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PASTOR'S COMMENTS from weekly parish bulletin - 2014 (2013) (2012) (2011):
September 14, 2014
GETTING REAL Recently the movie "Calvary" was playing in Minneapolis and I saw it with 3 other people (in the entire theater). OK, its not going to be in contention for an Oscar. It is the story of an Irish priest. The scenery is spectacular, filmed on the rugged west coast of Ireland. There are real characters portrayed and some humor. But it is a bleak film about the state of the contemporary church after the revelations of priestly sexual abuse and the maltreatment of teenage unwed mothers in church institutions. The title says it all. And right at the crosshairs is Father James, a vanishing breed of pastoral priests. As it turns out, he is a married priest. Well, his wife died and then he entered the seminary. But his marriage seems to be a very active presence in his life if in the background. James's adult daughter comes back for a needed visit and notes the absence of a photo of her mother in her father's bedroom. He simply answers that he needs no photo for his daily awareness of her presence.
The movie also involves a murder but I was more interested in the Irish context of a receding church. I then read the following column, "Getting real about vocations," by Father Brendan Hoban, an Irish priest heavily involved in church reform.
This September 13 students entered Maynooth to study for the diocesan priesthood. Last year there were 20. And for more than a decade the figure has hovered within that radius. In my first year in Maynooth there were 84 of us; and the year before there were over 100. And around that time the yearly figure hovered between those two extremes.
We know now that there’s a huge crisis in vocations. We know now what things will be like in the future. And, for some parishes, that future has already arrived: fewer and older priests, fewer Masses, cut-backs on essential pastoral services.
And when priests go on holidays or become suddenly ill, the emerging limited schedule of services is immediately cut-back, yet again. We¹re now beginning to see the future of the Irish Church and it looks far from bright. There’s now no denying the problem. It’s just a question of doing the maths.
Arguably the biggest difficulty we have is denying the reality of what’s happening. This particular emperor is fully clothed, thank you very much. Even Pope Emeritus Benedict recently said that things had improved in the Irish Church. I wonder who’s bringing him the wrong news? And for what purpose?
The second difficulty is deciding on what to do with this train careering [sic] down the track that’s going to devastate the Irish Catholic Church within the next two decades, wiping out parishes that have sustained themselves for centuries.
When the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) at a meeting in June asked the Irish bishops what was Plan B, they were told that there was no Plan B, just Plan A revisited. Plan A is praying for vocations and encouraging men, young and sometimes not so young, into a celibate priesthood. Plan B is doing the same.
We (ACP) suggested to the bishops that all the evidence was that Plan A had failed. And that therefore Plan B would follow the same trajectory. Alternatively we suggested that married men of proven worth (viri probati) could be ordained; that priests who had left the ministry to marry could be invited back; and that women could be ordained deacons. The bishops told us that our proposals were ‘not feasible’.
Part of the problem is that a number of myths have emerged in recent years to muddy the waters and to undermine the need to re-image Catholic priesthood in our changing times.
One is that there are plenty of male, celibate vocations out there if we could only find them. All we have to do is appoint a full-time vocations director, use social media, pray and spread the net and we’ll catch them.
The evidence is not supportive of this position. We’ve been trying to attract male celibate vocations for years, using every possible strategy under the sun and throwing money and resources at the problem and the numbers keep going down. Another web-site or another Twitter account or another attempt to resurrect a failed strategy simply won¹t succeed. Our hearts may want us to try again but our minds give us a different message.
Another myth is that seminaries in America are full. No, they’re not. If anything the vocations crisis is even more serious there. Yes, there are a few full seminaries but those in them are drawn from across the States and come from a very traditional, conservative constituency in the Church. The wisdom of pointing to one ‘success story’ is that the context tells a different story…
Some religious commentators have been repeating ad nauseam that the answer to the vocations’ crisis is to re-invent traditional seminaries, to turn the clock back to the 1950s, to sponsor a more traditional Catholicism. This is not so much a solution as part of the problem. This circling of the wagons and insecurely reverting to an enclosed, persecuted Church is at odds with the faith of the people and is a recipe for disaster. It¹s a Church retiring to the sidelines, ministering to a decreasing number of Amish-type ‘real’ Catholics and betraying that universal reality we describe as ‘catholic’. It’s defeatism at its very worst. It’s a recipe for withdrawal from the world — the opposite of the very spirit of the Second Vatican Council.
Another myth is that the reason for the vocations crisis is that priests do not exhibit ‘joy in their vocation’. Joy is a difficult sweet to suck on because fundamentally it’s communicated not by organising large groups and singing happy songs but by living an authentic life.
People see through the happy-clappy joy, that mixture of naivety and piosity that has a hollow centre and crumbles under pressure. After what the Irish priesthood has endured for the last few decades this kind of ‘joy’ is whistling past the graveyard because it does not incorporate the reality of a lived life. Vocations, based on a false joy, will perish on the vine. As we already know.
Having said all that, it does seem as if at last the debate on the future of the Irish Catholic priesthood is taking off. Hopefully the debate will deal with the issues rather than end up lobbing grenades over a high wall.
St Thomas Aquinas, for example, in his famous Summa, always started by presenting fairly and honestly the arguments of those who opposed him before he attempted to refute them — a long-admired Dominican tradition. It¹s a lesson we could all learn. (from the Western People newspaper)
Another founding member of ACP with Brendan Hoban is Father Tony Flannery. He has recently written a very powerful book, "A Question of Conscience," recounting his mistreatment by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when it was led by Josef Ratzinger. He is on a speaking tour in the US and will be at Cabrini, Wednesday, November 5 at 7 pm. It should be for real.
September 7, 2014
WELCOME KATERI This weekend as we have our annual outdoor Mass and parish picnic we are honored to have members of Gichitwaa Kateri Church with us. This is the fourth time we have so "concelebrated." How wonderful it is for us to come together. There are other ways that the sharing continues. This year, for example, two young people from Kateri will be participating in the Cabrini confirmation program. Thank you Joe White from Cabrini and Richard Wright from Kateri to make this happen. And thank you to all who make this weekend happen.
IT WASN'T THE RAPTURE Cynthia Allen is a conservative columnist from Texas who often has a religious focus in her writings. In a recent editorial in the St Paul Pioneer Press (August 24) on the desperate situation of the remaining 200,000 or so Christians in Iraq, she blames President Obama for their plight. She even oddly implies that Pope Francis is more bellicose than the President in this matter of saving the Christian community. Nowhere does she acknowledge that before George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, against the strong warnings of Pope John Paul II, the Christians numbered between one and a half and two million. What happened to those missing one million-plus souls? It wasn't the rapture.
ENOUGH The Archbishop continues to evade taking responsibility. Apparently the investigation he secretly conducted (against his own policy of public disclosure of such investigations) into claims he had abused a number of young men has concluded and the report has been sent to the Apostolic Nuncio. He has refused to release the results to the public, again against the policy he has imposed on all other clerics so accused of sexual abuse. And he still has not explained to us his handling of Conlin, Wenthe, Keating and Wehmeyer or his freezing the lay pension plan. It seems he just changes the subject in a very cynical way. For him the real problem is not following his rigid brand of Catholicism.
His task force on the mishandling of the clerical sexual abuse cases has submitted its findings and its proposed policy changes. The Archbishop has followed up on this by having all clergy, personnel and selected volunteers have periodic background checks every 3 years, attend safe environment training every 3 years and sign his code of conduct.
The need to strengthen our protections against sexual abuse is understandable and very necessary to win back trust lost by the failures not of those to be vetted under these strict policies but of our recent archbishops and their lieutenants. But his code of conduct goes well beyond protecting against sexual abuse.
Indeed, perversely, Nienstedt uses this code of conduct as a cover to continue his intolerant crusade for ultraorthodoxy. As part of the code of conduct all clergy and church employees must sign, he adds to this needed reform the following statements: "Church Personnel...are to refrain from any conduct which is in contradiction to Catholic doctrine or morals...Chruch Personnel will not publicly communicate messages contrary to Church teaching..."
Who decides this Catholic teaching? Leave that to the self-proclaimed "Chief Catechist" and "Defender of the Faith" aka Archbishop J. C. Nienstedt, judge, jury and chief executioner.
Nienstedt's orthodoxy focus in his addressing clerical sexual abuse is bizarre and over the top. It should be noted that Conlin, Wenthe, Keating, Wehmeyer, and Huberty are all so-called "John Paul II priests," favored by recent archbishops for their "orthodoxy," with a tendency to run around in cassocks. This preoccupation of Nienstedt’s is just like his trying to find me disabled and taken out of ministry because of my objections to his mean-spirited marriage amendment politics, and yet it appears he finds it just fine to have Wehmeyer fully function as a pastor.
As an indication of the conduct code's stupidity, as it reads it prevents parents who work for the Archdiocese and its institutions from driving alone with minors — which does not distinguish if the children are their own. Again, as it reads it prevents minors from taking from the Eucharistic cup. And it is culturally insensitive, prohibiting Catholic Indian communities from using tobacco (not just commercial tobacco) with children.
But these just reveal the lack of consultation and the shoddiness of the process. What is of utmost concern is the violation of the rights of conscience. That is spiritual abuse and it too is deadly. And he expects us to sign our rights away.
August 31, 2014
LABOR PRIEST'S LABORS As I mentioned in last week's column, the Catholic Church had great concerns over the refugees and great destruction left by the First World War which began 100 years ago this month. In 1917, the bishops of the United States agreed to form a National Catholic War Council to direct and encourage Catholic efforts in America's response to the war. As the war wound down, the War Council sought to offer the nation a plan, a blueprint, a program for postwar "social reconstruction." Father John A. Ryan became the author of that plan. He was a professor of sociology at Catholic University and was a priest of our Archdiocese. He came from South St. Paul and attended St. Thomas College and the St. Paul Seminary.
His plan won widespread publicity. Soon after the Program was released, the War Council was transformed into a permanent peacetime organization, The National Catholic Welfare Council (shortly after, changed to National Catholic Welfare Conference) and Ryan was appointed Director of the Conference's Social Action Department. That meant that he now had a national forum for his ideas and even a small staff and budget to promote them.
Ryan was a reformer. As early as 1909 he authored, "A Programme of Social Reform By Legislation," a kind of "wish list" of reform aimed at the worst abuses caused by the economic changes of the times. It included the following: a legal minimum wage, an eight-hour limit on the workday, protective legislation for women and children, protection for union picketing and boycotting, unemployment insurance, provision against accident, illness and old age, municipal housing, public ownership of utilities, public ownership of mines and forests, control of monopolies, and an income tax.
Being very ecumenical, Ryan went on to work with Frances Perkins, Roosevelt's Secretary of Labor and the first woman to be a cabinet officer, to help institute programs such as Social Security. He was known as the "Right Reverend New Dealer," one of the great "labor priests."
As we celebrate Labor Day this weekend it is good to remember these labors and the need to carry on this work for justice in the workplace.
RYAN'S WORK TO BE CONTINUED The National Catholic Welfare Conference actually has evolved into the USCCB, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bishops can be taken to task for many reasons, but in the area of labor justice they are in continuity with Msgr. Ryan's progressive views. Here in part is the USCCB statement for Labor Day 2014:
...Labor Day gives us the chance to see how work in America matches up to the lofty ideals of our Catholic tradition. This year, some Americans who have found stability and security are breathing a sigh of relief. Sporadic economic growth, a falling unemployment rate, and more consistent job creation suggest that the country may finally be healing economically after years of suffering and pain. For those men and women, and their children, this is good news.
Digging a little deeper, however, reveals enduring hardship for millions of workers and their families. The poverty rate remains high, as 46 million Americans struggle to make ends meet. The economy continues to fail in producing enough decent jobs for everyone who is able to work, despite the increasing numbers of retiring baby boomers. There are twice as many unemployed job seekers as there are available jobs, and that does not include the seven million part-time workers who want to work full-time. Millions more, especially the long-term unemployed, are discouraged and dejected.
More concerning is that our young adults have borne the brunt of this crisis of unemployment and underemployment. The unemployment rate for young adults in America, at over 13 percent, is more than double the national average (6.2 percent). For those fortunate enough to have jobs, many pay poorly. Greater numbers of debt-strapped college graduates move back in with their parents, while high school graduates and others may have less debt but very few decent job opportunities. Pope Francis has reserved some of his strongest language for speaking about young adult unemployment, calling it "evil," an "atrocity," and emblematic of the "throwaway culture."
...What would our communities, parishes, and country look like if we all recommitted to each other and the common good?...At their best, labor unions and institutions like them embody solidarity and subsidiarity while advancing the common good...the right of workers to freely associate is supported by Church teaching in order to protect workers and move them--especially younger ones, through mentoring and apprenticeships--into decent jobs with just wages.
As a nation of immigrants, we recognize that a vibrant and just economy requires the contributions of everyone. Those who come seeking decent work to support their families by and large complement, rather than displace, American workers. But we need to fix our broken immigration system to stop the exploitation and marginalization of millions of people as well as address the development needs of other countries…
Supporting policies and institutions that create decent jobs, pay just wages, and support family formation and stability will also honor the dignity of workers. Raising the minimum wage, more and better workforce training programs, and smarter regulations that minimize negative unintended consequences would be good places to start.
