08/28/13

Cardinal George hopes gay marriage is blocked, says pope’s remarks were misinterpreted

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File under: The pope was misunderstood only when I don’t agree with what everyone else heard.

By Mark Brown

Cardinal Francis George told me in an interview this week that he remains hopeful of blocking the legalization of same-sex marriage in Illinois and that we in the media misinterpreted Pope Francis’ recent remarks that were seen as more accepting of gays.

“If they had the votes, they would have passed it already,” the cardinal said of gay-marriage supporters in response to my assertion that it’s only a matter of time at this point before a law is passed.

“There’s nothing inevitable about social trends,” he said. “They do change. They reverse themselves.”

cardinalgeorgeAs to the pope’s widely publicized “Who am I to judge?” comment when asked about gay priests in the Vatican, George said reporters misunderstood the context and therefore the import of the pope’s words.

“He wasn’t saying we can’t judge that homosexual relations are sinful or not. Objectively, they are,” George said.

The cardinal also remains “very angry” with a group of Catholic elected officials who published a letter asking him to reconsider stripping church funding from immigrant-support groups over their membership in a coalition that endorsed gay-marriage legislation.

And I’d say he’s none too pleased with me for a couple of columns I have written on this subject, although he treated me very cordially during a one-hour interview Monday at his residence on State Parkway.

That interview came after the cardinal sent a letter accusing me of being “both misleading and judgmental” in a column critical of his handling of the funding cutoff and his summation of the pope’s gentle remarks as primarily an affirmation that “homosexual genital relations are morally wrong.”

I’m not looking to get in a back-and-forth with the cardinal. We fundamentally disagree. But I thought you’d be interested in hearing more on what he has to say on these subjects.

Cardinal George defended his admittedly “caustic” earlier response to the public officials in which he reminded those who signed the letter that they will soon have to account for their actions in the hereafter.

“They claim to be Catholics, so I’m their bishop. It’s my job to remind them of certain eternal verities. One of them is judgment at death,” he said.

In that letter, the cardinal said: “Jesus is merciful, but he is not stupid; he knows the difference between right and wrong. Manipulating both immigrants and the church for political advantage is wrong.”

“That’s a somewhat angry response, because I’m very angry about this,” George told me when I mentioned that some of the public officials thought he was threatening them with eternal damnation, which he denied.

But he said he “felt betrayed” by the officials and found it “offensive” that they “thought they could make some points at the expense of the church.”

“When people vaunt their Catholicism and say ‘as Catholics,’ then all right, let me tell you what it is to be a Catholic,” he said.

He said he hasn’t gone so far as to seek to deny communion to those involved.

George expressed his opinion that the funding cutoff “wouldn’t have been an issue if we weren’t in a campaign for governor.”

That confused me a little, because I certainly would have raised the issue whether there was an election next year or not. The cardinal reiterated that his understanding is that some people want to use gay marriage as an issue in the governor’s race.

I suggested it was his decision to halt funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development to the immigrant groups that made this an issue. He rejected that assertion, arguing that the leaders of the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights in effect cut off funding to their own member groups with the decision in May to endorse gay marriage.

“That made it impossible for the CCHD to continue to fund groups that are associated with ICIRR. It was a principled issue which is before us — without a choice in a sense. If we betray the donors or if we betrayed our own anthropology, our own way of looking at the human being, then we should not continue to have a public voice at all.”

The cardinal noted that groups that receive funding from CCHD sign a contract promising not to promote activities that contradict the moral and social teachings of the Catholic Church, including “capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia, racism, war, discrimination or same-sex marriage.”

“What follows is an inevitable result of their decision,” he said.

“If they had endorsed a racist viewpoint, would we be here talking about this at all?” the cardinal asked.

I asked if he thought advocating same-sex marriage is equivalent to advocating racism.

“In the sense that both are inconsistent with Catholic social teaching,” he confirmed. “It’s not to say there is a moral equivalency.”

George also observed that “it’s interesting that they don’t attack the black Protestant churches” who have been his key allies in the fight against legalizing gay marriage in Illinois. He said the black churches are more influential on the gay-marriage issue than even he because their ministers have closer relationships with their legislators. I promised him I would write about it if black churches cut off financial support to any social-service agencies over gay marriage.

