In the Vineyard: June 15, 2019

In the Vineyard :: June 15, 2019 :: Volume 19, Issue 11

News from National

Priest and Lay Reform Organizations Take on Clerical Culture

Joint News Release from Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, FutureChurch, and Voice of the Faithful


June 7, 2019 – Pope Francis has repeatedly called out the clerical culture’s danger to the Catholic Church and its faithful, for example, calling clericalism “our ugliest perversion.” Now a nationwide Catholic priests’ organization and two international lay reform groups have developed the BridgeDialogues: Laity & Clergy re-Imagining Church Togetherto show Catholics what they can do to recognize and prevent this perversion which blocks the laity from achieving their full potential in the Church.

Clericalism has been defined in various ways. In a 2011 report criticizing the Church’s “Study of the Causes and Context of the Sexual Abuse Crisis,” VOTF defined clericalism as “an overriding set of beliefs and behaviors in which the clergy view themselves as different, separate, and exempt from the norms, rules and consequences that apply to everyone else in society.” As the Pope has said, “Clerics feel they are superior, they are far from the people,” and clericalism “can be fostered by priests or by lay people” where the laity show clergy excessive deference because they assume the clergy are morally superior.

The BridgeDialogues is a collaborative effort of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, FutureChurch, and Voice of the Faithful. They offer:

  • prompts for opening up discussions addressing clericalism, including topics such as the subtle ways that language and pastoral relationships can feed clericalism;
  • examples of how you experience clericalism barriers and what you can do about them;
  • tips for how you can guard against clericalism in your own behaviors, while removing the barriers others may use to hold you on “your side” of the lay/clergy divide.

The BridgeDialogues’ many resources are available online at

Deborah Rose-Milavec, FutureChurch executive director, said, “Although some form of clerical culture will always be with us as long as we make distinctions between priests and laity, we can all work together to reduce its deleterious effects. The BridgeDialogues provides the resources to begin a dialogue in your parish or community to look at the subtle ways that language and pastoral relationships can feed clericalism and how all Catholics experience those barriers.”

Donna B. Doucette, VOTF executive director, added, “We must make ourselves, priests and laity, aware of a clerical culture that has so many damaging consequences. Many Catholics are unaware of how embedded those effects are. Priests typically live aside and apart from the people they should serve—they are culturally and often physically far removed from the realities of the communities that surround them. Yet instead of trying to bridge the separation, too often lay people contribute to it. And some priests, of course, often don’t realize it should be bridged.”

Said AUSCP member Louis Arceneaux, a priest of the Congregation of the Mission living in New Orleans, “For our wounded Church to grow, we need organizations of women and men, of laity and clergy, to minister together. As an AUSCP member, I am delighted to be working with FutureChurch and Voice of the Faithful in promoting the BridgeDialogues, which affords me personally and our association a wonderful opportunity to be part of an important priests/laity collaboration.”

Laity Important Collaborators

In a recent interview, Francesco Cesareo, chairman of the National Review Board told the Catholic News Service that the path to rebuilding the U.S. church’s credibility as it emerges from the lingering clergy sexual abuse scandal rests in embracing the role of laypeople as important collaborators.

Cesareo has long pushed the bishops to welcome lay involvement in the process of rebuilding church credibility. As review board chairman, he has been frank with the bishops in conversations about the steps he sees as necessary for the church to right itself.

In recent addresses to the bishops, Cesareo has focused on the need to overcome complacency in some dioceses in adhering to the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” He is on the agenda to address the spring general assembly and is expected to again focus in part on complacency.

Cesareo also cited “recurring concerns that speak to the issue of complacency” in a letter that was included in the recently released 2018 annual report that detailed diocesan compliance with the charter.

Specifically he noted: failure by dioceses to publish abuse reporting procedures in all the languages in which Mass is celebrated; poor recordkeeping of background checks; failure to train or do background checks of clergy, employees or volunteers who work with children; a high percentage of children not being trained, especially those in religious education programs; and lack of a formal monitoring plan for priests who have been removed from ministry.

“While not widespread, the fact that in some dioceses these recurring problems are still evident points to lack of diligence that puts children’s safety at risk,” he wrote to the bishops.

In his interview with CNS, Cesareo credited “a few bishops” for stepping up and showing “leadership and courage” as they worked to address the fallout from the resurgence of the abuse crisis during the last year.

