04/30/12

Rome vs. the Sisters

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Commentators offer a range of explanations for last week’s Vatican “assessment” charging a group that includes the largest number of US Catholic sisters, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) with “serious doctrinal problems” and “radical feminism.”

One frequent explanation is that the report was issued in retaliation for support given the 2009 Affordable Care Act (ACA) by Network, a Catholic social justice lobby with close ties to the LCWR. For example, in a BBC News interview several days after the release of the assessment, Sister Simone Campbell, Network’s executive director, acknowledged “a strong connection” between Network’s challenge to the US bishops over the ACA and the Vatican accusations.

No doubt there is some truth to this analysis. But it’s worth noting that the Vatican launched the investigation that culminated in this document in January 2009, more than a year before Congress passed the ACA. Given the speed with which Rome does things, it’s more than likely that while the sisters’ support for the ACA contributed to the harshness of the statement, it by no means caused it. Indeed, Pope John Paul II mandated a previous investigation of US religious in 1983, though the outcome of that process was less brutal than the current one has proven to be.

In point of fact, throughout the history of the Church, bishops and popes have struggled mightily to keep committed celibate Catholic women under control. Already in the early Christian centuries male church leaders forced virgins to describe themselves as “brides of Christ” rather than use the male martial imagery they had come to use during the Roman persecutions. The early equality between male and female desert monastics was likewise undercut when eighth century bishops began taking control of women’s monasteries and ordained monks to the priesthood for the first time (but not nuns, of course.) And as, throughout the following centuries, groups of dedicated Christian women came together—canonesses, Beguines, beatas, recluses—popes, bishops, and male theologians went to great lengths to rein them in.

In the 12th century, Aelred of Rievaulx forbade women recluses to so much as talk alone with their confessors; Gregory IX imposed cloister on all Franciscan sisters except those in the house led by their foundress, Clare of Assisi; and in 1917, after a century marked by the foundation of innumerable active (that is, non-cloistered) congregations of sisters dedicated to serving the needs of the sick and the poor, the new Vatican Code of Canon Law cloistered them all, imposing rigid rules that undercut their ministries.

As the century moved on, however, relations between the Vatican and the sisters seemed to improve. In its effort to respond to the horrors of the twentieth century, the Vatican ordered the sisters to become better educated, to update their rules and habits, and to begin meeting together for the sake of greater effectiveness.

Already in 1929 Pope Pius XI had stressed the need for better prepared Catholic school teachers; in 1950, Pius XII called a meeting of the heads of all religious orders for the purpose of further advancing their collaboration; and in 1952 he called a meeting of women’s superiors, during which he urged the sisters to update and educate themselves for the purpose of attaining attain equal footing with their secular counterparts.

The Vatican also called for the formation of the US Conference of Major Superiors of Women, the group that eventually morphed into the currently-maligned LCWR. Ironically, the American women’s congregations at the time felt no need for the Conference, but organized it out of obedience to the Pope. Finally, the Second Vatican Council called the sisters to renew their congregations, return to the charism of their founders, and revise their constitutions, a call Pope Paul VI seconded. The sisters embraced Vatican II renewal immediately, with all their hearts, more so than any other group in the church.

So how, you may wonder, did the sisters and the Vatican get into the current conundrum? In much the same way that the rest of the Catholic Church did in the decades after Vatican II.

Conservative commentators argue that the sisters misinterpreted the teachings of Vatican II, or didn’t study them at all, and abandoned the way of life to which they were vowed. More illuminating, I believe is a comment made in 2005 by Sister Mary Daniel Turner, an LCWR executive director who, in the 1970s, led the organization through some of its most significant transformations: “Each time the church takes a step forward,” she said, “it takes a step back.” At Vatican II, the church called its members to respond to the “signs of the times,” to recognize “the universal call to holiness” that made clergy, religious and laypeople equal, to respond to the “joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties” of modern men and women.

But when the “People of God” began to do this, the Vatican and the bishops realized with a shock what it actually meant, and they didn’t like it.

