On the eve of a speaking tour in the U.S., the outspoken Redemptorist cleric said he wants to see legislation introduced in Ireland which would require priests here to break the confessional seal if someone admits to child abuse.
At present, the Vatican’s rules surrounding confessional secrecy mean there are no legal obligations under canon law to report concerns or allegations of abuse of a minor.
But moves have already been made in Australia to ensure that allegations of clerical sexual abuse that are made in the sacrament are immediately reported to the authorities.
Following the country’s extensive Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, two states, South Australia and Australian Capital Territory, have begun fast-tracking mandatory legislation to compel practicing churchmen to break the seal of confession if someone admits to child abuse.
And now Flannery, who had previously supported the ancient ruling that a priest should never reveal what he hears in confession, said his opinions have changed and that he now thinks Ireland should follow the Australian lead.
The 71-year-old Co. Galway native, who was censured by the Vatican over six years ago for his liberal views, said, “The debate has been going on for some time about the seal of Confession in the Catholic Church. There have been calls to make it obligatory for priests if they are told in the sacrament that the penitent is sexually abusing a minor, they must inform the authorities.
“This is a difficult one since the seal of Confession – the requirement that a priest can never reveal what he hears in Confession — is one of the most serious obligations for any priest, and if that is compromised in any way, it undermines the sacrament as we have known it.
“Over recent years I have always argued that this cannot change, but now I am beginning to think differently. The situation within the church over clerical sexual abuse is so serious, and the church’s credibility so damaged, that I am not sure we can hold to this position anymore.”
Flannery, a founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, also called for individual confessions to be replaced by “general absolution,” which would involve a gathering of believers being granted absolution for their sins without prior individual Confession to a priest.
He added, “The reality is that very few people in Ireland go to Confession any more, but in the event of a person admitting child abuse, this needs to be reported. I also think other serious crimes need to be reported too, for example, what happens if someone tells a priest they have murdered their wife.
“If the seal of Confession is broken in any way, then Confession as we now know it will cease to exist. But I think the time has come for change, and general absolution would be a better way to celebrate the sacrament.”
Flannery is in the U.S. this week, where he is due to give talks in Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. on church reform. He was suspended from public ministry in 2012 for his liberal views on women priests, homosexuality and contraception, and has since conceded that there is little hope of his censorship being lifted.
During this month’s Synod of Bishops, an international gathering at the Vatican, Deborah Rose-Milavec and Kate McElwee, who lead groups dedicated to advancing women in leadership roles in the Roman Catholic Church, made sure that Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the synod’s general secretary, was presented with a hefty pink folder.
Inside was a petition with more than 9,000 signatures and one specific request: Allow female religious superiors at the synod to “vote as equals alongside their Brothers in Christ.”
The petition’s request, said Ms. Rose-Milavec, the executive director of Future Church and Ms. McElwee, who holds the same post at the Women’s Ordination Conference, was a minor volley in what has seemed to be an insurmountable battle to get the male-centric Catholic Church to pay serious attention to women, who represent about half the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics but count for little where it matters.
Vatican synods are held every few years. Women have emerged as a major concern of this one, which opened earlier this month and focuses on how the church can better minister to today’s youth in an era of emptying pews.
“The presence of women in the church, the role of women in the church,” has been repeatedly raised, in the synod’s plenary meeting and within smaller working groups, said Sister Sally Marie Hodgdon, the superior general of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery, and a synod participant. “The youth bring it up, as have some of the bishops and cardinals.”
“Clearly,” she added, the issue of women will be in the final document, which will be voted on Saturday.
But women, who make up about a tenth of the 340 or so synod participants, won’t be among the voters. Until this synod, only ordained men were allowed to vote on recommendations to the working document, whose final draft is given to the pope, who can include as much as he wants in his own post-synodal reflection.
This year, though, two men who are not ordained but are the superiors general of their respective religious orders have been granted the right to vote. Sister Hodgdon, too, is a superior general, but she has no voting rights.
For some Catholics, the difference clearly smacks of the sexism that “underlines the grave marginalization of women in the church,” said Lucetta Scaraffia, the editor of a monthly insert on women in the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. “It’s a clamorous injustice. It demonstrates that the criteria they use is not between priest and lay people, but between women and men,” she said.
The cover of the October insert, “Women, Church, World,” depicted a woman shouting angrily. The intent of the issue, Ms. Scaraffia said, was to encourage debate and to get women “to protest every time there is a reason to protest.”
“What are they afraid of? One woman voting, honestly!” said Ms. McElwee, of the Women’s Ordination Conference, who helped to draft the petition and was an organizer of a protest that coincided with the synod’s opening, on Oct. 3.
