Historic: Catholic Church Withdraws from Maine Marriage Equality Fight

The Roman Catholic Church is taking no active roles in fundraising, staffing, advertising, or campaigning against marriage equality in Maine.

Bishop Richard Malone, the sect’s top-ranking official in Maine, said on 2 March that his goal now is only to re-train the wayward 25% of Maine’s 187,306 Catholics. He said that the church “doesn’t want to impose a law or belief on anyone,” especially non-Catholic citizens, who comprise 86% of Maine residents, and 77% of all Americans. Maine voters will decide by ballot in November whether to write same-gender marriage into state law.

Historically, Roman Catholic officials have opposed virtually every regulation, policy, and law proposed to protect LGBT people nationwide. Toward that end, the church spent $1.9 million to repeal Maine’s new marriage equality statute in 2009, after the legislature and governor had already enacted it.

Historic Catholic retreat

Friday’s historic retreat is the first of its kind for this religious sect, and is profound. Such changes are not made independently, and are always coordinated with higher church officials. The Diocese of Maine, located in Portland, is a corporation sole which reports to the Ecclesiastical Province of Boston, located in Boston, Massachusetts, which includes the states of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

The Catholic church’s reversal on this year’s campaign in Maine may help current marriage equality efforts in 18 other states, especially New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Maryland, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Washington. In Minnesota and North Carolina, the church has been lobbying to ban marriage for all same-gender couples by amending those states’ constitutions. Bishop Malone gave no indication of when, whether, or how Maine’s retreat on marriage equality will affect similar campaigns in other states.

Formal Teachings Still in Place

Within its own ranks, however, Roman Catholic officials are continuing to reinforce Pope Benedict XVI’s formal view of bisexual, lesbian, and gay sexuality as “an intrinsic moral evil,” “intrinsically disordered,” and “inherently evil.”

Last month, the church assigned Rev. Kevin Martin of St. Michael Parish in Augusta to operate a newly formed Maine chapter of Courage, the international organization that claims to cure people of the sexual orientation that they are born with. The cures are attempted using a mixture of firm hope, additional prayer, new apparel, and/or life-long celibacy. Such reparative therapies have been discredited and denounced by every major mental/medical health professional organization as ineffective, painful, and dangerous to patients because of higher death rates from suicide.

Despite withdrawing from the public debate, the church still bans marriage for same-gender Catholic couples, according to its official policy (http://beautyofmarriage.org/) and Bishop Malone’s recent 22-page letter (http://bit.ly/zLbKsF).

Complete Article HERE!

JOANN FITZPATRICK: Catholic church, political opportunists fail as role models and leaders

COMMENTARY

Catholic church, political opportunists froth over perceived affronts but repeatedly fail as role models and leaders.

You cannot be a woman and a Catholic without having a stiff set of blinders to screen out so much about the church that makes women fourth-rate participants.

The Catholic hierarchy operates in a bubble, reconfirming at every opportunity that these men have no awareness of how most Catholics live their lives.

The ruckus over the new health insurance law and contraception is just the latest and loudest example. Never mind that reputable surveys show 98 percent of American Catholics have used birth control, the official church rushes to the barricades, determined to keep reality at bay.

Never mind that the health insurance provision that caused this trumped-up outrage would not force Catholic hospitals or other religious institutions to dispense birth control. That would have been wrong, but that was not the case. The stipulation in the new health care law is that insurance companies will provide birth control to women at no cost. That meant insurance plans offered by religious-affiliated institutions would have to include the birth control provision. The link between the Catholic Church and federal government is that most large Catholic institutions – hospitals and universities – accept federal money for research or services.

The Catholic Church position on birth control would be harder to swallow if it did not have such disastrous results: It condemns the poor in Africa and Latin America to wretched lives in which children, at best, face a future of deprivation and at worst die within a few years of birth. Where is the compassion? The poor we may always have with us but it is painful to observe the church’s active role in perpetuating poverty.

Here in the United State the church rages against abortion while crusading against family planning in general and the organization Planned Parenthood in particular. The illogic of this position – given that family planning is the easiest, cheapest way to prevent abortion – is of no consequence to church leaders, none of whom will ever have a conversation with a gynecologist. Theirs is a unique set of blinders.

The contraception flap was a godsend to the Republican presidential candidates, coming as it did just when economic indicators showed the economy continuing to improve. Mon Dieu! Good news – what’s an angry candidate to do? One-up the Catholic bishops by accusing the president of “waging war on the Catholic Church,” as Newt Gingrich did with relish.

