Archive for April, 2008

IMPORTANT: God Crisis and Church Crisis

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

From the New York Times, 4.29.2008.

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Pope Benedict and the Lasting Impact of His U.S. Trip

Published: April 26, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI has come and gone. To a population that knew little about him, he almost certainly left a favorable impression. Once the afterglow fades, however, what will remain?


The Papal Visit

Go to Complete Coverage »

There are a variety of categories, of course, for sorting through the messages and images. But here are two useful ones: the God crisis and the church crisis.

As theologian and now as pope, Joseph Ratzinger has been, above all, a man of the God crisis. For him, God is the answer to questions that “can never be erased from the human heart,” as he said in his Washington meeting with other religious leaders.

“What is the origin and destiny of mankind?” he said to them. “What are good and evil? What awaits us at the end of our earthly existence?

“Only by addressing these deeper questions can we build a solid basis for the peace and security of the human family.”

Yet in his view modernity, in a myriad of ways — from materialism to relativism to the technological mind-set — has shunted those questions aside or thrown up intellectual barriers to answering them.

Europe has been the heartland of the God crisis. So naturally it has preoccupied a European intellectual like Benedict. His response has two parts. Over the years he has offered a finely woven fabric of ideas about Christian faith, reason, truth and freedom. His arguments are certainly not beyond challenge, not even by theologians and philosophers who share his conclusions. But there is little doubt that they are serious and substantial.

But Benedict has never thought that a purely intellectual response was adequate. There was also an inescapably personal dimension to the God crisis — a matter of opening oneself, of inner conversion and personal decision.

This movement of the heart could be stirred by the witness of believers, by the solidarity and charity of the Christian community, by the power of worship or the beauty of religious art. Warning against an individualistic piety, Pope Benedict told the American bishops, “If we are truly to gaze upon him who is the source of our joy, we need to do so as members of the people of God.”

The God crisis, therefore, cannot be separated from the church crisis. If the church has become dysfunctional, inarticulate or spiritless, it will be incapable of addressing those deeper questions with responses that satisfy both the mind and the heart.

But for Benedict, the God crisis always takes priority. Whether speaking of truth to educators or human rights to the United Nations, he returns again and again to the question of “foundations,” which for him ultimately mean God. He grows impatient whenever talk of the church seems to supplant talk of God.

Of course, Benedict came to the United States knowing that the God crisis is hardly as acute here as it is in Europe and that what has been troubling American Roman Catholicism is the church crisis. And just as the God crisis has both a personal dimension and an intellectual one, the church crisis has both a personal dimension and a structural one.

The pope certainly addressed the personal dimension. He exhorted the bishops to be “engaging and imaginative.” He worried out loud about the state of the liturgy and whether preaching had “lost its salt.” He underlined the need for more priests. He urged the healing of divisions in Catholic ranks. He called on all Catholics to take their beliefs into public life. Most of all, in meeting with victims of sexual abuse by priests, he offered a model of pastoral sensitivity.

About the structural dimension of the church crisis, however, he said nothing. Does the American church need new or refurbished structures of transparency, accountability and consultation in a wide range of matters, including finances, parish closings and the appointment and assignment of bishops and pastors?

Should new roles for the laity in parish leadership be more formally recognized? Are changes beyond prayer and exhortation needed to combat the growing shortage of priests? What about the ordination of married men or women or the reintroduction of female deacons?

Such structural changes are favored by many moderate-to-liberal Catholics. There are less publicized ones favored by some conservatives, including tight episcopal control over Catholic higher education, restoration of traditional forms of seminary training and broad resort to oaths of fidelity.

The pope’s silence about all such institutional nuts and bolts is not surprising. For one thing, he believes that church structures must evolve, as he says, “organically” rather than by grand design.

His suspicion of structural changes goes further, however. He often dismisses them, especially liberal ones, as “power games” or as superficial diversions from the foundational God crisis and the interior transformation it entails.

Indeed, the very mode of calculating gains and losses in Catholic ranks, parishes without priests, a decline in religious literacy or Mass attendance among young Catholics seems foreign to Benedict’s outlook.

At one level, this stance is unassailable. Who would deny his reminder of some years ago that “the church does not exist for herself but must be God’s instrument”?