Standing outside the gates that lead to the synod hall inside Vatican City that day, several dozen women and men chanted: “Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” “More than half the church.” The protest was peaceful — “a prayer groups is more disruptive,” Ms. McElwee said — but still drew the attention of the police, who brought the protest to a halt, identified all the protesters and forced some to delete footage of the demonstration from their mobile phones
The petition to allow female superiors general a synod vote was a “strategic” move toward their more equal participation in church matters, Ms. McElwee said, adding that she realized it confirmed the “ultimate fear” of some clerics who see it as a step down a “slippery slope that could eventually lead to women’s ordination” as priests.
Such ordination, Ms. McElwee said, was “the last door that’s closed to women,” though there are many doors in between. Church teaching says that women can’t be priests because Jesus chose only men as his apostles.
Those numbers have not raised the loud warning bells in the Catholic Church that they should have, critics say.
“For the first time in history women are leaving at greater rates than men,” said Ms. Rose-Milavec. “That is a deep dive.”
Pope Francis has spoken often of a more-incisive presence for women in the church, and six women occupy senior roles in the five dozen departments that make up the Catholic Church’s governing body, the Holy See. Critics say he needs to do more.
In 2016, Francis appointed a commission to review the place that female deacons had in the early church, a move seen by some as possibly opening the way to female deacons in the modern era. But the commission has not made its finding public, and the cardinal who heads it made clear last June that advising the pope on modern-day female deacons had never been on its agenda
“Through his positive statements, Pope Francis has really raised women’s expectations about the changes that he plans in order to bring more women into leadership roles,” Petra Dankova, the advocacy director of Voices of Faith, replied in a written response to questions. “But concrete actions have followed slowly and without an overarching plan.”
Voice of Faith, based in Liechtenstein, is pushing for women to gain full leadership roles in the Catholic Church. It has urged the close-knit group of cardinals who advise the pope on various issues that it should establish a special advisory board for women, Ms. Dankova said.
The question of their involvement in the church, she added, “is too complex and it cannot be expected to be somehow solved on the side without a concentrated attention and without the collaboration with women themselves.”
That suggestion has fallen on deaf ears, although some top prelates at the synod have been vocal in their support of women.
On Wednesday, speaking to reporters at a daily Vatican briefing, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chairman of the German Bishop’s Conference, said that the issue of women’s roles in the church was “important for the entire church,” which must understand the evolution of women’s equality as a gift from God.
“We would be foolish not to make use of the potential of women,” Cardinal Marx said. “Thank God we are not that stupid.”
Male religious superiors at the synod have also been supportive, and the umbrella groups of both male and female superiors general have drafted a concrete proposal to allow women superiors to participate as voting members in future synods. If ratified by their respective boards, the proposal would be presented to the pope, Sister Hodgdon said.
After living in Rome for eight years, Sister Hodgdon, an American, said she has learned that the ways of the Church took time. Female superior generals were not likely to get the right to vote in this synod, she conceded. “But do I believe it will happen for the next one? Yes, I really do believe that.”
The next synod is scheduled for October 2019, and will focus on issues related to the Amazon region.
The editors of America Magazine, a Jesuit publication, called on President Trump to withdraw Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination.
The piece was published after Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, a woman who accused Kavanaugh of trying to rape her in 1982 at a house party, testified before of the Senate Judiciary Committee about the allegations.
“Evaluating the credibility of these competing accounts is a question about which people of good will can and do disagree. The editors of this review have no special insight into who is telling the truth. If Dr. Blasey’s allegation is true, the assault and Judge Kavanaugh’s denial of it mean that he should not be seated on the U.S. Supreme Court,” the editors wrote.
“But even if the credibility of the allegation has not been established beyond a reasonable doubt and even if further investigation is warranted to determine its validity or clear Judge Kavanaugh’s name, we recognize that this nomination is no longer in the best interests of the country. While we previously endorsed the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh on the basis of his legal credentials and his reputation as a committed textualist, it is now clear that the nomination should be withdrawn,” they added.
The editors wrote a piece in July praising Trump’s nomination of Kavanaugh to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy and Kavanaugh’s pro-life stance.
“Judge Kavanaugh is a textualist who is suspicious of the kind of judicial innovation that led to the court’s ruling in Roe. That decision removed a matter of grave moral concern-about which there was and remains no public moral consensus-from the democratic process,” they wrote at the time.
Kavanaugh attended Georgetown Preparatory School, a Jesuit high school.
The magazine’s reversal reflects the tumult into which sexual misconduct allegations have thrown Kavanaugh’s confirmation process.
Kavanaugh has been accused by Ford, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick of varying degrees of sexual misconduct while he was in high school and college. He has adamantly denied the allegations.
Thursday’s hearing was a crucial test for Kavanaugh, who came out with his most ardent defense yet against the allegations in an attempt to sway lingering swing votes on Capitol Hill and to convince Trump to not withdraw his nomination.
