One of My Favorite Jesuits

While I was an undergrad at Fordham, I often was invited to dinner with the Jesuit Scholastics (and others who were in formation for ministry) at Ciszek Hall a quiet respite just off of the Fordham campus in the Little Italy Section of the Bronx, better known as Arthur Avenue to most. Those evenings enabled me to form many great friendships amongst many great Jesuits. And the Jesuit who ran the house was one of them. His name was Fr. Gerald J. Chojancki, SJ but we all knew him by his preferred monicker of “Jeff.” Jeff died Tuesday suddenly and I was saddened to hear of his death at the relatively young age of 69.

Fr. Jeff always had great homilies and often accompanied us undergrads on retreats. He was a tireless spiritual director to many and a friend to any who reached out to him.

On one of my many visits to Ciszek, I was sitting at dinner with Jeff and my dear friend, now Fr. Tom Benz, S.J. We were talking about a bunch of things and Jeff seemed a bit tired after a long day of administrative tasks. I was excited about my new internship at WFAN radio and Jeff was interested in some of the cast of characters I was working with, in particular Don Imus. Another Jesuit whose name escapes me at the moment, sat down and had a pensive look on his face. Jeff looked at him and said, “Hey, what’re you thinking about?”

The young scholastic sighed and said “Aristotle!”

Without missing a beat, Jeff quipped, “Oh the hell with that. Hayes, tell us more about Imus!”

Everyone laughed and later I found Jeff with his hand on the young Jesuits shoulder. “Hey, hope Aristotle isn’t a big problem. I was just tired and couldn’t deal with any more Philosophy questions.”

They took their dessert into another room and talked until I left hours later.

Jeff eventually became the Provincial of the New York Province and he dealt with a lot of serious issues. He dealt with the sexual abuse crisis and the merging of the Provinces of the East coast. The Jesuit Collaborative that exists today is largely a result of his leadership. The Collaborative looks for ways to share the Spiritual Exercises with others in new ways and I know that was a high priority for Jeff throughout his life. He taught me much about the exercises in our short time together at Fordham. He was brave enough to stand up for many gay priests who were shamed when many called them unfit for ministry, his support for all Jesuits was unwavering, no matter who they were.

Mostly, I remember his big smile and his welcoming nature. He’d always be the first one to greet us at Ciszek and was often the last one to say goodbye to us, talking often into the wee hours of the morning. His sense of humor was always something that drew people to him and I’ll remember laughing often with him around campus.

Rest in peace, Jeff. May the angels welcome you into paradise where St. Ignatius and the Risen Jesus will greet you with the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

And they will welcome you as you did for so many others.

More info on Fr. Chojnacki’s funeral arrangements can be found here.

Will Bishops Lose Their Tax Exempt Status for Pushing for Romney?

From the Religion News Service:

A public watchdog group is charging the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with openly politicking on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and it wants the Internal Revenue Service to explore revoking the hierarchy’s tax-exempt status.

“In completely unqualified terms, the IRS should immediately tell the Conference of Catholic Bishops that the conduct of its members is beyond the pale,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

“If the Catholic bishops would like to continue receiving the tremendous tax benefits on which they rely, they should follow U.S. law and stay out of American politics,” Sloan added in a statement last Friday (Nov. 2) announcing the complaint.

Sloan argued that last-minute appeals by numerous bishops had crossed the line into electioneering. She named several prelates, including Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill., a fierce critic of President Barack Obama, who ordered his priests to read a letter at all Masses on Sunday that sharply criticized Democratic policies and warned that Catholics who voted for those policies would endanger their eternal salvation.

A few thoughts here:

The first is that the USCCB doesn’t endorse a particular candidate as a body. Individual bishops who represent a particular diocese are another matter. One stated that Catholics voting for the President would put their soul in jeopardy. Others put pressure on Catholics to vote against the President for his stances on abortion, gay marriage and the HHS mandate (or the issue of religious freedom). Meanwhile on the other side, many black protestant churches openly touted the President and are far more apt to make such statements. Billy Graham openly plugged his preference for Governor Romney and one small non denominational church posted “Vote for the Mormon, not for the Muslim.” Interesting that this last one is both partisan and incorrect.

