12/2/17

How Ireland Moved to the Left: ‘The Demise of the Church’

A vigil in Dublin in October commemorating the fifth anniversary of the death of Savita Halappanavar, who died after she was denied a medically recommended abortion following a miscarriage.

When Ailbhe Smyth was 37, voters in Ireland approved a constitutional amendment that banned abortion in nearly all cases and committed the nation to the principle that a pregnant woman and her fetus have an “equal right to life.”

Next year, when Ms. Smyth, a former professor and chairwoman of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, will be 72, Irish voters are expected to remove or alter that amendment in a new referendum that could give Ireland’s Parliament the freedom to legislate on the issue and write more flexible abortion laws.

What are the driving forces behind this significant shift in voter attitudes toward abortion and other social issues?

Ireland was long a bastion of Catholic conservatism, a place where pedestrians might tip their hats and hop off the footpath when a priest walked past. But economic and technological changes helped propel a shift in attitudes that accelerated with the unfolding of far-reaching abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church in the 1990s.

Over a generation, Ireland transformed from a country where 67 percent of voters approved the constitutional abortion ban to one where, in 2015, 62 percent voted to legalize same-sex marriage.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar of Ireland said that the abuse scandal had led to “the demise” of the Catholic Church.

‘A Disastrous Effect’

Priests once enjoyed great social and political power in Ireland, but the abuse scandal led to “the demise of the church,” the center-right prime minister, Leo Varadkar, who is 38, biracial and gay, said in an interview in September.

That would have been a politically unspeakable phrase for an Irish leader in the not-too-distant past.

“In the ’40s and ’50s, people replaced the colonialism of the Brits with a kind of colonialism of the church,” said Aodhan O Riordain, a senator from the Labor Party. That fostered an intermingling of Catholicism and Irish identity that was “a toxic mix,” he added.

For decades, legislation opposed by the church was doomed to fail. Eamon de Valera, an ardent Catholic who served as president or prime minister several times between 1921 and 1973, enjoyed a close relationship with the archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, who helped steer Ireland’s religious life for three decades and made assertive policy suggestions.

“The Catholic Church’s hold on the state, the ways in which it sought to influence the state, remained strong for a very long time,” said Ms. Smyth. “For much longer than you might have thought possible.”

Even in its diminished state, the church continues to play a role. It controls almost all state-funded primary schools — nearly 97 percent — and the law allows them to consider religion as a factor in admissions. Many hospitals, too, are either owned by the church or located on church property.

But Diarmuid Martin, the current archbishop of Dublin, said the church “certainly” enjoyed less influence now than in the past. He blamed the one-two punch of broad social trends and the abuse scandal for the church’s declining fortunes.

“The scandals emerged at a moment which was either just the wrong time or the right time, depending on which side you are, for them to emerge,” the archbishop said. “The two things, the change in the attitude to the church and the abuse, came together and had a disastrous effect.”

‘My God, I Can’t Get an Abortion Here’

Those changing attitudes were driven by epochal economic and technological shifts felt in all countries, like the expansion of free trade and the birth of the internet. But in Ireland, the old order had largely managed to adapt.

“If you were a cardinal in Ireland in 1989, you would have felt pretty good,” said Fintan O’Toole, a columnist. “You would have said: ‘You know what? We weathered a lot of social and economic change and we’re still the power in the land.’ ”

Cracks had begun to emerge, though.
Economic liberalization, which began in 1960s, drew women into the work force, shrinking the size of Ireland’s traditionally large families and creating pressure for the legalization of contraception, which was anathema to the church.

It also began to stem the century-long tide of emigration. Some emigrants returned to Ireland, and newcomers from Eastern Europe and elsewhere arrived, making Polish the country’s second most widely spoken language.

“Young people go away, work, then come back a few years later and say, ‘My god, I can’t get an abortion here,’ ” said Rory O’Neill, who became a national figure as the drag queen and activist Panti Bliss.

