A bid to allow married priests in the Amazon ignites debate about celibacy

Pope Francis speaks to representatives of Amazon basin indigenous communities in January 2018. An October Vatican summit will focus on the Catholic Church in the Amazon.

By Chico Harlan

In the sprawling Amazon region, the Catholic Church is severely short on priests. Clerics trek from one town to the next, sometimes requiring military transport to get to their remote destinations. Communities can go months without a visit. The church, as a result, is struggling to hold its influence.

One new proposal to ease the shortage would allow older, married men in the region to be ordained as priests.

South American bishops have advocated for the idea, and Pope Francis has indicated some willingness to narrowly open the door to married men in this specific case. But the proposal has set off a debate about whether Francis is trying to bolster the ranks of the priesthood or upend its deep-rooted traditions.

A vocal band of conservatives says permitting married priests in the Amazon could alter — and undermine — the priesthood globally, weakening the church requirement of celibacy.

“I see a destruction of the priesthood,” Swiss Bishop Marian Eleganti said in a phone interview, claiming that liberal bishops and cardinals under Francis’s “shadow and protection” were working to enact the changes. “This is the beginning of the end for celibacy.”

The Amazon would not be the first exception. Married Anglican ministers, in some cases, have been welcomed into the Catholic priesthood after conversions. And Eastern Catholic churches, even those in communion with Rome, allow for married men in the priesthood.

But conservatives note that the rationale for installing married clerics in the Amazon exists, too, across Europe, North America and other parts of the world, where seminaries are closing and dioceses are sharing priests.

“It is the elevation of a model,” said Roberto de Mattei, president of the conservative Lepanto Foundation in Rome.

The discussion has gained steam ahead of a Vatican meeting, scheduled for October, focused on the church in the Amazon. Although the meeting has many broad aims — helping the environment, aiding indigenous communities — one paragraph in the event’s working document mentions the possibility of ordaining older men “even if they have an existing and stable family” as a way to make up for the Amazon’s severe priest shortage. The text affirms the standard church teaching that celibacy is a “gift for the Church” and says the proposed exception is a “way to sustain the Christian life.”

With Francis more willing than his predecessors to consider how the faith might adjust in the modern age, and with a conservative pope emeritus still living in Vatican City, the church has been riven by cultural battles over everything from homosexuality to Communion for divorcés. But the idea of altering a tenet of the priesthood has caused an unusually public conservative backlash, even by the standards of Francis’s papacy.

Traditionalist groups have scheduled counterprogramming in Rome for the days leading up to the summit. Conservative religious media groups have given detailed coverage to objections about the event, while publishing treatises written by like-minded prelates.

In a representative missive, Kazakh Bishop Athanasius Schneider argued that “everybody knows” introducing married clergy in the Amazon would produce a “domino effect” across the Western church. He warned that were Francis to support such a move, the pontiff would “violate his duty” and “cause an intermittent spiritual eclipse in the Church.” Though Schneider predicted that Christ would send “holy, courageous, and faithful popes” in future.

A German cardinal, Walter Brandmüller, warned about “the abolition of priestly celibacy and the introduction of a female priesthood,” and took issue with other theological aspects of the summit document, which he called “heretical.”

The working document mentions, vaguely, the possibility of looking at expanded ministry positions for women. But Francis has shown little interest in ordaining women as deacons — ministers below the rank of priests who can perform some sacraments.

A final document would be voted on at the conclusion of the summit.

In an interview last week with Italian newspaper La Stampa, Francis said that ordaining married men will “absolutely not” be one of the Amazon meeting’s main themes.

During a drought in 2015, a girl and dog play in front of a Catholic Church designed to float on Brazil’s Negro River.

Francis has stated clearly that he has no desire to significantly overhaul celibacy or make the practice optional. But during a news conference in January, he referenced what he described as an “interesting” book by retired bishop Fritz Lobinger, an advocate for married priests. Francis said he would consider ordaining “viri probati” — men of proven virtue — in “very far places . . . when there is a pastoral necessity.”

“I’m not saying that it should be done, because I have not reflected,” Francis said. “I have not prayed sufficiently about it.”

Lobinger, a German who spent his career in South Africa, said in a phone interview that, based on his assessment of the needs of dioceses across Asia, Africa and South America, the “possibility to ordain viri probati exists in all countries across the Southern Hemisphere.”

Progressive Catholics note that celibacy was not uniformly practiced during the church’s first millennium — and they say church teaching on the matter can be changed. Some early popes fathered children. Others were alleged to be sexually active during their pontificates. Celibacy was made law only during the Middle Ages, in part as a way to keep priestly wealth inside the church, rather than being divvied up among heirs.

