Monday, January 30, 2006

A new vision of Catholic education

Perhaps there are a few things we need to think about when it comes to Catholic education. Steve Kellmeyer of Bridegroom Press has made the case in his book Designed to Fail, that the Catholic Church herself should not be doing the educating of children, that it should be something left to adults. That is a bit on extreme end, in my judgment.

However, he does raise a good point, and this is something I thought about when I was Director of Education and Formation at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City -- the Church really needs to be looking at adult education far more than children's education.

People today pride themselves on their education, and indeed, never before in the history of the world, really, have so many people been so well-educated. (Well, at least never before have so many people gone to college and obtained degrees. How well-educated they are is anyone's guess.) In fact, many Catholics today talk about how well-educated they are, something which has never happened before in the history of the Church.

Of course, this is true. But the education of which so many boast is education in the sciences, business, education, law, the arts and many technical fields. Yet this fact has been thrown in the face of bishops and priests as a reason the laity don't need to hear from them about anything regarding the faith and how to live their lives in the faith.

The problem, obviously, is that they have not been educated in the Faith. They have not learned the truths of the Faith because their catechesis was poor to begin with and ended, for the most part, at 8th grade. The rest they've learned from the secular media, which have been taught by the likes of America, Commonweal and National Catholic Reporter.

So we have a serious issue with adult education, hence we have a serious issue with children's education.

What should we do? Take a look at the independent school movement. There are a number of schools cropping up around the country started by parents who are less than thrilled about the quality of Catholic and public education in their area and have banded together to start their own schools. Many of these were started by Catholic homeschoolers. These are parents who take their faith seriously, have been educated in the Faith at places like my alma mater, the University of Dallas, Thomas Aquinas College, Christendom, etc., or just have done the work themselves and learned it well.

It seems to me, then, that this movement might delineate a path for the rest of the Church to follow. Teach the parents, get them excited about the truth of the Faith, and they will want to have quality education for their children and will begin teaching it to them themselves or have other parents do it for them.

As a friend of mine pointed out to me, it seems like this would be the more economical answer. Because the numbers of children are dwindling, it's becoming more expensive per child to educate a child in a traditional Catholic class setting. For instance, an administrator for a Catholic school system can be making as much as a high five-figure or low six-figure income. If a diocese has multiple systems, which many do, that means a lot of money for layers of administrators who are reaching, at best, 1,200 students. Now granted, to cut off their salaries in order to change models is not the greatest thing that can be done, but something will have to give somewhere.

The money that is saved from paying the administrators and other associated school costs is plowed into adult education and serious youth ministry. Now, we're not talking about Wednesday night lectures that no one attends or fluffy youth ministry there. We're talking about serious evangelistic efforts and outreaches, works that will be effective and able to draw people into the Church.

I've posted before about how bishops close parishes in the inner city because Catholics have moved to the suburbs. Well, guys, go make more Catholics!! We're made, not born. And we're made when the Word is preached and hearts are converted. If we seriously think we can save Catholic schools with the current rate of demographic decline, then we have another think coming. However, they can be renewed when we have a renewed vision of what Catholic education should be. They may not look like they did before, but that's OK. Catholic schools as we know them today were the invention of St. John Neumann, former bishop of Philadelphia, in the mid- to late-19th century. They aren't part of the Church's tradition reaching back, so they are a matter of prudence, not a matter of doctrine. They were a good way for the Faith to be taught from St. John Neumann's time up until the mid-1960's.

Then times changed. We will have to change as well and use the best methods for passing along the Faith in the 21st century. If we hold on to something like schools simply because that's what we grew up with, we could end up saving schools for the sake of the schools rather than seeking what the Lord might want us to do to adjust to these new realities and bring His word more effectively to a waiting world.

It's Catholic Schools Week -- how much longer will yours exist?

Unfortunately, that’s a question we have to ask ourselves these days. Here are some statistics from the National Catholic Educational Association website:
In the 2004-2005 school year, 37 new schools were opened (good). But 173 were consolidated or closed (bad).

There are today, 7,799 Catholic schools in the United States. That’s down 494 from 10 years ago, or 6%, or nearly 50 schools closing a year.

There were 2,618,567 students in the 1994-1995 school year and now there are 2,420,590. That’s down 236,085 or 9%.
So if there are six percent fewer schools and nine percent fewer students, something’s going to have to give.

What’s more disturbing, though, is a breakdown of that picture shown by the NCEA. Between 1995 and 2000, the number of students in grades 9 through 12 rose by nearly 26,000. But in the next five years, it only went up by 3,600.

Add to that the fact that the number of elementary school students has dropped by 236,000 in the last five years, and things don’t look so well for Catholic schools.

The question, of course, is why is this happening? There are a lot of public schools closing around the country as well, so we’re not alone in this mess. But that shouldn’t necessarily give us any comfort. If anything, it should make us uneasy and it should make us ask the question of why there are so many schools closing.

I think we can easily point to two things that a lot of people are either overlooking, ignoring or they know it, but aren't saying it because they're afraid of the consequences. Those two things?

Contraception and abortion.

When you think about the fact that there have been 46 million abortions in this country since 1973 and start running the numbers, you’re going to come up with some scary figures. That means there are 25 million children who would have been born in the last 18 years who were not born. Couple that with the fact of the number of children who were prevented from even being conceived because of contraception and you have millions more who do not exist and who are not contributing to our lives in one way or another.

A lot of people are blaming their diocese or their parish for closing the schools. But it’s really not really the bishop’s or pastor’s fault for closing the school. It’s our fault – the fault of the married laity – because we either didn't make the babies to occupy those schools or we killed them before they were born.

OK, so maybe we're not totally at fault. Maybe we need some (gasp!) leadership on this issue since perhaps, just perhaps, we educated laity aren't all as educated as we like to think we are. Maybe we do need priests and bishops telling us it is wrong to contracept and abort and do it from the pulpit in a public way and on a frequent basis, despite the fact that the media will say the Catholic Church is obsessed with sex. Sure, they'll get heat for it. But personally, I would rather take heat for that which is a fundamental issue, rather than taking heat for the prudential issue of closing more schools.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The politics of migration

It amazes me that certain people who will defend the Catholic Church on just about everything have turned around and bared their teeth at the Church because of her stand on immigration -- legal and illegal. In looking at illegal immigration, all too many of the commentators, some of whom I consider friends and/or comrades in the fight against secularism, are forgetting something -- that it is Jesus Christ who is coming to us, as Mother Teresa used to say, "in the distressing disguise of the poor."

Here are some things John Paul the Great said. I quote them because so many people quote him -- and rightly so -- about a number of other issues, including abortion, nutrition and hydration and so forth. But when it comes to dealing with immigrants crossing the border without papers, they ignore what he said or downplay it. Peggy Noonan is, unfortunately, a perfect example of this. Her book on John Paul is very well done and she always talks about him as a father figure. But then her rebellious streak shows up when she writes a column like this one where she ignores what he said about illegal immigrants.

And what did he say? Here's just one example from a 1996 speech he gave:
The Church considers the problem of illegal migrants from the standpoint of Christ, who died to gather together the dispersed children of God (cf. Jn 11:52). The Church acts in continuity with Christ's mission. In particular, she asks herself how to meet the needs, while respecting the law, of those persons who are not allowed to remain in a national territory. She also asks what the right to emigrate is worth without the corresponding right to immigrate...

