In the Vineyard: May 21, 2021

In the Vineyard :: May 21, 2021 :: Volume 21, Issue 10

Will the Next Synod Involve True Lay Participation?

On May 21, the Vatican announced a new procedure for the next synod of Catholic bishops. This one will follow a three-phase path, according to the bulletin from the Holy See Press Office, with different phases making possible “a true listening to the People of God to ensure the participation of all in the synodal process.”

The office calls this synod “not just an event, but also a process that involves in synergy the People of God, the College of Bishops and the Bishop of Rome, each according to their proper function.”

Of course, calls for lay participation in the early stages of a synod are not new under Pope Francis. Unfortunately, control of the USCCB by extremely conservative bishops—often in open defiance of Pope Francis—has not yet led to widespread participation by all the faithful in the U.S. Tightly controlled processes generally remove lay contributions that do not conform to the narrow political interests of these bishops. Does the new process have a better chance, at least under bishops more attuned to the anti-clericalism aims of the pope, of bringing a wider range of voices to the synod from the U.S. faithful? Be alert for possible ways to speak up in the early stages of the process.

The synod—“For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission”—was originally planned to convene in October 2022. Now the process will stretch to October 2023.

The process will begin Oct. 9-10, 2021, with an inauguration in the Vatican by Pope Francis, and then will be followed by a formal opening in every diocese on Oct. 17. The process will consist of three phases: a diocesan phase (October 2021 to April 2022), a continental phase (September 2022 to March 2023), and a Universal Church phase in October 2023.

National Catholic Reporter’s Josh McElwee reports that Cardinal Mario Grech, head of the Vatican’s office of the Synod of Bishops, said via the official outlet Vatican News that they chose the new, three-part format because “the time was ripe for a wider participation of the people of God in a decision-making process that affects the whole church and everyone in the church.” Read more of Cardinal Grech’s hopes for “wider participation of the people of God in a decision-making process that affects the whole church and everyone in the church” in McElwee’s NCR report.

National Catholic Reporter’s Josh McElwee reports that Cardinal Mario Grech, the head of the Vatican’s office of the Synod of Bishops, via the official outlet Vatican News said they chose the new, three-part format because “the time was ripe for a wider participation of the people of God in a decision-making process that affects the whole church and everyone in the church.”

Read more of Cardinal Grech’s hopes—“we must listen to the people of God, and this means going out to the local churches”—in McElwee’s NCR report.

Read the Vatican announcement here.

National News

Re–Membering the Church: Moving Forward

Voice of the Faithful’s 2021 national conference will examine how structure, power, participation, and accountability can be brought together within the Church, fulfilling its mission of bringing Christ to the world. The online Zoom conference takes place Oct. 22-23, 2021. At 7 p.m., Oct. 22, conference registrants can gather for free Zoom listening sessions to talk about issues affecting the Church today. The full-day conference on Oct. 23 will begin at 8:30 a.m., as registrants gather in a Zoom waiting room for the 9 a.m. start. Cost for our national online conference is $50.

Our two featured speakers will offer their views on re–membering the Church. Speaking first on the

Our two featured speakers will offer their views on re–membering the Church. Speaking first on the morning of Oct. 23 will be Sister Carol Zinn, S.S.J. Ph.D. She is currently the executive director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and serves as Saint John Vianney Center consultant for women religious community health and transition. Formerly, she served as United Nations Economic and Social Council consultant. You can introduce yourself to Sr. Carol via this video from her presentation on Laudato si at the AUSCP Assembly in 2016. There are numerous others via the internet.

Following Sr. Carol’s Q&A period, Prof. Massimo Faggioli, Ph.D., will address the conference. Prof. Faggioli spoke at VOTF’s 2018 Conference, and his return is highly anticipated. He is a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University, a prolific author, and a leading international authority on Catholic Church history and ecclesiology, the inner workings of the Church. You can see Prof. Faggioli’s address at our 2018 conference in VOTF videos. He has also written more than a dozen books; his latest is Joe Biden and Catholicism in the United States. You also can find his recent article on the history of the Catholic episcopacy in Commonweal magazine.

Also during VOTF’s 2021 Conference, a panel comprising women liturgy leaders from the Paulist Center Boston faith community will discuss lay-led liturgies, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. WIn addition, VOTF leaders will report on our projects in diocesan financial transparency, Church governance by and through lay involvement in Diocesan Financial Councils, adherence to protection of children guidelines in parishes and dioceses, and women’s emerging voices in the Catholic Church.

