Same Old, Same Old

Archbishop Bernard Hebda may be a really nice guy. He may even be a holy man. But, sorry, this (if true as reported) is the same old hierarchical, cover-your-priestly-ass, clerical bullshit:

“Hebda in the Q-and-A added that the Ramsey County investigation found insufficient evidence to bring forth criminal charges against any individuals and that questions to whether Nienstedt’s alleged misconduct compromised his leadership “became irrelevant in my mind” once he resigned last June.

“Moreover, canon law is sufficiently realistic and practical in that it doesn’t authorize bishops to judge their peers, and does not contemplate any further role in this matter for me or the archdiocese,” Hebda said.” (Excerpted from current National Catholic Reporter).

Need we remind the archbishop that he “or the archdiocese” does not constitute “the church”? This is a gross failure of pastoral leadership and ignorance of what the Church of St Paul and Minneapolis needs and deserves!

Sweep the investigation of Nienstedt’s alleged misconduct with 24 adult males under the rug and maybe people will forget! This “became irrelevant in [your] mind”?

Need we remind the current archbishop that Nienstedt remains on the payroll — for life — of the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis?  In addition, he remains a member of governing boards at the Catholic University of America as well as the Gregorian in Rome. Should not the faculty and administration of these institutions care about the moral integrity and reputation of their board members?

What’s buried alive stays alive!  But, the truth always comes out. The truth will be told. The only question is by whom.

For far too long the arrogant attitude of the hierarchy has been, “We know what’s best for the ‘lay faithful’.”  To this the People of God say, “BULLSHIT!”

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Full NCR report [here].

Such is Our Duty

This time of year reminds me of a church discipline from childhood I’ve long discarded. It’s called the “Easter Duty,” the obligation each Catholic has to go to Confession sometime during Lent. In theory it’s a beautiful and sensible practice — preparing for a full-blown, no-holds-barred celebration of Easter.

Fact is, no one does it. I haven’t for years. But something is shifting this year, something feels different, something is quickening deep inside. The desire to again look at the directive, perhaps even to reincorporate it into my spiritual practice, is awakening. As with all new growth, it’s fragile and might be easily smothered.  But this year it seems I’m being urged to take a fresh look.

Numerous reasons might be cited. First, and most significantly, my experience as a “spiritual coach” for men in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction has a profound reciprocal effect on me. Everyone familiar with the 12 Steps knows the critical importance of the famed Fifth Step — that arduous encounter with another human being when we admit out loud the exact nature of our wrongs.  This is done after a fearless moral inventory.

One need not be a rocket scientist to see the close connection between the Fifth Step and the Easter Duty. Both traditions are inspired and come to the same conclusion. An honest, accurate and thorough admission — out loud and to another person — of our moral failures with acceptance of responsibility for the wrong we have done engenders the recovery, health, well-being and serenity we seek. Twelve-Steppers understand such acknowledgement is critical and  essential to their recovery.

So, yes, with restored resolve I intend to make my Easter Duty this year. But something more is stirring deep down within this quickening awareness. It’s as simple as the archaic aphorism that has also fallen out of vogue: “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” In fact, I would amend that to say, “What’s good for the adult male goose is good for the gaggle of geese!”

Pope Francis prophetically leads the way in gestures like the one we saw yesterday. In a monumentally historic statement the Roman Pontiff and Russian Orthodox Patriarch jointly affirmed, “We are not competitors but brothers, and this concept must guide all our mutual actions as well as those directed to the outside world.”

Like every courageous and prophetic acknowledgement of moral culpability and consequent responsibility to make amends, such acknowledgement is easily ignored, overlooked if not denied, and often subverted by powers-that-be.

Yes, I intend to make my Easter Duty this year. I propose the “gander” do as well — by this I mean Francis’ fellow bishops and all church hierarchs (not all of whom are ordained). Even more, “What’s good for us geese has got to be good for the gaggle.”

We will gather as one Body in Christ to celebrate the unmerited grace of God at Easter. What then might be our corporate, collective “Easter Duty”? …a collective, corporate, fearless confession of our wrong doing with “a firm purpose of amendment”?

