Pope Francis – experienced manager set for reform

Francis of Assisi began his saintly career following what he said was God’s command: “Rebuild my Church.” The new pope who took his name heard the same message from the cardinals who elected him.

By Tom Heneghan

The 13th-century Francis toured the Italian countryside repairing dilapidated chapels before realising his mission was to change the whole Roman Catholic Church.

pope francisWhat the first Jesuit pope has is management experience in his native Argentina as head of the Jesuit province and chairman of the national bishops conference. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he dealt with everything from poverty to national politics.

“He’s been at the top of the organisation, but he’s not been tamed by that,” says Rev James Hanvey, a Jesuit theologian. “In management speak, he’s held to the core values. He wants us all to refocus on the core values.”

Bergoglio’s record shows he has strong convictions and is not afraid to take unpopular decisions. Jose Maria Poirier, editor of the lay Catholic monthly Criterio in Buenos Aires, said Church staff there described him as an “attentive, human and considerate” boss who is also demanding, has little patience for bureaucracy, and appoints talented assistants.

His predecessor Benedict’s failure in this regard was partly to blame for the infighting that crippled the Curia bureaucracy and came to light in leaked Vatican documents last year.

SHAKEUP IN THE CURIA

The first hint Francis gave of plans to change the Curia came three days after his election when he reappointed its top bureaucrats temporarily rather than permanently, as Benedict did after being elected in 2005.

With his humble style, the pope has begun deflating the imperial side of the Vatican, which resembles a Renaissance monarchy with an absolute sovereign, a coterie of close advisers and Curia departments that answer to the pope but often don’t talk to each other.

Francis’s references to himself simply as the bishop of Rome – the position from which his papal authority flows – hints at a willingness to involve the hierarchy around the globe in running the world’s largest church.

Hanvey said a first step would be to call heads of national bishops conferences around the world to meet regularly in Rome as advisers. This was proposed by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), but Popes John Paul and Benedict used it so rarely that some bishops complained they were being “treated like altar boys” rather than senior colleagues.

The Curia needs regular cabinet meetings, more international staffers to overcome its domination by Italian clerics and a full work day rather than schedules that end in early afternoon, U.S. theologian George Weigel said.

It has only two women in senior posts, another aspect of the Curia critics say needs to be changed.

One overlooked fact is that the Curia, with just over 2,000 employees, is actually understaffed. “They’re overwhelmed,” said one senior figure from another religion in contact with the Curia, who asked not to be named.

WAITING FOR OTHER SIGNALS

The opaque operations at the Vatican bank, known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), were widely discussed among cardinals ahead of the conclave. Francis has criticised globalisation and unfettered capitalism in the past, so he may take a critical look at the bank, but he has not indicated his plans.

The book “His Holiness,” which published the leaked Vatican documents last year, detailed alleged corruption, inflated prices for work in the Vatican and clashes over the management at the bank.

The Council of Europe and the Bank of Italy have criticised it for lax anti-money-laundering controls and oversight, two areas where the Vatican says it is improving.

Critics also say the Church has not compensated victims of sexual abuse enough or held bishops sufficiently responsible for covering up cases. Francis would quickly tarnish his compassionate image if he did not go beyond the apologies and meetings with victims that Benedict pioneered.

Reputed to be a theological conservative, Francis has criticised Argentina’s government for legalising same-sex marriage, opposes abortion and women priests and defends the celibacy rule for male clergy. But he has also upbraided priests who refused to baptise babies of unmarried mothers. He has admitted to being “dazzled” by a young lady while in the seminary and said he helps priests who struggle with their vow of celibacy.

All this suggests a softer edge to some of his positions. “Benedict was clearly labelled” as a doctrinaire conservative, said Italian theologian Massimo Faggioli. “It will be easier for (Francis) to say things without the audience having a ready response.”

Complete Article HERE!

My Prayer: Let Women Be Priests

By ROY BOURGEOIS

AFTER serving as a Roman Catholic priest for 40 years, I was expelled from the priesthood last November because of my public support for the ordination of women.

Father Roy Bougeois from Georgia poses with a group of Roman Catholic activist in front of the VaticanCatholic priests say that the call to be a priest comes from God. As a young priest, I began to ask myself and my fellow priests: “Who are we, as men, to say that our call from God is authentic, but God’s call to women is not?” Isn’t our all-powerful God, who created the cosmos, capable of empowering a woman to be a priest?

