04/7/18

Appalled by what Catholic Church has become, I am walking away

Bishops touch the head of three newly ordained bishops as Pope Francis celebrates a mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in March.

By MARYANNE MCNEIL

I am voting with my feet.

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.

Complete Article HERE!

03/26/18

Young Catholics tell Pope Francis the church is indifferent and judgmental

Pope Francis waves as he celebrates the Vesper prayer in the Church of San Gregorio al Celio, in central Rome.

by Amanda Erickson

On Saturday, hundreds of young Catholics gathered to give Pope Francis a piece of their minds.

They called for a more transparent and “authentic” church, one with a bigger role for women and more wisdom about the benefits and challenges of technology. They called for more flexibility, too, arguing that “unreachable” moral standards should not be the only way to live an authentically Catholic life.

These findings were part of a 16-page report assembled by 300 young people at a week-long conference sponsored by the Vatican. It drew, too, on online submissions from 15,000 others.

“We, the young church, ask that our leaders speak in practical terms about subjects such as homosexuality and gender issues, about which young people are already freely discussing,” the report said.

It was less clear how the group wanted the church to reframe its message. The young people, ages 16 to 29, did not find consensus on issues like contraception (artificial birth control is banned for all Catholics, even married couples), cohabitation before marriage (frowned upon) or abortion.

The report also pushed the church to find ways to connect to young people, who often feel “indifference, judgment and rejection” from the church.

Throughout, the report called on the church to incorporate women more fully into church leadership. Women cannot serve as priests, which means they’re absent from the church’s upper ranks. Young female Catholics said they feel alienated as a result.

“Some young women feel that there is a lack of leading female role models within the church, and they too wish to give their intellectual and professional gifts to the church,” the report found.

The report also called on the church to accept that technology is a way of life for young people. The focus should not be condemnation, they wrote, but rather guidance on how to combat online addiction and use technology responsibly.

At the beginning of the conference, Pope Francis urged the young people — selected by their national bishops’ conferences, universities or church movements — to be honest. That is reflected in the final report, which notes that young people are leaving Catholicism because of  “indifference, judgment and rejection.” It also called on the church to more fully acknowledge its mistakes, such as the clergy sex abuse scandal.

“Some mentors are put on a pedestal, and when they fall, the devastation may impact young people’s abilities to continue to engage with the church,” the report said.

The document will be incorporated into an October synod of bishops, focused on how to better incorporate young people into the church.

It isn’t clear what that will entail. But at a Palm Sunday service on Sunday, Pope Francis urged young people to keep shouting and not allow the older generations to silence their voices.

“The temptation to silence young people has always existed,” he said in his homily, delivered to an audience of thousands in St. Peter’s Square. “There are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible. Many ways to anesthetize them, to make them keep quiet, ask nothing, question nothing. There are many ways to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat and dreary, petty and plaintive.”

“Dear young people, you have it in you to shout,” he told young people, urging them to be like the people who welcomed Jesus with palms rather than those who shouted for his crucifixion only days later. “It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders, some corrupt, keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?”

“Yes,” the young people in the crowd shouted. “Yes!”

Complete Article HERE!

03/19/18

Cardinal Keith O’Brien obituary

Former leader of the Roman Catholic church in Scotland who resigned after revelations about his relationships with young priests

Keith O’Brien in Rome in 2012. He was a vehement opponent of gay marriage, labelling it as ‘grotesque’, and was accused of breathtaking hypocrisy after his fall from grace.

The charge of hypocrisy, if proved, can destroy the career of any cleric, and Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who has died aged 80, was caught out spectacularly failing to practise what he had so vehemently preached. As the leader of the Catholic church in Scotland from 2003, he opposed very publicly, and in often intemperate language, all efforts to end discrimination against those in same sex relationships. Gay marriage, he said, was “grotesque”.

But then, with the media spotlight on him in February 2013 as the only British voter at the forthcoming conclave of cardinals to elect a new pope, it was revealed that O’Brien himself had had a homosexual relationship. His subsequent fall from grace was as spectacular as it was unprecedented. The Vatican, usually to be found denying such revelations and standing by senior clerics against all odds, effectively sacked O’Brien overnight and banned him from attending the conclave. (It turned out that they had known of the allegations against him since at least the previous year but, sadly typically, it was only when the charges were made public that action was taken.)