In 1967, Pope Paul VI published a lengthy defense of the celibacy, calling it a “golden law” that should uphold every priest in dedication “to the public worship of God.” Four years later, bishops discussed a similar allowance for married men. A slight majority rejected the idea.

Today, some theologians and pundits, in a viewpoint with little support inside the Vatican, say celibacy has fueled the clerical sexual abuse crisis, fostering a culture in which even a consensual adult relationship becomes something to hide.

Some clerics make a different point: that legions of good would-be priests have stayed away, choosing instead to start families, to the detriment of the church.

“I think that we need married priests because we need more priests,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and a senior analyst at Religion News Service. “It’s as simple as that.”

According to Catholic tradition, priests are the only people who can perform all the sacraments of the church, including the Eucharist — the center of the Mass that Catholics are supposed to attend at least weekly. So the Catholic Church hasn’t been able to appoint lay people to fully substitute for clergy, as other denominations might.

German church historian Hubert Wolf, a celibacy critic who was invited by a summit organizer to Vatican City this summer, said in a phone interview that the Catholic Church “will be at its end” if it doesn’t incorporate married priests.

“This is the reason why the conservative part of the church is so aggressive,” Wolf said. “They are well aware that now is the time to talk about it.”

But traditionalists, instead, say they are on guard because they are suspicious that Francis, from Argentina, has chosen to hold a bishops’ meeting in Rome not on a universal theological issue, but on a particular region — a fairly small part of the Catholic empire.

Organizers have said the meeting is globally relevant for an obvious reason: because the church needs to evangelize in hard-to-reach places, and because the Amazon’s health is vital to the planet.

But Juan Miguel Montes, the Rome representative of the Plinio Correa di Oliveira Institute, a conservative Brazil-based Catholic group, said the meeting instead was a “laboratory experiment.”

With celibacy, he said, “they are trying to send a universal message.”

Complete Article HERE!

Debunking the ‘tradition argument’ against female ordination

Fr Kevin Hegarty

Ally Kateusz is a research associate at the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research. Earlier this year, she published a thought provoking book entitled ‘Mary and Early Christian Women – Hidden Leadership’. It punctures a hole in the Vatican argument against female ordination on the basis of tradition.

In the book, Kateusz shows how early-Christian documents revealing women in leadership positions were later censored to exclude them. She concludes that (i) there was a significant gender role modelled by Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the first phase of the Christian church; (ii) that women who were called apostles evangelised, preached, baptised and performed exorcisms and (iii) that women who presided at the altar table were called president, bishop, priest, presbyter, deacon and minister.

She also outlines the lives of four extraordinary women in the early church – Marianne, Irene, Nino and Thekla.

Nino, for example, baptised 40 women on her missionary journey to Iberia, where she preached and baptised several tribes, including their queen. Thekla was instructed by St Paul to preach and baptise. A later document censored the baptismal part of the instruction.

On July 2, at a conference of the International Society of Biblical Literature, which was held in the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Dr Kateusz outlined her research to the participants. She drew on iconography from ancient Christian art to buttress her argument that, in the early church, women served as deacons, priests and bishops.

One of the artefacts is an ivory reliquary box, kept in the old St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, dating from the fifth century. It shows a man and women standing on either side of the altar, each raising a chalice. Two other artefacts – a stone sarcophagus front in the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and an ivory hyx in the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, dating respectively from the fifth and sixth centuries – demonstrate similar female prominence.

Dr Kateusz believes that these images are significant because they show women and men in parallel roles, their bodies and gestures mirroring one another. She argues that this parallelism indicates their equality in liturgical roles, saying that the images ‘illustrate that early Christian women routinely preformed as clergy in Orthodox churches’. “The art speaks for itself because women are seen at the Church altar in three of the most important churches in Christendom,” she says.

No specific texts about male or female ordination exist for the first seven centuries of Christianity. Female ordination had been prohibited. The artefacts survived because they were buried and dug up in the 20th century. They provide ‘precious windows through which we can see the early Christian Liturgy as it was once performed’.

One of the participants at the conference, Miriam Duignan, was impressed by the research. She commented: “The Vatican will undoubtedly be reluctant to engage with these findings because they have led a campaign to exclude women via the current argument of tradition. But for most Catholics, the research will confirm what they suspected all along – that the ban on female clergy has always been about the silencing and suppression of women and never about the tradition.”

Complete Article HERE!

