In the Vineyard: June 27, 2022


In the Vineyard :: June 27, 2022 :: Volume 22, Issue 12

National News

A Message from VOTF’s President Mary Pat Fox

Please join me in congratulating VOTF’s long-time Executive Director Donna Doucette on being appointed to the Association of Catholic Priests’ Leadership Team. Donna has been a member of the Friends of AUSCP for some years and became part of the Leadership Team during the AUSCP’s 2022 National Assembly, which took place last week in Linthicum MD.

Donna will bring a lay voice and perspectives to the AUSCP’s strategic plans and program implementation.

This is an incredible honor for Donna and a reflection on the work VOTF has done in supporting priests of integrity. Donna has forged a strong mutual relationship with AUSCP and many of its individual members. She has traveled to their annual meetings regardless of where they have been held to ensure VOTF is present. It is through Donna’s dedication and hard work that VOTF is recognized as the strongest of partners. Congratulations, Donna, on this fantastic achievement!

VOTF’s First Online Review of Diocesan Finance Councils’ Composition and Compliance with Canon Law

Voice of the Faithful has published the first online review of diocesan finance councils’ (DFC) composition and compliance with Canon Law as represented on diocesan websites. This review extends VOTF’s online financial transparency reviews by delving more deeply into lay involvement in Church governance by and through DFCs. The review supplements the limited information about DFCs that VOTF’s financial transparency reviewers were finding during their study of diocesan websites.

For this report, independent reviewers examined all 176 U.S. dioceses’ websites to ascertain DFCs’ level of compliance with Canon Law regarding the duties, responsibilities, and authority of the DFC. Canon Law stipulates, for example, that DFC membership comprise individuals “competent” in finance, law, and real estate. Considering that clerical formation typically does not focus on these areas, the necessary competencies would be found with professionally educated and experienced lay men and women.

The report concludes, in part, that “compliance with Canon Law by the diocesan finance councils is disappointingly low.” With only 18 dioceses achieving a passing grade, obviously, there is room for improvement.” To underscore the hope for improvement, the report notes that, during VOTF’s related five-year history of producing its annual online diocesan financial transparency reviews, most dioceses have increased their scores. Hopefully similar results will pull up the DFC scores.

Click here to read “Lay Involvement in Governance of the Church.

With this governance report, VOTF now has three comprehensive reviews of all U.S. dioceses’ websites that can give the faithful in each parish enough information to judge diocesan activities within the purview of the reports:

VOTF also maintains a webpage called “Financial Accountability” that contains links to resources to help Catholics understand diocesan and parish finances. Click here to view the page. One of the links on that page goes to “Financial Accountability – U.S. Dioceses,” a website VOTF developed to provide information on demographics, overall finances, the content of financials and diocesan finance council information for all U.S. dioceses. Click here to access that website directly.

Building Bridges the Synodal Way: VOTF and AUSCP

By Svea Fraser, VOTF Trustee

I greeted the news of Executive Director Donna Doucette’s appointment to the Association of United States Priests’ Leadership Team with applause and great satisfaction.  Donna has been an active member of the Friends of AUSCP for several years, and this new position is an affirmation of the trusted friendship she has developed over time. Donna brings a lay voice and perspective to the strategic planning and program implementation of AUSCP.  More significantly for us here at VOTF, she has been given a visible place at a table where discourse is valued.  

Compliments are also due to the Association for recognizing the importance of lay input in decision-making. From invitations to the laity to be Friends and attend their annual Assemblies, to this public validation of lay input with a seat on the Leadership Team, they are to be commended for living the spirit and intentions of Vatican II. This is a small but newsworthy step in breaking the hierarchical barriers between the clergy and laity: It builds a bridge over the troubled waters of clericalism.

VOTF’s relationship with AUSCP began in 2014 when our website program “Bishop Selection” attracted the attention of Bernie Servil, one of the founding members of the AUSCP. His inquiry, and Donna’s response on behalf of VOTF, led to an immediate sharing of resources for a response to the family synod preparation then under way in the Church.  

Building on the success of this initial encounter, Donna then joined AUSCP members Revs. Bernard R. Bonnot, Robert Cushing, Lawrence Dowling, and James Kiesel to develop the Vespers of Hope for the 2016 AUSCP Assembly–an expression of lamentation, contrition, and hope in response to clergy sex abuse.

Since these beginnings, VOTF has hosted a booth at every AUSCP conference and has in turn featured booths from the AUSCP at our own events. Cooperation and collaboration have led increasingly to shared concerns about major issues facing the Church. In an early colloquium at AUSCP, for example, three VOTF members led a discussion on clericalism. Later collaboration included a white paper on clericalism (“Confronting the Systemic Dysfunction of Clericalism”) co-edited by Donna and Fr. Kevin Clinton of the AUSCP. The connections also led to collaboration with AUSCP and Future Church on the “Declaration of the Status of Women in the Church” (where I was the VOTF representative) and to the “Bridge Dialogues: Laity & Clergy Re-Imagining Church Together” along with “Deacon Chats” for the restoration of the permanent diaconate for women. 

