In the Vineyard: October 12. 2020

In the Vineyard :: October 12, 2020 :: Volume 20, Issue 19

News from National

Visions of a Just Church: VOTF 2020 Conference

This issue of In the Vineyard focuses primarily on presentations from our 2020 virtual conference. It includes links to the five main presentations. Links for the Q&A periods, the prayers, and additional features from the day will be posted as soon as available.

In addition to conference coverage, you also will find notes on Pope Francis’s recent encyclical, Fratelli tutti, and the Focus roundup.

Voice of the Faithful’s 2020 Conference, entitled Visions of a Just Church, kicked off last Friday evening with a meet & greet session for participants to mingle online, helping replace the personal contacts attendees can enjoy with an in-person conference.

It also set the stage for Saturday’s sessions, where world-renowned speakers brought a diversity and wealth of experiences and knowledge to the conference. The theme of this year’s conference was Visions of a Just Church where laity have a voice in the governance and guidance of the church. The theme also incorporates the role of discernment in leadership and co-responsible governance.

A Church For and With Others

The opening prayer and invitation to begin was led by Emily Jendzejec, M.Div, a chaplain and current student working toward a Ph.D. in Theology and Education at Boston College. Her presentation focused on these tumultuous and trying times. She directed the opening prayer for those who are impacted on a daily basis by the pandemic, including loved ones of those in attendance and those who have died, for the sick and vulnerable, and for the protection of healthcare workers.

Emily also prayed for policymakers to lead and make decisions with the common good in mind, to confront and dismantle racism, to undo individual biases and for all to commit to working together collectively for equity in communities, churches, and society. Her message to conference attendees was that Catholics should strive to be the church for and with others. She began a message of hope, inspiration, and conviction that was echoed by many of the other conference speakers.

Catholic Social Teaching and The Legal History of Lay Governance

Phyllis Zagano, Ph.D, an internationally recognized scholar in Catholic Studies and women’s roles in the Church, described what a just church could look like, using both the lens of Catholic social teachings and the lens of history.

Beginning with a definition of just conduct, Dr. Zagano focused on the call to family, community, and participation and, through that call, members’ right to involvement in their church. Additionally, she discussed the dignity of work and rights of workers, including that the church should be an equal employer.

Drawing from the Voice of the Faithful mission statement, Dr. Zagano explained how one of the rights of workers was to give voice to the voiceless, and “to provide a prayerful voice, attentive to the Spirit, through which the Faithful can actively participate in the governance and guidance of the Catholic Church.” From this background, she then detailed how, based on historical events, lay participation is out of the question according to canon law. Lay people can cooperate, but not share in governance, according to the revision of canon law that took place in 1983.

Moving forward in history, she then discussed Pope Francis’s Querida Amazonia and the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region to which it responded. Taken together, she explained, these documents leave open the possibility of women parish life coordinators. Although in North America, many parishes are twinned, grouped, or closed rather than having parish life coordinators, such roles are somewhat more common in other areas of the world. Participation in the exercise of pastoral care is not directing, moderating, coordinating, or governing the parish—these are responsibilities limited to the role of priests alone, according to the hierarchical structure. Parish life coordinators, however, are a temporary measure for parishes without a resident parish priest, and the position can be held by women.

In discussing the sharing of power, Dr. Zagano detailed how Pope Francis has spoken of his preference for pastoral councils, but that these councils are not required. Further, the pastoral council possesses a consultative voice only and is governed by the norms established by the diocesan bishop. The health of the parish, therefore, remains dependent on the priest, as the pastoral council can only offer guidance.

She spoke also about the importance of discernment, explaining that it is “not an organizational technique and not even a passing fashion, but an interior attitude rooted in an act of faith.” Laity seeking a just church can pursue the secular power of the purse combined with the power of social media, through which lay people can exercise strong checks and balances on clerical power. The current church structure is ineffective and inefficient, she believes, and the laity should have a role in selecting diocesan bishops, the modification of clerical celibacy, and the mandate to apply Catholic social teachings internally.

