Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dialoguing with the Archbishop: Unity With or Without Diversity

By Paula Ruddy

Archbishop John Nienstedt met with a delegation from CCCR and Council of the Baptized on January 20 in a conference room at the Chancery Office in St. Paul. The delegates were Bob Beutel, co-chair of the CCCR Board, Mary Beth Stein, co-chair of Council of the Baptized, and I, a member of the CCCR Board. The Archbishop had invited Bishop Andrew Cozzens and Father Erich Rutten to join us.

Archbishop Nienstedt was cordial, gave us an hour of his time, and accepted the agenda we proposed. He led us in prayer to start the meeting. The agenda was 1) to explain the mission of CCCR and Council of the Baptized, 2) to explore how we could work together to comply with Pope Francis’s request for lay input for the Synod on the Family to take place in Rome in October 2015, and 3) we also wanted to know generally how we could work together to make our archdiocese a growth supportive community for all.

The Archbishop listened carefully while Bob explained the mission and activities of our joint organizations. When Bob had finished, the Archbishop asked this question: How do you think of yourselves as a Catholic organization when some of the member organizations of the coalition have opted out of the Roman Catholic Church?

Good question. We all talked about it in the spontaneous way that semi-formal conversation happens. I don’t have a transcript, but I had the perception that we reached some understanding with the Archbishop. He said he understood us more clearly and we went on to the next item on the agenda.

The question is an important one for CCCR and Council of the Baptized. How do we think of ourselves as Catholic when people are all over the board on Catholic teaching? Our policy, we explained to the Archbishop, has been to accept anyone who self-identifies as Catholic, and, at the same time, keep all the questions open for discussion, on the assumption that discussion is the way for people to grow toward truth in their thinking.

Is CCCR/Council of the Baptized justified in its policy of inclusion?

The question gets muddled up with the ideas of subjectivity and objectivity. Is being Catholic about being under the canonical jurisdiction of a bishop? That would be objective. Is it about identifying yourself as a Catholic? That would be subjective. Is it about having had water poured over your head with the right words as a baby and having been registered in a Catholic parish? Is it about giving internal assent (subjective) to statements in a catechism (objective)? Is it about getting yourself physically to Mass every Sunday and obeying the laws of the church (objective)? Can it be completely subjective with no external observance? Can it be completely objective with no internal assent?

Let’s say it is about both/and. Some objective observance and some internal assent. To draw lines we have to identify the essential objective observances and the essential subjection requirements. Has that been done? How are they tested? By whom? Is the person making the objective judgment using any subjectivity? Is determining who is in and who is out part of the mission of the church?

Is CCCR/Council of the Baptized justified in trusting the Holy Spirit to work within a whole community of self-identifying Catholics who are all across the board in their thinking and in their observance and yet somehow drawn to grow within this community? Does Jesus’s point about letting the weeds grow with the wheat have relevance? Or his caution not to snuff out the smoldering wick?

Or is it better to draw lines for being either in or out and to provide programming in standard thinking and practice to support the people who are in? In a fragmented world with so many influences working against the Christian faith, is it necessary to get clear on some formulations of truth and zero in on a faith formation?

Choosing between these two modes of operating—inclusion or exclusion—is necessary to run a coherent program. So it is a fundamental question. What do you think?

Friday, January 16, 2015

St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese Declares Bankruptcy in Response to Abuse Lawsuits

By Jean Hopfensperger

Note: The following is an excerpt from an article first published January 16, 2015 by the Star Tribune.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Friday, saying it cannot meet its financial obligations from an unprecedented wave of clergy sex abuse lawsuits.

The move freezes lawsuits against the church, protecting the archdiocese from creditors while allowing it to develop a reorganization plan.

“I make this decision because I believe it is the fairest and most helpful recourse for those victims/survivors who have made claims against us,” wrote Archbishop John Nienstedt on the archdiocese’s website Friday morning.

“Reorganization will allow the finite resources of the Archdiocese to be distributed equitably among all victims/ survivors. It will also permit the Archdiocese to provide essential services required to continue its mission within this 12-county district.”

Archdiocese officials have said such a move was a financial necessity, as it faced more than 20 lawsuits from people who charge they were sexually abused by priests. More than 100 other lawsuits are pending.

Church officials have scheduled a news conference for 2 p.m. Friday.

The bankruptcy filing does not provide precise figures on archdiocese finances. It showed estimated liabilities of $50 to $100 million, estimated assets of $10 to $50 million, and estimated creditors of 200 to 999.

All of the top 20 creditors listed in the filing are representatives of victims of clergy sex abuse, which is typical of church bankruptcy filings nationally.

Jeff Anderson, the St. Paul attorney handling most of the clergy sex abuse cases, said in a news conference Friday, “It is our belief that the action taken today is necessary.”

“We will do this in a way like it’s never been done before, and not fight and get involved in contention … but in the spirit of cooperation … and healing.”

Victim’s advocates charge that the move is one more example of the archdiocese shirking its responsibility to abuse victims.

“Why is it that when all the dioceses file bankruptcy, they do it on the eve of a trial?” asked Bob Schwiderski, longtime advocate for abuse survivors. “Is it because they can’t put their hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth?”

Schwiderski was referring to three clergy abuse trials slated for Jan. 26, that will now be halted.

All cases and claims will be reorganized in bankruptcy court, Anderson said

“The good news is that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has insurance and it has a lot of it,” he said.

“We and the archdiocese in the last weeks and months have tried to bring the insurance companies to the table,” Anderson said.

However, he said that has not succeeded. In November, it sued 20 insurance companies in federal court seeking to force them “to cover the type of injuries” suffered by the clergy abuse claimants.

Anderson said he thinks the archdiocese will prevail in the end.

