28 April 2010

'I'll vote for you for priest!'

Grace - not her real name - is 19, comes from a background of extreme poverty and has a case in court against a man, a relative, who took advantage of her when she was younger.She got her chance to go to school when she was welcomed by the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family to Welcome Home here in Bacolod City. She was then 13 or 14, couldn't read or write, sing or dance, nor had she made her First Holy Communion. She ws prepared by the Sisters for that and can sing and dance and has grown in self-confidence.

Grace is thankful to God for the new life she has been given. One part of her ongoing suffering is that so many times when she has gone to court for a hearing - she always asks me to pray for her when one is scheduled - is that so often these hearings have been postponed for trivial reasons. I see this as a form of abuse.

We have elections coming up here in the Philippines on 10 May for every office from President down to local councillor. Before Mass last Sunday, which was Good Shepherd Sunday and vocations Sunday, I said jokingly to Grace 'Vote for me!' 'Para ano, for what? she asked. I responded 'Para Presidente, para Mayor, para Gobernador, para sa tanan, For President, for Mayor, for Governor, for everything!'

I was taken aback and touched by her riposte, 'Para pari, for priest!'

I referred to this during my homily, which was based on the Gospel. Two Sundays before Bishop Joseph Nacua OFMCap of Ilagan, in Luzon, had celebrated the Golden Jubilee Mass of Srs Maria Elena Echavarren TC and Encarnación Arangueren TC. He mentioned at the beginning of his homily that some of the girls had asked where his episcopal staff was. He explained that only the bishop of the diocese uses it during Mass. I used this to explain how shepherds used their staff to rescue strayed sheep. And then I said that Grace had got to the heart of the matter when she made it clear she would 'vote' for me 'for priest'.

 Fr Michael Sinnott with the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters and aspirants at Holy Family Home. The aspirants did a traditional Filipino dance in his honour at a short programme.

I've been going to Holy Family Home for more than seven years now. The girls know me as a father-figure and they feel free to joke with me. But they know me even more as a priest who celebrates Mass with them on most Sundays and on other special occasions. Some of them will remind me that they want to confess their sins. Grace is one of the most regular in availing of this sacrament.

The Sisters and the girls prayed their hearts out for Fr Michael Sinnott, my Columban confrere, when he was kidnapped last October. They were overjoyed when he visited them to celebrate Mass with them and to thank them in February.

At times I feel discouraged by what is happening in the Catholic Church and by the almost total lack of vision among candidates at every level for the forthcoming election. But Grace's assurance that she would 'vote' for me 'Para pari, for priest', lifted my heart and reminded me once again of the great grace I have received from God through my vocation.

 These children certainly know who is getting their vote 'for priest'!

24 April 2010

A joyful, generous and faithful priest for more than 71 years

The 'tsunami' of scandals involving priests and bishops that seem to be headline news every day lately is disheartening to many of us. The report of a death is not usually considered good news but when it is that of a missionary who has lived his priesthood joyfully, generously and faithfully for more than 71 years, and actively for 68 of those, it is a matter for rejoicing, for thanking and praising God.

I first met the late Fr Frank Gallagher when I went to study in New York as a young priest in 1968. He was born the same year as my late father and was 55 then. He was tall and swarthy with a deep voice and I was half 'afraid' of him. but I gradually got to know him as a kind and friendly man, happily living his priesthood. I later came across a photo of him with other Columbans interned in Korea by the Japanese during World War II. With his black beard he must have been an intimidating figure to the Japanese guards!

I last met Father Frank on 15 August 2000 at the celebrations in Ireland for our jubilarians of that year. I remarked on how well he and some of his contemparies looked. His response was 'Ah, we're in injury time now', alluding to the time added on in football. The Lord gave him nearly ten more years of 'injury time'. He retired from being a chaplain to a convent of Marist Sisters and the students in their school as recently as 2007. For some time before his death he was, as far as I know, the oldest living Columban.

The badge that Father Gallagher is wearing is that of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, a movement that is predominantly Irish, in which the members freely give up the right to alcoholic drinks. Members pray the daily 'Heroic Offering': 'For thy greater Glory and consolation, O most Sacred Heart of Jesus, for Thy sake, to give good example, to practice self-denial, to make reparation to Thee for the sins of intemperance and for the conversion of excessive drinkers, I will abstain for life from all intoxicating drinks, Amen'.

Fr Cyril Lovett, editor of Far East, the magazine of the Columbans in Ireland and Britain, wrote the obituary below.

Francis J. Gallagher (1913 - 2010)

Frank Gallagher was born on 2 August, 1913, at Cloontacunna, Doocastle, County Mayo. He was educated at Doocastle National School ('National School' is the term used in the Irish Republic for elementary schools, set up by the State but managed by the parish priest or by a religious community or by the pastor of other religious communities or faith groups) and St Nathy’s College, Ballaghaderreen. He came to the Old Dalgan Park in Shrule, Co. Galway in 1930 and was ordained on 21 December 1938.

He was appointed to Korea in 1939 and spent his first two years in Inchon and Kongwando. From 1941 to 1945 he was interned by the Japanese along with a number of fellow-Columbans. Once released he was assigned back to his old area, and to Chunchon in 1947.

