Despite having ample evidence that Jesus will work it out, a Catholic priest halted a homegoing service in Maryland to have a black family removed from the church. The servant of God even kicked the dead body out of the funeral, proving once again, there is no sanctuary when it comes to racism.
Aside from the fact that she was no longer alive, Agnes Hicks’ Charlotte Hall, Md., mass was going along perfectly fine on Tuesday until an attendee of the funeral went in for a hug and accidentally knocked over a chalice at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, angering pastor Michael Briese.
“There will be no funeral, no repast, everyone get the hell out of my church,” Briese reportedly told the family. According to Fox 5, Briese then kicked the family out of the place of worship, telling them to remove the body of the woman who wished to be laid to rest in the church where she was baptized.
But Briese wasn’t done. Yea, though he walked through the valley of the shadow of death, the priest feared no evil, but he was a little bit scared of black people. Instead of getting Jesus on the main line, Briese decided to call his Lord and Savior from whom all white things flow: the police.
After the police responded to the call, the officers determined that the family had done nothing wrong and escorted the family to another church in a nearby county where they finished the service.
Following the incident, the Archdiocese of Washington issued a statement saying: “What occurred at St. Mary’s Parish this morning does not reflect the Catholic Church’s fundamental calling to respect and uplift the God-given dignity of every person nor does that incident represent the pastoral approach the priests of the Archdiocese of Washington commit to undertake every day in their ministry.”
Church officials said they are still investigating the incident. I haven’t checked the archives, but I’m sure the Catholic church has a spotless record of handling priest wrongdoing. An organization of this size wouldn’t have millions of followers if the church had a history of dismissing traumatic events. If you Googled “Catholic priest scandal” or “Catholic church cover-up,” I bet you wouldn’t get any results.
Although the family says they are still upset by the event, I’m sure they’ll be ok.
Fifty years ago a fierce debate erupted in the Catholic Church over the papal document “Humanae Vitae,” which reiterated the church’s ban on artificial contraception. Six hundred scholars, including many clergy, dissented from its teaching, sparking a debate that caused a crisis over authority in the worldwide church.
While much attention is focused on the epic battle between theologians and the institutional church, which undoubtedly was significant, as a historian of Catholic women, I find the responses of Catholic laywomen even more compelling.
As theologians dissented, bishops raged and popes dug in their heels, Catholic laywomen and their partners made their own family planning decisions, as they had for many years before and would for decades after.
What is Humanae Vitae?
Humanae Vitae was a papal encyclical released by Pope Paul VI in 1968. However, it wasn’t the first papal document to prohibit contraception use. Thirty-eight years prior to that encyclical, Pope Pius XI had released a document called “Casti Connubbi,” barring Catholics from using artificial contraception.
There were some clear differences between the two encyclicals. The first insisted that procreation was the chief purpose of the sexual act. The second said that the “unitive” purpose – that is, the use of sex as a means of expressing love and strengthening the marital union – was equally important.
But Paul VI ultimately insisted that the unitive could not be separated from the procreative. According to the Catholic Church, each and every conjugal act must be open to life.
Even though Humanae Vitae largely affirmed an established teaching, it was still controversial. This was because the debates among theologians and laypeople in the 30 years following Casti Connubi caused many to believe that the 1968 encyclical would overturn the Church’s ban on artificial contraception.
Role of Catholic women
What is important to note is that well before the 600 theologians expressed dissent, Catholic laywomen had already begun to reject this teaching. One major reason was what many believed to be a major flaw in the Vatican’s argument.
As early as the 1940s, large numbers of Catholic couples were encouraged to use the rhythm method, or timing sex to coincide with “the safe period” in a woman’s cycle, most commonly determined by charting a daily temperature reading. This was the accepted way to avoid conception, as they were not allowed to use a barrier method to achieve the same end.
Many failed to understand or accept this logic. If the church was admitting that couples could choose to limit their family size, why wouldn’t it allow them a more effective means of doing so, is what many women asked. They were also not convinced every sexual act need be open to life if the couple was open to having children.
They wrote eloquently about their marriages, their sex lives, their struggles with endless pregnancies and, increasingly, their frustration with rhythm. The only method of family limitation allowed them failed over and over again while the necessity of denying themselves sex caused rifts in couples already stressed by the care of large families.
