Monday, April 18, 2005

Parishioner's Letter to Fr. Brum.

On April 11, 2005 the following letters were hand-delivered to Fr. Louis Brum and delivered by certified mail to Bishop Raymundo Peña.

Fr. Louis contacted Mark Peña on the afternoon of April 15, 2005 and a meeting was scheduled for May 4, 2005. Fr. Louis has communicated his need to reschedule this meeting. The rescheduled meeting date is pending.

April 11, 2005


Fr. Louis Brum
Holy Spirit Catholic Church
2201 Martin Avenue
McAllen, Texas 78504

Dear Fr. Louis,

Enclosed is a letter that has been signed by over 250 parishioners of Holy Spirit Parish. This letter expresses a set of concerns regarding our parish, and requests that you meet with us and other representatives of the signing parishioners.

We request you please contact us by 5:00pm on Thursday, April 14th, to arrange a meeting. If we do not hear from you within this time, we will contact Bishop Peña to arrange a meeting with him to address these concerns. A copy of the enclosed letter with the parishioners’ signatures has also been sent to Bishop Peña.

We anticipate hearing from you so that together we may move our parish forward in a positive direction. Please contact Mark Peña at work at 383-4951, or contact Mark and Michelle Peña at home at 380-3731.


Mark & Michelle Peña

cc: Most Reverend Bishop Raymundo Peña

A Letter to Our Pastor from Parishioners of Holy Spirit Parish.

Dear Father Louis:

Bishop Peña addressed our Parish in February 2003 with the following words:

“(You have built) a dynamic, progressive Vatican II parish in every respect – spiritually vibrant, financially solvent and generous with many outstanding charitable endeavors, many active volunteers in a wide variety of programs, extensive participation of members in educational and renewal programs, a large number of small church communities … and a strong prophetic voice in the larger community.”

These words seem particularly hollow in light of what has transpired since then and have left us feeling betrayed and abandoned by our Bishop and some of our diocesan clergy. The unfair treatment and termination of our parish employees was extremely troubling to each of us. We felt as though a dagger had been struck through the heart of our parish.

We love our Church, and we are committed to our parish community. We continually pray for our parish, and we wish to move forward beyond the hurt and help heal the wounds of the past. In this spirit of healing and reconciliation, we believe it is necessary to share with you as our Pastor our deep felt concern regarding the following matters that have come to our attention and which we believe are resulting in further harm and division within our parish community:

· You have disallowed some parishioners from participating in parish ministries.
· You have not met with the union representative of the parish workers.
· You have not permitted the Parish Council to meet and provide advice and input regarding Church matters.
· The financial crisis in the parish, which will see at least a $100,000 shortfall for the year, is not being addresses.
· The Finance Committee is not being administered properly.
· The Worship Committee was disbanded and numerous liturgical changes have been made which are contrary to the traditions of our parish.
· Sister Moira was removed from the Peace and Justice Commission, and the scope of the Commission's activities has been severely limited, including the discontinuation of Affirmation Night.
· An atmosphere in which diversity of opinion is not accepted has been created in the parish.
· You are often unavailable to parishioners and staff.
· The church staff is not being allowed to carry out its duties free from unnecessary interference.
· The underlying hurt and resentment created by the events of June 18, 2003 when the employees were fired and the parish was thrown into turmoil are being ignored.

In the spirit of love and cooperation, we ask you, as our Parish leader, to support and develop the relationship of support and dependence between laity and clergy as declared in the Vatican II Document Lumen Gentium #30. “It is the noble duty of pastors to recognize the services and charismatic gifts of the laity. Pastors are not meant to shoulder alone the entire saving mission of the Church toward the world."

We stand ready to help shoulder the yoke with you and ask for the opportunity to share in the work of our Church. We ask you to enable parishioners to fully participate and to accept our diverse opinions. We ask to be allowed a voice and to give input and advice in a canonically established parish council and to feel secure that dissenting words can be expressed without fear of retribution.

We want to help you in building up the Parish’s “strong prophetic voice in the larger community” that our Bishop praised. We seek to continue to answer the gospel’s call to bring justice. We ask that you reconsider your decisions to severely limit the scope of the Peace and Justice Commission and its coordinator.

We ask you to support our desire for the Eucharist to be the center of our lives and for our liturgies to reflect and include liturgical traditions and rituals developed and cherished over so many years by this parish.