To see Dr. Zagano’s presentation, please use our VOTF Vimeo channel.

The Light from the Southern Cross: Promoting Co-Responsible Governance

Father Richard Lennan, a professor of systematic theology at the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College, spoke about the development of a document on governance and priesthood entitled “The Light From the Southern Cross: Promoting Co-responsible Governance in the Catholic Church in Australia,” and its implications for the American Catholic Church.

Although the document was born out of the sexual abuse scandals, it more widely addresses the sense of dislocation among the Australian Catholic community. The light represents the Easter candle in a darkened church, for a hope to lead the church out of darkness.

Father Lennan explained that the document was developed in response to the Australian Royal Commission’s findings regarding sex abuse within Catholic church institutions. That study did not investigate the Catholic Church alone. It was intended to, and indeed has, investigated both religious and secular institutions regarding the sexual abuse of children. However, because so much of the abuse occurred in Catholic institutions, the Royal Commission presented numerous recommendations for remedies within the Church as well. The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference then consulted the recommendations from the Royal Commission.

The “Light from the Southern Cross” was prepared for the bishops in that setting—a response to the sex abuse scandals the Commission highlighted. However, its drafters, Fr. Lennan explained, did not just respond to sex abuse itself but rather looked at the governance of the church and attempted to discern if the church possessed the resources with which it could reform itself.

Father Lennan also discussed in depth the organization of parish communities at a local level, centered around the question of whose voices are heard, and whose are not. If change does not happen at the local level, he said, it will not happen. How the community lives together and creates meaning for a shared mission indicates where and how the power of the church is located. The community as a whole can learn from the strength and gifts of the community gathered around the church.

He recommended that episcopal appointments be made through a consultative process, analyzing the needs of the community and drawing on their talents and insights.

He also noted that a sense of co-responsibility goes beyond simply collaboration (or laboring together), to encompass sharing a commitment to the project and feeling that the gifts and participation of each individual is vital to the success.

The overall message of the document was designed not to be a text of the bishops, but for the bishops and a message of recommendation and suggestions. Father Lennan emphasized that “God is not threatened when human beings thrive,” explaining that the true meaning of co-responsibility is identifying both a shared mission as well as individual talents, and how those talents can be combined to work towards that vision.

To see Fr. Lennan’s presentation, please use our VOTF Vimeo channel.

The Status of Child Protection

Voice of the Faithful trustee Elia Marnik and Executive Director Donna B. Doucette shared a presentation on the status of the Child Protection Working Group, starting with the history of VOTF actions on child protection. Since 2002, VOTF has worked towards better education on the signs of abuse and how to prevent opportunities for abuse. Equally important are ways to measure efforts taken on these needs at the parish and diocesan levels.

The current effort adopted the template that proved successful in VOTF’s work on financial transparency. We need transparency, Elia explained, and that requires light and proper measurement. “When you measure, people will pay attention.” Self-reported audits are not enough, but measuring the diocesan standards, who they cover, how the standards are posted and who measures adherence are all steps towards success.

Elia and Donna then spoke on how to know if a diocese is taking the right steps, including finding out if a diocese meets the standards for child protection; whether a parish checks criminal record backgrounds on all clergy, teachers, and youth workers; and if it has a code of conduct. Particular challenges inherent to measuring child protection include the variation throughout history and between dioceses, the reliance on self-reporting, and the micro-level on which abuse happens—where parishioners believe “it can’t happen here,” stalling efforts at local implementation. Current audits are more “review” than “audit,” in that they are not a complete search of all files, have no verification, and are all self-reported by parishes.

The presentation then detailed the worksheet and the 10 factors that will be used to evaluate child protection in dioceses, beginning in 2021 and producing a first report at the VOTF 2021 conference.

