Thursday, February 26, 2009

Brazilian priest suspended for supporting condom use

This story about Luiz Albuquerque Couto's suspension from the priesthood has been all over the Brazilian news today. The version below is a loose translation of the AFP version of the story. My question is: Since, according to his Web site, Couto has been in political office since 1995, how come he wasn't suspended back then? Or does the Brazilian Church operate under a different set of rules than the rest of the Roman Catholic Church? Inquiring minds want to know...

The Archbishop of the state of Paraíba, in northeastern Brazil, has suspended a priest who is also a Brazilian lawmaker from priestly ministry after he came out in the press in support of the use of comdoms and homosexual unions and criticized celibacy.

According to local agencies, Aldo di Cillo Pagotto decided to suspend Father Luiz Couto, who represents the leftist Brazilian Workers Party (PT) in the government, from his religious functions after his opinions were publicized in the O Norte newspaper.

The decision of the local church authorities is applicable in the 75 parishes in which Couto is authorized to act, so therefore he will not be able to celebrate Mass or officiate at weddings, or perform baptisms, among other things. The lawmaker could return to his role if he publicly retracts his assertions.

Pagotto justified his decision as a response that was unfortunately required because Couto’s “summary and ambiguous statements about the use of preservatives and homosexual unions are …diametrically opposed to the positions of the Vatican and that is unacceptable. "

Despite the resolution, Couto told a local television station that he would “continue to celebrate Mass in my house with my friends, wherever…”

Couto, who has been a priest since 1976, had stated to O Norte that the use of condoms is “a matter of public health”, a stand that the government of President Lula, also a PT member, has repeatedly defended in his domestic policy.

Couto also criticized discrimination against homosexuals and their unions, supported an end to celibacy for priests and spoke in favor of medical attention for women who decide to have abortions even though he stated that he himself was against the practice.

Stay tuned….

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Most of Poland’s Catholic priests want an end to celibacy

London, Feb. 24 (ANI):

In a major blow to Polands reputation as a champion of traditional Roman Catholic values, a majority of the country’’s Catholic priests favor an end to celibacy, a survey has revealed. A survey of over 800 Polish priests carried out by Professor Josef Baniak, a sociologist specializing in religious affairs, found that 53 per cent would like to have a wife, while 12 per cent admitted that they were already involved in a relationship, the Telegraph reports. A further 30 per cent revealed that they had sexual relationships with women at some point in their lives. An earlier research had concluded that a number of priests were leaving priesthood due to their desire to have a relationship and a family. Baniaks latest research mirrors a newspaper survey found that a whopping sixty per cent of priests wanted the right to marry. Baniak’’s survey, however, attracted the wrath of the Church, with Bishop Wojciech Polak, chairman of the Church’’s Vocations Council, describing it as full of generalizations, adding that he found the conclusions hard to agree with. Despite coming under fire from the Church, the figures in the survey reflect a general dissatisfaction in the Catholic Church in Poland that is struggling for a liberal culture. Although 95 percent of Poles still describe themselves as Catholic and Poland remains proud homeland of Pope John Paul II, the number of men joining seminaries is falling. And the Church’’s role as a central pillar for Polish culture has started to fade. (ANI)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Parish rallies for 'social justice' behind rebel priest

We have blogged before about Rev. Peter Kennedy in Australia. In addition to this article, there is a marvellous photo gallery of this solidarity Mass on the Brisbane Times Web site -- RG

By Adrian Crawford
ABC News (Australia)
Posted Mon Feb 23, 2009 12:30pm AEDT

"Social justice" and "solidarity" - those were two themes touched on with frequency and passion at the 9:00am mass at Saint Mary's Church in South Brisbane on Sunday.

A colourful crowd of over 1,000 turned out for the morning mass to support Father Peter Kennedy, who was sacked by the Catholic Church for allegedly flouting church rules but defied the order by participating in mass.

Some were in their Sunday best, others looking comfortable and casual in singlets, shorts and thongs in the muggy Brisbane weather.

But no matter what the wardrobe choice, all were welcome in Fr Kennedy's church.

Less than a kilometre from the bustling centre of Brisbane, St Mary's has been the focus of much controversy in February.

The church has long been acknowledged as a haven for the poor, Indigenous people, homosexuals, broken families and the downtrodden.

The Archbishop of Brisbane, John Bathersby, called for Fr Kennedy's sacking and warned followers they would not be in communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

But some say they have been out in the cold for a long time anyway.

Allan Allaway is a St Mary's community member of over 20 years, peer leader of the Historical Abuse Network and the vice-president of the Alliance for Forgotten Australians.

He told ABC News Online that Fr Kennedy has done what the Church would not.

"Who was it, when Rome was shielding and protecting the paedophile priests in the Catholic Church?" he asked.

"They did not want to know us. They still do not want to know us.

"But Father Peter Kennedy, to his credit, stepped up to the plate and he has helped us. And that is why I will fight. And I do mean fight, to keep Fr Kennedy in this parish."

'Acting upon social justice'

Fr Kennedy has been accused of leading unorthodox masses, performing same-sex marriage ceremonies and not respecting the church hierarchy.

But he has the full support of his parish.

"If we all thought the same and we all acted the same, what a boring place this world would be," Mr Allaway said.

"Are Roman Catholic priests supposed to be so dogmatic that they become robots?

"Is the man not permitted to think outside the square? Is the man not supposed to live and breathe his religion and his convictions?

"Is he not supposed to believe in and act upon social justice? Because that's what the man does."

One woman who attended the service, who wished only to be named as Stephanie, addressed the allegations that Fr Kennedy had allowed women to say mass at St Mary's.

"That is far from the truth," she said.

"What happens is single women, married women, divorced people, religious, non-religious or ex-religious people may read the Gospel, or may break open the word, or share the homily, but they do not share the mass.

"It is presided over by an ordained priest within the Catholic Church, and all of the community of this parish stands beside the priest during the consecration."

The newly-appointed temporary pastor of St Mary's, Father Ken Howell, seemingly has big shoes to fill.

Safety fears

Fr Kennedy refused to turn the keys to the church over to Fr Howell, who said he heeded the advice of Queensland Police to stay away from the church for his own safety.

