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

By Jennifer Haselberger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In any other context, this would be labeled grooming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complete Article HERE!

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

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

By Dave Urbanski

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

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

What is ‘Queer Bible Hermeneutics’ all about?

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

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

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

Origins of the course

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complete Article HERE!

Priests’ fury with Pope over his stance on female deacons

THE Association of Catholic priests (ACP) was very disappointed at Pope Francis’ response to the demand for the ordination of female deacons. The Pope said that a commission he appointed three years ago failed to reach a consensus on whether female deacons in the early Church (1st century AD) were ordained in the same way as male deacons.

Consequently, for now the jury was out (in the 21st century). Nothing would be done to change the situation (for another 21 centuries?). And that was that!

The ACP responded with a sharp criticism, asserting that the Pope was ‘kicking the can down a timeless road.’  They said that the equality of women was critical for the credibility and the future of the Church, and that introducing ordained women deacons was a minimalist step.  If the Pope couldn’t take such a step, there was little or no prospect of any movement towards equality.

A knotty topic, indeed, but we must confess that we rather liked the quirky reference to kicking tin cans. It suggested the activities of idle urban young fellas with nothing better to do than playing footie with the Supreme Pontiff, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ and Holy Father who every now and then directed an aimless lash at a metal container (beans, perhaps?) with a finely polished Italian boot.

And although ‘gurriers’ are linked with the kicking of tin cans, we are sure that the Association of Catholic Priests in no way wanted to give the impression that the Pope’s street activities were in any way similar to those sections of modern youth who engage in loutish behaviour.

Has ‘no authority’

Yet, as matters stand, the can-kicking squad (in Vatican colours) consists of God, the Pope, the cardinals, the bishops and priests and, on the sideline, the humble deacons.

The latter are ordained men who are not priests although they wear vestments at mass and some even sport Roman collars. Single or married, their job is to serve and assist priests and bishops. They’re entitled to baptise, preach, ‘do’ weddings and run a parish, but they cannot consecrate the Eucharist or hear confessions.

But, and here’s the contentious bit, the Church says the Pope, has ‘no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women.’  It ordains only men.

The ACP says that’s  a form of discrimination (for that matter, neither does Canon Law allow transgender people to be ordained. In the eyes of the Church, ‘trans-men are considered to be women and trans-women to be men of unsuitable character’).

Deacon Phoebe

As Pope Francis bluntly put it, ‘the door is closed’ regarding women’s ordination. In fact, the only female deacon mentioned in Scripture is a lady named Phoebe! And no, we’re not referring to Monty Python or the ‘Life of Brian!’ (See Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, verses 16: 1-2).

In recent years, historical-theologians have had a field day arguing for and against the fact that as far back as the First Council of Nicaea in 325 women could receive sacramental ordination in certain times and places, and that it was not until the 13th century that women were utterly prohibited from becoming priests.

For men only

Fast forward to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and, once again, the pros and cons of women being ordained deacons and having the same functions as male deacons were hotly debated. Since then, the argument in favour of ordaining permanent female deacons has gathered pace, despite entrenched opposition from Vatican greybeards.

Sadly, all the signs are that the ‘Men Only’ regulation is set to continue secula seculorum even though prominent ecclesiastics, such as the Archbishop of Quebec, opposed the anti-woman bias. It’s significant too that an International Theological Commission (1992-97) produced a report that was positive, although the hardline Cardinal Ratzinger delightfully refused to circulate the contents.

Eventually, in May 2016, Pope Francis gave way and said he would create a commission to study the role of women deacons in the early Church.  The purpose was to find an answer to the question as to whether women could serve as deacons today.

Last January the Pontifical Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women unofficially gave its answer to Pope Francis:  no!

Lost in translation?

But, although the conclusions have not been released, judging from Pope’s response, he agrees with the thumbs down, interim decision.  However, in a recent press conference that he gave on a plane journey from Bulgaria, he admitted that some members of the commission had opinions that seriously differed from Rome’s.

The Pope was asked what he learned from the report.  His response was linguistically weird (perhaps something was lost in translation?).  He said: ‘On the question of the female diaconate, there is a way of conceiving it that is not with the same vision as that of the male diaconate.

