Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Week Later, "Grand Inquisitor" Meets "Grey Lady"

As revealed earlier, today's "rare interview" of the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Levada, by the New York Times has dropped in the paper's Holy Thursday edition...

(For the record, the piece merits at least one key correction: the Times' claim that Levada is "a former chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops" is, at best, a sloppy mischaracterization.

(For one, the USCCB is led by a president, not a "chairman." That said, Levada was indeed chairman of the US bishops' Committee on Doctrine from 2003 until his 2005 appointment to head the dicastery originally known as the "Holy Office of the Inquisition," but the now-cardinal never held an executive-level post in the conference during his 22 years among its membership.

(For purposes of context, it bears noting that, at the time of Levada's chairing of Doctrine, the USCCB had no less than 36 chairmen of standing committees. That figure was slashed to 16 at the conference's 2007 reorganization.)

...meanwhile, tomorrow's pages likewise feature a fresh examination of the documents in the Murphy Case by the paper's national religion writer, Laurie Goodstein, whose front-page article of a week ago ignited the subsequent heated volleys of reaction on both sides of the aisle.

Included in Goodstein's piece is Fr Thomas Brundage's acknowledgement that, contrary to his claim against the Times in a widely-circulated defense published late Monday, the former Milwaukee judicial vicar had "never been quoted" by the paper in its prior stories. The re-look also relays that, during a 1998 meeting at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Milwaukee auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba subsequently wrote in a log that "it became clear that the Congregation was not encouraging us to proceed with any formal dismissal" of Fr Lawrence Murphy.

For all the rest, click away.

PHOTO: Yana Paskova/The New York Times


Calm Before the Chrism? Not So Much.

On this eve of what's regarded as the "anniversary" of the institution of the ministerial priesthood, the slow, rough drip continues....

Aired earlier tonight, the lede of the top story on National Public Radio says thus:

While the Roman Catholic sexual abuse scandal unfolds in Europe, the Catholic Church in the U.S. is under renewed scrutiny.

In the wake of its own scandal almost a decade ago, the U.S. church says it has reformed its policies for handling sexual abuse allegations and will remove from ministry every priest who is credibly accused of abuse.

But some of those priests are now being quietly reinstated.

Read on... as ever, decide for yourself... and lest anyone's thinking that little else is still to come, suffice it to say, think again.


The "Holy Office" Speaks

Over these last days, you've seen many responses by top clerics regarding Pope Benedict's actions as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, all criticizing the reporting of the record as printed in the New York Times.

Until now, though, you've seen nothing like this.

In the biggest underscore yet of the significance and seriousness with which the Vatican has taken the 25 March Times piece laying out the Murphy Case, Catholic San Francisco features a rare intervention: an extensive commentary on the situation from the pontiff's successor at the CDF -- the city's former archbishop, now Cardinal William Levada.

(SVILUPPO -- A "rare interview" with Levada ran in Thursday's editions of the Times.)

Given the Catholic San Francisco piece's import, here it is in full:
The New York Times and Pope Benedict XVI:
how it looks to an American in the Vatican

By Cardinal William J. Levada
Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

In our melting pot of peoples, languages and backgrounds, Americans are not noted as examples of “high” culture. But we can take pride as a rule in our passion for fairness. In the Vatican where I currently work, my colleagues – whether fellow cardinals at meetings or officials in my office – come from many different countries, continents and cultures. As I write this response today (March 26, 2010) I have had to admit to them that I am not proud of America’s newspaper of record, the New York Times, as a paragon of fairness.

I say this because today’s Times presents both a lengthy article by Laurie Goodstein, a senior columnist, headlined “Warned About Abuse, Vatican Failed to Defrock Priest,” and an accompanying editorial entitled “The Pope and the Pedophilia Scandal,” in which the editors call the Goodstein article a disturbing report (emphasis in original) as a basis for their own charges against the Pope. Both the article and the editorial are deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness that Americans have every right and expectation to find in their major media reporting.

In her lead paragraph, Goodstein relies on what she describes as “newly unearthed files” to point out what the Vatican (i.e. then Cardinal Ratzinger and his Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) did not do – “defrock Fr. Murphy.” Breaking news, apparently. Only after eight paragraphs of purple prose does Goodstein reveal that Fr. Murphy, who criminally abused as many as 200 deaf children while working at a school in the Milwaukee Archdiocese from 1950 to 1974, “not only was never tried or disciplined by the church’s own justice system, but also got a pass from the police and prosecutors who ignored reports from his victims, according to the documents and interviews with victims.”

But in paragraph 13, commenting on a statement of Fr. Lombardi (the Vatican spokesman) that Church law does not prohibit anyone from reporting cases of abuse to civil authorities, Goodstein writes, “He did not address why that had never happened in this case.” Did she forget, or did her editors not read, what she wrote in paragraph nine about Murphy getting “a pass from the police and prosecutors”? By her own account it seems clear that criminal authorities had been notified, most probably by the victims and their families.

Goodstein’s account bounces back and forth as if there were not some 20 plus years intervening between reports in the 1960 and 70’s to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and local police, and Archbishop Weakland’s appeal for help to the Vatican in 1996. Why? Because the point of the article is not about failures on the part of church and civil authorities to act properly at the time. I, for one, looking back at this report agree that Fr. Murphy deserved to be dismissed from the clerical state for his egregious criminal behavior, which would normally have resulted from a canonical trial.

The point of Goodstein’s article, however, is to attribute the failure to accomplish this dismissal to Pope Benedict, instead of to diocesan decisions at the time. She uses the technique of repeating the many escalating charges and accusations from various sources (not least from her own newspaper), and tries to use these “newly unearthed files” as the basis for accusing the pope of leniency and inaction in this case and presumably in others.

It seems to me, on the other hand, that we owe Pope Benedict a great debt of gratitude for introducing the procedures that have helped the Church to take action in the face of the scandal of priestly sexual abuse of minors. These efforts began when the Pope served as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and continued after he was elected Pope. That the Times has published a series of articles in which the important contribution he has made – especially in the development and implementation of Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, the Motu proprio issued by Pope John Paul II in 2001 – is ignored, seems to me to warrant the charge of lack of fairness which should be the hallmark of any reputable newspaper.

Let me tell you what I think a fair reading of the Milwaukee case would seem to indicate. The reasons why church and civil authorities took no action in the 1960’s and 70’s is apparently not contained in these “newly emerged files.” Nor does the Times seem interested in finding out why. But what does emerge is this: after almost 20 years as Archbishop, Weakland wrote to the Congregation asking for help in dealing with this terrible case of serial abuse. The Congregation approved his decision to undertake a canonical trial, since the case involved solicitation in confession – one of the graviora delicta (most grave crimes) for which the Congregation had responsibility to investigate and take appropriate action.

Only when it learned that Murphy was dying did the Congregation suggest to Weakland that the canonical trial be suspended, since it would involve a lengthy process of taking testimony from a number of deaf victims from prior decades, as well as from the accused priest. Instead it proposed measures to ensure that appropriate restrictions on his ministry be taken. Goodstein infers that this action implies “leniency” toward a priest guilty of heinous crimes. My interpretation would be that the Congregation realized that the complex canonical process would be useless if the priest were dying. Indeed, I have recently received an unsolicited letter from the judicial vicar who was presiding judge in the canonical trial telling me that he never received any communication about suspending the trial, and would not have agreed to it. But Fr. Murphy had died in the meantime. As a believer, I have no doubt that Murphy will face the One who judges both the living and the dead.