Fr Howell said on Saturday that a number of parishioners had also contacted him, concerned for their safety despite wanting to attend the mass.

Church authorities confirmed on the same day that there had been threats sent to Archbishop Bathersby's home.

This revelation troubled Margaret Ortiz from the St Mary's leadership group.

"I don't know that there were any actual threats, but I did hear there were some," she said.

"I think that's terrible because the whole thing needs to be dealt with ... you know, we are after all peaceful people.

"We really need to deal with this in a really peaceful and dignified way."

Archbishop Bathersby has called for mediation between Fr Kennedy and the Archdiocese, and says he is looking for a peaceful and dignified resolution of the current impasse.

He said yesterday said the Brisbane Catholic Archdioceses' priority was to ensure the proper transition of the parish to the new administrator.

"The Church is prepared to take all lawful and peaceful means which may be necessary to ensure the decree which I issued is carried out. The Church is fully entitled to have this decree obeyed and to have its ownership of the St Mary's Church respected," the Archbishop said in a statement.

"In this difficult situation, I believe a sensible next step would be to have an experienced, independent and eminent mediator meet with the Archdiocese and Fr Kennedy to attempt to achieve a peaceful and dignified outcome to the current impasse.

"I would strongly urge Fr Kennedy to participate in this process.

"I am very conscious of the many people who are praying for the peaceful resolution of this very difficult situation and I continue to ask for the prayers of the priests, deacons, religious and parishioners of the Archdiocese, as well as the prayers of other Christians and all who are involved in this matter.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Former nun denounces sexual abuse and corruption in Kerala’s Catholic Church

Sister Jesme's new autobiography, "Amen", has been burning up the Indian media and blogs and flying off the shelves in her home province of Kerala. The former nun talks explicitly about the sexual abuse to which she and other women religious in her order have been subjected. It's harrowing and very sad that this should happen to women who have devoted their lives to God and the poor. -- RG

The Catholic Church in Kerala, India, which has barely recovered from the Sister Abhaya murder case, allegedly murdered by two priests and a nun, finds itself in another controversy.

52-year-old Sister Jesme, a former nun from Kerala, has blown the whistle on the alleged sexual abuse that nuns have to face in convents. Sister Jesme has written a book - Amen - Oru Kanyasthreeyude Atmakatha (Amen - an autobiography of a nun,) that talks about the sexual harassment that she faced in the convent at the hands of both priests and nuns.

In her book, Sister Jesme has asserted that she first came face-to-face with sexual abuse when she was a Novitiate. She says in her book, ”At a retreat for novices, I noticed girls in my batch were unsettled about going to the confession chamber. I found that the priest there asked each girl if he could kiss them. I gathered courage and went in. He repeated the question. When I opposed, he quoted from the Bible which spoke of divine kisses.”Sister Jesme has alleged that another time, a nun forced her to have sex with her. ”I was sent to teach plus-two students in St Maria College. There, a new sister joined to teach Malayalam; she was a lesbian. When she tried to corner me, I had no way but to succumb to her wishes. She would come to my bed in the night and do lewd acts and I could not stop her,” she has written in her book, Amen - an Autobiography of a Nun.

Citing another incident of sexual trauma that she had to face, Sister Jesme says that it happened when she had gone to Bangalore for a refresher course. She writes, ”I was told to stay at the office of a priest respected for his strong moral side. But when I reached the station, he was waiting there and hugged me tight on arrival. Later in the day, he took me to Lalbagh (a garden) and showed me cupid-struck couples and tried to convince me about the need for physical love. He also narrated stories of illicit relations between priests and nun to me. Back in his room, he tried to fondle me and when I resisted, got up and asked angrily if I had seen a man. When I said no, he stripped himself, ejaculated and forced me to strip.”

Sister Jesme has also described the mental torture that novices are subjected to. She said that she was not allowed to go home when she heard of her father’s death, and was able to see her father’s body just before his funeral. She was told by the superior sisters that she was lucky to have been able to at least see her father’s body, unlike many senior sisters.

Dr. Sister Jesme also refers to the corruption and the politicisation of religion prevalent in the Catholic Church. “Thirty-three years cannot be penned down in 180 pages but there are points the I want to make about the capitation fee, the quarrels that happen within the church, about the homosexuality, the heterosexuality,” she says.

“The mental torture was unbearable. When I questioned the church’s stand on self-financing colleges and certain other issues, they accused me of having mental problems. They have even sent me to a psychiatrist. There are many nuns undergoing ill-treatment from the order, but they are afraid of challenging it. The church is a formidable fortress,” she adds.

The Catholic Church, of course, has reacted in its usual inimitable, unoriginal way. Sister Jesme has been denounced as mentally ill, and her Amen: Autobiography of a Nun has been termed as a “book of trivialities.”

Sister Jesme has alleged that the Church alternately tried to bribe her not to write the book, and threaten her.

She writes, “One sister said that she is going to sit in the corner of the chapel and pray the rosary so that all my books will be burnt and no person will be able to read it. I said let us wait and see whose prayer will God hear.”

In the book, Sister Jesme refers to the helplessness that nuns face when they are sexually abused in a convent. “When a woman is molested, sexually harassed, will she speak out? Only one out of a thousand will speak out. So think of nuns! They will never speak out. They fear that their nun-hood will be lost,” said Sister Jesme...

The Dance with Shadows blog goes on to detail other Church related scandals in Kerala.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Polish Church under growing pressure

By Adam Easton
BBC News, Warsaw
February 15, 2009

Twenty years have passed since the end of communism in Poland and there are signs that the institution that led the struggle against the regime, the Catholic Church, is under threat in the modern democratic consumerist society.

Under communism, becoming a priest was a step up the social ladder.

But now the number of young men entering seminaries is falling, and a survey suggests that more than half of the country's serving priests would like to do away with celibacy to have a wife and family.

According to the findings of Professor Jozef Baniak, a sociologist who specialises in religion at the department of theology at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, more than 12% even admitted they were presently living in stable relationships with women.

In the land that produced the late Pope John Paul II, most churches are still full on Sundays.

But Polish society has been changing rapidly, and according to Father Wieslaw Dawidowski, an Augustinian friar in Warsaw, that is reflected in the behaviour of its priests.

