Catholic Appeal Update

August 31, 2011

BCI is on a lighter blogging schedule this week due to some other pressing commitments.  Today we share with you some details on how the 2011 Catholic Appeal is doing.

As we mentioned in Fundraising Fiefdom earlier this month, aside from expansion of the fundraising fiefdom, the results of the Catholic Appeal 2011 recently communicated to parishes show they are running about the same as the Catholic Appeal of 2010 in dollar-amount of pledges at this time in the year. That means that unless something dramatically changes, the appeal is likely to raise substantially less than the Catholic Appeal of 2009 for the second year in a row, and with several thousand fewer donors giving than in previous years.

Because the archdiocese said the Boston Catholic Development Services group was aiming for greater accountability in the new organization, BCI thought we would help them out towards achieving their goal of accountability by sharing some more details on their fundraising goals and progress with faithful Catholics.

According to this email sent to parishes in mid-August, the Appeal has raised “nearly $11 million.”  53 parishes have exceeded their goals, and 143 parishes are at 70% or better.  Sources tell BCI this comes from about 40,736 donors.

The goal is to raise $14 million in 2011 from about 58,000 donors, an 11% increase over the $13M raised in 2010, which would still be down $1 million from the $15 million raised in 2009.

One might ask, how does this compare vs how the appeal was doing at this point last year?  Good question.  By means of comparison, in August 2010, there were pledges of $10.6 million from 42,750 contributors.

So, the amount of pledges is about the same in 2011 vs 2010, but the number of contributors is down by about 2,000.  That suggests if the pledge rate keeps up at its current pace, they are likely tracking to more like $13 million raised and not the $14 million goal.  In addition, it seems to BCI that BCDS should be mighty concerned about the dropping number of donors.

As BCI observed in “Fundraising Fiasco” earlier this year, from published information we know that 48,838 people donated in 2009, and the number of donors had ranged between about 48,000 and 49,000+ over the 2004-2009 period.  In 2010, suddenly the number of donors dropped to 46,099–nearly 3,000 fewer people than donated the year before–and the average donation per-person also dropped. Now, if you compare 2010 vs 2011 to date, they have lost another 2,000 donors who had given as of this time last year.

Though the economic climate is no doubt a contributor to the fundraising challenges, BCI suggests once again that ongoing distrust in the financial/administrative leadership of the archdiocese is a factor to not be ignored. Every place that BCI turns, we hear parishioners in the pews saying they are unhappy that so many people in the Pastoral Center are earning six-figure salaries–and even more troubling, the salaries above $200K–the Superintendent of Schools, the General Counsel, the Chancellor, the head of Catholic Media, the Secretary for Institutional Advancement and other people in fundraising.  Little seems to have happened with the problems of excessive 6-figure salaries while parishes run in the red, and we continue seeing sham searches, deception, cronyism, conflicts of interest for many “open searches,” broken promises about funding pensions,  six weeks of paid vacation for the Chancellor, underqualified lay executives in high-paying positions, and more.  We asked this in February and will ask it again: Has it still not occurred to anyone at 66 Brooks Drive that people are sick and tired of all this and are fighting back to regain Catholic values in the archdiocese the only way they know how to–via their checkbooks?

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is at least saying the right things in their battle against corruption.  The Boston Globe today reports:

More than two decades of failed oversight have allowed the state’s special education collaboratives to misspend millions of taxpayer dollars, according to the state auditor’s office, which has found a pattern of excessive salaries, conflicts of interest, and possible pension law violations at six of the 30 publicly funded agencies….

“These common findings are indicative of a system that’s lacking in standards and oversight and is easily manipulated by folks who are not putting the interests of taxpayers and special needs kids first,’’ Auditor Suzanne M. Bump said yesterday….

Yesterday, state Education Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester released a statement saying he welcomed Bump’s findings, adding that they will be reviewed next month by a special committee on collaboratives established earlier this summer.”

In the Boston Archdiocese, no one at 66 Brooks seems willing to acknowledge or do anything about a pattern of excessive salaries, conflicts of interest, and breaches of promises made to lay employees about their pension benefits. A Finance Council Compensation Committee–chaired by a multi-millionaire business executive–was formed to study and review compensation. But BCI sees their effort as problemmatic for reasons cited previously, including the plans for them to spend yet more money to engage a consultant to study the issue; apparent failure to inexpensively survey other dioceses in-house and benchmark against them; the lack of publicly-stated goals, success metrics and accountabilities for these key positions; the lack of any public reporting on the work of the committee; extended timeframe (2012) for any results to be released; and questions of whether they will drive any meaningful changes or just try to justify the status quo.

BCI wants to see the Catholic Church in Boston flourish and continue the saving ministry of Jesus Christ.  But the current approach to management still leaves much evidence that the “system” is easily manipulated by folks who are not putting the interests of the ministry and Catholic faithful first.

If the Massachusetts state government can publicly acknowledge their problems and put plans in place to address them, why not the Archdiocese of Boston?  Perhaps this is another topic for the new Vicar General to take up after he arrives.  What do you think?


Archdiocese airs list of priests accused of sexual abuse

August 26, 2011

On Thursday, the Boston Archdiocese announced publication of a web listing of clergy accused of sexual abuse of a child. BCI acknowledges the pain that hundreds of victims of sexual abuse by clergy in Boston have experienced and also understands there was a fair amount of outside pressure on the archdiocese to release this information. At the same time, BCI also feels compelled to offer a few of our own reactions to both this specific announcement and certain comments from critics of the initiative.  Notice the clear “Opinion” marking on this post.

The Merits of this Effort

First, BCI wishes to acknowledge the merits of this initiative. The sexual abuse of children by clergy was a terrible thing to have occurred, the harm to people in many cases irreparable, and the scandal was horrible. This initiative to post names of priests accused of sexual abuse to bring comfort and additional closure to victims has been underway for some time and required a great deal of work to get every piece of information correct. Even one error could be devastating to the reputation and vocation of an innocent priest. The reason for the effort was aptly summarized by Cardinal O’Malley in his statement:

“Having met with hundreds of survivors, I know firsthand the scars you carry. And I carry with me every day the pain of the Church’s failures.  I express once again my sorrow for your pain and my apology for any way the Church and its clergy have failed you,” said Cardinal Seán O’Malley in the written decision document published with the list.  “My deepest hope and prayer is that the efforts I am announcing today will provide some additional comfort and healing for those who have suffered from sexual abuse by clergy and will continue to strengthen our efforts to protect God’s children.”

