Posts Tagged “roman catholic church”

A Charlie Brown Christmas TreeIn a remarkable contrast to all the Religious Right’s bellicose whining about how Christmas is somehow being outlawed, alongside their ongoing effort to force every American to worship it with them, Pope Francis made some comments recently about that holiday which are very different. As Agence France-Presse reports via Yahoo News, he said that Christmas celebrations will seem hollow this year (WebCite cached article):

Christmas festivities will seem empty in a world which has chosen “war and hate”, Pope Francis said Thursday.

“Christmas is approaching: there will be lights, parties, Christmas trees and nativity scenes … it’s all a charade. The world continues to go to war. The world has not chosen a peaceful path,” he said in a sermon.

“There are wars today everywhere, and hate,” he said after the worst terror attack in French history, the bombing of a Russian airliner, a double suicide bombing in Lebanon, and a series of other deadly strikes.

“We should ask for the grace to weep for this world, which does not recognise the path to peace. To weep for those who live for war and have the cynicism to deny it,” the Argentine pontiff said, adding: “God weeps, Jesus weeps”.

The sermon threw a shadow over the start of the festive season at the Vatican, where a giant Christmas tree was unveiled.

As seems to be usual for him, Pope Francis once again bucks a lot of Catholic, if not overall Christian, trends … using the observance of a Christmas tree’s unveiling to make somber comments of this sort.

I hope all the “Christmas warriors” out there … led as they are by the (yes, Catholic!) Bill O’Reilly … will take note of what Pope Francis said. Maybe their caterwauling and whining about Starbuck’s coffee cups won’t seem so sanctimoniously important.

Photo credit: Mark K, via Flickr.

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Apostolic Nunciature Washington DCWhen the media initially reported that Pope Francis had met the gay-hating Religious Right aspiring martyr Kim Davis, clerk of Rowan Cty, KY, while he was in Washington last week (WebCite cached article), I admit having been skeptical. At first, only she and her people (i.e. the Christofascist outfit called Liberty Counsel, led by her attorney Mat Staver) had made this claim. The Vatican and its nunciature (aka embassy) initially wouldn’t confirm or deny it. This was just the sort of thing Staver and his cadre might try to cook up in an effort to make their client appear saintly. So I was suspicious.

My skepticism was proven wrong when they confirmed a meeting took place, but said nothing about its nature (cached). That seemed pretty odd, since Ms Davis and Staver had painted a rather rosy picture of how the Pope had told her to soldier on for Jesus in her crusade against marriage in her county, because gays. After continued questions, the Pope’s people finally had to say more about it. And what they did say, as the New York Times reports, didn’t exactly match Ms Davis’ contention (cached):

Pope Francis’ encounter with Kim Davis last week in Washington, which was interpreted by many as a subtle intervention in the United States’ same-sex marriage debate, was part of a series of meetings with dozens of guests and did not amount to an endorsement of her views, the Vatican said on Friday.

The church distanced itself on Friday from the case of Ms. Davis, the Rowan County, Ky., clerk who defied a judge’s order and refused to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It said “the only real audience” Francis gave in Washington was to a former student of his.

The Times hosts a copy of the Vatican’s statement (cached), which says, among other things:

The Pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.

What’s odd about this is that the one personal audience the Pope’s office admits occurred in Washington wasn’t just with any old former student of his. This person, the Times explains, was gay, and he’d brought his long-time partner along:

Contacted by phone, a former student of Francis, Yayo Grassi, said he had been granted a meeting with the pope. Mr. Grassi is an openly gay man living in Washington, and he said he had been accompanied by his partner of 19 years, Iwan Bagus, as well as four friends.

CNN has also reported on this part of the story (cached). I find it incredibly odd that Pope Francis would have arranged his own meeting with a former student who was gay, on the one hand, yet also met with — and supposedly encouraged — an anti-gay crusader for Jesus on the other. It all seems improbable on its face.

A possible explanation for this incongruity may lie in a report by a LGBT advocacy group, the New Civil Rights Movement, with new details on how Ms Davis’s meeting was arranged (cached):

The New Civil Rights Movement has learned through a source within the Apostolic Nunciature, the Vatican embassy, that Kim Davis’ meeting with the Pope was arranged – contrary to theories espoused in the media – by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The USCCB is led by President Joseph E. Kurtz, the Archbishop of Louisville, in Davis’ home state of Kentucky, and by the Archdiocese of Washington led by Cardinal Donald Wuerl. Both institutions have actively opposed same-sex marriage. In 2009, Cardinal Wuerl signed the Manhattan Declaration, an ecumenical statement calling on Evangelical, Orthodox, and Catholic Christians to defy laws permitting same-sex marriage and other issues they claim challenge their religious freedom.