Click here to register …(link is external)

Click here to download a registration form you can fill out and mail to VOTF …

Click here to register as an undergraduate student for FREE …(link is external)

Click here to see an agenda for the conference …

Late Newark Archbishop Accusedof Sexually Abusing 5-Year-Old Girl

A lawsuit filed in March alleges the late Archbishop Peter Gerety sexually abused a five-year-old girl in the 1970s. Archbishop Gerety died in 2016 at the age of 104 and served as archbishop of Newark between 1974 and 1986. He also served in New Haven, Connecticut and Portland, Maine. These are the first charges to be leveled against him.

The lawsuit, filed by a woman now in her late 40s, explained that she did not tell anyone about the abuse until she was 13. She says she became suicidal in her 20s and “suffered from extreme difficulty navigating intimate relationships,” and continues “to experience bouts of anger, as well as difficulties when involved in relationships and attempting to be intimate in the context of these relationships.” She still suffers from anxiety and depression and requires medication to manage her mental state due to the trauma, according to the affidavit.

Under the pseudonym Clara Doe, the plaintiff alleged negligence, infliction of emotional distress and breach of fiduciary duty. She is seeking $50 million in compensatory damages in addition to unspecified punitive damages against Gerety’s estate, the archdiocese of Newark, and other entities and individuals who are as of yet unnamed. The archdiocese has not yet commented on the lawsuit but stated it was committed to transparency and protecting the faithful, reiterating its commitment to working with victims and law enforcement.

Clara Doe stated that Archbishop Gerety became close to her family soon after he was appointed as archbishop of Newark, bringing them food and babysitting her while her mother was working. Those babysitting sessions were when he abused her, she says. She explains that she thought the archbishop had been sent by God to provide her family with food and assistance, and that she had no choice but to comply.

Doe said she attempted to file her accusation with the New Jersey Independent Victims Compensation Program, created in 2019 by the Catholic dioceses of New Jersey. The program is for survivors of sexual abuse of minors and is an alternative to litigation, evaluating survivor’s claims and offering settlements based on the evidence provided. The New Jersey Independent Victims Compensation Program offered her $5,000 as a settlement, which she rejected, according to Doe.

In 2019, New Jersey opened a temporary window to file lawsuits against individuals who committed child sex abuse and organizations that covered up or facilitated sexual abuse, even for those crimes outside of the statutes of limitations. This temporary program ends November 30, 2021.

For more information, please see here and here.

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

For survivor support resources, please see here.

U.S. Bishops Conference ReconsideringInvestment Guidance

In terms of financial transparency, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is reevaluating its socially responsible investment guidelines through the lens of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, “’Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.”

The current guidelines, issued in 1991 and updated in 2003, are the basis of many investment decisions for dioceses, colleges, and church organizations. They currently offer little advice on divestment from fossil fuels. Under the Vatican’s guidance on considering environmental matters in investing, the U.S. Bishop’s Conference is reconsidering the existing guidance. Other bishops’ conferences worldwide have chosen to divest, and if the U.S. follows suit, this could have a major impact on conferences considering divestment.

Further guidance on how and in what to invest could spur closer alignment between financial policy and social policy in Catholic churches and organizations across the country. This is particularly timely as dioceses and parishes work towards greater transparency in their financial status, and in light of Pope Francis’ recent advice on investing. Francis has long been a champion for the environment, and perhaps this will be an opportunity for the U.S. Bishops’ Conference to bring their financial advice in line with the Pope’s guidance.

For more information, please see here and here.

For VOTF’s statement on financial accountability, please see here.

International News

Sexual Abuse Cover-Up in Mexico

Franco Coppola, Pope Francis’s representative in Mexico, acknowledged earlier this week that more than 271 cases of abuse by priests had been covered up in Mexico. Coppola arrived in Mexico in 2016 and says he began to confront the “situation of abuse” upon working as nuncio. Of the 271 clerics accused of child abuse over the last decade, 103 have been dismissed from their positions, 123 cases are currently under investigation, and 45 have not been suspended.

Other observers have pointed out the parallel between the abuse cover-ups in Mexico and those in Chile, in 2018, where all of the bishops presented their resignations to the Pope after accusations of abuse and cover-up became public. Pope Francis accepted 30% of the resignations, but activists were unsatisfied with the lack of transparency. Several bishops below the age of 75 (the mandatory retirement age) had their resignations accepted, but no reasons were given. The team that oversaw this investigation was scheduled to arrive in Mexico next.

The delegation led by Archbishop Charles Scicluna was supposed to visit Mexico and assist with evaluations and assessments in the fight against sexual abuse in March of 2020. This trip was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic but will be rescheduled when the pandemic is under control. Coppola said recently that the Mexican Episcopal Conference “has not halted its effort.”

