Posted in category "Accountability"

Marguerite Porete and Her Killers

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 20, 2020 | Categories: Accountability, Arts & Letters, Bishops, Dissent, Faith, History, Politics, Popes, Scandals

The chronicler William of Nangis describes the trial and execution of Marguerite Porete, 1310: 

“Around the feast of Pentecost is happened at Paris that a certain pseudo-woman from Hainault, named Marguerite and called ‘la Porete,’ produced a certain book in which, according to the judgement of all the theologians who examined it diligently, many errors and heresies were contained; among which errors (were the beliefs), that the soul can be annihilated in the love of the Creator without censure or conscience or remorse and that it ought to yield to whatever by nature it strives for and desires.  This (belief) manifestly rings forth as heresy.  Moreover, she did not want to renounce this little book or the errors contained in it, and indeed she even made light of the sentence of excommunication laid on her by the inquisitor of heretical depravity, (who had laid this sentence) because she, although having been lawfully summoned before the bishop, did not want to appear and held out in her hardened malice for a year and more with an obstinate soul. In the end her ideas were exposed in the common field of La Greve through the deliberation of learned men; this was done before clergy and people who had been gathered specially for this purpose, and she was handed over to the secular court. Firmly receiving her into his power, the provost of Paris had her executed the next day by fire. She displayed many signs of penitence, both noble and pious, in her death. For this reason, the faces of many of those who witnessed it were affectionately moved to compassion for her; indeed, the eyes of many were filled with tears.”

Marguerite

Marguerite Porete was a 14th century French mystic who wrote a book entitled “The Mirror of Simple Annihilated Souls and Those Who Only Remain in Will and Desire of Love.”  Written during the 1290s, the book was condemned by the French Inquisition as heretical.  Marguerite was jailed for a year and a half and asked to recant. When she refused to respond to her inquisitors, she was condemned to death. 

The book provoked controversy, likely because of statements such as “a soul annihilated in the love of the Creator could, and should, grant to nature all that it desires,” which some took to mean that a soul can become one with God and that when in this state it can ignore moral law, it had no need for the Church and its sacraments or code of virtues. This is not what Marguerite taught, since she explained that souls in such a state desired only good and would not be able to sin.

Not much is known about Marguerite’s early life, except that she was born in Hainault in what is now Belgium around 1248 or 1250. She lived during different periods in Valenciennes, Lorraine, Reims and Paris. She seems to have been a stubborn woman, determined to share her ideas despite ecclesiastical censure.  I don’t know why she refused to speak to her inquisitors during her trial and captivity.  It may have been disdain or defiance, or it may have been to induce a similar helplessness and frustration in her persecutors.  She refused to participate in an outcome that they had already decided.

Tina Beattie, professor of Catholic Studies at Roehampton University, London, said: “Little is known about Porete, apart from the record of her trial and what can be gleaned from her writings. It seems likely she was associated with the Beguines, a women’s religious movement which spread across northern Europe during the 13th and 14th centuries. Although the Beguines devoted themselves to charity, chastity and good works, they took no religious vows and their lifestyles varied greatly, from solitary itinerants (of which Porete was likely one) to enclosed communities. The Beguines were part of an era of vigorous spiritual flourishing during the Middle Ages. They were condemned by the Council of Vienne (1311-1312), which also condemned the Free Spirit Movement with which the Beguines were sometimes (and probably erroneously) identified.”

Her Killers – Bishops, Inquisitor, King

Gui de Colle Medio (or de Colmier) was bishop of Cambrai from 1296-1306.  He condemned The Mirror and ordered it publicly burned in Marguerite’s presence in Valenciennes. She was ordered not to circulate her ideas or the book again.

The next bishop of Cambrai, Philippe de Marigny, made her life worse.  His persecutions combined politics and religion.  Philippe Le Portier de Marigny was appointed bishop of Cambrai in 1301 and archbishop of Sens in 1309.  His half-brother, Enguerrand de Marigny, Baron Le Portier, was the chamberlain and chief minister to Philip IV, the king of France.  Enguerrand was influential in obtaining these appointments for his brother. Philippe de Marigny became an important figure in the trials of the Knights Templar, and in the execution of Templar’s grand master, Jacques de Molay. De Molay was burned alive with three other Templar leaders on a scaffold in front of Notre Dame Cathedral on March 18, 1314. He uttered his famous curse, and both King Philip IV and Pope Clement V followed him to death (and judgement) within a year. The new king of France, Louis X, had Enguerrand de Marigny hanged for sorcery in April 1315. 

Marguerite Porete’s main persecutor and tormenter was the Inquisitor William of Paris, also known as William of Humbert. This Dominican priest and theologian was the confessor to King Philip IV.  Appointed Inquisitor in 1303, William also played an important role in the trials and persecution of the Knights Templar. Interestingly, William died in 1314, the same year as Jacques de Molay, King Philip IV and Pope Clement V. Perhaps Molay included him in his curse.

The piety and politics of King Philip IV helped shape the deaths of Marguerite and the Knights Templar.  Many of the enemies of the crown were cast as heretics; a convenient label for a self-appointed defender of the Faith.  William of Paris supported the political machinations of the French king by suppressing the Knights Templar. The King aided the Dominican’s interests in ridding him of Marguerite—an independent and potentially dangerous religious voice.

Arrest and Trial

In 1308 William had Marguerite Porete arrested along with a Beghard, Guiard de Cressonessart, who was also put on trial for heresy.  Their trial began early in 1310 after they were held in prison in Paris for a year and a half.  Under tremendous pressure, de Cressonessart eventually confessed and was found guilty.  Marguerite refused to recant, withdraw her book or cooperative with the authorities, refusing to take the oath required by the Inquisitor to proceed with the trial.  William was not going to have any easy time proving her a heretic. Marguerite had consulted three church authorities about her writing and gained their approval, including the highly respected Master of Theology Godfrey of Fontaines at the University of Paris.  Godfrey’s involvement was an important factor in William’s handling of the trial, requiring him to build his case as carefully as possible.  He consulted over 20 theologians—an excessive number–on the question of The Mirror’s orthodoxy. 

Death

On May 31, 1310 William of Paris read out a sentence that declared Marguerite “called Porete,” a beguine from Hainault, to be a relapsed heretic and released her to secular authority for punishment. He ordered all copies of a book she had written to be confiscated.  William called her a “pseudo-mulier” (fake woman) and described The Mirror as “filled with errors and heresies.” William next consigned Guiard de Cressonessart, a would-be defender of Marguerite to life imprisonment.  Marguerite condemned to be burnt at the stake as a relapsed heretic.  On June 1, 1310 Marguerite was burned alive along with a relapsed Jew at the Place de Greve – today the Place de l’Hotel de Ville – in Paris.

Why Was Marguerite a Target?

 There are several possible reasons why so much effort was made to put Marguerite on trial and kill her.

