12/31/12

Gay marriage vs. natural law

Ya can’t help but feel a little sorry for old Francis. He’s been without for so long, he’s forgotten some of the fundamentals of the old in and out. Besides, what about all those heterosexual couples who are married, but who are unable to have children. Is he questioning their marriage too?

By Manya A. Brachear

When Illinois legislators approved civil unions last year, gay-marriage opponents turned to Scripture and church teachings to explain their resistance. But with state lawmakers poised to consider approval of same-sex marriage, Roman Catholic bishops and other advocates of traditional marriage have changed their tack.

They say church teaching has nothing to do with it; gay marriage simply violates natural law.

francis george“Marriage comes to us from nature,” Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George said in a recent interview. “That’s based on the complementarity of the two sexes in such a way that the love of a man and a woman joined in a marital union is open to life, and that’s how families are created and society goes along. … It’s not in our doctrine. It’s not a matter of faith. It’s a matter of reason and understanding the way nature operates.”

State Sen. Heather Steans and state Rep. Greg Harris, both Democrats from Chicago, could introduce the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act to legalize same-sex marriage as early as this week. Steans has said she and Harris will not put the legislation up for a vote unless they believe it will pass the current General Assembly. A new set of lawmakers will be sworn in Jan. 9.

George figures the bill’s introduction has some “inevitability to it now,” but he’s dismayed that natural law largely has been left out of the public debate.

Supporters of gay marriage call the renewed effort to highlight natural law a clever but disingenuous appeal to the masses.

“On sexual ethics, nature is neutral,” said Bernard Schlager, executive director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif. “We’re moral beings. We may look to nature for some aspects of how we are in our lives, but we answer to a higher standard. Sexual behavior is an expression of human love.”

According to the tradition of natural law, every human being must seek a fundamental “good” that corresponds to the natural order to flourish. Natural-law proponents say heterosexual intercourse between a married man and a woman serves two intertwined good purposes: to procreate and to express a deep, abiding love.

“You want to be sure that everybody has a chance at happiness. That’s a very persuasive argument,” George said. “But we all want that, and nobody should be disdained or persecuted because of their sexual orientation. … But when we get behind the church and behind the state, you’ve got a natural reality that two men or two women … cannot consummate a marriage. It’s a physical impossibility.

Though some have argued that a basic tenet of natural law is equality, the Rev. Robert John Araujo, a law professor at Loyola University Chicago, said same-sex couples are not equal to heterosexual couples. Objective intelligence demonstrates that heterosexual couples have the capacity to populate the planet and same-gender couples do not, he said.

“It is this very intelligence that is at the core of the natural law upon which the cardinal is relying when he asserts that the marriage question is not restricted to religious concerns but is also of concern to the natural-law legal reasoning that gave us the American republic,” Araujo said.

Other people of faith disagree. Last Sunday, more than 250 Illinois clergy members, mostly Protestant and Jewish, endorsed the gay marriage bill as “morally just to grant equal opportunities and responsibilities to loving, committed same-sex couples.”

Alice Hunt, president of Chicago Theological Seminary, said the natural-law argument seems like a “strategic move.”

“They quickly saw biblical marriage wasn’t going to work,” she said. “It doesn’t work for me because you’re still depending on one person or some group of people’s interpretation of natural law. When you look at the history of marriage, there are many ways marriage has taken shape over time.”

Christopher Wolfe, a professor emeritus of constitutional law at Marquette University who now serves as the co-director of the Thomas International Center, a Raleigh, N.C., institute devoted to the teachings of Thomas Aquinas, said natural law plays a role no matter what side of the debate one takes.

“Everybody’s argument on marriage comes down to some kind of natural-law argument,” Wolfe said. “But there are differences as to what that nature is. Are children central to it or not?”

He argues that children should indeed be central.

Polling by the Public Religion Research Institute has found that most American Catholics support legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

Though that might be true of parishioners, the church hierarchy is of one mind and speaks the truth, according to Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, the church’s lobbying arm in Springfield.

“The reason we’re vocal about laws that unite more than a man and a woman in marriage is it’s incompatible with human nature,” he said. “We’re talking to more than people in the pews. This is something that pertains to believers and nonbelievers.”

Complete Article HERE!

12/30/12

Lawyer who foretold church scandals writes his story

By Angus MacSwan

Ray Mouton was a successful young lawyer in Lafayette, Louisiana, respected in the community and blessed with a loving family, when he received a call from a vicar in the Roman Catholic diocese for a lunch meeting on a fateful day in 1984.

The diocese asked him to defend an errant priest, accused of abusing dozens of children in a rural community. Mouton reluctantly agreed to take on the task.

What followed over the next few years was the uncovering of an institution riddled with pedophile priests on a national scale and efforts at high levels in the Catholic Church to hide the problem away.