The USCCB has ties to organizations designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, including the Family Research Council and the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM).

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the papal nuncio (aka ambassador) to the US is, according to some reports, a conservative within the hierarchy who’d participated in an anti-gay-marriage rally in Washington earlier this year (cached). As nuncio, Viganò very well could have arranged to insert Ms Davis and her goofy hick husband into a receiving line for the Pope, and possibly have done it with only a few people aware of who she really was. In other words, Viganò may well have blindsided his own boss, in the name of pushing an anti-gay crusade and promoting Ms Davis’s desired martyrdom, at the behest of the very-conservative American bishops.

I haven’t seen any other reports definitely linking this strange meeting with the USCCB. But other outlets, such as The Atlantic, have mentioned oddly cagey comments by Archbishop Kurtz (cached):

Joseph Kurtz, the archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky, and the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wouldn’t comment on the meeting itself and how it came about, noting that he stayed about a mile away from the nunciature where Pope Francis stayed during his visit to D.C. But “I can comment on the fact that in Kentucky, I had said that I’m not a lawyer or a politician, but I had certainly hoped that room could be made for people of conscience,” he said on Wednesday. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was the primary coordinator of the pope’s schedule during his visit to the United States.

The more I read about this, the more I smell a rat. And that rat stinks like episcopal incense.

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General Audience with Pope FrancisA month ago, Pope Francis told his Church to be more welcoming toward divorced-&-remarried Catholics. The Church’s doctrines are an incentive to bar them; Catholics who remarry without having first getting an official annulment aren’t allowed to receive Communion, among other things. Annulments can be difficult to get, though, to the point where some divorced Catholics don’t even bother trying to get them.

Pope Francis is taking steps to change this. As the AP reports via ABC News, he’s making changes so that annulments are much easier to get (WebCite cached article):

Pope Francis radically reformed the Catholic Church’s process for annulling marriages Tuesday, allowing for fast-track decisions and removing automatic appeals in a bid to speed up and simplify the procedure.

Francis issued a new law regulating how bishops around the world determine when a fundamental flaw has made a marriage invalid. Catholics must get this church annulment if they want to remarry in the church.

But the process has long been criticized for being complicated, costly and out of reach for many Catholics, especially in poor countries where dioceses don’t have marriage tribunals.

In the document, Francis insisted that marriage remains an indissoluble union and that the new regulations aren’t meant to help to end them. Rather, he said, the reform is aimed at speeding up and simplifying the process so that the faithful can find justice.

The overall aim of the reform, he said, “is the salvation of souls.”

The upshot of the changes are that uncontested annulments can be “fast tracked” and handled entirely by the local diocese, without “automatic appeals” being invoked unnecessarily. It seems an obvious move for Francis to make, in order to keep divorced Catholics in the fold.

On this issue, I must admit being impressed. As I noted a month ago, the Church’s treatment of divorced-&-remarried Catholics has, historically, amounted to slamming the door in their faces. Its policies have effectively driven people right out of the Church. Telling the Church to be more welcoming of such folks — which the Pope did a month ago — is one thing, but actually greasing the ecclesiastical skids to make it easier to do, could make a material difference.

Of course, these changes can’t alter the attitudes of conservative Catholics, many of whom comprise the Church’s hierarchy. It’s possible they could still throw impediments in the path of divorced Catholics, and it certainly won’t immediately reduce their prejudices against them. Still, this is a tangible change that could have a positive effect.

Photo credit: Catholic Church England & Wales, via Flickr.

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Refugee children from Syria at a clinic in Ramtha, northern Jordan (9613477263)Europe is in the throes of a migrant crisis — due to refugees fleeing the intractable morass of Syria’s long civil war — which doesn’t show any signs of letting up. I blogged a couple weeks ago about Slovakia refusing to accept any migrants who aren’t Christian (and updated that post today to note Hungary’s position is the same). But leave it to Pope Francis to lead in the opposite direction. As the New York Times reports, he instructed all the Catholics of Europe to take in the migrants (WebCite cached article):

Pope Francis on Sunday called on every parish, religious community, monastery and sanctuary in Europe to shelter refugees fleeing “death from war and hunger,” adding that the Vatican’s two parishes would lead the way by taking in two families.