But what if the instrument needs significant repair or reconstruction? What if, to change the metaphor, the problem is not so much weak foundations, at least not yet in the United States, as a leaking roof, bad wiring and faulty plumbing?

Will addressing the God crisis, perhaps with the pastoral sensitivity Benedict demonstrated on his visit, spontaneously generate responses to the church crisis? Or is addressing the structural dimension of the church crisis a prerequisite to successfully addressing the God crisis?

The lasting impact of Pope Benedict’s visit may hang on the answers to those two questions.

Reforming the Vatican

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

From Commonweal, 4.25.2008.

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April 25, 2008 / Volume CXXXV, Number 8  


Reforming the Vatican

What the Church Can Learn from Other Institutions

Thomas J. Reese, SJ

Too often when someone proposes the reform of church structures, the reformer is attacked for borrowing from the secular political field, as if this were necessarily a bad thing. But throughout history the Vatican has often imitated the organization of secular political institutions. Today the governance of the church is more centralized than at any time in its history. To make the church more collegial, the Vatican should once again adopt practices of the secular political world.

When St. Peter arrived in Rome, he did not immediately appoint cardinals and set up the offices that we see in the Vatican today. He had only a secretary to help him with his correspondence. In early centuries, the bishop of Rome had helpers much like those of any other bishop: priests for house-churches, deacons for charitable assistance and catechesis, and notaries or secretaries for correspondence and record keeping.

By the fourth century, notaries were a permanent fixture in the papacy, as they were in the imperial court. As staff for the pope, these men wrote letters and kept records of correspondence and other official documents. They took minutes at the Lateran Council of 649 and prepared its acts. Because of their training and experience, they were sometimes sent by popes on diplomatic missions or to ecumenical councils in the East.


By the thirteenth century the apostolic chancellery was an important office, and the chancellor was the pope’s principal adviser and assistant, just as chancellors were the principal advisers of European monarchs. Before becoming pope, John XXII (1316-1344) had been chancellor to the French king, and he used his expertise in organizing the French chancellery to handle papal business. The chancellery was later eclipsed by the apostolic datary, then by the office of the privy seal, and finally by the secretary of state. All of these had parallels in secular society.

Likewise, the college of cardinals evolved from a group of the principal priests and deacons of Rome to a papal court that advised and elected popes. The cardinals often compared themselves to the old Roman Senate. As time went on and papal business increased, the practice of consulting the college of cardinals in consistory became common. At first the college met monthly, but by the beginning of the thirteenth century it was meeting three times a week—on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In many ways the pope and the cardinals functioned as a court, similar to the royal courts of Europe during the Middle Ages; but the fact that the cardinals elected the pope gave the college of cardinals a kind of power not enjoyed by the nobility in most nations. Later the role of cardinals was severely curtailed by increasingly powerful popes, just as the power of nobles was curtailed after the rise of “absolute” monarchs.

So the structure of the Roman curia has changed over time, and popes have frequently borrowed or adapted practices from secular government. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that changing the organization of the Vatican today by adopting practices from the contemporary political world would be in keeping with the long tradition of the church.

Centralized papacy

The contemporary papacy rules the church with powers that would be the envy of any absolute monarch: the pope holds supreme legislative, executive, and judicial authority with few checks on his power. This power is especially evident in the appointment of bishops.

In the first centuries of the church, the local bishop was chosen by and from the people. Ideally, the people gathered in the cathedral, where, after praying together, they selected a holy and talented man to lead them. In practice, factions supporting opposing candidates would often clash, sometimes violently split-ting the community. The faithful did not always speak with one voice.

As time went on, the selection process evolved to include not only the people, but also the local clergy and the provincial bishops in a system of checks and balances. Pope Leo I (440-461) described the ideal by saying that no one could be a bishop unless he was elected by the clergy, accepted by his people, and consecrated by the bishops of his province. The clergy knew the candidates better than the populace and were less likely to resolve their disputes by recourse to violence. Still, as leader of the community, the bishop had to be acceptable to the people. The clergy, then, would present a candidate to the people, who would normally indicate their approval by cheering. If they booed, the clergy would have to try again. To become a bishop, the candidate had to be consecrated by the bishops of his province under the leadership of the metropolitan archbishop. If he was unacceptable because of heresy or immorality or some other fault, the bishops could refuse to ordain him.