The efforts include protection commissions for minors, trained by the Episcopal Conference as well as professional assistance from attorneys, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Coppola calls these crimes “psychological murder” because they have lasting impacts and consequences on the victims and survivors, such as difficulty in relationships and trust.

One well-known name on the list of those accused of sexual abuse is the late Father Marcial Maciel, who founded the Legionaries of Christ. He was found guilty of abusing dozens of minors, including his own children, by the Vatican, before his death.

Coppola explained that he thought some of the cover-ups were done with bad intention, and some were covered up by individuals who didn’t understand the seriousness of the accusations. Investigations are currently underway to expose the “cover-up network” that protected Maciel, among others.

Observers estimate that approximately 50% of bishops have mishandled abuse allegations in the past and some still do. Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera Lopez explained “we bishops need to acknowledge the mistakes of the past: We weren’t conscious of the seriousness of the issue, and the solutions we gave weren’t the right ones,” at a conference organized by the center for child protection at Mexico’s Pontifical University in 2019.

For more information, please see here and here.

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

For survivor support resources, please see here.


Vos Estis expires in one year. What works and what changes are needed in version 2.0?
“Two years ago this month, Pope Francis issued a sweeping new church law on bishop accountability, establishing a global system for investigation allegations against bishops of abuse or its cover-up. Known as Vos Estis Lux Mundi (‘You Are the Light of the World’), the norms encourage — but do not mandate — the involvement of lay experts in the process of investigating allegations against bishops. When it was signed into law, Vos Estis was adopted for a three-year period ‘ad experimentum. To date, there are at least six known authorized Vos Estis investigations into U.S. bishops by the Vatican.” By Christopher White, National Catholic Reporter

Catholic church (in Canada) unveils new system for reporting sexual abuse committed or covered up by bishops
“Victims and advocates say a new system for reporting sexual abuse and cover-ups by Catholic bishops appears to be a case of ‘optics over substance’ and may not go far enough to protect those at risk of being abused. This week, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) announced the unveiling of a national and bilingual service for reporting situations of sexual abuse either committed or covered up by a bishop. ‘This service furthers their commitment to responsibility, accountability and transparency in matters of clergy sexual abuse and their commitment to facilitate healing and justice for victims-survivors,’ the national assembly said in a statement.” By CBC News

‘A possible disaster’: Catholic Church reckons with declining interest post-pandemic
“In a pastoral reflection on the future of the Catholic Church last month, one of the church’s newest and youngest bishops, Bishop of Clonfert Michael Duignan (50), pondered the challenges that lie ahead. ‘I fear that we might mistakenly think that once the current Covid restrictions are lifted and once we return to public worship, everything will be all right,’ said the bishop. Instead, he believes the future will be ‘very different.’ Some ‘fear a possible disaster,’ he said, with ‘fewer people practicing, financial difficulties, children and families further distanced from the sacraments and congregations permanently migrating to the comfort of online attendance.’” By Patsy McGarry, The Irish Times

Catholic religious orders must come clean about abusive clergy
“A clerical sex abuse scandal has rocked the Catholic Church for decades now, and to our way of thinking, full disclosure is the only way for the church to put the scandal completely to rest. Every independent religious order must follow the lead of the rest of the Church and come clean about abusive priests in their ranks. A number of those independent orders — among them the Jesuits and Carmelites — have made the only correct moral and ethical choice.” Chicago Sun Times Editorial Board

With new ministry of catechist, Pope Francis widens role for lay Catholics
“In a measure aimed at promoting the work of lay people in the Catholic Church, Pope Francis instituted a new ministry of catechists on Tuesday (May 11), open to lay Catholics, men and women to serve the church by transmitting the faith. While the role of catechist is already recognized in the Catholic Church, largely as teachers in missionary contexts, Tuesday’s document, known as a motu proprio, answers demands from lay Catholics for a bigger voice in the church in the wake of decades of scandals and increasing clerical control.” By Claire Giangravé, Religion News Service

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


Sr. Joan Chittister, a Benedictine of 60 years, will explore a sense of the common good and prophetic spirituality as modeled by Jesus in The Time is Now, A Call to Uncommon Courage. The program is sponsored by the Thomas Merton Center of Palo Alto via webinar on June 5, 2021 at 1pm Pacific/2pm Mountain/3pm Central/4 pm Eastern time. To registerm, use this link

AUSCP (Association of U.S. Catholic Priests) Assembly “Where Do We Go from Here?” takes place June 21-24 in Minneapolis-St. Paul MN. Detailed information is available on their web site. It is always a worthwhile event. VOTF will have a display booth there.


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