Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Catholicism should lower the drawbridge

by Barney Zwartz
Brisbane Times

Some changes to church doctrines would make it more appealing.

In less than a month, Pope Benedict will celebrate Mass in Sydney before an expected congregation of 500,000 — the high point of the week-long World Youth Day celebration that the Catholic Church in Australia hopes will revitalise church attendance and religious commitment.

Secular critics fear that — helped by an ever-rising injection of Government funds, so far about $130 million — it may. Many Catholics are sceptical. Yes, there will be a media-fuelled surge of interest. Devout young Catholics will find their faith affirmed, and some less-committed will be reached. But many young people will attend in the same spirit as a concert — an interesting event, but not life-changing.

The church would be wrong to put all its eggs in the World Youth Day basket. As it enters its third millennium, it needs another bout of self-examination of the sort it has done sporadically through the centuries.

The issues today are as serious as any in the past: plummeting Mass attendance, the dramatic decline in priests and religious orders, the advance of secularism, the challenge of Islam, and especially the alienation of ordinary Catholics from the institutional church. Disenchantment over such issues as contraception, the place of women, authoritarianism and the sexual abuse crisis have left millions still believing in Jesus but not the church.

Now it is time to try a touch of democracy. Some relatively simple reforms would not affect the church's core teaching of hope and salvation, which are non-negotiable. But how the church operates as an institution should always be open to self-examination.

Three books in recent months by leading Australian Catholics — philosopher Max Charlesworth, former priest and Catholic commentator Paul Collins and former Sydney bishop Geoffrey Robinson — have suggested such reforms.

They want to curb papal power and the Curia — the Vatican bureaucracy that is virtually all male, all clerical and unaccountable to the wider church — and to re-examine certain doctrines, peripheral accretions over time, that could be readily changed. These include allowing married priests, contraception and greater involvement by laymen and women.

Charlesworth discusses the conflict between the values liberal democracies take for granted and the almost totalitarian rule the Vatican seeks over its adherents. It wasn't always so, he argues, and it needn't be now.

The way the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, treats dissident theologians — its "Star Chamber methods" — are, he says, completely at odds with elementary principles of justice. The insistence that Catholics should obey their bishops before their consciences is another conflict, since the basis of democratic society is the freedom of the individual to make judgements of conscience.

Particularly revealing is the church's response to revelations of priestly sexual abuse and the long institutional cover-up, finally exposed by an American lay group, Voice of the Faithful, and the media. The fact that the church still hasn't dealt with it well reflects the hierarchy's discomfort at being challenged by laypeople.

Despite all this, there is a strong similarity (not coincidental) between Christian and democratic values, such as equality, freedom, conscience and human dignity. Politically, these values are protected by the constitution, universal suffrage and an array of checks and balances. Why shouldn't the church operate the same way? Why not let laypeople vote for the Pope? They did for the first 1000 years. And it took centuries for today's authoritarian structure to emerge out of a variety of local systems.

These suggestions horrify conservative Catholics, because the majority can easily be wrong. The church's motto is semper eadem ("always the same") because it is the repository and guardian of religious truth for all time and cannot be subject to the tides of intellectual fashion.

In fact, of course, the church can and does change — both culturally and theologically — around the edges while maintaining its central message. For centuries, the church justified persecution and bad faith on the grounds that "error has no rights".

But the reforming Vatican II council in the 1960s recognised that "in matters of religion no one can be forced to act in a manner contrary to his beliefs" — a massive U-turn that the church presented as a "development". It took 1000 years for celibacy to become a requirement for priests (even then for purely practical reasons), while papal infallibility has been a formal doctrine for only 138 years.

In all its "developments", the church has rightly been responding to its environment. Today it has come to terms with its diminished role in a pluralistic West, and explicitly accepts that other religions contain truth.

Given the often-justified criticism of the institutional church, it's easy to forget that it has been an enormous force for good: tending people, promoting justice, providing education, offering compassion, consolation and hope. It will keep doing it — but how much more successfully if it can lower the last drawbridges and emerge from behind the battlements.

Barney Zwartz is religion editor.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Ralph Pinto: "The Forbidden Priest"

Web Editor's Note: Not sure why this Dominican Republic newspaper is running this interview at this time. Ralph Pinto and his wife, Jane, were featured in a controversial 2004 HBO documentary, "Celibacy". Translation from the Spanish provided by Phoebe, who is still trying to recover from her attempt to explain the history of celibacy and married priesthood in the Catholic Church to her charismatic prayer group last night as part of a talk on the sacrament of Holy Orders. A lot of resistance to these ideas -- I am occasionally stunned by the extent to which the faithful, particularly the Hispanic faithful, are in the dark and in denial about Biblical and early Church scholarship, as well as current debate about these issues. We talked about Peter's mother-in-law and someone said: "Well, of course, Peter left his wife and everything else to follow Jesus!" So I said, "Oh, really? Where in the Bible does it say that Peter left his wife?" Dead silence. So I asked the woman to turn to 1 Cor 9: 5 where Paul says "Do we not have the right to take along a Christian wife, as do the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?" and pointed out to her that Cephas (Peter) was the name that Simon received AFTER being called by Jesus. Amazing...

