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PASTOR'S COMMENTS from weekly parish bulletin - 2014 (2013) (2012) (2011):
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 email@example.com.
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.