29 April 2010

Gloria in excelsis Deo!

By now you have probably heard the news but in case you haven't, the Holy Father yesterday approved the English translation of the third typical edition of the Roman Missal.

Addressing the members of the Vox Clara committee, His Holiness said (with my emphases):

Dear Cardinals,

Dear Brother Bishops and Priests,

Members and Consultors of the Vox Clara Committee,

I thank you for the work that Vox Clara has done over the last eight years, assisting and advising the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in fulfilling its responsibilities with regard to the English translations of liturgical texts. This has been a truly collegial enterprise. Not only are all five continents represented in the membership of the Committee, but you have been assiduous in drawing together contributions from Bishops’ Conferences in English-speaking territories all over the world. I thank you for the great labour you have expended in your study of the translations and in processing the results of the many consultations that have been conducted. I thank the expert assistants for offering the fruits of their scholarship in order to render a service to the universal Church. And I thank the Superiors and Officials of the Congregation for their daily, painstaking work of overseeing the preparation and translation of texts that proclaim the truth of our redemption in Christ, the Incarnate Word of God.

Saint Augustine spoke beautifully of the relation between John the Baptist, the vox clara that resounded on the banks of the Jordan, and the Word that he spoke. A voice, he said, serves to share with the listener the message that is already in the speaker’s heart. Once the word has been spoken, it is present in the hearts of both, and so the voice, its task having been completed, can fade away (cf. Sermon 293). I welcome the news that the English translation of the Roman Missal will soon be ready for publication, so that the texts you have worked so hard to prepare may be proclaimed in the liturgy that is celebrated across the anglophone world. Through these sacred texts and the actions that accompany them, Christ will be made present and active in the midst of his people. The voice that helped bring these words to birth will have completed its task.

A new task will then present itself, one which falls outside the direct competence of Vox Clara, but which in one way or another will involve all of you – the task of preparing for the reception of the new translation by clergy and lay faithful. Many will find it hard to adjust to unfamiliar texts after nearly forty years of continuous use of the previous translation. The change will need to be introduced with due sensitivity, and the opportunity for catechesis that it presents will need to be firmly grasped. I pray that in this way any risk of confusion or bewilderment will be averted, and the change will serve instead as a springboard for a renewal and a deepening of Eucharistic devotion all over the English-speaking world.

Dear Brother Bishops, Reverend Fathers, Friends, I want you to know how much I appreciate the great collaborative endeavour to which you have contributed. Soon the fruits of your labours will be made available to English-speaking congregations everywhere. As the prayers of God’s people rise before him like incense (cf. Psalm 140:2), may the Lord’s blessing come down upon all who have contributed their time and expertise to crafting the texts in which those prayers are expressed. Thank you, and may you be abundantly rewarded for your generous service to God’s people.
Translation via Zenit.

28 April 2010

They're still trying

The New York Times is still trying to directly connect Pope Benedict XVI to the sexual abuse scandal (with my emphases and comments):

VIENNA — As Pope Benedict XVI has come under scrutiny for his handling of sexual abuse cases, both his supporters and his critics have paid fresh attention to the way he responded to a sexual abuse scandal in Austria in the 1990s [Remember: the CDF was not responsible for these cases until 2001], one of the most damaging to confront the church in Europe.

Defenders of Benedict cite his role in dealing with Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër of Vienna as evidence that he moved assertively, if quietly, against abusers. They point to the fact that Cardinal Groër left office six months after accusations against him of molesting boys first appeared in the Austrian news media in 1995. The future pope, they say, favored a full canonical investigation, only to be blocked by other ranking officials in the Vatican.

A detailed look at the rise and fall of the clergyman, who died in 2003, and the involvement of Benedict, a Bavarian theologian with many connections to German-speaking Austria, paints a more complex picture.

Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had the ear of Pope John Paul II and was able to block a favored candidate for archbishop of Vienna, clearing the way for Father Groër to assume the post in 1986, say senior church officials and priests with knowledge of the process. His critics question how this influence failed him nine years later in seeking a fuller investigation into the case [just because a person has influence upon another does not mean he controls the other person].

Benedict’s ambiguous role has made the Groër case a kind of Rorschach test of the future pope’s treatment of sexual abuse during his long stewardship of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s powerful doctrinal body.

There are indications that Benedict had a lower tolerance for sexual misconduct by elite clergy members than other top Vatican officials [Finally, they're acknowledging this].

Unlike John Paul, his predecessor, Benedict has as pope apologized and met with sexual abuse victims. But while he often, as a cardinal, used his clout to enforce doctrine and sideline clergy members whose views diverged from his own, he seemed less willing at that time to aggressively pursue sexual abusers [Really: why is this so difficult? As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger did not jurisdiction over these cases until 2001. It seems journalists have forgotten how to research their stories before writing the template].

Msgr. Helmut Schüller, a former vicar general of the Vienna Archdiocese, says the church cannot win back the trust of Catholics unless the pope is more forthcoming about his past role in managing abuse scandals [What role? He had no jurisdiction of these cases. This Monsignor, though helpful to the media, does not seem to know what he's talking about].

“He cannot expect others to be transparent, like the Irish bishops he appeals to in his letter, and not be transparent himself,” said Monsignor Schüller, who until 2005 was the archdiocese’s ombudsman for sexual abuse cases.

The Groër case occurred before the most recent public uproar over sexual abuse in the American church, and also before Cardinal Ratzinger was formally given the task of supervising the Vatican’s response to such scandals in 2001 [Aha! So they do know this! Now...what can't they put two and two together...?].

But it was also not an ordinary case of abuse [Is there such a thing as an "ordinary case of abuse"?]. It involved a clergyman, Cardinal Groër, with influential friends in the Roman Curia, the church’s administrative body, and a reported bond with John Paul over their shared devotion to the Virgin Mary. The results of a Vatican investigation at Cardinal Groër’s abbey in 1998 have never been released by the Vatican.

Four Austrian bishops, including his successor in Vienna, Archbishop Christoph Schönborn, now a cardinal, have deemed the accusations against Cardinal Groër accurate with “moral certainty.” [And this has what to do with Pope Benedict?] Some of his young victims, whose estimated number ranges from half a dozen to 30, later recounted how he would ask them to come to his room for confession, demand they take off their clothes and then abuse them.

Thousands of Austrian Catholics left the church as a result of the Groër scandal and many more joined grass-roots movements challenging Rome’s centralized control and conservatism [Oh? Have we evidence of this? Where are the references in this article? I don't know that many left the Church over this particular scandal, but thousands? That seems an exaggeration to me].

For the rest of his life, until his death seven years ago, Cardinal Groër never confessed [that cannot be known] or faced trial [that is not the fault of Pope Benedict XVI or of the Church. Where is the author's outrage toward the civil authorities who failed in this matter? If four Cardinals could arrive at "moral certitude," surely it couldn't have been too difficult for the civil authorities to find something. But, remember, these attacks on Pope Benedict are not really in the search for real justice]. His punishment was to withdraw from public life and, with the exception of a brief but contentious period at a German convent, live in another convent that he had founded years earlier.

The future Cardinal Groër, a Benedictine monk who organized high-profile monthly pilgrimages to a shrine in rural eastern Austria where he said he once had an apparition of the Virgin Mary, was a surprise choice when he was named archbishop on July 15, 1986, priests and senior church officials say [Why was he a surprise?].

A Favorite Is Blocked

The favorite on the final short list was a conservative clergyman, the Rev. Kurt Krenn [apparently he wasn't too favored], who had close ties to some of John Paul’s closest confidants, two senior officials with knowledge of the process said.

“The energetic protest of Cardinal Ratzinger was decisive in removing Kurt Krenn from the list,” said one of the officials [for what reasons?], who worked at the Vienna Archdiocese at the time and who declined to be identified because the procedure is confidential.

Benedict, known for his rigorous theology, objected that his Austrian colleague, Father Krenn, did not have a Ph.D. in theology, but rather in philosophy, say officials and priests in Vienna who knew both men [surely there was something more to it than this or I doubt he launched an "energetic protest." That really seems rather out of character].

Father Krenn, who became a bishop in 1987, also had a reputation for being a loose cannon [Ah, now we find the real reason for Ratzinger's objections, I suspect]. In 2004, he had to retire early after dismissing the discovery at his seminary of a large cache of child pornography and images of young priests having sex as “boyish pranks” [it seems as though Ratinzer's judgment about him was correct; he ought to be praised for this. Imagine what might have happened had Kerr been named Archbishop].

Bishop Krenn, said to be in poor health, was unavailable for an interview.

The Rev. Rudolf Schermann, at the time in charge of two parishes and now the publisher of the weekly magazine Kirche-In, said Benedict’s veto effectively propelled Cardinal Groër into the archdiocese [but is that Ratzinger's fault?].

In the words of Cardinal Schönborn, who first met Cardinal Ratzinger in 1972 when he was the future pope’s student and has been close to him ever since, Benedict “was the second most important man in the Vatican and had without doubt the ear of the pope” [this no one doubts].

