We All Knew

And speaking of lying and reputations…

Cardinal George spoke to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at their recent meeting and spoke directly about how they have a tarnished reputation and they too, have a need to reconcile with the Catholic faithful and continue to lead us as Bishops into the next decade.

If there is a loosening of our relationship between ourselves and those whom Christ has given us to govern in love, it is for us to reach out and re-establish connections necessary for all to remain in communion….

Our pastoral concern for ecclesial unity does not diminish our awareness of our own mistakes and sins. There are some who would like to trap the Church in historical events of ages long past and there are others who would keep the bishops permanently imprisoned in the clerical sexual abuse scandal of recent years. The proper response to a crisis of governance, however, is not no governance but effective governance.

Loss of trust, we know, weakens relationships and will continue to affect our ministry, even though clerical ranks have been purged of priests and bishops known to have abused children and the entire Church has taken unprecedented means to protect children and to reach out to vicitms.

In any case, the sinfulness of churchmen can not be allowed to discredit the truth of Catholic teaching or to destroy the relationships that create ecclesial communion.

Amen! We are one church! All of us together in the muck and dregs that we call sin. While we are often all-too-quick to point fingers at the Bishops when it comes to sexual abuse of children, one of the big responses that I heard throughout the abuse scandal was not one of surprise, but one of sadness for a lack of response from those with power.

But if the fact that little and not so little children were abused by clerics were not surprising to us as laity, then why did we not take more rigorous action? We too bear some responsibility here and I’ll point the finger back at my own family and myself to start. I hesitate to share this information but the timing is right.

As a teen-ager I was always around the church as an altar boy. A priest, (who I won’t name here, and he has indeed been removed from ministry) took an interest in me and in some of my friends. He was friendly and had a humorous tone at all times. I enjoyed his company when we spent time together in the sacristy before mass. I remember at a parish party when he had a few glasses of wine and he put his arm around me and nuzzled his head on my shoulder. I was about 15.

It was then that I got the heeby-jeebies. And more important, so did my mother. It seemed a bit familiar and intimate. While I hug most of my friends and colleagues that I know well, even today, this seemed to be a bit odd.

Fast-forward a number of years, and my mother told me a hair raising story. At the height of the scandal I got word that this priest had been accused and found guilty of molesting many young boys. I called Mom and told her the sad news. She replied:

“Did I ever tell you that “Fr. X” called me and told me that he thought you had a vocation and that he wanted to take you on a trip to Rome? He thought that would have solidified your call to the priesthood.”

Yikes! God bless a mother’s intuition in not allowing her young boy to go off to Rome with someone she found suspect.

And while she protected me, perhaps she needed to do a bit more? She didn’t call a pastor or a bishop (and reports mentioned that his religious order ordained him even though they knew of a past history of abuse). She didn’t report the suspicion that he might very well be a predator. Perhaps she had no proof and perhaps it may have fallen on deaf ears, and while uncomfortable, perhaps something more should have been said?

Who knows? Hindsight is always 20/20. But let’s face it: We knew Mark McGwire was juicing and we didn’t want to let ourselves see that. We knew that some priests were a bit odd and inappropriate with children and perhaps not well sexually integrated, even though they’d say openly that they were straight celibate men. We knew. We all just didn’t want to say that we did and were taken aback when some of the bravest amongst us did in fact, make accusations.

And therein we have our conundrum. It is us that want to have heroes, people of repute that we look up to and often, our heroes fall short of the reputations that we’d like them to have. Be they Presidents or Popes, Bishops or Batters, Prophets or Parents, our heroes often fall from grace.

Indeed it is up to us to not merely point fingers but also to help mend fences. How do we point ourselves in new and healthier directions to bring the church out of disrepute and into a place where people see us as honorable and justice-seekers? I think that’s where Cardinal George is hoping to lead the Bishops.

And it is my prayer that they lead all of us to embrace that same challenege.

10 Groups We Should Take Better Care of Before the Anglicans

Welcoming the Anglicans should take a backseat to welcoming Hispanic Catholics. So says Paul Snatchko over at Between the Burg and the City.

I also think that, for the Catholic Church in the United States, the need to accommodate Anglican-Catholics is much less pressing than the need to better minister to the millions of Spanish-speaking Catholics. (I go to a lot of Catholic conferences. FYI, it’s not a British accent that I’m hearing.)

Paul makes a good point. In fact it’s so good that I came up with 9 more people that we should be welcoming into the fold BETTER and BEFORE the Anglicans.

