Catholic Social Services splits with church over foster care, adoptions

The Belleville-based Catholic Social Services of Southern Illinois is getting a new name and is splitting with the Catholic church in an attempt to maintain its state contracts to provide foster and adoption services.

The new organization will be called Christian Social Services of Illinois and will be ending its relationship with the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, according to a joint announcement from the Diocese and Social Services.

“Unable to remain faithful to the moral teaching of the Catholic Church while adhering to the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, the 64-year-old social service agency chose to dissociate from the Diocese,” the Belleville Diocese said in a prepared statement. “It is hoped that this new entity will experience no interruption in its services and programs.”

Social Services Executive Director Gary Huelsmann said he didn’t like that the organization was separating from the church but said the move was necessary.
“This solution is what is best for the children by providing for their continuity of care and allowing for the retention of the caring, dedicated and professional staff employed by the agency,” Huelsmann said.

The changes come after months of legal wrangling that has followed the Illinois Department of Children and Families Services’ decision to terminate contracts with Catholic Charities agencies because they refused to place foster-care children with unmarried couples, including those in civil unions.
State officials believe a new state law requires placements in those homes. Catholic Charities said its religious beliefs were being violated and the organization should not be forced to make placements.

“We had to make a choice,” Huelsmann said. “It was a very difficult choice.”
The new Social Services will allow placements to civil unions, Huelsmann said. The agency also withdrew earlier this week from a lawsuit filed by Catholic Charities in response to the state’s decision.

Huelsmann said his organization is currently negotiating with the state to maintain foster care and adoption contracts that were to end Nov. 30 and to start receiving new cases. Catholic Charities had not had any foster care cases transferred to new agencies since the department’s decision to terminate the contracts but it hadn’t received any new cases either.

Losing the state contracts for foster care and adoption services would be a huge financial blow to Social Services, considering they account for 72 percent of the organization’s annual revenue of $13.1 million, according to Huelsmann. He had said the loss of that state revenue could have forced the organization to lay off three-quarters of its 187 employees.

Complete Article HERE!

Melkite Catholic Church to Ordain Married Men to the Priesthood in the US

The Bishop of the Melkite Eparchy of Newton, Massachusetts announced that the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in the United States would be ordaining married men to the priesthood. These comments raise significant questions of what the consequence of such a move might mean for this Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with Rome.

During an August dinner speech, Bishop Nicholas Samra, Bishop of the Melkite Eparchy of Newton and Eparch of all Melkites in the United States made comments that the Melkite Greek Catholic Church would be ordaining married men to the priesthood.

These comments, recently published in the Melkite journal Sophia, has raised significant questions of what the consequence of such a move might mean for this Church, which is in union with Rome and struggling to maintain sustainable vocations to the priesthood.
Bishop Nicholas, the first American-born bishop in the Melkite Church, emphasized the need for encouraging vocations within the United States:

“We are grateful for our ancestors – priests and laity and bishops who came from the Middle East and brought us to where we are presently. But now we have come of age and we need priests from among our people in this American Melkite Catholic Church”.

“God calls men and women to religious vocations. And I believe he also calls married men to the priesthood. We need to study this situation in our country and develop the proper formation for men who are truly deemed worthy of this call. The Deacon Formation Program is a good program; however is not the backdoor to the priesthood.”

“Married men who are called to priesthood need the same formation as those celibates who are called. I have already discussed this issue with those involved in priestly formation and hopefully soon we can see the growth of properly formed married clergy. Of course there are also major financial issues to be looked at and we will embark on this also.”

On first glance, some might view the Melkite Church as merely following in the same vein as that of the Anglican Ordinariate. However, the key difference with the Anglican Ordinariate in the Catholic Church, which allows for some former married Anglican priests to join the Catholic Church and be ordained to the Order of Deacon and then to the priesthood, is that it is viewed as an exception.

The Melkite Greek catholic Church is simply reaffirming the ancient practice in Eastern Christianity, Catholic and Orthodox, of choosing married AND celibate men for both the order of deacons and the Priesthood. Those chosen for the Episcopacy remain celibate. The practice had been curtailed in the United States.Bishop Nicholas is announcing his intention, after study and preparation, to make the practice normative in the United States.This is not an act of “dissent” of any sort. Rather, a resumption of an ancient practice.

Controversy is likely to arise over this announcement on a few counts. First, the Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Churches has not changed its approach to limiting the priesthood to celibate men as the norm, even in the Eastern Church, in the United States. There were a few past exceptions to the norm, but these have not been an indication of a new process for allowing married men to enter seminary formation on a normative basis. Whether or not this announcement will bring a reaction from the Congregation is unclear.

