06/14/17

Let’s call child sexual abuse in the church what it is: Catholic extremism

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I’m taken with Abbott’s notion that we need to correctly name a challenge in order to meet it. Bland labels allow abusers to hide behind their institution

‘As a Catholic, I shudder at the thought. But I know that such labels would be truthful’

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Call it the Abbott Test for Moral Action. We can’t defeat a threat until we properly identify and name it, and the most important threats are those that have already proven deadly.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott led a chorus of voices last week demanding that political leaders define recent deadly terrorist attacks as Islamic. Abbott rejected concerns that such comments could inflame anti-Islam sentiment: “Islamophobia hasn’t killed anyone,” he said.

Abbott is wrong on that point. The recent murders in Portland, Oregon appear to be just the latest prompted by “Islamophobia.” But Abbott is right that we ought to correctly identify the mortal threats we face.

I’ve never had a problem using phrases like “radical Islam” or “extremist Islamic terrorists.” Being theologically trained, I understand that scripture is always interpreted in context and culture, and some interpretations are radical, extreme and seriously flawed.

I’m taken with this Abbottian notion that society needs to correctly name a challenge in order to meet it. I don’t often agree with the former prime minister, but he’s correct that we could better define those things that are currently killing Australians.

Let’s start with “institutional sexual abuse”. The current royal commission into institutional sexual abuse has heard thousands of submissions from victims and their families. Too many victims’ stories include suicide. In Ballarat, one police officer compiled a dossier of 43 deaths – suicides, overdoses and others – attributable to sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests and brothers in that diocese alone. (Another police report, Operation Plangere, disputed this finding, but Louise Milligan’s carefully researched book “Cardinal” lays out the flaws in Plangere’s investigations.)

“Institutional sexual abuse” is a phrase that describes where the abuse occurs rather than who perpetrated the abuse and who the victims are. I acknowledge the phrase has validity insofar as there are common factors in institutions that foster abuse, including absolute control of vulnerable people, lack of oversight, and a preference for organisational processes over the rule of law.

But the label “institutional sexual abuse” is too bland to confront us with the terror and deadly impact on the victims. It allows abusers – individually or as a class – to continue hiding behind the institution.

The phrase also fails to catch the important differences between institutions that lead some organisations to support more awful and systematic abuse than others.

The royal commission has heard from victims of abuse in many religious and state-run institutions, but the Catholic church (my church, and Abbott’s too) stands out. Over 4,000 cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic church were reported to the royal commission. These reports showed wilful ignorance by church leaders, systematic shielding of abusers and a continual preference for the perpetrator and the institution over the victim.

The royal commission is likely to make findings about how church beliefs and structures allowed abuse to occur. In Australia and elsewhere, such as in Ireland, priests, bishops and nuns have testified to a belief that prayer could cure paedophiles. Some have pointed to a belief that it was God’s work to protect the church’s reputation by not reporting abuse to the police. Had the church been drawn into such scandal, thousands of souls might have lost their faith and been in jeopardy.

The end result of this flawed theology and ecclesiology is the nauseating, terrifying, grotesque, ritualised and repeated violent assaults and rapes of children by Catholic clergy and religious.

Should we label this “Catholic terrorism”? The Australian victims of sexual abuse have been terrorised by the Catholic church, no doubt. Is it “radical Catholic ideology” or “extremist Catholic belief” to cover up the sin of sexual abuse for “the greater good”? It’s hard to deny it.

As a Catholic, I shudder at the thought. But I know that such labels would be truthful. And I know, as Abbott argues, that if we really want to solve the problem of the child sexual abuse by Catholic religious (priests, brothers and nuns) then we should name it appropriately.

I posed this question on Twitter last week: should we call this Catholic extremism? One of the police officers who blew the whistle on the sexual abuse of children in the Australian Catholic church, Peter Fox, responded “I’d call it organised crime.” He’s right. But it is more than that. It is a warped, extreme and deeply flawed interpretation of the Catholic faith that led to such crimes.

And we should not comfort ourselves that this distorted theology and these crimes are necessarily a thing of the past. If anything, seminaries are becoming more orthodox and traditional. Little has changed in structure or governance of the Catholic church. As Cardinal Pell told commissioner McClellan, the church’s structure came from God. Why would the church change it?

Under the Abbott test, we should call such flawed thinking out. We must name it. It’s Catholic extremism. It’s killing and terrorising Australians.

Unless we see it for what it is, we will remain powerless to stop it.

Complete Article HERE!

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06/8/17

Church of Scotland just voted to allow same-sex marriage

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The Scottish Episcopal Church has become the first Anglican church in the UK to approve same-sex marriage.

by Lewis Corner

The Bishops, Clergy and Laity in the House of Synod all voted in favour to marry gay and lesbian couples in their churches.