In doing this we follow the lead of Pope Francis in rejecting an economy of exclusion and embracing an authentic culture of encounter. Our younger generations are counting on us to leave them a world better than the one we inherited.
EARLY ADOPTER Indulge me one further Father Francis Jaeger story (see the last two bulletin columns). In addition to his interest in environmentally friendly farming, Father Jaeger was also interested in sustainable technology that had a communitarian bent. Back in the twenties, having returned from his service in the Balkans as a Red Cross officer doing relief work, he was apparently the first person in Mound to get a radio that could receive wireless broadcasts. Being a generous soul, he wanted to share this with others in the community. He would call a parishioner who was the manual switchboard operator for the Mound telephone company. It was run out of her house. This was before dial phones, and she would simply ring the other people with phones and have them listen as Father Jaeger put the phone mouthpiece near the radio. Not quite the internet of things, but still neat.
August 24, 2014
SIR FRANCIS JAEGER This month is the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War (1914-1918) in which over 15 million soldiers and civilians were killed. The Catholic Church tried to be a voice for peace and reconciliation led by Pope Pius X (not always my favorite pontiff). As early as August 2, 2014 he issued “A call to the Catholics of the whole world,” pleading, “Now that almost the whole of Europe is being swept along in the maelstrom of this frightful war whose dangers, destruction and consequences nobody can contemplate without being stricken with grief and horror, We too are full of anxiety and sorrow …”
Pius died a few weeks later on August 20 and was succeeded by Benedict XV. In his first statement to the faithful of the world, Benedict called for an end to what he knew would be “horrible butchery.” Later he created a Vatican office to work with the International Red Cross, exchanging wounded prisoners of war and interned civilians, particularly women and children. He contributed 82 million gold liras to support war-related relief programs. (The Vatican refugee office continues in operation today.)
Last week in this column I mentioned the founding pastor of Our Lady of the Lake Church in Mound, Francis Jaeger, and his connection to the beekeeping department at the University of Minnesota. He also had an interesting connection with World War I. Being from Slovenia, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he was very familiar with the tinderbox conditions of the Balkan region where the war began with the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand. He also spoke the languages of the region. In 1918 he left his parishes, St. Bonifacius where he was pastor and his mission parish of OLL, and was commissioned as a relief officer for the International Red Cross. There is a wonderful photo of him in his Red Cross uniform (without clerical collar). As his service in the Balkans ended, he was knighted by the (Orthodox) King of Serbia.
LUCKY EVER SINCE One of the young men who worked on Fr. Jaeger's farm in St. Bonifacius was Herb Pauly who later followed Jaeger to Mound. He had great stories about Fr. Jaeger. Herb was a contractor. He never finished high school but was a student in Fr. Jaeger's "night school" for the local young men. In his 90's Herb could still do complex math in his head using tricks he learned there. Fr. Jaeger also promoted gardening, and Herb for years had a large garden, giving much of the produce to the local food shelf. Herb himself lived to age 106 and lived independently, still gardening until he turned 100.
I loved to visit with Herb and once took him to see a childhood neighbor, Ray Kramer. Ray had an older brother, Alfred, who was Herb's grade school classmate. Alfred's picture was on the wall in a soldier's uniform and Herb recognized him, saying he was the only soldier from St Bonifacius to die in the war. Ray sadly replied, "Yes, he was the unlucky one." Without losing a beat, Herb responded, "But he has been lucky ever since." That faith also reflected lessons from Fr. Jaeger.
August 17, 2014
THE LATEST BUZZ There has been much discussion in the media the last few years about declining bee populations. In particular, neonicotinoid pesticides have been connected with honeybee colony collapse disorder. This is especially a concern in rural areas where such pesticides are sprayed on farm fields to increase crop production. One happy exception to the decreasing number of bee colonies is happening in urban areas. Indeed a growing number of urban rooftops now are homes to beehives.
The University of Minnesota is at the forefront of this development. Their bee squad research group manages 12 Twin City rooftop bee operations. This is part of the University's Department of Entomology (insects) which is part of the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences. Professor Marla Spivak is a nationally known authority on apiology (the study of bees).
Indeed the University has been a leader in the study of bees for over a century. One interesting Catholic connection is that the first head of the bee division at the University was a priest, Father Francis Jaeger. He was a long time pastor at Our Lady of the Lake parish in Mound. He owned a farm where he engaged local young men in learning about good farming techniques, including beekeeping. He began teaching at the University in 1913, taking the train from Mound to the "farm" campus.
His legacy there remains. In the United States, one of the best known collection of bee literature is at the University of Minnesota. The apiculture collection at the University of Minnesota began as the personal collection of Fr. Jaeger. Upon Fr. Jaeger’s retirement in 1929, the one-person division of bee culture was combined with the Department of Entomology and Economic Zoology. His collection was purchased by the department for the entomology library. Fr. Jaeger’s library was composed of approximately 600 monographs, pamphlets, bulletins, and several periodicals. There is an extensive group of books from eastern Europe (he was born in Slovenia and spoke a number of languages); publication dates range from 1634 to 1925.
Some years ago I was talking with Professor Spivak about Fr. Jaeger. Although she never met him — he died in 1941 — she holds him in high esteem. He was also a wonderful pastor. I have stories from parishioners who loved him.
ALL RIGHT In listening to talk programs on public radio I am increasingly struck by the number of commentators who constantly end their sentences with, "right?" I notice that this is often used by commentators who are college professors. Let’s hope it does not catch on with preachers, right?
August 10, 2014
FILE IT The latest controversy in the ongoing crisis over clerical sexual abuse concerns the release of the names of over 50 clerics that Archdiocesan authorities have received some type of accusation of abuse but deemed them not credible. Diocesan attorneys have sought to prevent the release of the names to protect the good name of the priests where the accusations may be false or mistaken. I have to agree with the comments in the Star Tribune online edition of an Episcopal priest, Nancy Brantingham:
"It is one thing if police investigated accusations, found they were neither substantiated nor credible and legal authorities decided not to file charges. It is another thing entirely if church authorities failed to report accusations to the proper authorities outside the church and simply decided on their own that the accusations weren't credible. The bishops have long since proven that they are either incapable of identifying which accusations are credible or just plain unwilling to give accusations by lay people against clergy any credibility."
The longstanding failure of our bishops and archdiocesan leadership to properly handle all accusations of abuse has greatly harmed the victims and their families. But it has also been a disservice to the clergy. Indeed, in some cases the accused priest was not even informed of the accusation when it came in to the diocese.
And the clergy personnel files themselves are not trustworthy. By happenstance, some years ago, I was able to see my own files. It seems that only negative reports are saved in the files. My own contained complaints over my having girls serving at Mass, not washing my hands at the offertory, skipping the Gloria when it was not sung and other such misdeeds. But I was shocked that the files were not that well protected and that numerous chancery staff had unsupervised access to them.
REFUSING TO HONOR THE POPE IS ONE THING A recent bill introduced in the House of Representatives was a resolution honoring Pope Francis "for his inspirational statements and actions" as well as his goals to “ameliorate inequality and promote solidarity."
There were 221 cosponsors but only 19 were Republicans. According to one Republican official, the few GOP members supporting the measure could be attributable to assertions that the pope is “too liberal,” noting that some Republicans believe the pope is “sounding like [President] Obama. [The pope] talks about equality — he actually used the term ‘trickle-down economics,’ which is politically charged.”
Of course, of greater concern is their lack of concern to pass immigration reform legislation and help the children caught up at the border fleeing violence and abuse.
July 27 & August 3, 2014
FAR(to)GO Mention Fargo and thoughts turn to wood chippers and bad accents; mention conventions and the mind goes to Orlando, San Diego, New York... Well, I write this from the 75th annual National Tekakwitha Conference, a gathering of 700 Catholic Indians from around the country, and we are gathering in Fargo. That means it is a serious meeting. It is also great fun gathering with such a wonderful group of people, and it includes celebrations of the Mass and a grand entry celebration where representatives of numerous tribes wear their traditional regalia. I am enjoying the event.
Because our own archdiocese's parish of Gichitwaa Kateri is in the same region as Fargo, our community has been very active in putting on the worship services and workshops. I worked with two other community members in presenting a workshop about conservation issues and traditonal Indian values. In the course of the discussion I was even able to mention how Cabrini is trying to go to more compostable practices in serving food, and people were impressed.
My part of the workshop was on official church teaching on environmental concerns. I began with Pope John XXIII's papacy, which I remember, and his very well-received encyclical letter, Pacem in Terris (Peace on the Earth), which addressed the issue of war and nuclear destruction during the cold war in the late 1950's. John had a great effect on world opinion.
But I said that today if John were to write it he would title it Pacem cum Terris, peace with the earth. We live in unprecedented times in terms of our destruction of the earth itself. In fact, Pope Francis has taken up this very concern. Just a few weeks ago he spoke of concern about the environment as "one of the greatest challenges of our time...This is our sin, exploiting the Earth...This is one of the greatest challenges of our time: to convert ourselves to a type of development that knows how to respect creation."
But with the Indian people, this is like preaching to the choir. They have traditionally had a profound awareness of our need to respect and care for "our Mother," the Earth. I quoted a Lakota man, John Hollow Horn, from South Dakota who in 1932 presciently said, "Some day the earth will weep, she will beg for her life, she will cry with tears of blood. You will make a choice. If you will help her or let her die, and when she dies, you too will die."
The Indian people share with us a profoundly pro-life vision. It is great that Francis sees this. We as a society still have far to go.
July 20, 2014
WHO WILL RID ME OF THIS TROUBLESOME PRIEST? A recent affidavit coming out of our diocesan leadership has the former Vicar General, Peter Laird, plotting with his erstwhile colleague, Jennifer Haselberg, to have the archbishop declare me disabled in order to silence my opposition to their campaign for the ill-fated marriage amendment. I had to laugh when the reporter from MPR called me about the story. This is the gang who cannot shoot straight. It harkens back to Soviet psychiatry. I do not usually use the label "disabled," but this outfit was definitely "unabled."
PROFILES IN COURAGE? In the ongoing crisis in our archdiocese, one of the main concerns that I hear is where are the priests? My usual response is that so many of the priests that were more accountable have left ministry (for conscientious reasons such as getting married). We are left with the more passive priests, indeed, passive-aggressive priests. And our vocation constraints filter out candidates who ask questions rather than merely take orders (even as they might privately grumble).
A good example of this reality is from a current National Catholic Reporter article: "'If we're looking to [church officials] for leadership, it's not happening,' said one retired priest who spoke with NCR on the condition of anonymity. He described a 'black cloud' over the archdiocese adversely affecting him and several priests with whom he's spoken." It might be anonymous, but it says it all.
WE INTERRUPT THIS CRISIS TO BRING THIS MESSAGE OF HOPE “To be in the Church is to be at home, with mama; at mama’s house,” Papa Francis during his address to the participants of Rome’s Diocesan synod, June 17, 2014.
BATTERED SPOUSE? Archbishop Nienstedt, responding to calls for him to resign, said in a National Catholic Reporter news story: "As a bishop, I made a promise to serve the Church. It is what God has called me to do, like a groom to the Church, for better or for worse. I have kept that promise since my ordination as a priest 41 years ago, and my episcopal ordination 18 years ago and I will continue to keep it." Of course marriage involves two parties and the Roman Church acknowledges at times separation and even civil divorce can be countenanced. In this theological understanding the suffering spouse needs to remain unmarried until the former partner's death. If an episcopal separation would occur, I think our archdiocese can survive without an archbishop until death allows an eventual replacement.
ACCIDENTAL ARCHBISHOP But I was also interested to see how Nienstedt attributes his being installed as our archbishop a divine command performance. This is bad theology. In fact, it brings to mind a meeting earlier this year of local south Minneapolis priests with Nienstedt. The meeting had been scheduled much earlier, but just a day before the meeting Minnesota Public Radio released the story on extra payments being made to priests who had been taken out of ministry for serious misbehavior and the toxic atmosphere at the Chancery under Nienstedt.
I began the meeting by asking him to resign, to which he replied that he was able to turn things around. None of the other priests or deacons picked up on this. After a while I then said that I considered him an accidental bishop and that had Francis been pope when our episcopal vacancy occurred, he never would have been selected. His Vatican connections under JP II and B XVI were his ticket to Minnesota. There was a gasp and another brother priest blurted out, "How can you say that?" I responded I could say it because it was true. After a bit of discomfort, no one followed up. When Nienstedt left, the same priest turned to me and, with a straight face, said that Nienstedt had to resign.
July 13, 2014
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN? AARP just released a new state scorecard on the best places to grow old. Minnesota comes out as the best, followed by Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska, Hawaii, Vermont, Wisconsin, California and Maine. The scorecard was based on numerous measures that fall into one of five categories: affordability and access to care; personal choice; quality of life and quality of care; the effectiveness of transitioning among various levels of care; and support for family caregivers.
Even more impressive was the United Health Foundation's report on American seniors health rankings. It's a ranking of states using 34 measurements from 12 data sources. Minnesota took top honors for the second year in a row in the latest ranking (Mississippi ranked last). What's so great about Minnesota? The state ranked high for everything from the rate of annual dental visits (dental care is important for senior health), volunteerism (keeps people active and mentally alert), a high percentage of quality nursing home beds, and a low percentage of food insecurity. Prescription drug coverage also is high, and the state ranked in the top five for a low rate of hospitalizations for hip fractures and a high percentage of able-bodied seniors. Minnesota's high rate of health insurance coverage is most significant. The Catholic bishops, mostly older men, should think about this; it’s a respect life issue.