By Miguel Cruz Tejada
El Nuevo Diario

NEW YORK -- Ralph Pinto, a priest in the 1990s who left the church for love and describes himself as "the forbidden priest," says that after nearly 30 years of being married to a Franciscan nun and also fathering three daughters with her, he has no regrets for what he did.

"I never agreed with celibacy," he said in an interview for "Celibacy", a documentary by the HBO broadcast chain that aired recently and has been awarded several prizes at international film festivals.

For many experts the multiple cases of sexual abuse by priests against minors in their own churches and seminaries has had much to do with celibacy. Pinto says that leaving the church because he had fallen in love with his current wife, was the hardest moment of his life, but he had to make a decision.

"It was my life and future against an institutional mandate," says the former pastor. "Working in the parish had been my whole life."

He says that some of his friends protested that he loved (God) the Father and did not understand how he could abandon such a beautiful relationship with the Church.

He consulted with a priest-counselor in the archdiocese who told him to concede to his carnal desire, because it could be worse in the future.

The priests who had been his friends told him goodbye and that God would protect him. Nobody helped him with a penny and he was forced to work as a carpenter, cleaning floors in a hotel, and on a night shift in the pantheon of a cemetery.

"I walked around with a vacuum cleaner on my back, sweeping floors and seeking job opportunities. Even though I had a master's degree in theology, philosophy and classical languages. Emotionally it was very bad," says the former priest. "Those were very difficult times".

After 28 years, Ralph maintains that he is happy not to have listened to those who advised him to stay in the church by keeping the relationship secret. "These last 28 years have been the happiest of my life and I thank my wife and my daughters being part of my life, because although I was afraid of being a dad, I now have three wonderful young ladies who have grown up with us," adds the former Franciscan priest.

"I'm glad to have done what I did and would do so again and again," he says.

But it turns out that the situation was even more complicated for Ralph, because the woman he fell in love with was a Franciscan nun named Jane who taught at his church.

She participated in the interview by saying that she has been grateful all her life that she fell in love with the priest, because that gave her more understanding about life and brought her the happiness that she had not achieved before. "It gave me an opportunity to build a life together with another human being."

The former nun says that in making this decision she knew she would be obliged to leave the convent. "And as I would be pointed out and embarrassed, I would also have to leave the community and so I did." She says she was aware that she would be abandoning everything that she had known, all that was her life and vocation.

She tells of going to the chapel of the convent and praying to God, asking forgiveness for what she was about to do, weeping from the depths of her soul. "I cried to the point where I discovered that I would not be in that position of falling in love had it not been for something good, holy and of God."

The nun says that many people believe that women religious are objects of sexual satisfaction for many priests who are obliged to comply with celibacy and cannot do so.

"Some believe that they can free themselves sexually by using any woman, then tossing her aside and returning to their parishes, and many of those women have to remain silent" said the nun.

Two of her daughters were sired by a priest, but everything changed when another priest declared his love. "I took up the crucifix daily, went to church, prayed, but when I did not receive any response, my frustration was so enormous that I picked up a bottle of Tylenol pills (a pain reliever) and I took almost the entire contents. The aim was to commit suicide, but I did not die and he came to see me in the hospital," the former Franciscan stated dramatically.

After separating from her first husband, she went to live alone and had sex with her new friend with whom she got pregnant, but he claimed that he could not acknowledge the baby. The priest ignored the calls from the hospital when his daughter was born, but six months later he returned. The bishop advised her to leave the city and have no more contact with the priest.

"According to them, I was to blame. I was rubbish. They refused to support me. They like to exploit women in order to maintain their position in the church," she criticized.

Since that time, the relationship between her and Ralph has lasted 28 years. "That has made him a pariah for the church."

The former nun attacked the Catholic Church for allowing priests who rape young men, abuse women or girls and keep their relationships secret, to remain part of the congregation, while rejecting those who want to proclaim [their relationships] publicly and do as God wills.

"And if the priest has a woman even though she is not his wife publicly, if he keeps it a secret, he can continue in the church. The crime is speaking out." adds the former nun. (HBO Documentary contributed to this report)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Author: Ending celibacy would make more men enter priesthood

By Nicole Neroulias
Religion News Service
Abilene Reporter
Thursday, June 19, 2008

During his recent trip to America, Pope Benedict XVI attended a youth rally at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y. -- the same school where enrollment has dwindled to the point that no new prospective priests are enrolled next fall.

