Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Catholic Case Against Religious Exemptions

By Francis DeBernardo

Note: This op-ed was first published July 21, 2014 by The Advocate.

In post-Hobby Lobby America, the question of whether religious exemptions should be included in laws prohibiting employment discrimination of LGBT people has increased in complexity. It used to be that religious leaders and lawmakers could strike a comfortable balance of protecting faith groups’ rights to self-determination and LGBT people’s rights to equal opportunity. But the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision disturbed that balance, and now the Employment Non-Discrimination Act may be gutted by including overly broad religious exemptions. President Obama’s expected executive order today barring anti-LGBT employment discrimination by federal contractors reportedly will not include these exemptions.

Because the Hobby Lobby decision broadened the scope of what kind of entities can claim religious exemptions, several national organizations working for LGBT equality now fear that such provisions in ENDA will render the proposed law’s protections meaningless. As a result, they have withdrawn support for the bill. Similarly, the Supreme Court case seems to have emboldened some conservative religious leaders to lobby Obama to include strong exemption language in his upcoming executive order.

While the Hobby Lobby case focused on insurance coverage for contraceptives, a number of commentators have noted that the decision may easily be applied to religious objections to LGBT issues. Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said, “If a private company can take its own religious beliefs and say you can't have access to certain health care, it’s a hop, skip, and a jump to an interpretation that a private company could have religious beliefs that LGBT people are not equal or somehow go against their beliefs and therefore fire them.” And Equally Blessed, the Catholic LGBT equality coalition, detailed some of the potential disasters that can spring from this case: “This ruling might open the door for corporations not to provide benefits to employees in same-sex marriages, or not to cover appropriate health care services for transgender employees.”

So, while corporations don’t pray, corporations are now given the same exemptions that used to be the privilege of legitimately established religious groups. This expansion of privilege is far beyond what has long been considered fair religious exemptions for institutions whose primary purpose is salvation, not profits.

As a practicing Catholic, I see that such an expansion cheapens the position of faith in society. Faith is about developing an intimate relationship with a personal God and reflecting that relationship in my attitudes and practices toward other people. Faith is about sacrificing some privileges because of wanting to live in accord with principles. Faith is not about having access to government contracts. Faith is not about forcing people to live by an employer’s personal beliefs, no matter how sincerely those beliefs may be held.

Hobby Lobby’s approach to religious exemptions diminishes the importance of persons and relationships in religion. Because the court favored institutions’ interests over individuals’ concerns, it has actually harmed religious faith. It provided power to institutions, but did not respect human consciences and souls, which are the mechanisms people use to apprehend God in the world and in their lives. As Justice Ginsburg stated in her dissenting opinion, "The exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities."

Political conservatives are not the only ones who have religion. So, it should be no surprise that one of the strongest groups asking that religious exemptions not be included in ENDA and the executive order are religious leaders themselves. In one letter sent to President Obama by 100 religious leaders, their request to exclude exemptions came from a religious belief in non-discrimination and human dignity. They stated: “Increasing the obstacles faced by those at the margins is precisely the opposite of what public service can and should do, and is precisely the opposite of the values we stand for as people of faith.”

Moreover, not all religious people feel that their faith is threatened by policies that promote LGBT equality and reproductive health for women. In fact, for many religious people, it is indeed their faith that motivates their advocacy for these principles. So, we are left with the question: Just whose religious liberty is being protected and whose is being infringed upon when we allow for broad exemptions?

For example, many Catholics oppose the bishops’ calls for religious exemptions because they uphold the lesser-known, but more central, Catholic principle that an individual must ultimately be ruled by one’s conscience, not by the dictates of doctrine or authorities. So most Catholic lay people respect lesbian and gay people’s dreams to be married and a transgender person’s decision to transition, and they oppose the interference of government or religious institutions to discriminate against what they see as personal and religiously-based decisions.

When we ask, what is a particular denomination’s view on hiring LGBT people, there is likely to be a variety of opinions, each based on principles of faith, about what is the just and moral thing to do in this situation. While Catholic bishops seem reluctant to hire LGBT people, over the past two years we’ve seen that Catholics in the pews support the employment of LGBT in Catholic institutions.

As the Catholics of the Equally Blessed coalition wrote to the Senate last year when ENDA was being debated: “… the bishops do not speak for the majority of your Catholic constituents, many of whom believe, as we do, that the religious exemptions in the current draft of the legislation are not too narrow, as the bishops contend, but far too broad…”

My Catholic faith teaches me that all people have human dignity, that all people are equal. The Catholic social justice tradition teaches me that the right to employment is a sacred and basic human right and should be respected by individuals and institutions such as government. My respect for religion teaches me to value the diversity of religious opinions, as well as the diversity of human beings. From these perspectives, both ENDA and the expected executive order are better served without any religious exemptions included.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, blogs at Bondings 2.0.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Archbishop Nienstedt Needs to Go. Now.

By Rubén Rosario

NOTE: This op-ed was first published July 20, 2014 by The Pioneer Press.

I picked up a summer must-read this past week. It has drama, conflict, intrigue and zips along at 107 pages.

No. It's not Invisible by James Patterson, though I really wish it were fiction. This read has a decidedly boring title: "Affidavit of Jennifer M. Haselberger."