In the name of the same faith, [these people] often seek pastors of souls and places where they can pray, listen to God's word and celebrate the Lord's mysteries. Dioceses have the duty to meet these needs.

In the Church no one is a stranger, and the Church is not foreign to anyone, anywhere. As a sacrament of unity and thus a sign and a binding force for the whole human race, the Church is the place where illegal immigrants are also recognized and accepted as brothers and sisters. It is the task of the various Dioceses actively to ensure that these people, who are obliged to live outside the safety net of civil society, may find a sense of brotherhood in the Christian community.

Man, particularly if he is weak, defenseless, driven to the margins of society, is a sacrament of Christ's presence (cf. Mt 25:40, 45). ‘But this crowd, who do not know the law, are accursed’ (Jn 7:49), was how the Pharisees judged those whom Jesus had helped even beyond the limits established by their precepts. Indeed, he came to seek and to save the lost (cf. Lk 19:10), to bring back the excluded, the abandoned, those rejected by society.

‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Mt 25:35). It is the Church's task not only to present constantly the Lord's teaching of faith but also to indicate its appropriate application to the various situations which the changing times continue to create. Today the illegal migrant comes before us like that ‘stranger’ in whom Jesus asks to be recognized. To welcome him and to show him solidarity is a duty of hospitality and fidelity to Christian identity itself.
So the Church holds that everyone has the right to seek the betterment of their economic situation and if they have to move across international borders to do that, then they have that right to do so. But if the people migrating can’t get across the border because the other country won’t them in, what’s the use of the right to emigrate?

We as Christians have to help these people. It is a divine imperative. They are our brothers and sisters. Yes, they are breaking the law by coming across the border the way they do. But that law is man-made and can be changed. John Paul said there is something else that has to be considered – who we are and who they are in Christ.

It befuddles me that those who do not want the state interfering in the affairs of the Church on certain matters like sex abuse or divorce, are saying that the rights of the state trump the rights of the Church to take care of those who are in need.

While some may bristle at this, I would suggest that the divinely instituted Church has rights that supercede the rights of the state, which is a man-made structure. There's nothing wrong with man-made structures and I am not suggesting that the Church should be above those laws which are just. But when legislators threaten the right of the Church to care for the poor, even if those poor are in the country illegally, then the Church has every right, as Cardinal Mahoney did, to say, "We will not obey unjust laws."

Is there a rat in London?

I think we'd better start ignoring The Times of London when they report on happenings at the Vatican. First, it was that Judas was going to be rehabilitated by the Vatican and they even had an editorial backing that up. Now they report that the Vatican wants to charge anyone who quotes the Pope for royalties.

This, of course, got a number of people upset, not least of which was the Disciples with Microphones podcasters group I belong to. Then there were those outside the faith who thought it rather crude that the Pope should do this.

Here's what I told the DwM group:
A couple of things -- it could be that something is going on in the Vatican. However, it could also be that The Times has the story wrong -- again. Remember they were the ones who said that the Vatican was going to "rehabilitate" Judas and based it on a story in La Stampa. Turned out they mistranslated it and I haven't seen a retraction from them since, although it has been in Reuters and other sources.
Some time later, Catholic News Service had this story which showed that, well, I was right. The Times goofed it up again. No, that Milanese-based publisher had not only borrowed 30 lines as The Times reported, but had done a whole book of the Pope's speeches.

Still, some podcasters were concerned, so I called Mark Brumley, president of Ignatius Press. From what he understands (and since Ignatius was Ratzinger's official publisher for years, he's a pretty darn good source), the Vatican is more concerned with what gets published than with making money.

Remember a couple of things:

1) The Vatican has the responsibility to be sure that if someone claims to be printing what the Pope said or wrote, it actually has to be what the Pope said or wrote. One European publisher published the World Youth Day talks Pope Benedict gave without seeking permission from the Vatican. Problem was, they published only the printed texts that had been given to journalists prior to the talks -- so they ended up not being what the Pope actually said since he inserted all kinds of comments off-the-cuff and dropped other sections. When Vatican officials learned of this and called the publisher to say they got it wrong, the publisher said, basically, "Tough." If that happened to you, I don't think you'd be very happy. And since we're talking about papal material here, stuff that goes into the making and interpretation of Catholic doctrine and dogma, it's extraordinarily important to be accurate, which is the Vatican's job.

2) The Vatican has costs associated with this -- they have to pay their people who are tracking what is being published, making sure the translations are accurate, etc. Royalties go to help pay for these people's jobs.

3) Remember that The Times screwed up royally (puns intended) again. The story of the 30 lines in the Milanese publisher's book was false, just like their story about the rehabilitation of Judas.

Bottom line -- most people aren't going to have any problem quoting the Pope's material. The Vatican is basically going after book publishers who will make money off of what the Pope says, especially those who are doing it without permission and without concern for accuracy. If they're going to allow newspapers and magazines to publish documents under two very quite reasonable conditions without paying royalties, then they're not going to be breathing down the necks of most others who quote his stuff.

Perhaps someone needs to look at why The Times is publishing stories that are blatant errors -- Judas will be rehabilitated and the Vatican is going to be the copyright enforcer and money collector. Methinks I smell a rat.

We need them all

A reflection on the 33rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade:

I've never been a leader in the pro-life movement, though I know many of them, and I know them in many different parts of the movement. And they're all good people, people who are sincere about what they are doing and who are doing great good where they are.

But what irritates to me to no end is when they think their part of the movement is the best, or the only one necessary, or the only one that's really going to make a difference. It irritates me because they're all wrong. And it irritates me because they're giving in to pride, which will only lead to division.

What all pro-life leaders need to learn is this basic truth -- every legitimate aspect of the movement is needed. We need the lobbyists who will help to change the laws. We need the people on the sidewalks who will help dissuade women from having abortions now. We need the crisis pregnancy centers who welcome women in who are single and alone and need help. We need the advertising people to help people understand fetal development. We need the educators who will teach people about the various life issues.

No one can do it all. The lobbyists cannot say, "We don't need people in front of the clinics." Well, we do need them there because the laws haven't been changed yet. The sidewalk counselors can't say, "We don't need the lobbyists" because who else is going to work on getting the laws changed?

If any of this sounds familiar, it should. I remember an Apostle saying something like, "The hand cannot say to the head, 'I do not need you......'"

Monday, January 23, 2006

The obligations of love

I know I'm late in coming to this observation. I do not doubt that if you were to make a cursory search of the great saints and theologians of Church history, it would not be difficult to find dozens who long ago arrived at what I am about to write about. However, I will give thanks that at least this little bit of light was given to me; no doubt, its seed was planted by something I read or heard over the years, so if someone recognizes this as something he or she told me long ago, please accept my thanks and let me know of that so I may give proper acknowledgment.

Over the past couple of days it has slowly dawned on me that there is something in the nature of love that is obligatory. Not that one is obliged to love, for that would contradict its very nature as an act freely chosen and freely given.