The above being said, there are a few aspects of this where BCI has issues and concerns.

1) Release of Names of Priests Publicly Accused with Unsubstantiated Charges

BCI understands the basis for publishing names of priests accused of sexual abuse and found guilty, and agrees with that.  But BCI struggles to understand why the Archdiocese felt compelled to publish names of clergy who were publicly accused of sexually abusing a child where the allegations were found unsubstantiated by the Review Board or where the priest was acquitted after a canonical process.  BCI looked at the websites of other dioceses such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia and could not find information disclosed about priests who faced public accusations and were cleared. If it is there, we could not find it.  Here is how the Boston archdiocese explained the decision to priests whose names were published who fall in this category:

“Our hope is this effort will be helpful to you in providing an official, clear and easily accessible statement that the complaint against you , which was the subject of previous publicity has been found unsubstantiated…

We believe that posting this information about cases such as yours separately from the other cases listed above will allow us to clarify that the past complaint against you has been found unsubstantiated, while also remaining consistent with our commitment to augment our present policies with regard to providing information about Archdiocesan clergy accused of abuse.”

That is one side of the story, and perhaps clergy who faced accusations that were made public and were cleared find this listing of benefit to clear their name.  But, what happens for those Boston priests for whom past publicity has died down and for whom wounds of a false accusation have healed who did not want their names published like this? Why do other dioceses not publish this? BCI has heard of at least one priest who faced unsubstantiated public charges for whom the appearance of his name on this list is deeply troubling and reopens old wounds unnecessarily.

In civil law, a person is presumed innocent until found guilty. Where else in secular society do we find that someone who was accused of wrongdoing and found innocent has their name published publicly in a database as accused and found not guilty?  Are public school teachers, police officers, lawyers or medical workers improperly accused of abuse or some other crime but found innocent placed on a public list for their entire lives for the whole world to see?  For what civil crimes or situations does that happen? Has the right balance of disclosure vs rights of the priests been struck here?


2) Odd Wording of Press Release

The headline reads, “August 25, 2011 – Archdiocese of Boston Launches Web-Based Publication With Respect to Its Clergy Accused of Sexual Abuse of a Child.”

(Braintree, Mass.) August 25, 2011… As part of Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley’s ongoing commitment to protect children and rebuild trust in the wake of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, the Archdiocese of Boston today launched a web-based publication with respect to its clergy accused of sexual abuse of a child (www.bostoncatholic.org).  The Cardinal’s decision to publish this information is detailed in a letter to the people of the Archdiocese (copy attached and available on the website) along with an open letter to survivors of sexual abuse and an open letter to the clergy of the Archdiocese.

Exactly how does the archdiocese publishing a listing of clergy accused of sexual abuse “respect” its clergy? Call BCI obsessive about grammar if you will, but if you were a priest publicly accused of sexual abuse who was cleared, how does the archdiocese launching a web listing that includes your name with an unsubstantiated charge “respect” you?  Why not just say “Archdiocese of Boston Launches Web Listing of Its Clergy Accused of Sexual Abuse of a Child”?

3) Misplaced Criticism by Attorney General Martha Coakley and others

According to the Boston Globe, Attorney General Martha Coakley and advocates for clergy abuse victims complained that this disclosure listed only those priests who had already been publicly accused, and omits the names of dozens of accused priests from religious orders and other dioceses, as well as those who left the priesthood before accusations were leveled againt them.

The reality as conveyed in the article is that Cardinal O’Malley omitted the names of religious order priests and those from other dioceses because the Boston Archdiocese does not investigate or resolve allegations against them. It is not “shameless hairsplitting” as SNAP complained. And how does Attorney General Coakley justify complaining about lack of disclosure of information that falls outside of the scope of cases the Boston archdiocese manages and deals with, when she apparently turns her own head the other way on pursuing local matters like the Partners Healthcare price-fixing case, which we described in this post as having been ceded to the U.S. Department of Justice?  BCI humbly suggests the Attorney General re-read Matthew 7:5.

And why is there no effort by Attorney General Coakley to have disclosure of the names of public school teachers who have abused children?   This article on LifeSiteNews says that according to Charol Shakeshaft, researcher of a little-remembered 2004 study prepared for the U.S. Department of Education, “the physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests.” According to the 2004 study “the most accurate data available at this time” indicates that “nearly 9.6 percent of students are targets of educator sexual misconduct sometime during their school career.”

George Weigel, writing in First Things in 2010 said:

The sexual and physical abuse of children and young people is a global plague; its manifestations run the gamut from fondling by teachers to rape by uncles to kidnapping-and-sex-trafficking. In the United States alone, there are reportedly some 39 million victims of childhood sexual abuse. Forty to sixty percent were abused by family members, including stepfathers and live-in boyfriends of a child’s mother—thus suggesting that abused children are the principal victims of the sexual revolution, the breakdown of marriage, and the hook-up culture. Hofstra University professor Charol Shakeshaft reports that 6-10 percent of public school students have been molested in recent years—some 290,000 between 1991 and 2000.  According to other recent studies, 2 percent of sex abuse offenders were Catholic priests—a phenomenon that spiked between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s but seems to have virtually disappeared (six credible cases of clerical sexual abuse in 2009 were reported in the U.S. bishops’ annual audit, in a Church of some 65,000,000 members).

