Jesuit magazine calls for Kavanaugh nomination to be withdrawn

By Tal Axelrod

The editors of America Magazine, a Jesuit publication, called on President Trump to withdraw Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination.

The piece was published after Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, a woman who accused Kavanaugh of trying to rape her in 1982 at a house party, testified before of the Senate Judiciary Committee about the allegations.

“Evaluating the credibility of these competing accounts is a question about which people of good will can and do disagree. The editors of this review have no special insight into who is telling the truth. If Dr. Blasey’s allegation is true, the assault and Judge Kavanaugh’s denial of it mean that he should not be seated on the U.S. Supreme Court,” the editors wrote.

“But even if the credibility of the allegation has not been established beyond a reasonable doubt and even if further investigation is warranted to determine its validity or clear Judge Kavanaugh’s name, we recognize that this nomination is no longer in the best interests of the country. While we previously endorsed the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh on the basis of his legal credentials and his reputation as a committed textualist, it is now clear that the nomination should be withdrawn,” they added.

The editors wrote a piece in July praising Trump’s nomination of Kavanaugh to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy and Kavanaugh’s pro-life stance.

“Judge Kavanaugh is a textualist who is suspicious of the kind of judicial innovation that led to the court’s ruling in Roe. That decision removed a matter of grave moral concern-about which there was and remains no public moral consensus-from the democratic process,” they wrote at the time.

Kavanaugh attended Georgetown Preparatory School, a Jesuit high school.

The magazine’s reversal reflects the tumult into which sexual misconduct allegations have thrown Kavanaugh’s confirmation process.

Kavanaugh has been accused by Ford, Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick of varying degrees of sexual misconduct while he was in high school and college. He has adamantly denied the allegations.

Thursday’s hearing was a crucial test for Kavanaugh, who came out with his most ardent defense yet against the allegations in an attempt to sway lingering swing votes on Capitol Hill and to convince Trump to not withdraw his nomination.

“It’s possible I’ll hear [the allegations] and I’ll say, ‘I’m changing my mind.'” Trump said Wednesday in New York.

Kavanaugh’s efforts appeared to convince Trump to stick with his nomination.

Trump reiterated his commitment to Kavanaugh, tweeting Thursday evening, “Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him. His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!”

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic Lay Group Wants More Responsibility To Investigate Clergy Sexual Abuse


Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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A group of Catholics empowered to advise U.S. bishops on their handling of clergy sex abuse is accusing the bishops of “a loss of moral leadership” and recommending that lay Catholics like themselves should henceforth be responsible for investigating clergy misconduct.

The National Review Board, a lay panel established in 2002 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a strongly worded statement that allegations against former Washington, D.C., Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and accounts of clergy abuse detailed in a recent Pennsylvania grand jury report reflect “a systemic problem within the Church that can no longer be ignored or tolerated by the episcopacy in the United States.”

The NRB was created as part of the U.S. bishops’ response to revelations in 2002 that Catholic authorities had covered up evidence of criminal sexual misconduct by Catholic clergy in the Boston area. The 11-member panel was supposed to work “collaboratively” with the bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, but the statement released Tuesday suggested that model had proved inadequate.

“The evil of the crimes that have been perpetrated reaching into the highest levels of the hierarchy will not be stemmed simply by the creation of new committees, policies, or procedures,” the group charged. “Holding bishops accountable will require an independent review [of an abuse allegation]. … The only way to ensure the independence of such a review is to entrust this to the laity.”

The review board’s statement echoes past criticism that bishops for too long have insisted that they alone are responsible for policing each other, a process they term “fraternal correction.”

“They didn’t trust lay people to know what the problem was,” says Nicholas Cafardi, dean emeritus at Duquesne University Law School and a former NRB chairman.

In its statement, the NRB called for the establishment of “an anonymous whistleblower policy” modeled after those employed in corporations, higher education and other public and private institutions, to be administered by an organization independent of the Catholic hierarchy. Such a group, the NRB recommended, should be established immediately and given the responsibility of reporting allegations of clergy abuse “to the local bishop, local law enforcement, the nuncio and Rome.” (A nuncio is the Vatican ambassador to a country.)

