Why People Hate Catholics and Others in the Pro-Life Movement

Perhaps you haven’t heard of the story of the teacher who was dismissed in Montana from a Catholic School for having a child out of wedlock.

It seems there is a morals clause in her contract to uphold Catholic teaching and in that instance the superintendent felt he had no choice but to dismiss her.

Several of my colleagues have thought this could have been handled better. Deacon Greg Kandra has a great take on this today in which he cited the need for the diocese to support her in a variety of ways and yet still uphold the right to terminate her as a teacher. The latter part of that I vehemently disagree with the good deacon, but he’s at least making an effort to be charitable.

I’m calling for the Superintendent to resign because he has failed to uphold three central Catholic principles:

1) It Violates Our Pro-life Principles: How is this decision pro-life? It isn’t. Which violates Catholic teaching in a variety of ways. He has places a pregnant women in danger of being in poverty and at risk of choosing an abortion over bringing her baby to term. He’s also failing to care for a child and mother beyond term and at this point even with pre-natal care. In short, he’s cut her off from her source of money and health care.

2) It Violates Our Call to Love: How is this a loving response? It is not. Which violates Catholic teaching by not responding to sin with love. As Deacon Greg notes:

…though she has violated her terms of the contract does not mean we abrogate our responsibility as Catholic Christians. To that end, we are going to pay Mary Jane the severance required by the terms of her contract. But we are also going to go beyond that. We will continue to pay her health care up to the time of her delivery. We will also work to help her find employment, so that she can fulfill her obligations to the life she is bringing into the world. None of this is required of us in our contract with her. But we are doing this, as I indicated, out of Christian charity and out of our support for the most precious gift of all, the gift of life.
It is our sincere wish that in taking these actions, our school will serve as a witness to the world, standing up in defense of the unborn and in support of women making this most difficult choice. It is important that these mothers know they are not alone.
Discussing this among parents and faculty, again and again people have said that this is a teachable moment. But what, exactly, do we want to teach?

We wish to teach LOVE.
I also find it interesting that the MALE chancellor could have gotten a woman pregnant and hid that fact and not a word would have been said. But that’s a whole other column.

3) It Violates Our Call to Mercy: Which the POPE reminds us is the CENTRAL teaching upon which our entire faith rests. Mercy, Mercy and more Mercy. Guess someone missed that memo.

On a personal note, my 7th grade teacher got pregnant after her husband had left her and she began a new relationship. She was not married to the father and indeed, she lived in fear of being fired when she discovered that she was expecting. In his wisdom, the Pastor of my church at the time, supported her and allowed her to keep her job. One would ask “How did the students and parents respond?” They responded with love and care for a new child in the parish and great concern for the teacher.

I’d also say that I once heard the story of a parent who brought her 15 year old daughter to her pastor and told him “Well, she’s gotten herself pregnant, Father!” (which is an interesting term to begin with–it’s not like she acted alone in getting pregnant!) What was the pastor’s response?

“CONGRATULATIONS! That’s great!”

The mother nearly blew a gasket. And the priest pulled her aside and told her something very wise. “Look, we all know she made a mistake. And we’ll hold her accountable for that. But right now she cannot look at this child as a burden, because she will treat that child as something unwanted and burdensome for the rest of that child’s life. It will be unloved and unwanted and YOU will end up having to care for that child. Right now, we need to show her love and mercy and go back to her and say ‘Let’s go make plans for the Baptism!’”

Amen! And that’s what should have been the response here. Two things should happen. One is that the teacher should have been retained out of mercy for her and her baby. Two is that the community should have worked together to support this woman under the mantra of “We all make mistakes” and now we have to live with our mistakes with love that can always solve any situation that we may be in. We come to God sinful, sorrowful and yet, hopeful as forgiven people.

This was a teachable moment. And the superintendent chose the wrong lesson to teach. His lesson actually violates 3 Catholic principles. Perhaps he should be publicly shamed 3 times as much?

But that wouldn’t be very forgiving, now would it?

There’s a great scene from my favorite TV show, The West Wing where a politician is looking to shame the President’s chief of staff for his past use of alcohol and drugs. It was a mean-spirited approach used to gain political capital. Here’s a clip:

Superintendent Patrick Haggarty…”YOU ARE KILLING THE PRO-LIFE MOVEMENT, CATHOLIC SCHOOLS AND FRANKLY, MY FAITH THAT GOOD AND LOVING PEOPLE STILL EXIST IN THE WORLD.”

