Friday, April 25, 2014

Opus Dei Brings Out Their Best Spin Meister's To Defend Their Pope

Greg Burke must have felt a strong need to pull his fellow OD member Jaoquin Navarro-Valls out of retirement on behalf of respinning JPII's dismal record on clerical abuse.

I swore I wasn't going to write one more word on the upcoming Canonizations of JPII and John XXIII, but that was not to be.  This morning Joshua McElwee posted an article for the NCR in which two very prominent JPII apologists attempt to convince us JPII acted with expediency on clergy sexual abuse.  The two men are, American neocon George Weigel and JPII's papal spokesman Dr Jaoquin Navarro-Valls.  Both are closely connected with Opus Dei.  This is important because JPII decreed Opus Dei a Personal Prelature of the Papacy.  This act essentially took OD beyond the control of any local bishop, gave OD a great deal of freedom to operate, and paid back some debts. (For some reason, 'Lannister's always pay their debts' comes to mind.

John Paul II derived great deal of benefit from his association with Opus Dei....all the way to and through out his papacy.  Now that their 'pope' has taken hit after hit in the major news outlets over his handling (mishandling) of the clerical abuse scandal, Opus Dei has brought out their best spinners to defend the soon to be Saint John Paul II.

The following is an excerpt from McElee's article.

.....Navarro-Valls said Friday that John Paul II was not able to act more quickly in Maciel's case because the pope was dying while an investigation he ordered was being concluded. As part of that investigation, Navarro-Valls said, John Paul II had sent Charles Scicluna, then an official at the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and now an auxiliary bishop in Malta, to collect testimony in places around the world.

"The pope knew that the investigation was underway but was not informed of the results" because it was only concluded as he was dying in 2005, Navarro-Valls said. (It hasn't gone unnoticed by some of us that as long as the Legion was in the news, Opus Dei wasn't. On the other hand, this is also a tacit admission someone else was running JPII"s papacy in it's final years.  I wonder who that was?)

The former spokesperson also said he met with Pope Benedict in the "first days of his pontificate" to discuss the findings in the Maciel investigation.

Navarro-Valls said he pressed upon the new pope in that meeting the importance of making the results of the investigation public, which he said Benedict immediately agreed to, telling him to hold a press conference the next day. (Navarro-Valls statement is true only in the sense that we were told Maciel was ordered to a life of penance.  We were not told why he was so ordered, nor given any details from the investigation itself.  Nor were any apologies issued to Maciel's victims.)
Also speaking Friday at the Vatican briefing was American writer George Weigel, who has written several biographies of Pope John Paul II. He also defended the pontiff's record in responding to clergy sexual abuse.
During the time of reporting on sexual abuse in the Boston archdiocese in 2002, Weigel said, there was "an information gap" between the news being made public in the United States and at the Vatican. (Oh, that's right.  This was all happening in that time frame when no one in the Vatican knew how to use the internet. Of course there was an information gap.....cough, cough.)

"I think there was an information gap particularly between the United States and the Holy See in the first months of 2002 so that the pope was not living this crisis in real time as we were in the U.S.," Weigel said.  (It's hard to function in real time when your handlers don't give you real time information.)

"But once he became fully informed in April of that year, he acted decisively to deal with those problems," he said.  (This would be precisely the time that Secretary of State Cardinal Sodano would have become aware of the fact that Boston's Cardinal Law suddenly needed a position with the Holy See.) 

In April 2002, John Paul met with 12 U.S. cardinals and bishops' conference officers at the Vatican. He told them he was "deeply grieved" by news of clerical sexual abuse and said there was no place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm children.  (And took exactly no meaningful action.)

Weigel also said that John Paul II had been a "great reformer" of the Catholic priesthood and had faced a "crisis" during the 1970s of "weak seminary formation" of priests, a "small minority" of who were engaging in sexual abuse....... (I can't wait for Bill Donohue to use these exact same talking points....except 'a small minority' will become 'gay priests'.)


