Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Priest Demands Nienstedt Explain Handling of Clergy Sexual Abuse

By Madeleine Baran

NOTE: The following was first published October 29, 2013 by Minnesota Public Radio.

A popular St. Paul priest on Sunday accused Archbishop John Nienstedt of arrogance and demanded an explanation for the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

"He needs to stand before us and explain himself," the Rev. Stephen O'Gara, pastor of the Church of the Assumption, said in a Sunday homily. "Only then will we have the respect called to his office. It's about arrogance, and we all fall victim to arrogance in some degree or in some place in our lives. But this is more. This is not some small matter. This is a big deal. It's the first time, I must say, in 69 years that I'm embarrassed to be Catholic."

O'Gara's homily references the recent revelations of the handling of clergy sexual abuse allegations by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. An MPR News investigation has found Nienstedt and other church leaders failed to warn parishioners of a priest's sexual misconduct, did not turn over possible child pornography to police for nine years and gave special payments to offending priests. Many of the revelations come from former church official Jennifer Haselberger, who resigned in April after Nienstedt and others failed to follow the church's sexual abuse policies.

"These are difficult days," O'Gara told parishioners. "They are hurtful and painful, and I think it's time that we come clean."

A spokesman for the archdiocese was not immediately available for comment Tuesday morning.

Parishioners at the downtown St. Paul church applauded O'Gara's remarks, and someone uploaded an audio recording of the homily to YouTube.

Other priests have come forward in recent weeks to challenge Nienstedt's leadership.

The Rev. Mike Tegeder of St. Francis Cabrini Church in Minneapolis called for Nienstedt's resignation. The Rev. Bill Deziel of the Church of St. Peter, in a church bulletin, asked for a "do-over" of archdiocesan leadership. And the Rev. Michael Anderson praised Haselberger for revealing the archdiocese's actions.

"I think (Haselberger) is a heroic person who could no longer live with a duplicitous system that said publicly that it was following strict guidelines to protect children but privately withheld information and continued to move predators from parish to parish," Anderson, of the Church of St. Bernard in St. Paul, wrote in an Oct. 13 church bulletin.

As the scandal stays in the news, some priests worry that parishioners will stop donating money on Sundays, which could make it difficult for struggling parishes to stay afloat. The archdiocese recently delayed a capital campaign, and earlier this year, church officials met with bankruptcy experts in anticipation of lawsuits by victims of clergy sexual abuse allowed under a new state law.

The Rev. Rodger Bauman, pastor of Guardian Angels Catholic Church in Oakdale, sent a letter to parishioners this month encouraging them to continue giving to the parish.

"In the wake of the terrible reports in the news, some parishioners here at Guardian Angels, and I would imagine in every parish in the Archdiocese, have expressed concern that none of their contributions to the church go to the Archdiocese," Bauman wrote. "The majority of your contributions to Guardian Angels stay right here to pay salaries, support programs and keep the doors open."

Nienstedt has responded to the scandal by creating a task force to review church policies on child sexual abuse. Although the archbishop has characterized the task force as independent, its members were chosen by a priest selected by Nienstedt who will also control access to church files.

"As head of this local Church, I accept responsibility for addressing the issues that have been raised and am completely committed to finding the truth and fixing the problems that exist," Nienstedt wrote in an email to MPR News on Oct. 23. "My highest priorities are to ensure the safety of our children and to restore the trust of Catholics and our clergy. I will do everything in my power to do so."

MPR News reporter Tom Scheck contributed to this report.

See also the previous PCV posts:
Archbishop Nienstedt Does "Boilerplate PR"
To Regain Trust, Twin Cities Archdiocese Will Have to Come Clean
Catholic Coalition for Church Reform Votes No Confidence in the Leadership of Archbishop John C. Nienstedt
Can the Archdiocese Continue Under the Leadership of John C. Nienstedt?
Statement by Jennifer Haselberger
"Trust Your Shepherds"

Related Off-site Links:
Wide-Ranging Reaction to Nienstedt Apology: Praise, Gratitude — and More Calls for Resignation — Beth Hawkins (Beth Hawkins, October 25, 2013).
Revered for His Work with the Poor, McDonough Now Entangled in Abuse Cases — Baird Helgeson (Star Tribune, October 27, 2013).
Task Force Supervisor to Control Group's Access to Clergy Abuse Information — Madeleine Baran and Tom Scheck (Minnesota Public Radio, October 28, 2013).
When Will Pope Notice Trouble in Minnesota Church?Minnesota Public Radio (October 25, 2013).

Monday, October 28, 2013

Archbishop Nienstedt Does "Boilerplate PR"

By Barbara Dorris
Outreach Director, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP)

We agree with Nienstedt: he and his staff can “do better.” But they don’t.

Instead they posture. And they perpetuate the fallacy that child abuse is the root of this inexcusable horror.

It’s not.