But blocking Bishop Krenn does not appear to have been accompanied by a thorough vetting of Cardinal Groër, who was already under suspicion within his own abbey of sexually abusing minors and young men [which, again, is not the fault of Ratzinger; neither he nor his office had authority for "vetting" potential bishops].

The Rev. Udo Fischer, a priest who attended the Hollabrunn boys’ seminary in eastern Austria in the 1960s and early 1970s, where Cardinal Groër had lived and taught for decades, said that in 1985 he personally warned the abbot of their local Benedictine monastery about Cardinal Groër’s inappropriate behavior with boys [so, where is the anger against the abbot? What did the abbot do with this information?], whom he often referred to as “little angels.”

Accusations Unreported

Father Fischer told Abbot Clemens Lashofer of Göttweig Abbey that he himself had been molested by Cardinal Groër when they worked together on a youth movement devoted to the Virgin Mary in the early 1970s, and that he had observed him acting inappropriately with others who were not willing to come forward.

When Father Fischer learned about Cardinal Groër’s appointment as archbishop, he said he sent an angry telegram to Abbot Lashofer and asked why he had not spoken up. The abbot, who was head of Austria’s Benedictine order at the time, claimed he had never been questioned by the Vatican’s representative, the nuncio [that's a cheap dodge. But, still, where is the anger against this abbot who did not make his knowledge known? And, why did Father Fischer not contact the nuncio directly himself?].

“If they really did not ask him, they did not want to know,” Father Fischer said [or they didn't know the abbot knew anything]. Abbot Lashofer died last year [still no anger against him?].

Priests and church law experts say that the process of due diligence the Vatican performs on candidates for bishop is usually rigorous.

Members of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, whose ranks included Cardinal Ratzinger at the time [one among many who were not tasked personally with the vetting process], tend to review detailed files about the candidates before deciding which ones to recommend to the pope [compiled by others].

“It is a very complicated procedure,” said Lorenz Wolf, judicial vicar of the archdiocese in Munich. “It is very improbable that someone could hide something” [improbable, maybe, but still quite possible].

The rumors surrounding Cardinal Groër’s transgressions went beyond the circle of those who suffered at his hands. Josef Votzi, the journalist who broke the scandal in 1995 in the magazine Profil, is another Hollabrunn alumnus and said that even among staff members of the Vienna Archdiocese he interviewed when Father Groër was named archbishop, his history was “an open secret” [if his activity was "an open secret," how could Votzi "break the scandal" at all?].

In 1995, a victim came forward, telling Profil that the archbishop, then his religion teacher and confessor, had sexually abused him for four years two decades earlier at Hollabrunn.

In Rome a few weeks later, Cardinal Schönborn said, Cardinal Ratzinger told him behind closed doors that he wanted to set up a fact-finding commission to establish clarity [I don't doubt Schonborn's words, but even so Ratzinger did not have jurisdiction yet over such cases. He may well have wanted to launch an investigation but he himself couldn't give the order to do so]. “That for me is one of the best indications that I know from personal experience that today’s pope had a very decisive, clear way of handling abuse cases,” he said.

In a subsequent conversation later that year, Benedict “explicitly regretted that the commission had not been set up,” Cardinal Schönborn said. “It became clear very quickly that the current that prevailed in Rome was not the one demanding clarity here. Cardinal Ratzinger told me that the other side, the diplomatic side, had prevailed.”

Where John Paul II stood himself remains unclear [but were Ratzinger stood is clear as ever, and it is not where the media claim he stood. Even their own articles demonstrate this, even if they cannot see it], church officials in Vienna with knowledge of the case said. The “diplomatic side,” they said, was led by the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, and Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the personal secretary of John Paul II.

Cardinal Schönborn said he could not explain why Cardinal Ratzinger had so much influence with the pope on other matters, but lacked the clout to have Cardinal Groër investigated for abuse [only the late Pope could explain this]. “I am not responsible to explain everything,” he said. “I just know that that is how it was.”

Nor did Benedict’s subsequent communications on the matter shed much light on the scandal. In letters he sent to Austrian clergy members after the scandal, he made no mention of the former archbishop’s transgressions [which, given the civil authorities also did not act, is most likely because the transgressions were not proven], instead warning bishops against ceding ground on the reformist proposals of the Catholic grass-roots movements that had sprung up [note: the letters he wrote were not dealing with sexual abuse. One doesn't often talk about wars in China when writing about a hamburger].

In 1996, Cardinal Groër was named head of a priory in Germany then overseen by Göttweig Abbey and still appeared at official church functions. This sparked a vocal rebellion in Göttweig in late 1997, among some of his former students and victims, who called for his resignation.

Faced with such upheaval, church officials removed Cardinal Groër from the priory and sent him back in January to the convent where he had lived after he was forced out in 1995. Shortly afterward, John Paul II approved a Vatican investigation.

‘Serious Punishment’

Abbot Franziskus Heereman, who helped conduct the inquiry, or visitation, says that Cardinal Ratzinger was the driving force inside the Vatican behind the investigation [but I thought the NYT said Ratzinger was at fault for little action being done? Where is a public apology and correction?].

After the one-week visitation ended in March, Cardinal Groër was removed from the priory (for “health reasons”), told to stay out of public view and sent to a convent in eastern Germany for six months [hmm...that didn't take very long, did it?]. “Imposing on a cardinal to stay out of the public view and forbidding him to take part in official ceremonies is a very serious punishment,” Cardinal Schönborn said.

But no result of the investigation was ever made public, and Cardinal Groër never faced a church court or even a public rebuke from Rome, let alone a secular trial [again I ask: where is the anger against the civil authorities? Where is the investigation into their lack of action?].

Many in the Austrian clergy criticized what they saw as an attempt by Rome to protect a cardinal while ignoring victims demanding justice. Prior Gottfried Schätz, the No. 2 at Göttweig Abbey who had helped lead the outcry against Cardinal Groër, left in September 1998 and requested removal from the priesthood, which he was granted unusually quickly, within a year, Father Fischer said.

Father Schermann said, “They did as much as they had at each point in time given the public outcry, and no more.”

Fr. Tolton

Past the Boundary: The Journey of Augustine Tolton from Jonathan Sullivan on Vimeo.

WYD 2011 Promo Video

27 April 2010

Fr. Selvester on the Foreign Office memo

Over at Shouts in the Piazza, Fr. Guy Selvester has an excellet post on the recent British Foreign Office memo about various activities to have in conjunction with the upcoming papal visit. His text follows, with my emphases:

The sex scandal crisis, and I use the word "crisis" decidedly, is definitely making for uncomfortable press for the Catholic Church. This is true all over the world but, perhaps, nowhere more so than in the U.K. where the press is already known to be really lacking in any semblance of decency or journalistic integrity. I say that knowing full well how the press in the USA is perceived and actually IS. Still, compared to some of what passes for "journalism" in the U.K. the American press all seem like integrity personified! The Holy Father is, of course, visiting the U.K. in September so a focused interest on the part of the Brits is somewhat understandable.

As I say, the crisis involving the sexual abuse of minors and its cover-up by so many bishops around the world in their own dioceses (NOT acting as the tendrils of a Vatican-led international conspiracy, I might add, but screwing things up all on their own) is awful, tragic, uncomfortable, embarrassing and unacceptable. It will, I believe, be good in the end that the truth is coming out. The only way to correct the grievous errors is to call them what they are and examine them in the garish light of day. So, as much as we hate it this kind of examination must be done. It will lead to a better Church in the long run.

What's really interesting is that it has brought into sharper focus how much so many people around the world HATE the Catholic Church and for all sorts of reasons, most of which have to do with their own selfishness and a gross misunderstanding of what the Church believes and teaches or why. This is just ignorance, plain and simple. And, of course, ignorance is a key ingredient in bigotry. That's what all this so-called "criticism" of the Church is: bigotry. It's simply blind, foolish, naked hatred for Catholicism, for Christianity, for religion, for authority, etc. The list goes on and on. And leading the way is Old Blighty, arguably the most vehemently anti-Catholic country on the face of the Earth.

After the recent ill-advised memo from the Foreign Office in London concerning the pope's upcoming visit and the brouhaha that ensued because of how many Catholics (and others) found it puerile and insulting (I am willing to believe it was just meant to be a joke but, still, the Foreign Office of a government can't afford to have those kinds of jokes going any farther than the gang at the water cooler) there has been a flood of commentary in the British press. Interestingly enough it, too, has simply brought to the fore not only those who legitimately have complaints against the Church and its poor handling of this sex abuse crisis, but every other sort of person who feels it's now open season on the Catholic Church and all it stands for (which, of course, was what the press, and lots of others, were hoping for in the first place). In a recent article in the Times, the religion correspondent, Ruth Gledhill wrote:

"What this document illustrates is that repulsive sense of entitlement we sometimes see in the over-educated young and privileged, combined with a taken-for-granted anti-Catholic prejudice that does still persist in our nation, more than a century and a half after the restoration of the hierarchy."