The problem with this democratic process was that it could be circumvented by powerful nobles and kings who had no respect for democracy. They could simply impose their desires on the church through force or threats of violence. As Fulbert of Chartres wrote in 1016, “How can one speak of election where a person is imposed by the prince, so that neither clergy nor people, let alone the bishops, can envisage any other candidates?” The appointment of bishops by kings and nobles led to the corruption of the episcopacy when royal bastards and political favorites were chosen.

Papal reformers from Gregory VII on saw their role as fighting off political influence in the selection of bishops. But it should also be remembered that nobles and kings were sometimes reformers of the church. It was the German Emperor Henry III who, in the eleventh century, deposed three “popes” to begin a long line of reform popes. And it was another German king, Emperor Sigismund, who was able to end the Great Western Schism.

All of this changed in the nineteenth century, when revolutions wiped out most of the Catholic monarchs in Europe. Rather than returning the selection of bishops to the local church, popes made it their own prerogative. Unsurprisingly, this led to the appointment of bishops who were loyal to Rome and would support its preeminence in the church.

But the appointment of bishops is not the only example of the papacy’s consolidation of power. In the early centuries of the church, regional or national councils of bishops helped define doctrine, coordinated church policy, and even provided a forum for judging bishops. The bishop of Rome acted as a court of appeal when bishops and councils disagreed. National bishops’ conferences are the true successors of these councils, but the Vatican refuses to allow them the independence to act like the councils of old. Similarly, ecumenical councils once had greater independence; according to some theologians, the councils even had the authority to impeach popes.

The centralization of power in the Vatican was often a legitimate response to the political interference of kings and nobles in the life of the local church. Popes could stand up to kings better than the local church could. But now that few kings or noblemen are in a position to meddle with the church, one could argue that such centralization is no longer necessary—and that it is in fact counterproductive.

Possible reforms

If history shows that the church has always borrowed ideas and structures from civil society, then the question arises: What are some of the best practices in civil society that can help the church today? Over the past two centuries, civil society has learned that good government calls for: the elimination of a powerful nobility, adherence to the principle of subsidiarity, and creation of a system of checks and balances. I will propose six reforms I think reflect practices that have proved successful in civil society.

Make the Vatican a bureaucracy, not a court. Most countries have found that a royal court composed of a king and his nobles is not a good way to govern. The Vatican is still as much a court as a bureaucracy, with cardinals referred to as princes of the church and bishops acting like nobles. I would recommend that no Vatican bureaucrat be made a bishop or a cardinal. One of the problems with nobles and bishops is that it is difficult to fire them even when they are incompetent or when there is a change in administrations. Such a reform would also remind the Vatican bureaucracy that it is a servant of the pope and the college of bishops and not itself part of the magisterium.

Strengthen the legislative bodies in the church. At the same time that the role of the nobility in governance was declining in civil society, the role of independent legislatures was increasing. No modern political philosophy would advise a polity to depend only on the wisdom of an executive. There is universal recognition that the synod of bishops created by Paul VI has failed to rise to expectations. I would recommend that no member of the Vatican bureaucracy be a member of the synod of bishops: they could attend the synod as experts and staff, but not as voting members. All of the members of the synod should be elected by episcopal conferences; none should be appointed. The synod should also meet on a regular basis—say, once every five years—and, of course, the synod would need committees to prepare agendas and documents between meetings. There should also be an ecumenical council at least once every generation.

Convert congregations into elected synodal committees. Vatican congregations and councils are committees of cardinals and bishops appointed by the pope. Each is responsible for a special domain within the church-such as liturgy, ecumenism, evangelization, and canon law. The Vatican cardinals are the most influential members of these committees. The chairman of each committee (called a prefect for a congregation and a president for a council) is also the head of an office of the same name. These offices advise the pope and implement church policy.

One important function of any legislative body is oversight of the bureaucracy. Members of Vatican congregations and councils should therefore be elected by synods or by episcopal conferences; that way synods and conferences can act as policy-making and oversight bodies for the Vatican bureaucracy. Vatican bureaucrats should not also be members of congregations, though they could attend meetings as experts and staff.

