them in from their normal resting places on either ends of the Italian peninsula.
. . . .
He [Fisichella] did his best to make a kooky idea sound as reasonable and normal as possible by emphasizing that "urns containing the relics of Saint Leopold Mandi? and Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina" were being brought to Rome. 
But they are not urns. They are glass coffins. 
And under each of them is showcased the embalmed corpse of a bearded friar dressed in a new brown Capuchin habit.
. . . .
The Holy Year is the pope's attempt to help the world -- but even more so the church -- find the solution to this impossible situation. 
And he is convinced that it will only be done when people allow themselves to be healed by God's mercy and then, in turn, offer it to others; when they allow themselves to be forgiven and, in turn, begin forgiving others. 
Drawing "pilgrims" to the Eternal City so they can boost the local economy by walking through magic doors or bowing before a spruced-up corpse under a glass display case is not necessary for this.
Archbishop Nienstedt exits early from Battle Creek, Mich., parish
Brian Roewe       Jan.21 2016
Less than a month after arriving to assist at the Battle Creek, Mich., parish of a friend, Archbishop John Nienstedt has decided to leave.

Nienstedt, the former head of the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese who resigned the position in June amid accusations of mishandled allegations of clergy sexual abuse, offered to assist at St. Philip Roman Catholic Church to help his friend Fr. John Fleckenstein, who has recently experienced health issues. Nienstedt arrived at the parish Jan. 6 and was expected to serve at the parish for six months. His duties included celebrating Masses and visiting the sick and homebound. The Kalamazoo diocese said last week that the archbishop passed its standards for ministry and viewed him "as a priest in good standing," noting he was not appointed or assigned but there on a temporary basis. 

In a letter dated Thursday, a copy of which the Battle Creek Enquirer published on its website, Fleckenstein informed parishioners that Nienstedt had decided to leave the parish "effective immediately."

"After discussions with the Archbishop conveying the expressed concerns by the faithful people of our community, he offered to withdraw from the diocese and I agreed. Archbishop Nienstedt has a deep concern for the Church, and in light of the unintended discord that his presence was causing, he decided that this would be the best course of action so the Church can remain focused on its mission." Fleckenstein wrote.
Vatican official: Pope's post-synod doc will be released in March
CNA      Jan 27, 2016
Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation on family life following last year's synod will be published in March, says Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family.
. . . .
The apostolic exhortation will be the conclusion of a multi-year synod process. In 2014 the Vatican hosted an Extraordinary Synod which was in preparation for the October 2015 Ordinary Synod. An estimated 190 bishops from around the world participated in each gathering.

The 2015 synod, which the Pope's exhortation is expected to focus on, was themed "the vocation and mission of the family in the church and the modern world."
Francis _ Computer

Click  for larger image

Pope Francis to Make Feature Film Debut in 'Beyond the Sun'
Ariston Anderson     Feb.1, 2016
The leader of the worldwide Catholic Church, Pope Francis, will play himself in the new film from AMBI Pictures, Beyond the Sun. This is the first time in the history of the Church that any Pope has made a film debut.

The film is a family adventure story based on the Gospels told in several tales. It arose from Pope Francis asking the filmmakers to do a movie that communicated Jesus's message for children.
Spotlight stars and director Tom McCarthy: 'The Catholic church can't live this down' - video interview
Henry Barnes and Jonross Swaby      Jan.27, 2016
Spotlight tells the true story of the Boston Globejournalists who revealed a cover-up of hundreds of paedophile priests by the city's archdiocese. 

The film's cast, director and two of the journalists who uncovered the story tell Henry Barnes what impact the film's had, how it champions investigative journalism and why the church still needs systematic change.
Catholic Church Reform International
Letter to Pope Francis
January 30, 2016

Pope Francis and his Advisory Council
Via Electronic Mail and Hand Delivered
Re: Decentralization of the Chuurch

Dear Pope Francis,

We are Catholics who, like you, are committed to a Church that is empowered by the joy of the Gospel. This joy comes from the Spirit that calls each of us to participate more fully in God's work on earth.