Those frustrations often included the priests who promoted rhythm. “To me and many Catholics rhythm is a manifestation of an attitude of many clergymen looking down from their pedestals, offering us glib platitudes and the letter of the law, without seeing our real problems,” wrote Carolyn Scheibelhut, an American Catholic laywoman, in a letter to the editor of the Catholic magazine Marriage, in 1964.
Did the Vatican hear laywomen’s voices?
Laywomen’s voices finally reached the Vatican through the papal birth control commission assembled by Pope John XXIII, between 1963 to 1966, to study the issue of artificial contraception.
Patty Crowley, co-founder of the Christian Family Movement and one of the few married women invited to participate, brought with her the results of a survey of Catholic couples who overwhelmingly described their struggles with the teaching, despite often heroic attempts to abide by it.
She later remarked, “It just struck me as ridiculous….How could they be talking about marriage and birth control of all things without a lot more input from the persons involved?” Crowley testified before the commission, telling them that, besides being unreliable, rhythm was psychologically harmful, did not foster married love or unity and, moreover, was unnatural.
In what was surely a first in this group of primarily celibate men, Crowley explained that the majority of women most desire sexual intercourse during ovulation, precisely when they were taught to avoid sex. “Any simple psychology book tells us that people who are in a constant state of stricture in an area that should be open and free and loving are damaging themselves and consequently others,” she insisted.
Collette Potvin, another married woman who testified, recalled thinking “When you die, God is going to say, ‘Did you love?’ He isn’t going to say, ‘Did you take your temperature?’”
Persuaded by these testimonies and others, the commission voted to overturn the ban. Leaked to the press in 1967, this decision raised the hopes of laypeople all over the world. These expectations fed the outrage when Pope Paul VI chose to disregard the majority report of his own commission in 1968.
Use of contraception today
So, do the majority of Catholic women follow the teachings of Humanae Vitae on contraceptive use?
Available data show they do not. Their choice to disregard this teaching started well before the letter was released. Among American Catholic women, for example, as of 1955, 30 percent used artificial contraception. Ten years later, that number had reached 51 percent, all before the ban was reiterated in 1968.
By 1970 the number of Catholic women in the U.S. using birth control hit 68 percent, and today there is almost no difference between the birth control practices of Catholics and non-Catholics in the United States. Globally, as of 2015, there is little difference between Catholic and non-Catholic regions. For example, the percentage of contraceptive use in heavily Catholic Latin America and the Caribbean was 72.7 percent, – a 36.9 percent increase since 1970 – compared to 74.8 percent in North America.
I would argue the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae is a moment to remember the laywomen who changed Catholic history before, during and after 1968. It was laywomen’s collective decision to disregard the teaching that truly shaped Catholics’ modern attitudes toward birth control.
With 66.4% of voters saying yes to abortion in Ireland’s referendum, the Catholic Church has felt its significant political influence over the Irish population diminish. This referendum repeals a ban dating back to 1861, reinforced by the 1983 referendum instituting the constitution’s Eighth Amendment. The changes for Catholicism can be seen further in recent comments from Pope Francis. He assured a gay Chilean and sexual abuse victim Juan Carlos Cruz that God made him and loves him the way he is. Thus, May 2018 appears to be another turning point in the Catholic Church’s global influence.
The repeal of the Eighth Amendment marks a progressive step forward in the recognition of women’s rights and respect for the LGBTQ community. In Ireland’s referendum, those who voted yes to repeal the Eighth Amendment included those of all ages and genders, many of whom would have once opposed abortion. For example, two elderly ladies stated, ‘The church always told us what to do and now it’s time for us‘. They rejected a law that has caused numerous Irish women needing abortion to travel to the UK, where abortion is legal, or face serious medical situations, such as in the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar’s death in 2012. The health-based pro-choice arguments have thus outdone and delegitimised the pro-life arguments driven by religion.
This a victory – or rather a relief – for women and families previously neglected by Ireland’s conservative legislation, but it should not be something to lament for the Church itself. The Irish population has not abandoned Catholicism as a religion, as 78.3% of Irish people still identified themselves as Catholic in 2016. Catholicism, as a religion and a culture, still runs in Irish people’s blood. The nation’s Catholic institution should not feel bound to retreat into the shadows of modern secularism. Rather, it needs to accept a change in its role, priorities and identity. The May referendum simply shook the Catholic Church as an institution of power. Catholicism in Ireland can now serve less as a tool to control people’s lives, and more as a system of faith and worship.
