Church Sexual Abuse, Little has Changed

This article from Catholic Culture, while noting the dismissal of a bishop who was convicted of criminal charges, reminds us that the situation regarding accountability for the sexual abuse in the Church has hardly changed and that is very sad.

An excerpt.

Bishop Finn  had to go. When he was convicted on criminal charges, he became the poster boy for the American bishops’ mishandling of the sex-abuse crisis. He was an irresistible target for critics of Catholicism: a walking, talking symbol of episcopal negligence.

The bishop’s defenders have said that he was not properly informed about the Ratigan case. That’s true, but it’s not an adequate defense. They say that his subordinates and counselors gave him bad advice. Also true, but irrelevant. We’ve heard those arguments too many times. The fact remains that when he was alerted to the fact that a troubled priest had engaged in inappropriate activities with young children, Bishop Finn did not take prompt and decisive action. He let the problem fester—as so many other bishops have let so many other problems fester—with disastrous results for everyone involved.

In Bishop Finn’s case this failure was particularly inexcusable because the results of negligence were so very well known. He could not get away with mumbling inanities about a “learning curve,” about not recognizing the severity of pedophilia, as other bishops had done a decade earlier. By 2011, every American bishop should have known that if there was one failure he absolutely must avoid, it was the failure to curb sexual abuse.

The announcement of Bishop Finn’s resignation comes, appropriately, on the same day as the news that the US bishops  spent nearly $3 billion in the past decade  to settle sex-abuse lawsuits. That reckoning understates the financial cost of the sex-abuse scandal, since it does not include the millions of dollars quietly paid out before 2004. And the financial cost, in turn, does not adequately summarize the staggering damage done to the Church. How many young lives were damaged? How many thousands were alienated from the faith? How many opportunities for evangelization were lost forever?

The truly remarkable thing about today’s announcement is not that Bishop Finn was forced to step down, but that he was the first American bishop forced to step down. (Cardinal Law left voluntarily in 2002; in fact when he originally submitted his resignation, it was declined.) Dozens of other bishops were as negligent, or worse. But they remained in office for years as the Church hierarchy came, ever so slowly, to the conclusion that even prelates must be held accountable….

Many questions remain to be answered. Will other prelates follow Bishop Finn out the chancery doors? Will the critics of Catholicism pick a new target of opportunity? Will retired bishops whose negligence has been demonstrated still be treated with deference, as if nothing happened? Will Pope Francis continue to defend  his appointment of a Chilean bishop accused of ignoring abuse, even as  lay members of his sex-abuse commission threaten to resign?

And in the future, will bishops be held responsible for proper handling of their duties in areas other than sexual abuse? Once accountability becomes the norm, all sorts of changes are possible.

Retrieved April 23, 2015 from

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

Prisoners have been getting things into prisons they shouldn’t have since the beginning, and this method reported by the New York Times is just the latest in a long line of innovations devised by prisoners with time and motivation to think about how to get things they want.

An excerpt.

BISHOPVILLE, S.C. — During the graveyard shift at 1:44 a.m., security cameras at the prison here picked up the blinking lights of an unidentified flying object approaching the facility’s fence.

A corrections officer was dispatched to investigate, but by the time she got there, all she could see was a man running away into the dense forest that surrounds the prison.

It was not until dawn that officers found a package that included a cellphone, tobacco and marijuana tangled in the power lines outside the prison and a small drone that had crashed in the bushes nearby. In the woods, investigators located a makeshift campground, the remote control device used to fly the drone, a bottle of grape-flavored Gatorade and drugs.

“It was a delivery system,” said Bryan P. Stirling, the director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections, explaining how the drone’s operators had planned to send the contraband into the prison, the Lee Correctional Institution. “They were sending in smaller amounts in repeated trips. They would put it on there, they would deliver it, someone inside would get it somehow, and they would send it back out and send more in.”

It is the high-tech version of smuggling a file into a prison in a birthday cake, and it underscores the headache that drones are now creating for law enforcement and national security officials, who acknowledge that they have few, if any, ways of stopping them.

Drones flying over prison walls may not be the chief concern of corrections officials. But they say that some would-be smugglers are experimenting with the technique as an alternative to established methods like paying off officers, hiding contraband in incoming laundry and throwing packages disguised as rocks over fences into recreational yards.

The authorities have detected at least three similar attempts at corrections facilities in the United States in the past two years. In the same period, there were also at least four reported attempts abroad, in Ireland, Britain, Australia and Canada.

Retrieved April 22, 2015 from

Around Iran

A very interesting story of a recent trip around Iran from New Geography.