“My parents’ generation, they went to London and never came back.”

In recent years, the internet has provided a platform for organizing that linked Irish people to liberal movements around the world.

“I suppose we are a little, quiet backwater, but young people are very well educated,” Ms. Smyth said. “It’s a very connected place, Ireland.”

A shrine built to honor the children who were interred at St. Mary’s Mother and Baby Home between 1925 and 1961, in Tuam, Ireland.

‘Washing the Dirty Laundry’

Ireland’s break from the past has been so sharp that Garry O’Sullivan, a newspaper and book publisher whose company will soon release a book by a priest titled “Why the Irish Church Deserves to Die,” described it as akin to “intolerance toward views that represent anything of the old guard or traditional Ireland.”

That old guard was discredited by the yearslong drumbeat of child abuse allegations that began to emerge in the early 1990s as well as a cover-up by church officials who spent years denying the problem and moving abusive priests from parish to parish.

For decades, Irish priests zealously protected their communities from what they saw as the moral dangers posed by sexual promiscuity, unwed mothers and impoverished children, sometimes orphaned or neglected.

They used an unwritten, extralegal power — often at the urging of scandalized family or neighbors — to send such women and children to Dickensian facilities like industrial schools, Magdalene Laundries (workhouses run by Catholic orders) and homes for the pregnant and unwed.

While much of the abuse happened at the hands of parish priests, a great deal of it happened in these institutions. A 2009 report said tens of thousands of children were abused in industrial schools alone, a shocking figure in a country of 4.5 million.

A mix of shame, destitution and state complicity turned these facilities into prisons, and residents were put to work for the church. In the laundries, some of which did not close until the 1990s, so-called fallen women washed the dirty linens of clients that included the Irish military.

“The symbolism would be too crude if you put it into a novel, washing the dirty laundry,” Mr. O’Toole said.

Visitors at Knock Shrine in Knock, Ireland. The 2011 census identified 78 percent of the population as Catholic, but according to the current archbishop of Dublin, the figure of true believers is closer to 20 percent.

‘The Last Hurrah’

Archbishop Martin, whose handling of the abuse crisis has won praise, said popular distrust of the church ran deep.

“It was a crisis of trust in the church, a crisis of betrayal by the church — and you can’t regain trust just by saying to them, ‘I’m sorry,’ ” he said.

The 2011 census identified 78 percent of the Irish population as Catholic, but the archbishop said he believed the figure for true believers was closer to 20 percent.

“I could spend all my time being concerned about the people who come to church, but they’re — you know I don’t want to be nasty — but they’re a dying breed,” he said. “The situation is changing, but Irish Catholicism hasn’t changed with it.”

Archbishop Martin praised the Eighth Amendment for protecting the rights of the unborn. He said that the coming abortion debate might provide an opportunity for the church to reconnect with people, even if the amendment were repealed.

“The one way the church could lose on the abortion debate is to compromise its position,” he said.

But not everyone is so sure.

“I think this referendum on abortion is the last stand for church versus state in Ireland,” Mr. O’Sullivan, the publisher, said. “The last hurrah for having influence.”

Complete Article HERE!

11/2/17

Someday Women Priests May Merit a Vatican Stamp: It Happened to Luther

The Church Treats Women Priests More Harshly Than Pedophiles

By Celia Wexler

November 1 was All Saints Day, a day on the church calendar when we pay homage to exceptional followers of Christ. The day before — October 31 — marked the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s declaration of opposition to what he considered a corrupt papacy that tolerated the selling of indulgences.

When he got wind of what Luther was doing, the Pope excommunicated him. But what a difference a few centuries makes. I can remember a time not so long ago when we Catholics called the Protestant Reformation the Protestant Revolt.

But now, the Vatican has issued a commemorative stamp depicting Luther kneeling at the foot of the cross. The stamp is part of an effort encouraging rapprochement between Catholics and Lutherans.

Perhaps this is a good day to remember that the church does rethink issues, even if it often takes a very long time to do so.

