Monday, October 20, 2014

In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Renewed Calls for Archbishop Nienstedt's Ouster

The following media release has been issued by the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform.

Last week’s editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune said, “. . . the archdiocese needs a true reformer to lead it forward. Nienstedt lacks the credibility, both internally and externally, to overcome skepticism that little will change, and his resignation is a necessary next step for an archdiocese in need of healing.” Jennifer Haselberger, the archdiocese's former chancellor for canonical affairs, was quoted last week by WCCO saying the same and calling for the top leadership of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to be removed as well.

These statements echo the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform’s (CCCR) plea for new leadership in the Archdiocese. Once again, CCCR has issued a statement calling for the resignation or removal of Archbishop John Nienstedt. It says:

In response to Archbishop John Nienstedt’s refusal to resign, the CCCR Board reiterates its vote of no confidence as originally stated in our letter of October 24, 2013. We join with SNAP and others in calling for the removal of the archbishop. We remain convinced that the Archbishop is unable to lead our local Church as he can neither unite nor bring healing to our church community. Further, as demonstrated by the many calls for his resignation from Catholics throughout the archdiocese and beyond, John Nienstedt lacks the confidence of the people.

The archbishop’s statement of July 30, 2014, in which he refuses to resign, highlights the gulf between his view of leadership and the type of leadership we need. Although he likens himself to a father, his authoritarian approach to church leadership alienates many and continues to demoralize our local church community. Rather than an authoritarian figure focused on defending his actions and correcting our “errors,” we look for a humble leader who welcomes diversity and fosters unity. Only this will heal the pain of betrayal and alienation caused by Archbishop Nienstedt’s misplaced priorities and mishandling of the ongoing clergy sex abuse crisis.

We take this stance because as lay Catholics we envision a Church that both unites and heals us as a community. Such a church encourages courageous and honest dialogue, creates opportunities for everyone’s full participation, and promotes justice and reconciliation. We seek a Church fully alive, locally and universally, that radiates Jesus’ core teaching of radical equality, unabashed inclusivity, and transforming love. Under the leadership of Archbishop Nienstedt, such a church is not possible. Therefore, we call for his resignation or removal to make way for new leadership that can work with all Catholics to foster this vision of church.

Members of the CCCR picketed the office of the archdiocese last winter carrying signs asking for the Archbishop’s ouster. “He refuses to resign, yet as more time passes, more secrets are revealed and more Catholics feel they have no voice about what’s happening. His resignation or removal is necessary to pave the way for a healthy future for this archdiocese.” said Bob Beutel, CCCR board member. He concluded, “The knife must be removed for the wounds to heal.”

Mary Sutherland of the CCCR Lay Network said, “It is with great sadness that I have watched the current crises in this Archdiocese unfold under the leadership of Archbishop Nienstedt. His actions have not fostered the healing that is so desperately needed and he has not led the people of this Archdiocese into the full meaning of church. His actions in this current climate have further betrayed and alienated the people he was appointed to lead. I can come to no other conclusion than new leadership is necessary for this Archdiocese.”

CCCR was formed in 2009 to help re-establish a healthy, sustainable Catholic church in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Following the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, CCCR seeks to activate Catholic lay people because they are critical to achieving that goal. To facilitate engagement in our local Church and develop a strong, unified voice for Catholic laity, the CCCR is building a Lay Network and encouraging a growing community of Catholics to take action and be heard on issues including evolutionary Christianity, gender inclusivity, transparency and accountability, bishop selection and lay involvement in church leadership.

See also the previous PCV posts:
Minneapolis Priest Says Archbishop Nienstedt Must Resign If Church is to Heal
To Heal Church, Nienstedt Must Resign
Archbishop Niestedt Needs to Go. Now
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, "Regime Change is Not Enough"
Healing Can’t Start Until the Knife is Removed from the Wound

Related Off-site Links:
Jennifer Haselberger Was Ignored, Bullied Before Blowing Whistle on Archdiocese, Records Show – Jesse Marx (City Pages, July 15, 2014).
Twin Cities Archdiocese Wanted to Label Marriage Equality-Supporting Priest ‘Disabled’ – Andy Birkey (, July 22, 2014).
Betrayed by Silence: How Three Archbishops Hid the Truth – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio News, July 14, 2014).
Has Archbishop Nienstedt's "Shadow" Finally Caught Up With Him? – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, July 1, 2014).

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Save the Date!

Fall 2014 Conference

Where Love and Justice Meet
An Emerging Sexual Ethic for Our Time

Fr. John Heagle
Sr. Fran Ferder, FSPA

Saturday, October 18 , 2014
9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church
511 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis
Located where Hennepin & Lyndale Aves. merge at Groveland Ave., across the street from the Walker Art Center.
Parking lot is next to the church building.

Registration fee: $40 (includes breakfast snacks, lunch, and beverages).

Event scholarships are available. Contact Sharon at 651-457-3249.

The program begins at 9:45 a.m.
Call Art Stoeberl at 651-636-7356 
or email
to tell us that you would like to attend.

Morning presentation:
Human Sexuality: Facing the Crisis,Reclaiming the Vision

Afternoon presentations:
Sexuality, Power and Biblical Justice
The Spiritual Promise of Sexuality

There will be time allowed for questions and dialogue.

Program includes a presentation of the CTA-MN 2014 Leadership Award and a short business meeting.

About this year's theme
The Catholic Church is facing a crucial turning point in its understanding of human sexuality. It is increasingly clear that the lived experience of ordinary people differs significantly from official church teaching. The ‘traditional’ Catholic ethic that most of us grew up with is grounded in medieval philosophy and natural law theory. This approach is no longer adequate to address the contemporary challenge of human relationships.

CTA-MN's 2014 Fall Conference introduces a more biblically-based understanding of the gift of sexuality and the responsibility of faithful loving. It explores the profound connection between relationships and biblical justice, sexuality and systems of power. In the gospel accounts, Jesus has little to say about the biology of sex, but he speaks decisively about the qualities of authentic loving: respect, responsibility, covenantal faithfulness, and mutuality. How would such a radical and demanding vision challenge and transform our lives and our community of faith?