The move is not expected to affect the roughly 200 Catholics parishes or Catholic schools, which are incorporated separately from the chancery.

Related Off-site Links:
Archdiocese Files for Bankruptcy Amid Abuse Claim Worries – Martin Moylan and Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio News, January 16, 2015).
St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese Files for Bankruptcy – Amy Forliti (Associated Press via Crux, January 16, 2015).

Monday, December 15, 2014

Pope Francis and the Catholic Crisis

By Charles J. Reid, Jr.
Professor of Law, University of St. Thomas

NOTE: This commentary was first published December 15, 2014 by The Huffington Post.

There is a growing crisis haunting the Catholic Church. And it is a crisis larger than the events that have so greatly afflicted the American Catholic Church. The pedophilia scandals are a horrifying element of this crisis. So, too, are the bishops who covered up and excused these outrages. And so, also, the more general loss of confidence Catholics have in a hierarchy that seems oddly concerned with rank and privilege and with fighting yesterday's culture wars. Yes, these are all elements of the crisis, but the crisis is larger than this.

And that something larger is both sad and profound: a loss of faith in the institutions of the Church. Pope Francis, in his remarkable interview with La nacion, published the weekend of December 6 and 7, made it clear that he recognized the gravity of the moment. He was asked why so many people were leaving the Church. As posed, the question addressed Latin America. By implication, it looked to the world.

Pope Francis could have directed his answer at factors external to the Church. Indeed, one can imagine his predecessors alternatively blaming culture, or relativism, or the forces of secularism. Pope Francis, however, is different. His was a more introspective answer. We must look within, he advised, to what Catholics are themselves doing wrong.

At the root of the crisis, he proposed, was the problem of clericalism. Clericalism is strangling true Christianity. Pope Francis has spoken often about clericalism during his brief pontificate. It was the reason, early in his tenure, that he ceased granting applications by priests to be raised to the rank of monsignor. Being called monsignor adds little to a priest's life. But the quest for this title led, in Francis's judgment, to careerism and a preoccupation with title and honor that had little to do with the Gospels.

Well, it seems that in taking this step, Pope Francis was merely warming up. In recent speeches, he began to explore how deep the crisis of clericalism extends. It has poisoned the relationship between priests and lay Catholics. It can serve, for the laity, as heedless abdication of responsibility, and on the part of the clergy a dangerous concentration of power.

Thus Pope Francis declared in March, 2014: "Clericalism is one of the evils of the Church. . . . Priests take pleasure in the temptation to clericalize the laity, but many of the laity are on their knees asking to be clericalized, because it is more comfortable! . . . This is a double sin!"

So how should lay and clergy interact? The Pope sees a wide latitude here. It is an intersection that must be governed principally by a respect for the power of prophecy. The prophet, Pope Francis has stated, is someone with a sense of the historical moment. The prophet must appreciate the confluence of "past, present, and future." The prophet knows the past promise of God's word, but knows how to interpret this word in her or his life and "to speak a word [to others] that will lift them up."

Again, what is noticeable is what is omitted. The prophet is not someone who listens patiently for instructions from others, or is someone who is fond of restating that perennial objection to growth and development – "but we've done anything like that before!" No, the prophet is someone who sees things fresh, in context, and knows how to take creative action appropriate to the moment.

The clergy must come to terms with this dimension of the lay vocation and be supportive of it. "The priest's suggestion is immediately to clericalize," the Pope warns. This temptation must be resisted. The priest has a spiritual role, a pastoral role, and a sacramental role, but the priest must not subsume the role of the laity. Harmony between the two orders is what Catholics should strive for. It should never become a situation in which "the big fish swallows the little one."

Pope Francis, in other words, expects an active and engaged laity, a laity that can think for itself, and is not fearful of its own independence. But how shall this Church, of harmonious yet different orders, address the Catholic crisis?

It must not preach. It must not proselytize. It must not condemn, or throw tantrums, or engage in theatrics. Rather, the Church – the People of God, lay and clergy alike – must set a good example. They must know that the world is filled with human suffering and that they are called to go about relieving in some small quantum this great misery in ways adapted to need and circumstance.

Only a leader with a great sense of faith could propose such a radical agenda for the Church. And Pope Francis' interview with La nacion makes plain his great faith. Only a confident and faithful leader would have opened the Synod on the Family to the kind of free discussions that occurred last October. Other popes have hosted synods on the family. They were entirely forgettable affairs. The script was written well in advance, everyone recited their assigned lines, and nothing of significance occurred. Pope Francis, on the other hand, opened the Synod up to prophecy, and a consideration of the needs of the moment.

It is fair to describe Pope Francis's summons as a call to Christian adulthood, but not in some superficial or trite sense. Rather he expects all Catholics to show a spirit of leadership, independence, and good judgment. The Church, he has warned, must not be obsessed with the self-referential. It must instead do as Jesus did – minister to the afflicted and the marginal. It is truly a bold vision of renewal.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Pope Francis' Woman Problem

By Candida Moss and Joel Baden

Editor's Note: This op-ed was first published December 7, 2014 by the Los Angeles Times.

At first, it was easy to overlook. With all of his statements about caring for the poor, the disabled and immigrants, and all the fanfare surrounding his famous “Who am I to judge?” proclamation, Pope Francis seemed like a breath of fresh air for a church stuck resolutely in the past. The fact that he never commented on the long-standing marginalization of women in the Catholic Church, and asserted quite plainly that there would be no ordination of women, did nothing to dampen progressive enthusiasm for the new pope. There has been a hopeful sense that he would get around to it eventually.

He hasn't, however, and there is reason to question whether he ever will. Instead of a more compassionate and understanding take on the standing of women in the church, Francis has repeatedly embraced the traditional Catholic view that a woman's role is in the home.

