A few days ago, after posting my reflections about bullying bishops, I got a rather nasty private email. The author, to phrase it here more politely, told me that if I despise the church and hate our bishops and the Pope so much I should simply leave the Catholic Church, move on, and shut up.

I don’t despise the Catholic Church. I don’t hate our bishops or the Pope. Some of my best friends are bishops, archbishops, and even a couple cardinals. 🙂

In all the heated Catholic rhetoric these days, it is easy to miss the main point.

We have a major Catholic leadership problem. It is reaching crisis proportions, as I write. This is bigger and more far-reaching than the sixteenth century Reformation.

In today’s news, we read about an increasingly angry Vatican……..

As reported in the The Irish Catholic and the The National Catholic Reporter, just some weeks after a Vatican report about the Irish Catholic Church lamented what it described as “fairly widespread” dissent from church teaching, it has been revealed that the Vatican has “silenced” a widely respected Redemptorist: Father Tony Flannery.

The Vatican silencing of Flannery has raised a strong protest among the members of the 800-strong Association of Catholic Priests, which has accused the Vatican of issuing a fatwa against liberal clerics.

According to Michael Kelly, the deputy editor of The Irish Catholic, Father Flannery, a popular author and retreat director, has voiced support in the past for opening up debates about the ordination of women, a change to the church’s ban on artificial birth control, and an end to mandatory celibacy. He also provoked dismay among senior Irish bishops when he publicly backed Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s 2011 attack on the Vatican, in the wake of the report into the mishandling of clerical abuse in the Cloyne diocese. Kenny accused the Vatican of “dysfunction,” “disconnection,” “elitism” and “narcissism.” Flannery described the speech as “wonderful.”

By acting against Fr. Tony Flannery now, Cardinal William Levada’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has provoked the ire of the priests’ association. Flannery is a founder of the association, which now represents some 20 percent of Ireland’s clergy.

Since its founding less than two years ago, the group has campaigned for reforms in the church and is due to hold a national assembly in early May to harness momentum. Key priorities for the group include “a re-evaluation of Catholic sexual teaching” and “a redesigning of ministry in the Church, in order to incorporate the gifts, wisdom and expertise of the entire faith community, male and female.”

Father Flannery is the latest Irish priest to face Vatican censure. In mid-April, it was revealed that moral theologian Fr. Seán Fagan had been silenced by the Vatican two years ago. His Marist order even took the bizarre step of buying up unsold copies of his 2008 book What Happened to Sin?.

The Irish Capuchin, Owen O’Sullivan, also fell foul of the CDF in late 2010 after he published an article suggesting that homosexuality is “simply a facet of the human condition.”

The well-known ecologist Fr. Seán McDonagh, a member of the Irish priests’ association’s leadership team, has accused the Vatcan of “outrageous” behavior in silencing of these Irish priests. He accused the Vatican of “throwing a fatwa” at the priests and said that some of Rome’s recent actions were like a return to the Inquisition.

The Irish association of priests has rallied behind Father Flannery, insisting, “This intervention is unfair, unwarranted and unwise”………….

We urgently need to engage ourselves in a CATHOLIC REFORM OF THE REFORMERS OF THE REFORM.

The Catholic Church is OUR church, because WE ARE THE CHURCH. We don’t have a Catholic problem. We have a CATHOLIC LEADERSHIP PROBLEM……

If you care about the Catholic Church, as I do, you cannot stand silently along the sidelines. What we see, hear, and read about is serious stuff. Please join the reform movement.

There are today a number of Catholic reform groups. I appreciate and support what they are doing.

My favorite reform group is one of the oldest. Perhaps it is in fact the oldest: ARCC – The Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church. It appears to be experiencing an energetic organizational rebirth. Rightly so, because the people in ARCC realize that we are the church and that, as Catholics, we have dignity and rights as Catholics. Our dignity and our rights are guaranteed in Catholic Church law, i.e. what is called “canon law.”

Next week a longer reflection about our Catholic rights: For all those who understand what’s happening in today’s church. We don’t have a Catholic problem. We have a deadly serious, aggressive, and festering Catholic leadership problem.


