In the Vineyard: December 10, 2019

In the Vineyard :: December 10, 2019 :: Volume 19, Issue 22

News from National

Advent Reflections

“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!” (Advent reflection by Svea Fraser)

What an image for us as we take our first steps on our journey in Advent. We are heading for Christmas, for the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus—the awesome gift of God who chose to become one of us.

As one of us, Jesus walked. His steps took him to people who were in need of healing, his steps took him to places where he was welcomed and places where he was asked to leave, his steps took him into the desert to pray, his steps took him to homes to share meals and enjoy the company of friends, and his steps ultimately took him to Jerusalem where he was crucified—But three days later he stepped out of the tomb and continued to walk with those who believed or who came to believe in him!

As Jesus came to be like one of us, let us strive to be more like him: Be mindful of your feet today—take a walk (instead of driving!) and as your feet carry you through your day, consider the people who have lost their feet or who cannot walk and the multitudes who are walking away from danger…offer a prayer and ask God to guide your steps to do some good, for His sake and others.

As Pope Francis expressed in the announcement of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Church “has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy. Let us try a little harder to take the first step and become involved!”

And may God bless your souls!

During Advent in 2019, Voice of the Faithful is offering you three different Paths to the Stable.

Click here to take one or all of them …

Please give to Voice of the Faithful this Christmas.

You make all our work possible. So, please put us on your Christmas list this year. Donate to VOTF so that we can continue to offer programs, services, and resources for accountability, transparency, and healing in our Church. Some of our work this year has included:

Completing our third annual review of U.S. dioceses’ financial transparency. Bottom line: they’re doing better but still not good enough. Read more …

Launching a new study of U.S. dioceses to assess the transparency and accessibility of their policies and processes for protecting children and reporting abuse. Stay tuned …

Co-writing a paper on clericalism with the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests and helping the paper to reach all U.S. bishops, hundreds of priests and selected Vatican officials. Read more …

Collaborating with AUSCP and FutureChurch on a paper on women’s roles in the Church and the BridgeDialogues, which examines what separates laity and clergy. Read more …

Conducting our 2019 Conference: Creating a Just Church where speakers and a panel of parishioners described their efforts at reform and expected progress. Read more …

Our path to the Christ’s stable this Advent and every Advent leads through your generous support. Please consider a donation to Voice of the Faithful this Christmas.

The Growing Cost of Accountability

By F. Carroll

The sex abuse scandal has done irreparable damage to the reputation of the Catholic Church. Now, it seems it may do irreparable damages to its finances as well. The increasing adoption of “lookback windows,” laws which temporarily extend the statute of limitations on sexual abuse, has prompted a wave a new allegations and lawsuits, some involving misconduct from decades ago. Fifteen states now have such laws on the books. A report by AP estimates the scale of the problem for the American Catholic Church: “potentially more than 5,000 new cases and payouts topping $4 billion.”

Church officials are taking a variety of approaches to stem the flow of money out of Church coffers. The compensation fund instituted by Cardinal Dolan in New York is one tactic; it has received mixed reviews from Church accountability experts. It allows survivors to circumvent a lengthy and convoluted legal battle with the Church and instead have their claims of abuse evaluated directly by an independent arbiter: claims deemed credible are then compensated accordingly. The payouts, however, are smaller than those typically received in lawsuits, and claimants out of court do not have the same access to internal Church documents, thus limiting the “accountability” component of restitution which many abuse survivors desire. (Paul Elie provides a nuanced exploration of Cardinal Dolan’s fund in April’s edition of the New Yorker.)

An increasingly popular tactic for dioceses is declaring bankruptcy (typically as a Chapter 11 filing for reorganization). The Diocese of Rochester made headlines this September when it became the first in the Catholic stronghold of New York to do so. The benefits for cash-strapped dioceses are clear. As the National Catholic Reporter notes, such declarations “don’t immunize dioceses from lawsuits, but they put claims under the supervision of a federal bankruptcy judge and require victims to get in line with all other potential church creditors.”

But how well do these legal maneuvers square with the bishops’ repeated commitments to transparency and accountability for past misdeeds? At times, they seem at cross-purposes. A recent move by the Archdiocese of New Mexico to transfer diocesan property to parishes was decried as a naked attempt at avoiding liability. Along with Cardinal Dolan’s more insidious movement of Church assets (while bishop of Milwaukee) into a trust fund for what he told the Vatican was “improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability,” the move in New Mexico is one of many legal tricks that the Church has up its sleeve to mitigate the devastating financial impact of sex abuse lawsuits. Some of these tricks border on absurdity – including an attempt by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to “to value a massive granite cathedral at just $1.”