From denial of impropriety between 1965 and 2001 with four priests and seminarians, O’Brien first admitted in general terms to sexual conduct that had “fallen beneath the standards expected of me”. He was then revealed to have had an enduring relationship with one of the men in question right up to the time when he was taking to public platforms to denounce others in similar same-sex partnerships.

At first, O’Brien simply retreated to a retirement home in East Lothian, but his continuing presence in Scotland fuelled the row about his past behaviour. Allegations were made of cronyism, financial misconduct and a culture of secrecy. It was revealed by another Scottish bishop that, in 2012, O’Brien had blocked plans by his episcopal colleagues to commission an investigation into claims of child abuse by priests going back 60 years.

The Vatican stepped in and ordered O’Brien to leave the country. It sent in its own investigator, and appointed, Leo Cushley, a Motherwell-born Vatican official as O’Brien’s successor in the archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh. To Cushley fell the task of repairing the damage done by the O’Brien scandal which, he said, had “distressed many demoralised faithful Catholics and made the church less credible to those who are not Catholic”. In March 2015, Pope Francis formally accepted O’Brien’s resignation, but allowed him to keep the title cardinal, while ordering him not to set foot in Scotland, nor to say mass or appear in public.

It is tempting to dismiss O’Brien as a prime example of the sort of double standards in matters of sexual morality that has for so long plagued and discredited a Catholic leadership fond of promoting a set of near-impossible standards in intimate relationships for the laity that has alienated so many of the faithful. And, indeed, he was. But O’Brien was not an out-and-out reactionary, nor was he always so out of touch with reality. The very day before he was outed, he had spoken up bravely, forcefully and sensibly against his Church’s cherished official line that married men could not be priests.

With hindsight, he may even have been making a veiled reference to his own private circumstances when he said: “It is a free world and I realise that many priests have found it very difficult to cope with celibacy as they lived out their priesthood and felt the need of a companion, of a woman, to whom they could get married and raise a family of their own.”

It was a remark that arguably chimed better with the humane Keith O’Brien that many had come to know and respect in the years before he became leader of the Scottish Catholic church. As the number two figure in the hierarchy north of the border from 1985, he had won a reputation in church circles and beyond as a thoughtful, grounded and occasionally outspokenly liberal figure.

The change in O’Brien’s public persona happened overnight. The Vatican’s announcement in 2003 that O’Brien, the archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, was to become Scotland’s third cardinal since the Reformation, was inevitably followed by a round of interviews. In them, he reiterated what he had said many times before – that there needed to be more discussion within the church on contentious subjects such as clerical celibacy and contraception. He would welcome a fresh look at church teaching on the latter, he told reporters.

Within hours of these remarks being published, however, he was busy backtracking. During a routine service in St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, he surprised worshippers by reading out a personal “profession of faith” that, it was said, had been forced on him by the Vatican. In it he pledged 100% backing to the church’s ban on all artificial contraception and its insistence that priests be male and celibate.

O’Brien thereafter never returned to his previous concerns for dialogue and did not depart from the letter of church teaching in his public pronouncements, right up to his remarks on priestly celibacy on the eve of the papal conclave. And while he maintained his former genial ease when speaking in pulpits, on platforms or in TV studios, his message became ever more uncompromising and, some said, political.

In 2007, marking the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the Abortion Act, he warned pro-choice Catholic legislators that they could not regard themselves as full members of the church and provocatively (and insensitively, some said) described the termination rate in Scotland as equivalent to “two Dunblane massacres a day”.

His greatest political triumph came in 2008, when his strongly worded and high-profile intervention into the rapidly escalating clash between church and state over embryo experimentation forced a climbdown by the prime minister, Gordon Brown.

O’Brien, a former school science teacher, described proposals in the human fertilisation and embryology bill to allow scientists to create part-human, part-animal embryos for use in stem-cell experimentation, as “Nazi-style experiments” and “a monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life”. Within days, the Labour government had capitulated and conceded what it had previously been refusing – a free vote on the most contentious clauses for MPs.

