11/17/17

Catholic Church’s stance on women alienates people, archbishop says

Diarmuid Martin says gender issues a bigger factor in falling engagement than sex abuse

By

The low standing of women in the Catholic Church is the most significant reason for the feeling of alienation towards it in Ireland today, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said.

“Next would be the ongoing effect of the scandals of child sexual abuse,” he said in an address on Thursday.

“I believe, in particular, that people have underestimated the effect of the scandals on young people.”

He added that young people’s “disgust at what happened is deep-rooted”.

Dr Martin said one of the most disappointing documents that he had read since becoming archbishop concerned a recent survey of young people in Dublin, conducted in preparation for the Synod of Bishops on Young People in Rome next year.

“Young people felt unwelcome in parishes,” he said of the survey’s results.

This reflected “on our system of faith education, which is overly school-centred” and “does not bring young people into better communication with the parish”.

Looking at the current Government, he said he was struck by “the fact that there are more members of the current Cabinet under 45 than there are of priests of that age in the [Dublin] diocese. The same applies to leadership cadres in many other sectors of society”.

He said 57 per cent of priests in the Dublin archdiocese were aged over 60 and this was projected to rise to 75 per cent by 2030.

He said that leadership in “many aspects of our culture belongs to one generation and leadership and the mainstream membership of the church belongs to another”.

“How do you bridge that gap?” he asked.

Dr Martin said he was “happy to see a new generation of young politicians who are inspired by a politics of changing Irish society for the good rather than just fixing problems”.

However, the archbishop said some people might interpret what he was saying as that he was “happy to see politicians who support same-sex unions or wider access to abortion”.

“Let me be very clear. The church will never change its teaching on marriage and on the right to life.”

The archbishop was speaking on Thursday in a talk titled “The church in Dublin: where will it be in 10 years’ time?” at St Mary’s Church, Haddington Road, as part of its Patrick Finn lecture series.

Complete Article ↪HERE↩!

10/20/17

Time to end celibacy and ban on females in priesthood: cleric

Fr Paddy O’Kane

By Brett Campbell

A Londonderry priest has called on the Catholic Church to acknowledge changing times and “take another look” at its position on celibacy and women priests.

Fr Paddy O’Kane, of Holy Family Church in Ballymagroarty, said such a move could help address a growing crisis which has left a quarter of parishes around the world without a resident priest.

“Many priests might choose to be celibate, but for those who want to get married it should be an option,” he added.

Fr O’Kane warned the shortage of clergy is impacting on dioceses across Ireland. “Priest-less parishes are appearing all over Ireland and may be here in this diocese before long,” he added.

“The Church needs to adapt to these changing times. We may have to take another look at celibacy and women priests.”

Writing for Derry Now, Fr O’Kane also hinted that Pope Francis may soon fulfil a special request by Brazilian bishops to allow married Anglican converts to resume their priestly ministries.

Such a move in a country which has 140 million Catholics would alleviate the severe problem which is also manifesting itself throughout Ireland.

Earlier this year the Pope said he may consider ordaining married men – under very specific circumstances – to counter the shortage of clergy, but ruled out dropping celibacy as a requirement for the priesthood.

“This year the national seminary in Maynooth had only eight students entering to study for the priesthood – half of these will probably leave during their training,” Fr O’Kane said.

The priest admitted that while his own celibacy had allowed him to live a life devoted to serving others, it had come at a personal cost.

“There are times I miss having a family and there are many times of loneliness and there have been times I have only held on to my faith by a hair’s breadth,” he said.

Fr O’Kane also expressed surprise at the number of pilgrims he has encountered who support a change in position.

Complete Article HERE!

10/19/17

NZ priest’s secret children to come out of hiding

The secret children of a Catholic priest in New Zealand are about to reveal their identity to their local bishop, and a New Zealander who personally briefed the Pope on the topic says the Vatican has recognised the right to know one’s parents

By Phil Pennington

The adult siblings are among thousands internationally who have contacted the Coping International website, which offers support to the children of clergy.