Priests that sexually assault adults and kids are NOT the root of this crisis. All kinds of trusted adults sexually violate the vulnerable. (And it’s pretty hard to stop them, at least before the first offense.)

The cover up of those crimes — that is the root of this crisis. (That’s what enables the second and 22nd offense. And that’s what enrages Catholics, citizens and victims – knowing that prompt, honest and responsible moves by Nienstedt and his staff would have prevented others from being hurt by at least some of the 34 publicly accused abusive Twin Cities clerics.)

And the cover up is what Nienstedt refuses to mention in his October 24 Catholic Spirit coloumn. Conveniently, he focuses on just how bad those awful predator priests are, cleverly diverting attention from his actions that ignore, minimize, conceal and enable those predator priests to commit their heinous crimes.

It’s deliberate deception. It’s a carefully-devised public relations calculation designed to shift blame and attention to those who can’t control themselves (the predators) and attention away from those who won’t control them (their peers and supervisors, the Nienstedts, McDonoughs, Lairds, et al.)

And it’s the latest in a long string of diversions. Bishops have claimed divorced parents, gay priests, bad psychology, the 1960s and our sexualized culture have caused or enabled priests to molest kids.

But bishops should recall the words of Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Bishops have caused and are still causing this horror.

Nienstedt of course has the power to change this, at least in his own archdiocese. Right now, he could turn over information to police and protect the children. But again, he chooses to do all he can to make sure this information never sees the light of day (while pledging “openness” yet again).

And since he’s still hiding hundreds or thousands of pages of long-secret church records about accused sex offenders, Catholics can’t help but ask “What else is he hiding?”

Instead of real openness, Nienstedt is doing what embattled bishops have done time and time again: hire more lawyers and pretend it's something different. (The most recent bishop to enlist another law firm to look at his clergy sex abuse files was Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City who was later convicted of withholding evidence from police about a priest's child sex crimes. That priest is now in prison for 50 years.)

Nienstedt's pablum about how “we” must “empower the community” and "we" must “educate children and parents” about abuse and being “open to research and development, gaining insight from psychology, sociology and forensic sciences” is yet another dodge.

He and his top staff are causing this crisis. It’s not the community, the parents or the kids. No lack of "research and development" and “insight from psychology, sociology and forensic science” caused these smart men in the chancery office to hide evidence of known and suspected child sex crimes.

What a head-scratching contradiction Nienstedt offers. He says “we” must “cooperate with civil authorities. Then he basically says “I’m not giving this information to police. I'm choosing and paying my own lawyers to look at it.”

Finally, like Nienstedt, I have lost my parents. But unlike Nienstedt, I wouldn’t dream of exploiting their deaths for any of my wrongdoing.

Likewise, I wouldn’t shift blame and seek sympathy for my and his staff’s alleged inexperience for sympathy. It’s disingenuous for him to pretend that things haven’t been “clear” to him or that since 2002, “we all hoped and believed that the horror of sexual abuse of minors by clergy was behind us.” He knows better. He knows there are always have been and will always be child molesting clerics.

This is a predictable, boilerplate move to give the appearance of change without really changing.

See also the previous PCV posts:
To Regain Trust, Twin Cities Archdiocese Will Have to Come Clean
Catholic Coalition for Church Reform Votes No Confidence in the Leadership of Archbishop John C. Nienstedt
Can the Archdiocese Continue Under the Leadership of John C. Nienstedt?
Statement by Jennifer Haselberger
"Trust Your Shepherds"

Related Off-site Links:
Wide-Ranging Reaction to Nienstedt Apology: Praise, Gratitude — and More Calls for Resignation — Beth Hawkins (Beth Hawkins, October 25, 2013).
Revered for His Work with the Poor, McDonough Now Entangled in Abuse Cases — Baird Helgeson (Star Tribune, October 27, 2013).
Task Force Supervisor to Control Group's Access to Clergy Abuse Information — Madeleine Baran and Tom Scheck (Minnesota Public Radio, October 28, 2013).
When Will Pope Notice Trouble in Minnesota Church?Minnesota Public Radio (October 25, 2013).

Sunday, October 27, 2013

To Regain Trust, Twin Cities Archdiocese Will Have to Come Clean

By Ruben Rosario

Note: This op-ed was first published October 26, 2013 by the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

"Hide the truth and you hide Christ" – A popular Greek saying.

It was 2002. A publicly embarrassing clergy child sex-abuse scandal was unfolding in a large city on the East Coast. Take a wild guess which one.

It wasn't long before Jonathan Bernstein's phone rang. Bernstein is a successful Los Angeles County-based crisis-management expert. The folks at the other end of the conference call included the archbishop, his spokesperson and a church lawyer.

They expressed interest in hiring his firm but first wanted his general advice on how best to snuff out the inferno of bad publicity.

Bernstein obliged.

"I told them that they needed to do three basic things – total candor, total transparency and total humility," Bernstein told me last week. "They said, 'Thank you very much,' hung up, and I never heard from them again."

