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June 3, 2011

The church and young adulthood's changed "landscape" - What the census learned about Hispanics in the U.S. - Following-up on the "Causes and Context" sexual abuse study - International priests

In this edition:
1. Is the church out of sync with young adults?
2. What has changed about young adulthood's "landscape"?
3. What the census learned about Hispanics in the U.S.
4. Hispanic clergy and international priests.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) parishes and mission;
b) the Vatican and the world's religious orders. 6. Follow-up: the "Causes and Context" study.
7. Screening seminary candidates.
8. Alcohol, clericalism and the abuse of minors.
9. Is the "Causes and Context" study credible?

1. Is the Church Out of Sync With Young Adults?

"Our strong Catholic institutions of support are out of sync with the developmental needs" found among young, Catholic adults, Capuchin Father David Couturier said in an address to the annual meeting of the Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development. Father Couturier is director of pastoral planning for the Archdiocese of Boston. He spoke April 10 in Chicago.

Young adults from 22 to 40 years of age "are negotiating life and faith in a wholly different way" from the generations that preceded them in America, he indicated. He said a risk the church faces is that today's young adults will become a generation of nonpracticing Catholics "for whom the institutional church is largely tangential to the high task of developing character in today's turbulent world of family, love and business."

Father Couturier noted that the present "generation of emerging young adults" is, "by most accounts, the most religiously unaffiliated generation in the history of the world." He said, "They simply don't see how religion helps them get by in the turbulent world of modern life, love and business."

He observed that because the church's "institutions of support may no longer match up to the developmental tasks of our young adults, this generation is choosing to devise a more 'improvisational' style of religious and social engagement in almost everything they do."

The challenge for the church "is a whole lot more complex than just moving 'from maintenance to mission,'" Father Couturier commented. The question to face, he said, "is whether the church can develop appropriate grounding institutions that help this fast-paced generation of young adults negotiate family and work in the 'hot, flat and crowded' conditions of the new global economy."

Father Couturier described efforts in the Boston Archdiocese to learn "how Catholics are experiencing their institutions: Are they inspiring and motivating? Are they supportive and helpful? Are the institutions on which Catholics depend today able to provide basic pastoral services, especially to the emerging generation of young adults? Are our Catholic institutions and initiatives on a trajectory of health or distress?"

2. The Landscape Changes in Young Adulthood

"The landscape of young adulthood is changing. That landscape is being rearranged by economic forces which we rarely study and, even more, rarely critique," Father Couturier told the Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development.

The world young adults inhabit today shapes them in two key ways, according to Father Couturier:

1. The new economy changes their very experience of time.

"The new economy demands more and more of our time, energy and attention," Father Couturier observed. He explained that "the ubiquity of technology makes us constantly available for work, and the boundaries between work and life are constantly blurred."

For the young today, time is consumed by the demands of succeeding "in the highly competitive world of the marketplace," he said.

2. The new economy "profoundly changes the nature of our desiring."

Father Couturier said that today's young adults may be restless, but perhaps not in the way St. Augustine famously noted - restless, that is, until they rest in God. "Our new economy substitutes the 'infinity of goods' for the 'infinity of God,' leaving us ever more restless, rootless and uncertain," he commented.

The new economy "deftly 'commodifies' our desire. It materializes our desires and turns them into products to be bought and sold," he said.

In his view, the present generation of young adults "has a new set of challenges in front of them which has do with two overwhelming realities: the reinvention of work in America and the rules (and rising fears) governing the 'new economy.'" All of this, he suggested, poses a significant challenge for the church.

Part of the problem for the church is that its role in young people's lives is short-circuited after they receive the sacrament of confirmation. Father Couturier had this to say:

"Most of the important decisions of the America we have become and of the Catholics we are becoming - those about sexuality, marriage, friends, careers and children - are happening out of the reach of our congregations because most of our formational programs generally have a shelf life that lasts only to confirmation and not much beyond."

Young adults today "need a chance to see a clearer connection between their challenges and the ministries of the church," Father Couturier proposed. He asked, "How conducive are our Catholic institutions for the transformative work of faith in the postmodern world?"

A "new line of research" will be required to "help us plan more efficiently and minister more effectively to the Catholics we are becoming," Father Couturier concluded. (His speech appears in the June 2 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

3. The Census and U.S. Hispanics

"The Hispanic/Latino population now exceeds 50 million" in the U.S., Jesuit Father Allan Figueroa Deck noted at the end of April. He commented on data the U.S. Census Bureau released from the 2010 census. Father Deck is executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Cultural Diversity.