An excerpt.

With Iranian-American nuclear relations back on the front burner — make that front and center — I was able to secure a visa and travel counter-clockwise by train around Iran, covering more than a thousand miles. In American headlines and Congressional outbursts, Iran is thought only to be grappling with its nuclear dilemma. But I came to the conclusion that Iran’s future is tied more closely to its cities, where some 60 percent of the population lives, than it is to its nuclear capabilities or its revolutionary doctrines.

By the time I left, a few weeks ago, nothing I saw lined up with its sinister reputation for revolutionary violence or near-fascist religious zeal. Mostly, I saw a developing country — like China in many ways — moving its young population sideways from the countryside into the cities (usually in an old car, spewing fumes). Herewith, an urban rundown:

Tehran: I flew into and out of Tehran, the city that dominates the life of Iran. Even at 3:00AM the traffic was heavy, and when I went around on the metro, there was never a moment when I wasn’t as squeezed as canned caviar.

For a city of never-ending tenements (similar to Queens or Brooklyn), Tehran remains, comparatively, calm. I never heard shouting, car horns, or confrontations, just as I never saw an armed police officer (except at the airports) or Revolutionary Guards. Omnipresent portraits of ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei are the only symbols of sidewalk,politics.

Diplomats and wealthier Iranians prefer to remain crowded into North Tehran, which feels like an alpine village, given the snowcapped peaks that soar in the background. This is where the last two Shahs had their palaces (which are now open as museums of imperialist decadence). The poor live in the desert flatlands to the south. I walked outside the embassy complex where in 1979 the American diplomats were held hostage; its twenty-seven acres looks like an 1850s textile mill in Pawtucket.

For reasons few can explain, Tehran works well as a city. The subway trains — while packed — come and go on schedule. The bazaar is a mall of plenty, even with all the sanctions; the university attracts the best students (including my gifted guide), and even the dense traffic seems to move.

 Tehran may lack architectural grace, central focus, cozy neighborhoods, restaurants (I saw few), tea gardens, and sufficient parks. But it doesn’t feel as if it is on the edge of a fundamentalist abyss, as it’s portrayed in the Western press. It struck me more as an endless block party.

Mashad: Iran’s most holy city. With a population of three million, Mashad is holy because it is where the remains of the Eighth Imam (Reza) are entombed. Pilgrims from all over Iran and Iraq come to the shrine, which is at the center of a large complex of mosques, museums, minarets, and open courtyards.

Before the 1979 revolution, Mashad had an old-city feel, with the shrine at the core of narrow twisting lanes and alleys. Now the shrine is at the center of an open, polished-marble mall that would be a skateboarder’s dream, were dudes ever called to prayers.

Faith is the serious business in Mashad, and most of the women I saw wore black, no-nonsense chadors and hijabs. (In Tehran, younger women, especially, wear their headscarves as fashion statements, and wrap themselves in vibrant colors.)

Retrieved April 21, 2015 from

Vatican & LCWR

The process has come to completion and appears to have been settled to everyone’s satisfaction; except of course, the various media reporting it, as this story from Catholic World Report by Ann Carey—indisputably the expert on the process—reports.

An excerpt.

A French journalist I know called me for help on an article she was writing about the reform plan for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) accepted April 16 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

She said she was confused by all the articles on the topic in the U.S. press and wanted to ask me “Who really won? The sisters or the Vatican?”

At first I was stunned by this win-lose terminology, and I wondered why she would have considered the doctrinal reform of a canonically-erected entity to be a conflict of some kind, with the outcome producing a winner and a loser.

My own impression of the outcome was that everyone won because the CDF had helped the LCWR to be a better organization for sisters by refocusing its role to be “centered on Jesus Christ and faithful to the teachings of the Church,” according to the final report.

Then I took time to read several media stories on the topic and discovered that some of the articles made it sound as if the CDF’s reform of the LCWR indeed was adversarial, akin to “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” or a new “Star Wars” sequel.

Consider, for example, this headline from the April 16 New York Times: “Vatican Ends Battle With U.S. Catholic Nuns’ Group.” Writer Laurie Goodstein then went on to use such inflammatory language as “confrontation,” “vexing and unjust inquisition” and “standoff.”

Several other articles used similar language, saying the reform effort was a “takeover” of the group, and some simply declared that the sisters had won a battle with the Vatican. Miriam Krule writing for Slate called the reform agreement a “victory and vindication for LCWR.”

It seems as if some writers simply shaped the outcome to reflect their own hopes and expectations. No wonder my French friend was confused.