"What worries me is the number of priests who are living a second life that is working as a Catholic priest which presumes to be a celibate, and at the same time having an affair with a woman," he said.

'Double life'

Jozef Strezynski had served his Warsaw parish for 12 years when he met a woman and fell in love.

"As a priest I was very happy and fulfilled. But there came a time when I began feeling lonely. When I met a woman whom I fell in love with I had to choose. I had to decide which path to follow," he says.

After struggling with his decision for four years, he says he could no longer lead a "double life".

"I decided that it would be pointless carrying on as an unhappy priest, and so after 16 years, I chose to give up the priesthood and start a family," he adds.

Father Wieslaw says the survey's findings on priests' attitudes to celibacy do not surprise him.

"It reflects the society of today," he says.

"More than 60 or 70% of people in the West or in Poland have committed adultery."

"Priests live in the world just as it is, so therefore taken from that world they bring into priesthood the heritage of the current culture. We are not water resistant," he adds.


At Warsaw's Dominican church in the capital's Old Town, dozens of people turn up to an evening Mass despite the winter cold.

Afterwards, I ask a member of the congregation, Ela Machala, if she thinks priests should be allowed to marry.

"For me it would be strange. Catholic priests in Poland never had families," she says.

"I know that it's different for Protestant priests but it would be a big change which Polish society is definitely not ready for... I think I would have difficulty accepting it," she added.

But Slawbor, a student, disagrees.

"Personally, I think 'yes'," he says.

"They would serve better for society if they had families, really, because they would understand more things that they are preaching about."

Szymon Holownia, the young Catholic face of the country's television channel, believes celibacy is just one of many challenges now facing the Polish Catholic Church.

"As a Church we are facing the bend of the road and when you are facing the bend on the road when you are driving, you should reduce your speed, you should think what gear would be the best to pass this," he says.

"But we are doing nothing and probably we could end on the side of the road."

"I think that we will face in 10, 15, maybe 20 years the problem of empty churches," he adds.

The status and respect accorded to priests has diminished since the fall of communism.

This has left some priests feeling a sense of emptiness which more and more believe could be filled by having a family.


  • 53.7% said they would like to have a wife and family
  • 12% said they were living in stable relationships with a woman
  • More than 30% said they had had sexual relations with a woman

Source: Survey of 823 Polish priests by Professor Jozef Baniak

Friday, February 13, 2009

Schwarte changes uniforms / Former priest assumes duties at Lutheran Church

The Pastoral Provision in reverse! - RG

by Klas Stolpe
Petersburg Pilot (AK)
February 12, 2009.

Petersburg’s former Catholic Priest ‘Father Mike’ continues his service to God as the new pastor at Petersburg Lutheran Church.

“We’re all on the same team,” Pastor Mike Schwarte stated. “I’m just changing uniforms. It’s God’s stadium. I’m just moving from left to right field or center field, if you will. In the Psalms it’s all about God’s vineyards… all I am doing is cultivating another vineyard.”

While Pastor Schwarte has changed uniforms recently, ending a two-year employment last Friday as a Petersburg City police officer to minister full-time at the Lutheran Church, he was referring to his religious uniform change. It was a decision that, if we keep it in sports lingo, was not about the dollars but about the love of the game.

Schwarte first came to Alaska in 1980 at the age of 18 and fell in love with it. Born in Illinois he went to junior college as a hard-playing baseball athlete and lived that lifestyle, even earning a tryout with the Baltimore Orioles. He needed a break from that life though and kept coming to Alaska to work.

When his father passed in 1986 he began to question life and what the higher purpose is and his first thoughts of full time work for the Lord. He volunteered with a Jesuit Priest on the border of Juarez, Mexico. He then went on a year of Catholic Youth Ministries. In the fall of 1988 he went back to college. He obtained a Masters of Divinity from Mt. Angel Seminary in Oregon, a 4 year program after obtaining 3-year bachelors in Philosophy in 1995. He became a Catholic priest in Centennial Hall in Juneau and spent ten years in full time ministry as a Catholic priest in Alaska, the last five at Petersburg’s St. Catherine’s Church, before he had to resign because of an impending marriage. While a Catholic priest he flew a Cessna 182 between parishes and youth retreats in Kake, Ketchikan, Yakutat, Skagway, Hoonah, Petersburg, and Wrangell. After the priesthood he flew for Pac Wing for nine months before taking a position as a police officer in October 2006.

“That was a wonderful experience there,” Schwarte commented. “I absolutely loved being a priest in a full-time ministry… but I love being married even more. I love my wife and kids and I can’t thank God enough for the direction he has moved my life.”

Whether one believes in God or not, it was a series of twists and turns that put Mike Schwarte in the Little Norway community and standing on a pulpit. Most recently was the gentle hand grasping his arm at the post office a year ago in a firm commanding way and the voice of Joy Janssen saying, ‘Father Mike, the Lutheran Church needs a pastor…I think you would be a great pastor, you ought to think about it.’ And the seed was planted in his heart to return to preaching.

“I’ve been talking to Father Pat Casey about trying to do this as respectfully as possible,” Schwarte said of the change. “With respect to their needs, I still love the folks at St. Catherine’s. I love this town, and I didn’t pursue this (gesturing to his Pastor’s office at the Lutheran Church). I just completely turned it over to God.”

Schwarte and wife Ying had been worshipping at the Lutheran Church since his stepping down from the Catholic Church. Lutheranism founder Martin Luther was a 16th century Catholic priest and the similarities between the two denominations is close.

“I feel almost a kindred spirit to Martin Luther, in that I understand some of the struggles he faced with the hierarchal system of the Catholic Church and the reason they do things,” Schwarte commented. “It was a perfect fit. The understanding of the Lord’s supper here at the Lutheran Church is very similar at the Catholic Church, and I was very blessed by that.”

Ying was baptized at the church October 19. Born and raised in communist China, Ying has a degree in English from China’s Jilin University. Her professor there was also a Marian priest - Father Brian Barons - so she learned of Christianity. She would be one of Mike’s twists and turns.

When Schwarte was at St. Catherine’s Catholic Church he left on Sabbatical in January 2005 to study Spanish in Bolivia at a language school taught by Barons. Ying also attended. The first day of class at the chapel, only one seat remained in the large class and it was next to Schwarte. Ying, arriving late, sat there. It was an immediate attraction.