In 1948 he was assigned to Ireland where he did promotion work until 1953. Assigned then to the United States he did parish work at St Mary Mother of Jesus Church, in Brooklyn, until 1957. He was engaged in promotion work from the Society house in Bristol until 1965, and from Bayside, New York, until 1971.

On his appointment back to Ireland in 1971, he went as Chaplain to the Marist Sisters’ Convent in Tubbercurry, and for many years taught religion in their Secondary School where he was greatly respected by both staff and students. In 2007 he retired back to St Columban’s Nursing Home in Dalgan.

Frank will be remembered as a quiet, pleasant giant, a conscientious and dedicated pastor. He was also a fascinating story-teller and an expert in all matters relating to the care of bees. In the Nursing Home he was an undemanding presence and accepted the burdens of old age with patience and dignity. He died there on Sunday, 18 April 2010.

May he rest in peace.

22 April 2010

'My father wants to receive the Bread of Life'

A memorable moment for me about 16 years ago when I was parish priest in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, Diocese of Tandag, on the east coast of Mindanao, was when one of our volunteer catechists came and told me that her father wanted to receive ‘the Bread of Life’. He had stopped eating normal food, nearly always interpreted here as a sign that death is near.

I learned that the dying man had been married three times, having been widowed twice. Children from his three marriages were in the house, along with some of his grandchildren. The man himself was fully alert and participated joyfully in the celebration of the sacraments, surrounded by so many of his family except during his confession.

We had a period of silence after the sick man’s Holy Communion. I then asked the family members closest to him to put their hands on them and to pray over him, something that is often done here. However, the man who had just received the Bread of Life had other ideas. One of his grandchildren was a child only a few months old. He took the child in his arms and clasped it to his breast. Then he embraced each other family member in turn, knowing that it was a farewell.

There was a tangible sense of joy in the house and I was invited to take a snack, the only time this has happened to me on a sick call. But it was fitting.

Next morning the catechist came to tell me that her father had died during the night.

Today’s gospel, John 6:44-51, reminded me of that incident. ‘This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh’ (vv50-51, RSV). Yesterday’s gospel, also from John 6, had this beautiful expression of God’s love: ‘For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day’ (v40).

15 April 2010

Cathedral attacked in the Philippines

Bishop Martin S. Jumoad of the Prelature of Isabela de Basilan

Fifteen people were killed on Tuesday in Isabela, the capital of Basilan, an island off the southwest coast of Mindanao. (Mindanao is larger than Ireland. Filipinos are islanders in the sense that the people who live on the mainland of Ireland and of Britain are 'islanders', not in the sense of people there who live on small islands. Luzon in the north is larger in area than Mindanao. Very few Filipinos live on 'cartoon islands' - with one coconut tree surrounded by a beach - despite the tourist people of the country who speak of '7,100 islands', most of which are unihabited and unhabitable rocks).

Interior of Sta Isabel Cathedral

MindaNews carries a report on the violence which involved the destruction by a bomb of the priests; rooms attached to the cathedral. The report includes the following:

Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad condemned the bombings as he asked the people to stay calm and cooperate and let authorities do their job.

“I call my people to stay calm. I call the men and women in uniforms, we need the assistance to have neutralized the situation in the cathedral,” he said.

The prelate, who is known to be vocal against the apparent ineffectiveness of the military to solve the Basilan problem, called on the military and police authorities “to neutralize the lawless groups who are responsible for this dastardly act” while calling on the people, including the Pink Sisters from the Carmelite monastery, to pray that there will be peace in Basilan. (Antonio Manaytay/MindaNews contributor).

Exterior of Cathedral

Please pray for the people of Basilan. The Prelature covers an area of 1,359 sqaure kilometers (524 square miles) and had a population in 2004 of 330,000 of whom around 90,000 or 27 percent, were Catholics. Nearly all the others are Muslims.

Map of the Philippines

13 April 2010

How the Church deals with cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests

VATICAN CITY, 12 APR 2010 (VIS) - Today the Vatican website, under the section called "Focus", published a guide to understanding the procedures of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [CDF] on sexual abuse allegations towards minors. These are the regulations in force since 2001.

I have highlighted some parts of the document and added [comments].