We ask you to work with parishioners in returning our parish to financial stability. We wish to answer our Pope’s call to “shared responsibility” in meeting the financial crisis of the Church and to participate in the Finance Committee. We feel it is imperative that this committee be allowed to fulfill its canonical requirements and meet our present financial crisis with transparency and confidence.

We ask you to stand with the Church’s history of compassion for the worker and help us resolve the issues surrounding the treatment of our parish staff. We ask that you meet with the authorized union representative of our parish employees and insure that the employees are treated fairly and with dignity and respect.

We ask you to be present with us. We need your presence in our parish, its services and its office. We deeply desire healing, and to be known by our pastor and to know him. We want to build our relationship with you, but find it is difficult to do so when you are away from the parish so much of the time.

We want to continue to be a “dynamic, progressive Vatican II Parish.” We are committed to make every effort to resolve these concerns with you as our Pastor. We ask that you please meet with us to discuss these concerns and formulate plans for their cooperative resolution. We pray for you and that through God’s grace we can bring peace and healing to our parish.

You may contact Mark and Michelle Peña in Edinburg.

Signature Pages Attached.

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Newsletter of 04/17/05

Somos el Cuerpo de Cristo
Thoughts from Some Fellow Parishioners of Holy Spirit—April 17, 2005

Mad Money
Although the issue has been aired on the Blog, the fact that parishioners were deliberately turned away from the Parish Finance Committee meeting and told that it was private, is very serious stuff and deserves some continued discussion.

The closed nature of even the existence of the meeting is very disturbing at a time when hundreds of parishioners are desperately looking for avenues through which the Pastor can be engaged on parish issues. He has dismantled each and every avenue for formal, open discussion in the parish—no wonder angry and confrontational episodes are beginning to occur.

The state of parish finances must be completely transparent—it is our money after all. What is the formal budget process for the parish? Why are second collections not being reported in detail? Are we really collecting more than our budget (including the percentage owed to the diocese each week)? If we are, then we should have no problem paying into the pension fund for our employees and fulfilling our legal obligation to that contract. None of these questions are private matters.

The Letter of the Day is P
As most know, a letter of concerns signed by over 250 parishioners is in the hands of the Pastor (see the Blog). He has yet to agree on a time to meet with representatives of the signees. We continue to pray for a healing of the parish, and hope that a meeting will be scheduled, and that we can all move forward together.

Breathing Together
“In the undergraduate class I teach, ‘Exploring Catholicism,’ we have just finished reading about the image Cardinal John Henry Newman in the 19th century used to describe the relationship between the whole people of God who encounter God’s revelation in their daily lives and the bishops who are entrusted with safeguarding that revelation. Newman spoke of a conspiratio fidelium et pastorum, literally, a “breathing together” of the faithful and the pastors. This is what I think needs to be restored in the church: a true consultation of the faithful, from the point of view of their experience of the Holy Spirit working in the church; and a true consultation of the bishops of the church, not just those in the Roman Curia or the hand-picked.” Sr. Mary Ann Hinsdale an associate professor of theology at Boston College (in the National Catholic Reporter On-line, April 18th)

Correspondence on the “Diabolical”
“This site is becoming diabolical...Does the university know that you use this site for tearing apart another human being which is our pastor....I personally like the changes in Holy Spirit and I feel free to approach our pastor and not the people who stare down at you at the office....Things need to be changed....and change is always healthy....So Mr. Brazier why don't you change your site to be peaceful and not so diabolical......This is quite disturbing to me and others......Thank you......Have a good our Lord Jesus Christ....A good and faithful parishioner who continues to enjoy the changes......” An e-mail sent to

As an academic, I always welcome the opportunity to discuss ideas, and even though put off by being characterized as “diabolical,” I was pondering a response to the above e-mail when…lo and behold (!) another e-mail arrived in which the true holder of the e-mail account that had sent the above message indicated that someone else (a volunteer at an upper valley Catholic school!) had been the one who had sent the message. The true holder of the account apologized.

It is difficult to imagine an honest dialogue about the parish with a person who wishes me “a good day in our Lord Jesus Christ,” and then signs someone else’s name to the correspondence. The issues raised in Somos el Cuerpo de Cristo may bother some people, and the opinions expressed may not be shared by everyone who reads them, but at least it is my name that appears at the bottom of each issue. Jerry Brazier

Walking to Emmaus
Hello, hello
I’m at a place called Vertigo
It’s everything I wish I didn’t know… U2

That pretty much sums up my feelings as I wait for the election of our new pope and think about where we are as Church.