Remember that number–six credible cases of sexual abuse by priests were reported in 2009 out of 65 million Catholics.  In New York City, Archbishop Dolan shared word on his blog that the “rate of sexual abuse among public school teachers is 10 times higher than that of priests.” The statistics were from a NYS Special Commissioner of Investigation report that substantiated 78 abuse cases by teachers in 2009, and 73 such cases in 2010.  There were 78 cases in just NY City Public Schools in 2009, but 6 across the entire Catholic Church nationally.  Where is the problem, really?  Why does Martha not insist that similar work be done in Boston Public Schools or across the state, and that a list of accused teachers be published?

On March 12, 2011, the NY Times published a report about widespread abuse problems in more than 2,000 New York state-run homes for the developmentally disabled. Despite a state law requiring that incidents in which a crime may have been committed be reported to law enforcement, state records show that of some 13,000 allegations of abuse in 2009 within state-operated and licensed homes, fewer than 5 percent were referred to law enforcement.

One might argue that is New York, not Massachusetts. Here in Massachusetts, in 2007 then-U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan reported on his study of 11 years of records at the Massachusetts Disabled Persons Protection Commission. Sullivan found “very concerning neglect and abuse trends”, especially sexual abuse, in state-supported vendor-operated group homes for the disabled. In the report, he said:

“Unfortunately, after reviewing data from the Disabled Persons Protection Commission, our office did note some very concerning neglect and abuse trends in Contract Vendor operated community residences, as compared to the ICF/MRs and State operated community residences. These neglect and abuse trends, particularly sexual abuse, were of great concern to our office and shows that residents in our community homes are at a greater risk of being abused and/or neglected.”

What is Martha Coakley doing about the “very concerning neglect and abuse” of the disabled in state-supported homes?  Nothing that we can find reported publicly.

This 2001 report from the Guttmacher Institute says, “Almost one-third of females and nearly one in 10 male high school students in Massachusetts say they have experienced sexual abuse.  Where is the outrage?  What is Martha doing about this?  Nothing that we can find reported publicly.

4) Misplaced Criticism by SNAP, BishopAccountability and Lawyer Mitchell Garabedian

They complained about 91 accused priests omitted from Cardinal O’Malley’s list.  Of the 91 accused priests omitted from the Cardinal’s list, 62 are dead, have never been publicly accused of abuse, and have never been investigated by Church officials, and 22 faced accusations that could not be substantiated.

C’mon.  It sure sounds like nothing will ever be good enough for SNAP and the lawyers, and they will never be satisfied.  Why bother kow-towing to these folks?

SNAP has their own problems, like issuing a press statement Aug 10, 2011 to attack a falsely accused priest after he has been legally exonerated and the alleged victim found to have fabricated claims. (“The defense [for Rev. Borowec] produced evidence at trial that demonstrated the complaining witness fabricated the charges and was seeking attention with intent to obtain money from the church. Prior to trial, the prosecutor suppressed evidence regarding the complaining witness’s mental health history and prior false allegations she made against another priest”).

Then there is attorney Mitchell Garabedian complaining that three people on his list of priests with abuse allegations against them were not on the archdiocesan-published list. The Globe reports:

Church officials, underscoring the complexity of compiling such a list, said that abuse allegations against three of the individuals on Garabedian’s list were found to be unsubstantiated. But Garabedian said today that the Church made financial payments to settle the accusations against all of the priests on his list.

A reasonable person might ask, why did the archdiocese make a payment to settle an unsubstantiated allegation in the first place?  And if both sides know the accusations were unsubstantiated but payments made, who is working towards recovering those payments and the associated lawyer fees paid to Garabedian?

Here is another excerpt from the piece by George Weigel (“Scoundrel Times)” in First Things:

Yet in a pattern exemplifying the dog’s behavior in Proverbs 26:11, the sexual abuse story in the global media is almost entirely a Catholic story, in which the Catholic Church is portrayed as the epicenter of the sexual abuse of the young, with hints of an ecclesiastical criminal conspiracy involving sexual predators whose predations continue today. That the vast majority of the abuse cases in the United States took place decades ago is of no consequence to this story line. For the narrative that has been constructed is often less about the protection of the young (for whom the Catholic Church is, by empirical measure, the safest environment for young people in America today) than it is about taking the Church down—and, eventually, out, both financially and as a credible voice in the public debate over public policy. For if the Church is a global criminal conspiracy of sexual abusers and their protectors, then the Catholic Church has no claim to a place at the table of public moral argument.

The above is what BCI thinks.  Do we dare open a can of worms by asking what you think?

ps. Today, August 26, is the last day to vote in the Catholic New Media Awards. BCI has been nominated in several categories. To vote, click here, then click on the link to register, give a valid email address, go to your email account and click on the confirmation link, and you will then be able to vote. It will take you only a minute to vote on your favorite Catholic blog(s)!


How the Boston Archdiocese Responds to Your Complaints

August 24, 2011

As some readers may know, a lay advisory group, the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, meets with Cardinal O’Malley and the Vicar General every few months to discuss issues of importance to the members and the archdiocese.  BCI thought readers might find it interesting to see a few issues discussed at a recent meeting, and how the archdiocese responded to complaints.

The APC is described here as follows:

A lay advisory group seeking to represent the parishes to the Archbishop of Boston, the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council is comprised of members appointed by Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley.

APC members are nominated by their pastor, and a lot of the APC members are members of their local parish councils. From this 2005 article when the APC was re-formed following the resignation of Cardinal Law, then-archbishop O’Malley said he saw the APC as a “vital” group and he was looking forward to “hearing the truth and to hearing all the council’s ideas.”

During the meeting, the typical format is that someone from the archdiocese presents some topic, and at the end of the meeting, there is a time for “What Do I Need to Hear?” when each member can share their feedback, questions, or concerns to the Archbishop of Boston.  Though this is now a little dated, here are a few items that came up during the “What Do I Need to Hear?” portion of the March 30, 2011 meeting, exactly as they are worded in the minutes:

“A commenter expressed dismay at the reappointment of chancellor Pastoral Center Cabinet member, his perception of “nepotism” at the Pastoral Center and the lack of a clear public accounting of the circumstances leading to the suit filed by the Daughters of St. Paul.

