Fr Mychal Judge, the Saint of 9/11, and his enduring message of compassion

From the midst of hate, war, and violence, Father Mychal Judge’s message points us to another possible path for us as human beings.

Dr. Tom Moulton and his spouse Brendan Fay flank Father Mychal Judge in a favorite photo.

By Brendan Fay

We stood by Father Mychal Judge’s grave in the Franciscan plot in the cemetery in Totowa, New Jersey. The sky was as blue on that September 11 morning 20 years ago. We prayed and sang the prayer of St. Francis. Make me a channel of your peace. 

Me, Frank, and Sam, each of us touched and brought together by Father Mychal Judge. We prayed, we sang, we told our 9/11 stories to each other, and gave thanks for the gift of Father Mychal.

Mychal Judge had a heart as big as New York. There was room for us all. To each he met, from the streets of New York to the White House, he was a man of tender compassion.

From Flight 800 to the AIDS crisis, from firefighters recovering from severe burns or families in grief at funerals, Mychal was a source of hope and healing in the midst of personal pain and national tragedy.

On September 10, 2001, at the rededication blessing of Engine 73 Ladder 42 in the Bronx, he spoke his final homily: “You do what God has called you to do. You show up, you put one foot in front of another, you get on that rig, you go out to do the job, which is a mystery and a surprise. You have no idea when you get on that rig, no matter how big the call, no matter how small, you have no idea what God’s calling you to, but he needs you. He needs me. He needs all of us.”

The world came to know Father Mychal Judge from his death at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. That was a day of profound darkness for the human family, a day of terror and fear, injustice and death.

Yet out of the pit of death and darkness, a light beamed in the iconic image of Father Mychal being carried by firefighters and rescuers. Identified as victim 0001, FDNY Chaplain Mychal Judge became a face of courage, sacrifice, profound hope, of compassion.

On 9/11, he embodied the prayer of his father St. Francis. “Where there is sadness let me sow hope, where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is darkness only light.”

On 9/11, as most New Yorkers fled the World Trade Center, Father Mychal rushed towards the site with other first responders the brave men and women of the FDNY, EMS, NYPD. This was his calling as Franciscan, FDNY chaplain, to go to the place of human tragedy, pain, suffering, and anguish and be present with comfort and healing.

Father Mychal Judge. (Getty Images)
Father Mychal Judge.

Father Mychal was well known in New York for his ministry with the homeless, recovering alcoholics, people with AIDS, immigrants, the LGBT community, and others marginalized by society. He was a compassionate witness for peace and non-violence in Belfast and in Jerusalem.

While filming for a documentary about Mychal, I visited Stormont just outside Belfast. I sat with Patricia Lewsley, former commissioner for children and young people in Northern Ireland, who recalled her meetings and conversations about conflict resolution and reconciliation with Mychal and NYPD Detective Steven McDonald during their peace pilgrimage to Belfast in 1999.

For the Irish, he was one of our own. And how he loved the FDNY Emerald Society Pipes and Drums. When he was declared Irishman of the Year he called us. “Brendan I want you and Tom there and be sure to get on the dance floor.”

That’s who he was, a bridge person helping people cross divides and distance and bringing us together to celebrate the good of life.

He was a familiar face in New York AA meetings and counseled many like himself struggling with addictions. He was 23 years sober when he was buried. At retreats together, after evening prayers, we would sit up till all hours with Mychal leading the session of folk songs and Clancy Brothers Irish ballads.

For the Catholic LGBT community, he was one with us as well as our priest providing sacraments. We called on him during the darkness of the AIDS crisis. When exiled and excluded by society and the institutional church, he provided compassion and sacraments in our living rooms and community centers.

Father Mychal on the march with his AIDS ministry.
Father Mychal on the march with his AIDS ministry.

It wasn’t long after I arrived from Ireland to study at St. John’s that I met Mychal as he was one of the priests who presided at the weekly Mass for Dignity NY, a group for LGBT Catholics.

This was the middle of the AIDS crisis. I reached out to Mychal when asked for help by a family needing a priest to lead funeral prayers for two brothers who died from AIDS.