I couldn't have said it better myself. Sadly, the same could be said about the United States.

The Church has mishandled the credible cases of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy. It is now paying the just price for that grievous fault and, will, I think, end up the better for it. How sad indeed that those whose ignorance, self-centeredness and hostility to anything that won't justify them in all their appetites and desires will seize this moment to denigrate a community that not only is held to be sacred by over a billion people worldwide and is seen by them as the instrument of God's salvation to the world but also provides more education, health care, financial assistance, comfort, social services and counseling to people all over the globe regardless of their faith (or lack of it) than any other non-governmental group.

When are people finally going to learn how to distinguish between legitimate criticism of wrong-doing and prejudicial caterwauling? In England, apparently never.

Joseph Bottum on anti-Catholicism and the scandal

Joseph Bottum had an excellent piece titled "Anti-Catholicism, Again" a couple of weeks ago in The Weekly Standard.

His text follows, with my emphases and comments:

The day the Antichrist is ripped from his papal throne, true religion will guide the world. Or perhaps it’s the day the last priest is gutted, and his entrails used to strangle the last king, as Voltaire demanded. Yes, that’s when we will see at last the reign of bright, clean, enlightened reason—the release of mankind from the shadows of medieval superstition. War will end. The proletariat will awaken from its opiate dream. The oppression of women will stop. And science at last will be free from the shackles of Rome.

For almost 500 years now, Catholicism has been an available answer, a mystical key, to that deep, childish, and existentially compelling question: Why aren’t we there yet? Why is progress still unfinished? Why is promise still unfulfilled? Why aren’t we perfect? Why aren’t we changed?

Despite our rejection of the past, the future still hasn’t arrived. Despite our advances, corruption continues. It needs an explanation. It requires a response. And in every modernizing movement—from Protestant Reformers to French Revolutionaries, Communists to Freudians, Temperance Leaguers and suffragettes to biotechnologists and science-fiction futurists—someone in despair eventually stumbles on the answer: We have been thwarted by the Catholic Church.

Or by the Jews, of course. Perhaps it’s no accident that anti-Semitism should also be making a reappearance these days. The poet Peter Viereck’s famous line—“Catholic-baiting is the anti-Semitism of the liberals”—gets quoted in too many contexts to express the connection anymore, and, God knows, the history of Catholicism has plenty of anti-Semitic sins to expiate. Still, Jews and Catholics do have this much in common: In moments of uncertainty and doubt, the people of the West go haring back again to their old gods and traditional answers—blaming the Jews and the Catholic Church.

As it happens, the question Why aren’t we there yet? is, in its way, a biblical question. Christianity spread across the world the Bible’s new idea of history—born from the vision that God is a God who entered time, and time is moving toward a goal. Even modern nonbelievers still somehow believe this part; in important metaphysical ways, their progressive view of the world remains Christian, albeit with Christ stripped out.

Innumerable books have been written about the good effects of this forward-aiming view of history, from Christopher Dawson’s old Progress and Religion to Rodney Stark’s recent The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success. Perhaps not enough has been said, however, about one of its bad effects. As we wait for the Second Coming—or its many secular stand-ins—an odd, hysterical impatience can take hold. We worked so hard, and still the change in human nature didn’t come. Still heaven didn’t get built on earth. Evil must have intervened, and since the past is the evil against which progress fights, what more obvious villain than the Catholic Church, that last-surviving remnant of the ancient darkness?

Welcome to the Year of Our Lord 2010. Welcome to our own odd hysteria.

The best sign of such hysterical moments may be the difficulty of anything sane or sensible being heard in them. As Newsweek noted on April 8, the surveys and studies over the past 30 years show “little reason to conclude that sexual abuse is mostly a Catholic issue.” Nonetheless, in 2002, after the last set of revelations, “a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll found that 64 percent” of Americans “thought Catholic priests ‘frequently’ abused children.”

A poll released on April 13 this year found that between 8 and 11 percent of Canadians say they know personally a victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest—which works out to well over 2 million people, out of a national population over 33 million. Given the number of Canadian claims over the last 50 years, that would require every abuse victim to know thousands and thousands of people—but the poll respondents aren’t lying, exactly. They’re responding, quite accurately, to an atmosphere, reinterpreting the past and reinventing the present to conform to the ambient understanding of the world.

Even in such an atmosphere, however, it’s worth setting down the sane, sensible thing to be said about the new round of Catholic child-abuse cases that has obsessed first Europe and now America in recent weeks.

The scandal has two parts, which need to be distinguished. The first part—the more evil, disgusting part—is over, thank God. Every sufficiently large group has a small percentage of members with sick sexual desires. By their very calling, Christian ministers ought to have a lower percentage. For a variety of reasons, however, Catholics suffered through a corruption of their priests, centered around 1975, with the clergy’s percentage of sexual predators reaching new and vile levels.

The Church now has in place stringent child-protection procedures, and even with obsession over the scandals raging in Europe, almost all the cover-ups now being discussed, real and imagined, are more than a decade old. Besides, the younger priests, formed in the light of John Paul II’s papacy, seem vastly more faithful to Catholic spiritual practice and moral teaching.

Still, the second part of the scandal remains, for it involves not the mostly dead criminals but the living institution. The bishops who ruled over those corrupt priests in the 1970s and 1980s catastrophically failed to act when they needed to.

Some of this came from the short-sighted and anti-theological advice that dominated Catholic institutional thinking in that era. The lawyers told the bishops, as lawyers do, never to admit anything, and the psychologists told them not to be so medieval. There’s an irony when the 2009 Murphy Report, the official Irish investigation, noted, “The Church authorities failed to implement most of their own canon-law rules” on defrocking and trying priests. From the 1950s through the 1970s, those same Church authorities were blamed for having the old canon-law rules, which lacked compassion and didn’t recognize the psychiatric profession’s supposed advances in curing pedophilia. And so, instead of being defrocked, guilty priests were often sent off to treatment facilities and, once pronounced cured, were reassigned.

The bishops of the time don’t get off that easy, however. Lawyers and psychologists contributed to the mess, but the much larger portion of the failures came simply from the bishops’ desire to avoid bad publicity and, like military officers, to protect the men in their unit when those men get themselves into trouble. For these episcopal failures, every Catholic is now paying—in nearly $3 billion of American donations lost in court judgments, in suspicion of their pastors, and in deep shame.

The general figures of child abuse in the world today are shocking. One widely reported study in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence suggested the United States has 39 million victims of childhood sexual abuse. It’s a little hard to believe. More than 12 percent of the population were abused at least once as children? But Charol Shakeshaft’s respected study insists that 6 to 10 percent of recent public-school students have been molested. Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, claims 10 percent is a conservative estimate. John Jay College’s Margaret Leland Smith says her numbers come closer to 20 percent.

All this, while (as the papal biographer George Weigel points out) the most recent audit found six credible cases of sexual abuse by Catholic clerics in 2009, in an American church of 68 million members, with all the perpetrators reported to the police and stripped of priestly faculties by their bishops. “The only hard data that has been made public by any denomination comes from John Jay College’s study of Catholic priests,” an April 8 Newsweek story noted.

Limiting their study to plausible accusations made between 1950 and 1992, John Jay researchers reported that about 4 percent of the 110,000 priests active during those years had been accused of sexual misconduct involving children. Specifically, 4,392 complaints (ranging from “sexual talk” to rape) were made against priests by 10,667 victims.

“I don’t like it when Catholic leaders fall back on the ‘child abuse happens everywhere’ defense,” Ross Douthat observed on the New York Times website. “I do like it, however, when mainstream media outlets do their job and report that there’s no evidence that the rate of sex abuse is higher among the Catholic clergy than among any other group.” In fact, it’s lower. If the John Jay study is right, the rate of clerical abuse over the past 50 years, including the peak of the crimes around 1975, was considerably lower by Allen’s figures, and much lower by Smith’s figures, than the abuse rate of the general male population.

Then there’s Ireland—ground zero for the European scandals raging now, just as Boston was for the American scandals back in 2002. Brendan O’Neill, editor of the Spiked-Online website and no particular friend of the Church, points out that the Irish government’s official commission spent 10 years, from 1999 to 2009, intensively inviting, from Irish-born people around the world, reports of abuse at Irish religious institutions. Out of the hundreds of thousands of students who passed through Catholic schools in the 85 years from 1914 to 1999, the commission managed to gather 381 claims—with 35 percent of those charges made against lay staff and fellow pupils rather than priests.

“It might be unfashionable to say the following but it is true nonetheless,” O’Neill concludes. “Very, very small numbers of children in the care or teaching of the Catholic Church in Europe in recent decades were sexually abused, but very, very many of them actually received a decent standard of education.”

