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April 16, 2010

Sexual abuse crisis revisited: What has been learned? - Defining and honoring the common good - Mexico-born leader named coadjutor archbishop of Los Angeles - Accenting sacramental signs and symbols



In this edition:

1. Hispanic leader named Los Angeles coadjutor archbishop.
2. Hispanic issues, viewed by Archbishop Gomez.
3. Welcoming the stranger, the immigrant.
4. Restoring trust in society by honoring the common good.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Accenting palliative care in end-of-life debates.
b) Responding to high rate of maternal deaths worldwide.
6. The sexual abuse crisis revisited: What has been learned?
7. Signs and symbols: Continuing theme for pope.
8. Sacramental signs and symbols: light and water.


1. Hispanic Leader Named Los Angeles Coadjutor Archbishop

San Antonio's Archbishop Jose Gomez, born in Monterrey, Mexico, was named coadjutor archbishop of Los Angeles April 6. He is expected to succeed Cardinal Roger Mahony there early in 2011; the cardinal turns 75 next February. Cardinal Mahony said he urged that a Hispanic be selected as his successor. Forty-one percent of the total population in the counties comprising the archdiocese is Hispanic.

Archbishop Gomez is the first Latino archbishop to serve the archdiocese. He described himself in a 2008 speech as "both an American citizen and an immigrant, born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico." The archbishop said, "I've always had family and friends on both sides of the border." He became a U.S. citizen in 1995.

He is recognized as a church leader on immigration issues, as well as an advocate both of Hispanic ministries and of Hispanic people. Cardinal Mahony said that Archbishop Gomez's leadership in "proclaiming the dignity and rights of our immigrant peoples has helped motivate many people to advocate for our immigrants." The archbishop is chairman-elect of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration.

After his appointment, Archbishop Gomez remarked on the cultural diversity of Los Angeles, saying it is a place like none other in reflecting "the global face of the Catholic Church." He said this diversity "invites us to do two things: first, to thank God for our diversity and the energy it creates; and second, to commit ourselves more deeply to the things that unite us -- a zeal for Jesus Christ; confidence in the Gospel; reverence for the Eucharist; service to the poor; defense of the unborn child, the immigrant and the disabled; and a love for the church as our mother and teacher."

Archbishop Gomez has spoken frequently on migration issues. In a 2008 speech he called widespread migration "one of the chief signs of our times." Globalization, he said, "exposed -- and in some cases made worse -- the economic inequalities and injustices that exist within and between nations." He said:

"People leave their homes and their families because they are desperate -- because in their home countries they can't provide the necessities of life for themselves and their families."

2. Hispanic Issues, Viewed by Archbishop Gomez

A continuing concern on Archbishop Jose Gomez's part is whether Catholic Hispanics in the U.S. will remain Catholic. He asked in a June 2009 speech to a national symposium at Jesuit-run Boston College on Catholic Hispanic ministry, "As Hispanics become more and more successful, more and more assimilated into the American mainstream, will they keep the faith?"

Racism is among factors complicating life and even the practice of faith for Hispanics, the archbishop suggested. He said:

"We cannot underestimate the impact - let's be frank -- of racism, both in American society and unfortunately in the church. Our ugly, unproductive and unfinished national debate over immigration has exposed that. If our people feel scapegoated in society and marginalized in Catholic life, it's only natural that they would look around for someplace that might welcome them and treat them with the dignity they deserve."

The archbishop also said he thinks an especially serious problem is posed by "the dominant culture in the United States, which is aggressively, even militantly, secularized." He believes "secularizing forces put forth even more pressure on Hispanics and other immigrant groups" because "immigrants already face severe demands to 'fit in,' to downplay what is culturally and religiously distinct about them."

Thus, "a generation ago we could hardly imagine a Hispanic saying he or she had 'no religion,'" Archbishop Gomez commented. "Yet," he said, "that number has doubled in just the past few years."

The poverty that characterizes the lives of many Hispanic immigrants is a critical challenge, Archbishop Gomez said, making clear he is concerned about both "material and spiritual" poverty. He explained:

"In general terms, Hispanics in this country are following the classic immigrant model. The second and third generations of Hispanics are much better educated, much more fluent in the dominant language and are living at a higher economic standard of living than the first generation. But the troubling fact is that still about one-quarter of all Hispanics, no matter what generation, are living below the poverty line."