“It’s possible I’ll hear [the allegations] and I’ll say, ‘I’m changing my mind.'” Trump said Wednesday in New York.
Kavanaugh’s efforts appeared to convince Trump to stick with his nomination.
Trump reiterated his commitment to Kavanaugh, tweeting Thursday evening, “Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him. His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!”
Scandal rocks the church, and wrongly it still opposes ordaining women as priests.
By Roy Bourgeois
As a Catholic priest, I did the unspeakable. I called for the ordination of women. The Vatican’s response was swift. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith informed me that I was “causing grave scandal” in the church, and that I had 30 days to recant my support for the ordination of women or be expelled from the priesthood.
I told the Vatican that was not possible. Believing that women and men are created of equal worth and dignity, and that both are called by an all-loving God to serve as priests, my conscience would not allow me to recant. In my response, I also made clear that when Catholics hear the word “scandal,” many think about the thousands of children who have been raped and abused by Catholic priests — not about the ordination of women.
In 2010, the Vatican called women’s ordination a crime comparable to sexual abuse of children. Judging from its actions, however, it would appear that the Vatican views women’s ordination as a crime more serious than child abuse. Among the thousands of priests who raped and sexually abused children, the vast majority were not expelled from the priesthood or excommunicated. But the Vatican has excommunicated every woman ordained to the Catholic priesthood.
And in November 2012, after serving as a Catholic priest with the Maryknoll order for 40 years, I was expelled from the priesthood for refusing to recant my support for the ordination of women.
Today, scandal again rocks the Catholic Church. This time, it’s six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania. According to a grand jury report, beginning in the 1950s, more than 300 “predator priests” sexually abused more than 1,000 children.
The 1,400-page report, written by 23 grand jurors over the course of two years, said, “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.” Among the horrific crimes that Catholic priests committed:
In the Pittsburgh diocese, “a ring of predatory priests shared information regarding victims, as well as exchanging the victims among themselves. The ring manufactured child pornography and used whips, violence and sadism in raping the victims.”
One priest abused five sisters in the same family, including one girl beginning when she was 18 months old.
Another priest was allowed to stay in ministry after impregnating a young girl and arranging for her to have an abortion.
A priest raped a 7-year-old girl in her hospital room after a tonsillectomy. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reviewed his crime and decided that he should remain a priest and “live a life of prayer and penance.”
The Pennsylvania grand jury report concluded that the Catholic hierarchy “protected the institution at all cost and maintained strategies to avoid scandal.” Priests who got into trouble were shuffled to another diocese where more children were abused. The FBI determined that church officials followed a “playbook for concealing the truth,” minimizing the abuse by using words like “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues” instead of “rape.”
If the Catholic Church had women priests, the church would not be in the crisis it is in today. I am equally confident that if the Catholic Church does not dismantle its all-male priesthood and welcome women as equals, it will drift into irrelevance.
International circle of bishops with Roman Catholic Women Priests call on Pope Francis to act
By Benjamin Aubé
Though they’ve been excommunicated by the Vatican, a group of women is demanding changes in the Roman Catholic Church.
Bishops with the Roman Catholic Women Priests are calling on Pope Francis to “establish a council to explore new structures for church leadership and order within the Roman Catholic Church.”
They say the constant string of allegations against male priests is yet another sign the Church must begin letting women and men with children be ordained.
The call to action comes on the heels of last month’s grand jury report out of Pennsylvania. It found that thousands of children were abused at the hands of hundreds of priests in that state.
Marie Bouclin is a bishop emerita with the Roman Catholic Women Priests.
“Men want to protect their children too, and if they’re fathers, they can’t be ordained either,” explained Bouclin. “So we’re saying you need married people as ministers of the Church, you need women in the church, to bring a different perspective, to change this system that has perpetuated itself largely through force and fear.”
Bouclin, who is based in Sudbury, said the Roman Catholic Women Priests are essentially forced to the margins as an “underground” organization. She explained she runs small services and prayer circles, often out of her own home.
The Vatican automatically excommunicates any woman that attempts to be ordained through the movement.
“They’ve marginalized us, so we can’t operate in the local parishes and such,” noted Bouclin.
“We’ve been accused of trying to have access to power, when what we are saying is, ‘Look, we could serve.’ There’s a shortage of priests, we could do this work, we’re qualified and we’re willing, but there’s this fear of change.”
Bouclin also spoke about why she and her peers continue to fight to be part of an organization that has not only forced them out, but also continues to be peppered with child abuse allegations.
“This is our Church too,” she replied. “There’s a lot worth keeping, but there’s a lot that has to change. Rather than walk away, it’s the hope of trying to salvage the good that can be.”
Bouclin added it’s a mistake to believe that child abuse at the hands of priests hasn’t happened in Canadian cities like Sudbury.