The quick canonization of JPII and the coupling of same with the fudging of qualifications for John XXIII may not go down as high points in Pope Francis' legacy.  All I've gotten out of this is that canonization has become a political process as opposed to a spiritual process.  Personally, I wait for the day the Church begins to canonize people whose miracles happen in their lives and not after their deaths....and involve other areas than medical miracles.  The truth is the placebo effect is far more efficacious than the efforts of either of these popes, but I would imagine that's not a truth pious Catholics want to believe.

Now for a quick personal note.  I was not able to do much with this blog for the last two weeks due to commitments at work.  Between being down two full staff positions and compensating for mandatory training, all of us saw far more of work than we might have liked.  Hopefully that's over for awhile and I can get back on a more regular writing schedule. 


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Pope Francis On The Possibility of Married Priests

For some reason when discussing the priest shortage, one rarely hears that one big reason is the increase in lay Catholics.  That the increase in Catholic laity is mirrored by the decrease in Catholic priests makes for an interesting statistical picture....... and in a not good kind of way.

Pope Francis has been in office for just over a year and finally he has given us an idea of what he meant when he suggested that Bishop's conferences should share in determining the direction of the Church in their own geographical areas.  I am not surprised that a married priesthood is one of the first of these areas.  The following is taken from the Tablet and is an excerpt of the article by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt.
Pope says married men could be ordained priests if world's bishops agree on it 
10 April 2014 15:23 by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt
A bishop who met with Pope Francis in a rare private audience on 4 April has said in an interview that the two men discussed the issue of the ordination of “proven” married men – viri probati – in a serious and positive way.

Bishop Erwin Kräutler, Bishop of Xingu in the Brazilian rainforest, spoke to the Pope about Francis’ forthcoming encyclical on the environment, and the treatment of indigenous peoples but the desperate shortage of priests in the bishop’s huge diocese came up in the conversation. According to an interview the Austrian-born bishop gave to the daily Salzburger Nachrichten on 5 April, the Pope was open-minded about finding solutions to the problem, saying that bishops’ conferences could have a decisive role.

“I told him that as bishop of Brazil’s largest diocese with 800 church communities and 700,000 faithful I only had 27 priests, which means that our communities can only celebrate the Eucharist twice or three times a year at the most,” Bishop Kräutler said. “The Pope explained that he could not take everything in hand personally from Rome. We local bishops, who are best acquainted with the needs of our faithful, should be corajudos, that is ‘courageous’ in Spanish, and make concrete suggestions,” he explained. A bishop should not act alone, the Pope told Kräutler. He indicated that “regional and national bishops’ conferences should seek and find consensus on reform and we should then bring up our suggestions for reform in Rome,” Kräutler said. (Every time I read a comment from a conservative Catholic that implies the priest shortage will be solved by conservative seminaries, I seriously wonder how informed their understanding of this shortage really is.  27 priests for 700,000 Catholics is not a shortage, it's a catastrophe. Bishop Krautler's diocese is far from alone in the global church.)

Asked whether he had raised the question of ordaining married men at the audience, Bishop Kräutler replied: “The ordination of viri probati, that is of proven married men who could be ordained to the priesthood, came up when we were discussing the plight of our communities. The Pope himself told me about a diocese in Mexico in which each community had a deacon but many had no priest. There were 300 deacons there who naturally could not celebrate the Eucharist. The question was how things could continue in such a situation. (The better question is why things have been allowed to get to this point.)

"It was up to the bishops to make suggestions, the Pope said again.”
Bishop Kräutler was then asked whether it now depended on bishops’ conferences, as to whether church reforms proceeded or not. “Yes,” he replied. “After my personal discussion with the Pope I am absolutely convinced of this.”

Last September the Vatican Secretary of State, then-Archbishop Pietro Parolin – who was then Apostolic Nuncio to Venezuela – answered a question put to him by El Universal newspaper by stating that priestly celibacy “is not part of church dogma and the issue is open to discussion because it is an ecclesiastical tradition”. “Modifications can be made, but these must always favour unity and God’s will,” he said. “God speaks to us in many different ways. We need to pay attention to this voice that points us towards causes and solutions, for example the clergy shortage.”.......(And this is just a nicer way of saying the solution will not include women.)