Ten days ago, Pope Francis organized and addressed an interfaith colloquium on the subject of “The Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage.” The use of the doctrinal term “complementarity” signals the conservative underpinnings of Francis' views on marriage. The religious teaching of complementarity holds that men and women have very different roles in life and in marriage, with men outranking women in most areas. Although Francis did acknowledge that complementarity could take “many forms,” he nonetheless insisted that it is an “anthropological fact.”

Last week, in chastising the European Parliament on the subject of immigration policy, Francis provided another alarming insight into his attitudes toward women, this time in his choice of metaphor. He described Europe as a “grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant,” but instead “elderly and haggard.” At 77 years old, presumably Francis still thinks himself relatively vibrant and useful to society. Women of his age, however, have apparently outlived their utility.

Francis has made it clear that he sees childbearing and child rearing as crucial womanly roles.

But his remarks about European immigration marked the first time Francis has used the natural loss of fertility and change in appearance that accompany aging to cast a moral judgment. By selecting the image of an aging woman — someone who is, to use Francis' words, no longer “relevant” to the world — is nothing other than crass chauvinism. Francis has elsewhere condemned our modern “throwaway” culture that discards the elderly, but here — when the subject is exclusively female — he demonstrates the same attitude.

Even when ostensibly elevating women, Francis reveals a highly patriarchal view of where their value lies. In a July statement that many took as a positive sign, he said that women are “more important than bishops and priests.” But it is unclear just how progressive we should understand that statement to be. Repeatedly, Francis has come back to extolling the role of women specifically as mothers, noting that “the presence of women in a domestic setting” is crucial to “the very transmission of the faith.”

To his credit, Francis has called for an expansion of women's participation in the life of the church, and he has said that “the role of women in the church is not only maternity, the mother of the family.” But he seems to have trouble articulating that role in non-maternal terms, or at least in terms that are not circumscribed by the familial: “I think, for example, of the special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood.” Although women may have lives outside the home, Francis has urged that we not “forget the irreplaceable role of the woman in a family.”

It is too much to expect, even with Francis at the helm, that the church would decide to admit women to the clergy. But it would be no violation of doctrine to recognize women as contributing to the life of the church, as being intrinsically and equally valuable, regardless of their familial role or fertility. Francis has had many opportunities to express these sentiments, yet he hasn't. It's hard not to conclude that he sees procreation as the end goal — and the functional utility — of a woman's life.

Candida Moss is professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame. Joel Baden is professor of Hebrew Bible at Yale University. They co-wrote the forthcoming Reconceiving Infertility: Biblical Perspectives on Procreation and Childlessness (Princeton University Press).

Monday, December 8, 2014

Statement of Catholic Theologians on Racial Justice

The following statement was first published December 8, 2014 at Catholic Moral Theology, a website created and maintained by a group of North American Catholic moral theologians who "come together in friendship to engage each other in theological discussion, to aid one another in our common search for wisdom, and to help one another live lives of discipleship, all in service to the reign of God." For more information about this group of theologians, click here.

Advent is a season of waiting and of hoping. In the face of conflict, distrust, and division – in the wilderness – we are called to cry out for a different way. In consultation with several others, CMTer and former law enforcement officer Tobias Winright has prepared a statement of commitment to racial justice, which names the particularly difficult hope we might bring to illuminate darkness. We are happy to share the statement here on this blog. Many Catholic theologians, including myself and my co-editor, Jana Bennett, have already signed on to the statement. Please pray and act for truth and reconciliation this season . . .

Statement: Catholic Theologians for Police Reform and Racial Justice

The season of Advent is meant to be a time when Christians remember the birth of Jesus Christ, when God became human, born on the margins of society. To the poor shepherds, the angelic host proclaimed “peace, goodwill among people” (Luke 2:14), which refers to a shalom that is not merely the absence of conflict, but rather a just and lasting peace, wherein people are reconciled with one another, with God, and indeed with all creation. But this Advent, hope for a just peace must face the flagrant failures of a nation still bound by sin, our bondage to and complicity in racial injustice.

​The killings of Black men, women and children – including but not limited to Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, John Crawford, 7 year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones and 12 year-old Tamir Rice – by White policemen, and the failures of the grand jury process to indict some of the police officers involved, brought to our attention not only problems in law enforcement today, but also deeper racial injustice in our nation, our communities, and even our churches.

As Eric Garner’s dying words “I can’t breathe” are chanted in the streets, and as people of faith, we hear the echo of Jesus’ breathing on his disciples, telling them, “Peace be with you.” His spirit-filled breath gives his disciples, then and now, the power and obligation to raise our voices about the imperative of a just peace in fragmented and violent world.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” speaks searingly to our headline divisions today. The “cup of endurance runs over” again for African Americans and many others of good will. Our streets are filled with those exhausted by the need to explain yet again “why we can’t wait.”

King challenged “white moderate” Christians for being “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice;” and for preferring “a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” This challenge to the White Christian community is as relevant today as it was over 50 years ago. Such a negative peace calls to mind the warning by the prophet Ezekiel, “They led my people astray, saying, ‘Peace!’ when there was no peace” (13:10).

Pope Francis’s warning of the explosive consequences of exclusion and fearful seeking of “security” based on such a negative peace are similarly prophetic:

“Today in many places we hear a call for greater security. But until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence. The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. When a society – whether local, national or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programmes or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility. This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root. Just as goodness tends to spread, the toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear.” Evangelii Gaudium, 59

As Catholic theologians, we wish to go on the record in calling for a serious examination of both policing and racial injustice in the US. The time demands that we leave some mark that US Catholic theologians did not ignore what is happening in our midst – as the vast majority sadly did during the 1960s Civil Rights movement.