Goodstein also refers to what she calls “other accusations” about the reassignment of a priest who had previously abused a child/children in another diocese by the Archdiocese of Munich. But the Archdiocese has repeatedly explained that the responsible Vicar General, Mons. Gruber, admitted his mistake in making that assignment. It is anachronistic for Goodstein and the Times to imply that the knowledge about sexual abuse that we have in 2010 should have somehow been intuited by those in authority in 1980. It is not difficult for me to think that Professor Ratzinger, appointed as Archbishop of Munich in 1977, would have done as most new bishops do: allow those already in place in an administration of 400 or 500 people to do the jobs assigned to them.

As I look back on my own personal history as a priest and bishop, I can say that in 1980 I had never heard of any accusation of such sexual abuse by a priest. It was only in 1985, as an Auxiliary Bishop attending a meeting of our U.S. Bishops’ Conference where data on this matter was presented, that I became aware of some of the issues. In 1986, when I was appointed Archbishop in Portland, I began to deal personally with accusations of the crime of sexual abuse, and although my “learning curve” was rapid, it was also limited by the particular cases called to my attention.

Here are a few things I have learned since that time: many child victims are reluctant to report incidents of sexual abuse by clergy. When they come forward as adults, the most frequent reason they give is not to ask for punishment of the priest, but to make the bishop and personnel director aware so that other children can be spared the trauma that they have experienced.

In dealing with priests, I learned that many priests, when confronted with accusations from the past, spontaneously admitted their guilt. On the other hand, I also learned that denial is not uncommon. I have found that even programs of residential therapy have not succeeded in breaking through such denial in some cases. Even professional therapists did not arrive at a clear diagnosis in some of these cases; often their recommendations were too vague to be helpful. On the other hand, therapists have been very helpful to victims in dealing with the long-range effects of their childhood abuse. In both Portland and San Francisco where I dealt with issues of sexual abuse, the dioceses always made funds available (often through diocesan insurance coverage) for therapy to victims of sexual abuse.

From the point of view of ecclesiastical procedures, the explosion of the sexual abuse question in the United States led to the adoption, at a meeting of the Bishops’ Conference in Dallas in 2002, of a “Charter for the Protection of Minors from Sexual Abuse.” This Charter provides for uniform guidelines on reporting sexual abuse, on structures of accountability (Boards involving clergy, religious and laity, including experts), reports to a national Board, and education programs for parishes and schools in raising awareness and prevention of sexual abuse of children. In a number of other countries similar programs have been adopted by Church authorities: one of the first was adopted by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales in response to the Nolan Report made by a high-level commission of independent experts in 2001.

It was only in 2001, with the publication of Pope John Paul II’s Motu proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela (SST), that responsibility for guiding the Catholic Church’s response to the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clerics was assigned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This papal document was prepared for Pope John Paul II under the guidance of Cardinal Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Contrary to some media reports, SST did not remove the local bishop’s responsibility for acting in cases of reported sexual abuse of minors by clerics. Nor was it, as some have theorized, part of a plot from on high to interfere with civil jurisdiction in such cases. Instead, SST directs bishops to report credible allegations of abuse to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is able to provide a service to the bishops to ensure that cases are handled properly, in accord with applicable ecclesiastical law.

Here are some of the advances made by this new Church legislation (SST). It has allowed for a streamlined administrative process in arriving at a judgment, thus reserving the more formal process of a canonical trial to more complex cases. This has been of particular advantage in missionary and small dioceses that do not have a strong complement of well-trained canon lawyers. It provides for erecting inter-diocesan tribunals to assist small dioceses. The Congregation has faculties allowing it derogate from the prescription of a crime (statute of limitations) in order to permit justice to be done even for “historical” cases. Moreover, SST has amended canon law in cases of sexual abuse to adjust the age of a minor to 18 to correspond with the civil law in many countries today. It provides a point of reference for bishops and religious superiors to obtain uniform advice about handling priests’ cases. Perhaps most of all, it has designated cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics as graviora delicta: most grave crimes, like the crimes against the sacraments of Eucharist and Penance perennially assigned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This in itself has shown the seriousness with which today’s Church undertakes its responsibility to assist bishops and religious superiors to prevent these crimes from happening in the future, and to punish them when they happen. Here is a legacy of Pope Benedict that greatly facilitates the work of the Congregation which I now have the privilege to lead, to the benefit of the entire Church.

After the Dallas Charter in 2002, I was appointed (at the time as Archbishop of San Francisco) to a team of four bishops to seek approval of the Holy See for the “Essential Norms” that the American Bishops developed to allow us to deal with abuse questions. Because these norms intersected with existing canon law, they required approval before being implemented as particular law for our country. Under the chairmanship of Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago and currently President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, our team worked with Vatican canonical experts at several meetings. We found in Cardinal Ratzinger, and in the experts he assigned to meet with us, a sympathetic understanding of the problems we faced as American bishops. Largely through his guidance we were able to bring our work to a successful conclusion.

The Times editorial wonders “how Vatican officials did not draw the lessons of the grueling scandal in the United States, where more than 700 priests were dismissed over a three-year period.” I can assure the Times that the Vatican in reality did not then and does not now ignore those lessons. But the Times editorial goes on to show the usual bias: “But then we read Laurie Goodstein’s disturbing report . . .about how the pope, while he was still a cardinal, was personally warned about a priest … But church leaders chose to protect the church instead of children. The report illuminated the kind of behavior the church was willing to excuse to avoid scandal.” Excuse me, editors. Even the Goodstein article, based on “newly unearthed files,” places the words about protecting the Church from scandal on the lips of Archbishop Weakland, not the pope. It is just this kind of anachronistic conflation that I think warrants my accusation that the Times, in rushing to a guilty verdict, lacks fairness in its coverage of Pope Benedict.

As a full-time member of the Roman Curia, the governing structure that carries out the Holy See’s tasks, I do not have time to deal with the Times’s subsequent almost daily articles by Rachel Donadio and others, much less with Maureen Dowd’s silly parroting of Goodstein’s “disturbing report.” But about a man with and for whom I have the privilege of working, as his “successor” Prefect, a pope whose encyclicals on love and hope and economic virtue have both surprised us and made us think, whose weekly catecheses and Holy Week homilies inspire us, and yes, whose pro-active work to help the Church deal effectively with the sexual abuse of minors continues to enable us today, I ask the Times to reconsider its attack mode about Pope Benedict XVI and give the world a more balanced view of a leader it can and should count on.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Let Us Make This Week Holy"

And now, back to the most important Story of all -- these holiest days of the year....

Catholic News Service notes that today marks the 20th anniversary of the death of the beloved Sister Thea Bowman -- the Mississippi-born convert who, as it was recently put, "had a reputation for portraying the face of Christ," her evangelical gifts of word, song and spirit widely known as "a ministry of joy" and famed for "making doers of watchers."

"I think the difference between me and some people," she once said in a 60 Minutes profile, "is that I'm content to do my little bit.

"Sometimes people think they have to do big things in order to make change. But if each one would light a candle we'd have a tremendous light."

In its piece today, CNS ran the text of a meditation Bowman dictated to a friend in her last days -- a reflection on Holy Week first run in her home diocese of Jackson's Mississippi Catholic a week after her death from bone cancer at 52.

Given this year's context, and with the Triduum just ahead, her call and witness, indeed, "still resonates," and it's especially worth absorbing this time around... here in full is Bowman's last word, titled Let Us Love one Another During Holy Week:
Let us resolve to make this week holy by claiming Christ’s redemptive grace and by living holy lives. The Word became flesh and redeemed us by his holy life and holy death. This week especially, let us accept redemption by living grateful, faithful, prayerful, generous, just and holy lives.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by reading and meditating Holy Scripture.