Education represents a big challenge. "I am more and more convinced that we must address the issues of Hispanic poverty with an intense practical emphasis on education -- education in general and education in the faith," Archbishop Gomez said.

He observed, "Every expert on poverty tells us that education is the one key to getting out of it. That means, in the first place, we need to get those Hispanic dropout rates down. It means we need to find new ways to keep our kids chaste and in school, and to instill in them the value of education."

And it is an urgent priority to educate Hispanics "in the faith," the archbishop said. "We need to find ways to teach the faith so that our people really 'get it' -- not just the intellectual content of the faith, but the true, life-changing power of the encounter with Jesus Christ."

3. Welcoming the Stranger, the Immigrant

A month before the U.S. presidential election in 2008, Archbishop Gomez said that "as soon as this election is over and a new government sworn in, we need to insist that our leaders roll up their sleeves and get to work on comprehensive immigration reform."

Speaking in Jefferson City, Mo., he said that the church's interest in immigration "doesn't grow out of any political or partisan agenda." Rather, "it is a part of our original religious identity as Catholics, as Christians. We must defend the immigrant if we are to be worthy of the name Catholic."

Yes, said the archbishop, "millions of immigrants are [in the U.S.] in blatant violation of U.S. law. This makes law-abiding Americans angry. And it should." The two-pronged need, he suggested, is "to make sure that our laws are fair and understandable" and "to insist that our laws be respected and enforced." He said: "Those who violate our laws have to be punished. The question is how? What punishments are proper and just?"

Archbishop Gomez said he thought that "from a moral standpoint, we're forced to conclude that deporting immigrants who break our laws is too severe a penalty. It's a punishment that's disproportionate to the crime. It's a punishment that doesn't account for the complex circumstances of how and why people enter this country illegally."

He added that what troubled him most "as a pastor is that these deportations are breaking up families."

If the current situation does not mean laws ought to be unenforced, it does mean "we need to find more suitable penalties," he said. "Intensive, long-term community service would be a far more constructive solution than deportation," he proposed.

This, the archbishop held, "would build communities rather than tear them apart. And it would serve to better integrate the immigrants into the social and moral fabric of America."

Another essential need, he proposed, is that Catholics in America recover their "identity as a people who welcome the stranger." Catholics are called to be "lovers of strangers," said Archbishop Gomez.

However, "this love is not some sentimental affection." The love of the stranger that is called for is "a radical love in which we open our hearts and our homeland to the stranger in need."

4. Restoring Trust by Honoring the Common Good

Society needs to honor the common good in order both to build its social capital and to restore trust, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales say in "Choosing the Common Good," a statement issued March 3 examining some key themes of Catholic social teaching. The statement's release anticipated the scheduled early-May elections for Britain's House of Commons.

Many factors underlie the decline that has occurred in the spirit of solidarity, "without which society starts to break down, and life becomes intolerable," the statement says. "An excessive emphasis on each person simply pursuing their own interests is no doubt one such factor," it states.

But "far from being self-contained individuals," people "are, in truth, always mutually dependent. We are made for one another," the statement insists. It says, "The common good is about how to live well together."

"Social capital" is a term that refers to "the networks between people" - networks that "hold a community together," according to "Choosing the Common Good." It says that an economically rich area "can still be dysfunctional if it lacks this quality."

Social capital, the statement says, "is increased by use; it is depleted by neglect." Social capital "can be, and must be, replenished," but doing so requires that society "rediscover the centrality of personal responsibility and the gift of service to others."

What is the common good? It "refers to what belongs to everyone by virtue of their common humanity," according to the statement. It says that trust was broken in society during recent times, and to rebuild trust it is "crucial" that "our duty to the common good" be recognized.

"The crisis in the financial sector was in essence a collapse of trust in economic institutions," it states.

Trust has been broken by government leaders, bankers and others. "The Catholic Church in our countries, too, has had to learn in recent years some harsh lessons in safeguarding trust," the statement adds.

It asserts that "the challenge for society is to build up our structures and institutions so that they command the same respect and trust as the individuals who represent them best. We know it can be done, but it requires a new sense of service to others at the heart of our institutions."

The bishops believe that the vast majority of ordinary people instinctively want "to belong to a world in which people care for one another. They are alienated by a selfish society."