In a speech to thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square, the pope said it was not enough to say “have courage, hang in there” to those marching toward what he described as “life’s hope.”

Note that the Pope didn’t just give a blanket instruction to Catholics to embrace the migrants; he said that “every parish, religious community, monastery and sanctuary” should do so. That’s remarkably specific … and remarkably clear. The various arms of the Catholic Church collectively have a tremendous presence in Europe and, I’m sure, could do a lot to assist the migrants. This is a great opportunity for it to put those resources to good use.

Slovakia — as I noted previously — is a majority-Catholic country. I wonder what they’ll make of their own Pope’s orders? Will they follow them? I have no idea.

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Looking north from a hill in Branch Brook Park, at Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart on a sunny midday.Among the R.C. Church’s rationales for protecting abusive clergy within its ranks is a presumption that the victims are to blame for it, and — perversely — that the abusers are the true “victims.” The Church doesn’t say so out loud very often, but once in a while someone lets this presumption slip, here or there. The most recent example of this, as NJ Advanced Media reports, came from a Newark priest who’d fled to his native Ecuador in 2003 when faced with allegations he’d abused a teen (WebCite cached article):

In an extraordinary admission of wrongdoing, a priest sought by authorities in New Jersey has acknowledged engaging in a sexual encounter with a 15-year-old boy, but he deflected blame for the incident by saying the teen “wanted” it and had “evil in his mind.”

In a telephone interview with NJ Advance Media, in email exchanges and in a lengthy post he shared publicly on Twitter, the Rev. Manuel Gallo Espinoza said it was a “mistake” to have sexual contact with the boy in the rectory of a Plainfield church in 2003. He said he fled to his native Ecuador after the victim told a nun and another priest that Gallo Espinoza raped him.

“One thing that I am conscious (of) is he was at that time a teenager, and it is a big mistake for me. But I didn’t force him to do anything he didn’t want,” Gallo Espinoza wrote. “He was older (sic) enough to walk away, but I think that I was attracted to him, that is the only explanation that I can think right now.”

Gallo Espinoza added: “He had something evil in his mind. He approached me many times.”

Amazingly, Gallo Espinoza had been rather public about all of this:

Using the screen name “Unforgetables Unforgettables,” he also wrote an 864-word comment [cached] beneath the July 30 story about him on Gallo Espinoza, who identified himself by name in the comment, later shared a copy of it on Twitter [cached], along with one of his emails to NJ Advance Media.

For the record, here is that July 30 story (cached).

Because the victim sued the archdiocese of Newark, this vile creep even indulged in the “it’s-all-about-greedy-plaintiffs” whine:

Gallo Espinoza made reference to Ramirez’s lawsuit in his correspondence, saying the victim had revived the issue after 12 years to cash in.

“The explanation that I find to begin again with this incident after many years is ‘EASY MONEY,'” Gallo Espinoza wrote.

So in addition to having already admitted he abused a boy, the priest tried to insinuate the incident had been fabricated for money. Nice touch there, fella. Really nice!

Another nice touch in this case is that the victim’s uncle and youth minister, to whom the victim had reported the abuse and who’d confronted Gallo Espinoza about it, warned him an investigation had been started and that he should flee the country:

While the circumstances of Gallo Espinoza’s abrupt departure have never been fully disclosed, he said in the telephone interview it was [youth leader Antonino] Salazar and [victim’s uncle Jeivi] Hercules who told him to run. Hercules, who has since entered the priesthood, is now parochial vicar at Queen of Peace Church in North Arlington.

Wonderful people, eh? How marvelous of these men — whom the victim had trusted enough to report the incident — to take that trust and crush it into the dirt. All in defense of a pedophilic priest and the Mother Church to which he belonged.

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General Audience with Pope FrancisPope Francis continues to amaze, by repeatedly marching to his own drummer. The latest example of this came during his most recent audience. As Religion News Service reports, he instructed priests to welcome remarried Catholics (WebCite cached article):

Speaking out on one of the most contentious issues of his papacy, Pope Francis on Wednesday (Aug. 5) issued a powerful call for the church to embrace Catholics who have divorced and remarried, telling a gathering at the Vatican that such couples “are not excommunicated, and they absolutely must not be treated that way!”

“They always belong to the church,” he added, calling on pastors to welcome Catholics who have remarried without an annulment, even though such Catholics are currently barred in most cases from receiving the Eucharist, the central sacrament of the faith.