Mychal was selectively open about being gay with friars and friends he could trust and people whom he could help by coming out such as parents supporting their child in a world of ignorance and prejudice. In his diary, he wrote, “I thought of my gay self and how the people I meet never get to know me fully.”

He would become a huge supporter of groups working for change. He wrote the checks to AIDS Interfaith NY, to the Parents group PFLAG, to St. Pats for All.

On Skillman Avenue, at that first parade in March 2000, he showed up in his Franciscan. He said a prayer of thanks for the blessings of the day and the welcome for all especially the Irish LGBT group Lavender and Green Alliance. He then walked with the Emerald Isle Immigration Center contingent. He also spent time saying hello with Mary Somoza and her daughter Anastasia.

While proud of being Irish and a much-beloved Catholic priest, he was disheartened by anti-gay prejudice in the church and Irish community, which he called “high levels of madness.”

While researching Father Mychal’s story, people sent me copies of his letters and notes. He was a great letter writer. He would stay up till all hours of the night writing notes and cards – to say thank you, to send a word of comfort, of encouragement in sobriety, to celebrate a new job, the arrival of a new baby, the new home, newfound love.

People remember Mychal’s love, his big-heartedness, and his sense of humor if you got too serious. That was our Mychal Judge.

On this 9/11 20th anniversary, Father Mychal Judge, even in his death, sends a message. From the midst of hate, war, and violence, he points us to another possible path for us as human beings.

Like him and all who gave their lives that day, we too can choose the path of compassion and tenderness. Mychal challenges us to shun the path of violence and engage in the hard work of peacemaking, finding friendship and new ways to live well our brief lives together.

Complete Article HERE!

The First Report

As an investigative reporter, Jason Berry exposed the church’s systematic cover-up of sexual abuse. Somehow, it wasn’t enough.

How women feel undervalued by the Catholic Church

Analysis: there are around 400 women across the island of Ireland ministering in Christian churches as their main life choice

“A study found that a stunning 74% of Irish Catholic women believed that the Church did not treat them with ‘a lot of respect’, compared to just 6% of Protestant women”.

By Gladys Ganiel

The decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland has included a steep drop in vocations to the priesthood. While Ireland once exported its surplus of priests across the world just 13 men began training for the priesthood here last year. Added to that, the average age of priests is 70. Many parishes are staffed by elderly men who would be enjoying retirement in other professions.

Priestly vocations have often been described as a ‘calling’. Is there something about this secularising island, including the impact of clerical abuse scandals, that makes God’s voice hard to hear? Research points to a counter-narrative, one in which some people believe that God still speaks. Anne Francis’s study of women in ministry in Ireland was simply titled Called to emphasize women’s deep conviction that they were responding to a supernatural prompting to serve.

It is a conviction shared by Soline Humbert, who has felt called to the priesthood since she was a student at Trinity College Dublin in the 1970s. While she quietly stifled her call for decades, she celebrated her first public Eucharist 25 years ago – without, of course, the blessing of the Catholic Church. Humbert’s decision to defy official Church teaching was in part stimulated by a 1994 apostolic letter from Pope John Paul II which condemned even discussing women’s ordination. Hopes that Pope Francis would be more open to women’s ordination have not materialized. “It was a big relief when I could be open about [my vocation]”, said Humber. “Before, it was like being in a tomb – gradually you end up dead inside.’

John Paul II later said that those who continued to discuss women’s ordination ‘were effectively excommunicating themselves’. But women around the world have continued to hear a call, with growing numbers organising their own ordinations, celebrating Eucharist and taking responsibilities for parishes, building thriving ministries despite their excommunication.

Across the island, there are around 400 women ‘ministering as their main life choice’, including Protestant clergy, Catholic Religious and laity with formal roles in church structures. While these women reported feeling fulfilled by their calling, 70% across all Christian traditions believed gender issues had negatively impacted their life or work.

Almost all Catholic women thought that a patriarchal Church culture prevented women’s ordination and felt their contributions to ministry were not valued by authorities. Similarly, some Presbyterian clergy believed the validity of female ordination was under attack by conservative elements in their church. Between 2013 and 2020, Rev Dr Stafford Carson, who opposes women’s ordination, was principal of Union Theological College, where ministers for the Presbyterian Church are trained.

