‘Rights and duties of the state and individual’

When Pope Benedict makes apostolic visits to to various countries, his remarks and addresses always reflect keen insight into that culture’s strengths and weaknesses. But he’s really addressing people of the world beyond that nation in his message of universal human rights and dignity.

In his visit to Britain, there were so many highlights. Here’s one in which he took the example of Sir Thomas More as a jumping off point to address civil society today.

The dilemma which faced More in those difficult times, the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God, allows me the opportunity to reflect with you briefly on the proper place of religious belief within the political process.

This is an urgent issue now.

Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident – herein lies the real challenge for democracy.

He delivered a similar message in his apostolic visit to the US in 2008, especially in his address to the UN General Assembly. In the US at least, this message seems more urgent even now.

The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found?

…distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.

To repeat – faith and reason need to be in constant dialogue “for the good of our civilization,” no less.

Now this is critically important:

Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life.

We are approaching elections in America. Hold those who seek office to this measure of leadership, and service to the common good.

“Forgiveness does not replace justice”

Big statement by Pope Benedict, who answered journalists questions on the plane as he traveled to Portugal, a now familiar habit of his on these journeys. They’re spontaneous encounters, Benedict and the press, and always yield interesting thoughts and sound bites. This one had a bunch of them…

First, on the secularization of Europe (extend that to other societies). He says ‘build bridges and create dialogue’, but takes it further, returning to his frequent call to join faith and reason as the common ground of human dignity. Build communication on that, he says.

Thus I would say that secularism is normal, but separation and contrast between secularism and the culture of faith is anomalous and must be overcome.

Next, the economic crisis, and here’s an interesting reflection:

“ethics are not something external, but inherent to rationality and economic pragmatism. … Catholic faith, Christian faith, has often been too individualist, it left concrete and economic matters to the world and thought only of individual salvation”, he said.

Yet “the entire tradition of the Church’s social doctrine has sought … to widen the ethical and faith-related dimension, over and above the individual, towards responsibility for the world, towards a rationality ‘moulded’ by ethics. Moreover, events on the markets over the last two or three years have shown that the ethical dimension is inherent and must become part of economic activity, because man is one, and what counts is … a sound anthropology that embraces everything.

But there’s more. Like the ‘Third Secret of Fatima,’ the suffering of the pope, which has been taken to explain the shooting of John Paul II. Benedict says yes, it was that. But it’s more… It’s the suffering of the pope beyond that pope, the need for a ‘passion of the Church’. Yes, the pope has been under attack, from the media and high profile dissidents and atheists…..though he didn’t say that part. Here’s what he did say:

“…attacks against the Pope and the Church do not only come from outside; rather, the sufferings of the Church come from inside the Church, from the sin that exists in the Church. This was always common knowledge, but today we see it in truly terrifying form: the greatest persecution of the Church does not come from external enemies, but is born of sin within the Church. Thus the Church has a profound need to relearn penance, to accept purification, to learn forgiveness but also the need for justice. Forgiveness does not replace justice”.

He would go on, later, to talk about where justice ultimately comes from.

A believer’s heart in a digital world

Cyberspace can be so cold. And impersonal. That, in spite of the glut of humans interacting digitally.

Which is why the Italian bishops organized a congress on these issues inherent in technological communications, and Pope Benedict talked to them about bringing some warmth and heart into that world. 

Indeed, we talk of the ‘digital divide’, which separates the included from the excluded, and this must be added to other separations which already divide nations, both from one another and within themselves”…

[The pope] also noted “the dangers of conformity and control, of intellectual and moral relativism, which are already evident in the diminution of the spirit of criticism, in the truth reduced to an interplay of opinions, in the many forms of degradation and humiliation of individual intimacy. We are witnessing a ‘pollution of the spirit which clouds our faces and makes them less prone to smile’.

That’s a clear and simple warning. What a loaded few sentences. He really nails it.

“And yet”, he added, “the aim of this congress is precisely to recognise faces, and therefore to overcome those collective dynamics that can lead us to lose a sense of the depths people have, to remain on the surface. When this happens those people become bodies without a soul, objects to be exchanged and consumed”.

“And how is it possible to return to people’s faces today?” the Pope asked.

Very good question, given the prominence of Facebook-style communications. Though popular, though providing good exchanges and sometimes important message valuable to the human spirit, its power to provoke can be stimulating or threatening. Benedict already asked the media to do their part in civilizing public debate. He asked them to be more “geared towards a vision of the person and the common good that reflects truly universal values.” They haven’t responded so well yet.