The applicable law is the Motu Proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela (MP SST) of 30 April 2001 together with the 1983 Code of Canon Law. This is an introductory guide which may be helpful to lay persons and non-canonists. [The Code of Canon Law is the collection of the laws of the Church that have been enacted over the centuries in the Latin or Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. the varous laws were put together and promulgated in 1917, when the title Codex Iuris Canonici, Latin for 'Code of Canon Law', was first used. It ws revised in 1983. The Code deals with purely Church matters and is not in conflict with the civil laws of any country.]
A:  Preliminary Procedures
The local diocese investigates every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric.
If the allegation has a semblance of truth the case is referred to the CDF.  The local bishop transmits all the necessary information to the CDF and expresses his opinion on the procedures to be followed and the measures to be adopted in the short and long term.
Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed. [The Church, ie, Churth authorities, has been criticized, in many cases deservedly, for not reporting crimes to the civil authorities. The Dublin Report, published a few months ago in Ireland, was highly critical of a number of archbishops of Dublin for not applying canon law  well as not reporting crimes to the civil authorities. Had priests been punished by the Church very likely many minors would not have suffered as they did.]
During the preliminary stage and until the case is concluded, the bishop may impose precautionary measures to safeguard the community, including the victims. Indeed, the local bishop always retains power to protect children by restricting the activities of any priest in his diocese.  This is part of his ordinary authority, which he is encouraged to exercise to whatever extent is necessary to assure that children do not come to harm, and this power can be exercised at the bishop's discretion before, during and after any canonical proceeding[In other words, no bishop needs Rome's 'permission' to do what he is supposed to do.] 
B: Procedures authorized by the CDF
The CDF studies the case presented by the local bishop and also asks for supplementary information where necessary.
The CDF has a number of options:
B1 Penal Processes
The CDF may authorize the local bishop to conduct a judicial penal trial before a local Church tribunal. Any appeal in such cases would eventually be lodged to a tribunal of the CDF.
The CDF may authorize the local bishop to conduct an administrative penal process before a delegate of the local bishop assisted by two assessors. The accused priest is called to respond to the accusations and to review the evidence.  The accused has a right to present recourse to the CDF against a decree condemning him to a canonical penalty.  The decision of the Cardinals members of the CDF is final.
Should the cleric be judged guilty, both judicial and administrative penal processes can condemn a cleric to a number of canonical penalties, the most serious of which is dismissal from the clerical state[This is a punishment by the Church. The Church can dismiss a man from the priesthood but can't put him in jail. The civil authorities can put him in jail for the same crime but can't dismiss him from the priesthood. There is no conflict between Church law and civil law.] The question of damages can also be treated directly during these procedures.
B2 Cases referred directly to the Holy Father
In very grave cases where a civil criminal trial has found the cleric guilty of sexual abuse of minors or where the evidence is overwhelming, the CDF may choose to take the case directly to the Holy Father with the request that the Pope issue a decree of "ex officio" dismissal from the clerical state.  There is no canonical remedy against such a papal decree. [In this situation the Church accepts the findings of the civil courts and dismisses a man from the priesthood without his having to go through a Church trial. Both State and Church punish according to the laws proper to them.]
The CDF also brings to the Holy Father requests by accused priests who, cognizant of their crimes, ask to be dispensed from the obligation of the priesthood and want to return to the lay state.  The Holy Father grants these requests for the good of the Church ("pro bono Ecclesiae").
B3 Disciplinary Measures
In cases where the accused priest has admitted to his crimes and has accepted to live a life of prayer and penance, the CDF authorizes the local bishop to issue a decree prohibiting or restricting the public ministry of such a priest.  Such decrees are imposed through a penal precept which would entail a canonical penalty for a violation of the conditions of the decree, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state.  Administrative recourse to the CDF is possible against such decrees.  The decision of the CDF is final. [For example, a priest may be forbidden from celebrating Mass publicly and from engaging in any pastoral work.]
C. Revision of MP SST
For some time the CDF has undertaken a revision of some of the articles of Motu Proprio [This can be translated 'on his own impulse' and is a document coming form the Pope's own initiative and signed by him. It may apply to the whole church or to a groupw within the Church.] Sacramentorum Sanctitatis tutela, in order to update the said Motu Proprio of 2001 in the light of special faculties granted to the CDF by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The proposed modifications under discussion will not change the above-mentioned procedures (A, B1-B3).

10 April 2010

'Христос Воскрес' - Christ is Risen!

I found this item on Saint Mary Magdalen, the blog of Fr Ray Blake, who got it from Creative Minority Report.

Moscow, April 5, Interfax - Fans greeted each other on Easter at a Sunday evening soccer match at Moscow Lokomotiv stadium.

At the beginning of the second half of the match thousands of fans of Dynamo team started chanting "Christ is Risen!", an Interfax correspondent reports.

Thousands of fans of Lokomotiv team on the opposite side of the stadium responded by chanting "Truly He is Risen!"

The exchange took place several times.

The correspondent who has attended soccer matches for almost 50 years says it was the (first) occurrence of this kind in the history of Russian soccer.

The hymn Faith of Our Fathers begins around 1'20" minutes into this video, the finale of a concert of popular hymns under the title Faith of Our Fathers in the Point Theatre, Dublin, in January 1997, nearly three years after Riverdance burst on the scene at the same venue. The soloist is the late Irish tenor Frank Patterson.
The refreshing proclamation of their Christian faith by the Moscow football fans reminded me of a tradition we had at major Gaelic Football and Hurling games in Croke Park, Dublin, until the 1960s, the singing of Faith of Our Fathers before the National Anthem. It was eventually dropped 'in the spirit of ecumenism' as it was seen as identifying the Catholic faith too much with a narrow Irish nationalism. There's no doubt that there was a strain of the latter in the Gaelic Athletic Association, that organised these games and members were expelled if found playing or watching 'foreign games', which meant soccer, cricket, rugby and hockey, all of which were identified with the British occupation for centuries. 'The Ban', as it was known, has long since gone and no harm for that.
But I don't know if those with form of Irish nationalism that was somewhat anti-English were aware, as they sang Faith of Our Fathers with gusto, that the words (except for the third stanza) were written by an Englishman, Fr Frederick Faber. One of God's little ironies!
Americans are more familiar with the St Catherine melody that is also used for this hymn. I much prefer the melody I grew up with. It has something manly about it that the other lacks.
Faith of Our Fathers

Frederick W. Faber, pub.1849
v. 3 by Anonymous/Unknown
ref. by James G. Walton, 1874
1. Faith of our fathers, living still,

In spite of dungeon, fire, and sword;
Oh, how our hearts beat high with joy
Whene’er we hear that glorious Word!