The site’s founder Vincent Doyle – an Irish man who himself is the son of a priest – said he expected many more New Zealanders who are priests’ children, or their mothers, to come forward as they gained courage to speak up.

“We’ve been contacted from a number of people in New Zealand – one family where there’s more than one child to the same priest, to the same woman – but they’re going to be making moves in the coming future to the respective diocese and they’ll be contacting the bishop concerned.”

The family had contacted his website in the last three months, and granted him permission to speak a little about their situation, but most details remained confidential such as how many children there were and where they had grown up.

They were among 13,500 people worldwide who had been in touch with Mr Doyle since he started the website in late 2014.

Vincent Doyle meets Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, the Permanent Representative of the Holy See to the United Nations, in mid-October to talk about the children of clergy.

His site gained international prominence in August this year when featured in a new series by the Boston Globe’s Spotlight unit, which is famous for exposing clerical sex abuse of children.

The response to the website has forced the Vatican to acknowledge the issue, and last month it began working on guidelines for how to respond.

“The expectation would be that the [priest] should go and be a father to his child,” said Bill Kilgallon, an Aucklander who personally briefed the Pope last month on the issue as part of the Pontifical Commission to help protect children.

Mr Kilgallon said the Catholic Church had no idea yet how many children have been conceived by priests.

The search phrase “I am pregnant and the father is a Catholic priest” featured in about 1500 of 96,000 hits on Coping International’s website, which its founder pointed out would be mostly from English speakers with Internet access.

“How many don’t fall into that category?” Mr Doyle said.

A psychotherapist in his 30s, he found out six years ago that his godfather, Father John Doyle, was also his biological father.

He made the realisation when he came across some poetry the priest had written, and had since taken his father’s name.

The church hierarchy had mostly responded well when children had come forward, Mr Doyle said, although some priests had been shocked or resistant.

The youngest child they had been alerted to was just three years old, and the oldest an 80-year-old woman. In one case, they knew of a priest who had six children by different women, while one priest who worked in the United States had a family in the Philippines.

Mr Doyle insisted the clerical response was not the priority for his organisation, but rather the goal was to help children whose mental health had suffered without knowledge of their father, or having to keep that knowledge secret as with the New Zealand family.

“There have been efforts to kind of stifle their wellbeing, and to keep them quiet and enforce secrecy,” Mr Doyle said.

“This secrecy more than often comes from family or relatives or friends: the community around you. Not the Pope, the Vatican, the bishop, especially in today’s society in a country like New Zealand.

“They must, must get this right. This is the first time in history the church has really done this … they can’t just put out some guidelines… If they mess this up they will traumatise thousands of people.”

Mr Kilgallon acknowledged there might be complications, such as a priest’s financial obligations to a child, or the need for DNA paternity testing, but these were purely secondary to the primary responsibility of the priest.

“We’ve acknowledged … children have rights and one of the rights is to know their parents.”

“The difficulty is when children are born in a situation where the father is a priest who’s not supposed to be in a relationship and fathering children. This can often lead to the relationship being kept secret, the identity of the father being denied to the child.”

Complete Article HERE!

10/19/17

Coming Out and Faith: A Catholic Queer Woman Latches on to Hope

This month LGBT Americans observed National Coming Out Day, which serves as a call to be out and proud and a recognition that showcasing your identity is an empowering act that can also help change anti-LGBT attitudes. But one’s religious beliefs can sometimes complicate coming out. The Advocate has interviewed people from a variety of faiths about how their religion affected their coming-out and vice versa. In the first in this series, we speak to a graduate student at a Roman Catholic college.

By Trudy Ring

Elizabeth Sextro realizes the Roman Catholic Church probably won’t change its teachings on homosexuality in her lifetime — but that doesn’t keep the 20-something theology graduate student from identifying both as a queer woman and a faithful Catholic.

