Monday, February 1, 2016

Our Common Humanity Will Save Us from Fear and Economic Injustice

By Bill Moseley

Note: The following reflection was delivered before the start of mass at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church on the weekend of January 23-24, 2016.

People of God, my name is Bill Moseley and it is my privilege to reflect with you on today’s readings.

The second reading for today comes from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. I found the historical situation of the city of Corinth highly relevant to the challenges we face today. Corinth was a large Greek city which was totally destroyed by the Romans about 150 years before Christ in order to put down a rebellion, but then it was slowly repopulated. People from all over the Roman Empire, including many former slaves, began to flock there. The pull of Corinth had much to do with its advantageous physical geography. It is located on an isthmus, or strip of land, connecting southern and northern Greece. It became a hugely important place for trade and commerce. Travelers going from one part of Greece to another had to pass through here. Ships regularly stopped off at its ports.

Corinth grew by leaps and bounds, becoming the third largest city in the Roman Empire. Former slaves and immigrants who had moved to this area became fabulously wealthy and rose to positions of power. Rags to riches stories became a common part of the city’s collective narrative. Newly wealthy people gave money for public structures, almost always accompanied by large plaques acknowledging their generosity and hard work. But not everyone in Corinth benefitted from these boom times. Huge divisions of wealth began to appear. Not surprisingly, the Christian community here began to experience divisions similar to those in the broader society.

The situation in Corinth struck me as hauntingly familiar. A place depopulated by conquest, repopulated by immigrants, that becomes fabulously wealthy, yet deeply divided along economiclines. Change that produces economic divisions understandably generates a lot of uncertainty andfear – and faith communities are often called upon to try to make sense of this. How should religious and spiritual communities operate in places with deep and growing economic divisions?Do we moralize such differences, do we scapegoat others for our problems, do we assist the poor, or do we work for a more equal and fair world? Interestingly, religious communities have played a role in all of these approaches.

For example, some Protestant Christian denominations have a long history of holding up those who are economically successful, praising their efforts, and suggesting that their economic success is a sign of God’s favor. This “Protestant Work Ethic” has been championed as the reason for America’s economic success. We celebrate our entrepreneurs as people who toil alone to build businesses and generate wealth, and we deride those who suggest that there is a societal or collective element to any individual’s success. Increasingly, we elect the wealthy to public office so that we may double down on the economic system that produced them, so that we too may become wealthy.

But if we celebrate the wealthy as God’s chosen, if we glorify the economic system that produced them, then we still need to locate the source of our problems, to scapegoat the “other.” For this, we need to reify difference: to determine who is in and who is out. Sadly, many faith communities have excelled at constructing social difference.

In our first reading today from Nehemiah we hear the story of Ezra preaching to his people. Heretoo the context is vital. Ezra, along with the other elite of Jewish society, have slowly returned to Judea after a long exile in Babylon. Those who had stayed behind had intermarried with other groups, no longer speaking Hebrew, but the local language Aramaic. The Jewish elite see this as a problem and Ezra, interpreting Hebrew text that his people no longer understand, is commanding his people to leave their non-Jewish relatives. These non-Jewish relatives are different, they must be excluded. This is an immensely sad time, but, as you will hear today, Ezrais exhorting his people to celebrate this moment.

Some Christian communities are also accomplished at the art of exclusion. As a high school student I worked at our Episcopal Church as janitor, cleaning toilets, mopping floors and mowing the grass. My boss was an evangelical Christian seminarian who lived in an apartment in the upstairs of the church. We spent a lot of time together working and chatting. I distinctly remember him telling me that non-Christians would go to hell. I had many friends of other faiths and yet he insisted, no matter how good they might be, they would go to hell. They were different.

Sadly, we have also seen a certain brand of fundamentalist Islam gaining ground in economically marginalized West Africa – an area of the Islamic world historically known for its tolerance and moderation. Using tactics similar to the Crusades and the Inquisition, we have seen armed Jihadists increasingly wage terror in the name of religion. Just last week armed Islamists attackeda hotel and cafĂ© frequented by Westerners in the capital city of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou, killing and wounding nearly 100 people. I had a friend in that hotel. I sat stunned last Saturday as I read her interview with a local newspaper. She only survived by pretending to be dead.

