11/2/17

Someday Women Priests May Merit a Vatican Stamp: It Happened to Luther

The Church Treats Women Priests More Harshly Than Pedophiles

By Celia Wexler

November 1 was All Saints Day, a day on the church calendar when we pay homage to exceptional followers of Christ. The day before — October 31 — marked the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s declaration of opposition to what he considered a corrupt papacy that tolerated the selling of indulgences.

When he got wind of what Luther was doing, the Pope excommunicated him. But what a difference a few centuries makes. I can remember a time not so long ago when we Catholics called the Protestant Reformation the Protestant Revolt.

But now, the Vatican has issued a commemorative stamp depicting Luther kneeling at the foot of the cross. The stamp is part of an effort encouraging rapprochement between Catholics and Lutherans.

Perhaps this is a good day to remember that the church does rethink issues, even if it often takes a very long time to do so.

I’m not sure it will come in my lifetime, but at some point, the Vatican might even issue a stamp marking the ordination of the first woman priest.

That would certainly be a departure from the way the institutional church currently treats women priests. If a woman dares to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood, the church declares her to be excommunicated.

Excommunication is the worst thing that the church can do to its members. It bans the individual from receiving all sacraments and from the Catholic community.

So you would think that the ordination of women priests was either so morally sinful or so damaging to the church, that this type of punishment was warranted.

But it is difficult to view Catholic women who pursue a vocation to the priesthood as reprobates out to damage the church.

Indeed, they’re not even outliers among Catholic faithful. Overall, about six in ten U.S. Catholics support women’s ordination. Even among Catholics who attend Mass at least weekly, 45 percent believe that women should have access to the priesthood.

In 1994, Pope John Paul II claimed that women should be excluded because Christ only called twelve men to be His apostles, and the church has always done it this way. That seems like an awfully lame excuse for centuries of misogyny. After all, the apostles all were Jews, too. And it would have been difficult for Jesus, living in that culture and at that point in Jewish history, to have elevated women to leadership positions, although He certainly paid far more attention to women than was customary at the time.

At a time when women have made great strides in the workplace, proving themselves just as capable to head businesses, excel in the arts and sciences, and lead countries, when Anglican and Episcopal churches have ordained women to serve both as priests and bishops, it appears that the Catholic hierarchy is fighting a battle that becomes less and less intellectually defensible.

The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests claims that since a validly ordained Catholic bishop ordained the first women bishops, the ordinations that follow are all valid and within the Catholic apostolic line of succession. They also make clear that they see themselves as reformers within their “beloved church,” not antagonists. Both Women Priests and the Women’s Ordination Conference offer a reasoned and respectful rebuttal to the church’s arguments.

But even if we assume that the institutional church is absolutely right about its embrace of an all-male priesthood, why does it feel so threatened by those few brave women who follow their consciences and choose to be women priests?

They know they will not get the chance to serve in any Catholic parishes or hospitals. They accept lives with little economic or professional security, and none of the perks male priests receive. But surely, they do not threaten the viability of the church.

And tell me this: Isn’t pedophilia a real threat to the institutional church? After all, we are talking about millions of Catholics losing faith in their pastors and bishops, and dioceses saddled with multi-million-dollar lawsuits. Parishes have been closed due to the financial burden of this abuse.

Yet there is no similar papal decree that states that any priest found guilty of sexually molesting minors should be automatically excommunicated.

Indeed it appears that many priest molesters get off easy. In 2014, the Vatican reported that over ten years, it had defrocked 848 priests, and given lighter punishments to 2572 others. The Vatican did not report how many priests it reported to law enforcement, or what happened to them. (In defending how it treated errant priests, the Vatican official had the temerity to state that “the Holy See condemns torture, that includes torture inflicted on the unborn.”)

Interestingly, the decree excommunicating women priests came out in 2007, the same year that the Los Angeles archdiocese paid $660 million in damages to resolve lawsuits filed by abuse victims.

It was just three years after a study commissioned by U.S. bishops revealed that more than 4,000 priests and deacons had been the targets of more than 10,000 complaints of abuse.

Or course, the greater irony is that women who seek ordination do so not to do evil, but to do good. They are not predators. They want to give more to the church, inspired by their faith to live out the gospels as fully as possible. They have not cost the U.S. church the $2.5 billion in damages caused by abusive priests.

I’m not aware of women priests storming parish churches, demanding to say Mass. They are not breaking into rectories, asking for room and board. They are attending schools of theology, but they have not attempted to secure for themselves the benefits that their male colleagues – seminarians – take for granted.