Create an independent judiciary. One of the most important elements in a government that operates under the rule of law is an independent judiciary. To allow the executive to indict, prosecute, judge, and sentence a defendant is today considered a violation of due process. The treatment of theologians accused of dissent by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) is one of the scandals of the church. The potential for such scandal will remain as long as the CDF continues to act as policeman, prosecutor, judge, and jury. An independent jury, perhaps made up of retired bishops, could correct the problem.

Elect bishops. The appointment of bishops by the pope is a modern innovation that follows a corporate model, whereby the pope acts as CEO and the bishops as branch managers. While this corporate model is highly centralized, successful political models teach us that local leaders need to be chosen by local citizens. Today it might be possible, and advisable, to return to the system endorsed by Pope Leo I, so that every bishop would be elected by the local clergy, accepted by the people of his diocese, and consecrated by the bishops of his province.

Strengthen episcopal conferences by making them councils. Not everything can or should be decided by a centralized government. Catholic social teaching speaks of the importance of subsidiarity in political structures and policy: what can be done locally should be done locally. In ancient times, local and regional councils of bishops played an important part in determining church teaching and discipline. Episcopal conferences need to become episcopal councils. They need to regain their independent role in establishing church policy. They should not need to have every decision and document reviewed and ratified by the Vatican. Bishops must be trusted to know what is best for the local church.

These six reforms will not bring about the kingdom of God. No governance structure is perfect, and every reform has negative side effects. But these reforms would help the church follow the principles of collegiality and subsidiarity. It is worth remarking that most of these reforms would mean a return to earlier practices and structures of the church. Of course, spiritual reform and conversion are finally more important than structural reform, but that doesn’t mean that structural reform is unimportant.

What are the chances of such reforms actually taking place? As a social scientist, I’d have to say they’re probably close to zero. The church is now run by a self-perpetuating group of men who know such reform would diminish their power. It is also contrary to their theology of the church. But as a Catholic Christian, I still have to hope.

A longer version of this essay will appear in Catholics and Politics (edited by Kristen Heyer, Michael Genovese, and Mark J. Rozell, Georgetown University Press).

Save This Date for “The Child Victim’s Act of Pennsylvania”

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Received via email from 

Deputy District Attorney
Special Investigations Unit
Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office
Three South Penn Square
Philadelphia, PA 19107-3499

215 686-8718(O)
215 901-2433(C)
on 4.29.2008

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Dear PA CARES: Survivors, Victims, Family Members and Advocates for the Child Victim’s Act of PA:

As you may all be aware, there has been a continuing effort by State Representative Lisa Bennington to have House Bill 1137: “The Child Victim’s Act of Pennsylvania” reviewed and enacted in the PA State House of Representatives. Representative Bennington and John Salveson of the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse (FACSA) will be holding a press conference about HB1137:

Monday, May 12, 2008 at 1:00 p.m.
Main Capitol Building, Rotunda
Harrisburg, PA
Please save the date and plan to attend this critical conference. It is also important to get the word out to all Survivors, Victims, Family Members and Advocates for The Child Victim’s Act of PA. For further details and continuing updates about this event, please link to the new FACSA website, http://www.abolishsexabuse.org/.

At this time, it is not necessary to inform the media about this event as Representative Bennington and FACSA will be issuing a press release several days prior to the event, but do spread the word to as many Survivors, Victims, Family Members and Advocates for The Child Victim’s Act of PA as possible. It is imperative to show how many people support this important legislation.
FYI, here is the proposed language of the legislation:

HB 1137
The Child Victim’s Act of Pennsylvania
§ 5533. Infancy, insanity or imprisonment

(a) GENERAL RULE. –Except as otherwise provided by statute, insanity or imprisonment does not extend the time limited by this subchapter for the commencement of a matter.


(1) (i) If an individual entitled to bring a civil action is an unemancipated minor at the time the cause of action accrues, the period of minority shall not be deemed a portion of the time period within which the action must be commenced. Such person shall have the same time for commencing an action after attaining majority as is allowed to others by the provisions of this subchapter.

(ii) As used in this paragraph, the term “minor” shall mean any individual who has not yet attained 18 years of age.

