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by Peterr

Benedict’s Resignation May be a Surprise, But It’s Not a Shock

5:52 am in Religion by Peterr

Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement this morning (US time) that he is resigning effective February 28th burst upon the audience to which he was speaking, leaving them in stunned silence.

Pope BenedictThat silence has not lasted long.

On the one hand, there is the “OMG! This is unprecedented! No one could have seen this coming!!!1!1!” reaction, coming largely from folks who are so enamored with the office of the Pope that they can’t conceive of a papal resignation. Well, no. Canon law explicitly makes provision for a papal resignation, and John Paul II certainly contemplated it, going so far as to draft letters of resignation on two separate occasions as his health fluctuated. Yes, there hasn’t been a resignation in centuries, but that doesn’t mean this is as incredible as some are making it out to be. Indeed, bishops are required to submit their letters of resignation at age 75 (though the pope is not obligated to immediately accept them). This rule was set in 1965 by Pope Paul VI, so the notion of staying on the job until death has been less and less the rule in the hierarchy of the Catholic church.

As a practical matter, it has been obvious to anyone who has been paying attention that Benedict’s health has been declining. Major liturgical events like Christmas Eve at St. Peters have been adjusted, so that the pope’s strength would not be overly taxed by standing too long or holding heavy objects. I’ve seen old men fall asleep on Easter morning during worship, even as the trumpets are sounding from the choir loft, and I can imagine Benedict looking ahead to Holy Week and Easter and saying “Enough. I don’t have the strength for this.” If popes have nightmares, one of Benedict’s must be falling asleep during high Easter mass and having that image flashed around the world.

And very specific to Benedict, he himself has spoken about this in the past. Last April, National Catholic Reporter talked about this as Benedict turned 85, noting:

Talk of possible resignation has been swirling around the pope ever since his 2010 book, ‘Light of the World,’ in which he said that if a pope felt ‘no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of carrying out the duties of his office,’ he would have ‘the right, and in some circumstances the obligation, to resign.’

So enough already with the shock. It only shows that you haven’t been paying attention.

As for Benedict announcing his resignation, I say “Good for him.”

For all the talk of infallibility and power and lifelong tenure of the pope, the pope is as replaceable as anyone else — and an honest pope knows this. If Benedict were to get hit by a truck this afternoon, the cardinals would gather and elect a successor, and the church would go on. For Benedict to voluntarily step down, rather than linger on with weakened strength and declining health, is a statement of trust that he knows he is not irreplaceable.

So now we enter the silly season, as rumors fly and speculation of successors runs rampant. Myopic conservative Americans will breathlessly talk about Timothy Dolan as a leading candidate because of his media savvy, or arch-conservative Raymond Burke (former archbishop of St. Louis and now ensconced in a powerful Vatican post) because of his arch-conservative credentials, but IMHO, these are both pipe dreams. I can’t see the college of cardinals elevating an American to the papacy at a time when Americans are viewed around the world as increasingly arrogant on the international scene, and I’m not alone in this.

So enjoy the retrospectives, but keep some perspective as well. Enjoy the rumors and speculation as well, and take them with a very large grain of salt.

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by Peterr

Will Komen Cut Off Grants to Catholic Hospitals, Too?

11:49 am in Religion by Peterr

(photo: krazydad/jbum/flickr)

Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic has a nice piece up, describing the new policy of the Komen for the Cure people that prohibits grants being made to Planned Parenthood, as well as the reactions internally at Komen among their professional staff. (Short version: not good.)  As for the policy, in a memo to Komen employees, Komen President Elizabeth Thompson said:

. . . should Komen become aware that an applicant or its affiliates are under formal investigation for financial or administrative improprieties by local, state or federal authorities, the applicant will be ineligible to receive a grant.

That caught my attention fast, because of some other investigations I’ve been reading about lately.

The Roman Catholic Church is under investigation for financial irregularities in a number of places across the country. A biggie is in Milwaukee, where the current Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, apparently tried to cook the books while serving earlier as the head of the Milwaukee diocese, to hide diocesean assets from the judge in a child abuse case. Said Jack Rule, an accounting professor who looked the court filings and testimony over in an interview with Jason Berry of National Catholic Reporter, ““In other words, they zeroed out one account and transferred most of the funds to a new account,” Ruhl explained. “From an accounting standpoint, all Dolan did was rename the assets. It was a shell game.” That case, as the story points out, is still before a bankruptcy judge, with an ongoing investigation not only into the child abuse claims but also the money available to settle them.

