Reflecting about our contemporary American Catholic bishops and also working on my book about Archbishop Jean Jadot, I have been re-reading a number of Catholic historical documents. This morning I re-read documents from the October 1976 Call to Action in Detroit. Here, below, an excerpt from Cardinal Dearden’s opening address.

Cardinal Dearden’s words are not just pious nostalgia, but in their own way a special call to contemporary American Catholic action.

Opening Address : Call to Action Conference
John Cardinal Dearden, Archbishop of Detroit
Chairman, NCCB Ad Hoc Committee for the Bicentennial
October 1976

The journey to this day and this place has been long.

You have come to Detroit in October of the bicentennial year, 10 years after Pope Paul VI issued his “Call to Action” urging us to take up the cause of justice in the world, and two years after our own bishops summoned us to consider our responsibilities for the preservation and extension of the national promise of “liberty and justice for all.” We are here to participate in an extraordinary assembly of the American Catholic community.

This assembly has been convened to respond to the needs of our people as these have been revealed through two years of discussions, hearings and reflection. All of us are here to assist the American Catholic community to translate its sincere commitment to liberty and justice into concrete programs of action designed to make those ideals a living reality in Church and society. We will do all this in a setting of prayerful reflection on the call of the Holy Spirit.

Our central preoccupation here should be how we can more authentically as a Christian community live our faith in God and His Son, bearing witness to our confidence in Him and our awareness of His image in every person, and, together as a Church and individually as workers, citizens and Church members, serve the cause of justice and human development.

Never before has there been an attempt to bring together in this way representatives of the whole ecclesial community of the United States: bishops, priests, religious, and laity. Yet, this extraordinary assembly is not a radical departure from our traditions.

Our first bishop, John Carroll, initiated a policy of practical collegiality among the American hierarchy which resulted in seven provincial and three plenary councils of Baltimore between 1829 and 1884. In these meetings, the bishops and archbishops of the country, working closely with the Roman authorities, legislated for the Church in America. The hierarchy cooperated to insure that, despite the rapid expansion of the nation across the continent and the even more rapid growth of the Catholic people from the polyglot nationalities of Europe, the American Church would remain one in spirit, practice and discipline.

In the latter part of the century, in 1889 and 1893, national assemblies of the laity met to discuss what role the lay people of the Church could play in spreading the Gospel and providing a fuller and freer life for all Americans. The enthusiasm spurred by these meetings did not last. Later efforts to bring about unity through federal of hundreds of lay organizations met with only modest success. Yet, there was a tradition of fostering regional, sectional, and ethnic diversity, and out of it to form a unified Church which could communicate among the groups and regions, and lead to mutual enrichment and provide a basis for united action.

Our efforts at renewal require both an affirmation of our rich pluralism and a strong national organization, and both must take account of the pressing needs of our own people and the people of our country and our world. To forward these objectives, the American Catholic bishops decided to dedicate the Church’s bicentennial celebration to the theme of justice. With the help of many people, we formulated a unique plan: we would hold a series of regional hearings, where teams of bishops would sit and listen to the concerns of our people on issues of justice in the Church and in the world. These hearings were a marvelous experience.

At each of the hearings — held in six different cities: Washington, San Antonio, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Sacramento and Newark — we heard clearly the cries of people for a chance to raise their families in peace and dignity, pass on their distinctive cultural traditions to their children, find a responsible government and a responsive Church. Later, in a special hearing at Maryknoll, New York, we heard a number of invited guests from around the world tell us of the issues of human rights, economic justice and human survival in nations struggling for development and liberation. The hearings were an exhilarating and challenging experience for all who took part. People today, rich and poor, are often studied by scholars and pollsters; their needs, hopes and concerns are defined by questionnaires or by computers. Only rarely are they asked directly to speak up and be heard; so rarely, in fact, that many greet the invitation with understandable skepticism. Yet, that is what we have tried to do, in our perhaps inefficient way.

We are left with an enormous sense of responsibility and an equally strong feeling that there is great power in the spirit and faith of the people who appeared before us. The human resources of our Church and our nation are vast; our task is to carry forward, today, together, the work that has been begun — to unlock the structures of Church and world so that the spirit and energy of our people can flourish and contribute to renewing our communities. No one who sat through those 21 days of hearings could doubt that it can be done and that it must be done.