(2) (i) If an individual entitled to bring a civil action arising from childhood sexual abuse is under 18 years of age at the time the cause of action accrues, the individual shall have a period of [12] 32 years after attaining 18 years of age in which to commence an action for damages regardless of whether the individual files a criminal complaint regarding the childhood sexual abuse.

(ii) For the purposes of this paragraph, the term “childhood sexual abuse” shall include, but not be limited to, the following sexual activities between a minor and an adult, provided that the individual bringing the civil action engaged in such activities as a result of forcible compulsion or by threat of forcible compulsion which would prevent resistance by a person of reasonable resolution:

(A) sexual intercourse, which includes penetration, however slight, of any body part or object into the sex organ of another;

(B) deviate sexual intercourse, which includes sexual intercourse per os or per anus; and

(C) indecent contact, which includes any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of the person for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire in either person.

(iii) For purposes of this paragraph, “forcible compulsion” shall have the meaning given to it in 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3101 (relating to definitions= this definition reads as follows: “FORCIBLE COMPULSION.” Compulsion by use of physical, intellectual, moral, emotional or psychological force, either express or implied.)

(3) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a civil action that is permitted to be filed pursuant to paragraph (2) but would otherwise be barred as of July 1, 2008 solely because the statute of limitations has expired is revived, and such a civil action may be commenced within two years of July 1, 2008. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to alter the applicable statute of limitations period of a civil action arising from childhood sexual abuse that is not time barred as of July 1, 2008.

(4) If the person committing the act of childhood sexual abuse against a minor was employed by an institution, agency, firm, business, corporation, or other public or private legal entity that owed a duty of care to the victim, or the accused and the minor were engaged in some activity over which the legal entity had some degree of responsibility or control, damages against the legal entity shall be awarded under subsection (3)only if there is a finding of gross negligence on the part of the legal entity.

(5) If an individual or the individual’s legal representative has previously brought a civil action arising from childhood sexual abuse and that suit has been dismissed because it was filed beyond the statute of limitations that applied at that time, the individual or the individual’s legal representative may petition the court to reopen the action within the period provided in paragraph (3). The court may grant the petition if it determines that any of the following exist:

    (i) The victim of the childhood abuse was under the age of 30 at the time the statute of limitations expired;

    (ii) The existence of newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered before the prior statute of limitations expired;

    (iii) Fraud, inexcusable neglect, misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party; or

    (iv) Any other extraordinary circumstance that the court believes is in the interest of justice.

Deputy District Attorney
Special Investigations Unit
Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office
Three South Penn Square
Philadelphia, PA 19107-3499

215 686-8718(O)
215 901-2433(C)

Andrew Greeley Trashes SNAP; Tom Doyle Responds

Friday, April 25, 2008

Andrew Greeley’s Comments are from the Chicago Sun Times, 4.25.2008

Tom Doyle’s comments were forwarded by email by Kay Goodnow.

Thanks, Tom.

Thanks, Kay.

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A reasonable response to sex abuse scandal
Andrew Greeley
April 23, 2008

No one except the hard-line haters of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and British atheists such as the ineffable Christopher Hitchens can find fault with the pope’s response to the sexual abuse scandal in the United States .

SNAP wants the severed heads of many American bishops to be served up on silver platters. The pope’s words, we are told, are too little and too late. Hitchens demands that the pope remove Cardinal Bernard Law from his sinecure at the church of St. Mary Major in Rome .

The hate in some of the victims groups scares me (as do their alleged links with trial lawyers). I gave the keynote address at the founding meeting of SNAP — in those days I was one of the few priests that publicly supported the victims. They shouted hate at me even though I was on their side. “If you attack your friends,” I warned them, “you won’t have any friends.” I was wrong. The tort lawyers seem to be their friends.

I escaped from their ire at the end of my talk. Everyone wanted to tell me in raw detail what was done to them. Somehow I had become personally responsible for the corruption in the priesthood and in the church. The victims have much to complain about and solid reasons to hate. Yet hatred and the need for revenge eats up the soul. The words of Jesus and the pope about forgiveness are dismissed. There must be more retribution before one can talk about forgiveness. Yet in fact forgiveness and reconciliation are psychologically essential as a prelude for getting on with one’s life. I am not saying that there should be no more suits, no more challenges, no immoderate language, no more attempts to trump up charges against every cardinal in sight. But rage that never ends and by definition cannot end does not hurt the enemy but hurts only oneself. One must finally give up the need for revenge and move ! on because it concedes one more victory to the victimizer.

