Why the Catholic Church vote on women deacons feels personal

Elizabeth Young was professed as a Sister of Mercy in 2010.

by Elizabeth Young

The Australian Catholic Church’s vote last week on the role of women in the church felt personal.

From when I was seven years old, I longed to commit my life in ordained ministry, and expressed this to my Archbishop at age 11. He responded, “There are many other things that women can do in the Church.”

Well, I am now 37, and have sincerely tried. I have been privileged to become a Sister of Mercy, youth ministry co-ordinator, pastoral worker, pastoral associate and chaplain. My whole employed life has been in the church, at the grassroots, on the margins.

However, ordination – which would allow women to serve in the ministry – is our official recognition and authorisation of this as a stable lifelong calling. This would allow us to perform weddings, funerals and baptisms, which have been shown to serve the most valued role for churches in Australian society.

Last week, bishops and representatives of the Australian Catholic Church concluded over four years of consultations in the highest form of church assembly with legislative authority: a Plenary Council.

At a time when the census shows that Catholics have decreased from 22.6 per cent to 20 per cent of the Australian population, the Council was to renew us in following Jesus, to reach out with hope, spirituality, ethics and justice inspired by faith. The 277 members listened to hundreds of thousands of Australians before voting on motions for a final document.

What started well turned into a crisis. On Wednesday, the two motions relating to “Witnessing to the Equal Dignity of Women and Men” did not receive a qualified majority from the bishops, whose votes count. Soon, worldwide news reported that more than 60 members stood up in shock.

The whole Council stalled. At that point I was starting to question my own humanity and the value of my baptism. Others I spoke to were pained, bruised and disillusioned.

One of the most controversial motions, it seems, was the potential ordination of women to the diaconate. Across the Christian world, there has been a revival of permanent deacons, to complement bishops and priests in ordained ministry. Here, women deacons exist in the Anglican and Uniting Church, among others.

Evidence shows that women were ordained as deacons until the 12th century. Strangely, however, we heard no reason why some voted against reinstituting this possibility. Women like me can only imagine why our participation might be unwelcome.

Is it a fear of women, or our “impurity” that prevented us from serving on the sanctuary? Is it the 13th-century legal phrase: “the impediment of sex”? Or is it that there are many available lay ministries and we don’t need to “clericalise women”?

That last one hits hard. What I already do appears very similar to the ministry of a deacon. I am not asking for power, but to better serve people’s spiritual needs, and to open more ministry pathways for future generations of Catholics. Furthermore, I want to acknowledge and appreciate many other callings, including parents, consecrated, priests, educators, evangelists, catechists, administrators and lay ecclesial ministers.

When the entire permanent diaconate flourishes – men and women – everyone should be encouraged and empowered in their own vocations. In ordaining women, bishops would gain ministerial security and oversight, firmly within the tradition of the Church. Compared with less biblical and historical options, this is quite a conservative ministry proposal.

Last Friday at the Council, a redeveloped set of motions finally passed. While parts were toned down, the final document tentatively states that, “should the universal law of the Church be modified to authorise the diaconate for women, the Plenary Council recommends that the Australian Bishops examine how best to implement it in the context of the Church in Australia”.

After an unexpectedly emotional week, I am actually excited. Since the 1960s, four Vatican Commissions have studied the question of women deacons, without conclusion. However, journalist and Vatican expert, Christopher Lamb, says that Pope Francis expects change to happen from the ground up. That is, if a consensus is formed at the grassroots in local church assemblies, only then will he, or a future Pope, move forward.

So I am praying that our voices reach the local and international level. That we model a Church where there is “no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”. (Gal 3:28)

That we serve the needy and challenge the comfortable. And I would like to thank everyone who is sharing this conversation, now and in the future.

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican defrocks priest who scolded Oakland Diocese over sex abuse

“It hit me harder than I’d expected”

Tim Stier, of Walnut Creek, is photographed at his home in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Friday, July 8, 2022.


Tim Stier figured it was only a matter of time. Since 2005 he’s refused parish assignments as an Oakland Diocese priest over its handling of clerical sex abuse claims and spent more than a decade outside its cathedral on Sundays calling for church accountability and justice for the victims.

He had no plans to end his self-imposed exile and resume work as a parish priest. But when the Vatican finally came for his collar a few months ago, removing him from the Roman Catholic priesthood, Stier said it still felt like a blow.

“It hit me harder than I’d expected,” said Stier, 73, whose removal was disclosed this week. “I felt sad and angry. If I’d been raping kids, I wouldn’t be thrown out of the club.”

The Diocese of Oakland said in a statement Friday only that “we wish Mr. Stier all the best in this new chapter of his life.”