Yes, such horrible atrocities are done in the name of religion, to separate the chosen from the unchosen. We celebrate the powerful, we blame the poor, we exclude the immigrant, we condemn people to hell, we ostracize folks, and we even kill people of other faiths: all to preserve or create some insane sense of order.

This is not, however, Paul’s advice to the Corinthians – the community racked by economic difference that I described at the start of this reflection. Paul neither justifies economic differencewith scripture, nor does he blame challenging circumstances on others. His overarching message is that we are all members of one body. “In this way all members may have the same care for oneanother. If one member suffers, all suffer together. If one member is honored, all rejoice together.” We are one, we are connected, we must care for one another – this is the message.

So what do we do in our troubled economic times that are rife with division, inequality and fear? Paul is suggesting that recognition of our common humanity will save us. Human contact, exchange and understanding are powerful antidotes to abstract ideologies and divisive narratives.

Every time my family and I volunteer at the Dorothy Day center I am reminded how I could so easily be down and out, freezing in the cold, and struggling to feed my family. I am reminded how deeply misplaced and flawed is our societal narrative of poverty linked to a poor work ethic and wanton substance abuse. Instead, I often see hard working people who can’t make ends meet, or folks struggling with mental illness with treatment far from accessible. I am reminded ofPaul’s message. Recognition of our common humanity will save us.

Minnesota is rightly proud of the fact that it was the first state to successfully beat back a regressive amendment, supported by a Catholic hierarchy divorced from its people, narrowly defining marriage as a heterosexual union. The tactics employed to defeat this inhumane amendment are relevant. It was a novel person to person campaign designed to reveal our common humanity. It was the simple idea that it’s a lot harder to disenfranchise same sex coupleswhen you actually know and respect them: they are our loved ones, neighbors and friends. Recognition of our common humanity will save us.

It’s a lot harder to categorize Muslims as terrorists to be excluded and ostracized when we have Muslim friends, or when thousands of Americans have served abroad in Muslim countries as Peace Corps volunteers developing a deep respect for these cultures and forming enduring friendships.

Recognition of our common humanity will save us. Recognizing our common humanity is a critical first step because it moves us beyond abstract ideologies that allow us to vilify, exclude and inflict violence on others. If others are not the problem, if we are all connected by our common humanity, then we are pushed to consider the structures that produce inequality.

Today’s Gospel reading from Luke is a policy manifesto of sorts, hinting at a better way to approach inequality. Here we see Jesus, the itinerant sage, the would-be radical, the most unlikely of prophets, beginning to speak truth to power in his home town. By referencing scripture, he is essentially arguing that the powerful need to relinquish privilege. He calls for a jubilee. “God has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed: to proclaim a year of favor from our God.” I’m not sure if I can relinquish my privilege on my own. I am quite comfortable and I enjoy my status as a white middle class American. But recognizing our common humanity helps me understand the destructive nature of this privilege and gives me the courage to work with others for change.

I would like to end with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that nicely summarizes the messageI take away from today’s readings. "Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love withoutpower is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

The author may be contacted at moseley@macalester.edu or may be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/WilliamGMoseley

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Shady Church Sex-Abuse Shell Game?

By Katie Zavadski

Note: This article was first published January 20, 2016 by The Daily Beast.


Archbishop John Nienstedt, accused of covering up
a major sex-abuse scandal, is moving to a new church
– and local residents are not pleased.

A battle is brewing in Battle Creek, Michigan, where residents are less than pleased that an archbishop accused of covering up a sex-abuse scandal has now embraced a second calling as a pastor in their town.

___________________


___________________


John Clayton Nienstedt served as the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis for 7 years but resigned this June, shortly after a prosecutor announced criminal charges and a civil suit against the archdiocese for allegedly covering up child sex abuse. Now Nienstedt has taken up a new post in Michigan, filling in for a sick old friend at St. Philip’s Roman Catholic Church.

A spokesperson for the Kalamazoo diocese told local papers that the arrangement between the archbishop and Father John Fleckenstein, who is ill, is just a simple agreement between friends. But detractors worry that the archbishop’s controversial past is getting a free pass.

Jennifer Haselberger served as Chancellor for Canonical Affairs in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. She was also the person who revealed how the archdiocese allegedly hid sex-abuse allegations.

