In the Vineyard :: December 6, 2021 :: Volume 21, Issue 23
Welcome to Advent
As we enter Advent, Pope Francis reminds Christians that an essential ingredient for living an alert and joyful life is prayer.
“Be awake, guard your heart,” the pope said in his message before the Angelus Nov. 28. “And let’s add an essential ingredient: the secret to being watchful is prayer.”
“In fact, Jesus says: ‘Keep awake at all times praying’ (Luke 21:36). It is prayer that keeps the lamp of the heart burning. Especially when we feel that enthusiasm is cooling, prayer rekindles it, because it brings us back to God, to the center of things,” he added.
The pope also emphasized that “prayer awakens the soul from sleep and focuses it on what matters, on the end of existence.”
Francis said the beginning of Advent is a good time to ask ourselves what is weighing down our hearts and burdening our spirits: “What are the mediocrities that paralyze me, the vices, what are the vices that crush me to the ground and prevent me from raising my head?”
We should also ask ourselves if we are attentive or indifferent to the burdens of our brothers and sisters, he added. “These questions are good for us, because they help guard the heart from acedia.”
To read more click here.
We’ve Moved! Sort of ….
Our offices are still in the same building on the same street, but we have moved our post office box to a larger postal station. From now on, please send all mail (especially donations!) to this address:
Voice of the Faithful, Inc.
P.O. Box 920408
Needham MA 02492
If you are using our postage pre-paid envelopes to send your Christmas donation, don’t worry—the old address on those envelopes will be honored, and the mail will be forwarded to the new box.
Of course, just to be sure, feel free to sprinkle holy water on the envelope and say a prayer first!
Women’s Voices in the Advent Season
As advent begins, so too can a call to listen in a women’s voice. Many of the stories about Jesus begin with a women’s voice: In Luke’s version, Mary’s “let it be” is what begin’s Jesus’s story and allows it to happen at all. Jesus himself learns about what is right and good through his mother’s preaching- as do many children now. Jesus too, first learns about God from a women’s voice. At the end of Jesus’s story, Peter denies Jesus thrice, and yet women walk with him to the end. Two days later, women are the ones with the courage to go to his tomb, and Jesus tells them to share what they have learned and experienced. As Advent begins, it is time to hear the call of women’s courageous voices, to listen and honor how God speaks through their persistent voices.
To read more, please see here.
VOTF Releases 2021 Financial Transparency Report
This year marks five years that Voice of the Faithful has reviewed annually all U.S. Catholic dioceses’ online financial transparency. Over the past five years, according to VOTF reviewers, overall diocesan transparency scores have increased, and some dioceses have achieved considerable success, but much work remains to be done.
The 2021 report shows that overall diocesan online financial transparency scores increased from 65% in 2020 to 69% in 2021, but that only 64% of all dioceses posted current audited financial reports, even though those dioceses posting such reports increased from 104 in 2020 to 113 in 2021. Looking back five years, VOTF reported in 2017 that only 65 of the 177 U.S. dioceses posted current audited financial statements. Additionally, the 2017 report showed that 15 dioceses scored 90% or higher, while, in 2021, 38 dioceses achieved scores above 90%.
The 2021 report shows that several dioceses achieved considerable success over the past year. Among those most improved from 2020 are the Diocese of Camden, which scored 20% in 2020 and 82% in 2021. Similarly, Cheyenne scored 25% in 2020 and 70% in 2021; Rapid City 30% and 72%; and Biloxi 57% and 96%.
This year’s top-scoring dioceses all scored 100%: Bridgeport, Charleston, Orlando, and Scranton. The Diocese of Bellville scored next highest, maintaining its 2020 score of 98%. The poorest performing dioceses were: El Paso, 22%; Allentown, 20%; Nashville, 20%; Tulsa, 20%, and St. Thomas, 17%.
In addition, VOTF’s 2021 reviewers concluded:
- Transparency concerning the membership and activities of Diocesan Finance Councils is limited, with an average score of 4.1 out of 10 on this question. Further, 62 out of 177 dioceses posted no information on their DFC this year. This will figure strongly in VOTF’s current review of lay involvement in Church governance through DFCs.
- The only area where scores dropped this year is on the parish collection security question. The decrease was only 3.1 to 2.9 out of 10 points, but reflected primarily the conflicting guidance and contradictory policies found within posted financial policies in dioceses. Consistency between posted policies on a diocese’s web pages could easily raise the diocese’s score on this section.
VOTF’s fifth annual review of all dioceses comprising the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was conducted between June 1 and Aug. 31 by three independent reviewers and their report, “Measuring and Ranking Diocesan Online Financial Transparency: 2021 Report,” and all previous VOTF reports on diocesan online financial transparency can be read by clicking here.
