As a Queer Catholic Woman I Had High Hopes Before the 2023 Catholic Synod on Synodality

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When the summit on the future of the Catholic Church began on October 9, I allowed myself for the first time in many years to feel optimistic. I smiled at pictures of Pope Francis welcoming LGBTQ Catholic advocates Sr Jeannine Gramick and Outreach director Fr James Martin, finally feeling that this could be our moment, my moment to find a home in the Church that had raised me. I felt that little sacristy door slightly creak open as I fumbled to dial the phone to call my mom. Was this it? Sadly, no. My excitement faded as I followed the livestream of the Synod of Bishops, punctuated by anger as I read the summit’s 41-page report.

This past Friday I saw New Ways Ministry’s statement, “Synod Report Greatly Disappoints, But We Must Have Hope,” while walking down a busy DC thoroughfare. In it Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the LGBTQ+-affirming Catholic organization, points out how, despite previous documents discussing the welcoming and inclusion of LGBTQ Catholics, there were no positive statements on LGBTQ issues—not even one use of the term “LGBTQ.” Instead, a single paragraph—approved by vote—stated:

“In different ways, people who feel marginalized or excluded from the Church because of their marriage status, identity or sexuality, also ask to be heard and accompanied.”

Once more the door that’s historically been closed to LGBTQ individuals and women was shut in my face. As I had done many times before, I opened myself up to the possibility that Pope Francis’s acknowledgement and inclusion of LGBTQ Catholics would lead to Church action. I had faith in this Synod, just like I did the Synod on Young People in 2018 whose final report also omitted the term “LGBT.”

Each time this happens, many LGBTQ Catholics dare to hope. For example, when the pope said, in 2022, that God “does not disown any of his children,” or in 2023 that “people with homosexual tendencies are children of God,” a number of LGBTQ Catholics and advocates, myself included, got excited for a day or two—maybe even called our parents (if the Church hasn’t driven a wedge between them and us). But then the news cycle passes and, with each expression of anti-LGBTQ Catholic doctrine on diocesan and global levels,  these small victories are tarnished with sadness and frustration.

This is not to say that these moments of recognition don’t matter to me or to so many other LGBTQ Catholics; it’s just to say that it hurts me so much more when these slight openings have no practical impact on my life as a queer Catholic woman.

Jesuit Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator assured LGBTQ Catholics that “the space is there to continue to have this conversation,” that no issue has been finalized ahead of the next assembly in 2024. “Nothing is closed,” remarked the dean of the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University, who added that the document “attempts to pull together all the divergent positions.” But how can we represent all viewpoints if the document won’t even say my name, say our name—LGBTQ Catholics? So the door is unlocked, but we’re not permitted to open it?

I want to be hopeful, but I, as well as many other Catholics, acknowledge that the changes Francis and other LGBTQ Catholics and allies are pushing for will not be achieved this year. They probably won’t be achieved this century. The door is rusted and rooted—it’s probably going to take more substantial remodeling. The Church moves at a slow pace, and I’m hopeful that these small moments will mean something, perhaps in a few decades or centuries. But at this moment, it feels like it doesn’t. The progress that I, and so many other LGBTQ Catholics dream of realizing, is extraordinarily unlikely to come true while I’m alive. In the end we’re working to open a door we will never walk through.

Complete Article HERE!

Dramatic fall in church attendance in Poland, official figures show

By Daniel Tilles

The proportion of Catholics in Poland attending mass has fallen from 37% to 28% in two years, according to the new figures published by the church’s statistical institute.

The church notes that the latest data – which come from 2021 – are likely to have been affected by the pandemic. But it also admits that “socio-cultural factors” have played a part in the decline.

While the vast majority of Poles are officially identified as Catholic, recent years have seen the status of the church dented by its support for an unpopular near-total ban on abortion and by revelations of child sex abuse by members of the clergy and negligence by bishops in dealing with the issue.

Since 1980, the Catholic church in Poland has conducted an annual study of how many people attend mass and take communion. On one Sunday each year, every parish in the country records figures and submits them to the Institute for Catholic Church Statistics (ISKK).

The ISKK then calculates nationally what proportion of Catholics required to attend mass – meaning people aged over seven and excluding the bedridden and elderly with limited mobility – actually did so on that day.

The latest figures show that 28.3% attended mass in 2021, which was down from 36.9% in 2019 (the survey was not conducted in 2020 due to the pandemic). In 2011, the number stood at 40%; in 2001 at 46.8%; in 1991 at 47.6%; and in 1981 at 52.7%.