No, love is willing to make itself obligated to the beloved. If I do not have love for someone or something, then I have no obligation to help that person or thing. For instance (and this is a silly example, but let's start out small), if I have no love for a mouse and I see one stuck in a trap, I can walk by that mouse or even pick it up and throw it out. However, if I have a love for mice, even if that is simply affection, then I will do what I can to save it. My freely chosen love for the mouse has put me in the place where I am obliged to help it out.

The same goes for love of persons. Falling in love is something of a misnomer for it implies that I am impelled to love this one particular person, which is not true. It is also implies that I can fall out of love as well. However, it is in the nature of love to give of oneself to the other and that giving necessarily obligates oneself to do something for the good of the other. If I have no love for people and I see someone in need, I am not under an obligation to help that person out. There may be some exterior compulsion to do that, but it is not an interior obligation caused by love.

On the other hand, if I choose to love someone in whatever way that person is to be loved (philia, eros, agape), then I am now under an obligation to help that person who is in need. That help may be shown in a variety of ways, including so-called 'tough love.' But the obligation remains no matter how varied the help given might be.

If I marry, then I place upon myself the obligation to care for this person's welfare. In fact, love makes it obligatory that I place the needs of my beloved above my own. Love should be glad to do what is necessary for the beloved, even when what is necessary is irritating, not what I want to do at the moment, not what I think is important, or requires true sacrifice on my part.

God was under no obligation to make us. However, once He did so, He put Himself under the obligation of love to help us out of our self-imposed dilemma. His ultimate sacrifice on the Cross is the sign par exellence of what the obligations of love will do.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Catholic hospitals and emergency contraception

A topic of great interest to me is the state of Catholic health care in the U.S. To me, it is one of two areas in the Church's life that are largely unreformed, the other one being social justice. Below is an article I wrote for the November issue of Catholic World Report on Catholic hospitals and emergency contraceptives (this is my original version, not the final printed copy). I hope at some point to write a book on Catholic health care as it needs to be treated rather exhaustively.

A Moral Dilemma
Catholic hospitals treating rape victims face a moral and ethical dilemma: Should they prescribe emergency contraception to these women?
By Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

When a woman is raped and goes to the emergency room of a Catholic hospital, that raises a moral dilemma for the hospital – does she get emergency contraception (EC) or not? Here’s what the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Institutions (ERDs) from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops say about it:
A female who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault. If, after appropriate testing, there is no evidence that conception has occurred already, she may be treated with medications that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization. It is not permissible, however, to initiate or to recommend treatments that have as their purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum.
A hospital in the Diocese of Peoria developed a protocol for Catholic hospitals that face this situation. Called (appropriately enough) the Peoria Protocol, it was put together by the staff at OSF St. Francis Medical Center and theologians in the diocese working under then-Bishop John J. Myers.

That protocol calls for the ER personnel to try and determine through various tests whether or not the woman has ovulated. If she hasn’t, then the protocol calls for the woman to be given emergency contraception. If she has, then nothing is to be done because the contraceptive actually acts as an abortifacient. And ovulation within close proximity of a rape could bring about a conception.

In 1998, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference issued a similar protocol for use in that state’s Catholic hospitals.

“The deliberate destruction of an innocent living human fetus – no matter how conceived – is unjustified,” the conference wrote. “Sexual intercourse involved in the act of rape, on the other hand, is an unjust assault and a non-consensual act. Therefore, appropriate means may be used in treating the rape victim to prevent conception. These means, as used, may not have the effect of an abortifacient.”

This protocol also calls for an indication of whether or not ovulation has occurred.

The question arises because oral contraceptives, both the regular and “emergency” types, are supposed to work by suppressing ovulation. However, it is well known that oral contraceptives have a secondary effect, that of making the uterine lining, called the endometrium, thin and therefore making it impossible for a newly fertilized ovum to properly implant. So the child dies due to a chemical abortion.

It should only be a question, then, of timing, like in the Pennsylvania Protocol. Find out where the woman is in her cycle and if she hasn’t ovulated yet, then give the emergency contraceptive and suppress the ovulation.

But there are those who are questioning whether or not there should be any contraceptive given at all if a rape occurs early in a woman’s cycle. The reason is that some studies indicate that contraceptives do not always succeed at suppressing ovulation, even when it’s given prior to ovulation. According to a 2002 article in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy (vol. 36, no. 3, pp. 465–470), “The evidence to date supports the contention that use of EC does not always inhibit ovulation” even if it is used prior to ovulation. Additionally, it can change the lining of the uterus “regardless of when in the cycle it is used, with the effect persisting for days.” So if ovulation is not suppressed and a child is conceived, then the child will die because the endometrium is too thin.

Because of these effects, the article, co-authored by Drs. Chris Kahlenborn, Joseph Stanford and Walter Larimore, calls into question whether or not Catholic hospitals should even use EC at all. “Catholic hospitals that do allow hormonal EC use prior to ovulation may wish to reassess their policies given the findings that EC use does not consistently stop ovulation and has the potential of causing a postfertilization effect even when used prior to ovulation.”

Of the three, Kahlenborn is the only Catholic. Stanford is a Mormon based in Salt Lake City, but on sabbatical until next year at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland doing research on Natural Family Planning, and Larimore is an Evangelical who used to be vice president for medical affairs at Focus on the Family.

The trio wrote to Archbishop Myers, now in Newark, NJ, asking him to consider changing the Peoria Protocol in light of the research they did. But Kahlenborn said that Myers responded to him that his experts think Kahlenborn is “alarmist” and, according to Kahlenborn, Myers said he “simply did not know what to do.”

Archbishop Myers did not return calls requesting comment.

A request for comment from the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference was declined.

But the evidence was enough to convince the Catholic Medical Association to pass a resolution at its 2003 annual meeting that said, “‘emergency contraception’ is a misnomer as it does not consistently prevent fertilization” and that since it “has the potential to prevent cannot be ethically employed by a Catholic physician or administered in a Catholic hospital in cases of rape.”

Morally picky?
But there are some who contend that the question of whether or not a woman has ovulated should not even be entertained. Rather, they say that the USCCB directive clearly states it’s a matter of whether or not the woman is pregnant.

This is the position held, among others, by Ron Hamel, senior director of ethics at the Catholic Health Association based in St. Louis, and Michael Panicola, who is in charge of ethics at SSM Health Care in St. Louis. In a 2002 paper published in the CHA’s Health Progress, the two spell out the differences between what they call the “pregnancy” approach and the “ovulation” approach. The pregnancy approach tests to see if the woman is pregnant and, if not, that allows for the hospital staff to administer EC. If she is, then they cannot.

The problem with the ovulation approach, in Hamel and Panicola’s view, is that, “Conception does not occur immediately after the ovum is expelled from the ovary; it can only be achieved after fertilization is complete. This is important if one recalls that fertilization is not a moment but rather a process that unfolds over at least a 24-hour period, with the possible result being a conceptus.”

Their view is that the possibilities are too remote even for pregnancy in the case of rape. The percentage of pregnancies resulting from rape is estimated to be between one and five percent. And in their review of the scientific literature, they find no evidence of what is called a post-fertilization effect, or what Kahlenborn, Stanford and Larimore name as early abortion. So Hamel and Panicola say that from their review of the literature, EC works only to suppress ovulation and or to inhibit the move of sperm from the cervix to the Fallopian tubes.