In point of fact, according to papers released in 2011 by the moral theologian Germaine Grisez, papal buyers’ remorse had become evident even before the closing of the Council, when Pope Paul VI made clear that he would not reverse the church’s earlier condemnation of artificial contraceptives under any circumstances. And in 1968 he was true to that promise, absolutely forbidding, in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, the use of artificial contraceptives. In so doing the pope overrode the recommendations of the birth control commission formed during Vatican II, a commission that included married lay people. So much for the equality that came with the “universal call to holiness.”

US sisters themselves began slamming into the buyers’ remorse of the institutional church around the same time. Already in 1967, the rollback of the renewal the sisters had undertaken with such commitment began to come into focus. When the cardinal archbishop of Los Angeles forbade the Immaculate Heart Sisters there from implementing the changes agreed upon at their renewal chapter, including modernizing their habit and educating their young sisters before sending them out to teach, the Vatican backed the cardinal, although these were changes the Vatican itself had called for. Ultimately, a majority of IHMs abandoned their status as Catholic sisters under canon law.

When LCWR members proposed a motion protesting the treatment accorded the IHMs, the Vatican representative at their meeting prevented the motion from coming to a vote. In the years that followed, the LCWR protested to Rome repeatedly what appeared to them unjustifiable intrusions by the Vatican and the bishops in decisions over which the Council had given them discretion.

I could go on but you get the idea. The recent investigation of the LCWR and accusations of doctrinal infidelity and radical feminism against the group are one more sad chapter in the long history of popes and bishops attempting to bring Catholic sisters to heel.

There is one significant difference, however. In part because of the Vatican’s own demand that they become so, the sisters currently under attack are the most highly educated women in the history of the church.

And because of the sisters’ hard, able, for the most part financially uncompensated work, Catholic women in the US today are also vastly more educated, competent, and professional than Catholic women of any previous generations. Think here, if you will, of Nancy Pelosi, recent occupant of the highest position of power a woman has held in the history of the US government. Think of Kathleen Sebelius. Think, for that matter, of me. We Catholic women understand the enormous debt we owe our sisters, and we are not pleased to have their faith denigrated in such a vile fashion even as they move into old age.

To paraphrase Sister Simone Campbell, I don’t think the boys have any idea what they’re in for.

Complete Article HERE!

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04/29/12

Priest in gay porn probe leaves parish

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An Irish priest at the center of a gay porn controversy has asked to leave his parish and take sabbatical leave from the priesthood, he said Sunday.

Father Martin McVeigh has admitted he destroyed a memory stick containing “inappropriate imagery” ahead of a church investigation into reports he accidentally showed pictures of naked men to parents of children preparing for their First Holy Communion.

The incident happened at the start of a PowerPoint presentation at a grade school in Pomeroy, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland in March, said the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady.

Parents said in a statement they were “horrified” by what they saw and called for action to be taken against the priest.
The church reported the incident to police, who said no crime had been committed.

In a statement Sunday, McVeigh apologized “for the hurt caused” and “his failure to check his presentation in advance.”
However, he insisted he “was not responsible for the presence of the offending images and in this respect I ask you to accept my innocence.”
The priest also confirmed he had destroyed the memory stick that contained the images.

He said: “After the images were inadvertently shown, I immediately removed the memory stick from the laptop. In my shock and upset and in my concern to ensure that the images would never be shown again, I destroyed it later that evening.”

McVeigh described the past month as “the most difficult” of his life and said he would be taking a break.

“In the hope of bringing resolution and healing to the division and pain within the parish, I have taken the decision to ask Cardinal Brady to allow me to leave the parish of Pomeroy and to take sabbatical leave,” said McVeigh, adding: “The memory of this awful episode will remain with me for the rest of my life.”

Brady said he accepted McVeigh had no advance knowledge of the pornography.
In a statement Sunday, Brady said it had been “a traumatic time for the whole parish community and for Father McVeigh personally.” The cardinal also apologized for the incident.

