Friday, May 29, 2009

Don't go washing no female's feet!

Opinion Piece
Editor: David Jackson

When Catholics were preparing to celebrate Holy Week, April 5-12. Parishes in the Brownsville diocese received information about celebrating those holy days. The directive for Holy Thursday seems to insist that only "men’s" (males) feet are to be washed.

Pope Benedict XVI during his trip to the African nation of Angola delivered a strong plea for women's rights during the next-to-last day of his first trip to Africa, insisting that discrimination against women "forms no part of God's plan." Several African women said the pope’s message is undercut by what they see as a pattern of discrimination inside the church itself. The pope quoted from John Paul II’s 1995 message for World Day of Peace. In it John Paul emphasized that women have a "full right to become actively involved in all areas of public life, and this right must be affirmed and guaranteed...where necessary through appropriate legislation." John Allen writing about Benedict’s trip says: "By virtually any measure, the pope’s assertion of male-female equality remains more an aspiration than a reality across much of Africa."

It surely seems to me that Allen’s statement can be extended to the entire Roman Catholic Church. It has particular application to the directives given to parishes in the Brownsville Diocese. The pope went on to say: "I call everyone to an effective awareness of the adverse conditions to which many women have been -- and continue to be -- subjected," he said, "paying particular attention to ways in which the behavior and attitudes of men, who at times show a lack of sensitivity and responsibility, may be to blame."

African women responded to the pope’s talk: "Women are always in second place in the church," said Pauline Maissaba, a 24-year-old Cameroonian Catholic, who spoke to NCR following Sunday Mass at Yaoundè's St. Kisito Parish, where the liturgy is celebrated in the local Ewondo language."When you come to church, you always see priests, deacons, and seminarians taking charge," Maissaba said. "Women clean the church, they wash the priest's clothes, and they do the cooking. They're always doing the less rewarding work."

These African women are expressing the sentiments of many Catholic women the world over. "The church talks about honoring the place of women, as if women are no longer left behind. But women are left behind," said Grace Atem, a 22-year-old Cameroonian. "When it comes to decision-making in the church, you won't see many women," Bekono said. "Even the pope's visit shows this. In Cameroon, the pope met the bishops, he met the Muslims, he met politicians, but he did not meet with women."

I could not help but remember the pithy statement made about John Paul II and his visits to different countries, "He kisses the ground and steps on the women."

from the Valley Morning Star, Palm Sunday 2009

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Ireland Child Abuse

The following is from the National Catholic Reporter.

Irish abuse report demands decisive action
On Wednesday, May 20 [2009], the government of Ireland issued a 2,600-page report on the nine-year investigation into Catholic church-operated schools and reformatories. The report came from the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and covered a 60-year-period from 1936 to the present. It raised serious questions about Catholic institutions that permitted and fostered climates of sustained abuse by priests and nuns.

U.S. Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer and advocate for those abused by priests, offers this reflection on the report.
* * * *

Thus far the reaction to the publication of the Report of the Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse has been quite consistent. Most who have read news accounts of the 30 page executive summary have expressed shock, horror, disgust, anger and other like sentiments. Presuming that the executive summary is exactly that, a summary one can therefore presume that the full report is more of the same horror except in more detail.

This report was the end result of a long investigation conducted by a government agency and headed by Justice Sean Ryan. The report's credibility, indeed its very power lies with its source. The lengthy investigation was not a private endeavor and certainly not sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church. As if this report is not mind and soul blowing enough, it will be followed on later this summer by the report of the inquiry into sexual abuse by clergy of the Archdiocese of Dublin.

The Roman Catholic Church has been intimately enmeshed with every facet of life in the Republic of Ireland. The Church controlled the education, health care and welfare systems. Every one of the institutions probed by the Commission was run by a Catholic religious order, the two predominant ones being the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy. Both orders are headquartered in Rome and in Ireland, the activities of each has been subject to the oversight and authority of the Irish Bishops. The young children who are described in the report as the victims of all types of horrific abuse are members of what the Second Vatican Council referred to as the "People of God."

The vicious sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual devastation inflicted upon these children was not accidental. It was systemic. It was part of the everyday life and indeed deeply ingrained in the very culture of the childcare system in Catholic Ireland.

