Posted in category "Bishops"
This spring has seen a rash of coal mining accidents and disasters. Companies are in a hurry to get coal out the ground to feed the manufacturing demand for energy.
An accident at the Wangjialing Mine in northern China killed 38 men; an explosion in the Raspadskaya mine in western Siberia killed 66, with 100 injured and 44 still missing.
On April 5, 2010 29 miners were killed at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia. The mine is owned and operated by Massey Energy Co., headquartered in Richmond, VA.
In the wake of an April 5th explosion, Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, issued a pastoral letter on May 1 on mine safety in West Virginia.
In his letter, On My Holy Mountain, the bishop noted mine disasters in West Virginia: the April 5, 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine explosion, the Monongah Mine disaster of 1907 that killed 362 people and the Sago Mine disaster of 2006 that killed 13 miners.
A common thread: lax or disregarded safety regulations in order to speed production.
“The disaster at the Upper Big Branch Mine,” the bishop stated, “raises concerns about the conditions within the coal mines across our state and the atmosphere existing in the coal industry’s corporate culture.”
“The church has an obligation to continue to remain vigilant in these areas to ensure that justice is served and human dignity protected. This is an essential part of proclaiming the Gospel of life.”
“Indeed, by virtue of human dignity, all persons have the right to a safe work environment and one in which unsafe conditions can e reported without fear of blacklisting or losing one’s job. Workers have the right to a living wage and to reasonable work hours. The church has long recognized and supported workers’ rights to organize. In the coalfields such organization has had measurable benefits in terms of safety, and we applaud all that the United Mine Workers of America have achieved.”
“We must discover why union mines have a lower fatality rate in West Virginia and appear to have a much better safety record.”
A long-time coal miner who spent the last 15 years at the Massey Energy Co. mine where 29 workers were killed in April said it was a “ticking time bomb” due to high levels of methane gas.
Stanley “Goose” Stewart, who was 300 feet into the mine when he felt a “hurricane strength” wind from the blast, was the first worker at the Upper Big Branch mine to testify publicly about conditions there.
Mr. Stewart, who has been a coal miner for more than 30 years, started keeping a notebook to document his working conditions when the ventilation system was changed last July. “With so much methane being liberated, and no air moving, it gave me the feeling of a ticking time bomb.” In July 2009 he wrote: “finding explosive levels of methane gas regularly.”
Gary Quarles, whose only son, Cary Wayne Quarles, was killed in the accident, said miners weren’t allowed to hang ventilation curtains or conduct any other safety operations if there would interfere with or delay the production of coal.”
Joe Main, the head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration told a Senate committee investigating the explosion that Massey thwarted stiffer enforcement action, such as closing down mines with a history of safety violations, by filing a series of appeals. He called on Congress to free up funds to help clear up a backlog of challenges filed by companies.
Mr. Main said Massey escaped tougher enforcement by contesting 78% of the $13.5 million in fines by MSHA in 2009. There are more than 16,000 cases pending review involving 89,000 violations.
Massey Energy CEO, Don Blankenship, denied his company tried to “game the system.” “Rather,” he said, “we are exercising our rights to due process under the system Congress has put in place.”
The issue of mine safety hits close to home with Amber Helms-Chambers and her brother, Nick Helms. Their father, Terry Helms, died in the 2006 Sago Mine explosion.
Chambers is an employee of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese. She helped design the graphics and layout for the pastoral letter, On My Holy Mountain.
“Our uncles that are in the coal mines and our friends are still in the coal mines and I have a cousin going in the coal mines so it is really important to us to work for something that I know my dad was so passionate about as well and working on it just makes me feel that I’m doing my part as a designer doing what I can to help get thoughts out there and help out,” said Chambers.
“Coal-mining laws are written in blood”…”I never understood that saying until after Sago,” Nick Helms said. “Dad would say nothing would ever change until after something bad would happen. It’s a never-ending struggle, but it needs to be a never-ending topic in our government.”
“People were saying, ‘It’s cheaper to pay the fines than to do the safety.’ I know you need to make money, but not at the expense of people’s lives.”
The bishops of Appalachia in their 1975 pastoral letter, This Land is Home to Me recognized that “the coal-based industry created many jobs and brought great progress to our country,” said Bishop Bransfield.
“They also frankly acknowledged that ‘oppression for the mountains’ and suffering for many resulted from tragedies like the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. And they warned that the temptation toward ‘maximization of profit’ can lead to a disregard for human beings and their needs and lead to ‘a new kind of powerlessness.'”
On September 8, 2001 Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy, wrote a letter to Bishop Pierre Pican of Bayeux-Lisieux, warmly applauding him for refusing to report a priest accused of sexual abuse to the civil authorities. The priest, Abbot Rene Bissey, was sentenced in 1998 to 18 years in jail for the repeated rape of a boy and sexual assaults on ten other boys. Bishop Pican received a three month suspended sentence for withholding information.
“I congratulate you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration,” Cardinal Castrillon wrote. “You have acted well and I am pleased to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and of all the other bishops in the world, preferred prison to denouncing his son and priest.”
In it, the cardinal said relations between bishops and priests were not simply professional but had “very special links of spiritual paternity.” Bishops therefore had no obligation to testify against “a direct relative,” he stated. The letter cited Vatican documents and an epistle of Saint Paul to bolster its argument about special bishop-priest links.
“To encourage brothers in this episcopate in this delicate domain this Congregation will send copies of this letter to all bishops’ conferences,” Castrillon Hoyos wrote.
Spanish newspapers reported that Cardinal Castrillon told an audience at a Catholic university in Murcia, Spain on April 16, 2010 that he had consulted with Pope John Paul II and showed him the letter. He said the pope had authorized him to send the letter to bishops worldwide.
This letter languished in relative obscurity since 2001. It was posted on the web by Golias, a French Roman Catholic lay organization based in Lyon, France. It can be seen here.