A leading figure advocating this modern outlook on the Church’s role in Ireland is Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin. He has recently expressed progressive views on a number of social issues, including the need to accept same-sex marriage in 2015. Regarding the abortion referendum, he acknowledged that the church had been seen as ‘weak in compassion’ by the Irish public. However, he has added to his criticism a suggestion of a new path for the church in Irish society. This entails a different interpretation of the Christian concept of ‘pro-life’. He appropriately argues that ‘pro-life’ means supporting marginalised, impoverished and suffering people. His approach could positively revive the role of the church in Ireland, if other priests and bishops are willing to follow his steps.
When the church expresses its dismay over the legalisation of abortion and same-sex marriage, it forgets its main purposes in society. As Archbishop Martin indicated, this purpose should be to actively provide support and charity when people want and need it, and to guide those who have invested strong beliefs in God on a deep, personal level. If the majority of the Irish public have stated, with their conscience, that abortion is no longer a sin worth worrying about, the church needs to accept this reality. The majority of the Irish public is as Catholic as the priests and bishops running the Church. There is no reason, when this same public demands that abortion be legalised, why abortion should undermine the many other, more meaningful values of Catholicism.
The Pope increasingly recognises this necessity to change the church’s mentality. Unfortunately, his acceptance of homosexuality is not all that progressive, since he has not really endorsed homosexual activity. However, his comments signalled the Catholic Church’s step back from criticising its followers for matters that not even the most conservative of religious figures should consider to be as grave as real global problems today. Following these developments this May, the more religious institutions accept progressive ideas, the more they can restore the image of themselves as bringers of hope and good.
Pope Francis did an about-face last month and denounced the widespread coverup of sexual abuse by priests in Chile, prompting all 34 of the country’s bishops to offer their resignations.
He has said he was not receiving “truthful and balanced” information from the bishops, and on Thursday he released a letter to all Chileans declaring “never again” to “the culture of abuse and the system of coverup that allows it to perpetuate.”
The Vatican also announced the pope was sending a team of prelates to Chile to “advance the process of reparation and healing of abuse victims.”
But the pope has not revealed his plans for the church officials who ignored or actively covered up the abuse.
He faces competing demands. Prominent abuse-victims-turned-activists have demanded sweeping prosecutions under canon law, and some analysts agree that such accountability is the only way to restore public faith in the church. But one key figure in the scandal, Chilean Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, is extremely close to the pope, and if church prosecutions stack up in Chile, Francis may find too few untainted candidates to replace the accused.
One senior Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Francis may start replacing bishops in the next few weeks.
The first to go, according to the official, are likely to be the four bishops who trained under Fernando Karadima, the Chilean priest at the center of the scandal, and have been accused of witnessing or covering up his abuse. Karadima abused scores of boys during the 1980s and 1990s and in 2011 was sentenced by the Vatican to a life of penance, banning him from public ministry to repent for his sins and pray for his victims.
One Vatican expert predicted Francis would ultimately accept the resignations of almost half of the bishops.
“To the four Karadima students, we can add four others who are over 75 and due for retirement,” said Luis Badilla, a Chilean journalist who lives in Rome and edits the website Il Sismografo, which reports on the Vatican. “That’s eight and that will happen fast, while another five or six replacements will take longer.”
Robert Mickens, editor of the Catholic newspaper La Croix International, said the Vatican’s ambassador to Chile was also in danger of losing his job for allegedly keeping Francis in the dark over the extent of abuse by priests in Chile.
The big question though is whether those moves will be enough to placate the victims and Chileans whose faith in the church has been shaken.
“Resignations are a good step, but that is the minimum,” said Juan Carlos Cruz, who was abused by Karadima in the 1980s and who over the last decade has emerged as a key advocate for justice. “If there is a case to respond to in canon law, I expect punishments.”
He and other activists said those punishments must also extend to Errazuriz, who was the top bishop of Chile from 1998 to 2010 and ignored reports of abuse by Karadima until the victims went public. He has been accused of actively covering up for Karadima and working to discredit the priest’s accusers.
“He is as evil as you can get, and I would like to see him punished,” said Cruz, 51, who now lives in Philadelphia and works as a brand manager for a multinational company.
