October 4, 2012

A better Church

Fifty years ago this week the largest gathering of bishops ever assembled heeded a call from Pope John XXIII to attend the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

It was a remarkable event. Each time the council was in session between 1962 and 1965 more than 2,000 bishops were present. They came from all corners of the world and, in sheer numbers, they were triple the total number of bishops (almost entirely European) who attended the First Vatican Council a century earlier. The Catholic world had never seen anything like it and, in many regards, Catholicism has not been the same since.

The Church today is better because of Vatican II. It’s not perfect, far from it. The task of interpreting and implementing the council’s 16 documents is ongoing. But Vatican II wasn’t a quest for perfection. It was about spiritual renewal and Christian unity in a post-war world on the cusp of extraordinary social, economic and technological revolution. Space flight was turning our thoughts to the heavens and Pope John sought to ensure God’s place on that journey.

“It is not that the Gospel has changed,” the Pope said at the time. “It is that we have begun to understand it better . . . the moment has come to discern the signs of the times, to seize the opportunity and to look far ahead.”

Vatican II lasted three years (with a nine-month hiatus after Pope John’s death in 1963) and the Church did indeed emerge spiritually invigorated. But, regrettably, not totally united. Considerable disagreement remains between those who say the council went too far and those who say it didn’t go far enough, between those itching to hit the rewind button and those longing to push fast forward. That disagreement won’t blacken the golden anniversary celebration but, unfortunately, it could soften the glow.

This issue of The Register devotes eight pages of special coverage to Vatican II but barely skims the surface of those historic days. What’s important to note, however, is that Vatican II was about evolution of Church practices, not revolution of Church doctrine. The council produced no radical doctrinal break with the past but, in keeping with Pope John’s intent, it emboldened the bishops to be future-looking.

The past half century has witnessed a whirlwind of social, scientific and economic innovation that, today, regularly pits society’s shifting values against the Church’s fundamental teachings. It might be a stretch to suggest Pope John saw all this coming. But he sensed something was up. The Second Vatican Council was the fruit of that foresight.

But, in the words of Winnipeg Archbishop James Weisgerber, it could take 100 years to fully understand all the implications of Vatican II. It’s a journey and we may only be half way there.

Published in Editorial
September 20, 2012

Church is a refuge

New beginnings are exciting. They’re clean slates filled with seemingly endless possibilities and opportunities to learn. And with September comes a start of another school year.

I remember feeling incredibly excited when I first started my undergraduate program in history and political science at the University of Toronto because I had a chance to study all the subjects I enjoyed.

But new beginnings can also be tough, even scary. When I began attending graduate school in the fall of 2009 at Carleton University in Ottawa, I moved away from home. While I was excited, I was also anxious: it was my first time living away from my family and I had to adjust my skills to the demands of my master’s program in European, Russian and Eurasian Studies. Then in the first semester of my second year, I participated in a semester exchange at the University of Trento in Italy. It was the first time that I travelled outside of Canada on my own. I was living in a place where English was hardly spoken outside of campus and where the culture was different from my own. I could not communicate with the locals over simple things, such as when to pick up my bus pass at the station or which sandwich I wanted to buy. At first, these experiences were daunting and isolating and left me wondering how I was going to survive everything.

To tackle these feelings of loneliness and uncertainty, one of the first things I did — aside from consulting maps and bus schedules — was find a church where I could attend Sunday Mass. Finding a parish and going to Mass every weekend was important in my transition because it helped me establish an activity outside of school. It also helped acquaint me with my new surroundings.

Churches are physical symbols of our faith and reflect the history of their communities. The cathedral in Trento has a Gothic interior with massive stone pillars and a high ceiling. It is very different from St. Patrick’s Basilica, the church I attended when I was studying in Ottawa, that contains bright and detailed artwork on its columns, beams and ceiling. But both the Trento Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Basilica provided me with a sense of comfort and, over time, a sense of refuge when everything else in life became too hectic.

Finding a church helped me cope spiritually with the changes happening in my life. It is easy to feel stressed and overwhelmed by new situations, feelings that could have prevented me from enjoying and appreciating the new journey I was on. It was important not to let those feelings take over and overshadow my goals and dreams. These churches were places where I could reflect and regain a sense of perspective on everything.

Along with prayer, taking the time every week to go to church reminded me that God is there for me every step of the way. I only need to open my heart and mind to Him. As written in Psalms 34:4, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” By keeping in touch with my faith, I am never alone, no matter how imposing or different my surroundings and challenges may seem. Faith is a cornerstone that always keeps me grounded.
(Bernardo, 25, lives in Toronto.)

Published in YSN: Speaking Out

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, Manitoba - Catholic and Orthodox churches in Canada and the United States can be an example for their counterparts in Ukraine, Canada's top Ukrainian Orthodox leader told the Ukrainian Catholic Synod of Bishops.

Ukrainian Orthodox Metropolitan Yurij of Winnipeg, addressing the worldwide synod Sept. 10, told the bishops it was "evident that our God is blessing us and helping us develop this better relationship."

"We also pray that in Ukraine this same attitude will develop as well," he said at the first meeting of the synod. The synod is private, but part of its initial session was open to media.

Metropolitan Yurij told several dozen Ukrainian Catholic bishops that the North American Catholic and Orthodox bishops have worked through the "animosity" that once marked relations between their Churches, and they now collaborate.

"In Ukraine, they have to go through the same kind of process," he said, and the bishops outside Ukraine must be patient with their brothers.

While the majority of Ukrainians are Orthodox, they are divided into three Churches: one in communion with the Russian Orthodox Church, one with a patriarch in Kiev and the third known as the Autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The forced unification of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church with the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in the 1940s "is one of the principal problems," the metropolitan said.

