In the Vineyard :: February 28, 2022 :: Volume 22, Issue 4
How Can We Keep the Faith and Change the Church?
By Margaret Roylance, Voice of the Faithful Vice President, Finance Working Group Chair
As Mary Pat Fox described last month, VOTF grew at an astonishing rate in the first few months. Looking back, though, the amazing thing is the speed and clarity with which the mission and goals of the organization were discerned. 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 under suspicion as heretics by association with the leader of the Protestant Revolt! 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 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 no longer called heretics, at least not by most Catholic bishops. 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 US 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 Synod Sessions Update
Spaces for the Synod sessions we set up for February and March have all been filled. We are glad that so many of you have joined us to make your dreams and concerns for the Church known. Remember that you will have a chance to review the final report before we send it to the General Secretariat in August.
There’s still time for your voice to be heard–we will publish the next dates and times for sessions in April soon, and sessions will continue through June.
To be sure you get early notification for the April registraions, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and email address and type “Synod waiting list” as the Subject. We will give you first opportunity to sign up when the April dates are set.
Also be aware that VOTF is available to assist parishes, lay groups, religious orgaizations and others in their synod sessions. Our format and session structure can be adapted for those purposes. Send an email to email@example.com if you would like more information.
Sneak Peek: Synod Session Comments
In addition to the synodal experience and model for continuing such experiences as a new way of being Church, Voice of the Faithful will prepare a final report summarizing the thoughts, hopes, dreams, and commitment of all those participating in our sessions. The format of this report, given the restricted length (10 pages) of all reports sent to the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, will not accommodate individual comments from each session. However, we thought that in the months leading up to the final report, you might want to hear a few of our voices now. We will excerpt a sample of each Session report in the next few months.
Notes from Synod session participants
We are frustrated with the training of priests, the way seminarians are not involved in community activities but rather are formed in a cloistered environment focusing only on spiritual development, when their ultimate role is deeply embedded in the community. Priests should be more involved in the community.
We yearn for the power of women and women’s groups to be used and harnessed by the church hierarchy. There is a general feeling that there are so many talents and strengths that are not valued by church leaders, particularly in women’s groups that can be so helpful and beneficial for communities and individuals.
Without women in the kitchen, there would not have been any food at the Last Supper.
We wish for a parish council to help with decisions that affect the whole parish. One example in one parish is a program called “Dynamic Catholic.” The pastor signed on to this program and decided to use their videos and literature for Baptismal preparation classes. The videos the parish used before were tailored for their audience, but the Dynamic Catholic videos were targeted at a much younger age group and didn’t suit the parish’s needs. With a parish council and involved members of the church, this wouldn’t have happened.
The USCCB had not called public attention to the call of Pope Francis for every diocese to be fully engaged in promoting and implementing the Synodal Process. Individal dioceses have ignored it too.
Excerpts from Session Summaries
Some loved their parishes, some found them cold, unwelcoming and not open to lay input. A lot depends on the individual priest, but many young priests are being formed into a pre-Vatican II church. Clericalism is a pervasive problem.
The clergy do not preach or otherwise deal with the major situations and social issues affecting American culture, such as racism (although many parishes are composed of non-white individuals); capital punishment; the environment, immigration and abortion.
Spanish Episcopal Conference OpensSexual Abuse Investigation
Cardinal Juan José Omella, president of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, has called for an independent investigation into allegations of sexual abuse of children in the Church. Similar to the report released earlier this year, the investigation aims to understand the scope of the problem and hopes to provide “help and compensation” to victims and survivors, according to Omella. He explained that the Church “wants to assume its responsibilities by setting up a new tool that helps clarify the acts of the past and prevents them from reappearing in the future.”
The law firm hired to carry out the investigation, Cremades & Calvo-Sotelo, is based in Madrid and is tasked with covering all abuses in the Spanish Catholic Church, not limited to a particular time period. The firm will complete the investigation pro-bono, asking for the Episcopal Conference to pay only for logistical costs and external advisor fees.
The investigation is intended to complement other initiatives led by Spanish authorities, and a vote by Spanish lawmakers on the terms of a parliamentary investigation is expected in March.
This news is a deviation from the previous position taken by the Spanish Episcopal Conference. They previously declined to commission an investigation of this scale, saying instead that victims should be encouraged to report allegations to diocesan officials. Cardinal Omella explained that this change was due to a long period of reflection and internal debate. He said, “It’s not easy to take a quick decision. What’s important is not looking at the past, which is something typically Spanish, but to the future. What we care about is that we are opening a new era: we want to help, accompany, and clear up everything.”
Critics have several complaints about the investigation. Having been commissioned by the Church, Fernando García Salmones from the Robbed Childhood Association says it is a “maneuver to deter attention” because the law firm will be following orders from the Church rather than leads that appear. He said, “They only worry that their business keeps flowing. They don’t care about children or about the abused.”
Another complaint about this investigation concerns the law firm Cremades & Calvo-Sotelo. Javier Cremades, the head of the law firm, is connected to the ultra-conservative Opus Dei order, which Salmones says deprives the process of legitimacy. “Would you task a study about the Mafia’s crime to the Corleone family?” he asks.
Finally, investigations carried out by law firms like this do not always lead to healing and favorable outcomes for victims. The first report about abuse in Cologne, Germany, in 2021, was refused by the archbishop, who later commissioned another law firm to repeat the investigation. The second investigation cleared him of wrongdoing.