As the U.S. church ordains its crop of some 400 new priests in the coming weeks, church leaders hope Benedict's words of encouragement will inspire more men to consider the priesthood. The Rev. Donald Cozzens of John Carroll University, however, believes it will take a major change in Vatican policy on celibacy to revitalize the priesthood.

Cozzens, 69, has tracked the decline in vocations for more than a decade, including as rector of Cleveland's St. Mary Seminary from 1995 to 2000. In his 2006 book, "Freeing Celibacy," and in lectures all over the country, he argues celibacy should be optional for Catholic priests.

Q: What do you see as the reason for the decline in American men wanting to become priests?

A: The clergy sexual abuse scandals have taken their toll, but my hunch is that the typical size of the Catholic family is a major factor. Catholics on average are having about two children. And so, the replacement rate in the United States today -- for every 100 priests who either retire or die or leave ministry -- we're ordaining, I believe, less than 35.

Q: But you also argue that mandating celibacy for priests is a significant part of this problem?

A: I think celibacy is a great gift, and it's wonderful for people who have the grace and the gift and the calling, but it can be a very difficult situation for men who feel called to the priesthood but not to celibacy. Over the past half dozen years, I've asked probably two dozen men if they've ever thought of being priests, and every one of them has said yes, they have thought of it, but then they add, "I really feel also called to the sacrament of marriage, I'd like to be a husband and a father."

Q: When did you start thinking mandatory celibacy should be reconsidered?

A: The first time I thought about the priesthood, from my grade school days, I felt called to be a priest, and the issue of mandatory celibacy was a disquieting condition of the priesthood. But I didn't seriously look at the history of celibacy and its theology until after I was ordained. We've always (historically) had a married priesthood in the Catholic Church. It really wasn't until the 12th century that celibacy was made mandatory for diocesan priests, and some historians argue that it really wasn't taken seriously until the 16th century.

Q: Given that there are some married clergy now in the Eastern Rite churches or who have converted to Catholicism, what's stopping the Vatican from deciding to allow married priests in general?

A: That's a good question! Celibacy is a church policy, it is not a church dogma. Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI, they have the freedom to change that policy at any time they feel it would be prudent to do so. There are a number of bishops' conferences who have called upon the Vatican to reflect and discuss the issue of celibacy and whether or not is it wise to legislate celibacy for every person who feels called to the priesthood.

Q: Will this policy change within your lifetime?

A: We need to provide the Eucharist to Catholic people, and if the trend continues -- and I think it would be naive to think it's going to turn around soon -- I think the demographic situation might bring about a change in this policy. But, we'd have to hit a critical pastoral need and we'd need leadership from the U.S. bishops and we'd also need the laity and the clergy to say, "Let's examine this policy. Is it really necessary and good for the church?"

Q: What about other strategies for boosting seminary enrollment? For example, do you think the pope's visit might inspire more men to consider the priesthood?

A: I wouldn't be surprised if there was an increase in the number of men applying to our seminaries, but I don't believe it will be significant enough to meet the challenges that the U.S. Catholic Church will be facing, in terms of the number of ordained priests available for ministry.

Q: Is the priest shortage predominantly an American problem?

A: It's a Western problem. We see similar situations, if not worse, in countries of western Europe, and to some extent in Eastern Europe. Where we see a different phenomenon would be in developing countries, especially in some of the countries of Africa. Perhaps 30 percent of the priests being ordained in the United States are from foreign countries.

Q: If the Vatican decides priests don't have to be celibate anymore, would you get married?

A: Not at my age! I think it's possible to grow into the gift of celibacy. I would have to discern whether or not I was being called to marriage just as I had to discern whether I was being called to the priesthood.

I have no idea how many priests would get married. The average age of a priest today is over 60 and marriage is quite a commitment and quite an adjustment. But I do think we'd have more seminarians, if celibacy were optional.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Catholic rebels with a cause

Los Angeles Times Opinion
June 12, 2008

Former Bishop Geoffrey Robinson's work with victims puts him at odds with the church. Karin Klein hears him speak.

Considering that they had come to hear a forbidden Roman Catholic speaker, the people at the UC San Diego faculty club didn't look like rebels. They were mostly older, conservative in dress, sedate in manner. At a reception before the speech Tuesday evening, as they sipped French roast coffee and nibbled cheese cubes, they professed their continuing love of the Catholic religion -- but also deep turmoil and anger about sexual abuse by priests. Or to be more exact, about church leaders who put protecting predator priests and the church's image over protecting children.

And when they settled in for the speech, there were so many of them that people stood, lining the walls of the room and spilling onto the patio beyond it.

They had brought their troubled hearts and disturbing questions to retired Australian auxiliary Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, whose work with abuse victims led him to believe that the celibacy rule for priests, their status as authority figures "above" others and the church's emphasis on appearances contributed to the molestation scandal. Four Roman Catholic bishops in California told him to stay out of the state on his nationwide speaking tour, saying he could be a source of disunity and confusion for Catholics. "I hereby deny you permission to speak in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles," Cardinal Roger M. Mahony wrote to Robinson, whose U.S. tour is scheduled to end tonight with a talk in Culver City.

