Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Paving the way for change

I see these little statements emerging periodically from the Vatican as paving the way for a change in the policy of mandatory celibacy. The latest comes from no less than the Secretary of State for the Vatican, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who is probably anxious for some good press after his assertion earlier this month in Chile that the pedophilia crisis was related to homosexuality -- a position that was roundly denounced, and not just by homosexual rights groups. In an interview Monday with Catalan public television (TV3), Bertone asserted that while it has been "a positive and productive tradition", celibacy "is not untouchable", noting the existence of married priests in both Eastern and, more recently, Latin rite Catholic churches.

And, coming from the same part of the world, a group of priests from Solsona and Lleida (Spain) who meet as part of the Forum Ondara raised the issue at their April 6th meeting. The group calls for the immediate abolition of obligatory celibacy, noting that while its connection to pedophilia is not conclusive, it has already caused the loss of many good chaplains who could not comply with it as well as discouraging young men from entering the priesthood in the first place. The group argues that Jesus never mandated celibacy and that even though St. Paul encouraged it, it was optional.

In a discussion on Facebook I recently opined that we were one papacy away from married priests and maybe not even that. Several people criticized this assertion but every time things like this come out of the Vatican, I can smell the winds of change.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Married priest finds acceptance

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services (Canada)
Published Monday, April 26, 2010

HAY RIVER - Rev. Don Flumerfelt of Hay River admits some people find it a bit odd that he is a Roman Catholic priest. That's because he also happens to be married.

However, he said his unusual status has been accepted in Hay River and the rest of the South Slave.

"It's been wonderful here," he said, adding there has been no negative reaction.

People recognize his married status in an "affirming way," he said.

Still, some find it odd when, for instance, he tells his wife, Julia, that he will see her for supper.

"They'll say, 'What?'" he said with a chuckle.

Flumerfelt said he and his wife will explain their story if someone has a question.

In essence, the story is Flumerfelt was an Anglican minister for 29 years, including six years in Yellowknife, until he and his wife became Roman Catholics in 2004 and he started studying to become a priest in his new church.

Flumerfelt, 62, was ordained the NWT's first married Roman Catholic priest in early 2007.

Flumerfelt said he had to answer the question of whether he had a call to priestly ministry.

"My answer to that was, 'Yes, I believe so,' and the church affirmed that from the Pope on down," he said. "That's essentially the same call, whether you're married or not."

After being ordained a Roman Catholic priest, he served in Norman Wells before moving to Hay River in November of 2008.

Most of the curiosity about him being married comes from older people, he said. "Those who have known and loved the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic Church."

Vatican II - the short name for the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican in the 1960s - saw some changes in the Roman Catholic Church, including the creation of a process to accept married priests from other denominations.

Flumerfelt said his vows to his wife took place in 1972.

"The first vow is to my wife," he said. "For a celibate priest, his first vow is to celibacy in the church as part of his call."

Flumerfelt doesn't believe married priests in the Roman Catholic Church - and there are many more in Canada and around the world - will erode the tradition of celibacy in the priesthood, and he doesn't believe he is on the leading edge of any big change.

Referring to a verse in First Corinthians, he said the Apostle Paul said it is easier for a single person to serve.

"I have to attest to that fact," Flumerfelt said, adding he has three adult children, including one with a disability.

However, being married has helped in one aspect of service.

"What we're finding is couples are coming to us for counselling and for prayer, and so we're trying to equip ourselves to be more effective in that area," he said.

Flumerfelt had certain conditions - called a Papal Indult - attached to his becoming a Roman Catholic priest.

"What those conditions are intended to do is to say to the greater church that this isn't ordination by the backdoor, but it is honouring priests who have dedicated their lives in celibate ministry," he explained.

One condition is that, if his spouse should die, he would become a celibate priest.

Another condition is that he cannot be a pastor of a parish, but must be an associate priest.

Flumerfelt said it has been a real blessing serving with Rev. Bernie Black as his parish priest.

Overall, Flumerfelt said he is amazed at where he is at this point in his life.

"I'm just so thankful and so is my wife," he said. "It's a real privilege."

