Saturday, July 28, 2012


   Following Msgr. Lynn's sentencing for endangering children, Archbishop Chaput authorized the following statement:

From the challenges the Church has faced both nationally over the past decade, we understand the full gravity of sexual abuse.  This year and even this week, Pennsylvania has been the epicenter of this issue, and we know there is legitimate anger in the broad community toward any incident or enabling of sexual abuse.  The trial of the past several months has been especially difficult for victims and we profoundly regret their pain.

The public humiliation of the church has emphasized the vital lesson that we must be constantly vigilant in our charge to protect children in our parishes and schools.  Since the events some ten years ago that were at the center of this trial, the Archdiocese has changed.  We have taken dramatic steps to ensure that all young people in our care are safe, and these efforts will continue even more forcefully now and in the years ahead.

We remain committed to protecting children and caring for victims.  Fair-minded people will question the severity of the heavy, three to six year sentence imposed on Msgr. Lynn.  We hope that when this punishment is objectively reviewed, it will be adjusted.

We pray for Msgr. Lynn and his family at this difficult time.

Donna Farrell
Director of Communication


   Clearly, the statement was written by PR people and not by the shepherd of a deeply wounded flock--a shepherd who happens to be a Franciscan! What a terrible time to be a "no-show."    

   At least, the PR people apologized to the victims and asked for prayers for Lynn and his family, which is right and good.  But how could they have forgotten to include a request for prayers for Lynn's victims?  They, and all the victims in Philadelphia and elsewhere, are going through a life-time of "difficult times," and Chaput has coldly decided to wound and anger them even more. (To get some idea of the anguish this non-statement has caused, see the Philadelphia-based blog, www.catholics4change.)

   The "shot" that the PR people took at the judge for her three-to-six year sentence, smacks of politics. Something appears to be afoot here and we'll have to wait and see what develops.

   All Catholics will agree that Archbishop Chaput is the canonical, i.e., the legal leader of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.  But very many faithful Catholics are realizing that he is not their spiritual leader.  An increasing number are searching elsewhere for spiritual leadership.  Many are feeling lost.  Some are walking away.  Ordinarily, church leaders blame society for such a situation.  Not this time.  This calamity is self-inflicted and the fault is clearly in the leaders themselves.            


Friday, July 20, 2012


   Philadelphia's Archbishop Charles Chaput has declared that his archdiocese is now "mission territory."  Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has agreed, and extended the territory to New York, the U. S., and the entire Western world.  Both prelates see this territory as the target of the "New Evangelization" that Pope Benedict XVI will proclaim when he initiates the "Year of Faith" on October 12th, the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II.

   Unhappily I have seen too many of these "Years" and similar endeavors fail.  And I fear that this one will fail too.  We will see rallies and other "churchy" events but in the end, I fear they will produce little or nothing.  In the present case, very much of the spiritual energy needed to re-evangelize today's society and culture resides precisely in those who have walked away from the organized church.  I believe that the organized church cannot possibly succeed in such an effort without them.  So instead of planning to talk to the disaffected Catholics, the hierarchy should plan to respectfully listen to them.  At the least, there needs to be a sea change in the organized church's attitude toward itself and the everyday world; listening to the disaffected and to the everyday world would be a good step toward such a change.

   To begin with, the pope will have to change his attitude toward the everyday world.  His greatest problem with Vatican II is reported to be the council's (and John XXIII's) hopeful view of the world, as expressed in the council's document on the Church in the Modern World.  There is certainly much to be pessimistic about in today's world but addressing pessimism with pessimism is not productive.

   Cardinal Dolan said that the New Evangelization begins with one's own conversion.  I take that to mean that the Gospel must be brought anew to the organized church.  Here are some suggestions to help make the conversion real and productive.  Dolan and the rest of the hierarchy can begin to move the organized church at least to aim at the following:

   Clericalism, with its privileged class of priests and bishops, will end.  And the rule of obedience will be immediately changed so that priests and bishops will refuse to obey any instruction or policy that is immoral or illegal.  The protection of children will be a supreme value.  Priests and bishops will inform law enforcement of any suspected crime by one of their members.

   Seminary education and spiritual formation will be open to the everyday world and its possibilities and needs, so that priests will minister to these possibilities and needs, especially by listening respectfully to the laity and working with them.

   The laity will be trained to spiritually form themselves and one another to clearly and effectively discern the signs of the times, i.e., discern God's presence and intentions in their everyday experiences in their families, schools, work, politics, businesses, science, the arts, etc.  Their sense of the faith will be acknowledged and respected as a vital part in forming the Magisterium, the church's official teaching authority.