Female clergy in the Church of Ireland and Methodist churches were most likely to feel valued. But women remain under-represented among their clergy and in positions of leadership. Pat Storey, Bishop of Meath and Kildare, is the only female bishop in the Church of Ireland; while Rev Dr Heather Morris, a former President of the Methodist Church, serves as the church’s General Secretary. A study found that while 20% of clergy in the Church of Ireland are women, they are less likely than their male counterparts to be employed as rectors of a parish and more likely to be serving in part-time or non-stipendiary posts.

Honouring the contribution of women?

In March 2021, the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference announced a ‘synodal pathway’, which will lead to a National Synodal Assembly in the next five years. Pope Francis has enthusiastically promoted synods as mechanisms for the Church to discern the will of the Holy Spirit, including contributions from lay and ordained.

As part of the process, the Bishops Conference has identified seven areas for ‘listening to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church in Ireland’, one of which is ‘honouring the contribution of women’. Dr Nicola Brady, a lay Catholic who as General Secretary of the Irish Council of Churches is responsible for administering the island’s national-level ecumenical structures, has been named chair of the synodal steering committee. Her appointment reflects her expertise – and raises expectations that the synod will take women’s perspectives seriously.

Women’s inclusion is an urgent issue. While women are more likely to be regular churchgoers and pray more often than men, they feel undervalued by the Catholic Church. A study found that a stunning 74% of Irish Catholic women believed that the Church did not treat them with ‘a lot of respect’, compared to just 6% of Protestant women. It also found that 84% of Catholic and 95% of Protestant women were in favour of female clergy.

Former President Mary McAleese has captured the mood, describing the Catholic Church as ‘a primary global carrier of the virus of misogyny’. A 2018 poll found that 55% agreed with McAleese that the Church does not treat women equally and 62% agreed with her support for the ordination of women.

But dreams that the synod’s pledge to ‘honour’ women might extend to consideration of women’s ordination are likely to be misplaced. Pope Francis has been very clear that synods are not instruments to change church teaching, but rather to apply teaching more pastorally. It is not yet clear how conversations about women will be framed by the synod. Regardless, the women who feel ‘called’ will continue to bear witness to what they regard as the voice of God.

Complete Article HERE!

Ex Cardinal McCarrick Faces Criminal Charges

McCarrick was appointed cardinal in 2001 by Pope John Paul II.

By

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was defrocked by Pope Francis after an abuse inquiry in 2019, is now facing indecent assault and battery charges in Massachusetts. McCarrick has been criminally charged with repeatedly sexually assaulting a teenage boy at a 1974 wedding reception. With these charges he becomes the highest-ranking US Catholic official to face criminal sex abuse charges.

The charges against McCarrick would not be surprising to anyone familiar with the disgraced priest’s history. Last year the Vatican released a shocking report describing in exhaustive detail how defrocked Cardinal Edgar McCarrick, over the course of decades, sexually abused other priests and seminarians and teenage boys. Equally disturbing was the revelation that Pope John Paul II knew of the sexual abuse allegations for almost two decades before the Cardinal was defrocked.

The report provided a stunning play-by-play of how church leaders disregarded clues about McCarrick’s misconduct, believed ‘church men’ over victims, and tried to keep any discipline modest and private. The first recorded sexual abuse allegations against McCarrick went back to 1971. Rumors about his sexual behavior began to circulate throughout the church. The report goes on to detail how, in 1999, Pope John Paul II was informed that the then-bishop McCarrick routinely “shared a bed with young seminarians over whom he had authority but decided nonetheless to appoint McCarrick as archbishop of Washington and later name him as a cardinal.” In a letter to the Pope, Cardinal John O’Connor, then the archbishop of New York, wrote that he knew of allegations of improper sexual conduct by McCarrick that dated back to 1987, and that he had committed pedophilia and that he shared a bed with young adult men and seminarians. In spite of these horrendous allegations, Pope John Paul II still personally made the decision to appoint McCarrick as Cardinal.