Time for church to face up to vocation crisis

Some words of wisdom from Irish priest Fr Kevin Hegarty. Fr. Hegarty has already gained some notoriety for his willingness to speak out on issues affecting the Church. In 1994 he was fired as editor of Intercom for running a series of articles on the sex abuse scandals in the Irish Church, and we all know how that story ended...

by Fr Kevin Hegarty
The Mayo News

Thankfully, last Sunday has passed. I dread the fourth Sunday of the Easter season. Let me explain.

That day is Vocations day in the Catholic Church. Priests are expected to preach - how I hate that verb anyway - on the need for unmarried men to study for the priesthood.

I once read of a French bishop in the early 19th century who, after he lost his faith, spent one Easter Sunday desperately trying to avoid saying Mass. I have never suffered such a deep crisis of belief but on Vocations day I understand his predicament.

On Vocations day one is supposed to assume that the Catholic priesthood is only for unmarried males. One is expected to extol compulsory celibacy by claiming that it leaves one free, without family interruption, to minister to the parish community. One is directed to justify the exclusion of women from the priesthood on the grounds of tradition and theology, as if tradition has to be set in stone and theology can not be subject to new insights.

I can’t buy into all of that. It seems to me that the exclusive male hierarchical governance of the Catholic Church is out of sync with the insights and impulses of modern society. Such a system is prone to corrosive dysfunction. Its inadequacy has been graphically highlighted by the woeful response to the sexual abuse of children by clergy and religious.

Also, I grew up in a democratic society where respect for freedom of speech was paramount. In my naive student days, in the decade after the Second Vatican Council, an inspirational event, I hoped that the church was ready to embrace the value of this crucial insight. Alas, in recent decades, as the Vatican resiled from the results of the council, the institutional Church has been a cold house for those of us committed to free speech, academic freedom and dialogue. It is a travesty that several liberal theologians have had their licences to teach in Catholic theological colleges withdrawn by Rome.

Some of you might say, get over it. The Church needs priests to continue its mission, so no more agonising. Some of you might even say to me, you joined the army, so march. Sorry, I did not see becoming a priest meant taking on military discipline. If I wanted to be a soldier I would have gone to the other Kildare institution, the Curragh, not Maynooth.

Priests are needed in the Catholic Community to minister to its needs, to share in its joy and pain, to celebrate the rituals of birth and marriage and to give what the poet Thomas Kinsella calls, “ecclesiastical discipline to the shapeless sorrow” of death.

The crisis in priestly numbers in Ireland, looming for some time, is about to happen.

One benign effect of the crisis is that there will have to be greater lay governance of parishes. Parish councils will no longer be toothless bodies, peopled by an acquiescent laity and garrulous and authoritarian priests.

This reform should have happened anyway, according to the Second Vatican Council. Churches, however, will close and there will be a severe decline in religious services. I once heard a bishop glibly say that in the not too distant future priests will operate as an emergency ecclesiastical West Doc type service. Each priest will have to serve a vast territory encompassing several parishes.

I have to say that I find this vista disturbing. As a diocesan priest I live in a parish community, not a religious institution. Here one gets to know the people. They invite you to be part of the significant events of their lives. One makes friends that help to salve the loneliness of the celibate existence. This interchange enriches one’s life and hopefully enhances one’s celebration of the sacraments.

In theological terms it is an incarnational exchange. I fear that much of that will be lost in the projected future.

It seems to me that Church leaders will consider any solution to the vocations crisis except the obvious ones - opening the priesthood to married men and women, not just because of a decline in numbers of unmarried men but because of the rich and creative experience it would bring to ministry in the modern world.

I am reminded of the apocryphal story of the pious man whose life was endangered at sea. He prayed fervently to God for rescue.

A lifeboat and helicopter came to him but he turned them away as he expected a personal envoy from God. He drowned, when to heaven and remonstrated with God for failing to save him. “Well,” God replied, “I did send a lifeboat and helicopter!”

No chance of change in the Church, some of you might say. Maybe I prefer, however, to look at reality rather than whistle past the graveyard.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Let's enlist short-term priests as a long-term solution

A different perspective from Fr. Andrew Greeley, who has studied the priesthood extensively, in the current issue of U.S. Catholic.

