U.S. Catholics charting own path, poll says

American Roman Catholics are a curious mix of rebelliousness and loyalty, according to a new study.

When it comes to moral issues such as abortion, homosexuality and sex outside marriage, American Catholics are more likely to listen to their own consciences than to the pope, bishops and other church leaders.

Fewer than one-third attend Mass weekly, but 88 percent think parish priests do good work.

Only half of Catholics know that the church teaches that the bread and wine of Holy Communion actually transform into the physical body and blood of Christ, but of those who know, the vast majority believe it.

They say that Jesus’ Resurrection, helping the poor and the Virgin Mary are the most-important aspects of their faith; Vatican authority and a celibate, all-male clergy rank at the bottom.

Most American Catholics have what researcher William D’Antonio called “medium-level” commitment.

D’Antonio, a sociologist at Catholic University of America in Washington, wrote the report with other academics. It was published yesterday by the National Catholic Reporter newspaper.

“They like being Catholic, but they do it on their own terms,” he said.

D’Antonio has seen this trend grow since he started polling Catholics in 1987.

In that year, for example, 34 percent of respondents said church leaders should have the final say on the morality of sex outside marriage, 42 percent said it should be up to individuals and 21 percent said “both.” The rest didn’t answer.

Today, 16 percent of Catholics say that church leaders are the final authority on nonmarital sex. Fifty-three percent said it is up to the individual, and 30 percent said that both sources should be consulted.

The 2011 survey polled 1,442 adult Catholics nationwide.

“Many Catholics have figured out that one of the most-important teachings of Vatican II is that you should ultimately look to your own conscience,” D’Antonio said.

The sex-abuse scandal didn’t help the bishops’ authority, said Tom Roberts, editor-at-large of the National Catholic Reporter.

Many Catholics “see the sex-abuse crisis as having a corrosive effect on the bishops’ ability to speak with moral authority in the wider culture,” he said. More than 8 of 10 respondents said the crisis hurt church leaders’ credibility.

Still, people tend to like their own bishop, Roberts said.

Deacon Tom Berg Jr., vice chancellor for the Diocese of Columbus and spokesman for Bishop Frederick F. Campbell, declined to comment because he had not seen the study. Campbell’s predecessor, Bishop James A. Griffin, also declined comment.

The disillusionment with the institutional church might be because people have seen the church as more of a business than a spiritual institution, said the Rev. Jeff Coning, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in New Philadelphia. They can become disheartened when a church goes bankrupt or pays a sex-abuse settlement, he said.

He said the lack of deference to bishops is “alarming, because the bishops represent the apostles, who represent Jesus.”

Sister Barbara Kolesar, of Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Clintonville, said some people ignore what’s right to do what’s easy.

“I think we call those people ‘cafeteria Catholics,’ ” she said. “They pick and choose what they want as it suits them.”

D’Antonio said one of the most telling findings about the attitude of American Catholics can be seen when they are asked about politics.

The survey found that 57 percent leaned Democratic and 40 percent Republican. But 85 percent of both groups said you can disagree with church teachings and still be a loyal Catholic.

Complete Article HERE!

Scandal and the Vatican: Let’s Not Talk About Kansas City


The news that an American bishop had been charged with failing to report child abuse should have been collosal news in the Vatican.

But the response has been as if the case is far away and far removed from the Holy See — and the Papacy that is so quick to come down on questions of celibacy, women priests and the rights of gay Catholics appears to regard the American scandal, involving a priest and what seems to be child pornography, as a matter for local jurisprudence.

On last Friday, prosecutors in Kansas City, Missouri, secured an indictment from a grand jury that alleges Bishop Robert Finn neglected to inform the police for months after discovering “hundreds of disturbing images of children” on a priest’s laptop in December 2010, including photographs focused on the crotch, upskirt pictures and at least one image of a child’s naked vagina.