We’ve been through a lot lately in this local Church. Stories about homosexuality and sexual abuse have grabbed headlines. In addition, many Catholics find themselves at odds with teachings related to sexuality and gender, yet they want to honor what is life-giving and supportive within the Catholic tradition. This is why we believe that John Heagle and Fran Ferder FSPA are exactly the right people, coming at exactly the right time to help us reflect upon “an emerging sexual ethic for our time.”

Fr. John Heagle
Ordained a Catholic priest for the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, in 1965, John has had more than 37 years of pastoral experience: college teaching, campus ministry, justice and peace leadership, and almost ten years as a pastor. He holds an M.A. in philosophy from Catholic University of America and a licentiate in canon law from Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. For the past seventeen years John has also served as a licensed psychotherapist, retreat director. He is the author of seven books on spirituality and human relationships.

Sister Fran Ferder, FSPA
A native of Salem, Oregon, and a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Fran has had more than 30 years of ministerial and professional experience as a college professor, director of student counseling, psychotherapist, psychological consultant for various religious communities and dioceses, and a research director for a major social ministry study. She holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Loyola University, Chicago, and a doctorate in ministry from Aquinas Institute of Theology, St. Louis. She is the author of Words Made Flesh and Enter the Story: Biblical Metaphors for our Lives.

Both Fran and John serve as adjunct faculty in the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University. They are internationally recognized leaders of workshops and conferences, authors of several articles, tapes, and books on spirituality, ministry, and human relationships, including Your Sexual Self: Pathway to Authentic Intimacy and Tender Fires: The Spiritual Promise of Sexuality.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The "Francis Era" in America Starts Today in Chicago

By John L. Allen, Jr.

Note: This article was first published September 20, 2014 by Crux.

With the appointment of Blase Cupich (pronounced “SOUP-itch”) today as the new Archbishop of Chicago, one can say that the Francis revolution in Catholicism has finally arrived in the United States.

Up to this point, one could have made the argument that the change triggered by Francis is largely a matter of a new tone and style in Rome, but one that had not yet reached down and begun to alter the culture of the church on these shores.

With the appointment of the 65-year-old Cupich, however, the American landscape has shifted.

This is the fourth appointment Francis has made to a major archdiocese since July, following earlier choices for Cologne, Germany; Madrid, Spain; and Sydney, Australia. Each pointed a direction for the church in those countries.

By now, the profile of a “Francis bishop” has come into focus: Ideologically, moderates rather than hardliners; pastorally, men who place special emphasis on concern for the poor and those at the margins; and personally, leaders who aren’t flashy personality types, with a reputation for being accessible and hands-on.

In some ways, those are precisely the sort of leaders perceived to have been out of favor in the American hierarchy during the late John Paul II and Benedict XVI years, but with Francis, the dynamic has changed.

Chicago is on a short list of pace-setter dioceses around the world whose leaders help set direction for the church in their regions, and it’s long been a bellwether for deeper realignments.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin embodied the moderate, reforming spirit of the Second Vatican Council. The transition to Cardinal Francis George embodied the stronger emphasis on Catholic identity in the later John Paul II years, with the effort to resist the inroads of secularism in the faith as a defining cause.

Bernardin famously called for a “seamless garment” ethic in Catholicism, one that placed equal emphasis on opposition to war and concern for the poor alongside opposition to abortion. George, meanwhile, helped make the defense of religious freedom a signature cause for the American bishops, crystallized in the tug-of-war between the bishops and the Obama White House over contraception mandates imposed as part of health care reform.

Both Bernardin and George served as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference at different points, and both were seen as representing the broader spirit of their era in the American church.

With Cupich, Francis has found another tone-setting prelate to take over in Chicago. Among other things, the appointment puts Cupich in line to become a cardinal the next time the pope creates new Princes of the Church.

Cupich is clearly a moderate, clearly upholding church teaching on all the hot-button issues in the wars of culture such as abortion, contraception, and gay marriage, but like Francis, he tends to shun strong rhetoric on those matters.

Instead, Cupich has been identified with the wing of the American bishops that’s tried to steer the church down a less confrontational path, and tends to place special emphasis on the social gospel, meaning concern for the poor and for social justice.

In 2011, for instance, Cupich dismayed some of the most aggressive pro-life forces in Catholicism when he discouraged priests and seminarians in Spokane from praying in front of Planned Parenthood clinics as part of an anti-abortion protest, seeing the gesture as unnecessarily provocative.

Cupich is also seen as an adept manager and an internal reformer who has helped lead the American church’s efforts to recover from the child sexual abuse scandals from his role as chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.

In 2010, Cupich said that listening to abuse victims is an “opportunity to recalibrate” the whole of a bishop’s ministry, because it’s a powerful reminder that “there are voices out there which the leadership doesn’t usually hear.”

“We have to keep the connection with victims visceral and fresh,” he said, because doing so “will help us not to have amnesia.”

On a personal level, Cupich is regarded as humble and open, precisely the sort of pastor who “carries the smell of his sheep” that Francis has said he wants.

Pope Francis was personally involved in the selection of a successor to the 77-year-old George, making phone calls to a wide variety of sources in and around the American church and also consulting American prelates when they came to Rome. In those conversations, sources say, Francis asked for blunt assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of candidates.

One American cardinal said on background recently that he had been surprised when Francis asked him for an assessment of Cupich, since the Omaha native was not generally regarded as a front-runner for position.

The cardinal said he got the vibe at the time that Francis was seriously considering Cupich, an intuition that clearly turned out to be correct.

Whether Cupich turns out to be another Chicago heavyweight who puts a stamp on his era remains to be seen, but one could make a strong case that the “Francis era” in American Catholicism begins today.