In your February meeting, you are now considering the question of decentralization. Would you not agree that it is insufficient for this process to reach only to the level of bishops' conferences worldwide? No decentralization is possible without dialogue at the diocesan level with the full engagement of the People of God. CCRI imagines representatives of each parish elected by the people populating this diocesan level dialogue. Respecting various cultures, how this dialogue is constructed should be a local decision. We believe this accords with your vision of a Synodal Church, where all the baptized participate in our common journey toward union with a loving God.

We hear your call for the faithful to make some noise at their pastors' doors, but as you know this is not an easy task. Diocesan synods were recommended at the Vatican Council 50 years ago but only a small percentage have been established, and none with those in attendance being elected by the people. As much as you want the bishops to enter into dialogues with their people, it simply is not going to happen without a mandate from the Vatican time bound with the result being reported directly to the Pope. We support your description of an upside down pyramid and urge you to create a structure that gives all of the baptized, not only an opportunity to voice their opinion, but a deliberative voice in the governance of our Church.

For our part in facilitating the development for such dialogue, we are supporting gatherings at the local level, where people come together in prayer to share from their hearts, and to listen to one another without judgment. We are hopeful that what emerges will be an open dialogue with bishops, pastors, and the People of God - perhaps reviving the concept of a National Pastoral Council  In this process, we must keep in mind the countless faithful who have turned away from the Church, especially the younger generation. Without finding a means of attracting them back into the fold, the Church will inevitably wither and die.

Having said this, we realize that Synodality requires training if authentic dialogue is to occur. The Synod's recent sessions on the family have discussed issues that have long been of concern to Catholics, but public airing of different views is new to most local churches. Far too many bishops, fearing to initiate dialogue as openly as you did in the Synod, will be inclined to overpower the voices of the people. And far too many Catholics, having been conditioned to sit in the pew and obey the priests' directives, will be reticent to speak up for the good of their Church.  

The bishops at the Synod on the Family voiced different opinions, and were encouraged to do so. But the bishops have a certain commonality in their training and position that enabled collegial dialogue. Typical Catholics in a local church will require some training and practice in order to enable a similar level of dialogue that allows for differences of opinions to be openly shared. Consequently, while we are strongly in favor of decentralization in the Church, we believe that the long term goal is best served in a threefold step:

  1. Sending a mandate to the Bishops to open dialogue with the people in a free discussion as exemplified by the manner in which you conducted the Synod.
  2.  Laying the foundation for educating the laity in styles of dialogue that value encounter with different perspectives and viewpoints.
  3. Providing a format for the results of these open discussions to be reported back to you and/or your appointed delegate.
You have skillfully brought the Church to this crossroads. Some have said that the recent session of the Synod on the Family was about doctrine, but you have instead emphasized mercy. Mercy can serve as a bridge from doctrine to the reign of God - a powerful medicine for the wounded because it brings the willing heart along a different path to a different place. It is a place not of compliance with the law but of joy in becoming a follower of Jesus. 

We hope for your success in engaging the bishops in this enterprise. As a network of people from more than 60 countries around the world, we stand with you and are ready to do our part in encouraging all the baptized to begin to assume responsibility for speaking up for the good of our Church.


This issue is so critical to all of us who support the renewal of our Church that we would appreciate your response to this letter. You are in our prayers, and we wish you success in your deliberations.

Yours in Christ,

For the Strategy Team
On behalf of Catholic Church Reform International
CC: Advisory Council members
Cardinal confirms some priests decline appointment as bishop
Cindy Wooden       Feb.1, 2016
Although the number is not high, it is no longer "exceptional" to have priests turn down an appointment as bishop, said Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.

Speaking Feb. 1 about the annual course his office sponsors for new bishops, the cardinal was asked about rumors that more and more priests are saying they do not want to be a bishop and declining an appointment even when the pope, on the recommendation of Cardinal Ouellet's office, has chosen them.

"Yes, that's true. Nowadays you have people who do not accept the appointment," he said, adding that he would not provide statistics on how often it happens, although he insisted the number was not huge.

