background image

Browsing News Entries

Browsing News Entries

Why I signed the women's letter to the pope

By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer

Despite feeling humiliated and betrayed as a faithful Catholic, I am thankful for our summer of shame. I am grateful that a Pennsylvania grand jury revealed decades of clerical sexual abuse in the state, and grateful for the loud public demands for a complete accounting of who knew what and when about former-Cardinal McCarrick’s predatory behavior. I want to continue to add my voice to the call for answers because protecting one more child or young adult from abuse is worth any shame we may suffer.

A decisive response is needed immediately, not only to stop the cycle of abuse and corruption, but also to start the process of restoring the Church’s moral authority. In a world where so many young people are growing up without a moral compass, and where social pathologies like drug abuse, suicide, and the destruction of the family abound, a holy and faithful Church is needed more than ever.

I was glad to be among the original group of Catholic women in the United States to sign a letter to the Holy Father asking for answers to allegations involving former-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The letter is a heartfelt demand that the leader of our beloved Church come clean so that the Church can continue to lead.

Since the letter was first posted on August 30, over 43,000 women have added their names. Why would so many faithful daughters of the Church go beyond silent prayer, suffering, and sacrifice and ask for answers?

For starters, I can explain what did not motivate me.

First, I do not have an axe to grind with Pope Francis. I am fully behind the pope’s call that we care for the poor and be better custodians of the environment. And I understand that cultivating a spirit of mercy toward each other is a foundational principle of Christianity. Asking for answers is not some opportunistic backlash against this papacy.

Second, I think it is great that the papacy is held by someone from the Americas. The Catholic Church is universal, and its vitality can also be seen outside of Europe or the United States. Having lived in South America for over a decade, I understand the pope’s cadence, frankness, and charisma. I love Pope Francis not only because he is the head of the Church but also because he is Latino.

Third, and most importantly, I did not sign the letter to sow division. I am not taking sides in what some journalists are calling a “civil war” within the Catholic Church. The last thing I want is for anyone to abandon their faith because of the sins of those within the Church or for anyone to believe that Catholicism is subject to partisanship. I know that Catholics owe obedience to the papacy and I am completely committed to unity in the Church.

So why did I sign the letter? The Catholic Church’s reputation is deservedly tarnished. We are responsible for this reputation. But some things can only be done by the pope and his brother bishops here in the United States. Pope Francis has chosen not to answer very serious allegations brought by a highly-regarded member of the hierarchy. But it is not too late to set the record straight and decisively lead the Church forward in truth.

Over the past few weeks, many faithful Catholics have proposed steps for restoring the Church in the wake of grave wrongs occurring from within. And we are waiting to hear the voice of the Holy Father —our good shepherd— to lead us along the path of redemption.

With McCarrick, timing is everything

By Pia de Solenni

Back in October, when Harvey Weinstein’s exploits [crimes] became public, those of us who have been supportive of the Catholic Church’s teachings on human sexuality were quick to think of the prophetic nature of Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae when he foretold the dire effects that contraception would have on the way that men treat women.

As other prominent figures were exposed for their despicable manipulation of sex with women and men, we continued to be confirmed in our thinking.

However, the June revelations of the credible allegations of sex abuse on the part of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick confirm what many have suspected for a long time. The Church has been uncomfortably silent on matters of sexuality, family, and marriage because some in her leadership do not live these teachings themselves. And it is very hard to teach something that one does not know and live.

Obviously, celibate priests are not called to marriage or a life where contraception would even be a question. But their celibacy makes no sense unless one appreciates marriage. Marriage between a woman and a man points to the perfect union between Christ and his bride the Church. Setting aside the exceptions for married priests, the theology of the Latin Church understands that the priest, called to be in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), enters into a supernatural type of nuptial vocation. Put simply, if he’s not continent- refraining from sexual activity- he’s cheating, just like any married person who acts unchastely and engages in sexual activity outside that person’s own marriage.

In my experience, the priests and bishops who are comfortable talking about, defending, and promoting the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage are confident in their vocations. They understand that their vocation and the vocation of the married support each other and point to the reality that we are all called to an eternal relationship with God.

I’m also confident that the celibacy of their relationship is hard work, just as marriage is hard work for the two spouses. I’m confident that they struggle, as married couples do. And I’m confident that they are willing to sacrifice, as married couples do, so that, in the words of St. Paul, they may “run so as to win.” All of the challenges here are worthwhile because overcoming them brings us closer to our ultimate desire which is union with God.

Apart from serious eschatological considerations, celibacy (not to mention, virginity and chastity) makes little sense. Which explains why those who have lost sight of the greatest prize find it extremely challenging, if not impossible, to live the vocation.

Pope John XXIII wrote, “A soul adorned with the virtue of chastity cannot help loving others; for it has discovered the source and font of love – God.”