The decisive vote saw the House of Bishops vote 4-1 in favour, the House of Clergy 42-20 in favour, and the House of Laity 50-12 in favour.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Scotland since December 2014, but an exemption in the law meant that individual churches were able to choose whether or not they wanted to perform such unions.

However, gay Christian couples will now be able to get married in a church in Scotland if they chose to do so.

The Church of Scotland’s decision comes after the Church of England released a report back in January that upheld their view that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

They added that there was still “little support for changing the Church of England’s teaching on marriage.”

However, the church’s democratic governing body rejected a call for continued opposition to same-sex marriage in February.

It meant that the Bishops have had to go away and produce a brand new report on the issue.

Hopefully the progress in Scotland will steer them in the right direction…

Complete Article HERE!

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06/4/17

Rev. Fuller is not your average Roman Catholic priest

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by NANCY FORNASIERO

Rev. Fuller, pastor of a newly formed faith community in Pickering, has been revising, refining and rehearsing the homily for this weekend’s inaugural mass at St. Mary of Magdalene the First Apostle Catholic Faith Community.

Inspiration came from Scripture (Acts 2:17-18): “God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. … Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”

The passage connects the theme of Pentecost – a feast day celebrated in all Christian churches this weekend – to gender equality and inclusivity, issues close to Rev. Fuller’s heart.

But Rev. Fuller is no ordinary Catholic priest prepping to preach to his flock; rather this is Rev. Roberta Fuller, an ordained Roman Catholic Woman Priest (RCWP). The petite septuagenarian and retired high-school teacher is regarded by some as a courageous spiritual leader and by others as a disrespectful dissident.

Ordained in 2011, Rev. Fuller maintains she has as legitimate a claim to the priesthood as any male Catholic priest. The Vatican disagrees and warns that sacraments performed by women priests are just “simulations.” Women priests are forbidden to serve in any official capacity and in 2007 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under Pope Benedict XVI, decreed automatic excommunication against anyone “who attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive a sacred order.”

Neil MacCarthy, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Toronto, says that the parish’s home, Dunbarton-Fairport United Church, reflects the illegitimacy of Rev. Fuller’s congregation.

“The very fact that their services take place in a United Church should be a clear indication that what is happening is not, in any way, sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church.”

There are 12 women Catholic priests in Canada (and some 300 worldwide); many hold their masses in sympathetic United churches. Rev. Fuller launched a similar progressive community, Church of the Beatitudes, in the Toronto neighbourhood of Roncesvalles in 2014. The parish attracted a devoted, if modestly sized, flock varying in size from week to week, with 40 at most in attendance. Sometimes there were as few as half a dozen in the pews. She is hoping for more robust attendance in this new community. The Pickering services will be held the first and third Saturday of the month.

Rev. Fuller rejects the notion that her ordination and calling are illegitimate. “That’s simply not true,” she says. “Despite what some bishops lead the faithful to believe, we follow and honour Roman Catholic tradition and the liturgy of the church.

“We are ordained in apostolic succession just like any priest.”

The RCWP movement was born in 2002 when a Catholic bishop (known as Bishop X to protect his identity) broke with tradition and ordained seven women. Guided by his own conscience, he conducted the ceremony on a boat on the Danube River to avoid diocesan jurisdiction and interference. These original women priests are often referred to as “the Danube Seven.” Apostolic succession comes into play because Bishop X, who had been ordained by another bishop in good standing, is linked to a line of bishops that goes back to the time of the Apostles. Supporters argue this lineage now extends to the rebellious women on the Danube and all their successors.

Rev. Fuller, who isn’t too concerned about canon law and Vatican pronouncements, remains focused on her mission: “to foster loving, supportive communities where all are welcomed at the table.” On the invitation to the inaugural mass, she describes St. Mary Magdalene as a “radically reform, inclusive parish that celebrates all sacraments and serves the community while working for gender equity and social justice for every woman, man and child.”

Rev. Fuller believes that too many people – the LGBTQ community, and divorced and remarried Catholics – have been made to feel like second-class Catholics for too long.

Jeff Doucette, pastor at Dunbarton-Fairport United Church, says his own ministry is totally aligned to Rev. Fuller’s vision of inclusiveness. “When I heard Roberta needed a place, I immediately wanted to support her. I felt confident that our board would agree, and I was right. They voted unanimously to allow her to celebrate mass here.”

Rev. Doucette is a former Roman Catholic priest who left, in part, because of the chasm between his own beliefs around justice and those of the church. He met Rev. Fuller after he read about her original parish in Toronto and, impressed by what she was doing, decided to go meet her.