By the way, does anybody have an address for this mother, I’d like to send her $50 that I can’t afford because unlike you, Mr. Haggerty, I’m OK with being a bit uncomfortable while upholding my principles.

This is why people hate us. This is why some of my students won’t darken the door of Campus Ministry and I have to bend over backwards in order to get them to trust me and believe that I won’t have a judgmental attitude about them. This is why people assume that Catholics are right-wing nutters (which is different from being conservative or republican) who are fundamentalists and non-negotiable in their dealings with others that they consider sinners.

THIS is why.

One last note: I wonder what the Diocese’s pregnancy crisis centers think about all this. He’s just made their job ten times harder.

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Canonizing the Council

A few years ago I had a discussion with a colleague about the spirit of Vatican II. He noted:

“Perhaps they should admit that this wasn’t an ecumenical council. It was just a local council and therefore the changes that the council prescribed do not have to be followed?”

Now this person stated it as a question, but he was technically giving ascent to the idea.

The announcement yesterday that Pope Francis will canonize both Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII is clearly an attempt to not merely canonize these two men but also to get beyond the different factions that resulted after the council and to promote the need for us to continue to live in dynamic tension with each other.

The NY Times said:

Alberto Melloni, the director of the John XXIII Center in Bologna, Italy, said Francis was holding to the pattern of promoting John, popular among liberals, by pairing him with a pope more popular among conservatives. Mr. Melloni said soon after John’s death in 1963, a campaign to have him acclaimed a saint during the Vatican Council was countered by the conservative wing of the church, which soon after opened the canonization process for Pius XII, a staunch anti-Communist who led the church during World War II.

“John XXIII is the father of Vatican II, and to canonize him is to canonize the council as such and its intention of renewal and unity,” Mr. Melloni said. “But the Vatican is also taking into consideration the tension and sometimes harsh debate that arose around the council, and so they have remained faithful to the idea of linking John XXIII with someone else.” Pairing the popes “also balances a very long canonization process with an incredibly accelerated procedure,” he added. John Paul II will become a saint only nine years after his death.

Pope Francis is indeed trying to provide “a little something for everyone” or in this case perhaps a big something. But I think he’s also trying to remind those who might disagree that Vatican II is legitimate.

And that it’s not going away. And that many reforms of Vatican II have not yet been realized.

And that the two most prominent Popes of the Second Vatican Council are now saints–that seems to speak volumes about the council.

I’m just a bit too young to understand the widespread change that formed in the church as a result of Vatican II. But I have seen the divisive factions that form as a result of this. It reminds me a lot of Isaac and Ishmael.

“They came together to bury their father.”

And now we must come together to honor the saints, to honor those people who built our history. And for better or for worse, we honor those who we sometimes disagree with, who didn’t always get things right but who were determined to stay the course and to work through differences in love for the church, the people of God.

The canonization of both Popes is just one more call to mercy from Pope Francis. It is a call to factions to release resentments that they hold against each other and to come together to celebrate the church’s rich history since the council. It was started by a liberalizing reformer and it was led post council for a long time by a doctrinal conservative.

And yet, the church lives! It may be a bit battered and bruised at times, but it doesn’t quite ever sleep. It celebrates it’s dedication to justice as it critiques itself from time to time and calls on others to inform the church of where she’s got it wrong and more importantly, where it is doing things right.

The Pope hopes to call all of us into a new way of being church, one that is not liberal or conservative, but rather merciful. Mercy calls each one of us to remember that we indeed need to love those whom we don’t always care for because they are just as likely to be saints as we are. Most people’s hearts are in the right place. No matter where we stand on any number of issues. Highlighting that mercy, brings us into the peace that God offers to us.

So let’s pray for peace and compromise and for love of one another. So that we in our desire to love can too become servants of God and ultimately be called into the beauty of God’s kingdom. Amen

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First Day at School Memories

While many of my friends are sending their kids off to their first day of school and my wife heads in to her first day as the new after-school coordinator at her school, I’m filled with first day of school memories.