The cardinal acknowledged his own characterization of the pope’s comments on gays may have been “jarring,” as I put it, but he said he was frustrated by journalists missing the pope’s point.

“In our culture, ‘Who am I to judge’ means nobody has the right to distinguish right from wrong,” which wasn’t what the pope meant, the cardinal said.

“He was saying that a person who has given up their sinful ways, you don’t judge them. You accept them,” George said. “. . .He started out saying: gay sex is wrong.”

I told the cardinal I never believed for a moment that the pope was changing church policy toward gays, only setting a different tone that was missing from his own approach.

The cardinal expressed frustration that, in the current political climate, Catholics can’t express their opposition to same-sex marriage without being regarded as bigots.

“”When that becomes the criterion for accepting gay and lesbian people, then we’re in the bind we’re in now, which is a real bind,” he said.

Nobody really expects the Catholic Church to change, only to adapt.

Complete Article HERE!

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08/24/13

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08/22/13

“God Told Me To” -Ex Pope Benedict Says Mystical Experience Caused Resignation

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File under — Who says there ain’t a God?

by Rebecca Savastio

Ex Pope Benedict says God told him to resign his position as Pope during a months-long “mystical experience” he had. When asked why he gave up his position, he said “God told me to.” While denying he had heard voices or saw an apparition of any kind, he explained that God gave him an “absolute desire” to give up being pope and spend the rest of his life praying in completely secluded private Vatican apartments. He claims the “will of God” was correct after seeing what an excellent job Pope Francis has been doing.pope-benedict-resigns

A Vatican spokesman told The Guardian UK that the original report by Zenit, a Catholic news organization, is correct. “The report seems credible,” the spokesman said. “It accurately explains the spiritual process that brought Benedict to resign.”

However, at the time of his resignation, Pope Benedict claimed that he was abandoning the position because of his rapidly declining health. At a meeting of Cardinals, he said “My strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”

Some are skeptical of Benedict’s “mystical experience” claim and point to the fact that there have been extensive reports of a secret Vatican “gay lobby” whose influence was getting totally out of control. Current Pope Francis admitted to this powerful lobby just a few months ago and said he was planning on addressing it. He later came out and said he “would not judge” gay priests, leaving some to wonder if any action would be taken against the alleged lobby.

However, others feel that it was Benedict’s health alone which prompted his resignation, and one journalist who had met with him just prior to his leaving the papacy said Benedict looked “exhausted.” Benedict is 86 years old and has had numerous health problems in recent years, including a heart condition that required the installment of a pacemaker.

Other theories about his resignation include the scandal that broke recently about a top secret “rent boy” ring that was run by numerous priests inside Vatican City, in which they would hire underage male prostitutes to satisfy the sexual needs of their fellow Cardinals.

Perhaps the most controversial theory of all is that Benedict may be gay himself. That allegation comes, in part, from prominent Catholic blogger Andrew Sullivan. In a post entitled “Two Popes, One Secretary,” Sullivan implies that Benedict’s current arrangement with his male secretary, Monsignor Georg Gänswein, is very strange, saying “So Benedict’s handsome male companion will continue to live with him, while working for the other Pope during the day. Are we supposed to think that’s, well, a normal arrangement?”

Sullivan quotes another writer, Angelo Quattrochi, who discusses whether Gänswein’s relationship with Benedict could be more than professional:

When asked if he felt nervous in the presence of the Holy Father, Gänswein replied that he sometimes did and added: ‘But it is also true that the fact of meeting each other and being together on a daily basis creates a sense of “familiarity”, which makes you feel less nervous. But obviously I know who the Holy Father is and so I know how to behave appropriately. There are always some situations, however, when the heart beats a little stronger than usual.’… This man – clearly in some kind of love with Ratzinger (and vice-versa) will now be working for the new Pope as secretary in the day and spending the nights with the Pope Emeritus. This is not the Vatican. It’s Melrose Place.

So which is the real reason for Benedict’s resignation? A secret “Gay Lobby?” A “Mystical experience?” Health problems? A ring of “rent boys” in the Vatican? The only person who knows the true answer is Benedict himself, and his current claim is “God told me to.”

Complete Article HERE!