Someone recommended that the Archdiocese respond swiftly and honestly to the recent threats from the a former prominent Chancery employee about the lay pension plan.”

According to the minutes, Vicar General Fr. Richard Erikson responded as follows:

“He also informed the council that Fr. Foley was criticized in one of the blogs for spending money on a trip to New Orleans for a priests’ conference. Actually, Fr. Foley did not go the conference.”

If BCI understands the original question from the APC member, they were expressing dismay about the reappointment of Chancellor Jim McDonough to another 5-year term and about what appeared to be nepotism at the Pastoral Center. Perhaps it was perceived by the Vicar General that the person picked some of this up from BCI. So, instead of responding to the two legitimate issues, the Vicar General used a diversionary tactic–he discredited BCI by saying said the blog made a mistake on the reason why Fr. Foley was on a trip to New Orleans (a minor error which we acknowledged) and he ignored the actual issues conveyed by the APC member in “What Do I Need to Hear?”

There is more.  Here is how the minutes describe the subsequent response by Cardinal O’Malley:

“The Cardinal is puzzled by the attitude of chancellor former prominent Chancery employee with respect to his remarks about the pension plan. He was also disappointed that the attorney for the Daughters of St. Paul did not approach him about leaving the pension plan before filing suit. Both parties are now in mediation.”

The first part of the response by the Cardinal would no doubt relate to criticism by former Chancellor David Smith published in the Boston Globe over the changes in the lay pension plan that froze the previous pension plan and asked present and former employees “to choose to forfeit their pension benefits in exchange for a grossly inadequate one-time payout.”

BCI is puzzled that the Cardinal was puzzled by the criticism over the pension plan. Previous promises were broken and retirement benefits to former employees were cut. Why is it puzzling that former employees would vocipherously complain about this?  When people complain privately to the archdiocese and get no reasonable response, eventually they feel there is no other option but to go public with their criticism.

As for the Daughters of St. Paul situation, as BCI posted in “Diocesan Deception with Daughters” and “Daughters Lawsuit Settled, But…” , the claim by the Cardinal suggesting he was unaware of the prospect of a lawsuit and deflecting responsibility back to the Daughters’ attorney does not really hold water:

  • Trustees of the lay pension fund include Cardinal O’Malley, Chancellor Jim McDonough, (outgoing) Vicar General Fr. Richard Erikson, priest-secretary to Cardinal O’Malley Fr. Robert Kickham, Fr. Bryan Parrish and Fr. Joseph K. Raeke. Are all of these people willing to go on the record and say that there was never any advance word at trustee meetings and they never saw anything in writing to them as Trustees that informed them legal action was a next step if this dispute was resolved? It is reasonable to assuume that correspondence to the Plan Administrator that potentially affected the fund in a substantial way–such as a potential lawsuit if the 5-year dispute was not resolved–would be brought to the attention of the trustees. Correspondence from the Pension Plan office was copied to all trustees, and the Cardinal is one of the trustees. Was he notified and did not read his mail? Did he not insist his staff keep him informed? Either way, whose fault was it–the attorney for the Daughters, or the archdiocese itself?
  • Furthermore, if the Trustees had acted effectively to resolve the situation after 5 years and preclude the legal complaint, then there would have been no lawsuit. In response to the question from the APC member about the “lack of a clear public accounting of the circumstances leading to the suit,” why is there no acknowledgment that the archdiocese may have messed up in their overall handling of the Daughters’ situation?
  • Lastly, as we know, the Daughters’ legal complaint was quietly filed on December 20, 2010 and the archdiocese did little to resolve it before word got out. We wrote about it in our March 9 post, citing publicly available information on the archdiocesan benefits website. The general public beyond BCI readers did not even know about the complaint until March 21 when the Boston Globe published their article–3 months after the legal action was filed. If the Cardinal was really troubled by the lawsuit, why did he not work double-time to settle it in the days and weeks right after it was filed, before it became public knowledge and a source of public embarrassment?

Since rebuilding trust seems to still be a priority for the archdiocese, BCI would recommend to the incoming Vicar General that the archdiocese find some way of taking more seriously the input and concerns raised by faithful Catholics. If the Cardinal and the archdiocese really want to hear the truth, it would be a good idea to respond to legitimate concerns by faithful Catholics in a way that i) acknowledges the validity of the concern, ii) acknowledges responsibility when the archdiocese bears some responsibility, and iii) shows some sense that meaningful action is being taken to do things differently in the future.

ps. There is still time to vote in the Catholic New Media Awards. BCI has been nominated in several categories. To vote, click here, then click on the link to register, give a valid email address, go to your email account and click on the confirmation link, and you will then be able to vote. It will take you only a minute to vote on your favorite Catholic blog(s)!


Closing WYD Madrid, Pope sends out 2 million ‘apostles of the 21st century’

August 23, 2011

This is the final installment of our reports on World Youth Day in Madrid.  This report from Catholic Culture summarizes the closing Mass, and then below you will find the text of the closing Mass homily by the Holy Father.

Pope Benedict XVI challenged nearly 2 million young people to be “apostles of the 21st century,” as he closed World Youth Day (WYD) ceremonies in Madrid on August 21.

“There is no reason to lose heart,” the Pope told WYD participants. He assured them that their contemporaries will respond to the Gospel message, as idealistic young people invariably respond “when one proposes to them, in sincerity and truth, an encounter with Jesus Christ.” In the final remarks of his 4-day visit to Spain, the Pontiff said that the WYD participants would return to their own homes as “missionaries of the Gospel.”

Organizers of the 26th international WYD celebration had expected up to 1 million participants. But nearly twice that many young people crowded onto the airfield outside Madrid where the Pope presided at a concluding Mass on Sunday….

One of the most dramatic moments of the 26th WYD came on Saturday evening, August 20, when a violent thunderstorm drenched the young people who had gathered for a prayer vigil at the Madrid airport, and forced the Pope to cut short a talk on the dignity of marriage and the family. Despite the pouring rain and wild winds, which knocked out the public-address system, the Pope refused to leave the site, insisting that he would stay to lead the young crowed in Eucharistic adoration. After the storm passed, he congratulated the young pilgrims for their perserverance.