The gospel of the Emmaus story hit home with me as a picture of our present journey. So many times it seems that we as church are walking with Jesus, but can’t seem to recognize His presence or where He is asking us to go. In this Year of the Eucharist, we seem more focused on making sure everyone is following the rules instead of wanting to break bread with all those who hunger. It is amazing to me that almost half of the churches in our country have people who want to celebrate the Eucharist but cannot because there are no priests available. Maybe, like the apostles in the Emmaus story, we are too caught up in the rules and the situation to realize that Jesus is present and in married men and women who want to answer the call but have been shut out. Why do we still hold on to notions that women are somehow inferior or unclean, and that married people, although living a vocation, are not capable or worthy of priesthood? Didn’t the Resurrection and our own Baptisms redeem us all? Are we not all brothers and sisters in Christ?
From a fellow parishioner

John Paul II—Two Popes?
Dorothy Day, when asked by young men what they should do about their draft-enforced participation in the Vietnam War, she said, “Fill the jails.” Now there’s some unambiguous moral advice, based on a reading of the Gospel. John Paul II has been hailed for his strong statements against war but he stood silent on the practical implications of those statements: Can I fight in this war or not? Dorothy Day didn’t stand silent.

John Paul II was not shy about explicit advice to individuals about the conduct of their sexual lives—advice generated from a moral theology that comes substantially from Stoic philosophy, since the Gospel stands almost completely silent on such matters—but would not tell American men and women to follow the explicit Gospel teaching, “put up your swords.”

Josemaría Escrivá and Oscar Romero—one a founder of Opus Dei, a religious congregation frequently described as secretive and ultra-conservative, and the other an Archbishop martyred for his standing with the poor and oppressed in El Salvador. John Paul II canonized one and deliberately distanced himself from the other. He talked beautifully and powerfully on peace and justice, but either ignored or silenced those who acted on that talk.

Prepared by RGV Parishioners for Progress and edited by Jerry Brazier. Copy this, and pass it on to fellow parishioners, either by e-mail or paper. If you want an opportunity for prayerful discussion of these and other issues about the parish or have any other comments, please contact us at

Candlelight Prayer Vigil

A candlelight prayer vigil to ask for the Holy Spirit to inspire the Cardinal - Electors in the conclave to choose a new pope will be held at Holy Spirit parish Monday April 18 from 8 to 9 PM. and every night until the new pope is chosen. Please join us.

John Paul II deserves praise but his legacy is not without cracks.
By: Andrew Greeley

The late pope was a scholar, a poet, a charismatic presence, a brave and holy man--he was surely one of the most influential religious leaders in the world. His stand against war, most specifically the Iraq war, presented a vigorous and determined challenge to conservative American Catholics--which most of them simply ignored. He stood for what the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin called the consistent ethic of life. He condemned abortion, war, and the death penalty. Again, conservative American Catholics insist that the first condemnation is the only one that really matters.

One can proclaim his greatness and influence, praise his determination in the face of death, and celebrate his long reign--and still raise questions about his legacy. The Catholic Church today is polarized by deep disagreements between progressives and those who would restore the status quo ante the Vatican Council, between laity and lower clergy on the one hand and the Roman Curia on the other, between those who favor the decentralization suggested by the council's theory of “collegiality” and those who favor ever tighter control from Rome. The next pope, who may well be chosen because he is seen as a "healer," will have a very difficult time and will risk being torn apart by the centripetal energies in the church.

After the appealing Pope John and the hesitant Pope Paul, John Paul II inherited a church in deep confusion. The moderate reforms of the council had made change possible in the church and destabilized the structures of 19th-century Catholicism which contended that the church did not change, would not change, could not change. The resulting chaos led many of the laity and the lower clergy to expect more change, and then enact change on their own initiative, especially in sexual matters.

When he came to office in 1978, Pope John Paul determined to end the chaos definitively. His style of church rule was the one which he knew from his native Poland, and which the whole church had practiced since the French Revolution. He sought to restore order and discipline by laying down the rules and demanding that the laity and clergy accept his right and authority to do so.

It was already too late in the day to implement such a strategy. Unquestioning obedience no longer was an automatic response and had not been since 1968. The laity and the lower clergy had already decided that in the area of human sexuality, the church no longer had the right to order them. In retrospect, a sensitive strategy of patience, openness, and consultation might have been much more effective. However, the pope--by personality and life history--seems to have been incapable of governing that way. Gradually, the hopes created by the council turned sour. Alienation between the Vatican and much of the membership of the church has increased, made worse each time a seemingly arbitrary edict appeared from the Vatican.