Similarly, there has been no recently history of previous American Melkite Catholic Bishops in pushing for priestly formation for married men as normative.There were a few controversial exceptions. There is also no clear indication of what Melkite Greek Catholics in the United States think about this recent announcement. However, it appears to be receiving strong support.

As indicated by Bishop Nicholas, other hurdles such as the financial cost of a married priesthood will need to be studied and considered if this new approach is to be successful.

As to a reaction from the Vatican regarding this announcement from the American Melkite Catholic Church, none has been heard yet.

Complete Article HERE!

“Occupy the Church”: Austria’s Catholic Rebellion Gathers Strength

COMMENTARY

Two recent reports from Austria show clearly that the Catholic rebellion is gathering strength: survey research shows that two thirds of the country’s priests support calls for urgent reform, and that lay Catholics have announced plans to ignore Church rules that restrict the celebration of Mass to ordained priests. Instead, they will conduct worship and communion themselves where priests are not available. Meanwhile, in Australia, a separate story from Melbourne illustrates how on a much smaller scale, Catholics elsewhere are also willing to defy episcopal control.

Survey: Two Thirds of Austrian Priests Back Priests’ Reform Initiative.
When the Austrian Priests’ dramatic “Call to disobedience” hit the news back in June, there was some uncertainty over just how much support they had. We now have a reliable estimate by a reputable, professional research organization. GfK was commissioned by national broadcaster ORF to check how many priests support the group’s ideas. The answer is remarkable:

  • 68% of Austrian priests see “an urgent need for reform”;
  • in spite of the strong, provocative language of the call, 32% back it “unreservedly”;
  • only 28% oppose it.

Detailed figures show that many of those in support were in favour of debating the various points in detail. Around one in three of Austria’s priests are “radical reformers”, according to researchers while four in 10 could be considered as “moderate reformers”.
-Austrian Independent

It’s worth recalling, here, just how far-reaching the proposals are. They want to see women admitted to the priesthood, an end to compulsory celibacy for priests, and for priests to distribute communion to people who have been divorced and remarried. In themselves, these calls are not too extraordinary: many progressive Catholics around the world would agree with the aims. This initiative though, goes well beyond simply pleading for a change in the rules. It is explicitly framed as a “call to disobedience”, and instead urges that where there is a shortage of priests resulting from the continued refusal to ordain women and married men, priests should in effect embark on a work to rule, leaving lay people to fill the gap if necessary, by saying Mass for themselves. They also urge that in the absence of a change in the rules on communion, priests should simply disregard them.

Austrian Lay Catholics Prepare for DIY Mass
In a parallel move, lay Catholics who met over the weekend announced plans to do precisely as the priests’ initiative has urged: for lay people fill the gap in parishes where no priest is available. In support of the plan, they claim that they are placing God’s word in the Bible ahead of mere Church rules.

A manifesto adopted by dozens of activists at the weekend said lay people will preach, consecrate and distribute communion in priestless parishes, said Hans Peter Hurka, head of the group We Are Church.
“Church law bans this. The question is, can Church law overrule the Bible? We are of the opinion, based on findings from the Second Vatican Council, that this (ban) is not possible,” he said Monday.
-Reuters

Austria’s bishops are themselves meeting in a four day session this week. Responding to this will present them with a major challenge. Already, the church is losing members at an alarming rate – last year, over 87 000 Austrian Catholics formally left the Church, an increase of 63% over 2009. The proportion of Austrians who are Catholic is down to just 65%, compared with 89% in 1951. Research earlier this year showed that many of the remaining Catholics admit that they attend Mass only infrequently, and have little or no trust in the Church hiearachy.

  • 41 per cent of Austrians attending mass only on holidays like Easter and Christmas.
  • A further 35% never attend Mass.
  • 45% told researchers that their trust in the Church had been “shattered” by the sexual abuse revelations.
  • A further 27% had no trust in the Church to begin with.

Together with the decline in numbers, will go a decline in revenue. Churches in Austria are funded by the state, in proportion to their signed up members. In 2009, the Church got 395 million euros from the state. To compound further the loss of revenue, an increasing proportion of those funds are being used to pay compensation to the victims of abuse.

The overwhelming majority of Austrians support the priests’ initiative. Attempts by the bishops to stifle it will simply alienate still further an already disaffected Catholic population. Accommodating them, however, is beyond their power, as the rules in question are set by the Vatican, not by national bishops.