Haselberger finds it plausible that Nienstedt and Fleckenstein didn’t expect the blowback in Battle Creek.

“[Nienstedt] doesn’t always have the most full perspective on things,” she said. “I can totally see this priest and this archbishop thinking, ‘What’s the big deal?’”

“He clearly doesn’t see himself in the same light as the majority of us do,” Haselberger said.

In a church bulletin, Fleckenstein announced Nienstedt’s arrival nonchalantly. “[O]ver the next few months I envision times that I will need assistance either for health reasons or that I may complete a couple of major projects for the Diocese in my role as Episcopal Vicar for Education,” Fleckenstein wrote. “Archbishop John Nienstedt, retired Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis/St. Paul will be joining us to assist in various pastoral ministries during this time.”

“He will celebrate some of the weekend and weekday Masses, visit the sick in the hospital, visit the sick and homebound, and celebrate Mass for the nursing home and assisted living facilities.”

Fleckenstein added that he expects Nienstedt, whom he’s known for 20 years, to move on in about six months.

But attorneys who represent alleged victims of priest sex abuse were not so generous in their assessment of the archbishop.

“For him to be ordered to another parish is the same sad story that’s been playing out for 30 years,” attorney Jeff Anderson told The Daily Beast. “It’s something they claim to have turned the page on, but time and time again they’re repeating the same pattern.”

"The entire nation's Roman Catholic child sexual abuse scandal just moved to Battle Creek," Patrick Wall, a priest and monk-turned-lawyer, told Michigan Live.

Charges filed by prosecutors allege that while Nienstadt was archbishop, the archdiocese ignored repeated abuse complaints against a priest who was convicted of molesting two boys. The former priest, Curtis Wehmeyer, was sentenced to five years for the abuse, but prosecutors said the archdiocese didn’t act on “numerous and repeated reports of troubling conduct.”

Nienstedt also misrepresented his handling of other cases where priests were accused of sexual impropriety, according to prosecutors. Though he had testified that he was unaware that Kenneth LaVan, a priest accused of assaulting a teenage girl, was still in the ministry, documents later showed he had gotten consistent updates on LaVan’s position and, and even spent time with him socially as friends.

“My leadership has unfortunately drawn attention away from the good works of His Church and those who perform them,” Nienstedt wrote in a letter of resignation last summer. “I leave with a clear conscience knowing that my team and I have put in place solid protocols to ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.”

But Nienstedt also faced allegations of child abuse and sexual misconduct himself. A boy accused Nienstedt of touching his buttocks during a confirmation ceremony at the Cathedral of St. Paul in 2009. The mother later reported the alleged incident to another priest, who alerted police and the archdiocese in 2013. Police declined to pursue charges against Nienstedt, and the archbishop affirmed his commitment to providing “safe environments for all children and youth.”

Another archdiocese investigation into Nienstedt focused on his alleged sexual conduct with seminarians, priests, and other men. Nienstedt called those allegations false, and “a personal attack against me due to my unwavering stance on issues consistent with church teaching, such as opposition to so-called same-sex marriage.”

Andrea Perry, the Youth Ministry Coordinator for St. Philip’s and two nearby Catholic churches, did not return a request for comment.


Related Off-site Link:
John Nienstedt's Arrival Angers Some Members of Michigan Diocese – Associated Press via The Star Tribune (January 20, 2016).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Ex-Twin Cities Archbishop Nienstedt Takes Michigan Church Post
CCCR Responds to the Resignation of Archbishop Nienstedt
Perspective
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, "Regime Change is Not Enough"

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Ex-Twin Cities Archbishop Nienstedt Takes Michigan Church Post

By Peter Cox

Note: This article was first published January 13, 2016 by Minnesota Public Radio News.

Archbishop John Nienstedt, who stepped down in June as head of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, has taken on a temporary pastoral role at a church in Battle Creek, Mich.

Nienstedt resigned the Twin Cities post after Ramsey County prosecutors charged the archdiocese with failing to protect children from a predatory priest.

The charge followed two years of revelations about the failure of the archdiocese to protect children from sexual abuse at the hands of clergy. Nienstedt, who served eight years as Twin Cities archbishop, admitted no mistakes in his resignation letter.

David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said Nienstedt should've been defrocked, not reassigned.