For those who don't know, Latin American bishops brought up the question of married priests during Vatican II.  Pope Paul VI killed that notion.  This was over 50 years ago.  Since then the priest shortage has gone critical all across the global Church.  If American Catholics think it's bad in the States, in South America and Africa it's much worse, and it doesn't help these areas that Bishops in the West are filling their depleted ranks with priests imported from the developing world.  Demographic trends with in the priesthood project an even deeper crisis as the greater majority of today's priests reach retirement age in ten to fifteen years.  But the truth is, in many dioceses there really isn't any such thing as a priest fully retiring as long as they can still walk and talk.

The issue that has really mystified me is why the Vatican has allowed this situation to develop.  The trends were available to see back in the late 60's and 70's.  Paul VI's insistence on maintaining celibacy only accelerated the trends and while the Vatican lists about 69,000 priests as having asked for dispensation from the priesthood from 1965-2000, estimates which include those who left without asking for dispensation top 100,000.  As ominous as those figures are, the real clincher was the 90% drop in seminarians from the unusual levels in the 50's and this drop has resulted in the closure of 2/3rds of seminaries in the US alone. 

It is beyond me, that knowing all these figures, there hasn't been a collective demand for changes to the discipline in the priesthood from our bishops.  It is perhaps this issue that gives a real idea of the kind of 'yes sir, no sir' bishops bequeathed to us by the last two papacies.  Apparently the current zeitgeist in the collective clerical Church is that it is much better to lose the flock than advocate for any change in the priesthood.  I'm not sure there is a stronger statement about their lack of concern for the souls of the laity unless it is their dismal record with clerical abuse---and that was also motivated in part by the desire to protect the myth of the celibate priesthood.

While there is hope in this latest sign of potential change from Pope Francis, there is also frustration.  Ordaining viri probati  would certainly help, but there are also tens of thousands of priests who left to get married who could be reinstated if they so desired.  Many of them do.  And then there is the whole question of ordaining women, but that probably won't happen until the last male priest has taken his last breath and there is no other choice.  However, I think long before that happens, the Church will break out into intentional Eucharistic Communities who will not be tied down by mandates from Rome about who can or cannot say Mass.  The People of God will find their own solutions long before Rome comes up with anything meaningful and maybe that's the answer as to why the Vatican has refused to act for so long.  The answers don't reside in the Vatican.  They reside in the hearts of the People of God where in resides the Holy Spirit.




Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Complicated Knot: Can Fr Francis Stay True To Himself When Acting As Pope Francis?

Mary the Undoer of Knots.  Notice how she is not using scissors or swords to untie these particular knots.  There are no shortcuts to those pesky spiritual knots.

One of the things I have to keep in mind about Pope Francis is that he seems to have two different modes of being Francis.  First there is Fr Francis the elder pastoral traveler on an open ended spiritual pilgrimage along with all the rest of us, and secondly there is Pope Francis the titular monarch with a very different path he walks with the triumphant Magisterial Church and with his fellow global power brokers.  

I always have to keep in mind which Francis is speaking and how far the speech will effect the interactions of the other Francis.  The following article is by Vatican Insider's Andrea Tornielli.  It covers the homily Francis gave this morning at Saint Martha's House.  It's a great representation of the thinking of Fr Francis the fellow pilgrim---until one gets to the second to last paragraph and then there's a bit of the other Francis.

Francis: “Even today there’s a dictatorship of narrow-mindedness”

Andrea Tornielli - Vatican Insider -4/10/2014
Today there is a dictatorship of narrow-mindedness that kills people’s freedom. This was the Pope’s message at his morning mass celebration in St. Martha’s House. 

In his homily Francis reflected on the attitude of the Pharisees and how closed they were to Jesus’ message. Their mistake, the Pope pointed out, was "detaching the commandments from the heart of God.”  They thought everything could be resolved by respecting the commandments. But these commandments "are not just a cold law,” because they are born from a relationship of love and are "indications" that help us avoid mistakes in our journey to meet Jesus, Vatican Radio says, quoting the Pope’s words.(Exactly, commandments, laws, and rules should be directional signs on the pilgrim's road, not final destinations.)

