Why Lebanon’s priests think marriage is better than celibacy

Charles Kassas, a priest in Bziza, a rural village in north Lebanon, celebrates mass, Bziza, Lebanon, January 2020.

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Every Sunday at 10:30 a.m., Father Charles celebrates mass in Bziza, a rural village in north Lebanon. On this particular day in January, he tells the congregation of a hundred how angel Gabriel revealed to Mary that she was pregnant. Then they stand to sing and kneel to pray.

After the Eucharist, Charles Kassas takes off his white cassock to join his wife Brigitte and their three children — Nadim, Celine and Mathieu. In Western countries where priests must take vows of chastity that scene would cause a scandal, but in Lebanon it is very common.

“Of course I know he is married, so what? It would be strange if he weren’t!” says an old woman exiting the church.

In Bziza, the majority of the population is Christian Maronite — members of the Eastern Catholic Church founded in the 5th century. It follows the Vatican but does not require priests to be single. As a result, more than half of the priests in Lebanon have a family.

In Lebanon, other catholic communities — including Greek Catholics, Armenian Catholics and Syrian Catholics — also widely accept married priests.

For Kassas, there is no contradiction between conjugality and the call of God — in fact, it is just the opposite. He thinks that having a family gives him personal balance. “You can’t serve others if you are not at peace. Being a husband to my wife and a parent to my children helps me being a better father to the parish,” he told Al-Monitor.

Charles and Brigitte have been married for over 20 years. In small parishes like this one, the priest’s wife has an important social role. In Arabic, she is called “khouriye,” the feminine for “khoury” — priest.

“She is the strength that holds up our family and she is a real partner for me,” Kassas added.

A priest’s wife is expected to attend church celebrations and all other events such as births, christenings, weddings and funerals. She can sometimes give advice and is the go-to person when her husband is unavailable. Their family home must be open to visitors 24/7.

“It’s not easy at all. When I got married I didn’t know being a priest’s wife would require so much. There is always something to do, someone to visit, someone to accommodate,” she told Al-Monitor.

To prepare women to endorse that role, several priests’ wives have set up workshops and training programs for young brides.

In larger towns and cities, priests tend to work from an office. Their homes are private and their wives have fewer responsibilities toward the churchgoers.

Married priests are a tradition that dates back to the early days of Christianity, before the Latin Church banned it in the 11th century. For a long time in Lebanon, villagers would choose their priests from among married men who had already proven they could be in charge of a family. Those who wished to remain single would join monasteries to become monks.

Today, the question of whether or not to get married usually arises during seminary studies in Lebanon.

Charles took his decision when he was 25, during his fourth year of theological studies. “I came to the conclusion that I wanted to join priesthood, but I also deeply wished to have a family. I felt the need to be loved by a woman and to have children,” he told Al-Monitor.

When asked if he would have been able to give up family life for God, like European priests do — he said he wouldn’t have. “Some people can live like hermits — I can’t. I don’t have the capacity to endure that kind of loneliness,” he said.

Allowing married men to become priests is also a way for the Church to welcome older people who have had another life before.

This is the case of Mansour Zeidan. At the age of 36, he is about to switch careers. For the time being, he is the proud owner of Mr & Mrs Clown, a birthday events company he created 10 years ago. But costumes and party decorations will soon be part of his past. In a few weeks, he will be ordained priest.

“I’m afraid he will spend all his time in church and leave me alone with our son,” Yolla, his wife, said.

“I wanted to have the time to try several things before making my decision,” he said, listing his previous jobs as a supermarket cashier, night watchman, site manager and school supervisor.

Zeidan is studying hard to join priesthood. He takes theology courses at the university and is finishing a practical training in a church near Beirut.

Father Marwan Mouawad, who is also married, teaches him how to draw on his experience as a family man to feed his relationship with the faithful. “When it comes to man and wife issues for instance or the parent-child relationship, it is not just theories for us; we can take examples from our personal lives and for people that is very important,” Mouawad told Al-Monitor.

At night, Zeidan joins a group of seminarians in Burj Hammoud, a deprived neighborhood near Beirut. Between meal distributions and prayer circles, future clerics discuss marriage.