For your homework, check out ARCC. They have an excellent electronic newsletter. It is attractive, insightful, and very up to date.

Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church
Call: 877-700-2722

Email: arccnews@gmail.com

Web: arcc-catholic-rights.net


Bullying Bishops: Reformers of the Reform

Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior using force or coercion to afflict others.

Bullying consists of three basic types of abuse – emotional, verbal, and physical. It can use subtle methods of coercion such as intimidation or not so subtle methods involving condemnation and punishment. It is always destructive and demeaning. Bullying has no place within the community of faith.

Bullying can range from simple one-to-one bullying to more complex institutionalized bullying in which the bully may have one or many “lieutenants” who assist the primary bully in his or her bullying activities.

Reviewing events of the past couple weeks, it is clear that contemporary Roman Catholic leadership in Rome, along with the Vatican’s lieutenants in the USCCB, have launched an aggressive program of Catholic bullying.

(1)Peoria Bishop Daniel Jenky said during a Sunday homily at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria, Illinois that President Obama is following previous governments that “tried to force Christians to huddle and hide only within the confines of their churches.”

“Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services and health care,” the (Peoria) Journal Star and Chicago Tribune quoted Bishop Jenky as saying during the homily. “In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama – with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda – now seems intent on following a similar path.”

(2) SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the largest, oldest and most active support group for women and men wounded by religious authority figures (priests, ministers, bishops, deacons, nuns and others). It is an independent and confidential organization, with no connections with the church or church officials. SNAP is now being bullied and attacked by Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn and his lawyers. SNAP is fighting hard to protect the confidentiality of victims, witnesses, whistleblowers, police, prosecutors. Bishop Finn, by the way, is making other headlines these days as well.

The first criminal case against a sitting U.S. Catholic bishop in the decades-long clergy sex abuse crisis will go forward after a Missouri judge’s decision that Bishop Robert Finn, head of the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese, must stand trial on charges of failing to report suspected child abuse. The charge against Finn centers on the case of Fr. Shawn Ratigan, a diocesan priest who was arrested last May on charges of possession of child pornography. While the bishop said he was aware of questionable images on the priest’s laptop as early as December 2010, Ratigan was not reported to police by the diocese until May 2011.

In separate indictments in October, prosecutors charged both Finn and the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese as a whole with criminal misdemeanors in the case.

(3) The most outrageous case of current Roman Catholic hierarchical bullying of course is CDF Cardinal William Levada’s doctrinal “assessment” of LCWR, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

The leadership and members of LCWR, the largest leadership organization for U.S. women religious, are “stunned” by the announcement that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has ordered a reform its statutes and has appointed an American archbishop to oversee its revision.

“The presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was stunned by the conclusions of the doctrinal assessment of LCWR by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” LCWR said in a news release. “Because the leadership of LCWR has the custom of meeting annually with the staff of CDF in Rome and because the conference follows canonically-approved statutes, we were taken by surprise.”

The Vatican announced it had appointed Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain to oversee LCWR, which has been the subject of a doctrinal assessment by the Vatican congregation since 2009.

According to the document from the congregation, Archbishop Sartain is given authority over the group in five areas, including:

(1) Revising LCWR statutes;
(2) Reviewing LCWR plans and programs;
(3) Creating new programs for the organization;
(4) Reviewing and offering guidance on the application of liturgical texts; and
(5) Reviewing LCWR’s affiliations with other organizations, specifically NETWORK and the Resource Center for Religious Institutes.

The document from Cardinal Levada’s CDF re-emphasizes the reason for the doctrinal assessment, writing that Levada told LCWR leadership in 2008 that the congregation had three major areas of concern with the group:
(1) The content of speakers’ addresses at the annual LCWR assemblies;
(2) “Corporate dissent” in regarding the church’s sexual teachings;
(3) “A prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” present in some of the organizations programs and presentations.


Why Bishops Bully:

Bullying research indicates that adults who bully have personalities that are authoritarian, and they have a strong need to control or dominate. A prejudicial view of subordinates can also be a particularly strong factor.

Psychologists stress that a bully reflects the environment of his “home,” repeating the model he learned from his parents or superiors. In Roman Catholic history, we call this Roma locuta, causa finita: “Rome has spoken and the matter is closed.”