By doing so, the Pharisees close their hearts and minds to “all things new.” "This is the drama of the closed heart, the drama of the closed mind - the Pope said - and when the heart is closed, this heart closes the mind, and when the heart and mind are closed there is no place for God,” only for what we believe should be done.  (And closed hearts and minds are concerned mostly with what they believe should be done by others.)

It is a closed way of thinking that is not open to dialogue, to the possibility that there is something else, the possibility that God speaks to us, tells us about His journey, as he did to the prophets. These people did not listen to the prophets and did not listen to Jesus. It is something greater than a mere stubbornness. No, it is more: it is the idolatry of their own way of thinking. 'I think this, it has to be this way, and nothing more'. These people had a narrow line of thought and wanted to impose this way of thinking on the people of God, Jesus rebukes them for this: ' You burden the people with many commandments and you do not touch them with your finger'.” (For Fr Francis, the last sentence here is the heart of the matter.  We must chance touching others.)

Francis noted that Jesus “rebukes their incoherence.” "The theology of these people becomes a slave to this pattern, this pattern of thought: a narrow line of thought". "There is no possibility of dialogue; there is no possibility to open up to new things which God brings with the prophets. They killed the prophets, these people; they close the door to the promise of God. When this phenomenon of narrow thinking enters human history, how many misfortunes. We all saw in the last century, the dictatorships of narrow thought , which ended up killing a lot of people, but when they believed they were the overlords, no other form of thought was allowed. This is the way they think.”  (It's the way they act as well.)

"Even today there is the idolatry of a narrow line of thought,” Francis said. "Today we have to think in this way and if you do not think in this way, you are not modern, you're not open or worse. Often rulers say: 'I have asked for aid, financial support for this’, ' But if you want this help, you have to think in this way and you have to pass this law, and this other law and this other law…' Even today, there is a dictatorship of a narrow line of thought and this dictatorship is the same as these people: it takes up stones to stone the freedom of the people, the freedom of the people, their freedom of conscience, the relationship of the people with God. Today Jesus is crucified once again.” (Here's another Fr Francis linguistic tool, depending on  one's world view, this paragraph can be read as an attack on fundamentalist religious thinking or on the narrow agenda driven thinking of left wing progressives.)

“The Lord’s exhortation "faced with this dictatorship is always the same: be vigilant and pray; do not be silly, do not buy" things "you do not need, be humble and pray, that the Lord always gives us the freedom of an open heart, to receive his Word which is joy and promise and covenant! And with this covenant move forward!"” the Pope concluded this morning’s mass by saying.


Pope Francis is attempting to walk a very difficult path.  It's a path that holds contradictory and even conflicting expectations.  He is trying to do that which even did Jesus did not attempt, and in fact rejected. Francis is attempting to be a true follower of Christ while holding a position of unchecked power and huge global prestige.  Francis has accepted the devil's final challenge to Jesus in the desert.  Francis now has the whole world at his beck and call while he simultaneously attempts to call the whole world to become the penniless crucified Jesus.  This is the exact challenge which overcame John Paul II, sent Pope Benedict into retirement, thwarted the papacy of Paul VI, and only served to rally the conservative clerical troops against the People of God vision of John XXIII.  No wonder Pope Francis is enamored with the idea of Mary as the 'untier of knots'.  This contradictory dual role will be a tough knot to untangle.

Francis freely admits he failed at this task when he was the Jesuit provincial in Argentina.  He was overcome by his authoritarian side.  I appreciated his forthrightness in admitting this mistake because learning from mistakes is what we're here to do and why the Mercy of God is such an important a concept.  The question for all of us is usually if the lesson sank in deep enough to protect us from repeating it under different circumstances.  For Francis his current circumstances have vastly different consequences should he repeat his mistake and revert to authoritarianism.  I can remember when John Paul II was actually something of a populist in the early years of his papacy but then the traditional papal environment got to him and he became all about authoritarian papal prerogative and very little about humble priestly service.  From day one Francis created an environment around himself intended to deflect the papal temptations and reinforce the humble priest who needs people.  I certainly have respected him for that because it shows he knows well his own tendencies.  I have never thought all of his 'every man' acts were some sort of show.  I've always thought they were part and parcel of how he understood his humanity....everyone urinates even if they do it in gold urinals.  