Related off-site Links:
Pope Names Cupich as Next Chicago Archbishop – Rachel Zoll (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, September 20, 2014).
Blase Cupich – Champion of Social Justice – is the Next Archbishop of Chicago – Christopher Hale (Millennial, September 20, 2014).
There May Be Brighter Days Ahead for LGBT Issues in Chicago Archdiocese – Bob Shine (Bondings 2.0, September 20, 2014).
Blase Cupich of Spokane Named Archbishop of Chicago – Dennis Coday (National Catholic Reporter, September 19, 2014).
New Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich: A Moderate Voice – Michael O'Loughlin (Crux, September 19, 2014).
Pope Francis Names Spokane Bishop to Chicago, Dashing Conservative Hopes – David Gibson (Religion News Service, September 19, 2014).
Cupich to Chicago: What It Actually Means – Thomas Peters (, September 19, 2014).

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Companions on a Sacred Journey

An Introduction to Evolutionary Christianity

An interactive workshop sponsored by
the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform
and facilitated by Michael Bayly, MA.

Companions on a Sacred Journey is an interactive workshop that provides an opportunity to learn about, reflect upon, and respond to an expression of spirituality known as “evolutionary Christianity.”

As understood and expressed by Catholic theologians, scientists, and mystics such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Beatrice Bruteau, Brian Swimme, Ilia Delio, Diarmuid Ó Murchú, Thomas Berry, and Gail Worcelo, Evolutionary Christianity is a meaningful way of thinking and talking about God in our lives, our church, and our world; a way of hope that addresses the important issues of our day by welcoming and honoring both the findings of science and the enduring spiritual wisdom of our Catholic tradition, especially its mystical tradition.

Companions on a Sacred Journey is a program that can be readily tailored to the needs of specific groups. For example, it can be presented as a two-hour workshop, an all-day retreat, or a series of four one-hour presentations. The program is facilitated by Michael Bayly.

Evolutionary Christianity invites and challenges us to understand God and our relationship with God, each other, and the natural world in an ever-deepening and liberating way; to recognize ourselves as co-creators with our creator God – co-creators of beauty, justice, and compassion.
– Michael Bayly

The paradox of the Divine is at once the radiant, complete, and changeless ground of all that is. Yet the Divine is also the incessant urge to manifest deeper and deeper expressions of wholeness and integration. . . . There is something of the holy embrace of God in the very structure of the universe, changeless and changing.
– Gail Wolcelo, sgm

Michael Bayly has a Masters in Theology from St. Catherine’s University and a Masters in Theology and the Arts from United Theological Seminary. He is the author of Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective and the editor of the online forum, The Progressive Catholic Voice. Since 2003 he has served as the Executive Coordinator of the Twin Cities-based Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), which is a founding member organization of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR).

Contact Information

To learn more and/or to arrange a presentation of Companions on a Sacred Journey, contact Michael Bayly at or 612-201-4534.

Companions on a Sacred Journey is sponsored by the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR). For more information about CCCR visit

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Minneapolis Priest Says Archbishop Nienstedt Must Resign If Church is to Heal

By Jean Hopfensperger

Note: This article was first published September 2, 2014 by the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

The Rev. Patrick Kennedy of St. Olaf Catholic Church has called for the resignation of Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt, saying it would create a “collective sigh of relief” from Twin Cities Catholics.

In the Aug. 31 church newsletter, Kennedy wrote that he reached the conclusion after returning to Minneapolis recently following two years away. It was then that he realized the “full effect” of the recent clergy sex abuse scandal on Catholics in the pews.

“There appears to be a pall over the Archdiocese that is affecting the ministry we are trying to be about,” wrote Kennedy, pastor at the downtown Minneapolis church.

“People are leaving our parishes. Some have stopped giving money. Others have stayed but carry a heavy heart. . . .” he wrote.

Conversations with family members, friends, parishioners and others indicate that there is no confidence that Nienstedt can lead the church out of the mess, Kennedy continued. Catholics are “troubled and angry by what has happened and how the situation is handled,” he said.

Aggravating the situation is that Nienstedt has not been able to forge a personal connection with the people he serves, wrote Kennedy.

“While it is difficult for any of us in ministry to admit to a lack of bonding with those we serve, it is sometimes a fact,” he wrote. “When it is, a reassignment is necessary for the good of the church.”

The archbishop’s resignation “could prove to be the catalyst to begin the healing people long for as well as create a possible way forward,” wrote Kennedy.

He is among a half-dozen priests who have publicly criticized Nienstedt’s handling of abuse and/or called for his resignation. Following reports of the sex abuse scandal last fall, calls for resignation came from priests including the Rev. Bill Deziel of the Church of St. Peter in North St. Paul and the Rev. Mike Tegeder of St. Frances Cabrini Church in Minneapolis.

The Rev. Stephen O’Gara, recently retired pastor of Church of the Assumption in St. Paul, also has been a harsh critic of Nienstedt.

The archbishop has said he has no plans to step down. He has insisted the archdiocese has turned the corner on the clergy abuse scandal and is now “in a much better place.”

“And I would have to be convinced that my effectiveness to lead the archdiocese was nil,” Nienstedt said in a recent interview. “And I don’t believe it is. I have strong pockets of support — and other pockets that aren’t supportive. I’m working on that.”

Nienstedt said the only way he would resign is if the papal nuncio, the pope’s representative in the United States, “took action.”

Neither Nienstedt nor Kennedy could be reached Monday.

See also the previous PCV posts:
To Heal Church, Nienstedt Must Resign
Archbishop Niestedt Needs to Go. Now
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, "Regime Change is Not Enough"
Healing Can’t Start Until the Knife is Removed from the Wound

Related Off-site Links:
Roman Catholicism's Fundamental Problem: The Cultic Priesthood and Its "Diseased System" of Clericalism – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, July 23, 2014).
Jennifer Haselberger Was Ignored, Bullied Before Blowing Whistle on Archdiocese, Records Show – Jesse Marx (City Pages, July 15, 2014).
MN Archdiocese Wanted to Label Marriage Equality-Supporting Priest ‘Disabled’ – Andy Birkey (, July 22, 2014).
Betrayed by Silence: How Three Archbishops Hid the Truth – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio News, July 14, 2014).
Has Archbishop Nienstedt's "Shadow" Finally Caught Up With Him? – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, July 1, 2014).