5. Current Quotes to Ponder

Accent on Palliative Care at Life's End: "In the midst of [an] increasingly intense debate [over end-of-life decisions], we invite you to turn your attention to the more pressing matter of palliative care. Although the means are available to assure that everyone in our country can die with the assurance of receiving physical, psychological, social, spiritual and practical care as well as support, the majority of Canadians, particularly those in rural areas and many small urban communities, do not have access to appropriate care in their final months, weeks or days. Should Parliament decide to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide before ensuring that every Canadian has access to palliative care, our government will not be allowing individuals a truly free choice. Rather, many of our most vulnerable citizens will feel pressured to ask for euthanasia or assisted suicide as a last resort. The Catholic bishops of Canada have been encouraging national, provincial and community efforts to promote palliative care, including hospices, home care and pharmacare. The [bishops are] confident that our country is capable of providing its citizens with end-of-life care which respects their lives and acknowledges the inviolability of each human life." (From an April 8 letter to Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper sent by Bishop Pierre Morrissette of Saint-Jerome, Quebec, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops)

Vatican Urges Action on Maternal Deaths Worldwide: "According to U.N. statistics, there are some half-million maternal deaths annually, of which approximately 99 percent occur in developing countries. Not only do the lives of these mothers end in tragedy, but also the lives of their babies begin in turmoil. In the aftermath, the chance of survival of their young children decreases dramatically, resulting in the disintegration of their families and hindrance to local development. Sadly, these deaths represent only the tip of the iceberg. It is estimated that for every mortality, 30 more women suffer long-term damage to their health, such as from obstetric fistulae. The physical devastation caused by fistulae makes them complete outcasts and isolated by family and society. They suffer pain, humiliation and lifelong disability if not treated. Worldwide, perhaps 2 million of these poor, young and forgotten mothers are living with the problem, most of whom are in Africa. These deaths of mothers and babies are all the more shameful, especially since they are readily preventable and treatable. Yet, programs focused on providing the services that ensure mothers and their babies survive pregnancy are badly underfunded." (From remarks April 14 by Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Vatican ambassador to the United Nations, to the U.N. Commission on Population and Development)

6. The Sexual Abuse Crisis Revisited: What Has Been Learned?

News of the church is dominated at this moment by discussions of the sexual abuse crisis in Europe. Past responses by church leaders in Rome, Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia and other places to cases involving the sexual abuse of minors by priests and others representing the church, along with current assessments by church leaders of how such cases ought to be handled and what the church's response should be or should have been, are at the center of this discussion.

My focus in this jknirp.com newsletter is generally on what I call "pastoral news," not "hard news." Sometimes, of course, pastoral news and hard news intertwine, which is why I now want to call attention to a brand new document from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops related to the church's handling of sexual abuse cases.

Many undoubtedly feel that the present situation in Europe virtually mirrors the situation in the U.S. seven or eight years ago when the clergy sexual abuse crisis moved to the center of public attention. Undoubtedly, too, the church abroad now is drawing upon, and will continue to draw upon, the experience the church in the U.S. has had during the past decade -- what it has learned and the actions it has taken.

And what has been learned? Teresa Kettelkamp, executive director of the USCCB secretariat dealing with policy related to sexual abuse, discussed some of what has been learned in a brief document April 14 -- a document with clear implications for the pastoral-ministry realm. To mark Child Abuse Prevention Month, Kettelkamp developed a list of 10 tips for preventing abuse and responding properly if and when it does occur.

Though I am the former, longtime editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service, I do not usually allow the text of a document to occupy my online newsletter space. In this case, however, it seems appropriate to make an exception.

Here, then, is the list of 10 tips by the director of the USCCB Secretariat for Children and Young People - tips she said she developed after reviewing what the church has learned in facing the clergy sexual abuse situation. Her tips relate particularly to keeping minors safe, the effects of sexual abuse on victims and those in the church who work with youths.

1. "Sexual molestation is about the victim. Many people are affected when a priest abuses a minor, but the individual most impacted is the victim who has suffered a violation of trust that can affect his or her entire life. The abuser, the family of the abused and the parish community are all affected by this sin and crime, but the primary person of concern must be the victim.