In an entry to his blog on the secretariat's website, Father Deck mentioned a common misunderstanding about Latinos living in the U.S. He wrote:

"Frequently, Hispanics/Latinos are identified with immigrants, and certainly many millions of the people counted [in the census] were born outside the United States. However, the largest group of Hispanics/Latinos is not made up of immigrants but rather people born in this country, U.S. citizens."

About 25 percent of young people in the U.S. are Hispanic/Latino, Father Deck said. He added that this "attests to the extraordinary youth" of the Hispanic/ Latino population. "I recently read that the majority of children three years or younger in Maryland are Hispanic/Latino and that in California the majority of school-age youth are Hispanic/Latino," he wrote.

It is particularly noteworthy, based on the census data, that the Hispanic/Latino population has been making its way into every U.S. region, Father Deck said. He noted that "the fastest growth for them has not been in their traditional regions -- Texas, the Southwest and the West -- but rather in the South."

Their growth "has been phenomenal in places like Georgia and the Carolinas, and virtually every other Southern state," he said.

In fact, Hispanics/Latinos "are putting the Catholic Church definitely on the map in those places for the first time in history," the priest commented. He said "Hispanics are bringing new life to this part of the country."

4. Hispanic Clergy and International Priests

Apparently, the priesthood in the U.S. increasingly is an international priesthood. Father Deck said in his blog entry that researchers are reporting "that the number of international priests, among them many Hispanics, is growing every year."

While Hispanics remain "severely underrepresented in the ranks of clergy," Father Deck said they "are now on the rise," as are the numbers of other international priests including Asians, Filipinos and Koreans.

Father Deck believes that "from a pastoral point of view, the growing diversity of the clergy requires more intercultural competence among all clergy, religious men and women, and lay pastoral agents."

He added that "decades ago the church sought to provide a fairly homogeneous environment for the many Catholic cultural groups, each with its own clergy." Now, however, "bishops are hard-pressed to find priests from among all the diverse groups" that are growing.

What is happening is that "parishes are becoming more and more multicultural or 'shared' by several groups." At the same time, "clergy, religious and lay ministers from abroad are often finding themselves in positions of leadership in the local parish. They are called upon to serve the whole community, not just those of their particular culture."

This means that "language and intercultural skills" have become "more necessary than ever in today's church and in our U.S. society," Father Deck commented. For that reason, he concluded, the U.S. bishops and his secretariat are "investing a great deal of time and effort in a program called Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers.

The hope is that the program, now in its developmental stage, will be rolled out in 2012 "in the form of workshops for training trainers," Father Deck said.

5. Current Quotes to Ponder

Parishes and Mission: "A few years ago I was given a grant to study 12 parishes around the United States. The goal was to find parishes that were strong and vibrant, exemplary and effective Catholic parishes. One parish was in Houston. St. Cecilia is an active parish where there were a growing number of Hispanic immigrants coming to worship. Parishioners welcomed them but wanted to find a better way to integrate the newcomers into the parish. The parish was blessed with a significant number of medical professionals. So they decided to pool their talents and open a well-baby clinic. As you might imagine, many local residents objected to the idea. With perseverance, the project went forward. I was present at a parish orientation for prospective new parishioners. After the pastor spoke about the well-baby clinic, I asked a young couple sitting next to me, 'Do you think you will be getting involved in the clinic?' They answered, 'No, not us.' I asked, 'Are you opposed to the idea?' They responded, 'Oh, no! In fact that's why we are here. We wanted to belong to a parish that stood for something.' It was the bold witness of the parish that drew this young couple into its community life." (From an April 6 address on rekindling the spirit of mission in parishes, given by Father Ronald Lewinski, a pastor in Mundelein, Ill., to the annual meeting of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, held in Seattle. The speech appears in the June 2 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

The Vatican and Religious Orders: "We bishops and superiors of the church need to have a more positive idea of religious." "Only after we've established a dialogue do we discuss issues and try to clear things up if there's a problem. This seems much more fruitful than simply going in with a prejudiced attitude." (From an interview in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, with Brazilian Archbishop Joao Braz de Aviz, the new prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life)

6. Follow-up: "Causes and Context" Study

Now is not the time for the U.S. bishops "to sit back and applaud themselves for getting a handle on a shameful moment in church history," Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Wash., wrote in the May 30 edition of America magazine. He chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People.

Bishop Cupich's America article surveyed priorities for the U.S. bishops now that the "Causes and Context" study of clergy sexual abuse of minors has been published. I presented a special report on the study in the May 19 edition of this jknirp.com newsletter. The study was released in Washington May 18.

"If anything, the church's leadership must now step forward and give new vitality to its promise to protect and its pledge to heal," Bishop Cupich said.

Action by the bishops must now include revising the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" that they adopted in 2002, according to Bishop Cupich. The charter has been revised before, and it is set to be revised again during the bishops' June 15-17 meeting in Seattle.

