In Formation

Tuesday, June 4


Bloggin breather

Thanks to all who happen upon my bitty blog and actually pause a while to read. Thanks also to those who add comments and send emails. As I hinted in a post yesterday, I've got some serious dissertation work that needs to get done. And this, unfortunately, is not helping that happen. Even more importantly, I'll be heading back to my home diocese to serve at the priesthood ordination in Lansing this weekend. By the way, please pray for James and Peter as they prepare for their ordination this Saturday.

Though I may chime in before next week, don't be surprised if you keep seeing "Bloggin breather" at the head of my blog. (It may prove to be the truest thing I've written.) Of course, there's no need for you to take a bloggin breather. You know as well as I that there's blogs o' plenty vying for your surfing seconds (or minutes or hours). There's a handy set of links on your right. Link away!

Next week, hopefully I'll have some stuff from John Henry Newman's "On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine," some reflections on the ordination liturgy, and, of course, the Bishops' meeting in Dallas. Til then, peace be with you all.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/04/2002 |

Special burdens of homosexual candidates?

As it turns out, one of Mike Hardy's (a.k.a. "Enemy of the Church?") last blogs was a response to Canon Law blogger Peter Vere's questions concerning the 1961 Vatican letter about candidates for formation to the priesthood.

Peter asks this question:

Basically, if a man remains faithful to his vows of celibacy or chastity . . . as he is suppose[d] to do in conformity with Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Gospels, who the heck would know whether or not he faces homosexual temptations?

To which, Mike Hardy responds:

The answer is (as you probably suspect) not many people at all...a confessor, a spiritual director, any of his superiors if it were asked of him on the way into seminary and he answered truthfully and probably small number of very close friends. Some might suspect something if his eye wandered or his face lit up inadvertantly in the presence of an attractive man but very few people would actually know. The problem of "banning" homosexual priests is one of making sure they conceal their homosexuality from everybody and there are several places in this blog where I argue that such complete concealment would be an impediment to developing an emotionally healthy celibate life.

My observation in the seminary is that homosexual men seem to socialize together. Not exclusively, of course, but their circle of friends is often predominantly homosexual. This is not a problem in itself. However, it may make for future problems. First, others may suspect that they are homosexual because of the company they keep. The risk for priests is that their ability to minister well to the entire community may be compromised. Second, they may become dependent on a network of homosexual support. If they do, what will happen when they are assigned in pastoral settings where there is no similar "homosexual network"?

In Mike's post, he recommends that gay seminarians avoid "complete concealment." He says priests should tell their spiritual director and confessor and a few close friends. These things, he says, will help them live their celibate commitment well. And I agree, but much depends on the kinds of support they receive.

If gay priests seek support in "gay priest networks," just what sort of support are they likely to receive? We might well hope such networks would help them keep their commitment to celibacy, reinforce Church teaching, and discuss ways to live their lives well as priests. But is that the sort of support gay priests typically receive from such networks?

Rumors may be largely false about such matters. (They are surely not entirely false. I need only mention St. Sebastian's Angels to dispel that myth.) But, instead of providing such Catholic support, we hear that gay priest networks seek normalization of homosexuality and hope (if not expect) that the Church will one day change her view on homosexuality.

Now I believe that homosexual men can live chaste lives in the priesthood and minister well to the Bride of Christ. But their formation must help them figure out how they will live chaste, celibate lives just as heterosexuals must learn how they will live chaste, celibate lives. The promise all priests make is the same, but the difficulties for the homosexual candidate may be greater, for all these reasons. If so, justice demands that they be fully informed of the special challenges they face as homosexuals before they commit themselves to the Bride of Christ for ever.

Mike Hardy has now quit the bloggin thing "cold turkey." But perhaps he will deign to send an email my way or add his reflections in a comment for our collective benefit. Mike, what do you think? Others?