Of course, there’s nothing like that first day of school, for the first time. Mine was Kindergarten and my mother walked me to school which was one block from my house. We unexpectedly found my teacher in the hallway and my mother introduced me to her. Miss Suess took me by the hand and we walked to our classroom together and Mom went away. I was excited and anxious at the same time. What was going to happen next?

It was only a half day and I was in the afternoon class. I got switched to the morning class for some reason half way through the year and learned about getting up early.

Each year, we went school clothes shopping and I struggled to cover my books on that first day.

That first day though may very well have been my favorite memory of a first day at school, equalled only by a return to college each year.

Two worse first day memories come to mind:

The first was high school. I walked into my school and was excited. I was off to find my homeroom and was there pretty early. As I past the cafeteria smiling, I saw a group of Seniors sitting at a table. I sighed as I walked past and then I heard them:

“Duh…let’s see who I can make friends with! Stupid, freshman.”

Clearly high school was going to be a problem.

The second was middle school. I was coming into our parish school after going to public school from kindergarten until 6th grade. It started out well. I had come in three days late after a bout with some kind of illness. Mrs. Wasp my teacher, introduced herself and then looked to find me a seat.

Clearly, I was the new guy, but I was known to some in the school because I was an altar boy in the parish. One guy, Claudio, had began spreading rumors about me early and often. We had gotten into an altercation once after a bit of name calling. Apparently, he objected to me bringing up his mother in a foul way and this was his revenge.

Recess came and we played punchball–a kind of baseball game. Someone launched one far down the third base line and I raced over but it was well past me. The ball crawled under the fence before I could get to it. We weren’t allowed to climb over.

“HAYES!” Claudio yelled. “YOU OWE ME A NEW BALL!” He may have pushed me after that. What was worse was that he told all the girls that I stupidly let the ball roll under the fence. I saw someone passing by and got their attention and they retrieved the ball for us which Claudio took credit for later. But damage done. Worst two years of my life was that school and I didn’t look forward to a single day there.

But as I look to our freshman and see their excitement and yes, the jitters that still come with a new place, I recall my own college years as amazing. It fills me with much joy to be a small part of their experience and I hope that these years are a blessing to them.

Today, let’s be grateful for first day experiences, both good and bad. For even the bad ones make us more sensitive to others who may be struggling. The start of something new reminds me of God’s continual wiping away the slate of our sins and giving us a renewed chance to start again.

So as you start again…be grateful for the chance to start over and to make all that you can out of this, nothing more, but more importantly, nothing less. Amen.

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Mercy, Freely Given and Received

During a recent process meditation that I was participating in with the students here, I was struck by the idea of mercy. Deacon Greg recently posted that Francis’ papacy is summed up in just one word: mercy.

And so I have been contemplating mercy and I realized that I can often forgive people pretty easily, or at least after a short while when the initial sting wears off. Even people that I have held grudges against, sometimes for extended periods of time, I can find myself wanting to forgive them. At minimum, I have the desire FOR the desire to forgive, even if I don’t do that particularly well.

But asking for forgiveness is another matter. It seems that I often just hope that lousy things I do to others I often hope just will float away. And perhaps those resentments need healing, need repairing–or at least need admitting.

Perhaps fear is at the heart of this. Because fear keeps us in desolation thinking there is no hope for forgiveness. And don’t we, in our deepest fears, admit that we fear that God will not forgive us. But in essence, God has ALREADY forgiven us! So our worries are simply wasted energy.

And we waste more energy by withholding our need to be forgiven by others, not merely by God. We fear that they too will not forgive us–and what anxiety that might indeed provoke!

But accepting our plea for forgiveness is not up to us, nor does it reflect on us. It is up to the other to receive our request and to give it assent or denial. The truth is that a denial says much more about their hurt and their ability to be forgiving than it does about us who ask for the forgiveness. If someone doesn’t want to forgive me, then I have no power to make them. But I have done my part in the asking.

And this is what God asks of us in confession. We need to ask in order to feel forgiven–to experience forgiveness that is always freely offered. To remind ourselves of what it is like to be forgiven, so that we too might offer forgiveness to someone else, perhaps someone who we might think doesn’t deserve forgiveness.

Because after all, in the dark places in our souls, we often feel that what we do is in fact, unforgivable and God reminds us that this is balderdash!