HE IS CALLED OUR PRESIDENT It is necessary for Archbishop Nienstedt to come forward and explain his actions: allowing a priest who impregnated one of his employees, breaking up her marriage, to head the Archdiocese's Marriage Tribunal; going against the advice of the Archdiocese's chief finance officer and freezing the lay pension plan, breaking promises made to our employees; appointing priests like Curtis Wehmeyer as a pastor knowing of his past misbehaviors and then not informing the parish of his background; most recently, not informing the public and stepping down from public ministry while an investigation has been conducted on accusations about his own misbehavior with subordinates, even though he has insisted on this for other clergy. I cannot understand any of these actions. They seem inexcusable to me. The archbishop owes us some explanation.
But rather than dealing with things that he is responsible for, Nienstedt rejects the example of Pope Francis and continues the culture wars. His latest foray was in last week's Catholic Spirit where he continued his criticism of the Affordable Care Act and its accommodation for religiously based organizations. Certainly people can have their criticisms of various aspects of ACA. (I for one am in favor of true universal care. I have lived in the UK and really appreciated their National Health Service.) But in his ongoing objection to it, Nienstedt cannot bring himself to say "President Obama" but rather can only refer to "the current federal executive." Welcome to the tea party.
People can have their opinions about the president, but he appears to be a good father, husband and very conscientious in his onerous duties as president. He honors the office he holds. The same cannot readily be said about John Clayton Nienstedt.
A VOICE FROM THE PAST Last week there was a message on my Cabrini voice mail to return a phone call. I noticed the call-back number was from northwest Wisconsin. As it turns out, the call came from an old friend of my parents. Although I have not had contact with him for over 50 years, I remembered him and his family. He is now 93 and sounded like he was doing well. He wanted to call me after seeing my name in the media connected with my concerns over our archbishop. He wanted me to know that, as a Catholic, he fully supports me. God bless him.
July 6, 2014
COME TO ME Someone I do not know kindly emailed me a suggestion for future preaching:
"Dear Fr. Mike, I recently came across an online video which really made me think, and I wondered why I have never really heard a homily on this subject. Jesus speaks about a narrow path to heaven and I think it would be great to hear a homily on this, regularly exploring it more in depth. Below is the powerful video I am referring to which made me ponder it! Thanks and God bless, Gabriel
The Narrow Path video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ca_iNgjpsM"
The video is a rather gory if amateurish depiction of one of Sister Faustina's visions. Mary Faustina Kowalska was a sickly nun who lived in the early decades of the 20th century. She was uneducated but known for her visions, especially of hell. Pope John XXIII was very skeptical of her private revelations, but JP II canonized this nun, who happened to be Polish. It certainly is hard to reconcile her vision of the narrow road with the basic scripture revelation of Genesis that God created all and called it good.
And it is very ironic that this coming Sunday the Gospel reading from Matthew has Jesus saying: “Come to me all who labor and are heavy burdened…” That does not sound too narrow to me. As I responded to my correspondent, Sister Faustina's visions are considered private revelation and it is not necessary to follow her views. In fact, they could lead one down the wrong path.
And what an appropriate Gospel for this 4th of July weekend. Lady Liberty in the New York Harbor shares the vision of Jesus. Maybe today we as a nation can be less narrow in who we welcome.
STAR CHAMBER AT WORK A favorite bible verse states: "Justice, justice you shall pursue!" (Deuteronomy 16:20). Various rabbis have commented on this central teaching of Judaism. In particular, it is questioned why the word "justice" is repeated. One commentary that I like says that it means we must seek justice but seek it justly. I have a concern about that in our Archdiocese.
Archbishop Nienstedt and his predecessor, Harry Flynn, made grievous decisions that went against established procedures for providing safe environments (procedures they themselves put in place). One of the most alarming decisions was by Nienstedt in assigning Curtis Wehmeyer as pastor of a parish. He knew of past serious misbehavior by Wehmeyer and yet assigned him as a pastor and compounded the misjudgment by not notifying the parish staff and leadership about this history. Wehmeyer went on to abuse two young boys in the parish.
This undermined all the good work of parish staffs and volunteers in providing safe environments. To show he was making amends, Nienstedt hired an outside firm to go through all clergy files. Based on that, certain files were flagged and referred to a new group, the Clergy Review Board, formed by Nienstedt. And just from what was in the files, some clergy have been removed from ministry without due process. Indeed, no outreach was made to the flagged clergy to answer any of the Board's concerns. They were summarily told to take a "voluntary" leave of absence or they would be simply removed. These clergy were unable to meet with their accusers on the Clergy Review Board. Their names have been released to the media. They have just been informed that an outside investigator will be reinvestigating the cases. It is a nasty business. And all to provide cover for the failings of the Archbishop.
Here is part of a letter from Nienstedt released to the media concerning these clergy: "When the original allegation was received by the Archdiocese, an investigation concluded that the claim could not be substantiated, and the matter was closed. However, as part of the Archdiocese’s ongoing review of clergy files, the Clergy Review Board has now requested the investigation be reopened, in order to make sure that some key facts are clarified...The temporary removal of xxxxxx xxxxxxx from ministry is not a presumption of guilt but is a statement to victims that we take every accusation seriously." We have here the basis for a very large defamation suit.
And now we hear of a six-month-long secret investigation of allegations against Archbishop Nienstedt himself. If he followed his own policies, he would have instead made the investigation public and taken a "voluntary" leave from ministry. What a tangled web we weave.
June 29, 2014
PETER, PAUL AND FRANCIS This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul which commemorates the martyrdom in Rome of the apostles Peter and Paul and is observed on June 29. The feast is of ancient origin, unlike more recent liturgical celebrations such as the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In fact, when this Solemnity falls on a Sunday, it trumps the regular celebration of the Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Of course, it is a feast which connects with the successor of these apostles, the Bishop of Rome, and this is an appropriate opportunity to pray for Francis. Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis spoke at this year's Catholic Theology Society meeting. In response to one question, Tobin said that some U.S. bishops are finding Pope Francis' leadership style difficult to understand. "What I've seen is how disruptive Pope Francis has been within the hierarchy of the United States. I was talking to a couple of brother bishops a while back and they were saying that bishops and priests were very discouraged by Pope Francis because he was challenging them. I think there was a particular image, perhaps, of what it means to be a pastoral leader in this country, and Francis is disturbing it. I think there is some resistance to a different way of doing the Gospel mission of the church." The archbishop paused before continuing with a smile: "So, pray for Francis' health." (from NCR online)
HE JUST DOESN'T GET IT Writing last week in The Catholic Spirit, the paper he publishes, Archbishop Nienstedt was promoting devotion to the relatively recent feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He connected the Sacred Heart with the sanctification of priests and wrote: "For the priests of this Archdiocese, the past eight months have been difficult to the point of being painful. The appalling behavior of a few has reflected badly on the many. Every headline seems to tarnish the reputation of the priesthood."
Priests, like people in general, fail and can be guilty of appalling behavior. That is obvious and should not be unexpected. But what has been most painful and destructive to the church's reputation has been the appalling behavior of those having leadership in the church. It is beyond belief that the Archbishop still fails to acknowledge his own responsibility for our present crisis. And as Nixon learned, it is not the initial crime but the cover-up which gets you into trouble.
AN UNACKNOWLEDGED GIFT Last week, the two major dailies had positive stories about a $10 million gift from two St. Paul philanthropists toward the cost of a student activities center at St. Agnes School in Frogtown. It was a nice story and a break from reporting on depositions from local Catholic leaders. Mayor Chris Coleman applauded the news.
What has not been reported is the support our Archdiocesan employees have given to the school and their faculty in particular. Back in 1970 when the lay pension plan was begun, all parishes, including their schools, were to participate. That is how the plan was written. A few ornery pastors held out but they soon capitulated, except for Msgr. Richard Schuler, the new pastor at St Agnes. He went so far as to set up a separate 403(b)(7) plan for his teachers and used this as an excuse to reject the diocesan pension plan.
Well, a 403 plan is considered a supplement to a true pension and so did not qualify as a substitute. Over the years a succession of archbishops tried to prevail upon the monsignor to pay into the pension. A "deadlock" of lawyers was involved, including the former chairman of Northwest Airlines, the recently deceased Steven Rothmeier. He was as tenacious towards the Archdiocese as he was with his own airline employees. In addition, the liturgically conservative Schuler had great contacts in Rome and was able to hold off into the 2000's. By the time of Schuler's death in 2007, the amount owed the pension plan was beyond what could be repaid by the then poor school.
Meanwhile, some of those teaching at St. Agnes in 1970 were turning 65 and were legally considered pension plan participants even though nothing had been paid in for them. In effect, the lay employees of the Archdiocese underwrote this "gift" as the Aggie retirees began to receive their monthly pensions. It is a gift that has never been acknowledged.
With a new pastor, the decision was made to remove the St. Agnes teachers from the plan, although they would be grandfathered in the plan up to that date. But no further benefits would be earned by current or new Aggie employees. And the Archdiocese paid in nothing to make up for the unpaid funds. The other lay pension plan participants subsidized this benefit. As it turned out, the Archdiocesan lay pension itself was frozen a few years later. I guess Schuler got the last laugh, but at the expense of our lay employees. It should not have been unexpected seeing how it was run.
June 22, 2014
CABRINI SILVER WEDDING ANNIVERSARY Recently it has not been unusual for Cabrini to have as few as six weddings in a year. But 50 years ago on Saturday, June 20, 1964, six weddings were celebrated on that day alone. I was talking with a fellow board member of the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota, John Oldendorf, and he told me that he and his wife Yvette were one of those six couples. And this was before the advent of wedding coordinators! John told me that what made the day even more memorable was that throughout the service there was a jackhammer going off as parish volunteers chose that day to install the flagpole. For better or worse started early for those marriages.
FIDUCIARY MALFEASANCE? I was interested in the Star Tribune article last week, June 12, 2014, on the convicted child abuser, former priest Tom Adamson.
It seems that officially Adamson was generously credited with 27 years of service (1958-1985) even though for quite a few of these credited years he was out of ministry or his actual work was very limited, especially his last years spent in our Archdiocese. The article stated that his pension is $1,650 plus health care and dental insurance. Whereas, according to our pension plan, at age 65 he would be entitled to $1026 (27 years of service x $38 = monthly amount).
Of course since he was removed in his early 50's he should have had his pension reduced for receiving it earlier than age 65. Priests who leave active ministry conscientiously – for example, to marry – need to wait until age 65 to get any benefit from the pension and do not get the health and dental insurance. A good example of this is a resigned priest friend. For 25 years of upstanding ministry he will receive $950 per month, starting once he turns age 65, with no health care benefits and no COLA (cost-of-living adjustment), which I presume Adamson is getting. I am now 65 with 36 years of service, and under the pension, if I was able to retire now, I would receive $1,368 per month.
For Adamson to get a monthly pension of $1,650 plus benefits, as reported, is a gross abuse of the terms of the pension plan.
A complicating factor is that I believe it has been previously reported that Adamson's actual pension comes from both dioceses, St. Paul and Winona, although he was in St. Paul only for a few years and supposedly to get therapy, etc. Adamson never incardinated into (joined) the Archdiocese and so was not a participant in the pension. But as part of the settlement with Adamson, the Archdiocese had to ante up too, and it is unclear if his pension is truly coming from pension funds.
I have requested from current Archdiocesan authorities how much the Archdiocese is paying Adamson and how much of that is from our priest pension fund but have not received an answer.
Pension plans are considered trusts in civil law and there is a fiduciary responsibility on the part of the pension directors to manage it according to standard practices. The funds are for the benefit of the participants.
I guess I can understand that in these cases you need to pay off the perpetrators as you hold your nose, but we need to be transparent about what we are doing. As Nixon learned, the cover-up is the real issue.
June 15, 2014
EASY RIDER A week ago Friday was a busy day. I had a funeral at Little Earth and then a wedding here at Cabrini. It was a sad funeral and the family could not afford a burial plot so that added to the pain. The wedding went off without a hitch, or rather, with a hitch. But I could not attend the wedding reception as I had to board the MS 150 bus to Duluth where the bike ride would begin on Saturday morning. A rainy start was forecast but unlike those fair weather professional baseball players whose games are called off with rain, the ride went on.
We started in Proctor on Saturday and rode through a cold rain 75 miles mainly on the wonderful Munger State Trail to Hinckley. Sunday was a beautiful day. There were no headwinds as we rode the last 75 miles to St. Paul on the Sunrise Prairie Trail and the Hardwood Creek Trail. There were about 3,700 riders and I rode with the 200 plus riders on the Donaldson Corporation Team. They were a great group and it was quite fun. My average speed was 13 miles an hour (including numerous rest stops), not leading the pack but not bad as I approach 66 next month. I even passed a few 20 and 30 year olds although I was mainly the passee.
I dedicated the ride to a number of people I know who have had MS. The whole ride for me was a prayerful event. I was even able to offer a tobacco (not commercial tobacco but Ojibwe's red willow) prayer along the trail. And as a member of the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota I was again most impressed by the great bike trail system we enjoy here. I had to offer a prayer too for visionaries like the late Representative Jim Oberstar who had a passion for these trails and saw them as essential to healthy communities.