The regional hearings presented a model of a listening, learning, and caring Church. We hoped that the model would be reproduced in parishes and dioceses around the country. And we were right. More than half the nation’s dioceses sponsored parish discussions. These and other dioceses held their own regional and diocesan-wide meetings to hear the voice of the people and, in some cases, to begin formulating new goals and objectives for the local churches.

From parishes around the country came over three-quarters of a million responses, listing the people’s own perception of the major issues before us and their recommendations to deal with those issues. Of course, it was not a scientific sample; many sections of the country held no program; even where there was a program, the level of participation depended upon many factors. Together with the testimony of the regional hearings, this massive body of material represents the hopes and fears, the anxieties and the aspirations of many of our people……….


Catholic Whistleblowers: Myers of Newark Must Go!

On Wednesday, 22 May, eight members of the newly formed action group “Catholic Whistleblowers” met for a news conference in New York. They urged Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to use his considerable influence to get John Myers, Archbishop of Newark, N.J. removed from office.

Myers has been much in the news, over the past month, for allowing a pedophile priest, Michael Fugee, continued access to minors, in violation of an agreement with prosecutors. Archbishop John Myers continues to show contempt for the safety of children in his diocese and still follows a pattern of leniency toward pedophiles, indifference to potential victims, and an arrogant disdain for anyone who dares to question his judgment.

Fr. Michael Fugee, a priest in the Newark Archdiocese with a history of sexual contact with minors, was arrested on Monday, 20 May, for violating a court agreement not to minister to children. According to the Bergen County Prosecutor’s office, Fugee was charged with seven counts of contempt of a judicial order.

This past April news reports revealed that Father Fugee, with Myers’ knowledge but no hindrance from Archbishop Myers, had still been ministering to children on youth retreats and trips as well as hearing their confessions. These actions clearly violated a July 2007 agreement between the Bergen County prosecutor and the Newark Archdiocese that restricted Michael Fugee from “any unsupervised contact with or to supervise or minister to any child/minor under the age of 18 or work in any position in which children are involved.” This agreement was drawn up as an alternative to a second trial for Fugee after an appeals court overturned in 2006 an earlier ruling that Fugee had sexually assaulted a 14-year-old boy on separate occasions in 1999 and 2000. Fugee did admit in 2001 to fondling the genitals of a teenage boy while wrestling with him and was ordered not to work with children. He ignored that order and continued attending weekend youth retreats.

In 2009, Myers had appointed Michael Fugee chaplain at St. Michael’s Medical Center in Newark, without ever telling the hospital about Fugee’s restrictions. Unlike some other bishops, Myers will not release the names of priests who have been credibly accused of abuse.

The steering committee of Catholic Whistleblowers is a group of distinguished American Catholic leaders: Rev. John P. Bambrick (Jackson NJ); Sr. Sally Butler, OP (Brooklyn NY); Sr. Jeanne Christensen, RSM (Kansas City MO); Rev. Patrick Collins, Ph.D. (Douglas MI); Rev. James Connell (Sheboygan WI); Rev. Thomas Doyle, OP (Vienna VA); Robert M. Hoatson, Ph.D. (West Orange NJ); Rev. Msgr. Kenneth E. Lasch, J.C.D. (Morristown NJ); Rev. Ronald D. Lemmert (Peekskill NY); Rev. Bruce N. Teague (Springfield MA); and Sr. Maureen Paul Turlish, SNDdeN (New Castle DE). They are to be commended for calling for the immediate removal of Archbishop John Myers from his position as Archbishop of Newark.

In addition to calling for the removal of John Myers, the Catholic Whistleblowers are calling on American Catholic bishops: (1) to support proposed legislation in New York, Wisconsin and elsewhere, that would lift statutes of limitations on sex crimes against children; and (2) to adopt policies, similar to one in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, that protect priests, nuns and other church employees who report child sex abuse or cover-ups to civil authorities.

A spokesperson for Cardinal Dolan said that the Archdiocese of New York has had a policy for years that encourages those with allegations of abuse to report them to civil authorities. He did not respond to questions about Myers.


Every Generation Needs Pentecost

Every generation needs to experience Pentecost for itself. It needs God’s Spirit and it needs it in its own particular way.