I’m not sure it will come in my lifetime, but at some point, the Vatican might even issue a stamp marking the ordination of the first woman priest.

That would certainly be a departure from the way the institutional church currently treats women priests. If a woman dares to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood, the church declares her to be excommunicated.

Excommunication is the worst thing that the church can do to its members. It bans the individual from receiving all sacraments and from the Catholic community.

So you would think that the ordination of women priests was either so morally sinful or so damaging to the church, that this type of punishment was warranted.

But it is difficult to view Catholic women who pursue a vocation to the priesthood as reprobates out to damage the church.

Indeed, they’re not even outliers among Catholic faithful. Overall, about six in ten U.S. Catholics support women’s ordination. Even among Catholics who attend Mass at least weekly, 45 percent believe that women should have access to the priesthood.

In 1994, Pope John Paul II claimed that women should be excluded because Christ only called twelve men to be His apostles, and the church has always done it this way. That seems like an awfully lame excuse for centuries of misogyny. After all, the apostles all were Jews, too. And it would have been difficult for Jesus, living in that culture and at that point in Jewish history, to have elevated women to leadership positions, although He certainly paid far more attention to women than was customary at the time.

At a time when women have made great strides in the workplace, proving themselves just as capable to head businesses, excel in the arts and sciences, and lead countries, when Anglican and Episcopal churches have ordained women to serve both as priests and bishops, it appears that the Catholic hierarchy is fighting a battle that becomes less and less intellectually defensible.

The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests claims that since a validly ordained Catholic bishop ordained the first women bishops, the ordinations that follow are all valid and within the Catholic apostolic line of succession. They also make clear that they see themselves as reformers within their “beloved church,” not antagonists. Both Women Priests and the Women’s Ordination Conference offer a reasoned and respectful rebuttal to the church’s arguments.

But even if we assume that the institutional church is absolutely right about its embrace of an all-male priesthood, why does it feel so threatened by those few brave women who follow their consciences and choose to be women priests?

They know they will not get the chance to serve in any Catholic parishes or hospitals. They accept lives with little economic or professional security, and none of the perks male priests receive. But surely, they do not threaten the viability of the church.

And tell me this: Isn’t pedophilia a real threat to the institutional church? After all, we are talking about millions of Catholics losing faith in their pastors and bishops, and dioceses saddled with multi-million-dollar lawsuits. Parishes have been closed due to the financial burden of this abuse.

Yet there is no similar papal decree that states that any priest found guilty of sexually molesting minors should be automatically excommunicated.

Indeed it appears that many priest molesters get off easy. In 2014, the Vatican reported that over ten years, it had defrocked 848 priests, and given lighter punishments to 2572 others. The Vatican did not report how many priests it reported to law enforcement, or what happened to them. (In defending how it treated errant priests, the Vatican official had the temerity to state that “the Holy See condemns torture, that includes torture inflicted on the unborn.”)

Interestingly, the decree excommunicating women priests came out in 2007, the same year that the Los Angeles archdiocese paid $660 million in damages to resolve lawsuits filed by abuse victims.

It was just three years after a study commissioned by U.S. bishops revealed that more than 4,000 priests and deacons had been the targets of more than 10,000 complaints of abuse.

Or course, the greater irony is that women who seek ordination do so not to do evil, but to do good. They are not predators. They want to give more to the church, inspired by their faith to live out the gospels as fully as possible. They have not cost the U.S. church the $2.5 billion in damages caused by abusive priests.

I’m not aware of women priests storming parish churches, demanding to say Mass. They are not breaking into rectories, asking for room and board. They are attending schools of theology, but they have not attempted to secure for themselves the benefits that their male colleagues – seminarians – take for granted.

Aspiring priest Lisa Cathelyn must pay $50,000 in tuition to earn her graduate degree in theology from the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara in Berkeley, CA. She is on Medicaid because she can’t afford to buy the school’s health insurance. She’s living in a group home to save on rent. She faces an uncertain future, but one in which service to others is her lodestar.