After the presentation, Elia and Donna took questions from the audience as to how this scoring system will work, and how individual parishioners can make a difference. The scoring system will hopefully engender the same type of competitive spirit that caused dioceses to move up in the financial transparency rankings and improve child protections everywhere. Individuals in parishes can see how well these steps are being implemented by examining their own experiences. For example, for those who teach, have they been asked about a background check?

Another excellent suggestion was to create a “safety corner” in the weekly bulletin: one week would pose a question (such as who the child protection officers are and how they can be contacted), and then the next week would publish the answer. This interactive method is one way to make sure information (that is also available online) is distributed to members of the parish.

To see Elia and Donna’s presentation, please use our VOTF Vimeo channel.

2020 Voice of the Faithful Financial Transparency Report

Voice of the Faithful Trustee Margaret Roylance presented the 2020 Financial Transparency Report, the fourth annual review by VOTF of diocesan financial transparency in the U.S. She explained in depth the ranking system used and common problems encountered.

As in previous years, she reported, no specific characteristics set high-scoring (very financially transparent) parishes apart from low-scoring parishes, indicating that there is no one particular leadership style to be held above others, but rather a dedication to financial transparency and accountability.

The most common reason for a parish losing points in the 2020 review was having less than three (unrelated) collection counters, she explained. With only two counters, one will inevitably have to step away for a moment, providing an opportunity for misuse.

Other changes that lead some parishes to move backwards in the rankings included website redesign, resulting to websites that no longer list Diocesan Financial Council members; and failure to post audited financial statements. However, the average financial reporting score increased from 15.7 in 2019 to 16.2 in 2020, indicating that financial transparency has remained a priority throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

The financial transparency review has seen much success through encouraging church leadership by “being fair-minded and fact-based,” Margaret noted. Plans for the future include continuing the yearly financial transparency review and applying this successful approach to the ranking of dioceses on governance and the Diocesan Finance Council.

Her overall message was one of hope: hope for continually improving financial transparency and accountability, achieved by giving the lay faithful effective ways to demand such changes.

To see Margaret’s presentation, please use our VOTF Vimeo channel.

Getting to Now: Women’s Roles in the Church

Svea Fraser, a former VOTF Trustee, reviewed the history of synods and commissions on the role of women in the Catholic Church, including a commission in 2016 of which earlier speaker Phyllis Zagano, Ph.D., was a member.

Drawing from the conclusions of these discussions, she noted how Catholic women have historically provided many services similar to Catholic deacons and are a wealth of knowledge and resources. She argued that ordination is the only way to outwardly indicate and accept that these women have made and continue to make valuable contributions. Women in so many areas of the world are already carrying out these duties, and many women feel called to serve in a way that would recognize these gifts and responsibilities.

The issue is one of discernment, she explained, and although historically women have been unable to vote on these topics, she has hope for the future.

Svea cited Pope Francis’s synod on the family, which was composed of 279 voting members, all male priests and prelates, in addition to 17 individuals and 17 married couples who were permitted to attend and participate in the discussion but were not allowed to vote. Thirteen of the 17 individual auditors were women, including three religious sisters. Such a synod, which discussed matters including the family, same-sex marriage, divorce and remarriage, and contraception, however did not allow the women auditors to be full voting members. Hopefully, such synods would look differently in the future.

Svea concluded with a challenge for women to make their voices heard.

To see Svea’s presentation, please use our VOTF Vimeo channel.

Please note that collateral material available to conference attendees also is available via our web site for those unable to attend.

International News

Papal Encylical Outlines Social, Political, andEconomic Obligations for a Better Future

Pope Francis released his latest encyclical, Fratelli tutti, on Oct. 3. Analysts highlighted its challenges to current political and economic conditions worldwide and its call for us to meet the obligations of the Christian belief that all people are children of God and therefore brothers and sisters to one another.

