Monday, March 29, 2010

Reporting on the Church Scandal

The clergy sexual abuse scandal is once more being reported through newspapers, radio, television and the Web. Only this time, it involves Catholic clergy in Ireland and Europe. The New York Times has been publishing stories that brings into question Pope Benedict’s knowledge of the abuse, as an Archbishop, a Cardinal in the Vatican, and as Pope; and his failure to act on that knowledge. John Allen, on the National Catholic Reporter Website, has been offering clarifications on the story, that all should keep in mind. In America magazine, Web columnist, Michael Sean Winters, blasted the New York Times for inaccuracies in their reporting.

After reading all this, and listening to radio and television interviews of Allen and Father Thomas Reese, SJ, I suddenly realize that there is a difference in the reporting of these current scandals, compared to the reporting of the American Church scandals. Back then, some of the newspapers, the Boston Globe in particular, had religion reporters who could provide context and deep background. They were religion literate, who knew their subject and could get beneath the surface of a story. Now, most news outlets no longer have such reporters on their staff, and you can tell this in some of the reporting.

This means that those of us who are concerned about the Church, need to look at the reports that have come out, and will come out; with open eyes and minds.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Finger in the Dike - The Crisis Grows

Day by day, the news stories concerning clergy sexual abuse continue to multiple; spreading country by country. News organizations, smelling blood, are digging deeper and deeper, uncovering further cover ups by bishops of the crimes committed by priests under their jurisdiction. Concerned more with protecting the image of the institution rather than with people; they are finding that their attempts to plug the holes are failing. The cracks are growing, and soon the stone wall will collapse, and the flood will come. The question is how much of the Church and its works will be washed away.

As the bishops in this country have learned, the bishops of Ireland and Germany will find that as horrendous as the crime committed by pedophile priests may be, what is upsetting people the most is the fact that the shepherds they trusted to protect them and their children have failed.

I love the Church with all my heart, and it now feels broken. Our Secular Franciscan Rule calls us to “devote themselves energetically to living in full communion with the pope, bishops, and priests, fostering an open and trusting dialogue of apostolic effectiveness and creativity” (Art. 6b), but it is hard to feel in “full communion,” when one feels betrayed. It is hard to believe that “an open and trusting dialogue” is possible, when the bishops do not listen to us, do not hear our concerns and warnings. The only thing that continues to give me hope is that I see the Gospel is still being lived in my own parish and my Franciscan community.

The Holy Father and our bishops throughout the world need to address this crisis, which is appearing to be systemic. It is a crisis that calls for an honest self examination, and the courage to contemplate changes in the clergy and in Church governance. It at least calls for an extraordinary world synod of bishops, with open discussion. If this fails to happen, the harm to the life of the Church will be great; further weakening its influence in the world, at a time when the world needs to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ; and see it lived in people’s lives.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Archbishop Oscar Romero

Today, March 24, is the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. The National Catholic Reporter has a couple of stories on his life and death, on their website. Appointed Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977, he began as a quiet, conservative, prelate. When an activist priest in his archdiocese was killed by a death squad, it opened his eyes to the poverty and oppression that existed in his country. He became a fiery prophet for the poor, calling the government to task for its brutal tactics, and for ignoring the plight of the people.

This did not endear him to the rich and powerful of his country, nor with his fellow bishops. Complaints about him must have reached the ears of Rome, and they were not too happy with him. Father John Dear SJ, in his column, reported that Pope John Paul II was ready to remove Archbishop Romero on the day he was shot. The irony is that when the Pope visited El Salvador, he prayed at the tomb of Archbishop Romero.

Romero was a strong bishop, a forceful preacher, who cared for the poor and tried as best he could to protect them from abuse and exploitation. He is the type of bishop we could use today; instead we have bishops who are more concerned with protecting the institution, than its people.

For me, he will always be the Latin American “Thomas Becket.” I pray that he will be recognized officially as a saint.

Friday, March 19, 2010

"From the Pews in the Back," Women in the Church - UPDATED

Today I attended a luncheon talk sponsored by the Massachusetts Bible Society. The presenters were Kate Dugan and Jennifer Owens, who are the editors of a collection of essays written by young Catholic women, entitled “From the Pews in the Back.” These women share their views of the Catholic Church; how they see their place and roles within it. I found it an excellent presentation.

