25 February 2010

Straight talk and straight action in the defence of life

Bishop Robert Vasa ('VASHa') of Baker, Oregon, is a man who talks charitably but straight. He writes a weekly column in the Catholic Sentinel, His column for the 4 February printed edition was We're responsible for our failure to protect unborn life.

In the context of the trial of a Kansas man for the murder of an abortionist he writes of the duty of the State to defend every human life. He writes (my emphases):

There is no doubt that the Kansas man is singularly responsible for his actions and a jury determined, as prudently as possible, the extent of his guilt and culpability. But where does responsibility or true moral culpability rest? The Kansas man acted within the context of a specific American set of conditions and circumstances. He acted in the context of a culture that fails and even adamantly refuses to recognize something I read recently in a clinically oriented embryology textbook published in 2008. There I read; “Zygote: This cell results from the union of an oocyte and a sperm during fertilization. A zygote or embryo is the beginning of a new human being.” In truth, this is something we all know. This is something legislators and judges know. This is something doctors know. This is something the abortionists know extremely well. It is thus perfectly legitimate to avow that abortion destroys an innocent human being. What it may not be legally correct to assert, in our culture, is that abortion is murder. It is correct to assert this as a moral conviction and that is a conviction I definitively hold — abortion is murder.

Bishop Vasa ends his column with these words: A Kansas man will undoubtedly be held accountable for what he has done. Every man and woman in America will be held accountable for what we have failed to do — for the little ones whom we have failed to recognize and protect.

He had to face a difficult decision in his own diocese, as he writes in Hospital decided it could not meet the Catholic standard, printed in the 18 February issue of Catholic Sentinel. St Charles Medical Center had been a Catholic hospital for many years, formerly run by religious Sisters but in 1992 the 'Association of the Christian Faithful was established with the specific goal of “preserving the unique Catholic character of St. Charles.”'

It seems they have failed to do so. They failed to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs) for Catholic Health Care Services of the bishops of the USA. Bishop Vasa writes: In 2007 the diocese was presented with a report on the level of compliance with the ERDs and that report indicated that there were a couple of areas of grave concern. While the commitment to adhering to Catholic principles was clearly present the same could not be said about adherence to or avoidance of certain immoral medical practices.

He further writes: As bishop, I am responsible for attesting to the full Catholicity of the hospitals in my diocese, a responsibility I take very seriously, and I have reached the conclusion that I can no longer attest to the Catholicity of St. Charles. The board is responsible for the operation of the medical center and for its compliance with the ethical guidelines it deems suitable for St. Charles. The question the board faced was whether it could alter its present practices to the degree required for continued identification as “Catholic.” It was the board’s determination that it could not meet that standard.

I see before me two distressing options. I must either condone all that is being done at St. Charles and its affiliates by continuing a sponsorship relationship or I must recognize that those practices are absolutely contrary to the ERDs and distance myself from them. It would be misleading to the faithful for me to allow St. Charles to be acknowledged as Catholic in name while, at the same time, being morally certain that some significant tenets of the ERDs are no longer being observed there.

This is not a condemnation of St. Charles. It is a sadly acknowledged reality.

Bishop Vasa was not afraid to make a clear decision: St. Charles has gradually moved away from adherence to the requirements of the Church without recognizing a major possible consequence of doing so. That consequence is a loss of Catholic sponsorship. Since I see no possibility of St. Charles returning to full compliance with the ERDs and since such full compliance with the ERDs is essential to “Catholic Status,” St. Charles will now be considered solely as a community nonprofit organization, not a Catholic one.

In practical terms there should be very little change in how St. Charles presently functions. One major shift will be the absence of the Blessed Sacrament at the hospital. The chapel will no longer be a Catholic chapel and Mass will no longer be celebrated there. In our secular culture most do not recognize the extreme grace of our Lord’s Real Presence but I suspect his absence from the chapel will be deeply felt.

The bishop's decision to close the chapel and remove the Blessed Sacrament is a clear sign that there is a direct connection between the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass and the way we live our lives.