1) Hispanic Catholics: As Paul said the church will soon be 50% hispanic. But it’s not fair to lump all hispanics into one demo. There are literally dozens of different cultural experiences that exist within hispanic culture. The Cubans express their faith much differently than the Dominicans do. The Mexicans are far different from the Puerto Ricans. Central Americans are different than South Americans and those from Spain are even more of a different culture. We haven’t come close to identifying how best to reach all of these different peoples. Instead we simply call all of them Hispanic and we start putting things out in Spanish. Now that’s not a poor start but we need to think more deeply about this.

2) Young Adults: Duh. Surveys show that even smaller amounts of Millennial Catholics in their 20s generally speaking, go to weekly mass than their predecessor 30 and 40 something Generation Xers. We don’t do a good job of engaging them into parish life or teaching them about the faith that most were poorly catechized into. I doubt that many have thought critically about where they see God working in their lives and there are oodles of unchurched people that we do absolutely nothing with that are hungering for meaning.

3) Married Couples: We run them through several hoops for a sacrament but don’t really do our best to a) make their day a special one, b) get to know them well or c) engage them in parish life. Many are marrying outside the faith and outside the church because they make it convenient for them. How do we engage and not be annoying so that they feel inconvenienced?

4) Teens: Sure we have youth groups, but how many of them know people in their parish? How many of them are asked to lector on a regular basis or provide a service for the elderly? How many of them can articulate where they see God working in their lives?

5) Pan-Asian Catholics: This is the second largest demographic and like the hispanics we have several differences. Those from the Philippines are quite different from those in China or Japan. There are loads of young people in Hawaii and Tonga and more of those island nations who mix their culture with their religion in beautiful ways that we forget about all too often.

6) Young Priests: Stop laughing. These guys are being thrown to the wolves. Young priests are poorly prepared for church management and some have little pastoral skills and come in feeling like they have to lord their priesthood over their parishioners. They get a quick wake up call and then reassignment is not far off. Young priests are raised to pastor much faster today and many don’t know the first thing about managing a parish. Which leads me to my next group…

7) Religious Women: Let’s face facts. If it weren’t for religious women, the church wouldn’t exist today. They’ve kept schools running and do much of the work in the parish that needs getting done. They haven’t been appreciated as much as they need to be. In my new parish, I’m not sure what they’d do with Sr. jeremy, one of our pastoral associates. She keeps so many items juggling in the air and makes it look seemless.

8) Bishops: Again stop laughing. Bishops are faced with much and like their younger priest counterparts many get raised to their Bishopric without being prepared to be a chief administrator. I think this is a huge reason that the sex scandal was so huge in the United States. These guys weren’t ready. Did they make huge mistakes? Yes. Should they be punished for that? Yes. But could those mistakes have been avoided? Most certainly.

9) Contemplatives: In a world filled with noise we crave the quiet and therefore the contemplatives amongst us should be revered as wisdom figures who have much to teach us. Go watch the movie Into Great Silence and then sigh at the beauty that is contemplative life.

10) THE PARISH SECRETARY/RECEPTIONIST/ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT: Whoever is the first line of contact for people who call us. This is the person that many form their opinion of our parish based on. And she or he does much to make the parish a welcoming place. We hope. When this position is not taken seriously, we end up in big trouble. I called a parish I was familiar with the other day and asked for a long time youth minister from the receptionist and he didn’t know who she was.
Do we take the time to train and make these people feel welcome?

There’s more but I’ll leave the rest to you…who else should we welcome?

Just when you thought we had problems

In Mexico, the leader of a devotion (for lack of a better word) to something called “St. Death” has called for a “holy war” against the Catholic Church in Mexico.

Catholic News Agency has stunning pictures of these–I’ll use the word “nuts.”

Oh brother! What’s next?

Virtus Training

So I had to go and take Virtus training–for those who don’t know what this is it’s a training session on protecting children from predators. It’s a mandate now in just about all dioceses–although some use other formats.

I wasn’t looking forward to it but actually found it well worth spending a few hours of my life on this. We watched two videos which spurred on discussion. Interestingly they had both victims discussing their horrifying experiences on camera and shockingly two abusers were in the video talking about the ways they’d get children to trust them as well as parents. One guy owned a roller rink and another worked at a summer camp. Bone chilling stuff.

The one that stayed with me was a young woman who was having trouble in her English class, so the teacher offered her extra help and then started fondling her. She didn’t think her parents would believe her because she was a poor student–so they’d believe her teacher more than they’d believe her.

Folks, I don’t have kids, but I do have nieces and a nephew who I care for very much. I can only imagine the horror a parent would feel when this happens to their child. Make sure your children know that they can come to you with any issue and that you’ll always believe them. Only 5% of abuse cases brought forth by a child are ever found to be false accusations! Kids might make up things from time to time but they don’t make up stuff like this.

