Cynthia J. Martens 02-04-2015

A priest in Jordan opens his church's doors to Iraqis fleeing ISIS. 

Eric J. Lyman 02-05-2014

The United Nations headquarters in New York. Photo courtesy Steve Cadman, via Wikimedia Commons/ Via RNS

A United Nations panel on Wednesday blasted the Vatican for protecting itself rather than victims of sexual abuse, and it called on the Holy See to create what it called an “independent mechanism” to investigate new charges of abuse.

The 16-page report from the Committee on the Rights of the Child accused the Vatican of “systematically” adopting policies that allowed priests to rape and molest thousands of young people over a span of decades. It also calls on the church to remove known or suspected abusers from its ranks immediately.

“The Committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators,” the report said.

Christian Piatt 09-17-2013
Priest reading from the Bible,  Africa Studio /

Priest reading from the Bible, Africa Studio /

It’s not every day you meet a practicing priest in the Catholic Church who is married, so when I got in touch with Fr. Dwight Longenecker (a man who meets the above criteria), I took the opportunity to get his take on sex, marriage, celibacy, and how the Church can, should, and already is dealing with sex differently, both within clergy circles and beyond them.

Dwight Longenecker was brought up in an evangelical home and graduated from the stridently anti-Catholic Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C. While there he became an Anglican and went on to study theology at Oxford University. He married Alison and they have four children. After 10 years as a minister in the Church of England Dwight and his family converted to the Catholic faith. Showing that God has a sense of humor, Dwight returned to Greenville to be ordained as a Catholic priest. He now serves as a parish priest in Greenville. 

You are both married and a Catholic Priest. How did that happen?

Excommunicated Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, who advocates for married priests within the Roman Catholic Church, said he has not split from Rome though many of the priests he ordained no longer see themselves as part of the church.

“We are not a breakaway church,” said Milingo, who married Maria Sung, a Korean acupunturist, in 2001. “Within the Catholic Church married priests existed for a thousand years.”

RNS photo by Sally Morrow.

Congregants pray during Catholic mass at St. Therese Little Flower parish in Kansas City, Mo. RNS photo by Sally Morrow.

Nothing upsets the folks in the pews as much as changing the liturgy that they’re accustomed to, and that seemed likely to be the case when the Vatican ordered revisions to the familiar prayers and rubrics of the Catholic Mass.

But now, more than a year after the changes took effect in U.S. parishes, a survey of American priests shows that they are more disturbed by the innovations than their flocks.

In fact, the poll, conducted by researchers at St. John’s University School of Theology-Seminary in Collegeville, Minn., showed that almost 60 percent of priests surveyed did not like the new Roman Missal, as the liturgical book for the Mass is known, while about 40 percent approve.

Paresh Dave 05-21-2013
Photo by Paresh Dave

A Patrician cross, Ireland’s dominant religious symbols, marks a burial at Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery. Photo by Paresh Dave

DUBLIN — Patricia Wojnar left a 32-year career in interior design to pursue a degree that wasn’t in demand: a master’s in bereavement studies.

Having seen four family members die early, she wanted to understand how to adapt.

As it turned out, the degree perfectly prepared her to enter one of Ireland’s emerging professions.

Wojnar is now a registered civil celebrant, presiding over funerals and weddings for people who refuse to associate with Ireland’s scandal-tarred Roman Catholic Church. She’s not alone; many newly minted civil celebrants are starting their own businesses as part of Ireland’s “post-Catholic” economy.

Although many observers have noted the impact of secularization and child abuse scandals on church membership and finances, only now are the Irish seeing the cultural and socioeconomic reverberations. These include a class of people willing to observe life’s most significant milestones outside the church.

Priest image,  l i g h t p o e t /

Priest image, l i g h t p o e t /

A number of Roman Catholic bishops are making forceful last-minute appeals to their flock to vote on Election Day, and their exhortations are increasingly sounding like calls to support Republican challenger Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama.

The most recent example: a letter from Illinois Bishop Daniel Jenky accusing the administration of an unprecedented “assault upon our religious freedom” and implying that Catholics who pull the lever for Democrats who support abortion rights are like those who condemned Jesus to death.

“Since the foundation of the American Republic and the adoption of the Bill of Rights, I do not think there has ever been a time more threatening to our religious liberty than the present,” Jenky writes in the letter, which he ordered priests in his Peoria diocese to read at all Masses on Sunday.