"This move sends precisely the wrong message to Catholic employees," he said. "The message it sends is, no matter how severe your wrongdoing is, you'll always have a job in the Catholic Church."

According to the bulletin at the St. Philip Catholic Church (.pdf), Nienstedt will fill in for the head priest, who is undergoing medical treatment, over the next six months.

Nienstedt will perform some weekend and weekday masses, visit the sick and celebrate mass for nursing home and assisted living facilities. He'll also fill in for other priests in the diocese when needed.

Nienstedt could not immediately be reached for comment. The Diocese of Kalamazoo said in a statement that Neinstedt was a priest in good standing and was welcome at the St. Philip Parish.


Related Off-site Links:
Ex-Archbishop John Nienstedt Goes to Michigan Parish – Jean Hopfensperger (Star Tribune, January 13, 2016).
Archbishop John Nienstedt and Bishop Robert Finn Have New Homes Outside Former Dioceses – Brian Roewe (National Catholic Reporter, January 14, 2016).

See also the previous PCV posts:
CCCR Responds to the Resignation of Archbishop Nienstedt
Perspective
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, "Regime Change is Not Enough"

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Council of the Baptized Launches 2016 "Open Forum" Series


Focus will be on the roles for women in the church

The Twin Cities-based Council of the Baptized launches its 2016 Open Forum series next Tuesday, January 12 with local church reformer Bob Wedl leading a presentation and discussion about ordaining women in the Roman Catholic Church. Wedl and other members of the Saint Joan of Arc Small Christian Community have been studying this issue for several years.

Council member Mary Beth Stein notes that a short document (reprinted below) will be the starting point for Tuesday's conversation which she says is all about "looking for ways to move forward toward the important goal of female ordination."

"The Council of the Baptized Open Forum is an opportunity for lay Catholics to voice their concerns of conscience," says Stein. "In 2016 we are focusing on concerns about the roles for women in our Church. Ordination is at the top of the list. We welcome local Catholics to join us as we explore this issue and seek ways to bring much needed reform to the Catholic Church."

The Council of the Baptized 2016 Open Forum starts next Tuesday, January 12, at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, 700 Snelling Ave. S., St. Paul, 55116 from 7:00-8:00 p.m. It continues on the second Tuesday of each month (except July).

__________________________________


Saint Joan of Arc Small Christian Community

On the Subject of the Ordination
of Women as Roman Catholic Priests


“Why Now . . . Why us”

The following are the beliefs of our St. Joan of Arc Small Christian Community regarding the issue of the ordination of women as priests in the Roman Catholic Church:

1. All men and women of the Catholic faith are worthy to serve as ministers of the faith . . . as priests. It is also necessary that they be theologically qualified.

2. The ordination of women is based first and foremost on the very foundation of what our faith professes. The teachings of the Catholic faith of Jesus Christ place great emphasis on equality of all of humanity, respect for each other, non-violence toward each other and above all, love of all of creation and of the creator. While the ordination of women is also clearly a women’s rights issue, it is the teaching of our faith that demands it. The primary purpose of the ministry is to assist people understand the message of Jesus Christ and practice that message of the faith in their daily lives. The willful and arrogant discrimination against half of humanity defiles the very teachings of the faith.

3. The gender of the ministry of the Catholic Church is not etched in the foundation of our faith. It is not a cornerstone of the teachings of Jesus Christ that only male beings are worthy of being ministers. This policy was enacted by the church hierarchy and is one which can and must be changed. Throughout the history of the hierarchical church, its policies and practices have undergone change and some of those changes have been adopted with utmost speed such as with Vatican II. We call for the same level of urgency to the issue of the ordination of women.

4. We believe many current male parish priests as well some bishops and cardinals in the church hierarchy want to openly embrace the inclusion of women to share in ministering to those of faith. We do ask these men to stand up in affirmation of their faith by embracing women’s ordination.

5. We are supporting and facilitating the dialogue within the faith communities to bring this issue to such a degree of significance that the Catholic Church will make the necessary changes so that the Catholic church becomes consistent with the teachings of the Catholic faith. We are not engaged in starting a new church outside of the Roman Catholic Church.

6. The actions of the Church hierarchy against Catholics who are women priests as well as those who support the ordination of women should be one of understanding and dialogue and not one of punishment.