The extremely conservative bishops he appointed, usually on curial recommendation, to further his restorationist agenda, further offended many of the laity and the lower clergy. He rarely engaged in serious consultation with the bishops of the world and listened only to the laity that he knew agreed with him. This, one had to assume, was the way he thought the papacy ought to govern the church.

The Catholic Church, so attractive during the time of Pope John, lost much of its respect and esteem--especially because it was perceived, perhaps unfairly, to be hostile to both women and homosexuals.

To make matters worse, the sexual abuse crisis--which the Vatican still would like to pretend is an American problem--has spread throughout Europe and has traumatized the credibility of the church leadership. The Pope’s reaction to it seemed to many to be less vigorous than would be appropriate. Sex was the touchstone of his restoration of order to the church, but not, it might have been fairly said, the sexual behavior of priests.

No one in his right mind would question the personal virtue, the good intentions, the sincerity of the late pontiff. Yet clearly, he failed to restore the discipline of the church’s traditional sexual ethic. The lower clergy and the laity are even less likely today, despite all his efforts, to accept that discipline than when he came to office.

The most important decision the next pope must make is whether it is time for a change in the papacy’s style of governance.

Andrew Greenlee is a Catholic priest, best selling novelist, socialogist and research associate at the National Openion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

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Friday, April 15, 2005

Beyond 'Certitudes and Order'

Pope John Paul II

The Vatican’s management problem.
by Richard Rohr, OFM
-Submitted by a Parishioner


I am told that Karl Rahner, the German Jesuit theologian who was an expert at Vatican II, concluded toward the end of his life that there were two major groups of people in the world - those who want certitude and those who want understanding. I would very much agree with that, and just add that those two groups have a very hard time understanding one another! I think we saw some of that in last fall’s election process.

My great fear and sadness is that if the Catholic Church continues on its present course, it will largely be peopled by people in the first group. An enclave of settled and certain people will serve a real need in history and culture. But it is not the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic" church that the gospel needs and the world so wants to admire.

I do not see a pattern of natural or strong leaders, creative, or risk-taking people being ordained in the Catholic Church in the last 15 years, nor do I see the same being appointed to the episcopacy. I know the Holy Spirit can do anything, and often does, but just speaking structurally, it is a sure recipe for a failing company or institution. Rigid people finally turn against one another and against the success of the mission. Circling the wagons produces a superior and safe identity, but it does not really make sense unless you are under attack, afraid, or still in the first half of life. I had hoped this ancient and wise institution would be beyond all of these. After all, it was the Catholic Church that educated me to think this way.

My disappointment in the present pope is that he has said and written many fine and courageous things that will stand the test of time, but he tends to preserve the heroic gesture for himself (praying in synagogues, kissing the ground of "alien" territories, visiting mosques, proclaiming a gospel of justice for the poor, condemning our war, criticizing both communism and capitalism), but it is quite clear that he does not appoint cardinals or bishops or call forth a church culture that does much of the same - which is a self-defeating management style. He himself always looks larger than life, but anybody who actually imitates him is invariably suspect and usually marginalized. A strong leader normally appoints other strong leaders. We have become more and more an exclusionary institution, all in the name of a Jesus who told us to "go out to the crossroads and invite everyone to the wedding feast." And "they collected everyone they could, good and bad alike" (Matthew 22:9-10). Our present list of necessary "purity codes" has little gospel support and does not speak to mature people in the second half of life.

Rome’s record of appointing very limited leadership worldwide is visible to all. Not bridge builders to a larger world, but wagon circlers around a world where we are in charge: Catholic mythology more important than honest scholarship. Group loyalty and verbal orthodoxy more important than the lived faith of "orthopraxy." Pious and private devotions more encouraged than scripture. I think John Paul II is much more a "philosopher pope" than a pastoral fisher of men and women, yet the irony is that he is not appointing nor attracting self critical thinkers, much less outsiders. Statistically, the crowds that he gathers are the already "converted" choir.

I think the Catholic Church will undoubtedly continue to grow, however. Many, if not most people in Europe and America, have grown up without any clear sense of identity, order, or boundaries, without much inner experience, and even less any authentic religious experience. The need for meaning is deep and profound. A strong authoritative institution will get these folks off to a good start, just as it did for me in the 1940s and ’50s.