Unquestionably, a good place to start would be for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to launch and fully fund a truly independent, unhampered and fearless “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” regarding clergy sex abuse. But this is only a first essential step, the litmus test by which we demonstrate our sincerity to enter into the “repentance leading to resurrection” offered us in the Easter Triduum.

In the absence of such resolve by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, there is nothing preventing leadership within local dioceses from embracing an authentic season of conversation, shepherding us through death to life. I can think of no better place than our own Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis for this to begin.

Is not this the repentance God seeks, “to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6). Would this not be a Jubilee Year of Mercy, truly of Biblical proportions?

It is long past time for each and all of us to perform our Easter Duty!

Flying First Class

Who could have concocted a more ironic or bizarre scenario — flying home First Class from our honeymoon with John Neinstedt!

Yesterday we returned from Amsterdam to Minneapolis after a 16-day European extravaganza. Much to our surprise and fleeting consternation, the disgraced Archbishop rose from his seat at Gate D-57 as “Priority Status” boarding was called. Equally shocking but with a  promise of comfort, a friend had surprised us with an up-grade to First Class for our return flight.

My first response upon seeing the man rise and turn toward us from his seat two rows ahead was pity. Impeccably attired in tailored black suit and Roman collar, the swag of a silver chain hinted at the pectoral cross neatly tucked away in his pocket. A gold ring symbolizing episcopal status still adorned his right hand.

I have flown First Class only twice in my life, the other time being more than thirty years ago! My assumption is that Archbishop Neinstedt typically flies first class — perhaps I’m wrong. How could I not pity him — alone, disgraced, a shepherd who scattered his flock, deemed to be no better than a hired-hand.

Amid this eight-hour flight of continuous pampering, I could not help but wonder when legitimate privacy and need for rest bleeds over into self-indulgence, status-seeking or sense of entitlement. When does it all become routine?

We were two of only 33 passengers in First Class among a roster that likely surpassed 300 passengers. Only five of the thirty-three were women — one was an elderly lady whose daughter regularly came from “coach” to check on her, two twenty-something women were accompanied by men I presumed to be their husbands. (Might they also be returning from their honeymoons?) There was only one person of color — a man whose tone would have been of great advantage during Jim Crow days.

The overwhelming demographic was middle-aged white males who appeared to be accomplished, savvy and influential business types. By contrast with the Archbishop, their attire or appearance exhibited nothing to distinguish role, function or status. They were conspicuous in polo shirts, khakis and dress-for-comfort.  By comparison, their sense of self and personal bearing appeared to emanate from somewhere within.

We savored our First Class treatment and indulged every comfort as honeymoon luxury. We fully recognized this to be a singular gift and not our social norm. Ruminating over sixteen marvelous days in Europe and the incredible kindness and hospitality shown to us, we hope never to take any of these days for granted — even the bizarre twist of flying home with John Neinstedt!

In the end I cannot help but wonder what it might have been like if the man had only gotten out from behind his clerical attire and shed his episcopal trappings more often. Would he have been a better bishop — a shepherd who truly knew his sheep and allowed us to know him?

What if he had donned khakis, polo shirt and flew coach back to Minneapolis yesterday? It’s a pity he did not!  Perhaps the thought never even occurred to him.  That, if true, is a pity!

Look, See, Touch

It wasn’t closely covered by the media. My hunch is most of us aren’t pugged-in to communities where we would hear much about it. I stumbled upon it. Yet, it carried an image — and an invitation — that stopped me in my tracks.

Read the following. Who spoke these words last week? Can you guess the image I found so stunning in its originality?

Mother Church will continue rising from the dead if we keep crossing into new territories, in our back yards, prisons, city parks, and pockets of despair, here and across the globe. If we believe, if we’re faithful, we know that the ancient truth remains, and resurrection is always emerging from death. That healing may cost plenty of blood, sweat, and tears – but it is rooted in the firm belief that God does enlighten, heal, and deliver.

Pay no attention to the finger-wagging. Turn around and look for the hem of Jesus’ robe. Go searching in new territory. Reach out and touch what is clothing the image of God. Give your heart to that search and you will not only find healing but become healing. Share what you find and you will discover the abundant life for which all God’s children have been created. And indeed, the Lord will turn weeping into dancing.