Efforts to strengthen bishop accountability have been hampered by the fact that under Catholic canon law, a bishop can be removed from his position only by the pope.

“Some bishops say they are only accountable to the Holy Father,” says Cafardi, who has degrees in both canon and civil law. “[But] that seems to indicate they don’t feel accountable to their people.”

Pope Francis has regularly criticized excessive “clericalism” in church culture, the tendency to elevate priests and bishops to a status where they may acquire something close to impunity.

“It’s priests not wanting to say something bad about another priest, or a bishop not wanting bad things to be known about a priest of his diocese,” says Cafardi. “That’s clericalism. It’s when bishops don’t trust us with the truth.”

The NRB push to give the Catholic laity more authority has some support within the U.S. church. The president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, announced earlier this month that the conference is working on a reform plan, one aspect of which would be to increase lay involvement in the investigation of bishop misconduct.

“Lay people bring expertise in areas of investigation, law enforcement, psychology, and other relevant disciplines,” DiNardo said, “and their presence reinforces our commitment to the first criterion of independence.”

Complete Article HERE!

Two trainee priests sent back to Ireland after being found in bed together

Future of the seminarians unclear after they are sent home from Irish College in Rome

In August 2016 the Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin said he would no longer send trainee priests from the diocese to St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, because of a worrying ‘atmosphere’ at the national seminary.

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Two seminarians at the Irish College in Rome have been sent home by the rector after being found in bed together

It is understood both men had been drinking earlier at an event marking the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul V1’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which banned artificial means of contraception

It is unclear whether either man will be permitted to resume studies for the priesthood. A spokesman for the Catholic bishops said it was “not appropriate to comment about individuals” when asked about the matter.

In August 2016, the Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin said he would no longer send trainee priests from the diocese to St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, because of a worrying “atmosphere” at the national seminary.

He said he intended instead sending trainees from Dublin to the Irish College in Rome as it offered “a good grounding” in the Catholic faith.

As regards Maynooth, he said “there seems to be an atmosphere of strange goings-on there, it seems like a quarrelsome place with anonymous letters being sent around”.

Speaking in Krakow, Poland, where he was attending World Youth Day, he said: “I don’t think this is a good place for students. However, when I informed the president of Maynooth of my decision, I did add ‘at least for the moment’.”

His decision followed anonymous allegations then being circulated about seminarian activities in Maynooth, including that some had been using a gay dating app.

Earlier in 2016, there was controversy at St Patrick’s College when a seminarian who claimed he found two colleagues in bed together was dismissed.

It followed an inquiry into allegations by the two seminarians alleged to have been in bed together that he was bullying them and talking about them.

More generally at the college it was claimed that a core of seminarians were active on the gay app Grindr and that some had been engaged in sexual activity with priests of the Dublin archdiocese.

In 2009, a complaint was made to Maynooth authorities by a seminarian from Dublin alleging sexual harassment against another adult at St Patrick’s College. An internal inquiry found the allegation unproven.

The complainant was asked to return to Maynooth but felt he could not. When he took the allegation to senior church figures outside Maynooth, it was proposed to him that he might go to Rome and complete his studies there. He decided not to do so.

Complete Article HERE!

What a debate about Pope Francis’s supposed liberalism says about the future of Catholicism

Ross Douthat and Massimo Faggioli argued over Francis’s legacy last week.

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Two high-profile Catholic thought leaders duked it out last week in a debate over the five-year legacy of Pope Francis — and what his papacy means for a church in crisis.

Longtime intellectual rivals Villanova professor Massimo Faggioli and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat engaged in a conversation on Pope Francis, hosted by Fordham University in New York. The debate ultimately developed into a far broader question: How far should the church change in dialogue with modern sexual ethics when it comes to issues like women priests, divorce, abortion, and same-sex marriage?

And — perhaps even more importantly — the conversation turned broader still, as both participants asked if change should be seen as a theologically necessary part of the Catholic tradition.

Faggioli, a self-professed liberal Catholic, and Douthat, a conservative, have long expressed differing views on Francis’s papacy, and on the trajectory of the Catholic Church more generally through bold rhetoric on Twitter.