The question, as regards this particular situation, places individual Bishops and/or clerics in the crosshairs and it looks like someone will be holding them to greater accountability.

It seems to me that Bishops and other clerics need a media expert who can be a bit more covert about their intentions. For example, one should name an issue, not a candidate. One should call on the fallacies of BOTH candidates if they name one over the other. The USCCB often touts that they don’t endorse any candidate and perhaps that mandates all bishops to use the same language.

Lastly, I have two final points. One is that the hatred for the President from the right wing holds no bounds both within and outside of the church. That needs to change within the church or we will face having to work with the government from the cheap seats. Governing is choosing, governing is compromise–by design. We are not going to win every time in our efforts with the executive branch or with the other two branches of our government. Abortion will not be illegal overnight and health care packages may indeed not be mindful of our positions on contraception. But that merely puts the ball in our court to decide what we might do, despite those obstacles and more importantly, how we might do that peacefully.

The second and final point is that we play into the hands of the militant secularists when we endorse a candidate by name. We have a great responsibility to keep issues that we are concerned about in front of all the candidates, but in doing so, we cannot afford to trade an endorsement of a particular candidate in exchange for their aligning with our moral values. No, we need be more vigilant than that, because campaign promises are fickle and often unrealized. Our role in government is advisory and the body of Christ votes of their own God-given free will. And most often they vote for their candidate despite the ranting of those who think they know the state of our souls, or the assumption that they vote to endorse an immoral act. The militant secularists, those who wish to sideline religion altogether from public life are indeed winning. And they do so, because just a few people are downright dumb.

What role should the church play in politics? A huge one. The church, that is all the people of God, should be lobbying our own leaders to take a firmer role in assisting those who caring for the poor. We should become peace negotiators, like former President Carter, and be able to play that role publicly and with firm resolve for ending war. Imagine Cardinal Dolan negotiating peace at the United Nations! We should build homes for pregnant teens down the block from the abortion clinics so women think twice about making that decision and then we should support them with the full weight of our wallets. We should care for our environment and fight for the rights of immigrants. But we should do it all without regard for particular individuals and political parties.

In fact, we should do it on our own. We should do it to the point where all Governments call us and ask our advice and offer us some help because we set the standard of excellence in these situations despite the obstacles that are put in our way. We should do it because God calls us to it.

And we should do it so that they will know that we are Christians. How will they know? Because they will see us working with great love.

And not with partisan hatred.

Competitive or Collaborative?

In my new book Loving Work, we talk about whether one likes to be in a competitive or a collaborative environment in the workplace. I was reminded by a friend yesterday about a story someone who was working on a building project at some point and a prominent person came to him and offered him some assistance with fund raising for the project.

That request was turned down. The person in question didn’t want anyone else’s help. They wanted to do the project on their own.

I can understand the sentiment and perhaps they were threatened that the donor would want too much credit for building the property or want it named after him or perhaps others would say “Steve (not his real name) couldn’t have done it without those dollars from so and so.”

But couldn’t we all use a bit of help and aren’t we all called to help one another?

Jim McDermott, SJ once noticed that I had a similar attitude and he remarked, “Mike, it would be a shame if you had to do it all, because you can’t do it all! So perhaps God is calling you to be a bit more humble and admit that you need the help of others sometimes.”

True enough. Blasted spiritual directors saying things that make sense!

And I truly value collaboration and take care to make sure each individual working on a project gets some credit for the work they put into the collaboration. Mike Breen, now of ESPN, but formerly of WFAN taught me much about this. I used to work with him on the station’s Imus in the Morning show as a desk assistant and whenever I did anything well, he’d be sure to point that out to Imus or to one of the higher ups. I try to model that behavior in my own work.