“To achieve goals of this kind, they need to focus on promoting the dignity of persons and peoples, they need to be clearly inspired by charity and placed at the service of truth, of the good, and of natural and supernatural fraternity”.

“Only in these conditions can the epoch-making change we are experiencing be rich and fruitful in new opportunities. … More than by our technical resources, necessary though they are, we wish to identify ourselves by inhabiting the [digital] universe with a believing heart which helps to give a soul to the endless flow of communications on the Internet”.

Yes, it’s more than typing on a keyboard. Internet communications definitely need some heart and soul.

Good Shepherd Sunday

This coming Sunday will be the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, fittingly celebrated on what we know as Good Shepherd Sunday. And it’s going to take a lot of concerted prayer to recreate the culture of vocations that was part of the air we breathed in the Church not so long ago. Archbishop Timothy Dolan told me in a radio interview how well he remembers that environment when families encouraged young men to consider the call, when it was a hope for mothers and grandmothers and the members of a parish that one of their own would become a priest. And how do-able it is to grow that culture again. His optimism is contagious…

Those familiar with Archbishop Dolan will not be surprised to hear remarks he made in his book ‘Priests for the  Third Millennium’, which are actually remarks he made in talks to his seminarians at the North American College in Rome when he was rector there. The book is an interesting compilation of his very lively insights and opinions, which he adds to others, like a bishop he quotes here: “The problem is not priest-shortage but zeal-shortage.” To which Dolan says…

Passion! That’s what zeal is about! We’re excited! We’re eager! We’re raring to go! We’ve got the chutzpa, nerve, energy, drive, and zest of the apostles that first Pentecost morning…

In a parish we are general practitioners. Our pastor, our bishop, our people have a right to expect us to do almost everything. A pastor was telling me about his assistant who showed up and began the conversation by saying , ‘Well, I’m no good in school or with old people. Don’t expect me to do that!’ People don’t want us at everything because we’re good at it but because we’re priests. Yes, we know our limits; yes, we know when to refer; but as parish priests our zeal is for all people in all circumstances and we close the door on none.

Makes you kind of want to stand up and cheer….but Dolan has that effect on people

Which is the point of Pope Benedict’s message for the 47th World Day of Prayer for Vocations this Sunday. Priests who love being priests are the greatest source of new vocations.

The story of every vocation is almost always intertwined with the testimony of a priest who joyfully lives the gift of himself to his brothers and sisters for the sake of the Kingdom of God…In a particular way the priest must be a man of communion, open to all, capable of gathering into one the pilgrim flock which the goodness of the Lord has entrusted to him, helping to overcome divisions, to heal rifts, to settle conflicts and misunderstandings, and to forgive offenses.

He quoted John Paul II in writing:

“The very life of priests, their unconditional dedication to God’s flock, their witness of loving service to the Lord and to his Church – a witness marked by free acceptance of the Cross in the spirit of hope and Easter joy – their fraternal unity and zeal for the evangelization of the world are the first and most convincing factor in the growth of vocations”…

Then Benedict continued:

It can be said that priestly vocations are born of contact with priests, as a sort of precious legacy handed down by word, example and a whole way of life…

Every priest, every consecrated person, faithful to his or her vocation, radiates the joy of serving Christ and draws all Christians to respond to the universal call to holiness. Consequently, in order to foster vocations to the ministerial priesthood and the consecrated life, and to be more effective in promoting the discernment of vocations, we cannot do without the example of those who have already said “yes” to God and to his plan for the life of each individual. Personal witness, in the form of concrete existential choices, will encourage young people for their part to make demanding decisions affecting their future. Those who would assist them need to have the skills for encounter and dialogue which are capable of enlightening and accompanying them, above all through the example of life lived as a vocation.

Really good to contemplate, this message. Love the way it concludes:

May the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, watch over each tiny seed of a vocation in the hearts of those whom the Lord calls to follow him more closely, may she help it to grow into a mature tree, bearing much good fruit for the Church and for all humanity.

But it’s not really a conclusion. Hopefully, a new beginning.

War on Christians

What a way to end Holy Week. Not unlike the original one.

Of the reams of articles out there on the embattled Successors of Peter and the Apostles and the whole Church, some are particularly strong and startling and important to engage. I can’t get them to you fast enough when I find them.

Here’s another one. It’s short and compelling. Take this pull quote…

This war on Christianity would not be so dangerous if the Christians understood what was at stake, but a large number of them join in the general incomprehension.

In my opinion, there’s one word in this piece that leaps off the page in importance. Small and in the middle of a sentence late in the article. But it’s pivotal. The “why” in this line:

But if we understand why he is immovable, then the situation can be taken in hand and there is no need to just wait for the next blow.

