Photo: Bishops walk on the grounds of Mundelein Seminary Jan. 2 at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Illinois, near Chicago. The U.S. bishops began their Jan. 2-8 retreat at the seminary. (CNS/Bob Roller)
In a strongly worded, eight-page letter to U.S. bishops, Pope Francis has rebuked the prelates not only for covering up sexual abuse but for unhealthy conflicts and divisions among themselves, which have “gravely” and “seriously” undercut the church’s credibility.
“God’s faithful people and the Church’s mission continue to suffer greatly as a result of abuses of power and conscience and sexual abuse, and the poor way that they were handled, as well as the pain of seeing an episcopate lacking in unity and concentrated more on pointing fingers than on seeking paths of reconciliation,” the pope wrote.
“Clearly, a living fabric has come undone, and we, like weavers, are called to repair it,” Francis wrote to the bishops, who are gathered Jan. 2-8 for a weeklong retreat, which the pope had requested as part of the bishops’ response to renewed attention on clergy sexual abuse.
That repair will require humility and service to restore trust, not self-centeredness, competition or “concern with marketing or strategizing to reclaim lost prestige or to seek accolades,” the pope wrote.
Since last summer’s revelations about alleged misconduct by then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the subsequent Pennsylvania grand jury report, which detailed decades of alleged abuse by hundreds of priests, the country’s bishops have failed to respond as a unified body, and debate in the church has degenerated into typical “culture war” fights.
The pope, citing the words of Jesus to his bickering disciples, makes clear that he believes “it cannot be like that with you,” instead calling for a “collegial spiritual fatherhood that does not offer banal responses or act defensively.”
“This approach demands of us the decision to abandon a modus operandi of disparaging, discrediting, playing the victim or the scold in our relationships, and instead to make room for the gentle breeze that the Gospel alone can offer,” Francis wrote.
“Let us try to break the vicious circle of recrimination, undercutting and discrediting, by avoiding gossip and slander in the pursuit of a path of prayerful and contrite acceptance of our limitations and sins, and the promotion of dialogue, discussion and discernment.”
The pope quoted recently canonized St. Paul VI: “If we want to be pastors, fathers and teachers, we must also act as brothers.”
“Amid the upset and confusion experienced by our communities, our primary duty is to foster a shared spirit of discernment, rather than to seek the relative calm resulting from compromise or from a democratic vote where some emerge as ‘winners’ and others not,” Francis wrote, adding emphatically: “No!”
“It is about finding a collegial and paternal way of embracing the present situation, one that, most importantly, can protect those in our care from losing hope and feeling spiritually abandoned,” he said.
The letter was shared Jan. 2 with the estimated 280 bishops attending the retreat at Mundelein Seminary outside Chicago and was released publicly Jan. 3. It reflects a similar papal missive to the bishops of Chile in May 2018, but pays more attention to infighting among the U.S. bishops, saying it “can threaten our fraternal communion.”
“Our catholicity is at stake also in our ability as pastors to learn how to listen to one another, to give and receive help from one another [and] to work together,” he wrote.
The pope notes that the sins and crimes of sexual abuse and cover-up have “deeply affected the communion of bishops, and generated not the sort of healthy and necessary disagreements and tensions found in any living body, but rather division and dispersion.”
Francis cites an inability, “as a community, to forge bonds and create spaces that are healthy, mature and respectful of the integrity and privacy of each person” and “to bring people together and to get them enthused and confident about a broad, shared project that is at once unassuming, solid, sober and transparent.”
Just as the Gospels are not afraid to mention the “tensions, conflicts and disputes” among Jesus’ disciples, the pope urged the bishops to prayerfully discern whether their actions are truly helpful and “have the ‘flavour’ of the Gospel,” or not.
“To put it colloquially, we have to be careful that ‘the cure does not become worse than the disease,’ ” he wrote.
Instead, the pope calls for a “new ecclesial season” marked by spiritual conversion of “our way of praying, our handling of power and money, our exercise of authority and our way of relating to one another and to the world around us.”
Organizational changes are “necessary but insufficient,” he said.
Lost credibility “cannot be regained by issuing stern decrees or by simply creating new committees or improving flow charts, as if we were in charge of a department of human resources. That kind of vision ends up reducing the mission of the bishop and that of the Church to a mere administrative or organizational function in the ‘evangelization business,’ ” Francis wrote.
Instead, he urges the bishops to enter into “affective communion with our people.” That, he said, will “liberate us from the quest of false, facile and futile forms of triumphalism that would defend spaces rather than initiate processes” and “keep us from turning to reassuring certainties that keep us from approaching and appreciating the extent and implications of what has happened.”