7. We call on members of the community of faith everywhere to accept the responsibility to bring about the change necessary so that the policies of our church regarding women’s ordination become consistent with the teachings of our faith.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Catholic Leaders Stand With Obama on Guns and Demand Republicans Follow His Lead

By Sarah Jones


Note: This commentary was first published January 5, 2016 by PoliticusUSA.


This one is going to hurt Republicans, but it’s right on, because responsible gun measures are a moral issue. Catholics are praising President Obama for taking his announced executive action on gun control.

“President Obama’s executive actions announced today are a welcomed step forward towards ending the scandal of gun violence that continues to plague our nation,” began a statement sent to PoliticusUSA by Christopher J. Hale, Executive Director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

They cited Pope Francis calling out the only reason these deadly weapons are being sold to those who plan to inflict harm, “Pope Francis’s words to Congress last September continue to ring in our ears: ‘Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem.'”

The money changers are in the temple of Congress.

The Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good called on Congress to follow President Obama’s lead and take action, “Today the President has made a significant step towards doing so. Now it’s up to Congress to follow through so that the dream of the prophet Isaiah can become our nation’s lived reality: a place where spears and swords are beaten into ploughshares and pruning hooks and where peace and justice will prosper.”

The Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good is, according to Wikipedia, a non-partisan, Roman Catholic, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization which aims to promote “the fullness of the Catholic social tradition in the public square”.

According to their website (my bold), “Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good promotes public policies and effective programs that enhance the inherent dignity of all, especially the poor and most vulnerable. Our work is inspired by Gospel values and the rich history of Catholic social teaching as they inform pressing moral issues of our time. We accomplish our goals through public policy analysis and advocacy, strategic media outreach, and engaging citizens in the service of the common good.”

President Obama is on the right moral side of this argument, and as he likes to remind everyone, a majority of gun owners also agree so he has political will backing his executive action, if moral responsibility is not enough. Republicans have nothing but worn out, stale, debunked NRA talking points. As a nation, we need to stand up to the NRA and support our President in taking these important steps to putting human lives over profit margins.


Related Off-site Links:
Obama Unveils Presidential Plan to Cut Gun Violence – Bill Chappell (National Public Radio News, January 5, 2016).
Obama: “The Gun Lobby May Hold Congress Hostage, But They Can Not Hold America Hostage” – Jason Easley (PoliticusUSA, January 5, 2016).


Monday, January 4, 2016

A Prayer for the New Year


Creator God,

Give us the kindness to hear with compassion,
to offer support, loving comfort, and care.

Give us the courage to do what is needed,
the wisdom to choose what is right and most fair.

Give us the vision to see what is possible.

Give us the faith that will help pave the way
for a present that's hopeful,
a future that's peaceful.

Give us the heart to bring joy to each day.

Amen.


Text: Anonymous
Image: Michael J. Bayly.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Quote of the Day

Christmas is a reminder that I’m invited to be born time and again in the shape of my God-given self — which means embracing the vulnerability of the Christmas story. It’s a story easily lost in a culture that commercializes this holy day nearly to death, or in churches more drawn to showtime and bling than to the real thing, or in creedal food fights over whose theology is best. But the story’s meaning is clear . . .

An infant in a manger is as vulnerable as human beings get, and what an infant needs is simple: food, shelter and protection from harm. The same is true of all the good words seeded in our souls that long to become embodied in our midst. If these vulnerable but powerful parts of ourselves are to be incarnated — to suffer yet survive and thrive, transforming us and the wounded world around us — they need to be swaddled in unconditional love.

For those of us who celebrate Christmas, the best gift we can share with others, whatever their faith or philosophy may be, are two simple questions asked with heartfelt intent: What good words within us are waiting to take on flesh? How can we love one another in ways that allow those words to be born and dwell embodied among us?

– Parker Palmer
Excerpted from "When Words Become Flesh:
Risking Vulnerability in a Violent World
"
On Being
December 23, 2015

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Refugees Are On Their Way to Minnesota: Here's How You Can Help


Minnesota is one of the states that's accepting Syrian refugees.
There are refugees (from all over the world) on their way to MN as we speak!

The International Institute of Minnesota is helping to coordinate their arrival and gathering items that will make life a tiny bit easier.

If you're here in the Twin Cities and you're interested in helping, here's what they need and where you can donate:

Address: International Institute of Minnesota, 1694 Como Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108

Drop off times: 8:45 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Monday-Friday

Please Note: Only the following items are being requested at this time.