   The bishops and laity will respect today's theologians and respect today's ways of discerning what is real and true, and incorporate this knowledge into updating the church's moral teachings.

   All Catholics will require the Catholic members of Congress, and urge the others, to explicitly work for the common good with a preferential option for the poor, sick, vulnerable and outcast.  They will require a fair economic plan and health care for all Americans.

   All Catholics will require the Catholic members of every level of government, and urge the others, to follow the principles of social justice, and work together to convince their constituents and all Americans that we are truly "all in this together," and all responsible for one another.  They will provide for their people's needs at every level of government.

   All Catholics will require the Catholic members of the Supreme Court, and urge the others, to emulate Justice Roberts' recent action and be "umpires" and not political activists.

   All Catholics will require Catholic business executives, and urge others, to create productive, middle class jobs for Americans, even while they send jobs overseas.

   Catholic schools, colleges and universities will educate young people in the mind and heart of Jesus Christ, without imposing our religion on non-Catholic students or faculty.

   In sum, the church's activities and mission will be focused where Jesus intends them, i.e., in everyday society.  What happens in the church building will be the spiritual preparation and formation for, and the celebration of the church's mission in the everyday world.  Catholics, both in the pews and the disaffected, will then see clearly and effectively that the Mass is the font and summit of their everyday, spiritual life, and that everything they do every day is an offertory for the Mass and a mission from the Mass.

   On October 11, 1962, the church was in many ways 400 years behind the everyday world.  In many ways, it still has not caught up.  May the 50th anniversary of Vatican II's beginning be a new beginning of the New Pentecost that Pope John XXIII prayed for.  

Monday, July 16, 2012


   Imagine a Mass that's conducted as follows:

1.  At the beginning, the celebrant announces, "Today we will celebrate our public school teachers as the expressions of Christ that they are."  Then the teachers present will rise and receive a round of applause.

2.  After the homily, a teacher will come to the pulpit and speak for about five minutes, outlining how she/he incorporates her/his faith in the classroom, e.g., the spiritual disciplines, the principles of social justice, without imposing our religion on anyone.  She/he will explain the disciplinary and academic results of her approach. A printed version of her/his presentation will be included in that week's parish bulletin.

3.  At the Offertory, along with the bread and wine, and the collection (presently the  expression of who we are) a few teachers will bring up objects that pertain to teaching, e.g., a plan book, a marker, a text book, etc.  
     Then a few selected people from other expressions of our society can also bring up objects, e.g., a physician, his/her stethoscope; a secretary, her note pad; a plumber, his wrench, new parents, a baby blanket, etc.  These offerings will be placed at the foot of the altar, or on a covered bench in front of the altar, to ensure their cleanliness.

4.  Before the final blessing, the people will come to the altar and pick up their objects.  At the blessing, they will hold the objects up.  At the Dismissal, the celebrant will tell the people at the altar, and all the people in church, to go and bring Christ to the everyday world in the form of themselves and their work.

5.  Then the people with the objects will process out of the church with their objects held high.

  At other Masses, a different group of parishioners will be celebrated, e.g., secretaries, new parents, physicians, scientists, et al.

  In this way, the people will experience concrete evidence that they are the church and that the liturgy is truly the work/prayer of all the people.  And they will also concretely see that their spiritual life is in the everyday world where they are empowered and responsible to use the various objects of their life too help save the world in the Spirit of Christ.

  Imagine a teacher looking at her plan book in school that week, realizing that it was on the altar and offered to God.  Imagine a physician touching a patient with his/her stethoscope, remembering that it was on the altar and offered to God, etc.

  Ideally, the parishioners who work in the same field will come together, e.g., via email groups, a web site, and in person from time to time, to discuss and exchange views on how they incorporate their faith in their everyday lives and work.  

Friday, July 13, 2012


  Recently I read two lists.  One, written by church leaders, gave reasons why absent Catholics should return to Mass.  The other was the result of a survey in which disaffected Catholics gave their reasons for no longer attending Mass.  The lists didn't match.

  The laity who regularly attend Mass also don't seem to offer much help in reconciling this disconnect.  In one diocese they offered such suggestions as, "Have greeters at the door," and, "Put crying children in the cry room."  They came closer with, "Better sermons."

   Many bishops, of course, realize that besides such old problems as remarried, divorced people and the ruling on contraception, the sex abuse tragedy has caused many Catholics to become disaffected.  These reasons are actually symptoms of the deep disconnect between the everyday life and experiences of Catholics and the official church.  