His advice went unheeded. The scandal got worse in ensuing months. The classic definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, as Bernstein reminded me during our chat.

Same could be said for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, once again knee-deep in scandal. We've seen this debacle played out numerous times here and elsewhere. Alleged mishandling or cover-up of years-old and ongoing clergy sexual misconduct and abuse cases has prompted a police probe and the creation of an "independent" review panel. It has led to the resignations of Archbishop John Nienstedt's second in command, as well as a former archbishop and a vicar general from the University of St. Thomas Board of Trustees following allegations that a clergyman professor had inappropriate contact with an underage girl years ago.

Meanwhile, there are increasing calls for Nienstedt to perhaps step down in favor of new leadership. A beloved religious institution whose main mission is saving souls may need a little saving of its own.

Free advice

So what to do?

Well, if doing the right thing hasn't been too obvious by now, do what large and smart corporations do: swallow hard and hire a crisis-management team like Bernstein's. Reports are that the archdiocese is shopping for such a firm to repair its bruised reputation. One name tossed about is Rasky Baerlein, which won a public relations industry award for organizing a meeting between Boston church officials and sex-abuse victims a few years ago.

I don't know what else they did, but I bet they pocketed a lot of collection plate donations for the job. The Twin Cities archdiocese has also reportedly looked into bankruptcy as an option to protect itself from loss of revenue and lawsuits that may come.

Well, given that many parishioners I know are concerned that their donations are going to pay lawyers instead of caring for the poor and vulnerable, I persuaded Bernstein to give local church leaders some advice off the cuff. That means free.

He obliged once again. Archdioceses, he told me, keep making the same errors in part because of arrogance and self-denial.

"Those are critical barriers that also play out in large corporations," Bernstein said. "In this instance, the attitude is that only the church can decide what is wrong, and if the church can hide it, they will hide it. Withholding information from the police, much less the public, is not good and it's clear, based on what I've read, that they did that."

'You need a human face'

The local dustup came after a Minnesota Public Radio investigation, assisted largely by a former archdiocese canonical affairs lawyer turned whistle-blower, disclosed that Nienstedt and other top church officials failed to warn parishioners of one priest's sexual addiction. The priest, the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, former pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church on St. Paul's East Side, was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for sexually abusing two children and possessing child pornography.

In other publicized cases, the archdiocese kept secret what Nienstedt described in an unsent letter as "borderline illegal" pornography found on the computer of another priest allowed to continue with public ministry. It also provided bonus payments to another priest who retired after a civil jury found he had molested a boy.

The letter never sent to the Vatican from Nienstedt focused squarely on concerns that the mishandlings could expose the archbishop to criminal prosecution. Given the larger-scale pedophile and church cover-up scandals in San Diego and Los Angeles, which led to unprecedented nine-figure settlements, Bernstein said the local cases are small potatoes by comparison but no less alarming.

He guessed correctly that "I'm sure by 99 percent that top church officials are not giving (media) interviews because their lawyers have told them not to."

Other than prepared mea-culpa boilerplate press-release statements or generic replies via email to questions submitted in advance by local media, Nienstedt has not made himself available to local TV or print media for a frank, face-to-face chat.

Bernstein, who categorizes such arm's-length statements as more spin than substantial action, believes that is a huge mistake.

"You need a human face out there representing the church," he said. "They don't understand that the court of public opinion can destroy you quicker than the court of law."

Still, Nienstedt appears to have taken a small step in owning the crisis last week.

In a column published Thursday in the Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper, he said an outside legal firm will review clergy files and pledged a commitment to "honesty and transparency" from now on.

"As the head of this local Church, I know that the ultimate responsibility here is mine," he wrote. "My heart is heavy with the agony that these errors have caused."

Nienstedt's call for an outside review mirrors what whistle-blower Jennifer Haselberger implored him to do in her resignation letter more than seven months ago. Haselberger asked Nienstedt to "take his responsibilities towards the protection of the young and the vulnerable seriously."

She also recommended that he remove from ministry and make public a list of clergy "who have been determined to have engaged in acts of sexual misconduct, as well as those whom could reasonably be assumed to pose a threat to children and young people."

"Until this occurs, I do not believe that it can be said that the Archdiocese is honoring its promise to protect," Haselberger wrote.

Not surprisingly, Nienstedt's column was panned the same day it appeared by David Clohessy, director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"He does one thing today – he promises hiring more lawyers," said Clohessy, who, along with a brother, was molested by a priest when he was a teen. "None of Nienstedt's words today protect one kid, expose one predator, discipline one enabler, uncover one cover-up or deter one crime."

But will they do it?

Taking Nienstedt's comments at face value, Bernstein believes the column is by far "the most effective piece of crisis communications issued by the archdiocese since the current issues surfaced." But he cautions that similar remarks have been made before without much change.