This is the same twice-divorced Gingrich who was baptized into the Catholic Church in 2009 by no less than the Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Weurl. Newtie discovered Catholicism some years after discovering his then-mistress Callista, which happened at the time he was married and flogging President Clinton for discovering Monica Lewinsky. I don’t know whether Cardinal Weurl was among the church leaders who had called for denying Communion to Democrats Ted Kennedy and John Kerry – both divorced Catholics. But consistency is a fleeting thing with the Catholic hierarchy, especially where politicians are concerned.

The White House had little choice but to find a compromise that would calm the furor so it decided insurance companies would pay for birth control if women getting their medical coverage at a Catholic institution asked for it. Predictably, the more hard-line bishops continue to see red.

It’s fascinating to watch these men assert themselves so authoritatively as arbiters of personal morality when the fallout from the sex abuse scandal is still very much with us. Church leaders would like to think that’s ancient history but it’s not. Because most priests are good men who were not involved, I and other Catholics are sticking with the church, believing the same horrific actions will not occur again. But the anger over what happened – the enabling and concealing of crimes against children – simmers just below the surface.

Amid the howls over the contraception dispute, little attention was paid last week when one of the best-known American cardinals, Edward Egan, former bishop in Bridgeport and archbishop in New York, said he regretted his 2002 apology for what happened in Bridgeport. Egan, 79 and retired, now says, “I don’t think we did anything wrong.” And he maintains the church in Connecticut has no obligation to report sex abuse allegations to authorities.

This is stunning. It not only reopens wounds for dozens of Bridgeport victims but also reveals once again how impossible it is for some men of the cloth to acknowledge their responsibility in the real world and, most especially, to the law.

Those Republicans, including Sen. Scott Brown – who had better sense on the issue as a state senator – who think they can convert a woman’s health issue into a question of religious freedom are underestimating the good sense of the public at large, just as the Catholic bishops do.

Complete Article HERE!

Church watchdog group posts Delaware sex abuse papers

A national watchdog group Wednesday began posting on line an estimated 30,000 pages of formerly undisclosed files from the Catholic Diocese here, which went bankrupt to pay damages to victims of sexual abuse.

The Wilmington Diocese paid out $77 million to 146 victims of sex abuse by priests and other clergy last year, forcing it to declare bankruptcy. The documents are being released as part of an agreement with abuse victims to conclude that process, church lawyer Anthony Flynn said.

“It is the largest single release of documents, by far,” in the nation, said Terry McKiernan, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, who explained that more documents were at one time filed in the Boston Archdiocese scandal, but over a longer period.

“The church itself calls them ‘secret archives,'” he said of the trove of papers, which detail internal Church correspondence over the abuse allegations.

It will take days for the site to post all of the documents on its website, www.bishopaccountability/wilmington, according to co-director Anne Barrett Doyle, who spoke at a press conference outside the diocese office here Wednesday.

“It is a sad day for me because the truth is revealed in documents like these,” said abuse victim Matthias Conaty, now 43, of Wilmington, who said he was abused by a Capuchin friar from the ages of 9 to 12.

“It is sad because men who were supposed to be trusted abused children and equally awful is the fact that men who were supervising (them) found it more important to protect what they saw as the interests of the church and containment of scandal,” Conaty told reporters outside the diocese headquarters.

Doyle told Reuters that her group wants two monsignors in the diocese forced out of the ministry because of what she believes were cover-ups of sexual abuse.

Diocese spokesman Robert Krebs, however, told Reuters that Bishop W. Francis Malooly, who has headed the diocese since 2008, has seen the documents and would have removed the men if he thought it had been justified.

Child abuse accusations have rocked the Catholic Church in the United States since 2002, and the church has paid out some $2 billion in settlements to victims.

In addition to Wilmington, Delaware several other Catholic dioceses have filed for bankruptcy because of sexual abuse claims including Portland, Oregon, Milwaukee, San Diego, Spokane, Washington and Davenport, Iowa.

Complete Article HERE!

Jurors will view secret church archives on sex abuse in upcoming Philly priest-abuse trial

Jurors picked over the next month to hear a landmark priest sex-abuse case will pore over two boxes of complaint files long buried in “secret archives” of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The files contain complaints lodged against dozens of Philadelphia priests over several decades, along with sex-therapy notes, legal advice and other sensitive material, according to summaries read aloud in recent pretrial hearings. The boxes were marked Exhibit 1 at a hearing Wednesday.

Defense lawyers for the first U.S. church official ever charged criminally for his oversight of accused priests objected to the exhibit. Monsignor William Lynn, 61, is charged with conspiracy and child endangerment.

But the secret files will be aired in court, save for a few documents excluded on hearsay or other grounds.

Jury selection starts Tuesday, and could take weeks given the church’s huge presence in this largely Catholic city and the trial’s expected four-month duration.

Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina refused Wednesday to step down from the case, denying defense claims that she is biased against the church and Lynn.

She said her comments about child-sex abuse being “widespread” in the Catholic church were taken out of context at a recent hearing on potential jury questions.