The offending priest — Shawn Ratigan — was relieved of his position as a church pastor and transferred to a convent, but neither the police, his parishioners, nor the parents of a nearby Catholic school were informed of the pictures until May 2011.

In the interim, Ratigan continued to attend events involving children, including birthday parties and a first communion, and allegedly attempted to take lewd pictures of a 12-year-old girl. Finn and Ratigan have both pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

The case against Finn marks the first time a bishop in the United States has been indicted for failing to report abuse by a priest under his supervision. It comes nearly 10 years after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted policy mandating that dioceses report allegations of sexual abuse to the public authorities and seven months after the Vatican urged all bishops across the world to institute similar measures.

It also comes three years after a $10 million settlement in Kansas City with 47 plaintiffs alleging abuse at the hands of priests, in which Bishop Finn agreed to immediately inform the police of any suspicion of sexual abuse by members of his diocese. However, when the Vatican was contacted for comment, regarding the allegations, it demurred, citing the pending charges.

“There is a legal procedure under way,” the Vatican’s spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi told a reporter for the AFP. “Any intervention could be interpreted as interference.”

The Vatican’s tepid response highlights a chasm between the public perception of the way the church is organized and the structure by which it usually operates. While most outsiders imagine the Catholic Church as a monolithic hierarchy, with a direct line of command from the Pope down to most junior priest, for many inside its ranks the better analogy is a community, in which the Vatican plays a coordinating role for a host of almost completely independent dioceses.

“The church doesn’t work at all like a centralized machine, in that a command that comes from above is automatically communicated to the parts of the machine below,” says Sandro Magister, editor of the Rome-based website Chiesa (Italian for “church”). “The autonomy of single bishops is very strong.”

Thus, while an outside observer might draw a line of accountability directly to Rome, from the Vatican’s point of view responsibility for a sex abuse scandal would more traditionally lie at the local level. Indeed, in other cases, lawyers for the church have explicitly argued that bishops don’t work directly or the Vatican.

But, under Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican has nonetheless begun to ratchet up the pressure, according to Phil Lawler, editor of CatholicCulture.org, and a long-time critic of the Church’s slow response to the 25-year-old sex abuse scandal.

“The Vatican is gradually getting a grip on it, if not in this country, in others,” he says.

In Ireland, for instance, the church forced the resignation of three bishops who failed to report abuse by priests.

“I think you’re starting to see steadily more active supervision,” says Lawler, adding that the Vatican would nonetheless likely continue to have a largely hands off approach. “The autonomy of bishops isn’t going to away,” he says. “That’s fundamental to the structure of the church.”

Yet for the victims of the abusive priests, it’s not an argument that has much resonance. After all, when a priest advocates ending the tradition of celibacy or in favor of the ordination of women, the Vatican is quick to clamp down.

“Rome does have a direct influence on diocese around the country and around the world,” says Michael Hunter, the Kansas City director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) who has filed a new lawsuit against Finn for breach of contract, alleging that the bishop failed to live up to the terms of the earlier settlement.

“The Vatican really could and should come down on the moral side of this and really chastise this diocese,” he adds.

“And the heck with the legal issues.”

Complete Article HERE!

Victims of sexual abuse by priests barred from meeting pope

Italian victims of pedophile priests demanded to meet Pope Benedict XVI in an open letter published Saturday, accusing papal officials of blocking them.

“We have gone through all the official channels possible in order to meet you, but have been given nothing but evasive replies,” the letter from various associations of child abuse victims said.

“We are forced, alas, to admit the extent to which the victims of pedophile criminals are treated with disdain, as if they have the plague.”

The letter noted that the pope had met people abused by priests when young in Australia, Britain, Malta, the United States and most recently in his native Germany, but not in Italy.

“We cannot speak to you face to face to express our grief and frustration in the face of so many words and so few acts,” it added. “We ask you for an audience in the hope of being listened to, to understand the real meaning of your words when you express your sadness and shame.”