I've been doing sociological research on the priesthood for more than 30 years. There are two findings from this research that are beyond question. The first is that priests on the average are the happiest men in the world, happier in their professional and personal lives even than married Protestant clergy. The second is that men are on the average inclined to leave the priesthood (ordinarily) under two conditions: They are unhappy in priestly work, and they want to marry. If they are happy in priestly work and want to marry, on the average they are much less likely to leave.

Note the words on the average in the previous paragraph. My assertions are about the average. There are priests who are miserably unhappy-and unfortunately they set the norm for priestly comments about how low morale is. There are also many priests who love their work but want to marry powerfully enough that they leave the priesthood.

The angry letters that these two paragraphs normally engender are from those who don't read the two paragraphs carefully before they head for the e-mail. Those who don't like these findings are free to do their own research.

I usually follow up these two conclusions with the recommendation that the church experiment with a limited term of service for priests, a kind of priest corps like the Peace Corps (or the Jesuit Volunteer Corps or the University of Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education)...

Full text...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Priest and the Catechist: Together for Human Rights

The story of the priest who falls in love with the catechist is somewhat of a cliche. Fr. Patrick Rice and Fatima Cabrera's story, captured in the TV documentary Perfumed Killers (RTÉ, 2001), gives it an entirely different twist. Here is the story as told by Dr. Dermot Keogh, head of the History Dept. at University College Cork in Ireland, which gave an honorary law degree to Rice on 6 June, 2008:

Patrick Rice has spent nearly forty years in Latin America working in the area of Human Rights education and in defence of the rights of the families of the ‘disappeared.’ Born in Fermoy in September 1945, he was educated at the local Christian Brothers’ school. He joined the Divine Word Missionaries, studied at St Patrick’s, College, Maynooth, and was ordained in 1970. His order sent him to Argentina as a chaplain to the Catholic University of Santa Fe and as an assistant professor in the Philosophy Department of the same university.

Dissatisfied with his pastoral role, he left the Divine Word Missionaries in 1972 and joined the Little Brothers [Hermanitos] of Charles de Foucauld. After his novitiate had ended in 1973, he became a worker priest in Santa Fe Province serving as part of a pastoral programme to unionise forest workers and agricultural labourers. In 1974, he moved to Buenos Aires, got a job as a carpenter on a building site and lived with the Hermanitos in the shanty town of Villa Soldati.

Following the coup in 1976, the military authorities viewed the pastoral mission of the Hermanitos with great suspicion and many members were forced to go underground. Gross violation of human rights quickly became the hallmark of the new regime. Mutilated bodies were dumped near Villa Soldati, including the cadavers of two Uruguayan members of congress. In all, nearly 30,000 were ‘disappeared’ before the military were forced from power in 1983.

Those working in defence of human rights under the military regime could not count on widespread support in Argentina. Instead of the condemnation of human rights abuses, many people responded to the frequent disappearances with the now infamous phrase – “algo habrán hecho,” or ‘they [that is, those who were ‘disappeared’] must have done something.’ Nobody was safe. The outspoken Bishop of La Rioja, Enrique Angelelli. Patrick, was killed by the military on 4 August 1976. Accompanied by a member of the Fraternity, Patrick made the long and difficult bus journey to the diocese during a ‘state of siege’ to investigate the circumstances in which the bishop had died. Returning to the capital, he continued the investigation into disappearances and helped produce a report “Violence against the Argentine Church” which received international attention. Patrick later described that investigation as his first work in the field of human rights.

Patrick, despite the danger in the capital, kept working openly. His life was changed by the events of 11 October 1976. That night, he left a prayer meeting in his parish in Villa Soldati accompanied by an eighteen-year-old catechist, Fatima Cabrera. They suddenly found themselves surrounded by armed men. They were hooded, bundled into an unmarked car and taken to a secret detention centre where they were tortured over a number of days, sometimes in adjacent rooms or in the same room.