The intellects and emotions of decent people, of committed Christians and especially of devoted Catholics cannot truly process the unbelievable reality presented in this report. The sadistic world of these institutions is not that of some crazed secular dictatorship. It is not the world of an uncivilized tribal culture that ravaged the weak in ages long past. This report describes a world created and sustained by the Roman Catholic Church. The horrors inflicted on these helpless, trapped children -- rapes, beatings, molestation, starvation, isolation -- all were inflicted by men and women who had vowed themselves to the service of people in the name of Christ's love.

The report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse is not unique though it may well be the most shocking example of the reality of such a culture of evil. In the past two decades over two dozen reports have described physical and sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults by Catholic clergy and religious. Among the more shocking have been a series of reports submitted to the Vatican between 1994 and 1998 revealing
sexual exploitation of religious women in Africa by African priests [1].

These reports remained largely unknown until they were brought to light by the National Catholic Reporter in 2001. Other reports have opened the doors to the secret world of clergy sexual abuse in the U.S. and elsewhere. The report of the Winter Commission about rampant sexual abuse at Mount Cashel, the Christian Brothers orphanage in Newfoundland and the report of the Philadelphia Grand Jury investigation stand out as examples not only of the depravity but of the institutionalized cover-up.

Revelations of various forms of abuse by Catholic religious and clerics all have common elements. Likewise, they evoke responses from the institutional leadership that are common to all examples of abuse and consistent in their nature. Most disturbing is the certain knowledge that the vicious abuse, in Ireland and elsewhere, is not accidental nor isolated and it is never unknown to Church authorities. The Church's authorities, from the pope himself down to the local bishops and religious superiors have known about this unbelievable culture of abuse and have done nothing.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan referred to the Church as a “Loving Mother” when he spoke at his installation Mass in New York. In light of the facts disclosed in the Irish report as well as the information revealed about countless other cases of abuse, such a description of the Church is not only absurd, but insulting to the countless people whose belief and trust in the hierarchy and clergy has been betrayed.

The official reaction is predictable. Denial, minimization, blame shifting and finally limited acknowledgment followed by carefully nuanced “apologies” has been the standard fare. At no time has the leadership of any part of the institutional Church ever owned up to any systemic accountability. The standard responses are totally unacceptable because they are devious and irrelevant. Those who still hold to the institutional Church as their source of emotional security may well bray about anti-Catholicism, media sensationalism and exaggeration of what they claim to be an aberration. Such responses are mindless but far worse, they inflict even more pain on the thousands whose lives have been violated.

The Church cannot and will not fix itself. The very reality of the systemic abuse in the Irish institutions (and elsewhere as well) reveals a deep disdain for people by those charged with leading the Church. There has been an abandonment of the fundamental values that are supposed to vivify the Church if indeed these values were ever really internalized by many in positions of power. There is something radically wrong with the institutional Catholic Church. This is painfully obvious because it allows systemic abuse and radical dishonesty to coexist with its self-proclaimed identity as the Kingdom of God on earth.

The institutional Church is defensively changing its approach to the systematic abuse all too slowly and only because it is forced to do so by external forces it cannot control. The Irish government commission is one and the U.S. legal system is another. No amount of bureaucratic programs, pious apologies, rhetorical hand wringing and effusive promises of future change will make the difference. The problem is more than the widespread abuse itself. Punishing the perpetrators is completely missing the forest standing behind the trees. The clerical culture intertwined with the institution needs to be fearlessly examined and dismantled as we know it. It has wrought far too much destruction and murdered too many souls to be tolerated for another generation.

Catholics have a profound obligation in charity and justice to the countless victims of all forms of abuse. They have an obligation to believers of all kinds everywhere. They must ceaselessly do all that can be done to free the Christian/Catholic community from the toxic control of the clericalized institutional structure so that once more the Church will be identified not with an anachronistic and self-serving monarchy but with the Body of Christ.

[Fr. Thomas Doyle served as a consultant to the Dublin archdiocese's commission on abuse by clergy.]