It caused O’Brien to be held up by traditionalist Catholics south of the border as a rebuke to their own leaders. The English and Welsh Catholic church, a separate entity in the eyes of the Vatican, had by contrast tended to adopt a softly-softly stance in the political arena, working increasingly behind closed doors in Whitehall and Westminster to raise concerns with ministers and anxious not to be seen as out on a limb. O’Brien’s success in forcing Brown into a U-turn may even have caused his English and Welsh counterparts to take a more robust stance, notably in opposing gay marriage, albeit to no avail.

The son of Alice (nee Moriarty) and Mark O’Brien, he was born in Ballycastle, County Antrim. His father, who had served with distinction in the Royal Navy during the second world war, was unable to find work on being demobbed, a result of the sectarianism in Northern Ireland workplaces at the time. The family was forced to emigrate to Scotland. The memory lived on with O’Brien who, as cardinal, tackled head-on what he called Scotland’s “secret sectarianism”, and attended Celtic-Rangers matches with other church leaders to try to calm the religious rivalry that traditionally accompanied such games. He even pushed – unsuccessfully – for the Act of Settlement to be amended to remove the bar on a Catholic monarch because it was a tacit endorsement of anti-Catholic prejudice.

O’Brien completed a degree in chemistry and mathematics at Edinburgh University and was ordained a priest in 1965. He initially combined being a curate with teaching in the local Catholic high school in Cowdenbeath, but from 1972 had his own parishes in first Kilsyth and then Bathgate. In 1978 he was named spiritual director of St Andrew’s College at Drygrange, and then in 1980 rector of St Mary’s College, the junior seminary (since closed) at Blairs. It was at these institutions that what he later referred to as “drunken fumblings” took place with younger men in his care.

In 1985, he was named to succeed Cardinal Gordon Grey as archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh. It was not until Grey’s death in 1993, however, that Rome had to name a new Scottish cardinal. While O’Brien had a good working relationship with his only other rival for the honour, his Glasgow counterpart, Archbishop Thomas Winning, the two were very different characters. Winning was a spiritual pugilist, a self-conscious prince of the church, a man of firm and traditional opinions, qualities which won him the nod from Rome.

Operating in Winning’s shadow had its advantages for O’Brien. In 1996, when Roddy Wright, the bishop of Argyll, was engulfed in scandal on account of his relationships with women, it was technically O’Brien’s responsibility to sort out the mess, but Winning took charge – and on this occasion the flak for the Church’s hypocrisy.

And in 1999, at a synod of European bishops, while Winning was patiently engaged in lobbying Vatican officials, O’Brien was able to win plaudits for coming clean in public about the degree of Rome’s control and interference in local churches. He told reporters, in relation to a joint pastoral plan of the Scottish and English bishops that Vatican officials had vetoed, that “we [bishops] know that we are vicars of Christ in our own dioceses, but the bishops here in Rome don’t think that”.

However, with Winning’s sudden death in 2001, O’Brien’s turn as cardinal had come – and with it the behaviour expected of those in this exclusive club of 120 or so international leaders of the Catholic church. He was not entirely orthodox. He celebrated his consecration in Rome as a cardinal, for example, by waving the Scottish flag in St Peter’s Square, a typically exuberant and relaxed gesture captured in a picture that graced many newspaper front covers around the world.

But in public, he ceased to express doubt or admit that anything other than the official church line had merit. He became a formidable political operator, helped by the fact that the new Scottish parliament was located in his diocese. He was courted in particular by Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalists, who was anxious to break the traditional close link between Scotland’s Catholics and the Labour party. In 2006, O’Brien appeared to endorse aspirations for Scottish independence, though he later played down the remark.

In private, friends said, O’Brien remained the same man he had always been – laid-back, self-deprecating, funny – but those who had hoped this persuasive prelate might be a force for reform in the upper echelons of the church were disappointed.

He lived out his retirement in exile in Northumberland and then Newcastle, but his name will remain as a rebuke to the church’s sometimes overbearing claim to moral authority in all matters.

He is survived by his brother, Terry.

Complete Article HERE!