Until now, it was assumed that it would be unlikely for McCarrick to face criminal charges because the allegations that have been made public relate to crimes that would be beyond statutes of limitations where the incidents were said to have taken place. However, according to The New York Times, The criminal charges against Mr. McCarrick, filed in Dedham District Court in Massachusetts, could proceed because of a feature of Massachusetts law: Because Mr. McCarrick was not a resident of Massachusetts, the clock on the statute of limitations there stopped when he was not in the state. McCarrick, now living in Missouri, is expected to appear at the court for arraignment in Dedham, Mass. on September 3.

The criminal charges against McCarrick are long overdue, but they offer hope to other victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests – that justice is still possible and pedophile priests should be held accountable. For the thousands of victims that have come forward already the charges against McCarrick offer validation.

Complete Article HERE!

How personal is politics?

Irish Americans expose allegedly gay priest

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How much do you really want to know about your parish priest?

Well, that depends on a number of factors. It might depend on who you voted for in the 2020 election.

It also might depend on whether or not you can get your hands on his cell phone. Or his cell phone records.

Such is the debate scorching up religious and tech circles these days. It was initiated by two Irish American lawyers-turned-crusaders (if you will), which sounds like nice work if you can get it.

Unless that work prompts one of the most respected voices in Catholic American circles to say, “What comes next? Spying on Catholic school teachers? Spying on parishioners? And where does it end — when we have a church where no one has ever sinned? The church will be empty.”

That’s James Martin, the best-selling Irish American author and commentator, and regular guest on Stephen Colbert’s show.

Martin, quoted in The Washington Post, was responding to the work of Ed Condon and JD Flynn, the ex-lawyers who now run The Pillar, which is billed as a Catholic “newsletter.”

Well, boys, you wanted attention. You got attention!

This all began earlier this month with a special “Pillar Investigation.” For the sake of fairness — or decency, or karma — we’re going to explain this story but leave out the name of the priest at its center, even though it is very much out there.

“According to commercially available records of app signal data obtained by The Pillar, a mobile device correlated to (the priest) emitted app data signals from the location-based hookup app Grindr on a near-daily basis during parts of 2018, 2019, and 2020,” the investigation notes.

It adds: “An analysis of app data signals correlated to (the priest’s) mobile device shows the priest also visited gay bars and private residences while using (the) location-based hookup app in numerous cities from 2018 to 2020, even while traveling on assignment…”

Where to begin?

As you can imagine, this has elicited a broad range of angry responses, and not only because of the personal behavior of this priest who is not a mere parish priest, but also a rather big big-wig.

There is also the issue of these two Irish Catholics, who both attended very respectable schools and have held lucrative jobs, essentially crawling through the 21st century equivalent of a stinky trash can to dig up secrets about a prominent American religion official.

Who, by the way, resigned his various positions in recent days.

“The case of the high-ranking Catholic cleric who resigned after allegedly being tracked on the gay dating app Grindr quickly became a Rorschach test Wednesday for Catholics already mired in tension over politics, theology and culture,” The Washington Post noted.

Since Flynn and Condon are loud and proud church “traditionalists,” their cheering section has pointed to these findings and declared that gay priests and other post-1960s dogma-ignorers are ruining the U.S. Catholic Church.

But those on another side see little more than “a witch hunt aimed at gay Catholic priests,” in the words of America Magazine national correspondent Michael O’Loughlin.

If it smells like and looks like a burning-stake, well, that’s probably what it is.

It seems appropriate, though, that I confess something else here.

It took me a few minutes to make heads or tails of this story. For a moment I thought perhaps that the priest was actually being pressured, in the name of social justice, to proudly proclaim and embrace the private details of his romantic life.

There have, after all, been many times so-called progressives felt it was entirely appropriate to expose the private lives of culture-war opponents. Or divulge personal details to turn enemies into “allies.”

We are approaching the end game of the oft-chanted belief that the “personal is political.” That what you wear and drink, share and think, either saves or ruins the planet.

What you do when you take off your clothes is the inevitable next skirmish.

Complete Article HERE!