That WHY contains volumes. And, in fact, millennia.

Understanding gains context in this MercatorNet piece by the discussion going on in the comments section…

To set the record straight in Milwaukee

This is a stop-the-presses story. The unrelenting attacks on Pope Benedict XVI have a lot to do with a lot of cases and allegations but one of the central flashpoints is the now notorious Milwaukee scandal. Because the New York Times has been driving this story without availing themselves of the facts behind it, the priest who was the presiding judge over the canonical criminal case of Fr. Lawrence Murphy has spoken out to correct the record.

Fr. Thomas Brundage, JCL, gives a compelling account.

I will limit my comments, because of judicial oaths I have taken as a canon lawyer and as an ecclesiastical judge. However, since my name and comments in the matter of the Father Murphy case have been liberally and often inaccurately quoted in the New York Times and in more than 100 other newspapers and on-line periodicals, I feel a freedom to tell part of the story of Father Murphy’s trial from ground zero.

As I have found that the reporting on this issue has been inaccurate and poor in terms of the facts, I am also writing from a sense of duty to the truth.

The fact that I presided over this trial and have never once been contacted by any news organization for comment speaks for itself.

Volumes.

My intent in writing this column is to accomplish the following:

To tell the back-story of what actually happened in the Father Murphy case on the local level;

To outline the sloppy and inaccurate reporting on the Father Murphy case by the New York Times and other media outlets;

To assert that Pope Benedict XVI has done more than any other pope or bishop in history to rid the Catholic Church of the scourge of child sexual abuse and provide for those who have been injured;

To set the record straight with regards to the efforts made by the church to heal the wounds caused by clergy sexual misconduct. The Catholic Church is probably the safest place for children at this point in history.

That is an enormous statement, and it has solid documentation to back it up. Which is why it should be in headlines all over the world.

The depth of understanding Fr. Brundage reveals here is as compelling as the way he tells it.

Before proceeding, it is important to point out the scourge that child sexual abuse has been — not only for the church but for society as well. Few actions can distort a child’s life more than sexual abuse. It is a form of emotional and spiritual homicide and it starts a trajectory toward a skewed sense of sexuality. When committed by a person in authority, it creates a distrust of almost anyone, anywhere.

His profile of abusers cuts to the core, no psycho-babble and no spin. The criminal mind and intent and behavior of abusers is the same, no matter who the perpetrator, common man or priest.

As for the numerous reports about the case of Father Murphy, the back-story has not been reported as of yet.

And that’s another stunning statement, given all that has been reported. Alleged. Charged. And perpetuated globally by constantly looping news cycles. In the case at ‘ground zero’ in Milwaukee, “the back-story has not been reported as of yet.”

Well it is now.

Between 1996 and August, 1998, I interviewed, with the help of a qualified interpreter, about a dozen victims of Father Murphy. These were gut-wrenching interviews. In one instance the victim had become a perpetrator himself and had served time in prison for his crimes. I realized that this disease is virulent and was easily transmitted to others. I heard stories of distorted lives, sexualities diminished or expunged. These were the darkest days of my own priesthood, having been ordained less than 10 years at the time. Grace-filled spiritual direction has been a Godsend.

Murphy’s response and Fr. Brundage’s handling of this case are well covered in this account. By him, and at this point, him alone, until others take note.

With regard to the inaccurate reporting on behalf of the New York Times, the Associated Press, and those that utilized these resources, first of all, I was never contacted by any of these news agencies but they felt free to quote me. Almost all of my quotes are from a document that can be found online with the correspondence between the Holy See and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee..

The problem with these statements attributed to me is that they were handwritten. The documents were not written by me and do not resemble my handwriting. The syntax is similar to what I might have said but I have no idea who wrote these statements, yet I am credited as stating them. As a college freshman at the Marquette University School of Journalism, we were told to check, recheck, and triple check our quotes if necessary. I was never contacted by anyone on this document, written by an unknown source to me. Discerning truth takes time and it is apparent that the New York Times, the Associated Press and others did not take the time to get the facts correct.

Big media are weaving their own tales out of only partial information and largely conjecture, rumor and the desire to make an account fit an agenda. They have it that Murphy was given a pass, but Fr. Brundage sets the record straight.

…the fact is that on the day that Father Murphy died, he was still the defendant in a church criminal trial. No one seems to be aware of this. Had I been asked to abate this trial, I most certainly would have insisted that an appeal be made to the supreme court of the church, or Pope John Paul II if necessary. That process would have taken months if not longer.