Pope Francis is continuing to offer mercy —to the poor, to those on the margins, to the abused, to all. Mercy is a tone, if you will. It’s an attitude that needs to be cultivated by each one of us. To be merciful, we indeed need to have significant experiences of being forgiven. It’s there that we have much to learn about how we might enter into the experience of being more forgiving and how we might be more open to asking for forgiveness from others and from God.

That tone, where we come more humbly, less sure of ourselves and more aware of the times we don’t always get it right.

Because in that tone we find God.

Forgiving and loving us.

And calling us to love one another…a bit better than we think we can.

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Can You Love Someone Who Tells You to Drop Dead?

A Jewish woman who survived the concentration camps tells the story of the train ride to Auschwitz. She was with her little brother…and she looked down at him on the train and noticed that he didn’t have any shoes on.

And she screamed at him, “What is WRONG with you? Can’t you keep you things together? You’re so stupid!”

Well, it turns out that those were the last words she would ever say to him. They arrived in Auschwitz moments later and were separated and she never saw him again because he did not survive.

And she made a vow to try to never say anything nasty to anyone because she didn’t want those to be the last things she ever said to them.

And it is a similar story that we hear in the Gospel today.

We have a son…who says to his father “Give me my inheritance now!” Which essentially means “Drop dead!”

And we don’t know what the father says in return, but I imagine that he says something like “Take your money and get out! And don’t come back.”

And perhaps those are the last words that he ever said to his son, who he presumes to be dead. Could the father be regretting what was said?

But then, there his son is! The father catches sight of him and runs to embrace him and then throws the biggest party you can even imagine. Because his son, that ungrateful, ne’er do well, carousing, wasteful son –has come back home! Who could ask for anything more!?

Scripture scholars often say that the story is pretty straightforward. We are the Prodigal Son and the Father is God. And God forgives us no matter how far we stray and rejoices when we come home.

And that’s true enough.

But in this story, Jesus is addressing the Pharisees who are upset because Jesus hangs out with tax collectors–who are the lowest of the low. They’re not the IRS guys we know. They’re more like slumlords. Nobody likes a slumlord: Their tenants hate them because they don’t do repairs, the neighborhood hates them because the place is falling apart, the government hates them because they don’t pay their taxes. Nobody likes a slumlord and nobody likes a tax collector.

And so the point of the story is not so much how we are forgiven by God. But rather it’s a challenge to us to ask ourselves if we can forgive as the Father does? Can we forgive those who wish we would drop dead? Can we forgive those who waste our resources? Can we forgive that one colleague who annoys you? And what’s more after knowing how much of a louse that person is to you—and after you may have cast them off and said that you’re not going to be bothered with them—can you not only forgive them but rejoice over them coming back into your life?

Can you throw a party for the person who loves you the least?

Well, we know two things: one is the older brother cannot. And two is that God always does. The older brother tells the father that he shouldn’t throw the prodigal a party but rather he wants a party for himself. But he goes even further and says “You’ve never thrown a party for me and I work all day long and do everything I’m supposed to! You throw a party for this, this SON of yours. I’m your son, not this guy! Now I want what’s coming to me! Why don’t you just drop dead!”

Who does that sound like? These brothers are not all that different, the theme of their life is “drop dead.”

And the Father…this is a man who has experienced the renewal of his life. He was hopeless and somehow God made a way out of no way. His son came home forgetting that his father has cast him off. And in this new life of seeing his son return home has caused him to rejoice and he can’t understand why this older brother doesn’t see that.

“I’ll be dead soon enough and all I have is yours. But tonight! We eat and drink!”

Can we celebrate or even attend a party for someone who we don’t think deserves a celebration?

It would be like throwing a party for the guy who gets promoted instead of you? The younger sister who gets married before you do? The boss who denigrates your decisions but leads the company into profit? The professor who failed you who becomes a Dean? The person who breaks your heart!

It’s not that bad things happen to good people that test our faith, it’s often that good things happen to bad people …and then we become the older brother.

And the truth of the gospel here is not that we passively see God’s forgiveness of both brothers but that we ask ourselves if we too can forgive those who have trespassed against us. So that we may not be led into temptation but delivered from all that is evil.

Because evil wants us not to rejoice. Evil wants to keep us angry, bitter and resentful.

And folks, that is no way to live. And Lent is all about casting things off–and maybe tonight God is calling us to cast off resentments.