It should be retitled "The Archdiocese That Forgot Christ," for this is really what it is: a scathing account of how top church officials from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis put kids and adults at risk.

It is the best argument yet, since the local clergy abuse and mismanagement scandal broke months ago, that Archbishop John Nienstedt should step down or if he refuses, be removed from his post.

I'm not saying this lightly.

He is, as Haselberger told me, "my archbishop." But he needs to go for the good of the church and the good people in it. Now.

A turning point for me, as it was for Haselberger, who served as chancellor for canonical affairs from 2008 to April 2013, were statements Nienstedt made after he celebrated Mass at a church in Edina last December. This was two months after Haselberger, reportedly rebuffed at every attempt to expose alleged cover-ups or mishandling of abusive and misbehaving priests, contacted Minnesota Public Radio and publicly bared the goings-on.

Nienstedt told reporters that he believed the issue of clergy abuse had been taken care of by the time he became archbishop in 2008 and that he was surprised when the news stories broke. Given that he had indeed reviewed recent clergy abuse files and that a priest was convicted the summer before of abusing two children, Haselberger almost fell out of her chair.

"To see an archbishop, who had recently celebrated Mass and was still vested and holding his crosier, lie to the faithful in such a boldfaced manner was heartbreaking to me," Haselberger wrote in the affidavit, which is part of a clergy abuse civil case filed by St. Paul attorney Jeffrey Anderson on behalf of a former child abuse victim.

"When he said those things, he knew he was lying," Haselberger told me last week. "And he knew that I knew that he was lying. And anybody who was associated with this work and knew him, knew he was lying. That to me is what is so hard about it."

Recent shenanigans

Haselberger's affidavit paints a disturbing picture of church officials acting more like a cabal of corporate schemers or a power-driven political administration run amok than like shepherds of the state's largest Roman Catholic diocese.

Haselberger details how archdiocese officials gave special payments to abusive priests, allowed others to continue in public ministry and failed to notify authorities of abuse allegations in violation of a 2002 churchwide policy.

In the case of the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, Haselberger warned Nienstedt and others of his sexual proclivities and habit of trying to pick up men. Not only were her concerns ignored, Wehmeyer was promoted to pastor of a church on St. Paul's East Side before his conviction for molesting two boys in his parish.

These were not allegations decades old. They were recent. There's the tale of former Vicar General Peter Laird's attempt to declare disabled Father Mike Tegeder of St. Frances Cabrini Church in Minneapolis because of his criticisms of Nienstedt in the debate over the proposed marriage amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage. Laird resigned soon after Haselberger's concerns were made public.

"You can quote me that I find him unabled," Tegeder said Friday of Nienstedt.

Haselberger also takes aim at Laird's longtime predecessor, the Rev. Kevin McDonough, who served as the archdiocese's point person for handling clergy abuse allegations. McDonough, according to Haselberger, took a softer approach on abusive priests and essentially gave lip service to abuse victims. She recalls in astonishment the day he asked to see a document of dismissal, which is essentially a letter formally kicking a cleric out of the priesthood, because he had never seen one.

Nienstedt apparently has an ornery side to him, warning folks not to bother him and sending critical emails to church subordinates that one described as "nastygrams," according to the affidavit.

Haselberger recounts how Laird basically ignored her concerns and refused to read documents about a priest, removed from ministry just this year, who had a sexual attraction to young boys.

"I literally followed Father Laird out of the building one evening with those highlighted documents in my hands, saying that if he didn't have time to read the whole documents, he could at least read the highlighted remarks. He refused," Haselberger wrote.

Laird's reaction, Haselberger noted, was just one example of a "cavalier attitude toward the safety of children."

Cavalier? More like shameful.

A difficult choice

It wasn't easy for Haselberger to turn whistleblower. She's nobody's fool and a woman of faith. She knows of many others within the church who knew what she knew but did not come forward for fear of reprisals.

"I hated that," she said.

She desired and trusted the church hierarchy to do right by children and vulnerable adults. She tried all internal channels to set things right. When those were rebuffed, her conscience ordered her to go outside the wire.

It's interesting how she was characterized by church officials as a "disgruntled employee" after the first stories were published. I would have been disgruntled as well, given what she put up with. That was before thousands of internal church documents, including many ordered released by a judge in a civil suit, corroborated her account of events. This week, this is what church officials said about the affidavit: "Her experience highlights the importance of ongoing constructive dialogue and reform aimed at insuring the safety of children."

Wanted: "No-nonsense kind of guy"

Nienstedt, now the subject of an internal church probe into allegations he may have had inappropriate relationships with seminarians and others, did put in place a task force on church policies and hired a law firm to review all clergy abuse files. Frankly, he should have done that before Haselberger was forced to go public. That's what leaders do.

If he were the CEO of a corporation, he would have been canned already, sent off with a golden parachute. But he is an archbishop in a top-down, male-dominated religious hierarchy that rarely polices itself on anything and is acutely hostile to a probing secular world and any attempts at outside scrutiny. We'll see what he does, though the church problems are endemic and entrenched.

"There are plenty of good priests out there, but they have been drinking the Kool-Aid for so long that they do not even know it," Haselberger said.