2. "No one has the right to have access to children. If people wish to volunteer for the church, for example, in a parish or school, they must follow diocesan guidelines on background checks, safe environment training, policies and procedures, and codes of conduct. No one, no matter who they are, has an automatic right to be around children or young people who are in the care of the church without proper screening and without following the rules.

3. "Common sense is not all that common. It is naive to presume that people automatically know boundaries, so organizations and families have to spell them out. For example, no youth minister, cleric or other adult leader should be in a child's bedroom, alone with the child.

4. "Child sexual abuse can be prevented. Awareness that child sexual abuse exists and can exist anywhere is a start. It is then critical to build safety barriers around children and young people to keep them from harm. These barriers come in the form of protective guardians, codes of conduct, background evaluations, policies and procedures, and safety training programs.

5. "The residual effects of having been abused can last a lifetime. Those who have been abused seldom 'just get over it.' The sense of violation goes deep into a person's psyche, and feelings of anger, shame, hurt and betrayal can build long after the abuse has taken place. Some have even described the feeling as if it has 'scarred their soul.'

6. "Feeling heard leads toward healing. Relief from hurt and anger often comes when one feels heard, when one's pain and concerns are taken seriously, and a victim/survivor's appropriate sense of rage and indignation are acknowledged. Not being acknowledged contributes to a victim's sense of being invisible, unimportant and unworthy; they are in some way 'revictimized.'

7. "You cannot always predict who will be an abuser. Experience shows that most abuse is at the hands of someone who has gained the trust of a victim/survivor and his/her family. Most abuse also occurs in the family setting. Sometimes the 'nicest person in the world' is an abuser, and this 'niceness' enables a false sense of trust to be created between abuser and abused.

8. "There are behavioral warning signs of child abusers. Training and education help adults recognize grooming techniques that are precursors to abuse. Some abusers isolate a potential victim by giving him or her undue attention or lavish gifts. Another common grooming technique is to allow young people to participate in activities which their parents or guardians would not approve, such as watching pornography, drinking alcohol, using drugs and excessive touching, which includes wrestling and tickling. It is also critical to be wary of age-inappropriate relationships, seen, for example, in the adult who is more comfortable with children than fellow adults. Parishes can set up rules to guide interaction between adults and children.

9. "People can be taught to identify grooming behaviors -- which are the actions which abusers take to project the image that they are kind, generous, caring people, while their intent is to lure a minor into an inappropriate relationship. An abuser may develop a relationship with the family to increase his credibility. Abusers might show attention to the child by talking to him/her, being friendly, sharing alcohol with a minor and giving the child 'status' by insinuating that the child is their favorite or 'special person.' Offenders can be patient and may 'groom' their victim, his or her family, or community for years.

10. "Background checks work. Background checks in churches, schools and other organizations keep predators away from children both because they scare off some predators and because they uncover past actions which should ban an adult from working or volunteering with children. If an adult has had difficulty with some boundaries that society sets, such as not driving while intoxicated or not disturbing the public peace, he or she may have difficulties with other boundaries, such as not hurting a child. Never forget that offenders lie."

7. Sacramental Signs and Symbols: Theme of This Papacy

Sacramental symbols are of much more than passing interest to Pope Benedict XVI. At this point he has focused on them a sufficient number of times to warrant us thinking that he considers them a theme of his catechesis. His entire homily April 1 during a Vatican Chrism Mass was devoted to sacramental signs and symbols.

"God touches us through material things, through gifts of creation that he takes up into his service, making them instruments of the encounter between us and himself," Pope Benedict noted. He said, "There are four elements in creation on which the world of sacraments is built: water, bread, wine and olive oil."

The pope proceeded to discuss these symbols one by one, spending time particularly on the rich meaning of olive oil.

1. Water: "As the basic element and fundamental condition of all life, [water] is the essential sign of the act in which, through baptism, we become Christians and are born to new life," Pope Benedict said.

2. Bread "is the fundamental gift of life day by day," he explained. Bread "has to do with everyday life."

3. Wine, on the other hand, "has to do with feasting, with the fine things of creation, in which, at the same time, the joy of the redeemed finds particular expression."

4. Finally, "olive oil has a wide range of meaning." Pope Benedict described olive oil as nourishment and medicine, adding that "it gives beauty, it prepares us for battle and it gives strength."

