02/17/17

The clergy has moved on. It’s the bishops who are out of touch

Synod’s rejection of the same-sex marriage report shows the problem of having glorified administrators focused on unity at the head of the church

A delegate walks past protesters outside the General Synod at Church House in London on Wednesday. ‘The problem is the bishops themselves, tense with self-imposed anxiety.’

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It rained in London on Wednesday afternoon. Then the sun came out. And so it was that when the General Synod of the Church of England met to discuss the acceptability of same-sex marriage, a huge rainbow appeared over Church House, Westminster. Even God, it seems, was making his feelings known on this one.

The bishops had produced a report after a three-year listening process. This itself was just another kicking-into-the-long-grass exercise. After all, who can refuse listening? So church reports that seek no change always call for another report and more listening. But had anybody heard anything useful? The report called for a “change of tone” towards LGBTI people – yes, they always do that, and always in the same patronising tone – but no change of doctrine. The bishops refused to budge on the question of same-sex couples getting married in church. And so the clergy of the C of E threw the report out, leaving the bishops angry and embarrassed.

Recalling the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel in the book of Genesis, Canon Simon Butler – gay, out and partnered – told synod: “I will not let go until you bless me.” Those of us wrestling for equal marriage will not stop until gay people are offered the church’s blessing. We bless battleships with missiles. But not the love between two people. And the problem here is not the clergy or the people in the pews. The problem is the bishops themselves, tense with self-imposed anxiety.

On the same day the report was being sunk by synod, a British Social Attitudes survey found that only 17% of Anglicans now believe that same-sex relationships are “always wrong”, the lowest level since 1983 when people started measuring these views. Back then, the figure was 50%. In the intervening years churchgoers, like the population in general, have dramatically changed their mind over homosexuality. And hurrah for that.

But don’t believe that this is all the church wants to talk about. In my parish, it’s a non-issue. We’ve had openly gay clergy ministering here and many gay people in the pews. While the bishops take themselves away to discuss fictional case studies involving problematic gay-related situations (NB don’t say problem gay people – that’s all part of the “change of tone” directive), we in the parish just get on with doing the stuff we’re supposed to. No, the problem is within the episcopate. They voted 43-1 for the report. And the one who voted against wasn’t some brave bishop registering dissent. It was the bishop of Coventry who couldn’t figure out how to work his voting console.

Such is the high degree of corporate responsibility the bishops feel, that even those sympathetic to same-sex marriage voted for a report that condemned it. Thus the bishop of Liverpool wrote: “For some, the sense of betrayal is particularly acute when applied to people like me, who have spoken of the need for change in the church. Where was I? What happened to my voice? How could I have been so weak as to stand with this document?”

The answer is always the same. The job of the bishops, the current lot insist, is to provide a “focus of unity”. That’s why when bishops retire, and are freed from the responsibility of keeping their dioceses together, they write letters to the papers saying how much they disagreed with what they used to have to support. The bishops tell themselves that they sacrifice their personal views for the greater good. And they ask us to feel their pain. Responsibility for the way in which this need for corporate double-speak has blunted the prophetic witness of the episcopate is squarely on the shoulders of the secretive process by which bishops are selected. It’s a process that promotes the same sort of people – glorified administrators who are good at “tone” and are not given to bursts of independent mindedness. None of which are qualities associated with the prophets of the Bible.

What Wednesday’s synod vote revealed was not only that the church continues to move in a progressive direction – though with the engine of a lawnmower and the brakes of an articulated lorry. It also demonstrated the widening gap between bishops and their clergy. The C of E works best at the local level. Head office is out of touch.

Complete Article HERE!

02/15/17

Church of England in turmoil as synod rejects report on same sex relationships

Clergy vote against report by 100 to 93 in blow to archbishop of Canterbury as he tries to chart course between apparently unreconcilable wings of church

A member of the St Anselm community at Lambeth Palace walks past activists from the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement outside the General Synod at Church House in London.

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The Church of England has been plunged into fresh turmoil after its general assembly threw out a report on same sex relationships in a rebuff to bishops following almost three years of intense internal discussion and intractable divisions.

The C of E’s synod, meeting in London this week, voted on Thursday to effectively reject the report, which upholds traditional teaching that marriage is a lifelong union of a man and a woman.

Although there was a clear overall majority in favour of “taking note” of the report, it needed the support of all three houses – bishops, clergy and laity. The clergy narrowly voted against, by 100 votes to 93, meaning the motion was lost.

The de facto rejection of the report is a blow to the authority of Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, who pleaded with the synod to accept the report as “a basis for moving on, a good basis, a roadmap”.