At times though, others don’t have the same attitude. There are some who take way too much credit for a project that they really didn’t contribute much to. Or take credit for an initial idea that didn’t really come them.

True collaboration comes from not worrying about who gets the credit but instead focuses on the work itself and allows the team to name one another’s roles in the entire project so that they can appreciate the diverse gifts of the entire crew.

Some people have a hard time with that, wanting to horde attention or hold onto the feelings of grandeur that they have about their accomplishments. They sometimes might also be the first to cast blame towards others as well.

And then there’s those who tear down others to build themselves up. A major league baseball player once told me off the record that they didn’t like one of their teammates. The hated player would say things like “Today I’m going to get more hits than anybody!” But he really would ben wishing everyone else to go 0 for 4.

Ministry can only afford to be competitive when we’re competing for the hearts of good people over evil choices and often we choose competing with one another. That must change. We are often our worst enemy and that ends up getting in the way of great progress.

Liturgy and Vatican II

Liturgy was the first topic debated at Vatican II and Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on Sacred Liturgy) was the the first document that was produced, but the ideas behind this document were the result of renewal that was already at work.

Mass was a passive activity for Catholics before the council but other activities were more participatory: benedictions, holy hours and rosary groups were well attended. Saturday confessions seemed as if they were mandatory (as a child I even remember participating in this). But mass itself, well that was something that Father did FOR us, not WITH us.

Vatican II changed that immensely. But English translations of the mass were already being given out so that people could follow more closely along. My dad had an old school one that he gave me a long time ago (and I still have). So the truth is that Vatican II made what was already happening a true possibility.

This was the first thing that the council looked at and they debated it for a long time with a small minority holding up the process. Finally Paul VI said they could end debate when they wanted to instead of letting this drag on. Essentially there were no rules early on about any of this. When they moved to end debate and bring this to a vote a loud uproar from the crowd erupted. The spirit of Vatican II wanted to get things rolling.

And so they made the change to have mass in the vernacular and to have the priest face the people. But those cosmetic changes–while huge really sprang from the desire for people to have a more active role in the central act of worship—the source and the summit of our faith.

Some will say that these changes happened too abruptly and that many were confused by it. I would say the following: It’s not that change happened to quickly but that all of the other things that the church had going on with regards to communal worship simply blanched in comparison. People also became more mobile and had less time for more than one service a week and fewer people put down firmer roots in a community because they were moving around so much. The parish drifted from being the center of community life and instead became more of an obligatory once a week checklist item.

How can we regain this sense of community –that people are indeed seeking–back again?

We spend 75% of our time maintaining buildings and programs. We make almost all of our decisions based on that because we want people in our buildings and participating in parish programs. But perhaps it’s time for the church to spend 75% of our time looking outward–meaning we need to go to the people instead of hoping that they come to us. How many neighborhoods have we changed? What kind of outreach are we providing to those around us? What allies can we make outside of our parish and how do we provide the same sense of ritual and liminal space outside of the four walls of the church that we also provide at mass?

All good questions. And this needs to start small and build and then it needs continually maintenance. So rather than spending so much time maintaining buildings and programs maybe we need to take ourselves out of this and into a more direct outward-focused ministry.

After all, if people can’t see us–then why would they ever make their way towards us? We’ve got a huge problem of marketing and it’s time for us, especially those of us in the laity to move the church into the world so that they see how we have been changed by it.

And doing that, together, as one church, just might change the world.

Happy Birthday, Vatican II

On this 50th Anniversary of Vatican II, John O’Malley takes a critical look at one of the major, if not THE major religious event of the 20th Century in the New York Times.

The bishops at Vatican II felt that more than a century of centralization needed to be tempered. But in their euphoria, they failed to reckon sufficiently with the resistance of entrenched bureaucracies — jealous of their authority and fearful of disorder — to change. A more participatory mode of church life took hold for 15 years or so after the council, but from on high it began to be more and more restricted, to the point that central control is now tighter than ever.