I want to thank all who supported me on the ride. You helped me raise $2,350. All together over 3 million dollars was raised for MS research and treatment.
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED Before George W began his excellent adventure in Iraq, Pope John Paul II said that military force must be "the very last option" and sent his personal representative, Cardinal Pio Laghi, to argue against going to war. There were some "professional Catholics" who tried to muddy the waters. Michael Novak could only come up with, "people of good will can disagree."
What you cannot disagree with is that once the dogs of war are released you have no idea of unintended consequences. And so we have this news story from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul this week: "Ninety-nine per cent' of Mosul's ancient Christian population flee after city falls to Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents."
"W" had the memorable banner "Mission Accomplished" after the initial ouster of Saddam Hussein. But what he forgot was Colin Powell's Pottery Barn rule: "If you break it you own it." And we now own a whole lot of shame.
MEANWHILE IN A PARALLEL UNIVERSE All the remaining parishes of the Archdiocese have received a large packet of information concerning the US Catholic bishops "Fortnight for Freedom." The first such fortnight was last year, and it is to be held from June 22, the feast of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, until July 4 each year as a time to focus on threats to religious liberty. I am still unaware of these threats, and the colorful, glossy inserts just assume this grave peril. Indeed, the bishops themselves seek to limit the freedom of other Americans (and they are free to do so, even if it is unwise).
This week 200 some bishops are freely meeting in New Orleans to plot their political strategy, among other things. They might consider reflecting on their own lack of credibility and the resultant empty pews. In the above first sentence I note the "remaining" parishes as over 20 parishes have been shut down. No government agency closed them. Our own local ordinary did so. I guess he is free to do so.
SUCH A BARGAIN "Cleveland Catholic Diocese ends fees for marriage annulments" was a recent Plain Dealer headline. Bishop Richard Lennon said he made the decision to "encourage greater participation in the life of the church" by Catholics in "irregular marital situations, such as divorce and remarriage." The cost of an annulment has generally been about $450. Last year there were 512 such cases in that diocese.
Church policies on separated and divorced Catholics will likely be a major focus of the synod of bishops that will convene in Rome in October addressing the theme of the family. Lennon noted that Pope Francis "has already talked about the general need for mercy in the church today, suggesting that 'Pastors should search for ways to minister to divorced and separated Catholics so that they do not feel excluded from the mercy of God.'"
I do not think that loss-leader pricing was what Francis had in mind.
June 8, 2014
PENTECOSTAL WISHES This Pentecost weekend we celebrate the diversity of the gifts of the Spirit and how they enliven the church. The gifts are at work here at Cabrini. This past week I received a thank you note from a young man, going into his junior year of high school, who visited our parish and attended a recent 5 pm Saturday Mass. He wrote, "Your parish is the most welcoming church I have ever attended, and I wish nothing but the best for all of your parishioners..."
IT’S JUST A MATTER OF SURVIVAL Seventy years ago this past Friday, June 6, 1944, the largest invasion fleet ever assembled, before or since, landed 156,000 allied troops on five beachheads in Normandy, France. That day, “D-Day,” was pivotal in defeating the Nazi war machine and is the stuff of movies. My father landed on Omaha Beach in one of the early waves that morning. He was a combat engineer and had expected to be building some temporary landing areas to unload supplies and equipment. It did not work quite as planned. My father did not like to talk about that day. He once asked me to turn the TV channel when a WW II movie came on.
I got an insight into his experience 60 some years later when at age 88 he was suffering terribly from shingles. (If you are over 55 get the shingles vaccination.) After one more futile and painful trip to a doctor, when he got back into the car it was obvious he was really hurting. Dad never complained. I never heard him curse ever. But there were tears in his eyes. I simply said, "Dad, is there anything that I can do for you?" With great dignity, eyes closed, he responded with difficulty, "Mike, it’s just a matter of survival." I think that he was back on that beach. It still breaks me up.
President Obama spoke this Spring to the graduates at West Point. He said, "Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventure - without thinking through the consequences; without building international support and legitimacy for our action, or leveling with the American people about the sacrifice required. Tough talk draws headlines, but war rarely conforms to slogans."
There are foolish things being said now about Obama and his reluctance to use the military "option." The occasionally thoughtful conservative commentator, David Brooks, even joined in that chorus:
"I don't think U.S. raw might has slipped. I think economically we're still so powerful - militarily, obviously much more powerful than anybody else on the planet. I do think the willingness to use that force has slipped. And I think it comes from the president's attitudes, which were bit on display this week (at West Point). The first, the fear of overreach - and that's an entirely legitimate fear after Iraq. But you also have to have fear of under-reach. For 70 years, American foreign policy has been based on a pretty assertive use of force to uphold international norms, to secure borders, to head off regional feuds. And I think President Obama has stepped back from that and signaled further stepping back from that (in his speech at West Point.)"
What is wrong with seeking alternatives to force and with engaging the family of nations? Obviously Mr. Brooks, the five-time deferred Dick Cheney, and their brothers in pencil punditry were not on the beach.
THE SPIRIT KNOCKING AT THE DOOR Pope Francis recently said that the door is open to allowing more married priests in the Catholic Church, in the Latin rite as well as the Eastern Catholic churches where the practice is already established.
"Celibacy is not a dogma of faith, it is a rule of life that I appreciate very much and believe to be a gift for the church," the pope said. "Not being a dogma of faith, the door is always open."
What next? Women priests?
A PATTERN OF INCOMPETENCE AND NEGLECT Denying a corporate cover-up, GM CEO Mary Barra presented the investigative findings into the scandal of a deadly safety defect in their automobiles by citing a pattern of incompetence and neglect. After another devastating deposition, this one from Harry Flynn, that may be the best that can be said about the handling of abusive priests. Flynn, who doled out special payments to misbehaving priests – denying to me that he was doing so in responding to my suspicions – should lose some of his very generous retirement perks.
June 1, 2014
RESIGNATION Too often long suffering, forbearance, patience, even resignation have been held up as the most essential virtues needed by members of the church "lowerarchy." Speak up, raise a question, offer an opinion and the refrain is that the church is not a democracy. Resign yourself to it. And the results of such imposed passivity have been deadly for the church.
I was therefore heartened to hear, upon her recent passing, a speech recorded by the poet, Maya Angelou, where she, quoting Plato, held up courage as the greatest virtue as it allows us to be consistent in practicing the other virtues.
We need a dose of courage now. And we need a different definition of resignation.
In the April 27 bulletin I had the following comment: "In the recently released deposition of Archbishop Nienstedt I was interested in the questioning about former Vicar General Peter Laird. He resigned last Fall after the Public Radio story on Curtis Wehmeyer, the priest convicted of child abuse a few years ago, and this came up in the deposition. Nienstedt explained that, 'To the best of my recollection, he had disagreed with me at the time that I had made Father Wehmeyer pastor of Blessed Sacrament and St. Thomas the Apostle parishes and he felt that when the MPR story came out on the 28th of September, that that reflected poorly on himself and he felt that he had to resign because of it.' It seems a very conscientious decision. It certainly could be a template for the Archbishop to follow."
And now comes the rest of the story with the release of Peter Laird's own deposition. It appears that the Archbishop left out something about his conversation with Laird. In fact, Laird at the time suggested that the Archbishop also should consider resignation as their decisions reflected poorly on both of them.
Having myself asked the Archbishop to consider resigning at two separate gatherings of priests last Fall and even publicly stating this two years ago in a letter to the editor of the Star Tribune at the time of the failed marriage amendment that Nienstedt promoted, it is significant that Peter Laird, who was then the number two person in the diocesan leadership, shared my view. Who knew? As an opposing counsel who took part in the depositions said, "In all the years I've been doing this, I've never heard of any top official suggesting that his bishop resign."
There is a serious crisis of leadership in our Archdiocese and I agree with the testimony of Peter Laird when he asked Nienstedt to offer his resignation: leaders in the archdiocese "have a responsibility to be accountable for decisions whenever they take place in an organization and -- and to signal trust and that the most important thing is, is that the archdiocese doesn't have anything to hide." The time is now well past for the Archbishop to do the right thing and step down. To a well-regarded senior priest who privately met with Nienstedt and after buttering him up for his assumed accomplishments he gently suggested that now might be a good time to move on. To which the response was, "I am not a quitter." But it is not about you, Archbishop.
As a rather sad afterthought I note that the email that came from the archdiocese's Office of Communication with the notice of Laird's deposition was signed by a new "interim" director. There has to be a lot of pressure at work in the chancery. The former diocesan canon lawyer, Jennifer Haselberger, also referred to the toxic atmosphere there under the Archbishop's leadership. You can change the messenger but it is the message that needs to change.
But I am not resigned. There are pastoral bishops like Don Kettler in St. Cloud or Blase Cupich in Spokane and most especially Francis in Rome who give me encouragement. And then there are so many Catholics living out our faith the best that they can, like the writer Richard Rodriguez who in his recent autobiography wrote, "I stay in the Church because the Church is more than its ignorance; the Church gives me more than it denies me. I stay in the Church because it is mine." I guess I am resigned to that.
May 25, 2014
MEMORIAL DAY 2014 On Thursday, May 15 I was riding my bike to Cabrini along Minnehaha Parkway just east of Cedar Ave and south of Lake Hiawatha. It was a cold and overcast morning. I noticed a Minneapolis park employee very efficiently cutting the parkway grass with a large tractor mower. He was going at a fast pace and I noticed a large styrofoam cup in his path and expected to see it cut into smithereens. In fact, he got up to the cup but then he stopped and got out of the cab and picked up the litter.
That little incident underlined for me the care so many of our park employees have for our parks. It is not just a job. And there are many ways to serve and they all add to the common good.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE... In addition to the benefit of having a village involved in raising a child, it seems that one's health is also dependent on the village. On May 8 at the Dorothy Day Center Community Breakfast, the keynote speaker was Mary Brainerd who is president and CEO of HealthPartners. She talked about the factors involved in personal health with the following breakdown: health behaviors 30%, clinical care 20%. physical environment 10% and social and economic factors 40%. The latter include things like safe neighborhoods. Communities and congregations are essential to the health of the village.
CLIMATE CHANGE # 1 PRO-LIFE ISSUE The National Catholic Reporter had the above headline for its current editorial which stated that: "If there is a certain wisdom in the pro-life assertion that other rights become meaningless if the right to life is not upheld, then it is reasonable to assert that the right to life has little meaning if the earth is destroyed to the point where life becomes unsustainable."
A recent Vatican conference had this more expansive notion for being "pro-life." One of the main participants was Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga who described nature as neither separate from nor against humanity, but rather existing with humans. "No sin is more heartless than our blindness to the value of all that surrounds us and our persistence in using it at the wrong time and abusing it at all times." Even more remarkable was an interview with Archbishop Nunzio Galantino who was appointed by Pope Francis to be the executive director of the Italian Bishops' Conference. In the interview he said, "In the past we have concentrated exclusively on opposing abortion and euthanasia. This cannot be, in between there is the existence that is developing. I do not identify with the inexpressive faces of those who recite the rosary outside of clinics that practice the interruption of pregnancy, but with those young people who are opposed to this practice and fight for the quality of persons, for their right to health, to work.”
May 18, 2014
OUT OF THIS WORLD In the Episcopal Church's calendar of saints, May 23 commemorates the two astronomers, Nicolaus Copernicus and Johannes Kepler. The Copernican revolution of the 16th century put the Sun at the center of our planetary system. The Roman Catholic Copernicus and Protestant Kepler both had deeply spiritual attitudes toward the cosmos. They certainly deserve our veneration as much as papal saints.
KASPER THE FRIENDLY CARDINAL Cardinal Walter Kasper has gotten in trouble with the self-appointed Catholic watchdogs. He has been saying that Catholic practice regarding those divorced and remarried needs to change to reflect more mercy than judgment. Actually what Cardinal Kasper is saying is very traditional Catholic theology which ultimately is founded in the primacy of conscience. This is just the updated application of the Internal Forum Solution.
Church courts, such as diocesan marriage tribunals, are examples of the external forum. But there also is the internal forum, one's conscience. This is what the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes states, "Deep within his (sic) conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man's most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths."
A divorced Catholic seeking remarriage or a Catholic seeking to marry a divorced Christian and who is unable or has a good reason for not seeking an annulment to the first marriage can, after prayer and reflection, remarry (not in a sacramental ceremony) if certain conditions are met. These include obligations to the spouse and/or children of the first marriage. Later interpretations included that the couple live as brother and sister, but this is an addition by some clerics. Finally, the couple remarrying must not be a cause of scandal in the community. They could, for instance, receive Eucharist at a community where their situation is unknown.
What is new is the reality that the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful) has changed. Now most Catholics are scandalized by the harsh treatment of the divorced. Coming to grips with this would offer the possibility of returning to the Orthodox tradition of allowing non-sacramental but valid relationships where the couple can continue to receive the sacraments.
SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND FOX TV? I am often amazed when I dip (gingerly) into The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper published by our local ordinary. In last week's issue, the "Other Events" section of the paper had the following announcement: "Argument Club for Women at St. Hubert, Chanhassen ... Topic is: Parents vs. State? Who gets to raise our children?" Definitely for those who cannot get enough on Fox.
