He’s in charge of an ‘outspoken’ priest

You may have heard that a Massachusetts priest called Sunday for Pope Benedict to resign because of his unwillingness to face the “truth” about clerical sex abuse.

The sermon by the Rev. James J. Scahill  has turned a spotlight on his boss — Bishop Timothy McDonnell, a very well-known guy in these parts.

McDonnell is a former Chappaqua pastor and vicar general of the Archdiocese of New York.

bishopmcdonnellHe was named the bishop of Springfield, Mass. and its 120 parishes in 2004.

I can’t find a statement on the Diocese of Springfield’s website, but the Springfield Republican writes this:

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In a response issued Monday afternoon, Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell faulted Scahill for bringing up the issue on a Sunday meant to foster reconciliation and forgiveness in the church.

“There is a sad irony in that Father Scahill’s remarks were delivered on Divine Mercy Sunday,” said McDonnell, adding the church has expressed “tremendous sorrow, sadness and shame” about clergy abuse cases.

“The church leadership knows how difficult it is for those who have suffered abuse at the hands of clergy who should have been signs of God’s love rather than inflictors of pain,” the bishop said.” Here in the Diocese of Springfield, as in trouble throughout the United States and beyond, we are vigilant in the efforts undertaken to ensure such tragedies can never happen again.”

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McDonnell has faced pressures before.

In 1990, he was assigned to clean things up at Covenant House in New York City after the Rev. Bruce Ritter, who founded the ministry for homeless youth, was accused of sexual misconduct.

Then McDonnell had to run Catholic Charities during a difficult economic period.

He pastored St. John and St. Mary Church in Chappaqua from 1993 until he was named an auxiliary bishop of New York in 2001. He served as vicar general of the archdiocese until being sent to Springfield, which was mired in scandal at the time.

Former Bishop Thomas Dupre had just resigned after allegations surfaced that he abused young people in the 1970s.

Now what does a bishop do with a priest who has called on the pope to resign?

For ‘the good of the universal church’

The AP is now raising the stakes in tying the future Pope Benedict XVI to a sex-abuse scandal involving a former, monstrous Oakland priest.

The Diocese of Oakland recommended defrocking the priest in 1981, three years after he pleaded no contest to tying up and molesting two boys.

According to the AP, Ratzinger did not respond for four years. Then he refused to defrock the priest, writing of the “detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke within the community of Christ’s faithful.”

Is it a legitimate story that makes the future pope look really bad or another example of biased, anti-Catholic reporting?

Here it is:

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AP EXCLUSIVE: Future pope stalled pedophile case

By GILLIAN FLACCUS (AP) – 1 hour ago

LOS ANGELES — The future Pope Benedict XVI resisted pleas to defrock a California priest with a record of sexually molesting children, citing concerns including “the good of the universal church,” according to a 1985 letter bearing his signature.

The correspondence, obtained by The Associated Press, is the strongest challenge yet to the Vatican’s insistence that Benedict played no role in blocking the removal of pedophile priests during his years as head of the Catholic Church’s doctrinal watchdog office.

The letter, signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was typed in Latin and is part of years of correspondence between the Diocese of Oakland and the Vatican about the proposed defrocking of the Rev. Stephen Kiesle.

The Vatican refused to comment on the contents of the letter Friday, but a spokesman confirmed it bore Ratzinger’s signature.

“The press office doesn’t believe it is necessary to respond to every single document taken out of context regarding particular legal situations,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi said. “It is not strange that there are single documents which have Cardinal Ratzinger’s signature.”

The diocese recommended removing Kiesle (KEEZ’-lee) from the priesthood in 1981, the year Ratzinger was appointed to head the Vatican office which shared responsibility for disciplining abusive priests.

The case then languished for four years at the Vatican before Ratzinger finally wrote to Oakland Bishop John Cummins. It was two more years before Kiesle was removed.

In the November 1985 letter, Ratzinger says the arguments for removing Kiesle are of “grave significance” but added that such actions required very careful review and more time. He also urged the bishop to provide Kiesle with “as much paternal care as possible” while awaiting the decision, according to a translation for AP by Professor Thomas Habinek, chairman of the University of Southern California Classics Department.