The Church has always seemed to struggle with the role of women within it. The Church as institution has only males as ordained clergy, yet most of its charitable works, past and present, has been organized and lead by women. If you go into many parishes, you find that various ministries within it are performed by women.

Throughout the Church’s history, there have been women who have been spiritual giants, whose lives continue to inspire many Christians. Among my favorites are St. Clare of Assisi and St. Teresa of Avila, both reformers, both founders of Catholic communities of women. They sometimes had to stand up to Church authorities for their ideals, but did it with respectful stubbornness. Then there was Dorothy Day, whom I found out from the presentation, has been an example for many of the women essayists.

All the gifts that many Catholic women, religious and lay, have shared with and for the Church, and yet they have been treated as second class citizens within parts of the Catholic community. And some would say they have even been treated as third class citizens, after the clergy and men.

Catholic women deserve to be listen to by the leaders of the Church. They should let their needs be known, and Church must address them. And they must be recognized and thanked for the gifts of themselves and their talents that they have given to us all.
UPDATE: The MassBible has posted the video of the talk.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

For Saint Patrick's Day

“Look at the Good Shepherd, my brothers. To save his sheep he endured the agony of the cross. They followed him in trials and persecutions, in ignominy, hunger, and thirst, in humiliations and temptations, and so on. And for this God rewarded them with eternal life. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves; the saints endured all that, but we who are servants of God try to win honour and glory by recounting and making known what they have done.” (Sixth Admonition, St. Francis of Assisi)

One of my favorite Jesuit writers, Father James Martin, SJ, has written a column for the Huffington Post, suggesting that we put St. Patrick back into St. Patrick’s Day. He makes a good point. Our country, our society has a record of turning religious holydays into secular holidays; Halloween, Christmas, Easter, and St. Patrick’s Day, have all been turned in days marked by parties, greeting cards and holiday themed commercials. St. Patrick’s Day has become leprechauns, green beer, Guinness, and the Irish colors. Now, I am not saying that we should stop any of this; I like a good party as the next person. But a saint is remembered for the example of his or her life, and what they teach us about being a Christian. With St. Patrick, he shows the courage needed to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in a hostile land. Trusting in God, he converted thousands, laid the foundation for a strong and vibrant church.

We are now in a time, both in this country and in Ireland, where trust in the Church is being shaken. Many, with good reason, doubt that the Body of Christ can be in the Roman Catholic Church. Those of us who still love the Church, as painful as it can be at times, by our words and actions, must show that the Gospel still has power to shape people’s lives. That the Holy Spirit still enflames the Catholic community, and that Jesus Christ still brings light to a darken world.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


As I read and listen to the stories of the growing European clergy sexual abuse scandals, I have this image of a stone hitting a pond, causing ripples through the water. The scandal broke open in Boston, and the ripples caused by it surged through the rest of the country. Now it seems to have rippled through Ireland and Europe, and touching even the Papacy.

From where I sit, as horrific as the crimes committed against children by trusted priests are; what has really gotten people so upset and angry is the fact that our bishops failed to protect our children. It seems that the bishop’s primary goal was to protect the image of the Church; to keep a lid on the scandal, but they were trying to keep a lid on a pressure cooker. Eventually, the pressure proved too great, and the scandal exploded, bankrupting dioceses, demoralizing the good and honorable priests, and incurring distrust among the laity.

At a time when the modern secular world is challenging the Christian faith and values, these ongoing scandals only aid those who oppose the Church, and drives away those who are searching for a loving God. And then there are those who have been severely wounded, physically, mentally, and spiritually; the Church needs to acknowledge them and care for them.