As it happens, a few days later I heard a story on Minnesota Public Radio on schools providing free breakfast for all students. Such programs significantly improve school performance, and the number of students seeing the school nurse for stomachaches has greatly declined. It is called in loco parentis and there is no arguing that it is needed.
A NECESSARY ACCOUNTING Pope Francis’s new commission to protect minors includes Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston. After its first meeting a week ago, O’Malley said, "Our concern about accountability is accountability for everyone in the Church, regardless of what their status is." But what about current leaders – like our Archbishop – who have failed this basic standard?
WHAT’S IN YOUR BURRITO? At Chipotle's annual meeting in Denver last week, shareholders did the unexpected. They reduced the company's executive compensation. Investor concern over the pay of Chipotle's bosses comes in a growing debate about the degree to which corporate excess is exacerbating societal inequality. For example, the average starting annual salary at one of Chipotle's 1,600 restaurants is about $21,000. Earning that wage, a Chipotle employee would have to work more than a thousand years to equal one year of the CEO’s current pay. To mix metaphors, now the pie can be divided more equitably.
May 11, 2014
ON TARGET This past week the CEO of the Target Corporation was forced to step down due to the massive security breach on his job. He also was removed from the corporate board. The losses suffered under his watch were primarily financial but also to the company's reputation. Certainly customers have been inconvenienced but no one was abused. The removal is a sign of an organization taking failings seriously, showing contrition and making a firm purpose of amendment. One commentator said, "Any time you see this kind of security breach you see change at the top."
I wish the same could be said here in the Archdiocese of Lake Wobegon.
WOMEN RULE TOO The day after Paul Lakeland spoke at Cabrini a week ago I was able to take him to his talk at the St. Cloud Newman Center. We were able to make the mandatory trip to St. Johns and the Abbey Church. But I included a stop at St. Bens and a visit to the historic and wondrously restored Sacred Heart Chapel which serves as the place of worship for the Benedictine nuns. It is a splendid building and a favorite of mine.
Inside the church there is of course a statue of the order's founder, St. Scholastica, the sister of St. Benedict. She is always shown holding a crozier reflecting her authority as an abbess, equivalent to a bishop in her community. Paul noticed this immediately and was quite impressed. He even took a photo.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a statue is worth so many more. This very traditional depiction of Scholastica underlines the reality that women have shared governance in the church. Whether it is a question of women cardinals or women priests, church history can be a strong support for change.
As I write this, I just received an email from the Archdiocese's Vocation Office. This Sunday apparently is "World Day of Prayer for Vocations." Included was the request, "Please consider the following Prayers of the Faithful for your Sunday Masses." Typical examples are, "That young men from our parish will respond to the Church’s tremendous need for priests. We pray to the Lord... That young women from our parish will remain open to consecrating themselves to God as religious sisters. We pray to the Lord..."
Why not consider praying that church leaders open their hearts to the vocations that they currently refuse to recognize?
May 4, 2014
AND THEN THERE IS MASSIMO Last Wednesday evening Cabrini, with the help of our Education Committee, hosted theologian Paul Lakeland. He spoke on Pope Francis and the liberation of the laity. It was a very affirming talk for Cabrini folks. Paul's insights from Francis included the notion that the layperson is the default Christian, that the ordained (and I suppose lay ecclesial ministers) are "support staff" for the laity in their central apostolic mission, and that the church is a facilitator of faith and not the inspector of faith.
My take-away quote from Paul was, "If there is one word that characterizes the change with Francis it is ‘mercy,’ a word I did not hear that much during the last decades." To follow up on this message of mercy, come next Saturday after the 5 pm Mass to hear UST theologian Massimo Faggioli who is speaking on his new book, published just a week ago, John XXIII. It is a timely book with Pope John's recent canonization. The book's subtitle is The Medicine of Mercy. As Paul Lakeland said, "It's back to the future."
Copies are available at the office for the reduced price of $10. It is a delightful and worthwhile read and makes a great gift for Mother's Day.
HE SAID, HE SAID. WE SAID? We have BC/AD and more recently and appropriately, BCE/CE. Now I add, BA/AA, "before Adamson, after Adamson." Thomas Adamson was a priest of the Winona Diocese. Reportedly he was quite personable and fairly successful in parish ministry and Catholic school administration. Sadly he was a eubophile, sexually attracted to minors, and acted on these impulses. Over some years his bishop sent him off for therapy and reassigned him but he continued to offend. He was then sent up to a special program on human sexuality reassessment at the University of Minnesota's Medical School. His counselors apparently allowed him to work part time in Archdiocesan parishes.
Here is the "he said" part. The Winona bishop, Loras Waters, claimed in a court deposition that he informed our Archbishop, John Roach, of Adamson's sexual transgressions. Also deposed, Roach claimed that he was not so informed. Anyway, Adamson served in a number of parishes here and sexually abused a number of teenage males. I was on the priest personnel board at this time and was involved in assigning him. We were never told of his background and his misbehavior. Which bishop was telling the truth? It was never determined but the case started Jeff Anderson's career and it is still being litigated by him with the recent lifting of the statute of limitations for these crimes. Adamson was the game changer here in Lake Wobegon.
It was déjà vu all over again reading the recent depositions of Archbishop Nienstedt and Father Kevin McDonough. I read them carefully and with much frustration. He said, he said. For instance, on the very central issue of whether McDonough told Nienstedt not to write down any thing about abuse allegations they contradict each other. Added to the statements of former Vicar General Peter Laird and Canonical Chancellor Jennifer Hasselberger, I believe that the Archbishop is not being truthful. Anyway, he is the one ultimately in charge and needs to take responsibility.
I do not see how the Archbishop can continue in his position without adequately explaining this and other major discrepancies in his testimony, and to explain his decision making in assigning priests such as Curtis Wehmeyer. This is what I say. What will we say and do?
April 27, 2014
THE CHURCH AS FILLING STATION Avery Dulles, the late Jesuit theologian, wrote a very influential book, "Models of the Church," back in 1974 which proposed five basic approaches or "models" through which the church can be understood: institution, mystical communion, sacrament, herald, and servant. In later editions he added community of disciples. A balanced ecclesiology must incorporate each of these affirmations, in Dulles's opinion.
Now we can add another model: the church as filling station, proposed by Sean O'Malley, the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston, at the Chrism Mass that he celebrated on the Tuesday of Holy Week. Directing his homily to the gathered Boston priests, he imaginatively elaborated that:
"If someone asks what the Chrism Mass means for us, we might say that it's a time when we gather for the annual oil change and tune up. The oils are the tools we use in the ministry we share, but just as important is our own tune up as we gather as presbyterate to recommit ourselves to follow Christ and to shepherd His people."
Then again, we might not say this.
NOT SUCH A GOOD FRIDAY Abortion opponents have been holding the annual Good Friday protest outside the St. Paul Planned Parenthood offices for nearly 30 years. Archbishop Nienstedt was present again this year and told the crowd: "We do come here to judge the unconscionable greed behind the doctors, nurses and supporters of Planned Parenthood, who, for 30 pieces of silver, offer a quick fix to such women, rather than helping them find a real solution to their problems."
I do not know how effective such protests are. But regardless of the questionable tactics of using Good Friday in such a divisive way, I am very troubled by the Archbishop's incendiary and untrue words. I happen to know some of the people whom he condemns and greed is not behind their commitment to providing women with a wide range of affordable health care. These are people of good will.
Indeed, Public Radio's story on the event reported that while Planned Parenthood does provide abortions, 95 percent of its services are preventive care. Again, I know women who had nowhere else to find essential medical care such as testing for cervical cancer. Certainly the Archbishop's vocal opposition to the Affordable Care Act is not "a real solution."
Everything done at Planned Parenthood is clearly legal, which sadly may not be said about some of the Archbishop's actions. And the comparison to Judas seems simply slanderous to many. There are more constructive ways to show a concern for the unborn and women facing difficult choices during pregnancy.
WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND In the recently released depositon of Archbishop Nienstedt I was interested in the questioning about former Vicar General Peter Laird. He resigned last Fall after the Public Radio story on Curtis Wehmeyer, the priest convicted of child abuse a few years ago, and this came up in the deposition. Nienstedt explained that, "To the best of my recollection, he had disagreed with me at the time that I had made Father Wehmeyer pastor of Blessed Sacrament and St. Thomas the Apostle parishes and he felt that when the MPR story came out on the 28th of September, that that reflected poorly on himself and he felt that he had to resign because of it." It seems a very conscientious decision. It certainly could be a template for the Archbishop to follow.
ROADS LEADING TO ROME As I write this we are in the midst of another crisis precipitated by the actions or lack of them by our Archbishop. You would expect that the Archbishop would be here dealing with the serious questions surrounding his leadership. But he is in Rome again, presumably using Archdiocesan funds. He spent his formative years in Rome and his connections there are the basis for his appointment to our Archdiocese. He seems to be quite at home there, unlike here. Proverbially all roads lead to Rome. I presume that Nienstedt would be much happier staying there with Cardinal Bernard Law and his other Roman friends. It could also be the end of the road metaphorically for this sad chapter of our Archdiocese's history.
April 20, 2014
HAPPY EASTER! Although I write this as the snow is coming down, Easter is a few days away. With the rest of the staff, I hope that this Easter will be an occasion of great joy and happiness for all the members of our parish community and those who join us this weekend. We pray that the tremendous meaning of the Easter celebration will give new meaning and purpose to our lives.
We extend a very special welcome to those who have been baptized, received into the Church, confirmed and welcomed to the Eucharistic table this Easter!
Having celebrated Lent and Holy week as well, a special word of thanks must go out to all who have made this a special time. This includes all who generously give their time and talent to make our liturgies especially graceful and grace-filled. Many help to prepare the church and assist in ministry. Thanks to those who help with environments, our worship committee, the musicians, and so many others. I have to especially thank staff members Chris Kosowski and Mary Lou Sweet.
This weekend, we gather to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We sing wonderful music that speaks of our praise, adoration and joy! But in reality, every Sunday in the Christian Church is an Easter Sunday, because we remember Christ’s resurrection each week. I thank you for your generous stewardship. You make it possible to share the Easter message every day. And thank you for all the outreach you do. These are also signs of new life.
LAND OF LAKES WELCOMES LAKELAND Theologian Paul Lakeland, who is the director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University in Connecticut, will be presenting a talk on the role of the laity in the church here at Cabrini on Wednesday, April 30, at 7 pm. Copies of his newest book, A Council that will Never End, will be available.
AND STILL MO TO COME UST theologian Massimo Faggioli will be giving a presentation based on his newly released book, John XXIII: The Medicine of Mercy, after the 5 pm Mass on Saturday, May 10. His book is delightful and Massimo is even more so.
BIKER PRIEST RESURRECTED The bike is out and I am in deep training for the MS 150 bike ride on the weekend of June 8-9. The MS Society is holding the MS 150 bike ride to raise funds for research and treatment of multiple sclerosis. The trip is about 160 miles, from Duluth to St Paul. I would appreciate your support if you are so inclined. Checks can be made out to the "MS Society" and left at the church office or put in the collection basket marked for Mike's ride. You can also donate online. Here is the link to my MS ride page: http://main.nationalmssociety.org/goto/MikeTegeder2014
STRUCTURAL DEFICIENCIES ONLY? Late last year, after the disclosure of terrible decisions made by the Archbishop and his immediate predecessor regarding priests who violated children, minors and vulnerable adults, Nienstedt appointed a Task Force on Safe Environments and Ministerial Standards. The group just released its report.
I was struck by the lack of wide consultation, especially that no victims were interviewed. And regarding the most egregious case of Curtis Wehmeyer, the report pointed to "structural deficiencies" in the 20-plus- year-old Archdiocese's safe environment (VIRTUS) program. The Task Force seems to reluctantly acknowledge that the great efforts of our parish staffs and volunteers have ensured that our parishes are safe for all: "While there is evidence” (what a limited acknowledgement of the conscientious efforts of our staff and volunteers) “that the VIRTUS training was successful in that it triggered reports by clergy and laypeople of what they viewed as ‘red flag behavior’ by Wehmeyer, unfortunately those reports were not handled well by Archdiocesan officials..."
Hello? This is not a structural deficiency but malfeasance on the part of the Archbishop and his immediate advisors. In any other organization this would be grounds for immediate dismissal, which is still the course necessary for healing and moving forward. This is actually part of the Easter message of death and resurrection.
The most troubling part of the report is hidden in a footnote in an appendix to the report. It should be on the report's front page. One of those advisors most involved in the Wehmeyer and other recent cases was former Vicar General, Father Peter Laird. He was present in the Archbishop's deliberations about these disturbing events. The Task Force asked to speak with him but was informed by the "Archdiocese" (who is this "Archdiocese"?) that they had no way to contact them. The Task Force then found out (but surprisingly did not follow up) that Laird had actually earlier sent a letter to Nienstedt requesting to speak to the Task Force and even provided his cell phone number. In fact, Laird indicated that he could be contacted through his Archdiocesan email account. Unbelievable is the appropriate word.
April 13, 2014
BEST PLACE TO WORSHIP? The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was recently named "best place to worship" in a poll published by the Duluth Reader. In the "Best of the Northland 2013" article, Ian Kimmer of the Friends of the BWCAW elaborated:
"It's a sacred space in this world that is incredibly rare versus all of the cities, traffic and lights. The experience is impossible to quantify in value because it is a spiritual experience. No one goes in and then comes back out unchanged."