And yet, precisely because priests are supposed to behave better than other people do, fulfilling their vows of celibacy, it’s not an answer to point out that higher percentages of children are abused by other segments of the population. There were never a lot of these Catholic cases, but there were enough—with every single one a horror, both in the act itself and in the failure of the bishops to react forcefully and quickly. The Catholic Church didn’t start the worldwide epidemic of child sexual abuse, and it didn’t materially advance it. But the bureaucracy of the Church sure as hell didn’t do enough to fight that epidemic when it broke out among its own clergy.

All of which is pretty much what Pope Benedict preached at a Mass in Rome on April 15 and repeated when he met with abuse victims in Malta on April 18. “I have to say that we Christians, even in recent times, have often avoided the word repentance, which seems too harsh,” he explained. “Now under the attacks of the world, which speaks to us of our sins, we see that the ability to repent is a grace, and we see how it is necessary to repent, that is, to recognize what is wrong in our life.”

What more does anyone want from the Catholic Church?

Everything, is the answer
. This, they think, will finally bring about whatever desire for the Church they’ve been nursing for decades. An end to what they call the sickness of clerical celibacy, for example. Or to the unfair authority they say the bishops hold, or to the lavender-tinged homosexual gang they imagine is running the seminaries, or to the leftist Jesuits they believe dominate Catholic higher education.

Liberal Catholics see the scandals as a chance to discredit conservatives, and conservatives as a chance to discredit liberals. Maureen Dowd, who regularly devotes her New York Times column to bite-sized rehashes of Mary McCarthy’s old Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, opines on “the Church’s Judas moment.” The liberal theologian Hans Küng accuses the pope of directly engineering the cover-up. The left-leaning National Catholic Reporter declares it “the largest institutional crisis in centuries, possibly in church history,” and another liberal Catholic magazine demands theological reform, to be achieved by arraigning “Benedict in the Dock.” All this, while the hard traditionalist Gerald Warner takes to the pages of the Telegraph in England to blame the crimes on the liberalizing changes of Vatican II.

Everyone is working, whether deliberately or not, to keep the hysteria alive. Abortion supporters have seized on the news as a way to damage the pro-life movement, and proponents of the recent American health care bill are using it to punish their opponents for giving them trouble during the congressional vote. The tattered figures of old anti-Catholic Protestantism—in isolated Bible churches of the fever-swamp right and isolated Episcopal chanceries of the fever-swamp left—feel newly empowered. Feminists, homosexual activists, therapists, talk-show hosts, plaintiff’s attorneys: The scandals are a hobbyhorse all the world hopes to ride to victory.

Several Catholic commentators have charged that the European and American press is out to destroy the Church. “The New York Times is conducting a vendetta against this traditionalist pope in news stories, editorials and columns,” Pat Buchanan announced in a column on April 6. But this, too, only adds to the hysteria. For all the journalistic sins that have been committed in recent weeks, what the media primarily want is a story to sell—and since the narrative of hypocrisy remains nearly the only moral shape a modern newspaper story can have, a tale of immoral clergy is ready-made for reporters.

And then the news begins to feed on itself. Each story about Catholicism makes the next story bigger, more worth pursuing. The reported cases are mostly decades old, but that doesn’t matter, once the frenzy catches hold. Anti-Catholic motives in the media are beside the point. The utter conventionality of reporters, together with the cycles of the news business, explains more than enough. Catholicism in general, and the pope in particular, are news right now, and news sells.

The self-denominated New Atheists—Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and the rest—have latched on, as well. The pope “should be in a police station being quizzed about his role in covering up and thereby enabling the rape of children,” opined one British writer. He should be in chains “before the International Criminal Court,” said another. Religion is the cause of evil, they know, and so this evil must have been caused by religion—which is why their lawyers have tried to arrange for Benedict XVI’s arrest during his trip to England this fall.

Add it all up, and you get a time in which the European papers are howling about “systematic rape and torture,” “a clinging and systematic evil that is beyond the power of exorcism to dispel,” and the Catholics’ “international criminal conspiracy to protect child-rapists.” A particularly bizarre moment came on March 29, when Mehmet Ali Agca’s views were published. “The Turkish man who shot Pope John Paul II says Pope Benedict XVI should resign over the Catholic Church’s handling of clerical sex-abuse cases,” the AP wire item explained.

He’s hardly alone in demanding the pope’s resignation, but the more likely scenario is that the whole thing will kill Benedict. The man turned 83 last week; he’s old, and he looks ill and miserable in his recent appearances. Bad as his loss would be—yet one more penance Catholics would pay for those corrupt priests and the bishops who failed to confront them—the conclave to choose his successor would be even worse.

As things now stand, the papal election would be headed by Angelo Cardinal Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals and a figure already accused of benefiting from the financial misdeeds of Fr. Marcial Maciel, the sexually corrupt founder of the Legion of Christ. Rome would become an unimaginable media circus—hours of airtime to fill every day, while waiting for the white smoke from the Vatican, with nothing to talk about but the scandals.

For almost 10 years now, the Catholic Church has been putting in place policies on child abuse stricter than those of any other large institution in the world. “We were the model of what not to do,” as New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan put it, “and now we are the model of what to do.” But the newspaper accounts of a newly elected pope would be, nonetheless, a mad race to find something, anything, to link him to the bishops’ failures to act against pedophiles in the previous generation. And if they found what they sought—as they would, given how slight the perceived connection has to be—the sex-abuse scandal would become for that pope what it is now for Pope Benedict: the chief identifier, the narrative hook, for his entire pontificate.

Make no mistake: The narrative demands that Benedict be pulled in, with Der Spiegel in Germany and the New York Times in America running stories in March that tried to mire the pope in it all, from his time as the archbishop of Munich and, later, as an official in Rome under John Paul II. None of it implicates him directly; the newspapers have yet to find an instance of the man organizing a cover-up. A professor of theology for two and a half decades, he has always been less than a stellar administrator, however, and it’s imaginable that something genuine will surface to show that he didn’t pay sufficient attention at the time.

Nonetheless, the stories so far haven’t held up. On April 19, Der Spiegel reported that Fr. Gerhard Gruber, the diocesan assistant from Ratzinger’s time in Munich, might have admitted he was pressured to say falsely that he, and not the future pope, was responsible for the covered-up transfer of a German pedophile in 1980. Two days later, the Wall Street Journal demolished the story by actually interviewing Fr. Gruber, who denied it.

The Vatican correspondent John Allen, the Canadian priest Raymond de Souza, the American writer Phil Lawler, and others have similarly published point-by-point refutations of other charges of cover-up against Benedict—all their accounts based on the fact that this man was the one who, unlike John Paul II, actually saw there was a problem. In 2005, he openly denounced the “filth in the Church and in the priesthood,” which, if the received narrative about cover-ups were true, ought to have made it impossible for him to be elected to the papacy less than a month later.

The current frenzy does share at least a few characteristics with previous outbreaks of anti-Catholicism. You could lift great chunks of today’s commentary and drop them unchanged into newspaper accounts of that 1836 anti-Catholic classic The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, as Exhibited in a Narrative of Her Sufferings During her Residence of Five Years as a Novice and Two Years as a Black Nun, in the Hotel Dieu Nunnery at Montreal. For that matter, the New Atheists’ recent ravings about Catholicism could slip unnoticed into the yellowing anti-Catholic pages of Robert G. Ingersoll’s 1896 “How to Reform Mankind” and Paul Blanshard’s 1949 American Freedom and Catholic Power.

“Anti-Catholic Bias Irrelevant to Scandal,” insisted the headline over an April 6 op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer by a historian from New York University named Jonathan Zimmerman. “America has a long, hideous history of anti-Catholic bigotry,” Zimmerman agrees. “But whereas earlier attacks on Catholics were based on fantasy, the abuse scandal is altogether real.”

The trouble with this line is that the abuse scandal is not “altogether real.” It’s plenty real, God knows, but some small handful of the original accusations were untrue—child abuse is not the unique crime in which no false charges are ever made—and the current media frenzy is not about finding new cases but about discovering ways to connect the Vatican to the old cases.

It’s true that critics need to be able to challenge the Church without being accused of anti-Catholicism. Catholics themselves do it all the time, as Zimmerman observes, and nearly every reform movement within the Church—from the Benedictines, through the Franciscans and the Jesuits, and down to Opus Dei in our own time—began with denunciations of the immoral or unspiritual clergy of the day.

And yet, something else, something that Catholicism’s detractors refuse to acknowledge, is in the air these days. The child-abuse scandal is a hole smashed through the defenses of the Church, a breach made by the genuine crimes of the clerical predators and the bishops who coddled them. But more is now being forced through that breach than it will bear.

Take the pressure from the media to find new stories within an established, hot-selling narrative. Add to it the culture’s frightened uncertainty about its children in the new sexual dispensation. Mix in, as well, a distaste for the Church, which stands as the last major Western institution still holding out against such social changes as the new respectability of abortion, euthanasia, promiscuity, and same-sex marriage. And the result is a rage and a frenzy dissociated from the actual crimes that caused it—a hysteria that is bringing back to life the old tropes of historical anti-Catholicism.

