Thursday, November 19, 2015

Quote of the Day

The jig is up. Its been nearly three years. The pope has clearly laid out his priorities, first in Laudato si and then during his recent trip to the U.S. But at their fall meeting in Baltimore this week, the majority of the bishops forcefully rejected giving Francis’ concerns regarding poverty, the environment and immigration equal time with their own regarding abortion and same-sex marriage.

– Patricia Miller
Excerpted from "U.S. Bishops Reject Pope Francis' Priorities"
Religion Dispatches
November 19, 2015

Related Off-site Link:
USCCB Voting Guide Retains Focus on Marriage, Against Protests by Some Bishops – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, November 19, 2015).

Monday, October 5, 2015

Twin Cities Catholics Get Rare Chance to Make Archbishop Recommendations to Vatican

By Jean Hopfensperger

Note: This article was first published October 5, 2015 by the Star Tribune.

An often-outspoken group of Twin Cities Catholics packed a conference hall Monday for a rare opportunity to tell church leaders what they think of the archdiocese and what they want in their next archbishop.

With the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese reeling from a sex abuse scandal, bankruptcy and a theological divide, acting Archbishop Bernard Hebda hosted the first of seven “listening sessions” at St. Catherine University in St. Paul. [NOTE: For a list of all seven listening sessions, click here.]

It’s an unusual strategy, as archbishop recommendations typically are made by church leaders selected by the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C.

It wasn’t a bashful group.

“There’s a lack of trust, both in management and finance,” said Paul Mandell of Inver Grove Heights, one of about 200 people attending. “There’s a frustration with not being heard. There’s morale problems among priests and laity who don’t feel empowered.”

Mary Beth Stein told the archbishop that the sex abuse scandal, clerical cover-up and financial woes were among burning issues the next archbishop must address.

“There’s a strong sense of polarization in this archdiocese,” said Stein, of Shoreview. “We need to find a way to bridge Catholics, from conservative to progressive.”

Hebda spent two hours with the group that gathered at tables where they discussed three questions: What are the strengths of the archdiocese? What are its challenges? What should the Vatican consider when appointing a new bishop?

The key recommendations from all seven sessions will be summarized and sent to the Vatican Embassy as it makes its recommendations to Pope Francis.

It’s an unusual move, Hebda acknowledged. Ordinary Catholics aren’t typically asked their opinions on such matters. The usual process is for the embassy to seek insight into an archbishop appointment by sending questionnaires to local archdiocese leaders, said Hebda.

Both will be done in the St. Paul, where former archbishop John Nienstedt resigned in June after the Ramsey County attorney’s office filed criminal charges against the church for failing to protect children.

Hebda said the listening sessions reflect the spirit of the pope, who encouraged bishops who met with him in Washington, D.C., last month “to engage in dialogue.”

“We’re going to be looking at common themes in these listening sessions,” he said, joking that people in this group were the “guinea pigs” testing out the method.

At each listening session, the crowd will be divided into small discussion groups that will offer their input to Hebda.

Archdiocese strengths were first on the docket Monday, and answers were varied: Passionate, educated laity. Strong Catholic schools. Strong social-justice focus. Diverse members who cross differences of race, theology and geography.

“And we’re patient,” joked one group member.

Emotions ran a little higher when folks laid out the archdiocese’s challenges: Church members burned out and pained by the sex abuse scandal. Distrust over financial integrity and church credibility. Lack of recognition of women. Young adults and disaffected Catholics bailing out. Doctrine trumping understanding.

“There’s been more promotion of [religious] rites than personal relationships,” said Denise Anderson of St. Paul.

When describing preferred traits for the next archbishop, “humility” was mentioned most often. He must be a good listener, knowledgeable about church finance, a “bridge-builder,’’ a “communicator,” transparent.

“I think what you said will resonate with Pope Francis,” Hebda told the group.

Hebda said he spoke with the pope briefly in Washington and asked him to pray for the archdiocese. “It’s clear that he understands the urgency of the situation here,” said Hebda.

On Tuesday, Hebda will hear from Catholic priests and sisters in St. Paul, and then lay folks at Pax Christi Church in Eden Prairie. The last session is November 4.

Not all Minnesotans are waiting for listening sessions to speak their minds. Hebda joked that the papal envoy in Washington tipped him off that he has already received “more than one or two letters’’ from Twin Cities Catholics.

Related Off-site Link:
Twin Cities Catholics Weigh In on New Archbishop – Madeleine Baran (MPR News, October 6, 2015).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Good News! – Archbishop Hebda to Hold Listening Sessions on Leadership Needs
CCCR Representatives Meet with Archbishop Hebda
Our Next Archbishop: What Would You Ask a Candidate If You Knew Your Voice Would Be Heard?
We Need a New Way of Choosing Bishops
Tom Flannery in Minneapolis
"Our Voices Are Growing"
Creating a Liberating Church
Let Our Voices Be Heard
Papal Appointment of Bishops is Not Traditional

Monday, September 28, 2015

Good News! – Archbishop Hebda to Hold Listening Sessions on Leadership Needs

Interim-Archbishop Bernard Hebda and his staff have announced a Fall listening session series aimed at gathering lay feedback in helping shape the archdiocese's future.