He cites the demise of Arthur Andersen, once one of the nation's major accounting firms, as an example of what not to do.

Arthur Andersen folded after it was linked to a massive $100 billion fraud tied to the Enron Corp. Bernstein served as a consultant early on and gave them the same advice he gave church officials 11 years ago.

"They had the same mentality," he said. "We can't do anything wrong, and if we do, we'll just cover it up."

He believes the status quo will drive away parishioners and erode trust in the church hierarchy.

"They have to change their behavior," he said. "Unless the pope, and forgive my language, essentially says de facto, 'Cut this (expletive) out,' they are not going to do it and will continue making the same mistakes."

Great advice. And it's free, to boot.

Ruben Rosario can be reached at 651-228-5454 or rrosario@pioneerpress.com. Follow him at twitter.com/nycrican.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Catholic Coalition for Church Reform Votes No Confidence in the Leadership of Archbishop John C. Nienstedt

Minneapolis, October 24, 2013 — Despite his statements of October 24 in The Catholic Spirit, the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) has urged Archbishop John C. Nienstedt to step down from his role as head of the Saint Paul/Minneapolis Archdiocese in a letter to him dated October 24, 2013.

At its meeting of October 16, 2013, the board of CCCR resolved to write to Archbishop Carlo Maria ViganĂ³, the Vatican delegate to the U.S., stating its vote of no confidence in the leadership of the Archbishop. The Vatican delegate, whose office is at 3339 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington DC 20008, is charged with recommending episcopal appointments to the Vatican.

Also in its letter, CCCR sought recognition for lay consultation in selection of the archdiocese’s next bishop, whenever that happens. They asked the papal delegate “to seek recommendations from all the people of the Archdiocese—ordained and lay, as well as men and women religious—in the matter of a successor Archbishop or any bishops appointed hereafter.”

The letter to Archbishop ViganĂ³ was held pending the Archbishop’s statement in the Archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Spirit, October 24, then copied to Archbishop Nienstedt with the letter asking him to resign.

The CCCR letter to the Papal Nuncio said the board was acting “in a spirit of obedience to duty and in concert with church law. As faithful Catholics of the Archdiocese, we recognize and honor our baptismal duty to convey to our ordained leadership our ‘opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church’ and to make this opinion ‘known to the rest of the Christian faithful.’” (Canon 212 §3).

In the letter the board listed several factors leading to its decision. “Sadly, a significant number of Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis do not accept the leadership of Archbishop John C. Nienstedt.” The archbishop’s statement acknowledges a lack of confidence in his leadership.

The letter cited several longstanding concerns about Archbishop Nienstedt’s leadership.

“This failure in pastoral leadership is evidenced by a number of factors, including his unwillingness to dialogue with Catholics on their legitimate concerns, his dismissive letters in response to individuals and groups who have questioned his agenda and priorities or suggested plans to promote the mission of the Church. There are numerous anecdotal reports of people refusing to contribute financially to the Archdiocese and people leaving the Catholic Church as a result of loss of trust in leadership.”

The letter states that “The Archbishop black-lists life-long Catholics who question his teaching and forbids speakers and meetings on church property.” People on the church payroll have said they “stay under the radar.”

The culminating factor in loss of trust are the current reports of his handling of sexual misconduct by priests: “Recently trust has been further eroded by reports of poor judgment in handling, perhaps even criminal mishandling, of a number of recent cases involving both known sexually abusing priests and highly suspect ones.”

CCCR expresses “grave concerns that the pastoral needs of the archdiocese will be compromised by the amount of time, energy and money that Archbishop Nienstedt will expend as he defends himself and his previous actions in the ongoing sexual abuse and cover-up crisis. Even if criminal charges are not brought against the Archbishop or members of his administration, their judgments about priests’ 'fitness for ministry' will be continually in question.”

Contacts: Mary Beth Stein, 612-805-7091; Paula Ruddy, 612 379-1043.

The following local organizations are part of the coalition of CCCR:
Call to Action MN
Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM)
Dignity Twin Cities
Compassion of Christ Catholic Community
Spirit of St. Stephen’s Catholic Community

See also the previous PCV posts:
Can the Archdiocese Continue Under the Leadership of John C. Nienstedt?
"Trust Your Shepherds"

Related Off-site Link:
Wide-Ranging Reaction to Nienstedt Apology: Praise, Gratitude — and More Calls for Resignation – Beth Hawkins (MinnPost, October 25, 2013).

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Can the Archdiocese Continue Under the Leadership of John C. Nienstedt?

The Editorial Team

Are we headed for a SOSO (same old, same old)? Here we have an archdiocesan situation in which the current archbishop, though he has management skills, has been alienating people by his inability to relate and his consequent poor judgment since he took charge in 2008.

Now it is revealed that he ignored warnings of his chief legal officer that a priest might sexually abuse minors and appointed the priest pastor of two parishes where he did abuse minors.

