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.

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

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.

Monday, June 15, 2015

CCCR Responds to the Resignation of Archbishop Nienstedt

The Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR)* has issued the following media release in response to today's news of the resignations of Archbishop John C. Nienstedt and Bishop Lee Piché of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

The Catholic Coalition for Church Reform and the Council of the Baptized welcome the news of the resignations of Archbishop Nienstedt and Bishop Lee Piché. Healing can now begin.

Leadership change will not be enough, though: this diocese, and the Church as a whole, needs to shed the cloak of clericalism and adopt a new attitude of inclusiveness. The faithful need to step up and play active roles in the governance of our Church as prescribed by the Open Windows principles of the Second Vatican Council.

CCCR has called for the re-establishment and empowerment of an effective Archdiocesan Pastoral Council to consult with and to guide the bishops, and for the adoption of the Standards of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, the same standards of accountability and transparency in governance and management adopted by many of our parishes.

CCCR has already submitted to the Papal Nuncio, the Pope’s representative in Washington, DC, the names of proven senior pastors in our diocese who are outstanding candidates to be named bishop. Rome needs to hear the voices of experience and judgment of local Catholics in the selection of our next leader.

For more information, contact Bob Beutel, CCCR co-chair at 651-324-0577 or

* The Catholic Coalition for Church Reform is an organization in the Twin Cities metropolitan area that envisions a church fully alive, locally and universally, that radiates Jesus’ core teaching of radical equality, unabashed inclusivity, and transforming love.

See also the previous PCV post:
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, "Regime Change is Not Enough"

Related Off-site Links:
Archbishop Nienstedt and Bishop Piché Resign – Maria Wiering (The Catholic Spirit, June 15, 2015).
Archbishop Nienstedt Resigns After Twin Cities Archdiocese Charged with Failing Children – Joshua J. McElwee (National Catholic Reporter, June 15, 2015).
Archbishop Nienstedt Resigns – Grant Gallicho (Commonweal, June 15, 2015).
Archbishop Nienstedt Resigns After Sex Abuse Coverup Charges Against Archdiocese – Inés San Martín (Crux, June 15, 2015).
Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt Resigns After Charges Over Abuse Scandal – David Gibson (Religion News Service, June 15, 2015).
In Twin Cities, A Clean Sweep – Archbishop and Auxiliary Take the Fall – Rocco Palmo (Whispers in the Loggia, June 15, 2015).
Minnesota Bishops Resign in Vatican Crackdown on Sex Abuse by Priests – Stephanie Kirchgaessner (The Guardian, June 15, 2015).
Minnesota Archbishop Steps Down After Rocky Term – Amy Foriti (The Associated Press via Yahoo! News, June 15, 2015).
Catholic Archbishop and Aide Resign in Minnesota Over Sexual Abuse Scandal – Mark S. Getzfred and Mitch Smith (New York Times, June 15, 2015).
John Nienstedt, Archbishop of St. Paul, Resigns After Archdiocese Charged with Cover-Up – The Associate Press via NBC News (June 15, 2015).
An Open Letter to Archbishop Nienstedt – Hank Shea (Star Tribune, June 13, 2015).
The Line in the Sand – Jennifer Haselberger (, June 10, 2015).
It Will Take a New Leader to Repair Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis – The Editorial Board (Star Tribune, June 8, 2015).
Twin Cities Archdiocese Charged with Child Endangerment – Grant Gallicho (Commonweal, June 7, 2015).

Archbishop Nienstedt Resigns

Note: The following is an excerpt from Madeleine Baran's MPR report on the resignation of John C. Nienstedt as Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

Nearly two years into a clergy sex abuse scandal, Archbishop John Nienstedt [left] has resigned as head of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

The Vatican said Pope Francis accepted the resignations of Nienstedt, 68, and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piche, 57. They resigned under the church law that allows bishops to resign before they retire because of illness or some other "grave" reason that makes them unfit for office.

• Nienstedt's departure makes him only the second American bishop in the Catholic Church to resign as the result of a clergy sex abuse scandal.