Monday, August 18, 2014

Elizabeth Johnson on Doing Theology, the Vatican's Investigation of the LCWR, and Criticism of Her "Little God Book"

The following is excerpted from a talk Sister Elizabeth Johnson gave last Friday, August 15, 2014, at the annual meeting in Nashville of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the umbrella organization for most of the 50,000 Catholic nuns in the U.S. For the past two years the LCWR has been under investigation by the Vatican over a range of perceived problems with their doctrinal views and their social justice mission.

Johnson's talk in Nashville last Friday served as an acceptance and thank you speech for the leadership award presented to her by the LCWR. The group's decision to honor Johnson was rebuked by Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, who declared it an “open provocation against the Holy See.”


I find doing theology an interesting, tough, and wondrous ministry in the church. One thousand years ago, Anselm defined theology as “faith seeking understanding.” Rooted in the Christian tradition and equipped with scholarly tools, those of us in the theological guild think about the meaning of faith and the way it is practiced. The purpose is to shed more light on the gospel, so it can be lived out with deeper understanding and vibrant love of God and neighbor. My scholarship has engaged a variety of subjects, such as language about God, the meaning of Jesus, the communion of saints, and evolution and creation, among others. Whatever the subject, for me teaching, writing, and public lecturing have always been an invitation to students, readers, and listeners to “Come and see,” as John’s gospel put it (Jn 1:39). Vatican II taught that “The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power” (DH 1). So come and see, think, raise questions, make connections, learn the tradition, see for yourselves how beautiful the faith is, as a step toward encountering and living out the love of the holy mystery of God.

Every cultural era brings new questions which theologians try to address. Early on one key question arose for me when I realized that all the great thinkers whom I had been exposed to in my studies were men. I loved many of their insights. But where were the women? I was struck by the absence of their critical insights and spiritual wisdom. Inspired by a pioneering generation of American women theologians, I grew committed to bringing women’s voices to the table. This does not mean thinking about women all the time. It does mean using the human dignity of women as one lens through which think about other religious and ethical subjects. It means attending to poverty, lack of education, sexual violence, and other injustices that ruin women’s lives. It means employing theologically what promotes the flourishing of women in all their diversity.

The year I received my doctorate and began university teaching, this direction grew stronger when four North American church women were murdered in El Salvador: Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan. Their courage and commitment had a profound impact on me. The spark of their lives has moved me to do theology in like spirit, attentive to the struggles and hopes of those most in need and under threat of violence.

Clearly, my work engages theology done by men and does so with critical appreciation. But I am convinced that this is not enough for the church of today and tomorrow. The submerged female half of the church, indeed of the human race, is rising, and the faith we pass on to the next generations will be poorer if women’s insights are ignored.

In taking this path, I and today’s cohort of women theologians are charting a new path. For centuries the study of theology was reserved for ordained priests as part of the hierarchy’s office to teach. One cannot overestimate the impact of Vatican II which opened the doors of theological study to lay persons. While excellent theology continues to be done by ordained priests, all kinds of new questions, methods, and understandings are now blossoming, fed by the experience of the laity, women and men alike. I take this leadership award to be in part a recognition of this seismic development. With gratitude I accept it as also paying tribute to women who do theology in this vein and to men whose work has an eye for inclusive justice.

Normally I would stop here. But it would be disingenuous to ignore the criticism from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith directed at the LCWR for giving me this award. Note that I would not be speaking about this if Cardinal Gerhard Mueller had not made his remarks public. The CDF sees this award as an insult to the U.S. Bishops whose Committee on Doctrine criticized my book Quest for the Living God. From Cardinal Mueller’s statement it appears that neither he nor the staff advising him read the book or my written response to the concerns raised, but rather channeled the U.S. committee’s judgment.

Yes, Quest was criticized, but to this day no one – not myself, nor the theological community, nor the media, nor the general public – knows what doctrinal issue is at stake. Despite my efforts to give and get clarification, none was forthcoming; the face-to-face conversation I sought never came about. It seems the committee reduced the rich Catholic tradition to a set of neo-scholastic theses as narrow as baby ribbon, and then criticized the book for not being in accord with them. But as Richard Gaillardetz said in this year’s presidential address to the Catholic Theological Society of America, the committee’s assessment of Quest is itself theologically flawed. Indeed, the committee’s statement raises a multitude of issues in a confused way. It criticizes positions I take that are in accord with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In several instances it reports the opposite of what the book actually says, in order to find fault. I am responsible for what I have written, but not for what I have not said and do not think. In my judgment such carelessness with the truth is unworthy of the teaching office of bishop.

Cardinal Dolan of New York told me that the reason my book was singled out was because of its influence. And in truth, despite the committee’s criticism, thousands of messages poured in from people who had found Quest a help in their own journey of faith. Sales went through the roof (my community is grateful for the royalties!). Translations into European and Asian languages continue to be made; currently German is underway. I simply hoped that the book would serve this wider readership with insights into the living God, abounding in kindness in the midst of our suffering world.

But now again my little God book and its author come under fire for supposedly serious yet still unclarified errors. What is going on here? To borrow Phyllis Trible’s words from her study of Eve and Adam, let a female speculate. It appears to me that a negative reaction to works of theology that think in new terms about burning issues has become almost automatic in some quarters. A judgment made somewhere that “this is harmful” gets picked up, amplified, taken for granted, and repeated. The adverse reaction becomes institutionalized. Reasons are murky, but a negative miasma colors the atmosphere whenever the subject comes up.

This kind of institutionalized negativity sheds some light on how critique of my book and criticism of LCWR are intertwined. For the doctrinal investigation of LCWR gives evidence of a similar generalized negative pattern that has been a-building over recent decades. While reluctant to examine the context in scholarship and in life of statements made at LCWR Assemblies, the investigation’s statements express more of a vague overall dissatisfaction or mistrust on certain topics. Judgments are rendered in a way that cannot be satisfactorily addressed. In the absence of careful analysis, negativity spreads. Both of us are caught in an adverse situation not of our own making.