I asked Haselberger who or what kind of archbishop she would like to see take over. She would not speculate on names. ""I would say a no-nonsense kind of guy with more or less a pastor's heart."

That sounds good to me.

Rubén Rosario can be reached at 651-228-5454 or Follow him at

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

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

Monday, July 21, 2014

"A Kind of Ecclesiastical Horror Story"

By Robert McClory

Note: The following review by Robert McClory of Rachel Pokora's book Crisis of Catholic Authority: Faith and Power in the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska was first published July 15, 2014 by The National Catholic Reporter.

Crisis of Catholic Authority is a kind of ecclesiastical horror story. It relates what can happen when an autocratic hierarch chooses to exercise his supreme, punitive power over some of his subjects. No one on this earth will restrain him, neither the priests of his diocese, nor his fellow bishops in the U.S., nor the high authorities in Rome, not even the pope himself. And like some ancient gothic curse, this awesome penalty has acquired a life of its own, continuing in full force for 18 years, outliving the resignation of the bishop who pronounced it, still in effect to this day and into the foreseeable future.

The bishop is Fabian Bruskewitz, who ruled the diocese of Lincoln, Neb., from 1992 to 2012. Those immediately affected by excommunication in 1996 were some 45 members of the Nebraska chapter of the Call to Action organization who happened to live in the Lincoln diocese. They were given one month to resign from the accursed group, at which time the penalty would automatically go into effect. Also presumably affected were any other Call to Action members who would move to Lincoln in the future without renouncing their membership.

It should be noted that no other U.S. bishop has followed Bruskewitz's lead in all these years, though the bishop himself has become a kind of folk hero to supporters of Mother Angelica's EWTN television station and other far-right conservative Catholic organizations.

Author Rachel Pokora narrates the story clearly, without rancor or bitterness. She is a professor of communications at Nebraska Wesleyan University who moved to Lincoln after Bruskewitz struck. She chose to join CTA's Nebraska chapter after experiencing the rigidity and extreme conservatism that marked parish life in the diocese, and she later served for several years as the chapter's president.

"Within a month in Lincoln, I had attended three different churches," she recalls. "Mass felt lifeless to me. I was struck by the authoritarian attitudes conveyed in the homilies. I lost track of how many times I felt angry during Mass and how many times I held back tears."

Pokora goes to some lengths (almost half the book) to supply the back-story to this tale of frustration, sorrow and fortitude. Bruskewitz's predecessor, Glennon Flavin, himself a hard-nosed conservative, was appointed to Lincoln in 1967, less than two years after the Second Vatican Council ended. He showed no enthusiasm for the changes that came from the council and a deep abhorrence for dissent of any kind. Flavin would reportedly not talk to inquirers in person or on the phone, would not respond to mail and would not cooperate with the press.

In 1981, representatives from seven Lincoln parishes formed a group called Catholics for Active Liturgical Life (CALL) in response to Flavin's decision to allow only "instituted lectors and acolytes" (that is, men and boys only) to read the Scriptures and serve at the altar at Mass.

Flavin ignored the group for 12 years, as its members appealed to him, the diocesan priests and the members of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops for some kind of resolution. Nothing came of it. In 1984, Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony, head of the bishops' arbitration committee, had attempted to help, only to tell CALL leaders after several months that Flavin "declined to participate in our conciliation process."

When Bruskewitz arrived, Lincoln Catholics found him very different from Flavin. He did not ignore the media, but he exhibited a biting, caustic tone more dismissive and accusatory than anything that that had come from his predecessor. At one point, Bruskewitz agreed to meet with CALL leaders, on the condition they read three far-right, inflammatory books ahead of time, including Ungodly Rage: The Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism. CALL members complied, but then Bruskewitz canceled the meeting. Nevertheless, he soon lifted the ban against women lectors.

With some satisfaction that a major goal had been achieved, CALL disbanded in 1993. Veteran members, along with like-minded Catholics from the Omaha, Neb., archdiocese later decided to join Call to Action, the largest Catholic reform organization in the U.S. Unlike CALL, CTA advocated major structural change, including participation of laity in the selection of bishops, and opening the priesthood to women and married men. Among CTA's members were several dozen priests and a few bishops.

In March 1996, the new organization, Call to Action Nebraska, informed the state's bishops of their existence. Bruskewitz's quick reply began, "A priest friend of mine who used to be a Protestant minister said that the difference between a dissenting Catholic and a Protestant is that the Protestant has integrity." He urged the writers to tell their followers that "membership constitutes a grave act of disrespect and disobedience to their lawful bishop."

Two days later came the climax – a surprise article in the Lincoln diocesan paper that announced, "Any Catholics in and of the diocese of Lincoln who attain or retain membership in any of the above listed organizations are, by that very fact, under interdict and are absolutely forbidden to receive Holy Communion." Should they continue "contumacious persistence" in such membership for one more month, they would be, by that very fact, excommunicated. Absolution from such sin was reserved to the bishop. Twelve organizations were listed, including Planned Parenthood, the Freemasons, Eastern Star and even the Rainbow Girls, but it was patently clear that Call to Action was the major target.