“But as a Catholic priest I ran from it,” Schwarte said. “I just got tired of running. I thought maybe this is God’s will. I went down there to learn Spanish; the last thing I thought was that I would get married.”

The whole orientation week, a group of educators gave the group tests and oral exams on compatibility learning styles to decide which pairs of students would work best together. The educators then gave each student a place card and they were to find the matching card among their peers. Schwarte’s card showed an apple with a bite out of it. His partner for the next six months would have the same card; it was Ying. The first day of classes Ying and a friend arrived terrified. A local gang had followed them. Schwarte was appointed by Father Steve at the language school to walk them to school each day. He startled the hoods away. They would take a new route to school; one which passed a Judo school and the three took lessons. On the walks Schwarte learned the Chinese culture. The two studied together four hours a day, five days a week and volunteered at orphanages on the weekend. Schwarte made no advances, concentrated on his studies, and continued to council with local Catholic brothers.

“The whole time we were down there we just grew closer,” Schwarte commented.

On a trip to see Peru’s Machu Picchu, Schwarte proposed and returned to Petersburg in September of 2005 engaged. He sought counsel from the Catholic Bishop Mike Warfel in Juneau who thought he had lost his faith.

“I just wanted to do what I was doing, but with a wife,” Schwarte commented. “I told him if anything, my faith has increased. I had turned to God more in this relationship with Ying.”

Personally Bishop Warfel thought a priest should be allowed to marry but he could do nothing, it would have to be decided in Rome. While many Bishops feel the same way in the Catholic Church, the archaic tradition still exists although the reason it was first implemented does not. It was originally a property problem from before the 12th century; married priests with children would will their land to the children who would liquidate the property, take the money and leave, and the parishioners would be left with nothing.

Today, 20% of Catholic priests are married. Most belong to Eastern Bloc Catholic churches. In America, Catholic priests who are married did so while priests in other Christian denominations and then became Catholics (an exception to the celibacy rule was created on July 22, 1980). Many Popes in history have been married. Six of the seven changes Martin Luther tried to make in the Catholic Church have been changed; the last remaining is that of Catholic priests being allowed to marry.

“He’s a young fellow who has a broad range of connection to a broad range of folks in town and he enjoys being here,” 30-year Petersburg Lutheran parishioner Dave Riemer commented. “I absolutely enjoy his sermons. He’s really prepared and grounded in the scriptures, he brings the scriptures to your daily life. He’ll do a fine job and we are excited to have him with us; the exciting thing is that he was right on our door step.”

“Lutherans are pretty much Catholic but without the Pope,” parishioner James Martinsen commented.

Michael Schwarte will become the official Lutheran pastor in a ceremony on February 29.

“We miss him a lot,” Catholic Church attendee Kris Kissinger commented. “It was hard at first but I think most of the parish is happy for him. Others are a little upset but most have moved on.”

The Schwarte’s have two children: Joy Elizabeth, 2 years old, and Olivia Michael Lynn, 9 months. Joy is a popular Chinese name and also reminds them of the now deceased Ms. Janssen and Olivia was named because the two met in Bolivia.

“We are so blessed to be received so well here at the church,” Schwarte commented. “Blessed beyond words and our wildest dreams.”

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Silencing the messenger...

Toowoomba bishop William Morris under scrutiny from Catholic Church
Alison Sandy and Margaret Wenham
The Courier-Mail (Australia)
February 12, 2009 11:00pm

A Catholic bishop in southern Queensland may get the sack for insubordination after being reported by the church's "temple police".

In the wake of rebel South Brisbane priest Father Peter Kennedy's dismissal, Toowoomba Bishop William Morris has admitted he's also under investigation after discussing the prospect of women or married priests in a pastoral letter.

He said the diocese was challenged by the ageing of its priests, most of whom would be eligible for retirement by 2014, leaving only six priests out of the full complement of 40.

The 65-year-old said the investigation had been going for two years, but a decision had not yet been made.

"The ultimate outcome is I'd be sacked and have to stand down," he said.

"Or they would ask me to resign or operate in another diocese ... at this stage, I don't know."

Bishop Morris, who has held the Toowoomba post for 16 years, said the church couldn't stifle debate and that's what the letter was promoting. "I will continue to fight for what I believe is the truth," he said.

"And I will continue to fight to be able to ask questions."

Bishop Morris said there was a group of very conservative Catholics dubbed the "temple police" who travelled around parishes dobbing in priests who didn't toe the line.

"There are plenty of temple police around at the moment," he said.

"They're not a large majority - they believe in their conservative views and if they don't agree with something, they'll write to Rome."

Bishop Morris said he hoped the investigation would be concluded this year, but even if he was sacked, he would still retain his title.

He said the same applied to Fr Kennedy even if he was excommunicated.

Brisbane Catholic Archbishop John Bathersby would not comment on the investigation of Bishop Morris except to say that Rome was constantly looking at such situations.

"There are rules and regulations in everything," he said.

However, Archbishop Bathersby said he would welcome change in the church.

"It's a church that's constantly reforming itself," he said.

"There's a lot of people agitating for a third Vatican Council and that could happen too - I'd love to see that happen."

Police yesterday paid a visit to Father Kennedy ahead of his impending eviction from St Mary's South Brisbane.

The visit, by two officers from the West End police station, came after police read in The Courier-Mail that Archbishop Bathersby intended enlisting their aid to forcibly eject Father Kennedy from his spiritual home of 28 years if he refused to give up his post.

"They said they wouldn't be taking sides. So long as we don't break any civil laws, they won't be taking any action," Father Kennedy said.

"I have assured them that I won't be doing anything to break the law."Fr Kennedy said the officers were well known to many in the St Mary's community who worked with disadvantaged people in the area and had conveyed to him their concern about being "the meat in the sandwich".

"Basically they said their role in the community is to keep the peace," he said.

"They said they wouldn't be taking sides. It's a policing matter for them and so long as we don't break any civil laws, they won't be taking any action.

"I have assured them that I won't be doing anything to break the law."

Father Kennedy's administration of St Mary's was terminated, effective February 21, by Archbishop Bathersby last Friday, following a series of exchanges between the two men.