So often, we get caught up in the hurry of daily living. As individuals and as families, reserve prime time to be with Jesus, to hear the cries of the children waving palm branches, to see the Son of Man riding on an ass' colt, to feel the press of the crowd, to be caught up in the "Hosannas” and to realize how the cries of acclamation will yield to the garden of suffering, to be there and watch as Jesus is sentenced by Pilate to Calvary, to see him rejected, mocked, spat upon, beaten and forced to carry a heavy cross, to hear the echo of the hammer, to feel the agony of the torn flesh and strained muscles, to know Mary’s anguish as he hung three hours before he died.

We recoil before the atrocities of war, gang crime, domestic violence and catastrophic illness. Unless we personally and immediately are touched by suffering, it is easy to read Scripture and to walk away without contacting the redemptive suffering that makes us holy. The reality of the Word falls on deaf ears.

Let us take time this week to be present to someone who suffers. Sharing the pain of a fellow human will enliven Scripture and help us enter into the holy mystery of the redemptive suffering of Christ.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by participating in the Holy Week services of the church, not just by attending, but also by preparing, by studying the readings, entering into the spirit, offering our services as ministers of the Word or Eucharist, decorating the church or preparing the environment for worship.

Let us sing, "Lord, have mercy," and "Hosanna." Let us praise the Lord with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength, uniting with the suffering church throughout the world -- in Rome and Northern Ireland, in Syria and Lebanon, in South Africa and Angola, India and China, Nicaragua and El Salvador, in Washington, D.C., and Jackson, Mississippi.

Let us break bread together; let us relive the holy and redemptive mystery. Let us do it in memory of him, acknowledging in faith his real presence upon our altars.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by sharing holy peace and joy within our families, sharing family prayer on a regular basis, making every meal a holy meal where loving conversations bond family members in unity, sharing family work without grumbling, making love not war, asking forgiveness for past hurts and forgiving one another from the heart, seeking to go all the way for love as Jesus went all the way for love.

Let us resolve to make this week holy by sharing holy peace and joy with the needy, the alienated, the lonely, the sick and afflicted, the untouchable.

Let us unite our sufferings, inconveniences and annoyances with the suffering of Jesus. Let us stretch ourselves, going beyond our comfort zones to unite ourselves with Christ's redemptive work.

We unite ourselves with Christ's redemptive work when we reconcile, when we make peace, when we share the good news that God is in our lives, when we reflect to our brothers and sisters God's healing, God's forgiveness, God's unconditional love.

Let us be practical, reaching out across the boundaries of race and class and status to help somebody, to encourage and affirm somebody, offering to the young an incentive to learn and grow, offering to the downtrodden resources to help themselves.

May our fasting be the kind that saves and shares with the poor, that actually contacts the needy, that gives heart to heart, that touches and nourishes and heals.

During this Holy Week when Jesus gave his life for love, let us truly love one another.
And with that prayer much in mind and heart, church, all its continued gifts and blessings to one and all.


On Murphy, "The Mistakes Were Made Here"

At ground zero of the Murphy Case, and at the close of a day that began with Milwaukee's former judicial vicar defending the Holy See's handling of the serial abuser, the Beer City church's current head, Archbishop Jerome Listecki, addressed the fallout at the close of his first Chrism Mass earlier tonight in St John's Cathedral.

A canon and civil lawyer, the freshly-installed prelate's appeal came a day after a SNAP-organized protest outside the cathedral featuring survivors carrying signs reading "stop attacking us" as one member spoke of feeling "vilified" after recent days' defenses of Pope Benedict by leading clerics.

The local Journal-Sentinel runs a Chrism recap... and, here, from Listecki's text:
So many people have suffered – first and foremost victims and their families. Because of the actions of the few priests who committed these crimes, all of us continue to suffer today.

This past week our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has come under criticism for the way he has handled past cases of clergy sexual abuse of minors, including a case here involving Lawrence Murphy. The allegations against him, as well as the facts supporting him, are widely available.

The Holy Father does not need me to defend him or his decisions. I believe, and history will confirm that his actions in responding to this crisis, swiftly and decisively and his compassionate response to victims/surviovrs, speak for themselves. The Holy Father has been firm in his commitment to combat clergy sexual abuse; root it out of the Church; reach out to those who have been harmed; and hold perpetrators accountable. He has been a leader, meeting with victims/survivors and chastising bishops for their lack of judgment and leadership.

Mistakes were made in the Lawrence Murphy case. The mistakes were not made in Rome in 1996, 1997 and 1998. The mistakes were made here, in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, in the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s, by the Church, by civil authorities, by Church officials, and by bishops. And for that, I beg your forgiveness in the name of the Church and in the name of this Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Because of those who have come forward -- those who have been harmed in a most egregious way; those who have been relentless in their criticism of the Church; those who have pushed and prodded – some say even forced -- the Church to change; those brave victims-survivors who have had the courage to come forward and publicly tell their story even after decades of feeling ignored -- because of their persistence and perseverance, we know the Church HAS changed.

We owe these victims/survivors our deep gratitude and we acknowledge our own actions have not always expressed that gratitude adequately.

We know that today the policies and procedures in place in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and across the United States, ensures to the best of our God-given ability, that no priest with a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor can ever serve as a priest again in our Church.

Still, we know it is not words, but actions that will demonstrate our resolve. And, in some ways, regardless of what I say, tonight or any other time, our critics will say it is not enough. But that cannot and will not prevent me from making every possible effort at moving forward toward healing and resolution with those who have been harmed, and, determined, to make sure nothing like this can ever happen again.

To you gathered here tonight – our pastors, priests, deacons and lay ecclesial ministers – through your vigilance at our parishes and schools, we now have in place the mechanisms to effectively combat the scourge of child sexual abuse. Through the formation and training of our safe environment initiative, we know that you, in your parishes, schools and institutions, have put in place the necessary safeguards and practices to ensure our children are protected. Thank you. Remain vigilant.

Even though some do not want to hear it or accept it as truth, mistakes were made by law enforcement, medical professionals -- even reporters who helped bring initial stories to light and grappled with how to deal with perpetrators. We have ALL learned so much.

We cannot deny the past, but because of all of it, during these past years we have become a more prudent Church. We have taken significant steps to purge this abuse from our Church and even from the larger society. We hope and pray our actions have become a model for what TO do after decades of what NOT to do.
PHOTO: Tom Lynn/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel


The Lady Fires Back

Having seen the first wave of church-press skirmishes and their escalation tonight in Brooklyn with Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio's Chrism Mass call for his faithful to "besiege" the New York Times, it's only getting wilder by the hour... even well after close of business.

Late tonight, the Grey Lady sent up its latest barrage in the form of an op-ed by its marquee columnist, Maureen Dowd, whose headline says it all: "Should There Be an Inquisition for the Pope?"

A DC-born Irish Catholic (and, ironically enough, a product of no less than the bishops' own academy) Dowd goes on to write that "the church has started an Easter public relations blitz defending a pope who went along with the perverse culture of protecting molesters and the church’s reputation rather than abused — and sometimes disabled and disadvantaged — children.

"The church gave up its credibility for Lent," she adds. "Holy Thursday and Good Friday are now becoming Cover-Up Thursday and Blame-Others Friday."

The piece only gets more heated from there -- direct shots at New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan and his Palm Sunday defense of Benedict XVI included.

In the wake of the Times' original Murphy story and the subsequent day's return to Munich, Dowd's Sunday column called for the election of a "Nope" -- a Nun-Pope.