‘For example, the formulae of diaconate ordination (of women) found up to now are not the same as for the ordination of the male diaconate.  Rather, they are more like what today would be the blessing of an abbess.

‘There were deaconesses at the beginning of the Church, but the question is was theirs a sacramental ordination or not?  They helped, for example, in the liturgy of baptism, which was by immersion, and so when a woman was baptised the deaconesses assisted.

‘Some say there is a doubt.  Let us go forward to study the women’s diaconate. I am not afraid of the study.  But up to this moment it has not happened. Moreover it is curious that where there were women deacons, it was always in a geographical zone, above all in Syria.’

Bad vibes

Hence, the criticism from the Association of Catholic Priests who had expected a different reaction. His comments, they said, sent ‘all the wrong messages about women to women and men.’

It confirmed that women were not good enough in the eyes of the official Church, the result of which would be the waste of women’s gifts, and that the official institutional Church would continue to be perceived as a men’s Church. The Church, they said, was a clerical hierarchical patriarchy and that injustice was built into its heart.

The Irish priests described the Pope’s comments as an enormous blow to those who believe in equality.  As a result, it was incumbent on bishops, priests and people in the pews to make their voices heard. ‘Now was not the time for looking over shoulders, thinking of promotions or offending those in authority,’ they said.

Stirring stuff indeed, but (thankfully) not yet in the mould of the 16th century Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, who also had problems with a pope who didn’t want to listen; and we all know what that particular shouting match led to!

Complete Article HERE!

‘If ex-Catholic was a religion…’

Why independent Catholic churches are flourishing

by Jess Rohan

On Holy Thursday, a solemn day in the most sacred week in the Catholic calendar, St. Miriam’s felt like any other Catholic church: The altar featured a crucifix draped with white fabric and a tabernacle, and the Rev. James St. George, also known as Father Jim, was preparing the Flourtown church for a foot-washing ceremony, with towels and washbasins placed on the altar.

But St. Miriam’s is not Roman Catholic, nor affiliated with the Vatican: It’s catholic — with a lowercase c.

It’s one of at least four independent Catholic parishes that cropped up around Philadelphia between 2005 and 2010, nourished in part by the advantages of social media and email. Now with more than 600 parishioners, St. Miriam’s has become perhaps the largest such congregation; like the others, drawing Catholics eager for new ways to practice an old faith.

Its pastor last week noted the sad parallels between the worldwide Roman Catholic Church and the Paris blaze that seemed to rage untouched until it had already consumed part of its historic Notre Dame Cathedral.

“They don’t admit they’re on fire until it’s too late,” St. George said. “And now the whole church is burning.”

The Roman Catholic Church is still the biggest religious institution in the United States — and the world, with about 1.3 billion adherents, according to the Vatican. But fewer and fewer Americans are identifying as Catholic. The clergy sex-abuse scandals, conversion to other faiths, and declining religiosity in general all play a role, according to polls. A Pew study found that between 2007 and 2014, the Catholic Church lost more members than any other religious institution, by a wide margin.

“If ex-Catholic was a religion, it’d be the third-largest in the United States,” said Julie Byrne, a professor of religion at Hofstra University whose book, The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion, explores independent catholicism.

Alternative Catholic churches have existed for centuries. The Orthodox Catholic Church, which split with the Roman Catholic Church in 1054 and today maintains its seat of power in Istanbul, has more than 100 million members.

And not all are alike. Some are conservative, offering Mass in Latin. Others are characterized by an openness to concepts and stances that the Roman Catholic Church eschews, including female priests and gay marriage — both of which a majority of U.S. Catholics support, according to the Pew poll.

But most independent Catholic churches are filled with congregants steeped in the traditions of the religion. Byrne said 60 percent to 70 percent of parishioners at the independent Catholic churches she studied had come from Roman Catholic churches.