In his February 6 letter, Archbishop Bathersby said he had requested changes if St Mary's was to be "in communion with the Archdiocese of Brisbane and the Roman Catholic Church" but the parish had "time and time again chosen to go its own way".

Fr Kennedy reiterated his intent to continue to attend services at St Mary's after his termination date, but said he did not intend to lead the masses.

He said Dean Ken Howell - appointed interim administrator by Archbishop Bathersby - was "welcome" to lead the mass.

"I don't intend to lead the Eucharist, I would simply be there," Fr Kennedy said.

The 71-year-old said he was shocked to read of the Archbishop's threat of forcible expulsion.

His eyes filled with tears as he considered the events of the past week.

"I feel no hostility to the Archbishop," he said.

"I've thanked him often for letting us be.

"To me its the betrayal thing. You give your life to this church and you've been a part of it. I've enjoyed being a priest all my life.

"You create a new way of being church - a Vatican II type of church - and you're told by John Bathersby that it's 'Filthy pride'."

St Mary's he said was being penalised for being alive, vital and filled with love.

NOTE: The controversial 2006 Advent Pastoral Letter has been removed from the diocesan Web site and replaced by the following terse statement from Bishop Morris:

"In my Advent Pastoral Letter of 2006 I outlined some of the challenges facing the diocese into the future. In that letter I made reference to various options about ordination that were and are being talked about in various places, as part of an exercise in the further investigation of truth in these matters. Unfortunately some people seem to have interpreted that reference as suggesting that I was personally initiating options that are contrary to the doctrine and discipline of the Church. As a bishop I cannot and would not do that and I indicated this in the local media at the time. I and all the bishops of the Catholic Church form a college with the Holy Father and cannot act contrary to the teaching and practice of the Universal Church. Encouraging vocations to the priesthood must remain a priority for our local Church and we pray this Christmas and as we begin the New Year that more young men will consider deeply their response to God’s call."

NOTE: From AD 2000 a summary of the contents of Bishop Morris' 2006 pastoral letter:

Priest shortage in Toowoomba Diocese

In an Advent Pastoral Letter for 2006, Bishop William Morris set out for the Toowoomba Diocese the severe shortage of priests to be expected over the years leading up to 2014.

"We do face an uncertain future with regard to the number of active priests in our diocese", said Bishop Morris. The estimated numbers of priests in "parish-based ministry in 2014" would be six aged 65 and younger (three in the 61-65 year group) and eight aged 66-70, with a further five in "diocesan ministry" including the Bishop himself.

This numbers crisis is due to the almost total lack of vocations for the diocese.

Bishop Morris offered some possible solutions in his Letter.

"Given our deeply held belief in the primacy of the Eucharist for the identity, continuity and life of each parish community, we may well need to be much more open towards other options for ensuring that Eucharist may be celebrated. Several responses have been discussed internationally, nationally and locally:

* ordaining married, single or widowed men who are chosen and endorsed by their local parish community;

* welcoming former priests, married or single, back to active ministry;

* ordaining women, married or single;

* recognising Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church Orders.

"While we continue to reflect carefully on these options, we remain committed to actively promoting vocations to the current celibate male priesthood and open to inviting priests from overseas ...

"As a pilgrim people who journey in hope we need to remain open to the Spirit so that we can be agents of change and respond wisely to the needs of all members of the local Church of Toowoomba".

NOTE: There is also substantial discussion of this matter in Paul Collins' online book Believers: Does Australian Catholicism Have a Future?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

For Catholics, a Door to Absolution Is Reopened

New York Times
February 10, 2009

The announcement in church bulletins and on Web sites has been greeted with enthusiasm by some and wariness by others. But mainly, it has gone over the heads of a vast generation of Roman Catholics who have no idea what it means: “Bishop Announces Plenary Indulgences.”

In recent months, dioceses around the world have been offering Catholics a spiritual benefit that fell out of favor decades ago — the indulgence, a sort of amnesty from punishment in the afterlife — and reminding them of the church’s clout in mitigating the wages of sin.

The fact that many Catholics under 50 have never sought one, and never heard of indulgences except in high school European history (Martin Luther denounced the selling of them in 1517 while igniting the Protestant Reformation), simply makes their reintroduction more urgent among church leaders bent on restoring fading traditions of penance in what they see as a self-satisfied world.

“Why are we bringing it back?” asked Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Brooklyn, who has embraced the move. “Because there is sin in the world.”

Like the Latin Mass and meatless Fridays, the indulgence was one of the traditions decoupled from mainstream Catholic practice in the 1960s by the Second Vatican Council, the gathering of bishops that set a new tone of simplicity and informality for the church. Its revival has been viewed as part of a conservative resurgence that has brought some quiet changes and some highly controversial ones, like Pope Benedict XVI’s recent decision to lift the excommunications of four schismatic bishops who reject the council’s reforms.

The indulgence is among the less noticed and less disputed traditions to be restored. But with a thousand-year history and volumes of church law devoted to its intricacies, it is one of the most complicated to explain.

According to church teaching, even after sinners are absolved in the confessional and say their Our Fathers or Hail Marys as penance, they still face punishment after death, in Purgatory, before they can enter heaven. In exchange for certain prayers, devotions or pilgrimages in special years, a Catholic can receive an indulgence, which reduces or erases that punishment instantly, with no formal ceremony or sacrament.

There are partial indulgences, which reduce purgatorial time by a certain number of days or years, and plenary indulgences, which eliminate all of it, until another sin is committed. You can get one for yourself, or for someone who is dead. You cannot buy one — the church outlawed the sale of indulgences in 1567 — but charitable contributions, combined with other acts, can help you earn one. There is a limit of one plenary indulgence per sinner per day.

It has no currency in the bad place.

“It’s what?” asked Marta de Alvarado, 34, when told that indulgences were available this year at several churches in New York City. “I just don’t know anything about it,” she said, leaving St. Patrick’s Cathedral at lunchtime. “I’m going to look into it, though.”

The return of indulgences began with Pope John Paul II, who authorized bishops to offer them in 2000 as part of the celebration of the church’s third millennium. But the offers have increased markedly under his successor, Pope Benedict, who has made plenary indulgences part of church anniversary celebrations nine times in the last three years. The current offer is tied to the yearlong celebration of St. Paul, which continues through June.