Of happy note is the inclusion of Discerning Deacons at the 2022 conference, an organization VOTF has partnered with since its inception. All of this work together is the fruit of personal engagement and the formation of new friendships.

We have met (on Zoom and in person): we have prayed together; we have listened to and learned from one another; we have shared our hopes and anxieties, our joys and our hurts. Does this have a familiar ring? Doesn’t this resonate with the Pope’s call for synodality?  

As written in the Preparatory Document for a Synodal Church, the purpose of the Synod is to “plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds, weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope, learn from one another and create a bright resourcefulness that will enlighten minds, warm hearts and give strength to our hands.”

Clergy and Laity walking together is an essential step on the Synodal path. Donna shared that she feels rejuvenated when visiting AUSCP by knowing clergy who are devoted to implementing Vatican II.  She also is grateful for the opportunity for VOTF and AUSCP to model what a synodal church can be again, as in the early church.

Clergy and laity walking together and guided by the Holy Spirit will help clear a path for the future when, as expressed by St. John Chrysostom “Church and Synod are synonymous.”

Visions of a Just Church?

Phyllis Zagano, professor at Hofstra University, in Hempstead, New York, and a long-time VOTF supporter, recently spoke with U.S. Catholic on their “Field Hospital” podcast about the role of women in the Church and deacons.

Dr. Zagano’s speech at the 2020 VOTF Conference has now been published in India, in Asia Horizons. You can read the paper here. Her speech focused on questions about internal justice and how we might obtain a “Just Church.” It addresses Church structure and law in light of Catholic social teaching and the various suggestions and attempts to change or modify Canon Law to allow genuine participation by the people of God, whether through the “preferential option for the poor,” diocesan and parish councils, the wider use of Canon 517 §2 Parish Life Coordinators. In particular it points out the historicity of territorial jurisdiction by women and notes efforts recently by and for women to regain a share in Church governance. Overall, it suggests the possible results of applying Catholic social teaching to the Church structure itself. You can see the video on our VOTF channel.

Worcester Bishop Strips Catholic Status from Middle School for Disadvantaged Boys 

In a statement on July 16th, Bishop Robert J. McManus of the Diocese of Worcester issued a formal decree stripping the Nativity School, a tuition-free school serving boys from under-resourced communities, of its Catholic status because it continued to fly the Pride flag and the Black Lives Matter flag by request of the student body.

His decree stated that the Nativity School is now prohibited “from identifying itself as a ‘Catholic’ school” and set forth three additional conditions to this punitive action. First, “Mass, sacraments and sacramentals are no longer permitted to be celebrated on Nativity School premises or be sponsored by Nativity School in any church building or chapel within the Diocese of Worcester.” He also declared that “the Nativity School is not allowed to undertake any fundraising involving diocesan institutions in the Diocese of Worcester and is not permitted to be listed or to advertise in the Diocesan Directory” and “the name of Bishop Emeritus Daniel P. Reilly must be removed from the list of the Board of Trustees of Nativity School.”

McManus’s opposition to the Black Lives Matter flag, he says, is because the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is used to promote ideas and a platform “that directly contradicts Catholic social teaching on the importance and role of the nuclear family and seeks to disrupt the family structure in clear opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church.” Then he claimed that “the Catholic Church teaches that all life is sacred and the Church certainly stands unequivocally behind the phrase ‘Black lives matter’ and strongly affirms that all lives matter.”

He opposes the Pride flag because, he says, “Gay pride flags not only represent support for gay marriage, but also promote actively living an LGBTQ+ lifestyle.” He has previously said that the Black Lives Matter movement promotes a queer and trans affirming learning environment for students, which he believes contradicts traditional Catholic beliefs. 

Theologians and other Church officials did not agree with McManus’s claims.

The president of Nativity School, Thomas McKenney, says that the school will appeal the decision through “appropriate channels” but will continue to fly both flags in the meantime, as requested by the student body, “to give visible witness to the school’s solidarity with our students, families, and their communities. Commitment to our mission, grounded and animated by Gospel values, Catholic Social Teaching, and our Jesuit heritage compels us to do so,” he added.

Founded in 2003 as an independent Jesuit school, not a diocesan school, Nativity has approximately 60 students this year. About half of the students in the past year were Black, 33% were Hispanic, 20% were multiracial, and 2% were white. The school’s mission draws “upon four pillars – strength, scholarship, character, and service,” and “inspires self-discovery, responsibility, spiritual growth, and a lifelong dedication to learning.” 

McKenney argues that “both flags are now widely understood to celebrate the human dignity of our relatives, friends and neighbors who have faced, and continue to face hate and discrimination. Though any symbol or flag can be co-opted by political groups or organizations, flying our flags is not an endorsement of any organization or ideology.”