The letter caught fire when SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) caught wind of it and a planned visit to the United States by Cardinal Castrillon. He was invited to preside at a traditional Latin Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC on April 24th, honoring the fifth anniversary of the inauguration of the Holy Father. It was to be the first time in almost 50 years that the Tridentine Mass would said from the Shrine’s high altar.
The Paulus Institute had been planning the Mass for three years to honor Pope Benedict XVI, who allowed the Traditional Latin Mass to be more widely celebrated early on in his papacy. The group said it had originally asked Cardinal Castrillon to celebrate the Mass because he was a prominent voice in the movement to restore the traditional liturgy.
Paul King, president of the Paulus Institute, told reporters that the decision to choose another celebrant for the Mass had a lot to do with potential picketers and the costs associated with heavier security. SNAP said they would picket the Mass if Cardinal Castrillon was the celebrant.
When asked if he thought Cardinal Castrillon was disappointed, King responded, “I think so. He’s an interesting person and a devout person.”
On April 22, 2010 radio interview Cardinal Castrillon continued to defend his letter: “The law in nations with a well-developed judiciary does not force anyone to testify against a child, a father against other people close to the suspect. Why would they ask that of the church? That’s the injustice.”
” John Paul II, that holy pope, was not wrong when he defended his priests so that they were not, due to economic reasons, treated like criminal pedophiles without due process.”
The 2001 letter congratulating a bishop for hiding a pedophile priest was not Cardinal Castrillon’s first impolitic decision.
From 2000 to 2009 he also a ran the Pontifical Commission, Ecclesia Dei, dealing with traditionalist rebels who broke from Rome in 1988 and were excommunicated.
He conducted the talks that led to the January 2009 decision to readmit the four banned bishops of the Society of Pius X to the Church, which caused an uproar when it emerged that one of them, Richard Williamson, had denied the Holocaust. The controversy was highly embarrassing to Pope Benedict, who said he did not know about Williamson’s views, even though they could easily be found on the internet.
A staunch conservative from Columbia, the steely-eyed Castrillon, 80, drew the wrath of victims of American-priest sex abuse for denying that the Catholic Church had any particular problem with pedophiles in its ranks. Castrillon headed the Congregation for the Clergy from 1996 to 2006.
The cardinal accused unnamed insiders and enemies elsewhere of feeding the sex abuse scandals hurting the Catholic Church.
“Unfortunately there are…useful idiots inside (the church) who lend themsevles to this type of persecution,” Castrillon said. “But I’m not afraid to say that in some cases it’s within the Masons, together with other enemies of the church.”
He would not give details, however, saying that “since I’m not stupid, I don’t tell everything I know. Only drunks, children and idiots tell, and I’m not a child, nor a drunk, nor stupid.”
On February 5, 2010 USCCB president Francis Cardinal George issued a statement publicly disparaging New Ways Ministry. Upon reading it, my first thought was: what little we have is even too much.
Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Fr. Bob Nugent, co-founders of New Ways, were like a lighted, open doorway in a dark alley. Many gay and lesbian people, myself among them, came home through them and their ministry. God knows what would have become of us without them. They were a beacon of welcome, friendship and compassion in a very hostile world.
For 33 years New Ways Ministry has been a source of comfort, support, affirmation and encouragement for lesbian and gay Catholics to come back and remain within the institutional church. It is the one place where we can be affirmed in who we are without any sense of shame, regret or self-loathing.
“Anyone who has taken the time to listen to the stories about the lives of lesbian/gay people will come to realize that guidance about sexual activity is not where they need help most,” said Frances DeBernardo, Executive Director. “It is in the areas of living truthfully, openly, honestly, and courageously–the areas that consume most of their time and energy–where they seek the support of the church.”
These are areas where the Church offers no support.
The starting point for New Ways Ministry has always been less of the teaching of the Magisterium and more towards the Beatitudes – the values expressed by Jesus. True, the organization has not admonished gay Catholics they must live chastely or to “strive” to live chastely, the way the officially-sanctioned Courage Apostolate does.
Cardinal George stated that since the founding of New Ways Ministry in 1977, “serious questions have been raised about the group’s adherence to church teaching on homosexuality.” “No one should be mislead by the claim that New Ways Ministry provides an authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching and an authentic Catholic pastoral practice,” George said. “Genuine pastoral concern is based on respect for every person, no matter their sexual orientation, and acceptance of the truths of the Catholic faith,” he added. “These are the terms in which the church welcomes everybody and offers them a true home in Christ’s love and mercy.”
Why did Cardinal George pick this time to start a kerfuffle with New Ways: Could it have anything to do with the fact the Courage is having their 2010 annual conference this July at the University of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois? Or, that New Ways Ministry is planning a workshop in March 2010 in the Chicago area?
This program – “Next Steps – Developing Catholic Lesbian/Gay Ministry,” is billed as a “weekend of prayer, presentations, dialogue, and planning designed to assist those seeking ways to include lesbian/gay people and issues in their home parishes, schools, or other ministerial settings.”
Is the notion of openly gay Catholics (chaste and not) in Catholic settings threatening? The possibility that people in the pews might experience doubt about the “intrinsic evil” of lesbian and gay relationships once they know us–their fellow parishioners–as caring people, as loving parents, as devoted and committed couples?
The condemnation of New Ways Ministry by Cardinal George has sparked a healthy debate among faithful Catholics online. I found the following exchange over at America magazine’ s website informative and heartening.
One writer, Jeffrey L. Miller posits: “They (New Ways Ministry) are a openly dissident group that has never believed what the Church believes on same-sex attraction and have damaged countless individuals by encouraging a disorder instead of helping them to live what the Church believes and to live a chaste life. Organizations like New Ways Ministry cooperate with evil by not teaching that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and thus encourage sin. It is a spiritual work of mercy to help your brother repent, it is an evil act to tell them they don’t need to repent.”
“Jeffrey: I hereby encourage you to repent:” countered Jim McCrea.” ‘The Pharisees’ sin has come to be called ‘scotosis,’ a deliberate and willful darkening of the mind that results from the refusal to acknowledge God’s presence and power at work in human stories. If the neglect of Scripture is a form of sin, a blind adherence to Scripture when God is trying to show us the truth in human bodies is also a form of sin, and a far more grievous one… If it is risky to trust ourselves to the evidence of God’s work in transformed lives even it when challenges the clear statements of scripture, it is a far greater risk to allow the words of Scripture to blind us to the presence and power of the living God.’