Such conversion on the part of the bishops will also “aid in the search for suitable measures free of false premises or rigid formulations no longer capable of speaking to or stirring the hearts of men and women in our time.”
Francis said reconciliation will come only “if we can stop projecting onto others our own confusion and discontent, which are obstacles to unity, and dare to come together, on our knees, before the Lord and let ourselves be challenged by his wounds.”
[Heidi Schlumpf is NCR national correspondent. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @HeidiSchlumpf.]
Photo: Pope Francis, pictured in August, says people should not remain silent about sexual abuse.
Rome (CNN: )Pope Francis has told those who abuse minors to hand themselves in to civil justice authorities and “prepare for divine justice,” in his strongest words to date on the sex abuse crisis roiling the Roman Catholic Church.
In his annual speech to the Vatican’s Curia on Friday morning, the Pope also thanked the media for exposing the sex abuse crisis and encouraged survivors to speak out.
“I myself would like to give heartfelt thanks to those media professionals who were honest and objective and sought to unmask these predators and to make their victims’ voices heard,” the Pope said.
“The Church asks that people not be silent… since the greater scandal in this matter is that of cloaking the truth,” he said.
“To those who abuse minors I would say this — convert and hand yourself over to human justice and prepare for divine justice.”
Francis has come under increasing pressure to act decisively on the sex abuse crisis, following a year of continuing revelations of abuse and cover-up that have put his credibility on the line.
In May, the entire bishops’ conference of Chile offered to resign in the wake of sexual abuse scandals there, and Francis admitted that he, too, “was part of the problem.”
In August, a Pennsylvania grand jury report was released detailing the horrific stories of some 300 priests who were accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims since 1947. A week later, the Vatican’s ex-ambassador to Washington alleged that the Pope himself knew about accusations of sexual abuse by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick for five years, but failed to remove him.
The Pope responded that he “would not say a single word” on the matter. McCarrick, who once led the Archdiocese of Washington, denied wrongdoing and eventually resigned, but Francis’ silence created further doubt and confusion in the Catholic Church.
The Pope has called for the first global meeting of bishops to take place at the Vatican in February to discuss sexual abuse. Given the tumultuous events of the past year, that meeting now becomes a decisive one for the credibility of Francis’ papacy.
“This coming February, the Church will restate her firm resolve to pursue unstintingly a path of purification,” said Francis in his remarks Friday. “She will question, with the help of experts, how best to protect children, to avoid these tragedies, to bring healing and restoration to the victims, and to improve the training imparted in seminaries.
“An effort will be made to make past mistakes opportunities for eliminating this scourge, not only from the body of the Church but also from that of society.”
Francis also acknowledged the difficulties faced by those people who do come forward with allegations of abuse, saying “the guilty are capable of skillfully covering their tracks” even from those closest to them.
“The victims too, carefully selected by their predators, often prefer silence and live in fear of shame and the terror of rejection,” he said.
Survivors of clerical abuse have previously accused Francis of doing too little to tackle the crisis and of minimizing the church’s responsibility.
By Delia Gallagher
Photo: Pope Francis conducts a children’s choir during the weekly general audience in Paul VI Hall on Dec. 19, 2018, at the Vatican. (Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images)
By Chico Harlan
ROME — Pope Francis accepted the resignation of a Los Angeles auxiliary bishop after an archdiocese oversight board found “credible” an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor, the Vatican said Wednesday.
In announcing the resignation of Auxiliary Bishop Alexander Salazar, the Vatican did not provide an explanation. But a separate statement from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said Salazar’s alleged misconduct occurred in the 1990s and that a board reviewing the case determined Salazar “should not have faculties to minister.”
Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez forwarded that recommendation to the Holy See.
“These decisions have been made out of deep concern for the healing and reconciliation of abuse victims and for the good of the Church’s mission,” Gomez wrote in a letter to church members, released at the same time as the Vatican announcement.
For Francis and the scandal-shaken Catholic Church, the resignation marks just the latest in a series of alleged misconduct cases involving powerful figures within the faith. The string of cases highlights the difficulty the Vatican has faced in ending the scourge of clerical sexual abuse and in holding accountable those in the high ranks of the church.
The statement by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles on Wednesday laid out a timeline of events that spanned several decades, but it did not make clear what led to Salazar being publicly disciplined only now.
The archdiocese said the allegation was reported directly to law enforcement in 2002. Authorities then investigated and recommended prosecution. But the district attorney did not file charges.