But Stier, as he has been for the last 17 years, remains unsparing in his criticism of the diocese over the scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic church locally and around the world since it first came to light in the 1980s and 1990s through criminal prosecutions of priests and lawsuits.

The scandal gained wider attention after a 2002 Boston Globe expose that led to criminal prosecutions of five priests, won a Pulitzer Prize and was retold in the Academy Award-winning 2015 film “Spotlight.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 acknowledged the problem, calling for the protection of children and young people and zero tolerance for sexual abuse.

But critics have since accused church leaders around the country of failing to fully account for their role in enabling abuse. A 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report found more than 300 priests had abused more than 1,000 kids in six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses. The report found church leaders “brushed aside” victims’ claims and “preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all” by “concealing the truth.”

Donna Stone, second from the left, a plaintiff and survivor of clergy childhood sexual abuse speaks as attorney for survivors Dr. Joseph C. George, left, Melanie Sakoda, second from right, of SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests) and Tim Stier, right, an author and whistleblower priest who worked for 25 years in local parishes look on during a news conference announcing a new lawsuit filed against Catholic Diocese of Oakland, held in front of the Cathedral of Christ the Light church in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. The lawsuit is among the very first to be filed under a new California law signed by Gov. Newsom. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)
Donna Stone, center left, a plaintiff and survivor of clergy childhood sexual abuse, speaks during a news conference announcing a new lawsuit filed against the Catholic Diocese of Oakland in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. With Stone is Dr. Joseph C. George, an attorney for survivors, left, and Melanie Sakoda, center right, with Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, and Tim Stier, right, an author and whistleblower priest.

The report prompted similar probes in other states, including California, where it remains ongoing. It also led many dioceses, including Oakland and San Jose, to publish or expand their lists of credibly accused clergy.

Still, critics, including SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and Stier, who is close with that group’s leaders, have said the dioceses’ disclosures were incomplete and failed to address bishops’ roles in perpetuating the abuse.

In his May 31 farewell letter to some 60 Oakland Diocese priests, Stier wrote of his dismay that Oakland Bishop Michael C. Barber hasn’t held retired Bishop emeritus John S. Cummins accountable for his role in allegedly enabling the abuse by credibly accused priests the diocese has named.

Stier’s letter, which he said only one priest responded to, said Cummins, bishop from 1977 to 2003, failed to prevent abuse by Vincent Breen, Don Broderson, James Clark, George Francis, Robert Ponciroli, Gary Tollner and Stephen Kiesle. All eventually were taken out of ministry and Broderson, Kiesle and Ponciroli were removed from the priesthood. Only Kiesle is still alive.

The diocese did not comment on Stier’s accusations, and Cummins, 93, could not be reached.

Stier, whom Cummins ordained in 1978, had served at St. Bede in Hayward under Francis, who died in 1998 and was accused of sexually abusing at least six kids. The diocese paid a $3 million settlement in 2004 to one of Francis’ victims, whose father Stier knew.

Stier later served at St. John Vianney in Walnut Creek, St. Raymond in Dublin and finally for 12 years at Corpus Christi in Fremont. He wasn’t shy there about confronting the sex abuse scandal, at one point removing the name of Clark, accused of abuse from 1971 to 1973 and who died in 1989, from the parish hall.

But Stier grew increasingly frustrated by what he felt was a church that was lowering its standards for priests to fill vacancies while refusing to reconsider policies and teachings he believes contribute to the problem – priestly celibacy, refusal to ordain women and opposition to homosexuality.

Tim Stier, of Walnut Creek, is photographed at his home in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Friday, July 8, 2022. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Tim Stier, of Walnut Creek, is photographed at his home in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Friday, July 8, 2022.

The final straw, Stier said, was a 2004 meeting with Dan McNevin, a former altar boy who said he’d been sexually abused by Clark. He later received part of a $56.4 million settlement with 56 accusers and is now SNAP’s treasurer. After a sabbatical, Stier told then-bishop Allen H. Vigneron in 2005 that he could no longer serve as a parish priest.

Stier now lives in a Walnut Creek retirement community, on income from a book, Social Security and his priest pension. Barber, he said, has never responded to his protests or letters.

Two years ago, he said he received a notice from the diocese that the bishop wanted to remove him from the priesthood, in a process known as laicization. He refused to cooperate, and the diocese told him in May that the Vatican had laicized him March 19.

SNAP said in response that “when many in Oakland were silent about this ongoing problem, Tim Stier chose not to be. In response, he has been punished.”

Stier said that as a “Catholic through and through” he couldn’t bring himself to join another denomination and that his defrocking hasn’t shaken his faith.

“I believe in God, I pray daily, I read the scriptures,” Stier said.