And so we come here tonight with our resentments, with the people on our minds who annoy us, who we often find to be unforgivable. And we try to move beyond where we most often find ourselves, in a sea of resentment and try see if our hearts can stretch much farther than we think. To find a place where we can cast off resentments and rejoice in reconciliation. Like the father, whose words rejoice over two sons who once said they wish he would hurry up and die.

In our lives we may have often been the prodigal son and we may often have been the older brother. But tonight, Jesus calls us to be the father.

And if we can be the father may our last words to everyone we know, even those we don’t think much of, be words of love and joy and peace.

So that we might die without resentments but rejoice in a reconciliation that leads us all into eternal life.

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Conversations with My Molester…a New Play

Michael Mack, a victim of sexual abuse by a priest has written a play based on his visit to the priest who molested him after finding out that he lived a mere hour away. Mack showed up on his doorstep. The NY Times has more.

The result is “Conversations With My Molester: A Journey of Faith,” which had its debut last year at the Boston Playwrights’ Theater at Boston University to mark the 10th anniversary of the Globe series. Now, Mr. Mack, 56, is reviving the nonfiction drama at the Paulist Center, a Catholic community center in downtown Boston that is dedicated to social justice.

On Friday night, about 50 people attended the opening, which was followed by a question-and-answer session with Mr. Mack and the Rev. Rick Walsh of the Paulist Center. The play and subsequent discussion showed how the priest scandal, stemming from events that took place decades ago, continues to haunt the lives of the victims and reverberate throughout the church.

The Archdiocese of Boston is still reeling from the many discoveries of sexual abuse by priests in their diocese. More church closings are happening because of now poor attendance and financial ruin, caused mostly by the scandal. We wonder if the church will ever recover here.

But the Paulist Center seems to be taking a good first step. Just steps from the Boston Common on Park Street, the play resonated with many in the audience. The realism in this non-fiction drama cuts to the core and covers even the most reviling situations that the abused encounter…the fact that the abused often abuse themselves:

One of the most unsettling moments of the performance was when Mr. Mack revealed that as a camp counselor when he was in high school, he had come close to seducing a vulnerable, 8-year-old in whom he recognized himself.

“You lean closer, his hair a drift of baby shampoo,” Mr. Mack said as he acted out the scene. “Your face so close to the heat of his cheek you smell his breath, like apples.” At that point, the images of his own molesting came rushing back, and he stopped himself before anything happened.

That admission — that he had almost re-enacted the very crime perpetrated against him — drew particular praise from the audience. And it led to a general discussion of one of the little-acknowledged effects of molesting, that some victims become perpetrators.

Yikes! That is a very real and horrifying admission. Blessings on Mr Mack’s new work and on the Paulist Center for having a lot of guts to show this in the Catholic Church building.

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11 Years Later…Can We Forgive?

I watched much of the memorial ceremony of that hateful day of 11 years ago this morning. A somber day to be sure, for me. I lost two good friends that day and my wife lost her cousin. Friends who worked downtown didn’t know when the funerals would stop as so many of their colleagues were now dead.

This morning however, I’ve noticed a much different feel surrounding the events of the tragic day. Our local firehouse brought out their rig and hoisted a flag from the top of it’s ladder. It was almost prideful instead of a memorial. Many went about their business on campus today without much fanfare or sadness. I forget that the youngest students on this campus were 7 years old when this tragedy occurred and that would be like asking me to remember the events surrounding Watergate or Vietnam or even the ’77 blackout which is a distant memory.

When I talk with those who can remember the subject of possible forgiveness and moving on always comes up. I always note how horrible and hateful the actions of the terrorists were. I remember hearing first about my friend Debbie, who died on the Shanksville flight after the terrorists killed her. Days later, an old college friend, Tom, was a firefighter and he was lost forever in the tower’s ashes.

And I note how I was angry. I wanted revenge and I wanted them all dead.

But I also note how in hindsight, I see how that was locking me into the very same hatred that the terrorist breed in their camps. A hatred that can only be evil and filled with revenge. A hatred that keeps me from loving and a hatred that is far from God.

Some say that only God can forgive and that it’s not our job to do so. But we pray each week to God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Easier said than done, for sure. But yet, can we have enough faith in ourselves that we can believe that our heart can indeed stretch much farther than we think it is capable of?