“And it is even worse,” McCrea added, “to allow the words of a very fallible, defectible and historically indefensible human church to do the same.”
Steve Schewe drolly observed: “Mr. DeBernardo’s statement that ‘we have always been found to be firmly in line with authentic Catholic teaching’ seems disingenuous; I wish he would have acknowledged his organization’s long history of differences with the Catholic hierarchy, including the disciplining of Sr. Gramick and Fr. Nugent. This is all old news.”
“So why did Cardinal George let loose with his condemnation this week? Could it have anything to do with the testimony by U.S. military leaders in the Senate advocating a process to end DADT, and the relatively calm response to their testimony? A rising tide of tolerance towards gays and lesbians continues; it will be interesting to see how the attempt to overturn Proposition 8 in California turns out, particularly since one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiff, Ted Olson, is a leading conservative with impeccable credentials.”
“Given the growing national acceptance of gays and lesbians in secular society and among people of faith, Cardinal George’s attack brings to mind the late Jaroslav Pelikan’s quip that “heresy may be the result of poor timing.”
“Heresy may be the result of poor timing”–I’ll be sure to share that one with Sr. Jeannine Gramick the next time I see her. She’ll appreciate it.
The little ditty below by E.J. Montini appeared in The Arizona Republic in response to a $50,000 donation by the Most Reverend Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix, Arizona, to the anti-gay marriage campaign in Maine.
A reader had a sad refrain
But did not wish to write it plain.
And so with Seuss-like zeal did deign
To craft a query in quatrain.
He (or she) wrote:
“Mr. Montini, could you explain,
“Is the Phoenix Catholic Diocese insane?
“While poor folks here are full of pain
“Our church sends 50 grand to Maine?”
Yes, Bishop Olmstead did ordain
That he would help his friends in Maine
Who needed money to maintain
Their anti-married gays campaign.
In Maine a state law did proclaim
That any Dwight could marry Dwayne.
The church held this view in disdain
And sought the old laws to retain.
To win that vote they had to gain
Some riders on their money train.
Our bishop from his vast domain
With cash did shower them like rain.
Fifty thousand dollars came
From Phoenix all the way to Maine.
And helped the churches in their aim
To bring the old rules back again.
Meantime, OUR state is full of pain.
The governor has made it plain.
State services we can’t maintain.
The budget crisis is to blame.
While politicians play their game
The poor are going down the drain.
They need assistance that’s humane
Their meager lifestyle to sustain.
By sending money off to Maine
The bishop seems to make the claim
That poor folks here eat quiche Lorraine
And wash it down with fine champagne.
What does Phoenix have to gain
From shipping 50 grand to Maine?
Can one stake a moral claim
When politics is made to reign?
Politicians are the bane
Of everything that’s good and sane.
Do not Christians in the main
Avoid the secular and vain?
It seems a little inhumane,
Less like Abel, more like Cain,
To send money with the aim
Of changing policy in Maine.
But bishops like old monarchs reign,
Each one a little Charlemagne.
Parishioners cannot constrain
Their spending habits or terrain.
A reader can to me complain
With four lines meant to entertain.
And I can rack my little brain
To rhyme her back in the same vein.
But rhyming doesn’t change the game.
And rhymers cannot be profane.
The bishop here sent cash to Maine.
All we can say is, that’s a shame.
– Thanks to Voice of the Faithful for this little gem.
Everything That Rises Must Converge is a story in Flannery O’Connor’s book of the same name. It is a tale of nostalgia, prejudice, relationships, superiority, resentment, and ultimately, the space between people who perceive the same thing differently.
The title is a quotation from Catholic theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who imagined an â€œomega pointâ€ at which the â€œrisingâ€ or evolving human being would meet God.
I see the rising as a metaphor describing the struggle, debate and entanglement of the many different strands and tendrils of thought, belief, and action over what it means to be Catholic. And, at the end, where the distances close as we all meet in God.
The debate over Catholic identity has exposed two extremes in Catholicism: what author and scholar George Weigel calls “Catholic lite,” meaning a form of faith sold out to seclarism; and what analyst and correspondent John L. Allen, Jr. terms “Taliban Catholicism,” meaning an angry expression of Catholicism that knows only how to excoriate and condemn.
In recent days there has been a very public exchange between Thomas J. Tobin, Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, and Sen. Patrick Kennedy, D-Rhode Island, over the senator’s support of an amendment to the health care bill before Congress. The amendment addresses public financing of abortions.
In a letter published in the diocesan paper and on their website, Bishop Tobin wrote to Senator Kennedy saying, “For the moment Iâ€™d like to set aside the discussion of health care reform, as important and relevant as it is, and focus on one statement contained in your letter of October 29, 2009, in which you write, â€œThe fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.â€ That sentence certainly caught my attention and deserves a public response, lest it go unchallenged and lead others to believe itâ€™s true. And it raises an important question: What does it mean to be a Catholic?”
“Although I wouldnâ€™t choose those particular words, when someone rejects the teachings of the Church, especially on a grave matter, a life-and-death issue like abortion, it certainly does diminish their ecclesial communion, their unity with the Church. This principle is based on the Sacred Scripture and Tradition of the Church and is made more explicit in recent documents.”
“But letâ€™s get down to a more practical question; letâ€™s approach it this way: What does it mean, really, to be a Catholic? After all, being a Catholic has to mean something, right?”
“Well, in simple terms â€“ and here I refer only to those more visible, structural elements of Church membership â€“ being a Catholic means that youâ€™re part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. It means that you believe and accept the teachings of the Church, especially on essential matters of faith and morals; that you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish; that you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly; that you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially.”
“In your letter you say that you â€œembrace your faith.â€ Terrific. But if you donâ€™t fulfill the basic requirements of membership, what is it exactly that makes you a Catholic? Your baptism as an infant? Your family ties? Your cultural heritage?”