The statement said the archdiocese was first informed — “through a third party” — of the allegation against Salazar in 2005. Salazar denied the allegation and the archdiocese has not received any other accusations against him, according to the statement.
An archdiocese spokeswoman said the allegation from the 1990s “involved a single individual with multiple incidents, including boundary violations.”
Cardinal Roger Mahony, then the archbishop of Los Angeles, referred the allegation to the powerful Vatican body that investigates abuse cases.
That office, known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, investigated and “permitted Bishop Salazar to remain in ministry subject to certain precautionary conditions, which he has respected.”
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles did not elaborate on those precautionary measures, and a spokeswoman referred questions about them to the Holy See. A Vatican spokesman declined to provide details.
Salazar continued to appear at events with minors, according to contemporaneous news articles and archdiocese news releases.
Several weeks ago, according to a Los Angeles archdiocese spokeswoman, the Clergy Misconduct Oversight Board looked back into Salazar’s case after Gomez requested a “full review of all allegations of sexual misconduct involving minors,” as part of an update to a list of accused priests.
That board, chaired by a layperson, was created as one of the steps taken within the U.S. Catholic church after stories of clerical sex abuse first exploded in 2002.
Kurt Martens, a professor of canon law at Catholic University, said it was difficult to determine whether church authorities had properly handled Salazar’s case, and that more transparency was necessary.
“Here you have an allegation sitting there since 2005, and yet it’s 2018, and some action was undertaken. I find that very weird,” Martens said. “Why couldn’t that happen earlier? And why was [Salazar] kept in ministry with some restrictions?”
The Los Angeles archdiocese recently released an update to its list of accused priests, but Salazar was not mentioned in that document.
The archdiocese said that over the past decade there have been two cases of misconduct involving minors by Los Angeles priests, both of which were made public when the allegations were first received.
“In the past two decades, we have put in place an effective system for reporting and investigating suspected abuse by priests and for removing offenders from ministry,” Gomez wrote in a Dec. 6 letter.
The Catholic Church has dealt this year not just with cases of predator priests, but with cases that expose the misdeeds of bishops and cardinals, who either failed to stop abusers or carried out abuses themselves. Scandals have played out in France, Chile, Australia, the United States and elsewhere, implicating members even of Pope Francis’s inner circle. Increasingly loud critics say Francis’s papacy has been damaged by the cases — and by the church’s struggle to hold prelates accountable.
In February, the Vatican is hosting an unprecedented summit bringing together leading bishops from around the world to discuss the protection of minors and clerical sexual abuse. On Tuesday, summit organizers asked participating bishops to meet with abuse victims before coming to Rome as a way to “learn firsthand the suffering” of those survivors.
Salazar, 69, was born in Costa Rica but attended high school, college and seminary in California. He was ordained as a priest in 1984 and subsequently served several parishes across Southern California. He was ordained as an auxiliary bishop in 2004.
During that ceremony, according to a story that appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Mahony referenced a series of flash points across the world, as well as the church’s crisis in dealing with priestly sexual abuse.
“So, Bishop Alex, it is precisely those realities that our Lord Jesus Christ calls you to and sends you,” the newspaper quoted Mahony as saying.
Stefano Pitrelli contributed to this report. www.washingtonpost.com
Photo: Pope Francis, flanked by Vatican Prefect of the Pontifical Household, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, delivers his message during a weekly general audience, in the Pope Paul VI hall, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. (Credit: Andrew Medichini/AP.)
ROME – Learning to pray well is a continual process, but should always start from a place of humility, as Jesus demonstrated in the Gospels, Pope Francis said Wednesday.
“Even if we have been praying for so many years, we must always learn!” the pope said Dec. 5. “The prayer of man, this yearning that is born so naturally from his soul, is perhaps one of the most impenetrable mysteries of the universe.”
And the first step, he continued, is humility. “Go to the Father … go to the Madonna, say: Look at me, I am a sinner, I am a debtor, I am disobedient… But begin with humility!”
This is in contrast to the prayer of the Pharisee, as told by Jesus in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in the Gospel of Luke, Francis said. The Pharisee prayed from a place of pride, thanking God that he was “not like the rest of humanity.”
On the other hand, the tax collector, “would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’” According to Jesus, “only the latter, the tax collector, returns home from the temple justified,” the pope noted.
In his catechesis for the weekly general audience, Pope Francis spoke about prayer – and the fact that Jesus himself was a man of prayer – as the first part in a new series on the ‘Our Father.’