   The disconnect is centuries old, starting when the unified medieval world and church separated.  The separation then grew larger through the Reformation, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the rise of the Modern World, with its democratic freedoms, its science, industry, public education, psychology and psychiatry.  There is responsibility on both sides.  On the church's part, it simply failed to keep up with the changing world. The shepherd lost track of his sheep.  Vatican II tried to "catch up," through aggiornamento, but the church's failure to implement the council, especially its failure to give the laity and the everyday world the full respect they deserve, is now showing itself very clearly.

   To me, the answer lies in reconnecting the everyday life of the laity with the life of the church.  Attending Mass will be one of the great, final outcomes of this reconnection.  

   The Mass is part of the liturgy, the "work and prayer of the people" in publicly worshiping God.  Especially in these economically difficult times, the work and prayer of the people includes our struggle to keep or get a job that provides for our family, to get a good education for our children, to keep them safe from all harm, both in the world and in the church; to somehow push our government to seriously concern itself with the common good, with a preferential option for the poor, sick, vulnerable and outcast; to get all citizens to fully respect one another and truly care for one another, to provide health care for all, to relate peacefully and respectfully with other countries, etc.  Our everyday life includes celebrating births and birthdays, graduations and weddings, and all kinds of successes, and lamenting losses and deaths.  It is precisely in all these ways that we relate, or don't relate, to God on an everyday basis.  And it is all these concerns, joys and sorrows that we should bring to Mass and that should be explicitly recognized, considered, celebrated and/or lamented at the altar.  Who would miss such a Mass?  For example, how meaningful is a wedding or funeral Mass compared to a Sunday Mass?

   One obstacle to overcome is the clerical training of the priests.  They were trained in seminaries that kept them away from the everyday world--and also in many cases from any effective understanding of the Bible and of a mature spirituality for the laity.  Some manage to overcome this handicap, but for the most part their backgrounds are the basis for the complaint about bad sermons.  One result is that the people in the pews (about 30% of all Catholics) have been lulled into not expecting anything relevant at Mass, e.g., "I love Father's sermons.  He's so funny!"  And those Catholics who rightfully expected the Mass to relate to their everyday life in today's world have walked away.

   In following posts, I'll show how we can get truly and effectively involved in the Mass.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012


   Some time ago I was a guest on a Philadelphia TV talk show about the abuse tragedy in the church.  The host asked me, "What has this done to your faith?"  I answered, "Nothing.    I have no trouble with Jesus Christ.  What I have is a severe organization problem."  It was a simple answer with a complex follow-through.

   To begin with, we must continue to give our fullest possible support to the victims of abuse.  This means believing them, and then listening to them and acting on their behalf.  We must continue to fight for an extension of the Statute of Limitations.  And following Msgr. Lynn's conviction, we must vigorously push the District Attorney to continue his investigations and indictments up the clerical ladder.

   Second, we must deal with our anger.  All of us who believe that Jesus Christ is most fully expressed in the Catholic faith have to ask, "How do we proceed in the face of a leadership that has lost all right to our credibility and respect?"  We would be naive to automatically believe anything the bishops say, since everything they say is tainted with their desperate attempt to hold on to their diminishing authority and power.  Also, as I describe on the page, THE NUNS AND THE VATICAN, the bishops are trapped in an old mindset that no longer gives them clear answers as to what is real and true.  Their clumsy campaign for religious freedom shows that they are not speaking the truth openly and directly.

   Philadelphia's Archbishop Chaput is trying to avoid the present situation as much as possible.  His expression of "sorrow" over Lynn's conviction was couched in language that sounded as if the trial and conviction happened on another planet.  And his promises to clean up the archdiocese are accompanied by his continuing cover-up of the priests whom  he is restoring to ministry.

   The bishops' behavior is dissident behavior.  There is nothing of Christ in it.  The corruption is truly deeply set.

   We are therefore walking our spiritual way in today's world without credible and respected leadership from our bishops.  But the rich Catholic spiritual tradition is still available to us, and we have the responsibility to access it and live it as fully as we possibly can.  (I will discuss the Mass in my next post.)  Every day we are challenged to make moral decisions, e.g., in our personal lives, politics, business, etc.  Without reliable leadership from our bishops, we can rely on our own investigation into our faith, on discussions with trusted spiritual mentors, and finally, on our own conscience.  And we must teach the true faith to our children and grandchildren.

  This is a disgraceful situation; it is not the complete, true church that the Spirit of Christ desired and expects.  Yet from our efforts, a new church will arise.  In the meantime, the present corrupt system is doing great spiritual harm, especially to those laity and clergy who still follow it without question.  I challenge any bishop to tell me where I'm wrong on any of this.