DIY Catholicism, elsewhere.
Austria is not unique in facing these conflicts: Dominicans in the Netherlands proposed priestless Mass back in 2007, but were warned by their order not to slide into schism. In country after country, the majority of Catholics do not agree with Vatican rules on sexuality, or on the rules for priestly ordination, or many other matters of church discipline. What sets the Austrians apart, is not the simple desire for reform, but the willingness by laypeople and priests to move ahead on implementing reforms without waiting for institutional approval. On a smaller scale, we have seen this kind of DIY Catholicism elsewhere as well – as in the example of the womenpriests’ movement, and in a handful of parishes which are already hosting their own Masses, independently of episcopal control.

The latest example could be that of a parish in South Melbourne, Australia.
Having been told he must retire, Father Bob McGuire calls for public support in helping him stay on as Parish Priest in South Melbourne, saying ‘we’re like Occupy the Church’.
Despite wanting to stay on and continue his work, Father Bob McGuire has been told by Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart that his tenure as Parish Priest at Saint Peter and Paul’s Parish will end early next year.
The priest, named in July as Victorian of the Year, says he’s concerned that he won’t be able to continue his work with the local community.
“If it was me I wouldn’t give a rats, but it’s not me – it’s us, it’s the village and it’s the church in the village,” says Father Bob.
– ABC, Melbourne

I don’t know too much about the detail of Fr Bob and South Melbourne, but my impression is that there are strong similarities with the case of St Mary’s, Brisbane, and several parishes in the US, where bishops mistakenly thought they could simply silence troublesome priests in the accustomed way, by episcopal decree – and found instead that the congregations themselves chose to relocate to independent premises, with their preferred priest or with none, rather than submit meekly to the unwanted exercise of naked church power.

The Austrian rebellion is not going away any time soon – and may well expand further afield.

Complete Article HERE!

Phoenix nun speaks about censure

The hospital official who was excommunicated from the Catholic Church last year is speaking out for the first time.

Sister Margaret McBride, who was targeted by Bishop Thomas Olmsted for her role in a lifesaving medical procedure that the bishop deemed an abortion, will be honored this weekend by Call to Action, a national group that supports a married priesthood, women priests, gay marriage and other positions that the church opposes.

“Call To Action recognizes Sister Margaret’s careful work with a complex issue, her courage in a time of censorship and public pressure, and her witness to the need to stand firm in the face of opposition while striving to protect life in all its venues,” the organization said of its decision to honor McBride.

In response to e-mailed questions, McBride said she is “very proud to be receiving this award.”

“My journey over the past year has led me in many directions, but ultimately to a new understanding of forgiveness and mercy. And that will be my message when I accept the award,” she said. “Whether we are talking about my situation, the state of the church or society in general, I believe that forgiveness and mercy are extremely important for each of us.”

McBride was excommunicated last year, by her own action, the diocese said. But sources say she has resolved that situation by going to confession. She declined to answer a question about the excommunication.

Six months after McBride was punished, the bishop withdrew Catholic sponsorship from her hospital, St. Joseph’s in Phoenix.

Olmsted’s decisions generated a vigorous and long-lasting debate among theologians, medical-ethics experts and Catholics in general. Many concluded his actions were not justified, noting that the intent of the procedure was to save the mother’s life.

McBride still has not talked with the media, and her written answers to The Republic‘s questions are her first comments since the controversy began.

Although McBride declined to respond to several questions, she answered one about the impact the controversy has had on St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, where she has worked for 36 years.

“Our important mission to our community has not changed,” she said. “This is an extraordinary place with people from every religious background doing the impossible every day. At the heart of St. Joseph’s is still our commitment to caring for the poor and ill in our community. Each employee is an inspiration to me every day in carrying out the mission of the Sisters of Mercy,” McBride’s religious order, which is active in education, health care and social service worldwide.

Call to Action was formed in Detroit in 1976 and became so controversial in the mid-1990s that the bishop of Lincoln, Neb., Fabian Bruskewitz, excommunicated local members en masse. Olmsted was ordained in Lincoln in 1973, before Bruskewitz’s arrival. Both served the Vatican in Rome in the late 1970s, and they have been fellow bishops since Olmsted’s ordination in 1999.

Call to Action challenged Olmsted’s actions regarding McBride and St. Joseph’s in a full-page advertisement that ran in The Republic, claiming he had “abandoned a moral theology based on the message of the Gospels and returned to a legalistic moral theology.” It called upon him to demonstrate pastoral care.

Rob DeFrancesco, diocese spokesman, said the bishop had no comment about the award.

Complete Article HERE!