Through careful discernment the LCWR has forged a response which is publicly modeling a different form of leadership. To a polarized church and a world racked by violence, your willingness to stay at the table seeking reconciliation through truthful, courageous conversation has given powerful witness. This is costly. The LCWR is experiencing the truth of Clerissac’s adage, “It is easy to suffer for the church; the difficult thing is to suffer at the hands of the church.” Nevertheless, under duress, you persist, giving honest, firm voice to your wisdom gained by years of mystical and prophetic living, as Pat Farrell said last year. What a grace for our time.

What is going on here? Let this female speculate further by placing three frameworks around this situation, which will show that major forces are at work.

1) An historical framework: I could point to the centuries-long tension between religious orders and the hierarchy. This is not to say that some religious and some bishops do not work fabulously well together. But a strain perdures between a prophetic charism that seeks radical living of the gospel and an administrative charism focused on order. Stories of conflict between mother superiors and some bishops worldwide provide multiple examples; Australian Mother Mary MacKillop, first excommunicated and now canonized, is perhaps the clearest. Historians are already writing about the critique of the LCWR as yet another chapter of this historic tension.

2) A sociological framework: I could engage in a gendered analysis of power. The church did not start out this way, but as an institution it has evolved a patriarchal structure where authority is exercised in top-down fashion, and where obedience and loyalty to the system are the greatest virtues. Never before in the history of the church has there been such a cadre of educated women carrying forward the mission of the gospel as is now represented by the LCWR. In this framework the current CDF investigation appears to be an effort by certain ruling men to control committed, competent women whose corporate religious discernment makes them adult believers of conscience, silent and invisible no longer.

3) An ecclesiological framework: I could focus on the differing embrace of renewal in the post-Vatican II church. Implementing council’s mandate, women religious vigorously renewed their lives in accord with the gospel and the spirit of their founders. Consequently they moved toward the periphery, away from a cramped ecclesiastical center which Pope Francis calls “unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (Evangelii Gaudium 49). Certainly the LCWR and the Sisters they lead are far from perfect. But they’ve got the “smell of the sheep” on them, embodying a church “that knows how to open her arms and welcome everyone.” Like a “field hospital for the wounded,” they have stood in solidarity with the poor, immigrants, battered women, LGBTQ persons, and even the wounded earth itself. To my knowledge, a similarly vigorous process of post-conciliar renewal has not taken place at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a particular curial office at the center. It has become common knowledge that Pope Francis was elected with a mandate to reform the Curia. This mandate, of course, includes the CDF. Until such reform happens, criticism is almost inevitable because the different pace of renewal has resulted in different ways of being church.

Finally, let me dream of one more framework that might yet take shape, namely, reconciled diversity so we can collaborate mutually for the good of the world that God so loves. As Pope Francis wrote, conflict does arise but it can become "a link in the chain of a new process." This can only happen if people have peacemaking hearts, and are willing to go below the surface to see others in their deepest dignity (EG 227-228).

Gustavo Gutierrez has expressed his admiration for Gerhard Mueller, citing how this student of his worked many summers among the poorest of the poor in Peru. Can the LCWR’s evident commitment to the poor become a common ground for mutual understanding? To this day it extends a hand in friendship, seeking communion with the CDF in solidarity with the marginalized of this world. Perhaps Cardinal Mueller can extend a hand of friendship back to American women religious, who at first may seem as strange to him as were the Peruvian poor but who are also God’s beloved people. It would be a blessing for the church if he could find a creative way to bring this investigation to an end in a productive manner. When the needs of the suffering world are so vast; when the moral authority of the hierarchy is hemorrhaging due to financial scandals and to many bishops’ horrific dereliction of duty in covering up sexual abuse of children, a cover-up which continues in some quarters to this day; when thousands are drifting away from the church; when the liberating gospel of God’s abounding kindness needs to be heard and enacted everywhere: the waste of time and energy on this investigation is unconscionable. Wouldn’t it be great if we could be partners, not adversaries, for the good of the church and the world.

To read Elizabeth Johnson's LCWR talk in its entirety, click here.

Related Off-site Links:
At LCWR Assembly, Elizabeth Johnson Speaks Her Mind – Mollie Wilson (Commonweal, August 18, 2014).
Johnson to LCWR: Sisters Ahead of Hierarchy in Living Vatican II Renewal – Dan Stockman (National Catholic Reporter, August 15, 2014).
Under the Vatican’s Dark Cloud, Nuns Continue to Support LGBT People – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, August 19, 2014).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Cardinal Gerhard Mueller Rebukes U.S. Nuns for Honoring Feminist Theologian Elizabeth Johnson
Quote of the Day – July 28, 2012
Redefining Radical: Catholic Nuns Vs. the Vatican
What the Nuns' Story is Really About
Quote of the Day – January 6, 2014

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Lay Coalition Nominates Seven Clergy to Be New Twin Cities Archbishop

By Brian Roewe

Note: This article was first published July 31, 2014 by the National Catholic Reporter.

On the same day St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt doubled down on his commitment to remain leader of his apostolic see, Catholics elsewhere in the region discussed his possible successor.

The Catholic Coalition for Church Reform announced Wednesday they had identified seven nominees believed to have the ability to lead the archdiocese into its future and likely out of the current clergy abuse scandal ensnaring the archdiocese since September.

While calls for Neinstedt to be replaced have rung louder in recent weeks, including in editorials in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The New York Times, Nienstedt on Wednesday fortified his resolve to remain archbishop "as long as the Holy Father has appointed me here," he wrote in a column in his archdiocesan newspaper.

In the past, Nienstedt cautioned local Catholics from interacting with the coalition, which includes local chapters of DignityUSA, Call to Action, and Roman Catholic Women Priests.