Bishop Cupich said that in revising the charter, the bishops should take a look at any element in need of "strengthening and clarification" in order to assure that in each diocese a priest "with an admitted or canonically proven allegation of abuse against him" no longer is in ministry.

In Seattle, the bishops will look at ways to bring their charter into line with recent action by the Vatican responding to reports of sexual abuse of minors by priests. Catholic News Service reported that this means mentioning child pornography as a crime against church law and defining the abuse of someone who "habitually lacks reason," such as a person with mental retardation, as the equivalent of child abuse.

Revisions of the charter in Seattle also are expected to reflect findings of the "Causes and Context" study.

7. Screening Seminary Candidates

Because the "Causes and Context" study found no single, identifiable cause of clergy sexual abuse of minors, the researchers suggested that the tools employed to screen seminary candidates are not presently able to identify a potential abuser prior to an actual abuse incident. Nonetheless, the study said screening tools remain important for identifying other problematic personality characteristics.

Bishop Cupich took up the question of screening in his May 20 America magazine article. He insisted that "rigorous screening of seminary candidates" must continue. That means, he said, that "background checks" must be employed, along with "thorough psychological testing" in an effort "to uncover emotional deficiencies that could lead to abuse."

He called attention to the current edition of the bishops' "Program of Priestly Formation," noting that it states that "any credible evidence in the candidate of a sexual attraction to children necessitates an immediate dismissal from the seminary."

And every priest, as well as everyone else working in the church with children, must receive safe-environment training, Bishop Cupich wrote. "There can be no exception to the rule" that a person who lacks safe-environment training cannot work with children "and surely should not be ordained a priest," he said.

8. Alcohol, Clericalism and Abuse of Minors

a) Over the past decade, numerous commentators on the sexual abuse crisis in the church insisted that clericalism played some role in the attitudes of abusers toward their victims and in the way some church leaders handled incidents that came to light.

Although clericalism did not seem to me to be a point of clear focus in the "Causes and Context" study report, which was conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, Bishop Cupich addressed it forcefully in his America magazine article.

Clericalism and elitism go hand in hand, in Bishop Cupich's view. Clericalism results in some viewing themselves "as having special rights and privileges," and it "spawns an arrogance" that leads to "some people receiving less respect than others," he commented. He said this allows some people to be "objectified and used and, soon, tragically abused."

Among Catholics, the defense of the dignity of the human person is a point of distinction, Bishop Cupich noted. But he said that when it comes to the abuse of minors, clericalism "is an attitude that has grown deaf to what the Scriptures tell us about the special place children have in God's kingdom."

Thus, it is essential to "watch for and correct distorted attitudes about the priesthood," he said.

b) The "Causes and Context" study report indicated that alcohol was a contributing factor in the sexual abuse of minors by clergy. Bishop Cupich also took this point up in his article.

He said the researchers found that those who abused young people "were under stress, often lonely and also frequently abused alcohol." Continuing education for priests must aim "at reducing, if not eliminating, the stressors," he said.

Spiritual growth and a "sound prayer life" also are important "for dealing with stress in a healthy and mature way," the bishop said.

He concluded his discussion of this point by stating that priests "need to develop coping skills and outlets that do not include drugs, alcohol and sexual exploitation."

9. Is the "Causes and Context" Study Credible?

In the time since the "Causes and Context" study of the clergy sexual abuse crisis was released May 18, some individuals and groups have questioned its integrity and credibility. Some have asked: Did the bishops simply receive the results they wanted? Does the report whitewash the church?

Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans responded to questions about the study's credibility in an interview with Peter Finney, executive editor of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the New Orleans Archdiocese. Archbishop Aymond was the first chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People.

In response to one interview question, Archbishop Aymond said that "the John Jay researchers are reputable people, and they went to primary sources for their information. This isn't secondhand information."

Finney noted during the interview that "some people are already saying you can't trust the information because it came from the bishops." In response, Archbishop Aymond said.

"The information did not really come from the bishops. The information that John Jay compiled came from treatment centers, from individual priests who had been accused and from other people who had been involved."

In another question related to the study's credibility, Finney asked the archbishop what he would say to people "who think the report might be a case of whitewashing the facts." Archbishop Aymond responded:

"I was involved in these studies from the very beginning, and we engaged the best people in the world to collect the research. We did not interfere in their research. We got periodic reports from them, but we and they did everything possible to allow them to do their work in an independent way.

"They have their reputation on the line. It would be foolhardy for John Jay to say something they don't believe in. Again, much of the information did not come from bishops at all. It came from perpetrators, treatment centers, personnel directors and seminary directors."