Sarmina also refused Lynn’s latest motion to sever his criminal case from those of two priests charged with rape. Lynn — a ruddy-faced, portly man who rose through the ranks to become a seminary dean and then a top aide to Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua — sat expressionless beside his sister in the courtroom.

Prosecutors call Lynn the keeper of the secret files during his years as secretary of clergy, from 1992 to 2004.

The priests behind the case files include one who allegedly pinned loincloths on naked boys playing Jesus, and whipped them, as part of a Passion play; one who held what prosecutors called “masturbation camps” at the rectory; and a pastor written up for complaining to Bevilacqua about an accused priest being transferred to his parish.

Sarmina ruled that the jury can hear about 22 of the accused priests, because Lynn knew about or took some action on their case files.

“They’re admitted for the purpose of what was in his mind,” Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington said in court Wednesday. “Everything he viewed — which is basically the secret archive files — is admitted to show his course of conduct.”

Sarmina agreed, while reserving the right to exclude individual documents, and to give jurors “limiting” instructions on how they should weigh the evidence.

Lynn’s lawyers object vehemently to the jury hearing about the other priests not on trial. Some of them are no longer alive. The defense had hoped to limit the case solely to Lynn’s involvement with his two co-defendants, the Rev. James Brennan, 48, and former priest Edward Avery, 69.

They fear he will be swept up in the outrage over the alleged sins of priests throughout the archdiocese, and worldwide. Sarmina’s recent comments heightened their concern.

She said anyone who doesn’t think there was widespread sexual abuse within the Catholic Church “is living on another planet. Look at what happened in Boston and the convictions there,” Sarmina said on Jan. 31, according to a defense motion. “You’re not taking into account Ireland, or Mexico or Boston, all of these places where there (have) been proven admissions?”

Sarmina said jurors could fairly judge Lynn’s case even if they view the problem as widespread, much as they could sit on a drug case while believing the country has a drug problem.

Despite heated arguments over evidence Wednesday, the two sides agree on many of the underlying facts. The issue comes down to their interpretation, Blessington said.

Defense lawyers will argue that Lynn took orders from Bevilacqua. The cardinal died last month at age 88. However, prosecutors preserved his testimony in a seven-hour videotaped deposition two months ago, and could show some or all of it in court.

The defense might not object. Defense lawyer Jeffrey Lindy said he also welcomed the use of some of the material in the secret files.

“Monsignor Lynn has a story to tell (too) in this trial,” Lindy said.

Complete Article HERE!

On the contraception mandate: Can the bishops speak credibly about a women’s health issue?

One thing that’s been bothering me about the contraception mandate controversy is simply that most of those objecting to this attack on Catholic “religious freedom” or “conscience protection”–however the issue it styled–are men, and most of them celibate. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago pointedly stated that “people of faith cannot be made second class citizens because of their religious beliefs.” Does that mean it’s OK to be made a second-class citizen on the basis of gender or your employer? There is a conflict of consciences here: We are talking about hundreds of thousands of women who work at Catholic social service agencies, colleges and universities, and hospitals.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston argued in a USCCB statement on the mandate: “Pregnancy is not a disease, and fertility is not a pathological condition to be suppressed by any means technically possible.” True enough as far as it goes, but most women I know–both married and single–want to become pregnant after some planning, and an unexpected pregnancy is a serious matter, especially in our rationed health care society. Pregnancy is not a disease, but it is a difficult, costly, and sometimes perilous medical event. Whether he meant it this way or not, DiNardo sounds callous to the health care needs (and worries) of women in their reproductive years.

The fact is, church teaching addresses women’s bodies and their health care in profoundly intimate and different ways than it does the bodies of men. (One wonders how the conversation would be different if we were talking about prostate exams or erectile dysfunction.) It does not help the bishops’ credibility that women have had no deliberative voice in the creation of church teaching on birth control, and since none of the bishops are married, they are not in the position to consider more than intellectually the economic, emotional, and psychological dimensions of an unplanned pregnancy.

The fact remains that half of pregnancies in this country are unplanned, and half of those end in abortion. The emotional, psychological, economic, and moral costs of these pregnancies (and abortions) fall most heavily on the women affected, and I think it incumbent upon Christians to consider these women and their children–born and unborn–as we examine this moral issue.

While the bishops are right to keep the issue of the constitutional right to free exercise on the front burner–and it seems that the USCCB intends to push for a complete rollback of the mandate–I do not see how preventing a woman from using a legal medical means to decide when or if she becomes pregnant impinges on my right to excercise my faith. Indeed, my hope that greater access to birth control would reduce the number of abortions more than makes up for any concerns I have about the legal complexities surrounding the mandate’s effect on Catholic employers.

Complete Article HERE!