Of course, Robinson is at odds with his church because he challenges such authority -- which makes him precisely the sort of person who would come with or without Mahony's permission.

Church officials believe that Robinson's book, "Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church," contains "doctrinal difficulties." But if they expected that U.S. audiences would unquestioningly accept Robinson's views, they would have been surprised by the response Tuesday night. True, the audience applauded him for arguing that the statute of limitations on sexual molestation must be lifted, and that neither Pope John Paul II nor Pope Benedict XVI had properly addressed the issue. But in private conversations, they doubted his claim that priestly celibacy played a role in the molestations, saying that sexual desire and sexual predation are entirely different things. This group was evenhanded in its skepticism.

Robinson's listeners werenot putting the scandals behind them without more thought and debate. That's especially true now that they see parochial schools and parishes being closed to pay huge settlements to the abuse victims. One woman had been so tormented by the documentary "Deliver Us From Evil," about molestations in Northern California, that she had driven from Las Vegas to hear Robinson speak. They want an open conversation with the church, even if that conversation leads to questions that challenge the foundations of Catholic tradition. Until they feel they have found this at their church, they will seek it elsewhere.
Karen Klein

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Priest, parish depart

By Bronislaus B. Kush

Church shuts, pastor retires

WORCESTER— Ascension Church — though founded in 1911 as an offshoot of St. John Parish to predominantly serve Irish immigrants living on Vernon Hill — has drawn a hodgepodge of worshippers from various working class ethnic groups.

Just ask the Rev. Joseph A. Adamo.

As the church’s pastor over the last several years, Rev. Adamo has picked up snippets of French, Polish and many other languages spoken by his parishioners.

But Rev. Adamo, who is of Italian descent, never even gave a thought to the idea that he’d ever hear a word of Tagalog, one of the native languages of the Philippines.

However, that all changed about five years ago when Filipino families from all around Central Massachusetts began to call Ascension their spiritual home.

Interestingly, Rev. Adamo said he believes, with just a little more time, his little church, which overlooks busy Kelley Square, might have been saved by the growing Filipino population within the Ascension community.

“My heart was broken when the bishop announced that Ascension would be closing,” said Rev. Adamo, a priest for 35 years. “I really thought we had turned the corner as more and more Filipino families joined our parish. But it was not to be.”

Five Catholic congregations, including Ascension, will be shuttered July 1 as a result of dwindling parish populations, a shortage of diocesan priests, and other factors.

Ascension parishioners will celebrate their long history and heritage with a closing Mass at 2 p.m. June 29. A reception will follow.

Congregants will also toast Rev. Adamo, who has decided to retire with the closing of his church.

“I’ve had a good life (as a priest) but now it’s time to call it quits,” said Rev. Adamo, who plans to live at the Southgate complex in Shrewsbury, where other retired clergy reside.

Rev. Adamo was born and raised in Watertown.

He said he considered many career options including design and architecture, teaching, and counseling.

“But deep down I had always wanted to be a priest,” said Rev. Adamo. “I wasn’t pushed into by my family. It was just something I wanted to do. I’d always admired priests because of their willingness to help others and because they were so close to God.”

He said his family wasn’t overly religious but regularly attended services at St. Patrick Church, the only surviving Catholic parish of four that were originally established in Watertown.

Rev. Adamo, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Niagara University, began his priestly studies at Our Lady of the Angels Seminary in Albany, N.Y., and finished up work for his theological degree at Catholic University.

He was ordained a priest, along with 14 others, by Bishop Bernard J. Flanagan on Dec. 8, 1973, at St. Patrick Church in Northbridge.

“It’s amazing that we had so many ordained that day,” said Rev. Adamo. “There’s no simple answer as to why young men don’t want to become priests today. People look at you funny, if you say you’re considering the priesthood. Today’s society is just so humanistic and materialistic.”

Rev. Adamo said he believes individuals were more idealistic in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Kids were lining up to join the Peace Corps and people were protesting the war in Vietnam,” he said. “Individuals back then were willing to take a stand. They were willing to give of themselves.”

Rev. Adamo said he chose to become a priest for the Diocese of Worcester rather than the Archdiocese of Boston because Bishop Flanagan had a reputation for being a progressive.

“That appealed to me,” he said. “Bishop Flanagan was very forward thinking.”

Rev. Adamo said he was first assigned to Christ the King Church, Pleasant Street, which, at the time, had three priests.

“I stayed there for six years,” he said. “Back then, that was the maximum length of time you served at a particular church before the bishop transferred you. Today, because of so few vocations, many priests stay for many, many years at one parish.”

Rev. Adamo’s next posting was at Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, where he served as chaplain.

“Campus ministry is a job you either love or hate,” said Rev. Adamo, who holds a master’s degree of education after studying counseling at Suffolk University in Boston. “You’re either gone in a year or you stay for 20 years.”