The story immediately went viral. Reporters from all over the U.S. homed in on Lincoln, revealing the alarm, anger and general confusion of the public. Pokora does a fine job of covering reactions from press, clergy and laity. Many observers thought this was an unfortunate gaffe that would be quickly settled, as cooler heads, especially among the bishop's episcopal colleagues, intervened. No such intervention was undertaken, and no bishop publicly reprimanded Bruskewitz for failure to present specific charges or give the accused an opportunity to reply.

Though some church authorities (including Fr. James Coriden, a noted canon law expert) declared the excommunication invalid on its face, the still embattled 50 or so members of CTA in Lincoln forged on in the name of justice. The leader, until his untimely death in 2013, was Jim McShane, a retired college professor with a heightened sensitivity to injustice. What he wanted was a hearing, a day in court. He did not get it.

Pokora recounts the details of appeals that were carefully prepared and sent between 1996 and 2007 – to Bruskewitz, then to a wide swath of experts, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican's Apostolic Signatura. Though Bruskewitz announced at one point that a Roman congregation had rejected CTA Nebraska's appeal, neither he nor anyone else would provide an official document asserting that as fact. And so the excommunication endures.

Clearly, the Nebraska story cries out for systemic change. As Patty Hawk, who joined the Nebraska chapter after the Bruskewitz edict and has since served as co-president of the national CTA board, observes in the book's pages, "It's not about making certain changes. ... It's about creating and evolving and nurturing a healthy church environment. We have to reform our way of thinking about the church, about community. We have to reform our way of thinking about hierarchy."

Robert McClory is professor emeritus of journalism at Northwestern University, and has contributed to NCR since 1974.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Broadly Catholic, Narrowly Catholic: Can the Two Ways Pull Together to Save the Institutional Church?

Question posted by Paula Ruddy

As much as we all want this long culture war to be over, the conflict is hard to resolve. It came up in a committee in my parish this week; it is the main thread on the dotcommonweal blog just now about the role of Catholic theologians. The conflict is a constant undercurrent in Catholic life.

Usually labeled “liberalism” and “conservatism,” the division has been thoroughly analyzed for why it exists, what historical and psychological factors account for it. But what is the bottom line?

I’m calling it a difference between broad and narrow and I am asking you not to place a value on either word for the time being. Like the uses of optical lenses, both broad and narrow are good, but they are different. Narrow can be “bad” because it misses a lot. Broad can be “bad” because it can get very fuzzy without showing anything clearly. There are upsides and downsides to both.

Broadly Catholic Catholics recognize God in “the world” (hereafter BC’s). Another way of being Catholic is to recognize God within the Roman Catholic magisterial world, as distinct from “the world.” It is a narrower focus (hereafter NC’s). BC’s set out into the “secular” world in a maze of paths, highways, byways, guided by faith, the tradition, and a community, discerning the true, the good, and the beautiful from step to step. NC’s are happy with the path laid out by the magisterial community, illuminating the true, the good, and the beautiful in age old forms, warning of fruitless byways and evil open highways. Tradition is a guide to the BC’s, a set path for the NC’s. Too simple, I know, but the general idea is useful.

The bottom line raises fearful questions: if most Catholics turn to “the world” to be broadly Catholic, will the Roman Catholic magisterial world fall apart? If dogma is discarded because we all now know that truth is always on the horizon of knowledge, and goodness and beauty are all around us, what will happen to the magisterium? Will it have finances and authority to continue? If that world falls apart, how will the tradition be maintained and grow? Will most “broadly Catholic” people lose their way to the world’s banality without the guidance of the large community? Will Catholics who depend most on the Roman Catholic magisterial world be left behind with no support?

I see the magisterium in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis trying to solve the problem by narrowing the focus, trying to gather Catholics together for strength inside the corral of dogma, Catholic identity, pre-Vatican II practices, condemnation of “broadly Catholic” and “the world.” They are looking to Evangelical Protestantism for ways to narrow the focus and attract more people to be churched.

Wouldn’t it be better to spend the energy talking with the “broadly Catholic” to find ways to support all Catholics in living in the world and maybe even to influence the world? Could we get some leadership in that direction? What does anyone think?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

LCWR Joins Iraqi Sisters in a Call for Prayer

NOTE: The following media release has been issued by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

Facing imminent danger, the leader of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Sienna in Mosul, Iraq has called her sisters throughout Iraq to a time of intense prayer and retreat to beg God for the protection of the Iraqi people, especially the minority Christian community.

The Iraqi Christian community has steadily declined from approximately 1.3 million in 2003 to less than 300,000 today. Recent statements from Christian leaders have indicated that it is unlikely there are any Christians remaining in Mosul today.

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in the United States calls upon people of all denominations in the world community to join the Iraqi Sisters in a moment of prayer on Thursday, June 19 at 6 p.m. (in your time zone) to pray for an end to the violence and the protection of minority Christians in Iraq.

“We are living in extreme times. Christianity has been present in Iraq from biblical times, but at this point Christians are in grave danger and being forced out of this land or face martyrdom. The Dominican Sisters remain committed to accompanying their people regardless of the consequences,” said LCWR president Sister Carol Zinn, SSJ.

The Iraqi Christian Sisters are all Iraqi nationals and ministers in healthcare, social services, and education. In fact, the Iraqi Dominican sisters started the first Montessori school in the country. The Sisters serve all people, Christians and Muslims, in their ministry.