A question I find myself asking is why do lay Catholics so often put aside their faith when given public responsibilities? There have been similar problems in at least one Catholic hospital in England. And in the USA, Canada and Britain 'Catholic' politicians seem to lead the way in opposing what Vatican II teaches, eg:

Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator (Gaudium et Spes No 27).

One of the great graces the Holy Spirit gave the whole Church through Vatican II was the call to holiness for all and the call for lay persons to live out that call in their family life, in their professional life and in public life. It seems that to a large extent we have rejected that grace, while so many line up to be Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, in many cases not needed, lectors and what not.

May the Holy Spirit raise up more bishops like Robert Vasa.

24 February 2010

Some thoughts on the Catholic Church in Ireland today

Holy Family Church, Aughrim St, Dublin, the parish in which I grew up

It must be very hard for priests in Ireland. I see elderly nuns strolling the streets and it’s clear they have to take the rap. Fr Benedict Groeschel has travelled all over Europe and the only place he was ever verbally abused for his habit was in Ireland. There was a call to the Joe Duffy show a few years ago by an Anglican minister at St Patrick’s or Christchurch (the two Anglican cathedrals in Dublin) complaining that people often mistook him for a priest and that he constantly suffered verbal slurs from Dublin's 'concerned citizens'. 'Irish Catholic' used to be worn as a badge of pride, now it's seen as something to be ashamed of. The Church was slipping before the scandals, but the Revisionist historical movement and the revelations of Bishop Casey had the effect of tarnishing a once venerated institution, and making Catholics feel 'guilty' for all their past.

Given that you do not live in Ireland, and come home intermittently, you'd be better positioned to observe the decline in Irish Catholicism than I am. I'm curious so, if I may ask you, how different do you find modern Ireland from the Ireland of your childhood? Do you like the New Ireland? How is it substantially different? How is it observedly more secular and are you hopeful that the faith will be revitalized in Ireland? If so, how can church leaders advance it? Do you discern a lack of morale among your fellow clergy? Thanks.
18 February 2010 22:05

St Brigid's Church, Blanchardstown, County Dublin, the parish I go home to now. Photo taken in early 1900s.

The above is Shane’s comment on my previous post.

I was born in Dublin in 1943 and entered the Columban seminary in 1961. Among the things I remember from my childhood and which I’m happy are not there anymore is the widespread poverty in Dublin. I didn’t have to be told that not having shoes was extreme poverty. I discovered when I entered the seminary that for my rural classmates it was a form of freedom for children to run barefoot on farms during the summer. I also remember seeing a family of travellers (‘tinkers’, as we called them) living in a small tent near Dublin Airport. I was only seven about then but the memory is still vivid.

Among the things I miss are the packed churches, not only on Sundays, but especially on the weekdays of Lent. The simple fact is that there was far more participation in the Mass in Ireland then than there is now as almost every Catholic went to Mass then, for whatever reason. And I recall the ‘communal cough’ after the Elevation as a far more powerful expression of faith than the perfunctory ‘Christ has died . . .’ that we get now and that seems to be the only acclamation that most people know.

When I celebrate Sunday Mass now in Ireland there are very few young people, including children. But I remember an incident in 2007 in the parish where my brother lives that made me smile. A young Filipino family arrived a little late – not unusual – but they made their way up to the front of the church – rather unusual – and the father was the one carrying their young child. I have a hope that such families will bring new life to the Church in Ireland, though I have a fear that their children will be caught up in the secularism that is so prevalent now.

Today’s Irish papers comment on a report on marriage in the Republic of Ireland between 1986 and 2006. When I was young marriage was a given. I had no idea if all the couples I knew were happily married or not but marriage, between man and woman, was the norm. I knew of the existence of a registry office in Dublin but I never met a couple who had been married there. I find the current situation hard to accept where the word ‘spouse’ seems to be almost a ‘four-letter’ word while the word ‘partner’, in my opinion, has become debased. In some urban parts of the Irish Republic more than half of children are born out of wedlock. The Ryan Report highlights some of the awful consequences of the other extreme that prevailed in Ireland before where many a young unmarried woman and their children were ostracized.