Indianapolis Archdiocese criticized after calling for firing of two gay Catholic schoolteachers

One school fires teacher at archbishop’s request, while another chooses to sever ties with the archdiocese

Indianapolis Archbishop Charles Thompson

The Indianapolis Catholic Archdiocese is currently in the midst of purging gay teachers in same-sex marriages from its schools.

The Archdiocese has been criticized for forcing schools to fire the individuals in question, or otherwise revoke the schools’ ability to identify as “Catholic.”

Most recently, Cathedral High School was forced to fire a married gay teacher after Archbishop Charles Thompson ordered them to do so or risk forfeiting their “Catholic identity.”

In a letter to the community, Cathedral High’s board of directors explained their decision to “separate from” the teacher.

“Archbishop Thompson made it clear that Cathedrals continued employment of a teacher in a public, same-sex marriage would result in our forfeiting our Catholic identity due to our employment of an individual living in contradiction to Catholic teaching on marriage,” the board wrote in the letter. “If this were to happen, Cathedral would lose the ability to celebrate the Sacraments as we have in the past 100 years with our students and community.

“Additionally, we would lose the privilege of reserving the Blessed Sacrament in our chapel’s tabernacle, we could no longer refer to Cathedral as a Catholic school, our diocesan priests would no longer be permitted to serve on our Board of Directors, and we would lose our affiliation with The Brothers of Holy Cross,” the letter continues. “Furthermore, Cathedral would lose its 501(c)(3) status thus rendering Cathedral unable to operate as a nonprofit school.”

The decision to comply with Thompson’s demands by firing the teacher came one week after the archdiocese severed ties with Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School over its refusal to fire a similarly situated teacher in a same-sex marriage.

Last year, two teachers in same-sex marriages who taught at a third school, Roncalli High, were fired under similar circumstances, reports The New York Times.

In a statement on its website referring to the firing of one of the Roncalli employees posted last August, the archdiocese explained that the issue surrounding the dismissed teachers had nothing to do with their sexual orientation, but Catholic Church teaching that marriage is a covenant, blessed by God, between a man and a woman.

The statement said that employees of the archdiocese’s Catholic schools are expected, and obligated, to act as “ministers of the faith” who must “convey and be supportive” of the Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality. The archdiocese released a similar statement this week echoing those sentiments.

By choosing to retain the openly gay married teacher, thus forfeiting its “Catholic” identity, Brebeuf will no longer be formally recognized by the archdiocese as a Catholic school, bringing the number of formally recognized high schools down to 10. In a short video message posted to Facebook, School President Father Bill Verbryke announced the archdiocese’s decision to sever its relationship with the school, but assured members of the school community that Brebeuf would continue to operate as an “independent, Catholic” school.

What makes Brebeuf unique from its fellow Catholic schools is that it is sponsored and run by the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order with a liberal reputation known for their emphasis on intellectual curiosity and questioning authority. Additionally, Brebeuf was never financially dependent on the archdiocese, thus allowing it a degree of freedom to defy the archbishop’s orders, whereas Roncalli and Cathedral were forced to comply when the archdiocese threatened to withdraw financial and institutional support.

Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School

Catholic League President Bill Donohue, a conservative firebrand who frequently appears on television to defend the Catholic Church’s stance on various issues, including its opposition to same-sex marriage, issued a statement praising Thompson’s decision to revoke Brebeuf’s Catholic status, arguing he acted “wisely and with great restraint.”

“Archbishop Thompson did not act impulsively. Two years ago, the teacher’s gay marriage became known on social media. It was therefore no longer a private matter,” Donohue said in a statement posted on the Catholic League’s website. “It is important to note that the archbishop did not demand that the teacher be fired, though he could have: the teacher flagrantly violated the terms of his contract. Thompson simply asked that his contract not be renewed.”

Donohue also criticized Fr. Brian Paulson, S.J., the head of the Jesuits’ Midwest Province, for his comments in support of allowing Brebeuf to make its own decision to retain the teacher.

“Those who defend the insubordination of the Jesuit school argue that lots of teachers in Catholic schools violate Church teachings in one way or another, yet they are not treated the way those who are in same-sex marriages are. That’s a lame defense,” Donohue wrote. “The difference is that in most cases Church officials would have to monitor the private lives of every teacher, often violating their privacy rights, or subject them to an inquisition. In the instance of the teacher in the gay marriage — and this is typical of such cases — the contractual violation was made public, thus inviting a showdown. That’s not a small difference.”

Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, Ind.

New Ways Ministry, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ reconciliation and inclusion within the Catholic Church, praised Brebeuf for its “courageous” stance and decision to follow its conscience, even at the risk of being penalized by the archdiocese.