Rev. Adamo, who also taught courses in gerontology and about death and dying at Mount Wachusett, as well as at Anna Maria and Assumption colleges, said he found the assignment appealing because he had the chance to work with many people at the “crossroads of their life.”

“You have to be creative in reaching out to these individuals,” he explained. “I counseled people who were considering making significant changes in their lives. They included veterans coming back from the war and women, who were single parents looking to get into job force for the first time.”

Fourteen years ago, Rev. Adamo left Mount Wachusett and became pastor of Ascension.

“Even back then, the parish was struggling (with membership),” he said, noting that older members were dying while other parishioners moved away. “The problem with Vernon Hill is that many people don’t live there very long. On a given day, you can see moving vans all over the place.”

He said hope for the parish grew, however, as Filipinos, many of them from Shrewsbury and Holden, began worshipping at Ascension.

“They were looking for a place where there was a sense of family,” he said. “They just weren’t comfortable in some of the bigger churches like St. Mary’s (in Shrewsbury).”

Under Rev. Adamo’s tutelage, the interior of the church plant received an $80,000 facelift. He also successfully led a drive to build a 36-unit housing complex for senior citizens near the church.

“A priest’s job is to bring people to Christ and there’s a wonderful satisfaction when you do that,” said Rev. Adamo. “A priest really can make a difference in someone’s life.”

Bring your own holy water: priest

BBC NEWS | Northern Ireland

A shortage of priests in the Derry diocese means people will have to bring their own holy water on Cemetery Sunday.

Father Michael Canny said family members, acting on the order of the bishop, will be asked to sprinkle the water on loved ones' graves themselves.

In the past priests would have performed this role.

But dwindling numbers mean this "just isn't practical given the number of graves".

"This has been the practice in other places, so we're essentially playing catch-up," said Father Canny.

"But I must stress that there will be no holy water available on the day and we're asking people to collect their own beforehand."

The well-known cleric said the current number of priests in Derry's Cityside, 15, was 11 fewer than just ten years ago.

'No other reason'

"This is the only reason why we're having to do this, there's nothing more to it, and we trust that by giving people plenty of notice there'll be no problems on the day," he said.

People attending Cemetery Sunday, which takes place on 22 June, in Derry will also be asked to sprinkle water on neighbouring graves if they are not being tended.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Don't play politics with Communion

By David O'Brien and Lisa Sowle Cahill
Baltimore Sun

June 9, 2008

What do a former legal counsel for Ronald Reagan and a Democratic governor have in common? As you might expect, it's not the same politics. Douglas W. Kmiec, an esteemed constitutional law professor at Pepperdine University, is a pro-life Republican. Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is a moderate known for consensus-building. But these prominent Catholics are both the most recent targets of clergy who use Communion as a political weapon and effectively blacklist respected Catholic leaders. It's time for Catholics and all Americans to speak out against this spiritual McCarthyism.

When Mr. Kmiec endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for president, conservative Catholic blogs buzzed with outrage. How could a conservative known for his public opposition to abortion rights support a pro-choice liberal? In a recent Catholic Online column, Mr. Kmiec describes how he was declared "self-ex-communicated" by many fellow Catholics. He writes that at a recent Mass, an angry college chaplain denounced his "Obama heresy" from the pulpit and denied him Communion.

In Kansas City, Kan., Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann has ordered Ms. Sebelius, also an Obama supporter, not to receive Communion after she vetoed abortion legislation riddled with constitutional red flags. The bill in question made it easier for prosecutors to search private medical records, allowed family members to seek court orders to stop abortions and failed to include exceptions to save the life of the mother. Along with many public officials, Ms. Sebelius recognizes the profound moral gravity of abortion. She has supported prudent public policies that have reduced abortions in Kansas by investing in adoption services, prenatal health care and social safety nets for families. But in his diocesan newspaper, the archbishop blasted the governor over her "spiritually lethal" message and her obligation to recognize the "legitimate authority within the Church."

The archbishop has a right and indeed an obligation to speak out against abortion. But he is on dangerous ground telling a democratically elected official - accountable to federal laws and a diverse citizenry - how to govern when it comes to the particulars of specific legislation. The proper application of moral principles in a pluralistic society rarely allows for absolutes.

Using a holy sacrament to punish Catholics has troubling political implications during an election year. St. Louis Archbishop Raymond L. Burke warned Sen. John Kerry - a Catholic whose record reflects his faith's commitment to economic justice, universal health care and concern for the poor - not to receive Communion during the 2004 presidential race because of his support for abortion rights. In a New York Times interview just a month before the election, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver gave signals that Catholics who voted for a pro-choice candidate were cooperating in evil. Mr. Kerry narrowly lost the Catholic vote to President Bush.