The group solicited nominations from area Catholics through parish handouts and its website, reaching its seven candidates after whittling down an original list first from 55 priests, then from 23. They are Fr. J. Michael Byron, Fr. Paul Feela, Fr. Paul Jaroszeski, Fr. Phillip Rask, Fr. Timothy Wozniak, current moderator of the curia and vicar general Fr. Charles Lachowitzer, and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché.

In the fall, the committee plans to hold "know the nominees" workshops. During the first half of November, an "election-like process" will produce the three names they will send to Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the apostolic nuncio to the United States. Per canon law, the nuncio provides the pope three people for consideration when a bishop's see opens.

In determining eligibility, the group weeded out those over the age of 65, those from outside the area and those receiving only a single vote during a nomination process that produced a few hundred names. Also omitted were those with direct ties to the abuse scandal.

A consultant committee of four laypeople and five priests scrutinized each of the remaining candidate's abilities in a range of areas: pastoral experience, credibility, theological aptitude, and experience working in social justice areas, with multiple generations, and in interfaith and diverse partnerships.

One of the committee members, Cathy Edwards, said they weighed certain aspects higher than others, specifically "the ability to really act as shepherd and unify factions, which is quite a significant challenge in our archdiocese right now."

Although the current climate presents challenges, the nomination process preceded the scandal's beginnings and formed out of a 2012 meeting, Edwards told NCR.

In other parts of the country, laypeople have also attempted to add their voices into the decision-making process of appointing a new bishop. Groups in Albany, N.Y., and Greensburg, Pa. – both dioceses where bishops recently turned 75, the age they must submit resignation letters to the pope – have encouraged area Catholics to make known the qualities they seek in their next bishop.

The Minnesota coalition did not contact any nominees before arriving at the final seven, to whom they sent letters informing them they are viewed as competent leaders and to refrain withdrawing their names until possibly contacted by the nuncio. Calls by NCR to several of the nominees were not returned.

Piché stands out as the lone bishop among the remaining nominees and the only one receiving a nomination despite the group's exclusion of clergy involved in the abuse scandal. Piché's name appears infrequently in the depositions taken of various church officials but appears 23 times in the affidavit of Jennifer Haselberger, who listed the bishop among the reasons she previously rejected the notion that Nienstedt resign.

"It was and is my opinion that the worst possible situation from a child protection standpoint would be one where Bishop Piché would assume even temporary governance of the Archdiocese," she wrote. "I say this because, in my experience, Bishop Piché was a bigger obstacle than Father [Kevin] McDonough to any sort of movement towards truly implementing the requirements of the Charter."

In the affidavit, Haselberger described Piché as advising a pastor to "move slowly" on the case of Harry Walsh – laicized in 2012 after past accusations of child sexual abuse were discovered in his file – and advocating for several priests with known boundary violations.

In addition, Piché's time as pastor (1997-2003) of the Church of St. Joseph in West St. Paul overlapped with the period Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer served as its associate pastor (2001-2006). However, Piché had moved on to the Church of All Saints in Lakeville by the time Wehmeyer, convicted in 2012 of child sexual abuse and possessing child pornography, made advances toward two young men at a local bookstore in May 2004.

Edwards told NCR she was unaware of Piché's involvement and that the committee concluded its work shortly before Haselberger's affidavit became public.

In the group's press release, board member Paula Ruddy acknowledges "as lay Catholics, we can't actually elect our leadership, but we want to raise our voices as concerned Christians who want a sustainable, healthy, church."

Edwards said awareness is one part of the effort that one day could lead to Catholics having a different expectation toward their role in the selection of their bishop.

"I think what I really hope to see is continued positive progress of the baptized to be aware of and claim our responsibility for helping the direction of our church," she said.

Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.

NCR Editor's Note: This story was updated to clarify the process the coalition took to nominate possible candidates and to contact those whom it selected.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Quote of the Day

Nothing seems to stop the force of compassion. In a world long drenched in inequity and soreness, it stays. It stays with a ferocious resiliency. Nothing is able to keep it down. There is no weariness or bloodshed or sorrow that can come close to destroy it. The reverse is true: the more ridiculous it is to show acts of compassion, the more it endures. It is abundantly wasteful, being thrown about sometimes in futile or harsh settings. It refuses to fade away even when brutality and greed get their way in the world. They have not and can not extinguish the force of compassion.

Another tenacious grace: hope. It is far more than wishing for better tomorrows. It is having gracious awareness of what is going on right now. It is seeing this life as a bewildering tapestry of miracles, and not doubting that this is the way it will continue. This sort of hope breeds patience. We do not expect a particular outcome. We find it more reasonable and easy to to know that whatever is ahead is completely unknown. But what is next will be sparkled with hints of the extraordinary gift just be a part of God’s fabric.

This sort of hope allows us greater permission to acknowledge when the present has darkness or awkwardness. Having this deep hope allows us to better settle into the messiness and frayed parts of our lives, remembering it has all, and will be all, weaved into a sacred journey. It does not remove from us any torment or confusion. It helps us know what to do: surrender the troubles of our lives to this God who seeks closeness.

– Pat Malone, SJ
Excerpted from Greg Kandra's article,
"R.I.P, Fr. Pat Malone"
July 24, 2014

Recommended Off-site Links:
Rev. Patrick Malone, Pastor Who Ministered to Ground Zero Workers, Dies at 55 – Alia Conley (World-Herald, July 22, 2014).
Firm: The Blogsite of Patrick Malone, SJ

Sunday, July 27, 2014

To Heal Church, Nienstedt Must Resign


By the Editorial Board of the Star Tribune

Note: This editorial was first published July 26 by the Star Tribune.

Signs abound that the leadership crisis sparked by priest abuse of children in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has come to a breaking point. Consider these developments just this month:

• A judge in St. Paul — a city whose history and culture are inseparable from the Roman Catholic Church — refused to set aside a lawsuit’s claim that the Twin Cities archdiocese and the Diocese of Winona had created a public nuisance with their handling of abusive priests. District Judge John Van de North said he is seeking more information on that charge as he allowed a suit to go forward on claims of negligence.