Reporting on this development for The Catholic Spirit, Maria Wiering writes:

Archbishop Bernard Hebda is asking for Catholics' input on the strengths and challenges of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and the qualities hoped for in its next archbishop, through a series of listening sessions to be held in October and November.

The sessions are "taking a page from Pope Francis' playbook," he said.

"It's an opportunity for our local Church to be able to offer some input to Pope Francis and those with whom he'll be collaborating in making a decision about the next archbishop," he said. "I think it's important that we see how consultative Pope Francis has been from the beginning of his pontificate. Consider, for example, his use of a committee of cardinals to advise him and the emphasis that he has placed on the Synod process. We're hoping that we might be able to assist him - in all humility - along those lines by giving him some information from those who know the archdiocese best."

Archbishop Hebda, the archdiocese's apostolic administrator since the resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt in June, acknowledged that the effort to obtain widespread feedback ahead of a new archbishop may be somewhat unusual, but suggested it could be something other dioceses adopt if it proves helpful.

The sessions will be hosted at parishes and Catholic institutions in several areas of the archdiocese in hopes that every Catholic who wishes to participate can. The locations were chosen for geographic diversity, their ability to accommodate large groups and as "parishes where different kinds of people would feel comfortable," Archbishop Hebda said.

"Some of the sessions will be in non-parish settings, so even those who feel some distance from the Church might feel comfortable in sharing their views with us," he said.

Feedback gathered during these sessions will be shared with those responsible for advising Pope Francis as he makes this important choice and with the new Archbishop whenever he is named. Summaries will be published in The Catholic Spirit.

For many of us, this is the opportunity we've long been waiting and working for: the chance to step up and let our voices be heard about the type of leadership we want to see in our local church!

Please do all you can to attend one of the listening sessions and encourage family and friends to do likewise.

Following is the schedule of listening sessions.

Schedule of Listening Sessions

Monday, October 5
1:00–3:00 p.m., Rauenhorst Ballroom, Coeur de Catherine, St. Catherine University, St. Paul
7:00–9 p.m., St. Stephen, Anoka

Tuesday, October 6:
1:00–3:00 p.m., Carondelet Center, St. Paul (NOTE: For women and men in consecrated life)
7:00–9:00 p.m., Pax Christi, Eden Prairie

Monday, November 2
7:00–9:00 p.m., Saint Peter, Forest Lake

Tuesday, November 3
7:00–9:00 p.m., Divine Mercy, Faribault

Wednesday, November 4
7:00–9:00 p.m., Woulfe Alumni Hall, Anderson Student Center, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul

Additional listening sessions are being scheduled for Latino Ministry parishes (in Spanish) and priests.

See also the previous PCV posts:
CCCR Representatives Meet with Archbishop Hebda
Our Next Archbishop: What Would You Ask a Candidate If You Knew Your Voice Would Be Heard?
We Need a New Way of Choosing Bishops
Local Catholics Select Three Priests for Bishop/Archbishop
CCCR Responds to the Resignation of Archbishop Nienstedt
Tom Flannery in Minneapolis
"Our Voices Are Growing"
Creating a Liberating Church
Let Our Voices Be Heard
Papal Appointment of Bishops is Not Traditional

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

CCCR Representatives Meet with Archbishop Hebda

Above: St. Paul-Minneapolis Interim Archbishop Bernard Hebda (center) with CCCR board members (from left) Art Stoeberl, Michael Bayly and Paula Ruddy – September 3, 2015.

On Thursday afternoon, September 3, three board members of the Twin Cities-based Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR), Art Stoeberl, Michael Bayly and Paula Ruddy, met with Interim-Archbishop Bernard Hebda. By all accounts, it was a very cordial and productive meeting.

Following is part of Elizabeth A. Elliott's National Catholic Reporter coverage of CCCR's meeting with Archbishop Hebda.

As the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese prepares for a new leader, the Vatican-appointed interim administrator has met with a Catholic reform group that the former archbishop had warned his flock against joining.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda, appointed apostolic administrator following the resignation of Archbishop John C. Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee A. Piché in June, met September 3 with members of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) of Minnesota.

"I was pleased to meet with three members of the CCCR and was delighted to learn that they share my interest in engaging in a wide consultation of the faithful in assessing the needs of the archdiocese," Hebda said in a statement to NCR. "I was also happy to share with them some of the preliminary plans for that consultation, and appreciated their input and offer of collaboration."

Hebda met with Paula Ruddy, a member of the CCCR board, Michael Bayly and Art Stoeberl.

Ruddy told NCR, "We are interested in having a lay voice, a broad and open consultation for who the next archbishop will be. We are asking that [Hebda] would expand the process of choosing the archbishop to include all people in the archdiocese at an open meeting."

The coalition co-chair, Bob Beutel, wasn't at the meeting with Hebda, but he said he was pleased to hear that the archbishop was cordial and had heard of their organization. "It was nice to get that recognition."