Sounds like an ongoing formal investigation to me.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, the CFO of that archdiocese was caught with her hand in the till, to the tune of $1M. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review,

Donna Farrell, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said the church was continuing to work with the district attorney’s office and declined further comment. She said the church last year hired attorney Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. and the accounting firm of Parente Randolph to conduct an internal audit.

Hmmm . . . another ongoing formal investigation.

So do investigations like these of the Catholic church and its financial dealings mean that Georgetown University and other Catholic institutions will be prohibited from receiving Komen grants? In 2009-10, per Komen’s 990 [pdf], GU got grants of $599,985 and $250,000 for research (pdf pp. 43 and 47) and $73,750 for treatment programs (pdf p. 54). (FY: 4/1/2009-3/31/2010). Note that the above is the 990 for the main Komen for the Cure organization, which is separate from the local affiliates who have to file their own 990s. Undoubtedly there are other RC organizations who receive Komen funds.

Some would say “but wait — GU is not in Milwaukee or Philadelphia!” I might be willing to agree with that, save for the fact that Komen held every Planned Parenthood affiliate liable for the alleged [edit] actions of the larger outfit.

I don’t raise this to pick on Catholics here. You could go through the list of grant recipients and find other institutions that are no doubt under investigation for one thing or another. There’s absolutely no research university (public, private secular, or private religious) that someone isn’t looking into for this, that, or the other thing. But if Komen isn’t willing to cut off other organizations known to be “under formal investigation for financial or administrative improprieties,” it makes their words about Planned Parenthood look mighty hollow.

Unless GU and other Catholic institutions are losing their funds too, this “it’s just our policy” line is Komen blowing smoke, and that makes me sick.

by Peterr

Nice Diocese You’ve Got Here, Bishop . . .

7:06 pm in Religion by Peterr

St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, rendered in stained glass. (photo: Fergal OP via Flickr)

Yesterday evening, Irish television station RTE One broadcast a new episode of their news documentary series “Would You Believe” that came with the title “Unspeakable Crimes.” These unspeakable crimes are described on their website like this:

Just when the Irish bishops were beginning to come to grips with how to deal with the clerical sexual abuse problem, Rome intervened and tried to enforce Vatican policy which put the interests of the priest, not the victim, first.

In a strictly confidential letter seen by WYB, the Vatican threatens the Irish bishops that if they follow their new child protection guidelines it would support the accused priest if he were to appeal to its authority.

The letter tells the Irish bishops that the Vatican has moral reservations about their policy of mandatory reporting and that their guidelines are contrary to canon law.

The letter itself is here [PDF], and it says exactly what RTE claims it says.

The study document referred to in the letter are the 1996 guidelines that the Irish bishops proposed, which included mandatory reporting of abuse to the secular authorities. (PDF of the study document is here.)

The Vatican’s reaction to that section of the study document was to say this: “In particular, the situation of ‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature.” The Vatican goes on to say something to the effect of “you English-speaking people seem to have this problem all over the place, so while WE study what WE want to do about it, you just keep on doing what you’re doing, according to the rules WE laid down earlier in canon law, and forget all about YOUR study and its proposed mandatory reporting clause.” The actual phrasing of that last part is more delicate, of course, but the implication is clear: shut up, and “at the appropriate time” we’ll tell you all what to do.

They also attach a nice theological threat at the end: “in the sad cases of accusations of sexual abuse by clerics, the procedures established by the Code of Canon Law must be meticulously followed under pain of invalidity of the acts involved if the priest so punished were to make hierarchical recourse against his Bishop.” IOW, if you don’t follow the old way, and thus punish a priest, and the accused priest appeals to Rome, Rome is going to back the priest and you will end up with a black eye.

Shorter Vatican: “Nice diocese you’ve got here, bishop. It’d be a shame if anything were to happen to it . . .”   Read the rest of this entry →