Today let’s pray for all victims of abuse. I’d like to apologize to victims on behalf of a church that I belong to that obviously didn’t handle these abuse cases well. I hope that their pain will be lessened by the work that is being done today to protect all of God’s children. I pray too for those who have abused children. The one link we know is that those who have been abusing children were themselves abused as a child. I can only imagine the hell that they have been through and the lack of engagement with that pain has now led them to abuse others. May God have mercy on them, heal them of their pain and allow them to be free from all that traps them in this vicious cycle of abuse.

May God, above all help us protect out children. Amen

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When starting a blog..expect something like this

I “rejected” this comment but thought it merited some thoughts.


Um, no. I’m not an Episcopalian. I’m not a Unitarian. I’m not a Wiccan. I don’t like the song Kum-by-ya! But as I travel around the country I notice a few things about young adults, in particular, (people in their 20s and 30s who I minister with and to) that I found interesting.

a) The events of the world often shape their religious responses and participation. Columbine, 9-11, Katrina, the Indian Tsunami and Virginia Tech all have had a huge influence on them. Many think that because they have some desire for “traditional” worship practices and like some of the old-school traditions (like adoration, the rosary and even yes, the Latin Mass) that this means that they are harkening back to a time before the council, retrieving some of the ancient rituals from long ago and reviving them. But these people and even their parents in some cases have had no experience of the church before the council, so what is going on is different here. I claim that it is a reaction to a culture of insecurity. People long for security in a world gone mad with terrorism, violence and even natural disasters and they look for religion to provide what the world cannot. Our opportunity as ministers is not to mistake this longing for some kind of political affiliation with conservatism but rather to engage their longing and give them appropriate opportunities for worship that also explain and engages their minds as well as their hearts with these rituals.

I would also say I notice something that a friend recently pointed out to me. At let’s say at a Catholic event focused on social justice–there are great things going on, great witness by people living out gospel values and even great community, but there seems to be very little regard for prayer, contemplation and personal piety.

At Catholic events that are more focused on family, life issues or even liturgy there seems to be only a contemplative focus and not much on social justice, community, diversity or culture.

Aren’t BOTH of these things important?

Now the writer above, claims that I hate “orthodox” Catholics. I say two things in response.

1) I am an orthodox Catholic. The Jesuits who I met at Fordham were orthodox. The Paulists I work for now are orthodox. As are anybody who are in the big tent of Catholicism. We are all in the SAME church and do the same things and are engaging the same tradition. Being orthodox means being part of the entire experience of our church. It also means that we don’t reject the Second Vatican Council which is the exact heresy that the “Bishops” who are running the Society of St Pius X were in fact, excommunicated for. Pope Benedict has already said without an adherence to all that the council has placed into our tradition there cannot be ANY reconciliation (this includes the holocaust in light of the document Nostra Aetate)

2) What I am not is a fundamentalist. I don’t read a literal translation of the bible. I don’t think that the Second Vatican Council was a bunch of hogwash. I don’t blindly toss away people’s questions when they ask them and tell them to simply read the bible or the catechism and that their questions will magically dissolve. I engage Catholicism with culture and with experience and try to help people navigate that path and show where they are less divergent than what they may think.

3) I also am not someone who thinks we should just ignore everything that the Second Vatican Council says, but rather we should be critical about what we didn’t do well after the council, namely Catechesis, explanation (one Sunday they just turned the altar around!) and a lack of ritual done with mystery and reverence at times. The Second Vatican Council provided some great things for the church that we should not blindly think about tossing away (the proverbial baby with the bathwater) in favor of a reversion to a time before the council. However, we did lose some of what was good about ritual and liturgy from before the council. There was a sense of mystery and rhythm that perhaps we don’t do as well currently. Something different and “other-worldly” was going on at mass which perhaps today seems more common to our experience. And yet, people don’t know what’s going on at mass even when it is in English! So going back to Latin mass may not do anything except serve to confuse even the most ardent mass attender. Perhaps we’re asking the wrong questions and I think many of our brothers and sisters who find value in the Society of St Pius X are onto something. Most of these people are not like the so-called Bishop Williamson who denies the value of the second vatican council and the holocaust. I think most of the people who follow the SSPX are simply people who long for a sense of mystery in liturgy and who are tired of having an experience on Sunday that is very much like their experience of daily life. They are looking to TRANSCEND daily life for an experience that brings them into a mysterious connection with the divine.