As the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine continue their days of intense prayer, they ask that people throughout the world join them on June 19, believing that this intensification of global prayer can make a difference.

“We believe that prayer has the power to change the course of events in Iraq,” Sister Carol noted. “We stand with our sisters and brothers who courageously remain with the people they serve and will join with them in prayer for as long and as often as it takes until the violence ceases.”

About LCWR: The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is an association of the leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States. The conference has more than 1400 members, who represent more than 80 percent of the approximately 51,600 women religious in the United States. Founded in 1956, the conference assists its members to collaboratively carry out their service of leadership to further the mission of the Gospel in today’s world.

Sister Annmarie Sanders, IHM – LCWR Director of Communications
301-588-4955 (office)
301-672-3043 (cell)

Monday, June 16, 2014

An Open Letter to Cardinal O'Malley

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM
Archdiocese of Boston
66 Brooks Dr.
Braintree, MA 02184-3839

Dear Cardinal O’Malley:

My letter, which I ask that you share with the members of the Commission for the Protection of Minors, is my plea as a lifelong Catholic (age 74) who views the subject of clergy abuse of children as the most outrageous and unimaginable crisis in the church in my lifetime. Throughout history there have been worse catastrophes in the church, but in this modern world, I think nothing matches this breakdown in the collective conscience of the church's ordained ministry. There are countless stories to illustrate the severity of the impact on ordinary people.

The Commission appointed to address this crisis carries an extraordinary burden insofar as the issues are complex, the suffering is extreme, and a large proportion of the world, especially Catholics, watches and waits for a clear sign that this failure will not be repeated or tolerated in any form without severe consequences for those responsible.

I think most thoughtful, prayerful Catholics would agree that those clergy guilty of destroying the lives of countless children did not set out to destroy. They are probably men who set out to serve God and the people of God in the best way they knew how. Whatever their motives, they deserve our compassion and forgiveness. They have undoubtedly suffered and will continue to suffer throughout their lives for their failures. Despite the need for compassionate, humane treatment, they are not exempt from civil laws and penalties and the church must not aide them in their understandable desire to escape due process under the law.

It is not too extreme, in my view, to cite this issue as analogous to the Christian failure in an earlier time to boldly speak out against the evil of slavery and segregation. While the number of victims may be much smaller, the advancing consciousness of our world serves only to magnify the grave injustice that has been done to the victims.

As for the bishops and others in the authority structure who have exhibited grave negligence in their practices to protect the guilty, the church must demonstrate that a new era has begun. It is shameful to think that my church is perceived to care more about protecting abusive priests and their bishops than it cares about the lives of children, and families, destroyed by their abuse.

The work of the Commission will be judged by many more than those who are directly affected. It will be judged by those of us, a far greater number, who want to believe that the Spirit will always guide the church in search of Truth, Justice and Wisdom, and that the same Spirit has been welcomed into your deliberations and heard with an open mind and loving heart, and not merely given lip service while the lives of innocent children are sacrificed at the altar of clerical denial and inventive rationalization. Please remember the extraordinary demands on parents responsible for the care of deeply troubled children suffering irreversible harm at the hands of abusive clergy. Your mission is as much to show that justice applies to all as it is to demonstrate compassion toward the deeply flawed among our brothers.

May the guidance of the Spirit be with you in your time of extraordinary responsibility.


Michael A. Ricci, Sr.

cc to Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, Apostolic Nuncio
Archbishop John Nienstedt, Archbishop of Saint Paul/Minneapolis Archdiocese
Fr. Thomas Balluff, Pastor of Saint John the Baptist Church, Little Canada, MN

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Mistaken Defense of Archbishop Carlson

By Phil Lawler

Note: This commentary was first published June 13, 2014 by

With his customary bravado, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League claims that “Archbishop Carlson Has Been Framed” and says that criticism of the archbishop’s testimony (including mine, presumably) can be attributed to “malice, ignorance and laziness.” Strong words. Let’s see if they hold up.

Examining the transcript of the deposition, Donohue notes several times when the archbishop spoke of sexual molestation in terms that suggested it was a crime. Donohue concludes that in light of that recorded testimony, “it is simply impossible to believe that Carlson did not know it was against the law for an adult to have sex with a minor.”

But that’s exactly the point! No reasonable person thought that the archbishop was ignorant of the law. That’s why it was so shocking that the archbishop said he was ignorant. Let’s be clear here. The scandal did not arise because Archbishop Carlson didn’t know the law. The scandal arose because, under oath, he said he didn’t know the law.

Following the line of defense taken by the St. Louis archdiocese, Donohue says that the plaintiff’s lawyer, Jeffrey Anderson, skillfully edited a video of the archbishop’s presentation to make it appear that he was answering a different question. To be honest I wouldn’t put such shenanigans beyond Anderson. But also to be honest, I still haven’t seen the video. I based my opinion on the written record of the deposition. The transcript doesn’t lie.

Is it plausible—as the archdiocese and now Donohue suggest—that Archbishop Carlson thought he was responding to a question about a law regarding mandatory reporting of abuse? Let’s look at that record. I shall omit nothing from the relevant section; I’ll just add my own observations (in italics).