Meanwhile, the proportion who took communion fell to 12.9% in 2021, having stood at 16.7% in 2019. In contrast to attendance figures, those taking communion had previously been rising: from 8.1% in 1981 to 10.8% in 1991, 16.5% in 2001 and 16.1% in 2011.

“The [2021] numbers were influenced by the pandemic situation,” notes ISKK’s deputy director Marcin Jewdokimow. “It should be remembered that in 2020, due to COVID-19 restrictions, no data were collected. In 2021, we collected data despite the fact that some restrictions were [still] in force.

The latest data were gathered on 26 September 2021, at a time when entry to churches was restricted to 50% capacity and attendees were obliged to wear masks.

“In previous years, the declines in the dominicantes [mass attendance] index were constant,” added Jewdokimow, quoted by the Polish Press Agency (PAP). “This time we’re dealing with a collapse. Therefore, I believe that next year we will have a rebound, the statistics will show an increase.”

At the same time, Jewdokimow admitted that “socio-cultural factors” had also had an impact on church attendance. But he noted that the ISKK does not conduct research into the reasons behind changes in the numbers it records.

“In the long term, we are dealing with processes of socio-cultural changes,” said Jewdokimow. “On the other hand, there is a certain reconfiguration of Catholicism and the place of religion in public space. People’s religious needs are changing and the way religious institutions function is changing.”

Other research has also indicated a decline in religious practice over recent years. Polling by CBOS, a state research agency, found that in August 2021 43% of Poles said they practice their religion at least once a week, down from 69.5% in 1992. However, 87% still declared themselves to be believers.

Among those aged 18-24, religious practice fell from 69% in 1992 to just 23% in 2021. Young Poles have been particularly prominent in protests against the church. An IBRiS poll in 2020 found that just 9% of those aged 18-29 held a positive view of the church.

Complete Article HERE!

‘Catholic Project’ study shows perception of the relationships between priests and bishops are at odds

Priests are seen during a special Mass for vocations at Cure of Ars Church in Merrick, N.Y., Aug. 4, 2022, the feast of St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests.

By Rhina Guidos

A study of U.S. priests released Oct. 19 details clerics’ “crisis of trust” toward their bishops as well as fear that if they were falsely accused of abuse, prelates would immediately throw them “under the bus” and not help them clear their name.

The study “Well-being, Trust and Policy in a Time of Crisis” by The Catholic Project, written by Brandon Vaidyanathan, Christopher Jacobi and Chelsea Rae Kelly, of The Catholic University of America, paints a portrait of a majority of priests who feel abandoned by the men they are supposed to trust at the helm of their dioceses.

And while the study says priests overwhelmingly support measures to combat sex abuse and enhance child safety, the majority, 82%, also said they regularly fear being falsely accused. Were that to happen, they feel they would face a “de facto policy” of guilty until proven innocent.

The study, unveiled at The Catholic University of America in Washington, documents the environment between priests and their bishops in light of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” instituted in 2002 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Commonly referred to as the Dallas Charter, it sets in place policy about how to proceed when allegations of sexual abuse of children by clergy or church personnel come to light.

Priests are seen processing at the conclusion of a special Mass for vocations at Cure of Ars Church in Merrick, N.Y., Aug. 4, 2022, the feast of St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests.

“Indeed, many priests feel that the policies introduced since the Dallas Charter have depersonalized their relationship with their bishops; they see bishops more as CEOs, bureaucrats, and legalistic guardians of diocesan finances than as fathers and brothers,” the study points out and quotes a diocesan priest saying: “Our archbishop is a remote figure. Not at all personable. Not approachable. He appears to be a busy CEO and religious functionary.”

The document reveals that 40% of the priests who responded said they see the zero-tolerance policy as “too harsh” or “harsher than necessary,” adding that it’s too easy to lodge false claims of abuse against them. They feel bishops would not support a priest in the period necessary to prove his innocence.

“There’s this sense … that the bishops are against a priest who’s been accused, rather than doing what the bishop must do but still supporting the priest,” said one of the 100 priests that researchers interviewed in-depth.

“Most priests agree with the church’s response to the abuse crisis, but also fear that their bishops wouldn’t have their backs if they were falsely accused,” said Vaidyanathan, one of the study’s authors.

Of the 10,000 diocesan and religious priests surveyed, just 24% said they had confidence in U.S. bishops in general. Instead, priests in the study said they predominantly see the prelates as social climbers, careerists and administrators who barely know priests in their diocese by name.