He issued an update on the church investigation, saying other computers used by McVeigh had been “forensically examined by an independent technical expert and no inappropriate imagery has been found.”

Brady added an additional laptop stolen from the local church sacristy since the March 26 meeting “did not form part of the technical examination.”

The cardinal said he had accepted McVeigh’s request for leave on the understanding he would return to the diocese on its completion.
The latest controversy comes after a series of child sex abuse scandals involving Catholic Church clergy in Ireland. The government-backed investigations say thousands of children have been abused by priests and other church figures over the last 80 years.

In March, the Vatican released a major report into the problem, begging forgiveness from victims. However, victims hit out at the report’s finding that new safeguards are working.

Complete Article HERE!

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04/28/12

Accused priest told therapist of attempted gang rape at Philadelphia seminary

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A Catholic priest admitting a sexual relationship with a teen said he had been the victim of an attempted gang rape by fellow seminarians, according to testimony in a clergy-abuse trial.

Testimony on Monday also mentioned Pope Benedict XVI, who weighed in on the priest’s 2005 censure when he was a Vatican official known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Documents show the priest had admitted to the Philadelphia archdiocese in 1992 that he had sex with the high school student for several years. An archdiocesan treatment center concluded the priest was not a pedophile, but was affected by his “traumatic sexual development.” He remained in ministry for another decade.

It’s not clear if the trauma reference was to the alleged seminary assault. The priest told a therapist he had been tied down by several seminarians who tried to rape him and that a friend came to his rescue. But the same friend later twice abused him, the priest told the therapist, according to documents read in court.

The Associated Press is not naming the priest, who graduated from seminary in 1974, because he may be a sexual-assault victim.

The testimony came in the child-endangerment trial of Monsignor William Lynn, the longtime secretary for clergy in Philadelphia. Prosecutors say he helped keep dangerous priest-predators in jobs where they could continue to abuse children.

The priest discussed Monday stayed in active ministry until the national priest-abuse scandal broke in 2002. His ministry was supposed to be strictly supervised so he was not alone around adolescent boys, but he lived alone in a parish rectory in Lower Merion one year, and had little if any supervision after leaving the hospital in 1993, prosecutors allege. He remains a priest today, but lives a private life of “prayer and penance.”

On cross-examination, defense lawyer Jeffrey Lindy noted that Lynn got the priest to admit to the sexual relationship with the teen the same day the complaint came in to Lynn in 1992, and soon had him being evaluated. However, a detective on the stand noted that police, had they gotten such an admission, would have pursued criminal charges.

Neither the priest’s admission — nor the scores of other abuse complaints brought to the archdiocese from 1948 through the 2005 grand jury report — were ever referred to police or prosecutors.

The priest’s alleged victim had disclosed the abuse to another priest during marriage preparation. That priest and the fiancee — by then the accuser’s ex-girlfriend — went to the archdiocese in July 1992. Lynn’s office never tried to interview the accuser.

There was no follow-up testimony Monday on the seminary rape allegation. The Philadelphia archdiocese runs St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, but can’t comment because of a gag order.

Meanwhile, Lynn’s lawyers are preparing for a potential showdown this week with a key trial witness.

A man who said he was raped by two priests and his fifth-grade teacher at a northeast Philadelphia parish is scheduled to testify Wednesday.

The defense wants to challenge his credibility. But if they do, the judge is likely to let jurors hear that one of the priests has pleaded guilty.

Defrocked priest Edward Avery, 69, pleaded guilty days before trial to sexually assaulting the northeast Philadelphia altar boy in 1999. He is now in prison, serving 2 1/2 to five years for sexual assault and conspiracy.

Judge M. Teresa Sarmina is also pondering whether jurors can hear that five other people have come forward since 2010 to say Avery molested them as children. Defense lawyers say those allegations are beyond Lynn’s control, since he left office in 2004.

But Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington said Lynn left “a powder keg” in place after the first complaint was filed in 1992.

“Lynn put a powder keg out there whose name was Avery. If that powder keg explodes, a kid gets raped,” Blessington said.