Water is a vital element of life everywhere. Thus, it "represents the shared access of all people to rebirth as Christians," Pope Benedict said. At the same time, bread, wine and oil "belong to the culture of the Mediterranean region." Thus, as symbols they point "toward the concrete historical environment in which Christianity emerged." Discussing the significance of this historical environment, the pope said:

"God acted in a clearly defined place on the earth, he truly made history with men. On the one hand, these three elements [of bread, wine and oil] are gifts of creation, and on the other, they also indicate the locality of the history of God with us. They are a synthesis between creation and history -- gifts of God that always connect us to those parts of the world where God chose to act with us in historical time, where he chose to become one of us."

In his extended discussion of sacramental oil, Pope Benedict noted that "kings and priests are anointed with oil, which is thus a sign of dignity and responsibility, and likewise of the strength that comes from God."

Actually, "even the name that we bear as 'Christians' contains the mystery of the oil," he said. What it means "to be a Christian" is that one comes from and belongs to Christ -- belongs "to the anointed one of God," Pope Benedict said.

To be a Christian means to belong "to him whom God himself anointed -- not with material oil, but with the One whom the oil represents -- with his Holy Spirit." Thus, olive oil is in a "particular way a symbol of the total compenetration of the man Jesus by the Holy Spirit," the pope observed.

He noted that in four sacraments - "in baptism, in confirmation as the sacrament of the Holy Spirit, in the different grades of the sacrament of holy orders and finally in the anointing of the sick, in which oil is offered to us, so to speak, as God's medicine" -- oil serves as a "sign of God's goodness reaching out to touch us."

Oil thus accompanies Christians throughout their lives, Pope Benedict said.

Toward the end of his homily, the pope related the oil of the sacraments specifically to the vocation of priests. "In the various sacraments consecrated oil is always a sign of God's mercy. So the meaning of priestly anointing always includes the mission to bring God's mercy to those we serve," he said.

Turning attention to the symbolism of the olive branch, he said that priests are "called to be men of peace." The story in biblical history of a dove bearing an olive branch signals the end of the great flood and signals at the same time "God's new peace with the world," said Pope Benedict. Thus, "not only the dove but also the olive branch and oil itself have become symbols of peace."

The Christians of antiquity "remembered that the first words of the risen Lord to his disciples were, 'Peace be with you,'" the pope continued. Thus, Christ "himself, so to speak, bears the olive branch, he introduces his peace into the world."

And because Christ "is our peace," Christians themselves ought to be "people of peace." This, the pope said, involves recognizing that "Christ does not conquer through the sword, but through the cross. He wins by conquering hatred. He wins through the force of his greater love."

8. Fresh Water Bubbling Up

The symbols of water and light were closely examined a year ago in Pope Benedict XVI's Easter Vigil homily. I discussed the homily in the April 14, 2009, edition of this newsletter, sensing that what the pope said might prove particularly helpful to parish educators preparing parents and others for baptism. "Where there is light, life is born, chaos can be transformed," the pope said. He called light "the most immediate image of God" and described the resurrection of Jesus as "an eruption of light." With the resurrection, he said, "God's light spreads throughout the world and throughout history. Day dawns." Pope Benedict noted how, during the Easter Vigil, "the church represents the mystery of the light of Christ in the sign of the paschal candle, whose flame is both light and heat." The pope pointed out that those present at the Easter Vigil, especially those baptized during that very celebration, next light their own candles from the paschal candle. He explained:

"The early church described baptism as 'fotismos,' as the sacrament of illumination, as a communication of light, and linked it inseparably with the resurrection of Christ. In baptism God says to the candidate, 'Let there be light!' The candidate is brought into the light of Christ. Christ now divides the light from the darkness."

The pope spoke in his 2009 homily of water as a two-pronged symbol, at once threatening in its power and life-giving. Baptism, he said, "is not only a cleansing, but a new birth: With Christ we, as it were, descend into the sea of death so as to rise up again as new creatures."

The pope said, "In baptism the Lord makes us not only persons of light, but also sources from which living water bursts forth."

Fortunately, he stated, everyone knows people "who leave us somehow refreshed and renewed, people who are like a fountain of fresh spring water." However, he added, "we also know the opposite: people who spread around themselves an atmosphere like a stagnant pool of stale or even poisoned water."

The pope exhorted Christians to pray "for the gift always to be sources of pure, fresh water, bubbling up from the fountain of his truth and his love!"