“I don’t really trust most of the bishops, to be honest with you. I’ll show them all a great amount of respect. And if I was in their diocese, I would really serve them and try,” a priest told researchers. “But just looking across the United States and looking across a lot of bishops … I would say I have an overall negative opinion of bishops in the United States.

“They’re really not leaders or they’re just kind of chameleons … looking to climb up the ladder.”

The study says 131 bishops also participated in the study, which analyzed attitudes about priests’ well-being, trust and the policy related to the sex abuse crisis.

In response to the study, the USCCB’s Public Affairs Office released a statement by Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, New Jersey, chairman of the organization’s Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.

“I am grateful for the insight provided by this study which will assist the bishops in our ministry to our priests. While not surprised, I am heartened that the results report priests have such a high level of vocational fulfilment and that they remain positive about their priestly ministry,” Bishop Checchio said in the Oct. 19 statement.

The bishop referred to a figure in the document that showed that 77% of the priests in the study could be categorized as “flourishing” — saying they felt fulfilled and had a sense of meaning and purpose — and 4% reporting that they were thinking of leaving the priesthood.

“Our priests are generous and committed,” Bishop Checchio continued. “While acknowledging that circumstances will vary from diocese to diocese, the findings of this study are overall valuable in that they remind us of the importance of being always attentive to the care of our priests with the ever-growing stressors they experience in ministry, while we strive to address any issues that have damaged the unique relationship we enjoy.”

The study says that the “erosion of trust between a priest and his bishop” affects the level of well-being of a priest, and those with more trust fare better than others.

It also points out a great disparity of perception between the two groups, with bishops overwhelmingly seeing their role as more supportive of clerics. The majority of bishops surveyed said that they felt their role was akin to a brother, a father, a shepherd, a co-worker, when it came to dealing with priests.

Priests said strengthening relationships with bishops, having more social interaction with them, have the prelates know their names, communication, transparency about processes, as well accountability on prelates’ part would help alleviate the existing erosion of trust.

“The hope is that if we were to do the same survey five years from now, things would look different,” Stephen White, of The Catholic Project, said in a statement released before the presentation.

“Priests are happy in their vocations, but we also want them to feel less anxious and more supported. I know the bishops want that too. Hopefully this data can help in that regard,” he said.

Priests in the study also said they felt like cogs in the wheel, seen by bishops as liabilities. Some of the attitudes varied between diocesan priests and those who belong to a religious community, with those who were part of a religious order reporting more support.

The study also said that “at least some” of the mistrust comes from the way priests see “the application of policies created in the wake of the abuse crisis,” even as some bishops helped cover up abuses or were accused of being abusers themselves.

“Perhaps some bishops see themselves through rose-colored glasses,” a summary of the study said. “Or perhaps priests, in a beleaguered and prolonged state of stress and uncertainty, unfairly characterize their bishops through a lens of cynicism and fear. Or perhaps there is some truth to both perspectives.”

Complete Article HERE!

What to do with a disused church

— A quiet sign of Catholic surrender in the UK

In the face of damning demographic shifts, churches are closing down en masse. Has the Catholic Church given up the fight?

by Jonathan MS Pearce

Near my home in suburban UK sits a Catholic church attached to a primary school. Although we are less religious than our American cousins, who are themselves secular, our education system is still hugely under the influence of religion. About 37% of primary schools are faith schools.

For just under a decade, the church on a small plot next to the school was used not as a church but as storage for diocesan documents. Now it is just gathering dust and weeds.

The diocese sees two choices: it will be gutted for some kind of diocesan offices, or it will be sold off as land to make a pretty penny.

This is not at all unusual.

A recent survey run by an evangelical organization found that while just under half of the UK population say they are Christian, only 6% profess to be practicing, a significant decline in a few generations. As a result, over 2,000 churches have closed over the last decade. A Church of England report recently found that up to 368 churches could be at risk for closure in the next two to five years.

As a ramification of this demographic shift, dioceses are being forced to merge parishes, calculating which are the best choices of churches to close, and which to keep running with ever-decreasing congregations.

But what interests me is the practicality of these decisions running against what the Catholic Church, or any such Christian church organization, should be doing.

Far be it from me to exhort this to a religious organization, but shouldn’t churches be seeking to increase the size of their flocks? Have churches just given up in light of dwindling numbers? I ask because, for many of the remaining Christians, the collateral of them not succeeding in growing their flock is a growing flock burning in hell (or some such outcome).

A few years ago, the school to which the church is attached reduced its PAN—the number of children it accepts each year—for practical purposes from 40 to 30. To do this, they had to apply to the diocese for permission. The diocese accepted without any pushback.