When we lose sight of this source, the reality of God, then we become all too comfortable with using others as objects, even children and others we have been given to protect and love. And none of this can be accomplished without living chastity. It’s not about subduing love; it’s about allowing love to burn passionately and strongly. Anything that exists outside of chastity is a mockery of authentic love.

Just a few days before the most recent round of headlines which helped to refocus attention on Cardinal McCarrick’s reported abuses, I was visiting with the editor of a national publication. We were both saddened, even distraught, that it seemed like the story was going nowhere. One credible allegation of abuse of a minor, two settlements with adults, and…nothing.

Timing is everything. The groundswell came a few days before July 25, the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae. I’ve no doubt that it will continue to unfold throughout this year.

As more details emerge about this massive failure in chastity and egregious predation on the vulnerable within the flock, we will, hopefully, get beyond journalistic investigation and see some sort of due process with judicial investigation rather than the historical pattern of simply waiting for the culprit to die. Justice demands that what’s being said about the cardinal be verified, not left in the limbo of the never investigated, never proven, never corroborated.

Though I am a theologian and a diocesan official, it’s not clear to me what a process should look like when a bishop has been accused of crimes, whether civil, ecclesial, or both. Canonists assure me that the tools exist in law. Bring ’em on.

In these days, I’m hearing from a lot of lay people who are anxious to see change, even if they have to lead. In Church affairs, it is the ordained who are principally responsible for governance. I wonder: what sort of lay leadership would be effective today in bringing about real reform without harming the unity of our Mother the Church?

Hear me out: We all know good priests and bishops. Either we have confidence in them or we don’t. I’d like to see them take the lead on the necessary reform. It will be more authentic if the reform comes from within and from those in charge. The laity may rightly express frustration, anger, and concern. The laity can be ready with good ideas. But we need our bishops and priests to lead now, otherwise they will lose what little credibility they have left.

It’s a start that the original announcement in June came from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, not the archdiocese or an archdiocesan office. Similarly, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston and advisor to Pope Francis, released a statement (the day before the anniversary of Humanae Vitae), stating, “These cases and others require more than apologies.”

Church leadership has a lot to do in order to give more than apologies.

Both inside and outside the Church, we are being bombarded by evidence that the virtues outlined in Humanae Vitae apply both to the laity and the clergy. Paul VI put forth an achievable ideal about human life and the love that makes life human. Ignoring that ideal gives us the spectre of McCarrick’s abuses and those of many others.

The timing of these revelations alongside the commemoration of one of the most polemical papal writings in the history of the Church – which happens to be about love and sex – is more than a coincidence for me. God, in his gift of free will, has allowed us to be utterly stupid about the teachings of his Church. And now we have arrived at a place where those teachings must be lived and taught by the leadership of the Church in order for the Church to heal. Humanae Vitae is the lynchpin in the abuse crisis.

In the end, I believe that there are no coincidences, only God’s providence. It is our choice how we respond.


Attire for Church and for the honor and glory of God

By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

Researchers claim that an average person needs less than 30 seconds to appraise someone at a first encounter. Even before the individual speaks, there is non-verbal communication. Body language such as crossed arms, dilated pupils, and forced smiles send a message. So does one’s clothing.

In a day that places a high premium on communication and where even one’s appearance is crafted to evoke a certain response, clothes have become extremely meaningful. Gone are the days when the wealthy dressed to flaunt their riches and the less fortunate wore their work clothes as a badge of honest labor.

The choices of clothing tell others something about ourselves. Clothes can communicate our occupation. In a hospital, their uniforms set the nurses apart from the cleaning staff; on a city street, blue uniforms identify our police force. Some today use clothing to signify their choice of gender.

The very colors we choose for our clothing also have meaning. Black signifies formality and elegance as well as authority. Red communicates energy, passion, speed and strength. Green, youth and vigor; white, innocence and cleanliness. Yellow and orange shout out joy, optimism and hope.

Clothes also mark the occasions. Picnic-goers dress down. Prom-goers dress up. A bride usually wears a white dress; a groom, a tuxedo. Beach-goers wear shorts and T-shirts. Graduates, cap and gown. Pallbearers at funerals dress in somber tones; and, clowns in circuses dress in bright colors. T-shirts, jeans and shorts all have their place and proper setting. And, our choice of them on a particular day or occasion tells people something about us.

Generally speaking, since the 1960s, we Americans have become more and more casual in our dress code. While the pilot and co-pilot along with the flight attendants still appear in neat and clean uniforms, no one else dresses up anymore to board an airplane. College students dress casually for class. And, business people heartily embrace casual Fridays. We are at a time where comfort and practicality matter in dress as well as the ability to express one’s own individuality.