Unfortunately, indifference to the perks and trappings of high office do not necessarily protect one from succumbing the other temptations of such high office.  We also saw in the last century a number of very powerful dictators who while eschewing the trappings of their position did not disdain to use and increase their very real authoritarian power over others.....and millions died. 

What I really fear is that although Pope Francis sees his papacy as something of a mandate to bring the Church and it's clergy back into some semblance of compliance with Jesus' notions about service, compassion, mercy, and love, Francis will be thwarted in this mission because he doesn't have a clergy willing to suffer loss of status for this vision.  The Pharisees, both clerical and lay, will not open their hearts or minds to a concept of Church which is open ended, poor, and merciful.  That's just way too dangerous to closed minds secure in their knowledge of how the world should work.  They will fight Francis tooth and nail to keep the world as they think it should be because they know this is exactly the way God wants it to run.  I will continue praying that Francis doesn't succumb to that very temptation, which is of course the core truth of the final temptation in the desert....the single minded idolatry of globalizing one's own thinking.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Pell: The Pastor Of Coins

Before heading off to become the Vatican's financial boss, Cardinal Pell had a few rough days explaining how he handled clerical abuse as Australia's clerical boss.  Not well.

I have been following the sexual abuse inquiry by Australia's Royal Commission for weeks.  It's been an eye opener, but nothing opened my eyes quite the way as did the testimony of Sydney's Cardinal Pell.  The Commission put Pell through two and a half days of questioning.  Days of questions for which Pell found all kinds of ways to pass the blame to subordinates, claim a faulty memory, and sometimes use a bizarre logic which seems part and parcel of a mind set removed from the reality of everyday life.  I guess that's not too surprising since Pell has reached the pinnacle of a reality that is by definition removed from much of everyday life, especially if one has chosen to make one's life mission ascending to the heights of that reality.  Cardinal Pell demonstrated in spades why clericalism, amongst some other trends,  will be the death of this Church.  Like many other failed pastoral leaders, he jetted out of Australia the very next day for a new position in Vatican City.  Vatican City, where the clerical heart beats strongest, and where he will become the Pastor of Coins.

The following excerpt is from the Australian blog Pearls and Irritations and was written by Chris Geraghty, a retired New South Wales district court judge.  Judge Geraghty watched the entire proceedings and his take is an honest expression of a Catholic truly saddened by what passed for Catholic pastoral leadership in a time of crisis for the Church of Australia.

"George Pell, Cardinal Archbishop, sat there day after day, an image of King Lear, a broken man, weary, slow and incompetent, a man who had spent his life climbing the greasy clerical pole, now at the tail-end of his life, being forced to answer questions and to confront his conscience, summoning hollow logic to assist in his defence, thrashing about blaming others, constructing academic distinctions, trying to exculpate himself and deflect the load which will inevitably be heaped upon him. His private secretary, Dr Casey, Mr John Davoren, the elderly man and ex-priest who used to be in charge of the healing service of the archdiocese, and Monsignor Brian Rayner, his former chancellor – all muddlers, all incompetent and unable to provide an accurate version of events, while he was macro-managing the show with his hands off the wheel. The board of any public company would have long since called for the resignation of its CEO.....

......As the days wore on and the archbishop grew tired, I began to understand a little of how the man’s brain worked. Slowly. Some confusions. Circles and dead-ends. Non sequiturs. Fending off blows, protecting himself. Appeals to trivial logic in the face of catastrophe. I could see how he came to be a man-made climate change denier, why over the years he had not given a lead on the many ethical and moral issues which were confronting our nation, why he had led the English-speaking world back to the old, fossilized and awkward formulae of the Mass, why he had not even mentioned the name of Father Ted Kennedy when he opened the Jesuit school for aborigines in Redfern, why he was unable to comprehend that his placement of Neo-Cats in Redfern had been a mistake and needed to be remedied, why he had not inspired his Sydney brethren to faith and action, why he had failed to engage the general community and had preferred to identify with the conservative, reactionary forces of times now past. He was dull. Colourless. Distant. Pugnacious. Yesterday’s man. Some might even say dumb. Now, for a few days, we were able to look behind the figure on the plinth, observing a king without his finery, seeing the man behind the frills and furbelows.  It was frightening to see how the system worked – and riveting.....