Reconciling these two identities was “definitely a difficult process,” says Sextro, who’s working on a master’s degree in theological studies at Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry. Nevertheless, she says, “it’s who I am.”

Sextro, a self-described “cradle Catholic” originally from St. Louis, came out as queer in 2012, when she was an undergraduate at Loyola University in Chicago. “Coming out at college was really easy,” she says. “I had a lot of supportive friends.”

She was able to resolve any conflict between her queer and Catholic identities, she says, through her studies and through talking with those supportive friends who had been through similar experiences.

It also helped that Loyola, like Boston College, is run by the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order known for scholarship and progressive ideology. She studied queer theology, which rejects the idea that LGBT people are abnormal or disordered, as the Catholic Church has long held, and she had a faculty mentor, a straight layman, who encouraged her.

Coming out to her parents was more problematic. They aren’t quite at a place of acceptance even now, she says, but they have advanced to the point that she can bring her female partner home. “We still have work to do,” Sextro says of her family relationship.

There is certainly still work to do in the church, where, she says, the faithful are far ahead of the hierarchy. “I see gay people everywhere” when she attends Catholic services, says Sextro, who divides her time between a couple of congregations in Boston.

The church deems same-sex relationships sinful, and it expects Catholics with same-sex attractions to avoid acting on them. The catechism — a summary of church doctrine — holds that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” Pope Francis, while more conciliatory toward LGBT people than his predecessors were, has held to traditional doctrine. But many in the church are rejecting anti-LGBT teachings and recognizing that the language in the catechism is harmful, Sextro notes.

“It’s going to be baby steps from here on out,” she says of the process of changing the church. It may even have women priests before it discards anti-LGBT doctrine. “It’s not going to happen in my lifetime, but hopefully it will,” says Sextro, who expects to finish her master’s degree in the spring, then aims to eventually get a Ph.D. and teach at the university level.

One of the main reasons she stays in the church, she said, is to help that change along. “I stay because there is more work to be done in the church and because I feel committed and responsible as an aspiring theologian myself to offer a critical perspective to the Catholic Church,” she says. “That’s not to say that I have not considered leaving — I certainly have. That would be a heck of a lot easier. But I borrow from one of my professors at the [School of Theology and Ministry] in saying this: If you are looking for a perfect church in this life, you will be looking forever. No church is perfect, and I stay because I can offer something to the church as a queer woman and theologian that may bring the church a little bit closer to working toward justice. I wouldn’t stay if I didn’t have hope.”

For LGBT Catholics to be out and proud can contribute to change, she says, but she recognizes that coming out is an individual decision. “Coming out is really difficult,” she says. “No one should feel pressure to come out in order to advance a certain cause.”

Part of being a person of faith, she adds, is “putting trust in something outside of yourself” and realizing that some things are out of your control. That approach is also helpful when thinking about progress in the church — knowing she can make a contribution, but she can’t make it all happen, she says. And then there is what Emily Dickinson called “the thing with feathers — that perches in the soul … and never stops.”

“I’ve really latched on to hope,” Sextro says. “And I think hope is huge.”

Complete Article HERE!

09/22/17

The hidden world of addiction and recovery among women religious

When Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Mary Ellen Merrick was struggling with alcohol addiction in the late 1970s, there weren’t a lot of options for Catholic women religious.

“There was nothing for sisters,” Merrick said.

The then-28-year-old middle school teacher spent three months at Alina Lodge, a treatment center in Blairstown, New Jersey.

“People didn’t expect me to have issues with God or issues as a woman,” said Merrick, now executive director of the women’s program at Guest House, a residential treatment facility in Lake Orion, Michigan, for priests and religious.

She was hesitant to share her innermost thoughts with the laywomen in the program at Alina Lodge.

“It did help me, but there were areas like my spirituality and my sexuality that I didn’t feel comfortable mentioning because no one expected me to need to discuss these areas,” Merrick said.