Informal, casual attire has almost become de rigeur for the average American. Even church-goers no longer feel the need to put on their Sunday best. All except one group of church-goers. Many African Americans who go to church on Sunday distinguish themselves by dressing up for the occasion. Their long tradition of honoring the Lord with the way in which they appear before him to worship has not collapsed in the face of tidal waves of casual dress. Perhaps, there is a needed lesson in their example!

Beachwear, flip-flops, tank-tops (and the list could continue) are simply not proper attire to come into the presence of the Lord. No one would appear before the Queen of England unless attired properly. How much more before the Lord of heaven and earth. Perhaps, here is where the real challenge is. Have we been losing our sense of the transcendence of God? While many no longer believe in God, have some church-goers forgotten who God truly is? Have we become more focused on ourselves, our comfort, than our God and the respect due to him when we enter his presence to worship him?

When coming to church, we should remember that “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Thus, our first concern is always that we come before the Lord “with clean hands and pure heart” (Ps 24:4). And, if we have sinned, then with contrition and the purpose of amendment.

Nonetheless, we cannot forget that our clothes are important. They send out clear messages about us to others and to the other. It is near impossible to dictate proper attire for church. Yet, it can be said with clarity and certainty that the clothes we wear to church should not draw attention to us. Our clothes should always be modest and clean, expressing our respect for the honor and glory of God. God deserves our best!

The loss of freedom in a culture of radical individualism

By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

Basic to the American dream is the search for freedom. In the 17th century, Europeans facing persecution for their beliefs fled to America. Since World War II, millions of people have come to the shores of this country. Wars, persecutions, economic distress and political unrest have driven them from their homes to seek a better life. Recent statistics show that there are more than 43.7 million immigrants residing in the United States. They make up 13.5 percent of the total population.

As Americans, we take great pride that we are a nation where our government protects the freedom of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The word “freedom” belongs to our political discourse, our national debates and our everyday language. From our country’s initial War of Independence until the present moment, America has gone into battle to secure and to defend the freedom of the enslaved and oppressed.

However high this country has flown the flag of freedom in the past, not everyone has enjoyed the same freedoms. In the early days of our republic, only white male property owners were free to vote. Women could not vote. In New Jersey, they did not gain the right to vote until 1807. It took the bloodbath of the Civil War to abolish slavery. Then it took the civil rights movement of the 1960s to begin to establish equality for African Americans as a matter of fact. And, the struggle still continues.

In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution. Its purpose was to ensure that freedom in America meant that every citizen enjoy equal protection under the law for life, liberty and property. The Fourteenth Amendment literally changed the battleground in the struggle to ensure equal freedom for all. It “made the Constitution what it had never been before – a vehicle through which aggrieved groups can take their claims that they lack equality and freedom to court” (Eric Foner, “The Contested History of American Freedom,” Historical Society of Pennsylvania).

Perhaps it is time for us to examine how truly free we are and to discern the underlying reason why our freedom as Americans seems to be diminishing. This great nation has always held out the promise that good hard-working individuals were free to move up the social scale. But, recent economic factors are actually limiting this freedom.

Some employers are now choosing to hire individuals only on a part-time basis. This limits their access to health benefits. Employers now claim the right to examine company computers to read the correspondence of their employees, thus limiting their privacy. Is an employee free at work to express his or her religious or political beliefs without facing censure?

In the world of medicine, insurance companies have so many procedures and necessary approvals that it is becoming increasingly difficult to have access at times to needed and timely treatment. Even the move to change Medicare promises to provide less coverage for the elderly. As a result, the life span of the elderly will diminish.

Furthermore, the rising cost of education is limiting the freedom of families to choose private education. Especially in states like New Jersey where there are no school vouchers, low income families are forced to send their children to a state-run school. Is this true freedom for every taxpayer? Since the 1980s, families have been bearing a greater burden in sending their children to our colleges and universities. College tuition and ancillary fees have tripled in the last 30 years. Access to higher education is not equal for all. (Richard Eskow, “Ten ways Americans have lost their freedom,” Alternet, Aug. 31, 2012).

In commenting on Patrick J. Deneen’s book Why Liberalism Failed (Politics and Culture), Jonathan Leeman gets to the heart of the matter of why we are facing a lessening of our freedoms. Paradoxically, once we make individual freedom the basic value of our society, we yield more and more areas of our lives to the state. In order to ensure every individual’s right to choose and act as they please, the state must make more and more rules and, ultimately, those rules diminish the freedom of some.

For example, to ensure the right of all individuals to marry as they deem fit, the rights of those who hold to marriage as a union of one man and one woman are now lessened. Those who propose the definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman are now seeing their freedom of speech curtailed. The state’s guaranteeing the freedom of a woman to abort her child takes away the freedom of the child to live. In either the case of same-sex marriage or that of abortion, the basis for the state’s position is a radical individualism where the freedom of every person must be safeguarded by the government.