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08/18/13

Uriel Ojeda to join few Catholic clergy in California prisons for child sex abuse

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By Cynthia Hubert

Some time during the next week or so, the Rev. Uriel Ojeda will leave Sacramento County’s Main Jail and join other inmates for a long bus ride to state prison.

Once a rising star in the Sacramento Roman Catholic Diocese, lauded by parishioners for his compassion and faith, the young priest likely will spend at least seven years in the harsh confines of an institution where security cameras and uniformed guards will monitor his every movement.

Uriel OjedaHe will be treated “no differently than any other inmate,” said California Department of Corrections spokesman Bill Sessa.

But Ojeda, 33, is no ordinary convict.

Only a few Catholic priests are currently imprisoned in California for child sexual abuse, said Patrick Wall, a former priest and canon lawyer who advocates for victims of clergy abuse from his office in St. Paul, Minn.

“I am aware of only five,” said Wall. He documents such cases along with the nonprofit BishopAccountability.org.

But their numbers are sure to grow in the coming years, he said, in California and across the country.

Nationally, dioceses have found “credible accusations” of sexual abuse against more than 6,000 priests between 1950 and 2011, Wall said. The number is climbing, he said, following years of scrutiny of the Catholic church for its handling of abusive clergy members and a flood of lawsuits by victims.

“Investigators are doing a better job, and more people are cooperating with law enforcement,” Wall said. “There is an understanding now that Catholic priests can and do abuse children.”

Some, like Ojeda, are cutting plea deals in which they admit to felony crimes rather than face trial.

Ojeda’s dramatic downfall, from a beloved parish priest to an admitted child molester, has shaken the Sacramento diocese and many of its parishioners.

“There are those who naively wish we could get beyond the child sexual abuse crisis,” Bishop Jaime Soto said in a recent interview. “But Father Ojeda’s case reminds us that sexual abuse is a real and ongoing problem in the church. We have got to be vigilant.”

Ojeda was charged with sexually abusing a girl beginning when she was 13 years old. The abuse began, according to the girl’s family, when he was a guest at their home and a parish priest in Woodland. It continued over a period of years.

The diocese acted quickly to remove Ojeda from his ministry during an investigation into the accusations, which came to light in November 2011. He pleaded no contest earlier this month, and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Wall said the diocese “reacted with precision and authority,” and should serve as a model for others facing such crises.

Soto called Ojeda’s fall from grace “very sad,” but said he hoped everyone involved in the case would learn something from what happened.

“Prisons are very dark places,” Soto said. “But I believe that, even as dark as this whole episode has been for the victim, her family, the church and Father Ojeda, God’s grace is going to show itself.”

Prisons can be especially difficult places for people like Ojeda, corrections officials said. Inmates have a caste system that places people who do harm to children “very low on the scale,” said Sessa.

“He is probably far more vulnerable because of his background as a child molester than because of his background as a priest,” Sessa said.

For his own protection, Ojeda likely would be placed in a “sensitive needs yard” when he is outside of his prison cell, said Sessa, limiting his access to the general inmate population.

Ojeda was the subject of a series of articles in The Sacramento Bee after he was ordained in 2007, part of a celebrated group of newly trained priests in the diocese dubbed “The Magnificent Seven” because of the promise they embodied for a rejuvenated clergy.

He has declined to speak to the media since his arrest in November 2011. His attorney, Jesse Ortiz, did not return messages requesting comment for this article.

State corrections officials described Ojeda’s lifestyle once he leaves Sacramento County jail, where he has been incarcerated since his sentencing on Aug 2.

Within a week or so, he likely will be bused from Sacramento to the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, said Deborah Hoffman, assistant secretary for communications for the state Corrections Department. There, Ojeda will undergo a body search, be photographed and fingerprinted, and submit to a swabbing of the inside of his cheek to collect DNA material, she said.

The Corrections Department will spend the next two to three months assessing Ojeda’s physical health, state of mind and criminal acts before deciding where and how to house him for the remainder of his sentence.

Ojeda’s background would make him a strong candidate for a medium security institution, such as Mule Creek in Ione or Folsom State Prison near Sacramento, officials said.

In time, he might be able to work for a nominal fee, cooking or cleaning or doing laundry. He will be allowed regular visitors, usually on weekends. Phone privileges are earned, and conversations are monitored.