Public accounts of mental health disorders and addictions among women religious have been rare, as have details of treatment and recovery. That may in part be because of the pervasive shame those illnesses can elicit, as well as a historical tendency for those who struggle with them to be directed only to spend more time in solitary prayer.

That is changing as knowledge and attitudes about mental illness evolve. Though difficult to establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship, it’s become clearer over time that addiction and mental health disorders are pegged to a combination of factors, including chemical imbalances and possibly brain abnormalities. Some individuals have also experienced grief and depression as they watch their communities cope with declining numbers and aging membership.

There’s “still such a strong stigma in mental health,” said Franciscan Sr. Dorothy Heiderscheit, CEO at Southdown, a treatment center in Holland Landing, Ontario, that now is open to men and women in Christian ministry. “It’s in part the belief system that ‘If I’m helping people, I can’t be weak.’ It’s embarrassment and probably shame.”

For a time, she said, “most of our facilities, us included, kept a low profile to protect the people we have. [But] more and more of us are saying that doesn’t counteract the stigma.”

Overlooked and underserved

This newer sensibility has led to a quiet revolution in mental health care tailored to the needs of women.

“When we started our program, it was clear that women religious tend to be underserved by the medical community,” said  Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, a priest and psychologist who headed the St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland, and now teaches at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. “Women were trained not to take care of their own needs, not to complain and to look after everyone else … especially women religious.”

Changes in how the church now approaches mental health issues among its own can be traced back about 70 years (though well before the clergy sex abuse crisis became public knowledge), when Catholic religious congregations became more rigorous in the way they approached vocational discernment.

“Others supported Ripley’s pursuit but eventually favored a center that would serve ‘all professionals,’ ” Gardner said. “Ripley’s insistence on a priests-only facility removed him from the venture, but he continued to pursue his mission to open a Guest House for alcoholic priests.”

The Guest House program for clergy and men religious was launched in the 1950s, and a program for women on the Lake Orion campus opened in the 1990s. (Hazelden, founded in 1949 and with 17 locations in the country, was an early resource for women religious and other people of faith.)

Sister Frances (not her real name), then a schoolteacher, arrived at Guest House more than a decade ago because her provincial leader told her she needed to get help. Frances is now part of a different community.

During her nine months at Guest House, Frances said, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Previously treated for depression and part of a 12-step program, Frances said that when she arrived, she was “not very far from drinking again because of the difficulties I was having, whether they were my moods or my relationships. That confused me: Why was I being sent to a treatment center?”

Franciscan Sr. Dorothy Heiderscheit, right, with staff at Southdown

Part of the reason Frances spent such a long time at Guest House was the challenge of weaning her off the medications she’d been prescribed and finding a new treatment baseline, said Merrick, head of the women’s program there who has stayed in touch with Frances.

At the end of her treatment, Frances had discovered, as she grew to trust the staff and her companions, that “I was lovable. I’m able to love and be loved because I’m Frances.”

Mental health screening for candidates considering religious life wasn’t generally practiced before the 1960s, says Georgetown University medical ethicist and research scholar Daniel Sulmasy, who spent more than 25 years as a Franciscan friar. “People who were very quiet and talked about seeing angels were considered mystics and moved along in the system. Only after taking vows were they considered mentally ill and sent to places like state mental hospitals.”

Vatican II: questioning convention

The reforms that came in the wake of the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s were a watershed moment for Catholic sisters. They modified their dress, pursued professional degrees, went out to eat, and applied for their own credit cards. But for those who might have a mental disorder or a suppressed addiction problem, the new freedoms brought potential danger as well as opportunity.

It was a time when many who had embraced religious vocations in a top-down, highly controlled structure actually became adults, says Southdown’s Heiderscheit. Some left religious life to get married or because they determined it wasn’t for them.