To keep this in perspective, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, there were 6,700 rapes reported in Florida in 2003. Assuming a pregnancy rate for rape between one and five percent, that would mean anywhere between 67 to 335 pregnancies resulted from these rapes. Kahlenborn and his co-authors quote a study that estimates between 13.5 percent and 38 percent of EC cases worked by some other mechanism than suppression of ovulation, that mechanism being, in their view, a chemical abortion. In that case, at a minimum, nine children conceived in rape could have been aborted through the use of EC in Florida in 2003, while at a maximum, 127 died.

While denying that they do it, Hamel and Panicola say that this is essentially the principle of double effect here – doing something that is good but that has an unintended and evil consequence, like removing an ovary because of an ectopic pregnancy. “[T]he intention in administering emergency contraception is to prevent conception and not to inhibit implantation. If a conceptus is present, but fails to be implanted and ultimately is destroyed, this would be an unintended and even an unforeseen effect, given the extremely low likelihood of conception occurring as a result of the sexual assault and the lack of evidence supporting abortifacient effects of the medications.”

But William May, considered the best moral theologian in the U.S. and one of the best in the world, said one “cannot exclude” the possibility that this can result in abortion from the moral consideration. “You may not intend evil,” he said, but “here you are conditionally intending abortion.”

Father Kevin McMahon, a moral theologian at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, said that he would like to see stronger evidence to back up what Kahlenborn and his colleagues wrote. However, he also agrees with May and believes this is not a case of double effect. “This would not do two effects – it’s either one or the other [suppress ovulation or abort]. And you don’t even know if the good effect (suppressing ovulation) is going to take place.”

The difficulty is, according to Dr. Stanford, that in medicine “No matter what you do, there will always be some grey area.” Black and white, “just won’t happen in medicine.”

For instance, no matter how much testing is done, the tests will only pick up reactions to what the body is doing, and those reactions take time. So if there is no elevated progesterone level, for instance, that doesn’t necessarily mean that ovulation hasn’t taken place because it takes a few hours before that increase shows up in the bloodstream.

Practical measures
One ER physician in Washington, D.C. wrote in Health Progress that she had been unaware there was even a debate on the matter. Dr. Margaret Barron at Providence Hospital said that the Peoria Protocol calling for tests of progesterone levels and other similar measures is simply too cumbersome. “In most hospitals,” she said, “there is no such thing as receiving ‘stat’ progesterone level information.”

But Dr. Stanford doesn’t think there’s a whole lot to that argument. When he was at the University of Utah hospital, he could get a progesterone level test back in one day. For him, it’s more a matter of logistics rather than practicalities. If a hospital is committed to this, he said, they will find ways to be sure they have the equipment and staff on hand to do a proper evaluation.

But he did concede that for a rural Catholic hospital it would be a difficult financial proposition to have all of that available.

Catholic hospitals not alone
Catholic hospitals are mixed on this issue. According to Catholic for a Free Choice, 28 percent offer EC, a fact which Planned Parenthood criticizes on its website. But that may actually be a close reflection of what happens in hospitals generally. In June, the American Civil Liberties Union published a report showing that the majority of hospitals in Florida do not give it out consistently. According to the Miami Herald, “35 percent of hospitals and treatment centers said they consistently provide rape victims with emergency contraception.” Another 47 percent are inconsistent in their offering of it, six percent don’t do it all and the remaining 12 percent didn’t know what their policies were.

But what the CFFC survey doesn’t reflect is the number of Catholic hospitals that refer rape victims to rape victims’ centers who then, in turn, refer their clients to physicians or hospitals that will dispense EC.

Still many faithful Catholics may even wonder what the debate is all about. Complaints about Catholics hospitals distributing contraceptives and doing sterilizations abound around the country and there seems to be no change on that front anywhere on the horizon.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Call to Action's insincerity

The link above goes to a column in the Buffalo (NY) News. Below is a reply I sent as a letter to the editor:

Jim Orgren's column, "The priest shortage and diocesan reorganization," is a bit on the misleading side. He cites a survey done by Call to Action first in Buffalo and then copied in other dioceses around the country to show that a majority of Catholic priests support a discussion on the question of celibacy.

That survey can in no way be considered scientifically valid. The problem is a matter of who answered the survey. It was a voluntary survey and one that did not have a very good sample because of the self-selection of those who responded.

Mr. Orgren knows very well that among Catholic priests there is a range of opinion regarding celibacy, with the majority of priests considering it a settled question. Those who are unhappy with the current state of things were more likely to respond since they know the bishops are not going to be agitating to make changes to the rule. But they did know that CTA would make a fuss about it and they wanted to contribute to that. The vast majority who did not respond also knew that CTA would use it to make a fuss and they did not want to contribute any credibility to an otherwise non-credible organization. Those who responded in the negative held the vain hope that they could try to influence the results.

If any other advocacy group does a survey and gets results that show the majority of people support the way that group thinks, those data are rightly questioned by the press. The same should be done here. CTA does not like the Church the way she is and wants to remake her according to the image of 21st century secularism rather than in the image of Christ's bride. With that in mind, their "surveys" should be viewed by the press and the general public with some rather large grains of salt.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The contest of last names

Dave Wischnowsky is a blogger and reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Chicago, as is well-known, has a lot of Poles. Not quite as many as Warsaw, but still quite a few. Mr. Wischnowsky gave word to a lot of thoughts I have when people comment about my last name (if only I had a dime for every, "Boy, I bet you had a hard time learning that in school"). He asked for other people's input on their last names and I sent this in reply:

OK, Mr. Wischnowsky, try this one on for size -- 12 letters and it has three Z's, a letter your name is completely lacking. Those Z's always throw people off.

Yes, I attribute half of my intelligence to having my last name, including my ability to spell.

After I asked my father-in-law (a Gibson) for permission to marry his one and only daughter out of nine children (which he obviously granted), he told her, "He takes your name!" He has never learned to spell it, never mind pronounce it. He did tell me that he once met a guy from Poland who had 15 letters and 4 Z's. (It must be remembered, however, that as an Irishman he is prone to exaggeration.)

Talk about school troubles -- the standardized tests never had enough space for my last name; I think I would get to around the "w" before running out of room. I guess they figured the teachers would know who it was after 9 letters. And when on the first day of class the teacher was going through the alphabetical list of students, I always knew when she got to me. "Thomas....Thomas....." "Yes, I'm here."

You got called "Wisconsin"; I got "skunk cabbage" and "three z's". When my father was in the Navy and my brother was in the Coast Guard, somehow or other they ended being called "Ski." Go figure.

My surname has given me the name of my writing business since "szyszka" means "pine cone" in Polish. With my e-mail address, some of my clients have now resorted to calling me "Polish Pine Cone."

When I get calls from people who don't know me, it's always, "Is this Thomas.....I'm sorry I don't know how to say it. Can I call you 'Tom'?" And when I'm ordering something over the phone, I don't even bother saying it. "The first name is Thomas and I'll spell the last name for you. It's 's' like 'Sam,' 'z' like 'zebra'....."