* Refrain:

Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

2. Faith of our fathers, we will strive
To win all nations unto thee;
And through the truth that comes from God,
We all shall then be truly free.

3. Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife;
And preach thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life.

'My Lord and my God' - Second Sunday of Easter Year C


New American Bible (Philippines, USA)

Jerusalem Bible (Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, Scotland)

Gospel (Jn 20, 19-31, NAB)

On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them,
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples
that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that through this belief you may have life in his name.


I often think that St Thomas gets a ‘poor press’. He has entered English vocabulary – I’m not sure about other languages – as ‘Doubting Thomas’. Yet he makes the most explicit act of faith found in the Bible: ‘My Lord and my God’. In Ireland this is used as one of the acclamations after the Consecration.

Thomas recognized the Risen Lord in his scars. Jesus carries those scars for all eternity. In St Joseph’s Chapel, Espinos Village, Bacolod City, where I usually celebrate Mass Tuesday through Saturday, there is a large statue of the Risen Lord behind the altar. It struck me one day that there was something wrong with it: there were no scars on the hands and feet of Jesus. That has been rectified, though they look more like wounds than scars.

Many of us were moved by the wrinkles on the face of Blessed Mother Teresa (photo) in her latter days. These were the ‘scars’ of love.

Rembrandt, in his Return of the Prodigal Son, captures the suffering of the father, rather than his joy, in the sadness on his face, the ‘scar’ of love.

It’s through our own suffering, in whatever form it comes, that we get some understanding of the sufferings of others. It was through the sudden death of my mother 40 years ago this coming 29 April that I realized in my heart rather than in my head that the Lord is truly risen.

04 April 2010

Resurrexit sicut dixit - He has risen as he said!

On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen." "Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise." And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen clothes by themselves; and he went home wondering at what had happened" (Luke 24:1-12, RSV).

A Happy Easter to all!

Beannachtaí na Féile Cásca oraibh!

03 April 2010

The New York Times and Pope Benedict XVI: how it looks to an American in the Vatican

The New York Times and Pope Benedict XVI:
how it looks to an American in the Vatican

by Cardinal William J. Levada
Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

This article is taken from the Vatican website. I have highlighted some parts and made [comments]. Cardinal Levada writes both as a senior member of the Church and as an American in response to an article in the New York Times (NYT), considered by many, including its publishers, to be THE American 'newspaper of reord' - 'All the news thats fit to print', as it proclaims..

In our melting pot of peoples, languages and backgrounds, Americans are not noted as examples of “high” culture. But we can take pride as a rule in our passion for fairness (Cardinal Levada's emphasis). In the Vatican where I currently work, my colleagues – whether fellow cardinals at meetings or officials in my office – come from many different countries, continents and cultures. As I write this response today (March 26, 2010) I have had to admit to them that I am not proud of America’s newspaper of record, the New York Times, as a paragon of fairness.

I say this because today’s Times presents both a lengthy article by Laurie Goodstein, a senior columnist, headlined “Warned About Abuse, Vatican Failed to Defrock Priest,” and an accompanying editorial entitled “The Pope and the Pedophilia Scandal,” in which the editors call the Goodstein article a disturbing report (emphasis in original) as a basis for their own charges against the Pope. Both the article and the editorial are deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness that Americans have every right and expectation to find in their major media reporting.

In her lead paragraph, Goodstein relies on what she describes as “newly unearthed files” to point out what the Vatican (i.e. then Cardinal Ratzinger and his Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) did not do – “defrock Fr. Murphy.” Breaking news, apparently. Only after eight paragraphs of purple prose does Goodstein reveal that Fr. Murphy, who criminally abused as many as 200 deaf children while working at a school in the Milwaukee Archdiocese from 1950 to 1974, “not only was never tried or disciplined by the church’s own justice system, but also got a pass from the police and prosecutors who ignored reports from his victims, according to the documents and interviews with victims.” [Why are journalists not asking the civil authorities why they dropped the case?]

But in paragraph 13, commenting on a statement of Fr. Lombardi (the Vatican spokesman) that Church law does not prohibit anyone from reporting cases of abuse to civil authorities, Goodstein writes, “He did not address why that had never happened in this case.” Did she forget, or did her editors not read, what she wrote in paragraph nine about Murphy getting “a pass from the police and prosecutors”? By her own account it seems clear that criminal authorities had been notified, most probably by the victims and their families.