When I went home for a holiday in 2007 I decided to wear my clericals most of the time, something I hadn’t done for years, except when going to the church to celebrate Mass. But everyone at home knew who and what I was. One of the reasons I had stopped wearing my clericals was that I was a target for beggars. This was so even when I was still in the seminary and we wore a black suit and black tie. But I had been recognized a number of times by total strangers as a priest, once travelling on a train from London to Glasgow wearing jeans and a red sweater and on another occasion when I called to the house of someone in Ireland who had never met me and I was wearing a collar and tie.

Among the reasons I decided to wear my clericals was the example of the late Fr Niall O’Brien, whose job as editor of Misyon I took over in 2002 when he was quite ill. He made the decision to wear his clericals at home as a sign of solidarity with priests at home who felt embattled because of the sins of some. Another factor was the increase of Muslims in Ireland, recognizable by their dress. If they could show who they were by the way they dressed why couldn’t I?

Unlike Father Benedict Groeschel, whom I met once, around 1970, while studying near New York City after my ordination, I experienced no hostility but the opposite. A woman, much younger than I am, offered me her seat on a crowded Dublin bus. I declined her offer but we got into a conversation in which I discovered that she was technically homeless and with two pre-adolescent sons. She asked me to remember her recently deceased husband in my Mass the following Sunday and asked me what happens when we die.

I went to a pub with the funeral party after a burial and a man of about 40, who wasn’t part of the party, came over to me, put €10 into my hands and thanked me for wearing my clericals!

On another occasion after a Sunday Mass in which I gave the basics on the Eucharist during my homily, a middle-aged man came to me afterwards and thanked me for doing so as he hadn’t, he said, heard such a homily in a long time. I have experienced something like that from time to time over the years in different countries.

The old-fashioned missioners, who came to our parishes every Lent for a week’s retreat for the women, followed by a week for the men, had a number of jokes that they used to encourage people to go to confession. These were often very effective and helped individuals overcome their fears. The joke was a prelude to a sermon of substance. But I shake my head when I hear a priest using his Sunday homily as an occasion to tell a poor joke badly and forget about the word of God. This is not only an Irish problem.

At times when I go home I feel depressed at what I see as a real loss of faith. Many have formally rejected not only the Catholic Church but Christianity itself. There is a kind of ‘illiteracy’ among so many, though this isn’t new. I remember telling a friend in Dublin who went to Mass every day – she was a woman in her 60s and this was 1962 – that a friend had given me a gift of the New Testament (it was the Knox translation). Her response: ‘What’s the New Testament?’ But today I hear even priests talking about receiving the ‘wine’ at Holy Communion. Fr Brian Darcy CP, who is often criticized as being too critical of the Church, to my delight a couple of years ago, in an interview either on radio or in a newspaper, underlined the fact that we are talking about the Blood of Christ, not ‘wine’.

I attended a Mass in the west of Ireland one Sunday a few years ago. The priest devoted his ‘homily’ to denouncing the bigotry of Ian Paisley, which was of no relevance to the readings of the particular Sunday Mass or to the lives of the people where he was. What came across was the priest’s own narrow mindedness. I was tempted to walk out but didn’t.

Recently I was in contact with Youth 2000 Ireland. I got a reply from one email that boosted me: There is immense hope for the Catholic Church in Ireland, we just don’t hear about it. Young people are thirsting for love and hungry for the truth. The main feedback we get from young people who attend our retreats is ‘I never knew God loved me’ or ‘I’ve realised this weekend that God loves me and I am worthy of His love’.

Another area of hope for me is that the media in Ireland recognise ‘the real thing’ when they see it. The coverage of the kidnapping and homecoming of my Columban colleague, Fr Michael Sinnott is an example of this. Father Sinnott is an exemplary priest. His kidnapping simply brought him to the attention of people. When he visited the Irish parliament after his release Father Sinnott was recognised by a group of girls from a secondary school who were also visiting. They all took out their mobile phones and had their photos taken with him. A few days later he received a box with a Christmas card from each girl in the class. They, clearly, recognised ‘the real thing’.

