12/30/11

Fort Myers woman taking on Catholic Church

Women are not allowed to be ordained as priests in the Catholic Church, but one Fort Myers woman says she is hoping to change that. Now she’s putting her own religion on the line.

Devoted to God for 35 years, former Catholic nun Judy Beaumont says becoming a priest feels right, but it’s a position only held by men.

“The people that I serve have called me. The people who know me have called me, and I think through them, God speaks,” she said. “I will be ordained a Roman Catholic priest.”

Soon, Beaumont will join the ranks of the other 124 women around the world ordained as a priest. They’re part of a worldwide group called the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.

But none of them are recognized by the Catholic Church.

Now Beaumont faces automatic excommunication, expulsion from the church, just like the 124 women before her.

“We reject that excommunication. We don’t accept it. We are loyal faithful members of the church working to change the church,” Beaumont said.

The Catholic Church only sees her ordination as an attempt to become a priest.

In a statement, the Diocese of Venice said, “The Catholic Church has no authority to ordain women as priests” and “any attendance or direct participation by Catholics in the attempted ordination ceremony is forbidden.”

But to Beaumont, this is about more than seeking the role of priest. She’s hoping to be part of a movement to bring equality among church leadership.

“We’re the Rosa B. Parks of the Catholic Church trying to bring about change,” Beaumont said.

And despite the consequences, she says she isn’t holding back.

The ceremony for Beaumont will be January 21 at 3 p.m. It will be held at the Lamb of God Lutheran-Episcopal Church.

Complete Article HERE!

12/29/11

More Bad News for the Catholic Church

Elderly caretakers of a home for Catholic priests claim the church wrongfully fired them for complaining about priests’ penchant for pornography and misuse of church funds.

John Slonimski, 75, and his wife Margaret, 65, sued the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts in Riverside County Court, alleging wrongful firing, discrimination, breach of contract, failure to pay overtime and other charges.

The Slonimskis say the church hired them in 2002 to live on and oversee the 80-acre property in Hemet, and attend to the needs of the tenant priests.

Fast-growing Hemet, pop. 71,800, is in central Riverside County, not quite in the western shadows of the San Jacinto Mountains, on the eastern side of which lies Palm Springs.

The Slonimskis say the church’s Hemet property “is, in essence, currently a housing organization used for priests, including those who have had legal problems wherein there have been accusations and claims of sexual abuse”.

The Slonimskis say they provided services as required, to the church and its priests, until they were unlawfully fired in July this year.

The Slominskis say they moved to Hemet from Idaho based on verbal assurances that they could live on the property for the rest of their lives. But when they got there, they say, they found the property largely uninhabitable.

“Consequently, plaintiffs spent the following months repairing and cleaning the real property,” according to the complaint. “Approximately forty acres of weed were removed by the plaintiffs a multitude of times, as well as the clean-up of the two mobile homes. Plaintiffs worked twelve hours a day during this period to make the property habitable and ready for the many retreats that the Congregation planned at the property.”

After the rocky start, the Slominskis say, their duties expanded to include booking and conducting retreats on the property and managing its archives.

Because their duties had changed, the Slonimskis say, the church agreed to modify their employment contract. From 2004 on, in addition to room and board, they were paid salaries. They say the church also agreed that they could be terminated only for cause, and that regardless of their job performance they would be allowed to live on the property.

But the Slominskis say they became concerned about the behavior of the priests, all of whom were essentially the couple’s supervisors.

The Slominskis say their complaints included, but were not limited to, members of the congregation “engaging in unlawful financial practices … regarding the handling of donations and priests’ salaries and other matters; … unlawful and inappropriate conduct … regarding sexual abuse of third persons; … and inappropriate practice of reviewing inappropriate and/or pornographic material on congregation’s premises.”

They say they also complained that they were being underpaid, and “were being required to conceal nor discuss with third persons the fact that [the] Congregation were engaging in unlawful (and/or which plaintiffs perceived to be unlawful) activities, including various financial improprieties.”

The Slonimskis say: “On a repeated basis throughout plaintiffs’ employment, plaintiffs repeatedly advised congregation of the fact that [the] Congregation were engaging in unlawful conduct and behavior and/or conduct that plaintiffs reasonably believed was unlawful conduct … which resulted in plaintiff, and each of them, being ostracized, receiving the cold shoulder from Congregation, being retaliated against and harassed and ultimately resulting in the termination of each plaintiffs’ employment, which included their right to continu[e] living on the Hemet property of Congregation for the remainder of plaintiffs’ lives.”

John Slonimski claims that in June 2004, while attending a financial meeting in Massachusetts with treasurers from congregations, he disclosed that he believed the defendants were violating state and federal law in their improper handling of donated funds and other financial matters.