In emails to Chilean Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati in 2013 and 2014, which were leaked to the Chilean press, Errazuriz refers to Cruz as a “serpent.” The emails seem to show the cardinal blocking a 2014 effort to get Cruz appointed to a papal commission on clergy abuse worldwide.
Marie Collins, an Irish abuse victim and advocate who served on the commission, also called on the pope to investigate and prosecute Errazuriz for his alleged role in the coverup.
“You can see from the emails he has no compunction in working behind the scenes at the Vatican to silence a victim,” she said.
But prosecuting Errazuriz may prove too much for the pope. The two men are close, their friendship dating to a 2007 conference of Latin American bishops that was held in Brazil. Since 2013, Errazuriz has been the pope’s right-hand man on the so-called C9 committee for Vatican reform, which Francis established to shake up the Vatican’s opaque bureaucracy.
Badilla said he expected Errazuriz would be eased off the committee when Francis next reshuffles members, though the pope may be less likely to single out such a high official for blame.
Still, the pope’s actions last month are part of a dramatic U-turn.
Francis is widely seen as a reformer working to bring the church in line with modern society, but he has long been criticized for paying lip service to combating abuse without truly understanding its pervasiveness.
In a visit to Chile in January, he accused Karadima’s victims of peddling “slander” and publicly supported Juan Barros, a Chilean bishop who faces accusations that he witnessed abuse by Karadima and did nothing to stop it.
A month later, Francis sent an investigator to talk to those victims.
In Cruz’s view, the pope realized the church was in danger of losing more followers if he failed to act.
The first indication of that came when fewer people than expected turned out for his visit to Chile. Another wake-up call came later that month when U.S. Cardinal Sean O’Malley said Francis’ “slander” accusation had created “great pain” for the victims.
After the 2,300-page investigative report was completed — its conclusions have not been made public — Francis invited Cruz and two other Karadima victims to meet with him in Rome.
Cruz said that he told Francis: “You could be the most amazing pope in the world if you stop this.”
“I think he was listening,” Cruz said.
Two weeks after the meeting, the pope met with Chile’s bishops and accused them of destroying evidence of abuse and putting church investigators under pressure to play down accusations.
Not only did that spur the bishops to offer their resignations, it also prompted calls for the Vatican to revive plans to create a tribunal within the church to punish bishops for covering up abuse. The pope dropped the plan in 2016, promising instead to beef up existing procedures for sanctioning bishops. Critics accused the pope of bowing to pressure from other Vatican officials.
In an editorial last month, the National Catholic Reporter wrote: “The shock of these mass resignations creates an opportunity and momentum that Francis should seize upon to implement the tribunal he proposed three years ago. No more delays. He should act now.”
Collins, who was serving on the papal commission investigating abuse, resigned in protest when the tribunal plans were scrapped.
She remained skeptical that the pope would act aggressively.
“If he won’t use that procedure to handle bishops in Chile, I doubt it will ever be used,” she said.
Collins pointed to Australian Archbishop Philip Wilson, who was found guilty in a civil court last month of covering up child sex abuse in the 1970s by a priest in New South Wales.
“Wilson has now been convicted but has yet to be sanctioned by the church,” she said.
As a 62-year-old practicing Catholic, one would think my religious adherence has been well and truly set. To an extent, that is correct; I love my church’s rites and, most especially, the beautiful sacraments that have helped to sustain me throughout my life.
I appreciate the redemptive power of confession, when used in appropriate circumstances and with the freedom of surrender.
Despite this deeply felt connection, I have concluded my only way forward is to turn away.
For many years, I have been disturbed by the Church’s failure to connect with real people seeking solace of a loving Christ. I’ve been appalled by widespread pedophilia and more appalled by callous cover-ups of those ruinous crimes against children. It seems this Church has forgotten the warning of Jesus against anyone who would harm a child.
Despite the soul-sickness of knowing the depravity to which Church Fathers had descended, I stayed. There was hope of genuine remorse and healing. There was hope this enormous scandal would serve as a clarion call to a transformative renewal.
Instead, after great resistance, grudging admissions were made and cheques were written. There was no renewal.
Still, I lingered, unable to tear myself away from a Church that was seared into my heart. One day, perhaps, I thought, it will come, even as I listened to priests, bishops and cardinals preach against same-sex unions. These men were clear about the sins of those born with bonds of attraction for their own gender, yet they mired themselves in the muck of tepid excuses toward Church child-sex offenders.