“They have been more transparent and open to accountability,” he said while not naming who he had in mind. “We have to hope that the entire episcopal body embraces that kind of courage.”

Still, much work remains, he said, pointing to the recent release of extracts from correspondence of Msgr. Anthony J. Figueiredo, secretary to former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, who faced restrictions from Pope Benedict XVI on public ministry that were not formal sanctions and were not strictly enforced.

Cesareo called for the U.S. bishops to release the information diocesan files hold on abusive priests and others once and for all.

“How many times is it going to be this slow removal of the Band-Aid that only makes the wound worse?” he asked. “If they can just confront that and say, ‘We’re going to be open and honest and accountable.’ We can’t wait for another major crisis again.”

Cesareo also cautioned the bishops about defending the limits of their response and implementation of policies because of restrictions imposed by canon law.

“Obviously at the end of the day, it’s the Holy See and pope who can discipline (a bishop), I understand that,” Cesareo told CNS. “But using canon law as the reason something can’t be done, the bishops are letting themselves really use canon law as a wall.”

To read the entire interview with Cesareo, click here.

A Summer Prayer

Long warm days…
The pace of life slows…
A time for picnics and rest in the shade…
Lord, help me to rest awhile
in the cooling shade of your presence.
Slow down my restless heart and fill me
with gentle compassion for all your people. Amen.
– Author unknown

Don’t Forget the Conference!

Register now for the Spring/Summer Special Registration of 2-for-$200

Click here for information and to register …

Click here to download a printable 2019 Conference mail-in registration form …

Click here to reserve your discounted hotel room …

Speakers: Our special return guest speaker will be the Honorable Anne M. Burke, Illinois Supreme Court Justice, who spoke to us at our 10th Anniversary Conference in 2012. For more than two years, Justice Burke served as the interim chair of the USCCB’s National Review Board, directing its efforts to investigate the causes and effects of the clerical sexual abuse scandal and helping to establish guidelines and policies for effectively responding to the scandal. Much has happened in the clergy abuse scandal since then, and she is now involved with a group advocating accountability for bishops who have covered up abuse.

A second featured speaker will be Fr. Richard Lennan, professor of systematic theology at Boston College. He presently directs Boston College’s sacred theology licenture program. Together with Boston College theology professors Thomas Groome and Richard Gaillardetz, Prof. Lennan wrote “To Serve the People of God: Renewing the Conversation on Priesthood and Ministry,” which calls for reexamining the formation process for diocesan priests and eradicating the priesthood’s embedded clerical culture. The paper resulted from a seminar begun in 2016 and composed of lay and ordained women and men and theologians and ministers working in pastoral and academic settings. (Click here to read a statement from Boston College with links to additional information).

We’re also featuring a panel discussion during which parishioners from the Cincinnati, Ohio, Washington, D.C., and Buffalo, New York, areas will discuss actions they are taking at the grassroots level to help create a just Church. The panel presentations and Q&A will segue into our lunch period when attendees can continue the panel members’ discussion.

Pope Francis’ Prayer Intention for June

In his prayer intention for the month of June 2019, Pope Francis calls us to pray that priests, “through the modesty and humility of their lives, commit themselves actively, above all, to solidarity with those who are most poor.”

Watch here.

Summer Reading

From NJVOTF: For summer reading on “Prophets Then and Now,” we recommend Joan Chittister’s new book, The Time Is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage. In this book Sister Joan, who has often written and spoken about the prophets and has herself been called a prophet, lays out a path for all of us to participate in the prophetic tradition. In her first pages she quotes Daniel Berrigan: “The prophet is one who speaks the truth to a culture of lies.” And Sister Joan adds, “Prophetic spirituality is about living out our faith on the streets of the world rather than just talking about it.” A challenging yet hopeful book.

NOTE: Sister Joan also will be speaking in Milton MA in September, under the auspices of Sacred Threads. You can find the details and a registration form on the Sacred Threads web site.