VOTF 2021 reviewers concluded that, “Although significant progress has been achieved in the last decade, and in particular during the last three years, members of the church in the U.S. must be vigilant if they wish to prevent financial mismanagement and abuse.” They recommend the following for dioceses committed to increasing their financial transparency:
- If your diocese does not post audited financial reports, communicate your concerns to your parish and diocesan leadership. If they say they will provide it upon request, request it!
- If you cannot find any useful information on your diocesan website concerning the Diocesan Finance Council, communicate your concerns.
- If your diocese does post audited reports, use the guide What to Look for When Reviewing Diocesan Financial Statements (http://www.votf.org/Financial_Acct-Trans/ReadingFS-VOTF-FWG.pdf) to assess the report. If dioceses post reports that no one reads, who is holding them accountable?
- If your diocese’s financial transparency score has dropped dramatically since the last review it may be an indication of serious financial problems. Look into possible causes and work to demand transparency and accountability.
The Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life has launched an I Am Church campaign (#IamChurch) featuring voices of Catholics with disabilities. Beginning December 6, they will place five videos online showing people with disabilities from around the world recounting their experiences of faith and declaring, “I am Church!”
The videos will be available on the YouTube channels of Vatican News and the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life and will be published weekly. The first one is very short.
The Unthinkable, Despite Safeguards
Barely two years after he was ordained, the Rev. Robert McWilliams, known to those in his parish as “Father Bobby” was arrested and charged with two counts of sex trafficking of children under 18, three counts of sexual exploitation of children, and three counts of child pornography. Father McWilliams, who has not yet been laicized, pled guilty to all counts when he was arrested in July of last year and was tried in a federal criminal court in Cleveland OH. He was sentenced last month to life imprisonment.
Critics of the Catholic Church’s efforts to deal with myriad sexual assault accusations, cases, and scandals wonder if the McWilliams case could have been prevented. The case stands as a counterpoint to the early November annual report from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection.
It was an optimistic report: of the 4,228 sexual abuse allegations brought forward between July 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020, only 22 of them involved minors. The remainder were historical cases, most of which were decades old.
According to news reports, McWilliams entered the seminary in 2008 and made it all the way to ordination and placement despite the screening applied by the seminary. According to Fr. Thomas Berg, the director of admissions at St. Joseph’s Seminary and College in Yonkers NY, “The screening process [over the past 10 years] is much more extensive, much more demanding, as many dimensions of the formation process have become.” He believes a case like this must be an outlier.
Father Donald Cozzens is a former rector at St. Mary’s Seminary in Cleveland, where Father McWilliams attended. He wonders if the lower rates of men entering the seminary may have, ironically, made it easier for abusers to slip through the cracks: “Our seminaries are half filled compared to what they were when I was ordained 56 years ago. Have we lowered the bar in terms of admissions and promoting men from year to year? I want to say no, we haven’t, but I’m not sure that’s an accurate response.”
One change Father Cozzens specifically recommends is the hiring of a psychologist outside the seminary to evaluate seminarians each year. In 2021, the Diocese of Cleveland did hire a full-time psychologist, and in 2020, when Father McWilliams’s crimes were discovered, hired an independent psychiatrist to review the screening protocol.
The psychiatrist reportedly was satisfied with the screening procedures and didn’t recommend any additional measures be taken. The process currently includes pre-admission interviews with the prospective seminarian and his parents, questionnaires, criminal background checks, and two separate psychological evaluations that cover a candidate’s sexual and family history. Psychologists from outside the seminary are included in the process.
With all of that in place, however, it is difficult to see how McWilliams was not caught before he committed his crimes. The diocese said deceit was a key, that McWilliams was especially adept at concealing his behavior. Their statement said, “In the wake of evil acts like those committed by McWilliams, it is natural for good people to want to believe that something could have been done to prevent them, if only people had simply tried harder or done more. However, in a fallen world, marred by sin, evil is a reality that often cannot be predicted or prevented despite even the best efforts.”
Reportedly, McWilliams wrote to the Vatican, asking to be released from the priesthood, but has not yet been laicized.
To read more about VOTF’s position on child protection, please see here.
For survivor support resources, please see here.
Modern Nuns and Age-Old Problems
The demographics of women religious may be changing, but the problems they face — sexual abuse, discrimination, and burnout — are not modern problems.
The number of women religious in the United States peaked in 1965, at 179,954, but has since declined by 76%, to 42,411. However, a new generation of women is entering religious life today. The average age of women taking final vows in 2020 was 38 years old, although there were only 75 total.
One woman who entered religious life at age 33, Sister Marjorie Tapia, is a member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. The median age of a nun in the order is 81, around the age of the general population of women religious in the U.S. Sister Margie took a vow of chastity, poverty, obedience, and service “to the poor, sick, and ignorant” when she joined the order. The Sisters of Mercy focus on five “critical concerns”: anti-racism, the earth, immigration, women, and nonviolence. They have been active: marching in protest against police violence, serving at the front lines of the pandemic as physicians and nurses, educating voters, and protesting outside immigration detention centers against the treatment of immigrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border. For Sister Margie, this commitment to serving others was a part of the draw to religious life.