Many stayed, but some struggled with the transition, she said: “People who had entered religious life at a very young age in communities with a controlling, authoritative style didn’t trust their judgment as adults.”

While this story focuses on women, men religious and clergy grapple with the same issues.

“When you look at the pathology rate around the world, including the United States, we see that women and men are similar, but they also have psychological and spiritual differences,” Rossetti said.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, a 1988 graduate of the Guest House program, is candid about his sobriety — but he doesn’t parade it. That’s because of his belief, he said, that the journey away from addiction “isn’t my recovery, and isn’t my achievement. It’s a gift from God. I’m gratefully testifying to what I’ve been given. But I also think that AA and other 12-step programs have a very healthy suspicion of [self-] promotion.”

Rates of depression are higher for women, who are more likely to be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, Rossetti said, while men have higher rates of sociopathy and malignant narcissism.

Treatment protocols for women also differ, he said. When the women’s program at St. Luke began three decades ago, Rossetti turned to the women in management, both members of religious orders and laypeople, for help. “It was very different, with a greater emphasis on group work and treating pathologies more prevalent in women as well as time for communal prayer and Scripture.”

While women were very supportive of each other, sometimes they needed to be able to challenge one another and learn to use their anger in a positive way, he said. The St. Luke program integrates single- and mixed-gender sessions, Rossetti said.

A network for addicted sisters

Sr. Mary Gene Kinney, a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, co-directs the Inter-Congregational Addictions Program, which helps congregations in 31 states and the province of Ontario intervene, find treatment resources and support aftercare for chemically dependent sisters.

A piano teacher and, later, a music therapist, Kinney, who would use the money she made to buy booze for herself, recalled that parishioners at the time were “delighted to give you a bottle” of liquor as a gift.

In the early 1970s, when Kinney was seeking help for her addiction to alcohol, “it was treated in the mental health field and not as the brain disease it is,” she said.

Though she saw mental health professionals, she didn’t make progress. Instead, she became hooked on medication. While a stint at Hazelden was helpful, she said, “I couldn’t sustain it. I was too intellectual for AA. I couldn’t picture myself in it. I didn’t want anyone to know I had this awful disease.”

Kinney applauds the creation of specialized programs for women, saying they do better in community-based settings. When she and program co-founder Sr. Letitia Close began their work in the 1970s, the main addictions for sisters were alcohol and prescription drugs. Eventually, their network expanded to include eating disorders.

Left: Srs. Letitia Close and Mary Gene McKinney, co-founders of the Inter-Congregational Addictions Program. Right: Sr. Mary Gene McKinney gives a presentation.

Now, sisters in the support system are grappling with shopping, spending, gambling and hoarding. Looking ahead, Kinney said, “We haven’t yet seen the full-blown effect of the internet on the brain.”

She said she and Close launched their network in part to counter the isolation that can come with fighting an addiction. They gave their first workshop in a convent infirmary, concerned that older sisters would think their subject matter was scandalous. As it turned out, she said, most of their seniors knew someone who had died of alcoholism.

“Like anything else, the more a substance becomes accessible, the more the addiction shows up, but it’s still always there.” She tells of a contemplative sister she knows who said she never bought alcohol for herself — but fermented it in her cell.

While they didn’t focus specifically on mental health, many women’s congregations have long emphasized a proactive approach to overall wellness, Heiderscheit said.

A battery of psychological tests has been a pre-entrance requirement for more than 40 years among the Adrian Dominicans, says Sr. Patricia Siemen, the congregational prioress. In the year she’s been in leadership, she’s taken part in two mental-health-related interventions in her 641-woman community.

After meeting Merrick at a conference last year, Siemen attended one of the Guest House “Walking with the Wounded” seminars for sisters in leadership.

“One of the things we hope to do as congregational leaders is to open up the topic of addiction and educate our women. It could happen to any of us, depending on our DNA,” she said.

Merrick and other Guest House staff work closely with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, attend professional meetings to publicize their work, and are invited to give workshops around the country.

