Monday, October 30, 2006

Lessons from the Amish

by Fr. Daniel C. O’Rourke

In Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania the Amish have torn down the one-room schoolhouse in which five of their young girls were murdered. A neighbor Charles Roberts IV with premeditation and in cold blood had shot them in the head before taking his own life. Only ten days after the massacre a construction company hauled away the blood splattered debris. The Amish have leveled the land and planted grass. The spot will revert to pasture. There will be no marker or plaque. The Amish community didn’t want the site to become a morbid tourist attraction.

The reaction of the Amish to this atrocity astonished the nation. It was much different than what most would have done. The Amish actions can teach us much. They refused to allow even this terrible tragedy to turn them into victims. Victimhood has its seductions. It makes us the center of attention. It forces others to feel sorry for us. It keeps us focused on the past instead of the future, thereby giving us an excuse to avoid the painful effort of moving on.

Joshua Searle-White, a psychologist at Alleghany College, writes that victimhood is “the insistence that people see us through the lens of our perceived hurts, injuries and traumas.” In this horrible butchery we would all understand if the Amish considered themselves victims. They have refused, however, to wallow in such self-destructive self-pity.

There are other related lessons from this massacre. Even in the depths of their own grief, the Amish thought of others. The very day of the killings the grandfather of one of the dead girls went to the home of Roberts's grieving father to comfort him. At the murderer’s funeral half of the seventy-five mourners were Amish! They were reaching out to Robert’s own bewildered children and to his stunned wife. There were no recriminations against the Roberts family, only compassionate, practical acts of human goodness. They visited the sick at heart and buried the dead.

The Amish, moreover, forgive Roberts. Like all of us they had learned that Roberts was angry with God because years ago his infant daughter had died. They had also read news accounts of his suicide note in which he wrote of being tormented apparently by memories of sexually molesting young relatives and recurring dreams of similar perversions. They knew that was no excuse for this violence, but they knew it helped explain it. Evidently Roberts was a tormented and troubled pedophile. He was also a crazed gunman. The operative word is “crazed.” He was sick. The Amish understood and then miraculously forgave.

In commenting on the Amish reactions, columnist Clarence Page quoted Alexander Pope. “To err is human, to forgive divine.” What the Amish did was heroically virtuous. It was far beyond the unaided capabilities of most human beings. Only grace made it possible.

There have been other examples of heroic forgiveness in American history. In 1963 Ku Klux Klan racists dynamited and killed four innocent black girls and wounded twenty-two others at a Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The motive in those murders was racial bigotry not anger at pedophilia or at God, but the forgiveness voiced by Rev. Martin Luther King on the steps of the bombed church was similar.

A reporter asked King whether after these killings he still advocated non-violence. Of course, he said slowly. We forgave them when they raped our women. We forgave them when they lynched our men -- and we will forgive them when they kill our children. Why, the dumbfounded reporter asked. Because, King said, we are Christians and suffering is redemptive.

Suffering is redemptive not because Jesus died on the cross for our sins as most Christians believe, but because our own suffering can redeem us. Of course it can also embitter us, but if we are not seduced by victimhood, adversity can make us wiser and better. What doesn’t poison us spiritually makes us stronger spirituality. Looking back on our lives can’t many of us admit that suffering helped us grow? Didn’t overcoming addiction do that? Didn’t working through a painful divorce do that? Didn’t facing a life-threatening illness do that? Didn’t the devastating death of a spouse or child somehow with great pain lead us eventually to greater wisdom and maturity?

Both the Baptists in Birmingham and the Amish in Nickel Mines were Christians. They put most of us who claim to follow Jesus to shame. Though we often pray the Our Father few of us “forgive those who sin against us.” Even fewer really comprehend Jesus’ words that “Blessed are the peacemakers.” The Amish, however, put flesh on this faith. Unlike most of us they practiced what they professed.

Christians, however, have a no monopoly on non-violent forgiveness. In the Hebrew Scriptures Hosea forgave his unfaithful wife. The Hindu Mahatma Gandhi is legendary for forgiving, non-violence and understanding. His teachings on Muslim equality gave rise to his assassination by a fanatical Hindu.

What do these Amish teach us? They teach us not to complain of our lot and wallow in victimhood. They teach us to move on after loss. They teach us not to seek vengeance but to forgive. My God, if the Amish can forgive the killer of their children, can’t we forgive our sister-in-law for not inviting us to a family picnic?

The Amish rejected the-eye-for-an-eye attitude so prevalent in our world. Can we as a society wean ourselves from that vindictive mind-set? If not, we should remember Gandhi’s warning. “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” The Amish understood that.

Daniel O’Rourke is a married Catholic priest, retired from the administration at State University College, Fredonia. A mediator for the Center for Resolution and Justice, he lives in Cassadaga, NY.