The letter asked for a meeting with the pope on Tuesday, the day after the head of one of the associations that signed the letter, Francesco Zanardi, is due to arrive at the Vatican at the end of a protest walk across Italy begun last month.

His group, L’Abuso, claims to have uncovered 130 cases of assault by pedophile priests in Italy since 2000.

At his last meeting with abuse victims, in Germany on September 23, the pope “expressed his deep compassion and regret over all that was done to them and their families”, according to the Vatican.

“He assured the people present that those in positions of responsibility in the Church are seriously concerned to deal with all crimes of abuse and are committed to the promotion of effective measures for the protection of children and young people.

“Pope Benedict XVI is close to the victims and he expresses the hope that the merciful God, Creator and Redeemer of all mankind, may heal the wounds of the victims and grant them inner peace.”

Over the past year large-scale pedophilia scandals have rocked the Roman Catholic Church in a number of countries, including Ireland, Austria, Belgium, the United States and Germany.

Long accused of a systematic cover-up, the Vatican says it has adopted a zero-tolerance policy, and that victims should be heard and helped, while the guilty are punished in the courts.

However many associations feel that its measures, including the brief meetings between the pope and abuse victims, are not enough.

Full Article HERE!

The Church may be less powerful but Ratzinger is not letting go of his authority

“There are historical examples which show that the missionary testimony of a “non-worldly” Church emerges more clearly. Freed from its burdens and from material and political privileges, the Church can dedicate itself more fully and in a truly Christian way to the world; it can truly be open to the world. It can live with more fluency again its call to the ministry of worshipping God and serving others”: this is somewhat surprising appeal launched by Pope Benedict XVI in Fribourg, at the end of his recent trip to Germany.

Words that have profoundly affected Roman Catholics, and not just German ones, and that probably will continue to cause discussion and reflection for months to come.

The Vatican correspondent Sandro Magister summed up the issues raised by Pope Ratzinger’s speech: “Before his third trip to his homeland, Benedict XVI had never put such strong emphasis on the ideal of a Church poor in structures, wealth, power. At the same time, however, he has also insisted on the duty of a vigorous ‘public presence’ of this same Church. Are the two things compatible?”

Vatican Insider asked church historian Daniele Menozzi, professor at the Scuola Normale of Pisa, where the pope’s appeal to a “non-worldly” Church comes from – and what impact could it have on its present and future.

What – if any – are the historical precedents of the Pope’s appeal?

The invitation to the Church to free itself from the “material and political burdens” in order to rediscover the authenticity of her spiritual message, is linked to a very long tradition. Benedict XVI summed up his intervention by recalling the need for a “purification and inner reform” of the Church. Frequently in the bi-millenial history of Catholicism, voices have emerged from within the church community, denouncing a “deformation”, and calling for her to return to a purer “form”.

To which Church do they wish to “go back” when making these appeals?

Typically, these appeals have been based on concrete models of historical reference, in particular the calls have harked back to the “Ecclesiae primitivae forma” (the early Church, ed). In Ratzinger’s speech, instead, he makes an analogy between the worldly poverty of the Church and the tribe of Levi. This Old-Testament paradigm is rather vague: it gives the impression of a literary, rhetorical reference more than of a line of effective intervention.

The call to return to the origins is a current that has never run out …

The search for a link between the spiritual renewal of the Church and the recovery of its missionary capacity spans many seasons of Church history. Just think of the debates leading to the Gregorian reform of the eleventh century, or the Catholic reform movement that precedes and accompanies the Protestant Reformation and the Council of Trent, to then become inextricably intertwined with the counter-Reformation’s proposals. In more recent times, some members of the current that would later be condemned in 1907 as the modernist heresy – one may recall for instance the novel The Saint, by Fogazzaro – formulated the belief that dialogue with the modern world passed through a spiritualization of the ecclesiastical institution. But perhaps the most immediate precedent is the hope for a “Church of the poor” that a group of Council fathers, in the wake of some aspects of Johannine teaching, launched during Vatican II, going so far as to define elements of structural reform of the ecclesiastical institution.