Another area of hope is the coverage of funerals after tragedies such as road accidents involving young people: the press very often quotes from the homily of the priest. He is still seen to be part of the lives of people in times of pain. That is where we find Jesus most of the time in the gospel.

On the other hand the recent funerals of two former Irish politicians, Tomás Mac Giolla and Justin Keating, were secular ceremonies while last October a memorial service, as distinct from a funeral Mass, was held in a Catholic church for a young officer of the Irish Air Corps who died in a plane crash. He was mourned, not by his wife but by ‘his partner of nine years’. Up to a few years ago the term ‘partner’ was never used in the context of a live-in relationship, which were not the common reality that they are today, and secular funerals were quite exceptional.

A few months ago a well-known sportsman ‘came out’, as they say, in his autobiography. I heard his mother being interviewed on radio. She was asked ‘What if he brings home a boyfriend?’ I couldn’t but feel sorry for her to some degree as she seemed to ‘surrender’ and imply that if that’s what will happen what can she do? I think that some parents of my own parents’ generation were already giving in to their sons or daughters bringing someone home rather than using parental authority, and it seems to be much more widespread now, though I can’t prove that.

The sportsman also indicated, as I recall reading about his book, that he had experienced ‘one night stands’. I find the widespread acceptance of casual sex wrong. It is irresponsible and it is not being discouraged. Graduates of a ‘Catholic’ school in Cork last year put a condom at each place on the table at a post-Leaving Certificate dinner organised by the students.

I think that being a priest in Ireland today is much more difficult than being a priest in the Philippines. I was at a fundraising concert for a home for retired priests in the Diocese of Bacolod, where I live, a few days after the Murphy Report came out. The concert was given by the bishop and priests of the diocese. The hall was packed and there was a rapport between the people and the priest, a kind of rapport that I never really experienced in Ireland. But I felt a heaviness, a sadness, asking myself if what had happened in Ireland, where the Church used to be so powerful, would happen here.

The Catholic Church in Ireland has lost its moral authority. There’s no question about that. But individual Catholics, lay and clerical, who live their faith with conviction carry the kind of personal moral authority that people found so striking in Jesus. And there are a number of articulate, unapologetic post-Vatican II Catholics in Ireland who give me hope, such as Breda O’Brien of The Irish Times, journalist David Quinn, founder of the Iona Institute, and Senator Rónán Mullen.

17 February 2010

Pray for the Church in Ireland

Today's Irish newspapers carry much critical comment on the one-and-a-half day meeting of the bishops of Ireland with Pope Benedict and senior Vatican officials. I found it rather bizarre reading before the meeting that it would end at noon on Tuesday because some of the bishops had to get back to their dioceses for Ash Wednesday. Today some were wondering why Archbishop Diarmuid Martin left as soon as the meeting ended.

Some of the bishops indicated that Pope Benedict would meet with some victims of abuse from clerics and religious but this seemed to be more an expression of hope than a statement of fact. I think it it essential for the Pope to meet with a representative group of victims and to listen to their stories. He could visit Ireland for that reason alone. If something like this doesn't happen there'll be a continuing running sore, sapping not only the faith of those who have been abused - some of them have given up on the Church - but of those who are struggling to come to terms with everything that has emerged. One comment on a Christmas card from a fervent Catholic woman in Dublin who is just a little older than myself summed this up for me: 'It's awful'.

Part of the Vatican press release disturbed some people: The Holy Father also pointed to the more general crisis of faith affecting the Church and he linked that to the lack of respect for the human person and how the weakening of faith has been a significant contributing factor in the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors.

As one who goes home to Ireland every few years I can see clearly the serious decline not only in church-going but a growing explicit rejection of the Christian faith by many. Some of the priests mentioned in the Dublin Report were ordained as recently as the 1990s and were engaged in the abuse of minors while on pastoral work as seminarians. I ask myself if they had any faith and if their ordination was valid. How could they get through at a time when there was widespread awareness of the reality of the abuse of children by Catholic priests?