Catholics make up a quarter of the American electorate and are swing voters in key battleground states that will play a decisive role in electing our next president. It's essential that these voters recognize Catholicism defies easy partisan labels and is not a single-issue faith.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops warns in an election-year guide that particular issues must not be misused as a way of ignoring "other serious threats to human life and dignity." These threats identified by the bishops include racism, the death penalty, war, torture, lack of health care and an unjust immigration policy. These broad Catholic values challenge Democrats and Republicans alike to put the common good before narrow partisan agendas.

If we remain silent when respected Catholic leaders are publicly attacked and denied Communion, the proper role of faith in our public square is grossly distorted. This election year, let's have a better debate about faith and political responsibility that reclaims the vital role religion has often played in renewing our most cherished democratic values.

David O'Brien, the Loyola professor of Catholic studies at the College of the Holy Cross, has written books about the history of American Catholicism. Lisa Sowle Cahill is a professor of theology at Boston College and a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America. This article is distributed by Religion News Service.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Martini calls for Church reform

Web Editor's Note: Translation from the Spanish by Phoebe, formerly known as Rebel Girl.

by Juan G. Bedoya
El País

"The Church must have the courage to reform itself." This is the main idea of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini (Turin, 1927), one of the great contemporary church leaders. With praise for the Protestant reformer Martin Luther, the Cardinal asks the Catholic Church to consider the possibility of ordaining viri probati (married men, but of proven faith), and women. It also calls for an encyclical to end the prohibitions of Humanae Vitae, issued by Paul VI in 1968 with severe censorship in matters of sex.

Cardinal Martini has been rector of the Gregorian University of Rome, archbishop of the largest diocese in the world (Milan) and papabile. He is a Jesuit, has published books, written for newspapers and debated with intellectuals. At the Synod of European Bishops in 1999, he called for the convocation of a new council to finalize the reforms put on the back burner by the Second Vatican Council, held in Rome between 1962 and 1965. Now he is back in the news because his book, Jerusalemer Nachtgespräche (Nocturnal Talks in Jerusalem), has been published in Germany (by the Herder publishing house) -- the spiritual testament of a great thinker. Georg Sporschill, also a Jesuit, is co-author.

Without beating around the bush, what Martini demands of the Vatican is the courage to reform and concrete changes, for example, in the politics of sex -- an issue that always triggers anger and nerves in the popes since they are unmarried.

Celibacy, Martini argues, should be a vocation because "perhaps not everyone has the charism." He hopes, moreover, for authorization of the use of condoms. And he is not afraid to argue against the priesthood being denied to women because "to entrust ever more parishes to one pastor or import priests from abroad is not a solution." He reminds the Vatican that there were deaconesses in the New Testament.

Several European newspapers have already echoed the publication Jerusalemer Nachtgespräche, stressing the Cardinal's exhortation not to depart from the Second Vatican Council and not to be afraid to "confront young people."

Precisely, about sex among young people, Martini asks them not to waste relationships and emotions, learning to save what is best for marriage. And he breaks the taboos of Paul VI, Pope John Paul II and the current pope, Joseph Ratzinger. He says: "Unfortunately, the encyclical Humanae Vitae has had negative consequences. Paul VI consciously avoided creating a problem for the conciliar fathers. He wanted to take responsibility for deciding about contraceptives. This solitude in the decision-making has not been, over the long term, a positive premise for dealing with issues of sexuality and the family "

Cardinal calls for a "fresh look" at the issue, forty years after the council. Whoever heads the Church today can "indicate a way better than that proposed by Humanae Vitae," he says.

On homosexuality, the cardinal says with subtlety: "Among my acquaintances there are homosexual couples, very respected and social men and women. I have never been asked, nor would it have occurred to me, to condemn them."

Martini exhibits his whole personality in this book, a boundless intellectual curiosity, to the point of admitting that when he was bishop he asked God: "Why don't You offer us better ideas? Why do You not make us stronger in love and more courageous to face current problems? Why do we have so few priests?"

Today, retired and sick, he has just left Jerusalem, where he lived and devoted himself to studying sacred texts, to be treated by doctors in Italy, and he limits himself to "asking God" not to abandon him.

In addition to praising Luther, Cardinal Martini reveals doubts about faith, reminiscent of Teresa of Calcutta. He also speaks of the risks that a bishop has to incur, referring to his trip to a prison to talk with militants of the terrorist group Red Brigades. "I listened and prayed for them and even baptized two twin children of terrorist parents, born during a trial," he reports.

"I've had problems with God," he confesses at one time. It was because he could not understand "why He made His Son suffer on the cross." He added: "Even when I was bishop there were times when I could not look at a crucifix because I was tormented by doubt." Nor was he able to accept death. "Could God not have saved men after the Christ?" Later he understood. "Without death, we would not be delivered up to God. We would keep emergency exits open. But no. We must surrender hope itself to God and believe in Him."