There is one difference between the old anti-Catholicism and the new, however, and it involves the reaction of Catholics themselves. Against the Know-Nothings of the 19th century, America’s Catholic immigrants rallied to the Church (and to the Democratic party). And here in the 21st century, they have—well, what are Catholics doing?

An irony of the outraged European reaction to the scandals is that the continent is already one of the least Christian places on earth. Only 4 percent of Germans, for example, are reported to be in church on a Sunday morning, and Western Europe these days simply doesn’t contain enough practicing Catholics for the news of the scandals to cause a significant number to lose their faith. Old and mostly outdated legal entanglements of church and state (especially church taxes and state-supported Catholic schools) remain the only European reservoir of Catholic power. All these arrangements were doomed anyway, and the hysteria about abuse of children will provide only the occasion for their loss.

Some such thing seemed to be in the mind of the Irish pop singer Sinead O’Connor, whose rambling thoughts on the scandals were published on March 28 in the Washington Post. O’Connor long ago left the Church, but she still devotes a considerable amount of her time to criticizing it: “Christ is not with these people who so frequently invoke Him,” she pronounced, ex cathedra, and “the idea that we needed the church to get closer to Jesus” is “blasphemy.” America has its own share of this ex-Catholic irony. “Though I am no longer a practicing Catholic, I am, undeniably, culturally Catholic,” a columnist for the Huffington Post explained. “And I, like many others who have left the flock, should have a say in pressuring the Church to reform itself.”

What’s interesting about all this is that it seems to come, as a sort of post hoc explanation, entirely from people who left Catholicism for other reasons. After the American revelations of abuse in 2002, dozens of news articles appeared, each trying to find out why the scandals didn’t actually seem to have made Catholics lose their faith.

This year, the media reports over Easter were similarly a chronicle of attempts to find serious churchgoers who have left the Church because of the scandals. “As the faithful fill churches this Holy Week, many Roman Catholics around the world are finding their relationship to the church painfully tested,” one news story began—although the only example the reporter could find was a woman who explained, “I don’t believe in confession to the priest because I don’t know if that priest is more of a sinner than I am,” which suggests a certain unfamiliarity with either Christian doctrine or Catholic practice.

“Scandal Tests Catholics’ Trust in Leadership,” a headline in the New York Times declared on March 29, but the story mostly proved that even European Catholics are not losing their faith. “The controversy appeared at the forefront of many worshipers’ minds,” the reporter insisted—and yet, “turnout was often strong on Sunday, even in some of the cities directly affected by the crisis. At St. Ludwig Church in Berlin, the city where recent disclosure of molestation at an elite Jesuit high school in the 1970s and ’80s opened up the scandal in Germany, the noon Mass was filled to capacity.” Indeed, “with pews packed, churchgoers stood in the rear. One woman spoke of the victims she knew personally but said the scandal had not led her, nor anyone else she knew, to consider leaving the church.”

Packed pews, strong turnout, filled to capacity—that’s not supposed to be the storyline. The April 16 CNN poll showed approval of the pope at 59 percent among American Catholics, and the March 31 Gallup poll had Catholic approval at 61 percent. These are massive drops from the 81 percent Catholic approval rate the pope had after his 2008 visit to the United States, and the rate will likely decline further in coming months. But none of it suggests that Catholics are actually losing their faith because of the revelations of these old priestly crimes and the bishops’ shameful cover-up.

‘What else did you expect from that generation?” one young seminarian sneered when I asked him about the priest scandals. “Those old 1960s and 1970s types thought they were God’s gift to the ages. That they were smarter, better, more spiritual than anyone else had ever been. They said they didn’t need the old supervision and rules—the old wisdom about human behavior—that Catholicism had built up over centuries of experience. And, yeah, so, of course, when they finally got some power of their own, they ruined the liturgy, they wrecked the churches, and they buggered little boys. None of it should have been a surprise.”

What else did you expect from that generation? It’s not a satisfying explanation for why some priests 30 years ago were so corrupt. For that matter, the student was as arrogant, in his own way, as the generation he condemns.

But the line does suggest one easy rationalization available to young Catholics. Large numbers of them have drifted away from the Church, but those who remain, formed during John Paul II’s pontificate, already see themselves as agents of change: the remnant, repairing with greater fidelity and stronger belief the damage done by the old priests and bishops. News of these scandals doesn’t change their self-image; it confirms their picture of themselves.

Even they, however, are not out defending Catholicism in the world. George Weigel, Raymond de Souza, and a few other commentators are publicly standing up for the Church, but the general response of ordinary Catholics in America has been a sigh and a mumble. The Vatican bureaucracy—poorly governed, it must be said, during Benedict’s pontificate—has swung ceaselessly and cluelessly between oblivious silence and tone-deaf whining.

For that matter, Catholicism no longer has as defenders the once-great ethnic blocs of European Catholics. The Irish, for example, ceased to see themselves as Catholics more than a generation ago. And Ireland has now, in Brendan O’Neill’s useful phrase, redefined itself as a nation of the victims of Catholicism. Thanks to 10 years of the government-run inquiry into Catholicism, “many of Ireland’s social problems—including unemployment, poverty, drug abuse and heavy drinking—are now discussed as the products of Ireland’s earlier era of abuse rather than as failings of the contemporary social system.”

Who does that leave to speak against the hysteria? A handful of non-Catholics can get away with it. Rabbi Jack Bemporad, director of the Center for Interreligious Understanding, defended the Good Friday sermon at the Vatican in which the Franciscan priest Raniero Cantalamessa quoted a letter from a “Jewish friend” who said the attacks on the pope reminded him of the “more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.” The Lutheran theologian John Stephenson darkly warned that the frenzy was part of a turn against all of Christianity.

“Enough already,” wrote Ed Koch in the Jerusalem Post. “Should Richard Dawkins be Arrested for Covering up Atheist Crimes?” asked an irritated Irish journalist. “This tragedy should not be used as an excuse to attack a large and revered institution that does much good throughout the world,” Harvard law school’s Alan Dershowitz noted on April 9, and eventually a few more contrarians, professional opposers of conventional wisdom, will cry foul.

But for the rest of us, the charge of tolerating child-molesters—the accusation that we cannot feel the pain of the victims—remains too poisonous.

At the peak of the day-care abuse panic of the 1980s and early 1990s, any suggestion that the public reaction was disproportionate to the provable facts was met with excoriation. Yet it now seems plain that the narrative of children being raped at day care centers and preschools was being made to carry more than it would bear—that it was expressing our cultural anxiety and outrage about modern neglect and abuse of children. Even today, no one doubts that some children were molested in American day care centers; given the general figures for pedophilia, it must have been so. But the cultural emotion—the drive to find an explanation for our fear and shame—somehow resulted in wild visions of Satanists in charge of our toddlers.

One cannot compare the charges of those days to the Church’s current situation. Day care workers who are now recognized as innocent served years in jail as a result of that panic, while few today claim the railroading of innocent priests.

And yet, this much seems true: The current hysteria over the Catholic sex-abuse scandal derives at least in part from the same source that fed the panic over rape at preschools and day care centers 20 years ago. These are, in this one respect, two chapters of a single story—the story of a culture whose views of sexuality put its children at risk.

That risk is real. Our contemporary understandings of sex are a jumble of contradictions and insanities, and the young are among those paying the price. The news reports about the Catholic scandals have purchase on us precisely because they echo down the canyons of our cultural anxiety. And to account for that anxiety—to localize and personalize its causes—Catholicism is far more useful than outlandish charges of Satanism ever were.

For some of the commentators on the current scandals, any stick is a good one if you can poke it at religion. Most people, however, are just looking for an explanation. They worked so hard to build the life the contemporary world demands, and still they are anxious. They rejected the sexual strictures of the past, just as they were taught to do, and still their children are in danger.

There must be a reason for the unfulfilled promise of modern sex and modern life. There must be a mystical, magical key that will unlock the door to paradise. Why have we been thwarted? Why aren’t we there yet?

The Catholic Church, of course. That’s the answer.
Capello tip to The Anchoress.

26 April 2010

Alive and well

...anti-Catholicism, that is. And seemingly entrenched in the British government.

Over the weekend a memo that originated in the Foreign Office was made public. The memo listed a series of activities that "the ideal visit would see" when the Holy Father Benedict XVI travels to Britain this fall. The suggested activities include: the launch of "Benedict" condoms; the Pope opening an "abortion ward;" and the Pope blessing a "civil partnership," among other things.

To be fair, some of the suggested activities are good and, indeed, have already been done by the Holy Father, such as the proposed "announce sacking of dodgy bishops" (apparently the Foreign Office doesn't keep up with the news).

The Foreign Office has apologized for the memo, saying, "This is clearly a foolish document that does not in any way reflect UK Government or Foreign Office policy or views. Many of the ideas in the document are clearly ill-judged, naive and disrespectful ." At the very least, the latter is true.