   The dissident, spiritually corrupt clerical system must be abandoned in favor of a transparent, system of true servant-leadership.  Right now, this is not in sight.  The bishops have given up their Christ-given, collegial right and responsibility to run the church with the pope.  And the laity are being denied their canonical and theological rights to affirm their equal baptismal dignity.  That leaves the situation up to the pope alone who, in fact, is standing above the church, and therefore, outside the church.  So there is plenty of justification for a spiritual revolution.  We must continue to publicly proclaim and teach our theological, canonical and spiritual right to live within a collaborative, spiritually honest system.  We owe it to ourselves, to our fellow laity and clergy, and to the bishops and pope.  And we owe it to society at large.  We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers.

   In the meantime, we continue to live our faith day by day.  Despite the sorrow, anger and challenges we are experiencing, in fact, within them, all that we do, we do for the honor and glory of Jesus Christ, to whom be all honor and glory, now and forever.  Amen.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


   A spiritually mature person uses his/her imagination.  Imagination begets Intention.  Intention begets Action.  So let's begin to imagine what 21st century Catholics would be like in a 21st century church.

   Imagine working together--in person, by email, in blogs, texting, etc.--to discern the signs of the times and thereby:
   a. clearly discern your own vocation, i.e., in education, work or profession, marriage and family, etc.
   b. actively and effectively participate in Christ's priestly, prophetic and kingly office in today's society and culture.  (See the page: TRANSFORMING SOCIETY TODAY)

   Imagine having well-informed, spiritually mature priests involved in the discussion, more clearly discerning ways to fulfill their own vocations, especially more spiritually helpful ways to relate to their parishioners.  

   Imagine everyone freely discussing whatever subject they discern to be important.  All will compare their discernment with the established teachings of the church to see, if necessary, where and how the established teachings may be updated and even changed. While everyone understands and accepts that any particular discernment will not automatically be true and thereby call for a change in the moral teachings of the church, everyone will demand that their collective discernment be listened to, respected and responded to in accord with the church's living and evolving Tradition. The role of a well-informed conscience and mature self-responsibility will be stressed.

  Imagine people with the same interests or in the same field forming sub-groups, e.g., parents, teachers, workers, business owners, health professionals, lawyers, scientists, artists, electronic experts, etc.

  Imagine having access to appropriate theological and spiritual consultation from experts and spiritually mature mentors. (The Various Pages of this Blog are a start.)

  Imagine living your faith openly as your participation in and expression of the life of Christ, with all its vitality and saving possibilities.  Imagine inviting others, especially the young and new graduates, to join with you in living their own life in Christ according to their age and discernment.

  Imagine a center, e.g., a web site, someone's home, a meeting hall, the parish building, where you can meet from time to time, and where people can contact your group and join in living the way of Christ in a 21st century way.

We'll continue this imagining in other posts.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Happy for Science, Sad for the Church

   The other day, scientists at CERN in Switzerland celebrated the discovery of the Higgs boson--or something very close to it--that explains why all matter has mass.  They were able to make this discovery because they kept learning new things about the universe and therefore were able to ask new questions of it.  The search for the Higgs boson was intense, e.g., it took billions of dollars and the exhausting study of over 500 trillion sub-atomic collisions.  And finally, the universe revealed itself in this new and wondrous way!  One grateful scientist exclaimed, "Thanks, Nature!"

   The discovery challenges the Standard Model of particle physics.  This model, as I understand it, is the latest and best mathematical understanding of how the universe works at the sub-atomic level.  The measurements from the Higgs boson diverge from the Standard Model.  These measurements will be fully tested and if they are proved to be true, scientists will happily admit that the Standard Model is wrong and they will change it to accommodate the new measurements.  What a refreshing example of humility and openness to the truth these scientists are giving the world!

   In the past, the church has also changed its "Standard Model" to accommodate new insights and understanding, though not always happily or willingly.  E.g., it changed when it discerned that Galileo was right, that slavery is immoral, that religious freedom is from God and must be respected for all peoples, that there is salvation outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic church.  

   Today however, church leaders are not disposed to test new insights, and if they are found true, make the necessary changes in the church's "Standard Model" of experiencing God and of moral teachings.  For example, Sister Elizabeth Johnson and Sister Margaret Farley have been severely criticized without being truly tested to see if they have discerned truth that God is revealing to us today.  Even fifty years after Vatican II, some leaders today will not consider the council's teaching that we should adopt a new style for understanding the church and for relating to the everyday world.  To them, the "Standard Model," of understanding the church and relating to the world is unchangeable.  It is as if the Spirit has withdrawn from the world, so there is no opportunity for progress and no need to test new insights.  (Cf. 1 Jn. 4:1)

   In light of the new scientific discovery and its celebration, the church leaders' intransigence stands out as all the more embarrassing.  And harmful.  The church has been losing scientists for centuries, and even today, many look at the church and simply turn away.  What does their loss do?  To them?  To the church?  To today's society and culture?