Since the beginning of Francis’s time as pope, much secular media attention has focused on what, to non-Catholics, have appeared to be relaxed stances on usually taboo issues for Catholics. Francis’s papacy, while changing little in terms of Catholic doctrine, has nevertheless made welcoming those who fail to follow that doctrine (whether on abortion, LGBTQ issues, or divorce) into the Catholic community a priority.

For example, Francis opened a temporary window for women who have had abortions to seek forgiveness from the church in 2015. One of his most famous early statements may have been asking “Who am I to judge?” when it comes to homosexuality, although Francis has elsewhere maintained traditional Catholic doctrine.

Douthat, a Catholic convert, has frequently been critical of what he deems Francis’s divisive tactics, including using unofficial or “leaked” communications to the media to informally express more controversial views. He also opposes a willingness to, in his view, upend church tradition for the sake of pacifying liberal attitudes and retaining church membership.

For his part, Faggioli, an admirer of the Francis pontificate, has frequently condemned Douthat as an intellectual dilettante, criticizing his lack of formal theological training and what he sees as Douthat’s partisan perspective on church issues.

Their personal disagreement masks a wider debate, not simply between “liberal” and “conservative” Catholics, or between “progressives” who want to change the church to fit contemporary cultural mores and “traditionalists” who want to preserve the church exactly as it was.

It’s a debate between those who see a degree of dynamism as already part and parcel of what it means to be Catholic, and those who see it as an exterior, dangerous force.

The debate on Francis is also a debate on the aftermath of Vatican II

Although Faggioli and Douthat’s debate was about the pope, it wasn’t just about the pope. Central to their disagreements were their perceptions of the effects of Vatican II (formally known as the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965), which explored if and how the church should adapt to a changing world.

At that point, Catholics the world over were still responding to the aftermath of World War II, and the Holocaust in particular, leading some Catholics to question the language and tone with which the church approached interfaith issues.

Those changes under Vatican II included an increased focus on ecumenical relations, and on Catholic-Jewish relations. But the relative liberalization of Vatican II (for example, eschewing Latin during Mass) has often been seen by later critics as paving the way for an acceptance of more extreme elements of “modernity,” such as the sexual revolution. That movement challenged the formal Vatican positions on abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, divorce, and premarital sex more generally.

Official church doctrine has never changed on any of these positions (nor, should it be noted, has even the “liberal” Pope Francis ever sought to change them).

Still, the “spirit of Vatican II,” or its overall ecumenical ethos, is cited by proponents and critics alike to refer to post-Vatican-II liberalizing tendencies that exceed the remit of Vatican II’s more narrow reforms. To Vatican II’s critics, a broad definition of this spirit is responsible for a more general “liberalization” in the church.

The subsequent half-century or so of the Catholic Church has been marked by various popes’ differing responses to and reckoning with Vatican II, its spirit, and the question of what “moving forward” even means within a Catholic context. That brings us to the current debate — last week’s and among Catholics in general — around Pope Francis’s somewhat lax views.

Faggioli and Douthat’s debate reflected broader divides

Douthat, a perhaps more natural debater, took a more aggressive approach, referring to a coming “schism” and a “civil war” in the church, and saying that Francis’s approach risked fomenting a “crisis of papal authority itself.”

Speaking specifically about Francis’s opening to providing communion to remarried couples, Douthat warned that, by relaxing rules around communion, Francis risked promulgating the idea that “the papacy allows for changes around these contested issues of sexual ethic,” and thus challenging the idea — central to Catholic theology — that the church’s continuity on issues remains unchanged.

Faggioli, though, rejected Douthat’s very premise. Focusing on continuity as a metric for a “good” pope, he says, and “looking at Catholic doctrine in terms of continuity or discontinuity, in my mind, assumes one thing: that Christianity, at some point … was complete.”

Furthermore, Faggioli said his assessment of Francis’s perspective centered not on doctrine but on pastoral care. The church need not change its teachings, he said, but rather ask itself, “What can the Catholic Church do to make the faithful able to receive sacraments?”