We can forgive. It is a first step in a healing process and begs us to take a step towards not letting hatred and evil continue to have a hold on us. We all can forgive and are called to do so.

Reconciliation, however, is another matter. That takes years of hard work. That takes a changing of heart on all sides. And sometimes we think that is also impossible. And sometime it is.

How many of us wish we had one more chance to say “I’m sorry” to a parent who is now long gone. We wish we could heal a broken relationship, but it is now too late.

Reconciliation needs forgiveness to even begin a process of tying us all back together as one fabric of humanity, where justice is not mistaken for cheap revenge and were hatred can no longer have a place at our tables. Why? Because we will have decided to welcome all to the table and to work out our differences.

When we Catholics look to our altar this is the vision we see of God, who forgives us without measure and resentment and without the need for keeping score. It’s a perfect vision of forgiveness, one we’re called to but might not ever reach. And yet God offers it to us anyway.

God loves the world and enters it and experiences all of our pain even to death. God cannot bear to be apart from us. God cannot live with divisions. And because of that desire for reconciliation with us, it costs God dearly.

God dies for us. God would rather experience a human death rather than separation from a people that often doesn’t honor him all that well for his majesty and creative love.

And so we must not settle for the status quo of revenge and must continue to move slowly towards reconciliation–repairing what has been broken from a hateful past. It will be a long journey and I’m sure that I will be an old man if we ever reach it–if I am able to see it at all. But I hope to glance at small measures of it while I am still breathing. And I hope to gather hope from it.

I’ve come to a sense of forgiveness over the years. I can indeed let go of my hatred for those who killed my friends and hope that terrorism will soon be replaced by love and conversation. I cannot become what I know is simply a perpetuation of hateful desires. I need to move in a different way, that just might call others into a more loving place.

Can we forgive? We’d better. The consequences of not doing so, will just perpetuate a cycle of violence for our future.

And nobody should have to live like that again.

But can’t we all want to love in a way that ends violence forever?

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Apologize, Resign and Forgive

On Thursday, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas-City/St Joseph was found guilty of failing to tell police about Shawn Ratigan, a priest suspected of sexually exploiting children after Bishop Finn has full knowledge of pornographic pictures found on Fr. Ratigan’s computer, some which he had taken himself.

What’s next for Bishop Finn? I would suggest an apology and a resignation. It would be impossible for him to lead the diocese at this juncture. Sadly, this is another black eye on the church as Bishop Finn openly violated the Dallas Charter. Earlier in this case when asked why they had not come forward, a diocesan spokesperson reported that they are only required to report cases of sexual abuse, not pornography. In my opinion, that’s just one more example of some in the church living by the letter, rather than the spirit of the law, civil or otherwise. While technically, the spokesperson may be correct, common sense also should tell them that the only proper thing to do would have been to report Ratigan immediately.

One would think that a Bishop would know better. But apparently, Finn did all he could to deny that any wrongdoing was going on.

From the Washington Post:

Finn’s statement after his conviction carefully pointed to inadequate diocesan “process and procedures” as the reason that Ratigan was not reported to police, and his expression of regret was for policy failures and “for the hurt that these events have caused.”

Until this week Finn had vigorously rejected the charges that he had done anything wrong, and had hired a high-priced defense team to make his case. The diocese revealed this week that Finn’s legal bills have cost the diocese and its insurers nearly $1.4 million over the past year, and that parishes will have to kick in more money to cover the outlays. Finn and the diocese still face numerous civil suits resulting from the case.

This is not going to end well. Kansas City/St Joseph was a model diocese before Finn’s arrival with much live and enthusiasm for the Catholic Church. I fear that much of that has eroded now.

It’s time for Bishop Finn to resign. That is the only way to healing and reconciliation.

It may be difficult to forgive someone like Bishop Finn and Fr. Ratigan, to be sure. But we are called to do this as Catholics. At the same time, justice is the only way that reconciliation can occur for the diocese. And with that in mind, Bishop Finn needs to take the first step in moving on and letting the diocese come to heal and more importantly call anyone who has been abused back home to receive and apology and a promise that justice for victims of abuse will happen. That will be the next Bishop’s first order of business.

Today, let’s pray for victims of abuse, for all of the children that Fr. Ratigan violated and for these two priests who will face justice for their crimes. Lastly, for the people of the diocese of Kansas City/St Joseph…
Know that we here at Googling God stand with you today.