This has led to widespread disillusionment and anger. Priests and parishioners feel that their voices are not heard. Some critics argue, not unreasonably, that a more collegial style of governance, or at least of consultation, would have addressed the clerical sex-abuse problem earlier and more effectively. The fact that collegiality now seems little more than an ideal resting quietly in the council’s documents — with little relevance for the real life of the church — stands as a major failure to carry out what the council intended.

I agree and I disagree here. Would we ever see the rise in lay ministry without Vatican II? Would a married layman like me be an official minister in the church without Vatican II. Haven’t we at least moved away from clerical culture in some way over the past 50 years?

Perhaps O’Malley’s criticism is well stocked in some regard though. He does mention the sex abuse crisis as one place where lay voices may have been more well-heeded if there was not this lack of collegiality. I think that’s partially true. In many cases though, the lack of all voices, clergy and laity, predominated and kept predators in ministry with the Bishops unfortunately not firing the final salvo in exercising their authority in order to protect children and rid the church of those who abused them.

Over the next few days or so I’m going to write a bit on the documents of Vatican II and talk about how they have been most realized in the hearts and minds of the Catholic laity and clergy together. I might even ask some others to weigh in on certain things here and there. I’ll be using Ed Hahnenberg’s A Concise Guide to the Documents of Vatican II as my guide which should be required reading as a primer on the Council and it’s spirit.

But no matter where we go on this topic, it was a majestic time. As a 42 year old, I have known no other church than the post-Vatican II one. So I’m interested to know what folks both old and young think about the perspective of the council.

Ricky Manalo, CSP a younger Paulist priest made a good comment about Vatican II recently. He pointed out that “we forget that Vatican II was a response to modernism. And during the time of the council, post-modernism began to spring forth quickly in the midst of all of these changes.”

So while the church responded to the modern era, it was quickly eclipsed by the post-modern era. Perhaps that’s enough of a reason for us to look forward to a Vatican III? Or perhaps we should temper our thoughts (positive and negative) about Vatican II a bit in light of where we’ve been since then?

I believe the next Pope will call a new ecumenical council and then to say the least, it will be time to fasten the seat belts. But all in all, it’s an exciting time in the church today, much like the time of Vatican II itself. So today let’s celebrate that just a bit and be grateful for those who put in much work to the thought of the council. It is their spirit that we rejoice in today!

Ministry or Business?

So I have many colleagues who came into ministry after spending a significant time in the business world. These folks have been able to bring many new and great insights into improving ministry efforts, especially in the area of marketing and social media.

Not too many left the business world dissatisfied because it was only about making money and not much else. I outline a bit of this in my new book Loving Work: A spiritual guide to finding the work you love and bringing love to the work you do. For many, the latter part of my book’s subtitle rang false. They loved what they did but they were unable to bring love to the effort it took to accomplish the job. Taking myself as an example, I liked being in radio all those years, but I got into that for altruistic reasons. Programming served the listeners and provided entertainment. Journalism told stories and provided a service to the public. But (and it’s a big but), it almost always took a back seat to the business side. A station owner once told me to “stop being creative” and to “just play the (spots) commercials.”

I knew then it was time to go.

Many of us would have done that work for nothing, and ironically, this blog has taken the place of much of that side of my media endeavors–and I don’t get a dime for it, save the odd donation when I ask.

But back to those business people in ministry…many of them try to place some sound business principles in place in ministry settings and often are met with some resistance from “ministry lifers” who insist that this is NOT a business, it’s ministry. And the converse is also true, if we don’t make some money for this ministry, then we won’t be able to sustain it. There are some in ministry who insist on using religious language, often language that the average person doesn’t even understand, in our documents and even in internal memos. There are business people who also want to secularize close to everything there can be about ministry to “sell this better” to the masses.

It leads to frustration all around. And often, in parish life, there are many pastors who are clueless when it comes to running buildings and offices and don’t understand why in today’s world we all need high speed internet access. (My pastor, thankfully, is not one of those people!). Pastors need to be able to understand these matters (in fact, everyone should understand enough of this who are in ministry) or need to surround themselves with people who do understand business principles and more importantly, can explain it to them.