But the future pope also noted that any decision to defrock Kiesle must take into account the “good of the universal church” and the “detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke within the community of Christ’s faithful, particularly considering the young age.” Kiesle was 38 at the time.

Kiesle had been sentenced in 1978 to three years’ probation after pleading no contest to misdemeanor charges of lewd conduct for tying up and molesting two young boys in a San Francisco Bay area church rectory. Continue reading

Good Friday, the ‘Coffee Haggadah’ and the Catholic-media showdown

A few things today after a day off:

First, two Good Friday items. For the last decade, the largest non-denominational Protestant service in the region has been held in Westchester, usually at the Westchester County Center. I covered the “Westchester  One in Praise” service a couple of times and saw thousands gather on Good Friday — mostly evangelicals and Pentecostals, a racial and ethnic mix.

This year’s 7:30 p.m. service will be at Mount Vernon High School. The featured speaker will be Dr. Carolyn D. Showell of First Apostolic Faith Church in Baltimore.

What else? Last year, I visited the Peale Center for Christian Living up in Pawling to write about their annual Day of Prayer on Good Friday.

I sat in the back of a chapel at the home of Guideposts magazine and watched a few dozen people read prayer requests from strangers and then pray for them. Rotating teams of staff and volunteers prayed for something like 16,000 people between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

If you want to know more or might want to send in a prayer request for this year’s 40th anniversary Good Friday Day of Prayer, go to www.Ourprayer.org.

Second, Passover. Someone gave me a copy the other day of a Maxwell House Haggadah. I found myself wondering how a coffee company wound up creating the most popular Haggadah in the U.S., used by countless families at their seders over decades.

I came across a short article from Moment magazine that answered my questions.

Here is the opening:

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In 1923, when Maxwell House Coffee signed on with the Joseph Jacobs Advertising agency in New York, it was already a legend. Theodore Roosevelt supposedly drank a cup in 1907 at the Nashville hotel for which it was named, proclaiming it “good to the last drop.” Fortune smiled even more on the brand when Jacobs conceived a plan to entice American Jews to serve the coffee at their Seders. First, he lined up a prominent rabbi to assure Jews that coffee beans were not forbidden legumes but fruit. Then he convinced his client to underwrite America’s first mass-marketed Haggadah. When it appeared in 1934, free with the purchase of a can of coffee, the Maxwell House Haggadah swiftly revolutionized how American Jews celebrated Passover.

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So there you go. Producing a Haggadah — and a good one — was good for business.

Kraft, which now owns Maxwell House, still produces the Haggadah. One million copies were printed in 2009 for distribution through supermarket chains like ShopRite.

Rabbi Burton L. Visotsky of the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, notes: “Local custom ruled liturgy. Maxwell House did more to codify Jewish liturgy than any force in history.”

Being something of a coffee snob, I haven’t had a sip of Maxwell House in a long time. Now I find myself wondering what it tastes like.

Third, an international conflict grows over the recent media coverage of various sex-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.

Several reports that have called into question the past decision-making of Pope Benedict have unleashed passionate defenses of the pope and increasingly  harsh criticism of the media — especially the New York Times.

Most of the criticism has focused on extensive NYT reporting about a late Milwaukee priest who allegedly molested close to 200 boys at a school for the deaf, where he worked from 1950 to 1974. While no one seems to dispute that the priest, Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, was a monster, the Times’ contention that the pope — then Cardinal Ratzinger — was slow to react in 1996 has created the firestorm.

Archbishop Dolan, who defended the pope after Palm Sunday Mass by comparing attacks against him to the persecution of Jesus, now writes on his blog about “diatribes” against the church and the pope.

He concludes with this GREAT soundbite:

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Let me be upfront: I confess a bias in favor of the Church and her Pope.

I only wish some others would admit a bias on the other side.

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Meanwhile, a Milwaukee priest who presided over a canonical criminal trial involving Murphy, has stepped out in the Catholic media to complain that he has been widely misquoted — even though he was never interviewed by a journalist.