Finding God on the information superhighway

by Kristen Surprise
Worcester (Mass.) Business Journal
Sunday, 29 October 2006

What began as an organization for Catholics struggling with the politics of the Church became an international phenomenon of resigned or married Catholic priests looking for work. is one of the latest trends in the non-profit business world.

"It’s a free referral service; it may sound like business, but it’s not a business - it’s a ministry," Louise Haggett, president and founder of, says. Haggett’s website, originally based in Framingham, began when she and her husband invested in the web database with a $10,000 sales bonus they received in 1992. The site, officially named CITI (Celibacy is the Issue), provides access to married priests who are willing and able to perform religious sacraments and duties, including masses.

"We’ve probably served about 100,000 people," Haggett says. She also says that the non-profit website has had over 300,000 hits in the last year and a half. It’s supported through an annual membership donation made by the married priests who are members, as well as funding from the site’s advisory board. It also receives donations from clients and others that support the organization.

Originally, the site was designed with disgruntled Catholics in mind. "They’re not upset with the belief system, they’re upset with the politics of the Church," says Haggett. Thanks to heavy publicity, however, the novelty of the site is now appealing to a variety of clients. Haggett says that the organization serves people from many different religions and beliefs, including Hinduism and Atheism.

The web resource has another target client: unemployed priests. The website lists contact information for priests under "God’s Yellow Pages", where clients can search by state and then by city or town to locate a priest in their area. From there, they can contact the priest to make arrangements for the preferred ceremony.

"Were it not for Rent-A-Priest, I would have no ministry," says Father David Kerrigan, a Worcester priest who withdrew from the Catholic Church in 1985. "There would be no opportunity [for resigned or married priests]." Kerrigan says he left the priesthood after the residing bishop suggested that he was too much of a "free spirit". He struck out his own, until exposed him to throngs of potential clients.

The Catholic Church, however, does not recognize ceremonies performed by these priests, and is in disagreement with the organization’s ideas. "It’s like renting a tux," claims Harvey Egan, a Jesuit priest from Boston College’s Theology Department. "If you’re having problems with the institutional Church, why rent a priest?"

Others, however, feel that performs a valid service. "[For] people who are in a situation that is not of their choosing, and cannot get married in the Church, this is a perfect alternative," says Irena Clark, Sales and Catering Service Manager at The Harrington Farm in Princeton. Clark has dealt with Father Ron Ingalls, a married priest who has performed ceremonies at the Farm, thanks to contacts made through the website.

Father Ingalls says that has given him a way to continue his priestly practice. "Before, I was always a company man, and I had to represent the institutional Church and its agenda," he says. "Now, my ministry is entirely individual people, so I don’t have to represent any institution."

The public often views the organization as a form of protest, notes Haggett. Despite the opposition, Haggett says the interpretation is far from the truth: "We’re here for people who need us. Period."

Friday, October 27, 2006

The hierarchy and the faithful: unworthy shepherds; docile sheep

By Fr. Pat Callahan, Seattle

I was active in launching our local chapter of Call To Action several years ago when I left the CORPUS Board. Then a few years ago VOTF began, and with the P.R. they got nationally, a local group was also formed. Right from the beginning I predicted that it would not survive because of the preoccupation of the VOTF to "color inside the lines" and not challenge the pivotal issues in the Church ... especially the need to end the restrictions on ordained ministry and include men and women, married and single.

I was correct in my prediction in that the local VOTF group has now disappeared. Our CTA chapter is very vibrant with a strong Board, a healthy treasury, and will be sponsoring a visit of Bishop Patricia Fresen in early November.

On a more personal level I came to a greater understanding of the deep seated need for many Catholics to be docile and not "buck the system" when my own wife Julie was terminated from her position as Pastoral Assistant for Adult & Family ministry this spring. She had served at a local suburban parish for 22 years and was 2 years away from retirement.

Julie is a tremendous pastoral person, very dynamic and greatly loved and respected by the people of that parish and directed 22 vibrant programs serving a wide spectrum of parish families. She was a very prominent person among her fellow lay ministers and served as Chair for their archdiocesan organization. The current pastor at the parish where she served had a fixation on starting a school there, although there are Catholic schools available at adjacent parishes. He rammed this $2 million project down the throats of the parishioners, ignoring his own surveys showing their opposition. When many left and income dropped, he used that as an excuse to "reorganize" and cut Julie's position from fulltime to 2 days a week, no benefits.

Initially I was confident that the parishioners, a well educated somewhat affluent group who had the benefit of many years of excellent adult ed programs on collegial Church, etc. would certainly rise up and protest this radical shift in parish priorities and the dismissal of a very gifted and popular lay minister.

Not so. It was quite a lesson to me in the depth of "Catholic Conditioning".