It is the Jesuits who take a vow of poverty who live in relative comfort, while Polovick and other women who study for the priesthood do not need the vow: They are living the real thing.

Complete Article HERE!

10/31/17

No surprise that Bishop Robert Morlino and Co. imperil Christianity’s good name, again

Robert Morlino, bishop of the Diocese of Madison, gives his homily during an ordination Mass at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Parish in Madison in 2015.

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At least two online petitions have been started to protest the decision by Madison’s ironically conservative Catholic diocese to provide advice to priests on whether some gay deceased should be denied funeral rites.

As a Christian, I find it repugnant that any religious institution calling itself Christian would wobble on whether to give a grieving family a Christian burial for their loved one. As if deeming homosexuality a sin weren’t silly enough, the Catholic Church considers denying spiritual comfort to the families of gay people.

Just as bad is the harm such un-Christ-like behavior could do to Christianity’s brand and its relationship to government.

One of the petitions calls for Pope Francis to remove Madison Bishop Robert Morlino from his position, while the other calls on Morlino to rescind the guidance allowing priests to deny full funeral rights to gay Catholics. Both miss the point.

Recalling Morlino isn’t going to suddenly cause the church to fully accept gays and become what my denomination calls “open and affirming.” Francis has talked a better talk on this issue, but he’s yet to walk a better walk — which is why it wouldn’t be in line with Catholic teachings for the Madison diocese to declare that the gay deceased are entitled to funeral rites.

Refusing the rites to a specific class of people doesn’t raise the same kinds of constitutional questions raised by, say, a baker refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding.

“The courts, in the name of protecting religious liberty, typically have given religious organizations fairly wide latitude to engage in practices that might seem to be discriminatory in a secular context,” said Shawn Peters, an expert in religious freedom from UW-Madison.

The, ahem, good news is that if a gay person or her family wants a Christian burial, there are plenty of Christian churches that will provide it — as long as those wanting the funeral don’t consider Catholicism is the only true Christianity, in which case they shouldn’t expect a Catholic funeral anyway.

The bad news is that because of the Catholic Church’s considerable size and influence, the pronouncements of Morlino and Co. put Christianity generally in a bad light, while making it look as if longstanding tax breaks for Christian churches and clergy amount to government endorsement of bigotry.

Peters said he didn’t think that in our “current political environment” tax breaks for religious organizations are “seriously at risk.” But earlier this month a federal judge struck down a tax break for clergy housing allowances.

I’m not sure any occupation should be singled out for a housing-related tax break, although it seems a small indulgence given how little clergy are paid and how much they help raise for charity the government might otherwise have to provide. One 2013 analysis estimated Catholic groups spent some $30 billion on social services annually, although some of their funding comes from government.

Christians can find evidence of such mission work just about every Sunday at church. But the work looks less Christ-like if the church deems some people unworthy of Christ’s grace, including after they die.

Complete Article HERE!

10/27/17

Madison diocese advice to priests on LGBT funerals causes grief

File Under:  Insulated, monolithic, callous, tone deaf church power structure

 

A top aide to Bishop Robert Morino issued guidance to priests in the Catholic Diocese of Madison that critics say could limit the availability of funeral rites within the church for gay people.

Vicar General James Bartylla emailed a newsletter to priests earlier in October, with the bishop’s approval, that says rites “may be denied for manifest sinners” if they would cause unavoidable “public scandal of the faithful,” the Wisconsin State Journal reported this week.

The message laid out a series of “general considerations” for priests to keep in mind if asked to perform Catholic funeral rites by a deceased person’s family or same-sex partner, including whether “the deceased or the ‘partner’ was a ‘promoter of the gay lifestyle.’”

The “attitude” of the deceased’s family members, especially toward the church, and whether the deceased person showed “some signs of repentance before death,” also were cited as prominent considerations.