Let’s face it. The problem is not with God, but with an all-male clerical culture that views women as lesser than men. Though I am not optimistic, I pray that the newly elected Pope Francis will rethink this antiquated and unholy doctrine.

I am 74 years old. I first felt God calling me to be a priest when I was serving in the Navy in Vietnam. I was accepted into the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in New York and was ordained in 1972. After working with the poor of Bolivia for five years, I returned to the United States. In my years of ministry, I met many devout Catholic women who told me about their calling to the priesthood.

Their eagerness to serve God began to keep me awake at night. As Catholics, we are taught that men and women are created equal: “There is neither male nor female. In Christ you are one” (Galatians 3:28).

While Christ did not ordain any priests himself, as the Catholic scholar Garry Wills has pointed out in a controversial new book, the last two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, stressed that the all-male priesthood is “our tradition” and that men and women are equal, but have different roles.

Their reasons for barring women from ordination bring back memories of my childhood in Louisiana. For 12 years I attended segregated schools and worshiped in a Catholic church that reserved the last five pews for blacks. We justified our prejudice by saying this was “our tradition” and that we were “separate but equal.” During all those years, I cannot remember one white person — not a teacher, parent, priest or student (myself included) — who dared to say, “There is a problem here, and it’s called racism.”

Where there is injustice, silence is complicity. What I have witnessed is a grave injustice against women, my church and our God, who called both men and women to be priests. I could not be silent. Sexism, like racism, is a sin. And no matter how hard we may try to justify discrimination against others, in the end, it is not the way of a loving God who created everyone of equal worth and dignity.

In sermons and talks, starting in the last decade, I called for the ordination of women. I even participated in the ordination of one. This poked the beehive of church patriarchy. In the fall of 2008, I received a letter from the Vatican stating that I was “causing grave scandal” in the Church and that I had 30 days to recant my public support for the ordination of women or I would be excommunicated.

Last month, in announcing his resignation, Pope Benedict said he made his decision after examining his conscience before God. In a similar fashion, in November 2008, I wrote the Vatican saying that human conscience is sacred because it always urges us to do what is right and what is just. And after examining my conscience before God, I could not repudiate my beliefs.

Four years went by, and I did not get a response from the Vatican. Though I had formally been excommunicated, I remained a priest with my Maryknoll Order and went about my ministry calling for gender equality in the Catholic Church. But last November, I received a telephone call from Maryknoll headquarters informing me that they had received an official letter from the Vatican. The letter said that I had been expelled from the priesthood and the Maryknoll community.

This phone call was one of the most difficult and painful moments of my life. But I have come to realize that what I have gone through is but a glimpse of what women in the church and in society have experienced for centuries.

A New York Times/CBS poll this month reported that 70 percent of Catholics in the United States believed that Pope Francis should allow women to be priests. In the midst of my sorrow and sadness, I am filled with hope, because I know that one day women in my church will be ordained — just as those segregated schools and churches in Louisiana are now integrated.

I have but one simple request for our new pope. I respectfully ask that he announce to the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world: “For many years we have been praying for God to send us more vocations to the priesthood. Our prayers have been answered. Our loving God, who created us equal, is calling women to be priests in our Church. Let us welcome them and give thanks to God.”

Complete Article HERE!

How an 11-Year-Old Girl Made the Catholic Archdiocese Bend

Did Pope Francis ensure Bucks County’s Caroline Pla can play football?

By Larry Mendite

By now you have probably heard that Pla will play. Pla, as in Caroline Pla from Bucks County; play, as in play football. The only question that remains: How did an 11-year-old girl make the unbendable Archdiocese of Philadelphia bend?

Before we get to the answer to that question, I should remind you that Caroline Pla is great at football, a monster on defense. So you won’t be surprised that it was someone from an opposing team in the Doylestown CYO league who complained. A quick check of the rule book found that no girls were allowed.

carolineplaThis infuriated Pla’s family, and they set up a petition on Change.org. Last check it had over 108,000 signatures. The petition led to national media attention, with coverage on CNN and Good Morning America and an appearance on Ellen DeGeneres’ show; Ellen praised Caroline and pledged support.