Beutel said the organization was waiting to hear about the listening schedule the diocese has in the works which will be eight sessions at four different locations. [NOTE: Click here for an update on the times and venues of these sessions.] He said the organization would "like to see people make known what kind of person the new bishop should be, the kind of vetting that should be done and suggestions of people who might be a good bishop might be."

To read Elizabeth A. Elliott's NCR article in its entirety, click here.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Our Next Archbishop: What Would You Ask a Candidate If You Knew Your Voice Would Be Heard?

The following is from the leadership of the Twin Cities-based Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR).

We are currently seeking an opportunity to express our needs and desires to those who are appointing our next Archbishop, with the hope that they care what we – and, indeed, all Catholics in the local church – need and desire.

Can you imagine an organization that depends for its bread and butter on people’s voluntary contributions not caring what those people think?

Can you imagine an organization that preaches loudly that Jesus is its Lord ignoring the people it is its mission to serve?

Let’s hope that the Papal Nuncio who is the organization’s man in the U.S. and Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda, the temporary administrator, will accept CCCR’s offer to set up an open and broad consultation process before the appointment of the new Archbishop.

In the meantime . . .

If you had a seat on the selection committee in Rome, making a recommendation to the Pope for appointment, what would you look for in a candidate for St. Paul and Minneapolis?

Please let us know by sending as e-mail to PCV editor Michael Bayly at

Michael is continually adding to this post the feedback he receives on what local Catholics are looking for in their next archbishop.

Listed below (in most recent to earliest order) are the comments received to date.

I would like to see a rare presence - one who doesn't have the spirit of timidity in speaking about the deep misogyny in the Church, and exposing it as not of Christ.

– Elizabeth Rainsford-McMahon

Many critical attributes have already been offered and I agree with all of them. Most importantly, I think, is someone who has a welcoming attitude to all Catholics as well as the greater community. Someone who recognizes that many of the faithful have been hurt, disenfranchised, condemned, and turned away from the Church they love. Someone who embraces all, recognizes the beauty and value of diversity, and listens carefully and respectfully. And someone who has the intellect and courage to lead us (at both the local level as well as within the world Church) to a Church more fully embracing of gospel values for all God’s people.

– Kathy Andrus

I would like to see the next bishop (whether male or female) be one who acts first to help the victim of abuse rather than trying to protect the person causing harm; I would like to see the next bishop work as a pastor - spending a month (from time to time) serving as a parish priest in different places in the archdiocese.

I would like to see the next bishop:

• address changes in the formation of candidates for the priesthood by revising the curriculum; hiring lay
couples to teach courses; to require extensive hands on internships in social justice agencies

• establish ministries by and for LGBT people, homeless people, and non-Catholic/former Catholic people

• open discussion on the elimination of celibacy rules

• rent a "double wide" trailer for a residence and donate the bishop's throne at the Cathedral to the Pentecostal church in Brooklyn Center ( the current priests residence would make a great emergency shelter and short term rooms for homeless teenagers.

– Art Stoeberl

At the risk of replicating some of the qualities that others have suggested, I offer my thoughts on the ideal person for the position. He (I suppose it has to be a male) should be someone whom the majority of people respect because of his proven record of trying to create a community of the faithful. To this end, he needs to actively listen and respond with compassion to what he hears. He needs to identify with the real concerns of the people and to interpret the teachings of the church in light of the 21st society in which we live. To this end, he will need to understand that the findings of scientists and psychologists mean we must change our understanding of the environment and human behavior. Finally, he will need courage to take a position that may sometimes be opposed to those of higher standing in the church.

– Patricia Mulrooney Eldred

After reading the comments and suggestions already offered concerning the next Archbishop and the qualities people would like to see, I concur with what has been said. The quality I want to raise up is looking to the possibility of the next archbishop being from here. I think part of the difficulties encountered by the two previous archbishops – Flynn and Nienstedt – were that they were outsiders. I don’t know if they ever caught up with this culture. There was an article in the NCR a few weeks ago that spoke about the Old Boys’ Network that was/is involved in how men become archbishops. Nienstedt was used an example in how he ended up here.

With this in mind, I strongly urge the powers-that-be to name a local person to be the next Archbishop – either a bishop elsewhere whose roots are here or someone is not yet a bishop. I believe we need someone whose roots are here and knows our culture.

– Mark Scannell

For too long, our archdiocese has suffered from a "small tent" mentality. An atmosphere of exclusion has alienated large numbers of Catholic who experience their faith in ways different from the archbishop. This has created polarization and caused a fragmented and divided local Church.

Our new archbishop must be someone who welcomes all Catholics. He must create forums whereby he can dialog with and listen to Catholics with diverse lived experiences. He must be a bridge builder who leads our local Church into an atmosphere of diverse conversations, loving inclusion, and Christ-like welcome. Our next archbishop must create a tent large enough for all!

– Mary Beth Stein

Give us one who is transparent, accountable, and responsive to the needs of the people, acting with Love and Compassion as Jesus lived and taught; doctrine and dogma be d----d.