Adding to her confusion were articles that contained downright incorrect information on the topic, making me wonder if the writers had actually read the CDF-LCWR joint final report. Perhaps accurate research is just not their thing.

For example, several articles reported that the reform was ended “abruptly” or “early,” an indication that the Holy See just wanted to be done with the matter. “The review was supposed to run until 2017,” declared the April 16 International Business Times. The Associated Press and Jesuit Father James Martin writing at America made the same claim, while St. Louis Public Radio insisted the reform “was set up as a four-year investigation.”

Retrieved April 19, 2015 from

USCCB Continues Failed Discussion about Criminal Justice Issues

In two recent letters to the US Senate, on sentencing and corrections, Catholic leaders continue promoting ideas which have already proven to be failures—reduced time in prison for drug dealers and more money for traditional rehabilitation programs—to the continued harm of the public who will witness increased crime rates if either or both of these strategies become law.

Labeling drug sales as a non-violent offense (which can reduce time in prison for drug dealers) is ridiculous to anyone who understands what results from drug sales, both in the violent harm to drug abusing children and families, and the territorial warfare between criminal organizations.

Rehabilitation programs, as they are currently structured and promoted in the letter, have failed miserably, which we note in our ongoing blog post at

The letter from the USCCB on sentencing can be found here:

Retrieved April 16, 2015 from

And the one on corrections, here:

Retrieved April 16, 2015 from

Capital Punishment, Pope Francis & the Magisterium

I just finished reviewing two letters where Pope Francis calls for the abolition of capital punishment:

20 March 2015

30 May 2014

I am saddened by the very poor analysis which led to the conclusion to call for abolition—not only from Francis, but also from Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II—as it goes against the teaching of the Church from the beginning and, as noted by Avery Cardinal Dulles, the danger of reversing doctrine is severe;

“The reversal of a doctrine as well established as the legitimacy of capital punishment would raise serious problems regarding the credibility of the magisterium.” (p. 26)

Dulles, A. Cardinal. (2004). Catholic teaching on the Death penalty. In E.C. Owens, J.D. Carlson & E.P. Elshtain (Eds.). Religion and the death penalty, (pp. 23-30). Cambridge, England: Eerdmans Publishing.

I wrote a book about this which goes into great detail rebutting all of the arguments used to call for abolition, and each one of our books is a response to a likely objection to Catholicism that will be encountered when doing ministry to professional criminals; and for links to all of the Lampstand books which are available at Amazon, go to

This wonderful article from Thomistica puts it clearly.

An excerpt.

Christopher Tollefsen writes arguing the intrinsic evil of the death penalty, here.  He forwards reasons that he deems sufficient to relegate the consensus of the fathers and doctors, and prior ecclesial judgments regarding the death penalty, to the dustbin of history along with prior acceptance of slavery, and buttresses his argument with an analysis of intention (in support of the proposition that God cannot intend death),

Here  I will argue that his analysis of the tradition (e.g., the oath required of the Waldensians to re-establish ecclesial communion), and the likenesses he draws of the death penalty with slavery in terms of the tradition simply cannot be sustained.  To be unequivocal, I will put it straightforwardly:  any claim that the death penalty is absolutely and intrinsically unjust contradicts the consensus of the Fathers and Doctors and numerous prior papal teachings. The likeness drawn with support for slavery is unsustainable. The teaching that the death penalty is intrinsically evil seems very directly to contradict Scripture and Tradition.  The claim that the death penalty is intrinsically evil also poses profound challenges to–perhaps even contradiction of–the Church’s teaching regarding the nature of the redemption; the nature of penalty as such including the penalty of final damnation; and the Church’s traditional understanding of human dignity itself as defined by the teleological ordering of the imago dei of representation to the imago dei of conformity with God. …

Thus it becomes clear how grave are the implications cascading from misunderstanding of the unified voice of scripture and tradition regarding the principled legitimacy of the death penalty for grave crime. To say that the death penalty is a malum in se requires: negating the high theological note present in the Church’s requirement that the Waldensians admit the principled legitimacy of a judgment of blood (for so long as imposed “advisedly” and “not incautiously”–language wholly incompatible with any thought that the application of the death penalty is always and everywhere unjust); revoking the Council of Trent with respect to the role of the Fathers with respect to the interpretation of Scripture (e.g., Romans 13:4); contradicting numerous pontificates upholding the essential validity of the penalty; contradicting Scripture itself; and accepting a novel account of human dignity according to which the chief dignity of man is merely his inceptive dignity, the imago dei of representation, as opposed to the teaching that man’s chief dignity consists in the divine ordering of man to common good both natural and supernatural whose summit is the imago dei of conformity to God in beatific vision. For the very thing that constitutes our initial rational dignity, is precisely its ordering to noble good naturally and supernaturally; and so it is that dignity itself that requires the application of penalty when man culpably rejects and falls from the divine good. Because the acquired dignity is ultimately more determining and perfective than our inceptive dignity–because that inceptive dignity is a dignity only because it is ordered to noble good naturally and supernaturally–culpable defect contrary to this order requires penalty. Such penalty is not unjust: it is due.