The small self needs certitudes and order to get started when the ground is always shifting beneath your feet. The only trouble is, that’s not what Jesus promised us or offered us. He offered us the dark journey of faith. He offered us communion with a Larger Self that alone can overcome such darkness.

The church today seems a far cry from St. Anselm’s great "faith that seeks understanding." We can and have done so much better in the past, and I am sure we will again.


Richard Rohr, OFM, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the author, most recently, of Soul Brothers: Men in the Bible Speak to Men Today (Orbis Books, 2004).

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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Comments for Fr Louis.

How could a priest that was so warmly welcomed by his parishioners be so quickly turned away?

Our Parish’s Financial Status
As a long time parish member, I am troubled, angry, and extremely concerned about the way this parish is being managed (or mismanaged) by Father Brum. It appears there are only a very few parishioners that truly have access to what is really going on in the parish regarding finances, decision-making, program changes, and the dismantling of the various commissions. The message is very clear that if one disagrees with Father Brum about any issue, that individual is labeled a “troublemaker” and not a “good Catholic.”

To me, this smacks of clericalism (clericalism is defined as the “ policy of maintaining or increasing the power of a religious hierarchy”). This clericalism is further demonstrated by his reluctance to embrace differences and keep an open mind. It is clear Father Brum’s management style does not value the laity’s participation, and sadly, he does not have the skills to deal productively and respectfully with current conflicts, nor does he have the skills (or interest) in working to heal our parish.

The process Father Brum has undertaken in the past sixteen months is very reminiscent of how our Diocese operates. He has clearly chosen to take the road of ruling by intimidation. He also has developed an atmosphere of secrecy by not being open regarding our parish finances, as well as, many other issues. His typical response has been that of defensiveness and accusations. At a minimum, Father Brum has shown he has very poor management and poor interpersonal communication and listening skills. Father Brum does not value the parishioners (both lay and religious) who can think for themselves and question his decisions and actions.

David Saavedra

A word of advice for Father Louis:
Holy Spirit Parish can be a very unforgiving place for a priest that is unaccustomed to being challenged by his flock.

Parishioners at Holy Spirit are much too knowledgeable to be fooled by insincerity and deception. For the most part, parishioners at Holy Spirit are also quite active in pursuing church teachings and expect their pastor to be knowledgeable enough to challenge their spiritual appetite and curiosity. This is the reason Fr. Jerry was so well accepted here. He could address our spiritual concerns and he would even encouraged us to ask!

Unlike other Catholic parishes, Holy Spirit parishioners are not your average “see you on Sunday” Catholics. Since its inception, Holy Spirit parishioners have been encouraged to be involved in the operation and decision making process of their parish. There was never any secret meetings or discussions. Everything was always totally open.

Policy and operational procedures that are now in place at Holy Spirit are the result of logical and theologically correct methodologies that, in most cases, have been voted on by the entire community.

Many of these practices have been in place for many years and have now become traditions, i.e. “Fresh Baked Bread”, “Full-Immersion Baptism”, “Training of Children for First Holy Communion", “Peace & Justice Activities”, “Washing of the Feet”, policy on “Donated By” items, “Scripture Classes”, “Children’s Laity of the Word”, “Election of Parish Council and Finance Committee Members”, “Open Parish Council and Finance Committee Meetings”, “Downtown Stations of the Cross”, “Affirmation Night”, "Town Meetings with Full Parish Participation", "Small Church Communities", etc…. NO SECRETS… EVERYTHING OUT IN THE OPEN... NO PARISHIONER WAS EVER FORBIDDEN TO PARTICIPATE BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T AGREE WITH THE PRIEST!

As you have discovered, your "Gestapo" methods to try to change these long-standing traditional procedures have met with extremely stern resistance and unless you can provide your parishioners with sound, logical reasoning for making any changes, I’m afraid you are not going find much support. “Because that’s the way I want it”, doesn’t carry much weight at Holy Spirit. A priest is here to serve the community… not to be served by the community!

Which brings me to the heart of my advice. You have now reached a fork in the road on your journey at Holy Spirit. You know that your Gestapo methods are not working and you now see your flock turning against you. It’s quite simple. Either start serving your community… or get the hell out!
-A Fed Up Parishioner.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Secret Finance Committee Meeting

Fellow Holy Spirit Parishioners…

I am VERY CONCERNED about what is going on in our parish!