Goodstein’s account bounces back and forth as if there were not some 20 plus years intervening between reports in the 1960 and 70’s to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and local police, and Archbishop Weakland’s appeal for help to the Vatican in 1996. Why? Because the point of the article is not about failures on the part of church and civil authorities to act properly at the time. I, for one, looking back at this report agree that Fr. Murphy deserved to be dismissed from the clerical state for his egregious criminal behavior, which would normally have resulted from a canonical trial. The point of Goodstein’s article, however, is to attribute the failure to accomplish this dismissal to Pope Benedict, instead of to diocesan decisions at the time. She uses the technique of repeating the many escalating charges and accusations from various sources (not least from her own newspaper), and tries to use these “newly unearthed files” as the basis for accusing the pope of leniency and inaction in this case and presumably in others.

It seems to me, on the other hand, that we owe Pope Benedict a great debt of gratitude for introducing the procedures that have helped the Church to take action in the face of the scandal of priestly sexual abuse of minors. These efforts began when the Pope served as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and continued after he was elected Pope. That the Times has published a series of articles in which the important contribution he has made – especially in the development and implementation of Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, the Motu proprio issued by Pope John Paul II in 2001 – is ignored, seems to me to warrant the charge of lack of fairness which should be the hallmark of any reputable newspaper. [In other words, the NYT ignores itself.]

Let me tell you what I think a fair reading of the Milwaukee case would seem to indicate. The reasons why church and civil authorities took no action in the 1960’s and 70’s is apparently not contained in these “newly emerged files.” Nor does the Times seem interested in finding out why. But what does emerge is this: after almost 20 years as Archbishop, Weakland wrote to the Congregation asking for help in dealing with this terrible case of serial abuse. The Congregation approved his decision to undertake a canonical trial, since the case involved solicitation in confession – one of the graviora delicta (most grave crimes) for which the Congregation had responsibility to investigate and take appropriate action.

Only when it learned that Murphy was dying did the Congregation suggest to Weakland that the canonical trial be suspended, since it would involve a lengthy process of taking testimony from a number of deaf victims from prior decades, as well as from the accused priest. Instead it proposed measures to ensure that appropriate restrictions on his ministry be taken. Goodstein infers that this action implies “leniency” toward a priest guilty of heinous crimes. My interpretation would be that the Congregation realized that the complex canonical process would be useless if the priest were dying. Indeed, I have recently received an unsolicited letter from the judicial vicar who was presiding judge in the canonical trial telling me that he never received any communication about suspending the trial, and would not have agreed to it. [Fr Thomas Brundage, the judge in the canonical trial of Father Murphy points out: “Father Murphy, however, died two days later and 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,” the priest wrote in the Catholic Anchor.] But Fr. Murphy had died in the meantime. As a believer, I have no doubt that Murphy will face the One who judges both the living and the dead.

Goodstein also refers to what she calls “other accusations” about the reassignment of a priest who had previously abused a child/children in another diocese by the Archdiocese of Munich. But the Archdiocese has repeatedly explained that the responsible Vicar General, Mons. Gruber, admitted his mistake in making that assignment. It is anachronistic for Goodstein and the Times to imply that the knowledge about sexual abuse that we have in 2010 should have somehow been intuited by those in authority in 1980. It is not difficult for me to think that Professor Ratzinger, appointed as Archbishop of Munich in 1977, would have done as most new bishops do: allow those already in place in an administration of 400 or 500 people to do the jobs assigned to them.

As I look back on my own personal history as a priest and bishop, I can say that in 1980 I had never heard of any accusation of such sexual abuse by a priest. It was only in 1985, as an Auxiliary Bishop attending a meeting of our U.S. Bishops’ Conference where data on this matter was presented, that I became aware of some of the issues. [My own experience as a priest is the same. I'm sure we covered this sin in moral theology but I don't recall it as something I was likely to encounter. I didn't become aware of any problem till it began to surface in North America in the mid1980s. I've heard of only one case involving a priest here in the Philippines and that was some years after his death.] In 1986, when I was appointed Archbishop in Portland, I began to deal personally with accusations of the crime of sexual abuse, and although my “learning curve” was rapid, it was also limited by the particular cases called to my attention. [The Church HAS learned in North America, in Ireland and in Britain and has taken firm action to hold to account persons responsible and to protect children in the presnt and future.]

Here are a few things I have learned since that time: many child victims are reluctant to report incidents of sexual abuse by clergy. When they come forward as adults, the most frequent reason they give is not to ask for punishment of the priest, but to make the bishop and personnel director aware so that other children can be spared the trauma that they have experienced. [Here in the Philippines, where I am familiar with many cases of the abuse of children, not by priests but by family members and neighours, there is often pressure from within the family not to report the case to the authorities. Furthermore, the courts often engage in a form of judicial abuse of victims by regularly postponing hearings, which are done in English, with interpreters, a language the very few young children or teenagers can converse in with ease.]