Indeed scripture assures us that the Holy Spirit is not a generic force, one-size-fits-all, but a person, a relationship, a Spirit that has “particular manifestations” and gives itself to each of us uniquely so that the understanding and strength that we receive are geared to help us in our own particular struggles. If this is true, if Pentecost is so differentiating, an important question arises: Where in life today do we most need the Holy Spirit to transform us? What are our peculiar spiritual disabilities?

What Pentecost needs to pour into us today is the spirit of resiliency, the spirit of forgiveness, the spirit of patience, the spirit of long-suffering, the spirit of understanding, and the spirit to not go jogging or bowling alone.

We need too a Pentecost that can help us cope with the idealogies and fundamentalism (social and ecclesial) that constantly beset us like so many nasty viruses. We are forever infected with ideologies, be they of the left or the right, that block us from living vital parts of the gospel. Whether we rationalize it as protecting proper values, defending a divine creed, or advocating an issue of justice, over and over again we compromise the hospitality, charity, respect, catholicity, and tolerance called for by the gospels, all in the name of sacred cause. Our hearts, unlike God’s, are forever wanting to lodge in just one room. We need a Pentecost to mellow us with the spirit of mildness, stretch us with the spirit of catholicity, and especially fill us with the spirit of hospitality so as to take us beyond the hardness that we rationalize as creed or cause.

— Pentecost reflections by my old friend Ron Rolheiser, writing about Pentecost last year.


Wisdom from Hans Küng

Professor Hans Küng — now 85 like his former professorial colleague Joseph Ratzinger — offers some reflections about church reform and Francis the new Bishop of Rome.

“What is to be done if our expectations of reform are dashed? The time is past when Pope and bishops could rely on the obedience of the faithful. A certain mysticism of obedience was also introduced by the eleventh-century Gregorian Reform: obeying God means obeying the Church and that means obeying the Pope and vice versa.

“Since that time, it has been drummed into Catholics that the obedience of all Christians to the Pope is a cardinal virtue; commanding and enforcing obedience – by whatever means – has become the Roman style. But the medieval equation of ‘obedience to God = to the Church = to the Pope’ patently contradicts the word of Peter and the other apostles before the High Council in Jerusalem: ‘a person must obey God rather than any human authority.’

“We should then in no way fall into resigned acceptance. Instead, faced with a lack of impulse towards reform from the hierarchy, we must take the offensive, pressing for reform from the bottom up.

“If Pope Francis tackles reforms, he will find he has the wide approval of people far beyond the Catholic Church.

“However, if he allows things to continue as they are, without clearing the log-jam of reforms now in progress, such as that of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, then the call of ‘Time for outrage! Indignez-vous!’ will ring out more and more in the Catholic Church, provoking reforms from the bottom up.

“These would be implemented without the approval of the hierarchy and frequently even in spite of the hierarchy’s attempts at circumvention. In the worst case – as I wrote before the recent papal election – the Catholic Church will experience a new Ice Age instead of a spring and will run the risk of dwindling into a barely relevant large sect.”

More information here:


Dirty Hands? Keep Out of NY Cathedral!

Last month, Cardinal Timothy Dolan compared gay Catholics to people with “dirty hands,” suggesting that anybody who engages in same-sex sexual acts is unwelcome at Church. This prompted a protest on May 5th featuring gay Catholics and their allies arriving at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City with literally dirty hands seeking entry for liturgy.

Protest organizer Joseph Amodeo wrote about the “cold” welcome they faced when they attempted to enter:

“At around 9:30am, the ten of us gathered were greeted by four police cars, eight uniformed officers, a police captain, and a detective from the Police Commissioner’s LGBT liaison unit. The detective informed us that the Cathedral would prohibit us to enter because of our dirty hands. It was at that moment that I realized the power of fear. The Archdiocese of New York was responding out of fear to a peaceful and silent presence at Mass.”

Strange goings on in New York. But then the Cardinal Archbishop’s new PR person used do the same fine work for Sarah Palin. I guess it is all about leadership styles.

Thinking of leadership, I remember what former US Secretary of State Colin Powell said: “Leaders are those people who create the conditions of trust that great things can happen.” I like that.

Even better, I like the words of Jesus in the Gospel. (Jesus forgot to mention dirty hands however.) “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant. Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.” (Mt. 20:25-27)