One must recall, that our merely human penalties are more medicinal than retributive:  but divine penalty, howsoever much knowledge of it may and does deter man from sinning in this life, is in its application in the next life fully retributive.  Thus Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 66, art. 6, ad 2:…

“To the second it should be said that punishments of this life are more medicinal than retributive. For retribution is reserved to the Divine judgment which is pronounced against sinners “according to the truth” . And thus, according to the judgment of the present life the death punishment is inflicted, not for every mortal sin, but only for such as inflict an irreparable harm, or again for such as contain some horrible deformity.”

It is, then, difficult to reconcile the claim that the death penalty is absolutely and universally contrary to human dignity with the Catholic faith.  For the Catholic faith affirms the justice of retributive penalty far exceeding any just terrestrial penalty, and has always acknowledged the principled legitimacy of the death penalty.  This is not to say that any grave penalty should lightly be imposed, nor that there may not be general reasons of prudential restraint–although as prudential these may vary, not least because deterrence is a valid further end of just penalty; but it is to say that grave penalty, including penalty of death for the gravest crimes, is not intrinsically evil or invalid.

Retrieved April 13, 2015 from

Ukraine & Russia

Being of Ukrainian/Germanic descent, this move by the current Ukrainian government is a welcome one to me, as reported in the Daily Signal.

 An excerpt.

KYIV, Ukraine—The Ukrainian parliament approved a law Thursday renaming the Great Patriotic War as the Second World War, underscoring a sweeping move by the post-revolutionary government here to ditch its Soviet past.

Also on Thursday, Ukrainian lawmakers passed a law banning the promotion of symbols of “Communist and National Socialist totalitarian regimes,” as well as a law granting special legal status to veterans of the “struggle for Ukrainian independence” from 1917 to 1991 (the lifespan of the USSR).

According to Ukrainian media, the symbols banned under Thursday’s bills include:

“The flags, symbols, images or other emblems, featured by a combination of hammer and sickle; hammer, sickle and five-pointed star; a plow, a hammer and a five-pointed star […]”

“The images of the Communist Party slogans, quotes of individuals, who held senior positions in the Communist Party (except for quotations related to the development of Ukrainian science and culture) […]”

“The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic anthems as well as ones of the other Union or autonomous Soviet republics […]”

Wednesday’s bills targeted what some lawmakers called “Soviet clichés” and painted Ukraine as the victim of both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.

“During the commemoration of the victims of the Second World War, it is necessary to cancel the use of Soviet symbols,” said Volodymyr Viatrovych, head of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance, in an interview with the Ukrainian news outlet UNIAN.

Abandoning Ukraine’s Soviet legacy has upended decades-old ways of thinking for Ukrainian citizens who grew up in the USSR. “In the past year we’ve done a complete mental reversal,” said Evgeny Oksanichenko, 60, a factory manager in Mariupol and former Communist Party member.

Retrieved April 11, 2015 from

Judaism Shows the Way

Women Rabbis are on fire, as this story from the National Catholic Reporter reveals.

An excerpt.

At a synagogue in Charleston, S.C., more than 20 years ago, teenager Rachel Nussbaum began wrapping tefillin — two black boxes attached to leather straps that Jewish men wear as they pray.

To the older Jewish men gathered for morning prayers, the sight of a woman decked out like a man at prayer was shocking. Many didn’t know what to make of Nussbaum’s brazen willingness to break with tradition.

Now 38 and a rabbi, Nussbaum leads The Kavana Cooperative, a growing Jewish prayer community in Seattle that has much in common with a synagogue but doesn’t call itself one. Like the tefillin-wrapping teenage Nussbaum, Kavana prides itself on a reputation for doing Judaism its own way.

It is known, as are about 10 other like-minded “indie synagogues,” for its exuberant prayer, willingness to experiment and welcoming attitude toward those whose comfort zone lies outside the traditional Reform, Conservative and Orthodox denominations. Another commonality: Women lead most of them.

These communities have grabbed the attention of more conventional Jewish leaders because they have enjoyed success where mainstream synagogues and institutions often struggle: attracting young Jews.