How successful have these impulses been in the past?

Every moment has its irreducible specificity. Results have varied but I think you can make two general observations. First, the appeal to spiritualize the Catholic presence in history has been effective when it has been made by the heads of ecclesiastical government. The case of the “Church of the poor” is significant: Paul VI entrusts the study of this theme to a committee that later submitts to him some specific suggestions, but he doesn’t welcome their proposal and so it sinks. Second, the success is linked to institutional changes: the missionary thrust of the post-Tridentine Church was founded on establishing religious orders whose initial intent was to reject any worldly inducement, to devote themselves to the salvation of men and the glory of God.

For the pope, “history comes to the help of the Church through the various epochs of secularization, which have contributed in an essential way to its purification and internal reform. The secularisations, in fact – whether the expropriation of Church property or the cancellation of privileges or anything like that – every time meant a profound liberation of the Church from worldly forms of life: she is stripped, so to speak, of her earthly riches and goes back to fully embracing her poverty on earth. ” Is this recognition is a turning point?

The Pope’s address is ambiguous. On the one hand – while using the term “secularization” in a very surprising way, to indicate also the worldliness of the Church – he is taking, compared to his predecessor, a major step: instead of equating secularization with secularism, and therefore judging it fundamentally antithetical to Catholicism, it is being brought back, as it was in the teaching of Paul VI, to its social and political dimensions, and in this context, reread in a providential key. On the other hand, however, this providentialist interpretation of secularization – a sort of divine intervention in history to purify the Church from imperfections and falls – deprives the phenomenon of its real historical significance, preventing one from grasping that through it, man has conquered, to the detriment of directives given by the Magisterium, the self-determination of institutions of the political community.

The Holy See is engaged in a difficult dialogue with the Lefebvrists who say they want the Church to return to the ‘truth’ lost by Vatican II. But the history of the Church which they have in mind seems different from that of Ratzinger …

For the schismatic community, the structures that the Church has taken on in the past two centuries in antithesis to the society that emerged from the French Revolution constitute an indispensable part of Catholic tradition. Among these structures there is also recourse to the coercive power of civil law to enforce the practice of truth: their opposition to the right to religious freedom is the most obvious sign of this. In Benedict XVI’s view, the Catholic presence in the modern world is possible without a confessional state, but civil law cannot but recognize those rights that belong to man’s nature as a divine creature. Differences exist, but they are less profound than might at first appear.

Could the speech at Freiburg be read as a keynote of a ‘second phase’ of his pontificate?

In recent years, Benedict XVI has identified as an aspect of the Church’s presence in the contemporary world the construction of a neo-Christianity, in which it is for the Papacy, the custodian and interpreter of natural law, to define the fundamental structures of the human consortium. It does not seem that the appeal to the Church and freeing herself from claims of power entail a revision of his governing program. The very vagueness of the call seems to indicate that he does not intend to take that route. It seems to me, rather, that the Pope wants to encourage believers to operate in the world with complete detachment from worldly things. Of course we cannot underestimate this request to correct deviations and abuses, some of which the Pope himself has denounced. However, this line does not call into question the central claim of Ratzinger’s papacy: attributing to the Church the authority to establish, at a universal level, the correct forms of human coexistence. It seems, on the contrary, aimed at strengthening the Church’s capacity to attract and take hold, freeing her from those aspects of moral unworthiness of its protagonists who tarnish her image.

Full Article HERE!

Pope disappoints hopes of Catholics and Protestants

Pope Benedict’s visit to his German homeland was bound to provoke harsh words from his critics. The surprise of the event was how bluntly he took his own Church to task and disappointed Protestants ready to work with him.