● We pledge to examine within ourselves our complicity in the sin of racism and how it sustains false images of White superiority in relationship to Black inferiority. In the words of the US Catholic Bishops Conference, “Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.”

● We pledge to fast and to refrain from meat on Fridays during this Advent season and through the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany, as well as during Lent, as a sign of our penitence and need of conversion from the pervasive sin of racism.

● We commit ourselves to placing our bodies and/or privilege on the line in visible, public solidarity with movements of protest to address the deep-seated racism of our nation.

● We support our police, whose work is indeed dangerous at times, but we also call for a radical reconsideration of policing policy in our nation. We call for an end to the militarization of police departments in the US, and we support instead the proven, effective results of community policing. Rather than perpetuating an “us versus them” mentality, a community policing approach is more consonant with our Catholic convictions that we are all each other’s keepers and should work together for the common good of our communities.

● We call for a honing of the guidelines for police use of lethal force so that they are uniform in all states within the US and so that the use of lethal force, echoing Catholic teaching on “legitimate defense,” is justified only when an aggressor poses a grave and imminent threat to the officer’s and/or other persons’ lives.

● We support those calling for better recruiting, training, and education for our police so that they may truly and justly do what they have sworn, namely, to “serve and protect” their communities.

● We support new efforts to promote accountability and transparency, such as body cameras for police officers.

● Regarding the widespread dissatisfaction with recent grand jury decisions, and the perception that a conflict of interest exists between local prosecutors and police departments, we call for the establishment of publicly accountable review boards staffed with civilian attorneys from within the jurisdiction and/or for the appointment of independent special prosecutors’ offices to investigate claims of police misconduct.

● Our nation’s pervasive yet too often denied systemic racial divisions compromise our structures of justice – in our view so much so that we support calling for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine race in America. A precedent would be the 2004 Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission in North Carolina.

● In view of the recent US Justice Department’s report on the pattern of excessive force found in the Cleveland Police Department, we call for similar investigations of the Ferguson Police Department, the New York Police Department, and other police forces involved in the killings of unarmed Black citizens.

● We call upon our bishops to proactively proclaim and witness to our faith’s stand against racism They have authored pastoral statements in the past, and these documents need to be revisited – in parishes, dioceses, and seminaries – and brought to the forefront of Catholic teaching and action in light of the present crisis.

● As Catholic theologians and scholars, we commit ourselves to further teaching and scholarship on racial justice. Our faith teaches us that all persons are created in the image of God and have been redeemed in Christ Jesus. In short, our faith proclaims that all lives matter, and therefore, Black lives – and Brown lives, the lives of all, regardless of color – must matter, too. As part of this commitment, we pledge to continue listening to, praying for, and even joining in our streets with those struggling for justice through nonviolent protests and peaceful acts of civil disobedience.

We pray that all of these actions will move us closer toward the fulfillment of the hope of the Advent season, toward a time when “love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss” (Psalm 85:10).

To view this statement's list of signatories, click here.

Related Off-site Links:
This is Not a Protest – It is an Uprising – Zoë Carpenter (The Nation, December 3, 2014).
NYC Clergy Join Black And Latino City Council Caucus 'Die In' to Protest Eric Garner Killing – Antonia Blumberg (The Huffington Post, December 8, 2014).

Image: Michael Bayly. For more images of the December 4 solidarity rally in Minneapolis for Eric Garner and other victims of police brutality, click here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Local Catholics Select Three Priests for Bishop/Archbishop

Following is a media release from the Twin Cities-based Catholic Coalition for Church Reform.

Members of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) Lay Network have “voted” and selected three priests of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to be bishop/archbishop.

The three priests who rose to the top of a slate of seven are Frs. J. Michael Byron of St. Pascal Baylon, St. Paul; Paul Feela of Lumen Christi, St. Paul; and Timothy Wozniak of St. Thomas Becket, Eagan. None of the priests on the slate were consulted, nor did they give their consent to be included in this initiative. Those that voted believe these men would be able to unify polarized factions in this archdiocese and bring Catholics together to accomplish the Church’s mission. (Learn about the selection process at

Lay Catholics can’t actually elect their own leadership (hence, vote in quotes), but the CCCR’s Bishop Selection Task Force created the opportunity for local Catholics to “vote” for several reasons:
• To help local laity identify the priests in this archdiocese in whom they have confidence to be effective leaders

• To promote lay Catholics’ ability to raise a unified voice in support of a healthy, sustainable local church

• To begin to re-establish the teachings set forth by the Second Vatican Council, which called for lay Catholics to actively participate in their church

• To help increase the Vatican’s awareness and understanding of the needs of this archdiocese

Of the 1,540 local Catholics registered in the CCCR Lay Network and, therefore, eligible to vote, 410 votes were received. “I’m delighted with the response,” said Bob Christensen of the Bishop Selection Task Force. “That’s almost 30 percent participation – pretty impressive for the first time we’ve done anything like this.”

Lay Catholics, whether or not they voted in the selection process, are now being urged to write to the papal nuncio with their recommendations for leadership. The papal nuncio is the Vatican’s ambassador to the U.S., who decides which names will be forwarded to Rome when bishops and archbishops are needed in this country. Those who write may recommend the priests identified by the vote, other priests they feel are credible choices for bishop/archbishop, and/or qualities they feel are essential to reunifying the archdiocese and refocusing on the mission of the church.

Correspondence to the papal nuncio should be sent to:

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò,
Papal Nuncio to the U.S.
3339 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008-3687

“We’d like everyone to write to the nuncio by December 15,” said Paula Ruddy of CCCR. “We want him to be aware that we’re concerned about this archdiocese and care enough to contact him about it. We hope a lot of correspondence from our archdiocese within this timeframe will get his attention. The CCCR has written to give Archbishop Viganò a heads up, but the power is in the voice of the people. The people are who he needs to hear from.”