– John Chuchman

It would be great if the new Archbishop knew how the laity has longed for dialog with him and longed for his visibility to all of us; how we have been saddened and alienated by our leader traveling constantly away from his people; and how we are discouraged by the Catholic flock diminishing before our eyes. And he needs to know that there is a great need for healing - and it has not begun for many of us.

– Bonnie Strand

Yes to what has been previously presented, and . . . a bishop who fulfills Pope Francis's "missionary option" as expressed in #27 of The Joy of the Gospel. "...a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the churches customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today's world rather than for her self preservation.... To make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with him."

– Don Conroy

I would look for a man with the Christian vision "Here comes everybody!" All are welcome. We are on the move to co-create the Kingdom of God, so let's roll up our sleeves and get to work.

– Paula Ruddy

I'd like to see as our next archbishop an educated person who is generally perceived to be mature, stable and pastoral in style. Someone familiar with the spectrum of theological thought, but who relates well to young people and disenfranchised people, and has an understanding of the economic, social, psychological, and technological challenges they face today. Someone who might aspire to soothing the hearts and souls of people living in a wounded culture. Someone who might represent Church as a beacon of hope in an increasingly hopeless world. Leadership, kindness, empathy, intelligence, and humility might be good starting points. A very big order.

– Mary Lynn Murphy

The next archbishop should have compassion, and mercy. He should be familiar to this area, the culture and history. It is important that the new leader listen to the many voices that love their church. The archbishop must be skilled in healing and at the same time progressive in stimulating new growth.

– Nancy Gotto

I think we’d all be looking for someone from our region that knows the people and their outlook.

I would want someone willing to talk to their own staff, interact with both ordained and lay people, and have open forums throughout the diocese from time to time so they would always have their finger on the pulse of the community.

Someone willing to be open about structure, budget items, costs, income, and expenditures of the diocese.

Someone aware that the ordained are not above the people, but were ordained to serve the people.

Someone willing to make the changes and adjustments necessary to see that abuse is never again ignored

Someone willing to agree with the pope that we are not called to judge people, that God can handle that all alone.

– Frank Meuers

What we desperately need in a new bishop is someone who can relate to our young people. It has been brought to my attention that very few weddings are taking place in church, that young people see Confirmation as a graduation from having to learn anything more about their faith, and that anyone who attended Easter Vigils were made painfully aware of how few people joined the church

I think it is absolutely necessary to convene a panel of young people, teenagers as well as 20-30 year-olds to seriously listen to them and heed their concerns. If we do not do something soon, I don't see much hope for the future of the church. What is desperately needed is visionary leadership - the time is ripe, let's take advantage of it.

– Mary Beckfeld

Share your thoughts by e-mailing a comment to

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Challenging Ourselves to Think Like a Community on Climate Change

By Bill Moseley

Note: The following reflection was delivered before the start of mass at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church on the weekend of July 25-26, 2015.

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

Some of you may know that my wife and I are the parents of two teenage children. One of our perennial struggles is convincing our kids of why it is worthwhile going to church – a challenge I am sure none of you have ever faced. We hear: it’s such a waste of time, it’s boring, it’s irrelevant, it’s old fashioned... The basic critique is that church has nothing to teach us. The reality is that I understand some of these concerns, yet I go to mass. Why? Well, on a good day, I suspect it is because I know that I can be small minded and I understand that I need to have my way of thinking and acting challenged.

Our son recently went through confirmation class this year and one of the benefits of this process is that the candidate gets a sponsor with whom he or she can discuss this question of ‘why bother going to church.’ We would periodically hear from our son about the conversations he had had with his sponsor. In one of these our son’s sponsor said: I think you will grow up to be successful and rich, and part of the reason you should go to church is so that you will not grow up to be a rich jerk.

So I would like to riff on this theme of ‘not being a rich jerk’ and connect it to today’s readings. Please note that I am interpreting rich in a broad, relative sense. In other words, by global standards everyone in this room is wealthy. Furthermore, by jerk, I take this to mean less than honorable, if not self-centered behavior. How do today’s readings challenge our way of thinking and acting, how do they push us to think bigger than ourselves and to behave in a way that is better for us, our fellow human beings and the planet?

In today’s lessons, both the first reading from Kings, as well as John’s version of the loaves and fishes story, we hear about the enduring human concern of: “will there be enough?” We read about the servant in Kings who is worried that there will not be enough food to feed all of the guests. We also hear about Philip, in the Gospel of John, who is deeply concerned about how they will feed the 5,000 who have gathered to hear Jesus. Philip’s angst is clear when he notes: ‘Two hundred days wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to have even a little.” In each story, there is some food to be had, but there seemingly isn’t enough. Jesus clearly says: let go of your fears of scarcity and there will be plenty. Furthermore, the writers of both stories go out of their way, and really emphasize, that there is food left over and that this should not be wasted. After performing the miracle of plenty, Jesus instructs the disciples to “Gather up the fragments so that nothing may be lost.”