But, the basis of a sound society cannot be radical individualism. Individuals are not autonomous. We are born into a family. We form part of the wider community. “Once a people view themselves as their own highest authority, whatever they most value becomes their god. And that god will rule their nation. Indeed, such a nation will even take good, God-given gifts and turn them into tyrannical idols. Communism did this with equality. Liberalism does this with liberty” (Jonathan Leeman, “How Freedom Became an American Idol,” April 17, 2018).

The ultimate basis for guaranteeing freedom is justice. “By justice a king builds up the land” (Prov 29:4). By justice, a government recognizes itself as subject to a higher rule than itself or its citizens. It seeks to give to each person their rights as determined by God. Once God is removed from the equation and individual freedom replaces justice that promotes the common good, the road is set in the direction of diminishing freedoms. A culture of radical individualism ultimately erodes true freedom.

Anti-Catholic prejudice: a warning and challenge to all

By Bishop Arthur Serratelli

Alfred E. Smith, a devout Catholic, was elected four times as governor of New York. However, the announcement of his candidacy for president immediately unleashed a storm of anti-Catholicism in 1928. A Protestant minister in Oklahoma City warned his large congregation, “If you vote for Al Smith, you’re voting against Christ and you’ll all be damned.” The Daytona Beach, Florida school board predicted that, if Smith were elected, students would not be allowed to have or read a Bible. Around the country, pamphlets appeared attacking the Catholic Smith. More than 100 anti-Catholic newspapers poisoned the well with their propaganda against Smith for his religion. The anti-Catholic hate was so strong that, within just eight weeks, Smith’s campaign for the presidency ended.

Some people today look back on the 1960 election of John F. Kennedy as the end of such anti-Catholicism. But, the facts seem to contradict such an optimistic view. Kennedy understood the opposition that he faced because of his religion. When he spoke in Morgantown, West Virginia, a state that at that time was 95 percent Protestant, he addressed the issue head on. He said, “Nobody asked me if I was a Catholic when I joined the United States Navy… and nobody asked my brother if he was a Catholic or Protestant before he climbed into an American bomber plane to fly his last mission.” His bold words stunned the crowd when he asked if 40 million Americans lose their right to run for presidency on the day they are baptized Catholics.

On Sept.12, 1960, Kennedy addressed the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. Standing before 300 Protestant ministers and 300 spectators, he announced that the real issues in the presidential campaign were being sidelined by the anti- Catholic polemic. He provided his opponents with his political credo by announcing, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute – where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote. . . .” Kennedy lost votes because he was Catholic. He won the election in spite of his Catholicism. To think that his election ended anti-Catholic prejudice in America is not accurate.

Rudy Giuliani campaigned as a candidate in the 2008 presidential campaign. During a town-hall meeting in Iowa, he was questioned on his Catholic faith. Someone asked him if he was a practicing Catholic. Another person asked him how his Catholic faith would influence his political decisions. Giuliani responded by saying, “My religious affiliation, my religious practices and the degree to which I am a good or not so good Catholic, I prefer to leave to the priests.” When Giuliani said, “I don't think there should be a religious test for public office,” the man questioning him was not satisfied. Clearly, the Catholic faith is, in the mind of some, an impediment to public office.

In 2017, in the hearings of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, the ugly specter of anti-Catholicism appeared again. In examining Notre Dame law professor, Amy Coney Barrett for the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, senators brought into question her Catholic faith. They again and again demanded assurances that her faith would not influence her legal decisions. California Senator Diane Feinstein was quite concerned that Barrett would allow her pro-life beliefs make her act against abortion. Like an oracle from on high, Feinstein pronounced against Barret the damning judgment, “The dogma lives loudly within you and that’s of concern when you come to big issues…” Barrett was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. But, not with a single Democratic Senator voting for her. Not without an underlying anti-Catholic prejudice coming into play.

Richard John Neuhaus once observed that it is not simply being Catholic that is the problem for someone running for public office. Rather, it is being a Catholic who holds to the truths as taught by the Church. Neuhaus said, “Indeed, one of the most acceptable things is to be a bad Catholic, and in the view of many people, the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic.” As Catholics, we should lament any time the vast wisdom of our faith and tradition is summarily dismissed from the national debate or when we ourselves are marginalized. 

The anti-Catholic prejudice that surfaces in our process of selecting people for public office should be a warning and a challenge to all. People of every faith need to question where to draw the line on what qualifies or disqualifies a person from public office. Have we come to a point in our country where certain issues no longer admit discussion or diversity of opinion? Are we moving toward a situation where moral values will be dictated by the state and religion will be seen as an enemy? Would we want to disqualify from public office individuals with principles that prod us to re-examine some of our decisions just because we disagree with them? The end result will be a very bad form of government.