What should happen? Is it about acknowledging failure, doing penance, and moving on? Or is it about sliding by with appearances of authority intact?

The cynical among us think that SOSO will happen. No need for detailed application of SOSO. Everyone has read the media reports, and everyone knows how SOSO works. The big money men get together and broker a deal. There have to be a certain number of resignations to assuage the community’s sense of justice. There have been enough media stories about various bad actors to weary and sicken the public so they will be satisfied if some heads roll and the subject leaves the front pages. There have been enough secondary heads to blame. Which of these also blameworthy officials can be enticed to resign their managerial functions, not giving up any priestly perks, to save the archbishop?

SOSO says law enforcement agencies and county attorneys are not brave enough to buck the huge institutions of religion. It is much easier to come in with insufficient evidence to charge with a crime.

Another requirement of SOSO is a Task Force to study the policies. We have one of those in this archdiocesan situation too.

Call us “unsophisticated,” but we are hoping SOSO does not happen. Jennifer Haselberger, the whistleblower, local law enforcement, and the local media have inspired us with hope that not all is SOSO.

Choosing hope rather than taking the cynic’s stance, we trust that the law enforcement agencies will do a thorough job and make an honest assessment of the evidence.

We trust that the Archdiocesan big donors will look at the best spiritual interests of the Archdiocese in wielding their influence on church management.

We trust that the officials who have already resigned will give interviews about what really happened, their roles in the debacle, and their hard won new understandings of how the church should operate.

We trust that even if he is not charged with a crime, Archbishop John C. Nienstedt will step down from the role of Archbishop for which he is not suited. If he were to emerge from the clerical culture, there are many roles in which he could serve admirably.

We trust that after John Nienstedt’s resignation, the Task Force will design and implement a working procedure for removing immature men from the priesthood and putting them in safe environments.

We trust that Pope Francis, as a first step, will instruct his U.S. delegate to seek recommendations from all the people in this archdiocese in replacing the Archbishop. We hope that he will continue that practice in each diocese when appointing leadership for them.

Who knows what other reforms could follow?

Related Off-site Links:
Retired Archbishop Harry Flynn Resigns from St. Thomas Trustees – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio, October 19, 2013).
Could Archbishop Nienstedt Face Charges or Lose His Job? – Beth Hawkins (MinnPost.com, October 14, 2013).
Archdiocese of Wobegon – Grant Gallicho (Commonweal, October 14, 2013).
Under Fire, Archbishop Nienstedt Scrambles to Respond – Jean Hopfensperger (Star Tribune, October 6, 2013).
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, the Unravelment Continues – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, October 6, 2013).

See also the previous PCV post:

"Trust Your Shepherds"

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Conservative Catholics Question Pope Francis's Approach

By Michelle Boorstein and Elizabeth Tenety

Note: This commentary was first published October 14, 2013 by The Washington Post.

Rattled by Pope Francis’s admonishment to Catholics not to be “obsessed” by doctrine, his stated reluctance to judge gay people and his apparent willingness to engage just about anyone — including atheists — many conservative Catholics are doing what only recently seemed unthinkable:

They are openly questioning the pope.

Concern among traditionalists began building soon after Francis was elected this spring. Almost immediately, the new pope told non-Catholic and atheist journalists he would bless them silently out of respect. Soon after, he eschewed Vatican practice and included women in a foot-washing ceremony.

The wary traditionalists became critical when, in an interview a few weeks ago, Francis said Catholics shouldn’t be “obsessed” with imposing doctrines, including on gay marriage and abortion. Then earlier this month, Francis told an atheist journalist that people should follow good and fight evil as they “conceive” of them. These remarks followed an interview with journalists this summer aboard the papal airplane in which the pope declared that it is not his role to judge someone who is gay “if they accept the Lord and have goodwill.”

Never mind that the pope has also made clear his acceptance of church doctrine, which regards gay sex and abortion as sins and bans women from the priesthood. Behind the growing skepticism is the fear in some quarters that Francis’s all-embracing style and spontaneous speech, so open as it is to interpretation, are undoing decades of church efforts to speak clearly on Catholic teachings. Some conservatives also feel that the pope is undermining them at a time when they are already being sidelined by an increasingly secular culture.

“When [abortion rights group] NARAL sends you a thank-you note, it’s clear something got miscommunicated,” said Robert Royal, president of the D.C. think tank Faith & Reason.

Francis is “a remarkable man, no one would deny that,” Royal said. “But I’m not sure if he cares about being accurate. He gets into an [evangelizing] dynamic with people and that seems to be the most important thing. . . . In some ways it makes people very anxious. If you do this, what’s the next thing?”

A different focus

During the previous three decades, popes John Paul II and Benedict shared a focus: Make orthodox teachings crystal clear so Catholics don’t get lost in an increasingly messy, relativistic world.