The time has come for the pope and bishops to seriously address this situation as a world wide crisis. They must be accountable for their role in it, and where necessary, lose their office. We are getting beyond the point, where words, no matter how heartfelt they may be, are enough. What is required is action to hold those responsible for this tragedy to task; and changes in the Church must be explored and implemented.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"Everyone...must be made welcome." My March Fraternity Newsletter Column

Backstory: For almost fifty years, my Secular Franciscan fraternity has held it’s meeting in the auditorium of St. Anthony Shrine, Boston, MA. Recently, the friars of the Shrine saw a need to provide a food center for poor families with very young children. They converted a portion of the auditorium into such a center. Since it’s opening the demand for the Center services has increased, requiring more space..

“No matter where they are, in hermitages or elsewhere, the friars must be careful not to claim the ownership of any place, or try to hold it against someone else. Everyone who comes to them, friend or foe, rogue or robber, must be made welcome.” (Chapter 7, The Earlier Rule of the Order Friars Minor)

“Let the Secular Franciscans seek a proper spirit of detachment from temporal goods by simplifying their own material needs. Let them be mindful that according to the gospel they are stewards of the goods received for the benefit of God’s children.

Thus, in the spirit of the Beatitudes, as pilgrims and strangers on their way to the home of the Father, they should strive to purify their hearts from every tendency and yearning for possession and power.” (Art. 11b-d, Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order)

It is perhaps a sign of the difficult economic times we are in right now, that the demands for the services of the Franciscan Food Center at St. Anthony Shrine has grown so much that the Center requires more space. So they have moved into the auditorium, which means that we had to restructure how we run our gatherings; meeting in different locations within the Shrine.

Now at least one person has come to me; and others have spoken to other members of the Council; basically telling us that we should have stood up for our “rights.” They believe that our fraternity has been meeting in the auditorium for decades and should still be allowed to use the auditorium unhindered.

I know that this has been a difficult adjustment for some of us, but I would refer them to above quote from St. Francis of Assisi. It is part of the Franciscan charism to not claim anything as our own, but to see everything we have as gifts from God; gifts that are meant to be shared, especially with the poor. We have now an opportunity to live that charism in a real way today, by willingly and joyfully, by sharing our meeting space with the poor. We have the opportunity to see and rub elbows with the poor and make them feel welcomed. It is one thing to comfortably give to charity by dropping our donations in a basket. It is a true test of Franciscan charity, when we are willing to be discomforted so that needy parents can get food and clothing for their children.

On behalf of the Council, I want to thank everyone for their patience and understanding during this time of transition. I know that Father David and Father Paul both appreciate our efforts to adjust, so that so many more people can be helped. It is not the meeting place that makes a fraternity; it is the people who gather, no matter where, that makes a Franciscan fraternity alive.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

In Times of Trouble

“For though the fig tree blossom not nor fruit be on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive fail and the terraces produce no nourishment,
Though the flocks disappear from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,
Yet will I rejoice in the Lord and exult in my saving God.
God, my Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet swift as those of hinds and enables me to go upon the heights.” (Habakkuk 3: 17-19)

“United themselves to the redemptive obedience of Jesus, who placed his will into the Father’s hands, let them faithfully fulfill the duties proper to their various circumstances of life. Let them also follow the poor and crucified Christ, witness to him even in difficulties and persecutions.” (Art. 10, Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order)

The above Scripture quote was the canticle for Friday’s Morning Prayer. Considering the economic troubles, internationally, nationally, and personally, it is a reading that spoke to me. If the troubles are harsh enough for an individual, it can be very easy to give into despair. The question is have any of them also given up on God? I will be the first to admit, that with everything going on in my life, it has been difficult to pray. When I did pick up my Christian Prayer book, the above quote was what I prayed. It speaks of hope; it says that no matter how bad things may get, God is there, to give strength and hope to those who open their hearts to him.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Pope reflects on St. Bonaventure

Pope Benedict, during his March 3rd audience, reflected on the life of St. Bonaventure, who was a Franciscan friar, theologian, mystic, and Minister General of the Order. The Franciscans (OFM) have a report on that reflection on their website.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Archbishop of Boston in Haiti

Cardinal Sean O'Malley, OFM Cap, Archbishop of Boston, has been in Haiti with a group of American Catholic clergy, looking into the situation in that ravished country. Our major local newspaper, the Boston Globe, has a very good story about that visit.

Update: Cardinal Sean has his own blog, and he reported on his trip to Haiti.