Many of these groups, born less than a decade ago, draw scores of people to Shabbat services and hundreds to holiday celebrations. The Los Angeles-based Ikar congregation boasts 600 family units, an impressive size in the Jewish world.

The movement reflects the times, said Hasia Diner, a professor of American Jewish history at New York University.

“People are interested in being a part of institutions that they have a chance to help shape,” she said. “Every time they turn around there isn’t some document or some structure that says ‘no, you can’t.’ ”

And it makes sense that women lead so many of these communities, because “women were historically left out of the institutional structure,” Diner continued. If a whole body of feminist psychology is right, “women tend to be more interested in reaching out and building consensus than issuing fiats from the top down.”

Retrieved April 10, 2015 from

St. Paul & the Resurrection

This wonderful article by George Weigel examines the reaction to the Resurrection, an event that surely shattered the apostles sense of reality, even though foretold, but for Paul, even more so, since he had not known Christ in life.

 An excerpt.

Galatians 1:15–18 is not your basic witness-to-the-Resurrection text. Yet St. Paul’s mini-spiritual autobiography helps us understand just how radically the experience of the Risen Lord changed the first disciples’ religious worldview, and why an evangelical imperative was built into that experience.

Here’s the Pauline text:

“When he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him for fifteen days.”

Note the sequence: Saul of Tarsus is stunned on the Damascus road by a revelation of the risen Lord Jesus Christ; after being baptized in Damascus, the new disciple disappears into the Arabian peninsula (for how long, he doesn’t say); he then returns to Damascus; and only then does he make the pilgrimage to the founding Church in Jerusalem to confer with Peter. Thus Paul’s first encounter with another apostolic witness to the Resurrection didn’t occur for years: at least three-plus (if the “three years” in verse 18 refer to both his Damascus and Arabian sojourns), and quite probably more.

What took him so long?

Paul’s snapshot of his early Christian life immediately follows his self-description as one who was “advanced in Judaism beyond many . . . among my people” and “extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:14). So it doesn’t torture the text of Galatians 1:15–18 to suggest that Paul spent those unaccounted-for years trying to figure things out. What did his undeniable—and shattering—meeting with the Risen One mean? How could this encounter fit within what a Jewish scholar would know as the pattern of redemption?

The Gospels record that it took the first Christian believers a while to understand what the Resurrection meant—their fears and incomprehension (Who is this? Is it a ghost?) bear witness to the unprecedented nature of the experience of the Risen One. Over time, though, Easter and the subsequent appearances of the Risen Lord worked profound changes in how these pious Jews thought and prayed. The Resurrection changed their idea of the Sabbath; they now celebrated the Lord’s Day on Sunday rather than Saturday. The experience of the Risen Lord changed their idea of what “resurrection” meant; this was not a resuscitated corpse but an utterly transformed body, recognizably human (he eats and drinks) but not limited by the normal boundaries of time and space (doors mean nothing to him). And the Resurrection changed their understanding of what time itself meant (the Kingdom Jesus proclaimed in his public ministry dramatically changed history at Easter, but “history” continued).

Retrieved April 11, 2015 from

US Priesthood Growing

Very good news about the growth of US Priests from Catholic World Report.

An excerpt.

Yesterday the USCCB released some information about men to be ordained priests this year. On average, the report states, the men were 17 years old when they first considered the vocation of priesthood, and 71% said they were encouraged in that regard by a parish priest, “as well as friends (46 percent), parishioners (45 percent), and mothers (40 percent).” And the number of men to be ordained is up 20% from last year: “The total number of potential ordinands for the class of 2015, 595, is up from from 477 in 2014 and 497 in 2013.”

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh, North Carolina, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, found that the data gave reason for hope but also provide areas for further growth. “It is encouraging to see the slight increase in the number of ordinations this year in the United States,” Bishop Burbidge said. “When asked about the positive influences they encountered while discerning the call, those to be ordained responded that the support from their family, parish priest, and Catholic schools ranked very high.” Father W. Shawn McKnight, executive director of the Secretariat, cited educational debt as a growing concern. “Over 26 percent of those ordained carried educational debt at the time they entered the seminary, averaging a little over $22,500 in educational debt at entrance to the seminary. Considering the high percentage of the men ordained already having earned an undergraduate degree, it will be important to find ways to assist in debt reduction in the future.”

The average age for this year’s ordinands is 34, and eight in 10 of those who responded and participated in the information gathered by the Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) are between the ages of 25 and 39. 69% of the men are Caucasian/European American/white, with 14% being Hispanic/Latino and 10% of Asian or Pacific Islander background.

Retrieved  April 10, 2015 from


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