Catholics also became accustomed to popes who were largely speaking to “the Church,” rather than the public. These men often communicated in the language of Catholic theology, and through books, not through long, freewheeling interviews, like Pope Francis.

“In the past everything you heard from a pope was prepared or formally released. And that was intentional — not to say anything ad hoc. And it’s also intentional that this one does,” said Phil Lawler, editor of Catholic World News, a conservative news agency. “I think his entire focus is outside the church. That’s huge.”

David O’Brien, a historian of the Catholic Church, said debate about popes isn’t entirely new. Controversy exploded when papal infallibility was enshrined in the late 1800s and then again in the 1950s when John XXIII met with a prominent Communist. Journalists speculated the pope may have even included a blessing.

Related Off-site Links:
With New Pope, a More Open Church? – Michael O’Loughlin (Religion and Politics, October 15, 2013).
Casual Pope Puts Vatican on Alert with Quips – Nicole Winfield (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, October 9, 2013).
Astounded – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, October 4, 2013).
The Pope: How the Church Will Change – Eugenio Scalfari (La Repubblica, October 1, 2013).
A Big Heart Open to God: An Exclusive Interview with Pope Francis – Antonio Spadaro, S.J. (America, September 30, 2013).
Can the Pope Help End the Culture Wars? – Robert Christian (Washington Post, September 23, 2013).
The Pope's Radical Whisper – Frank Bruni (The New York Times, September 21, 2013).
Pope Francis is Unsettling – and Dividing – the Catholic Right – David Gibson (Religion News Service, August 6, 2013).

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Role of the U.S. Catholic Bishops in the Shutdown: Holding Government Funding Hostage in Battle Against Contraceptive Coverage

By William D. Lindsey

Note: This commentary was first published October 10, 2013 on William's blogsite, Bilgrimage.

In an editorial just uploaded to its website, America rightly deplores the effects of the shutdown of government on working people and people living on the margins of the American socioeconomic system. The editorial notes that many people are now forced to wonder when they'll receive the next paycheck, park facilities have been shuttered around the country, and hundreds of cancer patients, including 30 children per week, have been locked out of their last-resort treatment at NIH's Clinical Center. And it adds,

These are just a handful of the pernicious effects of the shutdown that resulted on Oct. 1 after the G.O.P’s latest effort to obstruct the Affordable Care Act. The closing of the federal government not only shuts down so-called nonessential services, like nutrition aid to women, infants and children, it also means that a federal flow of $3 billion a day into the already twitchy American economy has been cut off.

But then America goes on to maintain that the U.S. Catholic bishops "were aghast at the political breakdown" and wrote a letter to Congress on 1 October arguing that human needs must continue to be met, even if the government has shut down. Unfortunately, however, that 1 October letter, written as the shutdown began, comes on the heels of another letter that the USCCB sent (.pdf file) to Congress on 26 September. That letter is signed by Cardinal Sean O'Malley, chair of the Pro-Life Committee of USCCB (and a member of Pope Francis's "gang of eight"), and Archbishop William E. Lori, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty.

The 26 September letter states,

We have already urged you to enact the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (H.R. 940/S. 1204). As Congress considers a Continuing Resolution and debt ceiling bill in the days to come, we reaffirm the vital importance of incorporating the policy of this bill into such "must-pass" legislation. [Emphasis in original]

In other words, though on 1 October, as the shutdown began, the U.S. Catholic bishops wrote Congress to insist that human needs must continue to be met during a government shutdown, on 26 September they were encouraging members of Congress to hold the re-funding of government hostage to their insistence that even private, non-faith-based employers be allowed a "Taco Bell" exemption from the requirement of the Affordable Care Act that they provide contraceptive coverage for employees.

Permit us to discriminate--permit anyone, even a private employer in a company in no way affiliated with a religion to discriminate--or else. Or else we'll hold the nation hostage until our "conscientious" demands are met. As Adele Stan notes, it appears the USCCB wants to have it both ways: we're for the shutdown of government as a tool of holding the government hostage until our "conscientious" demands are met; but we're against it when it creates suffering for people.

Stan writes,

The bishops want to be on the record as champions of health care for the masses, food for the hungry, and shelter for the homeless—things the government, when operational, helps to provide. But they’re happy to block access to such services for those in need of them unless Congress agrees to block women of all faiths or none, on the whim of an employer, from receiving prescription birth control as part of the preventive care benefit in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

If that doesn’t work, they wouldn’t mind seeing the global economy brought to its knees for the sake of making the most effective forms of contraception more difficult for women to obtain.

And she's correct. Via its 26 September letter to Congress, the USCCB gave a clear signal to Congress—and, in particular, to the radical Republican faction controlling the House of Representatives—that it approves of using the re-funding of the federal government as a weapon to try to roll back a provision of the Affordable Care Act to which the bishops object. So it's with astonishingly clumsy grace that the bishops, who have torn their moral credibility to shreds by their persistent shrill attacks on the Affordable Care Act, pretend now to give a hoot about the human effects of the shutdown they themselves helped to precipitate.