Caroline also wrote an email to the head of the Philadelphia Archdiocese pleading her case. Archbishop Chaput chastised her for going to the media. “I’m perplexed that you would contact me last, after publicizing your situation in both the national and regional media … that kind of approach has no effect on my decision making.” I guess the Archbishop is not an Ellen fan.

It does seem curious, after two decades of scandal in the Catholic Church, and an uncovered cover-up in Philadelphia, that any official with the Archdiocese would suggest a child not be a tattletale.

The Archbishop put together a panel of advisors to study the Pla case, and the rule that bans her from playing in the Catholic Youth Organization football league. An insider told Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky that the advisors overwhelmingly wanted CYO football to be boys only. When someone on the panel mentioned that other youth football leagues, including Pop Warner, allow girls, there was group indignation. The insider told Polaneczky, “It was like, ‘We’re the Catholic Church. We don’t give in to pressure from society!’”

From the Archbishop’s email and the panel’s recommendation, it seemed Pla would never play CYO football again. But then a miracle happened. The Archbishop ignored the panel’s recommendation and ruled that Caroline and other girls could play.

I don’t think it was just a coincidence that the ruling came just after the church installed a new Pope, a Vatican outsider, a media-friendly reformer, who has already hinted at elevating the role of women in the Church.

Pope Francis certainly wasn’t involved in the Pla case, but it is easy to see how his election could have inspired Chaput’s apparent change of heart. Had a Vatican hardliner been selected by the Cardinals, the Archbishop likely would have taken a harder line himself. The new Pope of the People would want Caroline to play.

Francis will be the preeminent figure in the reformation of the Catholic Church. But don’t forget the girl in Bucks County who just wanted to play football. She symbolizes greater changes to come.

Complete Article HERE!

Silent or supportive, U.S. conservatives give gay marriage momentum

By Peter Henderson

On a frosty December night last year, about two dozen guests slipped into the Alta Club, a century-old private retreat a block away from the temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that dominates Salt Lake City.

Two men, who didn’t know each other, were the reason for the dinner: church lobbyist Bill Evans and gay rights leader Rick Jacobs. Evans was a point man for the church’s successful effort to pass California’s gay marriage ban, known as Prop 8, in 2008. Jacobs, leader of Courage Campaign, produced a 2008 commercial against the ban showing Mormon missionaries ransacking the home of a lesbian couple.

silent supportPolitics was not on the agenda – just getting to know each other. “The two hit it off,” said host Greg Prince, a medical researcher and church member who had come to know both men. He noted that less than a month before the dinner, the church had launched a website with a major change in its view of gays: the site said homosexuality was not a choice.

“There has been a shift of some tectonic plate somewhere,” Prince said.

Shifting attitudes among some conservatives and many businesses is altering the landscape around gay marriage, long considered a uniquely liberal and political issue, at one of its most crucial junctures – its review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the court’s nine justices will hear arguments on the constitutionality of Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, which excludes gay couples from federal benefits.

Some jurists look to societal changes when interpreting the law, and scholars speculate that Justice Anthony Kennedy, the possible swing vote in the divided court, will be pondering increased public support for gay marriage.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week found 63 percent of Americans supported gay marriage or civil unions.

While the Mormon Church has backed “traditional marriage” in Supreme Court briefs, it has been silent in recent ballot battles and has not promoted fundraising as it has in the past.

Republicans like Senator Rob Portman of Ohio are supporting gay marriage and publicly conflicting with party leaders, such as House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner. Portman this month said he had switched position on the issue after his son told him he was gay.

Corporations, including Goldman Sachs, whose chief executive, Lloyd Blankfein, has campaigned in support of gay marriage, have joined the battle, arguing in briefs to the court that federal policy of not allowing gay marriage is bad for business.

The issue is far from settled, however. Gay marriage opponents have been written off as dinosaurs before, including in California, and most states ban same-sex weddings. But the momentum has been moving towards the proponents of gay marriage.

MORMON MONEY, NO MORE

Money has played a huge part in the pivot, both in terms of the financing of campaigns in favor of gay marriage and the funding of opposition groups.

When the New York State Senate voted to approve gay marriage in 2011, four Republicans joined Democrats. Republicans led by hedge fund manager Paul Singer, whose son is gay, gave the four financial and moral support, and in the 2012 national race, Singer led a political action committee that spent more than $2 million to help pro-gay marriage Republicans.