Priests decline for a variety of reasons, Cardinal Ouellet said, pointing to the example of a priest who was chosen, but then informed the congregation that he had cancer and had not told others of his illness. "It was a sign of responsibility not to accept the appointment," he said.
Stephen & Patricia Heaton Have A Catholic Throwdown
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert     Jan.19, 2016
Cardinal Müller accused of "systemic" abuse cover-up in former dioceseI
Christa Pongratz-Lippitt    Jan.22, 2016
A former official in the Diocese of Regensburg (Germany) has accused Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), of systematically covering up sexual abuse cases during his decade as bishop of the Bavarian diocese.

Fritz Wallner, who once worked as chairman of Regensburg's lay diocesan council, claims that the then-Bishop Müller and his vicar-general, Mgr Michael Fuchs, introduced what Mr Wallner called, "The Regensburg System", which prevented such abuse cases from coming to light.
. . . .
Two years later an abuse case in the Regensburg diocese hit the headlines in and outside Germany.
Catholics in the parish of Riekofen were deeply disturbed when they discovered that the priest who had been in charge of their children for the last three years had been arrested for sexually abusing minors in twenty-two cases. Moreover, he previously had been sentenced for sexually abusing minors in a neighboring parish, but the diocesan authorities had not revealed this fact to his new parish - not even to the parish priest.

Then-Bishop Müller defended his decision to re-install the priest saying the cleric's psychiatrist had assured him that the man was "healed".
. . . .
When asked at the time whether he felt responsible for re-installing the priest now that he had once again abused minors, Müller said the priest had denied the abuse twelve times to his (the bishop's) face, which meant he (the priest) had a "disturbed view of the truth".
As late as 2012, two years after the clerical sexual abuse "tsunami" swept through the German-speaking countries and brought hundreds of clerical abuse cases to light, Müller doggedly maintained that neither the bishop concerned nor the Church were responsible for abusers. He said responsibility lay solely with the perpetrator.
. . . .
Catholics in Regensburg were deeply concerned that the independent lawyer the diocese called in eight months ago for further investigations had discovered that over 231 boys had been abused. Mr Wallner said it is estimated that the number of unrecorded cases is probably far higher.
Ex-Vatican official acquitted in money smuggling case
Reuters      Jan.19, 2016
A former Vatican prelate was acquitted on Monday of conspiring to smuggle millions of euros in cash into Italy from Switzerland for rich friends.
Monsignor Nunzio Scarano worked for 22 years as a senior accountant in APSA, a Vatican department that handles real estate and stock investments for the Holy See.

He was dismissed from his post after Italian magistrates charged him in June 2013 with plotting, along with an Italian secret service agent and a financial broker, to smuggle 20 million euros ($21.8 million) into Italy.
. . . .
The court in Rome found Scarano innocent of corruption and attempted money smuggling but guilty of a separate, lesser charge of making false accusations against one of the other defendants, for which he received a two-year suspended sentence. His two accused co-conspirators are being tried separately.

Scarano, who had close connections to the Vatican's scandal-plagued bank, is also still on trial in Salerno, his home town in southern Italy, on separate charges of using that bank to launder millions of euros.
Catholic Whistleblowers requests Vatican investigation of flaws in US bishops' sex abuse policies
Brian Roewe      Jan.19, 2016
After years of raising concerns to U.S. bishops about potential holes in their clergy sexual abuse policies to little avail, a group of Catholic advocates has requested Vatican intervention.

Catholic Whistleblowers, in a formal request for investigation, alleges the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has not followed through fully on its policy of zero tolerance toward abusive priests and deacons, in part because its guidelines lack a mechanism to assure that bishops send the necessary cases to the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In addition, the organization argues that the conference uses a higher bar than church law to determine which cases require review by Rome.