Complete Article HERE!

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04/28/12

Bishops Play Church Queens as Pawns

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COMMENTARY

IT is an astonishing thing that historians will look back and puzzle over, that in the 21st century, American women were such hunted creatures.

Even as Republicans try to wrestle women into chastity belts, the Vatican is trying to muzzle American nuns.

Who thinks it’s cool to bully nuns? While continuing to heal and educate, the community of sisters is aging and dying out because few younger women are willing to make such sacrifices for a church determined to bring women to heel.

Yet the nuns must be yanked into line by the crepuscular, medieval men who run the Catholic Church.

“It’s not terribly unlike the days of yore when they singled out people in the rough days of the Inquisition,” said Kenneth Briggs, the author of “Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church’s Betrayal of American Nuns.”

How can the church hierarchy be more offended by the nuns’ impassioned advocacy for the poor than by priests’ sordid pedophilia?

How do you take spiritual direction from a church that seems to be losing its soul?

It has become a habit for the church to go after women. A Worcester, Mass., bishop successfully fought to get a commencement speech invitation taken away from Vicki Kennedy, widow of Teddy Kennedy, because of her positions on some social issues. And an Indiana woman named Emily Herx has filed a lawsuit saying she was fired from her job teaching in a Catholic school and denounced as a “grave, immoral sinner” by the parish pastor after she used fertility treatments to try to get pregnant with her husband.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York recently told The Wall Street Journal that only “a tiny minority” of priests were tainted by the sex abuse scandal. But it’s a global shame spiral. The church leadership never recoiled in horror from pedophilia, yet it recoils in horror from outspoken nuns.

In Philadelphia, Msgr. William Lynn, 61, is the first church supervisor to go on trial for child endangerment. He is fighting charges that he may have covered up for 20 priests accused of sexual abuse and left in the ministry, often transferred to unwitting parishes.

Somehow the Philadelphia church leaders decided that the Rev. Thomas Smith was not sexually motivated when he made boys strip and be whipped playing Christ in a Passion play. Somehow they decided an altar boy who said he was raped by two priests and his fifth-grade teacher was not the one in need of protection.

Instead of looking deep into its own heart and soul, the church is going after the women who are the heart and soul of parishes, schools and hospitals.

The stunned sisters are debating how to respond after the Vatican’s scorching reprimand to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the main association of American Catholic nuns. The bishops were obviously peeved that some nuns had the temerity to speak out in support of President Obama’s health care plan, including his compromise on contraception for religious hospitals.

The Vatican accused the nuns of pushing “radical feminist themes,” and said they were not vocal enough in parroting church policy against the ordination of women as priests and against abortion, contraception and homosexual relationships.

In a blatant “Shut up and sit down, sisters” moment, the Vatican’s doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, noted, “Occasional public statements by the L.C.W.R. that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose.”

Pope Benedict, who became known as “God’s Rottweiler” when he was the cardinal conducting the office’s loyalty tests, assigned Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle to crack down on the climate of “corporate dissent” among the poor nuns.

When the nuns push for social justice, they’re put into stocks. Yet Archbishop Sartain has led a campaign in Washington to reverse the state’s newly enacted law allowing same-sex marriage, and he’s a church hero.

Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic lobbying group slapped in the Vatican report, said it scares the church hierarchy to have “educated women form thoughtful opinions and engage in dialogue.”

She told NPR that it was ironic that church leaders were mad at sisters over contraception when the nuns had committed to a celibate life with no families or babies. Given the damage done by the pedophilia scandals, she said, “the church’s obsession, at times, with the sexual relationships is a serious problem.”

Asked by The Journal if the church had a hard time convincing the flock to follow its strict teachings on sexuality, Cardinal Dolan laughed: “Do we ever!”

Church leaders behave like adolescent boys, blinded by sex. That’s the problem with inquisitors and censors: They become fascinated by what they deplore.

The pope needs what the rest of us got from nuns: a good rap across the knuckles.

Complete Article HERE!

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