We’ll pick up the testimony from the full transcript on page 108. Archbishop Carlson is speaking about how, in the past, society did not adequately understand the problem of sexual abuse. (“Mr. Goldberg” is the archbishop’s lawyer.) The archbishop says:

I think if you go back in history, I think the whole culture did not know what they were dealing with. I think therapists didn't. I don't think we fully understood. I don't think public school administrators understood it. I don't think we realized it was the serious problem it is.

Q. Well, mandatory reporting laws went into effect across the nation in 1973, Archbishop.

MR. GOLDBERG: I'm going to object to the form of that question.

MR. ANDERSON: Let me finish the question.

MR. GOLDBERG: Go ahead. I'm sorry.

Q. (By Mr. Anderson) And you knew at all times, while a priest, having been ordained in 1970, it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a kid. You knew that, right?

MR. GOLDBERG: I'm going to object to the form of that question now. You're talking about mandatory reporting.

MR. ANDERSON: Okay. I'll -- if you don't like the question, I'll ask another question.

MR. GOLDBERG: Well, you've asked a conjunctive question. One doesn't --

MR. ANDERSON: Objection heard. I'll ask another question. Okay?

[Take note: After a single reference to mandatory reporting, Anderson says that he will ask “another question.” Will he come at the same question (about mandatory reporting) from another angle, or will he take an entirely new tack? The witness (and his lawyer) should be ready for either possibility.]

MR. GOLDBERG: Go ahead.

Q. (By Mr. Anderson) Archbishop, you knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a kid?

A. I'm not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not. I understand today it's a crime.

[The question was quite clear. But is it possible that the archbishop was distracted, and thought he was answering a different question? Maybe Anderson senses that possibility. So he asks the question again.]

Q. When did you first discern that it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a kid?

A. I don't remember.

[And again.]

Q. When did you first discern that it was a crime for a priest to engage in sex with a kid who he had under his control?

A. I don't remember that either.

[And again.]

Q. Do you have any doubt in your mind that you knew that in the '70s?

A. I don't remember if I did or didn't.

[And again.]

Q. In 1984, you are a Bishop in the -- a Bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis. You knew it was a crime then, right?

A. I'm not sure if I did or didn't.

[Now Anderson refers back to other parts of the deposition—the parts cited by Donohue—in which the archbishop’s testimony makes it clear that he knows sexual abuse is illegal.]

Q. Well, you're talking about criminal sexual conduct in 1980, and you're talking about it again in 1984, so you knew that to be correct, right?

A. What I said, I said, and if I—if I wrote it, I said it.

It’s barely plausible that when he first answered the question, Archbishop Carlson was confused. But with a lawyer at his side to alert him, could he conceivably remain confused through several iterations of the question?

In that final exchange (above), Anderson is not trying to create the impression that the archbishop is ignorant of the law. Far from it; he’s pointing to the contradiction between the archbishop’s claim to be ignorant of the law and his previous testimony.

To repeat, the scandal is not that Archbishop Carlson did not know that it was illegal to molest children. The scandal is that when questioned—under oath, repeatedly—he said he did not know.

Now you might ask, “What’s the big deal? Why does it matter what the archbishop said, in answer to the umpteenth question from an annoying plaintiff’s lawyer?” Well, back in the ‘60s and ‘70s and ‘80s, bishops were refusing to take responsibility for the priests who molested children. That abdication of responsibility caused irreparable harm to the entire Church—and even graver damage to the children who were abused. Now, by refusing to acknowledge openly what is already obvious—that he knew abuse was criminal-- Archbishop Carlson was trying to duck the question of a bishop’s responsibility yet again. For over a decade we have been hearing of lame excuses, feeble evasions, and outright lies. We, the loyal Catholic laity, should be outraged; we should demand an end to this dishonesty.

That's why this is important. That, and the fact that when he made a statement that was "simply impossible to believe," Archbishop Carlson was testifying under oath.

Bill Donohue has spent years defending the Church against her critics. His loyalty and his zest for intellectual combat are admirable. But when a prelate’s statements soar beyond the limits of credulity, it is no longer a service to the Church to defend them. The truth has higher claims.

My point—not just in my recent comment on this case, but in all the work I have done in the past decade, most notably in The Faithful Departed—is that when Church leaders deny or distort or camouflage the truth, they harm the Body of Christ, and love for the faith impels us to correct them.

”Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than that comes from evil,” our Lord told his apostles. From their successors, we should expect more—much more—than “I’m not sure if I did or didn’t.”

Phil Lawler is the editor of Catholic World News (CWN), the first English-language Catholic news service operating on the internet, which he founded in 1995. CWN provides daily headline news coverage for the, where he also offers regular analysis and commentary.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Time for Catholic Faithful to Speak Up

By Judy Hampel

NOTE: This op-ed was first published June 10, 2014 by the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati has been in the news lately for its new contracts, which have resulted in the resignation of beloved, respected archdiocesan teachers.

The issue has also brought to the fore the question many Catholics have been pondering the last few decades while women, LGBTQs and other minorities have gained social and political status in the secular world: How can Catholics justify our participation in the parish life of a church that discriminates against women and gays?

I grew up in local Catholic communities where priests, sisters, brothers, teachers and lay leaders were accessible and humble and kind. When my children where young, I took them to church regularly, and I hoped they would find the same solace and nostalgia as I did in our Catholic faith community.