Dioceses in the United States have responded with varying degrees of enthusiasm. This year’s offer has been energetically promoted in places like Washington, Pittsburgh, Portland, Ore., and Tulsa, Okla. It appeared prominently on the Web site of the Diocese of Brooklyn, which announced that any Catholic could receive an indulgence at any of six churches on any day, or at dozens more on specific days, by fulfilling the basic requirements: going to confession, receiving holy communion, saying a prayer for the pope and achieving “complete detachment from any inclination to sin.”

But in the adjacent Archdiocese of New York, indulgences are available at only one church, and the archdiocesan Web site makes no mention of them. (Cardinal Edward M. Egan “encourages all people to receive the blessings of indulgences,” said his spokesman, Joseph Zwilling, who said he was unaware that the offer was not on the Web site, but would soon have it posted.)

The indulgences, experts said, tend to be advertised more openly in dioceses where the bishop is more traditionalist, or in places with fewer tensions between liberal and conservative Catholics.

“In our diocese, folks are just glad for any opportunity to do something Catholic,” said Mary Woodward, director of evangelization for the Diocese of Jackson, Miss., where only 3 percent of the population is Catholic.

Even some priests admit that the rules are hard to grasp.

“It’s not that easy to explain to people who have never heard of it,” said the Rev. Gilbert Martinez, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Manhattan, the designated site in the New York Archdiocese for obtaining indulgences. “But it was interesting: I had a number of people come in and say, ‘Father, I haven’t been to confession in 20 years, but this’ ” — the availability of an indulgence — “ ‘made me think maybe it wasn’t too late.’ ”

Getting Catholics back into confession, in fact, was one of the motivations for reintroducing the indulgence. In a 2001 speech, Pope John Paul described the newly reborn tradition as “a happy incentive” for confession.

“Confessions have been down for years and the church is very worried about it,” said the Rev. Tom Reese, a Jesuit and former editor of the Catholic magazine America. In a secularized culture of pop psychology and self-help, he said, “the church wants the idea of personal sin back in the equation. Indulgences are a way of reminding people of the importance of penance.”

“The good news is we’re not selling them anymore,” he added.

To remain in good standing, Catholics are required to confess their sins at least once a year. But in a survey last year by a research group at Georgetown University, three-quarters of Catholics said they went to confession less often or not at all.

Under the rules in the “Manual of Indulgences,” published by the Vatican, confession is a prerequisite for getting an indulgence.

Among liberal Catholic theologians, the return of the indulgence seems to be more of a curiosity than a cause for alarm. “Personally, I think we’re beyond the time when indulgences mean very much,” said the Rev. Richard P. McBrien, a professor of theology at Notre Dame who supports the ordination of women and the right of priests to marry. “It’s like trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube of original thought. Most Catholics in this country, if you tell them they can get a plenary indulgence, will shrug their shoulders.”

One recent afternoon outside Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Forest Hills, Queens, two church volunteers disagreed on the relevance of indulgences for modern Catholics.

Octavia Andrade, 64, laughed as she recalled a time when children would race through the rosary repeatedly to get as many indulgences as they could — usually in increments of 5 or 10 years — “as if we needed them, then.”

Still, she supports their reintroduction. “Anything old coming back, I’m in favor of it,” she said. “More fervor is a good thing.”

Karen Nassauer, 61, said she was baffled by the return to a practice she never quite understood to begin with.

“I mean, I’m not saying it is necessarily wrong,” she said. “What does it mean to get time off in Purgatory? What is five years in terms of eternity?”

The latest offers de-emphasize the years-in-Purgatory formulations of old in favor of a less specific accounting, with more focus on ways in which people can help themselves — and one another — come to terms with sin.

“It’s more about praying for the benefit of others, doing good deeds, acts of charity,” said the Rev. Kieran Harrington, spokesman for the Brooklyn diocese.

After Catholics, the people most expert on the topic are probably Lutherans, whose church was born from the schism over indulgences and whose leaders have met regularly with Vatican officials since the 1960s in an effort to mend their differences.

“It has been something of a mystery to us as to why now,” said the Rev. Dr. Michael Root, dean of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C., who has participated in those meetings. The renewal of indulgences, he said, has “not advanced” the dialogue.

“Our main problem has always been the question of quantifying God’s blessing,” Dr. Root said. Lutherans believe that divine forgiveness is a given, but not something people can influence.

But for Catholic leaders, most prominently the pope, the focus in recent years has been less on what Catholics have in common with other religious groups than on what sets them apart — including the half-forgotten mystery of the indulgence.

“It faded away with a lot of things in the church,” said Bishop DiMarzio. “But it was never given up. It was always there. We just want to people to return to the ideas they used to know.”

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Ministering to Your Needs

My blogging colleague, Fr. Rich, gets some well-deserved publicity for his services -- RG

Choosing the Wedding Officiant That’s Right for You
by Kelley Granger,
Chronogram Magazine
January 30, 2009

Once the dress has been chosen, the venue selected, the cake ordered, and floral arrangements figured out, you’re closer to the decision that should be at the literal heart of a wedding—finding the appropriate officiant to create the ceremony that best fits you as a couple. Most wedding literature provides minimal guidance for finding an officiant, especially when compared to the focus given to the more glamorous aspects of the wedding. But finding the right person is crucial: It sets the tone of the entire celebration and ensures that the words spoken and promises made are tailored to your feelings and beliefs.

Before you begin looking for an officiant, sit down with your significant other to discuss your expectations and what type of ceremony you both envision. Consider your backgrounds—will you be bringing a strong religious or cultural foundation to the wedding, or are you planning a service to include two faiths? Do you want to acknowledge a spiritual union without prescribing to a specific belief system? Or would you prefer a civil or nonreligious ceremony? The answer to these questions will be the first criteria to narrow your search. From there, reflect on the people you know who may be a good fit or begin a search. The Internet has many resources for local options, including a search for clergy and ceremony officiants within the vendor section of and the Hudson Valley city guide on The Knot’s website.