Although I interacted with a number of parishioners who were very disturbed and frustrated by the pastor's actions ... there was a numbing resignation to it and an unwillingness to resist. I suggested a number of tactics, but no one or no group was willing to take action.

Meanwhile the pastor opened his new school which cost $1 million for initial facilities, with 40 students and a first year budget of $600,000 with only $200,000 in income, despite the highest tuition in the Archdiocese at $6,500 per child. No one knows at this point how he raised the $10,000 per child subsidy needed. $400,000 in subsidy to provide a private academy for 40 upper middle class kids, meanwhile slash the 22 programs for the hundreds of families benefiting from the adult and family ministries.

I gradually came to grasp the huge reluctance in these parishioners to any kind of organized resistence to an arbitrary shift of parish direction and terminating a dedicated and charismatic lay minister after 22 years of service and just short of retirement. This is a parish community of highly educated, professional people. But when it comes to Church, the old "parent/child" syndrome drops into place. A huge barrier on the gut level to confront and deal with conflict within the parish family. Given Julie's popularity and the vitality of the 22 programs she directed, I was initially convinced that there would be a backlash against the pastor ... but not so.

This was the case even when he forced her to leave early because he was unhappy with a letter she wrote to her volunteers explaining the reorganization. He himself had no contact with her prior to the announcement of the reorganization, after her position was reduced to part-time, or after she indicated that she was not interested in applying for the radically reduced position. A complete absence of any pastoral care.

I share this scenario as a case in microcosm of the "compliance syndrome" that I believe enables a pastor or bishop to keep doing "business as usual" no matter what's going on around him. 80% of parishioners don't have a clue as to the real inner dynamics of their parishes. As long as Mass is available and they aren't hassled too much during it, they come, drop their money on the plate, and leave. There just isn't the interest or energy to get involved and certainly not to confront.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Cardinal's letter baffles local priests, sparks more debate

(Original publication: October 26, 2006)

Many New York priests say they are baffled that Cardinal Edward Egan is blaming recent criticism of him on untruths spread by unnamed pedophile priests.

Some are particularly concerned that Egan, in a letter to priests, twice singled out Monsignor Howard Calkins of Mount Vernon for criticizing him in the press, despite Calkins' apology to Egan.

"There is amazement on the part of priests that he mentioned Monsignor Calkins twice," one New York priest said yesterday. "It seems totally uncalled for. Howard tried to show some sensitivity and apologized, but you're not given a chance to talk. The whole letter is unfortunate."

Interviews and e-mail exchanges with 14 archdiocesan priests, all of whom have spoken with other priests, revealed widespread confusion over the thrust of Egan's letter and dismay over the open conflict that has gripped the Archdiocese of New York for the past two weeks. No priest was willing to be named because of what each said is Egan's clear dislike of public criticism and concerns about retribution.

Egan's letter to the priests, dated Oct. 20, was in response to a much-discussed and widely circulated anonymous statement that questioned Egan's leadership of the archdiocese but did not specifically mention his handling of sex-abuse cases. Egan, in his letter, pinned the blame for the anonymous criticism on "stories that are being told by priests who have been found guilty of sexually abusing minors."

Several priests said they could not understand how Egan drew this conclusion, even if many priests feel that there has been a lack of due process for those accused of sexual abuse.

"His claiming that the source of the letter critical of him comes from those implicated in the scandals is not based on any evidence," another priest said. "His focus on that area alone overlooks many other concerns of the priests.

"His public dressing down of Monsignor Howard Calkins was behavior very unbecoming a prince of the church and not very classy for the archbishop of New York," he said.

Egan's letter twice mentioned Calkins' declaration in the press that most New York priests agreed with the criticisms in the anonymous letter, which was attributed to "A Committee of Concerned Clergy for the Archdiocese of New York." Calkins, the pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Mount Vernon and vicar of the Sound shore region of Westchester County, apologized to Egan last week and offered his resignation as vicar.

The New York chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a lay group seeking a greater voice for the laity in the church, issued a statement yesterday deploring the recent exchange of critical letters. The group also came to Calkins' defense.

"Many members of the laity and clergy know and respect Msgr. Calkins, and while he may have spoken in haste, he spoke from his heart about the need for greater openness and communication in our community of faith," the statement said. "We respect him for his honesty, and we vow to defend him against attacks."

Last year, Calkins attended a Voice of the Faithful conference about the need for lay participation in planning for a realignment of parishes in the archdiocese.

Joseph Zwilling, Egan's spokesman, said Egan had not yet talked to Calkins about his offer to resign as vicar.

David Clohessy of St. Louis, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the main advocacy group for victims, said Egan's focus on abusive priests in his letter is a clumsy effort to divert attention from other criticisms. SNAP has long been critical of Egan's handling of sex abuse in Bridgeport, Conn., where he served as bishop before coming to New York.