• The Rev. Bernard Hebda, coadjutor archbishop of Newark, N.J., has been named temporary administrator of the archdiocese.

When Nienstedt arrived in the Twin Cities in 2007, he said his motto as archbishop would be unity, as he explained in a 2010 interview.

"I wanted to spend my time as being a bishop building up the unity of the church, building unity between churches, and then building a sense of harmony in the world," he said.

Instead, Nienstedt presided over one of the most turbulent and divisive periods in the diocese's 165-year history.

Earlier this month, prosecutors charged the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for its "role in failing to protect children and contribution to the unspeakable harm" done to three sexual abuse victims of former priest Curtis Wehmeyer, a former priest at Church of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul, who is serving a five-year prison sentence for molesting two boys and faces prosecution involving a third boy in Wisconsin.

. . . I really hope the Vatican will involve local Catholics . . . in the choosing of the new bishop, because it's a local church in need of healing," said Massimo Faggioli, an associate theology professor at the University of St. Thomas. Some local theologians, including Faggioli, called for drastic changes in the archdiocese last year. "This resignation is the first step in this healing process, I hope."

Attorney Jeff Anderson, who represents people who have filed abuse claims against the archdiocese, said civil cases will still proceed, but that the resignations are an important symbolic gesture to victims of clergy abuse.

"It does come with some sense of relief, because he does represent, as head of the archdiocese, the focal point of the longstanding problem," Anderson said. "But it's also important for everyone to realize that this whole problem is not about one man, even though he was at the top, it's about the system and all those that have been part of it.

"This resignation signals to all of us, that there is now some change being pressured at the top in a way it has never been before, and that brings promise for real change from the top on down."

In a letter posted Monday morning on the archdiocese website, Nienstedt wrote:
In order to give the Archdiocese a new beginning amidst the many challenges we face, I have submitted my resignation as Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis to our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and I have just received word that he has accepted it. The Catholic Church is not our Church, but Christ's Church, and we are merely stewards for a time. My leadership has unfortunately drawn attention away from the good works of His Church and those who perform them. Thus, my decision to step down. ...

I leave with a clear conscience knowing that my team and I have put in place solid protocols to ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults. I ask for continued prayers for the well-being of this Archdiocese and its future leaders. I also ask for your continued prayers for me.

To continue reading this article, click here.

See also the previous PCV posts:
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, "Regime Change is Not Enough"

Related Off-site Links:
Archbishop Nienstedt Resigns After Twin Cities Archdiocese Charged with Failing Children – Joshua J. McElwee (National Catholic Reporter, June 15, 2015).
Archbishop Nienstedt Resigns – Grant Gallicho (Commonweal, June 15, 2015).
Archbishop Nienstedt Resigns After Sex Abuse Coverup Charges Against Archdiocese – Inés San Martín (Crux, June 15, 2015).
Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt Resigns After Charges Over Abuse Scandal – David Gibson (Religion News Service, June 15, 2015).
Minnesota Bishops Resign in Vatican Crackdown on Sex Abuse by Priests – Stephanie Kirchgaessner (The Guardian, June 15, 2015).
Catholic Archbishop and Aide Resign in Minnesota Over Sexual Abuse Scandal – Mark S. Getzfred and Mitch Smith (New York Times, June 15, 2015).
John Nienstedt, Archbishop of St. Paul, Resigns After Archdiocese Charged with Cover-Up – The Associate Press via NBC News (June 15, 2015).
An Open Letter to Archbishop Nienstedt – Hank Shea (Star Tribune, June 13, 2015).
The Line in the Sand – Jennifer Haselberger (, June 10, 2015).
It Will Take a New Leader to Repair Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis – The Editorial Board (Star Tribune, June 8, 2015).
Twin Cities Archdiocese Charged with Child Endangerment – Grant Gallicho (Commonweal, June 7, 2015)