For Mouton, it meant the end of his law career, health problems, and anger, depression and guilt.

After many years of writing from his self-imposed exile in France, he finally tells his story in the novel “In God’s House“. It is a harrowing read laden with sickening detail, but also for Mouton, a work of atonement.

In God's House“There’s not a day I don’t think about the children. When I was writing the book, whenever I wanted to quit, I thought about the victims and their families,” he told Reuters.

In person, Mouton, now aged 65, looks like a southern lawyer from central casting, with a head of thick white hair and a sonorous Louisiana drawl.

He chose to tell the story in novel form although the characters, from the lawyer to a senior Vatican official who proves an obstacle to addressing the scandal – are based on real figures.

“The novel is a dramatic experience. My experience was a traumatic one. Every day there were revelations. I didn’t want to believe, the country didn’t want to believe,” he said.

Mouton and his family – Cajuns whose ancestors came to Louisiana as part of the Acadian diaspora – were strongly Catholic. His family had donated land for the cathedral in Lafayette and built schools, churches and a seminary.

When he first agreed to defend the priest, Father Gilbert Gauthe, he believed he was dealing with an isolated case.

“I believed priests were somehow superior. I had never heard of a priest having sex with a child. I could not believe a Catholic priest could do this. I thought he was just one then it all unraveled. In that diocese alone there were a dozen more.”

The church preferred to deal with the problem by paying off victims’ families. But one family wanted to see justice done.

As a lawyer, Mouton believed Gauthe had the right to a fair trial. He soon realized the church was deeply compromised. It had known about Gauthe’s crimes since his days in seminary but had moved him around various parishes, where the abuses continued.

The church was in effect harboring criminals, Mouton said.

“I did start out on the side of the church. I couldn’t imagine they had foreknowledge,” he said.

Mouton joined forces with Father Tom Doyle, a canon lawyer in the Vatican Embassy in Washington, and Father Michael Peterson, a psychiatrist priest who treated sexually deviant clergymen. The two had heard many other cases across Louisiana and the United States – and attempts to bury the problem.Ray Mouton

Believing they had the support of the church hierarchy, they set out on a crusade to bring it into the open and seek justice for the victims.

They spent a year working on a document detailing the scale of the abuse, the steps the church should take to address it and the consequences if it did not. It stated that there was a national crisis involving dozens, if not hundreds, of priests.

“It told them what the deal was – you’ll lose 1,000 priests and a billion dollars.”

They hoped to present the document to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for debate. But after a meeting in a Chicago hotel in 1985 with a cardinal, they were told to kill it.

“They put the reputation of the church above the value of the little children. They did all they could to avoid scandal.”

FALL FROM GRACE

“In God’s House” details a powerful apparatus at work involving local politicians, expensive lawyers, insurance companies and bishops. It also reached into the Vatican, which Mouton says considered the institution above the law.

It also shows the devastation of the victims and their families – shame, anger and frustration as well as physical damage. Many were told that to seek redress would be disloyal to the church, adding further conflict to their emotions.

Mouton himself suffered verbal abuse and even death threats in the community for defending Gauthe. He was accused of trying to extort the church for exorbitant fees.

He put up an insanity plea for Gauthe but the priest himself insisted he was sane. He was sentenced to 20 years.

However, a senior jurist in Louisiana involved himself personally in Gauthe’s case. Instead of going to a prison that was a treatment facility for pedophiles, the priest was sent to a prison where juveniles were held. He was released after serving only half of his sentence.

Gauthe was picked up in Texas soon after his release for molesting a 3-year-old boy, but put on probation rather than being sent back to prison.

Mouton’s marriage broke up and he became an alcoholic.

“It was a cataclysmic event. It broke me in half. I did fall from grace,” he said.

It took many years but subsequent events have vindicated Mouton as widespread sexual abuse by priests came to light across the United States and the world, from Ireland to Australia.

The church and its insurance companies have paid out more than $2 billion dollars in the United States, bishops have been disgraced, and its reputation has suffered to the point that the faithful have deserted in droves.

Mouton now lives in southern France close to the Pyrenees with his second wife Melony and travels frequently to Spain, Mexico and other countries.

He is still bitter about the cover-ups and that many of those responsible have never been brought to justice. Nor has the problem been eradicated, he believes.

“I don’t think we’ve reached critical mass on it yet. The question is what can the church do? The church needs to release all the documents and demand the resignations of those involved.”

The novel is dedicated to Scott Anthony Gastal, the first child to testify in court against a bishop, and to the victims and their families, who, he says, “were abandoned not by their God, but by their Church”.

“I was haunted by my experience. I felt I had to do something,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

12/28/12

Website helps Dutch Catholics “de-baptize” over gay marriage

Thousands of Dutch Catholics are researching how they can leave the church in protest at its opposition to gay marriage, according to the creator of a website aimed at helping them find the information.