I would not disagree, having had some deeply spiritual experiences in this special place. But as we enter the week we call Holy, Cabrini is not a bad place to be, and we don't have to worry about snow melt and unsafe ice. Please join us these special days. Unlike the BWCAW, no reservations necessary.
MS 150 BIKE RIDE SPONSORS NEEDED On the weekend of June 7-8 the MS Society is holding the MS 150 bike ride to raise funds for the MS Society. The funds raised go to research and to support those suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. I again plan to be on the ride.
This year I am dedicating my ride to a woman I have known for about 14 years. She came down with MS at age 21 but was able to live a full life into her 70's. Judy even adopted two children. I met her when she moved into a Bloomington group home. She took Metro Mobility to Sunday mass, which greatly impressed me. She was an inspiration to those who knew her.
I would appreciate your support, if you are so inclined. Checks can be made out to the "MS Society"
(please do not make checks out to Cabrini) and left at the church office or put in the collection basket marked for "Mike's ride." You can also donate online. Here is the link to my MS ride page:
April 6, 2014
NOT A MITERED BIRDBRAIN Andrew Greeley, priest, sociologist, novelist, blessed be his name, died a year ago in May. He had the data to support his description of our nation's Roman Catholic bishops as "morally, intellectually and religiously bankrupt," and memorably referred to them as "mitered birdbrains." As for myself, this chronic malcontent (see last week's column) would probably not use such language, but then again I am not a sociologist. But blessed Andrew's analysis sadly rings true in my experience.
Therefore I am always appreciative of contrary indications, and one recently came out of San Bernardino. According to a March 18 Catholic News Service article, the bishop there, Gerald Barnes, urged Catholics in his diocese to comply with federal law and sign up for health insurance if they have not already done so.
MAXIMUM WAGE The discussion going on at the state capitol on raising and indexing the minimum wage is most important but there is another discussion that needs to occur, a maximum wage. I just read that a major U.S. bank president earns about $9,500 an hour. That is 1000 times more than the proposed increased minimum wage of $9.50 (for companies with over $500,000 annual gross sales and only going fully into effect by 2016). The first two hours that the banker clocks would about equal what the person earning the proposed minimum wage would be paid for a full year.
In the recent past, such grievous disparities were balanced out by progressive taxation. Under the Republican president Eisenhower, the top tax rate on income was 92% on income over $400,000. Even under Reagan the top rate was 70% on income over $215,000. Today that minimum wage earner almost certainly has a higher overall tax rate than the banker.
And the top executive positions have all kinds of other perks, including fictional credited years of service, etc., to "earn" unbelievable retirement packages. One executive I recently read about even gets $25,000 to cover his annual accounting costs.
After I had written the above, I heard an interesting interview on American Public Radio's Marketplace last week (March 25) with Nancy Koehn of the Harvard Business School:
...the overall inflation, if you will, the overall bar being raised higher and higher and higher in corporate America for the very, very senior levels of compensation, and there is no news in that, but what is really interesting is new research coming out that makes a very strong, data driven, evidence rich argument that the very wealthiest Americans are largely corporate driven and they are being rewarded for work that is very, very hard at the corporate level to be attributed solely to one person.
So if this reality, this huge and growing gap between top corporate officers and their pay and everyone else in the river is really a big driver in wealth and income inequality and all the reverb in that, and that is interesting and that is important.
Jesus kept it simple: "The laborer is worth his/her hire." Anyone who works should have a living wage. And no one should use their position (along with their self-selected corporate compensation committees) to line their pockets. "What will become of all this piled up wealth?"
March 30, 2014
PARANOIA RIDES AGAIN I love feedback and sometimes there is a viewpoint so unique that it must be shared:
Father Mike: One of the reasons I read your pastor's comments is two-fold: 1. It is always advantageous to understand your enemy and make no mistake, I consider you, your NWM buddies, and all the other evil doers that have poisoned this Archdiocese my enemy. 2. I laugh as you try to demonstrate your comprehensive vocabulary. I remember "discordant" was a word you spoke frequently from the pulpit at St. Eds. I remember Father Welzbacher, I think, once referred to you as a chronic malcontent. I never realized how insightful that description of you might be. You radical leftists control the White House and the Governor's Mansion. You control 3 of the 4 respective legislative chambers. But your ilk do not control the chancery. Therefore you have to perpetuate your persecution of a fine decent man you [sic] has never done any harm to you. His only crime is he does not share your political persuasion. At the Men's Conference at St. Thomas, Archbishop Nienstedt was welcomed to a full minute standing ovation from over 1300 men and boys. I have no doubt from observing this first hand that you will be defeated. You may relish a few temporary victories. But the Archbishop stands for truth. Truth will win out every time. Regards
It was served up nicely and in this season of Spring training I had to take a swing:
You give me too much credit for the state of the Archdiocese. You might look up news stories about fathers Wenthe, Wehmeyer, Keating, and Conlin, all who happen to be theological conservatives, and Nienstedt's judgments regarding them. It might choke your laughter a bit. (Thankfully as observed I have nothing to do with the chancery.)
By the way, it seems like you and that exemplar of marital virtue, Rush Limbaugh, have similar perspectives so I am surprised that you left out the Vatican under Papa Francesco (is he NWM whatever that is?). I look forward to the Pope's meeting our President and even closer ties on the essentials.
But thank you for reading my comments. I hope that they may continue to amuse you if nothing else. And let us continue to love our enemies.
A full minute? Wow!
And whenever I hear someone using the "truth" as a trump I am reminded of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: "Frantic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith, but in doubt. It is when we are unsure that we are doubly sure." Without a doubt.
March 23, 2014
SEE YOU SATURDAY NIGHT Next Saturday, March 29, after the 5 pm Mass please join us in Garvey Hall for a Minnesota original, Indian Tacos. Parishioners from Gichitwaa Kateri church will be here to serve us. All funds raised will help community members attend the National Tekakwitha Conference for Catholic Indians this summer in Fargo.
OPEN EARS, OPEN ARMS As a clergy person I start the typical day reading the obituaries. It is almost a job requirement. And I am quite often edified by what I find. Just this past week I read a most interesting obit for Clarence Alt. It did not hurt that the heading was, "Beer drinkers owe a nod to him." As it turns out, he was the president of one of the largest suppliers of malt to breweries. Beer must be good for you (in moderation and not for all people) as he died at age 106 which is a great story in itself. He certainly lived up to his name ("alt" means "old" in German).
But what most struck me was his children remembering him as an attentive listener. His son, John, said, "He always said he learned by listening, not by talking." Not bad for a dad. One of his managers said, "When he talked to you, you almost felt like you were the only person in the world." Not bad for a boss.
Actually this man gave me an insight into the Gospel this weekend about the Samaritan woman at the well. This woman, who was so stigmatized that she had to come to the town well at midday when no one else was there, encountered in Jesus someone who gave her attention and truly listened to her. ("He told me everything I have done.")
I think that this is part of the secret for Papa Francesco's charisma. He listens. He even sent out a questionaire to all Catholics to prepare for the upcoming synod on the family. He seems to be reaching his arms out to those who have been stigmatized due to such things as divorce.
It is wonderful to belong to a church that is willing to open its ears and to err on the side of opening its arms wider.
March 16, 2014
THE (PAPAL) MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE 50 years ago, in the glow of Camelot, while the Vatican II Council was in full gear, a book was published by a Canadian Catholic scholar, Marshal McCluhan, which gave a basic insight for the age, the medium is the message. The book, "Understanding Media: The Extensions of (sic) Man," proposed that a medium itself, not the content it carries, should be the focus. This phrase has many interpretations and applications but on the first anniversary of Papa Francesco the phrase pops to mind.
You would have to be tone deaf not to notice the change. It is quite funny to see the desperate pleadings of those princely prelates George and Dolan, that no matter what the media reports, Francis is not changing church doctrine. No, he is just changing the church; the doctrines will continue to evolve.
For the first time, and on YouTube, I watched a papal audience with Francis wheeled through the now usual crowd of 50,000 plus. The guy exudes happiness and it was contagious. Overall, not a bad rookie year.
SOLUTION AT HAND To be fair, while most emails I get are in agreement, there is the occasional discordant note such as this missive:
I am writing to comment on the "Pastors comments", which highly offend me as a Catholic. He is always harping on homosexual marriage. This week he says ordained ministers meaning "him", cannot be married in the Catholic Church. Father, go get married to your boyfriend or girlfriend, just get out of the Church. There are many hundreds of places where you can minister and be married. You knew this going into your vocation, get over it. You scandalize the Church by your constant complaining that homosexual marriage is not recognized. God forbid that it would come to fruition.
A simple solution might be not to read the offending pastor's comments.
CAN I HITCH A RIDE? A young man of my acquaintance just out of incarceration is in need of wheels. No, not a car. He is looking for a 10-speed bike in working or near-working condition. If you have such a vehicle available, please let me know. It will greatly aid him getting back into circulation.
MARCH 29, A DAY TO SAVOR After the 5 pm mass on Saturday, March 29, members of the Kateri community will be here to serve Indian Tacos. I am trying to get them to include prairie dogs too. Come and see (and enjoy).
March 9, 2014
THE AFTER-MATH At some point, John Clayton Nienstedt will no longer be our local ordinary. No matter how soon that happens, the damage will remain. We are only too well aware of his terrible decisions in handling sexual abuse cases and his inept political involvement, and repercussions from these will long remain. But one thing that was said about him as he ended up in the Archdiocese was that he was a good administrator and he would correct the numerous administrative failures of his predecessor, Harry Flynn.
The January 23 story on Minnesota Public Radio puts that to rest:
The 66-year-old archbishop rarely interacted or spoke with employees. He even requested that staff not approach him. "I remember being in a staff meeting at one point where the archbishop told people, ‘Don't talk to me,'" (former chancellor Jennifer) Haselberger recalled. "What he said is don't. If you see me in the halls don't stop me and ask a question about something you're working on. If you do that, I will say whatever it takes to get you to end the conversation, to get you to go away," she said. The archbishop preferred to receive communication through memos instead...Nienstedt is known among staff for working late nights and weekends. His weekend hours, though, made for rough Mondays throughout the chancery, as employees read memos on the archbishop's distinctive blue paper.
Blue memo Mondays, this is right out of the Dilbert school of management.
Given less publicity but in many ways the nadir of his management was his freezing the lay pension plan. Going into the 2008-9 financial meltdown, the pension was over 100% funded. It should have been conservatively invested but instead it had 80% of its assets in stocks, a very risky allocation. With the meltdown, the fund took a 40+ percent hit and panic set in. Against the counsel of his own CFO (who told me this), Nienstedt went ahead and froze the plan. That means that no further benefits will be earned and no new employees will participate, even though, for all employees, the amount of 5% of their wages will continue to be needed to meet the unfunded liability.
It should be noted that the lay pension was modest. The average monthly pension for current retirees is $338. It was promised to employees when they were hired. Our wages were low but they would earn a modest pension. Many counted on this promise which Nienstedt broke.
It should be noted that many of our employees are single women and often work for 30 or more years in dedicated service to our parishes. With modest salaries ($40,000 would be typical for those longer employed), their social security benefits are also low. The pension would be essential.
For a lay employee earning $40,000, 5% ($2,000) was matched and put into the defined benefit pension plan. Such a plan should be properly managed (we paid significant administrative fees to outside consultants to insure this) and provide for an essential if modest pension at age 65.
Now the employees were forced into a 403-b7 defined contribution plan. And instead of 5%, they are given 2.5%. For the lay employee earning $40,000, $1,000 would be given them each year to invest on their own. Our employees are smart people but they are not professional investors and with such limited money to invest, their retirements have been compromised. They have been cheated.
Of course many private pension plans have also been transformed into defined contribution plans. But most of these have much greater contributions than 2.5% by the employer and the employees earn larger, more competitive salaries. A nationally known pension expert recently told corporate executives that 20 years from now their successors will shake their heads and ask what were they thinking to do away with defined benefit plans. It is a good case of penny-wise and pound-foolish.
The betrayal of our lay employees is but a footnote in this story of corporate irresponsibility, but here again the lack of transparency and accountability makes the archbishop's actions stand out. He seemingly remains oblivious to the harm he has caused.
VATICAN QUESTIONNAIRE UNQUESTIONED Last year Pope Francis asked all dioceses to conduct a questionnaire directed to all parishioners on questions of current family life. This was to be part of the preparation for next Fall's Synod on Marriage and the Family. Here, with other things taking up our archbishop's focus, we have heard nothing about the submissions that many of us have made.
But in an unusually blunt report to the Vatican, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida said that even most regular churchgoing Catholics in his diocese find the church's teaching on artificial contraception no longer relevant. "On the matter of artificial contraception, the responses might be characterized by saying, 'That train left the station long ago,'" he wrote in a February 7 blog about his report. "Catholics have made up their minds and the sensus fidelium [the sense of the faithful] suggests the rejection of church teaching on this subject." He even said that he sent his report on the results to the Vatican in mid-January.
Most of the 6,800 Florida respondents had serious problems with the church's pastoral approach to divorced and remarried couples and to same-sex couples. They also had issues concerning the way the church deals pastorally with young couples cohabiting before marriage, a phenomenon that has grown significantly in recent years.