It also won’t keep him quiet.

“The main focus for me here is the suffering of the victims,” Stier said. “They keep me going.”

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican Church reforms: Now, women to have a say in appointment of bishops

Pope Francis revealed that women may have a say in choosing the Catholic Church’s Bishops who are all men. This is a significant step forward in including women in higher decision-making roles.

The current Pontiff has made several other appointments of women to high-ranking administrative posts.

By Dipavali Hazra

Pope Francis has been spearheading some radical reforms in the Vatican Church that have opened up doors for women to play a role in the seat of Catholic power. While women cannot move up in the religious hierarchy in the Catholic Church, they will, for the first time ever, have a say in the appointment of Bishops- who are all men.

Though this has not been officially announced yet, the Pope revealed in an interview with Reuters that: “Two women will be appointed for the first time in the committee to elect bishops in the Congregation for Bishops.”

He did not elaborate on who were the women who could be appointed to this committee that comprises cardinals, bishops and priests nor did he say when the announcement would me made official. However, the presence of women in one of the top decision-making bodies is a significant step forward in the fairly orthodox religious organisation. This image of the Catholic Church is one that Pope Francis has been trying to modify.

His tenure has been marked with more openness toward not only women but also homosexuals. He has previously supported same-sex “civil unions” calling for their right to be in a family. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he did not support same-sex marriage but did back legal protection for those who chose such living arrangements.

Though his previous comments have appeared to flip flop on homosexuality, his more conciliatory approach has divided people, with liberals welcoming his words, conservatives unhappy and analysts observing that real change would come only when legal protections are given in the church doctrine and homosexual behaviour is no longer considered a “sin”.

Also, in the backdrop of the US Supreme Court abortion ruling, the Pope condemned the practice and compared it to “hiring a hit-man to solve a problem”.

Meanwhile, as far as women’s representation is concerned, Pope Francis, during his 9-year tenure, has certainly paved the way for more opportunities in the Vatican.

In March 2022, he had approved a new constitution for the Vatican’s central administration known as the Curia. The new constitution replaced St John Paul II’s founding constitution, which was written in 1988. One of its key reforms was to permit any baptised lay man and woman to head any of the Vatican’s ministries. In a big shift from positions of power being held only by male clergy, the preamble to the new constitution which was adopted on June 5 says, “The pope, bishops and other ordained ministers are not the only evangelizers in the Church.” Another section of the constitution reads: “Any member of the faithful can head a dicastery (Curia department) or organism.”

When he was asked during the Reuters interview about which Vatican departments could be headed by a member of the public as opposed to the clergy he said that such positions could be cleared in the department for Catholic Education and Culture and the Apostolic Library.

Last year Pope Francis had appointed Sister Raffaella Petrini, to the number two position in the Vatican City Governorate which oversees the Vatican offices and residences in the Vatican city state as well as in Rome. Petrini is the first woman to hold the position.

The current Pontiff has made several other appointments of women to high-ranking administrative posts. In January 2020, Francesca di Giovanni was named Undersecretary for the multilateral sector in the Secretariat of State’s Section for Relations with States and International Organizations, another first.

Sister Nathalie Becquart, Sister Alessandra Smerilli, Sister Carmen Ros Nortes are other women who have been appointed to important positions.

Despite the advances made so far, women have traditionally never been ordained and cannot become priests, bishops or popes in the Catholic Church. The Anglican Church, however, has set a precedent by ordaining women Bishops.

Complete Article HERE!

Ex-priest awarded damages against Church over childhood abuse

A former priest who was sexually abused as a teenager by a senior cleric has been awarded £455,000 damages against the Catholic Church.

The man, who cannot be named, was abused while he attended a residential school in Scotland in the 1970s.

His attacker had been his “spiritual director” between the ages of 14 and 16.

The victim went on the join the priesthood but became a “tortured soul”, the Court of Session heard.

He later went through the formal procedure of leaving the priesthood and was married for a while.

The man sued The Bishop’s Conference of Scotland for £2.25m.

It admitted the sexual abuse occurred and accepted liability for any loss or damage caused by the abuse.

Lord Clark, who heard the case, said: “For many years the pursuer (the ex-priest) carried out his role as a priest in an effective and well-respected manner.

“However, as a teenager in secondary education working towards being a priest he had been subjected to vile sexual abuse by his spiritual director. This trauma has tormented him for many years.”

Intolerable difficulties

The judge added: “His personality, his ability to function and indeed his life were impaired by it. He did what he could to block from his mind the memories and effects of the abuse, but there came a point in time when he could no longer do so.