She said such a conversion comes at a price: The Rome-led Catholic Church has made sure to convey that independent parishes aren’t “the real thing,” suggesting that joining one could jeopardize a Catholic’s salvation.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia last week declined to wade into the debate, instead noting that though the church has been “uneven in fidelity to Christ and His word,” it is “the only place where Christ and His word continue to be passed on in all of its fullness and clarity.”

Monsignor James Michael St. George — “Father Jim” — the pastor at Saint Miriam Parish, and Sean Hall (left) greeting members of the congregation arriving for a traditional Holy Thursday service last week. St. Miriam’s is an independent (non-Vatican affiliated) Catholic church in Flourtown.

St. George said he encountered that sort of resistance in St. Miriam’s first year, when a listing for the church’s Catholic services in a local Roxborough paper triggered a letter from Roman Catholic clergy suggesting its use of the word Catholic might “mislead” people. Instead, attention from Roman Catholic churches only helped grow his congregation, he said.

Almost every year since, members of St. Miriam’s have worked to build its infrastructure — painting walls, restoring the stained glass windows, and maintaining the graves on the 12-acre campus along Bethlehem Pike that it inherited from a Lutheran church.

St. George began his path to priesthood at a Roman Catholic seminary, St. Mark’s in Erie, but said he had long felt unsettled by parts of church doctrine, including its positions on LGBT people and women. Such stances had even resonated inside his family’s Italian Catholic home in northwestern Pennsylvania.

“My sister couldn’t serve the altar or read at Mass,” St. George said, “and she would come home and cry.”

Now he’s a bishop in Old Catholic Churches International, part of an independent Catholic movement that split from Rome in 1870 and dates to an 18th-century Dutch separatist movement.

Mother JoEllen Werthman confronted the same kind of conflicts when she grew up Catholic on Long Island decades ago and then, in the 1980s, felt a religious calling.

“I couldn’t figure out how to have a boyfriend and be a nun,” said Werthman.

When it became clear the Roman Catholic Church would not accept women as clergy in her lifetime, Werthman began to look elsewhere, and found a seminary at the Catholic Apostolic Church of Antioch to ordain her.

“What will I say to God when I die?” she asked. “Did I follow the rules, or did I answer the call?”

These days, the 73-year-old cleric is married, and leads St. Mary Magdalen in Bensalem, a congregation of about two dozen people out of a building owned by an Episcopal church.

At Werthman’s church, her homily is followed by an open discussion with parishioners. The congregants appreciate being treated “like adults,” Werthman said.

“Most people have never been given the opportunity to explore their questions once they get past being a kid,” she said.

St. George said his church saw an increase in attendance after the wave of clergy sex-abuse scandals in the early 2000s. His parish, which also runs a preschool and kindergarten, has a program called KidSafe, a set of policies concerning child welfare.

Lorraine Cuffey joined the Flourtown church on Palm Sunday six years ago after learning that the church she had been attending failed to remove two priests accused of child abuse. Now, she’s the president of St. Miriam’s board of directors.

Her Episcopalian husband used to avoid Sunday Mass because he couldn’t receive communion with Cuffey. But now that they can receive communion together, “he comes every Sunday,” she said.

For Lewis Salotti and his wife, Ramona, who joined St. Miriam’s three years ago, the independent Catholic church is a perfect mix of tradition and flexibility.

“It was comforting to come here and see the same service and be familiar with it,” Salotti said. But with clergy who can marry and have families, he said, “they are living in the world just like us, and I think that really makes a difference.”

St. George says his church is about bringing everyone together under the “Catholic fold.”

“When the doctrine of the church harms people, you need to look at it again,” he said. “The church shouldn’t hurt people.”

Complete Article HERE!

Pope: Women have ‘legitimate claims’ for justice, equality

By Nicole Winfield

Pope Francis said in a document released Tuesday that women have “legitimate claims” to seek more equality in the Catholic Church, but he stopped short of endorsing recent calls from his own bishops to give women leadership roles.

In the text, Francis also told young adults they should try to help priests at risk for sexually abusing minors in what a Vatican official said was a great act of trust the pope has for today’s youth to help “priests in difficulty.”

Francis issued the document, known as an apostolic exhortation, in response to an October 2018 meeting of the world’s bishops on better ministering to today’s young Catholics.