For the record, she's shown a fairly rare ability to vex the Vatican before; a Sunday column last October bashing the ongoing Apostolic Visitation of the US' women religious garnered a response from no less than Rome's top hand on religious life, Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé.

* * *
A Times columnist for nearly two decades, the line taken by the scribe known in the Italian press as "La Dowd" is but an echo of her reams of incandescent prose on the scandals in 2002, as the Stateside church was first engulfed in the greatest crisis of its four-century history.

At the time, there was little ecclesial blowback -- either on her or any of the year's Everest of reporting. This time around, though, it's quickly become a whole different ballgame.

The shock of it all -- and the anger in the pews -- might've been one reason the '02 response was starkly different. But it can be argued that the period since has brought to the fore something that wasn't the case eight years back: a cast of characters in leading posts who have felt far more empowered to fire back at the flack, whatever one might make of the result.

In contrast to the two most prominent examples in these days -- Dolan, named to the Big Apple last year in succession to the famously press-averse Cardinal Edward Egan, and DiMarzio, who took the Brooklyn seat in 2003 after the fairly low-profile Bishop Thomas Daily (who, as vicar-general of Boston in the early 1980s, failed to investigate the notorious Paul Shanley) -- it's worth recalling that, nationally, the 2002 response was spearheaded by two prelates of a more conciliatory style amid controversies, both of whom long enjoyed warm relations with the mainstream press: the then-president of the bench, Wilton Gregory, now archbishop of Atlanta, and the freshly-elevated Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington.

Then again, the one top-level figure of the period given to engaging a spirited defense had suddenly been precluded from doing so: Cardinal Bernard Law -- who, ten years prior, famously "call[ed] down the power of God on the media, particularly the [Boston] Globe" for its reporting of Massachusetts' first case brought to light -- had become the central figure of an epochal storm that would end up forcing him into an unprecedented early retirement.

In a nutshell, the contrast of the times is just further proof of the degree to which leadership -- the personalities who comprise it... and, indeed, the message they choose to send -- makes all the difference... not just when it comes to reporting the past, but in forecasting the shape of things to come.


In Brooklyn, It's War

Across the East River from Manhattan, with the 1.8 million-member diocese of Brooklyn's Chrism Mass likewise to take place tonight, Deacon Greg Kandra airs an advance snip of what promises to be a fiery preach....
In his homily to the priests and people of the Diocese of Brooklyn, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, called upon the priests and people of the Diocese of Brooklyn to stand up with him and "besiege The New York Times. Send a message loud and clear that the Pope, our Church, and bishops and our priests will no longer be the personal punching bag of The New York Times."...

Reflecting on the timing of the stories, DiMarzio stated "Two weeks of articles about a story from many decades ago, in the midst of the Most Holy Season of the Church year is both callous and smacks of calumny!"
And, with that, it just got even more... er... interesting.

Keep an eye on the Bench for the whole thing when it drops.


Chrismas Day... and Roger Night

Before all else, it can't go unnoted that this Holy Tuesday sees the vast majority of these shores' Chrism Masses -- the annual "family reunion" of each diocese headlined by the consecration of the local church's supply of oils for the year and paying tribute to the ministerial priesthood in light of its "anniversary" on Holy Thursday.

Given that, a Merry Chrismas to one and all... and, in a special way, to all the troops out there -- especially in this Year of the Priest and, indeed, with all the painful, easily demoralizing stories floating about -- no words could say enough thanks for everything you are and everything you do.

Most of all, please keep it up.

* * *
That said, keeping with his predecessor's tradition of reserving major personnel announcements for the annual rite, the head of the nation's largest local church didn't leave his guys empty-handed last night... even if, as expected, Cardinal Roger Mahony still lacked The Announcement that's kept the LA crowd on edge and then some these last several months.

Before a beyond-standing room crowd of 4,500-plus that spilled into the aisles and packed the back of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels for Chrism's SoCal edition, the 74 year-old cardinal apparently had fun with the continuing frenzy over his succession at the liturgy's close.

A friend in the sanctuary captured it thus:
At the end of the Mass, [Mahony] rose from his cathedra and showed the crowd an envelope from the apostolic nuncio, saying "Should I open this, or is everyone too tired and wants to go home?"

He asked all those who wanted him to open the envelope to say yea. Everyone shouts a huge "YEA!"

He drew it out a bit. Then he opened the envelope and red the letter. It was announcing some new monsignori. He read out the names, called up all the priests named monsignor and they got a round of applause.

Then he said "Oh look, there's something else in the envelope! Do you want me to read this?"

Of course, everyone is disappointed at this point that the letter he read was about monsignori because we are all dying to know who the coadjutor will be.

"It's getting kind of late, maybe I shouldn't read this.... OK, all those who want me to read the second letter say Yea."


So with great drama he opens the letter supposedly from the nuncio and says, "Oh, the nuncio has quoted scripture."

He then reads Ecclesiastes 3:1-9, ending it with "There is a time to announce a new archbishop...but this is not the time."

He gets a huge laugh and, smiling, returns to the cathedra to offer the final blessing.
Given the outbreak of "Arch Madness" over the coming choice, it's a miracle the locals didn't stampede the chair to read the letters for themselves.

According to two sources who attended a meeting with Mahony mid-last week, the cardinal said then that he still had not been informed of the identity of his successor-in-waiting.

In sharing the list of Purple Rain recipients on his blog -- 14 in all -- the cardinal added that "a large number of laity across the Archdiocese will be honored in the near future with either the Benemerenti Medal or the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal in recognition of their outstanding discipleship with Jesus Christ and their service of the Church here in our Archdiocese."

Before the current crop, LA's last class of Roman award-winners came in 2005 with the "Purple Tsunami," which saw 13 monsignori and a staggering 200-plus lay gongs conferred.

In his 1998 class of papal knights, Mahony conferred the Order of St Gregory the Great on -- among others -- Magic Kingdom heir Roy Disney, Bob Hope and the media-titan Rupert Murdoch.


In the Coverage, "A Profound Tribute"

Building on the post below -- and making it a trio of the heads of the English-speaking church's most prominent dioceses -- Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto offered an extended, characteristically elegant comment on the state of affairs at his Chrism rites earlier today in St Michael's Cathedral....

Audio and fulltext are posted... here, a snip:
People expect that one who is consecrated with the holy oil of Chrism, will act in an exemplary manner, and never betray the trust which people know they should be able to place in a Catholic priest. At his ordination we pray: Bless this chosen man, and set him apart for his sacred duties. And yet to our shame some have used the awesome gift of the holy priesthood for base personal gratification, betraying the innocent and devastating their lives. When that happens, our first concern must be for those innocent young people who have been abused, to help them overcome their suffering, and to resolve to take whatever steps are needed to be as sure as is possible that this does not happen again. We have all had to learn through failures and mistakes and that is especially true of bishops, who have sometimes failed in their responsibility to act effectively.

For this diocese, anyone who looks at our website can see the policies that are in place to help us to act rightly, but we must never be satisfied.

We cannot escape the horror of this by pointing out that almost all priests serve faithfully, though that fact is a grace that gives joy to the Catholic people, whose love and prayerful support sustains us all. But even one priest gone wrong causes immense harm, and throughout the world priests have done unspeakable evil.

We should be grateful for the attention which the media devotes to the sins of Catholic clergy, even if constant repetition may give the false impression that Catholic clergy are particularly sinful. That attention is a profound tribute to the priesthood which we celebrate at this Mass of the Chrism. People instinctively expect holiness in a Catholic priest, and are especially appalled when he does evil.