At Guest House, many female residents are treated for addictions like alcohol or overeating. Men are more likely to be abusing drugs such as heroin and cocaine or becoming enmeshed in sex addiction, Merrick said.

The treatment center and congregation jointly work out ways to make care possible.

“We run $2 million in the hole each year,” Merrick said. “We take care of it by doing fundraisers and through donations. Somehow, God provides.”

A typical Guest House stay includes individual therapy once a week, group meetings four times weekly, and a spirituality group, as well as informal time with other sisters.

“I look for balance being restored in a person’s life,” Merrick said. “Some of the best therapy happens after the staff goes home.”

Facilities for the Guest House female clients include private suites, a dining hall and their own chapel.

Sr. Mary Ellen Merrick sits at the Guest House exhibit booth at the 2017 Leadership Conference of Women Religious assembly, held Aug. 8-11 in Orlando, Florida.

When a sister is ready to return home, a Guest House staff member helps reintegrate her back into her community by doing a workshop focused on the disorder or addiction, Merrick said. Sisters may return to the center every three to six months for a week’s refresher.

Now provincial superior for the Sisters of Notre Dame, Sr. Mary Anncarla Costello was the vicar for religious for the Los Angeles Archdiocese when she heard about the Guest House program. When she became leader of her community, she attended an introductory seminar with other team members and has referred sisters to the treatment center.

“One of the unique things about Guest House is that it provides care and support with an understanding of the religious life,” including prayer and access to the daily liturgy, Costello said. “We talk about being holy sisters, brothers and priests, but we also want to be whole.”

The long view

Religious communities can face a more general mental-health challenge as vocations ebb and friends, many advanced in age, get sick or die. Since she became congregational prioress last year, Siemen said, 41 members of her order have died.

“Women’s congregations are dealing with a tremendous amount of loss,” she said, including the end of a ministry, death or departure of sister colleagues and friends, and depletion of energy. If they aren’t doing the necessary work of grieving or are doing it alone, their depression is liable to increase, she said. “We know that grief is better accomplished together and not as a solitary.”

Heiderscheit says the sadness runs deep and has myriad causes.

“There’s always a debate over whether it’s depression or anger that we have shoved underground into depression about our future,” she said.

But somehow, the work will continue, she said. “The charism will be passed on to somebody else. We need to be gracious and gentle women and let it go.”

While loss may cast a shadow on their lives, women religious continue to rely on spiritual and communal resources, mining the latest insights from science.

Levo now consults on well-being and how to promote it, within both congregations and individuals. “What does that look like across the board: physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally? This is a personal journey, but it’s also a social and a communal journey.”

Tobin takes the long view. It’s worth remembering, he said, that priests and religious are emerging from an “anomalous” period in religious life in the United States — one that in the 19th and 20th centuries saw a surge of vocations. A sense of loss (he said he feels it sometimes himself when he visits fellow religious in a medical center and sees the “great men of my generation so weak and feeble”) can lead to diminishment and depression, or it can result in a greater sense of divine care and providence.

Though there has been an “ebb and flow, religious life will always be a part of the church,” he said.

Others who have spent decades as counselors, administrators and researchers also see reason to be encouraged.

The use of psychological testing and other screenings, as well as extensive time in formation before taking vows, has resulted in priests and sisters who are often healthier than the general population, Rossetti said. Living in community, helping others and embracing the discipline of spiritual practice all promote sound living, he said.

“As women move toward equal standing [in society], then they can be more proactive about dealing with their mental health. People are beginning to realize that women have a right to be helped when they need it.”

Heiderscheit said she sees a positive trend in the work that goes on at Southdown.

“A lot of what’s turning the tide are the new things we are learning about addiction and mental health,” she said.

“My part is to help other women religious be healthy and well; then I think I’m doing what God wants me to do in this part of my life.”

Complete Article HERE!