Life is perceived differently from Jerusalem, especially the paraphernalia of Rome. Martini recounts: "There was a time when I dreamed of a church in poverty and humility, one that does not depend on the powers of this world. A church that gives space to people who think outside the box. A church that transmits courage and worth, especially to those who feel belittled or like sinners. A young Church. Today I no longer have those dreams. After 75 years I have decided to pray for the Church. "

Silencing the messenger...

Leading California Catholics urge Australian bishop to cancel tour promoting book on clergy sexual abuse

Following direction from the Vatican, they have asked Geoffrey Robinson to steer clear of their dioceses because of his 'problematic positions' on celibacy and other issues.

By Duke Helfand,
Los Angeles Times
June 7, 2008

Four of California's leading Roman Catholic bishops, including Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, have taken the extraordinary step of urging an Australian bishop to cancel a monthlong tour of the United States to promote his controversial new book about clergy sexual abuse.

Following direction from the Vatican, the California religious leaders and eight other prominent bishops around the country have asked former auxiliary Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Sydney to steer clear of their dioceses because of his "problematic positions" on priestly celibacy and other issues.

In his book, "Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus," Robinson argues that the church's celibacy requirement has contributed to the sex abuse crisis. He openly criticizes the papacy for failing to provide leadership. And he wonders whether the Catholic Church has been more concerned with managing the scandal than confronting it.

Those positions have put Robinson squarely at odds with church leaders on three continents.

In a joint letter last month, Mahony and nine other American bishops warned Robinson that his visit could be "a source of disunity and cause of confusion among the faithful of the particular churches we serve."

They cited an investigation of his book by Australian bishops, who found "doctrinal difficulties" and pointed out that the head of the Vatican office in charge of all bishops had asked Robinson to cancel his trip.

"I hereby deny you permission to speak in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles," Mahony wrote to Robinson last month, citing a bishop's authority under canon law that was repeated in separate letters from Bishop Tod Brown in Orange County and Archbishop George H. Niederauer in San Francisco.

But Robinson, 70, said he has no intention of canceling any part of a trip that began May 16 in Philadelphia and brings him to California on Tuesday for appearances in La Jolla, Costa Mesa, Culver City and San Francisco.

"I'm not looking for any confrontation," Robinson said in a telephone interview. "I'm saying, 'Let's start from abuse and follow that where it leads. If we find that obligatory celibacy has contributed to abuse, we must put that on the table.' "

Robinson's California swing comes eight weeks after Pope Benedict XVI met privately with sexual-abuse victims during a U.S. visit and expressed "deep shame" over the scandal, which has cost the American Catholic Church more than $2 billion in legal settlements.

He also told the nation's Catholic bishops that they have a "God-given responsibility as pastors to . . . foster healing, to promote reconciliation and to reach out with loving concern to those so seriously wronged."

Robinson's sponsors -- led by the Catholic reform group Voice of the Faithful -- say his tour is meant to further that mission, and they plan to press ahead despite what they believe is a campaign to silence him.

"Is this the way American bishops respond to Pope Benedict's call to do everything possible to heal the church?" asked Dan Bartley, president of Voice of the Faithful, which pushes for doctrinal change in the church.

"In light of the pope's comments, we believe that blocking an open and honest discussion about what caused the crisis is appalling."

Robinson served as auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Sydney from 1984 to 2004. Midway through his tenure, he was elected by fellow bishops to a national committee coordinating the church's response to clergy sex abuse in that country. He served as the committee's co-chairman for six years.

"I felt sick to the stomach at the stories that victims told me," he writes in the introduction to his book.

"Those years left an indelible mark on me, for they led me to a sense of profound disillusionment with many things within my church, typified by the manner in which, I was convinced, a number of people, at every level, were seeking to 'manage' the problem and make it 'go away,' rather than truly confront and eradicate it."

The victims' stories also stirred Robinson's memories of being sexually abused in his youth by a stranger unaffiliated with the church.

Robinson said he came to the "unshakable conviction" that the church needed to undergo "profound and enduring change," particularly as it related to issues of power and sex.

He openly questioned its monopoly on definitive truth. And he criticized Benedict and his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, saying their unwillingness to reexamine obligatory celibacy for priests has undercut the church's credibility.

Robinson said he ultimately concluded that he could not continue to serve as a bishop of a church that left him with such "profound reservations." He resigned and began to write his book, which was published last year.

Australian bishops soon took notice. In an unsigned statement issued last month, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference praised Robinson's efforts to help abuse victims but said his work had "doctrinal difficulties," citing his "questioning of the authority of the Catholic Church to teach truth definitively."

The Vatican also got involved. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the office that oversees all bishops, wrote to Robinson asking him to cancel his book tour, according to correspondence between the American bishops and Robinson that was released by Mahony's spokesman.

Re communicated his wishes to the Vatican's ambassador to the United States. Several U.S. bishops were "invited" to write to Robinson, denying him permission to speak in their dioceses, according to Mahony's spokesman.