Welby presides over the House of Bishops, which has met four times since internal discussion groups wound up last July to chart the way forward between two apparently unreconcilable wings of the church.

Responding to the vote, Graham James, bishop of Norwich, said: “I can guarantee that the House of Bishops will consider carefully and prayerfully all the contributions made in the debate today.”

He added: “We have listened to those who have spoken, and those others who have made contributions to us directly. Our ongoing discussions will be informed by what members of synod and the wider church have said as a result of this report.”

Acknowledging that the next steps were unclear, Pete Broadbent, bishop of Willesden, said: “In this debate, we haven’t even begun to find a place where we can coalesce…. More conversation is needed. We don’t yet know the next stage – nor yet when and whether we can bring any further report to synod.”

The issue has dominated the current four-day session of the synod, and has been the subject of bitter debate within the C of E – and the global Anglican communion – for decades. At the moment, gay clergy are forbidden from marrying or having sexual relationships, and same sex marriage services are prohibited in churches.

In a debate lasting more than two hours, about one in three members of the synod requested to speak from the packed floor of the auditorium. Many contributions included personal testimonies from lesbians and gay men.

Jayne Ozanne of Oxford accused the bishops of putting “political expediency ahead of principle”. Fearing a split, they had “chosen not to lead but to manage”.

Simon Butler of Southwark, an openly gay member of synod, said that “only when fracture comes can new possibilities emerge”, and quoted Genesis: “I will not let you go until you bless me.”

Lucy Gorman of York told the synod that “outside these walls, we are being heard as lacking in love”. No wonder, she added, that fewer young people were coming to church. “Why would people become part of a church that is seemingly homophobic?”

But those on the conservative wing of the church also expressed criticisms and some voted against the report. Andrea Minichiello-Williams of Chichester said: “All sexual expression outside a lifelong permanent union on one man and one woman is sinful.” Sexuality was a “first order issue”, one on which salvation depends. “That’s why it’s so important to speak clearly with regard to sexual sin.”

Paul Bayes, bishop of Liverpool, said: “I honour the anger and, indeed, fury, of the LGBTI community who see in this report hard stones when they looked for bread.” However, he urged the synod to back the report, saying its encouragement for clergy to exercise maximum freedom within existing doctrine “may carry us to places we have not previously gone”. The report, he said, “cannot, will not and should not mark the end of the road” on the issue.

Welby, the final speaker to be called, said “how we deal with profound disagreement… is the challenge we face”. The church needed to be “neither careless in our theology nor ignorant of the world around us”, he added.

Before the debate, both James and Broadbent, who led the bishops’ group which wrote the report, apologised to its critics. “It has not received a rapturous reception in all quarters, and I regret any pain or anger it may have caused. And if we’ve got the tone wrong, we are very sorry,” said James.

Broadbent acknowledged it was “a pretty conservative document”, adding: “I do want to apologise to those members of synod who found our report difficult, who didn’t recognise themselves in it, who had expected more from us than we actually delivered, for the tone of the report. On behalf of the House [of Bishops], and without being trite or trivial, I’m sorry.”

While upholding traditional doctrine on marriage, the report said teaching should be interpreted with “maximum freedom” for same sex couples and called for a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” for lesbians and gays while proposing no concrete change.

Following the vote, Ozanne, a leading gay rights campaigner on the synod, said: “I am thrilled that this report has been voted down. We now look forward to working together to build a church that is broad enough to accept the diversity of views that exist within it, courageous enough to address the deep divisions that exist between us and loving enough to accept each other as equal members of the body of Christ.”

Simon Sarmiento, chairman of LGBTI Mission, said: “I’m pleased the report was not accepted. I am sure the bishops will have learned a lesson from this experience which I know has been painful. I hope they will now consult widely and proceed wisely.”

Andrea Williams, from the conservative Christian Concern, said the report had tried “to straddle positions that cannot be reconciled”. She added: “This shouldn’t be read as a victory for the LGBT activists within the Church. The reason why this happened was because there was no clarity in which direction the church will go.”

LGBTI Christians and supporters of gay equality held a vigil outside Church House in Westminster, the venue for the synod, during the debate.

Complete Article HERE!

01/29/17

Vatican confirms Apuron trial; canon lawyers say trial could last for years

“Defrock Apuron” and “Apuron Out” signs are scattered throughout a picket line at the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica in Hagåtña on Jan. 29, 2017.

By Haidee V Eugenio

The Vatican has confirmed Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron’s canonical trial is ongoing, and some leading canon law experts said it could last for years.

Vatican policy dictates that only Rome can investigate bishops and archbishops who are accused of sexual abuse.