I cannot fault the bishop in the points he raises about being a Catholic and the questions he poses to Senator Kennedy publicly. In his role as teacher and pastor he should do so.
However, what I am uncomfortable is the reduction of anyone’s Catholic identity to one issue – abortion. It seems to me that “pro-life” Catholics –bishops included–need to have the same unwavering commitment to feeding, clothing, housing and educating children and young adults; and keeping them out of wars and death row prison sentences.
In a 2006 study by Elizabeth Oldmixon and William Hudson – When Church Teachings and Republican Ideology Collide: The Perspectives of Catholic Republicans in the House of Representatives, a sampling of Catholic Republicans justified not supporting Catholic Social Teaching by seeing its application to most domestic social issues as less authoritative than Church moral teachings on issues like abortion.
On March 10, 2006, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a “Statement on Responsibilities of Catholics in Public Life.” The bishops were very firm and unqualified in their oppositionto abortion, but their remarks were not limited to this one issue.
“Our faith has an integral unity,” they said, “that calls Catholics to defend human life and human dignity whenever they are threatened. A priority for the poor, the protection of family life, the pursuit of justice and the promotion of peace are fundamental priorities of the Catholic moral tradition which cannot be ignored or neglected. We encourage and will continue to work with those in both parties who seek to act on these essential principles in defense of the poor and vulnerable.”
I really liked what Kevin J. Farrell, Bishop of Dallas said in his May 17, 2009 commencement address at the University of Dallas, an independent Catholic University in Irving, Texas. “If and when others may disagree or have a different approach or have a different slant on Catholic teaching or belief, honest debate, not confrontation, true dialogue, where we seek to understand the other, not facile condemnation, should be the overreaching way we move forward together,” he said in his address.
Bishop Farrell posed the question, “What does it mean to be Catholic enough?” and offered several possible answers: “It means adhering to the magisterium of the church and taking very seriously the length, breadth and depth of Catholic tradition…It means taking very seriously the challenge which theologians in the church have always taken up – to face into and revere the contemporary culture and to relate revelation and our Catholic faith to that culture…It does not mean parroting words and phrases from one or another time and place in the church’s history as though that were the only way to speak of things divine and of things Catholic…It means being a leaven in a society that seeks insight, example and inspiration even as it claims to be postreligion, postchurch and post-Christianity.”
“It means being humble before God and each other, acknowledging that no one of us has all the answers to the question, What does it mean to be Catholic enough? We know well that no one of us can ever have all the answers. No theologian or professor or pope has ever had or ever will have all the answers to what it means to be authentically and fully Catholic.”
I found this interesting interview of Sr. Donna Ryan by Thomas C. Fox in a recent edition of the National Catholic Reporter. Read the whole thing here.
“I think the culture wars have been won,” says Mercy Sr. Donna Ryan. In the 13 years she has served as chaplain to a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Catholics, she has seen growing acceptance of this community by society at large. “It is kind of like the church is becoming the last group in our culture to face this reality,” said Ryan.
HOPE, the organization she serves in the Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri diocese, was recently asked to leave its meeting place in the Cathdral of the Immaculate Conception, but the group carries on, she says, because its members “care about the church and they care for one another.”
The diocese’s ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics has been going on since the 1960s, with few tensions. At first the group was called Dignity and at one point it was told it couldn’t use that name. So they simply began to refer to themselves as “gay and lesbian Catholics.” They met in different parishes.
When I came to the diocese 13 years ago, I was asked to be the group’s chaplain. We invited them to the cathedral. We thought the cathedral should be an umbrella for many different ministries. Soon after the group decided it wanted to call itself – HOPE. We wanted a better symbol to represent ourselves. We designed a logo and picked a scripture reading from Romans about hope.
At that time we worked very closely with the diocesan structure. Former Bishop (Raymond) Boland was very supportive. We met regularly at the cathedral once a month and had speakers and retreats. After Bishop (Robert) Finn came we were asked to leave the cathdral. So now we meet at a local Jesuit parish.
I am overwhelmed by their love and faithfulness to the church. We meet every month. I keep asking, “What other group of people would regularly spend a Sunday afternoon in a church basement?” They do it because they care about the church and they care for one another. I’ve found their witness very meaningful in my own life. In the end, they struggle with the same things that any couples do; to be faithful in their relationships.
Frequently members of the group hear someting like “You are intrinsically evil.” This is very offensive to them. As a minister I do wonder. I think the beauty of our Catholic tradition is that our sacramental life involves the blessing of the ordinary with rituals and with communal support. I think that anytime two people want to make a commitment to one another, and be faithful and fruitful, and to live generous lives of service, they should be able to. I yearn for a time when we can bless them and support them. In some ways, however, we already do.
The beautiful thing about the church’s sacramental life is that we have a book of blessings. One of the blessings is for the blending of families. I think there is also a blessing for friendships. Sometimes we have used these prayers to bless and support couples who want to make a commitment. These are very adult people. They are not dependent upon any particular statements by our church for their identity. But because they love the church, some of the statements have been especially hurtful.
They receive messages from society and the church that somehow they are not normal. When you feel that year after year after year, it is often difficult to break free. So as a chaplain I deal with that. Often we have parents who come to the group. Their child is someplace else in the country and they’re struggling to accept this piece of their family’s life. I am so proud that we have this group for parents and children and brothers and sisters to come together. We have these conversations of acceptance.
The megalomanic bishop of Scranton, Pennsylvania, stepped down on August 31, 2009. Even the Pope had enough.
Ordinary Catholics had expressed their opinion on his leadership: the Diocese of Scranton’s annual fundraiser fell $274,000 short of its $5.3 million goal–the first time in the two decades since the establishment of the annual drive the diocese did not reach its goal.
Critics of the bishop’s management of the diocese – including his ongoing efforts to consolidate schools and churches – say at least part of the fundraiser’s shortfall was caused by parishioners who withheld donations out of protest.
Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Bishop Joseph F. Martino, 63, from the pastoral governance of the Diocese of Scranton for “health reasons.”
Watch a video of the press conference here.
At the press conference, Martino himself alluded to the divisions his style had brought to the diocese, and the toll it had taken on him mentally and physically: “For some time now there has not been a clear consensus among the clergy and people of the diocese of Scranton regarding my pastoral initiatives or my way of governance. This development has caused me great sorrow, resulting in bouts of insomnia and, at times, a crippling physical fatigue.”
“I seek forgiveness from anyone whm I may not have served adequately as bishop, due to my human limitations,” Martino said, adding later, “As the song says, you have to know when to hold them and when to fold them. And I think it’s time to move on.”
This controversial bishop, who gained national prominence for his strident pro-life advocacy and aggressive criticism of pro-choice Democratic politicians, was still more than a decade away from reaching the Church’s automatic retirement age of 75. Martino’s abrupt resignation, along with the fact he was not reassigned to another post within the Church–but ushered to a rural retreat center–has some church insiders suggesting that the highly unusual move was far from voluntary–and quite possibly the work of a Vatican that has been decidedly less openly critical of the Obama Administration. Church insiders also say Martino had worn out his welcome with his brother bishops in the U.S., as he began to totter dangerously over the line of separation of Church and State with his demagogue pronouncements on his Catholic teaching.
Martino’s departure came just weeks after the Archbishop of Santa Fe became the first Church leader to speak out publicly about the increasingly political behavior of a small minority of bishops within the conference. Archbishop Michael Sheehan told the National Catholic Reporter on August 12 that he spoke out during the bishops’ meeting in June, arguing that they risked “isolat(ing) ourselves from the rest of America by our strong views on abortion and the other things. We need to be building bridges, not burning them.”
From the start of his six-year tenure in Scranton, Martino alienated many with his abrasive style. He frequently clashed with the local Catholic universities–including the Jesuit-run University of Scranton–and was dismissive of their ruling bodies, arguing as bishop he would not heed their advice.
Martino seemed to take special pleasure in catigating institutions and individuals that he felt were failing to represent Catholic values.
Last February, Martino blasted another local college, Misericordia University, for inviting Keith Boykin, an openly-gay author, Clinton administration staffer and Harvard Law classmate of President Obama, to speak on campus. The university, run by the Sisters of Mercy, was “seriously failing in maintaining its Catholic identity,” Martino charged. He also sought to close down the institution’s program on diversity.
Also in February, Martino sent a letter to the leaders of three Irish-American organizations threatening to close St. Peter’s Cathedral in Scranton during St. Patrick’s Day celebrations if groups “honor pro-abortion officials” by inviting them to speak or otherwise be honored during events in which the church might be involved. Ultimately, the Mass was held, but not before he again threatened to shut the cathedral if members of the local Catholic teachers’ union were invited to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Bishop Martino refused to recognize the union.
During the 2008 presidential campaign Bishop Martino focused particular attention on vice presidental nominee Joseph Biden, the Scranton’s native son and Catholic Democrat. The bishop declared that Biden would be denied Communion if he tried to receive it at any church in the diocese, which covers the northeast corner of the state. “I will be truly vigilant on this point,” said Martino. And he warned his parishioners there would be dire consequences for supporting Biden and the Democratic ticket. In October, just prior to the election, Martino directed that a letter be read at all Sunday Masses, charging that a vote for a pro-choice politician was the same as supporting “homicide.”
Bishop Martino also called on priests and Eucharistic Ministers to act on their own to deny Communion–the central element of Catholic belief and worship–to any public officials “who persist in support for abortion and other intrinsic evils.”
One of major incidents contributing to Martino’s downfall came when he showed up unannounced as a voter-education forum at a Honesdale parish. Martino took the microphone and proceeded to criticize the organizers for discussing a comprehensive election guide, “Faithful Citizenship,” endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, instead of the letter he had drafted for the diocese on abortion.
When a nun at the forum reminded Martino that Faithful Citizenship had been prepared and endorsed by the entire bishops’ conference Martino responded, “No USCCB document is relevant in this diocese. The USCCB doesn’t speak for me,” he declared. “The only relevant document…is my letter. There is one teacher in this diocese, and these points are not debatable.”
Such comments didn’t endear him to the parishioners who organized the forum, or to his immediate superior, Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali. As the head of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Rigali is just as opposed to abortion as Martino. But he is a much more politic figure.
Many think Martino finally overstepped this spring when he started training his sights on Bob Casey, Jr., the Democratic senator from Pennsylvania and a staunchly pro-life Catholic. Casey’s late father, the former governor of Pennsylvania, is still revered by Catholics for speaking out against the Democratic Party’s support for abortion rights. Bu that didn’t stop Martino from sending Casey letters–also issued as press releases from the Diocesan office–warning the sentor that his oppostion to abortion was insufficient. In one such letter, Martino wrote that Casey “persist(s) formally in cooperating with the evil brought about by this hideous and unncessary (abortion) policy” and suggested that the senator could be denied Communion in the Scranton diocese.
The situation came to a head this spring, when King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, PA invited Senator Casey to speak at its commencement ceremony. Objecting to Casey’s vote to confirm former Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius (a Catholic who supports abortion rights) as Secretary for Health and Human Services, Martino said it was “sad and disappointing” that the college chose to honor a Democrat who could not “muster the courage” to oppose “the pro-abortion agenda.”
Two days before Casey’s address at King’s College, Cardinal Rigali issued a statement “applauding” the senator for introducing legislation to promote policies that encourage women facing unplanned pregnancies to carry their babies to term. In the highly ritualized world of Church communication, the Cardinal’s announcement was akin to a public smackdown of Martino. One month later, Martino was summoned to Rome, and submitted his resignation. It was formally accepted in July, and he was out by the end of August.
During his farewell press conference, Martino was unapologetic. “I did what my mother told me to do,” Martino said. “She would also say, ‘Well, you do the right thing.’ And my conscience is clear.” He said he wasn’t trying to become a rallying point for the most vociferous foes of abortion, but he defended them saying they are often too readily dismissed by the media and even within the church because of their “passion.”