"He pretends he's been tough on predators and that's why he's being criticized," Clohessy said. "Nothing could be further from the truth."

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, co-director of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture and former editor of Commonweal, a liberal Catholic magazine, said it was hard to know what to think about either the anonymous criticism of Egan or Egan's blaming of unnamed abusive priests.

"The anonymous quality of the initial letter is weird," she said. "(Egan's) letter is like out of the blue. But I don't think that lay people pay much attention to this sort of stuff."

John Shutty, 81, of Yonkers, a parishioner at St. Barnabas Church in the Bronx since 1950, largely agreed. But he said he's given too much to the church to sit back quietly while real problems - like a lack of priests and financial problems facing Catholic education - get overshadowed by squabbling between the archbishop and his priests.

"Nobody is addressing the real problems, and I feel so bad about what's happening," he said. "The cardinal needs to be more vocal and to talk to his priests about how to address the problems we face today. No one is communicating with us."

The institutional church and the status quo

Reflection by Fr. John Shuster

I think that for the most part Catholics are kept uninformed and spiritually uneducated by the institutional church. It is part of maintaining the clergy/laity class structure of ruler and subject.

They are taught the simple "get your ticket punched" sacramental church life. Easy quid pro quo institutionalism works well among the uneducated simple people of the Middle Ages and the 21st Century.

Some church-going Catholics get into true spirituality, but it is pretty much considered fluff, a little hobby of theirs, not mainline core belief. The priests have the real spirituality, not those lay people. Mass attendance, envelopes, and political uniformity - that's where the real American RC church business lies. It's real religion that you can take to the bank - physically and spiritually.

Catholics are made spiritually codependent to the bishop/priest's whimmy approval. Observe what is really happening - what people are really doing in a measurable and documentable sense. It is clear to me that Tridentine theology is still alive and well. They might as well turn the altars back around so we can all worship God behind and through the holy priest, the bishop, and the pope.

Like an insurance policy for eternity, Catholics are taught that if they pray, pay, and obey the institution in every tiny detail they will go to heaven. Parishioners don't want to ruin their decades-long investment, tenuous and specious as it might be. When death looms, people will grab at anything. They understand that panic, long before they die, and the intuition successfully plays on that fear with an insurance policy. Priests can rape their children yet people will make room for such behaviour because they don't want to lose their investment in the afterlife.

With the sex abuse settlements making the news for the past four years, many Catholics now know that their local parish does not legally belong to them but to the bishop, so the bishop can close it at his whim and force them out of their parish home. Deep down, each parishioner has the fear that they'll lose their spiritual home, the home where they buried their parents and saw their children receive their First Holy Communion, if they anger the bishop or if they support survivors to the point where really big money will be owed by their arch/diocese. Ask thousands of parishioners in Boston whose churches were sold out from underneath them on a private real estate market so that they could not buy them back and get married CITI priests to staff them. People don't want to lose their "tradition" of servitude.

The Vatican has constructed an airtight system, protected by our American law, where they can sit on a mountain of money and lead whatever lifestyle they want with relative impunity. There's always plenty of money and high powered lawyers and political connections to get them out of any trouble. The bishop of Santa Rosa has yet to be indicted for helping a pedophile priest escape to Mexico after abusing a child - this year!

The smart people realize how powerless and slighted they really are, and not a few of them leave to go to other more accountable church systems. Investment Catholics don't want to deal with what they deep-down know is going on. The real sheep Catholics don't even know what's really happening. They just want to know what time Midnight Mass is on Christmas Eve. They all keep giving money to support their priests' compartmentalized lives - and their own short-shrifted oppression.

When we married priest couples and supporters speak up prophetically, we get stomped on by the slave owners - and their slaves.

The Vatican has a good game going. It's really hard to beat. It is resilient, idealism based despite the lived realities, and well funded from multiple large revenue sources that include church operations, investments, Catholic charity operations that take administrative cuts, hospital systems, and multi-level educational enterprises around the world. The Vatican is the largest multinational corporation in the world - and probably the richest.

How do we change the game? How do we redirect people from the fleshpots of Egypt yet still sustain the goodness of our RC tradition that has been hijacked by a sexually out of control hierarchy?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Cardinal Egan's spin machine

On the news today in NYC they're running Cardinal Egan's response to the anonymous letter from a group of priests in the Archdiocese - widely reported last week - that accused Egan of being arrogant, remote, removed and lacking in pastoral interest. The letter asked for a polling of priests, by secret ballot, giving Egan a vote of no confidence for his performance as bishop. It also asked the Vatican to accept his retirement next year when he turns 75.

Egan's spinmeisters are now out 'unmasking' this critics as 'priests guilty of abuse' who are 'unwilling to take responsibility for their acts.' In effect, he uses the church's sex scandal as a shield and hides behind the allegation of abuse - and cloaks himself in the mantle of a reformer wrongly 'savaged' for his tough stand on abuse. A mantle he has not earned. As you might expect, he offers no evidence for his claim that his critics are sex abusers.