..... From his evidence, it was clear that Pell was desperate to regulate the outflow from the Church’s financial dam of assets. He wanted to remain in charge of the show. After all, the Roman Catholic Church was different – powerful, independent, international. A history going back centuries. Its own language, structures, legal system, customs and practices. Tax exemptions and immense political influence. She has always been treated as special.....

..... Pell exposed himself before the commission as the prize muddler par excellence. A tragic figure. I positioned myself at the back row of  les arenes,  and watched the commissioner and his cool, analytical counsel-assisting teasing the witness, delivering wounding blows at will, drawing blood, playing with their prey, delaying to the end  their final thrust into the very heart of an old bull already mortally wounded, standing beaten and defense-less in the centre of the ring.


Cardinal Pell managed to do a number of things while leading the Australian Church.  First he brought in a very conservative mindset and supported 'new lay movements' that had power and connections in Rome. Especially those lay movements with direct connections with the two previous popes. These included Opus Dei and the Neo Catechumenate.  Pell also led Vox Clara, the committee which over saw the new English translation of Roman Missal and which conveniently turned itself into a rubber stamp for blatant Vatican control of the translation.  On this front whatever Rome wanted Pell gave them. 

The second thing Pell managed to do was double the assets of the Sydney Archdiocese to some 1.2 billion dollars.  This was a pretty nifty trick given the general world economy during his tenure. One of the reasons for this increase in assets is directly attributable to the outcome of the Ellis case--the very case for which Cardinal Pell was called before the Royal Commission to testify.  The ruling in the Ellis case, which Pell took all the way to the Australian Supreme Court, determined neither the Roman Catholic Church in Australia nor it's Diocesan components were legal entities eligible to be sued in court.  In other words, under Australian law, the Roman Catholic Church did not exist as a legal entity and could not be sued.  Only individual bishops or priest perpetrators could be sued.  Ask Cardinal Mahony recently of the LA Archdiocese what that kind of ruling would have meant to the coffers of the LA Archdiocese....billions saved.  What that ruling meant for Australian victims was a kick in the teeth, but it ultimately resulted in the very Royal Commission which is now vindicating victims like John Ellis.  For an in depth look at the Ellis case and the reasons why Pell is no longer allowed to pastor people, but just coins, I suggest this article from the UK Guardian.  It's long, but well worth reading for the portrait of Pell the as the compassionless competitor who not only ran roughshod over Ellis, but had no scruples about throwing his subordinates and legal team under the landing wheels of his soon to leave for Rome plane.  

I do not think Pell's appointment to Rome as what amounts ot number three in the Vatican behind Pope Francis and Secretary of State Parolin has all that much to do with his personal business acumen as it does with his connections to Opus Dei and members of the Knights of Malta.  As Betty Clermont points out in her latest posting at Open Tabernacle, Pope Francis has appointed a lot of OD members or sympathizers to positions having to do with economic matters.  I sometimes wonder if the real 'work' of Opus Dei isn't using Roman Catholicism as the entry point and front for creating an new form of conservative global corporate oligarchy.  As long as the Holy See retains it's status as a Sovereign State, having all the rights and privileges  minus any obligations, it's an exceptional place from which to engage in global empire building of the hidden sort.  This is especially if true if one views the clergy as essentially a Trojan horse for access to governments and politicians.  In short, I'm not enthused about Pell's appointment.  I would have been more enthused if Pope Francis had appointed Cardinal Pell the Vatican Almoner and place the current Vatican Almoner Archbishop Konrad Krajewski in Pell's position as overseer of papal assets.  Unfortunately, even in the Vatican money rules so Pell is where that rule says he should be....pastor of coins.