Besides undergoing a canonical trial in Rome, Apuron is also facing lawsuits filed in the Superior Court of Guam for allegedly raping and sexually abusing altar boys in the 1970s.

“This is new ground, as no bishop I am aware of, who sexually abused children, has ever finished a canonical trial,” Attorney Patrick J. Wall, a world-renowned expert on canonical trials and the Catholic clergy abuse crisis, said.

Wall is a former priest and Benedictine monk. He left the Catholic ministry after he felt he was used to help cover up other clergymen’s sex abuses. He has since been advocating for hundreds of clergy abuse survivors.

“Archbishop [Jozef] Wesolowski, Papal Nuncio to Haiti, died prior to the completion of his canonical trial in Rome,” said Wall, author of “Sex, Priests and Secret Codes,” a leading book on the 2,000-year history of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

Apuron, who has been Guam’s archbishop for nearly 31 years, turns 72 on Nov. 1. Under church law, bishops are required to resign at 75.

Attorney Jennifer Haselberger, also a leading canon lawyer based in Minnesota, said Apuron always has the right to request retirement or to tender his resignation before the conclusion of his canonical trial. She said the same is true of accused priests.

“However, if he believes himself innocent, he is unlikely to do so,” Haselberger said. “Moreover, with either of those resolutions, he would simply become emeritus archbishop, meaning that he retains all the privileges of an archbishop, and your diocese is still responsible for his financial support.”

On Oct. 31, 2016, Pope Francis named Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Jude Byrnes, of Detroit, Michigan, to succeed Apuron should Apuron retire, resign or is removed.

Archbishop Savio Hon Tai Fai said as early as 2015, the Vatican was already searching for an Apuron successor.

Hon, who temporarily led the Catholic Church on Guam when Pope Francis placed Apuron on leave on June 6, 2016,, said the early search was made because of concerns about Apuron’s leadership, allegations of sex abuse against him and his health problems.

Apuron is the first bishop who has served on Guam to undergo a canonical trial.

‘Unique’

Attorney Michael Pfau, a leading Washington State-based lawyer who has represented hundreds of clergy abuse survivors in multiple states, said the Guam situation is “unique” because its own archbishop is the one accused of abuse.

Archbishop Michael Byrnes joins Defrock Apuron’ protests

“Most cases involve a bishop accused of covering up the abuse of his priests,” said Pfau, who also handled cases involving abuse by the bishop’s close advisers.

Pfau has been working with the Guam-based law office of Dooley Roberts Fowler & Visosky LLP on clergy abuse cases.

The Holy See Press Office at the Vatican confirmed that Apuron’s canonical trial is ongoing. However, the office said it cannot release other information until after the trial is over, and referred further questions about the trial to the local archdiocese, the Archdiocese of Agana.

Byrnes, the first church official to state, in November, that Apuron’s canonical trial had started, just recently returned to Guam. The archdiocese said Byrnes arrived on Jan. 23.

“A canonical trial can certainly last for years,” Haselberger said. “Unlike with the civil courts, the judges and other officials will likely have other jobs, possibly in other parts of the world. So, the times in which they can assemble to proceed may be limited and cause delay.”

Haselberger previously served as chancellor for canonical affairs at the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, but resigned in April 2013 in protest of the archdiocese’s handling of accusations of clergy sexual abuse.

In 2013, Haselberger established Canonical Consultation and Services LLC. She has served on independent review boards and is a noted speaker on issues relating to canon law and the Catholic Church.

Trial process

Wall provided a general outline of the canonical trial process, which begins with the complaint filed by the prosecutor or what the Catholic Church calls the Promoter of Justice, at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican.

The Promoter of Justice is the Rev. Robert Geisinger, an American Jesuit from Chicago, Illinois, said Wall. Geisinger’s office, when contacted about the Apuron trial, declined to comment.

Apuron’s advocate will likely be a priest, and must be a canon lawyer, Wall said. Since 1991, Wall has consulted on more than 1,000 abuse cases and has been helping lawyers pick apart defenses that dioceses from around the nation have mounted.

Byrnes said in November that the initial phase of the canonical trial started and the tribunal had been established.

Wall said this means Apuron has the written charge from the Promoter of Justice. The Archdiocese of Agana so far has not released information about the specific charges Apuron is facing, other than saying they involve sexual abuse allegations.

“This is important, and can impact the possible outcomes. You may be aware of accusations, but that does not mean that those accusations are part of the trial. Getting clarity on what accusations he is facing would be most helpful,” Haselberger said.

The discovery phase of the canonical trial is where both sides will depose witnesses and interview experts, and this could take months, Wall said.