“It floors me that the Catholic Church is still so rigid about this,” he says. “We have amazing women leading our United Church congregations. And there are incredible Catholic women, with authentic callings, who can bring a whole side to the gospel that we as men can never bring. Leaving them out of the equation is like asking the church to breathe with one lung.”

It frustrates Rev. Fuller immensely that women are willing to serve and yet the church instead recruits male clergy from all over the world – many with limited English-language skills and a cultural disconnect with their parishioners. “When I was studying theology at St. Michael’s College [in the University of Toronto], I met so many capable qualified young women who could fill the priest shortage. But the door is shut to them.”

People often ask Rev. Fuller, a life-long feminist and human-rights activist, why she keeps struggling with an institution as patriarchal as the Roman Catholic Church, particularly when she could easily step into a leadership position in almost any other Christian denomination.

“I stay because I’m a Roman Catholic. I have the right to remain a Roman Catholic. I believe we all have the right to equality both in and outside of the church.”

Complete Article HERE!

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06/2/17

Church saw sharp rise in clergy sex abuse victims who came forward last year

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The number of victims who brought new claims of sexual abuse by clergy rose sharply last year, fueled in large part by a surge of allegations from Minnesota, according to a report released Thursday by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

That state temporarily lifted its statute of limitations in 2013 to allow alleged victims older than 24 to sue for past abuse, and the deadline to file such claims was in late May 2016, according to the report. The deadline is believed to have prompted a rush of last-minute filings.

The annual report from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which covers July 2015 to June 2016, said 911 victims came forward with allegations the church deemed credible, the vast majority of which were from adults who said they were abused when they were children.

That was up from 384 in the previous 12-month span, and it marked the highest total since 1,083 victims came forward in 2004, the first year the bishops conference published an annual report on the topic amid the fallout of the abuse crisis that was exposed in the early 2000s.

“I am grateful that allegations are being reported,” Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the conference’s Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection, wrote in the report. “I am grateful that alleged victims are being treated with sensitivity and care. I am grateful that alleged offenders are offered treatment and supervision. But much work is still needed.

“May God bless our victims/survivors and our endeavors toward healing, justice, and peace,” he added.

The report did not break down the number of complaints in the most recent year that came from Minnesota but said they were a “substantial portion.”

The report also noted that the November 2015 release of the movie “Spotlight,’’ which recounted The Boston Globe’s investigation of the clergy-abuse crisis, “helped bring the issue back into the mind of the general public.’’

“As the movie illustrates, it was because of a few brave individuals who had the courage to come forward that the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church was brought to light,” the report says.

Victims who came forward during the most recent reporting year included 26 minors, the report said.

The report’s definition of “minors” included people under age 18 or anyone who “habitually lacks the use of reason.”

As of June 30, 2016, two of the 26 cases had been substantiated, while 11 had been deemed unsubstantiated by church officials. The rest remained under investigation, the report said.

The offenders in the substantiated cases were removed from ministry, as were 26 other priests or deacons accused of past abuse, officials said.

The report did not break down the location of the allegations but said its data was based on information from all 196 diocese and eparchies of the bishops conference, which includes the Archdiocese of Boston, and from 180 of the 232 religious institutes of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men.

The latest figures mean that between 1950 and June 2016, more than 18,500 people nationwide made clergy abuse allegations deemed credible by US Catholic officials, and more than 6,700 clerics have been accused of abuse, church records show.

Activists have questioned whether the church’s count of clergy sex abuse victims is lower than the actual total.

The abuse crisis has cost the church billions of dollars.

Between 1950 and June 2016, about $3.7 billion was spent on settlement-related costs, including $141 million during the most recent year, according to the church.

Complete Article HERE!

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06/2/17

The challenge of being both gay and Catholic

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When I entered the Catholic Church in 1998, I had never met another gay person who accepted and intended to live out the Catholic sexual ethic in which sex is reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. I had never even heard of such a person. I didn’t care, since I was full of blithe 19-year-old overconfidence (“Seems like nobody’s done this before, but surely it will be a cinch for moi!”), but life without models and guidance proved lonely and confusing.

Since then the community of LGBT people seeking to live out the historical Christian sexual ethic has become far more vocal. There are a few small guidebooks: Wesley Hill’s “Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian,” Tim Otto’s “Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict Over Gay Relationships” and my book “Gay and Catholic,” which suggest ways for gay people to lead lives of love in traditional churches.