“Being a priest is a vocation but so is having a family. It is dangerous to stifle an inner desire at the expense of the other; you can never be happy that way,” said Charbel Fakhry, a 29-year-old seminarian who chose celibacy.

While married men can become priests, it does not work the other way around. Priests who are ordained while single can’t change their minds later. They can aspire, however, to climb up the hierarchy and become bishops, which is forbidden for married priests.

Johnny Estephan, 22, is still undecided. “A father has a sense of responsibility, he knows what it is to get up at 2 a.m. to feed a baby. It prepares you to be in charge of a parish, but you have to be able to handle both,” he told Al-Monitor.

You must also be able to support your family. In Lebanon, a priest’s salary at roughly $400 a month is not enough. Therefore, priests often have another job.

After his ordination, Zeidan plans to resume his old job as a supervisor in a Christian school. He also dreams of having a second child.

Complete Article HERE!

German Bishops Rethink Catholic Teachings Amid Talk of ‘Schism’

Conservatives, particularly in the U.S., greet the prospect with alarm

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich (far left) during an audience with Pope Francis (right) at the Vatican last year

By Francis X. Rocca

Germany’s Catholic bishops will meet in Frankfurt on Thursday to launch their most ambitious effort yet in their role as the church’s liberal vanguard: a two-year series of talks rethinking church teaching and practice on topics including homosexuality, priestly celibacy, and the ordination of women.

Conservatives in Germany and abroad are greeting the prospect with alarm, and nowhere more so than in the U.S., whose episcopate has emerged as the western world’s foremost resistance to progressive trends under Pope Francis.

The tension between the groups epitomizes significant divisions in the church, which some warn could lead to a permanent split.

Earlier in January, a group of conservative Catholics from various countries, including Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former Vatican envoy to the U.S. who has become one of the pope’s harshest critics, gathered in Munich to warn that the German initiative would result in “the constitution of a church separate from Rome.”

The event starting this week originated as a response to the scandal over sex abuse of minors by Catholic priests. A 2018 report on the crisis in Germany called for a more positive attitude to homosexuality and more attention to the challenge of celibacy. Catholic women’s groups later prevailed on the gathering to also address the question of gender equity in the church’s leadership.

The decline of the Catholic Church in Germany has accelerated amid the scandals and growing secularization. According to the church’s latest statistics, 216,078 people left the church in 2018—a leap of 29% from the previous year. A poll published in January by the Forsa Institute showed that only 14% of Germans trusted the Catholic Church, down from 18% the previous year. Trust in Pope Francis fell to 29% from 34%.

However, the church in Germany is prospering as never before in material terms, receiving a record €6.6 billion ($7.3 billion) through a state-collected tax in 2018. German bishops are among the biggest financial supporters of the Vatican and of Catholic institutions in the developing world.

German bishops have enjoyed rising influence under Pope Francis, reflected in his policies of greater leniency on divorce and more autonomy for local church authorities on matters such as liturgy—moves long advocated by German theologians.

The leaders of the German synod, which will include representatives of Catholic laypeople, say they are offering it as a model for the church at large.

Ludwig Ring-Eifel, head of the German bishops’ news agency, estimates that around two thirds of the bishops—the threshold for passing a resolution—support the ordination of married men and women deacons and half are in favor of blessings for same-sex unions.

American conservatives say that for a branch of the church even to consider such moves poses a threat to unity.

“The German bishops continue move toward #schism from the universal Church,” Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver said on Twitter in September.

A minority of German bishops share such fears—and look to the U.S. for support. Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne, leader of the German conservatives, traveled last summer to the U.S., where he visited various church institutions and met with some of his most prominent American counterparts.

“Everywhere, I encountered concern about the current developments in Germany,” the cardinal later told his diocesan newspaper. “In many meetings, the worry was tangible that the ’synodal path’ is leading us on a German special path, that in the worst case we could even put communion with the universal church at risk and become a German national church.”

Pope Francis himself has cautioned the Germans not to stray too far.