Coincidentally, yesterday's Irish papers carried a horrific story of a father found guilty of raping his son over a period of years. The son, in turn, raped his sisters. Maybe this will help the people of Ireland to reflect more on the reality of 96 percent of the abuse of children having nothing to do with clerics or religious but taking place throughout Irish society.

The February issue of Intercom, a publication of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference, has an article by Ian Elliott, the Presbyterian appointed by the Irish bishops as CEO of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in which he factually points out what is actually happening. The Catholic Church in Ireland has been and is acting to safeguard children according to the best advice available at this time and in full compliance with the laws of the Irish Republis and of Northern Ireland. I think it would be impossible now for any cover-up to take place.

Please pray for the Irish Church.

I'll be away for the next few days at the national board meeting of Worldwide Marriage Encounter in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, Philippines, and won't be blogging. 

15 February 2010

Why we need to put the 'Saint' back in Valentine's Day

An article in yesterday's Philippine Daily Inquirer shows why we need to put the 'Saint' back into 'Valentine's Day': ‘Vulgar, immoral,’ says Church of condom-giving with flowers. The story is reported in CathNews Philippines.

The report quotes Archbishop Oscar V. Cruz (photo), the retired archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan: 'It is vulgar, it is lewd, it is gross. To what extend would they entice young people to be promiscuous? How far are they willing to go in promoting illegitimate carnal relations?'

It is a sad fact that St Valentine's Day in the Philippines for some is simply an excuse for serious sin, for fornication and for adultery. St Valentine died in defence of the holy sacrament of matrimony, in defence of the wonderful dream God has carried in his heart from all eternity for each man and woman whom He has called to marriage. It would seem that the Philippine Department of 'Health' doesn't know what a dream/aspiration is and that young people are incapable of idealism and of genuine love that is a decision for the welfare of the beloved.

Health Warning: Don't hold your breath while waiting for the Secretary of 'Health' to resign.

13 February 2010

Putting the Saint Back in Valentine's Day; World Marriage Day

For some years I have been campaigning to put the 'SAINT' back into St Valentines' Day to give its proper meaning to this celebration of a priest martyred because of his defence of the sacrament of matrimony. Read about SAINT Valentine, a priest martyred for celebrating weddings, on the website of the Carmelite Friars (OCarm) in Ireland and on this blog here (2008) and here (2009).

I'm happy to discover that I'm not the only one engaged in this campaign. On 4 February the Catholic Archdiociese of Adelaide, Australia, issued this press release:

Putting the Saint back in Valentine's Day

The Catholic Church has moved to reclaim St Valentine’s Day in a bold campaign focusing on the true meaning of the saint’s feast day and the importance of romance in marriage.

The national initiative, featured in an article in the February issue of The Southern Cross, provides parishes and Catholic school families with practical suggestions for celebrating St Valentine’s Day and encouraging married couples to spend more time together.

St Valentine was executed on February 14, 269AD for going against a decree by Roman ruler Claudius that weddings be suspended because he needed unattached men to serve in his armies.

Archbishop Philip Wilson said the campaign was an opportunity to advocate the sacred bond of marriage. He said one of the great tragedies in society today was the breakdown of marriage and home.

Brochures and other resources such as prepared homilies, items for newsletters and discussion points for community groups have been sent out to parishes and schools.

The St Valentine’s Day campaign is also being publicised through the Catholic Church’s monthly newspaper The Southern Cross, which for the first time is available online in a new publishing arrangement with Solstice Media.

The first digital edition of the 143-year-old Southern Cross comes 10 years after the publication was revamped as a free newspaper distributed to all Catholic school families as well as to parishes throughout the State.

To view the digital version of the February issue of The Southern Cross, visit www.thesoutherncross.org.au

Tomorrow, 14 February, is also World Marriage Day.

Happy St Valentine's Day, Happy World Marriage Day, Happy Lunar NewYear!!!