Benedict ClausTom Roes, whose website allows people to download the documents needed to leave the church, said traffic on ontdopen.nl – “de-baptise.nl” – had soared from about 10 visits a day to more than 10,000 after Pope Benedict’s latest denunciation of gay marriage this month.

“Of course it’s not possible to be ‘de-baptized’ because a baptism is an event, but this way people can unsubscribe or de-register themselves as Catholics,” Roes told Reuters.

He said he did not know how many visitors to the site actually go ahead and leave the church.

About 28 percent of the population in the Netherlands is Catholic and 18 percent is Protestant, while a much larger proportion – roughly 44 percent – is not religious, according to official statistics.

The country is famous for its liberal attitudes, for example to drugs and prostitution, and in April 2001 it was the first in the world to legalize same-sex marriages.

In a Christmas address to Vatican officials, the pope signaled the he was ready to forge alliances with other religions against gay marriage, saying the family was threatened “to its foundations” by attempts to change its “true structure”.

Roes, a television director, said he left the church and set up his website partly because he was angry about the way the church downplayed or covered-up sexual abuse in Catholic orphanages, boarding schools and seminaries.

A report by an independent commission published a year ago said there had been tens of thousands of victims of child sexual abuse in the Netherlands since 1945 and criticized the church’s culture of silence.

Complete Article HERE!

12/26/12

UnHoly Communion

Some months ago a fellow contacted out of the blue and identified himself as Hank Estrada. Apparently he found me through the Gay Catholic Priests Facebook page. Hank went on to introduce himself and tell me about his latest book, UnHoly Communion-Lessons Learned from Life among Pedophiles, Predators, and Priests. This immediately piqued my interest. His book was published just weeks before my book, Secrecy, Sophistry and Gay Sex In The Catholic Church: The Systematic Destruction of an Oblate Priest in the summer of 2011. After a short conversation on Skype we decided to exchange book and read each other’s story. Hank was way better than me in getting this job done. In record time he plowed through my rather ponderous book and we spoke again on Skype in the earl fall.

Hank complimented me on my work and we spoke for nearly an hour about the many church related experiences we had in common. You see, Hank was a Claretian seminarian in Los Angeles, California around the same time I was Ordained and Oblate priest in Oakland California.

UnHoly CommunionI told Hank that I had yet to get to his book. I apologized for being so slow and promised that I’d get to it as soon as possible. Well it took me way longer than I thought. It’s astonishing how life seems to get in the way of of my best intentions. At any rate, I finished Hank’s book yesterday, Christmas Day. Curiously enough, Hank had some time to spend yesterday afternoon so we met on Skype once again to discuss his book.

UnHoly Communion-Lessons Learned from Life among Pedophiles, Predators, and Priests is primarily a story of the indomitable human spirit. Hank’s story is harrowing — years of childhood incest with his pedophile uncle while his alcoholic family lived in denial.  His escape to what he believed to be a safe haven, the Church, only to be sexually abused by a trusted superior.   And how the leadership of his religious community added insult to injury by ignoring his story and shamefully protecting the sexual predator in their midst permitting him  to move from one victim to another.

Despite all of the abuse, deception and betrayal, Hank triumphs. He is now a nationally recognized spokesman and tireless advocate for male victims and adult survivors of sexual assaults. In 1986, he founded the first national nonprofit organization to support non-offending adult male survivors. His book, despite the difficult subject matter and candid recollections of his ordeal, is really a testament to all of us who have been through similar experiences. It is a message, presented in a very accessible, matter of fact style, of hope, support, and encouragement.

I was particularly touched by his perception, as a seminarian, of the Catholic priesthood that he aspired to join. He perfectly captures the moral and ethical minefield that each priest and religious faces. And how easily it is for any one of us to succumb to the dark side. I quote…

While living in a community of Catholic priests and brothers, I quickly learned about the many personal benefits a religious clergyman receives throughout his priesthood, among them prestige, privilege, protection and often unchallenged influential power over parishioners. Could these questionable benefits lead to arrogance, self-righteousness, and a false sense of invincibility on the part of the priest? What about the sense of accountability, respect, adherence to faith, protection of the innocent and being true examples of Christ’s presence in the world? I witnessed as these men who wore a traditional black suit with white “Roman” collar, undeniably the most recognizable symbol of the Catholic priesthood, were frequently sought out, pampered, given unlimited trust and attention, and had people constantly offering to do things for them. Internally, I questioned some priests I saw take the spiritual “gift” of priesthood and turn it into something they bartered with, a way to control parishioners, as saying “If you treat me special, I will pray and give you blessing from our Lord.”