As we look to the continuing painful purification of the Church, we all need in a particular way to give thanks to God for the leadership of Joseph Ratzinger, as Cardinal and Pope, who has acted decisively, fairly, consistently, and courageously to purify the priesthood and to make the Church a safe place for everyone. Anyone with any knowledge of this terrible reality realizes that Pope Benedict has led the way in confronting this evil.

PHOTO: Archdiocese of Toronto


Dolan: "A Well-Oiled Campaign Against" Pope

In the latest salvo of a church-press war over sex-abuse coverage that's already gotten far more heated than it ever was in 2002, the archbishop of New York has lowered the boom anew in a freshly-published, extensive blog-post....

Here's the close:
Let me be upfront: I confess a bias in favor of the Church and her Pope.

I only wish some others would admit a bias on the other side.

A blessed Holy Week.
Tonight's sees the Gotham Chrism Mass, so we might be hearing even more from Tim Dolan then... the meanwhile, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster closed out his presbyterate's annual liturgy today with the following message:
Just before we end Mass today, I would like to add a few words about the widespread reports of child abuse in the Catholic Church and all the accompanying comment.

First, and most importantly, we think of those who have been damaged by childhood abuse with all its lasting effects. We must readily express our sorrow and apologies. We are properly and shocked and shamed by each and all such acts which are a dreadful breaking of trust. We are also firmly resolved to continue all our work of safeguarding.

Secondly, attempts to implicate Pope Benedict are unworthy. Every time you read that the 2001 document from the Holy See imposed a duty on bishops to keep these things secret and hidden from public authorities, know that this is simply untrue.

There is nothing in that document to deter or hinder a bishop or a victim from reporting cases to the police. In fact since that time, when the Holy See directly called for greater vigilance and scrutiny, bishops have been urged to take that course of action.

Thirdly, please remember that in the last forty years the vast majority of priests in England and Wales – 99.6% to be precise – have never had such allegations made against them. But even one case is too many. Every single case is, and always will be, a sin and a scandal, damaging its victims and shaming us all. All of this we commit to the Lord in this Holy Week. From him alone, through his wounds, can come the healing we need.

There is a vivid phrase to recall: Trust comes on foot but leaves on horseback. It is on foot, through our daily actions, that trust is strengthened. We know that. That is what we do. And there is great trust among us – rightly given and received.

So, before the blessing, let me again thank all our priests here today for their goodness and hard work. I appreciate them and assure them of my love and support. I am sure you all do the same!


US Bench: "We Stand With" B16

Just before 10am Eastern, the following statement emerged from the Executive Committee of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops:
On behalf of the Catholic bishops of the United States, we, the members of the Executive Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, write both to express our deep concern for those harmed by the crime and sin of sexual abuse by clergy and to express our profound gratitude for the assistance that Pope Benedict XVI has given us in our efforts to respond to victims, deal with perpetrators and to create safe environments for children. The recent emergence of more reports of sexual abuse by clergy saddens and angers the Church and causes us shame. If there is anywhere that children should be safe, it should be in their homes and in the Church.

We know from our experience how Pope Benedict is deeply concerned for those who have been harmed by sexual abuse and how he has strengthened the Church’s response to victims and supported our efforts to deal with perpetrators. We continue to intensify our efforts to provide safe environments for children in our parishes and schools. Further, we work with others in our communities to address the prevalence of sexual abuse in the larger society.

One of the most touching moments of the Holy Father’s visit to the United States in 2008 was his private conversation with victims/survivors at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington. Pope Benedict heard firsthand how sexual abuse has devastated lives. The Holy Father spoke with each person and provided every one time to speak freely to him. They shared their painful experiences and he listened, often clasping their hands and responding tenderly and reassuringly.

With the support of both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, we bishops have made a vigorous commitment to do everything in our power to prevent abuse from happening to children. We live out this commitment through the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which calls us to respond with compassion to victims/survivors, to work diligently to screen those working with children and young people in the Church, to provide child abuse awareness and prevention education, to report suspected abuse to civil law enforcement, and to account for our efforts to protect children and youth through an external annual national audit.

As we accompany Christ in His passion and death during this Holy Week, we stand with our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in prayer for the victims of sexual abuse, for the entire Church and for the world.

Cardinal Francis George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago

Bishop Gerald Kicanas
Bishop of Tucson

Bishop George Murry, SJ
Bishop of Youngstown

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz
Archbishop of Louisville

Bishop Arthur Serratelli
Bishop of Paterson
Elected Member
* * *
Meanwhile, the Stateside church's most-prominent advocate for victim-survivors has said that the calls in some quarters for the pontiff's resignation weren't only "highly unlikely" to be heeded, but just as counterproductive.

In an NPR op-ed today, David Clohessy of the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said that "if the pope were to step down, like Cardinal Bernard Law did in Boston, it would create the illusion of reform while decreasing the chances of real reform" (emphases original).

A papal departure, Clohessy said, "would foster the tempting but naive view that change is happening. It would not address the deeply rooted, unhealthy, systemic dysfunctions that plague any medieval institution that vests virtually all power in a pope who allegedly supervises 5,000 bishops across the planet."

Further underscoring the
challenge for the Holy See and its message operation -- its effectiveness of late a worthy topic for discussion -- a poll commissioned by Ireland's Independent newspaper and reported in its Sunday editions found that 51 percent of Irish surveyed thought the pontiff should leave office, something no Pope has done since the early 15th century.

The same poll found over three-quarters of respondents calling for the resignation of Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh, who's come under heavy fire on the Isle in recent weeks for aspects of his administrative role in a 1970s canonical process against an accused priest, a controversy then compounded by fresh disclosures that Ireland's primatial see has paid more to the legal team handling its case-load than its total settlements with victim-survivors who've filed suit.


Clocking the Times

With the New York Times' coverage of the Murphy Case getting its share of furious drubbing in Pope Benedict's defense, a new player in the drama has emerged to recount his side of the story.

As judicial vicar of the Milwaukee archdiocese, Fr Thomas Brundage oversaw the canonical proceedings against Lawrence C. Murphy, the now-deceased Beer City cleric suspected of sexually abusing as many as 200 deaf boys through the 1950s and '60s and placed under canonical investigation, then charged in the two years before his 1998 death.

Now on loan to the archdiocese of Anchorage, Brundage penned a piece for the Alaska church's Catholic Anchor... here, a long snip:
I will limit my comments, because of judicial oaths I have taken as a canon lawyer and as an ecclesiastical judge. However, since my name and comments in the matter of the Father Murphy case have been liberally and often inaccurately quoted in the New York Times and in more than 100 other newspapers and on-line periodicals, I feel a freedom to tell part of the story of Father Murphy’s trial from ground zero.

As I have found that the reporting on this issue has been inaccurate and poor in terms of the facts, I am also writing out of a sense of duty to the truth.

The fact that I presided over this trial and have never once been contacted by any news organization for comment speaks for itself.

My intent in the following paragraphs is to accomplish the following:

To tell the back-story of what actually happened in the Father Murphy case on the local level;

To outline the sloppy and inaccurate reporting on the Father Murphy case by the New York Times and other media outlets;

To assert that Pope Benedict XVI has done more than any other pope or bishop in history to rid the Catholic Church of the scourge of child sexual abuse and provide for those who have been injured;

To set the record straight with regards to the efforts made by the church to heal the wounds caused by clergy sexual misconduct. The Catholic Church is probably the safest place for children at this point in history.

Before proceeding, it is important to point out the scourge that child sexual abuse has been — not only for the church but for society as well. Few actions can distort a child’s life more than sexual abuse. It is a form of emotional and spiritual homicide and it starts a trajectory toward a skewed sense of sexuality. When committed by a person in authority, it creates a distrust of almost anyone, anywhere....