If ever there was nonsense on stilts, here it is.

Egan is known to be a pompous elitist, more interested in the Chancery wine cellar's collection of chardonay than in the spiritual well being of either his priests or 'flock.'

The Cardinal has done little to address the abuse problem, either in NY, or in his former diocese of Bridgeport. Indeed, rather than being part of the solution, he's part of the problem. There are credible reports that the cardinal himself may be involved in an alternative life style - if true, he would not be the first American cardinal to be so involved. Certainly some in his innermost circle are, all while outwardly condemning homosexuals who seek more of an open relationship with the Church!

Now Egan is using the classic tactic of smearing his critics - who, being priests of his diocese, need to remain anonymous to avoid his well-known vindictiveness. He should answer the substance of the criticism - rather than seeking to divert attention away from himself and his failures - cynically using the sex abuse scandal as defensive ploy.

Egan's critics ask for a vote of no-confidence by secret ballot - they should get it, though its impact would be of little value in the top-down hierarchical, self-perpetuating oligarchy that purports to lead the Church.

I, for one, know how I would vote!

The monk and the corporate CEO


When Kenny Moore was leading the ascetic life of a monk for 15 years, he didn’t know he was in training for a successful corporate career. It wasn’t until he left the priesthood and took a job in human resources at KeySpan that he found out just how valuable his education had been. KeySpan is the $6 billion, publicly traded energy company based in downtown Brooklyn, N.Y.

He wasn’t prepared for the corporate world in the MBA sense. In fact, two decades later, he says he still doesn’t know much about business. But as a monk in the strict order of the Salesians of St. John Bosco, he had learned a lot about the soul. Although he didn’t know it when he was hired, he was starting a journey that would bring soul education to every part of the company, starting with the chief executive officer.

“I just think it’s amazing, divinely funny,” he says, his expressive face lighting up in wonder. “Maybe it’s not by chance and I’m playing the role I was supposed to play, and I’m still being priestly.”

The priestly role is definitely not the corporate norm, but KeySpan CEO Robert B. Catell recognized the gifts that made Mr. Moore different and took the risk of putting them to use in his company. He made his former monk an ombudsman, reporting directly to him, and set him free to employ his training at listening and creating community.

But this monk on the loose in corporate culture wasn’t going to just blend into the scenery that easily. Mr. Moore went on to stage a symbolic funeral, complete with Gregorian chant, when Brooklyn Union Gas, the former company, changed its name to Brooklyn Union, before finally merging with Long Island Lighting Company to form KeySpan. He got executives meditating before meetings, brought in a graphic artist to help those executives create a mural of their vision of the new company and built bridges between employees of the two companies after the merger. In a world dominated by earnings statements and annual reports, spirituality has taken a foothold.

“I have a bias from my years in the monastery that wisdom abides in the community, not at the podium,” he said.

As if all this isn’t enough to make Mr. Moore an interesting character, let’s mention now that he survived what was diagnosed as incurable cancer at its most advanced stages, a heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery during all of this. He tells his story in the book, The CEO and the Monk: One Company’s Journey from Profit to Purpose, written with Mr. Catell and business journalist Glenn Rifkin.

“Who would have thought that a guy who leaves the priesthood, comes down with cancer and survives, would then get to flourish in a Fortune 500 company at a time when business writers are talking about spirituality in the workplace,” he says in a voice that couples awe and humor.

Divinely funny things just seem to follow Kenny Moore around.

In addition to the time being right, with corporations slowly opening to the idea that employees didn’t have to check their spiritual side at the front door, Mr. Moore is quick to acknowledge he ended up in the right place as well. Brooklyn Union Gas had for a century seemed more like a small town company than an impersonal corporation.

The attrition rate had been about 1.5 percent, compared to other companies where it’s 10 percent or more, and it was hard to find an employee who didn’t have a relative also working there. Mr. Catell, himself a practicing Catholic, wanted to maintain that spirit as the company expanded to become one of the largest energy companies in the populous northeast and the fifth largest natural gas distributor in the United States, now employing 12,000 people in New York and New England.

“The role of this leader and the culture in this company accept it,” Mr. Moore said. “It preexisted. I didn’t create it. I took advantage of it. It’s not about me.”

As ombudsman, Mr. Moore can guarantee employees confidentiality. If they want to discuss possible sexual harassment he is under no obligation to report it, as he would be in his other role as human resources manager. Besides advising and offering comfort, he has started programs to make workers feel appreciated, such as the weekly arrangements of flowers sent to two employees chosen for their extra efforts on behalf of KeySpan.