Baby Items: Diapers (only new); Wipes (only new); Baby clothes
Winter Clothing: Coats; Boots; Gloves; Hats; Scarves.
Household Items: Dishes; Glassware; Silverware; Tea kettles; Garbage cans (only new); Garbage bags; Bed linens (laundered); Blankets (laundered); Towels (laundered); Dish towels (laundered); Vacuums; Laundry baskets
School Supplies: Pencils; Calculators; Pens; Notebooks; Folders
Crayons; Backpacks
Other Items: Maps of the City; Gift Cards (only to Cub Foods, Target, Goodwill); Bus Cards

Also, if you're interested in working more closely with a refugee family, check out the International Institute of Minnesota's refugee mentorship program by clicking here.

If you would like to ship donations directly from your home to the International Institute's offices (or directly from Amazon.com), donations should be addressed to:

Bridget Ehrman-Solberg
International Institute of Minnesota
1694 Como Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55108

Finally, if you'd like to donate money, click here.

How Catholic Leaders Are Defying Governors Who Are Trying to Block Refugees

By Leslie Caimi


Note: This article was first published December 8, 2015 by The Washington Post.


The Catholic Church is pledging assistance to Syrian refugees seeking resettlement in the United States, thwarting attempts by governors to prevent an influx of refugees from the war-torn nation.

On Monday night, the Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis facilitated the arrival of a Syrian refugee family to the city, openly challenging Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s call to halt the arrival of refugees from Syria.

In the wake of the terrorist attack in Paris on Nov. 13, Pence joined 31 governors, primarily Republican, in objecting to the federal government’s program to resettle refugees from Syria in the United States, citing fears that there are gaps in the screening process for potential security risks.

Pence was among those state leaders who directed state agencies to suspend disbursing funds for services to refugees originating from Syria.

But Catholic leaders across the United States cried foul on plans to close the door on refugees from Syria, loudly reminding their respective communities of the humanitarian need.

The Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee on migration chided the governors for “using this tragedy to scapegoat all refugees,” in a statement on Nov. 17.

“They are extremely vulnerable families, women, and children who are fleeing for their lives. We cannot and should not blame them for the actions of a terrorist organization,” Bishop Eusebio Elizondo said.

Bishops from Chicago, New York, Missouri, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and New Mexico were also among those who penned opinion pieces for local papers or open letters calling for compassion over overreaction.

“We must find a way to open our doors to them,” New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan wrote in a New York Daily News opinion piece about the need for a wide embrace of Syrian refugees.

Despite the church’s call to keep the door open to refugees, Pence met last week with local Catholic leaders to urge them to “defer from welcoming” a Syrian family seeking placement in the state until Congress passed new legislation providing more stringent security screening for refugees from Syria, Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin [right] said in a statement on Tuesday.

Tobin said he listened to Pence’s concerns “and prayerfully considered his request” but ultimately decided to proceed with assistance for the arrival of a Syrian family with two small children in Indianapolis on Monday night. The assistance came through “a public-private partnership between the federal government and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and its Migration and Refugee Services,” according to the statement.

“For 40 years the Archdiocese’s Refugee and Immigrant Services has welcomed people fleeing violence in various regions of the world. This is an essential part of our identity as Catholic Christians and we will continue this life-saving tradition,” Tobin said in a statement.

The refugee family was placed with relatives who live in the Indianapolis area, after fleeing Syria three years ago. The family of four underwent “extensive security checks” over a two-year period before they were approved for entry into the country.

A spokesman for Pence said that the governor “holds Catholic Charities in the highest regard but respectfully disagrees with their decision to place a Syrian refugee family in Indiana at this time,” according to a statement on Tuesday from the governor’s office.

Pence’s office said it would continue to suspend state participation in the refugee resettlement program for Syrians, which could include state funding for English language training, medical services, food stamps and employment readiness programs.

Greg Otolski, a spokesman for the archdiocese, told the Indianapolis Star that Catholic Charities would still apply for state benefits for the family. If the funding was denied on the basis that the family is from Syria, Otolski told the paper that Catholic Charities would be able to cover the resettlement expenses for the family.