He praised vocal pro-lifers as “very dear to the Lord” because of their outspokenness, and said “bishops should encourage” them as they try to “overturn a profound cancer in our society, this sin, frankly, of murdering 50 million people (referring to the number of abortions since Roe v. Wade in 1973). I think we have become quite blase about that, and that scares me very much.”
“By the world’s standards perhaps I have not been successful here,” Martino concluded. “But I did what I thought was right.”
Clearly, not everyone agreed with that self-assessment.
The bishop’s high-profile controversy, and reports of low morale among the diocese’s parishioners and priests, did not go unnoticed around the country and in Rome, church observers say.
“It’s not the people who left the church that bothers Rome,” said Joseph K. Grieboski, a Scranton native and founder and president of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute on Religion and Public Policy. “It’s the people who stayed and are disaffected.
“People who are going to leave are going to leave no matter what, and the bishop became an excuse. It’s the people who stayed and said, ‘I stayed despite him,’ that’s what bothered Rome and that’s what bothered his fellow bishops.”
A few days ago, Pope Benedict XVI asked the Italian Bishops’ Conference for an “assessment” after the editor of its newspaper, Avvenire, was accused by another publication of homosexual behavior and harassment.
“His Holiness has asked for information and an assessment of the current situation,” said a statement posted last week on the website of the bishops’ group, which publishes the daily Avvenire.
Yesterday, Dino Boffo, director of the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire, resigned–ostensibly in the wake of a tumultuous feud with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
The row erupted after Boffo ran a series of stories in Avvenire that criticized the immigration policies and personal life of the prime minister.
Letters from readers complained that a Roman Catholic newspaper had a moral duty to denounce divorce, consorting with teenage girls, naked poolside parties and the prime minister being caught on tape telling a prostitute to wait for him in “Putin’s bed” while he showered.
Boffo, the editor, began to weigh in. “People have understood the unease, the mortification, the suffering this arrogant neglect of sobriety has caused the Catholic Church,” Boffo wrote last month.
Under cover of a paper owned by his brother, Paolo Berusconi, the prime minister retaliated.
Under a front page banner headline, Il Giornale, ran an article accusing Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian Bishops Conference, of running a “moralistic campaign” against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, 72. The article went on to scrutinize Dino Boffo, 57, Avvenire‘s top editor, claiming he had a homosexual affair and had accepted a plea bargain in 2004 for harassing the wife of his lover.
The Il Giornale article openly admitted that the article was in response to Boffo’s criticisms of Berlusconi’s private life, and called Boffo a hypocrite.
In a statement, Mr. Boffo described the report as an “absurd” attempt to smear his reputation. Mr. Boffo described himself as “the first victim” in the 2001 harassment case. He didn’t elaborate on the matter.
After the story appeared, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State and deputy to Pope Benedict XVI, telephoned Mr. Boffo to offer his “solidarity.”
He was joined by Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, the Archbishop of Milan, who said he had offered Mr. Boffo his “esteem and gratitude.”
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the head of the bishops conference, described the attack on Mr. Boffo as “disgusting.”
Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, former secretary to the late Pope John Paul II and now Archbishop of Krakow in Poland, said it was “the first time a Catholic paper has been attacked with such violence.” He added that he was “very worried by the moral decadence into which Italy is sliding because of the behavior of certain important political leaders.”
Il Giornale ‘s attack escalated when another editorial aimed at the Catholic Church itself, mocking not just the “hypocrisy” of sexually active priests with “weak flesh,” but even the “Mitteleuropean” accent of Pope Benedict XVI, a German.
Earlier in the week Il Giornale reported how Dino Boffo had been successfully sued by a woman who claimed that he had tried to steal her husband from her in 2001. The matter, which involved a couple from Terni, near Perugia, was settled out of court in 2004 with Boffo agreeing to pay a small fine. The article claimed Boffo had been listed by police in document as a gay man “noted for this kind of activity.” (It’s not clear–harassment or chasing married men??)
The story dragged in the Italian goverment with Robert Maroni, the Interior Minister, was forced to telephone Mr. Boffo to assure him no such police document existed.
Officials said the alleged police document appeared in reality to be an “anonymous letter” sent to Italian bishops earlier this year.
Prime Minister Berlusconi and his allies had hoped to patch up his relationship with the Catholic Church after months of articles linking Berlusconi with teenage models and “spicy” parties. He denied he paid for sex after an Italian prostitute went public with claims that she slept with Mr. Berlusconi at his residence in Rome.
“Gossip isn’t enough to crucify someone,” Vittorio Feltri, the editor of Il Giornale wrote.
In April, the premier’s wife announced plans for a divorce, accusing him of “consorting with minors.”
“I’ve never had ‘relations’ with minors and have never organized ‘spicy parties,’ retorted Berlusconi. “I’ve simply taken part in engaging dinners which were absolutely in line with morality and elegance. And I’ve never knowingly invited anyone to my house who was not a serious person,” the premier told Il Giornale.
After photos of scantily clad guests and a naked man partying at his Sardinian home were published, Berlusconi then found himself embroiled in an escort scandal when Patizia D’Addario claimed she and other women were paid by Bari businessman Gianpaolo Tarantini to attend parties at the premier’s residences.
Berlusconi admitted that he was “no saint” after the left-leaning daily La Repubblica and sister weekly Espresso posted audio takes and transcripts that it alleges are of conversations between the premier and a call girl on their websites.
Friends of the prime minister warned him he is wadding into dangerous waters with the church that could harm him politically. Many Italians care about what candidates have its normally implicit support. The church generally supports candidates on the right, like Mr. Berlusconi, making the current confrontation that much more unusual and significant.
But Berlusconi’s popularity has started to drop in the polls, and he appears deeply worried about further damage, especially from moderate Catholic voters. This week he announced he was bringing defamation lawsuits against several publications that have been critical of him, part of what his critics and allies alike worry is a dangerous trend toward treating any criticism as disloyal and possibily illegal. (Hmmmm…does this sound familiar in some Church circles??!!)