Despite that aim, women quickly noted the continued slighting of women in its title and language. When the Vatican released Pope Francis’s latest encyclical, the press office claimed its title, Fratelli tutti, meant “brothers and sisters all.” The italian does not, of course, literally translate as including “sisters,” as linguists quickly pointed out. Indeed, in a column written for the National Catholic Reporter, Phyllis Zagano suggests in response to the Vatican media insisting that women are included when a reference cites only males: “1. How about Vatican Media reviews all the laws and all the documents and tells the world that wherever the reference is obviously masculine, the reference is really to males and females; 2. the pope hires a few women to help write and review his documents.” She is not the only one to notice the unfortunate male slant in the brotherhood document.

Below are links to various analyses and summaries of the encyclical. You can read the document on the Vatican web site, and you can purchase it from Amazon in print or e-form, or buy it from the USCCB store.

Some commentaries:

Fr. Tom Reese summarized its themes in his column for the National Catholic Reporter. At the bottom of the column you can find links to another six or seven NCR articles on the encyclical’s release and its contents. NCR editors also published an editorial on it. Their coverage is among the most comprehensive thus far.

America magazine posted an editorial on the encyclical and also invited five theologians to reflect on it.

Our Sunday Visitor extracted numerous quotes from Fratelli tutti.

And if you are curious about what the anti-papists are saying about it, here is one such report.

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


Report finds flaws in Catholic Church abuse-prevention plans
“Child-protection policies adopted by Roman Catholic leaders to curb clergy sex abuse in the United States are inconsistent and often worryingly incomplete, according to a think tank’s two-year investigation encompassing all 32 of the country’s archdioceses. The analysis by Philadelphia-based CHILD USA said the inconsistencies and gaps suggest a need for more detailed mandatory standards for addressing sexual abuse of children by priests and other church personnel, a problem that has beset the church for decades and resulted in many criminal investigations, thousands of lawsuits and bankruptcy filings by numerous dioceses.” By David Cray, Associated Press, in Martinsville Bulletin

Facing 200 Abuse Claims, Diocese Becomes U.S.’s Largest to Seek Bankruptcy
“Facing more than 200 lawsuits over sexual abuse allegations, the Diocese of Rockville Centre on Long Island said on Thursday (Oct. 1) that it filed for bankruptcy, the largest Roman Catholic diocese in the United States to do so. The diocese, which serves about 1.5 million people, said it was seeking financial protection in part because of the passage of New York State’s Child Victims Act, which allows adults who were victims of sexual assault as children to file claims.” By Michael Gold, The New York Times

Vatican envoy’s removal from India brings relief for some Catholics
“Several Catholic groups in India have expressed relief after the Vatican removed its controversial envoy from the country. Pope Francis Aug. 29 suddenly transferred Archbishop Giambattista Diquattro, apostolic nuncio to India and Nepal, to Brazil amid accusations of inaction against allegedly corrupt bishops. ‘I saw the nuncio’s transfer as a small moral victory, not something to gloat about, but more a sense of relief,’ Chhotebhai, coordinator of the Indian Catholic Forum and former president of the All India Catholic Union, the largest lay association in the country, told NCR.” By Jose Kavi, National Catholic Reporter

Cardinal Becciu allegations mount as Vatican appoints new prosecutor
“Italian businessman Gianluigi Torzi has provided detailed information to investigators in the ongoing Vatican financial scandal, according to new reports. News of Torzi’s cooperation with prosecutors follows the resignation of Cardinal Angelo Becciu last week, and the announcement that Pope Francis has appointed a new prosecutor to strengthen the case.” By Catholic News Agency

Church says Cardinal Pell returning to Vatican in crisis
“Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’ former finance minister, will soon return to the Vatican during an extraordinary economic scandal for the first time since he was cleared of child abuse allegations in Australia five months ago, a church agency said Monday (Sept. 28). Pell will fly back to Rome on Tuesday, CathNews, an information agency of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said, citing ‘sources close to’ Pell.” By Rod McGuirk, Associated Press

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