These compelling words were spoke by The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church as she concludes her nine years as their Presiding Bishop.

The incisive image that captures the commission given to all the baptized?

Turn around and look for the hem of Jesus’ robe. … Reach out and touch what is clothing the image of God.

Of course, the Last Judgment (Matt 25) comes to mind, perhaps the Beatitudes. But even these famous Scriptures can be so occluded with so much pious baggage that we miss — or evade — the point.

Stop looking up — look down! “People of Jerusalem, why do you just stand there looking up into the sky? Move on!  Do something!” At least that’s my recollection of the angel’s admonition after Jesus’ ascension.

What are we looking for? What do we expect? If we but saw the hem of Jesus’ robe!  Knowing where to look, what to look for, and for whom to look dramatically increases our odds of finding what it is we seek!

What is clothing the image of God today? Here? Now? Right in front of us?  Don’t look up, look down!  Reach out… touch!
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The entirety of Bishop Jefferts Schori’s sermon may be found [here].

The Earth Just Shifted. Feel It?

Let’s, just for a moment, take a different tack. There is a veritable avalanche of commentaries and analyses of Laudato Si, Francis’ encyclical. I’m not competent to add much to that discussion.  Yet, there is something that can be said — needs to be appreciated and celebrated — right off the bat!

As one would expect, the very first paragraph sets the tone with a moving reference to Francis of Assisi’s Canticle from which the encyclical takes its name:

LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore – Praise be to you, my Lord… Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.

According to good argumentative style, Pope Francis first references Scripture (Paragraph 2) and then places his pastoral exhortation squarely within the tradition of the church. With one paragraph each, Francis grounds his teaching in that of his immediate predecessors John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI (paragraphs 3-6).

There is still nothing unique or exceptional about Francis citing secular authorities to bolster his teaching.  His claim is not simply anchored in Scripture and Catholic teaching. In paragraph 7 Francis writes:

These statements of the Popes echo the reflections of numerous scientists, philosophers, theologians and civic groups, all of which have enriched the Church’s thinking on these questions.

That reliance on additional sources of teaching authority reflects the best of the Catholic intellectual tradition.

The inclusive context set by Francis is especially welcome and refreshing. He makes a deliberate effort to raise up and give expression to a broad spectrum of additional voices:

Outside the Catholic Church, other Churches and Christian communities — and other religions as well — have expressed deep concern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing. To give just one striking example, I would mention the statements made by the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, with whom we share the hope of full ecclesial communion.

Notice… “the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch.” Even more, notice the careful phrasing, “with whom we share the hope” not “with whom we hope to share.” The hope for full communion is already shared!

Francis’ next two paragraphs (8 and 9) cites the teaching and authority of the esteemed Patriarch of Constantinople — considered the “Successor of St. Andrew”, first among equals in the Orthodox Churches.

This sequencing can be nothing but deliberate… first Francis of Assisi, then Scripture, then his immediate predecessors of the past fifty years, then scientists, philosophers, theologians and other civil authorities. Nobody, but nobody, is shown more respect or given such deferential authority as the Orthodox patriarch with a reference in paragraph 7 and then two lengthy paragraphs (below) citing Bartholomew’s teaching authority.

Yes, this encyclical is about our moral obligation to be responsible stewards of God’s good creation. But the earth just shifted under our feet! Did you feel it? When have you seen the Bishop of Rome pay such fraternal respect and deference to another Patriarch?  Not in a thousand years has a “Successor of St. Peter” so deliberately shared teaching authority for the church with the “Successor of St. Andrew”!

For the first time ever a high-ranking Orthodox bishop — Metropolitan John of Pergamon — helped unveil a papal text.  In addition, two women joined the president the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace headlining a panel of five people presenting various aspects of the document.

The women were Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services and a former dean of the business school a the University of Notre Dame; and Valeria Martano, a teacher and community organizer in the outlying areas of Rome.  The fifth person is an avowed agnostic, John Schellnhuber, founder of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Something dramatic has changed. I like it, I like it a lot! Gives greater credence to whatever else Francis has to say. Makes me excited to read more! The air we’re breathing is already fresher!

LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore – Praise be to you, my Lord!
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Here are Paragraphs 8 and 9 if you care to read them in their entirety:
8. Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken in particular of the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage”, we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation”. He has repeatedly stated this firmly and persuasively, challenging us to acknowledge our sins against creation: “For human beings … to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”. For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.

9. At the same time, Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion”. As Christians, we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet”.

The Resolute Face of Love

Yesterday was picture-perfect, just the sort of day for a graduation party in the yard. We were present to give testimony to Nathan’s achievement and as manifestation of the rich web of relationships and roles it takes to raise a child. Either is a sufficient reason for celebration.

The strong web of community endures even when we are unaware, overlaps with surprises that delight us. Here’s one… Bob & Maura, friends from the Church of St. Luke were at the party. We hadn’t seen each other since the graduate was a preschooler!  I had forgotten that Bob had been the college roommate of Nathan’s dad.

We shared the sort of three-minute update friends do after a break of thirteen years. What are we up to now? Weren’t those great days! In our case we grieved the sorry state of the church we love — a frequent topic for many of us in Minneapolis-St Paul over the past few years.

But as our perfect summer Sunday afternoon provided, as Nathan commences with his move to Seattle University, our circumstances inspired optimism, gratitude, hope, confidence. Despite our collective pain and considerable grief at what has transpired in our church over the past thirteen years, we remained oddly enthusiastic and happy.

Our sentiment was appropriate to a festive occasion.  In our hurried recap yesterday Bob, Maura and I had actually expressed an odd sort of satisfaction with our church.  Silence and secrecy kill — at lease now “the boil had burst, the festering pain finally exposed.”

We agreed that healing happens once facts are faced and truth is told.  In an odd sort of way, we acknowledged that we are actually a much healthier church in 2015 than we were in 1995. For institutions as well as individuals, recovery of mission and purpose can slowly but definitively commence with public confession of our sin.

Little could we have anticipated this morning’s news!  It came as a bolt of lightning, as a sudden shock, a welcome but totally unexpected surprise.  Though eagerly longed for by a long-suffering community, the resignation of Archbishop John Neinstedt does not elicit any sense of gloating.  Actually, a deep resonant grief underpins my profound gratitude which in turn inspires an abiding hope.

Vindication — and there is most assuredly a sense of vindication and justice in the refreshing news — feels kinder, gentler and much more merciful than either I would have ever expected or prescribed.  This morning’s deep emotions are less about a scandalous abuse of power and the excruciating pain inflicted, though there is plenty of that!  The deeper anguish now surfacing is for all that might have been, for a future that should have been!  This is the loss that we must truly grieve.

This morning is party cloudy in MSP, not nearly as picturesque as yesterday afternoon with Nathan. There will surly be cloudy days, some long nights and even a few storms ahead for Nathan and for all of us.  Once again we are reminded of what’s really important, where we stand and to whom we belong.

This is all possible because — ultimately — we rest securely within an intricate web of community that celebrates milestones, tells the truth, remains present amid grief, heals those in pain, cherishes our young, and cares for any who are vulnerable.  This is all possible because we rest in the resolute love of God.

What an ideal “village” in which to raise a child… what a graced way to experience “church.”

Remember, Lest We Forget

Anniversaries are important. Most are deserving of celebration. Some are to be remembered lest we ever forget. We are approaching just such an anniversary.

On July 1, 2014 Commonweal magazine broke the story that Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis had been under investigation for “multiple allegations” of inappropriate sexual conduct with seminarians and priests. Ten men had signed affidavits filing their official complaints.

Rumors of Nienstedt’s misconduct was not news. I had heard such allegations as long as ten years ago. What made this story news was that ten men had now spoken up, telling their story and registering their complaint with officials. Once Commonweal broke the story, we learened the Archdiocese had hired a law firm in late 2013 to conduct what the Archdiocese then promised to be a full and independent investigation.