Friday, June 12, 2015


By Jim Moudry
Theological Consultant to CCCR

The news of criminal charges against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis brought by the Ramsey County Attorney, which he called “institutional failure” to protect children from abusive priests, is welcome because it is a necessary step to a needed resolution. But it is extremely painful to faithful Catholics in our local church, provoking the full range of responses ranging from white hot anger at our church leaders, starting with Archbishop John Nienstedt, to hopeless despair, with everything in between. Every one of those reactions has its validity. After absorbing the best I can the immensity of this story and having run through a series of personal reactions and possible strategies for a response, this thought came to me: we have been here before many times in the course of our 2000 year history. Shocking institutional failure and sin and crimes. And here we are, the Body of Christ, the People of God, being asked once again to pick ourselves up with God’s grace and “keep on keeping on” being church. Some thoughts which help me.

At the heart of Jesus’ preaching and ministry was his announcement of the arrival of the kingdom of God, the reign or rule of God in people’s lives and in human history. This was the metaphor Jesus used to describe the new life style he called people to, people dwelling in peace and justice, reconciled to one another, rendering loving service to each other—in short, authentic, genuine human living. The church emerged to be in service to the reign of God, to announce and embody its values in order to show what God is doing in this world and to invite people to become part of it.

This church is not to be equated simply with the reign of God, but it is not separable from it either.

In case you hadn’t noticed, this church is composed of sinful human beings, you and me, capable of living God’s dream for this world, and capable of terrible sin against all the dream means. The church is always sinful in its members and in constant need of reform. A traditional adage for our church is “ecclesia semper reformanda”—the “church must always be reformed”. This was invoked at the time of Vatican Council II to remind us of our sinfulness and need for reform. Our church’s history is the story of saints and sinners, starting with the apostle Peter who denied three times he even knew Jesus! “He went our and wept bitterly”. Jesus made him the leader of the apostles and of the infant gathering of his followers. Tradition made him the bishop of Rome we call the Pope. That we are a sinful group and have been from the beginning and at the highest level is not something we should forget. The current sinful mess we are in in our local church grieves us deeply. But we should not be so naive as to think it has never happened before even at the highest levels.

We must be careful not to let the current mess we are in cause us to forget that we, all of us together, are the church. And we must continue to do the work of the reign of God, perhaps more intensely than usual, to be a community of loving service to one another, reaching out to the poor and carrying on the work of loving our neighbor and one another in the myriad ways our lives give us to do. All while this great wound in our body festers and slowly heals. Heal it will. Where sin is, grace abounds.

See also the previous PCV posts:
Actions to Take to Be the Church We Want to See
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, "Regime Change is Not Enough"

Recommended Off-site Links:
An Open Letter to Archbishop Nienstedt – Hank Shea (Star Tribune, June 13, 2015).
The Line in the Sand – Jennifer Haselberger (, June 10, 2015).
It Will Take a New Leader to Repair Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis – The Editorial Board (Star Tribune, June 8, 2015).
Twin Cities Archdiocese Charged with Child Endangerment – Grant Gallicho (Commonweal, June 7, 2015).

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Pentecost: Divine Polyculture vs. Imperial Monoculture

By Ched Myers

Note: This commentary was first published May 21, 2015 at Radical Discipleship, and is part of an ongoing series of Ched Myer’s brief comments on the Revised Common Lectionary during Year B, 2015.

How is it that we heard, each of us, in our own native tongue? (Acts 2:8)

Since the dawn of colonization, the Americas have been defined by the struggle between dominant culture ideologies of conformity imposed by those in power, and grassroots cultural diversity among those on the margins. This tension between fantasies of racial supremacy and realities of racial diversity remains one of the supreme challenges facing the U.S., and thus our churches, today. The future of North American society depends upon our ability to live peaceably and justly with human diversity — and the same can be said of the human experiment as a whole. The question is whether we can, in church and in society, forge models of coexistence-with-congruence rather than unity-by-uniformity.

This question is as ancient as our scriptures. In particular, two related texts, one from each Testament, articulate key issues of cultural heterogeneity, social health and human freedom. One is the divine deconstruction of imperial homogeneity represented by the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. The other is the multicultural insurrection against Roman imperial monoculture on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).