He noted that despite the urgency of Jesus’ earthly mission and the demands on him by the many people around him, Jesus would still take the time to pray. Like it says in the first chapter of Mark: “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.”
This scene, the pope explained, takes place when Jesus was in Capernaum, after he had been preaching and healing the sick.
“Here is the essential point,” he said, “Jesus prayed. Jesus prayed intensely in public moments, sharing the liturgy of his people, but he also sought collected places, separate from the spin of the world, places that allowed him to descend into the secret of his soul.”
But though many people pray, the way Jesus prayed “also contained a mystery,” he continued, “something that certainly did not escape the eyes of his disciples, as we find in the gospels that simple and immediate supplication: ‘Lord, teach us to pray,’” he said.
Jesus, of course, teaches his disciples, and all his children, to pray. “He came precisely to introduce us into this relationship [with] the Father,” Francis said, urging everyone to ask the Lord to teach them to pray.
“Therefore, beginning this cycle of catechesis on the prayer of Jesus, the most beautiful and fair thing that we all have to do is to repeat the invocation of the disciples,” he said: “‘Teacher, teach us to pray!’ It would be nice in this time of Advent, to repeat it: Lord, teach me to pray!”cruxnow.com/Vatican
By Hannah Brockhaus
Photo: Pope Francis gives the homily as he celebrates morning Mass in the chapel of his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, at the Vatican Sept. 11. (Credit: CNS photo/Vatican Media.)
ROME – Bishops must remember, particularly when under attack, that their role is to pray, be humble in knowing God chose them and remain close to the people, Pope Francis said in his morning homily.
In fact, a bishop “does not seek refuge from the powerful, the elite, no. It will be the elite who criticize the bishop,” while the people show love toward their bishop and confirm him in his vocation, the pope said.
In these times, Francis said, it seems like the devil, “the great accuser, has been let loose and he’s got it in for the bishops. True, there are, we are all sinners, we bishops.”
The great accuser “seeks to reveal sins, which people can see, in order to scandalize the people” of God, he said in his homily during morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae, recently.
The pope reflected on the day’s Gospel reading according to St. Luke (6:12-19), which recounts how Jesus went to the mountain to pray before choosing his 12 apostles – the Church’s first bishops. But the homily also recognized that bishops named over the past year were in Rome for a series of courses on their ministry.
It was a good moment, he said, to reflect on what Jesus did in that Gospel account – pray, elect others and minister to the multitude – and what it teaches today’s bishops.
Jesus’ praying for his apostles means Jesus is always praying for his bishops, which is a “great consolation for a bishop during terrible moments,” he said.
Bishops are also to be men of prayer – praying for themselves and the people of God, he added.
Since the apostles were chosen by Jesus – not the disciples themselves – “the faithful bishop knows that he did not choose,” the pope said. “The bishop who loves Jesus is not a climber who moves up with his vocation as if it were a job.”
Instead, a bishop opens a humble dialogue with the Lord saying, “You chose me, and I am not much, I am a sinner.” Knowing that God did the choosing and watches over his elect, gives a person strength, he said.
And finally, he said, the fact that Jesus goes down from the mountain to teach and heal the people shows that a bishop is “a man who is not afraid to come down to level ground and be close to the people.”
The great accuser, the pope said, “roams the world seeking how to blame. The strength of the bishop against the great accuser is prayer – his own and Jesus’, the humility to feel chosen and staying close to the people of God without heading toward an aristocratic life.”
– By Carol Glatz
Photo: A sculpture showing an expectant Mary with Joseph en route to Bethlehem is seen in a church during the 2012 season of Advent. (CNS/Lisa A. Johnston)
Through the mists of two millennia the large patterns become the scholars’ certainties. Jesus as “the centerpiece binding together Israel and the church” is clear in our time as one contemplates the infant narratives.
The image is Fr. Raymond Brown’s in his magnificent AnIntroduction to the New Testament. Clear, too, are the “bridges,” as Brown puts it, constructed by the Evangelist Luke, one tying the figures representing Israel in the narrative to the infant and the corresponding bridge, which “the Jesus of the Gospels comes across … to instruct the Twelve and prepare them for the coming Spirit.”
In such certainties — our connections to ancient traditions as well as to the fathomless future — lies our solace and comfort. In a year and on the heels of several decades that we in the Catholic community have just experienced, however, such certainty, which maintains in the long view, is all but overwhelmed in the circumstance of the moment.