In dealing with priests, I learned that many priests, when confronted with accusations from the past, spontaneously admitted their guilt. On the other hand, I also learned that denial is not uncommon. I have found that even programs of residential therapy have not succeeded in breaking through such denial in some cases. Even professional therapists did not arrive at a clear diagnosis in some of these cases; often their recommendations were too vague to be helpful. On the other hand, therapists have been very helpful to victims in dealing with the long-range effects of their childhood abuse. In both Portland and San Francisco where I dealt with issues of sexual abuse, the dioceses always made funds available (often through diocesan insurance coverage) for therapy to victims of sexual abuse. [It is clear that at least some bishops and religious superiors followed the recommendations of psychiatrists, presuming that they had the professional competence to give sound advice. We know know that the science of psychiatry has learned a lot in th past 30 years or so about this situation.]

From the point of view of ecclesiastical procedures, the explosion of the sexual abuse question in the United States led to the adoption, at a meeting of the Bishops’ Conference in Dallas in 2002, of a “Charter for the Protection of Minors from Sexual Abuse.” This Charter provides for uniform guidelines on reporting sexual abuse, on structures of accountability (Boards involving clergy, religious and laity, including experts), reports to a national Board, and education programs for parishes and schools in raising awareness and prevention of sexual abuse of children. In a number of other countries similar programs have been adopted by Church authorities: one of the first was adopted by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales in response to the Nolan Report made by a high-level commission of independent experts in 2001.

It was only in 2001, with the publication of Pope John Paul II’s Motu proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela (SST), that responsibility for guiding the Catholic Church’s response to the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clerics was assigned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This papal document was prepared for Pope John Paul II under the guidance of Cardinal Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Contrary to some media reports, SST did not remove the local bishop’s responsibility for acting in cases of reported sexual abuse of minors by clerics. Nor was it, as some have theorized, part of a plot from on high to interfere with civil jurisdiction in such cases. Instead, SST directs bishops to report credible allegations of abuse to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is able to provide a service to the bishops to ensure that cases are handled properly, in accord with applicable ecclesiastical law. [There is no conflict between civil law and canon law. The Murphy Report castigated a number of archbishops of Dublin for NOT following canon law. had they done so, at least some priests would have been dismissed from the priesthood and fewer children would have suffered.]

Here are some of the advances made by this new Church legislation (SST). It has allowed for a streamlined administrative process in arriving at a judgment, thus reserving the more formal process of a canonical trial to more complex cases. This has been of particular advantage in missionary and small dioceses that do not have a strong complement of well-trained canon lawyers. It provides for erecting inter-diocesan tribunals to assist small dioceses. The Congregation has faculties allowing it derogate from the prescription of a crime (statute of limitations) in order to permit justice to be done even for “historical” cases. Moreover, SST has amended canon law in cases of sexual abuse to adjust the age of a minor to 18 to correspond with the civil law in many countries today. It provides a point of reference for bishops and religious superiors to obtain uniform advice about handling priests’ cases. Perhaps most of all, it has designated cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics as graviora delicta: most grave crimes, like the crimes against the sacraments of Eucharist and Penance perennially assigned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This in itself has shown the seriousness with which today’s Church undertakes its responsibility to assist bishops and religious superiors to prevent these crimes from happening in the future, and to punish them when they happen. Here is a legacy of Pope Benedict that greatly facilitates the work of the Congregation which I now have the privilege to lead, to the benefit of the entire Church.

After the Dallas Charter in 2002, I was appointed (at the time as Archbishop of San Francisco) to a team of four bishops to seek approval of the Holy See for the “Essential Norms” that the American Bishops developed to allow us to deal with abuse questions. Because these norms intersected with existing canon law, they required approval before being implemented as particular law for our country. Under the chairmanship of Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago and currently President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, our team worked with Vatican canonical experts at several meetings. We found in Cardinal Ratzinger, and in the experts he assigned to meet with us, a sympathetic understanding of the problems we faced as American bishops. Largely through his guidance we were able to bring our work to a successful conclusion.

The Times editorial wonders “how Vatican officials did not draw the lessons of the grueling scandal in the United States, where more than 700 priests were dismissed over a three-year period.” I can assure the Times that the Vatican in reality did not then and does not now ignore those lessons. But the Times editorial goes on to show the usual bias: “But then we read Laurie Goodstein’s disturbing report . . .about how the pope, while he was still a cardinal, was personally warned about a priest … But church leaders chose to protect the church instead of children. The report illuminated the kind of behavior the church was willing to excuse to avoid scandal.” Excuse me, editors. Even the Goodstein article, based on “newly unearthed files,” places the words about protecting the Church from scandal on the lips of Archbishop Weakland, not the pope. It is just this kind of anachronistic conflation that I think warrants my accusation that the Times, in rushing to a guilty verdict, lacks fairness in its coverage of Pope Benedict.

As a full-time member of the Roman Curia, the governing structure that carries out the Holy See’s tasks, I do not have time to deal with the Times’s subsequent almost daily articles by Rachel Donadio and others, much less with Maureen Dowd’s silly parroting of Goodstein’s “disturbing report.” But about a man with and for whom I have the privilege of working, as his “successor” Prefect, a pope whose encyclicals on love and hope and economic virtue have both surprised us and made us think, whose weekly catecheses and Holy Week homilies inspire us, and yes, whose pro-active work to help the Church deal effectively with the sexual abuse of minors continues to enable us today, I ask the Times to reconsider its attack mode about Pope Benedict XVI and give the world a more balanced view of a leader it can and should count on.