“In Catholic teaching, violation of conscience is one of the most serious errors one can commit, certainly more serious than any violation of sexual ethics,” Francis DeBernardo, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “They were faced with a choice: lose the name ‘Catholic’ or lose what it really means to be Catholic. They chose the path of conscience, integrity, and justice.”

DeBernardo, who notes that New Ways Ministry has catalogued over 80 similar cases of LGBTQ employment disputes in the Catholic Church, dating back to 2008, also criticized the archdiocese for its “punitive policies.”

“What the archdiocese, and many other church officials, don’t get, is that firing LGBTQ teachers and pastoral ministers is a losing and self-defeating policy,” DeBernardo said. “Instead of accomplishing the task of defending a narrow orthodoxy focused solely on sexuality and gender issues, firing LGBTQ church workers causes more and more Catholics to see that the Church’s teaching on these matters does not reflect human reality or the mercy of God.  And these leaders ignore the demands of the Church’s social justice teaching, so clear to Catholics in the pews, that every person’s human dignity must be respected.”

DeBernardo added that the move could potentially alienate Catholics, particularly those of younger generations who value tolerance for LGBTQ individuals.

“Having already faced an uproar from the Brebeuf situation, the archdiocese would have been wise to avoid a second conflagration by having another LGBTQ employee fired. They did not,” he said of the decision to fire the Cathedral High teacher. “They should have chosen the path of pastoral reconciliation with a community already hurting, instead of exacerbating the wounds and extending them to yet another school community. Grave pastoral harm has been done, and it is now up to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to reverse its decisions, and help heal the damage that they have created.”

Complete Article HERE!

There is an obvious way for the Catholic Church to reduce child sex abuse, but bishops refuse to do it

By Jennifer Haselberger

America’s Catholic bishops are gathering this week to debate new measures to hold bishops and cardinals more accountable in cases of clergy sex abuse. They’ll likely say the problem is largely in the church’s past. What they won’t say is that they already know how to largely eliminate sexual misconduct with minors but won’t do it: Get out of youth ministry.

During the nearly 10 years I spent working as a canon lawyer in different dioceses in the United States, I saw firsthand that the U.S. church accepts the sexual abuse of minors as the cost of doing business the American way.

The American church’s business model relies on programs aimed at children and young males who might become priests. Those youth ministry programs, which happen outside the core worship experience, are where abuse happens. U.S. church officials know this, and they could reduce the abuse that still happens by getting out of the youth ministry business, but they won’t.

It is well established that Catholic scouting, summer camps, retreats, youth days and other programming designed to, as one upcoming Wisconsin program’s brochure called Totally Yours puts it, “ignite the hearts” of young Catholics, create contexts in which young people are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and mistreatment. There is ample evidence that, even in the post-Spotlight era, predators among the clergy and the laity seek out these opportunities to connect with Catholic youth.

The Vatican’s own press kit for the pope’s global “Meeting On the Protection of Minors” in February described a timeline of the church’s response to abuse. It noted that in Slovenia’s communist dictatorship, from 1945 to 1992, “Catholic education was almost nonexistent and for this reason the potential abusers did not have direct contact with minors.”

Yet, since 2002 the Catholic Church has doubled down on these forms of outreach, prioritizing its need to evangelize and develop the next generation of Catholics over the safety and well-being of the same.

It also turns a blind eye to the ongoing problem of clergy singling out some children for special attention under the guise of fostering vocations to the priesthood or religious life.

This remains a concerning factor in many of the cases of abuse that have occurred post-2002. Yet, the church does little, if anything, to combat this. Instead, it uses wording like this on a Seattle archdiocesan vocations blog, telling priests to “draw a young man aside” and use praise and “sincerity” to encourage him to consider the priesthood.

In any other context, this would be labeled grooming.

However, the church needs to address its priest shortage. As a result, parents and other guardians are socialized to relinquish oversight and even good judgment when it is a question of encouraging a child along this path.

There are countless other examples of the Catholic Church prioritizing its methods of operating over the safety of children.

The lack of willingness to confront the problem of clergy sex abuse of minors, and yet the drive to cover it up, are what led me to resign in 2013 as the chancellor for canonical affairs for the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul and bring everything I saw into the light as a whistleblower.

Dioceses like my own could delay expanding youth programming until it has fully functional, empirically supported and evidence-based methods in place for ensuring the safety of these programs. Instead, it continues to create new programs, like the annual archdiocesan Youth Day, which was first held in 2013. The archdiocese had learned about abuse by the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer in 2012, and although it had years worth of information about the potential danger the priest posed, it pretended that it had no indication of any potential for harm. I went public with my information the week before the event, and the county attorney launched an investigation that resulted in charges.