   Look, for example, at Lawrence Krauss and his new book, A Universe from Nothing, which he wrote with atheist, Richard Dawkins.  Speaking to comedian Stephen Colbert, Krauss took an excursion from his field of science and glibly declared that God is no longer necessary to explain the origin of the universe.  Critics strongly question his understanding, or misunderstanding, of "nothing."  But on Amazon, there are more five star reviews than all the others combined.  I wonder if Krauss or his "five-star" readers know that Catholic cosmologist/mystic, Brian Swimm, describes this "nothing" as "fecund emptiness."  Another writer has called it the "pregnant void."  Far from being nothing, it is a wondrously exciting something.

   Also worrisome to me, Krauss is a university professor, influencing young minds.

   As we celebrate science's latest victory, we look thoughtfully at our church and ask, "How is it influencing today's world?"    


Monday, July 2, 2012

Behold the Men??

   Msgr. Lynn's conviction brought back to me two memories of my time in Rome.  The comparison I will make to the present situation in Philadelphia is not exact but close enough to make my point.

   One: During August, the seminarians at the North American College put on "secular" clothes and vacationed throughout Europe.  In my third year there, I ran out of money.  So I prepared to stay the the College alone.  The Vice Rector instructed me to write a letter to the Archdiocese and ask if they could send me some money. Several bishops were paying for their seminarians' trips.  I wrote the letter.  In return I received a letter telling me that I was in danger of being dismissed from the seminary for my  action.  I showed the letter to the Vice Rector and he wrote to the Archdiocese saying, "This excellent seminarian wrote his letter in obedience to my instructions.  If there is any fault here, it is entirely my own."  My respect for him, as my superior and as a man, soared.

   (A fellow seminarian, Bill Barnett, of Camden, NJ, gave me the money.  His father had recently died and he had come into a very small inheritance.  He adamantly refused to have me pay him back.  Later, a group of officials from the Archdiocese came to Rome.  One of them took me aside and said, "That thing that happened, didn't happen.")

  Two:  Corruptio optimi pessima.  In Rome, all my studies were in Latin, and that Latin sentence especially struck me for its terse balance, directness and truth.  "The corruption of the best is the most evil corruption of all." 

   Now of course, Msgr. Lynn did not write an innocent letter.  He committed a very serious crime.  And he was was left hanging by his superiors, who were part of his crime.  They know this, and Archbishop Chaput knows it.  But I don't expect any of them to "write a letter," and accept responsibility, as the Vice Rector of the North American College did.  So, Corruptio optimi pessima still hangs over them.  As does the curse of Christ:  there are millstones waiting to be distributed.

   We are all sinners and it is hard to "throw a stone" at someone, let alone a millstone.  But in this case, the sins and crimes we are dealing with cry out for justice with the voice of thousands of still suffering victims, parents, families, and Catholics and others in general--a voice of suffering and justified anger.  We all know that the "apologies" and "penance services" were nothing more than mere theatre.  

   We all know what Lynn's superiors should do.  They should present themselves to the civil authorities so that the lawfulness or unlawfulness of their actions can be clearly determined.  And if their actions were unlawful, they should accept the punishment that is due them as just penance for their crimes and sins.  Only in this way will the church be truly purified. But short of another civil investigation, such action is up to these men and their conscience. 

  In the meantime, we have the right to demand that church leaders cease being dissidents and begin to obey all the teachings and laws of the church.  Simple morality demands it!  Vatican II, which represents the highest level of church teaching, shows for example, the role of bishops in running the church with the pope.  The pope is not Christ; he is Peter.  It's O. K. to correct him, as Paul corrected Peter.  And the Council teaches the necessary transparency of the church.  These are not "liberal" or "progressive" teachings that could be "interpreted" or denied by "conservative" bishops.  They are the teachings of the church!

   Church teaching requires that the bishops duly inform the pope of the truth, and even compel him if necessary, to change the criminal and sinful power structure that is at the heart of this calamity, and that is in contradiction to the explicit will of Jesus.  They should tell him, "People are suffering.  Waiting is not an option."  

   As I said above, my respect for the Vice Rector as my superior and as a man soared.  If the bishops want to get back the respect they have lost, the way is clear.  Are they men enough to do what they have to do?