All of this has brought Mr. Moore recognition far beyond Brooklyn. He and Mr. Catell recently received the Fr. Theodore Hesburgh Award from the University of Notre Dame. They were the subject of the lead story one week on “CBS News Sunday Morning” and they regularly give talks and workshops.

“You get this alpha male engineer of a Fortune 500 company and an artist, poet, priest,” Mr. Moore said, adding that audience members regularly comment on the relationship between the two. It’s a relationship Mr. Catell cherishes.

“In a business environment fraught with uncertainty, having access to a calm, patient, insightful, unbiased and spiritual point of view is invaluable,” he writes in The CEO and the Monk. “My relationship with Kenny is a special one. We sit alone, just the two of us, and talk about company matters in a way that transcends the usual business discussion. We say things to each other that people probably couldn’t say unless they had strong feelings of confidence and trust in each other.”

In addition to using his priestly gifts at work, Mr. Moore also practices them at home in Totowa, N.J. He says Mass for himself, has baptized his two sons -- he met his wife, Cynthia, at KeySpan where she worked in the finance department -- and hears confession and gives last rites in an emergency. Wanting to bring up his children Catholic, he and his family are members of Holy Angels Parish in Little Falls, N.J., where, at the request of a parishioner, he serves as a Eucharistic minister. His two brushes with death hammered home to him the importance of honoring this side of his life, so he leaves work at 5 p.m., refusing to put in the long hours usually expected in the corporate world.

Although his experiences have been extreme, he sees them now being reflected in a smaller way in those who attend his workshops and who come to him for help at KeySpan. “As the population ages, you have a large group of people in the workplace confronted with their own mortality and they want to die as successfully as they lived. They need help. They don’t go to church. They won’t go on retreat, but they will go to a business conference. They don’t ask me business questions or religious questions, they ask spiritual questions. There’s a marketing plan for this. It’s called life.”

It just took a monk and a CEO to see it.

Retta Blaney, NCR theater critic, is a former award-winning business reporter.

National Catholic Reporter, September 22, 2006

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Freeing Celibacy

Book Review, 28 September 2006
Reviewed by Peter Cornwell

Priests are both flesh and spirit

Donald Cozzens
Liturgical press (Dist. Columba Book Services), ££11.50
Tablet bookshop price ££10.35 Tel 01420 592974

The American priest and scholar Donald Cozzens makes a strong case in this book for the abolition of "mandated" celibacy. It is the stronger for being also a clear affirmation of the value of the celibate state. This, he claims, is a "great gift" to the Church, not simply because it is administratively convenient to be able to dispatch priests anywhere at any time, but because mature celibates are powerful communicators of the love of God. They have about them a sense of being at ease with themselves, which puts others at ease, and a generosity of spirit, which makes them seem available at any time for any person. In the wastelands of our city centres, when the social services have retired for the weekend and other clergy have long since retired to the suburbs, such men, rattling around alone in their presbyteries, vulnerable to conmen and assault, often offer the only care available. Without priests like this we should all be the poorer.

But, insists Cozzens, this gift needs to be set free from its present entanglement with law and discipline, for it is a charism, a gift from God which is clearly not given to all. The idea that the Church can guarantee that God will automatically add it on to the grace of holy orders, he says is presumptuous. Grace can only perfect nature; therefore celibacy is a "graced ability" that has to be grounded in natural gifts. For those so gifted, the celibate state is simply "the right way to live out their lives". But when David is squeezed into Saul's armour and this state is instead endured as part of the priestly "package", then lives are diminished, humanity eroded and with it that precious ease in relating to other people. What results is "an inner disquietude" which is good news neither for the priests themselves nor for those whom they serve.

Cozzens takes great care not to make easy links between mandatory celibacy and child abuse but he poses a real question when he asks whether the formation of celibate priests may fail to encourage that psychosexual maturity without which there can indeed be risk. This, of course, is the real issue in the case of homosexual priests. It is not orientation that should be the worry, but whether there is achieved a mature coming to terms with whatever sexual orientation one has. Resisting the scapegoating of gays, Cozzens points out that some of the "brightest and best" of priests are gay but that they have to carry the burden of seeing what life has handed out to them as "objectively disordered". For such, "mandated celibacy" may prove an enticing escape from the issue, an opportunity to put their "painful sexuality" on a shelf.

Priests, whether celibate or married, have real human needs. Cozzens recognises that the authentic celibate life needs to be fed by close, non-sexual friendships with both men and women. Anxious authority worries about the danger of "particular friendships", but far more worrying are those priests who think that they can do without them. This attempt to dodge the flesh can be encouraged by the rhetoric of celibacy, the claim to a more whole-hearted commitment to God, a more radical fidelity to the gospel. If you have Jesus as your special friend whom else do you need? But that is a distorted spirituality, which puts asunder love divine and love human, which in Christ have been united. Ask the question, Cozzens tells us: "whom did Jesus love more - God his Father or us humans?" and you will see that such a competition for our love has no place in Christian thinking.