Once you’ve found a few choices that seem promising, get in touch. “Take time to discuss ahead of time what the vision for your ceremony is and what your values are and prepare questions to ask an officiant,” says Puja Thomson, an interfaith minister from New Paltz who has been performing ceremonies for 13 years. “Then, after selecting a minister or two to interview, go with an open mind to meet with your first choice. Ask your questions. Notice what questions he or she asks you. Tune in to what you sense; whether you feel comfortable and trusting with the officiant. Do you feel heard? Is your point of view respected? Are you on the same wavelength? You’ll very quickly find out if you’re compatible or not.”

If you’re going the traditional route with a religious wedding, do your homework if you’re not using a clergy member that you or your partner knows. “If [the couple is] looking for a sacred moment, they should be very careful to find someone who is genuinely religious and will approach their wedding with the care that it deserves,” says Father Richard Haselbach, an ordained Catholic priest from Carmel. “I would look for seminary training and somebody who approaches you, not like [you are] a business client, but [instead as] someone who cares about your spiritual wellbeing.”

Make sure that the candidate takes a sincere interest in you and your significant other, your wishes, and your story as a couple. Ask the officiant to also share their own story to further investigate your compatibility. Through these talks, you may discover more flexibility than you thought possible. For example, though the Catholic religion says couples must marry within the church, Father Haselbach agrees to do weddings at most any location, frequently participates in interfaith ceremonies and says he is about to help his first gay couple in a ceremony. He is also part of a growing number of priests who have become married themselves—and since leaving what he calls the “corporate” church, is now working with CITI Ministries, an organization that promotes the spiritual services of married priests. While perhaps not the right option for those with certain beliefs, Father Haselbach’s policy of nonjudgment and willingness to help anyone on their path to God has brought him to officiate more than 100 ceremonies per year.

Couples may also find themselves charmed by the explanation of how the officiant came to help couples celebrate their marriages. Thomson, who was given the first name “Puja” by the spiritual master Osho in India in 1974, received her name well before she ever performed a wedding. The name means ceremony, worship, or offering—and was a hint of the destiny she would later fulfill as an interfaith minister.

Zoe B. Zak, a rabbinical assistant for the Woodstock Jewish Congregation, has another kind of story—she was moved by a couple she met at a Toronto music festival a number of years ago who were very much in love, but the groom was Jewish and his Polish bride was Catholic. “In all of Canada there wasn’t one rabbi who would marry them,” Zak says. “They desperately wanted a Jewish ceremony and were very hurt not to be able to find someone to support their marriage. I learned everything I could about a Jewish wedding ceremony and I went to Toronto and performed this wedding, and it was an incredibly moving experience for me [to be] standing under the chuppah with this couple at this sacred and amazing time in their lives.” Soon after, Zak began receiving requests to do more weddings and began specializing in interfaith weddings. Some rabbis, who cannot traditionally perform interfaith weddings, began referring couples to Zak for their ceremony. She is currently in rabbinical school and has halted her officiating until she is finished.

After getting to know your possible officiant and making a choice, you’ll have the opportunity to meet with them to begin preparing the ceremony details. For Thomson, who was ordained as a minister of natural healing and has studied energy work with the Healing Light Center Church for about 15 years, this preparation is essential to a meaningful ceremony. “I ask each couple to fill out a detailed form giving me information, not only about the date, place, and cast of characters of the wedding, but also about themselves—what they appreciate in each other, their value systems (because their vows are going to be based on shared values), religious and cultural backgrounds, and current spiritual perspectives, their wishes for the ceremony, and more,” she says.

She’ll then share sample ceremonies with the couple and allow them to alter and add anything they’d like, often within the framework of three main parts: a beginning that may include a welcome, opening prayer, reading, music, or an address about marriage and the couple; the core of the ceremony with a declaration of intention, a reciprocal exchange of vows, and a prayer of blessing; and a finish that may include another reading or song or elements from respective traditions (like a unity candle or the breaking of a glass). Thomson then makes the pronouncement of marriage, sanctions the first kiss, and offers a final blessing. To be legal, she says she is required to do just two things—have the couple exchange vows and pronounce them to be husband and wife. Aside from those, couples have a lot of freedom to carefully construct a unique and personalized ceremony. She recommends Daphne Rose Kingma’s book Weddings from the Heart: Contemporary and Traditional Ceremonies for an Unforgettable Wedding (Conari Press, 1995), a guide that offers advice from the search for an officiant to each segment of the ceremony.

Megan Park and Joe Belluso chose Thomson to lead their wedding in Danby, Vermont, in 2000. She chose not to have any specific religious focus during the outdoor ceremony Thomson helped her put together. “We just really wanted to talk about the simplicity of it and to us that’s what it was all about, we didn’t need the pomp and circumstance,” Park says. Throughout the process, she says Thomson was encouraging, helpful, and made the couple feel like there were no rights or wrongs. “Her lovely [Scottish] brogue was very calming. When you’re getting married there are 80 million things to think about, and this was one less. Her presence is just really comforting.”

Interfaith couples will find a number of officiants willing to work on their ceremony throughout the Hudson Valley. Zak has worked closely with a number of priests to perform Christian-Jewish weddings, Thomson is open to ceremonies from all spiritual paths and Father Haselbach has collaborated often on interfaith weddings—he believes he and a Hindu priest from Albany may be the first in the country to have created a joint Catholic-Hindu ceremony.

For these couples, the planning process is only slightly different than it would normally be in that clients meet with both officiants to discuss their options and to blend the various traditions and rituals into one ceremony.
Some couples may wish to have a civil ceremony or to ask a friend or family member to officiate for them. At their wedding in December, Shari and Fred Riley Jr. of Modena had the best of both. They asked a local judge, who was also close friend, to officiate at their wedding. “For me, it felt important to have somebody who had some sort of connection to us,” Shari Riley says. “There was a true connection that enhanced the whole ceremony, rather than having a stranger that didn’t know us. I think there was genuine happiness on [our friend’s] part, making the ceremony more genuine.”

If you have a friend or family member you would like to have lead your ceremony, information on ordinations is typically easy to come by online, as well as the actual ordination. Zak used to receive her ordination, although her work is coupled with an intensive study and work within a religious community. Any person who plans to pursue ordination should make sure they’re fully aware of the laws and responsibilities pertaining to ceremony officiants.