"In a deliberate and ongoing way, the USCCB reneges on its commitment [to zero tolerance]. The conference does not exercise the leadership necessary to assure that known sexually abusive priests and deacons are removed from the community and that the community is warned about the sexually abusive priests and deacons," Fr. James Connell, a canon lawyer and a member of Catholic Whistleblowers, said in the letter.
. . . .
Connell told NCR that with the petitions Catholic Whistleblowers intends to assure that the tribunal, once formed, has work to keep it busy.
"We're saying, 'Yeah, you created it, God bless you, that's wonderful, now let's use it.' And so here are cases that ought to be looked at," he said.
The petition regarding the U.S. bishops' conference outlines three major concerns:
  • Resistance to statute of limitations reform;
  • A higher bar for bishops to report allegations to Rome, one that "dilutes the Church's process" in identifying such cases;
  • A flawed audit process that prevents verification that all cases that should be sent to the Vatican are sent.
The second concern addresses the difference between "sufficient evidence" in U.S. bishops' policies and "semblance of truth" in universal church law.
. . . .
Connell told NCR, "Sufficient evidence that the abuse occurred, we are saying, is a higher standard to be met, without there being a trial." He likened "semblance of truth" as akin to a grand jury determining there is enough evidence to indict and proceed to trial, but not necessarily enough to establish guilt or convict.

Beyond setting a potentially higher bar, Catholic Whistleblowers says the U.S. bishops' Essential Norms provide no way of assuring that bishops pass any cases to the doctrinal congregation because of its placement outside the audited portion of the charter.
. . . .
The petition also urged:
  • Parish-level audits;
  • That bishops openly receive a suggestions letter from the on-site auditor;
  • That all dioceses and eparchies participate in the audit process. The Lincoln, Neb., diocese, a long holdout, is expected to allow auditing this year; five eparchies continue not to participate.
. . . .
At times, Connell said, he's received the impression that some bishops believe that by apologizing to abuse survivors they have fulfilled what is expected. That's not the case, Connell said, explaining if he gets into a car accident, he can say sorry and the other driver can forgive him, but there's still the matter of fixing the car. In the case of clergy sexual abuse, the bishops must take steps to repair the harm done by clergy, religious orders and the church, he said.

"It takes seconds to apologize; it might take years to repair the damage. And reparation is called for in justice," he said.
Archbishop Cupich: Confront Gun Violence
Judith Valente     Feb.1 2016
The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago once used the image of a seamless garment to describe a Catholic ethic of life that includes respect for the unborn; the dignity of the weak, disabled and elderly; and opposition to the death penalty. Blase Cupich, the current archbishop of Chicago, is seeking to extend that fabric to include curbing gun violence.
. . . .
Archbishop Cupich is calling for a ban on assault weapons, stricter background checks and prohibiting the sale of guns to people on the government's no-fly list. On assault weapons, he says, high-powered weapons that "really can only be used to create havoc and mass destruction need to be banned...and the Catholic Church can be a voice for that."
Irish priest punished by Florida bishop for informing on pedophile colleague
Cathy Hayes     Jan.26, 2016
A priest, originally from County Tyrone and now based in the United States, claims he has been "frozen out" of the Catholic Church after calling the police to investigate a fellow clergyman who had shown child-porn images to 14-year-old parishioner.

Fr John A Gallagher (48), from Strabane, Co Tyrone, is now living in a holiday home belonging to one of his friends and parishioners. He says the locks on his parochial house were changed and he was placed on medical leave by his bishop in the Diocese of Palm Beach, FL. Gallagher says he was told by the Catholic Church to put a pedophile priest on a plane back to India rather than cooperate with the police.

A local police chief in Palm Beach has also voiced his concern over the treatment of Gallagher and wrote to the Church to complain.

The incident took place in January 2015. Gallagher, who has remained silent on the matter until now, has written to bishops and cardinals in Ireland and America as well as the Vatican but has been unable to locate the Indian clergyman in question. He said he has not received a satisfactory response from the Catholic Church.

The Belfast Telegraph reports that Fr Jose Palimattom, who had been at the parish of the Holy Name of Jesus Christ in West Palm Beach for just one month, approached a 14-year-old boy after Mass. The priest showed the boy as many as 40 images of naked boys. According to ABC news, the tag words in the images included "little boys," and "young boys 10-18 yoa."
. . . .
The young boy told a friend who reported this to the Church choirmaster, who immediately informed Fr Gallagher.

The Irish priest says that on the night he found out he was told by a Florida Church official, "We need to make him go away, put on a plane."

He had been instructed to put Fr Palimattom on a plane to Bangalore. Gallagher was also told "do not keep written notes," by the same official.