God becomes Filth: a reflection for Good Friday / Holy Saturday

I found this on the blog of Fr Ray Blake, parish priest of St Mary Magdalen Parish, Brighton, England.

Is there anything more dehumanising than nailing a living man to a piece of wood, than fixing him there and waiting for him to die. Listening, as he struggles for breath, to the creak of the timbers. Looking on, as the timbers become bloodied and sweat stained, smeared with faeces and urine as the victim is incapable of controlling his his body, as the knots and snags and splinters make their own wounds in his body, He becomes one with it. And all this happens amid the stench of the city rubbish dump, amidst the dead dogs and excrement cleared off the streets.

Here God become Man, becomes Filth, Rubbish, Garbage, Scum, all that is rejected. This the consequence of the Incarnation, the consequence of Divine Love.

Here is a deeper Mystery; the Crucifixion is Eternal, the Good Friday events are for all time. The Cross is the Bride of the Lamb, He is fixed to it, He and it are caught in an Infinite Eternal embrace. The Crucifixion is the Lamb's marriage feast. What God takes on He cannot reject. The Cross is at the very heart of the Trinity. Christ is wedded to it, the two have become one, nailed together by the iron nails of Divine Love.

The Cross is the Church, in which Christ is continually crucified, freely taken up in love, unrejectable, one with Christ, the source of His infinite pain and the source of His infinite joy.

02 April 2010

A Columban in 'Satan's stomping ground' in Mexico: a story of hope on Good Friday

Fr Kevin Mullins, Australian Columban in Juarez, Mexico

The American Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) featured Australian Columban Fr Kevin Mullins on 26 March in Juarez Drug Wars. Juarez is in Mexico, just across the border from El Paso, Texas. The US Region of the Columbans has a cross-border mission to Hispanics in both cities. Father Mullins is parish priest of Corpus Christ Parish, Juarez. Below is the transcript of this 8:49-minute video, which you can find here.

Father Mullins heard from another priest that his 'assassination' on Christmas Eve had been reported on a radio station. He says, with a wry smile, of a gathering he was at the following week, 'I was pleased to be there without the bullet holes, yes'.

I got this story from another Columban, Fr John Burger, a member of our General Council in Hong Kong, today, Good Friday. I think it is appropriate to post it on Good Friday. Despite the terrible violence in Juarez, Father Mullins works out of the hope that our belief in the Resurrection gives us. Father Kevin is following a long Columban tradition of cheerfully living the Gospel in the midst of violence, something that has almost defined us since we began in 1916 in Ireland in the middle of political upheaval there and of the slaughter of the Great War of 1914-1918.

In the midst of all of the violence Father Kevin has managed to build up the church-going population considerably in Corpus Christi Parish. I suggest that he is much more representative of Catholic priests than those who have been featured in the news lately.

Corpus Christi Parish, Juarez

LUCKY SEVERSON, correspondent: This war zone is not in some far off country. It’s just across the border from El Paso, Texas, in Juarez, Mexico, one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

FATHER KEVIN MULLINS (Parish of Corpus Christi): There was a 47-year-old man here with four bullets in his head, so we stopped in order to give the last rites, as they used to say.

SEVERSON: Since Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderon, declared war on the drug cartels four years ago, almost 5,000 citizens have been murdered in Juarez alone. Father Kevin Mullins knows. He’s officiated at too many funerals.

FATHER MULLINS: We’ve experienced 38, 40 executions just in this one parish here.

SEVERSON: Next to the statute of the Virgin Mary on a hill overlooking Juarez, there’s a cross. It’s riddled with bullet holes. No one, not even priests in the world’s second largest Catholic country, feels safe anymore.

Murder in Juarez

FATHER MULLINS: When I leave in the morning and go out in the truck, once upon a time I wouldn’t think twice about it, but now because of these executions and because of the stray bullets, I’d say, “Lord, protect me, take care of me.” Then I’ll go out.

SEVERSON: The violence has spread throughout Mexico, but Juarez has been particularly hard hit because it’s a major conduit for illegal drugs passing from Mexico into the United States. It’s become a bloody battleground as cartels fighting for the huge amounts of money involved murder each other and innocent civilians.

RUBEN GARCIA (Director, Annunciation House): It is a city that has real fear, a lot of it unpredictable, a lot of it you can’t put your finger on it, but its certainly something with which people live on a daily basis.

SEVERSON: Ruben Garcia runs Annunciation House, a halfway house for indigent migrants across the border in El Paso. Some who cross over to escape the violence come here. But most, like these folks who belong to Father Mullin’s parish, are stuck in Juarez, worried first about their kids and grandkids, worried about stray bullets.

Leo says he’s heard that teachers have been threatened that their students will be hurt if the teachers don’t pay extortion money. Four of Ezikial’s extended family have been victims.

FATHER MULLINS (translating for Ezikial): So the mother and the son were killed just before Christmas outside the old US consulate, and the week before a nephew had also been executed outside the church in San Marcos.

SEVERSON: When Juan Pablo refused to use his market as a drop-off location for suspicious packages, he was told his two kids would be killed. So the family quietly and quickly moved to another city and then quietly returned.