Sessa said other inmates likely will know Ojeda’s name and background within minutes of his incarceration.

“There are no secrets in prison,” he said. “You walk through the gate, and the guy in the back 40 knows about it before you get through security. There is almost no way he would come in unnoticed.”

Although Ojeda might minister informally to other inmates and attend Catholic services in prison, “the staff will treat him as an inmate, not as a priest,” Sessa said.

If he abides by the rules, Ojeda’s eight-year sentence could be shaved by 15 percent, according to the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office. Once released, he would be required to register as a sex offender and report regularly to authorities.

The Sacramento diocese, meanwhile, has begun the process through the Vatican to remove Ojeda from the priesthood forever.

Complete Article HERE!

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08/6/13

Polish priest’s dismissal exposes rift over dialogue with Jews

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By Dagmara Leszkowicz

When the outspoken Polish priest Wojciech Lemanski returned with his parishioners to his church near Warsaw after holding a prayer vigil at the Treblinka Nazi death camp in early July, a dismissal notice awaited him.

POLAND-JEWS/PRIESTThe Warsaw diocese of the Roman Catholic Church sacked Lemanski as parish priest in the small village of Jasienica for what it said was his insubordination after numerous clashes on issues such as in-vitro fertilization, abortion and his engagement with the Jewish community.

Lemanski sealed his fate when in a radio interview he accused Archbishop Henryk Hoser, who oversees his parish, of asking whether he was a Jew and circumcised – a charge the diocese has denied.

The episode exposed a rift within the church, as it struggles to retain a central role in Polish life, between conservatives and those who want more openness in dealing with social issues and some of the darker episodes in Poland’s past.

“At a time when Pope Francis is calling for open-mindedness, the church in Poland is crawling into its shell,” said Iwona Jakubowska-Branicka, a sociologist at Warsaw University.

“As with many moral issues, the question of relations with Jews has been swept under the carpet,” she said.

Relations with the Jewish community are an especially difficult subject in Poland, where millions of Jews perished in the Holocaust during the Nazi German occupation of the country.

Most of those who survived were forced to leave in the late 1960s by the communist regime. Poland’s post-communist leaders have condemned the “anti-Zionist campaign” of that time and have often spoken out against other signs of anti-Semitism.

“SPECIAL SENSITIVITY”

Poles have celebrated those compatriots who helped to save local Jews in World War Two, but they have also downplayed events such as the burning of 340 Jews by Polish peasants in the village of Jedwabne in 1943.

The episode was buried by the communist authorities after the war and resurfaced only after a 2001 book written by Polish-born U.S. historian Jan Gross described the massacre.

The publication was criticized by some Catholic church leaders as stoking anti-Polish and anti-Jewish sentiments, but the subsequent debate inspired young Lemanski to work on improving the dialogue between the two groups.

“God knocked on my door and said he wanted something more from me. I can’t imagine being a priest without a special sensitivity for the Jews, their tragedies and a need for dialogue,” the priest said in an interview.

Lemanski is among a few Catholic priests who commemorate the massacre each year with Jewish leaders and holds prayer vigils at the Treblinka camp, one of the infamous Nazi death factories where Jews, along with Poles and others, were gassed.

He also recovered gravestones from abandoned and destroyed Jewish cemeteries, incorporating two of them into the main alter of his church. That move stoked charges from some conservative Catholics that he was turning it into a synagogue.

In a statement explaining its decision to send Lemanski on early retirement, the Warsaw Diocese did not refer to the gravestones, but said he had failed to get church permission on issues related to the parish.

The diocese also said Archbishop Hoser’s relations with the Jewish community were “proper and full of trust”.

Church representatives declined further comment.

Jewish community leaders have avoided being pulled into the affair, but some have expressed support for Lemanski’s efforts.

“I can say one thing: looking at the way parishioners treat the priest, I think that if the Jewish community had had a rabbi like Lemanski, the community would have been very pleased,” said Piotr Kadlcik, head of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland.

Despite being sidelined by his superiors, Lemanski said he would remain active after lodging an appeal with the Vatican.

“I realize it’s not an easy path but I don’t feel like someone on the margin of the church. On the contrary, I feel like I’m in the centre of my church because without this dialogue our church loses its authority,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

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