In the Vineyard :: November 6, 2022 :: Volume 22, Issue 21
Thank you to all who joined us Saturday, October 29, to commemorate 20 years of work on Keeping the Faith, Changing the Church, and an even bigger thank you to all who made it possible! We had a grand time, with wonderful speakers, excellent music, good food, and unexpected specials like the “dialogue homily” by Rev. William Clark and Dr. Phyllis Zagano at the closing Mass.
We will have all that available for you to enjoy in retrospect in a few days, once our superb videographer puts the finishing touches on all the speeches and songs and Q&A periods. We can’t bring you the food, and you won’t be able to view the displays and Commemoration Wall with memories from the past 20 years, but you can enjoy–or relive–the rest of the event.
Keep you eyes open in your email box for the links to come!
While waiting, check out Today’s American Catholic‘s report on the conference.
How Can We Keep the Faith and Change the Church?
By Margaret Roylance, Vice President, Voice of the Faithful, Finance Working Group Chair
VOTF grew at an astonishing rate in the first few months of its existence in 2002. Looking back, though, the amazing thing is the speed and clarity with which we discerned the mission and goals of the organization. Centered in prayer, speaking boldly and listening attentively to one another, we were journeying together in faith 20 years before Pope Francis’ Synod. That convinces me that VOTF was and still is a movement of the Spirit.
Founder Jim Muller’s motto was “Keep the Faith – Change the Church.” When our critics asked us what that meant, we said we respected the role of the hierarchy but all the people of God must be involved in discerning where the Spirit is leading the Church. Cardinal George of Chicago responded that “Keep the Faith, Change the Church” was problematic because any change in the Church will “unless most carefully thought out” change the faith. He cited the example of Martin Luther. We were deemed “heretics” by association! How could we keep the faith we loved, but change the Church whose leaders had covered up such tragic crimes?
Responding to our baptismal call, we submitted our needs for new leadership to the Vatican, starting with a replacement for Cardinal Law in Boston. We listened to survivors, and we supported their calls for justice. We called for accountability among the bishops and consequences for those who covered up clergy sex abuse. We also turned our attention to existing options for lay input.
So, we studied Canon Law and Church governance structures and asked the Church to follow its own promises to involve the laity in governance and guidance through membership on Diocesan Finance Councils. Canon Law requires one in every diocese. We volunteered for parish pastoral and finance councils. We did not fade away as many bishops believed we would. We were in it for the long haul.
Recognizing that the abuse crisis was enabled by a pervasive culture of financial secrecy in the Church, a dedicated group of volunteers collaborated for five years to develop a fair, fact-based, reliable and repeatable system to measure financial transparency on diocesan websites. This Finance Working Group realized that all of us, even bishops, care about grades. We published our first diocesan financial transparency report in 2017 with financial scores for every diocese in the USCCB.
The average score was 60% in 2017. In 2021, our fifth annual report showed an average diocesan score of 69% and five dioceses received perfect scores of 100%. Thirty-eight dioceses received scores in the 90s. Diocesan leaders have realized that receiving a good transparency score from an independent organization like VOTF can help convince their members to provide financial support for their programs.
We are “heretics” no longer. Bishops have thanked us for our efforts and a steady stream of CFOs has asked us for assistance in increasing their transparency scores. Genuine financial transparency is on the rise in the U.S. Church. We will continue the yearly transparency reviews and are using the same approach to look at child protection policies on diocesan websites.
We have found that love of the Church, prayer, hard work, and persistence can produce results that were unimaginable in 2002, and we are just getting started!
VOTF Commends NY AG for Buffalo Diocese Oversight
In a recent news release, VOTF commended New York Attorney General Letitia James for forcing government oversight of areas of the Buffalo Diocese’s operations dealing with clergy abuse allegations.
On Oct. 25, the Diocese of Buffalo agreed to such oversight under a deal with the State of New York that mandated reforms including restrictions on accused priests who will be monitored by Kathleen McChesney. McChesney is a former head of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference Office of Child and Youth Protection and was a high-ranking FBI official. The New York attorney general had sued the diocese for violating the state’s laws governing religious charities by failing to follow Church rules regarding abuse allegations.
Mary Pat Fox, VOTF president, said she is angry and heartbroken that the government has had to do what the Church has failed to do. “That certain bishops were allowed to thwart the Church’s own laws and do so for such an extended period of time is unconscionable,” she said. “Thank God someone has found a way to check such aberrant behavior that put our children at risk.”
As The New York Times reported, two former Buffalo bishops, Richard Malone and Edward Grosz, shielded more than two dozen priests from Vatican investigation, allowing them to retire or go on medical leave with full salaries and benefits. The agreement with the state banned both bishops for life from any charitable fiduciary roles within the state.