Bishop McManus has had clashes with other Catholic schools in the diocese in the past. In 2019, he said that church teachings were not aligned with the movement to support the rights of transgender people. When the Jesuit College of the Holy Cross, also in Worcester, called his remarks “deeply hurtful and offensive,” he doubled down, saying that while he thinks all people should be treated with compassion and respect, he stood by his comments.

Pope Francis has previously indicated his support for LGBTQ+ Catholics and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supports the Black Lives Matter Movement. 

For more information, please see hereherehere, and here

For VOTF’s position on clericalism, please see here.

International News

Bishop Van Looy Declines Pope Francis’ Cardinal Honor Offer

One of Pope Francis’ 21 offers of cardinalate was declined, by Bishop Lucas Van Looy of Belgium. Clerical abuse victim advocate Lieve Halsberghe says that “Everybody in Belgium knew about it,” and his request to decline the honor “did not come from his conscience. It came because there were protests from a human rights group.” In a rare move, Pope Francis accepted his offer to decline the position of cardinal. 

Criticisms of Van Looy centered on his reaction against “abuses in the pastoral relationship” while he served as the bishop of Ghent between 2003 and 2019. Critics say that “he did not always react energetically enough as bishop of Ghent against abuse in his pastoral work,” and in one specific case failed to notify civil authorities about a priest working at a nonprofit for orphans of the Rwandan genocide for nearly a decade after the priest was accused. He has also previously failed to notify authorities about six additional letters he received pertaining to abuse allegations against retired priests, saying that they were “less pressing” because the priests were retired. cited another case where he returned a priest who was convicted of sexually assaulting an alter boy to ministry. 

Belgian’s Catholic Church, like many in the news lately, has a disastrous record when it comes to protecting victims of clergy sexual abuses. In 2010, the Belgian Catholic Church acknowledged over 500 cases of abuse, dating back to the 1950s and including 13 victims who committed suicide. Later that year, the archbishop of Bruges resigned after he admitted to sexually abusing his nephew while he was a priest and a bishop. Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the then-head of the Belgian church, was recorded urging the nephew to stay quiet. In Van Looy’s statement, he says that he sought permission to decline the honor of becoming a cardinal so he would “not harm victims again.” Pope Francis selected 16 priests to become cardinals who would be able to participate in a future conclave and elect the next pope, and 5 priests who were over the age of 80 and would not be eligible to vote in the conclave but were being recognized for their service to the church. 

A major concern for many is not that he declined the honor, but “that Pope Francis offered it to him in the first place,” says Anne Barrett Doyle from Bishop Accountability. It raises many questions for the Vatican’s process of selecting those who will become cardinals- if everyone knew about his lackluster reaction to sexual abuses, how was Van Looy able to be selected as a cardinal, a position that implies a record of service to the church? He is the first cardinal-designate to make a public request to decline the honor, although it is highly likely that others have made similar requests of other popes privately. Prior to Pope Francis’s announcement, popes typically informed prelates before publicly announcing their names.

For more information, please see hereherehere,  and here

To read more about VOTF’s position on child protection, please see here.

For survivor support resources, please see here.


Statement of USCCB president on twenty years since passage of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People
“This June marks twenty years since the Catholic bishops of the United States gathered in Dallas, Texas to draft and pass the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in their commitment to address the issue of clergy sexual abuse. Marking this moment, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued the following statement: ‘This month marks the twentieth anniversary of the passage of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. This is not a time of celebration, but a time of continued vigilance and determination.’” By United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Experts debate meaning of ‘synodality’ for global Church
“Throughout July, some 100,000 people will be able to participate in a free, online seminar about synodality, curated by three theologians from Latin America and including witnesses from all around the world. ‘Common Discernment and Decision Making in the Church’ is the theme of the first in a series of courses that will be hosted by Boston College’s School of Theology and ministry, sponsored by the bishops’ conferences of Latin America, Europe, and Asia, as well as the Jesuits in Latin America and the organizations of superiors general of male and female religious congregations.” By Inés San Martin,

Vatican cardinal: Subordination of women to men is ‘fruit of sin’
“‘The subordination of women to men is the fruit of sin,’ a top Vatican cardinal said on Tuesday (Jun. 14). ‘How much damage we have done, as men, by endorsing a status of superiority,’ said Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who heads the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. ‘There is no complete image of what is human when only the masculine is considered predominant and the only thing relevant. For centuries, we have suffocated the feminine peculiarity.’” By Inés San Martin,

Pope Francis’ synodality could be key to reaching young Catholics
“With an abundance of Catholic colleges and universities in Philadelphia, a planning team of educators worked together to envision a way for all of Philadelphia’s Catholic colleges and universities to encounter synodality, which means journeying together, specifically tailored for young people. Inspired by Pope Francis’ call for greater listening, presence and curiosity among the global church, nearly 400 students from more than 40 campuses across the Philadelphia metropolitan region joined a multipart listening process that culminated in an all-campus listening session at La Salle University. Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson Perez participated in the listening session and delivered some thoughts at the end.” By Ernest J. Miller, National Catholic Reporter

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