I would love more books to add to this tiny shelf, especially a book in which LGBT people seeking to live within church teaching are considered part of both the global church and the LGBT community. Gay people who accept celibacy out of obedience to our churches face challenges common to all Christian disciples. We also face the all-too-common LGBT experiences of violence, discrimination and isolation. And we have the unique experience of trying to serve and love in churches that often seem embarrassed by our existence and silent about our futures. I’d love a book about the gifts LGBT people can bring to our churches, and the compassionate and creative guidance we need from those churches.

A new book by the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, called “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity” is not the book I’ve longed for. It’s a slender book stitched together from a speech, Bible passages with questions for reflection, and a moving “Prayer When I Feel Rejected.”

Martin defines the church as “the institutional church — that is, the Vatican, the hierarchy, church officials, and the clergy.” He aims to persuade these priests and bishops to listen better to gay people and our families, and to persuade gay people to be more polite and thoughtful in our criticisms of mitered folk.

Martin was startled by many Catholic leaders’ response to the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last year. Hearing church leaders deplore violence but refuse to acknowledge that the people targeted were gay, Martin called for a bridge between the two groups.

Martin calls on church leaders “to proclaim God’s love for a people who are often made to feel, whether by their families, neighbors, or religious leaders, as though they were damaged goods, unworthy of ministry, and even subhuman.” And he calls on LGBT people to give the Catholic hierarchy “simple human respect … in keeping with our Christian call,” instead of mockery.

Martin never hints that gay people exist who seek to live in obedience to the Catholic Church. Fair enough — not every book has to be for everybody, and people in my situation are a tiny minority. But we may be able to offer insights into areas this book carefully avoids.

For example, why is this conversation so hard in the first place? “Building a Bridge” doesn’t raise the question of why LGBT people and the Catholic Church so often seem like two separate, hostile camps. The Catholic sexual ethic is this book’s embarrassing secret. It’s never mentioned, and so the difficulties the teaching itself poses for gay Catholics in our culture are never addressed.

I’m deeply sympathetic to the attempt to have a conversation about gay people and the church that never mentions sex or chastity; too often even the most “respectful” statements from the Catholic Church hierarchy have a strong flavor of “Jesus loves you, but here’s how you’ve got to behave.” But I’m not sure it’s wise to write as if all the church is asking is for gay people simply to be nicer.

The church is not just a bunch of dudes in special clothes. If we picked our religion based on whose leaders were most personally trustworthy, nobody would be Catholic. But the Catholic Church is the bride of Christ — our mother, as terrible as an army with banners (Song of Songs 6:10) — and she asks a much higher “bridge toll” of everyone than this book admits.

The church asks more of her leaders than mere respect and sensitivity (although God knows that would be a good start). She asks of them repentance and amends for the ways in which they’ve made so many churches hostile to gay members, treating us as problems to be fixed or silenced.

And the church asks gay people to do our best to forgive. She asks us to have the courage to live out forgotten forms of Christian love, including same-sex love: devoted friendship, celibate partnership, intentional community and more.

In a culture where everything from pop songs to health insurance urges us to structure our lives around romance and marriage, gay Christians have a chance — or a duty — to show that you can make a life of devotion, joy and mutual sacrifice within celibacy. And straight Christians have a chance not only to live the models we’ve shown them, following the paths we’ve blazed, but to support us when our callings to nonmarital love leave us economically or emotionally vulnerable.

Scripture shows us the covenant friendship of David and Jonathan, the devoted kinship of Ruth and Naomi. Jesus, the God who is love, loved more deeply than any human being. Jesus’ celibacy helped us see what it means to dedicate your life to God and the people of God.

Martin writes eloquently of the gifts LGBT Christians can bring our churches. But aside from a vague reference to “social justice issues,” he doesn’t suggest that our church can guide and teach us. Martin has written well on celibacy for priests and others who have taken religious vows, as in his 2002 New York Times op-ed, “Choosing Celibacy.” I wish in his new book he had explored celibate witness more deeply, or reflected on scriptural models by which gay people could understand our longings for same-sex love and intimacy. If we are all the church together, LGBT laypeople who seek to live in obedience to the church have a place as well as those who dissent.

After the Pulse shooting, Washington area houses of worship held an interfaith vigil. The participants were of every sexual orientation and many beliefs; celibate gay people stood alongside those in same-sex marriages to mourn and pray. Sometimes it can be harder to come together in ordinary times than in the wake of crisis. But our challenge is to be honest about our beliefs — even the ones we find most challenging — while welcoming and cherishing those who disagree.

Still, Martin offers LGBT Catholics who accept our church’s teachings something we need desperately, in his use of Psalm 139, exploring how God knows us completely and loves us unshakably. No matter what we do or where we go, God is there with us. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made”: formed, from the very first moments of our lives, by God’s love.

Complete Article HERE!

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