VOTF did some of its earliest work in child protection when it started in 2002 in Boston, where Malone was an auxiliary bishop. VOTF, for example, helped parishes follow guidelines set up by the U.S. Catholic bishops in the so-called 2002 Dallas Charter for the protection of children and has continued its advocacy for the past two decades. In 2022, VOTF completed its first report “Measuring Abuse Prevention and Safe Environment Programs as Reported Online in Diocesan Policies and Practices.” The study included all U.S. dioceses, and the Diocese of Buffalo received a score of 72 out of 100.
This may indicate that present Buffalo Bishop Michael Fisher’s statement in response to the oversight deal may be true, at least in part. He said, “The settlement that the diocese and the New York attorney general have agreed to confirms that the rigorous policies and protocols the diocese has put in place over the past several years are the right ones …”
While rigorous child protection policies and protocols are essential, unless dioceses follow them, they will do no good. If the Church continues to shield abusing priests in secrecy and deception, the effectiveness of child protection polices will not be known until years in the future when today’s victims are finally able to come to terms with their abuse and report it, and such policies do not address past offenses.
Marquette Diocese: Alleged Abuse Comes to Light, But the Process Is a Shining Example
Last week, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel released a report detailing abuse allegations occurring in the Diocese of Marquette, compiling information from a variety of sources. The Department of Attorney General maintained a tip line, conducted victim interviews, supported police investigations, and included both electronic and paper documents maintained by the diocese as well as media reports. The report covers allegations of sexual misconduct by 44 priests, concerning both children and adults, and dating between January 1, 1950, and October 3, 2018, when a search warrant was executed against the Diocese of Marquette. Of the 44 priests listed in the report, 38 were employed or under the jurisdiction of the Marquette Diocese. This is the first of what Nessel says will be seven documents for allegations in each of Michigan’s Catholic dioceses.
As part of the process of creating the report, the state seized 220 boxes of documents and more than 3.5 million digital documents. The department of the Attorney General has since reviewed more than 1.5 million documents and has issued criminal charges for 11 of the cases across the state of Michigan, resulting in seven convictions and offering justice for 38 survivors. Two of the 11 charges are awaiting the accused perpetrator’s extradition from a foreign country. Some of the accused cannot be prosecuted due to the Statute of Limitations, and 32 of the 44 accused priests are known or presumed to be deceased.
The department also hired and trained a victim advocate who works full-time to support victims who came forward or were identified in the course of the investigation and reached out to victims who were not interviewed by a trauma-informed interviewer. Nessel said, “I want to commend the Michigan State Police and my staff for their unwavering commitment to seeing justice served in these tremendously difficult cases. By using a victim-centered, trauma-informed focus in the investigation and prosecution, these teams were able to secure convictions based on the victim’s memories of events that occurred many years ago, most from when they were children. Despite a lack of DNA evidence linking suspects to those crimes, prosecutors were able to prove charges beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Bishop John Doerfler of the Diocese of Marquette said, “On behalf of the church, I offer a sincere apology to anyone who has been abused by clergy in the Catholic Church. You are and should have been our priority. There is no excuse for what happened to you. It is especially grievous if your voice was not heard. Thank you to those who have courageously come forward to bring light to this darkness which has brought about so much harm.” The last alleged incident involving abuse of a minor by a priest in active ministry, of which the diocese is aware, occurred 25 years ago.
This report demonstrates some strengths of the investigation, namely that victims’ and survivors’ stories and rights were respected with the use of trauma-informed interviewers and a full-time position for a victim advocate. It should serve as a model for what is becoming an increasingly common occurrence: states and dioceses collecting and compiling reports from victims of clergy sexual abuses for what they hope will be justice served.
Commission starts planning global report on child protection efforts
“With a renewed membership, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors met at the Vatican in late October and laid the groundwork for devising an annual report on child protection efforts by the Catholic Church globally. Oblate Father Andrew Small, commission secretary, told reporters Oct. 28 that members also looked at the commission’s new relationship to the disciplinary section of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and continued their efforts to promote greater transparency and fuller reporting to victims about the outcome of their cases.” By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
Voice of the Faithful celebrates 20-year anniversary
“Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) members from across the U.S. gathered on Saturday, October 29, at the Boston Marriott Newton Hotel in Newton, Massachusetts, to celebrate the organization’s 20th anniversary. VOTF is a lay organization of faithful Catholics with more than 30,000 members worldwide. VOTF president Mary Pat Fox opened the day by reflecting on the group’s history and ongoing mission. Referencing the founding vision of VOTF, Fox said, ‘It took a lot of work and a lot of listening to come up with such a beautiful mission statement and goals that have stood the test of time.’” By Michael Centore, Today’s American Catholic
Catholic Diocese of Buffalo will submit to government oversight
“The Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo has agreed to submit to sweeping government oversight of its operationsin a legal settlement reached on Tuesday (Oct. 25) with the New York attorney general, Letitia James, resolving a lawsuit that accused the church and its officials of a yearslong cover-up of sexual abuse. The agreement, which is the first of its kind in New York, includes no financial penalties but instead mandates a series of structural reforms within the diocese, particularly regarding its handling of abuse allegations.” By Liam Stack, The New York Times