I daresay such a list would never have circulated - nor even been drafted - if the staff of the Foreign Office were preparing for a visit of the Dalai Lama.

23 April 2010

Msgr. Kemme urges prayers for Bishop Paprocki

Yesterday the Reverend Monsignor Carl A. Kemme, Administrator of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, wrote to the priests and parish life coordinators of the Diocese urging prayers for our Bishop-Designate, the Most Reverend Thomas J. Paprocki.

His suggestions are, to my mind, very good. Here is a snippet from his letter (with my emphases):

While it is necessary to attend to the more mundane details of his arrival and installation, it is even more important to remember that this is a deeply spiritual moment for our diocese, one in which we will want to invite the prayerful reflection of our people.

To that end, I would like to suggest the following to be considered as a spiritual bouquet we might like to offer Bishop Paprocki in this period of preparation for his Episcopal leadership.

1) Consider a weekly mass intention, perhaps on Tuesday’s leading up to the day of installation. The intention could be for Bishop Paprocki himself or an intention of thanksgiving for the gift of a new bishop.

2) Offering the public recitation of the rosary before the Saturday vigil Mass during the month of May, asking Mary the Immaculate Conception to intercede for Bishop Paprocki during his time as our bishop.

3) If you have a school, invite the school children to pray before the school day begins for the intentions of Bishop Paprocki.

4) Include an intention in the general intercessions for Bishop Paprocki during each weekend Mass.

5) Invite your people to a voluntary day of fasting and prayer on Friday, June 11, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, offering up this sacrifice for Bishop Paprocki and for the needs of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.

It is my hope that these suggestions will help us to focus on the spiritual significance of the appointment of our new bishop. I am certain Bishop Paprocki will be most grateful for your prayers and those of your people.

Pope speaks of teaching function of priests

During his Wednesday Audience address last week, the Holy Father Benedict XVI reflected on the ministerial priesthood, specifically of the teaching office.

The text of his address follows, with my emphases:

Dear Friends,

In this Easter Season that brings us to Pentecost and also ushers us into the celebrations for the closure of the Year for Priests, scheduled for this coming 9-11 June, I am eager to devote a few more reflections to the topic of the ordained Ministry, elaborating on the fruitful realities of the priest's configuration to Christ the Head in the exercise of the tria munera that he receives: namely, the three offices of teaching, sanctifying and governing.

In order to understand what it means for the priest to act in persona Christi Capitis in the person of Christ the Head and to realize what consequences derive from the duty of representing the Lord, especially in the exercise of these three offices, it is necessary first of all to explain what "representation" means. The priest represents Christ. What is implied by "representing" someone? In ordinary language it usually means being delegated by someone to be present in his place, to speak and act in his stead because the person he represents is absent from the practical action. Let us ask ourselves: does the priest represent the Lord in this way? The answer is no, because in the Church Christ is never absent, the Church is his living Body and he is the Head of the Church, present and active within her. Christ is never absent, on the contrary he is present in a way that is untrammelled by space and time through the event of the Resurrection that we contemplate in a special way in this Easter Season.

Therefore the priest, who acts in persona Christi Capitis and representing the Lord, never acts in the name of someone who is absent but, rather, in the very Person of the Risen Christ, who makes himself present with his truly effective action. He really acts today and brings about what the priest would be incapable of: the consecration of the wine and the bread so that they may really be the Lord's presence, the absolution of sins. The Lord makes his own action present in the person who carries out these gestures. These three duties of the priest which Tradition has identified in the Lord's different words about mission: teaching, sanctifying and governing in their difference and in their deep unity are a specification of this effective representation. In fact, they are the three actions of the Risen Christ, the same that he teaches today, in the Church and in the world. Thereby he creates faith, gathers together his people, creates the presence of truth and really builds the communion of the universal Church; and sanctifies and guides.

The first duty of which I wish to speak today is the munus docendi, that is, the task of teaching. Today, in the midst of the educational emergency, the munus docendi of the Church, exercised concretely through the ministry of each priest, is particularly important. We are very confused about the fundamental choices in our life and question what the world is, where it comes from, where we are going, what we must do in order to do good, how we should live and what the truly pertinent values are. Regarding all this, there are numerous contrasting philosophies that come into being and disappear, creating confusion about the fundamental decisions on how to live; because collectively we no longer know from what and for what we have been made and where we are going. In this context the words of the Lord who took pity on the throng because the people were like sheep without a shepherd came true (cf. Mk 6: 34). The Lord had noticed this when he saw the thousands of people following him in the desert because, in the diversity of the currents of that time, they no longer knew what the true meaning of Scripture was, what God was saying. The Lord, moved by compassion, interpreted God's word, he himself is the Word of God, and thus provided an orientation. This is the function in persona Christi of the priest: making present, in the confusion and bewilderment of our times, the light of God's Word, the light that is Christ himself in this our world. Therefore the priest does not teach his own ideas, a philosophy that he himself has invented, that he has discovered or likes; the priest does not speak of himself, he does not speak for himself, to attract admirers, perhaps, or create a party of his own; he does not say his own thing, his own inventions but, in the medley of all the philosophies, the priest teaches in the name of Christ present, he proposes the truth that is Christ himself, his word and his way of living and of moving ahead. What Christ said of himself applies to the priest: "My teaching is not mine" (Jn 7: 16); Christ, that is, does not propose himself but, as the Son he is the voice, the Word of the Father. The priest too must always speak and act in this way: "My teaching is not mine, I do not spread my own ideas or what I like, but I am the mouthpiece and heart of Christ and I make present this one, shared teaching that has created the universal Church and creates eternal life".

This fact, namely that the priest does not invent, does not create or proclaim his own ideas, since the teaching he announces is not his own but Christ's does not mean, however, that he is neutral, as if he were a spokesman reading a text that he does not, perhaps, make his own. In this case t0o the model of Christ who said: "I do not come from myself and I do not live for myself but I come from the Father and live for the Father" applies. Therefore, in this profound identification, Christ's teaching is that of the Father and he himself is one with the Father. The priest who proclaims Christ's word, the faith of the Church, and not his own ideas, must also say: "I do not live by myself and for myself, but I live with Christ and by Christ and therefore all that Christ said to us becomes my word even if it is not mine". The priest's life must be identified with Christ and, in this manner, the word that is not his own becomes, nevertheless, a profoundly personal word. On this topic St Augustine, speaking of priests said: "And as for us, what are we? Ministers (of Christ), his servants; for what we distribute to you is not ours but we take it from his store. And we too live of it, because we are servants like you" (Sermo 229/E, 4).

The teaching that the priest is called to offer, the truth of the faith, must be internalized and lived in an intense personal and spiritual process so that the priest really enters into a profound inner communion with Christ himself. The priests believes, accepts and seeks to live, first of all as his own, all that the Lord taught and that the Church has passed on in that process of identification with his own ministry of which St John Mary Vianney is an exemplary witness (cf. Letter for the inauguration of the Year for Priests). "For in charity itself we are all listening to him, who is our One Master in heaven" (En. in Ps 131: 1, 7).

Consequently the priest's voice may often seem to be "the voice of one crying in the wilderness" (Mk 1: 3), but his prophetic power consists precisely in this: in never being conformist, in never conforming to any dominant culture or mindset but, rather, in showing the one newness that can bring about an authentic and profound renewal of the human being, that is, that Christ is the Living One, he is the close God, the God who works in the life and for the life of the world and gives us the truth, the way to live.

In the careful preparation of Sunday preaching, without excluding weekday preaching, in imparting catechetical formation in schools, in academic institutions and, in a special way, through that unwritten book which is his own life, the priest is always an "educator", he teaches; yet not with the presumption of one who imposes his own truth but on the contrary with the humble, glad certainty of someone who has encountered the Truth, who has been grasped and transformed by it, hence cannot but proclaim it. In fact, no one can choose the priesthood on his own, it is not a means of obtaining security in life or achieving a social position: no one can give it to him nor can he seek it by himself. The priesthood is the response to the Lord's call, to his will, in order to become a herald of his truth, not a personal truth but of his truth.

Dear brother priests, the Christian people ask to hear from our teachings the genuine ecclesial doctrine, through which they can renew their encounter with Christ who gives joy, peace and salvation. In this regard Sacred Scripture, the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the Catechism of the Catholic Church are indispensable reference points in the exercise of the munus docendi, so essential for conversion, the development of faith and the salvation of humankind. "Priestly ordination... means... to be immersed in the Truth" (Homily at the Chrism Mass, Holy Thursday, 9 April 2009), that Truth which is not merely a concept or a collection of ideas to be assimilated and passed on but, rather, is the Person of Christ with whom, for whom and in whom to live and thus, necessarily, the timeliness and comprehensibility of the proclamation are also born. Only this knowledge of a Truth that became a Person in the Incarnation of the Son justifies the missionary mandate: "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation" (Mk 16: 15). Only if it is the Truth is it intended for every creature, it is not the imposition of some thing but openness of heart to what the creature has been created for.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, the Lord has entrusted a great task to priests: to be heralds of his word, of the Truth that saves; to be his voice in the world to bring what serves the true good of souls and the authentic path of faith (cf. 1 Cor 6: 12). May St John Mary Vianney be an example to all priests. He was a man of great wisdom and heroic fortitude in resisting the cultural and social pressures of his time in order to lead souls to God: simplicity, fidelity and immediacy were the essential features of his preaching, the transparency of his faith and of his holiness. The Christian People was edified by him and as happens for genuine teachers in every epoch recognized in him the light of the Truth. In him it recognized, ultimately, what should always be recognizable in a priest: the voice of the Good Shepherd.