Those who write may choose to frame their letters in the context of the upheaval in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, but this initiative started long before the archdiocesan woes came to light.

Carol Tauer of CCCR said, “Our group was established in 2009 to stimulate lay interest and participation in our local church. Vatican II called for all Catholics to step up and take responsibility for the future of the church - not just the clergy. Those Vatican II teachings have been forgotten over time. We want to see them come alive again and be strengthened through active lay engagement.”

The CCCR was formed in 2009 to help re-establish a healthy, sustainable Catholic church in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. It is building a Lay Network and encouraging a growing community of Catholics to take action and be heard on issues including evolutionary Christianity, sexual ethics, gender inclusivity, transparency and accountability, bishop selection and lay involvement in church leadership.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Complementarity of the Sexes: A Trap

By Maureen Fiedler

Note: This commentary was first published November 14, 2014 by the National Catholic Reporter.

Pope Francis will address a conference on traditional marriage and the family in Rome (Nov. 17-19) headlined as dealing with the “Complementarity of Man and Woman.”

It is an interfaith conference with several noted conservative theological attendees, including Mormons, Southern Baptists, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and Rev. Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in California.

The conference was apparently initiated by very conservative German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

What struck me, however, was the headline word: complementarity. It’s a word and concept long rejected by those who care about the equality of women and men in our world. Complementarity emphasizes the ways in which the sexes are different and thus is used as a support for traditional marriage. People who favor this concept argue that same-sex couples lack such complementarity, and this is an important sign that same-sex marriage is not part of God’s law.

But complementarity is also used to argue against the equality of women and men in general. It emphasizes the differences between the genders, rather than the fact that both share similar human qualities, and can hold similar positions in life. In the 21st century, we know that both men and women can and do have powerful intellects, leadership abilities, physical prowess, financial skills, a capacity for gentleness and caring, and a love of children. There is no innate reason why a woman cannot be a CEO of a corporation, a senator or President of the United States. And there is no innate reason a man cannot be a loving counselor, a cook or a full-time father and homemaker.

The emphasis should be on gender equality, not complementarity. What a difference that would make!

Looking at the title of this conference also reinforces my view that Pope Francis – wonderful man that he is – still needs a course in “Woman 101.” And maybe “Families 101” as well. His participation in this conference is just the latest sign that he has not moved into the 21st century when it comes to either gender roles or marriage.

Maureen Fiedler, SL, is the host of Interfaith Voices, a public radio show, heard on 62 radio stations in North America. She has been involved in interfaith activities for more than three decades as an active participant in coalitions working for social justice, racial and gender equality, and peace. Her special interests lie at the intersection of theology and public policy. She is a Sister of Loretto, and holds a Ph.D. in Government from Georgetown University in Washington.

Updates and Related Off-site Links:
Pope and Christian Conservatives Team Up to Promote Patriarchy – Patricia Miller (Religion Dispatches, November 20, 2014).
Pope Reinforces Traditional Family Values – Nicole Winfield (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, November 17, 2014).
Francis Urges De-politicization of Family, Confirms US Visit – Joshua J. McElwee (National Catholic Reporter, November 17, 2014).
Stop in the Name of Discriminatory Ideology! – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, October 29, 2008).
How the Pope's Recent Remarks on Evolution Highlight a Major Discrepancy in Church Teaching – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, October 30, 2014).

Monday, November 10, 2014

U.S. Catholic Bishops Try to Calm Right-Wing Anxieties Over Pope

By Rachel Zoll

Note: This article was first published November 10, 2014 by the Associated Press.

America's Catholic bishops came together Monday to project an image of unity, after a Vatican meeting on the family unleashed an uproar over the direction of the church.

Last month's gathering in Rome on more compassionately ministering to families featured open debate — alarming many traditional Catholics, who argued it would undermine public understanding of church teaching. Pope Francis encouraged a free exchange of ideas at the assembly, or synod, in contrast to previous years, when such events were tightly scripted.

At a meeting Monday in Baltimore, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, signaled there was no conflict between a gentler approach and upholding church orthodoxy. Kurtz cited his home visits to parishioners, where he wouldn't give them "a list of rules to follow firsthand," but would instead "spend time with them trying to appreciate the good that I saw in their hearts," before inviting them to follow Christ.

"Such an approach isn't in opposition to church teachings. It's an affirmation of them," said Kurtz, who attended the Vatican gathering.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, who also participated in the Vatican gathering, emphasized that last month's meeting was only the start of a discussion before a larger gathering on the family next year, where bishops will more concretely advise the pope on developing any new church practices. New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said the divisiveness he read in media accounts did not reflect the collegial discussion inside the event.

"It was a synod of consensus," Dolan said. The pope, he said, has a God-given gift "for attentive listening."

The bishops made the remarks at their fourth national meeting since Francis was elected. While many Catholics have praised Francis' new emphasis on mercy over the culture wars, many theological conservatives have said Francis is failing to carry out his duty as defender of the faith. Some U.S. bishops have resisted turning their focus away from gay marriage, abortion and other contentious social issues to take up Francis' focus on the poor, immigrants and those who feel unwelcome in the church.

The papal ambassador to Washington, Archbishop Carlo Vigano, said in a wide-ranging speech bishops "must not be afraid to work with our Holy Father."

The public sessions at the U.S. bishops' meeting are focused on religious liberty, upholding marriage between a man and a woman, and moral issues in health care. In his speech, Kurtz said the bishops would continue to fight the Obama administration over the birth control coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act. The administration has made several changes to accommodate the bishops' concerns, but church leaders say the White House hasn't gone far enough. Dozens of dioceses and Catholic nonprofits have sued over the mandate.

At the Rome gathering, tensions arose when Vatican officials released a mid-meeting report that contained language more welcoming to gays and people in civil heterosexual unions. The language was not included in the final report.