Last week, Mr. Conrado Alvarado (Finance Committee Chair) was asked if the Parish Finance Committee was ever going to meet again. Mr. Alvarado indicated that the Finance Committee was supposed to have met last Monday, but the meeting had been canceled because Fr. Louie had been sick.

No parishioners were informed or were even aware of the scheduled Finance Committee meeting, in spite of the fact that the Finance Committee meeting has been a topic of discussion for quite some time, as there has been concern from many parishioners on whether or not the “new” Parish Finance Committee was going to honor the obligations of the previous Finance Committee, relative to funding of the Staff Pension Fund. (More information on this in the last Parish Underground Newsletter of 4/03/05).

Several long time parishioners have expressed a desire to be present at the next Finance Committee meeting to remind all of the old, remaining Finance Committee members that they were ALL ORIGINAL PARTIES to this obligation which, along with Fr. Jerry, was made on behalf of the entire Parish.

On Monday evening past, members of the [new, old, remaining] Peace and Justice Commission were at the Parish offices to attend their monthly meeting when they discovered that all of the parish offices had been locked, with the exception of the late comers door, which at the time was being manned by Mr. Conrado Alvarado.

He was previously observed allowing Oscar Cardenas, Ken Healy, Abdula Kalifa, etc, into the Parish offices. It was determined by the observing Peace & Justice Committee members that this looked much like a gathering of what now remains of the [old] Parish Finance Committee.

When a member of the Peace & Justice Committee asked Mr. Alvarado if he could attend the meeting, Mr. Alvarado informed him that he COULD NOT, as it was a CLOSED MEETING. He later stated that he did not have the authority to say that it was a closed meeting and indicated that Fr. Louis would be arriving shortly.

When Fr. Louis arrived, he informed the Peace & Justice Committee member that this was a PRIVATE MEETING. He said that he had every right to have a private meeting with anyone that he chose and that it shouldn't be a concern to anyone and that he would be glad to have a private meeting with anyone else who wanted one, if they would simply call his office to make an appointment. He stated that his right to have a private meeting should be respected and also stated that any meeting that was listed in the Sunday Bulletin would be considered a “Public Meeting” and that everyone would be invited to attend those meetings.

What is going on in our Parish? Is our Pastor and Chair of the Finance Committee now shutting interested parishioners out of our parish meetings? In the past, we were all graciously welcomed and thanked for showing an interest in the affairs of the parish by attending Parish meetings. Has this changed? Are we now doing things in total secrecy and are those remaining Finance Committee members all too weak to stand up to their priest and explain that what he is doing is WRONG and is not at all the norm at Holy Spirit Parish? Does there remain a leader among any of them?

PLEASE HOLY SPIRIT PARISHIONERS … OPEN YOUR EYES TO WHAT IS GOING ON IN YOUR PARISH. Above all, express your total dissatisfaction to your Finance Committee Members and to your PASTOR. Let them know with no uncertainty that this type of management style WILL NOT BE TOLERATED at Holy Spirit Parish!

-A VERY Concerned Parishioner

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Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Pope's Legacy

Sister Helen Prejean

The Real Woman Behind "DEAD MAN WALKING".

The Pope's legacy: The Death Penalty

Above All Else, Life

Boulder, Colo. — Of the many great legacies of Pope John Paul II, the one I prize the most is this: he was instrumental in helping the Catholic Church reach a position of principled opposition to the death penalty- an opposition that brooks no exceptions.

The effects of the pope's leadership will be felt for years to come, both in the highest echelons of the Catholic hierarchy and among the Catholic faithful in the pews. Whereas polls once showed that American Catholics supported the death penalty about as much as other Americans, they now show that support for the death penalty among Catholics has fallen below 50 percent. Just last month, Catholic bishops in the United States inaugurated a vigorous educational campaign to end the death penalty.

This is a moment I have been waiting for, hoping for and praying for more than two decades, ever since I walked out of the killing chamber in Louisiana after watching Patrick Sonnier electrocuted to death in 1984. And it is the pope who made it possible.

In the early 1980's, I began looking for a way to have a direct dialogue with the pope about the death penalty. During this time I had accompanied three people to execution and plunged headfirst into public debate. My efforts to persuade Catholic bishops in the United States to include the death penalty as an integral part of their pro-life campaign had been futile. While the bishops had issued numerous statements that cited the moral failure of the death penalty, they had failed to conduct energetic educational campaigns to change the hearts and minds of the people in the pews.