As for the numerous reports about the case of Father Murphy, the back-story has not been reported as of yet.

In 1996, I was introduced to the story of Father Murphy, formerly the principal of St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee. It had been common knowledge for decades that during Father Murphy’s tenure at the school (1950-1974) there had been a scandal at St. John’s involving him and some deaf children. The details, however, were sketchy at best.

Courageous advocacy on behalf of the victims (and often their wives), led the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to revisit the matter in 1996. In internal discussions of the curia for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, it became obvious that we needed to take strong and swift action with regard to the wrongs of several decades ago. With the consent of then-Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, we began an investigation into the allegations of child sexual abuse as well as the violation of the crime of solicitation within the confessional by Father Murphy.

We proceeded to start a trial against Father Murphy. I was the presiding judge in this matter and informed Father Murphy that criminal charges were going to be levied against him with regard to child sexual abuse and solicitation in the confessional.

In my interactions with Father Murphy, I got the impression I was dealing with a man who simply did not get it. He was defensive and threatening.

Between 1996 and August, 1998, I interviewed, with the help of a qualified interpreter, about a dozen victims of Father Murphy. These were gut-wrenching interviews. In one instance the victim had become a perpetrator himself and had served time in prison for his crimes. I realized that this disease is virulent and was easily transmitted to others. I heard stories of distorted lives, sexualities diminished or expunged. These were the darkest days of my own priesthood, having been ordained less than 10 years at the time. Grace-filled spiritual direction has been a Godsend.

I also met with a community board of deaf Catholics. They insisted that Father Murphy should be removed from the priesthood and highly important to them was their request that he be buried not as a priest but as a layperson. I indicated that a judge, I could not guarantee the first request and could only make a recommendation to the latter request.

In the summer of 1998, I ordered Father Murphy to be present at a deposition at the chancery in Milwaukee. I received, soon after, a letter from his doctor that he was in frail health and could travel not more than 20 miles (Boulder Junction to Milwaukee would be about 276 miles). A week later, Father Murphy died of natural causes in a location about 100 miles from his home

With regard to the inaccurate reporting on behalf of the New York Times, the Associated Press, and those that utilized these resources, first of all, I was never contacted by any of these news agencies but they felt free to quote me. Almost all of my quotes are from a document that can be found online with the correspondence between the Holy See and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. In an October 31, 1997 handwritten document, I am quoted as saying ‘odds are that this situation may very well be the most horrendous, number wise, and especially because these are physically challenged , vulnerable people. “ Also quoted is this: “Children were approached within the confessional where the question of circumcision began the solicitation.”

The problem with these statements attributed to me is that they were handwritten. The documents were not written by me and do not resemble my handwriting. The syntax is similar to what I might have said but I have no idea who wrote these statements, yet I am credited as stating them. As a college freshman at the Marquette University School of Journalism, we were told to check, recheck, and triple check our quotes if necessary. I was never contacted by anyone on this document, written by an unknown source to me. Discerning truth takes time and it is apparent that the New York Times, the Associated Press and others did not take the time to get the facts correct.

Additionally, in the documentation in a letter from Archbishop Weakland to then-secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone on August 19, 1998, Archbishop Weakland stated that he had instructed me to abate the proceedings against Father Murphy. Father Murphy, however, died two days later and the fact is that on the day that Father Murphy died, he was still the defendant in a church criminal trial. No one seems to be aware of this. Had I been asked to abate this trial, I most certainly would have insisted that an appeal be made to the supreme court of the church, or Pope John Paul II if necessary. That process would have taken months if not longer.

Second, with regard to the role of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), in this matter, I have no reason to believe that he was involved at all. Placing this matter at his doorstep is a huge leap of logic and information.

Third, the competency to hear cases of sexual abuse of minors shifted from the Roman Rota to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith headed by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2001. Until that time, most appeal cases went to the Rota and it was our experience that cases could languish for years in this court. When the competency was changed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in my observation as well as many of my canonical colleagues, sexual abuse cases were handled expeditiously, fairly, and with due regard to the rights of all the parties involved. I have no doubt that this was the work of then Cardinal Ratzinger.

Fourth, Pope Benedict has repeatedly apologized for the shame of the sexual abuse of children in various venues and to a worldwide audience. This has never happened before. He has met with victims. He has reigned [sic] in entire conferences of bishops on this matter, the Catholic Bishops of Ireland being the most recent. He has been most [sic] reactive and proactive of any international church official in history with regard to the scourge of clergy sexual abuse of minors. Instead of blaming him for inaction on these matters, he has truly been a strong and effective leader on these issues.

Finally, over the last 25 years, vigorous action has taken place within the church to avoid harm to children. Potential seminarians receive extensive sexual-psychological evaluation prior to admission. Virtually all seminaries concentrate their efforts on the safe environment for children. There have been very few cases of recent sexual abuse of children by clergy during the last decade or more.

Catholic dioceses all across the country have taken extraordinary steps to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults. As one example, which is by no means unique, is in the Archdiocese of Anchorage, where I currently work. Here, virtually every public bathroom in parishes has a sign asking if a person has been abuse [sic] by anyone in the church. A phone number is given to report the abuse and almost all church workers in the archdiocese are required to take yearly formation sessions in safe environment classes. I am not sure what more the church can do.
Meanwhile, the Grey Lady's education pages have taken to highlighting the Times' Murphy coverage, providing lesson-plan questions as a resource for "teachers and parents want to help their students and children understand" the story.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Quote of the Day

The Church tragically failed many of its children: it failed through abuse; it failed through not preventing abuse; it failed through covering up abuse.

Child protection measures need to be constantly updated; more participation of lay men and women is needed to avoid a false culture of clericalism. We need to develop a fresh idea of what childhood means; we need to develop a strong horror of what childhood-lost means.

The Church is called to renew itself in turning back more closely to her founder Jesus Christ. All of us need to learn more deeply how to think like Christ, how to teach like Christ and care as Christ did. We need to realize that the cold harshness of fundamentalism has nothing to do with the demanding starkness of personal and institutional integrity.

Our prayer this evening is that this period of renewal in the Church will be a moment of healing. A precondition of healing is recognition and rejection of the faults of the past, without becoming entrenched and immobilized in history.

The truth must come out; without the truth we will never be truly free.

We must face the truth of the past; repent it; make good the damage done. And yet we must move forward day by day along the painful path of renewal, knowing that it is only when our human misery encounters face-to-face the liberating mercy of God that our Church will be truly restored and enriched.
--Most Reverend Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland
Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent
Release of Benedict XVI's
Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland
20 March 2010


Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Ascent to Jerusalem

Its thinly-veiled reference to the looming abuse scandals might've shot quickly across the world's wires, but a full English translation of B16's homily at this morning's Palm Sunday liturgy in St Peter's Square has finally emerged.

The pontiff's explicit focus far less on the news-cycle than the Procession Gospel's account of the ascent of Jesus to Jerusalem to begin his public ministry -- yet with a couple other oblique but ostensible references to the backdrop of these days tucked within its lines -- here's a snip of Zenit's rendering from the original Italian:
[I]n the breadth of Jesus' ascent the dimensions of our following of him become visible -- the goal to which he wants to lead us: to the heights of God, to communion with God, to being-with-God. This is the true goal, and communion with him is the way. Communion with Christ is being on a journey, a permanent ascent to the true height of our calling. Journeying together with Jesus is always at the same time a traveling together in the "we" of those who want to follow him. It brings us into this community. Because this journey to true life, to being men conformed to the model of the Son of God Jesus Christ is beyond our powers, this journeying is also always a state of being carried. We find ourselves, so to speak, in a "roped party" with Jesus Christ -- together with him in the ascent to the heights of God. He pulls us and supports us. Letting oneself be part of a roped party is part of following Christ; we accept that we cannot do it on our own. The humble act of entering into the "we" of the Church is part of it -- holding on to the roped party, the responsibility of communion, not letting go of the rope because of our bullheadedness and conceit.