  • A growing hostility to the Beguine movement by Franciscans and Dominicans. Beguines were lay religious women who were not under male authority and direction and were outside civic and ecclesiastical structures.  In 1311—the year after Marguerite’s death—ecclesiastical officials made several specific connections between Marguerite’s ideas and deeds and the Beguine status in general at the Council of Vienne.
  • The popularity of The Mirror of Simple Souls gave Marguerite a prominent profile other lay writers didn’t possess. She also wrote in French, not Latin.
  • Marguerite’s perceived association with the Free Spirit Movement or Brethren of the Free Spirit. Free Spirits were not a single movement or school of thought, but they caused great unease among churchman.  They were considered heretical because of their antinomian views.  One of beliefs some Free Spirits held is that they could not sin by having sexual relations with any person.  Extracts of The Mirror of Simple Souls were cited in the bull Ad Nostrum issued by the Council of Vienne to condemn the Free Spirit movement as heretical.

Was there a whiff of homophobia in William of Paris’ denunciation of Marguerite as a “pseudo-woman”?

Marguerite Porete’s era is a mirror to our own.  40 years ago conservative political and religious leaders like President Ronald Regan and Pope John Paul II colluded on major political actions and social change. Lay Catholics began to search for new ways to experience a direct relationship to God.  Many of these explorations were condemned since they were outside of traditional structures.  The prevailing norms of sexual and gender expression were openly questioned by ordinary people.  Sex and sexuality are fraught and fearful topics for the Catholic hierarchy, and many bishops tried their best to suppress them.  Their best allies were presidents focused on wealth and expansion.  Today, President Trump sounds and acts a lot like King Philip IV.

We can point to one improvement in the last 700 years.  We can no longer be burned at the stake. 

Further Reading:

The Beguine, the Angel, and the Inquisitor: The Trials of Marguerite Porete and Guiard of Cressonessart by Sean L. Field

Allegories of Love in Marguerite Porete’s ‘Mirror of Simple Souls’ by Suzanne Kocher

A Companion to Marguerite Porete and the Mirror of Simple Souls by Robert Stauffer and Wendy R. Terry

The World on the End of a Reed by Francesca Caroline Bussey

The Heresy of the Free Spirit in the Later Middle Ages by Robert E. Lerner

Courting Sanctity: Holy Women and the Capetians by Sean L. Field

Transmitting the Memory of a Medieval Heretic: Early Modern French Historians on Marguerite Porete by Danielle C. Dubois

Marguerite Porete: The Mirror of Simple Souls by Ellen Babinsky

 

 

Pious Trash: Is Racism a Part of Pro-Life/Pro-Choice Campaigns?

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 10, 2020 | Categories: Accountability, Pious Trash, Politics

According to a study cited in a July 6, 2019 New York Times article, “When ‘Black Lives Matter’ Is Invoked in the Abortion Debate,”black women have the highest abortion rate at 27.1 abortions per 1,000 women compared to 10 per 1,000 white women.  Yet, I rarely see black infants in anti-abortion ads.  The majority of babies are white.

When I look at news coverage of pro-choice demonstrations, I rarely see groups of black women as part of the marchers or in the leadership vanguard.

Unwanted pregnancy is not the only issue.  Economics is a big factor in abortion decisions.

Would conservative white donors to pro-life campaigns use their influence and money to promote economic opportunities for young African-Americans?

Would liberal white donors to pro-choice campaigns use their influence and money to shake up education and teachers unions in predominately black neighborhoods?

Why are pro-choice and pro-life groups so concerned with fetuses, but much less concerned with children?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pious Trash: Inconsistent Application of Catholic Moral Teaching

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 3, 2020 | Categories: Accountability, Faith, Lesbians & Gays, Pious Trash, Politics

Dr. Jeff Mirus is the chief commentator for Catholic Culture.org, an online publication that addresses current Catholic issues.  While I don’t often agree with his positions, I enjoy his writing and think about what he has to say.  I have changed my position on abortion based on reading his articles and those of other Catholic writers over the years. 

Unfortunately, like Catholic writers on the “Left”, conservative Catholics never vary their sermons. They focus almost exclusively on homosexuality, divorce, abortion and liturgies.  They rarely bother to address or finger-point on other important Catholic moral issues, like accumulation of wealth and possessions, responsibilities for immigrants and refugees, environmental pollution and the hungry and homeless we encounter every day in our neighborhoods and cities.  Jesus did address marriage, but he had a lot more to say about how we need to treat each other, friends and strangers in our midst.  According to Jesus, the salvation of our souls depends on two commandments:  honoring God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

In a July 8, 2019 article, Dr. Mirus discusses “Truth and the limits of inclusivity.” “Tolerance and inclusivity are now often used to justify the acceptance of immorality,” he says, “such that the only intolerable groups are those which engage in the precise moral reasoning needed to determine what ought to be “included” (and what is “excluded”), based on a proper understanding of human nature and the common good.”  Of course, any reader knows that these are code words and phrases for homosexuality, communion for divorced Catholics and other conservative Catholic bugaboos.

What I miss is the “moral reasoning” by many conservative Catholics when it comes to Catholic/Christian business leaders who pollute or degrade our natural resources and aren’t called to account; partisan Catholic/Christian politicians who don’t act in good faith to help the working poor and destitute; or members of the clergy–bishops, cardinals, and others–who are not exposed as frauds and hypocrites when they preach one morality and live another.

 

Pious Trash: Cardinal Angelo Sodano Finally Gets Dumped

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 28, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, History, Pious Trash, Politics, Scandals

On December 21, 2017 Cardinal Angelo Sodano celebrated the funeral Mass for fugitive Cardinal Bernard Law.  Over the protests of many, the Mass was celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica.  In his homily, Sodano said, “unfortunately, each one of us can sometimes lack in fidelity to our mission. That is why, at the beginning of every Mass, we say the ‘Confiteor.’”  This prayer begins, “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned.” 

On December 21, 2019, the same day it was reported that Cardinal Sodano had shielded sexually abusive clergy in the Legion of Christ, Pope Francis accepted the 92-year-old cardinal’s resignation as dean of the College of Cardinals. Pope Francis used the occasion to express “my gratitude, including in the name of the members of the College of Cardinals, for the precious and punctual service he (Cardinal Sodano) has offered as dean for many years with availability, dedication, efficiency and a great ability to organize and coordinate.”

In the December 21, 2019 report the Legion of Christ identified 33 priests and 71 seminarians as sex abusers. The report stated that Cardinal Sodano was the one who led efforts to cover up reports of abuse when he served as the Vatican’s Secretary of State.  Many of the reports of abuse involved the notorious predator priest, Marcial Maciel Degollago, the founder and director general of the Legion of Christ.  Maciel was respected by many within the Vatican, including Pope John Paul II, as a prolific fund raiser and seminarian recruiter. Near the time of his death in 2005 he was publicly revealed to be a thief, drug addict and serial sexual abuser of young men and boys.  Marcial maintained sexual relationships with at least two women and fathered six children.  He sexually abused two of his sons.

For many decades, Cardinal Sodano’s chief priorities have been power and money. Money from the Legion flowed to Sodano in the form of gifts and honoraria. His family also benefited from his position and connections.  A nephew, Andrea Sodano, was involved in a real estate business with Raffaello Follieri, who was jailed in New York in 2008 on charges of fraud and money-laundering.  A major part of his business was buying up church and parish properties at fire sale prices to pay for lawsuits by sex abuse victims. Follieri/Sodano then resold them at a profit.