The 2010 election of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a member of the Orthodox Church in communion with the Moscow Patriarchate, appears to have fueled long-standing tensions between Orthodox loyal to Moscow and those who support an independent Orthodox Church in Ukraine. Yanukovych has worked to strengthen ties with Russia.

Metropolitan Yurij did not mention politicians. However, he did note that the Russian-affiliated Ukrainian Orthodox Church is the only one canonically recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. So, for instance, when Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate visited Canada in April, Metropolitan Yurij did not meet with him.

"I have directors also," he said, referring to the ecumenical patriarch, considered first among equals of Orthodox leaders. "I am part of the community of the Orthodox, and he (Patriarch Filaret) is not recognized as a patriarch, so I could not meet him."

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine, the elected head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, told Metropolitan Yurij he often finds himself caught in the middle of the delicate situation in Ukraine.

Shevchuk deals with leaders of all three Ukrainian Orthodox churches. Yet every time he has contact with someone from one of the non-canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Churches, "right away a letter goes from Moscow to Rome" asking why the Ukrainian Catholic Church is collaborating with them.

"Directly or indirectly ... I end up being a kind of a go-between between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church," he said.
Shevchuk said he, like his predecessor, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, believes that "we can and we must be ambassadors of the whole Kievan Church," a term used to refer to all Eastern churches based in Ukraine.

Metropolitan Yurij and Winnipeg Archbishop James Weisgerber thanked the synod members for inviting them to the opening session and to the previous day's Divine Liturgy.

Weisgerber, former president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, told them, "Sometimes we get the impression that — because the Roman Catholic Church is so large — that it has nothing to learn from anyone else.

"This is a great, great mistake. Often the smallest have the most important things to say," the archbishop said.

The synod was scheduled to meet behind closed doors in Portage la Prairie until Sept. 15 before a public closing celebration in Winnipeg Sept. 16.

Published in Canada

VATICAN CITY - The "most tragic wound" of clerical sexual abuse will not heal without a response from the entire Catholic Church — hierarchy and laity together — said the chief Vatican investigator of abuse cases.

"I think that slowly, slowly, slowly we are getting toward a response that is truly ecclesial — it's not hierarchical, it's the Church. We are in this together, in suffering (from) the wound and trying to respond to it," Msgr. Charles Scicluna told Vatican Radio.

The monsignor, whose formal title is promoter of justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke to Vatican Radio during a Sept. 4-5 conference in England titled "Redeeming Power: Overcoming Abuse in Church and Society."

The European Society of Catholic Theology sponsored the conference at St. Mary's University College in Twickenham as part of the International Network of Societies for Catholic Theology's three-year research project on "the power of theology to overcome power abuse in Church and society."

Scicluna told Vatican Radio the conference was an important part of the ongoing conversation about how to empower all members of the Church to prevent abuse and promote accountability.

"We are accountable not only to God, but to each other and to our peers in how we respond to difficult questions, including sin and crime," he said.

The monsignor said Pope Benedict XVI is setting an example for the whole Church when he discusses the abuse crisis, repentance and reform of Church norms with bishops, priests and laity.

Marie Keenan, a social worker and psychotherapist who has worked with perpetrators and survivors of clerical sexual abuse, told Vatican Radio that the Church has been slow in responding to the abuse crisis, "but I think that we're moving in the right direction and I think this conference is part of that."

Keenan, who lectures at University College Dublin, said she is concerned that clerical sexual abuse is sometimes seen as "a problem of individuals, either individual perpetrators who were devious and managed to get through the doors" of the seminary undetected, "or bad or erring bishops who didn't have the right heart or spirit or intellect or knowledge or something."

The conference is part of an effort to look at relationships and structures of power within the Church and determine how they may have contributed to the crisis. Keenan said that without addressing those broader issues, the Church risks placing too much trust in the important psychological tests designed to "screen out deviants."

Relying exclusively on the tests is dangerous, she said, because "some of these men chose an abusive road not because they were deviants to begin with, but because something happened to them in the course of their life, either in formation or priesthood or living their life that wasn't picked up on and with which they weren't helped adequately." At the same time, she said, "even with the same formation and the same lifestyle, many, many men don't turn to abuse," so there must be a recognition that Church culture hasn't caused everyone "to use their power position in an abusive way."

In addition, Keenan said that in her research "I found no evidence that celibacy is a cause of sexual abuse." While "there may be good reasons for the Church to rethink the celibacy issue, it's not because of the child sexual abuse issue," she said.

Sister of Charity Nuala Patricia Kenny, a pediatrician and retired professor of bioethics in Canada, said recent cases of abuse and sexual scandal convinced her that "we had not finished the job" of addressing clerical sexual abuse.

"The Church, in the area of policies and protocols, surely now has become a world leader," she said. But as she told the conference, "we have been a slow learner on this one."

Catholics, she said, need to reflect on the question: "How does power and our sense of Church, how has the inactivity of the laity, our inability to have good, positive, loving experiences between priest and people in our Church that would make us a healthy Church — how has all of that made us continue to deny, to fail to accept the difficult challenges" posed by the abuse crisis?

Kenny, who has been a religious for 50 years, said there were days "when I had to kneel, kneel, kneel at my desk and literally hold on to the New Testament because I've been so overwhelmed by how much harm has been done, not just to the individual victims, but to the whole body of Christ."

"I'm not a woman who breaks down easily and cries, but I have wept about this issue," she said. "On the other hand, I can tell you that I know in my heart that the Holy Spirit is leading us somewhere graced and I am perfectly prepared to do whatever I can with the grace and energy the Lord gives me to contribute to that.

"Walking away is not an option because it belongs to my baptismal commitment," Kenny said. "This is my Church."

Published in International