Outcomes

The discovery phase is followed by the trial and determination by a panel of three clerical judges, with penalties up to and including dismissal from the clerical state, Wall said.

“If a lower penalty such as ‘prayer and penance’ is imposed, then the Pope will need to assign him (Apuron) to a monastery or some other appropriate location,” he added.

Haselberger said there are ways for canonical trials to end without the verdict of the turnus, or the judges appointed to decide the case.

A verdict could be issued by extrajudicial decree, usually done when the penalty is only for a few years rather than perpetual, she said.

Or if guilt is evident, she added, the court could recommend that dismissal be issued by the Holy Father without prolonging trial.

“The latter circumstance does not admit of an appeal. The others do, during which the suspension of the sentence is held in abeyance. However, any precautionary penalties, those that the archbishop is under now, such as being absent from the diocese, would continue,” Haselberger said.

The Concerned Catholics of Guam and the Laity Forward Movement continue to advocate for Apuron to be defrocked or removed from clerical ministry.

“We worry that there may be some compromise or settlement solution being worked out with Apuron. We implore the Vatican officials not to let him get away without being seriously disciplined, and not rewarded,” said David Sablan, president of the Concerned Catholics of Guam.

Sablan said the only thing that should be worked out “is for Apuron to be removed from service to our archdiocese and laicized for the shame he has caused our Church.”

“He has lost the trust of the people of Guam who had always looked up to him for moral and spiritual guidance, only to now know it was all a ruse to forward his own personal agenda and to help his Neocatechumenal [Way] friends who are complicit in causing this division and mistrust within our church,” Sablan added.

Complete Article HERE!

01/10/17

Fr Tony Flannery to ignore Vatican ban to celebrate Mass

Kenny took letter from priest, suspended for views on Catholic teachings, to pope during visit

 

By Patsy McGarry

A letter from a priest who was suspended from public ministry was taken to Pope Francis by Taoiseach Enda Kenny when he met the pontiff on November 28th last. A spokesman for the Taoiseach confirmed the letter was delivered as Fr Tony Flannery had requested.

Fr Flannery was disciplined by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) for views he expressed on Catholic teachings in 2012, the year prior to Pope Francis’s election.

The priest has also announced that he will ignore this suspension from public ministry by celebrating Mass on Sunday 22nd of January next at 2.30pm in the Killimordaly Community Centre near where he lives in east Galway.
It will mark his 70th birthday on January 18th.

Announcing this decision to publicly break the Vatican directive, Fr Flannery said: “Having spent 40 years of my life ministering as a priest, I am now into my fifth year when I am forbidden by church authorities to minister publicly. I have decided to honour my age, and my lifetime, by ignoring the church censures, and celebrating a public Mass.

“Since I would not be allowed to do so either in a Catholic church or other Catholic controlled building, I have chosen, with the kind permission of the committee, to celebrate it in the local community hall in the village where I now live.”
He was not celebrating this Mass “for the sake of defying church authorities,” he said. But it was the case that “the Mass, the Eucharist, is not in the ownership of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or indeed of the Vatican. It belongs to the believing communities,” he said.

‘Serious questions’
In his letter to Pope Francis, as delivered by the Taoiseach, Fr Flannery recalled how “since 1994, the credibility of the Catholic Church in Ireland has been severely damaged due to the clerical sexual abuse problems. This led to many people, even committed Catholics, asking serious questions about the structure and practices of our church, and the reasons why church authorities failed to deal properly with the emerging scandal.”

He continued that “six Irish priests who sought in their writings to examine these questions were censored by the CDF since 2006.” He himself was “most severely censored, as I am forbidden to minister publicly as a priest.”

The main concerns of the priests who were disciplined were that, in its dealings with them, the CDF had failed “to act in accordance with the principles of natural justice: We were accused and judged to be in error before we had any knowledge that a case was being prepared against us.”

Condemnations and punishments “were communicated to us indirectly, through our religious superiors. We were never given the dignity of being addressed directly. We were not given any opportunity to explain or defend our positions, or to put them into the context of the situation in which they were written. We were not informed as to the identity of the people who made complaints about us to the CDF. We did not have any opportunity to cross examine our accusers.”

When the Irish bishops or papal nuncio were questioned on the priests’ situation, “they say that they are helpless to intervene and that it is strictly a matter for our religious superiors, even though there is clear documentary evidence to show that our superiors acted always under orders from the CDF.”

Fr Flannery hoped, in light of Pope Francis’s proposed visit to Ireland, “ that our situations might be looked at in a new and more just fashion.” He concluded by expressing “great respect, and appreciation for all you are doing to renew our church. ”
Complete Article HERE!