Tuesday, November 24, 2009

U.S. Bishops Allowed Vatican to Usurp Their Responsibility for Liturgical English

The National Catholic Reporter posted an excellent editorial yesterday supporting Bishop Donald Trautman's charge that the U.S. bishops conference allowed Vatican bureaucrats to usurp its responsibility for approving changes to the English used in U.S. rituals, in blatant violation of the procedures mandated by the Second Vatican Council in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

NCR notes that it is symptomatic of their fidelity to Vatican II that when Bishop Trautman questioned the most recent example of their dereliction, conference president Cardinal Francis George elicited a "wave of laughter from the assembled bishops" by saying flippantly, "I must have signed it." Cardinal George has no authority to do that, and the bishops have no authority to depart from Vatican II, much less mock those who uphold it. The editorial follows.

An exchange at the Nov. 16-19 U.S. bishops’ meeting between Bishop Donald W. Trautman of Erie, Pa., and Chicago Cardinal Francis George, president of the bishops’ conference, gave a glimpse into a key underlying issue in the decades-long process of translating texts for liturgical use by the English-speaking church.

Trautman asked how the translation of the antiphons used in the liturgy had been ceded to the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship without debate or a vote from the U.S. bishops’ conference.

George, informed of the existence of a letter from the conference to the Holy See accepting its suggestion that the Vatican take over the translation of antiphons to expedite the process, said, “I must have signed it,” eliciting a wave of laughter from the assembled bishops.

Trautman asked, “How can this be? This was not a collegial process.” The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, he insisted, had made the bishops’ conference responsible for translations.

George noted the objection and said that it would be taken up as “a question of governance” after the bishops had completed the voting on the translation drafts before them.

The English version of the Roman Missal is now one step closer to publication and use in all Catholic parishes. Like the Lectionary, the book of scripture readings proclaimed at Mass, the missal will reflect a heavy-handed reassertion of Vatican control over every aspect of the translation process that was to have been the work of national bishops’ conferences. This reassertion included replacing the approved guidelines for translation, dismantling the commission assigned to produce English texts and dumping their work, rejecting the Lectionary approved by the U.S. bishops and replacing it with a text produced by its own 11-man commission. The Vatican’s stated emphasis on fidelity to the Latin and “sacred style” will soon face the test of “proclaimability” and grammatical fluency raised by critics when the new missal is used publicly.

The question of governance will remain. Just why did Rome deem it necessary to override its own rules from Vatican II, which held that bishops’ conferences were best suited to decide vernacular translations in their own languages? Was it really about keeping the renewed liturgy from creating a different church than the one Rome prefers in which a cultic priesthood is sole guardian of the higher mysteries that must be mediated to the rest of the baptized? Is the often arcane, transliterated Latin a further indication of the return to the Tridentine mode and ad orientem posture and throne room protocols that protect a monarchical church and its indispensable ranks of clergy?

The more significant question for our own bishops, entrusted with the welfare of the American church: Why have you conceded control so easily? Trautman’s interventions over the years were not just about good English but about affirming the conference’s legitimate authority and pastoral responsibility.

It has always been a question of governance, and for those who still believe in the renewal of the church, no laughing matter.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Gay Priests Wrongly Scape-Goated for Sexual Abuse Scandal, U.S. Bishops Study Finds

The National Catholic Reporter today has posted a Religious News Service article saying that the initial findings of a multi-year study of the clergy sexual abuse scandal--a study commissioned by the U.S. Catholic Bishops, no less--show that gay priests are no more likely than straight ones to sexually abuse minors.

The study debunks the assumption, widely held by the bishops and by the Vatican, that most of the priests who abused children were gay. It also says that excluding gay candidates from seminaries on the grounds they are more likely to abuse minors cannot head off future abuse, since candidates with a heterosexual orientation are at least as likely to abuse.

The report also said that bishops dead-set against having gays in the priesthood are unlikely to give the conclusions of their own study a fair hearing. Since the facts refute their ideology, they will boldly deny the facts. Excerpts from the report follow:

Gay Catholics and victims of clergy sexual abuse are hailing preliminary results of a study commissioned by U.S. Catholic bishops that says gay priests are no more likely than straight clergy to sexually abuse minors.

Still, some bishops gathered here Nov. 16-18 for their semi-annual meeting said it is premature to say whether the church leaders who had asserted such a link were wrong.

Researchers from New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice on Tuesday (Nov. 17) presented initial findings from their multi-year study of the clergy sexual abuse scandal, which has resulted in some 14,000 claims of abuse and cost the U.S. Catholic Church about $2.6 billion in settlements since 1950.

The study, which is due to be completed next year, was commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops after the scandal overtook the U.S. church in 2002.

In a presentation to the bishops Nov. 17, Margaret Smith of John Jay said: "What we are suggesting is that the idea of sexual identity be separated from the problem of sexual abuse. At this point, we do not find a connection between homosexual identity and the increased likelihood of subsequent abuse from the data that we have right now."

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the gay Catholic group DignityUSA, called the report "very welcome news for gay people, gay priests, and our families and friends."

She said the John Jay report confirms other studies in concluding that sexual orientation is not connected to pedophilia or other sex crimes. "We hope that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church will finally accept this finding, since it has been borne out through their own study," Duddy-Burke said.