In reporting on the 6,800 responses to his questionnaire, Lynch noted, "The survey responses generally reflect the 'choir,' those people who faithfully attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, if not daily. They do not represent the feelings of those who have fallen away from the practice of their faith, are angry or frustrated or feel alienated from the Church. How I wish I could have heard from them as well."
How I wish we could hear from our archbishop.
OPTIONS FOR ALL? Fourteen years ago I publicly congratulated former Lutheran minister, Larry Blake, as he was ordained as a Catholic priest for the Archdiocese. I only regretted that others – current priests, former priests, and women – had no such option. And now I must congratulate Wissam George Akiki and his wife Manal Akiki after his ordination as a priest in the Maronite Catholic Church in St. Louis last Thursday. It was the first time in nearly a century that a married Maronite priest has been ordained in the United States. (Maronites are among more than a dozen Eastern Catholic church groups in the U.S. that accept the authority of the pope but have many of their own rituals and liturgy. Eastern Catholic churches in the Middle East and Europe ordain married men. Pope Francis granted permission for Akiki to be ordained.) My regrets remain.
March 2, 2014
MIND THE GAP If you visit London and ride the tube or underground (don't call it the subway) you hear a ubiquitous message over the public address system at the stations, "mind the gap." It is a warning to not step onto the gap between the train and platform as you board. But here the phrase could also have an important message. The Gap clothing store chain just announced that they are raising their minimum base pay to $9 an hour this year and $10 next year. They said it was not a political move but a good business decision. It begins to close the gap in how workers are valued.
WE'VE BEEN FRAMED? Best-selling author, Seth Godin, has a blog which has some thoughtful reflections. A recent posting was:
"The framer asks the original question, roughs out the starting designs, provokes the new thing. The polisher finds typos, smooths out the rough edges and helps avoid the silly or expensive error. Both are important. Unpolished work is hardly worth doing. Polishing is relentlessly reinforced in school and feels safe. Framing is fraught with risk and thus avoided by many. Too often, we spend our time on a little more polish, instead of investing in the breakthrough that a framer can bring."
Let’s hope Pope Francis is a framer.
FRACK ATTACK Corporate hypocrisy has reached a new stage. Last week on MSNBC, Nation Editor-at-Large Chris Hayes profiled ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, a major proponent of hydraulic fracking, who is suing to prevent the construction of a water tower near his eighty-three-acre, $5 million horse ranch in Bartonville, Texas. The purpose of the tower? Storing water for fracking. Tillerson and his one-percent neighbors are concerned, the lawsuit states, that the fracking tower might “devalue their properties and adversely impact the rural lifestyle they sought to enjoy.” Hayes commented, “Rex Tillerson is leading the fracking revolution, just not in his backyard.”
MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE ARCHDIOCESE I get a number of emails and letters from people outside the parish. Here is one I just received from a very active Catholic woman living in a southern Minnesota town:
"Just a note to you. I just finished reading the latest article on MPR News about the abuse by Wehmeyer. I am literally sick to my stomach, and it is because of the way the Archdiocese is treating the victims and their family. I cannot begin to imagine the torment they feel and how their life has been turned upside down. I am really struggling with all of it. What reason is there to remain a Catholic?"
“It is disgusting but it is not the Archdiocese. It is the archbishop and a few other priests. They have betrayed all the good work of our staffs and volunteers in providing safe environments. I hope this will bring about the long over due reformation.”
And the Archbishop was quoted from a meeting of priests last December that the real victim was our former vicar general (who in my opinion took the fall for Nienstedt).
I do not see how the Archbishop can remain if we are to find healing.
February 23, 2014
CATHOLIC SERVICES APPEAL APPEALING? We are coming up to the Catholic Services Appeal which is the annual Archdiocesan collection that supports a variety of diocesan ministries. It used to be known as the Archbishop's Annual Appeal but that name does not work so well now. Every parish in the Archdiocese is given a goal to collect. It is now based on 8% of the parish's annual plate collection. This year's goal for Cabrini is $20,969. But it is only a goal and depends on parishioner participation.
Cabrini in recent years has not been close to making our goal. Many have told me that they do not want to give money to the archbishop. Many are disgusted by his financial and other decisions. And this is true for many Catholics throughout the Archdiocese.
Diocesan officials recognize the lack of credibility. Indeed, along with the name change done a few years ago, this year the collection is handled by a newly created nonprofit that does not include the archbishop on its board. (This is a rather amazing development, to promote the fund's integrity by stressing the archbishop's removal from involvement.)
The monies that are donated go directly to the designated ministries of the Archdiocese. There are many good people working in these ministries and they do good for many, many more who benefit from these ministries. I have to admit that there are a few offices such as the Office of Marriage, Family and Life that I cannot support but it receives a smaller percentage of the funds. I also believe that when we get a new archbishop this office will be reformed.
I agree with an article in the August 18, 2012 issue of The Economist: "Of all the organizations that serve America’s poor, few do more good work than the Catholic church: its schools and hospitals provide a lifeline for millions. Yet even taking these virtues into account, the finances of the Catholic church in America are an unholy mess. The sins involved in its book-keeping are not as vivid or grotesque as those on display in the various sexual-abuse cases that have cost the American church more than $3 billion so far; but the financial mismanagement and questionable business practices would have seen widespread resignations at the top of any other public institution."
Resignations at the top are overdue here in the Archdiocese. The archbishop has resigned from what was once called the Archbishop's Annual Appeal. That is a start which I find appealing.
A PLEDGE CARD IS A TERRIBLE THING TO WASTE If you are a registered parishioner and have not opted out in previous years, you will soon receive a letter from the independent-from-the archbishop nonprofit running the Catholic Services Appeal. As a priest, I have already received and responded to mine and have even increased my usual annual pledge. (I savor and save the thank-you letter that then comes from the archbishop for my strong support for the Archdiocese. I appreciate his strong support for me and it might come in handy.)
Obviously, this is a difficult year for the Appeal. Indeed for many of us it has been difficult for many years to respond to the CSA request. I respect that. Many have told me, even sent me emails and letters, informing me that they cannot send money to the Appeal as they do not want to support the archbishop.
But I do ask you to please respond to the Appeal and send back your pledge card. Indeed if you do not you will receive follow-up phone calls from an outside phone-bank service, which is a waste of money and your time. But it is also a time for you to send a message. There are now assurances that if you make a donation, the money will get to the designated ministries. And whether you can give or not, it is a chance to include a message asking that Archbishop Nienstedt should step down. It is your church too. As the name change makes clear now, it is not the archbishop's church.
ONE OTHER THING One other area of the CSA that I have questions about is the support of seminarians. It is a scandal that we do so little for lay students who will go on to serve the church with limited income prospects but large college debt loads. And in order to keep our two seminaries full, students are recruited from more and more dioceses. In the October 5, 2011 edition of the StarTribune, Rose French wrote an article noting that if the seminarian comes from another diocese, the home diocese pays for half of the yearly cost ($25,000 of $50,000) and our Archdiocese pays the remaining $25,000. These funds come through fundraising, including the CSA. If you fill out your appeal pledge, you might also mention this as a concern over proper stewardship of these funds.
February 16, 2014
COMING OUT I am now ready to come out. I really pay no attention to professional football or even college football. If it makes sense to talk of a national religion it is probably football and I am an unbeliever. My apostasy goes back over 40 years to when I attended St Johns University but rarely attended the football games. Indeed this is one arena where I find myself in agreement with conservative commentator, George Will, who is ready to ban the game due to its gladiatorial violence. But I digress.
This past week one of the main news stories has been about a college football player, Michael Sam, with a probable professional future coming out as a gay man. He will be the first so openly identified. Although this is newsworthy, what is most amazing is his life story. He grew up in very tough circumstances with one brother murdered and two others currently in jail. In a truly powerful statement he said that as a young boy he made the choice to make his family proud of him. That was a real choice, his sexual orientation was not. And we can all be proud of him.
This weekend, the Cabrini Justice and Peace committee will offer a letter writing opportunity to promote the Safe & Supportive Schools bill in the Minnesota Legislature. I am very concerned that Jason Adkins of the Minnesota Catholic Conference who represents our bishops is publicly opposing this common-sense legislation. We too have a choice, a choice to come out in support of our LGBT students.
GOING IN There can always be a bright side. This winter's cold weather has limited my cross-country skiing a bit but it has freed up some reading time. Most recently I have enjoyed reading "Stillwater," a novel by Mankato based writer Nicole Helget. I was intrigued by the book's dedication:
"To the great state of Minnesota, to every last noble tree, fresh waterway, glittering fish, singing fowl, woodland creature, field rock, swaying prairie, March skunk, October monarch, star-spattered November night sky, head-clearing January wind, and rich black clump of soil. To all the citizen stewards, sinners, orphans, mothers and myths."
Actually the dedication is not a bad summary of the book's local color and the sentiments which many of us share. It is a great state. Definitely above average as Garrison Keillor would say. And the subzero temperatures certainly clear the mind.
February 9, 2014
CABRINI CELEBRATES EVOLUTION WEEKEND This year marks the ninth annual Evolution Weekend where 600 participating congregations address the relationship between religion and science. An ongoing goal has been to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic, and to show that religion and science are not adversaries. Rather, they look at the natural world from quite different perspectives and ask, and answer, different questions. Cabrini is the only Catholic Church participating.
The website, www.theclergyletterproject.org, has the following information about the project:
Religious people from many diverse faith traditions and locations around the world understand that evolution is quite simply sound science; and for them, it does not in any way threaten, demean, or diminish their faith in God. In fact, for many, the wonders of science often enhance and deepen their awe and gratitude towards God.
The importance of the relationship between religion and science is not just a theoretical one. When the science of evolution is mischaracterized for partisan gain, there are very real consequences for society. The theory of evolution, for example, has led to innumerable medical advances, is responsible for amazing agricultural innovations that have helped us feed the hungry, and can provide the knowledge needed to preserve endangered ecosystems. Similarly, given the centrality of evolution to the scientific enterprise, when the theory of evolution is summarily dismissed, the very nature of science is called into question and our educational system is undermined in a dangerous manner.
Similarly, when some define religion so narrowly that it is categorically opposed to evolutionary ideas, or any of the findings of science, it both demeans and diminishes religion. As members of The Clergy Letter Project have stated so often and so clearly, this narrow perspective is at odds with the broader conception of religion held by thousands upon thousands of religious leaders.
Because religion and science use different methodologies to understand the world, and because religion and science ask very different questions, there is no reason to view them in conflict. One important facet of Evolution Weekend 2014, therefore, is to explore the questions each ask and to examine the different ways of knowing embodied in each.
Through sermons, discussion groups, meaningful conversations and seminars, the leaders listed (at the website) show that religion and science are not adversaries.
Whatever way participants choose to celebrate Evolution Weekend, their activities demonstrate, as do The Clergy Letters themselves, which have now been signed by more than 13,600 members of the clergy in the United States, that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy.
I'M ON BOARD The Zenit News service from Rome had the following classified ad: "Priest retreat with Fr. Denis Robinson, OSB, onboard Royal Caribbean cruise to Honduras and Mexico, October 13-18, 2014."
So much for the Prior Lake Retreat House.
February 2, 2014
WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE? If I was to retire at age 65 (although Archbishop Nienstedt has said that without a valid health reason if a priest tries to retire before age 70 he will not give him ministerial faculties) after 35 years of ministry I would receive $1330/month under the present pension plan. There is included a COLA and a Medicare supplement which has significant value. I am not complaining; with part time work it is very livable (although the Archdiocese's CFO says the pension will be insolvent in 10 to 15 years, which is disconcerting). As I need to work after age 65 I am dependent on the archbishop's granting of ministerial faculties.
My situation contrasts with a priest who a few years ago left active ministry at age 56 (after 28 years of very constructive ministry and for the conscientious reason to be able to enter a relationship and possibly marry). When he turns 65 he will receive $1064/month with no COLA or Medicare supplement (he has since patched together a number of part time jobs to support himself).
But the real contrast is with a priest with 28 years of service who fathered a child in his 50's and, while allowed to remain a priest, is removed from active ministry and is given early retirement at age 60 with a package of $3660/month, consisting of:
1. a lifetime pension of $1900/month with a COLA and a Medicare supplement;
2. a lifetime housing allowance of $800/month;
3. $960/month in lieu of Social Security until age 67 (his normal age would be 65 so this is a 2- year bonus) when he would go on it;
4. child support for his child until the child reaches 18 or 21, depending on his/her finishing secondary school.
As Brian Lambert in MinnPost recently commented, "So in other words, being a problem priest for the archdiocese was a ticket to retirement security." God is good.
It should be noted that if this last priest had been a lay employee he would likely have been immediately fired with his pension frozen and only available at the frozen rate at age 65.
CABRINI VINDICATED One holdover from Pope Benedict's regime is the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the former Office of the Inquisition, Benedict's fellow German, Archbishop Gerhard Mueller. A hardliner, in recent statements he has ruled out any change in the barring of divorced Catholics from Communion. Of interest then are the comments of one of the eight appointed by Pope Francis to the new Council of Cardinals who act as papal advisors. The Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, in an interview with a Cologne newspaper, spoke of Mueller's statements: “He's a German, one has to say, and above all he's a German theology professor, so in his mentality there's only truth and falsehood. But I say, my brother, the world isn't like this, and you should be a little flexible when you hear other voices. That means not just listening and then saying no."