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Can We Forgive Fr. Groeschel? And Can He Reach to Reconcile?

So Fr. Groeschel and the CFR’s issued two statements of apology yesterday. They essentially both say the same thing and Fr. Groeschel’s seems like a shorter version of the CFR’s. Essentially, everyone was on message: We apologize, the abused are not victims, Fr. Groeschel’s mind is failing, Fr. Groeschel has a great record of helping people.

Here’s Fr. Groeschel’s apology:

I apologize for my comments. I did not intend to blame the victim. A priest (or anyone else) who abuses a minor is always wrong and is always responsible. My mind and my way of expressing myself are not as clear as they used to be. I have spent my life trying to help others the best that I could. I deeply regret any harm I have caused to anyone.

While Fr. Benedict sadly may be suffering some effects from the accident it in no way exonerates him from the statement he made which was indeed hateful and horrible for any victim of abuse to hear. I fear, however, that this opinion may be widespread amongst many clergy and laity within our church. It shows a blatant ignorance for what sexual abuse has done and leads people into deeper darkness.

Those comments as Joe Zwilling of the New York Archdiocese said in his carefully written press release “do not represent us” as Catholics.

And for a self-professed “orthodox” Catholic to say these words is horrendous and for a Catholic paper to write them without further introspection on them or challenge is not just shoddy journalism, it’s shoddy Catholicism.

That said, what is Catholic is our capability to forgive and so while this doesn’t change what Fr. Benedict said I call for all of us to accept his apology and to offer him sincere forgiveness.

And that friends is hard for all of us.

While I am angered by Fr. Benedict’s statements and am sincerely wondering if those secretly are his true beliefs about sexual abuse, I also know that I cannot let that anger get in the way of forgiveness–where God calls each one of us to be.

Forgiveness however, does not turn a blind eye to justice. And I do think that despite the public embarrassment that Fr. Benedict is facing now, he should also be made to do some kind of restitution or penance for saying something so callous, old as he is, or not. He’s been speaking fairly lucidly and frequently publicly and offering tons of retreats and we haven’t heard any reports of missteps until now. And if that is the case then maybe he should spend some time listening (which as a psychologist he does very well) to those who have been abused by priests in some kind of formal retreat for them under supervision of another. The folks who run the Archdiocese’s Virtus training would be well-advised to take the lead in reaching out to him at this time and to set something up. I wonder if there’s a victim of abuse who is brave enough to take matters into their own hands and offer to speak with him?

Forgiveness on our part is always possible. We cannot let evil control and ultimately destroy us–something Fr. Benedict has also preached on and knows well. But reconciliation is sometimes harder to come by. And Fr. Benedict should take great pains to reconcile with the community here and we as laity should take great pains to welcome that and to forge understanding with those who have been abused with a man who seems to think that they bear some responsibility. Even if he’s saying that he misspoke now, I can’t help but believe that at least a small part of him feels this way.

I’ve said my share of stupid things in my life. Thankfully, most of them not in the public eye. But what I think I pride myself on most is my ability to try to heal the relationships that have been damaged by my own stupidity–even when my statements were unintentional.

He’s an old man. He’s been through a lot these years. But that’s no excuse. I’m glad he apologized and tried to set the record straight.

I forgive Fr. Benedict. And I hope he can forgive himself and can reach out to reconcile with those he has hurt by his words.

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Young People in the Church Today: No Time for Infighting

John Allen is always insightful and we’ve been talking over here about the need for peace within the Church, moving away from the divisiveness that often comes with differences of opinions.

Some of Allen’s thoughts seem like good ideas to me. Sometimes we need to surprise those with whom we disagree by taking up a position that we normally wouldn’t get behind with vigor. Allen explains:

In addition to an ecclesiology of communion, “thinking with the church,” or whatever spiritual motive one might advance, offering surprising support is also smart tactics. It means opening channels of conversation before a crisis erupts, and it would give the center-left more leverage to push back against trajectories they don’t like. As a rule of thumb, it’s generally easier to manage disagreements among friends than strangers.
To flesh out the concept, opposition to the death penalty or support for immigration reform wouldn’t count as “surprising support,” even though those positions are in sync with the bishops, because they’re what everyone expects from the center-left. However, the Catholic Health Association’s opposition to the Obama administration’s restrictive definition of a religious employer in its contraception mandate is a good case of surprising support because the CHA and the bishops famously had their disagreements over health care reform.
At least three such opportunities seem to be hanging out there like low-lying fruit.

