Daily Archives: June 2, 2010

Priests’ “wives”?

ABC Online is reporting Priests’ ‘wives’ speak out against celibacy (HT to Matthias):

About a dozen women have written an open letter to the pope challenging the Church’s position that priestly celibacy is a sacred commitment.

“As far as I’m concerned, celibacy is completely useless,” said one of the signatories, Stefania Salomone. Ms Salomone, 42, had a five-year relationship with a priest. She argues celibacy was introduced for financial reasons, alluding to the fact that clergy without family were less expensive to house.

She also points to the Church’s earlier history for evidence of marriage. “People forget that there were 39 married popes,” she said. [Quick quiz: name them!]

The letter was partly a reaction to recent comments by the pope upholding the nearly 900-year-old requirement of celibacy for priests, calling it “the sign of full devotion” and of an “entire commitment to the Lord”.

Written in March, the letter was initially kept confidential, but late last month it was leaked to news website GlobalPost, and the women decided to tell their stories. “We told ourselves it was time to react,” Ms Salomone said. “Only three women agreed to sign the letter by name, because of the fear that if a woman goes public with her story, her companion priest would break up with her.”

Well, I am sure that that will make the Pope sit up and take notice. It is probably even now in the “for further attention” pile along with Hans Küng’s recent open letter…


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The “Unique Status” of the Ukrainian Catholic Church

There was a story yesterday in Cathnews drawing our attention to an ABC TV Lateline story “Unique Ukrainian priests escape scandal”. The Lateline report began with:

It seems not a week goes by without some devastating revelation of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church being reported in the international media. But there’s one nation where the Catholic Church has so far avoided scandal. It’s in Ukraine, where millions follow the Greek Catholic Church, a unique branch of Catholicism, which is loyal to Rome and the Pope but with one major difference. Its priests are allowed to marry and have families and its followers say that makes all the difference.

You can see where the argument is headed a mile off, can’t you? I don’t believe this story is being pushed by anyone in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and, as I will say in just a moment, I think it would be better not to push this line for a couple of reasons. But the first comment on the Cathnews report to this story sums up the problems with it. Paul Mees of Melbourne writes:

This was an uninformed story, even by Lateline’s standards. The optional celibacy rule is hardly ‘unique’ to Ukraine or the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

Mr. Hurmont thinks he has discovered something new, but Lateline could have interviewed married Catholic priests in Australia, had it bothered to do its homework.

And as for married clergy preventing sex abuse scandals, Lateline might have interviewed Anglicans from Brisbane, Adelaide or Hobart, who could soon have put them right on that one.

Lateline failed to mention that the Ukrainian Catholic Church was an illegal organisation in Ukraine until two decades ago, i.e. the period when most of the sexual abuse that is now coming to light occurred. This report deserves an F for Journalism 101.

But there is another side to this story too. In a report this week, John Allen writes about renewed pressure being placed on the Ukrainian Catholic Church by the Service of Ukraine (SBU), the successor to the KGB. It is worth keeping an eye on this story – and keeping the Ukrainian Catholic Church in your prayers – for several reasons, one of them being that Fr. Borys Gudziak, the main character in the report, is coming here on a speaking tour later in the year.

Allen notes that there is another angle on these developments worth considering:

One reason that these developments have not galvanized much Catholic interest in the West is that the rise to power of the Yanukovich government in February more or less coincided with the explosion of the sexual abuse crisis in Germany, which quickly brought Pope Benedict XVI into the center of the storm. Tight focus on the scandals has made it difficult to tell any other Catholic story, and other stories gain traction only to the extent that they have something to say about the crisis.

In the case of Ukraine, finding a connection is actually not as much of a stretch as it might seem. In fact, the growing pressure facing Greek Catholics has implications for a key point about the Vatican’s response to the sexual abuse crisis: The question of cooperation with the police and other civil authorities.

…Such a policy [of universal mandatory reporting of sexual abuse] amounts to a no-brainer in parts of the world where the rule of law holds, and where the police enjoy basic public trust. But consider what it might mean in a place like Ukraine — where the police and security forces are often seen as corrupt and subject to political manipulation, and where Catholics in particular regard them as agents of a hostile regime trying to hobble the church. (Gudziak, for example, says he believes himself to be under regular surveillance by the SBU.)

In that context, a binding requirement under canon law of cooperation with the police could seem self-destructive.

It is something worth considering.

I would also argue that it would be self-destructive of any single part of the Catholic Church – or indeed any Christian community at all – to boast of having “avoided” the scandals (I am not saying, please note, that the Ukrainians are doing this – it is the ABC Lateline report that was ill-considered). The sad thing about this kind of abuse is not what you know, but rather what you DON’T know.