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

Brundage writes that Murphy was guilty of “unmitigated and gruesome crimes.” But he takes the Times to task for all sorts of things, which I can’t fully summarize here.

Among other things, he writes:

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With regard to the inaccurate reporting on behalf of the New York Times, the Associated Press, and those that utilized these resources, first of all, I was never contacted by any of these news agencies but they felt free to quote me. Almost all of my quotes are from a document that can be found online with the correspondence between the Holy See and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. In an October 31, 1997 handwritten document, I am quoted as saying ‘odds are that this situation may very well be the most horrendous, number wise, and especially because these are physically challenged , vulnerable people. “ Also quoted is this: “Children were approached within the confessional where the question of circumcision began the solicitation.”

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

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On NationalReview.com, Raymond J. de Souza also dissects the Times’ coverage of the Ratzinger connection.

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

Finally, Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest and prominent historian of American religion, suggests on ReligionDispatches.org that Catholics who are “disgruntled” by scandal go Episcopalian.

He notes that the Vatican has reached out to conservative Anglicans who are fed up with their church’s leftward drift.

Balmer writes:

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So what do we learn from these developments over the past five months? Consider the evidence. I gather that the lesson from the Vatican is that homosexuality, even on the part of those in loving, committed relationships, is sin, must be exposed to the light of day for its shamefulness and must never be countenanced. It’s okay, however, to turn a blind eye to pedophile priests, to reassign them quietly to do harm elsewhere or simply to ignore the problem.

I’ll take my Episcopal Church, warts and all, any day.

Archbishop Dolan vs. the Times, Round 3 and counting

I wrote the other day about media coverage of sex abuse in the Catholic Church and claims from some — including Archbishop Dolan — that the coverage has an anti-Catholic slant.

His main concern, as he wrote on his blog, is that the media focus on abuse in the Catholic world but largely ignore abuse in the larger society.

Dolan was not done.

image_xlimage_2010_03_R1433_DOLAN_POPE_3292010Yesterday, after Palm Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dolan defended Pope Benedict XVI from media reports connecting the pontiff to sex-abuse scandals in Germany and the U.S. The Vatican has also been quite unhappy with some of the reports.

Dolan, as he tends to do, used strong, unambiguous words: “And Palm Sunday Mass is sure a fitting place for us to express our love and solidarity for our earthly shepherd now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus.”

…now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus…

That’s the New York Times he’s talking about there, folks.

According to the AP, Dolan got a 20-second standing ovation from the packed cathedral.

You get the feeling this isn’t over. Dolan has shown that he is quite comfortable charging anti-Catholicism in the media — especially the Times — and he does not take kindly to attacks on his Holy Father.

Here are his remarks in full:

(AP Photo/Tina Fineberg)

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“May I ask your patience a couple of minutes longer in what has already been a lengthy — — yet hopefully uplifting — — Sunday Mass?

“The somberness of Holy Week is intensified for Catholics this year.

“The recent tidal wave of headlines about abuse of minors by some few priests, this time in Ireland, Germany, and a re-run of an old story from Wisconsin, has knocked us to our knees once again.

“Anytime this horror, vicious sin, and nauseating crime is reported, as it needs to be, victims and their families are wounded again, the vast majority of faithful priests bow their heads in shame anew, and sincere Catholics experience another dose of shock, sorrow, and even anger.

“What deepens the sadness now is the unrelenting insinuations against the Holy Father himself, as certain sources seem frenzied to implicate the man who, perhaps more than anyone else has been the leader in purification, reform, and renewal that the Church so needs.

“Sunday Mass is hardly the place to document the inaccuracy, bias, and hyperbole of such aspersions.

“But, Sunday Mass is indeed the time for Catholics to pray for “ . . . Benedict our Pope.”

“And Palm Sunday Mass is sure a fitting place for us to express our love and solidarity for our earthly shepherd now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus.

“No one has been more vigorous in cleansing the Church of the effects of this sickening sin than the man we now call Pope Benedict XVI. The dramatic progress that the Catholic Church in the United States has made — — documented again just last week by the report made by independent forensic auditors — — could never have happened without the insistence and support of the very man now being daily crowned with thorns by groundless innuendo.