How was Pope Francis finally able to get rid of Sodano? In 2005 Pope Benedict tried and gave up, keeping him as Secretary of State. Were the claws of this rapacious bird finally too weak to tear and rend and hang on any longer?  The Legion’s own report finally did the job. Pope Benedict must have broken out the schnapps when he heard the good news.

 

Pious Trash: The Fake Pachamama Scandal

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 13, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, Faith, Pious Trash, Scandals

There is a wealth of Pious Trash in Msgr. Charles Pope’s column, “Church’s Silence Deafens World” published in the National Catholic Register this month.  It was a long discourse on the negative effects of tolerating bad behavior in society and in the church as defined by Catholic conservatives, and a major whine on why isn’t the Pope doing something about it!

The faithful are not discouraged, they are confused and scandalized. Many have been led to think that sins like divorce and remarriage, homosexual acts and idolatry are compatible with the Catholic faith.  They are not! Yet some of the most awful things have been done and said by Church leaders (purportedly or definitively) without any clear explanation, let alone attempts at refutation.  The silence has been deafening. The enemies of the faith are encouraged while the faithful are disheartened.”

I hope Msgr. Pope is not defining “enemies of the faith” as liberal Catholics, feminist Catholics, lesbian and gay Catholics and our defenders, Catholics who have divorced and remarried, and Catholics who are weary and fed up with legalistic and narrow definitions of “faithful Catholics.” 

By idolatry I assume Msgr. Pope is referring to the wooden carvings of Pachamama, a representation of a naked pregnant Amazonian woman that were displayed and part of  some ceremonies during the Amazonian Synod in October.  The Pachamama is a female fertility figure venerated as “Mother Earth” by some native peoples in the Amazon region. The woman who presented it to Pope Francis called it “Our Lady of the Amazon.” It is a symbol of Life. Why is this idolatry compared to our church statuary? Most churches and cathedrals in the U.S. have a statue of the Blessed Mother standing on a snake. She is crowned by real or plastic flowers every May. I remember singing when I was a teenager: Bring flow’rs of the fairest, Bring flow’rs of the rarest, From garden and woodland, and hillside and vale; Our full hearts are swelling, Our Glad voices telling, The praise of the loveliest Rose of the Vale. O Mary! We crown thee with blossoms today, Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May, O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today, Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May. 

The lyrics certainly represent spring and fertility. The ritual of flowers and the observation has its roots in Pagan Europe.  In addition, every parish church has a statue of their patron saint.  St. Bartholomew holds his skin and a flaying knife; Saint Denis holds his talking head, and St. Lucy holds a plate with her eyeballs. Everyday Catholics are familiar with gruesome martyrdom stories, but I can imagine the wide-eyed reaction from first-time visitors who think displaying such figures is  weird, icky or sick.  To us it’s not idolatry. It’s an artistic representation that’s part of our heritage.

The ongoing sex abuse crisis has ALL Catholics scandalized. This includes not only the priests and religious that used the young and vulnerable for sexual pleasure and release but the bishops and others in the hierarchy who protected and covered up for them, and in some cases, were abusers themselves. On top of the sex abuse lies and hypocrisy, a second scandal involves the millions and millions in contributions and gifts that were used to fund decadent  lifestyles, hush money and settlements that were out of public view.  They were protected by opaque accounting practices and careerist clerics who kept their mouths shut.

Are any priests or bishops willing to forfeit their ecclesiastical careers and name names?  Release hidden records to newspapers and the local District Attorney?  Drag the scum out into the light of day?  The silence is deafening from the men who know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pious Trash: Fr. LaCuesta’s Awful Funeral Homily

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 6, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Faith, Pious Trash, Scandals

“If we Christians are right in believing that salvation belongs to Jesus Christ, that it does not come from us–and that our hand cannot stop what God allows for us, then yes, there is hope in eternity even for those who take their own lives. Having said that, I think that we must not call what is bad good, what is wrong right. Because we are Christians, we must say what we know is the truth – that taking your own life is against God who made us and against everyone who loves us. Our lives are not our own. They are not ours to do with as we please. God gave us life, and we are to be good stewards of that gift for as long as God permits. The finality of suicide makes this all the worse. You cannot make things right again.” 

Read the whole homily here.

Those comforting, inspiring and hopeful words were spoken by a priest, Fr. Don LaCuesta, at the funeral Mass of a high school student who had committed suicide.  Fr. LaCuesta is the pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Temperance, Michigan. In discussing the service with the priest, the parents had asked that he focus on their son’s life. They also discussed some other arrangements for the service, including having his siblings cover his coffin with the pall.

None of that happened.  Instead, the family got blindsided with a lecture about the sinfulness of suicide and its awful consequences.  The family, relatives and classmates of the deceased were visibly distraught.  Many of them did not know the young man had committed suicide.  The father twice approached the pulpit asking the priest to stop the homily, but the priest refused and continued to the end of his sermon.

Since then, the story has received national attentionArchbishop Allen H. Vigneron, publicly reprimanded and sanctioned him.  The youth’s mother recently filed a lawsuit against Fr. LaCuesta and the Archdiocese which details their grievances. 

I’m not sure why Catholic conservatives always feel compelled to defend their brethren, even in nonsensical situations.  The Catholic World Report recently reprinted a column by Dr. Edward N. Peters about the incident entitled “God Bless Fr. LaCuesta.”  Dr. Peter’s comments certainly earned him Honorable Mention in this week’s Pious Trash award.

 

 

 

 

Pious Trash

Posted by Censor Librorum on Nov 18, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, Arts & Letters, Bishops, Humor, Pious Trash, Politics

“When the Catholic novelist closes his own eyes and tries to see with the eyes of the Church, the result is another addition to that large body of pious trash for which we have so long been famous.” Flannery O’Connor, “Catholic Novelists and Their Readers” 1964.

Catholics are subject to a lot of pious trash these days. Most of it comes from EWTN media outlets and Latin Mass participants with their mawkish nostalgia; and U.S. bishops who attempt to justify their discriminatory or self-serving positions.  Progressive Catholics, particularly religious, are also responsible for a certain amount of pious trash. This usually comes in the form of goopy sentimentality, or a scolding that applies to everyone, guilty or not. Between both groups I have plenty of material!

A weekly “Pious Trash” quote will be published every Friday.

 

Bishop Malone’s Soap Opera

Posted by Censor Librorum on Oct 1, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, History, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals, Sex

“Remember? The library of the bishop’s house? I hesitated at first in saying that I trully (sic) love you. What I have been feeling for you is something totally new and different from all the other feelings of love I have experienced. Now, I have no hesitations in saying that I love you (in private and in public) and I will always love you more than yesterday. I am afraid,” he continued, “that all that you know about me may compromise your freedom to love or to leave…At this point I cannot imagine my life without you. But I can’t bear the thought of you being entrapped either,” he concluded. “So my beloved Matthew, I hope and pray that you are ‘my other ½ that walks life’s journey with me.”  The writer was worried that Matthew would feel “entrapped” by him because he held an important post in the diocese and because he had revealed painful stories about being hurt by other men.