The Rev. Tom Rosica, a Vatican press office official for English-language media, attended the American bishops' assembly. He said an in interview that Catholic church leaders and lay people, as well as those outside the church, are reacting strongly to the Vatican meeting because they aren't accustomed to addressing issues the way Francis advocates.

"The pope made it clear doctrine would remain untouched," Rosica said.

He said Francis "is traveling at high altitude," above the backlash to his leadership, as he tries to revive discussion and move the church forward.

Related Off-site Links:
Cardinal: Pope Francis Doesn't Want a 'Self-pitying Church' – Cathy Lynn Grossman (Religion News Service via Crux, November 10, 2014).
The Church Needs the Commotion the Family Synod Caused – Editorial Staff (National Catholic Reporter, November 7, 2014).
What the Left and Right Get Wrong About Pope Francis – John Gehring (Crux, October 27, 2014).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Tony Flannery in Minneapolis
The "Francis Era" in America Starts Today in Chicago
Creating a Liberating Church

Image: Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, attends the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops general meeting in Baltimore Monday, November 10, 2014. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Tony Flannery in Minneapolis


By Michael J. Bayly

We’re at a moment in time when reform-minded Catholics must let their voices be heard.

This was one of a number of messages that both inspired and challenged the 300+ Catholics who gathered at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church in Minneapolis on the evening of Wednesday, November 5, 2014. It was a message delivered by Irish priest Tony Flannery.

Minneapolis was the tenth stop on Flannery’s 18-city speaking tour of the U.S., and was significant as it will be the only time he speaks on official Catholic Church property. This is because bishops throughout the country have banned the 68-year-old Redemptorist priest from church premises, or, perhaps more accurately, have warned parishes against hosting him. Flannery’s tour is sponsored by the Catholic Tipping Point Coalition, which offers the following explanation for the hierarchy’s inhospitable attitude.

Fr. Tony has been ordered to remain silent and forbidden to minister as a priest because of his refusal to sign a document that violates his conscience: namely that women cannot be priests and that he accepts all Church stances on contraception, homosexuality, and refusal of the sacraments to people in second relationships. After a year during which he attempted to come to some accommodation with the Vatican without success, he has decided to take a public stance on the need for reform in the Church. . . . Rather than remain silent, Fr. Tony and all people of conscience are ready to dialogue.

In Minneapolis, Flannery’s talk and the dialogue it facilitated took place on official church property due to St. Frances Cabrini pastor Mike Tegeder's decision to defy a directive from Archbishop Nienstedt. (Tegeder has a long history of criticizing and defying the archbishop. See, for example, here, here, here, and here.)

Responding to Nienstedt's concerns about Flannery's presence on Catholic property, Tegeder had the following message posted on the podium.

Tonight's speaker, Tony Flannery, is not to be perceived in any way as being sponsored by the Catholic Church. This announcement comes from Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, Chief Catechist of the Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis.

Of course, the first part of this statement is only true if one reduces "the Catholic Church" to its clerical leadership. Large segments of the local church, representative of the church as the people of God, clearly have no problem with supporting, welcoming, and, yes, sponsoring, a speaker like Tony Flannery.

Implementing Vatican II

Flannery first came to the attention of many outside his native Galway when, in response to the Irish bishops' “total lack of leadership” in dealing with the clergy sex abuse scandal, he co-founded the Association of Catholic Priests in 2009.

The association works toward the “full implementation of the vision and teaching of the Second Vatican Council,” with special emphasis on the primacy of the individual conscience, the status and active participation of all the baptized, and the task of establishing a Church where all believers are treated as equal.

Such work corresponds with the activities of Catholic reform groups around the globe, as do the specific objections of the Association of Catholic Priests, which include:

• A redesigning of ministry in the Church in order to incorporate the gifts, wisdom, and expertise of the entire faith community, male and female.

• A re-structuring of the governing system of the Church, basing it on service rather than on power, and encouraging at every level a culture of consultation and transparency, particularly in the appointment of Church leaders.

• A culture in which the local bishop and the priests relate to each other in a spirit of trust, support and generosity.

• A re-evaluation of Catholic sexual teaching and practice that recognizes the profound mystery of human sexuality and the experience and wisdom of God’s people.

• Promotion of peace, justice and the protection of God’s creation locally, nationally and globally.

• Recognition that Church and State are separate and that while the Church must preach the message of the Gospel and try to live it authentically, the State has the task of enacting laws for all its citizens.

• Liturgical celebrations that use rituals and language that are easily understood, inclusive and accessible to all.

According to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Flannery’s (and by extension the Association of Catholic Priests’) views on ordination, contraception, and homosexuality could be construed as "heresy" under church law. During his talk in Minneapolis on November 5, Flannery noted that the Vatican had been particularly alarmed by two views he had expressed in his writings for the Association: that the priesthood as we have it now is not of the mind of Jesus, and that the hierarchical, monarchical structure of the church as it exists today is not what Jesus intended. As a result of these statements, Flannery has been threatened with "canonical penalties," including excommunication, if he does not change his views.

Yet Flannery has no intention of backing down, noting that “the Vatican hasn’t got the Holy Spirit in its pocket.” To those who insist that he must submit in total obedience to the Magisterium, the legitimate teaching authority of the church, Flannery counters by stating that “any authority that tramples on the dignity and basic human rights of its members has long lost claims to legitimacy.”

In his recent book, A Question of Conscience, Flannery recounts his treatment by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Two central issues

Flannery believes that as Catholics we are living through extraordinary times with the papacy of Francis. In 100 years time, he says, historians will be writing volumes on this pivotal moment in the history of the church. The bulk of Flannery's November 5 talk was focused on what he identifies as two central issues facing the church at this important time.