Humbly believing with the Church, like being bound together in a roped party ascending to God, is an essential condition for following Christ. Not acting as the owners of the Word of God, not chasing after a mistaken idea of emancipation -- this is also part of being together in the roped party. The humility of "being-with" is essential to the ascent. Letting the Lord take us by the hand through the sacraments is another part of it. We let ourselves be purified and strengthened by him, we let ourselves accept the discipline of the ascent, even if we are tired.
Finally, we must again say that the cross is part of the ascent toward the height of Jesus Christ, the ascent to the height of God. Just as in the affairs of this world great things cannot be done without renunciation and hard work (joy in great discoveries and joy in a true capacity for activity are linked to discipline, indeed, to the effort of learning) so also the way to life itself, to the realization of one's own humanity is linked to him who climbed to the height of God through the cross. In the final analysis, the cross is the expression of that which is meant by love: Only he who loses himself will find himself.

Let us summarize: Following Christ demands as a first step the reawakening of the nostalgia for being authentically human and thus the reawakening for God. It then demands that one enter into the roped party of those who climb, into the communion of the Church. In the "we" of the Church we enter into the communion with the "Thou" of Jesus Christ and therefore reach the way to God. Moreover, listening to and living Jesus Christ's word in faith, hope and love is also required. We are thus on the way to the definitive Jerusalem and already, from this point forward, we already find ourselves there in the communion of all God's saints.

Our pilgrimage in following Christ, then, is not directed toward any earthly city, but toward the new City of God that grows in the midst of this world. The pilgrimage to the earthly Jerusalem, nevertheless, can be something useful for us Christians for that greater voyage....

Let us return once more to the liturgy of Palm Sunday. The prayer with which the palms are blessed we pray so that in communion with Christ we can bear the fruit of good works. Following a mistaken interpretation of St. Paul, there has repeatedly developed over the course of history and today too, the opinion that good works are not part of being Christian, in any case they would not be significant for man's salvation. But if Paul says that works cannot justify man, he does not intend by this to oppose the importance of right action and, if he speaks of the end of the Law, he does not declare the Ten Commandments obsolete and irrelevant. It is not necessary at the moment to reflect on the whole question that the Apostle was concerned with. It is important to stress that by the term "Law" he does not mean the Ten Commandments, but the complex way of life by which Israel had to protect itself against paganism. Now, however, Christ has brought God to the pagans. This form of distinction was not to be imposed upon them.
Christ alone was given to them as Law. But this means the love of God and neighbor and all that pertains to it. The Ten Commandments read in a new and deeper way beginning with Christ are part of this love. These commandments are nothing other than the basic rules of true love: first of all and as fundamental principle, the worship of God, the primacy of God, which the first three commandments express. They tell us: Without God nothing comes out right. Who this God is and how he is, we know from the person of Jesus Christ. The sanctity of the family follows (fourth commandment), holiness of life (fifth commandment), the ordering of matrimony (sixth commandment), the regulation of society (seventh commandment) and finally the inviolability of the truth (eighth commandment). All of this is of maximum relevance today and precisely also in St. Paul's sense -- if we read all of his letters. "Bear fruit with good works:" At the beginning of Holy Week we pray to the Lord to grant all of us this fruit more and more.

At the end of the Gospel for the blessing of the palms we hear the acclamation with which the pilgrims greet Jesus at the gates of Jerusalem. They are the words of Psalm 118 (117), that originally the priests proclaimed to the pilgrims from the Holy City but that, after a period, became an expression of messianic hope: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" (Psalm 118[117]:26; Luke 19:38). The pilgrims see in Jesus the one whom they have waited for, who comes in the name of the Lord, indeed, according to the St. Luke's Gospel, they insert another word: "Blessed is he who comes, the king, in the name of the Lord."

And they follow this with an acclamation that recalls the message of the angels at Christmas, but they modify it in a way that gives pause. The angels had spoken of the glory of God in the highest heavens and of peace on earth for men of divine goodwill. The pilgrims at the entrance to the Holy City say: "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens!" They know well that there is no peace on earth. And they know that the place of peace is in heaven. Thus this acclamation is an expression of a profound suffering and it is also a prayer of hope: May he who comes in the name of the Lord bring to earth what is in heaven. The Church, before the Eucharistic consecration, sings the words of the Psalm with which Jesus is greeted before his entrance into the Holy City: It greets Jesus as the King who, coming from God, enters in our midst in God's name.
Today too this joyous greeting is always supplication and hope. Let us pray to the Lord that he bring heaven to us: God's glory and peace among men. We understand such a greeting in the spirit of the request of the Our Father: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!" We know that heaven is heaven, a place of glory and peace, because there the will of God rules completely. And we know that earth is not heaven until the will of God is accomplished on it. So we greet Jesus, who comes from heaven and we pray to him to help us know and do God's will. May the royalty of God enter into the world and in this way it be filled with the splendor of peace. Amen.


In Dublin -- and Beyond -- "The Church Will Not Be Reformed From Outside"

With the Irish church still reeling from November's Murphy Report on sex-abuse and cover-up in its capital see -- a damaging chronicle that led Pope Benedict to convene an unprecedented summit of the country's bishops and release a first-ever full document on the crisis -- and with the Isle's top prelate, Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh, currently considering his position, another resounding call for both the church's renewal and all hands on deck to aid in it came on this Palm Sunday from the lone Irish hierarch widely praised for his forthright response to the scandals' immense toll: Dublin's Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.

Here, a snip of Martin's post-Passion homily:
At the final moment on the cross Jesus is tempted once again: “If you are the Son of God, save yourself”, they cry. But Jesus had not come to save himself. He had come to give his life out of love for us, so that we could have life. Jesus who is just – and is recognised as such by Pilate – is unjustly condemned, yet he forgives those who orchestrate his death.

This Gospel account teaches us something about the Church from its very beginning and it tells us something about the Church today and how we are called to live as members of the Church of Christ.

The Church in Dublin is still stung by the horrible abuse which innocent children endured through people who were Christ’s ministers and who were called to act in Christ’s name. How was it that the innocence of children was not embraced; how did it happen that in our Church the temptation to protect institution was given priority over healing the most innocent and the vulnerable.

Many ask me: “How could such harm have been done within the Church of Christ; How can I remain in such a church?"

The only answer is for us to remember that the Church is the Church of Jesus Christ and it is his self-giving alone that brings hope for renewal and give the strength to remain faithful to his message and his mission. Reform and renewal in the Church, sorely needed, can never be a task which we as humans can undertake on our own. It will only come when we convert, that is when we change direction in our lives, and allow Christ’s example of fidelity to be the driving force in our lives. Reform in the Church will come when we all reform.

You may reply: "I have no responsibility for what happened. Why ask me to repent and convert?” Jesus though innocent, gave himself so that others might live. Reform of the Church must come from within us. It must come from a change within each of us. It is not a question of us asking how I can remain in such a Church, but rather that as the disciples of Jesus we all take responsibly for the Church, but within the Church, within a community of men and women who believe and who live out the love of God in their lives.