As part of an effort to mend relations with the Vatican, Mr. Berlusconi had planned to attend a high profile religious service and dine with the Vatican’s No. 2 official when the Holy See issued a statement withdrawing the dinner invitation. The statement also said that Mr. Berlusconi wouldn’t attend the service, known as the “Perdonanza,” or the annual day of pardon for sins.
Mr. Berlusconi’s plans to attend the Perdonanza was seen by the Italian public as a gesture in the direction of atonement.
The service was established in the 13th century by Pope Celestine V, who decreed that anyone who entered the basilica on August 28 and 29 could receive a plenary indulgence–if they have already confessed to their sins in private and taken Communion.
In its statement, the Vatican said Mr. Berlusconi’s dinner plans with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who officiated Friday’s service, was called off partly out of concern that the meeting woul be “exploited.” The Vatican official said the Holy See didn’t want to be viewed as giving a “benediction” to Mr. Berlusconi’s political positions and his personal life.
The situation become more complicated and shaded when Gian Maria Vian, editor of the Vatican’s semi-official daily, L’Osservatore Romano, didn’t speak out on behalf of Boffo in an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Courier della Sera.
Vian restated the decision of the Holy See’s newspaper not to write about Berlusconi’s private life because the paper is international and is not designed to cover controversies in Italian politics.
Vian further expressed his opinion that some recent editorials in Avenire were exaggerated when, for example, one article compared the government’s position on immigration to that of the Italian administratin prior to the Holocaust.
The comments of Vian were interpreted as constituting a point of contention between the Vatican newspaper and the Italian Bishops’ Conference. Benedict XVI sought to dispel any ideas of a rift by personally calling Cardinal Bagnasco, president of the conference, and affirming his esteem for the episcopal body.
Both in articles published in Avvenire,as well as in the letter to Cardinal Bagnasco tendering his resignation, Boffo, who is married, insists on his innocence and states that Il Giornale‘s accusations are not true.
He thanked the Church for its support, but aded that it “has better things to do than strenuously defend one person, even if unfairly targeted.”
Boffo said he believes the attacks against him are due to the fact that Avvenire is a voice that is independent of “secular power.” He asks, “What future of liberty and responsibility will there be for our information?”
Cardinal Bagnasco expressed in a communique gratitude to Boffo “for the commitment shown over many years with competence, rigor and passion, in fulfilling such a precious assignment for the life of the Church and of Italian society.”
The cardinal also expressed his “closeness and support” to the former director.
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco was in the news a few years ago when he claimed that permitting gay marriages was merely the beginning of slippery slope. “Why then say ‘no’ to incest? Why say ‘no’ to the pedophile party in Holland?” he asked.
Draw your own conclusions.
August 2009: Pope Benedict XVI laicized a Franciscan priest who served as a spiritual advisor to the Marian visionaries in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The pontiff, in a document issued “motu proprio” (on his own initiative), returned Father Tomislav Vlasic to the lay state and dispensed him from his religious vows as a member of the Order of Friars Minor.
Vlasic was confined to a Franciscan monastery in L’Aquila, Italy, in February 2008 after he refused to cooperate in a Vatican investigation of his activities for suspected heresy and schism.
He was also investigated for “the diffusion of dubious doctrine, manipulation of consciences, suspected mysticism, disobedience towards legitimately issued orders and charges contra sextum (against the Sixth Commandment not to commit adultery),” as stated in the interdict signed by Cardinal William J. Levada, perfect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
According to the congregation, all the charges against Vlasic were “in the context of the Medjugorje phenomenon.”
The Medjugorje phenomenon began on June 25, 1981, when six children told a priest they had seen the Virgin on a hillside near their town. Some of the children also claimed to have received ten secrets from Our Lady.
According to the Medjugorje seers, who currently range in age from 38 to 31 — Marija, Vicka, Ivan, Mirjana, Ivanka, and Jakov — the apparitions of Gospa (as Our Lady is referred to in their native language) are ongoing to this day; 21 years of nonstop messages from Mary, with no end in sight. As one priest who requested anonymity observed, “The Mother of God sounds like a Chatty Cathy doll.”
Marija, Vicka and Ivan report daily visions from Mary, while others claim to see her at regular intervals; to Mirjana, Our Lady comes on the second of each month and on March 18, Mirjana’s birthday; to Ivanka, on June 25; and to Jakov, on Christmas Day.
The visionaries have received more than 30,000 visits from Mary.
A log of the messages is posted on Medjugorje Web. Here are the latest messages:
July 25, 2009 Medjugorje message of Our Lady to Marija: “Dear Children! May this time be a time of prayer for you. Thank you for having responded to my call.”
Our Lady Queen of Peace of Medjugorje’s August 2, 2009 Message To Mirjana Soldso Given on the Day for Non-Believers: “Dear Children, I am coming, with my Motherly love, to point out the way by which you are to set out, in order that you may be all the more like my Son; and by that, closer to and more pleasing to God. Do not refuse my love. Do not renounce salvation and eternal life for the sake of transience and frivolity of this life. I am coming to lead you and, as a mother, to caution you. Come with me.”
In 1984 Vlasic wrote to Pope John Paul II to say that he was the one “who through divine providence guides the seers of Medjugorje.”
Retired Bishop Pavao Zanic of Mostar-Duvno did not believe the claims of the visionaries and accused Vlasic of creating the phenomenon. The current head of the diocese, Bishop Ratko Peric, said the church “has not accepted, either as supernatural or as Marian, any of the apparitions.”
“As the local bishop, I maintain that regarding the events of Medjugorje, on the basis of the investigations and experience gained thus far throughout these last 25 years, the church has not confirmed a single apparition as authentically being the Madonna,” he said. He then called on the alleged visionaries and “those persons behind the messages to demonstrate ecclesiastical obedience and to cease with these public manifestations and messages in this parish.”