“The family is entitled to the same benefits any refugees arriving in Indiana receive. We hope that the state will not single them out,” he told the paper.

Pence’s office did say the Indiana Department of Health would reimburse the cost of health-care screening for refugees, including those from Syria, by county health departments in the state.

In addition to Indiana, on Monday, Texas became home for a family of six from Syria despite opposition from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

Despite Abbott’s fervent objections, the family arrived in Dallas on Monday where they will live with relatives, a spokeswoman for the International Rescue Committee, who assisted with the resettlement, told the Associated Press.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Re-Jesusing the Catholic Church

By Garry Wills

Note: This commentary was first published November 19, 2015 by The Boston Globe.


How can a church whose officialdom is worldly and corrupt present Jesus to the world? Pope Francis thinks it cannot. He once told people at the morning mass in his small chapel, “To be believable, the Church has to be poor.” He has spoken of personal revulsion at seeing a priest drive an expensive car. When he spoke of money as “the devil’s dung” (he was quoting a church father, Saint Basil), some took this as an attack on Western capitalism. But it was a more general message, part of his apology in Bolivia for the church’s role in colonialism. And when Francis looks around the Vatican, he finds the same devil-stench. In one of his earlier interviews as pope, he said, “The Curia is Vatican-centric. It sees and looks after the interests of the Vatican, which are still, for the most part, temporal interests.” He said to assembled Cardinals that some approach the Vatican as if it were a royal court, with all the marks of such courts — “intrigue, gossip, cliques, favoritism, and partiality.’’

That list of sins could be taken as a table of contents for the scandalous activities recorded in Gianluigi Nuzzi’s new book, Merchants in the Temple, a title taken from the Bible account of Jesus driving money lenders from the Temple court. Nuzzi is the journalist who received the “Vatileaks” from the papal butler, revealing the scheming and profiteering that occurred during Benedict XVI’s papacy. He demonstrates an equal access to secret documents and conversations in the papacy of Francis, which show a concerted resistance to papal efforts to make the Vatican bear at least some resemblance to Jesus, however remote.

The official church is wealthy and poor because it always overspends itself. It lives on display, favoritism, and unaccountability. Its fourteen personnel agencies create honorary posts for clients who will be subservient to their patrons. This is as true of the Vatican State Department as of the Vatican banks. We know of the scandalous and money-laundering Institute for the Works of Religions — commonly called the Vatican Bank. But another money manager is equally unaccountable — the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See.

In what is called Peter’s Pence, Catholics from around the world send money to be spent on the poor. But four-fifths of that money is spent on maintenance of the bloated Vatican itself. The official church owns large amounts of real estate inside and outside Italy, but these holdings drain as much wealth as they collect, because so many of them are given at low or no rent to prelates and their flunkies, who redecorate them to their refined tastes, using Vatican money to do it.

Francis, who handled financial scandal in the diocese he took over in Buenos Aires, knew that he could not get control of the Vatican unless he had a true audit of where all the money was going. So he set up a special body to find this out – COSEA (Commission on Organization of the Economic Administration of the Holy See). This commission hired outside auditors, internationally recognized experts, to go over the money in all the papal departments (dicasteries). But faced with this demand for records from lay experts, the skilled ecclesiastical maneuverers in the departments reported sluggishly, incompletely, or not at all. COSEA’s frustrations over this may be why their members leaked tapes of their meetings to Nuzzi and others. Indeed two of them (a monsignor and a lay woman) were arrested in early November by Vatican gendarmes for leaking — though these leaks are on the pope’s side, unlike the earlier leaks.

Controversy about the official church has normally centered on doctrinal disputes, over things like contraception and abortion. These are seen as struggles for the mind of the church. Francis is more interested in the soul of the church. Does the church really speak from prelates’ posh apartments in Rome and from bishops’ palaces around the world? In our trips to Rome, my wife has given up entering St. Peter’s, since she cannot find anything like Jesus in that riot of celebration of the great papal families, with monstrous large statues of past pontiffs in all their ecclesiastical regalia. Jesus did not wear expensive chasubles and jeweled mitres (or any ecclesiastical garments). What Francis is engaged in is less a matter of theological dispute than a re-Jesusing of the church. If he fails, we have failed Jesus.

Garry Wills, a professor of history at Northwestern University, is the author of The Future of the Catholic Church With Pope Francis.