Leave the standard images of the crib to our children. Adults in the Catholic community this year might ponder the crib as a memorial to all the innocents in our era and within our church, whose souls have been shattered by the violence of sexual abuse, whose families have been forever shaken and altered by the revelations of cover-up. The clarity of the long view has been clouded for us. We stand, wayfarers, wondering which next steps to take and how to avoid further danger.
A steadying hand
Three recently published essays by Jewish writers might provide a steadying hand as many of us reel under the weight of betrayal and scandal, and wonder just what it means, in this moment in the 21st century, to be Catholic.
It is fascinating that, while not romanticizing the church or its historic and present sins, members of a community so long despised by Catholics also see in us wonderfully redemptive and redeeming characteristics. MenachemWecker’s appreciation of the beauty of our art and architecture and the transcendent qualities of our symbols and rituals draws close to our understanding of the Incarnation and the importance of our sacramental life.
Julia Lieblich, in a complex story of deep personal connection as well as pain, described the powerful allure of our personal pieties and the comfort found through the unshakeable faith her “family” had in Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Rabbi James Rudin has met up close the principal actors who have dominated the stage in the contemporary Catholic drama. He has known, too, many of the layers that are sometimes hidden in the weave of the larger community. And he comes away with profound admiration for women religious and for the church’s long social justice tradition. He pleads that the church not lose its commitment to that tradition.
Claiming no scientific weight to this limited “survey” — a request to outsiders profoundly invested in their own tradition to give their informed impressions of ours — it is fascinating nonetheless to discover what about us they consider appealing.
The beauty of our art and traditions; the power of our devotions; the strength of our ministries and, especially, of the women who convey the heart of the Gospel into all corners of the world.
What they see and appreciate had nothing to do with what some in the Catholic community spend so much time and energy fighting about — an obsession with abortion, contraception, the divorced and remarried and resistance to accepting LGBT Catholics as fully functioning, without qualification, members.
One suspects that their view of us is not uncommon, that our “identity” as a community of the people of God has little to do with hierarchy-fueled fights that feed a base that enjoys the conflict.
Our Catholic identity
Too many of us have tacitly conceded that our identity is, indeed, wrapped up in that tick list of “hot button” issues that generates so much of what passes in the wider culture as the Catholic conversation.
We have been wittingly or otherwise persuaded that such a list, which trivializes weighty issues, constitutes a comprehensive definition of “orthodox” Catholicism. “Orthodox” has about it a ring of ancient authenticity. But the orthodoxy of the current era is anything but ancient. It is a construct of rigorists, largely developed in a U.S. context, that narrows the richness of Catholic tradition to the equivalent of conservative political talking points. Those points, providing the bona fides of “orthodoxy,” relieve the adherents of responsibility for the remainder — nay, the major portion — of authentic Catholic teaching. The bulk of the teaching is given refuge and partitioned off as a matter of “prudential judgment.”
It is faux orthodoxy and has little to nothing to do with authentic tradition. It is grounded in a need for certainty that becomes its own obstacle to faith. We are far more than a punch list of political talking points.
Season of expectation
This season of expectation, of wonder at the possibility of God with and among us, is a perfect time to sink into that authentic tradition and to contemplate where we’ve gone off track. How did we get to this point of aberration where the clergy culture itself has become the church’s greatest scandal, and our identity as a people of God could be so crimped and co-opted by religious ideologues?
Those two aberrant strains originate from the same stock. “[O]f all the doctrines of the church Christology is the one most used to suppress and exclude women,” writes theologian Sr. Elizabeth Johnson in She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. “At its root the difficulty lies in the fact that Christology in its story, symbol and doctrine has been assimilated to the patriarchal world view, with the result that its liberating dynamic has been twisted into justification for domination.”
That’s a sophisticated way of saying that our God, our religious practices, our doctrines have all been imagined and constructed over centuries by celibate men in a secretive culture shaped “according to the model of the patriarchal household and then to the model of the empire.”
The infrastructure of the empire, in our case, is crumbling. The sense of security and certainty we once may have felt in that form of hierarchy and the all-male images of God is as vaporous as the eternal rule of a first-century Herod.
If only we were able to crawl through the millennial mist and into the scene, and cough on the dust of travel, and wonder how to comfort the aches and insecurity of a first-century pregnancy. If we had to deal with the doubts and fears of a father who, we are told, is tugged between the skeptical glances of his culture and his dreamed instructions from on high, perhaps we could find an alternative comfort and security for our own time. It is in the confusion and uncertainty and paradoxes of that event, long before the community understood the Christ in that Jesus moment, that we might take our comfort today.