“In this fashion they shall show their necessary adherence to the church, by placing neither private apparitions nor private sayings before the official position of the church,” he said. “Our faith is a serious matter,” he added. “The church is also a serious and responsible institution.”
November 1523: Inquisitor Mariana in Belmonte, Spain orders the punishment of a woman, Francisca la Brava, who claimed she spoke with Our Lady and received tokens from her.
“It is true that I saw Her,” Francisca la Brava said, “and it happened this way;” I got out of bed to urinate, and as it was at night and dark I could not find the door, and so I said, “Help me Our Lady” and “Why can’t I find this door?” And that Our Lady replied saying, “She is helping you,” and “I am Our Lady who sustains you on the face of the earth.” And that She put Her arm on my neck, and as I was naked, Our Lady put the skirt of her dress over my belly and said, “Do not fear, daughter.”
And Francisca la Brava said to her, “Protect me, Our Lady, if it is a devil who has come to deceive me,” and She repeated, “Do not fear, for I am Our Lady.” And Francisca said to Her, “Mother of God, they will not believe that it is you, even though I say I have seen you.” And Our Lady told her, “Then take this candle and a piece of silk and a magnet.”
Five weeks after the alleged apparitions the Inquisitor rendered a decision: “By rights we could have treated her more rigorously, for the above matter was very public and scandalous for the Christian faithful, since she attracted them and induced them to believe in what she said and made known, when it was all vanity and frivolity.”
“But in deference to certain just reasons that move us to mitigate the rigor of the sentence we decree as a punishment to Francisca la Brava and an example to others not to attempt similar things that we condemn her to be put on an ass and given one hundred lashes in public through the accustomed streets of Belmonte naked from the waist up. And that from now on she not say or affirm in public or secretly by word or insinuation the things she said in her confessions or else she will be prosecuted as an impenitent and one who does not believe in or agree with what is in our holy Catholic faith.”
While researching conservative/ultradox Catholic sites for comments on the recent papal encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, I came across this news item on American Papist:
“Jim Corcoran, the owner of one of Canada’s largest and most lavish spas, has launched a human rights complaint against the Bishop of Peterborough Ontario for refusing him permission to continue to serve as an altar server.
Corcoran admits that he is homosexual and lives with another homosexual man, but says that he follows the Church’s teaching and lives a chaste lifestyle. According to the Catholic Register, Bishop Nicola De Angelis asked Corcoran to accept his decision that he not serve on the altar based upon the bishops’ desire to avoid public scandal.
Corcoran is seeking monetary damages of $25,000 from the bishop and $20,000 each from 12 parishioners who complained to the bishop about Corcoran and his roommate having been invited by the local priest to serve on the altar at Masses.”
Here’s what the American Papist blogger, Thomas Peters, had to say about the issue:
“The matter is tricky because Corcoran claims to be living chastely with his live-in boyfriend.
If that previous sentence didn’t quite make sense to you, you’re on to something. Corcoran would be an object of scandal if he was a heterosexual man claiming to be living a “chaste lifestyle” with his live-in girlfriend. The fact that he is an open homosexual exacerbates the problem.
As I’ve said before, the homosexual agenda cannot be reconciled to biblical Christianity, and the two movements cannot co-exist peacefully in society (they certainly do not appear to be co-existing well now). This episode, to my mind, is one more case which proves the truth of that claim.”
Another Catholic blogger, Terry Nelson of Abbey Roads, had this to say:
“Corcoran says that he follows the teaching of the Church regarding homosexuality and that he lives a chaste life with his friend:
â€œIâ€™m a chaste homosexual and practise my faith,â€ he said. While Corcoran does live with another gay man, they are devout Catholics who refrain from sexual activity in accordance with church teaching, he said.
Nothing wrong with that and besides, that is all the Church asks – aside from requiring same-sex attracted people to refrain from promoting the homosexual lifestyle. Which may explain further why the bishop felt it necessary to intervene – I trust the men themselves had no intention of doing that – flaunting their orientation or promoting it – however other parishioners may have understood it differently.
This issue is not a matter of housing or job discrimination, but doctrine and the spiritual care of souls – scandal can drive people away from the Church, as this case may have already done.”
I agree with both these men—scandal has certainly driven many good people away from the Church.
– the scandal of hypocritical bishops and priests, who promise to treat with dignity and respect lesbian and gay Catholics who live in accordance with Church teaching. That is a lie. What they really mean is that homosexuals must live alone and stay in the closet. Otherwise, they are “flaunting” their lifestyle by acknowledging their sexual orientation.
-the scandal of bishops who moved pedophile priests around from parish to parish like a street con man doing a three card monty. Too bad about the kids. A pervert priest is better than a woman priest or married priest.
-the scandal of Pope John Paul II, who should have publicly knocked the biretta off the head of Bernard Cardinal Law to show the whole world he would not tolerate clerical sexual improprieties and abuse…did no such thing. Instead, he expressed his “sadness,” got Law out of the country and protected by Vatican immunity so he wouldn’t be invited to testify at any of the 450+ lawsuits against the Archdiocese. Cardinal Law is now the Archpriest of the Papal Basilica di Santa Marie Maggiore.. JPII was also a big fan of Legionaries of Christ founder, Father Marcial Maciel. Obviously, his interest in comely seminarians and hunky priests didn’t bother the pope. The money and men he brought in cancelled out any whisper of scandal.
Finally, the scandal of the 12 parishioners of St. Michael’s parish who petitioned the bishop to remove a gay man as an altar server because of who he is. In their mean-spiritedness they did not give him the benefit of doubt when he said he lived in accord with church teaching. I guess expressions like “Christ’s love” and “God’s love” and “remove the log in your own eye” bounce off their righteousness like flies off a screen door.
I will remember Mr. Corcoran in my prayers. And I hope he wins his lawsuits. Better still, I hope he is reinstated as an Eucharistic Minister with apologies from all concerned starting with the bishop.
Read Mr. Corcoran’s account of what happened here.
Read a letter from another parishioner to Mr. Corcoran here.
Read William F. Buckley’s famous article on Bernard Cardinal Law – “Lawless in Boston” here.