Pastoral leaders these men are clearly not, on the whole. Politicians, yes, and partisan ones, to boot. And they deserve to be held accountable, along with other religious and political extremists, for what has happened as they have harped about their right to a "religious freedom" that translates into their purported right to discriminate in the provision of healthcare, as the ACA is being implemented.

Related Off-site Links:
USCCB Takes on the Smell of the Elephants – Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, October 10, 2013).
Paralysis in Washington – The Editors (America, October 10, 2013).
Catholic Bishops to House: Shut Down the Government Unless We Get Our Way on Birth Control – Ian Millhiser (ThinkProgress.org, October 7, 2013).
At Any Cost: How Catholic Bishops Pushed for a Shutdown—and Even a Default—Over Birth Control – Adele M. Stan (RH Reality Check, October 6, 2013).
Catholic Bishops Want Entire Birth Control Rule Repealed, Not Just the Religious Exemption – Nick Baumann and Kate Sheppard (Mother Jones, February 9, 2012).
Doug Mataconis on the Bishops, Religious Freedom, and Living in a Civil SocietyThe Wild Reed (December 30, 2011).

An Update on This Issue: Walking Like a Duck – Ken Briggs (National Catholic Reporter, October 11, 2013).

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Statement by Jennifer Haselberger

Note: The following is a media release by Jennifer Haselberger dated October 5, 2013.

I have been asked to comment about the reaction of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis to the recent news stories in the press.

Beginning in July of 2013, I provided Minnesota Public Radio with information regarding acts of sexual and other misconduct involving several members of the clergy of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, as well as the account of my unsuccessful efforts to convince the Archdiocesan administration to take the necessary steps to address these issues. My hope was that by making this information public it would serve as a warning about predatory priests currently serving in the Archdiocese.

I have the utmost respect for and confidence in the vast majority of priests serving in this Archdiocese, and I was honored to work on behalf of them, the men and women religious, and the lay faithful of this local church. It was with great sadness that I resigned my position as Chancellor for Canonical Affairs in April of 2013. However, as I explained to Archbishop Nienstedt in my letter of resignation, I had come to the conclusion that it had become impossible for me to continue in that position given my personal ethics, religious convictions, and sense of integrity.

I asked then, as I ask now, that Archbishop Nienstedt take his responsibilities towards the protection of the young and the vulnerable seriously. I asked that he permit a comprehensive, external review of the files of all clergy of the Archdiocese, and that following this review he remove from ministry and make public the list of clergy who have been determined to have engaged in acts of sexual misconduct, as well as those whom could reasonably be assumed to pose a threat to children and young people. Until this occurs, I do not believe that it can be said that the Archdiocese is honoring its promise to protect.

Updates: New Documents Show Church Leaders Debated Legality of Priest's Porn – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio, October 7, 2013).
Mother Alleges Wider Church Coverup of Clergy Sexual Misconduct – Tony Kennedy (Star Tribune, October 8, 2013).
St. Paul Police Will Reopen Child Pornography Investigation of Priest – Mike Cronin, Tom Scheck, and Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio, October 8, 2013).
Task Force to Look at Sex Misconduct by Clergy Members – Emily Gurnon (Pioneer Press, October 9, 2013).
For an Abusive Priest, Retirement Income Came with a Premium – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio, October 9, 2013).
New Church Task Force on Clergy Abuse Begins Its Work – Rupa Shenoy (Minnesota Public Radio, October 9, 2013).
Woman Files Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Against St. Thomas Priest and Professor – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio, October 14, 2013).
Archdiocese of Wobegon – Grant Gallicho (Commonweal, October 14, 2013).

Related Off-site Links:
Under Fire, Archbishop Nienstedt Scrambles to Respond – Jean Hopfensperger (Star Tribune, October 6, 2013).
Victims Group Dismisses Archdiocese Review of Clergy Sexual Abuse Cases as 'Nothing But a Smokescreen' – Mike Cronin, Madeleine Baran, Tom Scheck, Jon Collins, and Rupa Shenoy (Minnesota Public Radio, October 6, 2013).
Archdiocese Coverup Allegations Draw Chastisement, Charity – Jim Adams (Star Tribune, October 6, 2013).
Archdiocese Case Reads Like a Dan Brown Novel – Jon Tevlin (Star Tribune, October 5, 2013).
Washington County Attorney Opens Investigation of Priest; Archdiocese Attorney Says No Evidence of Child Porn Found – Dan Browning, Kevin Giles and Kevin Duchschere (Star Tribune, October 5, 2013).
Former St. Paul Archdiocese Employee Asks for Comprehensive Review of Clergy – Jackie Crosby (Star Tribune, October 5, 2013).
Minnesota Archdiocese Accused of Withholding Child Porn from Police – Joe Winter (National Catholic Reporter, October 4, 2013).
Archdiocese Hid Hugo Priest's Child Porn Stash, St. Paul Police Say – Emily Gurnon (Pioneer Press, October 4, 2013).
Former Official: Archdiocese Didn't Report Priest's Pornography – Madeleine Baran and Mike Cronin (Minnesota Public Radio, October 4, 2013).
Rev. Peter Laird, Top Deputy of Archdiocese, Resigns – Madeleine Baran and Rupa Shenoy (Minnesota Public Radio, October 3, 2013).
Former Archdiocesan Accountant: Church Paid Priests Despite Sexual Misconduct – Madeleine Baran and Tom Scheck (Minnesota Public Radio, September 30, 2013).
Archdiocese Knew of Priest's Sexual Misbehavior, Yet Kept Him in Ministry – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio, September 23, 2013).