There is no easy answer for the faithful as the Catholic Church faces a global reckoning for its misdeeds. The Church is right to claim that financial stability allows it to do many positive things, including its continued operation of charities, hospitals, and schools. But few can dispute that survivors deserve to be compensated for the trauma that Church wrongdoing has inflicted upon them. And, as it is essential to remember, this is a crisis that the Church hierarchy has brought upon itself, through decades of cover-ups and a profound lack of empathy for those it has harmed.

There is a price to be paid, the only question is how high.

Continuing the Conversation

Attendees at the 2019 Conference continued the discussion initiated by the Grassroots Panel presentations during lunch. We asked facilitators at each table to prepare a summary of the comments made in response to the question, “What are you doing or could you do in your faith community to help create a more just Church?” Here are some of the responses.


Work locally in the community, but which community? Affiliates? Parishes?

How can you avoid the appearance of threatening others?

Don’t ask permission of your priest [to do something]–that might get him in trouble.

Reach out to an old community to revivify them–maybe meet in a library.

Get past [your own] anger. Work on spirituality


A Just Church — poverty: need more emphasis on serving the poor.

What would be the bext governing body style of the Church? Should we elect parish reps who would advise the bishops, and national representatives to advise the pope?

Parishioners should have the right to approve or disapprove the choice of pastor.

Recommendation: Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, book on “The Time Is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage.”

Holy Trinity in D.C. every Lent invited every nonprofit in the area to dinner for discussion.

Pastors need exposure to inner city poor as part of their training.

Pastors are concerned that they or their parish might suffer reprisals if they don’t fall in line with the bishop.


No one in a power position gives it up. We are called to be adult Catholics … Inatitutions do not change easily.

Conservatism [may exist but] priests don’t own the parish.

Look for inclusion of laity in the parish work. Focus on adult education, transparency in religious education and adult education.


Establish a social justice committee, helping refugees, immigrnants settle in the community.

Raise awareness in our parishes about the hierarchy’s response/non-response to the abuse crisis.

Hold priests and bishops accountable for the clericalism and consequent psychological abuse of church employees and the lay people they are supposed to serve.

[More coming in the next issue!]

Highlighting issues we face working together to Keep the Faith, Change the Church


Buffalo bishop resigns after scandal over secret list of abusive priests
“First, a whistle-blower revealed that Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo had kept files about abusive priests that he hid from the public. Then leaked recordings showed that he was reluctant to remove a parish priest whom he called a ‘sick puppy.’ On Wednesday (Dec. 4), after months of pressure from priests and lay leaders, the Vatican said in a statement that it had accepted the resignation of Bishop Malone, effective immediately. Since the Vatican did not specify the reasons behind the resignation, it was unclear whether Bishop Malone had been forced to quit.” By Sharon Otterman, The New York Times

Legal reckoning: new abuse suits could cost church over $4B
“At the end of another long day trying to sign up new clients accusing the Roman Catholic Church of sexual abuse, lawyer Adam Slater gazes out the window of his high-rise Manhattan office at one of the great symbols of the church, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. ‘I wonder how much that’s worth?’ he muses. Across the country, attorneys like Slater are scrambling to file a new wave of lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by clergy, thanks to rules enacted in 15 states that extend or suspend the statute of limitations to allow claims stretching back decades.” By Bernard Condon and Jim Mustian, Associated Press, in Time

Argentine court finds two Catholic priests guilty of sexually assaulting deaf children; first convictions in long-alleged abuse
“An Argentine court on Monday Nov. 25) found two priests and a lay worker guilty of the sexual abuse and rape of 10 former students of a Catholic institute for the deaf, the first legal victory for a string of hearing-impaired victims stretching from Italy to the Andes whose denunciations against one of the clerics to church officials including Pope Francis went unheeded for years. The landmark verdict related to the Provolo Institute for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Children in the western Argentine city of Luján de Cuyo is the latest stain on the church’s handling of sex abuse cases in Francis’s native Argentina. Argentine prosecutors last week requested an international arrest warrant for Catholic Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta—a longtime associate of the pope accused of sexually abusing two seminarians.” By Anthony Faiola, Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli, The Washington Post