Again, surely the desire of the diocese should be to grow their adherents. This should be everything they are about. Instead, the priests are more obsessed with stoking up culture wars than welcoming people to their fold.

If that land is sold, a few quick bucks are made. So what? Unless that is paying for a strategy to grow the church, then it is all just delaying the inevitable. And if the Church does grow again in the local area, they have lost that land and that building and would face much greater costs to build a new one.

Surely the desire of the diocese should be to grow their adherents. This should be everything they are about. Instead, the priests lean into culture war.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to work in the diocesan offices or in the clergy, but it must evoke the proverbial rearranging of deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s a dying institution, at least in the UK, and everyone from within the organization is resigned to this fact.

Perhaps the Catholic Church is just positioning itself into a much humbler corner of UK society, receding in size until it reaches a comfortable irrelevancy.

As the Jesuit priest famously quipped, give me a boy of seven and I will give you a man. I can’t help but think, from a marketing point of view (and as much as I vehemently disagree with the religio-politics of this), that the diocese should be working extra hard to increase faith school intakes. Converting adults to Catholicism en masse is a ridiculous pipe dream in this era. Instead, ring-fencing groups of children to indoctrination is undoubtedly one of their best options.

Instead, the Catholic Church would rather sit back and grow weeds, either looking to other parts of the world for growth or being resigned to seeing their pews inexorably empty and their vestibules gather cobwebs.

Given the left hook from the constant slew of sex abuse scandals and the repetitive jabs from science and culture in a society that has moved on, I can’t help but think that they’ve given up the fight.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic nuns lift veil on abuse in convents

By Philip Pullella

When young nuns at a convent in Eastern Europe told their Mother Superior that a priest had tried to molest them, she retorted that it was probably their fault for “provoking him.”

When African nuns in Minnesota asked why it was always they who had to shovel snow they were told it was because they were young and strong, even though white sisters of the same age lived there too.

As the Roman Catholic Church pays more attention to the closed world of convents, where women spend much of their time in prayer and household work, more episodes of psychological, emotional and physical abuse are coming to light.

A new book, “Veil of Silence” by Salvatore Cernuzio, a journalist for the Vatican’s online outlet, Vatican News, is the latest expose to come from within and approved by authorities.

Cernuzio recounts experiences of 11 women and their struggles with an age-old system where the Mother Superior and older nuns demand total obedience, in some cases resulting in acts of cruelty and humiliation.

Marcela, a South American woman who joined an order of cloistered nuns in Italy 20 years ago when she was 19, recounts how the indoctrination was so strict that younger sisters needed permission to go to the bathroom and ask for sanitary products during their menstrual periods.

“You are always complaining! Do you want to be a saint or not?” Marcela, who later left the convent, quotes the Mother Superior as shouting when she suggested changes in the daily routine.

Therese, a French woman, was told “you have to suffer for Jesus” when she asked to be spared physically demanding chores because of a back condition.

“I understood that we were all like dogs,” recounted Elizabeth, an Australian. “They tell us to sit and we sit, to get up and we get up, to roll over and we roll over.”

BURNOUT SYNDROME

Last year, Father Giovanni Cucci wrote a landmark article about abuse in convents in the Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica, whose texts are approved by the Vatican.

He found that most of it was abuse of power, including episodes of racism such as in the Minnesota convent. Cucci said the problem needed more attention because it had been overshadowed by the sexual abuse of children by priests.

In 2018, the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano exposed the plight of foreign nuns sent by their orders to work as housekeepers for cardinals and bishops in Rome with little or no remuneration.

It later chronicled a “burnout” syndrome, where younger women with good educations were held back by older superiors reluctant to relinquish a boot camp-style tradition of assigning them menial tasks, ostensibly to instill discipline and obedience.

“Whatever may have worked in a pyramidal, authoritarian context of relationships before is no longer desirable or liveable,” wrote Sister Nathalie Becquart, a French member of the Xaviere Missionary Sisters and one of the highest-ranking women in the Vatican.

Becquart wrote in the book’s preface of the “cries and sufferings” of women who entered convents because they felt a calling from God but later left because their complaints too often fell on deaf ears.

Some were stigmatized as “traitors” by their orders and had great difficultly getting jobs in the outside world.

Last year, Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, who heads the Vatican department that oversees religious congregations, revealed that Pope Francis had opened a home in Rome for former nuns abandoned by their orders.

The cardinal, who has launched investigations into a number of convents, told the Vatican newspaper he was shocked to discover that there were a few cases where former nuns had to resort to prostitution to live.

Complete Article HERE!