No matter what type of ceremony you’re planning, make sure that you’re comfortable with your officiant and being faithful to your own wishes as a couple. As Thomson says, “A wedding ceremony is the energetic jumpstart for a couple’s marriage. It’s a very sacred and important moment. Honest communication pertaining to the ceremony is important and bodes well for good communication in the marriage.”


Puja A. J. Thomson, (845) 255-2278

Father Richard Haselbach, (914) 804-1944

Zoe B. Zak, (845) 255-6156

Photo: Father Rich Haselbach presides over the ceremony of Bonnie Jeanne Regan and Jimmy Gerhart at their wedding in the Dominican Republic.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Catholic Order Jolted by Reports That Its Founder Led a Double Life

New York Times
Published: February 3, 2009

The Legionaries of Christ, an influential Roman Catholic religious order, have been shaken by new revelations that their founder, who died a year ago, had an affair with a woman and fathered a daughter just as he and his thriving conservative order were winning the acclaim of Pope John Paul II.

Before his death, the founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, had been forced to leave public ministry by Pope Benedict XVI because of accusations from more than a dozen men who said he had sexually abused them when they were students.

But most members of the Legion continued to defend Father Maciel, asserting that the accusations had not been proved. Father Maciel died in January 2008 at the age of 87, and was buried in Mexico, where he was born.

Now the order’s general director, the Rev. Álvaro Corcuera, is quietly visiting its religious communities and seminaries in the United States and informing members that their founder led a double life, current and former Legionaries said.

The order is not publicly confirming the details of the scandal.

Jim Fair, a spokesman for the Legionaries, said only: “We have learned some things about our founder’s life that are surprising and difficult for us to understand. We can confirm that there are some aspects of his life that were not appropriate for a Catholic priest.”

Some former members said they expected the order to renounce its founder, but Mr. Fair said: “He is the founder and he always will be the founder of the order. That’s one of the mysteries that we all see in life is that sometimes good things come out of less than perfect human beings.”

In Catholic religious orders, members are taught to identify with the spirituality and values of the founder. That was taken to an extreme in the Legionaries, said the Rev. Stephen Fichter, a priest in New Jersey who left the order after 14 years.

“Father Maciel was this mythical hero who was put on a pedestal and had all the answers,” Father Fichter said. “When you become a Legionarie, you have to read every letter Father Maciel ever wrote, like 15 or 16 volumes. To hear he’s been having this double life on the side, I just don’t see how they’re going to continue.”

Father Fichter, once the chief financial officer for the order, said he informed the Vatican three years ago that every time Father Maciel left Rome, “I always had to give him $10,000 in cash — $5,000 in American dollars and $5,000 in the currency of wherever he was going.”

Father Fichter added: “As Legionaries, we were taught a very strict poverty; if I went out of town and bought a Bic pen and a chocolate bar, I would have to turn in the receipts. And yet for Father Maciel there was never any accounting. It was always cash, never any paper trail. And because he was this incredible hero to us, we never even questioned it for a second.”

Mr. Fair said he had no comment about whether Father Maciel had misappropriated money, fathered a child or sexually abused young men.

The Legionaries, founded in 1941, have grown as the church in many countries has shrunk. It has 800 priests in 22 countries, and 70,000 members worldwide, many of whom are lay people in its affiliate, Regnum Christi.

Tom Hoopes, managing editor of The National Catholic Register, which is affiliated with the Legionaries, posted an apology on the Web on Tuesday for having dismissed the sexual abuse accusations, saying, “I’m sorry to the victims, who were victims twice.”

For more than you ever wanted to know about this story see the American Papist Blog.

Celibacy is no longer sacrosanct in Poland

by Thijs Papot
Radio Netherlands

More than half of Polish priests say they would like to marry, while more than a third are said to secretly violate their vows of celibacy. Is it realistic to expect Catholic priests to abstain from sex in today's world?

"I was happy as a young priest, but at a certain moment loneliness began to eat away at me," says Jozef Strezynski (58). He found himself facing a dilemma when he met a woman who he felt strongly about. After sixteen years as a priest Strezynski left the church and married.

"I thought about it for four years before making a decision," says Strezynski, who is now father of two children. "I came to the conclusion that it did not make any sense to remain an unhappy priest."

Sexual relationship

Jozef Strezynski is not the only one who wrestled with the demands of the priesthood. A Polish sociologist who spoke to more than 800 active priests came to the conclusion that nearly 54 percent of them wanted to live with a woman. More than a third admitted having a sexual relationship with a woman and 12 percent said they had a permanent relationship. Wieslaw Dawidowski, an Augustinian priest in Warsaw, is not surprised by the figures.

"I know a lot of former priests who have left the church. I wouldn't be surprised if bishops had relationships as well. It is only human. So let him who is without sin, cast the first stone."

Father Davidovsky says that celibacy can no longer be taken for granted in the Polish Catholic Church. The need for a relationship reflects changes in a society which has grown more free and secular since the fall of communism.

"Being celibate is no picnic. Which is why I always tell young men that they should think it over carefully. They have been raised to believe that being a priest is something beautiful which requires sacrifices. However, nowadays the priesthood isn't that cool anymore."

Married life

Sexual abstention by priests is an inseparable aspect of the Catholic teachings. Having a married life could be in the way of the union between the priest or pastor and God. Furthermore, a fear of nepotism and hereditary functions within the church have cited as arguments to introduce and uphold celibacy.

Celibacy is not an original doctrine and was not introduced until the Middle Ages, journalist and church scholar Adam Szostkiewicz emphasises. He is expecting that the falling interest in becoming a priest will make the debate flare up again:

"It is an absurd idea to continue with the celibate for the Catholic church, when even in Poland, possibly the most Catholic country in Europe, seminaries are getting emptier and emptier. I'm not expecting any changes under the current Pope, Benedict XVI, but something will have to change after him."

For the foreseeable future, married priests will remain a taboo within the Polish Catholic Church.

"It is a mistaken belief that a priest who founds a family and lets go of the celibate would be committing treason to God. I think it is the other way around: someone who refuses to live a double life, but who is honest towards the one he loves and towards god, is taking a heavy burden, but at least he's honest."