“Every time an ecclesial community has tried to get out of its problems alone, relying solely on its own strengths, methods and intelligence, it has ended up multiplying and nurturing the evils it wanted to overcome,” the pope said in an open letter to German Catholics in June.

But after meeting with the pope and Vatican officials in September, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, chairman of the German bishops conference, said: “There are no stop signs from Rome.”

In fact, when Pope Francis has publicly entertained the possibility of a split in the church, it has been in regards to the U.S., not Germany.

“There is always the option for schism,” the pope said in September, in response to a reporter’s question about conservative American opposition to his agenda. “I pray that schisms do not happen, but I am not afraid of them.”

That lack of fear could be because only the pope can decide whether or not a state of schism even exists, said Adam DeVille, a professor of theology at Indiana’s University of Saint Francis.

“If things get too far out of hand one way or another, I can see him acting in extreme but selective cases,” to stop any separatist moves, Mr. DeVille said.

“All it would take would be the sudden forced ‘retirement’ of a couple especially outspoken or perceived troublemakers, in Germany or anywhere else, for the others to shut up, and fall docilely in line,” he added.

Complete Article HERE!

NFL’s Saints seek to shield PR help to church in sex crisis

In this Oct. 23, 2016, file photo, a New Orleans Saints helmet rests on the playing field before an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo. The Saints are going to court to keep the public from seeing hundreds of emails that allegedly show team executives doing public relations damage control for the area’s Roman Catholic archdiocese to help it contain the fallout from a burgeoning sexual abuse crisis.

By JIM MUSTIAN

The New Orleans Saints are going to court to keep the public from seeing hundreds of emails that allegedly show team executives doing public relations damage control for the area’s Roman Catholic archdiocese to help it contain the fallout from a burgeoning sexual abuse crisis.

Attorneys for about two dozen men suing the church say in court filings that the 276 documents they obtained through discovery show that the NFL team, whose owner is devoutly Catholic, aided the Archdiocese of New Orleans in its “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes.”

“Obviously, the Saints should not be in the business of assisting the Archdiocese, and the Saints’ public relations team is not in the business of managing the public relations of criminals engaged in pedophilia,” the attorneys wrote in a court filing. “The Saints realize that if the documents at issue are made public, this professional sports organization also will be smearing itself.”

The Saints organization and its attorneys emphatically disputed any suggestion that the team helped the church cover up crimes. In a statement Friday, the Saints said the archdiocese sought its advice on how to handle media attention that would come from its 2018 release of its list of more than 50 clergy members “credibly accused” of sexual abuse.

“The advice was simple and never wavering. Be direct, open and fully transparent, while making sure that all law enforcement agencies were alerted,” the team said.

The team added that it has “no interest in concealing information from the press or public” and that it “merely requested the court to apply the normal rules of civil discovery.” However, attorneys for the Saints argued in court papers this month that the 2018-19 emails were intended to be private and should not be “fodder for the public.”

The archdiocese is also fighting the release of the emails.

The National Football League, which was advised of the matter by plaintiffs’ attorneys because the Saints’ emails used the team’s nfl.com domain, has not commented on the case. NFL policy says everyone who is a part of the league must refrain from “conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in” the NFL.
For more AP coverage of the clergy abuse crisis: The Reckoning

A court-appointed special master is expected to hear arguments in the coming weeks on whether the communications should remain confidential.

The Associated Press, which has extensively covered clergy sexual abuse in a series of stories over the past year, filed a motion with the court supporting the release of the documents as a matter of public interest.

“This case does not involve intensely private individuals who are dragged into the spotlight,” the AP argued, “but well-known mega-institutions that collect millions of dollars from local residents to support their activities.”

Ties between local church leaders and the Saints include a close friendship between New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond and Gayle Benson, who inherited the Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans basketball team when her husband, Tom Benson, died in 2018. The archbishop was at Gayle Benson’s side as she walked in the funeral procession.

Gayle Benson has given millions of dollars to Catholic institutions in the New Orleans area, and the archbishop is a regular guest of hers at games and charitable events for the church.