Ten religious leaders whose dioceses Robinson was scheduled to visit -- including Mahony, Bishop Robert Brom of San Diego, and the archbishops of Seattle, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington -- signed a May 9 letter asking him to cancel his trip.

Meanwhile, Mahony, Brown and Niederauer sent letters of their own repeating the request. They cited the same canon law requiring bishops to safeguard church teachings in their dioceses.

Brown wrote: "I want you to know that you do not have my permission to speak in the Diocese of Orange and I ask you to cancel your speaking engagement here."

Spokesmen for the dioceses said the church cannot stop Robinson from speaking, particularly at secular sites. In California, he will give talks at two universities, a hotel and a community center.

The dioceses said they are not trying to silence Robinson, who notified each of his plans, but to guard against what they believe is his misinformation.

"It's not circle the wagons," said Tod M. Tamberg, a spokesman for Mahony. "If Bishop Robinson knew what we were doing to protect kids in this archdiocese, he would probably say that's great. The controversy over his theological positions should not be allowed to obscure the lay oversight and openness that are cornerstones of our child-protection efforts."

But Robinson remains undaunted.

"I was invited to speak. I said I would," he replied. "I intend to keep to that. There are questions on people's minds that will not simply go away."

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Czech Roman Catholics have first married priest

By Czech News Agency (ČTK)
Published 5 June 2008

Prague, June 4 (CTK) - The Czech Roman Catholic Church has the first married priest, Jan Kofron whom Bishop Vaclav Maly ordained in May, the daily Lidove noviny (LN) writes Wednesday.

Tomas Roule, secretary to Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, Catholic Church primate, confirmed for the paper that Kofron is the only married priest in the Czech Roman Church.

However, Kofron's ordination is an exception and it does not indicate any change in the stance of Pope Benedict XVI, LN writes.

It says the case is a consequence of the fight against religion under the former Czechoslovak communist regime.

In the 1980s, Kofron was secretly ordained by the "underground church" that was concerned far more about the church's survival than the formal aspects. Within the underground church, even married men were ordained bishops and women were ordained priests, the paper writes.

After the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia, the underground and the official church started to merge. The official church demanded that the underground priests be formally ordained again.

Unmarried priests joined the Western church (Latin rite), while the married ones became members of the Eastern church (Byzantine rite). Some priests of the Byzantine rite may be married, while in the Latin rite demands celibacy for priests.

The paper writes that Kofron mainly works with elderly and ill people and is a secretary to bishop Maly.

From Radio Prague:

Vatican ordains Czech Republic’s first married Roman Catholic priest
[06-06-2008 14:19 UTC] By Rosie Johnston

The Vatican has just ordained father of four Jan Kofroň into the Roman Catholic priesthood. This makes Mr Kofroň the Czech Republic’s first ever married Roman Catholic (Western Rite) priest. But this is not the first time that Father Kofroň has been ordained. He was originally made a priest in 1970s communist Czechoslovakia, where he subsequently worked illegally in the country’s underground church. Following the revolution, the Vatican declared his ordination invalid, but in recent weeks, it has reversed its decision. I met Father Kofroň to ask him how it was that, as an already married man, he became involved in the priesthood:

“A friend of mine who was a Salesian priest, and window cleaner on Wenceslas Square in Prague, discovered a link with a very illegal, very hidden form of the church.I was asked if I was open to the idea of priesthood, even though I was married. It was surprising, of course, to me, but nonetheless I was told that the way was open, and that permission had been granted by Pope John Paul VI.

“But after the Velvet Revolution, Rome started to have some doubts about the validity of these married priests and their ordinations.”

I heard that after the revolution, priests who were married and who found themselves in your situation were able to practice Eastern Rite Catholicism, but not Western Rite Catholicism. Why were you so adamant about practicing Western Rite Catholicism?

“It became a question of my conscience. It was strange – just imagine the situation, there are several thousand Ukrainians here who also need, of course, priests performing Greek Catholic services – but after 1998, when 18 of my colleagues accepted ordination into the Greek Catholic Church – there was an overflow of Eastern Rite priests.”

Do you think that there is an inconsistency in the Vatican’s stance on married priests? If you are an Anglican vicar who becomes a Catholic priest, you are allowed to be married, and be ordained a Catholic priest. Do you think that it is slightly unfair that for people like yourself, there are many difficulties that an Anglican vicar just wouldn’t have?

“I think it is understandable that the Catholic Church has a sort of fear of its priests not being celibate. But I think that the time for married people being ordained priests is coming. I don’t think the time for it is just yet, but it is coming. I am convinced about that.”

  • Also, for those who can read it, the press release from the Archdiocese of Prague, from whom we also have the photo of Fr. Kofron's ordination.


This whole history of the underground Church in Czechoslovakia is fascinating. Here are some articles that are available online for more information: