Signs of the Times


Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma, chair of the U.S. bishops’ national review board, said that Catholics should use the power of the purse, the power to fill up the pews to force an egregiously recalcitrant bishop to live up to the charter. If a particular bishop is insensitive to this agony, moved priests, sent them hither and yon, engaged in nontransparent settlements, not referred [abuse allegations] for criminal action, that’s the time for the lay community of that diocese to say, We’re not going to write another check, we’re not going to go to Mass in this diocese’in effect strike, if you will, sit there until things change. That’s where the lay community has muscle, he said.

The governor was sharply rebuked for these comments. Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran of Oklahoma City called the governor’s comments totally inaccurate, divisive and contrary to the teachings and beliefs of our Catholic faith. An editorial in the Aug. 8 issue of The Pilot, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston, said the governor’s well-known, no-nonsense attitude may play well in the secular media, but there are certain things that are not admissible in the church, the editorial said. For a church-appointed leader to publicly orchestrate a kind of protest that would call for the faithful to stop contributions or, worse, to boycott Sunday Massin effect calling all Catholics in a diocese to commit a mortal sinis just surreal.


Religious Order Heads Tackle Clergy Sex Abuse Charter Issues

Heads of men’s religious orders who met in Philadelphia on Aug. 7-10 set plans to comply with the U.S. bishops’ charter to protect children, but not before their president sharply criticized the zero tolerance policy adopted by the bishops as a war slogan not suited to church leadership.

Members of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men said they will abide by the bishops’ policy barring priests who have sexually abused minors from any public ministry. They instructed C.M.S.M. leadership to research and design mechanisms of public accountability, including formation of an independent national review board to assess the responses of religious orders to sexual abuse. They also called for other responses by religious orders paralleling the policies the bishops adopted for dioceses, including improving outreach to victims, improving educational programs to protect children and prevent sexual abuse, and providing local mechanisms for response to sexual abuse allegations comparable to the diocesan outreach coordinator and diocesan review board.

Unlike the bishops, who specified laicization as the normal response to a priest who abuses a minor, the C.M.S.M. delegates focused on developing more effective methods of intervention, care, treatment and follow-up supervision of institute members in need of treatment and continuing supervision for sexual abuse. Even a priest who has abused is still our brother in Christ. We must share his burden. He remains a member of our family. Just as a family does not abandon a member convicted of serious crimes, we cannot turn our backs on our brother, they said in a three-page statement adopted on Aug. 10.

But our compassion does not cloud our clarity, they added. We abhor sexual abuse. We will not tolerate any type of abuse by our members. Our tradition of fraternal correction requires us to hold one another accountable. In addition to being a crime, sexual abuse of this type violates our most fundamental values as religious.... In situations where dismissal is appropriate, due process will be respected.

Canice Connors, a Conventual Franciscan who is C.M.S.M. president, and Ted Keating, a Marist Father who is the organization’s executive director, repeatedly emphasized to reporters at the meeting that keeping a priest who has committed sexual abuse in religious life does not mean condoning what he did or permitting him to engage in public ministry. Father Keating said that in most cases the best way to protect children is to keep these men in religious life and supervise them, not dump them on the street, where the first thing that happens is massive regression, and the potential for abuse is very high.

In his presidential address on Aug. 7, Father Connors criticized the bishops in Dallas for having surrendered any wiggle room in discourse or script for a reasoned analysis of the abusive situation; either you get it’ or you didn’t get it’; nothing in between. He criticized the lumping of all abusers of minors into a single category. This totalization of all abusers, ironically camouflaged in a concern for protecting children, creates a legitimized target population for venomous language and violent action, he said. The bishops in Dallas were a group paralyzed in remorse and shame with no patience for the narrative of recovery and reconciliation, he said.

One-third of the country’s 45,000 priests belong to religious orders. Like diocesan priests, they can exercise public ministry in a diocese only with the approval of the local bishop. Unlike diocesan priests, in addition to the commitment to a life of celibate chastity religious priests take vows of poverty and of obedience to their religious superior. Under church law, any decision to dismiss them from priesthood or religious life belongs to the appropriate religious superior, not the diocesan bishop.

Father Keating stressed that the C.M.S.M. is a service organization with no legislative or administrative authority over the religious superiors who form its membership or the religious orders they govern.

The final statement, titled Improving Pastoral Care and Accountability in Response to the Tragedy of Sexual Abuse, was adopted unanimously by the meeting participants. Father Keating called it an effort to contextualize the charter for religious life and give guidance to the religious leaders on how to implement it.

He said many of the issues religious orders face regarding compliance with the charter and collaboration and communication with bishops cannot be resolved until the Holy See completes its work on the proposed norms that the bishops adopted, which are intended as binding legislation throughout the U.S. church. Many church observers believe the Vatican is likely to make revisions in the norms before approving them, so the final shape of the legislation is not yet known.

Eight Bishops Propose New Plenary Council of U.S. Church

Eight U.S. bishops have asked their fellow prelates to consider convoking a national plenary council to promote holiness, priestly celibacy and sound sexual morality in the U.S. Catholic Church. Such a council would be the first in the United States since the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884, which lasted nearly a month and led to the development of the Baltimore Catechism and strong efforts for Catholic schools throughout the country.

The proposal calls for the plenary council to have the aims of:

Solemnly receiving the authentic teaching of the Second Vatican Council and postconciliar teachings on the identity, life and ministry of priests and bishops, on sexual morality in general and on celibate chastity as an authentic form of human sexuality. The letter specifically mentioned a number of Vatican II documents as well as postconciliar papal documents, such as Humanae Vitae, Veritatis Splendor and Pastores Dabo Vobis.

Giving unequivocal endorsement and normative force to the means set out in church teaching to foster the acts of virtue required of pastors and the means needed to achieve those virtues, especially celibate chastity.

Confirming the bishops in the authoritative exercise of our ministry and strengthening priests in teaching the Gospel, especially in regard to sexual morality, so that we can give support to the lay faithful in responding to their call to holiness.

All the bishops working in the United States would have a deliberative vote in a plenary council, while those with a consultative vote would include vicars general and episcopal vicars, representatives of major superiors of religious orders, rectors of all Catholic universities and deans of faculties of theology and canon law, and some seminary rectors. Other priests and lay Catholics can be invited to participate with a consultative voice, but their number is not to exceed half the total of the other participants combined.

Auxiliary Bishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit said that more than 50 bishops had signed the petition by Aug. 8.

Outgoing Chairman Says ICEL Has Been Unjustly Characterized

Despite the fact that bishops’ conferences around the world have approved its texts by large majorities, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy has been unjustly painted as incorrigible and unfaithful, said the outgoing chairman of its episcopal board. Bishop Maurice Taylor of Galloway, Scotland, said that at the end of a five-year term he felt a duty of conscience to speak out. The impression is given, and indeed is seemingly fostered by some, that ICEL is a recalcitrant group of people, uncooperative, even disobedient, the bishop said in a letter dated Aug. 9. This is mistaken and untrue, he said.

In a telephone interview on Aug. 14 with CNS, Bishop Taylor said that although the leadership of the 11 bishops’ conferences tried to intervene with the Vatican on some occasions, sometimes as ICEL we felt rather exposed to the storms that were coming from the congregation [for worship and sacraments], and we needed more constant support.

Bishop Taylor wrote that the harshest attacks were leveled at John Page, ICEL executive secretary since 1980, who was set to retire on Aug. 15. The bishop said Page has been pilloried, sometimes by name, often by title, occasionally by inference in official and unofficial correspondence and in articles published in several countries. Throughout this experience, Bishop Taylor wrote, John has acted with courtesy and a commitment to the good of the church that is nothing less than the best kind of churchmanship, to use an old but apt term.

Members of the ICEL board met on July 29-Aug. 1 in Ottawa and named the Rev. Bruce Harbert, a priest of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England, as the new executive secretary of ICEL. In the telephone interview, Bishop Taylor said Father Harbert’s criticisms of ICEL and his calls for more dignified, more literal translations are well known.

Patriarch Asks Hamas Leader to End Suicide Attacks

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, made a rare call on Aug. 10 upon the spiritual leader of the militant Hamas movement, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, in an unsuccessful bid to stop suicide bombings against Israeli targets according to Associated Press. The patriarch was attempting to revive consultations among Palestinian leaders to seek an end to the attacks, said a patriarchate official. The appeal was a prelude to a meeting of Palestinian groups in Gaza City in mid-August, which failed to achieve a consensus on a change of strategy. Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat’s Fatah movement rejected a proposal to restrict fighting to the territories and to halt all attacks inside Israel, according to Ecumenical News International.

News Briefs

The Geneva-based International Catholic Migration Commission said it had dismissed Ernest Maigurira, the agency’s director in Zimbabwe, and Mavuvo Pambai, project manager at Tongogara refugee camp in southeastern Zimbabwe. The dismissals follow allegations that at least 10 women and girls between the ages of 15 and 35 and one 15-year-old boy were abused by the two men.

California companies and faith-based groups that do not offer their employees domestic-partner benefits are the target of proposed state legislation that would prohibit such entities from doing business with state agencies in the future.

German bishops said they will fire church employees who take advantage of a new law allowing homosexuals to enter into registered partnerships. Andreas Herzig, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Berlin, said the bishops’ ruling only applies to those who make their homosexuality public.

On July 30, the new national review board set up to monitor the Catholic bishops’ handling of the clergy sex abuse crisis called on all dioceses in the country to report to it within 30 days on the current status of their sexual abuse policies and practices.

Bishop Patrick J. McGrath of San Jose, Calif., said he was mandating that glass panels be installed in the doors or walls of every office or other room in which parishioners are counseled, as well as in every reconciliation room in which there is no fixed grille between the priest and the penitent.

With its vote on Aug. 13 to oppose a ban on human cloning, the governing body of the American Bar Association has once again positioned itself against life, said the U.S. bishops’ chief spokeswoman on life issues.

Bishop Joseph Suwatan of Manado, Indonesia, denounced the recent spate of attacks in the city of Poso that he said undermined the peace treaty signed by Christians and Muslims last December.

Campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church, says a new joint Catholic-Jewish document that was a product of consultation between the National Council of Synagogues and the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Principals of some Catholic schools in eastern India were served contempt of court notices for closing their schools to show solidarity with a nun jailed for violating conversion laws.

The Catholic bishops of Malaysia have expressed alarm over the increasing politicization of Islam in the country and the impact it has had on religious freedom. Malaysia has witnessed the process of Islamization of our laws and regulations, the bishops said in a statement on Aug. 1.

Seven women who claimed to have been ordained Catholic priests during a ceremony conducted on a boat on the Danube River on June 29 have been excommunicated because despite a Vatican warning, they did not give any indication of amendment or repentance for the most serious offense they had committed, said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in a decree published on Aug. 5.

Brendan Tiernan, principal of Jesuit-run St. George’s College [high school] in Harare, Zimbabwe, has reacted with alarm to a threat by Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe to pass legislation that will ensure that heads of all schools in the country are government appointed.

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