Attorneys for the men suing the church say “multiple” Saints personnel, including Senior Vice President of Communications Greg Bensel, used their team email to advise church officials on “messaging” and how to soften the impact of the archdiocese’s release of the list of credibly accused clergy.

“The information at issue bears a relationship to these crimes because it is a continuation of the Archdiocese’s pattern and practice of concealing its crimes so that the public does not discover its criminal behavior,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote. “And the Saints joined in.”

In this March 21, 2018, file photo, Gayle Benson, widow of NFL New Orleans Saints and NBA New Orleans Pelicans owner Tom Benson, walks down the steps to receive his casket with New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond

Attorneys for the Saints acknowledged in a court filing that the team assisted the archdiocese in its publishing of the list but said that was an act of disclosure — “the opposite of concealment.”

In its statement, the team its executives and ownership “remain offended, disappointed and repulsed by the actions of certain past clergy. We remain steadfast in support of the victims who have suffered and pray for their continued healing.”

A handful of Saints emails that emerged last year in the clergy abuse litigation included an October 2018 exchange in which Bensel asked an archdiocese spokeswoman whether there might be “a benefit to saying we support a victims right to pursue a remedy through the courts.”

“I don’t think we want to say we ‘support’ victims going to the courts,” Sarah McDonald, the archdiocese’s communications director, replied, “but we certainly encourage them to come forward.”

The fight over the emails is part of a flurry of claims filed against the archdiocese over its employment of George F. Brignac, a longtime schoolteacher and deacon who was removed from the ministry in 1988 after a 7-year-old boy accused him of fondling him at a Christmas party. That accusation followed claims that Briganc abused several other boys, including one case that led to his acquittal in 1978 on three counts of indecent behavior with a juvenile.

Church officials permitted Brignac, 85, to act as a lay minister until local news accounts of his service in 2018 prompted his ouster and an apology from the archdiocese. The AP last year reported that Brignac, despite his supposed defrocking, also maintained access to schoolchildren and held leadership roles as recently as 2018 in the Knights of Columbus.

Following a new wave of publicity — in which Brignac told a reporter he had touched boys but never for “immoral purposes” — Brignac was indicted last month on a rape charge that could land him behind bars for the rest of his life. The prosecution came more than a year after a former altar boy told police that Brignac repeatedly raped him beginning in the late 1970s. Police said the abuse began when the boy was 7 and continued until he was 11.

The archdiocese, meanwhile, has settled several lawsuits against Brignac and included the former deacon on its credibly accused list.

A lawyer for the archdiocese, E. Dirk Wegmann, said earlier this month that the plaintiffs’ attorneys seeking the release of the emails are engaged in a “proverbial witch hunt with respect to decades-old abuse” and want to give the messages to the media to “unfairly try to tar and feather the archdiocese.”

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican women’s magazine blames drop in nuns on abuses

Pope Francis touches his ear as he meets faithful in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican during his weekly general audience, Wednesday Jan. 22, 2020.

By Nicole Winfield

The Vatican women’s magazine is blaming the drastic drop in the number of nuns worldwide in part on their wretched working conditions and the sexual abuse and abuses of power they suffer at the hands of priests and their own superiors.

“Women Church World” dedicated its February issue to the burnout, trauma and exploitation experienced by religious sisters and how the church is realizing it must change its ways if it wants to attract new vocations.

The magazine published Thursday revealed that Pope Francis had authorized the creation of a special home in Rome for nuns who were kicked out of their orders and all but left on the street, some forced into prostitution to survive.

“There are some really tough cases, in which the superiors withheld the identity documents of the sisters who wanted to leave the convent, or who were kicked out,” the head of the Vatican’s religious orders congregation, Cardinal Joao Braz di Aviz, told the magazine.

“There were also cases of prostitution to be able to provide for themselves,” he said. “These are ex-nuns!”

“We are dealing with people who are wounded, and for whom we have to rebuild trust. We have to change this attitude of rejection, the temptation to ignore these people and say ‘you’re not our problem anymore.’’”

“All of this must absolutely change,” he said.

The Catholic Church has seen a continuing free fall in the number of nuns around the world, as elderly sisters die and fewer young ones take their place. Vatican statistics from 2016 show the number of sisters was down 10,885 from the previous year to 659,445 globally. Ten years prior, there were 753,400 nuns around the world, meaning the Catholic Church shed nearly 100,000 sisters in the span of a decade.

European nuns regularly fare the worst, Latin American numbers are stable and the numbers are rising in Asia and Africa.

The magazine has made headlines in the past with articles exposing the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and the slave-like conditions sisters are often forced to work under, without contracts and doing menial jobs like cleaning for cardinals.

The drop in their numbers has resulted in the closure of convents around Europe, and the ensuing battle between the remaining sisters and diocesan bishops or the Vatican for control of their assets.

Braz insisted the assets don’t belong to the sisters themselves, but the entire church, and called for a new culture of exchange, so that “five nuns aren’t managing an enormous patrimony” while other orders go broke.

Braz acknowledged the problem of nuns being sexually abused by priests and bishops. But he said in recent times, his office has also heard from nuns who were abused by other nuns — including one congregation with nine cases.

There were also cases of gross abuses of power.

“We’ve had cases, not many thank goodness, of superiors who once they were elected refused to step down. They went around all the rules,” he was quoted as saying. “And in the communities there are sisters who tend to blindly obey, without saying what they think.”

The international umbrella group of nuns has begun speaking out more forcefully about the abuses of nuns and has formed a commission with its male counterpart to take better care of their members.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis Replaces Conservative Archbishop of Philadelphia

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who was appointed to the position by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011, has long been known as a theological and political conservative, often at odds with Pope Francis.

Pope Francis and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia during a mass in Philadelphia in 2015.

By Elizabeth Dias and

Pope Francis sought to shift the ideological balance of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States on Thursday, replacing one of his most prominent conservative critics as the archbishop of Philadelphia.

Pope Francis announced in a statement that Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia was retiring, and that Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Cleveland, a former Philadelphian and relative newcomer to the national scene, would assume the role.

“The Holy Father has accepted the resignation” of Archbishop Chaput, the statement said, adding that the pope had named Archbishop Perez to take his place.

“I cannot think of a better successor to lead this Archdiocese,” Archbishop Chaput wrote on his Facebook page Thursday morning, calling the nomination a “moment of great joy” for Philadelphia’s Catholics. He said that Archbishop Perez “is already known and loved by our priests and people.”

Archbishop Chaput, who was appointed to the position by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011, has long been known as a theological and political conservative, often at odds with Francis’ mission to move beyond the culture wars. The move is a sign that the pope, who has installed key allies in Chicago and Newark, is still intent on changing the ideological direction of the American church by directing one of its most traditionalist dioceses toward a more pastoral approach.

Francis recently acknowledged that a good deal of the opposition to his pontificate emanated from the United States, telling a reporter who handed him a book exploring the well-financed and media-backed American effort to undermine his agenda that it was “an honor that the Americans attack me.”

Archbishop Chaput’s departure was expected, as he had offered his resignation to Pope Francis when he turned 75 in September. Church law requires every bishop tender his resignation to the pope at that age, but the pontiff can choose not to accept it, often allowing prelates to remain in office for several more years.

In this case, the pope did not wait long before saying yes.

Archbishop Chaput became a favorite among Catholic conservatives for supporting the denial of communion to Catholic politicians who back abortion rights, opposing the legalization of gay marriage and, as archbishop of Denver before gay marriage was legalized nationally, helping defeat legislation that would have legalized civil unions for gay couples in the state.

Many conservatives around the church counted his removal as yet another power play by Francis, whom they have called a “dictator pope” who ignores their complaints that he is diluting the faith and breaking church traditions.

A small but vocal and influential group of American prelates has consistently raised the possibility that Francis may be leading the church toward schism. But Francis has mostly brushed those threats off as dust on the shoulders of his white robes.

“I pray that there are no schisms,” he said on a flight from Africa in September. “But I am not scared.”

At a press conference in Philadelphia on Thursday morning, Bishop Perez thanked Archbishop Chaput for his influence in his life, calling him “a great mentor, a great friend.”

“I am concerned of the shoes that I have to fill,” he said. “We thank him for his incredible ministry for the church.”

He also acknowledged the complexities of his new assignment, apologizing directly to victims of clergy sexual abuse, and he addressed Hispanic Catholics, at times in Spanish, raising concerns about anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States.

“There’s a rhetoric at times that happens with our immigrants that is just not dignified, and we have to respect the dignity of the human person,” he said. “It is the role of the state and the government to protect our dignity.”

Archbishop Chaput said he would continue to live in Philadelphia and be involved in the archdiocese. He plans to take three months to read, cook, and pray, and then resume activities like giving talks and leading retreats around the country, a sign he likely will remain influential in the church as a prominent conservative thought leader.

A significant posting for the church in the United States, the archdiocese of Philadelphia is traditionally a cardinal’s seat, meaning that its leader is usually named a cardinal, the church’s highest clerical rank after pontiff. Cardinals under age 80 elect the pope, giving them critical sway in the future of the church.

Pope Francis notably never elevated Archbishop Chaput for the red hat. That denial has frustrated many conservatives, especially as Francis appointed a cardinal and ally to the archdiocese of Newark, which had never before had a cardinal, and which has outsized prominence as part of the New York media market.

In a June 2017 interview, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, then the top doctrinal watchdog in the Roman Catholic Church, said he was “disappointed” that the archbishop of Philadelphia had not been elevated to cardinal, “because the appointment of the cardinals should not be a personal relation with the pope to these bishops.” Asked why Francis had declined to make the appointment, he said “politics.”

Weeks later Francis removed Cardinal Müller from his position.

As it became clear that Francis would never make Archbishop Chaput a cardinal, many church analysts noted that the conservative became more vocal in his criticism, often using a column on the archdiocese’s website as a soapbox to express a dissonant view.

Archbishop Chaput was also a firm administrator, tapped to reform a region in financial and spiritual disarray after extensive allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy in the area. A county grand jury in 2005 reported that leaders of the Philadelphia archdiocese, including two cardinals, had covered up extensive sexual abuse of minors.

A second grand jury in 2011 accused the archdiocese of not stopping the abuse, and Pope Benedict appointed Archbishop Chaput to lead the archdiocese about five months later.

Archbishop Chaput removed priests accused of abuse, closed 49 schools, and sold the archbishop’s mansion for $10 million as part of a plan to reduce the operating budget deficit.

Archbishop Chaput is also the first Native American archbishop and a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe.

Bishop Perez, a Cuban-American born in Miami and raised in New Jersey, will be the first Hispanic priest to lead the church in Philadelphia. In a statement released by the Cleveland diocese, he said he accepted the appointment with a mix of “joy that I will be returning to serve the archdiocese in which I was ordained to the priesthood,” but also “sadness that I will be leaving an area and the incredible people in Northeast Ohio I have come to love deeply.”

The Hispanic population of the Philadelphia archdiocese has grown dramatically in recent years while the non-Hispanic population has remained relatively stagnant. The region has about 200 parishes and about 1.3 million Catholics.

Pope Francis has put himself squarely on the side of the immigrants whom many experts consider the future of the faith in the United States.

“Now you are facing this stream of Latin immigration which affects many of your dioceses,” Francis told American bishops in a 2015 visit to Washington. Speaking “as a pastor from the South,” the church’s first South American pope gave the recommendation “close to my heart” that the bishops “not be afraid to welcome them.”

Francis also visited Philadelphia during that trip, for the World Meeting of Families, a global gathering of Catholics. He was welcomed by Archbishop Chaput, who by that time had already said that his fellow conservatives had “not been really happy” with parts of Francis’ reign.

Pope Francis named Bishop Perez the bishop of Cleveland in the fall of 2017, making his elevation relatively quick. Bishop Perez chairs a committee on cultural diversity for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. His return to Philadelphia is a homecoming of sorts, as he spent 23 years serving in different Philadelphia parishes after ordination to the priesthood.

His installation as archbishop is planned for Feb. 18.

Complete Article HERE!