These arguments are not new but this excellent book mounts them with such moderation and sensitivity that we would expect him to get a sympathetic hearing. But the truth is that this issue goes on being met with a wall of silence from authority. What is it afraid of? Perhaps it is the deconstruction of a particular model of priesthood that has flourished since the Reformation, the loss of that mystique, which surrounds the brotherhood of celibate priests living in solidarity with their bishop. That model still has great strengths but the response to the child abuse scandal has revealed some of its weakness: the faithful may no longer be willing to be treated as children by this all-male controlling world.

At the moment something of a rearguard action is being fought to resist the emergence of a new model of ministry; young priests are being stuffed back into their soutanes and laity warned off holy ground. But if we ask the daring question: "What does God want?", we might look for the answer in his apparent failure to provide sufficient priests to maintain the old way and in his raising up lay men and women to run vibrant parishes with occasional priestly assistance. The future that God may be shaping looks "collaborative", a matter of men and women, celibate and married, lay and clerical learning to use their varied gifts for the building up of the Body of Christ.

Authority understandably hesitates to end mandatory celibacy for diocesan priests of the Latin rite because it fears slippery slopes, one thing leading to another. When, some 20 years ago, it was suggested that, as a married man, I might be recycled as a Catholic priest, I went to see the late Cardinal Hume to discuss the matter. I wanted to know whether the authorities had thought through where all this might lead; for indeed I guessed that once you let married priests out of the closet, you might never know what other issues would come tumbling out as well. Eighteen years serving as a Catholic priest has assured me that, far from being scandalised, the faithful are quite relaxed about it all and that my brother priests who are celibate are able to take me as I am - wife, children, grandchildren and all. If they envy the married retiring home to their wives, then we can remind them of the night-office that younger married priests must perform, taking their turn to change the nappies and give the feed.

It has been my good fortune to work in situations in which I am not expected to be the omniscient omnipotent parish priest but in a university chaplaincy, a prison, a school, to be part of a team working together with men and women, lay and cleric, married and celibate. With such a model of priesthood one can abandon the attempt to be god, enjoy the different gifts and be happy. Freeing celibacy, as Cozzens argues, is part of the construction of this model of ministerial variety.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Church's teaching on celibacy misses point

Saturday, September 30, 2006

America's Catholic bishops have released their new guidelines for seminary training. Here's the question: Do these regulations represent their perception of - and solution to - the sex-abuse scandal that has engulfed the church for nearly five years?

If so, church leaders apparently believe that a lack of celibacy caused the crisis and that more of it will cure it. Indeed, they give the impression that the prime purpose of seminaries is to preserve celibacy and the chief work of the priest is to be celibate. What were they thinking?

The bishops now propose to ban any applicant who has been involved in the sexual abuse of a minor or shows evidence of sexual attraction to children. Since the first is a crime and the second is common sense, the question is, "Didn't you hierarchs know this before?"

Celibacy the 'gold medal'

Where, one wonders, did they decide that further sexual scandals will be averted if seminaries are made into training camps for the Celibacy Olympics in which priests fulfill themselves and find salvation by winning the gold medal?

The guidelines claim that "thresholds pertaining to sexuality serve as the foundation for living a lifelong commitment to healthy, chaste celibacy." Monsignor Edward J. Burns, who oversees priestly formation for the bishops, claims that "This edition brings a higher level of integration of chaste, celibate living in all dimensions of priestly life."

Candidates must "give evidence that they have been celibate for at least two years." Exactly how would anybody ever do that? Each seminary must now have a "coordinated and multifaceted program" including regular psychological evaluations, yearly conferences and "clear and prudent guidelines." These are not to produce good pastors, which is what you might think seminaries are for. They are designed to help "seminarians adopt skills for celibate living."

If celibate living is the goal, they should skip the theology and canon law and teach sewing, cooking, homemaking 101 and survival skills.

The document also follows the Vatican guidelines to bar homosexuals from the priesthood. Let us skip the present tortured thinking on this subject because, in fact, we have many wonderful priests who are homosexual and who understand that the essence of pastoral work is to establish healthy and life-giving relationships with their people.

Forging healthy relationships

The best sign of good seminary candidates is whether they can forge healthy relationships with other persons. This is not necessarily linked to celibacy, yet remains the best test of a person's soundness to take on the demanding work of being a priest. Selection processes and seminary training should be ordered primarily to this goal. A priest's ability to live a celibate life depends on and is expressed through the way he relates to those he serves. This document threatens to make more of celibacy than of the service for which it is supposedly designed. Celibacy is a not a sacrament but a "discipline" of the church. Making celibacy the center of seminary training seems to place that discipline above the first and greatest commandment of loving our neighbors.