Second, with regard to the role of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), in this matter, I have no reason to believe that he was involved at all. Placing this matter at his doorstep is a huge leap of logic and information.

Third, the competency to hear cases of sexual abuse of minors shifted from the Roman Rota to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith headed by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2001. Until that time, most appeal cases went to the Rota and it was our experience that cases could languish for years in this court. When the competency was changed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in my observation as well as many of my canonical colleagues, sexual abuse cases were handled expeditiously, fairly, and with due regard to the rights of all the parties involved. I have no doubt that this was the work of then Cardinal Ratzinger.

Fourth, Pope Benedict has repeatedly apologized for the shame of the sexual abuse of children in various venues and to a worldwide audience. This has never happened before. He has met with victims. He has reigned in entire conferences of bishops on this matter, the Catholic Bishops of Ireland being the most recent. He has been most reactive and proactive of any international church official in history with regard to the scourge of clergy sexual abuse of minors. Instead of blaming him for inaction on these matters, he has truly been a strong and effective leader on these issues.

Finally, over the last 25 years, vigorous action has taken place within the church to avoid harm to children. Potential seminarians receive extensive sexual-psychological evaluation prior to admission. Virtually all seminaries concentrate their efforts on the safe environment for children.

And all  American dioceses are required to have some form of a ‘safe environment program’ in place, and they are extensive. They have become the model for the world, at this point.

Finally…

On behalf of the church, I am deeply sorry and ashamed for the wrongs that have been done by my brother priests but realize my sorrow is probably of little importance 40 years after the fact. The only thing that we can do at this time is to learn the truth, beg for forgiveness, and do whatever is humanly possible to heal the wounds. The rest, I am grateful, is in God’s hands.

Read the entire account, and encourage others to learn the truth and be part of upholding it. And note to media: Fr. Brundage’s contact information is at the bottom of that article. No more excuses.

In the wake of the Times

The New York Times hasn’t been credible on so many big stories for such a long time now, they’ve generated a sort of cottage industry of journalism to correct the record in the wake of their irresponsible and tendentious reporting. Good news is…there are many solid journalists and scholars out there clarifying how many ways the Times gets a story wrong, as they are right now in their attacks on Pope Benedict.

Like Fr. Raymond de Souza.

The New York Times on March 25 accused Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, of intervening to prevent a priest, Fr. Lawrence Murphy, from facing penalties for cases of sexual abuse of minors.

The story is false. It is unsupported by its own documentation. Indeed, it gives every indication of being part of a coordinated campaign against Pope Benedict, rather than responsible journalism.

Yep. That’s not only clear, it’s provable. Which Times’ reporting is not. Fr. de Souza lists plenty of evidence, but prefaces it with noteworthy circumstances that should have discredited the story in the first place and kept it off the pages of the paper had any good editor done their due diligence. Or even a passing check on the framework within which this picture was painted by author Laurie Goodstein.

The New York Times story had two sources. First, lawyers who currently have a civil suit pending against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. One of the lawyers, Jeffrey Anderson, also has cases in the United States Supreme Court pending against the Holy See. He has a direct financial interest in the matter being reported.

The second source was Archbishop Rembert Weakland, retired archbishop of Milwaukee. He is the most discredited and disgraced bishop in the United States, widely known for mishandling sexual-abuse cases during his tenure, and guilty of using $450,000 of archdiocesan funds to pay hush money to a former homosexual lover who was blackmailing him…He is prima facie not a reliable source.

Already, enough to render the story barely even tabloid-worthy. But that’s very telling of the Times…

A demonstration took place in Rome on Friday, coinciding with the publication of the New York Times story. One might ask how American activists would happen to be in Rome distributing the very documents referred to that day in the New York Times. The appearance here is one of a coordinated campaign, rather than disinterested reporting.

It’s possible that bad sources could still provide the truth. But compromised sources scream out for greater scrutiny. Instead of greater scrutiny of the original story, however, news editors the world over simply parroted the New York Times piece. Which leads us the more fundamental problem: The story is not true, according to its own documentation.

This is what always gets me, the major media all reporting from the reporting of others, which all goes back to the first ones who pick up a story from…The New York Times. Nothing is sourced, nothing fact-checked, nothing questioned for authenticity. Research really isn’t that hard. It just sometimes produces facts that don’t match the narrative.

Do read on, there’s so much here. And in this clarification, de Souza documents the history of the relevant timeline in this scandal from materials available right there on the New York Times website. Proving that somebody covered themselves.

The Times “flatly got the story wrong,” he says. “Readers may want to speculate on why.”

Here are some ideas.