In a staff meeting recorded by Rev. Biernat, Bishop Malone griped, “It sounds like a soap opera. It sounds like a love triangle. And you know what the media can do with that. With all else that’s going on in the diocese and all the…attacks on my credibility…and that I’ve known that something’s going on here that shouldn’t be and I let it go…I mean this is a disaster.” 

Bishop Malone went on to explain Bojanowski’s relationship with the Rev. Jeffrey Nowak.  The two had been friends and that Nowak mentored Bojanowski as he discerned a vocation to priesthood. After Bojanowski met Biernat, he began spending time with him. “Matthew’s relationship with Nowak cooled you might say, and this was disturbing to Nowak,” Bishop Malone explained. “Fr. Nowak secretly photographed the letter he found in Matthew’s apartment in Boston, when he was there.” 

In a complaint filed with Bishop Malone’s office in November 2018, Bojanowski said Rev. Nowak began sexually pursuing him based on information he told the priest in the confessional. Bojanowski said when he turned down Nowak’s advances, the priest became vindictive and jealous of his friendship with Rev. Biernat, Bishop Malone’s secretary. 

Bishop Malone was afraid of blackmail.  Rev. Biernat told the bishop that he was aware that “there’s a lot of stuff Jeff has,” including information about a prominent priest who was allegedly having an affair.  “Jeff is dangerous,” Malone said.

Rev. Biernat had his own experience with a priestly predator in the Buffalo diocese.  In 2003, Biernat left Poland to attend Buffalo’s Christ the King Seminary.  Once enrolled, was assigned to live with Rev. Art Smith at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in South Buffalo.  Shortly after he arrived, Rev. Smith made his move.  “Art Smith assaulted me sexually,” Biernat said. “At that time I knew enough English to order (a) latte at Starbucks, not to report the sexual assault,” he said. “You know, they don’t teach you these words in English second language classes.”

A document sent by Bishop Malone to the Vatican, and obtained by a local Buffalo TV station, confirmed Rev. Biernat’s account.  “When Father Art was pastor in one of our city’s parishes, a seminarian noted that Father Art seemed to ‘groom’ him to get his affection. One night the seminarian recounted an incident where Father Art came to his room, came into his bed, and began to touch his genitalia.”

Rev. Smith is currently on administrative leave while a child sex abuse claim against him is decided by the Vatican.  When contacted by reporters, he denied he assaulted Biernat. “That’s not true at all,” said Smith. “I know exactly what he’s talking about.  All I will say is, we had a Christmas party, he had a little too much to drink, I admit I had a little too much to drink, and I told him I liked him more than he would ever know. And that was the end of it. It was nothing more.” 

Seminarian Biernat was in for a bigger shock than having his cock and balls drunkenly fondled. When he reported the incident to Auxiliary Bishop Edward W. Grosz, he received this chilling response: “He said it was my fault because I didn’t lock the door. And was Father Art drunk, because if he was maybe he did not know what he was doing? And then he said, ‘Ryszard, if you don’t stop talking about this you will not become a priest. You understand me? You understand me?”

The soap opera continues.  Now the diocese has cancelled all its credit cards, probably as a prelude to declaring bankruptcy. It is battling over 160 sex abuse lawsuits, and under investigation by the state attorney general’s office. 

Bishop Malone’s fate is in the hands of Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and the Vatican. Undoubtedly Dolan’s antennae are quivering trying to find a signal on what to do. He has a finely tuned political sense. Gay priests do have loose networks, and the New York diocese has its own dirty underwear Dolan would like to avoid airing in the New York Post or feature article in the Times. “Cardinal Dolan has been following the situation in Buffalo very carefully,” said Joseph Zwilling, communication director for the New York archdiocese. “He is aware of his responsibilities under Vos estis lux mundi, he has been consulting extensively both with individuals in Buffalo, including Bishop Malone, clergy and laity.” No timetable on any actions. Mum’s the word.

Bishop Malone continues to defend his handling of the love triangle as “a very complex, convoluted matter.” In addition to the love triangle, he is also battling fallout from the pornographic pizza party involving Hamburg, New York pastors and Christ the King seminarians in April 2019. Read juicy details here and here. So far, his scandal management isn’t working as hoped.

The compassionless Auxiliary Bishop Edward W. Grosz still serves the diocese. Bishop Grosz was named in a string of sex abuse cover ups including one involving a six-year-old boy.  The child was pressured to perform oral sex on a priest.  A seminarian found the boy with semen on his hair, hand and shirt.  He reported the abuse to Bishop Edward Head and Bishop Grosz. He heard no response until months later, when he said he talked to Father Peter Popadick, the longtime secretary to Bishop Head. “He stated something to the effect that…my letter wasn’t well-appreciated,” the seminarian said. “It wasn’t well taken.”

Rev. Ryszard Biernat and the Rev. Jeffrey Nowak are both on leave. The Erie County District Attorney has opened an investigation into Nowak’s sexual harassment of Matthew Bojanowski.  Matthew Bojanowski withdrew from Christ the King Seminary at the end of August 2019.

What do the ordinary Catholics of Buffalo who are watching this soap opera unfold think and feel?  Will they wonder  about what every priest on the altar has he been doing before consecrating the body of Christ?  What sexcapades, drunken parties and hush money is my weekly offering going to support? Who ARE these men I used to respect? Do I have enough gladness and hope left to continue being here?

I used to feel sympathetic and supportive of gay priests, but I don’t anymore.  One bunch is screwing around like they live in the world’s biggest gay bar. The other bunch goes on with their lives and pretends that this behavior doesn’t involve them.  Yes, it does.  How can they write homilies with atrocities happening right in the next room?  I would ask them to reflect on how to live a holy life with compromised morals.

In many ways, the most disgust is reserved for senior churchmen—straight and gay. In Buffalo, they were neither good shepherds nor asset managers. Why isn’t Pope Francis calling them to Rome and publicly knocking their mitres off their heads?  THAT would make for an Emmy-award-winning show!

 

 

 

Archbishop Lori Investigates Bishop Bransfield’s Mess and Ends Up With One of His Own

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jul 8, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Scandals, Sex

Bishop Bransfield’s lifestyle was too transparent.  Archbishop Lori’s investigation of him wasn’t transparent enough.

Bishop Michael J. Bransfield is the retired bishop of the Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia diocese. He currently lives near Philadelphia, PA. Pope Francis accepted his resignation eight days after he turned 75 in September 2018.  Bransfield was appointed bishop by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.  West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the U.S., and has very few Catholics, about 78,000 or just 4% of the population.  Before he was named bishop, Bransfield was the rector of the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC from 1990 to 2005.  He arrived in West Virginia with a reputation for enjoying a “party atmosphere” from his time in Washington. Bishop Bransfield was a regular visitor to the Vatican.  In 2010 he presented a cake to Pope Benedict for the pope’s 83rd birthday.  He was elected president of the Papal Foundation by his fellow clerics.  This nonprofit distributes millions of dollars to charitable projects on the pope’s behalf.

A few days after Bishop Bransfield’s retirement Pope Francis appointed Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Maryland as apostolic administrator, with a mandate to investigate allegations of sexual harassment of adults and financial improprieties by Bishop Bransfield.