Aspiring priest Lisa Cathelyn must pay $50,000 in tuition to earn her graduate degree in theology from the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara in Berkeley, CA. She is on Medicaid because she can’t afford to buy the school’s health insurance. She’s living in a group home to save on rent. She faces an uncertain future, but one in which service to others is her lodestar.

It is the Jesuits who take a vow of poverty who live in relative comfort, while Polovick and other women who study for the priesthood do not need the vow: They are living the real thing.

Complete Article HERE!

10/31/17

No surprise that Bishop Robert Morlino and Co. imperil Christianity’s good name, again

Robert Morlino, bishop of the Diocese of Madison, gives his homily during an ordination Mass at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Parish in Madison in 2015.

By

At least two online petitions have been started to protest the decision by Madison’s ironically conservative Catholic diocese to provide advice to priests on whether some gay deceased should be denied funeral rites.

As a Christian, I find it repugnant that any religious institution calling itself Christian would wobble on whether to give a grieving family a Christian burial for their loved one. As if deeming homosexuality a sin weren’t silly enough, the Catholic Church considers denying spiritual comfort to the families of gay people.

Just as bad is the harm such un-Christ-like behavior could do to Christianity’s brand and its relationship to government.

One of the petitions calls for Pope Francis to remove Madison Bishop Robert Morlino from his position, while the other calls on Morlino to rescind the guidance allowing priests to deny full funeral rights to gay Catholics. Both miss the point.

Recalling Morlino isn’t going to suddenly cause the church to fully accept gays and become what my denomination calls “open and affirming.” Francis has talked a better talk on this issue, but he’s yet to walk a better walk — which is why it wouldn’t be in line with Catholic teachings for the Madison diocese to declare that the gay deceased are entitled to funeral rites.

Refusing the rites to a specific class of people doesn’t raise the same kinds of constitutional questions raised by, say, a baker refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding.

“The courts, in the name of protecting religious liberty, typically have given religious organizations fairly wide latitude to engage in practices that might seem to be discriminatory in a secular context,” said Shawn Peters, an expert in religious freedom from UW-Madison.

The, ahem, good news is that if a gay person or her family wants a Christian burial, there are plenty of Christian churches that will provide it — as long as those wanting the funeral don’t consider Catholicism is the only true Christianity, in which case they shouldn’t expect a Catholic funeral anyway.

The bad news is that because of the Catholic Church’s considerable size and influence, the pronouncements of Morlino and Co. put Christianity generally in a bad light, while making it look as if longstanding tax breaks for Christian churches and clergy amount to government endorsement of bigotry.

Peters said he didn’t think that in our “current political environment” tax breaks for religious organizations are “seriously at risk.” But earlier this month a federal judge struck down a tax break for clergy housing allowances.

I’m not sure any occupation should be singled out for a housing-related tax break, although it seems a small indulgence given how little clergy are paid and how much they help raise for charity the government might otherwise have to provide. One 2013 analysis estimated Catholic groups spent some $30 billion on social services annually, although some of their funding comes from government.

Christians can find evidence of such mission work just about every Sunday at church. But the work looks less Christ-like if the church deems some people unworthy of Christ’s grace, including after they die.

Complete Article HERE!

10/27/17

Madison diocese advice to priests on LGBT funerals causes grief

File Under:  Insulated, monolithic, callous, tone deaf church power structure

 

A top aide to Bishop Robert Morino issued guidance to priests in the Catholic Diocese of Madison that critics say could limit the availability of funeral rites within the church for gay people.

Vicar General James Bartylla emailed a newsletter to priests earlier in October, with the bishop’s approval, that says rites “may be denied for manifest sinners” if they would cause unavoidable “public scandal of the faithful,” the Wisconsin State Journal reported this week.

The message laid out a series of “general considerations” for priests to keep in mind if asked to perform Catholic funeral rites by a deceased person’s family or same-sex partner, including whether “the deceased or the ‘partner’ was a ‘promoter of the gay lifestyle.’”

The “attitude” of the deceased’s family members, especially toward the church, and whether the deceased person showed “some signs of repentance before death,” also were cited as prominent considerations.

“My short answer to pastors and parochial vicars in these cases is to think through the issue thoroughly and prudently,” Bartylla wrote in the email. “The pastoral task is to minimize the risk of scandal and confusion to others amidst the solicitude for the deceased and family.”

Vicar General James Bartylla (she’s got issues)

Diocese spokesman Brent King in emails to the newspaper stressed what he described as the advisory nature of the vicar general’s message.