• An affidavit by former archdiocesan canon law chancellor Jennifer Haselberger reported a “cavalier attitude about the safety of other people’s children” at the archdiocese’s top levels, leading to lax investigations and continued priestly service by suspected abusers. Haselberger resigned from her post in 2013 because, she said, she could no longer work for an organization that was not fully cooperating with an investigation of illegal activity within it.

• The archdiocese confirmed to the Star Tribune that Archbishop John Nienstedt is the subject of a months-long investigation of sexual misconduct with seminarians, priests and other men.

• Minnesota Public Radio aired an hourlong documentary, “Betrayed by Silence,” detailing how three St. Paul/Minneapolis archbishops — Nienstedt and his predecessors John R. Roach and Harry Flynn — ignored or downplayed evidence and, until this year, concealed the names of priests credibly accused of molesting children.

• An editorial in the New York Times said that if Pope Francis is serious about holding bishops accountable for the abuse scandal that has rocked the church, a “good place to start” would be St. Paul and Minneapolis, with the removal of Nienstedt.

Today, with sadness, this newspaper joins that call. For the sake of one of this state’s most valued institutions and the Minnesotans whose lives it touches, Nienstedt’s service at the archdiocese should end now.

It will take months, and maybe years, for legal and ecclesiastical proceedings to sort out the charges that have been leveled by Haselberger and others who’ve been wronged by the church and its leaders. Those cases should go forward with care and diligence. Minnesotans deserve assurance that in this state, justice is available even when “the least of these” fall prey to people entrusted with power.

But the continued presence of the embattled Nienstedt in the chancery increases the likelihood that those matters will impede the work of the church in the larger community. Deservedly or not, Nienstedt has become the face of a coverup that has put children in harm’s way. His credibility is in tatters. The archdiocese needs a different leader — a reformer — to have a reasonable chance of restoring its damaged reputation and sustaining its service to the community.

We’ve been hesitant to make this call until now for two reasons. We consider it presumptuous for a secular news organization to advise a church about internal matters. And just two years ago, the Star Tribune Editorial Board and Nienstedt openly quarreled about the ballot question that would have constitutionally banned same-sex marriage in this state. Although that disagreement is unrelated to today’s call for Nienstedt to depart, we know some readers will question our motivation.

A larger concern now overrides those considerations, however. The Catholic name attaches not only to churches, but to schools, colleges, hospitals, homeless shelters, congregate dining, care for the elderly and a host of other good works that serve more than Catholics. The damage that brand name is suffering in Minnesota has become severe enough to put public support — and, crucially, donor support — of all things Catholic at risk. The abuse scandal has become more than an internal problem.

Catholic organizations, including the annual fund drive formerly known as the Archbishop’s Appeal, have gone to considerable lengths since the scandal broke to distance themselves from the chancery, both legally and in public perception. The distraction from core mission that those efforts represent is regrettable. The likelihood that they will also be insufficient if Nienstedt remains is growing, and worrisome. Minnesota needs the work that those church-affiliated entities do.

This state also has benefited since its founding from the calls for compassion, social justice and civic harmony that have emanated from this archdiocese. The moral authority that those calls once carried is now badly eroded, and Nienstedt is in no position to restore it.

Neither does the chancery incumbent stand much chance of rallying support for new practices and attitudes that might prevent future scandals. The church is paying a high price for its misdeeds and misjudgment. But it is also being presented with a rare opportunity to bring in a new order of transparency and accountability, provided a leader emerges who can rally the faithful behind a reform agenda.

We’ve heard from prominent Minnesota Catholics who have made quiet but urgent pleas to the Vatican for Nienstedt’s replacement. Those pleas deserve heed. But we also hope Nienstedt takes to heart the example of Pope Benedict. Eighteen months ago, Benedict concluded that he was not up to the task of meeting the church’s leadership needs, and broke with 600 years of tradition to resign from office. His decision was not a display of weakness, but of love for his church. Nienstedt’s resignation would show the same.

See also the previous PCV posts:
Archbishop Niestedt Needs to Go. Now
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, "Regime Change is Not Enough"
Healing Can’t Start Until the Knife is Removed from the Wound

Related Off-site Links:
Roman Catholicism's Fundamental Problem: The Cultic Priesthood and Its "Diseased System" of Clericalism – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, July 23, 2014).
Jennifer Haselberger Was Ignored, Bullied Before Blowing Whistle on Archdiocese, Records Show – Jesse Marx (City Pages, July 15, 2014).
MN Archdiocese Wanted to Label Marriage Equality-Supporting Priest ‘Disabled’ – Andy Birkey (, July 22, 2014).
Betrayed by Silence: How Three Archbishops Hid the Truth – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio, July 14, 2014).
Has Archbishop Nienstedt's "Shadow" Finally Caught Up With Him? – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, July 1, 2014).

Image: Michael Bayly.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Embracing Ambiguous Parables: Looking for Insight on Justice and Change in the Church

By Bill Moseley

Note: The following is the text of a reflection delivered before the start of mass at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church on the weekend of July 19-20, 2014.

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

Some days it’s hard to motivate myself to go to church. I’m not talking about a lack of gumption to get out of bed, but rather about being shocked by news stories so bad that you’re embarrassed to self identify as a Catholic. This was one of those weeks for me. Listening to MPR’s investigative journalism series about the clergy sexual abuse cover up in the Twin Cities Catholic Church, and learning of a new lawsuit against the Archdiocese, made me simultaneously grateful for good journalists and aghast at how wayward an institution representing the teachings of Jesus had become.

It is with this frustration and malaise that I approached this week’s Gospel reading which, perhaps serendipitously, had something to say about good versus bad, justice versus injustice. In this Gospel (Matthew 13: 24-43) we hear three parables, followed by a troublesome explanation. While I’ll come back to the explanation, the first parable portrays a farmer who instructs his workers to wait on removing weeds from his wheat field until harvest time (the weeds having been sown by an enemy). The second and third parables then describe heaven using two different metaphors: heaven is like the small mustard seed that grows into a bush; and heaven is like yeast that a woman kneads into flour making the batch of dough rise.