The most common mispronunciation? Siskawitz. The real pronounciation? In Polish, it's shish-KIEV-ich. That middle vowel sound is tough, though. You don't make it sound like Kiev. You kind of have to say the long 'i' and 'e' really quickly and smash the two sounds together to get the correct pronunciation. In English, I take out the "sh" and middle vowel sounds so it ends up as "sis-KEV-itch."

People have asked my why I don't shorten it. Well, it's my name. It's the name given me by my father and has been in the family for who knows how many generations. I'm told it has noble heritage. It's fairly unique (there is one in Chicago somewhere). Why give it up? Besides, it's a challenge to their minds. It expands their horizons. It makes our country more diverse.

Still, it has nothing on the name of a priest I know in Wisconsin. Przybylski -- pronounced "shibilski." Or another Polish priest I know serving at a mission parish in Peru -- Kolodziejczyk. Go Poland. Teach the rest of the world what humans can really do with their tongues.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Bishop Gumbleton's abuse

Perhaps this should have been forecast as part of someone's 2006 predictions: America's most famous dissenting bishop will claim that he was molested by a priest when he was in high school and then support a bill to lift the statute of limitations.

Do I sound skeptical of his claims? I think there are reasons to be. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton was among the youngest priests to have been ordained as a bishop in the U.S. in the last 50 or so years. At 38-years-old in the heady days of 1968 immediately after Vatican II while there were anti-war riots and all kinds of free love and rock 'n roll, with Cardinal Dearden (who was responsible for promoting some of the worst ever bishops in U.S. history) in charge in Detroit from whence he came, His Excellency had little firm grounding on which to rest his feet. Hence he was able to go off on flights of fancy to press for greater lay involvement in the Church to the detriment of the priestly ministry, for dispensing with the rule of celibacy, for the ordination of women, the full embrace of homosexual activity as "normal," the acceptance of contraception (interestingly, he was ordained a bishop barely three months prior to the issuance of Humanae Vitae), and who knows where he stands on abortion.

These are positions he has held for years. Fortunately, while Rome erred in making him a bishop, she was at least wise enough not to give him his own diocese and he has remained an auxiliary in Detroit for nearly 38 years. These positions have, of course, made him the darling of the National Catholic Reporter (for which he writes a regular column) and the biggest name in Call to Action. They have also endeared him to the secular press who somehow or other forget all those dissenting positions in favor of calling him a pacifist bishop. Now I haven't seen too many other bishops take up arms since, say, the 14th or 15th century, but somehow or other they manage to escape the moniker of "pacifist."

His agenda and those of folks like Cardinals Dearden† and Mahoney, Archbishops Hunthausen†, May† and Roach†, Bishops Hubbard, Clark, Untener† and Lucker†, started to get somewhere from 1965 until about the early-1990's. But by the grace and mercy of God, it has fizzled. Since then, He has seen fit to raise up some bishops after His own heart (cf. Jer. 3.15) and they have at least declawed the beast of the USCCB. This state of affairs is certainly not pleasing to those of the Dearden school who are left alive.

But of late, Bishop Gumbleton has been out of the spotlight. Call to Action meetings generally get less attention from the MSM these days. His last bit of publicity was when he said last year that he wouldn't submit his resignation papers at age 75 because, according to him, that's such an arbitrary number. This, of course, came after the fact that he had said he would do so a couple of years earlier.

There are two ways to look at this: The conduct of his ministry can lead one to believe it may have happened and so thoroughly damaged him that it screwed up his thinking completely. However, the conduct of his ministry can also lead one to believe that he is lying through his teeth just to get attention and to get an agenda against the Church through. Given his track record, possibility #2 is quite plausible. It could be that His Excellency was at this press conference for reasons that were far less high-minded than those noble causes which he cited.

Consider what will happen if the State of Ohio passes a law that lifts the statute of limitations for a year on child sexual abuse. The Dioceses of Cleveland, Columbus, Steubenville, Toledo and Youngstown and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati will all be subject to a year of people filing lawsuits. That won't look very pretty in many places, particularly Cinti and Cleveland which have not exactly had a reputation for the most orthodox and firm bishops for quite some time. Supposing the law is passed -- is it out of the realm of possibility that, say, 500 people will file suits in Ohio? Considering that it is one of the most populous states in the nation, and a rather Catholic one to boot, I don't think so. If that were to happen and assuming a payment of $1 million per victim (that seems to be the consensus figure these days -- instant millionaires, you know), that will cost the Church in Ohio half a billion dollars in payouts, to say nothing of attorney's fees and court costs.

Supporting this action that could bring some more dioceses to bankruptcy court is unbecoming of a bishop. And it isn't necessarily in the victim's best interest, either, as this story from the AP shows.

So what else raises my suspicions?
1) Notice that he is not revealing the names of the priest or of his fellow student, even though the priest is dead. If he's so much for SNAP, why isn't he revealing the name in case there were other victims, as SNAP is always demanding? And why aren't we going to hear SNAP say, "Hey, bucko, get back out there tell all the names you know!"
2) Notice that when he became bishop, he did nothing about this guy, not even after the very public warnings of cases like Father James Porter, well before the current cycle started four years ago.
3) Notice that he said it didn't traumatize him too much. Sorry, but if I was a naive 13-year-old (which I was) and a priest put his hand down my pants (which thankfully none ever did), I would have been traumatized by it. Granted, I probably would not have said anything out of shame or fear, but it would have still traumatized me.
4) His superiors in Detroit knew nothing of his claim. Cardinal Maida was caught flat-footed, according to his press release.
Cardinal Adam Maida, archbishop of Detroit, says he is always disheartened whenever he hears of a claim of clergy sexual abuse, and is especially saddened by the report that Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a Detroit auxiliary bishop, was apparently a victim himself many years ago. "The Detroit archdiocese was never made aware of this," Cardinal Maida says. (my emphasis)
Still, His Eminence was kind enough to offer a helping hand.
As it relates to Bishop Gumbleton's remarks on how these cases are handled, Msgr. Ricardo Bass, Cardinal Maida's delegate for clergy matters, notes there is no time limit on a person bringing forward a complaint to the archdiocese. "Bishop Gumbleton's experience is indeed regrettable," says Msgr. Bass, "and, no doubt, it frames his personal opinion on this matter. As we would with any person in his situation, the archdiocese stands by its commitment to provide counseling assistance as needed." Regarding the statute of limitations, Msgr. Bass adds, "it has served our society well in protecting the rights of everyone, especially after a long passage of time." (emphasis mine)
Throw in some time of prayer and penance at a desert monastery and you've got yourself a deal. So go ahead, Excellency, take him up on his offer. You've been needing it for some time.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Who owns the Church?

I've posted below a story I wrote for the October 2005 issue of Catholic World Report entitled "Who Owns the Church?" dealing with property ownership. Considering the ruling in Portland that mirrored that of the one in Spokane, I thought it might be helpful for some people. (See Ed Peters' recent posting on this issue at his canon law blog.) I can't find my article anywhere online, so here it is.

Who owns the Church?
By Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

From Boston to Spokane, from Tucson to St. Louis, the question of who owns Church property is reverberating in the halls of justice. Do the parishes own the churches or does the bishop? Can the bishop take over parish assets if he closes a parish or do they go back to the former parishioners? Can the bishop sell the parishes in order to pay for sexual abuse lawsuits?