Let’s be clear, the allegations against our Archbishop were made by adult men. We are not talking about pedophilia or sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults. The better comparison is with disgraced Cardinal Archbishop Keith O’Brien of Scotland. At least five men – three priests, a former priest and a former seminarian – accused O’Brien of either sexually harassing them or pressuring them into sex, in allegations that went back to the 1980s.

O’Brien admitted “there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.” He was discretely “disinvited” from participating in the conclave that elected Pope Francis. In March 2015 it was announced that he had renounced the “rights and privileges” of his office but gets to keep his prestigious title.

Regular readers of Kneading Bread know that I have frequently reiterated what rank-and-file Catholics know all too well… the root cause of our sex abuse crisis in the church is the culture of clericalism, hierarchical arrogance and preoccupation with protecting power and privilege. Readers will also recall that I have called for Neinstedt’s resignation in these posts on at least three occasions.

On July 7, 2014 I wrote: It’s long past time for more than a little honesty in our church. We are in urgent need of changing the sieve that keeps secret the tragic truth poisoning our church family. Honest confessions are long overdue. Actually, we need far more than “a little” honesty.

We have a right to integrity and transparency. We have a right to hold those who claim positions of moral leadership to be persons worthy of emulation. We have the right to know the truth about any who claim authority to teach moral truth.

Ten official affidavits complaining of harassment and/or misconduct does not sound like behavior among “consenting adults.” We have a right to know the truth about these ten complaints and for those in authority to act appropriately.  If there is nothing to hide, then what’s there to hide?

All abuse is perpetrated by a culture that holds its victims hostage within silence and secrecy. This is true of abuse within families, schools, civic organizations or churches. What makes the allegations against our Archbishop so egregious is that he presumes to provide moral leadership and teach moral truths. Hiding behind a wall of silence and secrecy perpetuates the abuse.

This “culture” of silence and secrecy — delay strategies to bury the story, keeping a low public profile, hoping we will forget — further victimizes this Archdiocese and this community which deserves, expects and has received far better from Catholic leadership.

Peter Day, a priest of the Archdiocese of Canberra, Australia recently wrote a passionate call for reform in light of the sex abuse scandal roiling his country and the whole church. He implores us to fully acknowledge what we all know — too many of our shepherds have acted like the “hired men” in John’s Gospel “who abandon the sheep when they see a wolf coming … leaving the wolves to attack and scatter the sheep.” (Jn 10: 12)

Day further exposes what we all recognize but feel powerless to change: “Underpinning this hired men culture is an all-too pervasive clericalism in which men feel set-apart, vainly pursuing the trappings of power and prestige — acting like corporate CEOs hell-bent on protecting the company brand instead of like shepherds willing to lay down their lives (and their reputations) for their sheep.”

But we are NOT powerless. We are not pawns. We are The People of God.  From half-way around the world, Peter Day expresses our local reality and our need. “In the pews, in the villages, in the schools; people everywhere, are longing for us to simply face facts, to face the truth with humility — that’s what good shepherds do.”

July 1 will be the one year anniversary of Commonweal exposing the charges made against our Archbishop. Months ago the media asked the Archdiocese about the disposition of the allegations. Archdiocesan officials admitted that the law firm had completed its work but the investigation was continuing so no further information could be shared.

July 1 is an anniversary we must not forget. Media should again ask Archdiocesan leadership. Editorial boards must clearly express the needs and expectations of the community.  Parishioners would do well to inquire of their pastors about the disposition of the charges against one for whom we pray by name at every Eucharist.  Civic leaders have a right to inquire about any who would claim high moral profile in our community.

Powers that be will want us to forget. Summer in Minnesota offers a wealth of diversions and many pleasant distractions. But, remember we must! “In the pews, in the villages, in the schools; people everywhere, are longing for us to simply face facts, to face the truth with humility — that’s what good shepherds do.”

We want, need and deserve a better shepherd. Archbishop Neinstedt, its time to do the right thing!

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The article by Peter Day is from Global Pulse Magazine [link]. This is a new journal covering stories and offering opinion from around the world on Catholic topics or issues of moral import. I am not sure whether you need a subscription to access the full story. I paid $12 for an annual subscription and eagerly recommend you consider the same.