In the former tale—one the oldest in the Bible—the divine “council” that created human beings (Gen 1:26) and that had to expel them from the Garden (3:22) intervenes against the centripetal, homogenizing project of Babel: “Come, let us go down and confuse their language” (11:7). This is the closing warning tale in the overall narrative arc of Genesis 1-11, concluding that the way to resist social and political forces of centralization is to reassert the Creator’s original intention that human communities be “scattered abroad over the face of the earth” (1:28; 9:1). The divine antidote is a re-dispersion of peoples (11:8), symbolized here by both linguistic/cultural variety and geographic diffusion.

This “scattering” is portrayed in Genesis not as the tragic result of God’s judgment, as is usually preached in our churches, but rather as an act of centrifugal liberation from urban monoculture and superconcentration. This is archetypal movement from center to margins finds further articulation in two foundational stories in Torah: that of Abram (Gen 11:31-12:5) and Exodus.

The ancient Hebrews, repeatedly displaced or colonized by urban civilization, seem to have developed a paleo-psychic impulse toward such centrifugality, summarized in the Psalmist’s later reiteration of Babel’s lesson: “Truly, I would flee far off; I would lodge in the wilderness… Confuse, O Lord, confound their speech, for I see violence and strife in the city” (Psalm 55:7ff). Israel’s survival was predicated upon resistance to successive empires through a stubborn maintenance of its own cultural, linguistic and religious distinctiveness and nonconformity. Centuries later, Jewish Christians surrounded by the dominating architecture and homogenizing social forces of the Roman Empire renewed this ancient tradition of resistance, as narrated in Luke’s story of the birth of the Christian church that we celebrate at Pentecost.

Acts 2 narrates the inauguration of the church in the power of the Holy Spirit—though what sort of practices the Spirit empowered has been a divisive issue among Christians ever since. Today ecclesial debates about what it means to be “Spirit-filled” usually focus on individual charismatic gifts, rather on the church as an alternative social model. But in Luke’s narrative, the Spirit ignited a multilingual eruption at the heart of cosmopolitan Jerusalem and in the face of Roman social control, in the long tradition of Jewish centrifugal challenges to centripetal empire.

In this multilingual insurgency Luke is affirming the diverse cultural contexts in which the new Christian movement would soon take flesh as the gospel spread throughout the Mediterranean world. But the echoes of the ancient Babel tale are unmistakable: “And at this sound the multitude came together and were confused because each one heard the apostles speaking in their own language” (Acts 2:6; Gk sungcheō is the same root word used in the Septuagint text of Gen 11:7,9). This is not, as it is usually misconstrued, a reversal of the alleged “curse” of Babel. Rather, Pentecost re-iterates that tale’s polemic, and the divinely-sanctioned strategy to deconstruct pathological imperial homogeneity by reclaiming cultural diversity. The gift of tongues communicates across linguistic differences without suppressing or eradicating those differences. That is what distinguishes true gospel mission from cross-and-sword conquest in the service of empire that has characterized Christendom all too often. Unity through the Spirit does not mean monoculture, but the celebration of human variety.

The local cultures around the world that are carried by today’s immigrant poor have been eroded by centuries of colonialism, and are in danger of being extinguished by the onslaught of global capitalism’s drive for commodified homogeneity. The church must reassert the Genesis wisdom of a “scattered” human family by nurturing diversity, and must reaffirm the Pentecostal vocation of native-language empowerment. For in the great narrative of the Bible, God’s intervention is always subversive of the centralizing project of empire, and always on the side of the excluded and outcast, the refugee and immigrant. The Spirit has busted up business-as-usual many times since Babel and Jerusalem, and she is waiting to do the same in our own time—if our tongues would but dare to loosen.

Note: This is an edited excerpt from Chapter One of Our God is Undocumented: Biblical Faith and Immigrant Justice (Orbis, 2012). See also the longer reflection here. These themes will be discussed in Radical Discipleship's next webinar on June 16, 2015.