The question first arose in early 2004 as Archbishop Seán O’Malley of Boston announced his decision to close a number of parishes, sell their assets, and take them over in order to help the archdiocese recover from the crippling effects of the priestly sexual abuse scandal. But it became more acute later that year when the bishops of Portland, Ore., Tucson, Ariz., and Spokane, Wash., all filed bankruptcy.

Boston an intra-church matter – so far
For Boston, this has been pretty much an intra-church question, though church-state issues have been raised by some opportunistic and office-seeking politicians. Some towns where the closed churches are have considered passing taxes on those now vacant properties, but there has been no other major state or federal government intervention as of yet. (That could change, though, if a bill going through the legislature is passed that would require all churches in Massachusetts to annually file their financial reports with the attorney general’s office.)

The decision to close some parishes and take over the assets rather than merge them was to help attain a certain amount of equity, according to a press release from the archdiocese. “[M]erging parishes would keep the assets and liabilities in the local area,” the statement read, “in some cases resulting in two wealthy parishes combining to form one very wealthy parish; while if two poorer parishes are joined they could potentially only inherit liabilities to form one very poor parish.”

But that wasn’t entirely how the Congregation for the Clergy saw it. Though the Congregation was satisfied with the process Archbishop O’Malley followed in closing the churches, there was one aspect they questioned. “The Congregation has informed the Archdiocese,” the statement continued, “that in situations where the parishioners of the closed parish are directed to a new receiving parish, the Archdiocese must work with the receiving parish in order to allocate the assets and liabilities of the closed parish to the Archdiocese.”

In other words, according to an article in The Pilot, the archdiocesan newspaper, in those instances where the territory of the closed parish was divided among neighboring parishes, the archbishop has to seek permission from those neighboring parishes to take over the assets. Otherwise, the assets go to the other parishes.

This was not an official ruling, Father Mark O’Connell, a canon lawyer for the archdiocese, told CWR. Rather, “it was one bishop talking to another.” But it was how the Congregation would interpret canon law and any case that was appealed to Rome would have to go through them.
All of this goes to show that in the mind of the Church, the bishop of the diocese does not own or have ruling control over all of the Catholic property in the diocese.

But not in Washington
After the announcement was made in Boston, the Diocese of Spokane’s attorney, Shaun Cross, was hopeful. “It reaffirms the position of Bishop [William] Skylstad in that he does not own the parishes,” Cross told the Associated Press.

But Cross’s hopes were dashed. Federal bankruptcy Judge Patricia Williams ruled against the diocese saying that Bishop Skylstad owns or controls it all and so he can sell it all in order to pay the victims of sexual abuse. That ruling increases the pot of money available to victims from $25 million (an amount that includes $15 million in insurance money) to whatever the 16 schools and more than 80 parishes are worth. (Unofficial estimates put that at about $80 million, though that is most likely a low figure.)

Bishop Skylstad has appealed the decision, a process that could ultimately end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. It first goes to a federal bankruptcy appeals court, then to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, a court that already has a clear bias against the Church. Estimates are that the appeals process could take anywhere from five to ten years.

Cross told CWR that he believes Judge Williams was simply wrong in her decision and ignored key questions about how the diocese holds title to the parishes (in trust, not in direct ownership), the fact that the parishes under Washington law can be considered “unincorporated associations,” and how this will effect church/state relations under the First Amendment.
Victims’ lawyers called the appeal “playing hardball” and excoriated the bishop for the appeal.
But Cross told CWR that the parties are still working on a settlement.

Corporation soul
This decision raises in earnest the question of how the Church herself looks at who owns Church property.

Church law calls parishes “juridic persons” or entities recognized in law as having a “personality.” This is kind of like corporations, according to Ed Peters, a lay canon lawyer. Juridic persons can own property, which means the parish can own property apart from the diocese, though it is always subject to the bishop.

Canon law also makes it clear that a bishop is a steward, not an owner, of all that is in his diocese. Parishes, as juridic persons, can own property outright, though they are still subject to the bishop. Yet the bishop at times needs permission of the finance council and the college of consultors in decisions regarding certain properties.

But often the way that translates into civil law is quite different from canon law. While canon law recognizes the individual parish’s ability to own things, many, if not most, dioceses operate civilly under the “corporation sole” model. This means that, for instance, the Bishop of Spokane, besides being an individual named William Skylstad, is also a corporation and owns or directs as a corporation whatever is held in title by the diocese – including the parishes.

Some history
This model came about as a quirk of history, out of a movement called trusteeism. As Catholics emigrated to the U.S. from Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought with them the influences of how things had been run in their own countries. Those influences then met with more Protestant and American democratic influences and that collision helped bring about the issue of trusteeism, said Dr. Patrick Carey, a professor of theology at Marquette University and the foremost expert on the phenomenon.

Laity set up the parishes as corporations under various state laws and got the deeds to the church properties as trustees. The trustees, Carey said, brought with them the concept of “jus patronatus” or right of patronage that was given when royalty or nobles erected churches or dioceses in their countries. The person who set it up then had the right to name the priest or bishop.

When that background was brought to the U.S., it united with the idea that the people were the kings, “therefore they should have the same rights,” Carey said.

This, of course, set the laity up for a collision course with the bishops who, in 1829, decreed during a provincial council in Baltimore that all Church property in a diocese would belong to the diocese. During further provincial and plenary councils in Baltimore, that position was strengthened.

Those decisions were the basis for the selection of incorporating under state laws as corporation soles. But even at that time, according to Father John Coughlin, OFM, a professor of canon and civil law at the University of Notre Dame Law School, some bishops presciently wondered what that civil model would do to the liability of bishops for priests who ran afoul of the law.

Those Baltimore decisions also raised issues in Rome, particularly after one Cincinnati archbishop nearly lost the entire archdiocese because his brother, the vicar general, came up with a bad banking scheme. In 1911, the Sacred Congregation for the Council (now the Congregation for the Clergy) told the bishops of the United States that they did not like the corporation sole model all that well and preferred the method of parish corporation, where each individual parish is separately incorporated in the state.

Among the methods which are now in use in the United States for holding and administering church property, the one known as Parish Corporation is preferable to the others, but with the conditions and safeguards which are now in use in the State of New York. The Bishops therefore should immediately take steps to introduce this method for the handling of property in their dioceses, if the civil law allows it. If the civil law does not allow it, they should exert their influence with the civil authorities that it be made legal as soon as possible. Only in those places where the civil law does not recognize Parish Corporations, and until such recognition is allowed, the method commonly called Corporation sole is allowed, but with the understanding that in the administration of ecclesiastical property the Bishop is to act with the advice, and in more important matters with the consent, of those who have an interest in the premises and of the diocesan consultors, this being a conscientious obligation for the Bishop in person.
(Quoted in New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, 2000, New York, Paulist Press, page 1457.)

The New York model the Congregation favored is one where the state has written into law recognition of Roman Catholic parishes and the authority of the bishop over them. The law there allows for two lay trustees to be named to the corporate board, but those trustees serve at the pleasure of the bishop, thus avoiding the whole trusteeism question. But that is not the case in many states.