Here is the text of the Closing Mass homily:

Dear Young People,

In this celebration of the Eucharist we have reached the high point of this World Youth Day. Seeing you here, gathered in such great numbers from all parts of the world, fills my heart with joy. I think of the special love with which Jesus is looking upon you. Yes, the Lord loves you and calls you his friends (cf. Jn 15:15). He goes out to meet you and he wants to accompany you on your journey, to open the door to a life of fulfillment and to give you a share in his own closeness to the Father. For our part, we have come to know the immensity of his love and we want to respond generously to his love by sharing with others the joy we have received. Certainly, there are many people today who feel attracted by the figure of Christ and want to know him better. They realize that he is the answer to so many of our deepest concerns. But who is he really? How can someone who lived on this earth so long ago have anything in common with me today?

The Gospel we have just heard (cf. Mt 16:13-20) suggests two different ways of knowing Christ. The first is an impersonal knowledge, one based on current opinion. When Jesus asks: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”, the disciples answer: “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets”. In other words, Christ is seen as yet another religious figure, like those who came before him. Then Jesus turns to the disciples and asks them: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter responds with what is the first confession of faith: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. Faith is more than just empirical or historical facts; it is an ability to grasp the mystery of Christ’s person in all its depth.

Yet faith is not the result of human effort, of human reasoning, but rather a gift of God: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven”. Faith starts with God, who opens his heart to us and invites us to share in his own divine life. Faith does not simply provide information about who Christ is; rather, it entails a personal relationship with Christ, a surrender of our whole person, with all our understanding, will and feelings, to God’s self-revelation. So Jesus’ question: “But who do you say that I am?”, is ultimately a challenge to the disciples to make a personal decision in his regard. Faith in Christ and discipleship are strictly interconnected. And, since faith involves following the Master, it must become constantly stronger, deeper and more mature, to the extent that it leads to a closer and more intense relationship with Jesus. Peter and the other disciples also had to grow in this way, until their encounter with the Risen Lord opened their eyes to the fullness of faith.

Dear young people, today Christ is asking you the same question which he asked the Apostles: “Who do you say that I am?” Respond to him with generosity and courage, as befits young hearts like your own. Say to him: “Jesus, I know that you are the Son of God, who have given your life for me. I want to follow you faithfully and to be led by your word. You know me and you love me. I place my trust in you and I put my whole life into your hands. I want you to be the power that strengthens me and the joy which never leaves me”.

Jesus’ responds to Peter’s confession by speaking of the Church: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church”. What do these words mean? Jesus builds the Church on the rock of the faith of Peter, who confesses that Christ is God. The Church, then, is not simply a human institution, like any other. Rather, she is closely joined to God. Christ himself speaks of her as “his” Church. Christ cannot be separated from the Church any more than the head can be separated from the body (cf. 1 Cor 12:12). The Church does not draw her life from herself, but from the Lord.

Dear young friends, as the Successor of Peter, let me urge you to strengthen this faith which has been handed down to us from the time of the Apostles. Make Christ, the Son of God, the centre of your life. But let me also remind you that following Jesus in faith means walking at his side in the communion of the Church. We cannot follow Jesus on our own. Anyone who would be tempted to do so “on his own”, or to approach the life of faith with kind of individualism so prevalent today, will risk never truly encountering Jesus, or will end up following a counterfeit Jesus.

Having faith means drawing support from the faith of your brothers and sisters, even as your own faith serves as a support for the faith of others. I ask you, dear friends, to love the Church which brought you to birth in the faith, which helped you to grow in the knowledge of Christ and which led you to discover the beauty of his love. Growing in friendship with Christ necessarily means recognizing the importance of joyful participation in the life of your parishes, communities and movements, as well as the celebration of Sunday Mass, frequent reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation, and the cultivation of personal prayer and meditation on God’s word.

Friendship with Jesus will also lead you to bear witness to the faith wherever you are, even when it meets with rejection or indifference. We cannot encounter Christ and not want to make him known to others. So do not keep Christ to yourselves! Share with others the joy of your faith. The world needs the witness of your faith, it surely needs God. I think that the presence here of so many young people, coming from all over the world, is a wonderful proof of the fruitfulness of Christ’s command to the Church: “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). You too have been given the extraordinary task of being disciples and missionaries of Christ in other lands and countries filled with young people who are looking for something greater and, because their heart tells them that more authentic values do exist, they do not let themselves be seduced by the empty promises of a lifestyle which has no room for God.

Dear young people, I pray for you with heartfelt affection. I commend all of you to the Virgin Mary and I ask her to accompany you always by her maternal intercession and to teach you how to remain faithful to God’s word. I ask you to pray for the Pope, so that, as the Successor of Peter, he may always confirm his brothers and sisters in the faith. May all of us in the Church, pastors and faithful alike, draw closer to the Lord each day. May we grow in holiness of life and be effective witnesses to the truth that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God, the Saviour of all mankind and the living source of our hope. Amen.

Here is the Holy Father’s traditional Sunday Angelus message:

Dear Friends,

You are now about to go back home. Your friends will want to know how you have changed after being in this lovely city with the Pope and with hundreds of thousands of other young people from around the world. What are you going to tell them? I invite you to give a bold witness of Christian living to them. In this way you will give birth to new Christians and will help the Church grow strongly in the hearts of many others.

During these days, how often I have thought of the young people at home who are waiting for your return! Take my affectionate greetings to them, to those less fortunate, to your families and to the Christian communities that you come from.

Let me also express my gratitude to the Bishops and priests who are present in such great numbers at this Day. To them all I extend my deepest thanks, encouraging them to continue to work pastorally among young people with enthusiasm and dedication.

I now commend all young people in the world, especially you, dear friends, to the loving intercession of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Star of the new evangelization and Mother of young people, and we greet her with the same words as did the Angel of the Lord.