But conversely, the business people need to understand the pastoral side of things. Sometimes we do things that don’t pay for themselves because they are worth doing and often leads to other things down the road. An example, our retreats used to not make money, but someone would be so taken by them that we would end up getting a large donation down the road from a few folks. Or we’d get a good reputation for these retreats and other partnerships would form that would bring us some funds.

It seems to me that the place where all of this intersects is in relationship-making and believe it or not, the pastoral people often trump the business people in these kinds of matters. I was once in a meeting with a very savvy business-minded person asking someone else to help us with a project. Business guy totally ruined the whole thing because he was worried about protecting the brand instead of forming a partnership between two entities. Needless to say, we didn’t get the help we needed.

Other pastoral people also can’t tell business people what they are about. Simple is good in these matters. “Educating to end abuse” was the mission statement of Joe Torre’s Foundation on Domestic Violence. Can any of us sum up our ministry in four simple words like that? “If you can’t put it on a t-shirt, then you ain’t got a mission statement!” an elderly donor once told a friend of mine.

Surely, a happy medium must exist. But some questions we must answer include:

1) What is our ministry about and how might we proclaim that in an inspirational way to those we are trying to reach out to ministerially and to those who we hope will fund our ministry efforts as well?

2) How are we training pastors and pastoral staff for the business of ministry? Do we make sure they can handle the business affairs as well as the pastoral affairs? Maybe vice-versa also applies with our business managers?

3) Do people understand us? Can we form partnerships with others without being afraid of them taking over or damaging our brand? Do we care too much about who gets the credit?

All in all, much care needs to be put into this for the benefit of the church, the people of God. Otherwise we’ll have a mess.

Maybe we already do?

The Ministry of Physician

The NY Times has an interesting piece on Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky who sees his work as ministry and tries to bridge the gap between science and faith.

Dr. Dutkowsky has made efforts to bridge the chasm between science and spirit. As president of the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine, he had the Rev. David Farrell, a Catholic priest who has worked among Peru’s poor since 1964, address the group’s convention last year on the topic of “Poverty and Disability.” That same year, on his third pilgrimage to Lourdes, Dr. Dutkowsky took part in a conference on faith and medicine, delivering a speech he titled “Dignity and Disability.”

He took the occasion to wrestle with the ontological question embodied by the unmerited suffering of patients like Mike and Christian.

“For years, when asked why I chose this profession, I had no good answer,” he said, “until I came upon the first chapter of the Gospel of John. Jesus and his disciples come upon a man who was blind from birth. The disciples asked Jesus, ‘Did this man or his parents sin that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered that the blindness was not the result of the man or his parents’ sin. The man was born blind ‘so the glory of God might be revealed.’ Every day in my work I find myself in the revealed glory of God.”

An interesting piece…read it all at this link.

Joliet Priest Removed …Again

Last week sometime we reported about Fr. F. Lee Ryan who had been removed from ministry for allegedly abusing a 16 year old (although some say 14) and then was restored to ministry again after the CDF said that Canon Law didn’t require his removal.

Bishop Conlon restored him to ministry, but exiled him to a remote area that was basically cornfields and a limited population.

That decision has been once again reversed by Bishop Conlon, the Bishop of Joliet.

From Deacon Greg and the Herald News:

In a written statement, Conlon said, “Last week I announced that Father F. Lee Ryan would be permitted to exercise a very narrow priestly ministry. Subsequent discussions that have occurred since that decision have highlighted that any action needs to fulfill the larger need of the Church to confront the scandal of child abuse in its midst and diligently restore trust.

“For the sake of the greater good of the Church, I have decided to revoke my earlier permission and once again place Fr. Ryan on full administrative leave.”

Conlon said he would “initiate further conversations with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” the panel in Rome that found Ryan not guilty based on a church law in place at the time of the alleged abuse. That law refers to discipline against priests who engage in adultery or improper touching with people under the age of 16.