Archbishop William E. Lori is the archbishop of the Baltimore, Maryland archdiocese and metropolitan for the region. He was appointed archbishop of Baltimore by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.  In the 1990s, he served as secretary, chancellor, moderator of the curia, and vicar general to James Cardinal Hickey, Archbishop of Washington, DC who was a rabid tormenter of New Ways Ministry, a positive LGBT Catholic ministry.  In 2001, Lori was appointed bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut. While serving in Bridgeport, Lori fought against releasing the names of diocesan priests who were being sued for sexual abuse. Since then, he has gone up the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops career ladder rung by rung. He is the former chairman and current member of the USCCB Committee on Doctrine; Ad Hoc Committee on Universities and Colleges, Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage, Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, and chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

I encountered Bishop Lori in 2007, when he was still in Bridgeport but serving as the chair of the USCCB committee on Doctrine.  The Vatican had recently published Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care.  This document was extremely hurtful and negative to lesbian and gay Catholics.  Along with another couple, my wife and I sent a letter to Bishop Lori describing our feelings about it and expressed a wish to meet with him face-to-face to discuss our lives as Catholic lesbians and mothers.  We received a terse letter in reply, very dismissive and cutting in tone, telling us to reread the document and read the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Archbishop Lori’s Investigation

Archbishop Lori’s investigation was probably sparked by an 8-page letter with supporting documents he received in August 2018 from Monsignor Kevin Quirk, Bransfield’s own judicial vicar.  The letter detailed Bransfield’s monetary gifts. “It is my own opinion,” Quirk stated, “that (Bransfield) makes use of monetary gifts, such as those shown above, to higher ranking ecclesiastics and gifts to subordinates to purchase influence from the former, and compliance or loyalty from the latter.”  Besides documentation on cash gifts, the letter details prescription drug and alcohol abuse by Bransfield, and explosive testimonies from young priests who worked as assistants to Bransfield, along with a third priest who had been offered the job, describing unwanted sexual advances, groping, and sexual abuse.

Shortly after Bransfield’s retirement, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Lori to oversee an investigation into the charges. He and his team of five lay people completed a 60-page report of their findings in February 2019.  It was forwarded to the Vatican for review and action. The report was made public on March 11, 2019 by the Archdiocese of Baltimore.  The team examined multiple allegations of sexual harassment and suspicious financial records.  They interviewed more than 40 people, including Bishop Bransfield.  After the report was released Archbishop Lori announced restrictions on Bishop Bransfield’s ministry.

But it wasn’t over.  Archbishop Lori made a few serious mistakes, and the investigation of Bishop Bransfield, already messy and potentially embarrassing, snowballed into a genuine financial and sexual scandal.

Archbishop Lori’s First Mistake

 Archbishop Lori edited the final report to the Vatican, omitting the cash gifts given to him by Bishop Bransfield and 11 other high-ranking Vatican and U.S. clerics.  His reasoning: the list of recipients would be a “distraction.”  His edits came to light as part of a June 5, 2019 story by The Washington Post into the Bransfield case.  Reporters were able to obtain both the original and final drafts of the report and a comparison of the two revealed the deletions.  The investigators on Lori’s team did not raise any objection to his request to exclude mention of the gifts to cardinals and other church officials.  After the redaction was published by The Washington Post, Archbishop Lori had a change of heart.  He said, “looking back on this in hindsight, I would say this judgement call was a mistake.”

Also noteworthy, only after publication of The Washington Post expose did Archbishop Lori refunded $7,500 of the $10,500 he received from Bishop Bransfield to Catholic Charities of the Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia diocese.

Archbishop Lori’s Second Mistake

Archbishop Lori, as metropolitan of the region, had received complaints from Catholics in the diocese about Bishop Bransfield for six years prior to his investigation.  He never did anything about them and didn’t mention them in his report.

On July 3, 2019 The Washington Post reported that concerns about Bishop Bransfield’s profligate spending were raised with senior Church authorities in the United States and Rome as early as 2012.  Catholics in the diocese sent letters and emails to Archbishop Lori and the former apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano asking them to investigate Bishop Bransfield’s lifestyle and leadership. They were ignored.

Archbishop Vigano—whose histrionics about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s abuse of young priests and seminarians made the news repeatedly in 2018 and 2019—also received complaints about Bishop Bransfield.  One parishioner, Linda Abrahamian from Martinsburg, West Virginia, wrote to him in 2013: “I beg of you to please look into this situation.” Vigano confirmed to The Washington Post that he had heard “rumors” about Bransfield’s sexual misconduct, but that they had never been “substantiated.”  “Unfortunately, I do not recall having received any letter of this nature,” Vigano said, “which I would certainly remember and which I would have followed up on.  That being said, the Nunciature receives many complaints every single day about all sorts of things, and it is probable enough that unfortunately this letter was not considered to be serious enough to be brought to my attention.  However, the letter, if it was received, is probably filed in the archives of the Nunciature, thus it may be verified.”

I bet.  Vigano is the same official who tried to quash an investigation into Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt, who also had a predilection for seminarians and young priests.  In 2014 Vigano ordered that documents implicating Nienstedt in an independent sex abuse investigation be destroyed.

Bishop Bransfield’s Gifts

In his 13-year reign Bishop Michael J. Bransfield gave cash gifts to fellow clerics totaling $350,000. He wrote personal checks and was reimbursed with church money.  Bransfield sent the checks, many for amounts in four figures, to 137 clergymen, including two young priests he is accused of sexually harassing and more than a dozen cardinals. Some of the “gifts” were for delivering sermons or speeches, other checks were for birthdays or Christmas. Many did not have a notation. The recipients of the largest amounts were among the most influential men in the church in the U.S. and Rome.  They included:

Archbishop William E. Lori (archbishop of Baltimore) – $10,500

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano (former papal nuncio to U.S.) – $6,000

Cardinal Raymond Burke (former Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura) – $9,600

Cardinal Donald Wuerl (former archbishop of Washington, DC) – $23,600 ($10,000 for a church in Rome)

Cardinal Timothy Dolan (archbishop of New York)-

Cardinal Kevin Farrell (Prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life)- $29,000 (for renovations on Rome apartment)

Cardinal Bernard Law (former archbishop of Boston, Archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore)- $4,800

Archbishop Peter Wells (former official at the Secretariat of State)

Rev. Michael Weston, Monsignor Walter Rossi, Monsignor Vito Buonanno – Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (Rossi succeeded Bransfield as rector) – collectively $10,800

Monsignor Kevin Irwin (former head of the theology department, Catholic University of America) – $6,500

Rev. Pietro Sambi (former apostolic nuncio to U.S.) – $28,000

Rev. Richard Mullins (priest in Washington, DC)

Rev. Sean Bransfield (nephew, vice chancellor of the archdiocese of Philadelphia) – $9,175

Monsignor Brian Bransfield (nephew, general secretary, US Conference of Catholic Bishops) – $1,350

Cardinal Edmund Szoka (top Vatican official) – $500

Bishop George V. Murray (Youngstown, Ohio diocese) – $3,000

Men who accused Bishop Bransfield (during and after alleged sexual misconduct) – $50-$300

Rev. Frederick P. Annie, Vicar General, Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, WV (Bransfield’s most senior aide) – The three men who held the role received a total of $38,000)

A breakdown of Archbishop Lori’s gifts showed he was given $5,000 when appointed archbishop of Baltimore, $3,000 for travel expenses and honoraria for preaching at two Red Masses in the Diocese of Wheeling Charleston (an annual event to pray for those in the judicial and legislative branches of government) and the rest as $500 gifts given on the holidays.