But over the years, as the world has adopted a more inclusive and egalitarian attitude toward women, LGBTQs and other minorities, and as the church has lagged behind in incorporating these ideals, I have begun to feel less sure of my place in the Catholic community.

I'm uncomfortable with church doctrine that excludes women from the priesthood and calls LGBTQ lifestyles sinful. These attitudes perpetuate misogynist and homophobic ideals that marginalize minorities and make all women and LGBTQs vulnerable to self-hatred and social marginalization on a global scale. In the media, we witness daily violence and oppression toward women and gays – victims who have paid a steep price for the collective nostalgia Catholics enjoy.

My concerns are compounded by the fact that the church is involved in the formal education of so many children and adolescents, including my own, during their most formative years, putting them at risk of internalizing these misconceptions in ways that could lead to years of misery, self-loathing and prejudice.

I'm trying to describe a not-uncommon experience that leaves many Catholics straddling a thorny pew: Should we stay, and hope and wait for a new vision for our faith community, or should we leave in protest before we find ourselves counted among those who would perpetuate such a dark legacy for the sake of tradition? Until recently, many of us never even considered a third possibility: challenging these egregious teachings openly by voicing our concerns. There is a very real danger that, whether we leave or stay, we are perpetuating a dark regime as long as we are silent.

And historically, silent is what we have been. Catholic readers might remember when, in the 1990s, the issue of a female priesthood was coming to the fore and many of us began to hope that the church would finally abandon its two-millennial history of discriminating against women. Instead, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith decreed a moratorium on discussion of the issue and, with very few exceptions, we immediately and succinctly shut up.

It was not one of the church's shining moments.

It's time to make up for lost time. It's time for all Catholics and anyone else who will join us to collectively call to task all leaders and followers of any religion, sect or denomination that indulges in discriminatory doctrines and practices. Because, let's face it, one of the most compelling forces inhibiting universal justice is intolerance toward others, which is often perpetuated by religious archaisms.

And it's time for the Catholic Church and its leaders to acknowledge the elephant on the altar: It's time to hear from the pulpit that the church is aware that we need to re-examine old doctrines and encourage a fuller truth and justice and mercy and unconditional love and acceptance and equality toward all. It's time to bring to fruition the hope that the religious scales will tip toward justice, mercy and tolerance.

It is – and has been for a very long time – time to speak.

Judy Hampel is a parishioner at St. Vivian Church and lives in Finneytown.

NOTE: Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis have a unique opportunity to "speak up." For more information, click here.

See also the previous PCV posts:
Let Our Voices Be Heard
Paul Lakeland in Minneapolis
The Call of the Baptized: Be the Church, Live the Mission
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 1)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 2)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 3)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Quote of the Day

If indeed religion is the core dimension of human life, and life is fragmented politically, socially, religiously and economically, it is no wonder that the fastest growing spirituality today is that of the "NONES" or those of no institutional affiliation? Helping to make the world a better place is not the problem; a large percentage of the NONES are oriented toward social justice. However, why we should make the world a better place is a problem. Why should we work together for a common good if we do not hold together a common future, that is, a common religious future? In short, we have no overarching metanarrative; that is, we have no story that binds us together regardless of religion, race, creed or continent.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin recognized the problem of religion over a hundred years ago. The breakdown of a fixed cosmology by the shift from a geocentric model to a heliocentric model has led to the isolation of religion from the development of modern science. In his classic work, The Human Phenomenon, he wrote on religion in the context of evolution saying, “evolution is a general condition, which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must submit to and satisfy from now on in order to be conceivable and true.” Teilhard broadly conceived of all life, including human life, as a movement toward greater convergence, complexity and consciousness.

Evolution means that life is in process; it is incomplete and open to completion in the future; that consciousness plays a significant role in the development of life, along with creativity and inventiveness. We are not in evolution; we are evolution become conscious of itself. God has been thought of too much in the past, Teilhard said, now we must conceive of God in the future.
– Ilia Delio
Excerpted from "Is a 'Common Good' Possible?"
Global Sisters Report
June 3, 2014

Note: The Twin Cities-based Catholic Coalition for Church Reform recognizes the significance of Evolutionary Spirituality and is dedicated to exploring and educating about it. To learn more, click here.

See also the previous posts:
Vatican at War with Nuns Over Evolutionary Thinking
Cardinal Gerhard Mueller Rebukes U.S. Nuns for Honoring Feminist Theologian Elizabeth Johnson
Barbara Marx Hubbard Responds to Cardinal Gerhard Müller
Nancy Sylvester, IHM: "We're Always Evolving"

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Vatican at War with Nuns Over Evolutionary Thinking

Pope Francis's remarks have often sounded compatible with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's concept of 'conscious evolution.' So why are American nuns in trouble for supporting it?

By Jason Berry

Note: This article was first published June 4, 2014 by Global Post.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a French Jesuit and paleontologist who died a church outcast in New York City in 1955 at age 74. Vatican officials had suppressed his writings on sequential evolution in the universe.

Teilhard was not officially a heretic, but rather a victim of church officials who were ignorant and fearful of science.

A decade later after his death, Teilhard’s books were being taught in Jesuit schools. Today he has a global reputation on evolution and spirituality.