“The only word used in Saturday’s email was ‘consideration’ or ‘considerations,’” King said. “There were no directives, bans, or even real guidelines. other than what is written in canon law. If there was any directive, it was, ‘Think through the issue thoroughly and prudently.’”

The newsletter said any surviving partner “should not have any public or prominent role” at any church funeral rite.

It also said there should be no mention of the surviving partner’s name and no reference to “the unnatural union” in “any liturgical booklet, prayer card, homily, sermon, talk by the priest, deacon, etc.?…”

An advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics said the message only served to distance LGBT people and their families from the church.

“This document is the very antithesis of pastoral care,” Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, said in a statement . “It shows that this bishop believes that lesbian and gay people who have lived a deep commitment to a spouse or partner should be demeaned even in death. Our families could be refused the sacraments of our faith at the moment of their greatest grief.”

A diocesan statement criticized the public airing of Bartylla’s message, which emerged through the Minnesota-based progressive Catholic blog Pray Tell.

“Those who place at risk the ability of the bishop to communicate with his priests confidentially do a grave harm to the Church and perform, indeed, what Sacred Scripture calls ‘a work of darkness,’” the statement said.

Complete Article HERE!

10/19/17

Coming Out and Faith: A Catholic Queer Woman Latches on to Hope

This month LGBT Americans observed National Coming Out Day, which serves as a call to be out and proud and a recognition that showcasing your identity is an empowering act that can also help change anti-LGBT attitudes. But one’s religious beliefs can sometimes complicate coming out. The Advocate has interviewed people from a variety of faiths about how their religion affected their coming-out and vice versa. In the first in this series, we speak to a graduate student at a Roman Catholic college.

By Trudy Ring

Elizabeth Sextro realizes the Roman Catholic Church probably won’t change its teachings on homosexuality in her lifetime — but that doesn’t keep the 20-something theology graduate student from identifying both as a queer woman and a faithful Catholic.

Reconciling these two identities was “definitely a difficult process,” says Sextro, who’s working on a master’s degree in theological studies at Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry. Nevertheless, she says, “it’s who I am.”

Sextro, a self-described “cradle Catholic” originally from St. Louis, came out as queer in 2012, when she was an undergraduate at Loyola University in Chicago. “Coming out at college was really easy,” she says. “I had a lot of supportive friends.”

She was able to resolve any conflict between her queer and Catholic identities, she says, through her studies and through talking with those supportive friends who had been through similar experiences.

It also helped that Loyola, like Boston College, is run by the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order known for scholarship and progressive ideology. She studied queer theology, which rejects the idea that LGBT people are abnormal or disordered, as the Catholic Church has long held, and she had a faculty mentor, a straight layman, who encouraged her.

Coming out to her parents was more problematic. They aren’t quite at a place of acceptance even now, she says, but they have advanced to the point that she can bring her female partner home. “We still have work to do,” Sextro says of her family relationship.

There is certainly still work to do in the church, where, she says, the faithful are far ahead of the hierarchy. “I see gay people everywhere” when she attends Catholic services, says Sextro, who divides her time between a couple of congregations in Boston.

The church deems same-sex relationships sinful, and it expects Catholics with same-sex attractions to avoid acting on them. The catechism — a summary of church doctrine — holds that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” Pope Francis, while more conciliatory toward LGBT people than his predecessors were, has held to traditional doctrine. But many in the church are rejecting anti-LGBT teachings and recognizing that the language in the catechism is harmful, Sextro notes.

“It’s going to be baby steps from here on out,” she says of the process of changing the church. It may even have women priests before it discards anti-LGBT doctrine. “It’s not going to happen in my lifetime, but hopefully it will,” says Sextro, who expects to finish her master’s degree in the spring, then aims to eventually get a Ph.D. and teach at the university level.

One of the main reasons she stays in the church, she said, is to help that change along. “I stay because there is more work to be done in the church and because I feel committed and responsible as an aspiring theologian myself to offer a critical perspective to the Catholic Church,” she says. “That’s not to say that I have not considered leaving — I certainly have. That would be a heck of a lot easier. But I borrow from one of my professors at the [School of Theology and Ministry] in saying this: If you are looking for a perfect church in this life, you will be looking forever. No church is perfect, and I stay because I can offer something to the church as a queer woman and theologian that may bring the church a little bit closer to working toward justice. I wouldn’t stay if I didn’t have hope.”