So no, “anonymous” (who didn’t even have the guts to write their name), I don’t hate those who use the title Orthodox. I’m actually one of the few people who actually looks at your experience and values it and doesn’t dismiss it.

I’m a Catholic. I love our Pope. I love Cardinals (see, here I am with Cardinal George). I love the church. And I hope our experiences can be less judgmental of one another and more focused on providing a window into where we all long for a connection for God.

And I also know how to write in complete sentences.

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Williamson apologizes, perhaps also dying

Scott over at about.com and Deacon Greg have the info here:

The apology is dated January 28, 2009, and the text below is from the traditionalist website Rorate Caeli:

To His Eminence Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos

Your Eminence

Amidst this tremendous media storm stirred up by imprudent remarks of mine on Swedish television, I beg of you to accept, only as is properly respectful, my sincere regrets for having caused to yourself and to the Holy Father so much unnecessary distress and problems.

For me, all that matters is the Truth Incarnate, and the interests of His one true Church, through which alone we can save our souls and give eternal glory, in our little way, to Almighty God. So I have only one comment, from the prophet Jonas, I, 12:

“Take me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.”

Please also accept, and convey to the Holy Father, my sincere personal thanks for the document signed last Wednesday and made public on Saturday. Most humbly I will offer a Mass for both of you.

Sincerely yours in Christ
+Richard Williamson

Most unexpected. My initial inclination was that this Bishop might not even reconcile when the rest of the Society does–but now perhaps he’s seeing things differently?

At the same time, he doesn’t renounce what he believes to be true about the Holocaust. He simply apologizes for making things hard on the Vatican officials. Perhaps an apology to the Jews might also be in order here? Or perhaps, something else is at play here–something that may humble all of us who have been offended by his remarks.

The London Telegraph reports that Williamson may indeed be dying of cancer and that perhaps these statements may be attributable to this illness. In other words, he may not indeed know what he is saying at times because the cancer may be effecting his brain. Given his long track record this seems unlikely, but not completely out of the question.

Rumours have surfaced that Bishop Williamson, the SSPX bishop whose Holocaust denial has caused such horror, is seriously ill with cancer. Father Z passes on a report in La Repubblica that the bishop – whose excommunication was lifted at the weekend – “has a tumour and is dying”.

Similar reports have reached me, but I haven’t wanted to print them without some sort of confirmation. Apparently Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos has asked for prayers for Williamson, whose recent statements – outrageous even by his standards – may be attributable, in part, to his illness.

Meanwhile, I address the issue in a more reflective and prayerful matter in this week’s Busted Halo Cast in the Out of the Haze segment. Check it out.

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The White Chapel of Dachau

Fr James Keenan, SJ is a moral theologian at Boston College but I simply knew him as the Jesuit who lived in our dorm, who led us on retreats and who was funny and droll at dinner. He is recuperating from Cancer these days, so I ask for prayers for him–but with the talk of the holocaust these days I have been reminded of a moving story he told me once.

He was in Germany and had to go to Dachau. It occured to him that for the people who live in Dachau it had to be embarrassing. I mean who in their right mind would want a city that was known for the concentration camps to be their home? Why would anyone freely choose to live there?

He went and visited the camps and was moved and angered by what he saw. He needed to pray, but upon finding the church nearby, he was turned away by an angry nun who had told him firmly that the church was closed and then slammed the door in his face.

As he began his walk back to his train, he caught sight in the distance of a small white chapel. He walked to that chapel and when he entered in, he found something that moved him to tears.

Above the altar was Christ in a cruciform–though he was not nailed to wood, rather he hung on barbed wires.

It seems the people of Dachau could not forget what had happened there and indeed had appropriated the horror of what happened into their need for prayer, their need to pray for an end to such madness. And it was in that prayer and in seeing the atrocities of Dachau that they met the living God, the one who suffers with his creation.

May their lesson and their prayer continue for all of us today.

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Upcoming Speaking Engagements

I’m hitting the road in a big way this month:

1) 2/26: Archdiocese of Louisville- I’m doing an in-service day for diocesan employees.

2) 2/27-3/2 – Los Angeles Religious Education Congress – I’m simply attending but come on by the Paulist Press booth and maybe you’ll find me.

3) March 8 – Diocese of Richmond – A retreat day for the Young Adult Ministry at the Diocese of Richmond and the legendary Sr. Diane Guy.

4) March 12 – Diocese of Youngstown – An inservice day on technology.

5) March 29 – Archdiocese of Detroit – I’m the keynote speaker at a retreat day for young adults.


NCCL/NACAMP in Houston

National Ministry Summitt in Orlando

And the Archdiocese of Toronto: Details to follow.