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Scicluna’s meditation at Service of Reparation in St Peter’s Basilica

The newswires are carrying this story this morning: Vatican official tells paedophile priests to expect damnation. It is a classic case of the “chinese whispers” effects which often happens with stories eminating from the Holy See. I was especially surprised to read that Msgr Charles J. Scicluna (the man who has been in charge of handling the canonical response to charges of sexual abuse by priests since Cardinal Ratzinger appointed him in 2001) was reported to have said outright “that those who hurt children should be thrown into the sea with a millstone around their neck.”

The circumstances was a “service of reparation” – actually an hour long service of Eucharistic adoration including a meditation by Msgr Scicluna and ending in Benediction – which was organised by the seminarians in Rome last Sunday. The full text of Msgr Scicluna’s mediation is helpfully provided by Zenit here.

John Allen’s report on the service and on what Msgr Scicluna actually said is better than The Guardian’s, but even he loses some of the nuance of the meditation, which was not quite as pointed as he reports it. Allen reports that:

Christian friendship, Scicluna said, is “submitted to the law of God,” so if a member of the church is an “occasion of sin,” then a believer “has no other choice … but to cut this tie.”

Weeding out abusers, Scicluna implied, is a form of “divine surgery” intended to save the body by amputating a diseased part…

The remedy to such scandals offered by God as the “Divine Surgeon,” according to Scicluna, is to “cut out [disease] in order to heal,” and to “amputate in order to restore health.”

Beyond such drastic measures, Scicluna also proposed the “preventive medicine” of solid formation for future priests, calling on them to be on fire with the faith, making them salt and light for the world.

I am not quite sure that this is exactly what Scicluna was actually saying. Here is the section from the actual meditation:

But the Lord, who does not enjoy the loss of his servants and does not want eternal death for his creatures, immediately adds a remedy for condemnation, a drug for the disease, relief from the danger of eternal damnation. His are the strong words of the Divine surgeon that cuts to heal, amputates to cure, prunes so the vine bears much fruit:

“And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off” (Mark 9:43).
“And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off” (Mark 9:45).
“And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out” (Mark 9:47).

Several Holy Fathers interpret “the hand,” “the foot,” and “the eye” as a friend dear to our heart with which we share our life, to whom we are bound by ties of affection, harmony and solidarity. There is a limit to this relationship. Christian friendship submits to the law of God. If my friend, my companion, a person dear to me is for me an occasion of sin, a stumbling block for me in journey, I have no other choice. According to the criterion of the Lord, this relationship must be cut. Who would deny the agony of such a choice? Is this a cruel amputation? Yet the Lord is clear: It is better for me to go alone in the Kingdom (without a hand, without a foot, without an eye), than to go with my friend “into hell, into unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43; cf. Mark 9: 45,47).

He then goes on to quote St Paul to the Romans in Chapter 7, where he says:

The reference to the hand, the foot, and the eye recalls the words of the Apostle Paul in the letter to the Romans:

“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members [my emphasis] another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:21-25).

The Apostle of the Gentiles, who became a witness to the Gospel of grace (Romans 1:16a), does not surrender to our propensity to sin. He exhorts the Romans with fiery words that invite them to conversion and fidelity: “I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification” (Romans 6:19).

He then goes on to speak about the need for the “fire” of God to purify us of our attachments:

“This effect of the divine fire, however, frightens us, we are afraid of being ‘burned,’ we prefer to stay just as we are. This is because our life is often formed according to the logic of having, of possessing and not the logic of self-giving. Many people believe in God and admire the person of Jesus Christ, but when they are asked to lose something of themselves, then they retreat, they are afraid of the demands of faith. There is the fear of giving up something nice to which we are attached [my emphasis]; the fear that following Christ deprives us of freedom, of certain experiences, of a part of ourselves. On one hand, we want to be with Jesus, follow him closely, and, on the other hand, we are afraid of the consequences that this brings with it.

So my reading of what Msgr Scicluna was talking about is that the “friends” from which I must detach myself are in fact those attachments that lead me into sin, rather than particular persons from which I must cut myself off.

As for the comment about being thrown into the sea with a millstone around their neck, Msgr Scicluna was not, of course, advocating a new universal canonical policy, but simply quoting Jesus (Mark 9:42) as a warning to those who make themselves an “obstacle” in the way of children coming to Jesus, who “hinder their spiritual progress”, who “let them be seduced by evil” and who “make children the subject of [their] impure greed”.

Perhaps all this was just a little to subtle for the news reporters to understand. Or perhaps I am reading it wrong. What do you think?

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