Smith and her co-author, Karen Terry, stressed Nov. 17 that access to young boys, rather than a homosexual orientation, was largely responsible for the high percentage of male abuse cases. "It's important to separate the sexual identity and the behavior," Terry said. "Someone can commit sexual acts that might be of a homosexual nature but not have a homosexual identity."

Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston said Nov. 18 that the researchers' conclusions still "need to be teased out."

"I think it needs to be explained better then it was," he said. "I think that's why you saw some of the bishops challenge (the researchers)."

In 2005, the Vatican issued new guidelines barring men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" from the priesthood. Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville, Ill., asked Smith and Terry Nov. 17 whether homosexuality should continue to be a factor in excluding some clergy candidates.

"If that exclusion were based on the fact that that person would be more probable than any other candidate to abuse, we do not find that at this time," Smith responded.

But the view that gay men are largely responsible for the sexual abuse scandal pervades the church hierarchy, said David Gibson, a Catholic journalist and author, and will not necessarily be overcome by the John Jay study.

"I think it will give cover to the bishops who want to continue to admit gay men into the seminary, as I think a majority of them want to do," Gibson said. "For those bishops dead-set against having any homosexuals in the priesthood, it won't make a difference."

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said that "the fixation on gay priests" as the cause of the sex scandal "is part of a long litany of simplistic, wrong-headed solutions and scape-goating," by the Catholic hierarchy.

"Sadly, many Catholics have already reached that conclusion though, due to the bishops' spin," Clohessy said. "The real issue continues to be the bishops' bad behavior."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Federal Judge: Army Corps Was “Substantial Cause” of Vast New Orleans Flooding

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans reports U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr."ruled late Wednesday that the Army Corps of Engineers' mismanagement of maintenance at the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet was directly responsible for flood damage in St. Bernard Parish and the Lower 9th Ward after Hurricane Katrina." Four paragraphs from the newspaper's coverage are particularly important:

The corps allowed the channel to attack the levees in three ways, Duval said, allowing the levees to slump under their own weight, failing to armor the channel's banks against ship wakes and allowing saltwater to exacerbate the loss of wetlands throughout the area.

Duval dismissed Justice Department lawyers' arguments that the corps' decisions were discretionary policy judgments of their professional staff and thus protected under federal law.

"Ignoring safety and poor engineering are not policy, and clearly the Corps engaged in such activities," he said.

"The loss of wetlands and widening of the channel brought about by the operation and maintenance of the MRGO clearly were a substantial cause of plaintiffs' injury," he said.

The New York Times also had coverage, noting that even though the ruling fell short of what some New Orleans area residents wanted,

It was the first time that the government has been held liable for any of the flooding that inundated the New Orleans area after Aug. 29, 2005, vindicating the long-held contention of many in the region that the flooding was far more than an act of God.

The judge had earlier ruled he would not consider that the construction of the canal led to widespread flooding. As a result, Wednesday’s decision was limited to the maintenance of the canal, and the liability applies only to damage around the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish, east of the city.

But lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case said that 80,000 people lived in the area for which the corps was held liable. Though the judge granted six of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit a total of less than $750,000, tens of thousands of other property owners could now try to join class-action lawsuits against the government under the same legal reasoning.

“The implications are billions of dollars of liability for the government,” said Pierce O’Donnell, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs.

The government is expected to appeal the ruling.

The plaintiffs had to make a complicated argument. The Flood Control Act of 1928 protects the government from lawsuits over failures in flood control projects. But the judge allowed the suit to proceed in March of this year, ruling that it is a navigation channel, not a flood control project.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers argued that the Army Corps had not exercised “due care” in its maintenance of the channel, and that the maintenance that was done, like dredging, only made things worse. The corps’ actions, they said, brought salt water into the New Orleans area, killing off marshes; eroded the banks on which levees sat; and more than doubled the channel in width, giving water driven by hurricanes an unobstructed path to the city.

In his decision, Judge Duval largely agreed with this argument, at least as it pertained to St. Bernard and the Lower Ninth Ward. He was highly critical of the government, which had argued that the hurricane and its massive storm surge was simply more than the system had been designed to handle, and said the corps had manipulated facts.

"The corps had an opportunity to take a myriad of actions to alleviate this deterioration or rehabilitate this deterioration and failed to do so,” he wrote. “Clearly the expression ‘talk is cheap’ applies here.”

Given the new potential for an enormous amount of liability on the part of the government, the lawyers for the plaintiffs urged the government to consider making a settlement with everyone who was affected by the floods in the greater New Orleans area — even residents of zones where Judge Duval has already ruled the corps is not liable.

“The government should come to us in good faith and find a settlement for the people of New Orleans,” Mr. O’Donnell said.

Contrary to the New York Times, the narrow focus of Judge Duval's ruling may be its best protect on appeal. By not treading on the Corps' immunity from liability for flood control projects and by focusing solely on its mismanagement of the MR-GO, the judge gave the federal government little to challenge, if anything. Besides, further judicial review runs the risk of a finding that the MR-GO negligence impacted other levee systems beyond the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish--which would extend the Corps' liability and cost the government even more.

Attorney General Holder and President Obama had better recognize that the ruling leaves the government's legal position unsustainable, and bless just the kind of settlement that the plaintiffs' attorneys suggest.