The first of these issues is the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the church. Flannery says that there is currently a conflict between two notions of the Magisterium – a narrow notion and a broad one. The narrow notion sees the Magisterium as being composed solely of the bishops (including the pope as Bishop of Rome). The broader version recognizes that the church’s teaching authority depends on recognition of and dialogue among three groups: the bishops, Catholic theologians, and the collective wisdom of the Catholic people (the sensus fidelium).

Flannery contends that Pope Francis is doing the best he can to move the church from the narrow view of teaching authority to the broader view. Francis, says Flannery, wants to hear the voice of the sensus fidelium, and to embed in the structures of the church the broader view of the Magisterium.

Flannery was quick to point out that he’s not an academic, yet his grasp on theology, says Eugene Cullen Kennedy of Chicago’s Loyola University, is better than those in the hierarchy who have attempted to silence him.

Flannery’s condemnation by the Vatican, writes Kennedy in his January 25, 2013 National Catholic Reporter column, should be “recognized as a harbinger of the kind of problem that sure-of-their-infallibility Vatican authorities will encounter in their relationships with the rising generation of theological scholars, most of whom are laymen and women who will not accept condemnations such as that now imposed on Father Flannery.”

Continues Kennedy:

Even well-educated Catholics know as much or more theology than these veiled Roman enforcers. That also goes for the American bishops, who are wonderful men in general but who are unprepared for theological conversations with their people. One of the reasons the bishops have difficulty in communicating effectively with ordinary Catholics arises from their discomfort and/or inability to discuss theological issues with them. . . . Flannery's condemnation is an augury of the deepening estrangement that will take place if the Vatican does not respect the growing theological understanding of its members. The bishops are sincere in wanting to establish better channels of communication with their people. The best thing they can do to achieve that is to master the language of modern theological and scriptural studies that so many Catholics understand better than they do right now.

In his 2013 column, Kennedy also examines two of the issues that Flannery “is being forced to sign off on if he wants to continue his work: Christ's having established the church in hierarchical form and the assertion, employed constantly by bishops to legitimate their authority, that they are the direct descendants of the apostles.”

“If anything,” writes Kennedy “Christ called together a college of apostles, and the collegiality to which Vatican II returned is a far better image than the hierarchical form that was adopted from the hierarchical cosmological view of the universe and expressed in secular kingdoms, including the Roman Empire, whose provinces and proconsuls provided the model for laying out the governance of the church.”

In should be noted that Kennedy highlights an interesting discrepancy in the rhetoric of those who unquestioningly assert that the current structure of church governance is somehow ordained by God and has thus always been. The Vatican’s doctrinal chief Cardinal Gerhard Müller, for example, recently declared that Pope Francis’ Synod on the Family, which for Flannery is a prime example of the pope’s efforts to move the church from a narrow understanding of authority to a broader one, is evidence that the bishops are being “blinded by secularism.” Yet as many Catholics now recognize, the feudal and monarchical structure of the church is itself based on a secular structure from a specific historical era. If the church could adopt an organizing and leadership structure from secular society at one point in its history, why can it not adopt another, namely democracy, from a more current time? And as Robert McClory has compellingly documented, modern democracy actually is more aligned with the democratic impulse and egalitarian spirit of the early Christian church than the Vatican’s model of leadership, fashioned as it is around Roman imperial power of the fifth century.

Decision-making in the church was the second central issue highlighted by Flannery in his November 5 talk in Minneapolis. As with the issue of authority, two understandings of decision-making are currently in conflict – decision-making through authoritarian, top-down edicts vs. decision-making through discernment by the whole community through a process that honors conscience.

Flannery acknowledges that decision-making through discernment can initially cause confusion. But he is adamant that, over time, truth is discerned, “the Spirit’s voice heard.”

“Not a time for reform people to sit back”

Despite his obvious affinity for the group he co-founded, Flannery acknowledges that with the steady decline in the number of priests the true hope for future reform of the church lies with lay reform movements and groups, and with the growing number of intentional Eucharistic communities.

Flannery said he is impressed by the number and vitality of Catholic reform groups in the U.S., but cautioned that, despite the hopeful signs from Francis’ papacy, it is “not a time for reform people to sit back.” We need to do everything we can to ensure our vision of church is heard at the highest levels of church leadership. “Bishops should not only hear from conservative Catholics,” Flannery said, especially in over the next year in the lead-up to Synod on the Family 2015.

One way local lay Catholics are making their voices heard is through a process being facilitated by the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR). Through this process local members of the clergy are being nominated for the next archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis. CCCR leadership notes that the lay people of Chicago spoke out about the kind of leadership they needed and that many believe they were heard, as evidenced by the appointment of their new archbishop, the moderate Blase Cupich.

After voting concludes on November 15, CCCR will announce the top three names in the polling. Local Catholics will then be encouraged to write to the U.S. papal nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, to let him know their thoughts about the kind of leadership needed in the St. Paul/Minneapolis Archdiocese. The goal is that when next there’s an opening for bishop/archbishop in the archdiocese, Archbishop Viganò will not only know that lay Catholics here are paying attention, but will also be aware of the names of men that Catholics have confidence in. (Note: In order to be eligible to vote in CCCR’s Bishop Selection Campaign, registration with the group’s Lay Catholic Network is necessary. You can register here.)

It is activities like CCCR's Bishop Selection Campaign – proactive and voice-raising – that encourage Tony Flannery and many others. Such activities are time-consuming, unglamorous, and more-often-than-not slow to yield results. Yet they are vital for reform-minded Catholics to engage in and spread the word about.

We truly are at a time when our voices need to be heard!