“You have billionaires telling Republicans ‘Vote our way and you’ll receive more money than you’ve ever seen,'” said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, the leader of the movement to stop gay marriage. “That was new.”

Pro-gay marriage groups have routed their opponents financially, outraising them three-to-one in November 2012 ballot races that legalized same-sex marriage in three more states, bringing the total to nine states and the District of Columbia.

The single biggest fundraising change between 2008 and 2012 was the disappearance from the political arena of the mightiest foe of gay marriage – the Mormon Church.

While the church has petitioned the Supreme Court in favor of Prop 8, it has focused its public messages about gays on personal issues of respect and love rather than politics.

In the four November 2012 votes – Maine, Maryland, Washington and Minnesota – the top ballot committees raised about $30 million for gay marriage and $10 million against it. The $20 million difference between the two campaigns last year is close to several estimates of what the Mormon Church and its supporters gave to California’s Prop 8 in 2008.

More than 800 Utahns gave $2.7 million to support Prop 8 in 2008, state campaign finance records show. In 2012, a total of 16 Utahns gave $1,264 to the main ballot committees against gay marriage.

“The Mormon Church left as a major funder,” concluded Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the biggest gay rights group.

Frank Schubert, who ran the 2008 and 2012 anti-gay-marriage campaigns, downplayed the Church hierarchy’s silence last year. “Not having a direct statement encouraging people to get involved in the campaign naturally would result in fewer people getting involved in the campaigns, but there were fewer Mormons in these states to begin with, and there was never any expectation that they would be involved.”

California Mormon Brooke Crosland, 27, gave $1,000 in 2008 for Prop 8 and made campaign phone calls, but she stayed out of politics in 2012. She described a personal search for understanding, which she saw reflected in the church. “I feel like the ideal for a child is a father and a mother, but I also feel under the law we should have equal rights,” she said.

Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, whose portrait of gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk won an Academy Award, was approached for informal talks by Mormon officials after he narrated a documentary critical of the church called “8: The Mormon Proposition.” Church officials were surprised to learn that he, a young, gay man, deeply wanted a family. “That was this big ‘ah ha’ moment,” he said.

But Black said the initial invitation came only after the church was pilloried in public. “They didn’t contact me after making ‘Milk’. They contacted me after making ‘8: The Mormon Proposition’,” said Black, who was raised a Mormon. He since has introduced HRC leader Griffin to church officials, at the December dinner and a concert following, while continuing talks.

Church spokesman Michael Purdy said its hospitality did not signal a change in position. “Being committed to marriage between a man and a woman does not mean that we do not love and care for all of God’s children. Having conversations with gay rights leaders, speaking about compassion and respect for all, and inviting people to attend a concert do not equal pulling back from supporting traditional marriage due to negative publicity during Prop 8,” he wrote by email.

Meanwhile, gay marriage fans and foes agree that same-sex-union proponents have improved their fundraising. Ted Olson, President George W. Bush’s Solicitor General, made it ok for conservatives to support gay marriage when he agreed to take the Prop 8 case, said Margaret Hoover, a pro-gay-marriage Republican activist.

When former Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman in 2010 came out as gay, it was critical mass. “Nightingales don’t sing unless they hear another nightingale singing. As soon they hear one, another one sings, and another one sings,” said Hoover.

Dozens of Republican leaders, including former California candidate for governor Meg Whitman and former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, have signed a brief to the Supreme Court in favor of gay marriage.

Some 278 businesses, including Goldman Sachs and hotelier Marriott International, whose chairman and major stockholder is Mormon, have signed a similar brief opposing the Defense of Marriage Act. (Thomson Reuters, the parent of Reuters News, is part of that group.)

UNEXPECTED CONVERTS

The person credited by all sides with cementing the victory in California for the gay marriage ban was a little schoolgirl who told her mother she had just been taught, “I can marry a princess!” The girl was in a commercial for Prop 8, and for years Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, has been asked whether he could beat the “Princess” ad.

Wolfson, a fundraising and strategy leader for most recent ballot campaigns in favor of gay marriage, said the answer was chiefly to change his own side’s message, rather than chase the opposition. The pro-gay-marriage campaign, which in 2008 had largely focused on appealing to voters to give gays rights because it said they deserved them, took a more personal tone, he said, of affirming the idea of equal rights and respecting loving couples.

That strategy had some unexpected converts.