Daren the Dragon Slayer?

Somehow it does not have the same ring as George the Dragon Slayer, whose feast we celebrate today.

I bring it up today only because of a short-lived family tradition that ended with my father.

My great-great grandfather Ambrose emmigrated from Germany in 1866. He lived in New York for nine months and then settled in Quincy where he helped with the building of several churches (he was a stone mason by trade, as were several of his ancestors).

He named his first son George, who in turned named his first son George Arthur. He named his first son (and only) son George William who named me Daren.

I'm not sure what happened and I don't know why my parents chose my name. But I should have liked to have been named George something-or-other. I wouldn't likely have gone by George, but I would have used it well.

Middle-earth Day?

One of my friends sent this to me with helpful suggestions to celebrate Middle-earth Day. I especially like number five.

22 April 2010

AP picks up the story

The Associated Press is carrying the story published in the State Journal-Register about comments made by Bishop Paprocki in 2007. The text of the AP story, "New bishop once blamed devil for abuse lawsuits," with my emphases and comments [the innacuracy of the headline should first be noted: Bishop Paprocki was ordained a bishop in 2003 and, hence, is not a "new bishop"]:

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A Chicago bishop who once blamed the devil for sexual abuse lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Church and proposed shielding the church from legal damages has been named to lead an Illinois diocese.

Thomas Paprocki, an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Chicago, was announced Tuesday as the church's ninth bishop of Springfield.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said it was disappointed with Paprocki's promotion [has SNAP been pleased with the appointment of any bishop?].

"It says to us that the Vatican is more interested in doctrinal purity than child safety — or at least that child safety isn't the No. 1 priority," said David Clohessy, SNAP's executive director [then they haven't been listening to or reading anything of what Pope Benedict XVI has been saying recently. Maybe Clohessy should read the letter to the Irish Church].

Paprocki, 57, said three years ago that the principal force behind the waves of abuse lawsuits was "none other than the devil." [Note again that he said this in reference to the lawsuits and not to the victims.]

He said the cost of litigation was making it more difficult for the church to perform charitable works [which is true]. An attorney himself, Paprocki proposed that the courts revive an old policy of shielding nonprofit organizations from lawsuits over negligence and abuse [what, precisely, did he say in this regard?].

"The settlement or award of civil damages is punishing the wrong people, namely the average parishioner or donor whose financial contributions support the church but who have no role in the supervision of clergy," Paprocki said in October 2007 during a special Mass for judges and attorneys [and he's right].

Paprocki didn't immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday afternoon [it could be because he was in Springfield in the morning and returned to Chicago in the afternoon for a Confirmation that evening]. A message seeking comment also was left Tuesday afternoon with the papal nuncio's office in Washington.

In a news conference earlier in the day, Paprocki said the church must address sexual abuse to help restore trust. "I know what a painful and what a troubling issue that this sin and this crime is that confronts us in the church," he said, according to The (Springfield) State Journal-Register.

Paprocki was ordained in 1978. He co-founded the South Chicago Legal Clinic to offer legal services to the poor and later became a top aide in the Chicago archdiocese.

He succeeds Archbishop George Lucas, who was named to lead the Omaha archdiocese last June.
The State Journal-Register ran a story yesterday about comments the Most Reverend Thomas J. Paprocki made about sexual abuse lawsuits in 2007 (with my emphases and comments):

The newly appointed bishop of the Springfield Diocese, Archdiocese of Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Cicero, has a good reputation among some in Chicago.

But a comment he made in 2007, equating lawsuits filed by victims of clergy sexual abuse with the devil’s work, continues to sting victims’ advocates [note well that the commment was directed to lawsuits, not to victims].

“First of all, he’s known as a very smart man, with a sharp mind,” said Robert Herguth, editor of ChicagoCatholicNews.com, an independent online publication covering the Catholic Church in the Chicago region. “He’s a civil lawyer as well as a canon lawyer. But he’s also somebody who’s been in the trenches, in terms of helping the poor.”

Although Herguth doesn’t know Paprocki personally, those who do have told him, “He’s a pretty nice guy.”

“He’s also an unusual priest — in terms of his legal background and in terms of his hobbies,” Herguth said.

Paprocki is president of the Chicago Legal Clinic, which provides legal services to “underserved and disadvantaged” residents in the Chicago area, according to the clinic’s website. He also is a marathon runner and hockey fan [while interesting, this has nothing to do with the story].

“He’s also relatively young,” Herguth said. “What this tells me is that he’s somebody who might be a mover and shaker in the hierarchy who might move up in the future.”

During an analysis of primary election records among leaders in the Chicago Archdiocese last December, Herguth found that Paprocki took Republican ballots in the 2006 and 2008 primaries [this has nothing to do with the story].

Herguth said he knows of nothing that connects Paprocki with any sex abuse scandal.

But the most controversial incident involving Paprocki is a comment he made during a homily at a Mass for judges and attorneys in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2007. According to a Chicago Tribune article about the event, Paprocki said, “the principal force behind (sex-abuse lawsuits) is none other than the devil.”

Paprocki clarified his remark by saying such lawsuits unfairly burden whole congregations and charitable organizations [and he's right, especially considering how much the lawyers themselves take home; typically, it's at least 50%]. But advocates of sex-abuse victims remain critical of the comment.

“In our experience, most often, the boys and girls who are molested (by clergy) come from extraordinarily devout homes,” said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “To essentially equate victims speaking up and exposing predators and seeking justice with the devil [that's not what he said; true justice does not require massive payouts] has a very chilling effect and would discourage victims and witnesses and whistle blowers from coming forward,”

“This isn’t a casual, off-the-cuff, inappropriate comment,” Clohessy said. “It’s a carefully orchestrated, deliberate comment by a very smart man who must know what the impact will be.”

Clohessy said he’s also not aware of any specific incident of sex abuse involving Paprocki directly or indirectly. But Clohessy said Paprocki shouldn’t be let off the hook.

“There certainly have been auxiliary bishops who have shown leadership on this issue, who have openly criticized their supervisors. It has not happened often,” Clohessy said [and no evidence is given that Bishop Paprocki did not speak out. Remember, too, that he was not ordained a Bishop until 2003, well after the overwhelming majority of cases of abuse took place].

“In Chicago, where there are hundreds of hundreds of cases, it’s inconceivable he was out of the loop on every single case or not once did the rest of the Chicago (Archdiocese) hierarchy make a decision that he disagreed with.”

As for Paprocki’s legal work, he and his clinic have a good reputation [this also has nothing to do with the story].

“They do fantastic work. They consist of very motivated, idealistic, passionate attorneys who come in at critical times of people’s lives — evictions, foreclosures,” said Robert Acton, attorney and executive director of Cabrini Green Legal Aid, a sister agency to Paprocki’s Chicago Legal Center.

“The bishop’s reputation is great. He is well regarded.” Acton said. “He’s certainly demonstrated a life of social impact and compassion.”

Anti-Catholicism in America

Writing at The Catholic Thing, George Martin takes a look at the history of anti-Catholicism in America (with my emphases and comments):

During Lent and Easter this year, America’s anti-Catholics were out in force spreading misinformation and distortions in the hopes of toppling the pope and crippling the hierarchy of the Church.

The assailants – the usual suspects led by the New York Times – would have people believe that the sex-abuse scandals are widening. This is false. The Church in the United States has become a model for effectively dealing with the crisis. Our bishops implemented programs to protect children almost a decade ago: to train and screen clergy and to impose tough internal reporting regulations regarding suspected abuse.

But we have to remember that, throughout American history, truth has often not much mattered when opportunities have arisen to attack the Church. For over two hundred years, American Catholics have had to fend off assaults based on lies, half-truths, and innuendos from nativists, populists, progressives, eugenicists, reformers, and secular intellectuals. And it’s worth rehearsing some of this history.

In the 1840s, an underground anti-Catholic movement led by back-alley, low-life bigots flared into a full-fledged crusade that came close to leaving major northeastern cities in shambles. In 1843, Philadelphia Catholic churches and homes were torched and sixteen people killed because the ordinary, Bishop Patrick Kendrick, asked that the 5,000 Catholic children in the public school system be permitted to read a Catholic version of the Bible and that anti-Catholic textbooks be removed from the classrooms.