Post-Angelus

I greet the Archbishop of the Forces affectionately and I warmly thank the Spanish Air Force, which very generously permitted Cuatro Vientos Air Base on this, the centenary of the foundation of the Spanish Air Force. I place all Spanish Air Force personnel and their families under the maternal protection of Our Lady of Loreto.

In this context, I recall that yesterday marked the third anniversary of the grave accident at Barajas Airport which caused many deaths and injuries, and I express my spiritual closeness and my deep affection for all those touched by that unfortunate event, and well as for the families of the victims, whose souls we commend to the mercy of God.

I am pleased now to announce that the next World Youth Day will be held in 2013, in Rio de Janeiro. Even now, let us ask the Lord to assist all those who will organize it, and to ease the journey there of young people from all over the world, so that they will be able to join me in that beautiful city of Brazil.

Dear friends, before we say good-bye, and while the young people of Spain pass on the World Youth Day cross to the young people of Brazil, as Successor of Peter I entrust all of you present with this task: make the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ known to the whole world! He wants you to be the apostles of the twenty-first century and the messengers of his joy. Do not let him down! Thank you very much.

French

My dear young people of the French-speaking world, today Christ asks you to be rooted in him and with him, to build your lives upon him who is our rock. He sends you out to be his witnesses, courageous and without anxiety, authentic and credible! Do not be afraid to be Catholic, and to be witnesses to those around you in simplicity and sincerity! Let the Church find in you and in your youthfulness joyful missionaries of the Good News of salvation!

English

I greet all the English-speaking young people present here today! As you return home, take back with you the good news of Christ’s love which we have experienced in these unforgettable days. Fix your eyes upon him, deepen your knowledge of the Gospel and bring forth abundant fruit! God bless all of you until we meet again!


Pope during Saturday Vigil: “Your strength is stronger than the rain”

August 21, 2011

On Saturday evening, nearly two million young people greeted the Holy Father at Madrid’s Cuatro Vientos, where Pope Benedict XVI held a prayer vigil during World Youth Day.

At last, the Boston Globe finally posted some news about World Youth Day, via an AP report that quoted pilgrims talking about the “awesome number of people” gathered to celebrate their Catholic faith, but mentioned none of the words shared by the Pope.

The vigil and the comments by the Holy Father were interrupted by rain and wind, as described in this article.

Wind blows as Pope Benedict XVI leads a prayer vigil.

A VIOLENT storm forced Pope Benedict XVI to interrupt his speech at the weekend, sweeping off his skullcap, shaking the stage and drenching masses of pilgrims at a Madrid airbase.

As the heavens opened, an assistant tried to shelter the 84-year-old pontiff with a large white umbrella.

The Pope, his white hair blown into disarray, gripped a copy of his sodden speech, the pages and his vestments flapping in the wind.

A sea of pilgrims, by some reports more than a million, took shelter under large white and yellow umbrellas or danced in the rain.

After the storm had passed about 20 minutes later, Pope Benedict XVI said:

“Thank you for your joy and resistance. Your strength is stronger than the rain. Thank you. The Lord is sending us his blessings with the rain. With this, you’re leading by example.”

The pope then continued the vigil and after a few moments of silence and prayer, he blessed the roughly 2 million youths gathered there.

The pope then prayed for all the youths, entrusting them to the Heart of Jesus with a simple prayer.

This video clip shows the vigil and storm experience.

The Holy Father also exposed the Eucharist for Eucharistic Adoration.

Pope Benedict XVI holds the monstrance as he leads a prayer vigil at the Cuatro Vientos airport as part of World Youth Day festivities in Madrid Saturday.

Pope Benedict XVI holds the monstrance as he leads a prayer vigil at the Cuatro Vientos airport as part of World Youth Day festivities in Madrid Saturday. (Photograph by: Susana Vera, Reuters, Agence France-Presse)

Because of the storm, the Holy Father was not able to read most of his prepared comments.  Here they are:

Dear Young Friends,

I greet all of you, especially the young people who have asked me their questions, and I thank them for the sincerity with which they set forth their concerns, that express the longing which all of you have to achieve something great in life, something which can bring you fulfilment and happiness.

How can a young person be true to the faith and yet continue to aspire to high ideals in today’s society? In the Gospel we have just heard, Jesus gives us an answer to this urgent question: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” (Jn 15:9).

Yes, dear friends, God loves us. This is the great truth of our life; it is what makes everything else meaningful. We are not the product of blind chance or absurdity; instead our life originates as part of a loving plan of God. To abide in his love, then, means living a life rooted in faith, since faith is more than the mere acceptance of certain abstract truths: it is an intimate relationship with Christ, who enables us to open our hearts to this mystery of love and to live as men and women conscious of being loved by God.

If you abide in the love of Christ, rooted in the faith, you will encounter, even amid setbacks and suffering, the source of true happiness and joy. Faith does not run counter to your highest ideals; on the contrary, it elevates and perfects those ideals. Dear young people, do not be satisfied with anything less than Truth and Love, do not be content with anything less than Christ.

Nowadays, although the dominant culture of relativism all around us has given up on the search for truth, even if it is the highest aspiration of the human spirit, we need to speak with courage and humility of the universal significance of Christ as the Saviour of humanity and the source of hope for our lives. He who took upon himself our afflictions, is well acquainted with the mystery of human suffering and manifests his loving presence in those who suffer. They in their turn, united to the passion of Christ, share closely in his work of redemption. Furthermore, our disinterested attention towards the sick and the forgotten will always be a humble and warm testimony of God’s compassionate regard.

Dear friends, may no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world. During this prayer vigil, I urge you to ask God to help you find your vocation in society and in the Church, and to persevere in that vocation with joy and fidelity. It is a good thing to open our hearts to Christ’s call and to follow with courage and generosity the path he maps out for us.