U.S. Catholic Church reports big rise in sex-abuse allegations
“Quantifying its vast sex-abuse crisis, the U.S. Roman Catholic Church said Friday (May 31) that allegations of child sex abuse by clerics more than doubled in its latest 12-month reporting period, and that its spending on victim compensation and child protection surged above $300 million. During the period from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018, 1,385 adults came forward with 1,455 allegations of abuse, according to the annual report of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection. That was up from 693 allegations in the previous year. The report attributed much of the increase to a victim compensation program implemented in five dioceses in New York state.” By David Crary, Associated Press

Double-barreled McCarrick news perfectly captures accountability challenge
“Sometimes the fates who govern the news business have a wicked sense of timing. After a long stretch of relative quiet regarding Theodore McCarrick, the ex-cardinal who was defrocked over sexual misconduct and abuse charges, Tuesday (May 28) brought not one but two major new developments… The double whammy of these two stories coming at once does neatly illustrate two of the major questions left hanging by the McCarrick case, which in turn encapsulates the meta-narrative of the entire saga …” By John L. Allen, Jr.,

West Virginia bishop gave powerful cardinals and other priests $350,000 in cash gifts before his ouster, church records show
“In the years before he was ousted for alleged sexual harassment and financial abuses, the leader of the Catholic Church in West Virginia gave cash gifts totaling $350,000 to fellow clergymen, including young priests he is accused of mistreating and more than a dozen cardinals in the United States and at the Vatican, according to church records obtained by The Washington Post. Bishop Michael J. Bransfield wrote the checks from his personal account over more than a decade, and the West Virginia diocese reimbursed him by boosting his compensation to cover the value of the gifts, the records show.” By Michelle Boorstein, Shawn Boburg and Robert O’Harrow, Jr.

‘Revolution’ in Poland as nation confronts priestly abuse
“One victim spoke out, and then another, and another. A statue of a pedophile priest was toppled in Gdansk, put back by his supporters, and finally dismantled for good. A feature film about clerical abuse was a box office hit. Poland thought it had started confronting the problem of clerical abuse and its cover-up by church authorities. Then a bombshell came: A documentary with victim testimony so harrowing it has forced an unprecedented reckoning with pedophile priests in one of Europe’s most deeply Catholic societies.” By Vanessa Gera, Associated Press

Bishops of East Africa develop handbook to guide child protection
“Catholic bishops of East Africa have introduced a handbook to assist church leaders develop standards to safeguard the safety of children. Titled ‘Child Safeguarding – Standards and Guidelines: A Catholic Guide for Policy Development’ was introduced May 29 in the Kenyan capital May 29 by the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa, known as AMECEA.” By Francis Njuguna, Catholic News Service, on

The purgatory of the sex abuse crisis
“Eugene Cullen Kennedy, who died June 3, 2015, was one of the most prolific and insightful observers of the Catholic Church in the modern era. Following is the first of two pieces on the clergy culture and the sex abuse crisisthat were part of a larger work underway when he died. The manuscript, last worked on in January 2015, was shared with NCR by his widow, Sara Charles Kennedy, who noted the happy coincidence that Kennedy’s date of death was the same as that of St. Pope John XXIII, whom he greatly admired. John XXIII died in 1963. The longer manuscript was lightly edited for clarity and divided into two parts.” By Eugene Cullen Kennedy, National Catholic Reporter

Australian Catholic Church releases standards for child protection
“The Australian Catholic Church has released its National Catholic Safeguarding Standards, more than 18 months after they were recommended by the country’s landmark Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, in the latest chapter in the overhaul of how the Church responds to clergy sexual abuse. The standards closely parallel the commission’s recommendations as well as norms enshrined by the government in the National Principles for Child Safe Organizations, although some provisions have been watered down, observers noted.” By Michael Sainsbury, Catholic News Service, on

The U.S. Catholic Church spent more than $300 million on abuse-related costs in 12 months
“Between June 2017 and June 2018 the Catholic Church in the United States spent a whopping $301.6 million on costs related to clergy sexual abuse, including nearly $200 million in legal settlements, according to a report commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The new report also revealed that, during the same 12-month period, the church fielded 1,051 new ‘credible allegations’ of sexual abuse of a minor by priests and other clergy.” By Daniel Burke, CNN

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

Letter to the Editor

I completely support the ordination of women deacons. However, with our clerical culture and the services women provide to the church now, I am not sure how much women gain by being deacons. I believe ordination to the priesthood for women is a matter of justice and equality. I don’t know any theological justification for treating women as less fully persons than men. The status of women in society has changed in the last two thousand years. We even let them vote!

Kevin Booth


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