The pope must be more careful in the future about the men he appoints as bishops. There is no room anymore in the church, caught as it is in chaos and anger, for mean-spirited, insecure, vindictive, ill-tempered, repressively, ignorant bishops, especially those who find emotional satisfaction from lording it over the laity and the clergy. Canon law is necessary in the church, perhaps sometimes a necessary evil, but it is not a substitute for the Gospel.

If a bishop has lost his credibility, then he must go.

Tensions between various factions in the American church now are often between those who accept the changes of the Vatican Council and those who want to undo them, with the latter demanding power to purge the former. Thus the Cardinal Newman Society exists to take control of the Catholic faculties and constrain them to teach “orthodoxy,” by which they mean the same doctrinal formulas that were in vain pounded into the students’ heads before 1960.

That is not likely to happen if for no other reason than that is not the way you educate young people today — or ever. It never did work even in the 1950s, when the “hit the box, hit the rail” spirituality flourished in the realm of the Golden Dome.

Moreover, a sympathetic and restrained approach to students is a far more efficient form of teaching than “hit the box, hit the rail,” as the emergence of movements such as the Alliance for Catholic Education proves — a group of young people at the Dome fervently dedicated to the Catholic education of the poor. If the Cardinal Newman Society should take over, the alliance would be dead.


tpdoyle@copper.net wrote:

Andy Greeley has assisted the victims of clergy abuse over the years by calling attention to the problem and correctly identifying the its root causes. I am surprised and saddened by this article and by Fr. Greeley’s negative remarks about SNAP. I am also surprised that he made some blatantly incorrect statements.

I was at the 1992 gathering…which was organized by VOCAL (later called Linkup) and not by SNAP. I was also present at Fr. Greeley’s outstanding talk. I still have the copy I kept. Contrary to what he says however, I do not remember any angry victims attacking him or shouting at him. On the other hand, Fr. Greeley has never gotten to know the depth of harm done to clergy victims. I doubt he has any idea as to how much additional pain and suffering the bishops have heaped on victims by their abusive tactics. Their anger, whether its irrational or not, is fully understandable because they have been dealing with Church leaders for years and have heard nothing but lies, threats and devaluation. Before Fr. Greeley or anyone else criticizes the anger of clergy abuse victims, they need to know the victims and also need to have a clear understanding of what these people have gone through. I agree that the rage too often exhibited is counterproductive and and probably brings the most pain to the victims filled with anger and hate. I have been deeply involved with clergy abuse victims for over 20 years. I have been viciously attacked by victims who don’t even know me but are not able to deal with their anger so they direct it at what they think are suitable targets. I have learned to live with the anger and rage directed at me and at others. I don’t agree with it and believe that there are suitable ways to control it, yet I understand where it comes from and I endure it because I also know the depth and viciousness of the harm done to these people by Catholic clerics as well as the harm done by bishops who treated them as if they were the enemy. Finally, victims, their families and their supporters have heard 24 years of promises never kept and 24 years of dishonest assertions. They have endured being re-victimized by the very system that produced the the dysfunctional clerics who perpetrated the unspeakable abuse of countless vulnerable people.

Constantine’s Sword, the Film Documentary, Has Been Released

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews by James Carroll is one of the most influential books I’ve read in the past 6 years in my quest to learn more about the Catholic Church and its history, as I try to fathom the root causes of the clergy sex abuse scandal.

I recommend the book highly.

Now Constantine’s Sword, the film documentary, has been released.

Click here to go to the film’s website to find out more.

IMPORTANT from Sister Maureen: Church needs to act on sex abuse

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Commentary by Sister Maureen Paul Turlish in the Philadelphia Inquirer, 4.23.2008.

Thanks for continuing to speak out, Sister Maureen, and for providing us with an excellent summary of what the Institutional Church is doing, as opposed to saying, about clergy sex abuse. “Sounding brass and tinkling cymbals,” indeed.