At last, in 1997, I finally got my chance to communicate directly with Pope John Paul II. It happened through the case of a Virginia death row inmate, Joseph O'Dell, whose spiritual adviser I had become and whose plea for justice had attracted the pope's attention. Lori Urs, who was working on the legal team trying to save Mr. O'Dell's life, visited Rome and handed my letter to the pope on Jan. 22, 1997. A friend of mine in the Vatican, present when my letter was delivered, assured me that John Paul read every word of my letter.

And an impassioned letter it was, pouring into the pope's lap 14 years of searing experiences of accompanying human beings into killing chambers and watching them be put to death before my eyes. "Surely, Holy Father," I wrote, "it is not the will of Christ for us to ever sanction governments to torture and kill in such fashion, even those guilty of terrible crimes. ... I found myself saying to them: 'Look at me. Look at my face. I will be the face of Christ for you.' In such an instance the gospel of Jesus is very distilled: life, not death; mercy and compassion, not vengeance."

I spoke candidly about my disagreement with one part of the pope's 1995 encyclical, "Evangelium Vitae" ("Gospel of Life"), which, while urging imprisonment instead of execution, allowed the use of the death penalty in cases of "absolute necessity." Whenever governments kill criminals, I pointed out in my letter, they always claim to act out of "necessity." I urged him to close the loophole and make Catholic opposition to government executions unequivocal.

This was no small thing. The teaching of the Catholic Church upholding the right of the state to execute criminals "in cases of extreme gravity" had been in place for 1,600 years.

But that's precisely what the pope did: he removed from the Catholic catechism the criterion "in cases of extreme gravity." The omission changes everything, because Catholic teaching now says that no matter how grave the crime, the death penalty is not to be imposed. This cuts the moral ground out from under American politicians who advocate the death penalty for the "worst of the worst criminals."

The quantum change in the catechism took place in September 1997, and in 1999 when the pop visited St. Louis, he uttered words of opposition to the death penalty that could not have been more uncompromising: "A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil."

For this statement, and for his leadership, I am forever grateful. Thank you, Pope John Paul. Because of you, the Catholic Church can at last stand alongside those human rights groups that oppose, unequivocally, government killing.

[Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun, is the author of "Dead Man Walking" and, most recently, "The Death of Innocents." She spoke at Affirmation Night (the one banned by Fr. Brum) at Holy Spirit Parish in 2002.]

Submitted by a parishioner-

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Monday, April 04, 2005

Newsletter of 4/03/05

Always In Our Hearts!

Somos el Cuerpo de Cristo
Thoughts from Some Fellow Parishioners of Holy Spirit—April 3, 2005

Peace and Justice, Redux
A five minute Google Search discovered that the following dioceses in the United States are among those that have an Office of Peace and Justice:

Chicago, Portland (OR), Los Angeles, Seattle, Phoenix, El Paso, Raleigh (NC), Fort Worth, Lexington (KY), Joliet (IL), Salt Lake City, Worcester (MA), Kansas City (KS), Venice (FL), Richmond (VA), La Crosse (WI), Gary (IN), Madison (WI), Peoria (IL), Lansing (MI), Charlotte (NC), Providence (RI), Arlington (VA), Oakland (CA), Pueblo (CO), Rockford (IL), Reno (NV), Albany (NY), Gallup (NM), Covington (KY), Louisville (KY), St. Augustine (FL), Kansas City (MO).

Additionally, the following dioceses have offices with slightly different names, but the same function:

Cincinnati (Social Action), Santa Fe (Social Justice), Newark (NJ) (Social Justice), San Antonio (Social Concerns), Owensboro (KY) (Social Concerns), San Jose (CA) (Social Justice and Human Concerns), St. Paul-Minneapolis (Social Justice), San Bernadino (CA) (Social Concerns).

What prompted this Internet hunt was the continued efforts by the Pastor to dismantle not only the work of the parish’s Peace and Justice Commission, but also even its name. He is somehow convinced that such work, even such a title, is inappropriate for a Catholic parish. The Peace and Justice Commission, its name and its work, has been characterized as the “lunatic fringe,” the last bastion of aging radicals, so far out of the Church mainstream that they are an embarrassment to “real” Catholics.