Even though it is not common practice for bishops to give cash gifts, “usually, if anything, it’s a poinsettia at Christmas or lilies at Easter,” Lori said, he “simply (thought) Bransfield was being generous and kind” when he gave him money. “I didn’t think much more about it than that.”

Nary a thought flickered across his mind…a $5,000 gift from the bishop of one of the poorest dioceses in the U.S.?

Bishop Bransfield – Where the Money Came From

Bishop Bransfield had his own cash kitty to play with – an endowment to the diocese of oil-rich land in Texas that generated an average of $15 million annually.

The roots of this unusual wealth for the diocese date back to the late 1800s, to a friendship struck on a transatlantic cruise ship between a bishop from Wheeling and a New York heiress.  When she died in 1904, Sara Catherine Aloysia Tracy left most of her estate to the diocese, including a large tract of land in west Texas.  Oil was discovered there decades later.

The income generated from mineral rights generates an average of $15 million a year, funding an endowment of nearly $230 million. Bishop Bransfield wrote checks from his personal account and had the endowment reimburse him.  He used over $2.4 million on travel, much of it personal, flying in chartered jets and staying in luxury hotels. He had a private chef. He also used $324,000 for clothing, jewelry and “personal services.”  The diocese paid $4.6 to renovate his residence.

According to the report, Bishop Bransfield and several subordinates spent an average of $1,000 a month on alcohol.  When Bransfield was not traveling, fresh flowers were delivered daily to the chancery, at the cost of $100 a day, almost $182,000 in total. Bransfield’s spending reminds me a lot of the former archbishop of Newark, NJ, John J. Myers, another pleasure-loving prelate in a poor diocese.  A contemporary of Bransfield, Myers also enjoyed destination vacations and lavish spending on his residence.

Why was Bishop Bransfield able to get away with it for so long?  He was nasty, vindictive and intimidating. The men around him were afraid for their positions and careers. They did nothing and said nothing.

A partner at the auditing firm hired by Bransfield told investigators he was “afraid to challenge Bishop Bransfield’s decisions because of the bishop’s position and his overall demeanor.” The diocesan staff said and did nothing out of fear of retaliation and retribution. They opted to protect their positions and careers. Bishop Branfield’s two top aides, Monsignor Kevin Quirk, the judicial vicar, and vicar general Rev. Frederick P. Annie, discussed concerns about the bishop’s conduct with young men but did nothing to stop it, the report said.  “Tell it to the Nuncio,” Annie said when Quirk raised the issue.  Annie acknowledged to investigators that taking a complaint about the bishop to the nuncio would have been “career ending.”

Intervention would also have ended their cash gifts. Vicar General Annie, and the two other men who served in the position, received $38,000. Pietro Sambi, papal nuncio from 2005-2011 took in $28,000 over the years.  Carlo Maria Vigano, papal nuncio from 2011-2016 got $6,000 during that period.  There is no mention of Pope Francis’ appointee, Archbishop Christophe Pierre (2016-present).  Perhaps he didn’t take the bait.

Bishop Bransfield – Life as a Gay Bishop

Archbishop Lori outlined details of what the investigation had found about Bishop Bransfield’s piggish behavior: “The team uncovered a consistent pattern of sexual innuendo and covert suggestive comments and actions toward those over whom the former bishop exercised authority.”

The report cites nine men in the Wheeling-Charleston diocese who accused Bransfield of running his hands over their genitals, kissing them, exposing himself, and commenting on their sexual attractiveness.  Diocesan officials witnessed Bransfield’s “predatory” behavior toward altar servers, a tendency troubling enough that Monsignor Quirk tried to make sure that no altar server was left alone with him.

One seminarian recalled sitting on Bransfield’s lap, being kissed by the bishop and thinking, “I either do this or completely reinvent my life.” Bransfield asked him to take his pants off.

Seminarians and young priests asked for help.  They were instructed instead to “make your boundaries clear,” or told they had no choice but to join Bishop Bransfield on trips or sleepovers at his residence.  Bransfield used alcohol, oxycodone and other prescription drugs, which “likely contributed to his harassing and abusive behavior,” the report states.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Bishop Bransfield disputed the allegations, saying “none of it is true,” but declined to go into detail since his attorneys had advised him not to comment.  “Everybody’s trying to destroy my reputation,” Bransfield said without elaborating. “These people are terrible to me.”

In his June 5, 2019 letter to priests and lay faithful of the Wheeling-Charleston diocese, Archbishop Lori remarked: “I am deeply pained by and sorry for the harm that the former bishop caused to those he was charged with shepherding in a spirit of Christ-like humility, service, pastoral care and charity.  There is no excuse, nor adequate explanation, that will satisfy the troubling question of how his behavior was allowed to continue for as long as it did without the accountability that we must require of those who have been entrusted with so much – both spiritual and material – as bishops and pastors.”

Archbishop Lori’s words are strong and clear. Now, the hard part. Bishops need to get tough with rogue bishops—thieves, liars, sexual abusers and men who don’t practice what they preach.  They need to confront them, and they need to eliminate them from their ranks.  No more live and let live and looking the other way. Starting with you, Archbishop Lori!  This is also true for diocesan officials. All too often the desire for a cushy career outweighs their sense of decency. Get some backbone.  Blow the whistle on corrupt prelates that are a cancer and rot on the faith.

Update A Penthouse, Limousines and Private Jets: Inside the Globe-Trotting Life of Bishop Michael Bransfield – from Hear Our Voices, The Gay Catholic Priests’ Blog.

 

 

 

 

Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jun 21, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Faith, History, Politics, Popes

On October 15, 2017 Pope Francis announced a special synod on the Pan-Amazonian Region to take place in Rome.  It is scheduled for October 6-27, 2019. 

The synod arose out of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, “Caring for Our Common Home,” which called for action on global warming, environmental pollution and pinpointed the Amazon region as a chief area of concern.

The Pan-Amazon region spans over two million square miles within nine countries, including Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Columbia, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana and French Guyana. It is home to 33 million people, among them 3 million indigenous people representing 400 different tribes.  It is the source of one-fifth of the world’s fresh water, one-fourth of all oxygen and more than one-third of global forest reserves.

Taking part in the synod will be bishops from the nine countries encompassing Amazonia, presidents of the seven bishops’ conferences, and representatives of non-governmental organizations that work in the region.  Chief among them will be REPAM, or Red Eclesial PanAmazonica, an ecclesial network of bishops created in 2014 to promote the rights and dignity of people living in the Amazon. It is backed by CELAM, the Latin American Bishops’ Conference. Caritas Internationalis is a founding member. REPAM embodies the promise Pope Francis made in the Amazon town of Maldonado, Peru to affirm “a whole-hearted option for the defense of life, the defense of the earth and the defense of cultures.”