Omella apologized for the abuses as he announced this investigation, saying, “In the name of the Spanish church I apologize publicly for the whole issue of abuses within the Church, for all the victims who have suffered and still suffer. That is why we feel hurt at all abuses in other institutions, which we also want investigated.”
Other countries have also commissioned investigations or are considering them.
- Ireland has seen four lengthy reports since 2005, led by judges, that helped loosen the Church’s hold on Irish politics and society.
- The Catholic Church in France underwent investigation led by the former vice president of the Council of State and involved a variety of experts. It estimated that approximately 330,000 children were sexually abused by Catholic clergy or other lay employees affiliated with the Church between 1950 and 2020.
- Italy has yet to approve an inquiry of this kind, but the Italian Bishops Conference is feeling pressured to do so soon.
- Investigations in the United States have taken place at local and state levels, with individual lawsuits unearthing previously secret files detailing abuse cover-ups.
To read more about VOTF’s position on child protection, please see here.
For survivor support resources, please see here.
Pope Francis Announces “Day of Fasting for Peace”on Ash Wednesday
Pope Francis appealed to all present at the General Audience on Wednesday for peace in Ukraine, which was recently invaded by Russian military forces. He declared Ash Wednesday, March 2nd, a “Day of Fasting for Peace” in Ukraine as he called for an end to the conflict. “Despite the diplomatic efforts of the last few weeks, increasingly alarming scenarios are opening up,” he said. He called for those “with political responsibility to examine their consciences seriously before God, who is the God of peace and not of war, who is the Father of all, not just of some, who wants us to be brothers and not enemies” and prayed that “all of the parties involved refrain from any action that would cause even more suffering to the people, destabilizing coexistence between nations and bringing international law into disrepute.”
Since the conflict began, Pope Francis has been speaking out against the military actions. As the situation grew increasingly dire, he said “My heart aches greatly at the worsening situation in Ukraine… and like me, many people all over the world are feeling anguish and concern. Once again the peace of all is threatened by partisan interests.”
On Friday, in a tweet published in Ukrainian and Russian, he quoted his encyclical Fratelli tutti: “Every war leaves our world worse than it was before. War is a failure of politics and of humanity, a shameful capitulation, a stinging defeat before the forces of evil.” He called Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuck, the Ukrainian head of the Greek Catholic Church, expressing his desire to help in any way possible. The Ukranian Greek Catholic Church opened the basement of the Kyiv cathedral to serve as a bomb shelter. Pope Francis offered his prayers and an apostolic blessing to the suffering Ukrainian people.
In Italy, a call for a national investigation into clerical sexual abuse
“Catholic groups and abuse survivors on Tuesday (Feb. 15) called on the Roman Catholic Church in Italy, which has yet to reckon with the scourge of sexual abuse by priests, to create an independent commission to investigate how the crisis has been handled. In a number of countries — including Australia, France, Ireland and the United States — the church has allowed some scrutiny of its actions. But so far, the church in Italy has resisted calls for an independent inquiry, even after Pope Francis in 2019 held a landmark meeting on clerical sexual abuse and called ‘for an all-out battle against the abuse of minors.’” By Elisabetta Povoledo, The New York Times
Spanish bishops announce national investigation of clerical sexual abuse
“Caving to pressure from abuse survivors, politicians and the media, the Spanish bishops announced on Tuesday (Feb. 22) that they will conduct a full, nation-wide investigation of clerical sexual abuse. Cardinal Juan José Omella, president of the Spanish bishops’ conference, and lawyer Javier Cremades announced a twelve-month investigation with the necessary historical ‘breadth’ which will include both dioceses and religious congregations.” By Inés San Martin, Cruxnow.com
- Church-commissioned abuse audit to investigate cover-up and propose compensation, By Julio Núñez and Iñigo Dominguez, El Pais
Pope Francis reorganizes Vatican’s doctrinal office, creating department to handle abuse cases
“Pope Francis on Feb. 14 overhauled the current structure of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, creating an independent section to handle disciplinary matters related to the sexual abuse of minors. Under its new structure, the office will operate with autonomous doctrinal and discipline sections that will be coordinated by separate secretaries, both of whom will report to the prefect of the congregation. The new legislation, Fidem servare (‘To preserve the faith’), represents the most significant organizational changes to the office in over 30 years.” By Christopher White, National Catholic Reporter
Why is an abuser still working as a priest?
“The BBC has uncovered how a culture of complicity and denial conceals the true scale of clerical sex abuse in Italy. One shocking case that we delved into exposes how abusers in the Church can escape justice. This account contains descriptions which readers may find upsetting. – We’ll call him ‘Mario.’ He pulls back slightly as we shake hands, still clearly uncomfortable with physical contact. And at my first question – ‘How are you?’ – which I hoped would ease him gently into conversation, he immediately breaks down. ‘This interview is taking me back to it all,’ he stutters, barely able to get the words out through his tears. Mario has never spoken before to a journalist about what he calls his ‘sexual slavery’ at the hands of his childhood priest.” By Mark Lowen, BBC News, Rome
U.S. bishops defend planned $28 million Eucharistic congress amid criticism
“To organize a National Eucharistic Congress in 2024, the Catholic bishops in the United States have partnered with an event planner who was accused of charging exorbitant rates during the preparations for Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration in January 2017. The bishops are also relying on conservative Catholic organizations to provide funding and create catechetical and promotional materials for a multiyear National Eucharistic Revival that will lead up to the four-day congress in July 2024. The bishops intend to set up a nonprofit organization to handle logistics and raise $28 million over the next two years to hold the event in downtown Indianapolis.” By Brian Fraga, National Catholic Reporter
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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