This kind of advice challenges us on a least two fronts. First, it takes on our deep seated anxiety of shortages. Some in our community may worry about the source of tomorrow’s meal, some of us worry about having enough money to pay the bills each month, others are concerned about saving enough for retirement. These concerns often trigger an almost primeval fear of scarcity, a sort of panic that can keep us up at night. Furthermore, we often reason, prudent people, responsible people, save their resources and do not use them frivolously. In fact, at some level many of us believe that poor people are poor because they do not know how to manage their resources wisely.

The second challenge is that, perhaps, the one time we feel like we can afford to be less frugal, to waste a bit, is when there is a sense of abundance. Some of us drive to work when we could bike or walk, we fly when we could go by train, or we jet ski when we could paddle. If we have the resources, we reason, then why not live a bit easier? These readings ask us to share when we sense scarcity and to conserve when there is a feeling of abundance. At first glance this makes no sense.

And while this message may be counter-intuitive at the level of the individual, I think in both cases we are asked to take a step back and think about the situation more from the perspective of the group, to think about the state of affairs collectively. By working as a group, by thinking about each other, by sharing, by taking only what we need: scarcity dissolves. Furthermore, by moving beyond ourselves, we begin to realize that abundance is also an illusion and that frivolous over-consumption is deeply problematic. This shift in perspective, from the individual to the collective viewpoint, is – if you will – all about not being ‘rich jerks.’

I believe Pope Francis is calling for something very similar in his recent encyclical on climate change. I don’t know if any of you have had a chance to read this document, but I highly recommend it. Pope Francis clearly believes that climate change is real, that this problem is disproportionately impacting the poor of the world, and that over-consumption by some is a key driver of the problem.

Why have we, as a people, been so reluctant to address this global environmental challenge? Clearly the reluctance to address climate change varies by individual. For some, like the guy who sat next me on the plane last month and incessantly questioned me about the validity of climate change science, he not only doubts the science but he believes this is a conspiracy to destroy the American dream. For him, Americans have worked hard to become rich and prosperous. We are deserving. And now others are using the climate change problem to question the economic system that has created this wealth. At some level, he was articulating a fear of scarcity. Others will take what we have. At another level is voicing a right to over-consumption. We earned this wealth and we should be able to spend it as we please.

Others understand global climate change, they believe in the science, yet feel completely overwhelmed by it. We are like Philip in the Gospel of John. How can we possibly feed 5,000 people, this problem is so, so huge: ‘Two hundred days wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to have even a little.” The planet is warming, the oceans are rising, I just don’t know what to do.

As in today’s readings, the encyclical asks us to think bigger than ourselves, to think beyond our group, the tribe we call America. While Francis gets into some of the science of climate change, much of the text has a social justice bent and focuses on how the impacts of climate change are and will be differentially experienced. He goes into detail discussing how those who produce very few greenhouse gases, the world’s poor, will suffer some of the worst impacts of climate change. We are asked to have empathy for others, to think beyond ourselves.

Francis also spends a considerable amount of time discussing over-consumption as a key driver of the problem. He writes: “We all know that it is not possible to sustain the present level of consumption in developed countries and wealthier sectors of society, where the habit of wasting and discarding has reached unprecedented levels. The exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits and we still have not solved the problem of poverty.”

By thinking larger than ourselves, by being wholehearted, we simultaneously come to better understand the problem and begin to see the possibilities for a solution.

My read is that Pope Francis believes that we need to reform the economic system to solve this problem. He writes: “Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming . . .” This sets off a lot of alarm bells for many Americans, including my friend on the airplane. It sets off alarm bells because reform plays on our latent fears of scarcity, a concern that we will lose out if the system changes. But even for those who understand the problem and want to change the system, it can be overwhelming. If the economic system is the problem, how do we change it?

My students ask me this question all the time and get really depressed about it. If the system is the problem, how do we change it? While Francis uses more nuanced language, he is saying that the rules we have set up, the way we operate as a global community, is faulty. We can only accomplish so much as individuals. If we let go of our fears of scarcity, and start working together, we might be surprised by what is possible. Miracles may even happen. We feed 5000 people with 5 loaves of bread and two fish, we end slavery and Apartheid, we elect a black president, or we enact marriage equality for all. All of these changes were thought to be impossible. None of these things would have happened had we not relinquished our fears and worked together as a group. And while it may not seem possible now, it is within our capacity to address climate change by setting up laws and tax policy that leads us to consume differently. And while some may lose out, namely those invested in fossil fuels and related technologies, the larger collective of humanity will win.

The miracle here is in the collective. It is tempting to read the loaves and fishes story and draw individual lessons about morality: we need to share and not waste. The problem is that moral behavior will only get us so far if the economic system, the way we exchange resources, takes insufficient account of human deprivation and environmental degradation. The harder task is to reform the system, to make sure we privilege what is good for all. What makes sense for the individual may not be best for the group. Many people, like myself, are not moral superstars, but we are ‘rich jerks.’ I do not naturally feel compelled to share when I sense scarcity, and I need motivation to conserve when I sense plenty. I cannot do this alone, but I can in a community. And that is why I go to church.