All of this has been recorded in documents, filed with the Vatican, by a specialist Canon Lawyer on behalf of Gallagher. These were sent to Cardinal Gerhard Muller, Prefect of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in Rome.

Rather than following the Church's instruction to "make him go away," Gallagher interviewed Fr Palimattom along with one of his parishioners, a retired police officer. The parishioner took notes at the meeting.

Palimattom admitted to showing nude pictures of boys to the teen. He also admitted that he had sexually assaulted boys in India before arriving in the US. A few hours later he repeated this confession to detectives from the specialist unit of the West Palm Beach Police.

Gallagher contacted the police, following the rules the Catholic Church had set down after hundreds of cases of sexual abuse carried out by the clergy on children.
. . . .
Having reported Palimattom's actions to the police, and despite the fact that he was following the Catholic Church's own rules, it was made clear to Gallagher that his actions were not approved of.
He said, "It was made clear to me that what I had done (co-operating with the police) wasn't what I should have done.
. . . .
n late April 2015 Gallagher was called to meet with the Bishop of Palm Beach, Gerald Barbarito. Three other Church officials were in attendance. Gallagher was in line to be promoted and was surprised to receive a phone call the day after their meeting telling him he was being demoted.

The Irish priest said, "No reason was given. I asked if I could meet with him again and this was refused. He said if I didn't wish to be demoted and moved to another parish, I should leave the priesthood."
. . . .
Four weeks later Gallagher was rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack. He had become unwell while hearing Confession.

Gallagher said Bishop Barbarito visited him in the hospital but did not anoint him or bring him Communion.

Six days later Gallagher asked Dominican nun, Sister Ann Monahan, to retrieve files on the Palimattom scandal from his office at the Holy Name of Jesus Christ church. She retrieved the files but later when she returned a church official stopped her and took the keys to the building from her. The 84-year-old nun has now been officially retired.

When Gallagher got out of the hospital he found the locks on the parochial house had been changed and a new priest appointed to his parish. Under the bishop's orders Gallagher was due to leave one month later, in July.

Gallagher said, "I was in shock. I had just suffered a suspected heart attack and wanted to return to my home to recover. Instead, I was homeless."
In a letter the Bishop suggested that Gallagher needed "treatment" for his mental health. An all-expenses paid trip was offered to him, to a clinic in Pennsylvania. Gallagher refused and has been on paid leave since.
. . . .
When the police, who were investigating the Palimattom case, learned of Gallagher's absence they wrote to Church leaders, including Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the head of the Pontifical Commission for Child Protection, a group established by Pope Francis in 2014.

Chief Deputy in the Palm Beach County Sheriff's office Michael Gauger, who has been a cop for 44 years, said this was not the first time that the Church has impeded investigations.

He wrote, "Due to Fr Gallagher's co-operation the case was swiftly resolved and the opportunity for additional crimes was diminished.

"Educated in the pattern of behavior by those engaged in this inappropriate behavior, the crime could have escalated to something physical which would have been devastating to the victim as well as the Catholic Church."

Chief Deputy Gauger urged Cardinal O'Malley to ensure the Irish priest received "accolades for his compliance with criminal investigators."
. . . .
Gallagher did receive a response from Dublin's Archbishop, Diarmuid Martin, who wrote back to him and left a voice message. Gallagher now believes that the Church in Ireland can help "break the wall of silence over here (in Florida)."
The bond between the Vatican and Iran is a partnership destined to endure
John L. Allen Jr.    Jan.26, 2016
Pope Francis and President Hassan Rouhani
Although it's forever surprising to Americans to hear this, when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called on Pope Francis Tuesday, he did so as head of a state that has enjoyed diplomatic relations with the Vatican for much longer than the United States, and arguably representing a strategic partnership that's almost as important as Washington.
. . . .
Rouhani was the first Iranian president since 1999 to meet the pope in the Vatican, a gap of time largely explained by the fact that it coincides with the reign of populist firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran. (Rouhani and Francis were supposed to meet in November, but the Iranian leader's European swing was canceled after the terrorist attacks in Paris.)