“As a perhaps obvious consequence, remaining in his role as a priest became burdened with intolerable difficulties. The loss he sustained and continues to suffer can never adequately be addressed by an award of damages,” Lord Clark said in a written judgement.

The judge said the victim was not given sympathy “or indeed any real engagement from the Church”.

“He came to realise that the impact of the abuse and its damaging effects on his life to date would continue if he remained as a priest, but the ongoing torment could at least to some extent be alleviated by laicising (leaving the priesthood).”

Damages of £445,000 were awarded to the man for the consequential loss that arose from leaving his role as a priest and for pain and suffering.

Complete Article HERE!

Local Catholic church in San Francisco embracing LGBTQ struggle for equal rights

Most Holy Redeemer Church

By Kenny Choi

The decades-long struggle for equal rights for the gay community included an unlikely transformation within a local Catholic church that is now thriving in San Francisco’s Castro District.

Members of the Most Holy Redeemer Church helped build and branch out the church that it has become today. You don’t have to be family, a bestie, or even a close friend, to be invited for a meal at this warm and welcoming home.

Almost every night of the week for years, Jim Laufenberg and Mike Daly chop, spice up, and cook. They invite neighborhood strangers while walking their dogs Fiona and Finn, fellow passengers on planes, and folks from their church, too.

“Sharing food is a great way of bringing people to the table,” said Daly.

They showcase countless pictures and share candid stories of guests from months, and even years ago. Everywhere you look in their dining room, you’ll see faces, young, old, gay, and straight, including one of Mike’s favorite relics of the Virgin Mary.

“I find peace at mass,” said Daly.

Mike and Jim don’t preach or politicize over dinner. But they do talk passionately about the day they met between ‘prayers in the pews’

“Heard you’re single. Looked up at Jesus and thought, ‘Where have you been all my life,'” said Daly.

Their faith is their foundation as a gay Catholic couple, even when their religion and homosexuality – in practice and theology – still don’t mix in many ways.

That tension between the Catholic church and the LGBTQ community reached a boiling point in December 1989, when protestors by the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), stormed Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City to speak out against the church’s role in stopping condom distribution in schools and other policies.

“I would like to see church open up more,” said Laufenberg.

Jim and Mike vividly recollect the struggle for gay marriage. They got married eight years ago, soon after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned California’s controversial Prop 8, which banned same-sex marriage in 2008.

But their hope for the Catholic Church to evolve even more, continues today.

“It is hard [being gay and Catholic], especially when I go to other churches that don’t feel as welcoming,” said Daly.

“I would love to see Rome change some of their ideas being less conservative in terms of diverse people receiving communion, women as priests, having priests have a life partner, whether it’s a man or woman. I don’t care,” said Laufenberg.

Breaking from thousands of years of Catholic tradition can be a difficult, daunting, and daring challenge. But that’s exactly what happened at Most Holy Redeemer nearly 50 years ago.

“The elderly of this parish started an AIDS ministry and outreach to the young men and it became an improbable faith family of the gay community and senior citizens and became known affectionately as gays and grays,” said church member and San Francisco Supervisor Matt Dorsey.

As the AIDS crisis worsened in the late 80’s this church played a vital role as a support hub and started a hospice just across the street which ended up serving so many patients.

“They came here in the 80s and 90s just to have someone hug them and pray for them,” said Daly.

A scroll inside the church lists hundreds of AIDS victims, and so does a fountain in the courtyard to memorialize those who lost their battles.

“There would be pages of young people in their 30’s and 40’s who were dying,” said Daly. “It was a very black time.”

Daly has worked as a nurse for more than 40 years and saw patients struggling – and dying – at San Francisco General Hospital, including many connected to his church. His faith in a greater being gives him peace and new life, even in the shadows of death.

“It gave me the support to help others,” said Daly.

It’s that spirit to love others who need it most that inspires and drives ordinary men like Daly and Laufenberg to become pillars of this Catholic community in the Castro, a community that came to fully open its doors to the LGBTQ community and anyone seeking hope and meaning to life.

“I know it’s perfectly normal,” said Laufenberg. “What God makes is good. God made us the way we are. We didn’t choose to be gay.”

“The slogan [is] ‘God’s inclusive love is proclaimed here. Don’t leave anyone out.'” said Dorsey. “That was true even when it was really hard during the AIDS crisis when the church wasn’t as welcoming as it should be to members of the LGBTQ community to people with HIV and AIDS. This church and parish showed the way.”

LGBTQ parishioners are still denied rights other Catholics have. Gay couples cannot get married in the church by a Catholic priest.

Jim and Mike were raised following Catholic traditions and say they believe in the church’s message of love, caring, and concern. Their hope is to see the younger generation in the church continue to carry the torch.

Complete Article HERE!