The author may be contacted at or

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Supreme Court and Marriage Equality

By Donald Conroy

Our country has taken another step in the separation of church and state. We are reminded that marriage has a civic and a religious dimension, and the two are to be understood as separate. All citizens who qualify by age and citizenship have the civil right to the advantages of marriage. If there are any conditions that disqualify a person of this right, they must be addressed in this context.

The churches are now to emphasize and practice the choice to marry as a religious act, and not just a civic right. Catholics believe that marriage is a sacrament, a sacred symbol of their union in the Spirit of Christ. It is not only in itself a union of two persons, but also a sacred symbol of the Union of Christ and the People of God, the Church. With this decision of the court, each institution is prompted to focus on its own responsibility to its people. This is a good day.

The sacred symbol of marriage is the personal commitment of two people that is consummated in sexual intimacy. The stated purpose of marriage that is found in the encyclical "Casti Connubii" and repeated in "Humani Generis" is children and personal love. The experience of many Catholics in a same-sex committed union has been revealed over many years as sacred. We have been told over and over of the religious, sacred dimension of their relationship.

Today these couples have the civil right to marriage and all the corresponding advantages: visitation, inheritance, emergency admittance, joint real estate, etc. What is it that is missing from acceptance from religious institutions? Is it propagation? The sacred symbol is the personal commitment and union not the outcome. For many centuries our attention in marriage has been its place in our legal and political system. We have been very concerned with legitimacy and inheritance as well as property rights. One main reason for celibacy for clerics has been that any children born of clerics could not have a legitimate claim to property, church property in particular. That condition has no religious content.

The Supreme Court has confirmed the view of most citizens about the definition of the civil right to marry for all citizens. The next institution to hear from is the religious. Some have expressed their views that are inclusive of LGBT marriage and some have not. Those who have rejected same sex marriage are now called on to explain how it is that these committed relationships lack the dimension of the sacred.

See also the previous PCV post:
Questions for Archbishop Kurtz re. the U.S. Bishops' Response to the Supreme Court's Marriage Equality Ruling

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Questions for Archbishop Kurtz re. the U.S. Bishops' Response to the Supreme Court's Marriage Equality Ruling

The Editorial Board

Following is the response of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops to yesterday's Supreme Court ruling on civil marriage rights for same-sex couples. As Catholics and U.S. citizens we, the members of the editorial board of The Progressive Catholic Voice, object to the clerical leadership of our church declaring adamant disrespect for the law without giving reasons in response to arguments. Our commitment to faith and reason compel us to demand that leadership respond reasonably and with evidence rather than with mere assertions of fact. We ask Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the conference, to encourage Catholics to respect this law for the civil society as well as encouraging them to live according to their own moral convictions. There need be no conflict unless one is created by the U.S. Bishops.

We have interspersed our questions to Archbishop Kurtz in red.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision, June 26, interpreting the U.S. Constitution to require all states to license and recognize same-sex “marriage” “is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The full statement follows:

Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable. How do you address the changes in people’s conceptions and practices and marriage laws over the centuries cited in the Supreme Court’s decision? You assert unchangeableness but you do not back the assertion with evidence or reason. The philosophical turns to the subject and language have disclosed that our knowledge of the nature of the human person and marriage is embedded in cultures and is continually evolving. How do you respond to that point?

Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over forty years ago, Obergefell v. Hodges does not settle the question of marriage today. If you are a citizen of the U.S. with respect for law, the issue of civil marriage is settled. Why would you encourage Catholics to disrespect the law? It does not affect them except that they now have to live in a society that recognizes same-sex marriage. Is that an intolerable burden? A tragedy?

Neither decision is rooted in the truth, and as a result, both will eventually fail. Today the Court is wrong again. It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage. What is gratuitously asserted may be gratuitously denied.

The unique meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is inscribed in our bodies as male and female. What does this mean? What is the necessity for civil marriage to be regulated by physical gender? The protection of this meaning is a critical dimension of the “integral ecology” that Pope Francis has called us to promote. Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us, especially children. Are you speaking of the children who will not exist because gay men and women cannot procreate with a same-sex partner? What children are you referring to? What other vulnerable people besides children are you referring to? The law has a duty to support every child’s basic right to be raised, where possible, by his or her married mother and father in a stable home. Are you suggesting that states enact laws that each child be raised by his/her biological parents in a stable home? In what way would this be possible or good policy? The proponents of banning same-sex marriage had every opportunity to bring evidentiary facts to bear in federal district courts and they have failed to do so. These arguments have failed in federal courts for lack of evidence. Can you substantiate your claims of harm to the common good?

Jesus Christ, with great love, taught unambiguously that from the beginning marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman. Where did he teach this? As Catholic bishops, we follow our Lord and will continue to teach and to act according to this truth.