The Lord calls many people to marriage, in which a man and a woman, in becoming one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24), find fulfilment in a profound life of communion. It is a prospect that is both bright and demanding. It is a project for true love which is daily renewed and deepened by sharing joys and sorrows, one marked by complete self-giving. For this reason, to acknowledge the beauty and goodness of marriage is to realize that only a setting of fidelity and indissolubility, along with openness to God’s gift of life, is adequate to the grandeur and dignity of marital love. Christ calls others to follow him more closely in the priesthood or in consecrated life. It is hard to put into words the happiness you feel when you know that Jesus seeks you, trusts in you, and with his unmistakable voice also says to you: “Follow me!” (cf. Mk 2:14).

Dear young people, if you wish to discover and to live faithfully the form of life to which the Lord is calling each of you, you must remain in his love as his friends. And how do we preserve friendship except through frequent contact, conversation, being together in good times and bad? Saint Teresa of Jesus used to say that prayer is just such “friendly contact, often spending time alone with the one who we know loves us” (cf. Autobiography, 8).

And so I now ask you to “abide” in the adoration of Christ, truly present in the Eucharist. I ask you to enter into conversation with him, to bring before him your questions and to listen to his voice. Dear friends, I pray for you with all my heart. And I ask you to pray for me. Tonight let us ask the Lord to grant that, attracted by the beauty of his love, we may always live faithfully as his disciples. Amen.

English

Dear young people, in these moments of silence before the Blessed Sacrament, let us raise our minds and hearts to Jesus Christ, the Lord of our lives and of the future. May he pour out his Spirit upon us and upon the whole Church, that we may be a beacon of freedom, reconciliation and peace for the whole world.


Pope Benedict to Seminarians at WYD: “We Have to Be Saints”

August 21, 2011

On Saturday at World Youth Day, WYD 2011: Full text of Pope’s homily at Mass with seminariansPope Benedict XVI celebrated a Mass for seminarians at the Cathedral of la Almudena in Madrid. (We will return later with coverage of the Saturday evening vigil and Sunday closing Mass).

Below is the text of his homily at the Mass for seminarians.  The Holy Father also announced he will be soon be declaring St. John of Avila a Doctor of the Church.

Your Eminence the Archbishop of Madrid, Dear Brother Bishops, Dear Priests and Religious,
Dear Rectors and Formators, Dear Seminarians, Dear Friends,

I am very pleased to celebrate Holy Mass with you who aspire to be Christ’s priests for the service of the Church and of man, and I thank you for the kind words with which you welcomed me. Today, this holy cathedral church of Santa María La Real de la Almudena is like a great Upper Room, where the Lord greatly desires to celebrate the Passover with you who wish one day to preside in his name at the mysteries of salvation.

Looking at you, I again see proof of how Christ continues to call young disciples and to make them his apostles, thus keeping alive the mission of the Church and the offer of the Gospel to the world. As seminarians you are on the path towards a sacred goal: to continue the mission which Christ received from the Father. Called by him, you have followed his voice and, attracted by his loving gaze, you now advance towards the sacred ministry. Fix your eyes upon him who through his incarnation is the supreme revelation of God to the world and who through his resurrection faithfully fulfills his promise. Give thanks to him for this sign of favour in which he holds each one of you.

The first reading which we heard shows us Christ as the new and eternal priest who made of himself a perfect offering. The response to the psalm may be aptly applied to him since, at his coming into the world, he said to the Father, “Here I am to do your will” (cf. Ps 39:8). He tried to please him in all things: in his words and actions, along the way or welcoming sinners. His life was one of service and his longing was a constant prayer, placing himself in the name of all before the Father as the first-born son of many brothers and sisters. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews states that, by a single offering, he brought to perfection for all time those of us who are called to share his sonship (cf. Heb 10:14).

The Eucharist, whose institution is mentioned in the Gospel just proclaimed (cf. Lk 22:14-20), is the real expression of that unconditional offering of Jesus for all, even for those who betrayed him. It was the offering of his body and blood for the life of mankind and for the forgiveness of sins. His blood, a sign of life, was given to us by God as a covenant, so that we might apply the force of his life wherever death reigns due to our sins, and thus destroy it. Christ’s body broken and his blood outpoured – the surrender of his freedom – became through these Eucharistic signs the new source of mankind’s redeemed freedom. In Christ, we have the promise of definitive redemption and the certain hope of future blessings. Through Christ we know that we are not walking towards the abyss, the silence of nothingness or death, but are rather pilgrims on the way to a promised land, on the way to him who is our end and our beginning.

Dear friends, you are preparing yourselves to become apostles with Christ and like Christ, and to accompany your fellow men and women along their journey as companions and servants.

How should you behave during these years of preparation? First of all, they should be years of interior silence, of unceasing prayer, of constant study and of gradual insertion into the pastoral activity and structures of the Church. A Church which is community and institution, family and mission, the creation of Christ through his Holy Spirit, as well as the result of those of us who shape it through our holiness and our sins. God, who does not hesitate to make of the poor and of sinners his friends and instruments for the redemption of the human race, willed it so. The holiness of the Church is above all the objective holiness of the very person of Christ, of his Gospel and his sacraments, the holiness of that power from on high which enlivens and impels it. We have to be saints so as not to create a contradiction between the sign that we are and the reality that we wish to signify.

Meditate well upon this mystery of the Church, living the years of your formation in deep joy, humbly, clear-mindedly and with radical fidelity to the Gospel, in an affectionate relation to the time spent and the people among whom you live. No one chooses the place or the people to whom he is sent, and every time has its own challenges; but in every age God gives the right grace to face and overcome those challenges with love and realism. That is why, no matter the circumstances in which he finds and however difficult they may be, the priest must grow in all kinds of good works, keeping alive within him the words spoken on his Ordination day, by which he was exhorted to model his life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.

To be modeled on Christ, dear seminarians, is to be identified ever more closely with him who, for our sake, became servant, priest and victim. To be modeled on him is in fact the task upon which the priest spends his entire life. We already know that it is beyond us and we will not fully succeed but, as St Paul says, we run towards the goal, hoping to reach it (cf. Phil 3:12-14).

That said, Christ the High Priest is also the Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep, even giving his life for them (cf. Jn 10:11). In order to liken yourselves to the Lord in this as well, your heart must mature while in seminary, remaining completely open to the Master. This openness, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, inspires the decision to live in celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and, leaving aside the world’s goods, live in austerity of life and sincere obedience, without pretence.