For Douthat, Pope Francis represents a break with tradition so profound that it risks rendering a fundamental principle of Catholic thought irrelevant: the idea that the church exists in continuity with its past traditions and perspectives.

Citing the case of allowing parish priests license to grant communion to remarried Catholics, which Francis has quietly campaigned for, Douthat argued that such a procedure would, in practice, vitiate the church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage (because, in Catholic tradition, marriage is seen as an irreversible sacrament between the couple and God, divorce is not seen as legitimate).

It is, for Douthat and other Catholic conservatives, a back-door form of Catholic-sanctioned divorce. By advocating for it and similar reforms, Francis, in Douthat’s view, represents a dangerous figure for the church: one too willing to cede ground to modern liberalism.

Faggioli, though, argued that Douthat’s perspective — of “continuity” and “discontinuity” within church tradition — was flawed and ahistoric. He pointed out that Francis is not seeking to allow divorce — something that would be a striking change in church teaching — but only advocating that divorced and remarried couples be allowed to receive the sacrament of communion — and thus participate fully in church life.

Instead, Faggioli said, Douthat’s view failed to reflect the way in which Catholic tradition has long existed in dialogue with itself, and how interpretations of Scripture have consistently grown and developed over time. The Catholic tradition, Faggioli said, “is not a mineral, it’s an animal. It moves. It adapts. It grows.”

Decades after Vatican II, the church faces demographic and social upheaval

While Douthat and Faggioli differ on the degree to which the Catholic Church is in danger, it’s fair to argue that it is — if not in crisis — at least in flux.

Decades of sex abuse scandals have eroded public trust in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Mass attendance has drastically fallen in America and Europe, especially among young adults. There is an increasingly severe shortage of Catholic priests. And the face of Catholicism is changing, too. Catholicism is in decline in Western Europe and America, but drastically on the rise in Africa. Like it or not, the church is changing in demographics if not doctrine.

But the question remains: Where do we go from here?

The debaters’ differing perspectives may be as attributable to their methods as their politics. Douthat’s interest lies in the church as an institution; the questions he asks focus on that institution’s survival and transformation.

In many of his columns, as well as in his forthcoming book, To Change the Church?, Douthat approaches the church as a political scientist might, looking at how different conservative or modernizing factions have jockeyed for support and survival. His questions of “continuity” and “discontinuity” are questions one asks of an institution, rather than a faith.

Douthat comes to the study of the church as a zealous outsider, and that perspective — one that tends to see the church as a holistic, uniform body that, while sometimes under temporary threat, nevertheless remains intact — suffuses his work. That Francis seems to endanger that perceived unity makes him a threat.

Frequently during the debate, Douthat warned of the potential of a schism within the Catholic Church as a result of Francis’s developments: “Things can break … there is a deep conflict.”

Faggioli, however, is both a church historian and a trained theologian, whose concern is both with the church as an institution and with theology as a living, dynamic body of discourse, constantly being shaped by new questions and voices both inside and outside the academy.

As a theologian, he appears more comfortable with the often-murky process by which the exploration of ideas — theological debate — becomes calcified into church doctrine, and the way in which these ideas morph and change over time. Rather than arguing whether or not the church should adapt to shifting culture, he argued that a degree of dynamism is part and parcel of church tradition and always has been.

The Catholic Church’s priority should be on finding ways for the faithful to remain within the church, not expelling those who do not follow its teachings, he says. (And it’s important to stress, in this debate, neither Faggioli nor Francis is necessarily saying that its teachings should change. Faggioli’s point is about access, not ideas).

Both Douthat and Faggioli ask vital questions. And Douthat’s challenge — how does an institution address cultural change without losing its founding principles — is completely valid. Any answer that does not take seriously that for faithful Catholics, the doctrine being debated is a matter of weighty metaphysical truth, not just politics or optics, fails to appreciate the gravity of the question being asked.

Faggioli’s response — that “in order to get close to Jesus, there has to be some kind of discontinuity” — may provide “liberal” Catholics a viable alternative to Douthat’s reactionary historicism, and a way forward for a church that is both weighed down and grounded by its past.