For LGBT Catholics to be out and proud can contribute to change, she says, but she recognizes that coming out is an individual decision. “Coming out is really difficult,” she says. “No one should feel pressure to come out in order to advance a certain cause.”

Part of being a person of faith, she adds, is “putting trust in something outside of yourself” and realizing that some things are out of your control. That approach is also helpful when thinking about progress in the church — knowing she can make a contribution, but she can’t make it all happen, she says. And then there is what Emily Dickinson called “the thing with feathers — that perches in the soul … and never stops.”

“I’ve really latched on to hope,” Sextro says. “And I think hope is huge.”

Complete Article HERE!

09/15/17

Vatican diplomat recalled amid child porn investigation

By NICOLE WINFIELD and MATTHEW LEE

A high-ranking priest working in the Vatican’s embassy in Washington has been recalled after U.S. prosecutors asked for him to be charged there and face trial in a child pornography investigation, Vatican and U.S. officials said Friday.

The diplomat was suspected of possessing, but not producing or disseminating, child pornography including images of pre-pubescent children, a U.S. source familiar with the case said. The source was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Vatican declined to identify the priest, but said he was currently in Vatican City and that Vatican prosecutors had launched their own probe and sought evidence from the U.S.

If the accusations pan out, the case would be a major embarrassment for the Vatican and Pope Francis, who has pledged “zero tolerance” for sexual abuse. The diplomat would be the second from the Vatican’s diplomatic corps to face possible criminal charges for such crimes during Francis’ papacy. And any trial in the Vatican would come as Francis’ own financial czar, Cardinal George Pell, is on trial in his native Australia for alleged historic sex abuse cases.

The State Department said it had asked the Vatican to lift the official’s diplomatic immunity on Aug. 21. It said that request was denied three days later. For the State Department to make such a request, its lawyers would have needed to be convinced that there was reasonable cause for criminal prosecution.

The circumstances that prompted prosecutors to make the request, however, weren’t clear. The Justice Department, which would have brought any charges, didn’t immediately comment, and the Vatican gave no details about what, if any, evidence had been provided to persuade it to recall the priest.

In a statement, the Vatican said the State Department had notified the Vatican on Aug. 21 of a “possible violation of laws relating to child pornography images” by one of its diplomats in Washington.

A U.S. official familiar with the case said the priest was a senior member of the Vatican embassy staff. The Vatican yearbook lists three counselors who work under the nuncio, or ambassador.

The Vatican said recalling the priest was consistent with diplomatic practice of sovereign states. In declining to identify him, the Vatican said the case was subject to confidentiality while still under investigation. It said the Vatican had asked for information about the case from the U.S; it wasn’t clear if any had been provided.

The Vatican has recalled envoys before, including its then-ambassador to the Dominican Republic, who was recalled in 2013 after being accused of sexually abusing young boys on the Caribbean island.

The Vatican justified its decision to remove Monsignor Jozef Wesolowski from Dominican jurisdiction by submitting him first to a canonical court proceeding at the Vatican, and then putting him on trial in the Vatican’s criminal court, which has jurisdiction over the Holy See’s diplomatic corps.

Wesolowski was defrocked by the church court. But he died before the criminal trial got underway. Dominican prosecutors initially balked at the recall, and they never filed charges because of his immunity.

After he was defrocked, Wesolowski lost his diplomatic immunity and the Vatican said he could be tried by other courts. However, it refused to provide Dominican authorities with information about his whereabouts or how even he had pleaded to the charges.

The Vatican doesn’t have extradition treaties.

The Vatican in 2013 specifically criminalized child porn possession, distribution and production in its criminal code. Possession carries a possible jail term of up to two years and a 10,000-euro fine. Distribution can be punished with a term of up to five years and a 50,000-euro fine, while the most serious offense of production can bring a 12-year term and 250,000-euro fine.

The head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, said the case was serious and that he hoped the Vatican would be “forthcoming with more details.”

“We reaffirm that when such allegations occur, an immediate, thorough and transparent investigation should begin in cooperation with law enforcement and immediate steps be taken to protect children,” DiNardo said in a statement.

Francis has a spotty record on handling sex abuse cases. He won praise from advocates of survivors of abuse for having established a commission of experts to advise the church on keeping pedophiles out of the priesthood and protecting children. But the commission has floundered after losing the two members who themselves were survivors of abuse.

Francis’ promotion of Pell to be his finance czar when allegations abounded in Australia about his past conduct, as well other appointments, in-house decisions and his scrapping of a proposed tribunal to prosecute negligent bishops also have raised questions.

Complete Article HERE!