This document has plenty about training priests for celibacy, a condition that most priests accept generously. According to research done for the bishops after the Second Vatican Council, most priests accept celibacy and adjust to it in a kind of contented bachelor-uncle's life.

To place celibacy - a subject about which church officials allow no discussion or research - as the unquestioned prime virtue of the priesthood may not prevent but unknowingly invite future sexual-abuse problems among the clergy.

Celibacy hurts church, priest's book argues

Saturday, September 30, 2006
David Briggs
Plain Dealer Religion Reporter

Most priests were not given the gift of celibacy, and forcing sexual abstinence upon them can be a soul-shrinking burden that drains clerics of passion, endangers children and leads men away from the priesthood, a prominent diocesan author says.

In a provocative new book, "Freeing Celibacy," the Rev. Donald Cozzens calls for an end to the almost 900-year-old Catholic practice staunchly defended by the Vatican.

Mandatory celibacy is breaking down as priests around the world defy the rule and more church members support the right of priests to marry, according to Cozzens, a writer in residence at John Carroll University who also served as a vicar for clergy of the Cleveland Catholic Diocese.

"Mandated celibacy is . . . an unnecessary restriction for thousands of priests and a source of suffering for the church itself," writes Cozzens. "The time is right. Catholics everywhere await the freeing of celibacy."

Most U.S. Catholics agree. In a 2005 survey of American Catholics, 75 percent said it would be a good thing if married men were allowed to be ordained, and 81 percent said priests who left to marry should be allowed to return to ministry.

In a 2001 survey of Catholic priests, 56 percent favored optional celibacy.

Rome, however, has spoken otherwise. Pope John Paul II declared mandatory celibacy a closed subject.

In his influential 2000 book, "The Changing Face of the Priesthood," Cozzens, then the rector of St. Mary Seminary in Wickliffe, said the church needed to deal with "the growing perception -- one seldom contested by those who know the priesthood well -- the priesthood is or is becoming a gay profession."

Cozzens' latest book from Liturgical Press is winning praise from Catholic observers.

"In my view, it's not disloyal. . . . It's courageous," said sociologist Dean Hoge, fellow of the Life Cycle Institute at Catholic University of America, in a telephone interview.

And responsible, given the worsening clergy shortage, Hoge added.

"People should think about how to carry out the Lord's will under new circumstances," he said.

The Rev. Richard McBrien, a theologian at Notre Dame University, wrote that Cozzens' book "in effect, points its finger at a massive elephant in the church's living room that many still pretend not to see."

Cozzens requested that an advance copy of his book be sent to Cleveland Bishop Richard Lennon. The bishop was unavailable for comment Thursday.

The early church did not mandate celibacy for clergy, and there were many married popes through the centuries. In I Corinthians, Paul says, "Have I not the right to take a Christian wife about with me, like the rest of the apostles?"

Celibacy was not required of all clergy in the Latin Rite until the 12th century. Even today, exceptions exist. Married priests from other denominations converting to Catholicism have been accepted into the Catholic priesthood.

Catholic Church canons call celibacy a special gift of God by which ministers more freely can dedicate themselves to the service of God and humankind.

Cozzens said celibacy freely chosen can be a joyful witness "to the mystery of selfless love, to the transcendent, saving powers of the God we cannot see."

But few priests are given this gift, he said.

Mandatory celibacy ends up being "an oxymoron. Gifts that are grounded in the grace of God simply cannot be legislated."

The church is paying a steep price, he said.

One consequence is the large number of men who have left the priesthood and the difficulty in attracting seminarians to a celibate life.

But there also can be a devastating emotional and personal cost, he said.

While stopping short of saying there is a causal relationship between celibacy and sexual abuse, Cozzens said "the psychosexual immaturity evident in celibate priests in general and priest-abusers in particular must be considered."

Cozzens also said many priests "can become obsessed with that which is forbidden -- waiting for vacations and other opportunities to break out and experiment."

Signs of the breakdown of celibacy are everywhere, Cozzens said, from the widespread disregard for the rule in many parts of Africa and South and Central America to the growing number of priests in the United States who have decided not to follow the discipline.

It is no secret among priests, Cozzens said.

"Some will acknowledge, when the company can be trusted, that there already exists optional celibacy -- for the gay priest."

Cozzens says that from the first grade at Holy Name Elementary School in Cleveland, he felt both an infatuation with a female classmate and a call to the priesthood.

"I don't feel I had a call to celibacy," he said.

Cozzens said that while some priests, himself included, over time grow into the gift of celibacy, there are both many who do not and many who find it a painful struggle.

Cozzens recalled asking one 95-year-old diocesan priest how the rule had affected him.

The priest's response: "When it comes to celibacy, Don, it's OK during the day."