Recalling those events, Fatima wrote recently that there were moments when she had the sensation that she was no longer alive. In Fatima’s own words: Ellos, los militares, eran los dueños de la vida. Their military torturers were the arbiters over who lived or died. But despite their ordeal, Patrick and Fatima did not share the fate of the 30,000 disappeared. Prompt and courageous action by the staff of the Irish embassy in Buenos Aires certainly helped save both of their lives. The then third secretary, Justin Harman, hearing of Patrick’s disappearance, worked with Ambassador Wilfred Lennon, to establish his whereabouts. Now Irish ambassador to Moscow, Mr Harman, who is here today, did not give up. He was the source for a news item in The London Times on 14 October which reported Patrick’s abduction. The following day, the same paper reported an Irish embassy source confirming that he was in police custody but his whereabouts and the reason for his detention were not known. Meanwhile, questions were being raised at the United Nations in New York about the whereabouts of the ‘disappeared’ Irishman.

The military authorities transferred Patrick to a new holding centre. Being over six feet tall, his military guard found it hard to stuff him into the boot of a car. Fatima Cabrera arrived at the same prison a few days later. Both showed the signs of physical abuse and torture. On 19 October, Patrick was shaved by his captors and told that he was to receive visitors. He was also advised, if he did not want to wind up in a sack at the bottom of the River Plate, to say that he had fallen down a stairs. His visitors, the Irish ambassador and Justin Harman, were delighted to see him but distressed by his appearance. They assured him that they would work hard to get him out of jail.

In December 1976, as Patrick was being released from jail his captors asked him to write something positive in their records. He wrote, with characteristic understatement: “I might have been treated better.”

Nearly thirty years later, a fellow prisoner and survivor told Patrick he believed that many of the prisoners in that holding centre were alive today because he had seen them. Therefore, the military were unable to make them ‘disappear.’

On his return to Cork, Patrick was helped make a good recovery by Professor Bob Daly of UCC. And so began a new phase in his life as a campaigner for human rights. In 1976 to 1977, he worked in London with Latin American refugees. He was a founding chairperson of the Committee for Human Rights in Argentina. He went on speaking tours in France, Spain and the United States to denounce torture in Argentina.

Between 1978 and 1980, he moved to the United States and helped found the Washington Committee for Human Rights in Argentina. He lobbied the US Government and Congress on human rights. In 1979, Patrick helped organize with Senator Christopher Dodd a hearing on the ‘Disappeared’ in Argentina. He also worked with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

In 1980, Patrick moved to Caracas, Venezuela, where he lived with a community of the Hermanitos in shantytowns near the capital. He began promoting human rights within the pastoral programmes of the local archdiocese. He also cooperated in assisting refugees from Haiti. In January 1981, Patrick helped organise in Costa Rica the First Latin American Congress of Families of the Disappeared. He became one of the founding members of FEDEFAM (The Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared-Detainees). He served as its Executive Secretary from 1981 to 1987.

As part of his work with FEDEFAM, he visited most Latin American countries to investigate situations of enforced disappearances and began to lobby actively at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. He also represented FEDEFAM when, in 1982, it received the Spanish Human Rights award. He did a speaking tour of ten cities in the US organized by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation, and, accompanied by the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, received a peace prize.

With the fall of the Argentine military junta in 1983, Patrick returned to Buenos Aires. There he mourned the loss of so many members of his order and their friends. Returning to Villa Soldati, he met Fatima Cabrera. He had last seen her in prison in December 1976. She had, in the interim, spent two years in jail and a further two years under house arrest. Patrick left for Venezuela again, but kept in contact by letter with Fatima. They married in Caracas in May 1985. Two of their children were born in Caracas, and the third, Blanca, when they returned to live in Buenos Aires in 1987. She is here today with her mother.

Living back in Buenos Aires, it was not long before Patrick became involved in human rights training and education at the Ecumenical Movement for Human Rights. He coordinated training courses, seminars and workshops throughout the country. In 1992, he became the national coordinator of that organisation and got involved in prison visitation and assistance to families of the disappeared. He coordinated training courses for teachers in human rights. In 1999, Patrick began to work again with FEDEFAM and was nominated as Senior Adviser to the Executive Committee. He has led a training seminar in Sri Lanka in 1999 organized by the Asian Federation on Involuntary Disappearances. He has participated in the Consultation on Disappearances in Africa, in Benin in 2002. He has attended the General Meeting of Families of the Missing in Croatia in 2002 and Patrick has also taken part in 2003 in consultations with the Office of Forensics and Missing persons in Pristinha, Kosovo.