Lawsuit: Church pressured victims into unfair settlements
“Two impoverished Mississippi men who say they were sexually assaulted by Franciscan missionaries filed a federal lawsuit Thursday (Nov. 21) claiming that Catholic officials pressured them into signing settlements that paid them little money and required them to remain silent about the alleged abuse. The lawsuit, filed in New York, claims the church officials drew up the agreements a year ago to prevent the men from telling their stories or going to court — a violation of a 2002 promise by American bishops to abandon the use of nondisclosure agreements, as part of an effort to end the cover-up of sexual abuse within the church.” By Michael Rezendes, Associated Press

Children’s rights group says ‘third wave’ of abuse scandals hitting Latin America
“A children’s rights group is warning that a ‘Third Wave’ of clerical sex abuse scandals is hitting Latin America, with revelations showing how the Catholic Church has continued to try and hide the extent of the crisis. The London-based Child Rights International Network (CRIN) released The Third Wave: Justice for survivors of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Latin America on Nov. 20. It looks at the scale of abuse and cover-up by the Church in every Latin American country, as well as reviewing whether national laws on child sex crimes adequately protect children.” By Charles Collins,

Questions of faith: exclusive survey of Catholic Church employees
“A vast survey of the Roman Catholic Church workforce in America shows the people who know best how the church is run – the employees themselves – are deeply split on key issues facing parishes across nation. The survey reveals diocesan priests are far more likely to view clergy abuse as a problem of the past, while nuns and other religious employees often consider sex abuse and misconduct to be major problems even today. And just as Pope Francis considers expanding the role of married men and women in the church, the survey highlights vivid differences in how female and male employees view a host of religious reforms under the Vatican’s consideration.” By Dan Corcoran, NBC-TV Connecticut News

Click here to read the rest of this issue of Focus …

The Pope’s December Prayer Intention

Every month Pope Francis releases a prayer intention – this December he asks us to pray for children.

Every child who is marginalized, abused, abandoned, without schooling, or without medical care, is a cry that rises up to God.

In each of them is Christ, who came to our world as a defenseless child; it is Christ who looks at us through the eyes of each of these children.

Let us prayer that every country decides to take necessary measures to make the future of children a priority, especially the future of children who are suffering today.

Watch the video here.


Prophetic Presentation

Sunday, January 26, 2020: 2:30 PM
St. Mark Lutheran Church, 100 Harter Rd., Morristown NJ

(Check VOTFNJ’s website for possible update on venue)

Sr. Christine Schenk, CSJ, presents “Speaking Truth with Love and Wisdom: Sister Theresa Kane and the Catholic Women’s Movement.”

In 1979 Sister Theresa Kane’s widely publicized greeting asking Pope John Paul II to open all the ministries of the Church to women galvanized the women’s movement in the Catholic Church. Much has happened in the intervening 40 years and Sister Theresa provided leadership for the ongoing struggles, always speaking with deep faith.

Our presenter, Sister Christine Schenk CSJ, the founding director of FutureChurch, has also played an important role in pursuing a vision of equality and justice for women in the church and in society. She provided the creative energy behind the campaign to reclaim Mary of Magdala as the Apostle to the Apostles. In 2018 her book, Crispina and Her Sisters: Women and Authority in Early Christianity, received a first place award from the Catholic Press Association. Most recently, she has written To Speak the Truth in Love: A Biography of Theresa Kane, RSM published in November 2019 by Orbis Books.

Sister Chris will share with us her perspectives on this important period of contemporary Catholic history when women religious exercised unparalleled leadership in speaking out for women’s equality.

Copies of the book will be available at the presentation.

If You Missed It, You Can Still Catch the Videos

VOTF 2019 Conference:
Creating a Just Church video presentations

VOTF 2019 Conference Welcome & Opening Prayer …(link is external)

VOTF 2019 Conference Anne Burke …(link is external)

VOTF 2019 Conference Char Rivette …(link is external)

VOTF 2019 Conference Burke & Rivette Q&A …(link is external)

VOTF 2019 Conference Fr. Richard Lennan …(link is external)

VOTF 2019 Conference Fr. Richard Lennan Q&A …(link is external)

VOTF 2019 Conference Grass Roots Panel Discussion …(link is external)

VOTF 2019 Conference Financial Transparency Report …(link is external)

VOTF 2019 Conference New Child Protection Initiative …(link is external)


Please send them to Siobhan Carroll, Vineyard Editor, at Unless otherwise indicated, I will assume comments can be published as Letters to the Editor.

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