Ask him to let you imitate him in his perfect charity towards all, so that you do not shun the excluded and sinners, but help them convert and return to the right path. Ask him to teach you how to be close to the sick and the poor in simplicity and generosity. Face this challenge without anxiety or mediocrity, but rather as a beautiful way of living our human life in gratuitousness and service, as witnesses of God made man, messengers of the supreme dignity of the human person and therefore its unconditional defenders. Relying on his love, do not be intimidated by surroundings that would exclude God and in which power, wealth and pleasure are frequently the main criteria ruling people’s lives. You may be shunned along with others who propose higher goals or who unmask the false gods before whom many now bow down. That will be the moment when a life deeply rooted in Christ will clearly be seen as something new and it will powerfully attract those who truly search for God, truth and justice.

Under the guidance of your formators, open your hearts to the light of the Lord, to see if this path which demands courage and authenticity is for you. Approach the priesthood only if you are firmly convinced that God is calling you to be his ministers, and if you are completely determined to exercise it in obedience to the Church’s precepts.

With this confidence, learn from him who described himself as meek and humble of heart, leaving behind all earthly desire for his sake so that, rather than pursuing your own good, you build up your brothers and sisters by the way you live, as did the patron saint of the diocesan clergy of Spain, St John of Avila. Moved by his example, look above all to the Virgin Mary, Mother of Priests. She will know how to mould your hearts according to the model of Christ, her divine Son, and she will teach you how to treasure for ever all that he gained on Calvary for the salvation of the world. Amen.

Announcement of the Holy Father

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

With great joy, here in this Cathedral Church of Santa María La Real de la Almudena, I announce to the People of God that, having acceded to the desire expressed by Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela, Archbishop of Madrid and President of the Bishops’ Conference of Spain, together with the members of the Spanish episcopate and other Archbishops and Bishops from throughout the world, as well as many of the lay faithful, I will shortly declare Saint John of Avila a Doctor of the universal Church.

In making this announcement here, I would hope that the word and the example of this outstanding pastor will enlighten all priests and those who look forward to the day of their priestly ordination.

I invite everyone to look to St John of Avila and I commend to his intercession the Bishops of Spain and those of the whole world, as well as all priests and seminarians. As they persevere in the same faith which he taught, may they model their hearts on that of Jesus Christ the good Shepherd, to whom be glory and honour for ever. Amen.


World Youth Day: Cardinal O’Malley encourages youth to bring friends to Jesus

August 20, 2011

On Thursday of World Youth Day, Cardinal O’Malley gave a talk to 1,000 youth at the Church of San Antonio in Madrid. On Monday, he celebrated the Feast of the Assumption with Boston pilgrims in Toledo, Spain.

Below is the Catholic News Agency report on highlights from the Thursday catechesis by Cardinal Sean.

Cardinal O’Malley encourages youth to bring friends to Jesus

Madrid, Spain, Aug 18, 2011 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of

Boston has encouraged young people faithfully attend Sunday Mass and to bring their friends to Jesus Christ.

“We live in a culture that is addicted to entertainment but we don’t come to Mass to be entertained,” he told World Youth Day pilgrims at a morning catechesis session in central Madrid August 17.

“Our presence there, gathered as a family, is of crucial importance. It is at the Sunday Eucharist that we learn our identity as Christ’s family, where we witness to each other that we are believers and that we want to live as Jesus’ disciples.”

Cardinal O’Malley was addressing over 1,000 young English-speaking pilgrims who were crammed into the church of San Antonio. With pews at a premium, most of the young people had to make do with the marble floor.

Throughout his catechesis, the Archbishop of Boston likened the Church to a family – with the Eucharist at its heart.

“The Eucharist is Christ’s saving presence in our community. It’s our spiritual food. It’s the most precious possession which the Church has in her journey through history. It is God’s love taken to the extreme,” he said.

Cardinal O’Malley also emphasized how Sunday Mass is the “family meal” for Catholics which we should make sure to attend.

“The shortest book in the world is the Irish cookbook,” he joked, but his mother always insisted on family meals when he was growing up.

This morning’s catechesis session was only one of 220 being offered in 27 languages all over Madrid during a three-day stretch. The sessions are allowing young Catholics to be personally taught by some of the most senior bishops in the Church.

And it is through the Catholic Church, said Cardinal O’Malley, that young people “have the same opportunity to be with Jesus as they did 2,000 years ago.”

“Jesus established his Church and gave us the sacraments so that he will be able to touch our lives and not just the lives of those living 2,000 years ago in the Holy Land – so that he could be present everywhere in the world and for all times,” he said.

Cardinal O’Malley concluded by suggesting to the pilgrims that “there’s nothing more tragic than going through life without knowing how much we are loved by our family, our friends, by our God.” In order to prevent that from happening, he urged each of the youth to help bring their friends to Jesus Christ.

The example he gave was of the paralytic man in the Gospel of Matthew who was lowered through the roof by his friends in order to receive healing from Jesus.

“Isn’t that fantastic? Wouldn’t you like to have friends like that? Tell me?” the cardinal asked the young people, who responded with cheers and applause. “Well you have to be friends like that first!” he replied.

“Cardinal O’Malley’s words really made me proud to be a young Catholic and a member of the Catholic Church despite the persecutions you go through,” said 17-year-old Matthew McConnell form Kingston-upon-Thames, England to CNA afterward.

His friend, 16-year-old Caitriona Lowry also from Kingston-upon-Thames, nodded in agreement. “I thought it really interesting the way he related it all to family. It made it seem like the Church is a big community we’re all part of.”

An audio recording of his Thursday catechesis can be found at WYDMadridBoston.com.

ps. We have learned that BCI has been nominated in several categories for the Catholic New Media Awards.  To vote, visit this website, register with your email address, and cast your votes by Friday, August 26.  It would be an honor and privilege for BCI to be recognized for any of the categories in which we have been nominated.


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