Making the changes
Unfortunately, not many bishops listened to that directive. It’s only been in recent years that some dioceses have been making the civil changes necessary to reflect canon law. One such bishop is Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Ore. A canon lawyer by training, he was appointed to Baker at the end of 1999 after having just completed the project of separately incorporating all of the parishes in the Diocese of Lincoln, under the direction of Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz. So he knew the advantages of this process.

In fact, on the day he went to Oregon for the press conference announcing his appointment, he asked the diocesan attorney, Vincent Hurley, how the Baker Diocese was structured. When he found out that it was a corporation sole, he told Hurley to get ready to make the switch – and he wasn’t even a bishop yet.

As they were getting the documents ready, the diocese was slapped with sexual abuse lawsuits. In September of 2002, an injunction was granted against the diocese to prevent them from transferring any assets. The plaintiffs had charged that the transfers were being done in order to devalue the assets of the diocese. But in May of 2003, a judge agreed with Bishop Vasa and allowed the separate incorporations to go through.

Rather than being a way to devalue the diocesan assets, it was instead, “the transfer of the title to the proper owner,” Bishop Vasa said.

On one hand...but on the other
But even with that, this prelate told CWR that he could persuasively argue either side of the Spokane case before the judge. And he’s not even sure what he would do if he were in Judge Williams’ seat.

On the one hand, under canon law, a bishop is subject to consult with, and at times even have the approval of, a finance council on major financial expenditures.

But on the other hand, according to Father Coughlin, the parish holds the property, not on its own, but always in subjection to the authority of the bishop. One juridic person in a hierarchical church like the Catholic Church, is always subject to another juridic person in the Church, he pointed out. So the bishop can still be tied to the parish even if it is made a separate state corporation.

And even at the top, there is still accountability. Canon 1273 states that the Pope “is the supreme administrator and steward of all ecclesiastical goods.” Ed Peters said that in no way does that mean that the Pope owns everything in the Church. “I don’t know of any canon lawyer who would interpret it that way,” he said. So even the Pope, as Pope Benedict XVI has pointed out early in his reign, doesn’t own the Church nor reign as an absolute monarch whose every whim becomes law. He is subject to the apostolic authority that has been entrusted to him.
Peters, who is also a civil lawyer, called Judge Williams’ decision “narrowly right,” since the diocese is structured as a corporation sole.

But, he added, she “has run afoul of Catholic canon law and thus has lurched into free-exercise territory, wrongly at that.”

“Bishops do not own parishes under canon law, nor do dioceses own parishes, nor does the pope own parishes,” Peters said. “Our whole religious tradition recognizes ownership of parish assets to rest in parishes.”

The judge could plausibly think otherwise, Peters said, but even if she did, she is “still wrong on the crucial question of who owns assets that some think can be used to pay the liabilities. Bishops no more canonically own parishes in their dioceses than they canonically own a Catholic hospital located in their diocese.”

One of the difficulties that could come up in the appeals process, Peters said, is that in order to alienate (i.e. sell) any asset over the amount of $3 million, the bishop has to have the approval of Rome. And what if Rome disapproves? That’s where the real church-state clash could begin.

Tucson avoids it...
In Tucson, the whole issue has been avoided, according to diocesan communications director, Fred Allison. In fact, they will be emerging from their Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings by October. Part of the agreement has been the reorganization of the diocese to make the parishes separate corporations.

One of the reasons it has been so smooth is the lack of participation by the group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, Allison said. Twice, Barbara Blaine, the group’s president, made appeals to the judge to be named to the proceedings, and both times the judge refused her request.

Things are going so well, according to Allison, that the annual diocesan appeal they recently completed broke a record.

...but Portland trembles
But the Archdiocese of Portland is facing a situation like Spokane’s. The judge has not yet ruled, but the archdiocese has presented its arguments to the court in much the same way as the Spokane Diocese did – that even though the archbishop is the sole corporate owner of the archdiocesan assets, he holds them in trust for the individual parishes or entities.

But Portland’s situation is even more complicated. The archdiocese was presented with two lawsuits for sexual abuse – one for $130 million and another for $25 million – whose plaintiffs refused mediation. The archdiocese is claiming assets of $19 million. If the parishes and other properties were added, estimates are that they would be worth $500 million to $600 million, though no valuations have been done yet.

Archbishop John Vlazney knew that in the current climate, he faced little to no chance of winning and that amount was overwhelming to their asset pool. Besides, said Bud Bance, the archdiocesan spokesman, if the two cases went forward and they lost, that would have left the archdiocese with nothing to pay any future claimants.

Additionally, they would have to file bankruptcy at a state court level. Being that this is Oregon, the most unchurched state in the country, the prospects there did not look good.

So the archbishop took a gamble and decided to file bankruptcy at the federal level. That stopped the lawsuits from proceeding and started the look at the archdiocese’s finances.
During the proceedings, the board composed to represent those who have claims against the archdiocese, the Tort Claimant Committee, took a novel approach at getting the issue of who owns the property resolved. The committee filed a class-action lawsuit against all 390,000+ members of the archdiocese in an effort to have the court rule on a summary judgment of who owns the assets. It was something so unusual, said Bance, that the lawyers all had to scramble to find out what to do. Almost all class-action lawsuits represent a class of people against one company or person, not vice-versa.

With the class action approach, said Bance, the individuals who have contributed to their parish now have an opportunity of sorts to speak their minds on the matter. How this will all turn out is anyone’s guess.

The Episcopalians
Disputes within the Episcopalian church over the ordination of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire has caught the church up in property disputes. As individual congregations are repulsed by the hierarchy’s decisions to alienate the church from basic Christian teaching, they have taken matters into their own hands and left the hierarchy behind.

But what happens to the properties is ending up in courts. A recent decision in southern California went in favor of a local parish as holding the rights to the property.

At this point, Father Coughlin said he is unsure if this will have any impact at all on cases effecting the Catholic Church.

And in St. Louis
In St. Louis, the question of parish ownership doesn’t revolve around sexual abuse cases. It is, rather, a vestige of the days of trusteeism.

St. Stanislaus Kostka is the Polish national parish in the city with a lay board of trustees who by civil law own the parish property. The parish started during the heyday of trusteeism when the Polish National Catholic Church separated from the Roman Catholic Church over the issue of the care of Polish immigrants.

According to some experts, Archbishop Peter Kenrick allowed St. Stanislaus the liberty of trustees in order to keep it in the fold and not follow the way of the PNCC, even though the various councils of Baltimore no longer allowed trustees.

Over the years the relationship with the archdiocese has been rocky, including a lawsuit against the board by a parishioner against the trustees in the early 20th century. Recently, though, things went from bad to worse. In the late summer of 2003, then-Archbishop Justin Rigali met with the current board asking them to come into full compliance with Church law by dissolving the board and allowing the archbishop to have complete control over the parish. They refused. The archbishop was then transferred to Philadelphia, leaving the issue with his successor.

That happened to be Archbishop Raymond Burke, “one of the most formidable canon lawyers in America,” according to Peters. The Archbishop met with the board, then with the parish. Both meetings went badly, with the parish meeting descending to shouting and name-calling on the part of the parishioners.