“Does the Church and her Pastor, Pope Benedict XVI, need intense scrutiny and just criticism for tragic horrors long past?

“Yes! He himself has asked for it, encouraging complete honesty, at the same time expressing contrition, and urging a thorough cleansing.

“All we ask is that it be fair, and that the Catholic Church not be singled-out for a horror that has cursed every culture, religion, organization, institution, school, agency, and family in the world.

“Sorry to bring this up … but, then again, the Eucharist is the Sunday meal of the spiritual family we call the Church. At Sunday dinner we share both joys and sorrows. The father of our family, il papa, needs our love, support, and prayers.”

John Allen looks at Ratzinger/Benedict’s response to abuse

The growing numbers of news reports about Catholic Church sex-abuse scandals in Germany and Ireland will draw every possible reaction from observers.

Some will say that it’s about time that the media are focusing on decades of abuse.

Others will say that the abuse cases in question date back to the 60s, 70s and sometimes 80, and that it is irresponsible for the media to cover these things as if they happened yesterday.

The fact that Pope Benedict XVI has been tied indirectly to one notorious case will ensure that emotions on all sides are hotter than ever.

JohnLAllenI have to recommend that people who want to get a handle on things read John Allen’s outstanding analysis in NCR. He focuses on Cardinal Ratzinger’s response to sex-abuse allegations and how he, as the pope, has evolved.

I see it as a detailed, comprehensive, pretty balanced and ultimately educational look at a big story. Of course, others will see it quite differently.

In fact, if you read it, go on and read the dozens of comments afterward. They cover the gamut.

He’s getting killed by critics of the church, like this one:

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I realize, John, that for your access to your sources at the Vatican, you cannot be too blunt. But talk about who has been drinking the Kool-Aid, you must be on a sugar-high! This is the Pope we are talking about who is able to demote and/or remove anyone in the hierarchy!!!! Not ONE bishop from the United States has been removed by this Pope; not ONE!!!!!!

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And he’s taking it from defenders of the church, like this one:

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Benedict is one of the greatest Popes in the History of the Church! There is so much more to all of this then know, we should becareful with what we say! He is the Pope, God had chosen him to lead his people in a World full of hate for the Church and our Lord.

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Many readers are arguing that John bends over backwards to present the pope in the best possible light.

The comments make for good reading. But read John first.

Dolan: A red hat for autumn?

Since Archbishop Dolan came to New York a year ago, it’s been widely assumed that he would have to wait to become a cardinal.

Cardinal Egan is only 77 and is eligible to enter a conclave to vote for a pope until he turns 80. In general, it is held that the Vatican does not like to have two cardinal-electors representing the same diocese.

So Dolan would have to wait until Egan, the retired archbishop of NY, is 80.

But this is only a guideline, not a rule. And popes can do whatever they want.

Two Rome newspapers are reporting that Benedict XVI will announce in October that a consistory will be held in November and that Dolan will be one of the new cardinals named.

They also say that Archbishop Raymond Burke, the former archbishop of St. Louis who is now serving in a Vatican post, will also get a red hat.

Not named: Archbishop Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C., since 2006.

Here’s the interesting thing: The two Roman newspapers in question, La Stampa and il Giornale, have pretty much the same names. They’re either both right or both wrong.

Got Vatican II questions?

Not long after becoming pope, Benedict XVI openly wondered why the implementation of Vatican II has been so darned…complicated.

He said that many mistakenly believe that the post-Vatican II church has not lived up to the great Council, while others are wrong in believing that VII was supposed to represent a break from the pre-Council church.

B16 said: “Forty years after the Council, we can show that the positive is far greater and livelier than it appeared to be in the turbulent years around 1968. Today, we see that although the good seed developed slowly, it is nonetheless growing; and our deep gratitude for the work done by the Council is likewise growing.”

Bellitto_2009For the many Catholics who still have unanswered questions about Vatican II — okay, everybody — St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers would be a good place to visit next Wednesday (Feb 3). At 7:30 p.m., church historian Christopher Bellitto will speak on  “Vatican II: The State of the Questions.”