Hank’s book, UnHoly Communion-Lessons Learned from Life among Pedophiles, Predators, and Priests is a must read for anyone interested in knowing the truth about life in the Catholic Church. His thoughtful and reflective presentation is not about grinding an ax, although he has every right to do so. It’s all about being honest, primarily with himself, then with his family, his religious community, and us. Because it is precisely this honesty that will help him, them and us from shirking our responsibility to be more vigilant in terms of protecting the most vulnerable among us.

Thank you, Hank, for your witness. And thank you for calling us to uncover our eyes and see things, not as we would like them to be, but as they really are.

12/23/12

Swiss abbot makes fiery appeal for church reform

By Christa Pongratz-Lippitt

A fiery appeal for church reform by an influential Swiss abbot has attracted widespread attention throughout Europe, and has, moreover, been welcomed by the future president of the Swiss bishops’ conference.

Abbot Martin WerlenFifty-year-old Abbot Martin Werlen, leader of the Abbey of Einsiedeln and himself a member of the Swiss bishops’ conference, first voiced his appeal in a sermon on the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council in October. The sermon was later published in a 39-page brochure that sold out within three days and is now in its third edition.

Titled “Discovering the Embers Under the Ashes,” it echoes remarks by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini in his last interview before his death Aug. 31. Referring to the state of the church today, Martini spoke of his sense of powerlessness and how Catholicism’s “embers” were “hidden under the ashes.”

Werlen said he is alarmed by the present state of the church. “The situation of the church is dramatic, not only in the German-speaking countries,” he said. “It is dramatic not only because of the rapidly decreasing number of priests and religious or because of plummeting church attendance. The real problem is not a problem of numbers. What is missing is the fire! We must face the situation and find out what is behind it.”

He said there is leeway for reform and discussed possible reforms at length.

For example, he said, the church could learn from the way the Orthodox church deals with remarried divorced people, who are not barred from Communion. The Catholic church has never condemned the Orthodox approach, Werlen emphasized.

Local churches should also have more say in episcopal nominations, he said, recalling that religious orders have always elected their superiors democratically over the centuries.

On priestly celibacy, he quoted the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1990. The code says that clerical celibacy “is to be greatly esteemed everywhere,” but adds that “likewise, the hallowed practice of married clerics in the primitive Church and in the tradition of the Eastern Churches throughout the ages is to be held in honor.”

There is also a lot of leeway as far as cardinals are concerned, Werlen pointed out. Women and men from all over the world, both young and old, could be elected to the cardinalate for a period of five years and could meet with the pope every three months in Rome. “Such meetings could bring a new dynamism into church leadership,” Werlen suggested.

The church could also “rediscover” synodal processes. “If bishops’ synods are so influentially prepared and accompanied by the Roman Curia that nothing new can emerge, is that a witness of faith?” he asked. As at Vatican II, “bishops should realize their responsibilities and with the help of theologians, and together with the pope, face changes in full faith — and let paper remain paper!”

Werlen wrote that he deplores the lack of courage, vision and creativity in today’s church, which he says is crawling along “with the hand brake on.”

“The problems are known. Pope Benedict on occasion refers to them. But nothing concrete is done to solve them,” Werlen said.

Sweeping problems under the table or forbidding discussion of certain issues undermines the church’s credibility, he warned.

“Not taking a situation or a person seriously is an act of disobedience. When those in authority in the church do not fulfill their duty and are therefore disobedient, initiatives are started as emergency measures … which can lead to schisms or to people leaving the church. The disobedience deplored by church officials is often the consequence of those very church officials’ own disobedience. I can understand why so many initiatives were started in recent years.”

But polarization between conservatives and progressives in the church, which he said has now reached a “frightening” level, has a deadening effect, he cautioned.

“I myself together with the Einsiedeln community would like to take another path, namely that of seeking the embers in the ashes,” he said. He pointed out that Einsiedeln is in dialogue with both the Lefebvrist Society of St. Pius X and the progressive Catholic theologian Fr. Hans Küng.

Within a week after the brochure was first published, Werlen received more than a 1,000 emails and 100 letters, many from prominent Catholics. He said he was “quite overwhelmed” by this and added, “The embers are there. One can feel people of different generations heaving a deep sigh of relief.”

After reading the brochure, Bishop Markus Büchel of Sankt Gallen, newly elected president of the Swiss bishops’ conference, released the following statement: “Abbot Werlen has taken up urgent questions the faithful are asking; he has outlined the problems very clearly and has put forward possible solutions. This is an impetus for very necessary discussions in the church that are also a great concern of mine. That is why I am most thankful to him.”

Büchel has been elected to succeed Bishop Norbert Brunner of Sion as conference president for three years starting Jan. 1.

Werlen became abbot of Einsiedeln in 2001. The abbey is a famous pilgrimage shrine in the oldest part of Switzerland, its heartland. Between 150,000 and 200,000 pilgrims annually visit the shrine, which at times rivaled Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Complete Article HERE!