The Church will not be reformed as the Church of Christ by cries from outside, of those who do not believe. Renewal is a matter of faith and of understanding what it means that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. His kingdom is not of this world but it must be realised day by day within this world, by those who understand the meaning of Christ’s self-giving love, which aimed not to save himself but to bring life to others.

So many things damage the face of Christ in his Church. So many things damage the body of Christ. If we really understand how we all belong to the one body then we cannot feel that the answer to renewal in the Church can come about by leaving the Church or by leaving it to others. I as Archbishop of Dublin am committed to working with all of you who wish to renew our Church, to purify our Church from all that has damaged the face of Christ. These have not been easy days for me personally. But with the many believers who wish to journey together on the path of renewal, I know that that path will inevitably be a way of the Cross.

When we journey along the way of the Cross we do not know what that way will entail and how long our journey will take. The challenge is not to follow the short-cuts of the disciples who found that fleeing was the quick and easy answer; the challenge is not to follow the hypocrisy of Pilate who places his own position ahead of his responsibility towards an innocent man; our challenge is not to get trapped in irrelevant questions of prestige and status as did some disciples at the Last Supper. Our challenge is to be like Jesus who, with all the anguish and fear it entails, does not flinch or waver in remaining faithful to the will of his Father, even at the price of enduring the ignominious death on a criminal’s cross.
PHOTO: Getty


"The Courage to Not Be Intimidated"

While no English fulltext has yet emerged of Pope Benedict's homily from this morning's Palm Sunday Mass in St Peter's Square, the extensive AsiaNews summary's up....

Here, given the context, the key graf:
"Man can choose a convenient way and avoiding any hardships. He can also descend, into the vulgar. He can sink into the morass of lies and dishonesty. Jesus walks ahead of us, and leads us higher. He leads us towards what is great, pure, he leads us to the healthy air of the heights: towards life in truth, towards the courage not to be intimidated by the chatter of prevailing opinions; towards the patience that endures and supports others. He leads us towards openness to the suffering, the abandoned, towards the loyalty that is on the side of the other even when the situation becomes difficult. He leads us to a willingness to bring help, towards a goodness that can not be disarmed not even by ingratitude. He leads us to love – he leads us to God."
(SVILUPPO: Homily fulltext.)

...meanwhile, at the close of Holy Week's opening liturgy in New York's St Patrick's Cathedral, the pontiff's most prominent American appointee to date -- Archbishop Timothy Dolan -- offered the following remarks:
“May I ask your patience a couple of minutes longer in what has already been a lengthy — yet hopefully uplifting —Sunday Mass?

The somberness of Holy Week is intensified for Catholics this year.

The recent tidal wave of headlines about abuse of minors by some few priests, this time in Ireland, Germany, and a re-run of an old story from Wisconsin, has knocked us to our knees once again.

Anytime this horror, vicious sin, and nauseating crime is reported, as it needs to be, victims and their families are wounded again, the vast majority of faithful priests bow their heads in shame anew, and sincere Catholics experience another dose of shock, sorrow, and even anger.

What deepens the sadness now is the unrelenting insinuations against the Holy Father himself, as certain sources seem frenzied to implicate the man who, perhaps more than anyone else has been the leader in purification, reform, and renewal that the Church so needs.

Sunday Mass is hardly the place to document the inaccuracy, bias, and hyperbole of such aspersions.

But, Sunday Mass is indeed the time for Catholics to pray for “ . . . Benedict our Pope.”

And Palm Sunday Mass is sure a fitting place for us to express our love and solidarity for our earthly shepherd now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus.

No one has been more vigorous in cleansing the Church of the effects of this sickening sin than the man we now call Pope Benedict XVI. The dramatic progress that the Catholic Church in the United States has made — — documented again just last week by the report made by independent forensic auditors — — could never have happened without the insistence and support of the very man now being daily crowned with thorns by groundless innuendo.

Does the Church and her Pastor, Pope Benedict XVI, need intense scrutiny and just criticism for tragic horrors long past?

Yes! He himself has asked for it, encouraging complete honesty, at the same time expressing contrition, and urging a thorough cleansing.

All we ask is that it be fair, and that the Catholic Church not be singled-out for a horror that has cursed every culture, religion, organization, institution, school, agency, and family in the world.

Sorry to bring this up … but, then again, the Eucharist is the Sunday meal of the spiritual family we call the Church. At Sunday dinner we share both joys and sorrows. The father of our family, il papa, needs our love, support, and prayers.”
PHOTO: Getty


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Vatican's "Voice": For "Credibility's" Sake, The Response "is Crucial"

While continuing to cast blame on "media attacks" for the recent spate of stories on sex-abuse and serial mishandling of allegations in the church, even the Vatican's lead spokesman conceded today that "the way in which the church deals with [its response] is crucial for her moral credibility."

Still, in his comments -- made in an editorial that ran earlier today over Vatican Radio -- Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi prefaced the point with a judgment that the continuing "wide coverage" the various stories have received in the global press "is no surprise.

"The nature of the question is such as to attract the attention of the media," the Holy See's lead spokesman said.

"The truth is that the cases that have come to public attention generally took place some time ago, even decades ago," Lombardi added, "although recognizing them and making amends with the victims is the best way to restore justice and to achieve that 'purification of memory' which enables us to look to the future with renewed commitment, with humility and trust."

Topping the latest front in the pontiff's defense, the front-page lead column of today's L'Osservatore Romano carried an op-ed by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster originally run in The Times of London which -- in its unedited form -- saw the prelate confess that "I am ashamed of what has happened" while praising Benedict's enhanced action in recent years as proof that the Pope "is not an idle observer. His actions speak as well as his words."

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While Holy Thursday's first Mass might be liturgically dedicated to the priesthood on the "anniversary" of its institution, tomorrow's Palm Sunday observance brings another close encounter with the story-line of the global revelations: at the Vatican, in Italy and across most of the Catholic world, Holy Week's opening day is likewise held as the church's annual World Youth Day, this year's marking the 25th such observance since its institution by Pope John Paul II in 1986.

The Palm Sunday WYD for the dioceses of the world is delayed every third year when, in the summer, the celebrated global gathering takes place, its next occurrence at Madrid in August 2011. In the United States, however, the national observance in the local churches was long ago transferred to the 30th Sunday in Ordinary time.

On a related note, Pope Benedict will celebrate a memorial Mass on Monday night in the Vatican Basilica to commemorate the fifth anniversary of his predecessor's death. While Papa Wojtyla died in the evening of 2 April 2005, the date's coincidence with this year's Good Friday necessitated an earlier scheduling for what's become a standing annual event.

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In Ireland, meanwhile, a spokesman for Cardinal Sean Brady has said that he "would not dignify with a response" the assertion of today's lead story in the country's leading newspaper: that Rome "will force" the Isle's top prelate "to quit if he refuses to resign over the growing child abuse scandal."

As a young priest and part-time secretary to his bishop, in 1975 the current cardinal-primate of All Ireland served a notary at a canonical process that secured confidentiality oaths from two teenage boys as they testified against Norbertine Fr Brendan Smyth, whose prolific history of abuse would eventually make him the island's most notorious predator-priest. The recent disclosure has drawn further public fury in Ireland in the wake of November's Murphy Report on abuse and cover-up in the archdiocese of Dublin and the pontiff's pastoral letter last week to the Isle's Catholics, itself the focus of a conflicted public reaction.

After stating in the face of growing calls for his departure that he'd only stand down at the pontiff's behest, in his St Patrick's Day homily the reigning successor of St Patrick said that he would "be reflecting carefully" on his position "as we enter into Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost."

PHOTO: Getty