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Church needs to act on sex abuse

By Maureen Paul Turlish

Pope Benedict XVI last week lamented his “deep shame” over the clergy sex-abuse scandal, decrying the “enormous pain” that individuals and communities have suffered from “gravely immoral behavior” by priests. He vowed to “do what is possible so this cannot happen again in the future.”

Do what is possible?

Not one bishop has been removed from office because of his own complicity, collusion or cover-up of the church’s continuing sexual-abuse problems. Nor has anyone been forced to resign for violating Canon Law or criminal or civil laws.

Even when the Archdiocese of Boston imploded in 2002, church authorities were quick to say former Archbishop Bernard Law’s resignation had nothing to do with his leadership style.

Do what is possible?

Some bishops in their own dioceses continue to fight the release of records, even the names and locations of known predators, in their episcopal jurisdictions. The Portland, Oregon, Archdiocese has been dribbling records out to the public as recently as last week while the Archdiocese of Los Angeles continues to oppose releasing its thousands of files.

Rest assured that the institutional church’s loud protestations of commitment to victims of sexual abuse in the future offer neither absolution nor justice for the sins and the crimes of the past.

The “scandal” that attaches to the church’s sexual abuse problems is that there was, in fact, a cover-up of unimaginable proportions that aided and abetted the continued sexual abuse and molestation of thousands of children, as well as young men, women and vulnerable adults.

Do what is possible?

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has hailed diocesan programs across the country celebrating this month as Child Abuse Awareness Month. “We can never rest when it comes to protecting children and teenagers,” said Bishop Gregory Aymond, chairman of the conference’s Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.

However, Catholic conferences and church lobbyists in such states as Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Colorado and Ohio have been ruthless in their opposition to the complete removal of statutes of limitation regarding the sexual abuse of minors.

Superior Court Judge Robert B. Young ruled last Wednesday that Delaware’s Child Victims Act does not violate the state constitution, based on the fact that federal courts already have set a precedent for upholding similar laws. The act was passed in 2007 to eliminate the civil statute of limitations for child-sexual abuse and to allow a two-year window during which previously barred suits could be filed.

Removing statutes of limitations is the single most effective method of holding sexual predators – and any possibly complicit or enabling individuals or institutions – accountable along with the inclusion of “window legislation” such as Delaware’s to bring forth previously time-barred cases of abuse.

I love my church, and together with Pope Benedict XVI I am ashamed, deeply ashamed of what has been done to children in God’s name. I fully expect my church leadership to initiate actions that more faithfully follow their words.

This is possible.

Anything less is “sounding brass and tinkling cymbals” (1 Corinthians 13:1-2) because words without action remain hollow.

SNAP: Pope Visit Prompts New Claims of Abuse by Priests

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

From Newsday, 4.21.2008.

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Group: Pope visit prompts new claims of abuse by priests



The pope’s visit and his acknowledging sexual abuse by priests within the church has prompted dozens of people to come forward and claim they were molested as children, the president of a victim support group said yesterday.

“We’ve been inundated with calls,” said Barbara Blaine, president of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a national organization. “Several are saying that they never told anyone.”

Any media coverage of the issue often prompts new people to come forward, Blaine said, noting several hundred calls her organization received in 2002, when America’s Catholic bishops approved a toughened sex abuse policy after scores of molestation charges against priests became public.

In his address to the nation’s Catholic bishops Wednesday, Pope Benedict XVI said that the sexual abuse scandal had been “very badly handled.”

The pope met later with victims of clergy sexual abuse, in a historic visit.

“It was because the topic was addressed and for some people [who came forward] it was because they’re angry,” Blaine said. “Others just want to be counted.” Her group, formed two decades ago, has about 8,000 members today, Blaine said.

“We think it would have been far better if he had backed up the statements with action,” like sanctioning bishops who failed to report and discipline priests, she said.

Hauppauge resident Dan Bartley, president of Voice of the Faithful, a national organization of lay Catholics seeking church reforms, said, “It’s a start,” but added: “We’re still in a situation where the underlying issues that caused the sexual abuse crisis in the first place remain unaddressed.”

The Rev. Robert Hoatson of West Orange, N.J., who helped co-found a victims group, Road to Recovery Inc., said they’ve received calls from five new victims in the last three days, one from Suffolk County.

“For most of the victims who do pick up the phone and call, it’s the beginning of a healing process,” Blaine said.