Copyright © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company

Friday, May 15, 2009

Letter to Bishop Pena

OK, here's another...

Good afternoon, Bishop!

With all due respect, when I heard and read the directives/guidelines that you and your fellow bishops issued regarding liturgical changes in light of the H1N1 flu, I felt so sad and somewhat angry that you all do not use the same urgency and passion to protect our children from pedophile clergy.

Perhaps the next generation of bishops will show us that they care enough for our children who are already born to protect them by naming the known clergy who are pedophiles. Perhaps they will stop trying to protect the institution at the expense of those who were victimized, thus showing us whom and what they truly love.

Ann Williams Cass

Farewell to Bishop Peña

Received this some time back.


As Bishop Peña turned 75 and is now up for retirement, there have been many published accolades of his accomplishments in the Brownsville Diocese since becoming our bishop in 1995. Before we turn the page of his administration, however, it is important to read the full page.

When he arrived in August of 1995, he asked for the resignation of all lay diocesan employees and told them that they would each know if they still had their position within the diocese by the end of the year, five months in the waiting. This was all based on information that he had received about some of the staff from misinformed laity, not fellow clergy. At a clergy conference, it quickly became apparent that he was going to accept the resignations of these employees without so much as meeting or talking with them.

He kicked the Oblate fathers out of the Shrine. The Oblates are a religious community of men who had decades of presence and leadership in the Valley. He then incorporated and formed a board whose members were all sworn to confidentiality about any and all matters that the board discussed, even when they were not in executive session.

He spent thousands of dollars remodeling the building that housed diocesan offices in Alamo, turning it into a residence for himself. The house plans show that it even has an indoor sauna.

He terminated the pension fund for all diocesan and parish lay employees without consulting the board of the pension fund. The fund was nearly $12 MILLION over-funded. While a very small portion of this over funded money was returned to the parishes, there was little or no accounting for where the rest of this money went and although he terminated the employee pension fund, he DID NOT terminate the same pension fund for the priests.

On August 2nd, 1999, a check from the diocesan insurance carrier, Gallagher Bassett Services, Inc., was paid out in the amount of $350,000 to his mother, Elisa Peña, to settle a claim made against the diocese on her behalf after a December 24th 1996 accident that involved a diocesan vehicle in which she was a passenger.

He employed his own CPA from El Paso for the Brownsville Diocese rather than employing a CPA firm from the Valley. This CPA has had to fly into the Valley every time he is needed. Few in the diocese feel that the Bishop has been transparent in the finances of the diocese and this area was a constant cause for contention at clergy gatherings.

According to the Dallas Morning News, Bishop Peña asked Fr. Onyia, a priest from Nigeria, to leave the country as soon as possible after allegations that Fr. Onyia had sexually molested a mentally disabled minor while at the Shrine. He also accosted two teenage girls in Harlingen, after the Bishop had transferred him there.

The Brownsville diocese has paid out MILLIONS OF DOLLARS in secret settlements of sexual abuse cases involving clergy. Is it possible that this is where the almost $12 MILLION in proceeds from the termination of the employee pension fund went?

While other US Bishops, including some fellow Texas bishops, have released the names of their pedophile priests, Bishop Peña has refused to go public with the names of those priests within the Brownsville diocese who have been asked to leave public ministry because of their KNOWN (not alleged) sexual abuse of minors. This decision on his part has left these guilty priests free to live and work within our community, putting our children at great risk.

He also demoted a pastor to “parish administrator” for participating in a Labor Day press conference and march supporting justice for all workers.

He was also responsible for the destruction of a progressive parish in north McAllen and thereafter awarded some priests the title of “monsignor”, presumably for their assistance in this action.

And perhaps the saddest of all, according to the late Bishop Fitzpatrick, while Bishop Peña called for particular care to the elderly, he never once went to visit Bishop Fitzpatrick during his retirement, let alone, as he was dying of cancer. Bishop Fitzpatrick lived in a parish within close proximity of the Chancery.

This is a short list. Much more could be added. But, suffice it to say, we look forward to the retirement of Bishop Raymundo Peña and hope and pray that it comes quickly.

Concerned Catholics of the Rio Grande Valley