Best wishes from a former math professor, Mike.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/04/2002 |

NCCB drafts released

Draft: Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People Of particular interest for those concerned about seminaries and those in formation is:

Article 18. We pledge our complete cooperation with the Apostolic Visitation of our seminaries recommended in the concluding communique of the Interdicasterial Meeting with the Cardinals of the United States and the Conference Officers last April. As with the previous visitation, we look forward to this opportunity to strengthen our priestly formation programs so that they may provide God's people with mature and holy priests.

The NCCB also released this draft: Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Clergy or Other Church Personnel

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/04/2002 |

Evidently no "national day of prayer and penance"

Reports in the Dallas Morning News said there would be a proposed national day of prayer (see prior post), but this report in the Boston Globe says otherwise. Thanks to Emily Stimpson for the link.

The proposal does not call for a national day of prayer and penance. The cardinals meeting in Rome had suggested that idea, but it had become controversial because some people argued that the bishops should not be asking laypeople to pray over mistakes made by bishops.

''We're a church, a body of Christ, and of course we must do that, but it will be much more healing and much more effective for everybody, especially victims and their families, if we have acted to protect children and say we are sorry for what's happened in the past and this is how we are resolved to correct it,'' [Bishop] Niederauer [of Salt Lake City, a member of the sexual abuse committee] said.

Some dioceses, like my home diocese of Lansing, Michigan, have set aside June 7 as a day of prayer and penance, even if there is no nation-wide call from the bishops.

We will all do well to pray and fast that our leaders would hear and heed the voice of the Good Shepherd (and those of the sheep) when they meet next week in Dallas.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/04/2002 |

Bishops respond: 'We express great sorrow and profound regret'

Here are some excerpts from the Bishops' response from the Boston Globe, and another article on their upcoming meeting from the Dallas Morning News:

America's Roman Catholic bishops on Tuesday will reveal a first official glimpse of a proposed national policy on clergy sexual abuse that will include a mandatory reporting requirement opposed by several Vatican officials, according to bishops familiar with the proposal.

The draft document, prepared by a committee of bishops, also calls for the removal of priests involved in any new cases of molesting minors but doesn't set automatic penalties for some older cases, the bishops said. The policy would include lay involvement in helping to decide the fate of priests involved in older cases that involve single accusations of abuse.

"The aim in dealing with old cases is to be much more inclusive and consultative," said Bishop George Niederauer of the Salt Lake City Diocese. He's a member of the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse that drafted the policy.

The proposal also calls for a national day of prayer around the issue.

The draft will be released Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C., at the headquarters of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The draft was completed a week ago and mailed to bishops last week for consideration at their June 13-15 conference in Dallas.

As expected, the proposal calls for bishops to report accusations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities. Some Vatican leaders oppose mandatory reporting because they say it needlessly endangers the reputation of priests and the church. Any national policy requires Vatican approval. Many American bishops say the Vatican opposition represents a misunderstanding of the U.S. criminal justice system.

"It's very clear in this document that issues such as this will be handled very differently by dioceses than in the past," said Bishop Michael Driscoll of the Diocese of Boise, Idaho.

But the bishops are unlikely to accept the proposal without changes, said Bishop Donald Trautman of the Diocese of Erie, Pa. He's unhappy that the proposal is being made public before the conference.

"I'm not totally pleased with the draft," he said. "Pastorally and theologically, it needs to be improved in key areas. I fear the release of the document now will prejudice the discussion bishops will have."

The committee is releasing the document ahead of the conference to give the public a chance to react to the proposal, Catholic officials said.

Key provisions in the U.S. Catholic bishops' proposed national policy on clergy sexual abuse of minors:

Bishops would be required to report accusations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities.

In any new case, any priest caught sexually abusing a minor would be removed from ministry.

A national office of experts on child and youth protection would be created.

Each diocese would create its own review board made up mostly of lay members.

The church would retain some flexibility on the fate of some priests accused of a single case of abuse that happened years ago. Diocesan review boards, victims and the abusive priest could have a role in deciding the fate of those priests.