David Blankenhorn, founder of the family-focused Institute for American Values think tank, was the prime witness in 2010 in the opening round of the federal trial of Prop. 8. Blankenhorn struck up unlikely friendships with gays while debating the issue in public, and he was sitting at his desk one day last year, when one called and told him to go to a website with a strident, anti-gay article.

“He said, ‘Are you sure that this is the side you are on?'” Blankenhorn recalled. He put down the phone, and in that moment realized he had already changed his mind.

“I have a kind of intellectual reason for shifting from one foot to the other foot,” he said “But I really, honestly think that it was through just personal interactions… if you want to stick with your position, don’t get to know people who disagree with you.”

Gay marriage foe Brown says he is not worried by polls that show gay marriage support snowballing. It’s all about how you ask the question, he said, and a majority of voters do not want to redefine marriage. His side has always been behind in the money battle, he added, but has had some banner successes.

Politicians can see the danger of switching sides, he said. Of the four New York State Senate Republicans who voted for same-sex marriage, only one returned to office, despite financial backing from sources as diverse as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) union, Wall Street Republicans, and libertarian David Koch.

Back in California, Rick Jacobs, the Courage Campaign chief, thinks Prop 8 was the best thing that ever happened to his movement. People sat up and started paying attention when liberal California overturned its own state Supreme Court and took away the right to marry, he said, and the court fight has kept the issue alive.

“It not only galvanized a lot of people who didn’t really care about it before that – gay people – but it also galvanized straight people,” he said. “People said, ‘wait a minute, we don’t like voting on people’s rights.'”

The night in Salt Lake City left little doubt things had changed since 2008. After the dinner, the gay rights leaders all headed over to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Christmas spectacular. It was the hottest ticket in town and, as guests of the church, they had VIP seats.

Complete Article HERE!

Hushed up: cash probe into priest who made sex complaint against Keith O’Brien

A priest at the centre of the scandal that forced the leader of Scotland’s Catholics to stand down was forced to leave his parish following an investigation into church finances.

By Gerry Braiden

The man is the cleric who has complained to the Vatican he was sexually assaulted by Cardinal Keith O’Brien in Rome on the night he was made cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2003.

O'BrianThat complaint was made in September 2012. Now it has emerged that, in 2011 the priest, currently on leave of absence from the church, was found to have overspent parish funds by a six-figure sum.

He resigned within hours of the appointment of Hugh Gilbert as Bishop of Aberdeen in August 2011 and several days later was told to leave his presbytery.

As parish priest, sources insist he had a legal right to many church items he is alleged to have taken on his departure.

One source said: “I wouldn’t say the money was trousered. There was clearly money not there. A lot of money. Six figures. But it was found to have been overspent.

“When he left the place was stripped. It was church items. But in the eyes of the law, as the priest, these were his possessions so it was never reported to the police.

“Bishop Moran [the previous Bishop of Aberdeen] didn’t want to deal with this. Bishop Hugh Gilbert did. He loves this man like a son but he told him to leave the parish.

“There was no willingness to make any of this public because of the damage to the church.”

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: “The priest concerned is a priest of the diocese of Aberdeen currently on a leave of absence.”

Among the items left behind were printouts of online conversations he had with a youth who claimed to have been abused by a priest in Northern Ireland.

The printouts were given to police in Northern Ireland but they decided not to act against the Belfast-based priest.

It has also emerged the priest who complained about Cardinal O’Brien is a long-standing and close friend of a senior figure in the Catholic Church in Scotland and was on holiday with him on the continent months before being told to leave.

The senior church official has been insisting he has had no part in any campaign to bring down Cardinal O’Brien.

Earlier this week, The Herald reported that one of those who has accused Cardinal O’Brien had been in a long-standing physical relationship with him.

The man is still a priest and is currently a chaplain on the continent. Two of the others are still serving priests in the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh. All their identities are known to The Herald.

It has also emerged two of the complainants were very close friends of a priest in the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh who committed suicide a decade ago, having attended Blairs College and Drygrange seminary with him.

He was found hanged in his presbytery by Cardinal O’Brien, a week before he was due to go on holiday with one of the complainers.

Cardinal O’Brien, 75, was due to help choose the new pope before he admitted his sexual conduct had “fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal”. He apologised and said he was retiring from public life.

Complete Article HERE!