“My short answer to pastors and parochial vicars in these cases is to think through the issue thoroughly and prudently,” Bartylla wrote in the email. “The pastoral task is to minimize the risk of scandal and confusion to others amidst the solicitude for the deceased and family.”

Vicar General James Bartylla (she’s got issues)

Diocese spokesman Brent King in emails to the newspaper stressed what he described as the advisory nature of the vicar general’s message.

“The only word used in Saturday’s email was ‘consideration’ or ‘considerations,’” King said. “There were no directives, bans, or even real guidelines. other than what is written in canon law. If there was any directive, it was, ‘Think through the issue thoroughly and prudently.’”

The newsletter said any surviving partner “should not have any public or prominent role” at any church funeral rite.

It also said there should be no mention of the surviving partner’s name and no reference to “the unnatural union” in “any liturgical booklet, prayer card, homily, sermon, talk by the priest, deacon, etc.?…”

An advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics said the message only served to distance LGBT people and their families from the church.

“This document is the very antithesis of pastoral care,” Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, said in a statement . “It shows that this bishop believes that lesbian and gay people who have lived a deep commitment to a spouse or partner should be demeaned even in death. Our families could be refused the sacraments of our faith at the moment of their greatest grief.”

A diocesan statement criticized the public airing of Bartylla’s message, which emerged through the Minnesota-based progressive Catholic blog Pray Tell.

“Those who place at risk the ability of the bishop to communicate with his priests confidentially do a grave harm to the Church and perform, indeed, what Sacred Scripture calls ‘a work of darkness,’” the statement said.

Complete Article HERE!

09/26/17

Number of new trainee priests at Maynooth hits record low

Church of Ireland has twice as many students starting ministry studies

Six men have begun training for the Catholic priesthood at St Patrick’s College Maynooth this autumn, the lowest number since its foundation in 1795.

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Just six men have begun training for the Catholic priesthood at St Patrick’s College Maynooth this autumn, believed to be the lowest number since its foundation in 1795.

Twice as many students started training for ministry in the Church of Ireland this month, with 12 admissions, including two women, to the Church of Ireland Theological Institute in Dublin. In total there are 34 students in training at the institute, 10 of them women.

There are 41 men studying for priesthood in Maynooth.

According to the 2016 census, 78 per cent of the Republic’s population, or 3.7 million people, declared themselves Roman Catholic. The census found the Republic’s Church of Ireland population was 126,4 00, or 3.4 per cent of the population.

Pre-seminary year

The six men admitted to Maynooth include two seminarians from Killaloe diocese, and one each from Tuam, Cork & Ross, Elphin, and Kilmore.

In addition, two seminarians began training at the Irish College in Rome, one at St Malachy’s in Belfast and two at Beda College in Rome.

Earlier this year the Congregation for Clergy in Rome issued a document, The Gift of the Priestly Vocation, which strongly recommended that bishops around the world introduce a pre-seminary (propaedeutic) year for new candidates who wished to discern whether they had a vocation. Eight men have begun this propaedeutic year in locations around Ireland and abroad.

Last year 14 men began as seminarians in Maynooth. In 2015 the figure was 17, 14 in 2014 and 20 in 2013.

Controversy

In August last year the college was at the centre of controversy when it emerged the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said he was no longer going to send seminarians there because of its “poisonous” atmosphere.

He said students were accessing gay dating apps and anonymous letters were being circulated accusing seminarians of misconduct

The college administration said it shared “the concern” of Archbishop Martin about the “poisonous atmosphere”, created by anonymous correspondence and blogs. It added, however, there was “no concrete or credible evidence of the existence of any alleged ‘active gay subculture’,” at the seminary.

Last May it was announced a new president, Fr Michael Mullaney, had been appointed at the seminary and would hold office for the next three years as the Catholic bishops prepared plans to separate the seminary from the Pontifical University there.

A rector will then be appointed to oversee the seminary with a separate office of president appointed to run the associated university.

Complete Article HERE!