The Slominskis say they took these matters to their supervising priests, but were repeatedly rebuffed and told no action would be taken.

They say matters escalated in January 2011, when a priest named Fr. Jerry Holland arrived on the scene. The Slominskis say Holland repeatedly engaged in conduct they considered at best inappropriate and potentially unlawful. They say the behavior included the routine use of profanity in the workplace and reading of inappropriate and/or obscene materials at work.

Then, “In February 2011, an article surfaced in the Los Angeles Times and New York times featuring the defendants’ representative, Father Martin O’Loghlen. He had been accused of trying to contract a woman that he had abused when she was a minor,” the Slominskis say. “Plaintiffs, over defendants’ objections, criticized and complained about Father Martin O’Loghlen’s conduct to third persons for which plaintiffs, and each of them, were further ostracized, criticized and retaliated against.”

On July 22 this year, the Slonimskis say, the defendants, through legal counsel, met with them at their home and fired them and offered them a severance agreement.

The Slominskis say that when they balked at signing the agreement without reading it, they were “rudely told that, in essence, they were lucky to even have anything at all offered to them.”

The Slominskis say they were booted from the property. When they objected, they say they were told that if they had no written employment contract, then they had no agreement.

The Slonimskis said they asked whether they had a right to rely on a priest’s word, but got no response from the attorneys.

They say the entire exchange came just two days after they had told the congregation that their daughter, who suffers from encephalitis, was coming to live with them while she underwent and recovered from life-threatening brain surgery.

They claim the defendants subsequently violated their rights to privacy “by disclosing to third persons who were not in a need-to-know position, confidential and private information about plaintiffs’ employment and the cessation thereof … and certain terms and conditions of said employment.”

The Slominskis seek lost wages with prejudgment interest, and punitive damages for unpaid overtime and benefits, wrongful termination, retaliation, breach of contract, failure to provide rest and meal periods, failure to timely pay wages, violation of right to privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Complete Article HERE!

12/29/11

Bishops Say Rules on Gay Parents Limit Freedom of Religion

Roman Catholic bishops in Illinois have shuttered most of the Catholic Charities affiliates in the state rather than comply with a new requirement that says they must consider same-sex couples as potential foster-care and adoptive parents if they want to receive state money. The charities have served for more than 40 years as a major link in the state’s social service network for poor and neglected children.

The bishops have followed colleagues in Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts who had jettisoned their adoption services rather than comply with nondiscrimination laws.

For the nation’s Catholic bishops, the Illinois requirement is a prime example of what they see as an escalating campaign by the government to trample on their religious freedom while expanding the rights of gay people. The idea that religious Americans are the victims of government-backed persecution is now a frequent theme not just for Catholic bishops, but also for Republican presidential candidates and conservative evangelicals.

“In the name of tolerance, we’re not being tolerated,” said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Ill., a civil and canon lawyer who helped drive the church’s losing battle to retain its state contracts for foster care and adoption services.

The Illinois experience indicates that the bishops face formidable opponents who also claim to have justice and the Constitution on their side. They include not only gay rights advocates, but also many religious believers and churches that support gay equality (some Catholic legislators among them). They frame the issue as a matter of civil rights, saying that Catholic Charities was using taxpayer money to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Tim Kee, a teacher in Marion, Ill., who was turned away by Catholic Charities three years ago when he and his longtime partner, Rick Wade, tried to adopt a child, said: “We’re both Catholic, we love our church, but Catholic Charities closed the door to us. To add insult to injury, my tax dollars went to provide discrimination against me.”

The bishops are engaged in the religious liberty battle on several fronts. They have asked the Obama administration to lift a new requirement that Catholic and other religiously affiliated hospitals, universities and charity groups cover contraception in their employees’ health plans. A decision has been expected for weeks now.

At the same time, the bishops are protesting the recent denial of a federal contract to provide care for victims of sex trafficking, saying the decision was anti-Catholic. An official with the Department of Health and Human Services recently told a hearing on Capitol Hill that the bishops’ program was rejected because it did not provide the survivors of sex trafficking, some of whom are rape victims, with referrals for abortions or contraceptives.

Critics of the church argue that no group has a constitutional right to a government contract, especially if it refuses to provide required services.

But Anthony R. Picarello Jr., general counsel and associate general secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, disagreed. “It’s true that the church doesn’t have a First Amendment right to have a government contract,” he said, “but it does have a First Amendment right not to be excluded from a contract based on its religious beliefs.”

The controversy in Illinois began when the state legislature voted in November 2010 to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples, which the state’s Catholic bishops lobbied against. The legislation was titled “The Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act,” and Bishop Paprocki said he was given the impression that it would not affect state contracts for Catholic Charities and other religious social services.