“The church is called to be always the open house of the Father. … No closed doors! No closed doors!” Francis told the crowd at his weekly public audience, which resumed after a monthlong summer break.

The pope’s words were greeted with what was described as thunderous applause [cached].

The article points out that Catholicism has, traditionally, taken a hard line against remarriage:

Current teaching says such Catholics cannot receive communion unless they abstain from sexual relations because their first marriage is still valid in the eyes of the church.

A debate over this has been brewing in the halls of the Vatican since Francis took office, and it appears his comments are of his effort to press the matter. He also pointed out the hypocrisy — not to mention dysfunctionality — of the Church’s current approach:

How can the church “tell these parents to do everything to raise their children as Christians, giving them an example of a firm and practiced faith, if we keep them at arm’s length from the community, as if they were excommunicated?”

I can attest that it’s not uncommon for people born into, and married within, the Catholic Church to be alienated from it, and therefore become ex-Catholics, because of this particular issue. It’s literally driving people right out their doors … making it a really stupid way to operate. And, from the “thunderous applause” of the people in his audience, it sounds as though a lot of lay Catholics agree.

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The former archbishop makes his first remarks since resigning in June. Glen Stubbe – Star TribuneI’ve blogged a few times about recently-resigned Twin Cities archbishop John Nienstedt and his various specious behaviors. These were significant enough that — at his own direction — his archdiocese launched an investigation into his dealings a year and a half ago. He ended up trying to derail it once he learned it was going places he’d preferred it wouldn’t (WebCite cached version).

Well, as the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports, it seems Nienstedt had more than a little reason to be embarassed by what that investigation had found (cached):

Former Archbishop John Nienstedt said he remains “dumbfounded” by the allegations of personal misconduct that emerged last year during an internal church investigation of his behavior — a report that the archdiocese now is considering making public.…

Commissioned by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the probe looked into claims that Nienstedt had engaged in behavior that was inappropriate for a priest. The Star Tribune has learned that investigators collected affidavits from priests, former seminarians and a former priest alleging actions, some dating to the Detroit area in the early 1980s, that range from inappropriate touching to visiting a gay nightclub.…

The archdiocese declined to answer questions about the investigation. Last year, it hired the Greene Espel law firm in Minneapolis to look into allegations of clergy misconduct involving Nienstedt and adults. The law firm’s work ended last summer, and the chancery hired Minneapolis criminal defense attorney Peter Wold to complete the probe.

Greene Espel has publicly disputed claims by the archdiocese that Nienstedt did not intervene in the investigation.

The firm conducted interviews and collected affidavits, or sworn statements, from people who worked with or knew Nienstedt. The Star Tribune has confirmed that five Catholic priests, one former priest and a former seminarian were among those who provided affidavits.

In one affidavit, a priest in Harrison Township, Mich., reported seeing Nienstedt at a gay nightclub in Windsor, Ontario, just across the border from Detroit in the 1980s. “I recall seeing John — and there is no doubt in my mind that it was him based on my prior interactions with him — at the Happy Tap,” the Rev. Lawrence Ventline wrote in his affidavit. “He appeared to wave me off as I was coming — and I backed off because I did not want impose on him.”

Another affidavit from a Michigan priest said that Nienstedt pulled up to his car in an area frequented by gay men one December in the early 1980s and asked him if he had any “poppers,” an inhalant used by gay men to enhance sexual pleasure. When he got into Nienstedt’s car, and Nienstedt recognized him as a former student, he changed the subject, the priest told the Star Tribune.

A former seminarian at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, James Heathcott, also filed an affidavit. He said that Nienstedt — who was the seminary’s rector — expelled him after he refused an invitation to join Nienstedt and two other seminarians on a private weekend at a ski chalet in the late 1980s.

In addition, the Star Tribune obtained a 2014 letter sent by a former student at Sacred Heart Seminary to former auxiliary bishop Lee Piché, who oversaw the Nienstedt investigation, alleging that Nienstedt touched his buttocks after a dinner together one night between 2000 and 2002. Joseph Rangitsch said he protested and Nienstedt replied he could “make things unpleasant for you very quickly.”

As I said, and as the Star Trib reports, Nienstedt categorically denies it all, and offered excuses for some of these encounters, which oddly enough tends to lend them a little credibility. It’s odd that such a vehement anti-gay crusader might turn out to have been a closeted gay … or, maybe it’s not so strange after all, given that it seems to happen now and again.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

Photo credit: Glen Stubbe / Star Tribune.

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