Yesterday there were 13 executions here in Juarez, the day before 19. Two of those were decapitations. Even more striking than the number of murders is the gruesome way they have been carried out. Almost every day, the one-and-a-half-million residents of Juarez are exposed to horrific news stories of unthinkable violence. A mere shooting hardly gets any attention.


FATHER MULLINS: Shooting people is always terrible, but when they dismember them or when they strangle them with barbed wire, it’s horrific, the results. Or decapitation is fairly big around here.

Mario was stoned to death down below there. You see the cross. A gentleman called Lalo was stoned to death up this gully.

SEVERSON: Father Mullins says it’s as if Juarez has become Satan’s stomping ground.

(speaking to Father Mullins): You’re not willing to concede?

FATHER MULLINS: Not yet, no, because I think it’s evident from the scriptures, and also from history, that the good overcomes evil.

SEVERSON: Most everyone agrees that one reason so many people are enticed by all the drug money is that so few here have jobs. Because of the violence, tourism has dried up, and more than 6,000 businesses have closed, leaving tens of thousands unemployed. For many, the only alternative is illegal and dangerous.

GARCIA: If I have no work, and I’m not eating, and my children are not eating, and along comes someone and finds a way for me to start feeding my kids, I’m going to be grateful for that person. If you come and you say, “Did you know that person is a notorious drug dealer?” I’m going to look at you and say, “You know what? My kids are eating.”

SEVERSON: One of the biggest problems in Mexico is a lack of trust in anything to do with the government—politicians, police, the army, you name it.

FATHER MULLINS: Of every 618 executions, 20 are investigated.

SEVERSON: Only investigated. Not even solved, but just investigated?

FATHER MULLINS: Twenty out of 618, so any talk of investigations is really a joke.

GARCIA: The corruption that is affecting Mexico is very, very pervasive. It includes most of Mexico’s institutions to a level that would probably be mind boggling to the average citizen in the United States. What would it mean for the average US citizen to wake up and to realize I cannot call my police department because I cannot trust my police?

SEVERSON: One institution that Mexican people have always had faith in is the Catholic Church, in part because almost 90 percent of the over 142 million citizens are Catholic. But even trust in the church appears to be eroding. Estellita, a mother of 10, says the church has not done enough to fight the cartels .

(speaking to Senora Estella): You mean the church has done nothing?


FATHER MULLINS: Senora Estella says the Catholic Church has been a little bit sleepy. They could have done a lot more.

GARCIA: I think the church in Mexico has been hurt by its hesitancy and its silence. It’s willingness to be prophetic, to be outspoken, to speak the truth, I think, would enhance its credibility.

SEVERSON: Garcia and many others in Mexico feel that for the Catholic Church to speak the truth it has to confront the drug cartels head on.

FATHER MULLINS: I think maybe the bishops could be more vocal.

SEVERSON: But it’s dangerous.

FATHER MULLINS: It could be dangerous, yes, but that element of danger is also part of if you want to live a Christian life then in a situation like this there could be an element, a modicum of danger from time to time.

Fr Kevin Mullins greeting Corpus Christ parishioners after Mass

SEVERSON: The Mexican Council of Bishops estimates that about two out of every 10 priests face serious risks for speaking against drug traffickers. One has been killed, dozens transferred for their own safety. The rest are looking over their shoulders.

FATHER MULLINS: And I got a call from one of my colleagues, a Mexican priest here, and he called up and said, “Kevin, Kevin is it you?” And I said yeah, yeah it’s me,” and he said, “I’m so happy to hear your voice.” He said, “The radio said you were just assassinated in the street.” Some other priests had heard of this, and they prayed a Mass for the Dead, for the dead priest being me, on Christmas Eve, and they were pleased to see me the following week.

SEVERSON: And you were probably pleased to be there.

FATHER MULLINS: I was pleased to be there without the bullet holes, yes.

SEVERSON: After a long and conspicuous silence, in November 2009 the Mexican Bishops Conference publicly condemned narcotics traffickers and demanded that the country’s politicians crack down on corruption. The communiqué said the bishops intend to have a louder voice against the evils of illegal drug trafficking.

But in individual churches the battle has already begun. When Father Mullins came here nine years ago, he could only count about 30 regular churchgoers. Take a look now.

FATHER MULLINS: I never cease to be amazed at the nobility of the people around here, not that that’s a surprise, but I just think people are so brave in Juarez. It’s a privilege for me to be a priest here.

SEVERSON: One reason his parish has grown so much is because he sent what few members he had to the neighborhoods offering the church as an alternative lifestyle to the drug culture. This is Eduardo Perez.

EDUARDO EALART PEREZ: We invite many people, we go to the streets and invite people, “Hey, come to our church.”

SEVERSON: So you think you cannot win the drug war without the church?

PEREZ: Yes, absolutely. I mean absolutely. I mean maybe without church, but not without God.

SEVERSON: The Catholic Church has a proud tradition of standing up for people who can’t defend themselves. Father Mullins and many others here believe that now is the time for the church to stand up to the drug cartels, regardless of the risks.

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, I’m Lucky Severson in Juarez, Mexico.