The church would hold a national day of prayer about clergy abuse.

Let's start praying now!

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/04/2002 |

Monday, June 3


Just when they need us most

Amy Welborn is working on a review of Judith Levine's book Harmful to Minors. And Mark Shea, as usual, has cut through the (this time kidsex) madness with a great one-liner: Show me a culture that despises virginity and I'll show you a culture that hates children.

The first sentence of a Los Angeles Times(link requires registration) piece is telling: Many would recoil, but some scholars are urging more open discussion of children's sexuality.

Levine, Mirkin and other provocateurs start with the premise that children of all ages are sexual beings with legitimate desires. They argue, then, that kids should be free to seek out pleasure with consenting peers. Some insist that adolescents should be free even to experiment with adult partners . . .

They acknowledge, of course, that abuse does exist, such as when one party does not consent to the sexual relationship or when an adult in a position of authority, such as a priest or teacher, uses his or her status to gain the victim's trust. And they draw some age distinctions, noting that though children can explore their sexuality from babyhood on, pre-pubescent children should stop short of intercourse . . .

For instance, Levine writes approvingly of a Dutch law that considers children as young as 12 capable of entering into sexual relationships, even with adults. (Echoing language of many pro-pedophile sites, she calls adult-child intimacy "intergenerational sex" rather than statutory rape.) . . .

Levine's response is to call for all children to get a "sensuality education." She wants schools to teach reproduction, contraception and the dangers of unprotected sex. She also wants students to learn that their desires are natural, to understand there are many ways to find pleasure in sexual expression . . .

"We have to walk a fine line," she added, "between our obligation as adults to protect our kids from harm and our obligation to respect them as autonomous people with their own sexual desires and their own sexual lives."

The unquestioned premise in this new brand of "scholarship" is that pleasure is good, restraint is bad--a theme I addressed yesterday. Amidst this madness, the Church, which could (and should) be offering guidance on these questions, has tragically been muted by it's own moral failings. The very point at issue is one on which the Church has been muddied with immorality of the kind that needs to be denounced.

Lord, restore the legitimacy of the Church as conscience and moral compass to the nation. And do it soon. We're in a real mess down here!

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/03/2002 |

Lady, beware!

The newest Catholic blogger, the mysterious Lady of Shalott, is a grad student at Notre Dame. I must confess that her subtitle, "No dissertation--none of the time!" makes me feel just a wee bit guilty. Why am I blogging when I should be finishing my own? I've been ABD too long. So, it's back to work for me.

This blogging, it's quite a temptation, Lady. So beware. And, of course, welcome!

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/03/2002 |

A wary church tightens screening of new priests

Yesterday's Boston Globe reports changes in the screening procedures of new priests:

Today, directors of vocation and seminary instructors say the road to the Catholic priesthood is much more carefully patrolled by psychologists, theologians, and clinical specialists. And they hope their work to weed out men spiritually and psychologically unfit for the celibate and sometimes lonely life of a Catholic priest may help prevent another wave of abuse cases.

''People who are not in touch with real life - that's an alarm bell,'' said Russeau. ''If people can't interact well with people whether it's in college life or in their life as a banker, that's a warning sign that says they're not going [t]o get along well in the seminary.''

Because we don't want priests who are socially inept or deviant. Because we don't want this pattern continuing. But most of all because we need shepherds after the heart of Christ, increased attention should be given to the screening and formation of future priests.

As I noted in an earlier post, we need to make sure that better screening really is better. That is, we need to ensure that the screeners themselves know and accept the Church's teaching, and have a good sense of what the Church expects of her priests.

For a thorough treatment of this question, consult the Holy Father's apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis ("I Will Give You Shepherds").