Riots spread to other cities including New York. Archbishop John Hughes warned the mayor, “If a single Catholic Church were burned in New York, the City would become a second Moscow.” The thought of the City looking like the Moscow Napoleon left in ashes in 1812 had the desired effect: nativist forces backed down.

1890s populists, who believeded in the supremacy of Anglo-Saxons, nurtured anti-Catholic sentiment and looked upon Catholic eastern, urban centers as “the enemy’s country.” The movement’s leader, William Jennings Bryan, used anti-Catholic code words on the campaign trail and told his agrarian followers he was “tired of hearing about laws for the benefit of men who work in shops.” He declared he was opposed to “dumping of the criminal classes upon our shores” – a/k/a, Catholic immigrants. This anti-Catholic fervor split the Democratic Party culturally and economically for two generations: agrarian-nativist-Protestant versus urban-immigrant-Catholic.

The progressive-reform movement was also fueled by anti-Catholicism. The urban upper crust began a crusade to take back their municipalities from Catholic pols and to reform what the elite believed to be their corrupt ways. As sociologist Andrew Greeley has observed, “reform was merely an attempt on the part of native-born Protestants to take back what they had lost to the Irish in a fair fight.”

To stop the vast hordes of Catholic immigrants that populated their cities and controlled the ballot-boxes, the reformers embraced the notions of Social Darwinism to rationalize their Anglo-centrism and promoted the pseudo-science of eugenics which called for disposing of undesirable human beings; individuals, ethnic groups or whole races. This movement which began in the 1890s, would take thirty years to secure a victory. Eugenics expert Daniel J. Kevles asserted that the “movement provided a rationale for the Immigration Act of 1924, which discriminated against immigrants from eastern and southern Europe.”

In 1928, Catholic Alfred E. Smith, the Democratic nominee for President, was accused of forming an “alien conspiracy to overthrow Protestant, Anglo-Saxon majority under which the country has achieve its independence and its greatness.” Mainline religious leaders denounced Smith from the pulpit and millions of warped, vicious anti-Catholic pamphlets, flyers, and newspapers were written, printed, and distributed by the Ku Klux Klan and other crackpot anti-Catholic organizations across America.

The Church had to cope with similar attacks during the 1960 presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy. An ad hoc group of 150 Protestants led by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, issued a statement criticizing the Catholic Church and accusing it of being a “political, as well as religious, organization [that has] specifically repudiated, on many occasions, the principle sacred to us that every man shall be free to follow the dictates of his conscience in religious matters.”

Such events prompted the distinguished historian John Higham, author of Strangers in the Land, to describe anti-Catholicism as “the most luxuriant, tenacious tradition of paranoiac agitation in American history.” Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. concurred calling it “the deepest bias in the history of the American people.”

In the twenty-first century, practicing Catholics in the public square are learning that while those who oppose the Church may appear more sophisticated or scientific, the level of hatred for Catholicism may not have changed much from previous eras. Catholics are still viewed by the secular humanists as public villains and in their salons, anti-Catholicism is, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it, still an acceptable prejudice.

Today’s anti-Catholicism is driven by smug secularists who want radical autonomy – and therefore frown upon Catholic values and despise authority. They want to destroy the Church because, unlike the mainline Protestant sects, it refuses to give in to the modernists’ views on abortion, celibacy, contraception, divorce, stem-cell research, and same-sex marriage.

But don’t despair. We have it on good authority that even the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church.

SJ-R welcomes Bishop Paprocki

In his press conference Tuesday the Most Reverend Thomas J. Paprocki, Bishop-Designate of Springfield in Illinois, noted that Mr. Lincoln said he always found a friend in Springfield's State Journal-Register; Bishop joked that he hoped to find the same.

In this morning issue, the SJ-R has an editorial titled, "An enthusiastic leader for local Catholics," the text of which follows, with my emphases:

THE REV. THOMAS PAPROCKI won’t officially assume his duties as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield until June 22, but he’s already made a name for himself.

It’s not often, after all, that one meets someone with a resume that includes Catholic priest, lawyer, hockey goalie and veteran of 16 marathons in 15 years.

THE VATICAN on Tuesday announced the appointment of Paprocki to succeed Bishop George Lucas, who became archbishop of Omaha last June. A native of Chicago and currently auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the 57-year-old Paprocki gave area Catholics and the community as a whole reason for optimism in his introduction Tuesday.

“I went to law school as a priest, which some people found to be a bit interesting,” he said. “The reason why I did that was because of my belief of what the church teaches about caring for the poor… That’s what I wanted to do as a special sort of focus with my ministry, and I was doing that and continue to do that with legal services for the poor.”

Paprocki is president of the Chicago Legal Clinic, which provides legal services to those who otherwise could not afford it. He said Tuesday that among his plans upon taking office will be working with government and social service agencies to help those hardest hit by the struggling economy.

Whether you’re Catholic or not, that attitude is encouraging.

WHEN LUCAS became bishop here in 1999, one of his biggest tasks was dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct by priests under his predecessor. The result was a 2006 investigation, overseen by former U.S. Attorney Bill Roberts, that led to the removal or suspensions of eight priests. A report from that investigation acknowledged that the misconduct “seriously eroded the trust of parishioners and the community at large.” It was a significant admission that went a long way toward restoring that trust.

Paprocki comes in at a better time for the diocese, but also as the Church deals with new misconduct allegations elsewhere. Again, the Springfield diocese should benefit from Paprocki’s experience in Chicago, where he has been a delegate to the board that investigates allegations of sexual misconduct against minors.

“I know what a painful and what a troubling issue that this sin and this crime is,” Paprocki said.

As he introduced himself on Tuesday, Paprocki made an impression as an energetic, affable and enthusiastic leader. We look forward to his applying his vast experience to the Springfield Catholic Diocese and the overall community.

A Prayer for Priests

I found the following prayer in the current issue of the Knights of Columbus' Guild Newsletter:

We thank you, God our Father, for those who have responded to your call to priestly ministry. Accept this prayer we offer on their behalf: Fill your priests with the sure knowledge of your love. Open their hearts to the power and consolation of the Holy Spirit. Lead them to new depths of union with your Son. Increase in them profound faith in the Sacraments they celebrate as they nourish, strengthen and heal us.

Lord Jesus Christ, grant that these, your priests, may inspire us to strive for holiness by the power of their example, as men of prayer who ponder your word and follow your will.

O Mary, Mother of Christ and our mother, guard with your maternal care these chosen ones, so dear to the Heart of your Son. Intercede for our priests that, offering the Sacrifice of your Son, they may be conformed more each day to the image of your Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.


Saint John Vianney, universal patron of priests, pray for us and our priests.

20 April 2010

Msgr. Kemme on Bishop Paprocki's appointment

The Diocese of Springfield in Illinois has recently a statement from the Reverend Monsignor Carl A. Kemme, Diocesan Administrator, on the appointment of the Most Reverend Thomas J. Paprocki as the ninth Bishop of the Diocese:

On behalf of the priests, deacons, seminarians, consecrated religious and lay men and women in all our parishes and institutions, I joyfully welcome Bishop Thomas Paprocki as the ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. It has been my pleasure to serve as Diocesan Administrator during these last several months and to assist the Diocese in preparing for our next bishop. We are grateful to God, to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and to Francis Cardinal George for choosing such a gifted and dedicated priest and bishop to serve us. We are most grateful to Bishop Paprocki for accepting this appointment. Together, we pledge our prayers, support and loving cooperation to him in the ongoing work of proclaiming the Gospel. Welcome Bishop Paprocki and may your service here in our Diocese bear much fruit and bring you great joy.
The Diocese has also recently a statement from Bishop Paprocki on his appointment:

President Abraham Lincoln has been a hero of mine since my first visit to Springfield when I was in eighth grade. In a speech given in Springfield on January 27, 1838, Abraham Lincoln said, “We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducting more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings.”

It is indeed a “fundamental blessing” which I am profoundly privileged to inherit as the new shepherd of the flock that comprises the Catholic community of central Illinois. I am deeply grateful for the confidence shown by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in appointing me to serve as the ninth Bishop of Springfield in Illinois. I look forward to working with the priests, deacons, men and women religious, the lay Christian faithful and all people of good will here in our State Capital to carry out the mission entrusted to us by Jesus Christ to proclaim the Gospel. I pledge to do my best with the help of God’s grace to build on the “fundamental blessings” established through the dedicated ministry of the previous bishops of Springfield, especially my immediate predecessor, the Most Reverend George Lucas, now Archbishop of Omaha.

I also wish to express my sincere appreciation to my fellow priests and bishops of the Archdiocese of Chicago with whom I have been fortunate to work for the past thirty-two years. Most of all, I thank His Eminence, Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I, Archbishop of Chicago, for being a true mentor over the past thirteen years during which I was privileged to serve as his Chancellor, as a parish Pastor and as his Auxiliary Bishop. I am pleased that we will continue to be co-workers in the vineyard of the State of Illinois that comprises the Province of Chicago. May God who has begun this good work bring it to completion.