The synod took place against the Church’s clergy sex abuse crisis and included demands for greater women’s rights. The bishops’ final recommendations called the need for women to hold positions of responsibility and decision-making in the church “a duty of justice.”

In the new document reflecting at length on the October meeting, Francis did not echo that sweeping conclusion. Instead, he wrote that a church that listens to young people must be attentive to women’s “legitimate claims” for equality and justice, as well as better train both men and women with leadership potential.

“A living church can look back on history and acknowledge a fair share of male authoritarianism, domination, various forms of enslavement, abuse and sexist violence,” Francis said.

He continued: “With this outlook, she can support the call to respect women’s rights, and offer convinced support for greater reciprocity between males and females, while not agreeing with everything some feminist groups propose.”

An organizer of last year’s synod, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, was asked at a news conference Tuesday about Francis’ lack of reference to women in leadership positions and the need to welcome gay Catholics. Baldisseri replied that Francis couldn’t rewrite everything from the final synod recommendations.

Francis’ new document, a 299-paragraph booklet entitled “Christ is Alive,” covers a wide range of issues confronting young people today. In it, he notes that many feel alienated from the church because of its sexual and financial scandals, and are suffering themselves from untold forms of exploitation, conflict and despair.

A hefty chunk of the document focuses on both the promises and perils of the digital world and dedicates ample space to the plight of migrants. It uses millennial lingo, calling the Virgin Mary an “influencer” and describing relations with God in computing terms: “hard disk,” ‘’archive” and “deleting.”

Francis wrote that he was inspired by all the reflections from the bishops’ synod and refers readers to the 2018 recommendations. He said he wanted to use his new text to “summarize those proposals I considered most significant.”

Throughout, he urges young people to be protagonists in rejuvenating the church.

On the topic of child sex abuse and cover-ups in the church, the pope called for the “eradication” of traditions that allowed child sex abuse to take place and for a challenge to how church leaders handled cases with “irresponsibility and lack of transparency.”

He urged young people to call out a priest who seems at risk of seeking affection from children and youth, “and remind him of his commitment to God and his people.”

Asked if that message wasn’t putting young people in potentially dangerous positions with potential predators, another synod organizer, Monsignor Fabio Fabene, said it was the contrary.

The pope’s words showed Francis wanted to entrust youth with “showing closeness to priests experiencing difficulty” in their missions and for young people to help “rejuvenate the heart of a priest who is in difficulty.”

Such terms have long been used by church officials to minimize the criminality of priests and bishops who rape and molest children.

Asked why there was no reference to Francis’ frequent call for “zero tolerance” for abuse, Baldisseri said the pope doesn’t need to repeat the phrase in every document.

“You don’t need to say ‘zero tolerance’ every time you go to lunch and dinner,” he said.

The document acknowledges the importance of sexuality in the development of young people. As with the roles of women in the Catholic Church, Francis did not repeat the bishops’ wording in recommendations for deeper anthropological, theological and pastoral study on sexuality and sexual inclinations. The term “homosexuality” appears once in Francis’ text.

Women have often complained they have second-class status in the church. History’s first Latin American pope has vowed to change that, but he has done little that is concrete and counts no women among his own advisers.

Just last week, the founder of the Vatican’s women’s magazine resigned with members of the editorial board, citing what she said was a climate of distrust and de-legitimization in the Vatican. The editor of the newspaper that distributes the magazine denied efforts to undermine the women.

Nine nuns were invited to participate at the October synod on Catholic youth, alongside 267 cardinals, bishops and priests. None of the women had the right to vote on the final recommendations. The nuns publicly made clear their displeasure before, during and after the meeting.

The recommendations advocated making women a greater presence in church structures at all levels while respecting church doctrine that the priesthood remains for men only.

The Women’s Ordination Conference, which advocates for a female priesthood, blasted the pope’s document for ignoring the synod’s recommendation to make the whole church aware of the “urgency of an inescapable change” to put women in decision-making roles.

The document, the group said in a statement, “offers only lip service to the movement for women’s equality in the Roman Catholic Church.”

Complete Article HERE!