In New York State, religious groups lobbied for specific exemption language in the same-sex marriage bill. But bishops in Illinois did not negotiate, Bishop Paprocki said.

“It would have been seen as, ‘We’re going to compromise on the principle as long as we get our exception.’ We didn’t want it to be seen as buying our support,” he said.

Catholic Charities is one of the nation’s most extensive social service networks, serving more than 10 million poor adults and children of many faiths across the country. It is made up of local affiliates that answer to local bishops and dioceses, but much of its revenue comes from the government. Catholic Charities affiliates received a total of nearly $2.9 billion a year from the government in 2010, about 62 percent of its annual revenue of $4.67 billion. Only 3 percent came from churches in the diocese (the rest came from in-kind contributions, investments, program fees and community donations).

In Illinois, Catholic Charities in five of the six state dioceses had grown dependent on foster care contracts, receiving 60 percent to 92 percent of their revenues from the state, according to affidavits by the charities’ directors. (Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Chicago pulled out of foster care services in 2007 because of problems with its insurance provider.)

When the contracts came up for renewal in June, the state attorney general, along with the legal staff in the governor’s office and the Department of Children and Family Services, decided that the religious providers on state contracts would no longer be able to reject same-sex couples, said Kendall Marlowe, a spokesman for the department.

The Catholic providers offered to refer same-sex couples to other agencies (as they had been doing for unmarried couples), but that was not acceptable to the state, Mr. Marlowe said. “Separate but equal was not a sufficient solution on other civil rights issues in the past either,” he said.

Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Rockford decided at that point to get out of the foster care business. But the bishops in Springfield, Peoria, Joliet and Belleville decided to fight, filing a lawsuit against the state.

Taking a completely different tack was the agency affiliated with the conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, which, like the Catholic Church, does not sanction same-sex relationships. Gene Svebakken, president and chief executive of the agency, Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois, visited all seven pastoral conferences in his state and explained that the best option was to compromise and continue caring for the children.

“We’ve been around 140 years, and if we didn’t follow the law we’d go out of business,” Mr. Svebakken said. “We believe it’s God-pleasing to serve these kids, and we know we do a good job.”

In August, Judge John Schmidt, a circuit judge in Sangamon County, ruled against Catholic Charities, saying, “No citizen has a recognized legal right to a contract with the government.” He did not address the religious liberty claims, ruling only that the state did not violate the church’s property rights.

Three of the dioceses filed an appeal, but in November filed a motion to dismiss their lawsuit. The Dioceses of Peoria and Belleville are spinning off their state-financed social services, with the caseworkers, top executives and foster children all moving to new nonprofits that will no longer be affiliated with either diocese.

Gary Huelsmann, executive director of Catholic Social Services of Southern Illinois, in the Belleville Diocese, said the decision was excruciating for everyone.

“We have 600 children abused and neglected in an area where there are hardly any providers,” he said. “Us going out of business would have been detrimental to these children, and that’s a sin, too.”

The work will be carried on, but the Catholic Church’s seminal, historic connection with it has been severed, noted Mr. Marlowe, the spokesman for the state’s child welfare agency. “The child welfare system that Catholic Charities helped build,” he said, “is now strong enough to survive their departure.”

Complete Article HERE!

12/28/11

Anglicans brace for second wave of defections to Rome

Hundreds of disaffected Anglicans will cross over to the Roman Catholic Church this year as the Church of England prepares to take another step toward the ordination of female bishops.

Up to 20 clergy and several hundred of their parishioners are already lined up to join the Ordinariate, the new structure set up by Pope Benedict XVI a year ago that allows them to retain some of their Anglican heritage while entering into full communion with the Holy See.

But many more members of the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England will probably defect after a meeting of its governing body, the General Synod. They will switch if traditionalists, who cannot accept the ordination of women, are denied special provision.

The head of the Ordinariate, Msgr. Keith Newton, said: “There are 15 to 20 people who I think will be coming over this year. These are ordained Anglicans who wish to petition the Holy See for ordination.”

He said they would probably bring a “couple of hundred” worshippers with them in a second wave of defections, following the 60 clergy and 1,000 lay people who switched last year.

Newton, a former Anglican bishop, who is now officially known as the Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, said: “Next year it depends on what the Synod decides to do. But you can’t become a Catholic because you simply want to escape the problems of the Church of England – you have to want to become a Catholic.”

Newton believes the Synod poll on female bishops is on a “knife-edge” with only a handful of votes needed to swing it either way.

On New Year’s Day an Ordinariate will be created in the United States, followed by another in Australia in the spring, both of which will probably have more members than the British one.

Complete Article HERE!