The 16-page preparatory document for the synod was published on June 8, 2018. It is titled “Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.”The document was written by the Vatican’s office for the synod with the help of an 18-member council appointed by Pope Francis to oversee the 2019 meeting.  The synod council included three cardinals, 13 bishops, one nun and a layman.  Most members are from countries in the Amazon region.  The document is organized as a Preamble, Section I – Seeing, Section II – Discernment, Section III – Action, and Questionnaires that were widely circulated to provide material for each of the three sections.

The synod’s preparatory document makes clear that central issues will focus on environmental protection, the rights of indigenous people, and evangelization. But what is articulated within these issues will ignite change not only in the Amazon, but throughout the Catholic Church.

It is obvious that most pundits from Europe and North America who follow church happenings did not read this document carefully. If they did, they would be shocked. This synod is not about a group of natives in the Amazon rainforest with a few mentions of climate change thrown in. Pope Francis and the Synod Council are attempting to shift Catholic culture and religious practice from the Eurocentric and clerical sub-culture model to one drawn from values and cultures based in the Southern Hemisphere, with ripples extending to Africa and Asia. Europe’s domination of 1,000 years is ending. 

The clash of values that dominates so much of the Eurocentric Church today will be subsumed into other cultural debates. There, they may find a new voice, fade away or be viewed as irrelevant. How important are religious liberty, same-sex marriage, denying communion to pro-abortion politicians, sex abuse and cover up, women priests, married priesthood, conscience rights, “authentic” Catholic definitions, and “reform of the reform” of Vatican II in Amazonia?  Newer issues like racism, rights of indigenous people, migrants and immigration, gender theory, LGBT civil rights, lay involvement, habitat protection, and economic equity should get more traction, but the results will be a mixed bag of blessings for both progressives and conservatives.

Here is what I see emerging from the Amazonia Synod:

  1. A new emphasis on “Integral Ecology” – everything is connected and environmental abuse as sin
  2. Evangelization to where people are physically and spiritually–however remote
  3. Older married men ordained as priests to administer the sacraments
  4. Increased role in ministry and governance for women
  5. A cultural and spiritual sift away from a Eurocentric Catholicism

Each of the sections of the preliminary document has markers and flash points intimating where Pope Francis and the Church are heading with this Synod.

  1. Identity and Cries of the Pan-Amazonia

“Nonetheless, the wealth of the Amazonian rainforest and rivers is being threatened by expansive economic interests, which assert themselves in various parts of the territory. Such interests lead, among other things, to the intensification of indiscriminate logging in the rainforest, as well as the contamination of rivers, lakes and tributaries (due to the indiscriminate use of agro-toxins, oil spills, legal and illegal mining, and byproducts from the production of narcotics.) Added to this is drug trafficking, which together with the above puts at risk the survival of those peoples who depend on the region’s animal and plant resources.” 

“For the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin, the good life comes from living in communion with other people, with the world, and with the creatures of their environment, and with the Creator.  Their diverse spiritualities and beliefs motivate them to live in communion with the soil, water, trees, animals, and with day and night. Wise elders – called interchangeably “payes, mestres, wayanga or chamanes”, among others – promote the harmony of people among themselves and with the cosmos. Indigenous peoples are a living memory of the mission that God has entrusted to us all: the protection of our common home.”

2. Toward a Pastoral and Ecological Conversion

 “This social – and even cosmic – dimension of the mission of evangelization is particularly relevant in the Amazon region, where the interconnectivity between human life, ecosystems, and spiritual life was, and continues to be, apparent to the vast majority of its inhabitants.”

“Integral ecology, then, invites us to an integral conversion. This entails the recognition of our errors, sins, faults, failures and omissions by which we have harmed God’s creation and leads to heartfelt repentance.  Only when we are aware of how our lifestyles – and the ways we produce, trade, consume, and discard – affect the life of our environment and our societies can we initiate a comprehensive change of direction.”

3. New Paths for a Church with an Amazonian Face

 “The Church is called to deepen her identity in accordance with the realities of each territory and to grow her spirituality by listening to the wisdom of her peoples. Therefore, the Special Assembly for the Pan-Amazonian Region is invited to find new ways of developing the Amazonian face of the Church and to respond to situations of injustice in the region, such as the neocolonialism of the extractive industries, infrastructure projects that damage its biodiversity, and the imposition of cultural and economic models which are alien to the lives of its people.”

“In this sense, Vatican II reminds us that all the People of God share in the priesthood of Christ, although it distinguishes between common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood.  This gives way to an urgent need to evaluate and rethink the ministries that today are required to respond to the objectives of “a Church with a native face.”

“It is necessary to identify the type of official ministry that can be conferred on women, taking into account the central role which women play today in the Amazonian Church. It is also necessary to foster indigenous and local-born clergy, affirming their own cultural identity and values.  Finally, new ways should be considered for the People of God to have better and more frequent access to the Eucharist, the center of Christian life.”

The Synod’s preparatory document cites a wide swath of church documents, three provide the biggest stamp:

1. Laudato Si – (“Praise Be to You”) The 2nd encyclical of Pope Francis has the subtitle, “On Care for Our Common Home.” In it, Pope Francis critiques consumerism and irresponsible development, and laments environmental degradation and global warning. It calls on the peoples of the world to act. The encyclical was published on June 18, 2015.

2. The Aparecida Document – This document summarized the 2007 meeting of CELAM—the regional Episcopal Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean. The meeting was held in Aparecida, Brazil, and was chaired by Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis.  In the document, the Latin American bishops expressed what they believed to be keys in keeping Catholicism alive and relevant in Latin American.  Those “keys” included a preferential option for the poor and marginalized, and a serious concern for the environment.

3. Pope Francis’ January 19, 2018 Address to the Indigenous People of Amazonia at Maldonado, Peru – During his trip to Chile and Peru, Pope Francis met and addressed thousands of native Amazonians in an indoor stadium at Puerto Maldonado, a city on Peru’s Amazon frontier. It is the capital of Madre de Dios, a region plagued by illegal mining and human trafficking. In his remarks, the pope noted that the “native Amazonian peoples have probably never been so threatened on their own lands as they are at present.”  He spoke about threats from extractive exploitation, environmental contamination and illegal mining. He also addressed the oppression of native people by certain policies and movements under the guise of preserving nature that deprive them of their land, natural resources and livelihoods.  Pope Francis promised participants to affirm a “whole-hearted option for the defense of life, the defense of the earth and the defense of cultures.”

There are several key players in the development of the Synod Council and preparatory document. Since I don’t read Spanish, and there is very little coverage of South America by U.S. journalists, I may have missed a few names but I believe I netted the biggest fish.

Pope Francis

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on December 17, 1936, Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis on March 13, 2013, when he was named 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Bergoglio, the first pope from South America, took his papal title after St. Francis of Assisi of Italy.  The first Jesuit pope, Bergoglio was ordained in 1969, and from 1973-1979 was the provincial superior for Argentina.  Prior to his election as pope, Bergoglio served as archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1998-2013.  He was named a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2001.  In his six years as pope, Francis has championed the world’s poor and marginalized people, emphasized mercy over rules, and been actively involved in environmental advocacy and political diplomacy.

“We are not faced with two separate crisis, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.”

 Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri

Cardinal Baldisseri has served as general secretary of the Synod of Bishops since September 21, 2013.  He introduced and explained in depth the Amazonia synod’s preparatory document during the Vatican press conference on June 8, 2018.  Hand-picked by Francis to reorganize the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Baldisseri is a veteran of the Vatican diplomatic corps.  He has served as apostolic nuncio to Paraguay, India, Nepal and Brazil (2002-2012). In Brazil, he negotiated an agreement regulating the juridical status of the church.

“Although the theme refers to a specific territory, such as the Pan-Amazon region – and this is why we speak about the “Pan-Amazon Synod” – the reflections that concern it go beyond the regional context, because they regard the whole Church and also the future of the planet. These reflections are intended to bridge to other similar geographical realities such as, for example, the Congo basin, the Central American biological corridor, the tropical forests of Asia in the Pacific, and the Guarani aquifer system. This great ecclesial, civic and ecological project allows us to extend our gaze beyond their respective borders and to redefine pastoral lines, making them suitable for today’s times. For these reasons too the Synod will be held in Rome.”

 Cardinal Claudio Hummes

Pope Frances chose Brazil’s Cardinal Claudio Hummes to serve as regulator general of the October synod on Amazonia.  The nomination of the 84-year-old retired archbishop of Sao Paulo was announced at the Vatican on May 4, 2019. The regular is responsible for providing a comprehensive outline of the synod’s theme at the beginning of the meeting and for summarizing the speeches of synod members before work begins on concrete proposals for the pope.  Cardinal Hummes was a former perfect of the Congregation for Clergy and has been a close friend of the pope since Jorge Mario Bergoglio was archbishop of Buenos Aires. Cardinal Hummes currently serves as president of REPAM, or the Red Eclesial Pan-Amazonica (or Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network.)  Founded in 2014, REPAM is a network backed by the Latin American Bishops Conference to promote the rights and dignity of people living in the Amazon.  Caritas Internationalis is a founding member.

“Back in 2015 the pope started to tell me, “I’m thinking of convening a meeting of all the bishops of Amazonia. As of yet, I don’t know what type of meeting or assembly, but I think that it could even be a synod.” He said to me, Let us pray about it together, and he began to speak to the bishops, to the episcopal conferences of the Amazonian region, about how to have an assembly, and so in his heart there grew the idea of a synod, and eventually in 2017 he convoked it.  We have worked hard for the synod, and we will continue to do so in this very important service for the future.  The synod serves to find and trace new paths for the Church.”

“We know now there is another step to take: we have to promote an indigenous Church for the indigenous peoples, to help give birth to and nurture the growth of an indigenous Church. The aboriginal communities that hear the Gospel proclamation in one way or another, and that embrace it, which is to say, they welcome Jesus Christ, have to be able to ensure that, through an opportune process, their faith can become incarnate and inculturated in their traditional reality.  Then, in the context of their culture, identity, history and spirituality, an indigenous Church can arise with its own pastors and ordained ministers, always united within itself, and in total communion with the universal Catholic Church, but inculturated in indigenous cultures.”

Cardinal Ricardo Barreto Jimeno

 A Jesuit, and archbishop of Huancayo, Peru since 2004, Cardinal Barreto is vice president of the Peruvian bishops’ conference.  He is also vice president of REPAM (Red Eclesial Pan-Amazonica).  According to Cardinal Barreto, “new paths” will be defined during the synod, directed toward care for creation and evangelization.

Cardinal Barreto has long been a proponent of environmental protection.  Back in 2005 he told his brother bishops during a synod that bread and wine offered at the altar were no good if the land they came from was not properly cared for. “I said that if we offer bread from land that’s contaminated, we are offering God a contaminated fruit. And the same for wine…I remember that the bishops looked at me as if they were saying, ‘What does the Eucharist have to do with ecology?’”

“Too many people think the indigenous in the Amazon are savages with nothing to teach us. ..as one Amazonian indigenous person told me, the savages are the ones who wear suits and ties and have money because they not only exploit natural resources irrationally but also expel (the indigenous people) from their territories and allow those from the outside to attack their culture simply to profit.”

 General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira

 Augusto Heleno, 72, is a Brazilian politician and retired general. He was military commander of the Amazon and chief of the Department of Science and Technology of the Army.  He was chosen by Brazil’s newly elected president, Jair Bolsonaro, to head the Institutional Security Cabinet, an executive level office of the federal government responsible for assistance to the president on matters of national security and defense policy.

Bolsonaro campaigned on promises to end protections of the Amazon rainforest and limit Brazil’s indigenous peoples’ rights to designate land in the river’s sprawling basin as preserves.  In one of his first acts as president, he gave responsibility for indigenous preserves to the Agriculture Ministry, which is seen as heavily influenced by agribusiness interests.

A major Brazilian newspaper, O Estado de S. Paulo, reported on February 10, 2019 that the synod has become a national concern for the Brazilian government. General Augusto Heleno was quoted in the story as saying, in reference to the synod, “We are worried about it and want to neutralize it.” The government’s strategy for neutralizing the Amazonia synod reportedly includes planting intelligence agents to monitor preparatory meetings and putting diplomatic pressure on the Italian government to intercede with the Vatican to avoid, or at least tone down, criticism of Brazil’s Amazon policies.

“There are foreign (non-governmental organizations) and international authorities who want to intervene in our treatment of the Brazilian Amazon…I’m worried that this Synod is going to interfere in our sovereignty.  We know what we have to do.  We know how to do sustainable development, to stop deforestation.”

 Mauricio Lopez

Mauricio Lopez is the executive secretary of REPAM.  He was the one lay person appointed to the Synod Council by Pope Francis. Lopez grew up in Mexico and was educated in Jesuit schools.  He and his wife, who is Ecuadorian, moved to Ecuador over a decade ago.  In 2009, he took a trip to the part of the Amazon basin that sits on Ecuador’s eastern borders.  “I came by bus from the highest mountains with snow,” he described, and suddenly I entered this beautiful place, where I saw the biggest river, the entrance into the Amazon, and how the flora and fauna were always changing as we went down, down, down. The temperature changed radically, and I felt, too, a change within me,” he said.

“The Amazon reality requires us to be a braver and more prophetic church.”

The Amazonia initiative brings back an echo of my own past. 

Back in the mid-1970s, as a young woman in Alaska, I fought for large tracts of Alaskan lands to be preserved as wilderness areas–national parks, refuges and monuments. I wanted government agencies to insist on environmental protections for areas that were mined, logged or slated for oil and natural gas extraction. The native peoples of Alaska—Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Athabascan, Aleut, Inupiat and Yupik were different, but each group was deeply connected to the land by a deep love for it, cultural heritage and identity.  One connection was through the subsistence lifestyle—fishing, trapping, hunting and harvesting on their ancestral lands.

During that time, I never heard a religious person—priest, religious sister, bishop, pastoral associate, anyone—speak up for Alaska natives or for wise natural resources management.  At that time, the Catholic church made no connection between Nature and Faith.  I missed having my faith strengthen my environmental activism and support for native land rights; and my love for the land and forest strengthen my spirituality and religious conviction.

It now seems like a dream come true; one I have waited almost 40 years to see. Thank you, Pope Francis, and everyone who is making the Amazonia Synod happen.  I’ll be praying for you and us.