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Shame of the Catholic Workplace

By Jim Smith

Note: This op-ed was first published September 30, 2013 by the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

The list keeps getting longer.

A teacher in New York City. An organist near Atlanta. A teacher in Chicago. A music director in Charlotte. A teacher in Columbus.

At an accelerating rate, Catholic schools and churches around the country are firing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees who have decided that they can no longer deny who they are and whom they love.

No school better exemplifies this unhappy trend than Totino-Grace High School in Fridley, Minn. Late last month, Kristen Ostendorf, an English and religion teacher, was fired after telling colleagues at a workshop: “I’m gay, I’m in a relationship with a woman, and I’m happy.” Just one month earlier, William Hudson, the school’s president, had resigned after a rumor about his sexuality prompted him to reveal that he was in a committed 18-year relationship with another man.

At a time when even Pope Francis himself is urging the church to move beyond what he calls its “obsession” with sexual issues, Catholic schools and parishes are intensifying the judgmental behavior that the pope urged Catholics to eschew in a recent interview with Jesuit publications.

These incidents, like others around the country, cost Catholic institutions the services of dedicated and talented individuals who, in most instances, have served the church and community effectively for years. Catholic prelates like Archbishop John Nienstedt say that the church must enforce its employment policies in order to defend its teachings on marriage and the family.

But if this is the case, why does the hierarchy not defend these teachings more consistently?

Catholic parishes don’t fire heterosexual musicians who choose to get married at City Hall rather than in a Catholic Church. Catholic schools don’t check up on heterosexual teachers to determine whether they might have remarried without having their previous marriages annulled, or whether they are using artificial contraception. If the hierarchy were defending what it defines as Catholic principles, it would have to fire individuals in marriages that the church does not recognize as sacramental. But it does not.

When gay, lesbian or transgender people attempt to live openly as the individuals that God created them to be, however, the hierarchy is suddenly zealous to defend its doctrine. This double standard is increasingly obvious both to lay Catholics (almost three-quarters of whom support laws that would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the workplace, according to a 2011 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute) and the general public.

Schools and parishes that force LGBT people out of work believe that the U.S. Supreme Court gave them legal cover in January 2012 when it ruled that certain employees at religiously affiliated institutions were not protected by antidiscrimination laws. As a faithful Catholic, however, I am less interested in whether firing LGBT employees is legal than in whether it is true to what the church teaches about the nature of God.

In an interview with MinnPost, Ostendorf said: “God made me, God made all of us, and I don’t think that I’m some abnormal person, or an aberration, or that there was something missing in the making part, or something extra in the making part.” It is difficult, she notes, to square the hierarchy’s teaching that we are all created in the image and likeness of God but that some of us should be punished for loving as God made us to love.

Most Catholics, and most Minnesotans appreciate this dissonance. The longer religious institutions continue to discriminate against LGBT people in the name of an inconsistently applied doctrinal litmus test, the greater damage they will suffer.

There are signs that certain church leaders understand this as well. Responding in August to questions about gay priests, Pope Francis said: “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?” The pope, in other words, has no plans to discriminate against the gay men who, in secular terms, might be thought of as his employees.

Catholics and Minnesotans who benefit from strong Catholic institutions would be better served if people like Archbishop Nienstedt and the other religious institutions were similarly enlightened.

Jim Smith of Minneapolis is program director for DignityUSA, a member of the Equally Blessed coalition, which works for justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Roman Catholic Church and the wider society.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Fired After She Came Out to Colleagues, Totino-Grace Teacher Leaves Dissonance and Silence Behind – Jim Walsh (MinnPost, September 11, 2013).
Second Gay Teacher Leaves Totino-Grace – Jana Shortal (KARE 11 News, September 12, 2013).
Thoughts on the Firing of Kristen Ostendorf – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, September 12, 2013).
On Labor Day, Let’s Remember LGBT People Fired from Catholic Institutions – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, September 2, 2013).
After Totino-Grace Fires Openly Gay Teacher, Parents Differ on Policy – Tim Post (Minnesota Public Radio, October 3, 2013).