We don’t know if expanding the priesthood beyond an all-male, celibate clergy would eliminate sexual abuse, but the Catholic Church has made it clear that it won’t consider it even if it did. Likewise, the church is unwilling to embrace a shared-governance model including its laity, even though the primary agenda item for this week’s meeting is developing a means of addressing the frequent abuses and misuses that result from its current narrow concentration of power. Also, advocates for children continue to be outraged by the Catholic Church’s refusal to embrace seemingly common-sense reporting requirements because of some competing evangelization goal. For example, the church is fighting state laws requiring clerics to report sexual abuse they hear in the confessional, claiming such proposals violate religious freedom. As a canon lawyer, I can tell you such proposals can be easily accommodated within Catholic theology.

The Catholic Church is a religion, not a business, and therefore its operations must conform to higher considerations than merely profit and loss. Which in this case revolves around evangelization and recruiting priests.

To be clear, the issue isn’t about making or saving money. Safe environment training programs like Virtus, created by insurance providers, offer financial incentives for dioceses to participate as well as an affirmative defense in litigation. No, the currency here are souls, which the church argues it is saving by putting evangelization and priest-recruiting at the very top of the priority list, above child safety.

In an open, competitive religious American marketplace, the Catholic Church too must convince consumers that its product is the best on offer. To this end, its efforts at transparency and accountability would be greatly enhanced if its leaders would publicly acknowledge that eliminating sexual abuse by clergy is not the institution’s top priority and, furthermore, that its current efforts might reduce the frequency but are insufficient to eradicate the problem.

Statements like this would do more to deter coverups like the one I brought to light in 2013 that any other plan that is being put forward this week.

Complete Article HERE!

‘Queer Bible Hermeneutics’ course at college’s school of theology ‘always well-enrolled,’ professor says

‘Increasingly important research area in the academic field of biblical studies’

By Dave Urbanski

The professor who teaches “Queer Bible Hermeneutics” at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology told the College Fix that her course is “always well-enrolled.”

Susanne Scholz, professor of Old Testament at the Dallas-based school, added to the outlet that “students love to study materials that they have never encountered anywhere else in their previous studies on the undergrad level and at the seminary level.”

What is ‘Queer Bible Hermeneutics’ all about?

The course’s website states that it’s focused on the “influence of biblical meanings on hermeneutically dynamic, politically and religiously charged conversations over socio-cultural practices related to LGBTQ communities.””

The syllabus adds that queer hermeneutics is “an increasingly important research area in the academic field of biblical studies” and that the course will help students “understand the hermeneutical, theological, and cultural-political implications of reading the Bible as a queer text and its effects upon church, religion, and society at large.”

In addition, students will “learn to relate their notions about Christian ministry to the social contexts of today’s world and to engage the social, political, cultural, and theological implications of reading the Bible as part of contemporary debates on marriage-equality and the general mainstreaming of LGBTQ issues in Western societies, including churches,” the syllabus also states.

Origins of the course

Scholz told the College Fix she was inspired to teach the course following a same-sex marriage controversy involving Methodist minister Frank Schaefer who was defrocked for officiating a same-sex marriage ceremony for his son. Schaefer’s credentials later were restored.

“Rev. Schaefer’s situation made me realize that I need to teach my seminary students about queer Bible hermeneutics and to equip them to be intellectually, theologically, and biblically educated on the current debates on the Bible and queerness in the church, in academia, and in society,” she added to the outlet.

Scholz also said LGBTQ issues are a primary issue at the school of theology and in the Methodist denomination.

“Right now our UMC students seem to be rather concerned about the ecclesial situation about gay ordination and gay marriage in the [Methodist church],” she added to the Fix, noting that it’s “breaking the hearts of many UMC members, and our UMC students worry about their ministerial future in light of the decision to disallow gay ordination and gay marriages in UMC congregations.”

In February, the Methodist Church adopted the “Traditional Plan,” which continues to exclude “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from ordained ministry and prohibits clergy from officiating at same-sex weddings.

However, the Perkins School of Theology responded by saying the decision “in no way changes our institution’s historic stance of inclusion.”

“We are a diverse community that welcomes students, staff and faculty — including those who identify as LGBTQIA — from a wide range of traditions and perspectives,” the school’s statement added. “We see our inclusiveness as both an abiding strength and a positive goal.”

Complete Article HERE!