Bullying studies also show that envy and resentment are often key motives for bullying. Some bullies are arrogant and narcissistic. Others use bullying as a tool to conceal shame or anxiety or to boost self esteem: by demeaning others, the abuser him/herself feels empowered.

There is something terribly dysfunctional in Pope Benedict’s Reform of the Reform….I miss Pope Benedict’s enyclical: Deus caritas est! (GOD IS LOVE.)


BELIEF GAP: Church as Hierarchy or Church as People

According to survey results published a couple days ago, three out of four Irish who identified themselves as Catholics find the church’s teaching on sexuality “irrelevant.”

The survey — conducted by the research association Amarach — also showed that almost 90 percent of those surveyed believe that divorced or separated Catholics in a stable second relationship ought to be able to receive Communion at Mass.

According to the results, 35 percent of those surveyed attend Mass at least once a week; 51 percent attend at least once a month. Five percent of Irish who identify themselves as Catholics never attend Mass.

The Association of Catholic Priests, which represents about 20 percent of Ireland’s priests, is campaigning for changes in the church. Its members maintain that they are mainstream church and not dissidents; their founder, Redemptorist Father Tony Flannery, has been asked by the Vatican to quit writing for his order’s monthly magazine.

The survey appeared to reveal a wide disparity between what the church teaches and what the self-identified Catholics believe.

Eighty-seven percent disagreed with church teaching on an unmarried priesthood and said they believed that priests ought to be allowed to get married, while 77 percent said the church should admit women to the priesthood.

When asked “to what extent do you agree with the Catholic Church’s teaching that any sexual expression of love between a gay couple is immoral,” 61 percent said they disagreed while 18 percent of those surveyed believed homosexual acts to be immoral.

Two out of three surveyed want a greater role in choosing their bishop.

The survey results were released April 12. One week earlier, during his Holy Thursday Mass, Pope Benedict XVI cautioned against dissent from church teaching, saying it was not a legitimate path to reform.

Father Sean McDonagh, a member of the leadership team of the Association of Catholic Priests, told Catholic News Service that the survey “confirms that those who are advocating for change in the church are not a tiny minority, but are, in fact, at the heart of the church.”

He said Irish Catholics are “crying out for change and do not want the church to go backward, but to move forward and change.”

The belief gap is real. And not just in Ireland



Old Men and Their New Inquisition

Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) previously known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition or more familiarly as the “Holy Office,” will be 76 on June 15th. He should have retired last year. His predecessor prefect at the CDF, Pope Benedict XVI, will be 85 on April 16th. Popes don’t retire. They just move on eternally.

In Acts of the Apostles we read about old men dreaming dreams and younger men having visions. In the international press, these days, we read about old men dreaming dreams of sanction and silence for younger visionaries.

The Former CDF Prefect, we heard in his Holy Thursday homily, doesn’t like disobedient Austrian priests looking for answers. The Current CDF Prefect, we read today, doesn’t like Irish priests who ask questions.

Gerard O’Connell, Irish journalist, reports from Rome:

“The Association of Irish Priests (ACP) – which represents about a third of all the priests in Ireland – says it is ‘disturbed’ at the silencing of Father Tony Flannery, one of its founder members. The ACP issued a press statement on the afternoon of Easter Monday, April 9, expressing its ‘extreme unease and disquiet’ at this development. Its statement came after various Irish media, including The Irish Catholic (April 5) and The Irish Times (April 9), had already reported that the Vatican had imposed the silencing.

“….Vatican Insider has learned from informed sources that in mid-March Fr. Flannery, 65, a member of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, popularly known as The Redemptorists, was summoned to Rome for a meeting with his Superior General, Father Michael Brehl….

“In Rome, Fr. Flannery learned that Fr.Brehl, his Canadian Superior General, had earlier been summoned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), where, according to sources, its prefect, Cardinal William Levada, had informed him that the CDF had concerns about the ‘orthodoxy’ of certain views expressed by Fr.Flannery in articles that he had written for the magazine Reality. The monthly magazine is published by the Irish Redemptorists, and has a circulation of around 6,500.