Rodriguez Maradiaga's approach is standard operating procedure at Cabrini if not the Archdiocese.
SIGN ME UP FOR THE NEW EVANGELIZATION I get the newsletter from the National Federation of Priests' Councils and it regularly publishes information from different diocesan councils. The latest has the minutes of the Louisville Council which included the following: "The first topic on the agenda of the December meeting of the Louisville Council was a discussion of priests’ efforts at proclaiming the New Evangelization...Council members related many examples...It was expressed that it is important for priests to be visible and approachable at public/secular events or non-traditional places such as cruise ships.”
January 26, 2014
BLEEDING RESPECT LIFE Last Wednesday, January 22, is a traditional day for antiabortion demonstrations. It commemorates the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v Wade decision recognizing the right to have an abortion under certain conditions. That case was decided 41 years ago in 1973. The day is marked by abortion opponents holding public rallies, this in the name of respecting life but also as a display of their political power. To show my respect for life that day I went to the Memorial Blood Bank a few blocks from Cabrini and made a donation. It was only a pint but it was hopefully life-giving and it brought my lifetime total up to 21 gallons.
PAYING FOR "OUR" MISTAKES Last Thursday, January 23, I awoke at 6 am to the melodious MPR reporter, Tom Scheck, with his latest installment on the Archdiocese's continuing leadership crisis. This time it concerned the fiscal shenanigans involving one of our unwed "fathers" and one of our JPII priests with a penchant for patrons (and gambling). Archdiocesan money "took care" of these "problems." Over the last 10 years, the news report stated, at least 11 million dollars have been spent on "taking care" of these problems.
Later in the day, the overworked Archdiocesan public relations staff (for whom I have great appreciation) put out a statement which included, "Our leaders have made some mistakes and are taking responsibility for those mistakes." To take responsibility would be to pay for these costly mistakes. So far the cost has been borne by cutting staff, closing parishes, freezing the lay pension plan, raiding investments and, sadly, using funds donated by parishioners. Starting at the top, taking responsibility should mean stepping down and allowing a new beginning.
OUR FAMILIES: ROOTED IN LOVE, ENRICHED BY DIVERSITY – A Retreat for Catholic Parents of LGBT Children, Sunday, February 23, 11:30 am-4:30 pm
Prospect Park United Methodist Church, 22 Malcolm Ave SE, Minneapolis, 55414
Are you a parent of an LGBT child who is in a place of acceptance and love? Have you ever considered that your journey could be of great help to parents who are currently struggling? We'd love to have you join us, share your story and insights. This retreat is for active and disaffected Catholic parents who are at different places on the journey.
Lunch is provided. After retreat ends, we encourage you to stay for the Dignity Mass at 5 pm, followed by a potluck supper put on by our retreat sponsors. Free will offering will be accepted at the retreat.
Retreat is co-sponsored by Fortunate Families, Dignity/Twin Cities and Call To Action Minnesota. To learn more and register, please contact Myrna Ohman: 320-223-1008 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
January 19, 2014
THE SHOEMAKER'S KIDS I have been a longtime reader/subscriber of the Jesuit weekly publication "America." I have even had an article published by it in May of 1998. It was on the problems that needed to be addressed in the Catholic Church's pension plans. I was interested to see an article in the January 14, 2014 issue of the magazine's "Current Comment" section, "Pension Pinching," on the threats to public pensions using the example of the city of Detroit.
It made some good points. Especially that employee pensions were not the cause of the city's financial problems. It struck me that 15 years after my pension article, church pension problems have only gotten worse and remain off the radar screen. Here in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, our Archbishop two years ago – without consultation and against the advice of the diocese's CFO – froze the very modest lay pension plan. And last September the new CFO announced that the priest pension plan has 10 to 15 years of solvency. And unlike most private pension plans, church plans do not have legal protections under the federal ERISA law (separation of church and state), so there are no bailouts of any sort.
I thought it ironic that a Catholic journal of current affairs could have a concern for public employees in Detroit but totally overlook the pension situation in our own church. It is good to have a concern over public pensions but too often the shoemaker's children also lack shoes. And chalk another one up to so-called religious freedom that our bishops so hypocritically cherish.
PONTIFFS Some years ago there was a controversy in Alaska over a "bridge to nowhere." What made that phrase memorable was that usually it is taken for granted that bridges go somewhere. Indeed they make vital connections. We notice when a bridge is not there. After the massive flooding in June 2012, many bridges in Northeast Minnesota were taken out. And one of those bridges was the historic swinging bridge at Jay Cooke State Park. It was missed by many of us for over a year.
As a board member of the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota, a 60-year-old nonprofit group dedicated to supporting our state parks and trails, I had a special interest in how the bridge at Jay Cooke Park would be restored.
Thankfully, at the beginning of last November, the bridge reopened. Indeed most of it needed to be replaced but the most essential part of the bridge withstood the raging waters, the stone pillars erected by the Civilian Conservation Corps workers in 1934. The CCC built those pillars with pride and the bridge has a pride of place in our state parks. It is wonderful to be able to walk across it over the St. Louis River. Once you have crossed it you will never forget the swinging sensation.
How appropriate that at the rededication ceremony the DNR allowed a group of school children to be the first to cross the restored bridge, saying they may have the chance to bring their own kids across it someday. Indeed, that is a stirring image for all of us who love and work for our state's heritage of parks and trails. We enjoy them but we also appreciate that we know that others will come after us who will have these special places too.
I think of the Parks and Trails Council as bridge builders, pontiffs if you will. PTC is making those vital connections between our natural heritage and the generations to come, connecting people and parks. One of the most important ways that we serve as bridge builders is making the case for our parks and trails at the state capitol. On Tuesday, March 4, PTC sponsors the 2014 Day on the Hill, when members and our state parks and trails friends groups can engage our state legislators. But our work goes beyond one day. We have a daily presence during the session and we are building bridges throughout the year.
If you are interested in PTC, check our website: www.parksandtrails.org.
January 12, 2014
NONETHELESS THINGS CONTINUE TO EVOLVE Adam and Eve seemingly had it made in Eden. Nothing changed as nothing needed to. It was paradise after all. But in God's providence something did happen and since then everything changed and has continued to change. Leaving the garden it is reported that Adam turned towards Eve and said, "My dear, I am beginning to see that we live in an evolving universe."
This basic insight was memorably affirmed by Pope John Paul II who said that evolution was "more than a hypothesis." Nevertheless, evolution continues to be a struggle for some. A recent Pew survey on the public's view of evolution shows that Republicans are growing more skeptical of Darwin's theory. Indeed, there has been a large drop just since 2009 in Republicans who endorse the theory, from 54 to 43%. There is a 24 point difference with Democrats. Overall, 60% of the adults surveyed agreed that “humans and other living things have evolved over time.” In contrast, 33 percent thought these life forms “existed in their present form since the beginning of time.”
Such ideas do have consequences. For instance, the Catholic bishops have been adamant in opposing the provision of contraception in the Affordable Care Act. This teaching opposing contraception goes back to a time when direct creation by God was taken for granted. But if you take evolution seriously (as apparently John Paul did) we know that the natural fertility rate per woman had to be 6 to 8 live births to produce the two surviving progeny who would then be able to reproduce. With modern public health and medicine, that survival rate has been dramatically changed. Contraception has to be seen in that evolving perspective. This is the reality of the development of doctrine that the 19th century theologian, Cardinal John Henry Newman, taught. Our moral understanding changes with our growing knowledge of the created, evolving world.
GOOD NEWS AND BAD NEWS First the good news. Pope Francis continues to issue some real zingers. In a talk to heads of religious orders he called for a change in the culture of seminaries, saying that (can I say it) they must "evolve" to keep up with the cultural times: “Problems are not solved simply by forbidding doing this or that. Dialogue as well as confrontation are needed. Formation [of future priests] is a work of art, not a police action. We must form their hearts. Otherwise we are creating little monsters. And then these little monsters mold the people of God. This really gives me goose bumps.” He went on to say, “Just think of the religious who have hearts as sour as vinegar. They are not made for the people. In the end, we must not form administrators, managers — but fathers, brothers, traveling companions.”
And in answer to Rush Limbaugh and others calling him Marxist, he responded, “The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.” And if most Christians would agree that the materialism of Karl Marx is wrong, what about the rest of his critique of capitalism? Francis continues his own criticism of trickle-down economics, “The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefiting the poor. What happens instead is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger, but nothing ever comes out for the poor.”
But there is bad news as well. Francis has done away with all clerical honors, including that of "monsignor." I thought I still might have had a chance.
January 5, 2014
A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT Consider that you are a Jehovah Witness leader and firmly believe that blood transfusions are immoral, intrinsically evil if you will. You base this on the word of God as found in the Bible and it is a core doctrine of your faith. Consider that your congregation with you as its leader sponsors a local emergency services program which the local community depends on. Your congregation provides 1% of the funding and most of the funding comes from government sources (this is similar to the funding of our own Archdiocesan Catholic Charities). The emergency program's staff members for the most part are not Jehovah Witnesses, and of those who are, the majority does not consider blood transfusions immoral at all times. They believe that there can be exceptions.
The health insurance provided to the employees did not offer blood transfusion coverage. Now the Affordable Care Act comes along and requires that all policies provide for blood transfusions. You protest claiming that your religious freedom is being violated.
This is the position of the Catholic Church in regards to contraceptive coverage in their employee health insurance plans. ACA actually exempts contraceptive coverage for religious employers like churches but not educational and health nonprofits affiliated with religious organizations which serve the general public. But to meet this concern the ACA was modified so that these nonprofits do not have to provide coverage themselves. They can fill out a form opting out of paying for contraceptives. The contracted insurance companies are then required to pay for such services. It is very hard to see how this accommodation violates the group's religious faith.
To me this showed much goodwill on the part of the ACA administrators. Unfortunately the bishops have continued to attack this with over-the-top statements about their religious freedom being violated. A number of points need to be made.
All other developed countries have for years provided comprehensive health care, including contraceptive coverage. Many of these countries have strong Catholic roots and the Church commonly sponsors schools and hospitals. Their bishops have not made contraceptive coverage an issue. Pope Francis has not said a word about this overwhelming concern of our US bishops.
It is also a historical accident that employers in the US provide health insurance. This is a contractual benefit in lieu of wages. Alternatively, the employer could just increase wages and the employees could buy their own coverage. An employer, whether a Jehovah Witness or a Catholic bishop, should not be making medical decisions for its employees.
And employees also have their right to religious freedom. The bishops’ heavy-handed tactics effectively limit the religious rights of many Catholics and non-Catholics who are making conscientious decisions based on current medical practice.
Finally, the Catholic Social Justice tradition holds health care to be a right, not a privilege. It is good that accommodations can be made for religious organizations. But no one should have veto power over this most basic right.
ELEVEN LONG YEARS LATER Back in 2003 I was serving on the Presbyteral (priests) Council for the Archdiocese. The clergy sex abuse cases had exploded in Boston in 2002 and the bishops met to do damage control that fall. Our own Archbishop Harry Flynn was chosen to lead the bishops' committee to deal with this crisis. And the bishops issued the Dallas Charter which gave strict guidelines that dioceses were to follow in cases of clergy sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.
The priest council leadership was proposing to send a letter of support to Flynn. We actually spent several meetings on the proposed letter. I saw little point to this effort and so I sent to my fellow council members the following:
"I would suggest that we drop the letter to Archbishop Harry as we can talk directly with him (at our meetings). Rather, we should address a letter to our fellow Catholics in the Archdiocese and to the larger community. It is very necessary to respond to these people. We also need to address the victims. It might be helpful to meet with members of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) and other such groups. To do this we have to have an accurate picture of the situation. How many priests have been accused, etc.?"
Not one of the council members responded to my memo and at the next meeting on January 13 no one wanted to deal with these concerns. And now 11 years later, thanks to a non-ordained whistle-blower in the Chancery, Jennifer Haselberger, an accurate picture is finally becoming clearer.
My memo also raised a number of other concerns that continue to demand attention.
Just this past Sunday, two more Archdiocesan priests were removed from their pastorates after the initial outside investigation of clergy files has begun. It is obvious that we do not have enough healthy priests to meet the needs of our diocese. At the January 2003 meeting I also referenced a recent column by a popular local Catholic writer, John Rosengren, who had written in our Archdiocesan paper about his teenage daughter being discouraged that women could not be ordained. He gently suggested possible changes to who we ordain, starting with married men. It happened that our priest meeting took place on January 13, the feast day of the fourth century bishop, St Hillary, who was married. And so I wrote:
"On this feast of Hillary, a married bishop, we should begin a discussion of reopening priesthood to married men and women. John Rosengren's recent column in the Catholic Spirit could serve as a springboard. We also need to dialogue with resigned priests. We put so much time and money into dealing with dysfunctional priests. It would benefit us to learn from priests who have made conscientious decisions with little or no support of the Archdiocese."
Sorry to say, this was also met with silence. And after this article, John Rosengren's column was dropped by the Catholic Spirit. It has not hurt his writing career.
DID I SAY INDIAN TACOS? Yes, next Saturday, January 11, after the 5 pm mass in Garvey Hall.