The accuser has said he was 14 at the time of the alleged incidents.

I will applaud this decision to stand behind the Dallas Charter and to look into the case further.

Are There Any Questions?

So my best friend’s daughter started religious education this past week and thus, there was the mandatory information session for families of children in religious education (or lifelong faith formation or whatever they want you to call this in your local diocese).

So off the family went, my friend and his lovely wife, his daughter, Theresa and his 3 year old son, Leo. The pastor began with an explanation of the formation program and exhaustively went through every detail.

Finally at the end of his presentation he paused and asked, “Are there any questions?”

Leo, the aforementioned 3 year old, who is not even in religious education yet, shot up his hand. The pastor, not one to ignore a child, acknowledged him, to which he asked the question on everyone’s mind…

“Do you have any popsicles?”

The kid gets it. It’s not a Catholic event if there aren’t any snacks.

Accused Priest Returned to Ministry in Joliet…But Should He Be Allowed to Return?

From the Herald News in Joliet, Ill. recently comes the news about Fr. F. Lee Ryan, who had a credible accusation against him regarding and affair he had with a minor.

The law calls for discipline up to removal from the priesthood for adultery with minors under the age of 16. But Ryan is being reinstated to what the diocese described this week as “very limited ministry” to homebound parishioners in the Watseka area.

Bishop R. Daniel Conlon, who heads the diocese and is also the chair of the Bishop’s Conference on the Committee on Child Protection, received the news from Rome that because of a loophole in Canon Law, Fr. Ryan can be reinstated. That loophole is that the child in question was not under the age of 16.

“The Congregation issued a decision that Fr. Ryan is not guilty of grave delict (“serious crime”) under the 1917 Code of Law which was in effect at the time of the alleged abuse. The letter from the Congregation simply cited one Canon (2359 p2) without further explanation.”

That Canon says: “If they have committed a crime against the sixth commandment with a minor under sixteen years of age, or have committed adultery, rape, bestiality, sodomy, pandering, or incest with any person related to them by consanguinity or affinity in the first degree, they shall be suspended, declared infamous, deprived of any office, benefice, dignity, or position which they may have, and in more serious cases, shall be deposed.”

The victim also claims that he was 14, but for some reason they are going with 16 in the official report.

There’s much to consider here and one needs to know a bit about Canon Law, the Watseka area, the priest in question and the Bishop’s response.

The first is that Vatican is merely considering Canon Law here and I’m not sure they realize that nobody in the United States really cares what Church law says in this instance because the church’s credibility in these cases is shot. If the priest did this, then he should be punished to the extent that the law allows and 16 is a ridiculous age and has since been updated, but at the time this was the law on the books that he would have violated. Regardless, it looks bad.

Fr. Ryan has been very cooperative with the case and is extremely sorrowful for his actions. That’s laudable, but I’m also wondering if he has received psychological treatment for this and if he has a clean record since? Even suspicions should come into play here. Is this a psychologically healthy individual? Who knows?

Lastly, the Bishop’s response is coming under fire. People are saying that he’s using the excuse of “following the orders from Rome.” Well, that’s not exactly right. Bishop Conlon could have reinstated Fr. Ryan to work in a parish or in youth ministry in the middle of a thriving city. But instead he took a more practical approach. He sent Fr. Ryan to Watseka. What’s in Watseka? Cornfields upon cornfields. There is literally nothing there. This priest might encounter 3 to 4 people in a year there. It’s the equivalent of being sent to Siberia. So in some way Bishop Conlon may have been forced to sent this priest back into ministry by ecclesiastical law, but he also took care to send him to the safest place possible. Perhaps he should have fought back a bit more and pleaded for more prudence (and perhaps he did!), but to say that he blindly followed orders is kind of silly.

The issue here is a lack of understanding of Ephebophilia in Rome and a strict adherence to Canon Law. Perhaps, someone should point out that to the folks in the CDF?