- Attorney General James reaches landmark settlement with Catholic Diocese of Buffalo for mishandling child sexual abuse cases, By New York Attorney General’s Office
- Diocese of Buffalo agrees to deal requiring secular oversight of abuse allegations, By John Lavenburg, Cruxnow.com
The seal of Confession could be latest casualty of sex abuse crisis
“A new report in the United Kingdom is recommending legislation that will mandate the reporting of child abuse, and specifically says no exemptions should be given for sacramental confession, which could lead to a clash with a central tenet of Catholic teaching. The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in England and Wales was announced by the British government in 2014 to examine how the country’s institutions handled their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse.” By Charles Collins, Cruxnow.com
New Vatican synod document mentions women’s ordination, LGBTQ relationships
“A newly released Vatican document for the next phase of Pope Francis’ ongoing consultation process for the world’s Catholics reckons with a number of topics once considered taboo in the Catholic Church, including women’s ordination, LGBTQ relationships, children of priests, sexism and clergy sexual abuse. The 45-page document, released on Oct. 27, distills a number of the major themes from listening sessions held with millions of Catholics across the globe over the last year. While the document is careful to note that it is not magisterial church teaching, it is arguably the most comprehensive and candid expression of the Catholic Church’s relationship with the modern world yet released by a Vatican office.” By Christopher White, National Catholic Reporter
- New synod doc highlights challenges, but offers few solutions, By Elise Ann Allen, Cruxnow.com
- Vatican’s new synod document draws praise for its signs of listening, By Brian Fraga, National Catholic Reporter
Synod on Synodality Report from Diocesan Phase Includes Notes on Women’s Ordination and LGBTQ+ Issues
The ongoing Synod on Synodality has so far brought about conversations on topics forefront in the minds of many Catholics. Entitled, “Enlarge the space of your tent,” the working document of the Continental Phase was released last week by the Vatican and is intended to “spark dialogue and arouse feedback.”
On the topic of women’s ordination, it says: “After careful listening, many reports ask that the Church continue its discernment in relation to a range of specific questions: the active role of women in the governing structures of Church bodies, the possibility for women with adequate training to preach in parish settings, and a female diaconate. Much greater diversity of opinion was expressed on the subject of priestly ordination for women, which some reports call for, while others consider it a closed issue. Almost all reports raise the issue of full and equal participation of women. However, the reports do not agree on a single or complete response to the question of the vocation, inclusion, and flourishing of women in Church and society.”
Another section explains that “the Church faces two related challenges: women remain the majority of those who attend liturgy and participate in activities, men a minority; yet most decision-making and governance roles are held by men. It is clear that the Church must find ways to attract men to a more active membership in the Church and to enable women to participate more fully at all levels of Church life.”
Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, relator generator of the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, remarked, “Who is invited to the tent? All the people, created and loved by God. Our behavior is sometimes a bit more fragmented, and our love is not as big as the love of God.” He emphasized that the church must “establish new balances, otherwise the tent will collapse.”
The document specifically called out those who “feel a tension between belonging to the Church and their own loving relationships, such as: remarried divorcees, single parents, people living in a polygamous marriage, LGBTQ people, etc.” It included a quotation from the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference report that discusses the difficulty of consolidating the many varying views of a community into a single stance, citing the “Church’s teaching on abortion, contraception, ordination of women, married clergy, celibacy, divorce and remarriage, Holy Communion, homosexuality, LGBTQIA+” as topics that were mentioned in both rural and urban communities.
This working document contains a “frame of reference” for the topics and areas for discussion highlighted in the previous phases for continued discussion, and again covers the tensions between the included and the excluded. While each phase has brought up new points, the very process of the synod seeks to continue listening and learning from one another, perhaps easing some of the tensions through making excluded voices heard. Echoed in many of the phases is the idea that “the Church [should] be a refuge for the wounded and broken, not an institution for the perfect.” The Church as refuge continues to be the goal of the Synod, listening deeply to the voices of Catholics worldwide, but these hot topics continue to highlight divergences and differences.
Read the full document here.
For VOTF’s position on women’s roles in the Church, please see here.
To learn more about ordaining married men, please see here.
Looking for a New Read?
Catholic Discordance: Neoconservatism vs. the Field Hospital Church of Pope Francis by Massimo Borghesi
In his recent review of the book in the LA Review of Books, Victor Gaetan says, “Borghesi tackles the puzzling truth that the pope’s most persistently aggressive challengers are fellow believers. He offers an explanation rooted in America’s postcommunist triumphalism, and describes how Catholic neoconservatives, who cut their teeth in the Ronald Reagan era, willfully undermined Catholic social teaching under both John Paul II and Benedict XVI to project a procapitalist Christianity on, and through, the church. This ideology has now been turned against Francis.”
To read the review, click here.
Please send them to Siobhan Carroll, Vineyard Editor, at Vineyard@votf.org. Unless otherwise indicated, I will assume comments can be published as Letters to the Editor.
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