In particular, the CDF was concerned about the orthodoxy of what Fr. Flannery had written regarding contraception, the possibility of married priests in Ireland, and the ordination of women as priests. The CDF also seems to have problems regarding his leadership role in the Association of Irish Priests, which today has 820 of the 3,400 Irish priests as members, and would like him to withdraw from that.

“Sources say the Superior General told Fr. Flannery that he cannot write or speak on any of the above mentioned subjects. Furthermore, he has asked the Irish priest to go to a monastery for about six weeks to pray and reflect on all this. At the end of that period, he hopes Fr. Flannery will return ‘to think with the Church’ (Sentire cum Ecclesia).

Vatican Insider has learned too that the editor of the magazine Reality, Fr.Gerard Moloney, also a Redemptorist priest, has been instructed not to write on the above mentioned topics. Moreover, the magazine Reality has henceforth to be reviewed by a theologian before publication.

“Cardinal Levada wants the Superior General of the Redemptorists to report back to him by the end of July to assure him that Fr. Flannery’s situation has been resolved. Vatican Insider has tried to contact the Superior General to have his comments on this whole matter but he had left Rome, and could not be reached at the time of writing….

The ACP affirmed ‘in the strongest possible terms’ its ‘confidence in and solidarity with Fr Flannery’ and stated clearly that it believed that ‘this intervention is unfair, unwarranted and unwise….’ The ACP rejected its depiction by ‘some reactionary fringe groups’ as ‘a small coterie of radical priests with a radical agenda’ and said it has ‘protested vehemently against that unfair depiction.’

” ‘We are and we wish to remain at the very heart of the Church, committed to putting into place the reforms of the Second Vatican Council,’ the Association stated firmly.”


Apostolic Imagination

Pope Benedict XVI once again denounced the ordination of women and the abolition of priestly celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church during a stern Holy Thursday address.

Delivering his homily this past Thursday in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Benedict said the ban on female priests was a “divine constitution,” as Jesus chose only men to be his apostles during the Last Supper.

Surrounded by more than 1,600 priests, bishops and cardinals, the Pope stressed that he would not tolerate disobedience about these issues.

With all due respect, Pope Benedict is blind to the realities of the early Apostolic Church. And far too many highly-placed contemporary Church leaders spend more time reading L’Osservatore Romano than they do reading the signs of the times.

Very early in the history of our Church, there was a conviction that what Jesus taught and did should be faithfully remembered but not necessarily repeated in all the forms in which the first disciples received it.

Apostolic imagination and institutional creativity in the post-Resurrection Church.

Things the historic Jesus never directed, became normative in the Apostolic Church:

(1) By Baptism, in the Christian community, Gentiles were accepted as equal to Jews.
(2) A New Testament was written.
(3) Four different Gospels interpret Jesus Christ in four different theologies.
(4) A sacramental system is created with great fluidity and a variety of rituals.
(5) A plurality of ministries emerges based on individual charisms and community approval.
(6) Paul, who never met the historic Jesus is considered an apostle.
(7) Women are given the title “apostle.”

The processes of theological and structural creativity continued into the post-Apostolic Church.

(1) The Council of Nicea described Jesus in ways that the historic Jesus (along with Paul and other apostolic witnesses) would have never ever used: the Son as “consubstantial with the Father.”
(2) The Council at Ephesus described Mary in terminology the early Apostolic Church would have rejected: “Mother of God.”
(3) The Roman Papacy became an authoritarian power structure.

And the process continued…….and continues…..and must continue. Long ago I learned the old principle of Catholic life: “Ecclesia est semper ipse sed numquam idem.” (“The Church is always itself but never the same.” That should be emblazoned on every bishop’s coat of arms!

Resurrection is about on-going new life. On-going Apostolic Imagination.


Thoughts for Easter 2012

“All things therefore are charged with love, are charged with God and if we knew how to touch them give off sparks and take fire, yield drops and flow, ring and tell of him.”


“And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”


“Let Him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east.”

― Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. (28 July 1844 — 8 June 1889).
English poet, Roman Catholic convert, and Jesuit priest.