Complete Article HERE!

New Survey: Catholic Women “Disengaged & Disengaging” — And Don’t Listen to US Bishops

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Nearly five years into Pope Francis papacy, with its great expectations for a revival of Catholicism among the flagging faithful, a new large-scale survey of American Catholic women finds the flock faithful but disengaged from the rituals of the church and eager for a greater female presence in its institutions.

The survey of some 1,500 self-identified Catholic women was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University for America magazine.

The survey found that while 98 percent of American Catholic women say they believe in God in some way, only about one-third (35%) attend mass even fairly regularly, and just under one-third (30%) say they attend confession once a year, which is a significant repudiation of the bedrock obligations of Catholicism by women who call themselves Catholic.

“While Catholic women remain affiliated with the church, they are disengaged and disengaging,” said Rev. Matt Malone, S.J., editor in chief of America, who called the survey a “wake-up call” for the U.S. Catholic leadership.

“We are at a crisis point” in American Catholicism, Notre Dame professor Kathleen Sprows Cummings told America, noting that historically “it’s always been the women who are more engaged” in the church.

And levels of engagement were even lower for women born after Vatican II, with fewer than 20% attending mass once a week. Overall, only 35% of Catholic women said attending mass weekly was very important to their sense of being a Catholic. The most important factors to respondents’ sense of being Catholic was “helping the poor” and “receiving the Eucharist/Holy Communion,” with nearly half (45%) saying both were very important to their sense of being Catholic.

Despite low levels of regular engagement with the obligatory rituals of the church, 82% of the respondents said they never had considered leaving the church. Twelve percent of the women surveyed had considered leaving the church for a time, while six percent had left but returned—most commonly because they had disagreed with the church’s stance on a particular issue, often regarding sexuality and reproductive rights, and the status of women in the church.

Overall, women were fairly satisfied with their level of inclusion in their local churches. A total of 57% said the priests in their parish did a good job of including women in the parish community and half felt women were well-represented on parish councils and in lay ministry positions. However, the survey also showed that women clearly were looking for greater formal inclusion in the ministry of the church. Sixty percent of the women surveyed supported women being ordained permanent deacons, which had been raised as a possibility by Pope Francis, while another 33% weren’t sure; only 7% of women opposed the ordination of women as deacons.

Women of the Baby Boom generation showed the most support for women deacons, with 65% registering approval, while Millennials showed the lowest levels of support, at 53%. And just over 50% of women who attend mass weekly support women deacons.

In another sign that Millennial Catholic women may be trending more conservative then their mothers and grandmothers—possibly because so many more progressive-leaning women have left the church—one-quarter (26%) report using natural family planning as a method of contraception, which is the second-highest rate following women born before the availability of modern contraceptives.

Politically, the women who responded to the survey trended Democratic. Some 60% were either Democratic (41%) or leaned Democratic (18%), while just under one-quarter (24%) were Republican and 14% leaned Republican. Three-quarters of the Catholic women surveyed said they planned to vote in the 2018 mid-term elections, which the survey notes would be equivalent to 18.7 million voters. More Catholic women said they intend to vote for Democrats (55%) than Republicans (37%).

Republican Catholic women were three times more likely than Catholic Democratic women to say that Catholic social teaching would help them decide how to vote, but even then only 20% looked to Catholic social teaching. Not surprisingly, 38% of Republican Catholic women said “protecting life” was very important to their sense of being a Catholic, while for Democratic Catholic women, “helping the poor” was most important, with 52% citing this value. Neither Democratic nor Republican women pay much attention to the statements of the U.S. bishops, with only 7% saying they were helpful in deciding how to vote.

For Democratic women the specific Catholic teaching that was important to them and likely to effect how they voted was on care for the environment, with 47% saying it affected how they voted. For Republican women, the most important teaching that affected how they voted was on abortion, with 51% citing this teaching, making it the single most salient teaching on Catholic voting behavior. The least important issue across the board was the church’s teaching on artificial birth control.

The survey portrays a church in which not only are many of its followers deeply disengaged from the sacramental life of the church, but as divided as American society in general over key social issues.