As a college professor, I’ve always admired Jesus’ abilities as a teacher. While many teachers are loath to admit this, students actually forget the vast majority of what we impart to them. For example, while I think it’s pretty darn cool that the Tropic of Capricorn may be found at 23 ½ degrees south latitude, and that this is the southernmost point of direct solar radiation, these factoids almost instantly vanish from my students’ minds after the midterm exam. However, what many good teachers learn over time is that stories stick in students’ minds much longer than factoids. Indeed, students may forget the textbook explanation of the Tropic Capricorn – but still recall my story of being busted for speeding by the police in Botswana as I raced over the Tropic of Capricorn in 2012 – excitedly telling my son that we were crossing this line on, of all days, March 21 – the vernal equinox.

Clearly Jesus knew the power of stories as an effective way to convey understanding. Much of what we know he actually said has been passed down to us in the context of these stories (or versions of these stories), which still resonate some 2000 years later. Jesus also liked to work in metaphors. The Bible, reflecting the largely rural livelihoods of the time it was written, is rife with agricultural and pastoral metaphors and stories. The nice thing about a metaphorical story is that not only is there a greater chance that it will be remembered, but it often allows you to convey a certain amount or nuance or even contradiction.

The challenge for us in our contemporary American setting is that the majority of us have little or no connection to agriculture. Therefore the nuance and contradiction embedded in these stories and metaphors may be lost on us – or worse yet – reinterpreted to a different end.

Take the first parable about the farmer who instructs his workers to wait on removing weeds from his wheat field until harvest time (the weeds having been sown by an enemy). This is interesting on a couple of different fronts. The first is that letting weeds mature alongside your wheat crop is bad agricultural advice because weeds compete with your crop, resulting in a poor harvest. While the folly of such advice might not jump out at us now, it likely would have been apparent to Jesus’ largely agrarian audience – and a very strong signal that this story was indeed a metaphor for something else. The metaphorical meaning, many believe, is a warning to not rush to pass judgment, to not be too hasty to identify and pull weeds - or to sort out the bad from the good.

Now why might Jesus urge such caution? It could be that we just don’t know enough to adequately differentiate between the weeds and the wheat, between the bad and the good. For example, I distinctly recall as a young Peace Corps volunteer going out to work in the farm fields of my host family in Mali, West Africa. The task was to weed a millet field early in the growing season. The challenge for me was that the young millet plants and the weeds were virtually indistinguishable. As such, with all the good intention of helping my host family, I set about pulling up their prized millet plants which would grow into a staple food crop. Fortunately my family quickly noticed the unfolding destruction and, ever so graciously, suggested that I might take a break.

The other reason for caution and restraint in rushing to judgment is that weeds, like bad or even evil behavior, can be subjectively classified as such. Take the common dandelion. Americans spend millions annually to expunge this so-called weed from their lawns. In contrast, my depression era grandmother used to eat dandelion greens as a staple in her summer diet. In fact, dandelions have been gathered as food for millennia, and were cultivated for consumption in some areas of Eurasia. Furthermore, dandelion leaves contain abundant vitamins and are good sources of calcium, potassium, iron and manganese. The point is that dandelions are nutritious food in some contexts, and weeds (or something to be expunged) in another. Dare I suggest that our distinctions between right and wrong can sometimes be similarly subjective. For example, mixed race and same-sex relationships were long viewed as illegal, wrong, and punishable in our country. This only began to change after a protracted civil rights struggle – and such relationships are still seen as a problem in many areas of the US and the world. As such, given the somewhat subjective nature of classifying good and bad, caution and restraint in rushing to judgment is sound advice.

While we need to be cautious and careful about passing judgment, does this mean there is no room for distinguishing between good and bad, or for calling out injustice when we see it? The problematic explanation at the end of the gospel offers one possible answer to this question. It suggests that “the evildoers [will be thrown] into the fiery furnace, where they will weep and gnash their teeth… [and] the just will shine like the sun in the realm of God.” In other words, it suggests (in a way) that we put up with the current injustice with the comfort of knowing that justice will be rendered in the afterlife. Now, I’ll be honest, I flagged this explanation as problematic because I don’t really care for the fire and brimstone language. I see the advice as a palliative for the masses (urging people to put up with bad situations), and most biblical scholars agree that this passage was added at a later date and does not reflect something Jesus actually said.

I suggest that the answer to our question, about whether or not there is room for calling out injustice in the present, might lie in the second and third parables. Again, these parables liken heaven to: a mustard seed that grows into a bush; or a person kneading yeast into flour, allowing for all of the dough to rise. In both these parables I see a ‘justice trickling-up’ philosophy. Good starts in small and humble places and then grows, slowly at first, gaining momentum with time. We needn’t wait for justice until the afterlife. We, the people, the church, working proactively, can make good things happen and triumph over injustice. In other words, our actions for justice matter. We need to be active not passive.

Now before you feel too good about my interpretation, I want to be clear that some ambiguity and tension lurks in these parables as I read them. On the one hand, Jesus is cautioning us to not rush to judgment, to be careful about categorizing good and evil. On the other hand, he tells us that justice and hope rise from below, that we can build heaven on earth, and that we must address injustice in this world. Be cautious, careful and fair, but not to the point of inaction.

Coming back to where I started, the news this week about the Archdiocese was very painful for me to hear. However I take heart in the fact that the church is us, not the Archdiocese. What I believe this crisis makes clear is that governance in the institution popularly known as the Roman Catholic Church really has to change if it is to continue serving and representing the people, the real church. While clergy sexual misconduct appears to be the problem, underlying this are deeper issues of transparency, open governance, and equal participation by all. We, of course, need to be careful, cautious and fair in addressing the injustice and crimes highlighted in this institutional crisis (all humans are fallible and deserve forgiveness). Real change implies that the hierarchy of power within the institution may and ought to shift radically as a result of this crisis. We should not be afraid of this change. We’ve been slowly working the dough for a long time and, to borrow from Terry Dosh, now it is time for the bread to rise.