God promises the Church not just any sort of shepherds, but shepherds "after his own heart". And God's "heart" has revealed itself to us fully in the heart of Christ the Good Shepherd. Christ's heart continues today to have compassion for the multitudes and to give them the bread of truth, the bread of love, the bread of life (cf. Mk 6:30ff.), and it pleads to be allowed to beat in other hearts�priests' hearts: "You give them something to eat" (Mk 6: 37). People need to come out of their anonymity and fear. They need to be known and called by name, to walk in safety along the paths of life, to be found again if they have become lost, to be loved, to receive salvation as the supreme gift of God's love. All this is done by Jesus, the Good Shepherd�by himself and by his priests with him.

Yes. That's what we need.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/03/2002 |

Maybe Amy's right . . .

But maybe not. Today Amy Welborn commented on a piece in Time magazine entitled "The Man Behind the Pope."

Much of the article states the obvious: the Pope is lame. And that means private agendas might be advanced that the Pope would never endorse if he were more vigorous. Among other advisors, the article profiles his personal secretary, Msgr. Dziwisz, and the influence he wields:

In 1978, when he became the first non-Italian Pope in more than four centuries, John Paul II made sure to bring along from Cracow his trusted personal secretary, Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz (pronounced Geevish), who started working for him in 1966. When the Pope was shot in 1981, it was Dziwisz who caught the fallen Pontiff in his arms � and he has been by the Pope's side ever since. Dziwisz sleeps next door to the Pope's bedroom, stands just over the Pope's shoulder during Mass and, apart from certain one-on-one meetings, is with the Pope virtually every waking moment of the day.

Such constant proximity has given Dziwisz, 63, a degree of power only dreamed of by even the most ambitious prelates. "Dziwisz isn't just the gatekeeper. He's calling major shots and major appointments," says a Vatican official, who, like his colleagues, requested anonymity. "He seems to be a quiet, faithful secretary. And I think he is. But even with his quiet demeanor, he has incredible power � and uses it." He reportedly blocked one bishop's appointment to a key post because he considered that priest more vital to the Pope's personal needs.

In response, Amy writes this:

My heavens, I love JPII, but this situation is one that is careening towards near-disaster. Not the secretary (more on him below), but on the reality of what happens when a power vacuum develops - everyone and his brother-priest sweeps in, perceiving the chance to push his own agenda. It is all very well and good and impressively spiritual to speak of the Holy Father's suffering as a witness, or even as an offering, joined with the redemptive suffering of Christ. But the other reality is that the church is a political institution, and the Curia is a particularly political hotspot. The Holy Father's weakened condition gives factions an opportunity to thrive.

I have no doubt that Amy values the call (and the example) of the Holy Father's suffering in union with Christ's redemptive suffering. Nevertheless, the way she sets the "impressively spiritual way to speak of the Holy Father's suffering . . ." over against the political realities of the Roman Curia creates a dichotomy the pope, in his most lucid moments, would surely reject.

Moreover, I'm not sure what "action steps" Amy would offer. Does she suppose that a future pope would necessarily have more faithful men by his side?

I recall Amy recently requesting that the bishops just, please, listen to Jesus. Call me naive, but I will continue to trust that Jesus is speaking (and that John Paul is listening to His voice) in the pope's many moments of silent prayer. And we also know that Jesus often speaks to us through friends and family. Sometimes, I suspect, Jesus even speaks with Dziwisz' voice. There's little doubt the Holy Father thinks so.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/03/2002 |

Sunday, June 2


Corpus Christi

From the alternative opening prayer for the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ:

Lord Jesus Christ, we worship you living among us in the sacrament of your body and blood. May we offer to our Father in heaven a solemn pledge of undivided love.

May we offer to our brothers and sisters a life poured out in loving service of that kingdom where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit, One God, for ever and ever.

And from the prayer after communion:

Lord Jesus Christ, you give us your body and blood in the eucharist as a sign that even now we share your life.

May we come to possess it completely in the kingdom where you live for ever and ever.


posted by Fr. Steve | 6/02/2002 |