I’ve known Bellitto since he was professor of church history at St. Joseph’s Seminary and associate dean of the seminary’s Institute of Religious Studies.

He is not only a real smart guy who loves church history, but he knows how to talk and write about it. He won’t be dull. He will know what people want to hear about and he will get to it with insight and humor.

I must say, he is a master of the sound bite — an important skill if you’re going to be interviewed by media people these days. Bellitto knows how to get to the heart of a matter directly and colorfully.

And at Dunwoodie, he won’t have to rush.

Does he know Vatican II? As an editor for Paulist Press, he created and edited “Rediscovering Vatican II,” only an 8-volume series by a team of international scholars.

He is currently Assistant Professor of History at Kean University in Union, N.J.,  and the Academic Editor-at-Large for Paulist Press.

He got his doctorate at Fordham, so he’s still a local guy.

This is his first return engagement at Dunwoodie for a while. So check him out if you’re, you know, interested in Vatican II.

For more info: (914) 968-6200, ext. 8292.

Tomorrow: adolescent catechesis workshop; lecture on Darwin and Christian belief

Here are two events you might want to know about taking place tomorrow (Friday, May 29):

First off, the catechetical office of the Archdiocese of New York will offer an all-day adolescent catechesis workshop at the Riverview in Hastings-on-Hudson.

The program is called “Knowing Jesus, Growing as Disciples,” and is aimed at all Catholic educators who deal with adolescents.

It’s from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The price is $40 per person, including lunch. The Riverview is at 1 Warburton Ave.

For information or registration, contact Kathleen Alonzo at 212-371-1011, ex. 2864 or Kathleen.Alonzo@archny.org.

Second, the writer George Sim Johnston will speak at 7 p.m. at the Montfort Academy in Katonah about Christian views on the theory of evolution.

His lecture is called: “Did Darwin Get It Right? Christian Belief and the Theory of Evolution.”

He wrote a book with the same title in 1998. If you want a preview of what Johnston might say, I found an abridged version of a lecture he gave on the subject in 1999.

At the time, Johnston had great problems with classic Darwin:

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There are other serious problems with classical Darwinian theory. Among them are the fact that scientists see very little “struggle for survival” in nature (many species tend to cooperate and occupy ecological niches which do not compete); the fact that all the major body plans we see today in animals and insects appeared at once in the Cambrian era, a fact which does not fit Darwin’s model; and that many species like the lungfish have not changed at all in over 300 million years despite important shifts in their environment, which flatly contradicts the constant fine-tuning Darwin attributed to natural selection.

Darwin himself was increasingly plagued by doubts after the first edition of the Origin. In subsequent editions, he kept backing off from natural selection as the explanation of all natural phenomena. Darwin’s unproven theory nonetheless became dogma in the public mind.

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The Vatican hosted a major conference on evolution this year. And Pope Benedict XVI himself has talked about seeing no conflict between faith and the “much scientific proof in favor of evolution.”

In his 1999 talk, Johnston said this:

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The Catholic Church has never had a problem with “evolution” (as opposed to philosophical Darwinism, which sees man solely as the product of materialist forces). The Church has never taught that the first chapter of Genesis is meant to teach science.

Pius XII correctly pointed out in the encyclical Humani Generis (1950) that the theory of evolution had not been completely proved, but he did not forbid that the theory of evolution concerning the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter – for Catholic faith obliges us to hold that human souls are immediately created by God – be investigated and discussed by experts as far as the present state of human science and sacred theology allows.

In his catechesis on creation given during a series of general audiences in 1986, John Paul II stated that “the theory of natural evolution, understood in a sense that does not exclude divine causality, is not in principle opposed to the truth about the creation of the visible world as presented in the Book of Genesis.” He hastened to add that “this hypothesis proposes only a probability, not a scientific certainty.”

The Church’s quarrel with many scientists who call themselves evolutionists is not about evolution itself, which may or may not have occurred in a non-Darwinian, teleological manner, but rather about the philosophical materialism that is at the root of so much evolutionary thinking. The Church insists that man is not an accident; that no matter how He went about creating homo sapiens, God from all eternity intended that man and all creation exist in their present form.