I encourage Catholics to move forward with faith, hope, and love: faith in the unchanging truth about marriage, rooted in the immutable nature of the human person and confirmed by divine revelation; hope that these truths will once again prevail in our society, not only by their logic, but by their great beauty and manifest service to the common good; and love for all our neighbors, As U.S. citizens we are fortunate enough to be able to do this freely. even those who hate us or would punish us for our faith and moral convictions. Why would you suggest that there are people hating you or trying to punish you for your moral convictions? We are Catholics living among Catholics in the U.S. and we have never experienced hatred and punishment for living according to our moral convictions. Would you please give examples of hatred and punishment you have experienced for your moral convictions? You are now being asked as the public voice of the U.S. Catholic bishops to justify your reasoning. I certainly hope you are not mistaking that for hatred and punishment.

Lastly, I call upon all people of good will to join us in proclaiming the goodness, truth, and beauty of marriage as rightly understood for millennia, and I ask all in positions of power and authority to respect the God-given freedom to seek, live by, and bear witness to the truth. Can we also respect people who have different understandings of marriage and bear witness to truth in different ways from us?

Related Off-site Links:
Supreme Court Declares Same-Sex Marriage Legal In All 50 States – Bill Chappell (National Public Radio News, June 26, 2015).
Read the 7 Most Memorable Passages in the Gay Marriage Decision – Ryan Teague Beckwith (Time, June 26, 2015).
Catholic Responses to the Supreme Court Ruling on Marriage: Everything from "a Win for Love" to "a Tragic Error" – Vinnie Rotondaro (National Catholic Reporter, June 26, 2015).
New Ways Ministry and U.S. Catholics Rejoice at Supreme Court Marriage Equality Decision – Francis D. DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, June 26, 2015).
What Should the U.S. Bishops Do Now That All 50 States Will Have Marriage Equality? – Francis DeBernardo (Crux, June 26, 2015).

See also the previous PCV post:
Fortnight of Freedom: Hypocrisy of U.S. Bishops

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

We Need a New Way of Choosing Bishops

By Robert Mickens

Note: This commentary was first published June 22, 2015 by the National Catholic Reporter.

Certain Catholics love to repeat ad nauseam that the church is not a democracy, especially when it comes to decision-making and the selection of leadership.

And thank God it is not.

Nor should it aspire to be if the democratic model is the dysfunctional political and electoral system at work in places like the United States.

But that doesn't mean all is well with the way the Roman church makes its pastoral-administrative decisions, discerns the call of the Spirit, or chooses its bishops.

Quite the contrary.

The inadequate leadership displayed by too many bishops in the United States and other parts of the world the past couple of decades has made that point painfully clear. One wonders how some of these men were ever put in a position of such weighty responsibility.

The most recent case that has American Catholics scratching their heads is that of Archbishop John Nienstedt.

The 68-year-old Detroit native resigned June 15 after seven disastrous years as the head of the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese. (He had an extra year there as the coadjutor archbishop.)

Some may think it uncharitable, but, no, it is not unfair to call his time in the Twin Cities a true disaster. And one that ended even worse.

Just about anyone in New Ulm could have predicted this. That's the smaller Minnesota diocese where the Vatican sent Nienstedt in 2001 to prepare him for promotion to the state's major see. His task was to "clean up the mess" (a favorite expression of conservative American monsignors in the Roman Curia) that Bishop Raymond Lucker left behind.

Lucker was a St. Paul native and was auxiliary bishop in the Twin Cities when he was appointed to New Ulm in 1975. Lucker was named when Belgian Archbishop Jean Jadot was apostolic delegate to Washington, and he came to be seen as one of the leading Second Vatican Council progressives in the U.S. hierarchy.

But within a few years after the election of John Paul II in 1978, he and other so-called "Jadot bishops" were being replaced by a more conservative crop of priests.

During Jadot's tenure (1973-1980), the tendency was to appoint "homegrown" bishops; that is, men who were natives of the diocese or area they were sent to be ordinary.

But when Archbishop Pio Laghi followed him as papal delegate (and then nuncio), that trend was gradually reversed. With all but rare exceptions, new bishops were appointed to dioceses that many of them had never even visited before and in states in other parts of the country.

It was a deliberate and, some say, cynical policy decision made by the cabal of cardinal-members and other officials of the Congregation for Bishops to keep the new "shepherds" more loyal to their masters in Rome than the unknown people they were sent to rule as if on a foreign mission.

Only a tiny minority of the priests and an even more miniscule section of the people in these dioceses were ever consulted about the candidates to be their new bishops. That trend has continued right up to the present. Who in New Ulm had ever heard of John Nienstedt? He was from Detroit, in a totally different ecclesiastical region, where he had been auxiliary bishop since 1996.

"Imported" to New Ulm and then to the Twin Cities, he was typical of most of the bishops in the United States.

In fact, only four of the 32 Latin Rite metropolitan archbishops in the country are "homegrown." The situation is similar in other parts of the world. Pope Francis was one of those who actually led his home diocese when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In any case, this is only one and perhaps the least bad feature of a very problematic episcopal appointment system.

While the apostolic nuncio is supposed to make discreet inquiries among a representation of the diocesan clergy and respected laypeople when he draws up the terna (or list of three names) of candidates that he submits to Rome, the process is extremely subjective and arbitrary.