Any respect I had for Rome disappeared under the weight of disgust at this hypocrisy.
My heart breaks to think my Church denied millions of African women (along with all the rest of us) permission to use “artificial” birth control methods that could have saved thousands of lives and transformed many thousands more. Even in situations of dire poverty and the subjugation of women to the role of breeder, the Church chose to tote the old adage that “unnatural” birth control was against God’s plan.
The Vatican only recently began to loosen (slightly) this evil edict that consigned so many to misery. That was how African women were thanked and honoured for their great devotion.
I began to think I must leave. My heart still couldn’t quite give up on this institution that, while gripped by systemic corruption thirst for power, still had capacity to instill awe and wonder.
The Second Vatican Council disappeared like a blip under conservatives who now held command. I suffered as the Church’s doors clanged shut and the air, for a few precious minutes fresh with promise, became stale again with the musk of the power lust of the world’s most elite Old Boys’ Club.
I halfway convinced myself I could ignore the foolhardiness of Rome and concentrate on my own little parish, where I felt at home and loved. How could I leave this small congregation that held my heart? It was like a family to me.
Then Pope Francis was elected. A light shone through the cracks to illuminate the darkness, just enough to awaken hope once more. Here was a Holy Man. Here was a follower of the Jesus I perceived when I read His words. Here was the Church’s future, her chance at renewal.
It could have been the beginning of something truly beautiful. If the power brokers had held true faith, they would have knelt before this man of God and followed him to the ends of the Earth. They would have seen he understood the message of Christ and was touched by His love.
Instead, they worked against him and have effectively shrunk his influence. His voice, at first so clear and strong and shining with humility, has been muted. His intentions have been sabotaged. The Club remains untouched and, sadly, seems intractable.
I have loved Pope Francis but I no longer expect he can lead the Church to the kind of renewal so desperately needed. Given his refusal to grant a simple apology to our devastated First Nations for the Church’s large role in the horrors of the residential schools, it is clear he cannot rise above the wagon-circling of the hierarchy. If he cannot prevail against the forces that hold this Church in thrall, then who can?
A priest I respect refused my request that our church bulletin announce a social action walk in support of diversity that some of our local high school students were organizing. “What kind of diversity?” he wanted to know with knitted brow.
Our youngest priest recently said the Church would never allow women priests because “there were none at the time of Christ.” Of course there were none at that time, but there were slaves and horrible executions and all manner of unjust practices, so where is the valid comparison in this line of thinking?
There’s also the issue of celibacy. In North America, churches are closing, not just for lack of parishioners, but also for a dearth of priests. Few men are able to accept a doctrine that denies them the comfort of a family and of a healthy, sanctified fulfilment of their sexuality. While the Church lauds “the sanctity of marriage,” it taints the idea by requiring those who administer sacramental duties to refrain. Such doctrinal ambiguity is leading the Church to self-destruction.
I have come to the point where hope has died. I cannot ignore Rome, for she reaches into my own parish. Her power permeates every nook and cranny of Catholicism. If I stay, I am complicit. If I take my spot in the pew and put my money in the collection, I perpetuate the rot.
I have a daughter and a granddaughter. I cannot bear what my staying would say to them. I can’t stand to know I have modelled a belief that women are secondary humans who have no place as decision-makers or teachers and aren’t equipped to be shepherds in the name of the One we love.
I feel great sorrow in having to accept my Church has deviated far from the simple, loving path of my Saviour. If, as I continue to hope, the great heart at the core of “Mother Church” remains pure, then the power brokers have shut that heart away from her people. The holiness of that heart is love. And love has too seldom guided decisions and doctrines of the Church, a momentous tragedy.
To whom shall we turn when our Church obeys the dictates of power-seeking men rather than the love-giving of God? The answer, for me, cannot lie in accepting the status quo any longer.
At age 62, therefore, I have finally and sorrowfully accepted that my Church will not listen to my voice or the voices of countless others in similar distress. She will not bend her rigid preconceptions, even in the face of precipitous decline. Under her present masters, she is blind and, though I tremble to write it, no longer worthy of loyalty. As the only self-respecting option left to me, though it tears my heartstrings, I am going to vote with my feet.