This, like so much else being foisted on the parish, is complete nonsense as the above data from forty-one dioceses around the country show. Are we to believe that our Pastor is wiser about the implementation of the Church’s teachings than the leaders of these forty-one dioceses? Is our faithful gospel witness in the Parish to be simply “Pray, Pay, and Obey?”

Christian love of neighbor and action for a better society cannot be separated. The Scriptures and the authentic tradition of the Catholic Church call the Christian community to labor individually and collectively to meet the needs of others. Action on behalf of social justice is a constitutive element of the gospel. Those who wish to live fully the pious life cannot be content with occasional acts of generosity. Attention must be given to unjust and oppressive structures in society. Christians must struggle against not only poverty, racism, sexism, and any form of exploitation of one person by another, they must also struggle against the structural causes of such injustices (Peoria Diocese, Statutes on Justice and Peace).
Peace and Justice seems to play pretty well in Peoria.

The Easter Vigil
Much has been made of the Knights of Columbus and the “incident with the rosaries” at the Easter Vigil (see the Blog). Are the powerful rituals of light and dark, fire and water, bread and wine, so fundamentally unsatisfying to some that the liturgy has to be “tricked up” with pious, but irrelevant to the occasion, ceremonies to make the sacramental celebration “feel right” and be complete?

As noted in a previous newsletter, “where the official liturgy does not spiritually nourish people in sufficient measure, Christians tend to focus on popular devotions.” [October 31] What else can we expect when our parish liturgy is slowly being transformed into an ornate show that we watch, rather than a communal celebration that all of us make together?

As For Me, I’ve Made a Choice
Easter Sunday—a high point in the liturgical celebrations of our church—and I kept waiting for the joyous spirit of the resurrection. The setting was beautiful and the chimes at the “Gloria” were moving, but I just couldn’t get past that display of golden cups. Watching the ceremony surrounding the cups underscored how we are being encouraged to become spectators instead of participants doing “this in memory of me” and celebrating together as our Lord wished.

But Easter did find me through the words of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. Twenty-five years ago she founded the Green Belt Movement, and began to plant trees, new life and hope. She lives the amen, the “I believe.” Her movement’s slogan is: “As for me, I’ve made a choice.” Prophetic words. As for me, I have made a choice and been chosen. The resurrection is mine, and the choice is mine to live it and not allow myself to become a spectator. From a Parishioner

That Annoying Justice Thing Again
When, in 2001, the Diocese of Brownsville implemented a change in its retirement plan from “defined benefit” to “defined contribution,” it created a situation in which some older employees were affected negatively (i.e., they lost a lot of money). More than any other event, the retirement change prompted the unionization of four parishes (funny what being treated unjustly leads some people to do).

As part of the union contract with Holy Spirit, the parish is obligated to pay a total of $1,800 per month to the UFW pension fund, in which the workers will be vested after five years and will be guaranteed a defined benefit upon retirement. When the diocese changed the retirement plan and after it disbursed payouts to each employee, it distributed, from the surplus that remained in the over funded pension fund, monies to each parish to do with what they wished.

At Holy Spirit, a decision was made by the Finance Committee and Father Jerry to put the distributed funds in a dedicated account and use it to meet the union contract obligation. Guess what? No additional money has ever been set aside from general revenue for this account and the money will be gone in May. The Parish is under legal obligation to make the $1,800 payment each month—will it (we) be doing that?

A Brief Note
Last fall, a check in the amount of $6,254.04 was donated to the Parish through the Texas Civil Rights Project. This money is the total that had been collected in 2003 for the designated fund to help support the fired workers. The four workers are very grateful for the outpouring of love and support that they received, and, therefore, they released this money to help the Parish.
The Pastor has refused to have this fact published in the Sunday bulletin.

If you want an opportunity for prayerful discussion of these and other issues about the parish or have any other comments, please contact us at:

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Friday, April 01, 2005

Pope John Paul II

A Final Goodby...
1920 - 2005

VATICAN CITY (April 2) - Pope John Paul II, the Polish pontiff who led the Roman Catholic Church for more than a quarter century and became history's most-traveled pope, died Saturday in his Vatican apartment. He was 84.

"The Holy Father died this evening at 9:37 p.m. in his private apartment. All the procedures outlined in the apostolic Constitution 'Universi Dominici Gregis' that was written by John Paul II on Feb. 22, 1996, have been put in motion," the Holy See said in a statement.

The announcement came from papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls and was distributed to journalists via e-mail. John Paul expired as cardinals were leading some 70,000 people in prayers for him in his "last journey."