After numerous attempts to communicate and warnings from the Archbishop, including the removal of the pastor and the transference of the Polish ministry to another parish, he finally imposed the canonical penalty of interdict on the board. There has been talk of excommunication, but nothing has materialized on that front yet.

The issue to Archbishop Burke is the pastoral submission every parish should have to the local bishop. The issue to the St. Stan’s board is that the archbishop supposedly wants to take control of the parish, sell it and get the money it has in reserve ($1.25 million, according to the board) in order to pay for sexual abuse cases.

That allegation is categorically denied by the archdiocese. In fact, the archbishop has assured the board in writing that it would not be sold so long as there is a viable parish there.

This case is not necessarily about who owns the parish, as the board of St. Stanislaus contends. It is, rather, over who controls it. In fact, the board rewrote its charter and removed from it all references to being under the authority of the pastor or the archbishop.

When the board members appealed to the Congregation for the Clergy for the return of their pastor, they were rebuffed completely. “Through careful and premeditated revisions of the By-Laws of the civil corporation,” the secretary for the Congregation wrote in a cover letter to their decision, “you have attempted to make the role of the pastor impotent, attempted to wrest control from the local Ordinary, and attempted to transform St. Stanislaus Parish into an entity which has no resemblance to a parish as envisioned by either the tradition or current law of the Roman Catholic Church.”

A balancing act
All of this leaves a question about the claims made by groups like SNAP and Voice of the Faithful. They have constantly made statements that the bishops have to pay for what they did in transferring priests who sexually abused people from parish to parish and not removing them from ministry.

“Sadly, Skylstad is choosing combativeness over compassion, delay over closure, hardball over healing, and his own selfish needs over the needs of his diocese and its child sex abuse victims,” David Clohessy told AP after Bishop Skylstad announced his decision to appeal the ruling by Judge Williams. What those “selfish needs” are, Clohessy never defined, and the “needs of the diocese” to sell off all the parish churches and schools in order to pay for lawsuits are probably lost on the average faithful Catholic in the Diocese of Spokane.

However, it does point up the fact that if sex abuse advocates like Clohessy and Barbara Blaine are followed, then the Church would be left with no assets and no way to effectively carry out her ministry.

It also points up the fact that there is a dual thought process going on in their minds. Ever since the abuse crisis began, the cry has gone up that if the laity had had more control of the parishes, then this would never have happened. But when it is shown in canon law that the parish properties are actually owned by the parishes, not by the bishops, then that’s not correct because the bishop has to pay.

But what the rest of the Church has to come to realize, according to Bishop Vasa, is that there is a real balancing act that has to happen between the bishop, the clergy and the laity.
He is not considered a liberal by any stretch of the imagination. But he is clear that, as bishop, “I have lots of authority, but little power.” He does not, for instance, have a police officer on hand to send to a parish to enforce any directives he issued. In fact, he said he had more power when he was an assistant pastor than he does now.

When he was making his first visits around the Baker Diocese, Bishop Vasa came across a parish that badly needed a new roof on the church. When he asked the pastor why it hadn’t been repaired before, the pastor replied that it was the bishop’s problem, not his. The bishop corrected the pastor’s lack of understanding on that point. “My goal was to give the pastor and parishioners a proper sense of their responsibilities.”

So a balancing act has to be struck in the Church. While the state has the power to enforce laws, the Church has to rely on the free consent of her members to be subject to the bishop. And the bishop has to realize, as Bishop Vasa said, that he is “a servant of the Code of Canon Law, of the Pope and of the Church.”

Monday, January 02, 2006

A Distant Thunder

There's a fact about abortion that has been all but ignored by the secular press -- it messes with your head. So many studies have been done showing that women who have had abortions are more prone to suicide, alcoholism and drug abuse, abusing their living children, severe depression, etc., etc., that the lie has been shown of how good this procedure is for women. (See the excellent work documenting this by the Elliot Insitute.)

A new indepedently produced short from Disney DVD producer Jonathan Flora and his friend Kip Perry puts to film how much abortion messes with people's heads -- and with the lives of all of us. When I first heard about this film and learned that it was about partial-birth abortion, I was very afraid that, like all too many films before it, it was going to be pure, unvarnished, hoaky and ugly allegory. Billed as a courtroom drama and a spiritual/psychological thriller, it was just too easy for me to imagine another Christian flop like the Left Behind series. (Check out Thom Parham's article on Godspy on "Why Do Heathens Make the Best Christian Films?")

Fortunately, it is not. The use of symbolism in this very short film is so dense that you're left wondering if your head just got messed with. I was left with the questions of what just happened? Who is this lawyer? Why is her mother put on the stand when she really has nothing to do with the action in question? But the searching I was going through was not the searching one is left with after a bad film. No, this is a completely different type of searching -- the kind that one is left with after viewing a profound piece of art or reading a great piece of fiction. And I am longing for more. (There is talk of making a longer film, to which I say, "Go for it -- ASAP!)

I have told many people that a great film is a simple story well told. Films like Jean de Florette and its sequel Manon of the Spring or Babette's Feast are exceedingly well done; they're great but simple stories and they are well and beautfully told. We're left with obvious lessons for life without the obvious pitch of that lesson. Contrarily, A Distant Thunder is not a simple story because abortion is not a simple matter; the killing of the innocent is never a simple matter. But it is still a story well told -- and disturbingly so.

The producers do not fall into simple clichès. They don't portray the abortionist as an outwardly evil man. Indeed, he's a well-dressed man who is good looking and composed. The situation put on trial is not at all far-fetched and the producers and writers were brave for putting it out there. They make sure that everyday life for Ann, the main character, is shown as it typically is.

But that everyday life keeps getting interrupted with flashes of nightmares. As Ann's on an elevator, a big, bald man with empty eyes turns his gaze on her. A black and white image of a cocooned person wriggling its head uncontrollably. The grainy ultrasound image of an unborn child's spine. Blood coming out of the showerhead as she showers one morning.

But even her everyday life isn't that great. Her mother, whom she visits, is catatonicly stuck on a videotape of her daughter growing up and won't respond when Ann stops in.

There are two different versions of the film on the DVD -- a director's cut and a general audience friendly version. The main difference from what I can tell is that the director's cut has more of the shower scene; the other version simply shows her sitting in the shower crying without the blood coming out. They both last the same amount of time, so there are other differences which I didn't catch on first viewing.

While the producers go out of their way to say that this film is simply a story about partial-birth abortion and that they only wanted to get the facts of PBA out there and are not really taking sides, it's clear that they are wanting you to question all the assumptions made about PBA and abortion in general. When Ann, who is a prosecuting attorney, is questioning what the baby was thinking before she had her brains sucked out by the abortionist, this is not a question a "pro-choice" gal would even allow to enter her head. But the film makes you question -- it begins the process to get people thinking about what's going on. And that is absolutely essential for what many people think is simply an emotional and religious issue.

Abortion is a corporate nightmare shared by the entire human family and Jonathan Flora and Kip Perry have done a fantastic job of showing that nightmare to the rest of us. It's a job we wish didn't need to be done. But it did and one hopes this film will bring us one step closer to where we can all wake up from that nightmare sooner rather than later.