If Italian media reports are to be believed, Rouhani may have presented Francis with a formal invitation to make an historic visit to Iran, perhaps as early as May, when the pontiff is also considering a trip to Armenia.
. . . .
At one level, the close ties between Rome and Tehran reflect the often under-appreciated fact that both the Vatican and post-revolutionary Iran are basically theocracies, representing spiritual traditions - Catholicism and Shia Islam - that have a surprising amount in common.
Iranian writer Vali Nasr, author of the 2006 book "The Shia Revival," argues that the divide between Sunni and Shia bears comparison to that between Protestants and Catholics, with Shia being the branch closer to Catholicism.
Among those points of contact are:
  • A strong emphasis on clerical authority
  • An approach to the Quran accenting both scripture and tradition
  • A deep mystical streak
  • Devotion to a holy family (in the case of Shiites, the blood relatives of Mohammad) and to saints (the Twelve Imams)
  • A theology of sacrifice and atonement through the death of Hussain, grandson of Mohammad and the first imam of Shia Islam
  • Belief in free will (as opposed to the Sunni doctrine of pre-destination)
  • Holy days, pilgrimages, and healing shrines
  • Intercessory prayer
  • Strongly emotional forms of popular devotion, especially the festival of Ashoura commemorating Hussain's death
One recent sign of the spiritual vicinity is that Iranian scholars recently translated the Confessions of Augustine and the Catechism of the Catholic Church into Farsi, the result of a 12-year effort.
In terms of sheer realpolitik, both parties also have strong motives for keeping their relationship green.

From Iran's point of view, it aspires to being not merely a regional but a global player, and to do so it requires not merely "hard" power, to invoke the famous distinction of Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye, but also "soft," meaning moral legitimacy. The perception of being in dialogue with the Vatican is crucially important, counteracting Bush administration rhetoric about Iran being part of an "axis of evil."
. . . .
As far as the Vatican is concerned, few geopolitical challenges these days loom larger than the future direction of Islamic societies, including the fate of the Christian minorities within those nations. Given the decisive role Iran plays in neighboring countries such as Syria and Iraq, the Vatican believes that engagement is critically important.

Ironically, some Vatican diplomats actually have greater confidence in the protection of Christians in the Middle East by Iran and Russia than by the Western powers, who, in their judgment, simply don't take religion seriously as a source of identity.
. . . .
That's not to say everything is hunky-dory between the Vatican and Iran.

Aside from pushing Rouhani on implementation of the nuclear deal, Francis likely used Tuesday's meeting to urge Iran to stop fomenting the conflict in Syria.
. . . .
Francis repeatedly has called for peace and condemned the spread of arms in Syria and Iraq, and doubtless wanted to have that conversation with one of Assad's most important military suppliers.

On the Iranian side, Tehran sees itself as a rival to Ankara under Recep Erdoğan as de facto leader of the Muslim world. When Francis visited Turkey in November 2014, Erdoğan pushed him to be more outspoken in condemning Islamophobia, and it's entirely possible that Rouhani delivered a similar message in order to keep pace.
Nonetheless, when Francis and Rouhani parted company on Tuesday, they did so as friends, and possibly with a papal trip on the drawing board.

In other words, this is a partnership destined to endure.
Supreme Court to hear 'Little Sisters' case March 23
Michael O'Loughlin      Jan.29, 2016
A group of nuns suing the Obama administration will be praying for a Holy Week miracle come March.

The Supreme Court announced Friday that it will hear the Little Sisters of the Poor's lawsuit against the Obama administration's so-called contraception mandate on March 23, the Wednesday before Easter.

The religious order, which runs nursing homes throughout the United States, says that notifying the government that it will not provide contraception coverage for its employees, in order to trigger a third-party administrator to provide the coverage, is a violation of their religious liberty.

The act of signing the form, they argue, makes them complicit in providing it.

The Obama administration disagrees, arguing that the structure is sufficient in balancing concerns over religious liberty with its goal to provide near-universal contraception coverage. A federal court agreed with the administration, ruling against the Little Sisters last July.

In a ruling last year, the Supreme Court allowed some "closely held" businesses with religious objections to refuse to pay for contraceptives for women.
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