This is the final in a series of four blogs that chronicle the main issues on which the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council provided recommendations at the request of Cardinal George.
Traditionally each year, members of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, with input from Parish Pastoral Councils and Deanery discussions, respond to four questions posed to them by Cardinal George. The Cardinal’s traditional final directive to the APC is, “Tell me about other issues/concerns you have been hearing about in your parishes/deaneries, or other communities.” These were the main concerns the APC shared with the Cardinal last month.
Selection and Appointment Process for Priests
One topic was the selection and appointment process for priests and pastors and the enculturation of foreign born priests. Some members reported a level of dissatisfaction among parishioners with the degree to which they were able to influence the process by which a priest was appointed to their parish. The Cardinal explained the development of the current process and how the Archdiocese works to try to match up a particular parish with a pastor that will fit their needs. The Cardinal responded that it might be possible to make the process more transparent. Parishioners, however, need to realize that priests and pastors are “sent” to a parish, they are not “hired” by the parish. Consequently, if there is a move for the laity to be more involved in the process, it can’t be such that they would be interviewing prospective candidates. The Cardinal also explained that in the fifty five parishes controlled by religious orders, the Archdiocese is not involved in the selection process. He also stated that enculturation is going on in the seminaries.
Confusion About HHS Mandate
Another topic discussed was the recent U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulation that forces private health plans to provide coverage of sterilization and contraceptives – including abortion-inducing drugs – with limited exceptions for organizations defined by the regulation as “religious.” Through this mandate, the federal government will both force religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching as well as purport to define which religious institutions are "religious enough" to merit protection of their religious liberty. The Cardinal believes that there is confusion among the laity about what exactly is at stake if this law stands. The focus in many discussions is on contraception and not on religious liberty. The Cardinal voiced strong concerns about this issue and the implications of having the government define what constitutes a Catholic institution. He stated that if the law stands as currently written it will severely impact the church’s mission and outreach to those most in need, whether Catholic or non-Catholic. He counseled that it is the role of the laity to be actively involved in the effort to overturn this mandate. The secular media has framed the debate as the bishops against women, rather than a first amendment issue which is what it truly is. He is careful in speaking publicly about the issue so that the secular media cannot personalize the issue and avoid the constitutional liberty concern. A lawsuit was filed recently by several Catholic institutions which got very little attention from the secular media. He anticipates that the Archdiocese will be involved in the next wave of this ongoing litigation. Regarding the threat posed by the HHS regulations, the Cardinal urged us to get the facts out to our various constituencies and to stay informed by reading the materials that have been provided by the USCCB and others. Groups such as the Knights of Columbus have taken up the issue also and need our support.
“Vatican Leaks” Scandal
The third issue discussed was the crisis of trust caused by the “Vatican leaks” scandal. People very close to the Pope have removed papers from his desk and made them available to the press in Italy. The Cardinal considered these actions to be a very serious violation of the trust and confidence that the Pope placed in persons very close to him, particularly because the operations of the Vatican are based upon personal relationships and trust.
LCWR Doctrinal Assessment
Also discussed was the Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR) conducted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome, which some have characterized as the Vatican “picking on nuns.” The Cardinal explained that the assessment related to doctrinal problems with some of the positions of the LCWR, and was not a criticism of the important contributions made by women religious in education, healthcare, social services and other endeavors. The Cardinal said he could recall each of the nuns who were his teachers as a child and reflected upon the significant impact they had on his life. He said he spoke with LCWR leadership shortly after the assessment was released to inquire how this issue should be addressed. The LCWR, as appropriate for an organization governed directly by the Vatican and not by the American bishops, informed the Cardinal of its intentions to work directly with CDF on this matter. The Archdiocese is not involved in any way in the process.
Other topics included gang violence and domestic violence and how the archdiocese might provide greater assistance in these areas. There are many programs in place now through various agencies. The Cardinal promised to look into this further and encourage more to get involved.