In 2002, the Irish Diplomatic Mission at Geneva nominated him as the Western Group’s candidate for membership of the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. He participated in much of the advocacy to gain approval for an international instrument against enforced disappearances. That was finally achieved on 23 September 2005.

Over the past forty years, Patrick Rice has been a tireless worker in the field of human rights – as a teacher, educator, activist and lobbyist. For her part, Fatima has had responsibility for running the national adult literacy campaign in Argentina. She now directs the adult literacy campaign in the greater Buenos Aires which has a population of thirteen million.

A few days ago, before leaving Buenos Aires, both Patrick and Fatima were key-witnesses in the trial of a police chief accused of sanctioning a massacre at Pilar, in 1976, in which nearly twenty people were shot. Today in Argentina such testimony is not without danger. Two years ago, another key witness in a similar trial was ‘disappeared’ and is presumed dead. And so the struggle continues. The leading Argentinian poet, Juan Gelman, recalled how his son, Marcello, and his pregnant wife, Claudia, were ‘disappeared’ by the military on 24 August 1976. Both died in a concentration camp and Gelman writes:

The military
dictatorship never officially
recognised their ‘disappearance.’
It spoke of ‘those forever absent.’
Until I have seen their bodies
Or their murderers, I will never give them up for dead.

Juan Gelman’s determination, as reflected in those powerful lines, is shared by Patrick and Fatima Cabrera Rice. They will continue to reclaim the memory of those who have been ‘disappeared’ and never be intimidated into silence.


Photo: Patrick Rice with his wife Fatima Cabrera and daughter Bianca.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Former priest: Clergy should have right to marry


Ed Gerlock has been calling the Philippines his home since he moved there from the United States in 1962 - it was the same year he was ordained.

Ed and Ching Gerlock married in 1981.
The 74-year-old joined the priesthood to initially get an education. It was also a vocation that allowed him to travel overseas.

He spent many years working with the country’s poor and farmers, learning about a life outside the seminary.

It was during this time he met a beautiful Filipino social researcher called Ching. There was an instant attraction, but it was also forbidden. Their friendship grew and so did their love. It took 13 years before Ed would break his vows to the Church and leave the priesthood.

“This lady and I became close friends”, remembers Gerlock. “When I was working in Parish I was thinking to myself… I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life. I genuinely love this lady… in a sense she saved my life”.

They married on May 31, 1981 at a home for leprosy patients in Hawaii. Ching says it was one of the happiest days of her life. Two years later she gave birth to a baby girl they named Alay – which means “a gift”.

Ching says her husband has never turned his back on the church. In fact he still works for those less fortunate and down trodden… caring for the elderly who have no assistance and providing them with services.

She says he may not be able to give mass or wear the cloth of the church, but everywhere they go people still call him Father because of the charitable work he still does.

Their daughter Alay is a guidance counselor. She’s very close to her father and defends his actions 28 years ago. “Most people would say your father took a vow and broke the the vow. But he’s a person, he made a choice and I can’t refute his choice or I wouldn’t be here”.

Gerlock is very progressive and liberal in his views when he talks about the Church and the scandals it’s currently facing. He believes that marriage would be beneficial for priests and that the clergy should at least be given the option of having a marital life.

“When I go to Church and listen to priests talk about reproductive health, marriage and children, I think… what does he know? There are some things in marriage that you would find difficult to talk about and here’s this guy, standing there blandly talking about something he knows nothing about”.

Gerlock doesn’t only believe priests should be married. He also supports gay and women priests; something he knows won’t be happening in the Catholic Church anytime soon. Regardless, he believes reform is essential, if the Church is to repair its battered image.

“It’s going to be a very painful transition I’m afraid”, he admits. “I mean because people are so hard line within the Church. You have to go backwards and say how did this happen – like all the cases of sex abuse that are now coming out. How can we prevent this from ever happening again and what’s our obligation to these children … all those questions are not being address.”

Posted by: Anna Coren, CNN Anchor