Long before the internet, Teilhard wrote of an emergent planetary consciousness as a scientific development. He also wrote of this “noosphere” in mystical terms, as mankind’s quest for closeness with the divine. And he sounded prescient notes of warning.

“There is a danger that the elements of the world should refuse to serve the world,” he wrote in The Phenomenon of Man, published in 1957. “What is forming and growing is nothing less than an organic crisis in evolution.”

Pope Francis sounded a lot like his fellow Jesuit at a May 21 general audience. “Creation is a gift,” he told 50,000 people at St. Peter’s Square, “that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all.”

“We are custodians of creation, not masters of creation,” the pope continued. His sermon would well fit an anthology on conscious evolution, a school of thought that bridges science and faith in arguing that humanity has an urgent moral duty for care of the planet.

“I am the master of creation but to carry it forward I will never destroy your gift,” the pope asserted. “And this should be our attitude towards creation. Safeguard creation. Because if we destroy creation, creation will destroy us! Never forget this!”

Francis’s remarks came two weeks after Cardinal Gerhard Müller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a rebuke of Leadership Conference of Women Religious, representing most of America’s 57,000 nuns, for their promotion of conscious evolution.

The LCWR is operating under a Vatican mandate to submit its speakers and writings for vetting, and to show greater obedience to the bishops.

“I apologize if this seems blunt, but what I must say is too important to dress up in flowery language,” Müller declared. “The fundamental theses of conscious evolution are opposed to Christian revelation and, when taken unreflectively, lead almost necessarily to fundamental errors regarding the omnipotence of God, the incarnation of Christ, the reality of original sin” and other matters of church dogma.

Müller stopped short of using the ‘h-word,’ but heresy was on his mind:

“Conscious evolution does not offer anything which will nourish religious life as a privileged and prophetic witness rooted in Christ revealing divine love to a wounded world.”

How did a movement of theology and nature go so terribly wrong?

“Either Muller doesn’t understand what conscious evolution means,” Margaret Susan Thompson, a Syracuse University scholar on religious life told GlobalPost, “or he’s using it like in the Cold War, when they accused Sen. Claude Pepper of having a sister who was a thespian, because it sounded like lesbian.”

Responding to Müller in a post on National Catholic Reporter website, Barbara Marx Hubbard, a non-Catholic who spoke at an LCWR conference, and is president of the Foundation for Conscious Evolution, cited Teilhard and the late Passionist Father Thomas Berry [no relation to this writer], a prolific writer on ecology and spirituality, as major influences on the burgeoning movement.

“For me, the most vital source of meaning of conscious evolution is the Catholic understanding of God and Christ as the source of evolution, as its driving force as well as its direction,” said Hubbard.

“Through science, research, technology communications and virtually every other area of human activity, we are weaving a delicate membrane of consciousness, what Teilhard called the ‘noosphere’ or the thinking layer of Earth that is embracing and drawing into itself the entire planet.”

Teilhard, who died before climate change became an issue, saw the noosphere in a mystical light, a reach closer to God.

Father Berry wrote with a lyrical sensibility, setting what he called deep ecology in a thematic line with Dante and early mystic saints, notably Francis of Assisi and Hildegard of Bingen.

In The Dream of the Earth (1988) Berry called for “a spiritual context to the ecological age” and bemoaned society’s “neglect of faith in favor of reason, its exaltation of technology as the instrument for the conquest of nature.”

“In this disintegrating phase of our industrial society,” the priest wrote, “we now see ourselves not as the splendor of creation, but as the most pernicious mode of earthly being…We are the violation of the earth’s most sacred aspects.”

Cardinal Müller did not respond to an interview request. His denunciation of conscious evolution suggests that the first duty of theology is to uphold past teaching, rather than draw from an interdisciplinary well, as the nuns’ leadership conference has done in choosing their speakers.

“Theology cannot continue to develop apart from 21st-century cosmology and ecology, nor can science substitute for religion, “ Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio, a research theologian at Georgetown University wrote in a 2011 essay for America Magazine.

“Both the light of faith and the insights of science can help humanity evolve toward a more sustainable future.”

As the standoff between the Vatican doctrinal office and LCWR deepens, the sisters’ leadership has chosen a path of silence — self-muzzling —apparently to avoid the risk of more punishment.

Pope Francis, though speaking passionately about care of the earth, has through his silence given de facto support to Cardinal Müller.

“Müller did not give a considered response to conscious evolution,” Sister Christine Schenk of Cleveland, who is writing a book on women in the early church, told GlobalPost.

“To me, he clearly has not engaged the deep strand of theological reflection from Thomas Berry and Teilhard. It’s not lightweight stuff; there’s a lot of science involved. Why is this an issue?”

The LCWR conferences are not presented as official teachings of the Catholic Church — another source of conflict with the bishops.

“The nuns are trying to engage the world as it is,” says Schenk. “How do we live the gospel in the midst of an evolving universe? These are important questions that need to be engaged by anyone curious about the gospel.”

GlobalPost religion writer Jason Berry is author of Render unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church.

Note: The Twin Cities-based Catholic Coalition for Church Reform recognizes the significance of Evolutionary Spirituality and is dedicated to exploring and educating about it. To learn more, click here.