Sister Mary Johnson, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur and sociology professor at Trinity Washington University, explains that a sense of community and shared values is important to this new generation of women religious. “It comes from the sense of isolation and fragmentation in society, the yearning to be with people who share the same deep values about mission as found in the Gospel,” she says.
Sister Patricia Wittberg, a Sister of Charity, sociologist and research associate at CARA, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, says that she thinks women’s religious orders are as important to the future of the Catholic Church as the priesthood. “Priests keep the lights on. Religious women’s institutes changes — they drive the church into the next century, making the church relevant. They’re absolutely necessary,” she explains.
However, women in religious orders are not immune to the issues that plague Catholic institutions. Young nuns in an Eastern European convent reported that a priest had tried to molest them, and were told by their Mother Superior that it was probably their own fault for “provoking him.”
African nuns living in Minnesota were required to shovel snow because they were “young and strong,” even though there were white sisters of the same age who were not assigned the same task.
Salvatore Cernuzio’s new book, “Veil of Silence,” which just came out, explores the struggles and experiences of 11 women religious, and in 2018, a Vatican newspaper illuminated the cases of foreign nuns who were sent to work for cardinals and bishops as housekeepers with little or no pay. Pope Francis opened a home in Rome to house former nuns abandoned by their orders, in some cases because their complaints fell on deaf ears.
Although these abuses of power are not new, Father Giovanni Cucci believes that they have been overshadowed by the child sexual abuse scandals of late. While young women join religious orders in greater numbers, it remains important to root out the abuses that still plague women’s religious orders.
For VOTF’s position on women’s roles in the Church, please see here.
Catholic nuns lift veil on abuse in convents
“As the Roman Catholic Church pays more attention to the closed world of convents, where women spend much of their time in prayer and household work, more episodes of psychological, emotional and physical abuse are coming to light. A new book, “Veil of Silence” by Salvatore Cernuzio, a journalist for the Vatican’s online outlet, Vatican News, is the latest expose to come from within and approved by authorities. Cernuzio recounts experiences of 11 women and their struggles with an age-old system where the Mother Superior and older nuns demand total obedience, in some cases resulting in acts of cruelty and humiliation.” By Philip Pullella, Reuters
Phil Saviano, clergy abuse victim who refused to stay silent dies at 69
“Phil Saviano was near death from AIDS three decades ago and thousands of dollars in debt when the Worcester Diocese tried to silence him with a settlement that would have prevented him from publicly revealing that he had been sexually abused by a priest when he was a boy. ‘I just couldn’t agree to it,’ Mr. Saviano told the Globe in 1995. ‘I knew if I did I would just be contributing to their campaign to look away and shut everybody up’ … ‘I lost my faith before I’d even gone through puberty. For over a year, I struggled with a priest who cornered me every chance he got,’ Mr. Saviano wrote in a searing, healing speech he delivered in Boston in 2002 at the first national convention of Voice of the Faithful.” By Bryan Marquand, The Boston Globe
French Catholic Academy questions findings of child sex abuse inquiry
“Members of the French Catholic Academy have expressed doubt about a recent report on historical sex abuse in the church. Eight representatives of the 250-person academy have questioned the findings of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE). In October, a CIASE report estimated 330,000 children were victims of sex abuse since 1950 in the church … The inquiry sent shockwaves through the Catholic Church in Europe and led to apologies from French bishops and Pope Francis. But eight members of the Academy said CIASE used ‘flawed methodology’ and had ‘serious shortcomings.’” By Agence France Presse
Sorry isn’t enough: People and Catholic Church need to heal, says MMF president
“The president of the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) says he has no doubt that Pope Francis will soon apologize for the role the Catholic Church played in Canada’s residential school system, but he believes the path to healing and moving forward requires much more than just an apology. ‘What we need to discuss is how we create healing, and not just say sorry, and walk away,’ MMF President David Chartrand said on Tuesday (Nov. 30). In late December MMF representatives including Chartrand will join several other delegations that will travel to Rome to meet with Pope Francis.” By Dave Baxter, Winnipeg Sun, in Toronto Star
U.S. Catholic bishops encourage government search for boarding school graves
“Two influential U.S. Roman Catholic Church bishops are encouraging their peers to cooperate with a federal investigation into abuses committed within the former Native American boarding school system. In a letter sent to all U.S. bishops in November, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, who heads a church committee on domestic justice, and Bishop James Wall of Gallup, New Mexico, who leads a church committee on Native American affairs, asked fellow bishops to hand over records investigators may seek and allow access to property where the unmarked remains of Native American students may lie.” By Brad Brooks, Reuters