He suggest three opportunities:
Getting behind the HHS Mandate, speaking out against anti-Christian persecution (in the developing world especially) and lastly helping the Bishops transition to a world church.

The latter two I jump on board with immediately…albeit I’m not sure how “surprising” these are. The first one, I’d tread a bit more carefully into. I think there’s a real opportunity to look at this issue in a larger context and to ask the question of whether health care should be tied to employment in the first place. I would wager that Catholics could take the lead here in getting out of that and offering their employees a higher salary and allowing them to form their own consciences and purchasing a health care plan of their own.

But there’s an even larger place where the center-left and even the center-right can meet.

It’s called Catholics for Civil Discourse. This could be a place much like the Catholic Common Ground Initiative –which had merit, but I believe that ended up as a bunch of center-left people trying to keep it afloat. Are we willing to talk things through and maybe use some principles of conflict resolution to show the world that Catholics can indeed rise above the hatred and move towards forgiveness and reconciliation of one another. I liken much of this to relationships between conservative and liberal Supreme Court Justices. Justice Scalia and Justice Ginsburg might agree on little but you never hear either on badmouth the other. In fact, they are close friends and they can see the other’s perspective clearly, even if they don’t share the other’s view. I suspect Ginsburg just says some days “Well, that’s Antonin all right!” and then smiles and laughs a bit. And Scalia probably says, “Well, you know how Ruth thinks. But she means well and has people’s interest at the heart and she does know the law well. Smart lady. Don’t agree with a lot of her views but she’s tough.”

Can’t we have a similar discourse in our church? More importantly, SHOULDN’T we have a similar discourse in our church?

Right now many have simply determined that neither side of the extremes needs the other. Jesus laughs at that and shakes his head and I think might even laugh and say “Dumb folks. They just don’t get it.”

Commonweal writer J. Peter Nixon gets to the heart of this argument very well in my view:

In the 1980s, center-left bishops had to listen to the center-right because they had the ear of Rome. The center-left has the ear of no one. They have nothing that the bishops really need and probably nothing that the bishops want. They have no leverage.

Allen suggests that “center left” probably describes the majority of American Catholics and perhaps a super-majority of those working in Catholic institutions, such as chancery offices, Catholic Charities, etc. This is true, but it is changing. We have had a fair amount of episcopal turnover in California in the last few years, and the trend is unmistakable. Older, largely “center-left” staff are retiring or leaving and being replaced by younger, more self-consciously “orthodox” Catholics.

It’s true that the majority of rank-and-file Catholics are probably “center left” in orientation. But what of it? Younger Catholics, for the most part, are simply not attached enough to the Church as an institution to think “institutionally” about their theological commitments. Communal dialogue is something you engage in because you have a community. The majority of younger Catholics—like a majority of younger Christians—are spiritual consumers. If they are dissatisfied, they will choose “exit” rather than “voice.”

In short, this has become an “older” person’s fight within the church. The younger folks don’t have time for such riff-raff, nor do they have the scars from past battles that left others with deep woundedness and brings them into a vitriolic reflex each time something new saddens them from ideologues on either side. The young simply want to pray, connect with Jesus, form friendships with people of honor and serve the needs of the poor. In short, they want a church they can believe in, not one that focuses on infighting.

Infighting will do us no good, even if one side wins. If the far or even center-right wins they get a smaller and more faithful to the hierarchy breed that might not be able to be evangelize or be effective. If the center-left or far left wins they’ll be confusion as to what Catholics stand for, if they even stand for anything.

The truth is that consensus is what is called for in our church. And young people may not be willing to do the work required to battle things out for a long time with people that they really might not think are worth spending all this time on. It’s just easier to leave and have a more individualistic view of religion or spirituality.

We are in tough times. One of my jobs is to try to build consensus amongst younger people of faith, even people of different faiths. But to do that, we have to first engage them in the experience of where they find God working in their lives. Personal discernment, listening to where people are finding God in their lives is a necessary first step.

From there, we just may find an opportunity to understand one another and most importantly….

To seek peace.

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