Recommended Resources for Letting Our Voices Be Heard:
The Lay Network in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis – The Catholic Coalition for Church Reform.
Where Do We Go from Here? – Writing to Our Bishops – New Ways Ministry.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Controversial Priest's Visit Exposes Rift in Catholic Church – Jon Tevlin (Star Tribune, November 4, 2014).
Silenced Irish Priest Tony Flannery Touring U.S. – Dennis Coday (National Catholic Reporter, October 21, 2014).
A Review of Tony Flannery's A Question of Conscience – Dermot Keogh (The Independent, September 15, 2013).
Fr. Flannery's Grasp of Theology Better Than That of His Silencers – Eugene Cullen Kennedy (National Catholic Reporter, January 25, 2013).
Irish Priest Receives Support from Near and Far in His Vatican Struggle – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, January 23, 2013).
Vatican's Demand for Silence is Too High a Price – Tony Flannery (The Irish Times, January 21, 2013).
Dissident Irish Priest Fears Excommunication Over Views on Women Priests – Patrick Counihan (, January 21, 2013).
Irish Redemptorist Father Tony Flannery Gets the Ray Bourgeios Treatment from the CDF – Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, January 20, 2013).
Priest Is Planning to Defy the Vatican’s Orders to Stay Quiet – Douglas Dalby (The New York Times, January 19, 2013).

See also the previous PCV posts:
"Our Voices Are Growing"
Creating a Liberating Church
Let Our Voices Be Heard

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Controversial Priest's Visit Exposes Rift in Catholic Church

By Jon Tevlin

Note: This commentary was first published November 4, 2014, by the Star Tribune.

A south Minneapolis church plans to bring in controversial Irish Redemptorist priest Tony Flannery to speak on Wednesday, despite warnings from Archbishop John Nienstedt. And the church’s pastor is using the words of a powerful church leader to justify it: Pope Francis.

Father Mike Tegeder, pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Church, has been intent on bringing in Flannery, who is on a speaking tour of the country. But the Cabrini visit will be the only time he speaks on Catholic Church property.

Flannery, author of several books on religion, holds controversial positions on birth control, homosexuality and the ordination of women. He was silenced by the Vatican in 2012 and told he would be allowed to return to ministry only if he signed a statement denouncing beliefs that don’t agree with current church doctrine. He has refused.

Tegeder, long an outspoken priest who has repeatedly tangled with Nienstedt, met with him late last week to discuss the issue.

“We didn’t have a meeting of the minds,” said Tegeder. “He listened to me, and I’m thankful for that. But I pounded the table, as I’m prone to do, and said this is non-negotiable. I told him, ‘you could throw my ass right out of here, but I’m throwing myself in your mercy.’ ”

In a letter to the archdiocese, Tegeder referenced Pope Francis in defending the speaker.

“Thank God for Pope Francis, who in a speech at the closing of the recent Synod on the Family, said, ‘Personally I would have been very worried and saddened if there hadn’t been these . . . animated discussions . . . or if everyone had been in agreement or silent in a false and acquiescent peace,’ ” Tegeder wrote. He added that Francis said he “wanted a mess in our dioceses.”

Tegeder has certainly been willing to accommodate that wish. He has repeatedly fought church hierarchy, most recently over gay marriage.

In their meeting, Tegeder asked why it was fine for church bishops and cardinals to discuss controversial issues, “and you don’t approve of those, so why can’t this little church in Minneapolis talk about them,” Tegeder said.

Even though the diocese has much bigger issues at hand, such as the relentless news accounts of child abuse, Tegeder said he’s not surprised that the issue of someone speaking at his church has gotten the attention of church leadership.

“It’s a minor thing in my opinion, but this is what these guys live for — hierarchical control,” Tegeder said.

“He doesn’t make a cogent argument about why we shouldn’t do this,” Tegeder added. “Enough of this crazy control of people.”

Tegeder said his congregation is excited to hear from Flannery, a founding member of the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland. Flannery has a recent book out, A Question of Conscience, which recounts his treatment by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then led by Josef Ratzinger.

Flannery “is trying to reform the church,” said Tegeder. “He said listening to women in confession talk about sexual issues and birth control, it’s transformed him.”

Tegeder said that while very few American priests openly call for change, about one-third of those in Ireland are pushing hard for reforms.

Initially, Nienstedt asked Tegeder to change the venue of the speech, something the priest called “progress.”

Then on Friday, a worker at Cabrini called Tegeder to tell him a registered letter had arrived, and wanted to know if they should open it.

“Hoping that I won some kind of jackpot, I said of course,” Tegeder wrote in response to the archbishop.

As it turned out, it was an official request that Flannery’s visit not be perceived in any way as being sponsored by the Catholic Church.”

In the letter, Nienstedt said that “Flannery attacks the teaching of the Church” on important issues.

“In light of this record, I request that he not be perceived in any way as being sponsored by the Catholic Church,” Nienstedt wrote. “To that end, I stipulated that he not be permitted to speak on any Catholic premises in the Archdiocese. Notice please that I have not cut off dialogue here, which would, by the way, be my personal preference.”

Tegeder responded: “I will indeed announce this publicly and will even have a sign up at the lectern to that effect noting that it comes from you, the Chief Catechist of our Archdiocese.”

So, unless there are further communications, Flannery’s talk will happen Wednesday, November 5 at 7 p.m., with the support of the Cabrini community.

“I’ve got a lot of love behind me,” Tegeder said.

Jon Tevlin can be contacted at or 612-673-1702. Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin

Related Off-site Links:
Silenced Irish Priest Tony Flannery Touring U.S. – Dennis Coday (National Catholic Reporter, October 21, 2013).
A Review of Tony Flannery's A Question of Conscience – Dermot Keogh (The Independent, September 15, 2013).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Fr. Tony Flannery: "Vatican's Demand for Silence is Too High a Price"
A Call for Dialogue in the Catholic Church