Despite his frail physique and soft-spoken style, the 84-year-old pontiff delivered a vigorous defense of his conservative views and brusquely rejected calls for reforms, some of which even had cautious support from some bishops.

At the end of his four-day visit on Sunday, Benedict predicted “small communities of believers” would spread Catholicism in future — and not, he seemed to say, the rich German Church, which he hinted had more bureaucracy than belief.

Some Church leaders fear they may end up with only small communities if they don’t consider reforms. Record numbers of the faithful have officially quit the Church in recent years, often in protest against clerical sex abuse scandals.

“The pope was demanding, almost hard — not in his manner, but in the essence of his words,” Berlin’s Tagesspiegel daily commented. “Nobody should be fooled by his fragility.”

“The pope sees the signs of the times, but interprets them not as a demand to courageously open up the Catholic Church but, on the contrary, to close its ranks.”

Breaking down faith barriers is a major issue in the land of the Protestant Reformation. Christians are equally divided between Catholics and Protestants in Germany and intermarriage and ecumenical cooperation make both sides ask why old divisions still exist.

Politicians from President Christian Wulff down publicly told the pope they hoped his visit would help to bring the churches closer. One suggestion was to allow Protestant spouses of Catholics to take communion when they attend Catholic mass.


Benedict made a historic gesture for interchurch unity by presiding over a prayer service with a Protestant bishop in the Erfurt monastery where the 16th-century reformer Martin Luther lived as a monk before he split with Rome.

But in his speech to Protestant leaders there, he bluntly told them they were mistaken to expect him to come bearing gifts, like a political leader coming to negotiate a treaty.

His hosts, who would have been happy with vague words about the need to look into some problems, instead heard a short lecture about how Christian faith could not be negotiated.

Benedict’s Protestant host in Erfurt, Bishop Nikolaus Schneider, stressed the bright side of the meeting — the pope’s positive words about Luther’s deep faith — and added: “Our heart burns for more, and that was clear today.”

German media were less diplomatic. “An ecumenical disaster,” wrote the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, blasting Benedict’s treatment of Protestant leaders as “spectacularly half-hearted, patronizing and callous.”

The lay Catholic group We Are Church said the faithful should stop hoping for help from Rome. The churches in Germany should simply “declare the unspeakable 500-year-old split in Christianity to be ended,” it said in a statement.

“Let’s do what unites us,” it declared.

Catholics weren’t spared either. Another reform proposal was to allow Catholics who divorce and remarry to receive communion at mass, something now barred to them because the Church upholds the sanctity of the first marriage.

Even Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, head of the German Bishops’ Conference, said before the visit he hoped to see some change in coming years to prevent the rising number of divorced Catholics feeling excluded from the Church.

Benedict passed over that idea in silence.


By contrast, Benedict was loud and clear in criticizing the German Church as too bureaucratic and focused on organizational changes rather than on the zeal of true faith, which he said was the key to confronting its problems.

He told this to the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), some of whose members have called for moderate reforms such as allowing women deacons to help at mass or ordaining older married men to counter the shortage of priests.

If a stranger from a far country visited Germany, he told them, he would find it materially rich and religiously poor.

“The real crisis of the Church in the Western world is a crisis of belief,” Benedict said. “If we don’t find a way to really renew the faith, all structural reform will remain ineffective.”

The next day, he repeated this message to a wide range of lay Catholics working with and for the Church. He said they could only face the challenges ahead if they closed ranks with their bishops and with the Vatican.

“It is not a question here of finding a new strategy to relaunch the Church,” he said, but of putting strategy aside and “living the faith fully, here and now.”

ZdK president Alois Glueck was not convinced. “It’s not a question of either promoting introspection and prayer or changing Church structures,” he said. “We have to link both these things.”

Munich’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the most influential daily in the pope’s native Bavaria, summed up the trip with the headline: “He came, he spoke and he disappointed.”

Full Article HERE!