There is an old boys' network of current bishops that tends to act as a self-preservation dynasty by promoting their protégés and friends to the episcopacy. Cardinals, especially those who are members of the Congregation for Bishops, are fundamental in pushing forward a candidate, especially for promotion to major posts.

Cardinal Edmund Szoka, for example, was largely responsible for making Nienstedt (his former secretary) a bishop. The late cardinal was known to have catapulted a number of other Michigan priests into the episcopacy, as well, including the current archbishops in Detroit and Hartford.

When Nienstedt resigned last week, the Vatican appointed Archbishop Bernard Hebda as temporary administrator of St. Paul and Minnesota. The mechanisms surrounding this appointment make it problematic, too. Hebda, a church centrist with degrees in both civil and canon law, not even two years ago was named coadjutor to the embattled Archbishop John Myers of Newark, N.J. With some sort of acrobatics, he evidently intends to make frequent three-hour flights each way and do both jobs.

Perhaps Hebda, who was bishop of Gaylord, Mich., from 2009-2013, has become the Vatican's new troubleshooter to sort out problematic situations. But is he the only and wisest choice?

It certainly follows the same familiar pattern of the old boys' network.

Hebda, 55, is a priest from Pittsburgh, where he was personal secretary to then-Bishop Donald Wuerl (Rome classmate of Myers, who is originally from Illinois). Well aware that loaning a priest to the Vatican is an investment for a future dividend, Wuerl sent Hebda to Rome, where he worked for more than a dozen years at the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. Incidentally, Myers was a member of that council.

And Wuerl is now Cardinal Wuerl, the latest (transplanted) archbishop of Washington and a member of the Congregation for Bishops.

How many priests and other baptized faithful had a voice in any of these appointments? Where are the concerns of any of them listened to seriously? The "election" of bishops (that's what the Holy See calls such appointments, underlining the more ancient practice) need not be done by widespread popular vote. In fact, that would be disaster.

But there should be a more serious and involved process that involves a significant representation of the entire community in identifying the most qualified and gifted leaders. And it should be the rule, not the exception, that the choice (or recommendation) of candidate generally be from the local clergy, especially in long-established dioceses.

Such an "election process" needs to be re-established, albeit with provisions for changed modern-day situations. While it is true that the church is not democracy, neither is it an oligarchy.

Robert Mickens is editor-in-chief of Global Pulse. Since 1986, he has lived in Rome, where he studied theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University before working 11 years at Vatican Radio and then another decade as correspondent for The Tablet of London.

See also the previous PCV posts:
Local Catholics Select Three Priests for Bishop/Archbishop
CCCR Responds to the Resignation of Archbishop Nienstedt
Tom Flannery in Minneapolis
"Our Voices Are Growing"
Creating a Liberating Church
Let Our Voices Be Heard
Papal Appointment of Bishops is Not Traditional

Monday, June 22, 2015

Fortnight of Freedom: Hypocrisy of the U.S. Bishops

By Paula Ruddy

The U.S. Bishops have zeroed in on the main evil of our society for a two-week highlight: our religious liberty is under attack. The evils Pope Francis points to in his recent encyclical Laudato si’  – poverty, racism, environmental degradation, the commodification of women – are not the main problems we face as citizens of this nation. No, for the U.S. bishops the main problem for us is that Catholics are being denied religious liberty in the U.S. The hypocritical self-reference is embarrassing.

Since when have Roman Catholic bishops cared about religious liberty for Catholics within their own institutions? Employees have to sign an oath of orthodoxy to teach in schools or work in parishes. Pastors have to seek approval for speakers in their parishes. Questioning Catholics may not assemble on parish property and are condemned as “dissenters.” Whole communities of Catholics are banished from communion because their liturgical practice is not uniform. How “free” is religion and religious practice in the Roman Catholic Church?

Since when have Roman Catholic bishops valued individual liberty as a factor of human dignity? The Roman Catholic bishops of the U.S. have been determined to deny gay and lesbian citizens the freedom to marry under civil law. They have fought the individual liberty of women in choosing to reproduce. They have fought to separate Catholics from the “world” in a superior and isolated “Catholic identity” by constant preaching about the evils of individual liberty in the larger society.

American Catholics have been formed in the values of two traditions – the value of community in the Roman Catholic tradition and the value of individual liberty in the U.S. democratic tradition. Most of us have learned to value both, to integrate the two more or less successfully. We try to avoid both the excesses of “group think” and the excesses of “go-it-alone” individualism. We have to do this without the support of our institutional church.

The U.S. bishops who focus on the Roman Catholic traditional values exclusively are increasingly irrelevant to Catholics who have integrated the values of individual liberty and equality from the U.S. democratic tradition. They are entirely irrelevant and antagonizing to citizens of other religions and no religion.

The tragedy of this situation is that Roman Catholic community values have a great contribution to make to a society that can tend too easily to the excesses of individual liberty. To contribute the vision of human community Pope Francis provides in Laudato si’ to the U.S., the U.S. bishops will also have to affirm and demonstrate value for individual liberty.

As things stand, their “Fortnight of Freedom” has the sound of a tinkling cymbal.