In the letter, Jenky blames Obama and the Democratic majority in the Senate for trampling on the Catholic Church’s rights and moral convictions by requiring health insurers to provide contraception coverage. Jenky also compares abortion rights supporters to the Jewish crowd in Jerusalem that pledged loyalty to the Roman Empire and demanded that Pontius Pilate crucify Jesus.

“For those who hope for salvation, no political loyalty can ever take precedence over loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ and to his Gospel of Life,” Jenky writes.

Tim Townsend 09-18-2012
RNS photo courtesy Wikimedia/Public Domain

Michelangelo's painting titled 'Last Judgment.' RNS photo courtesy Wikimedia/Public Domain

In the middle of the 16th century, Catholic bishops and theologians met sporadically in the city of Trento in northern Italy to discuss the church's response to the Reformation. Over the course of 18 years, the Council of Trent produced documents correcting abuses like indulgences and other corruption.

In 1564, the council ordered that some naked figures in Michelangelo's massive "Last Judgment" fresco in the Sistine Chapel be covered up as a result of the council's dictate that "all lasciviousness be avoided; in such wise that figures shall not be painted or adorned with a beauty exciting to lust."

It will be difficult for critics to compare Michelangelo's nudes with the ones photographed by the Rev. John Blair. Just after the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri launched an investigation of the St. Louis priest, many of his photos of nude models were removed from the Internet.

And yet the diocese's disciplinary board, whose members will decide if Blair's photography constitutes sexual misconduct, will try to answer the same question as Trent's participants 450 years ago: How does the church recognize the beauty of art that depicts God's creation — the human form — without seeming to condone "a beauty exciting to lust"?

The U.S. Catholic bishops' point man on sexual abuse has said that the hierarchy's credibility on fixing the problem is "shredded" and that the situation is comparable to the Reformation, when “the episcopacy, the regular clergy, even the papacy were discredited.”

Bishop R. Daniel Conlon of Joliet, Ill., last month told a conference of staffers who oversee child safety programs in American dioceses that he had always assumed that consistently implementing the bishops’ policies on child protection, “coupled with some decent publicity, would turn public opinion around.”

Chris Lisee 07-09-2012
Clergy illustration, Monika Wisniewska /

Clergy illustration, Monika Wisniewska /

Most members of the clergy are taught to put the physical and spiritual needs of others first, but that self-denial may be harmful to their own health, according to a new Duke University study.

Studies of United Methodist pastors in North Carolina found high rates of chronic disease and depression, and researchers worry it can be difficult to convince clergy to seek help.

To address these unique problems, Duke Divinity School's Clergy Health Initiative developed a program to provide preventative care in a spiritual context.

Priest image, Alistair Cotton /

Priest image, Alistair Cotton /

Amid continuing headlines about cover-ups of child abuse in the Catholic Church, an oversight board of lay Catholics on June 13 warned the nation’s bishops that they must follow their own policies against abuse more rigorously if they hope to restore their fragile credibility.

“If there is anything that needs to be disclosed in a diocese, it needs to be disclosed now,” Al J. Notzon III, head of the bishops’ National Review Board, told some 200 prelates gathered in Atlanta for their annual spring meeting. “No one can no longer claim they didn’t know.”

The meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops comes 10 years after the hierarchy met in Dallas and passed a series of reforms to respond to a siege of bad publicity about sex abuse by priests. It also comes as a jury in Philadelphia weighs the fate of a high-ranking priest who's facing criminal charges of concealing abuse by clerics, and as a bishop from Missouri awaits trial on charges that he failed to report a suspected child molester to authorities.

Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Pedestrian walks past the Archdiocese of Philadelphia headquarters. Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Ten years ago, the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal dominated the headlines with horrific stories of priests preying on vulnerable youths and a church hierarchy more concerned with protecting clergy instead of kids.

Now, it's back. A Philadelphia jury is deliberating whether, for the first time, a high-ranking church official will be held criminally accountable.

However the jury rules, the case carries symbolic freight far heavier than the grim details in the trial of Monsignor William Lynn, former secretary for the clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It revives the breadth and depth of the abuse crisis, its extraordinary costs and unending frustrations.

Eugene Cho 04-30-2012
Portrait of a young pastor, Andrejs Zavadskis /

Portrait of a young pastor, Andrejs Zavadskis /

In light of some recent intense posts - Ultimate Fighting Jesus and Conversation with Rob Bell (re: women in ministry), this list is too funny not to share.

But the brutal fact is that the matter of gender violence isn’t all that funny either. Statistics about gender inequality via UN and UNICEF are even more discouraging.

Regardless where you sit, stand, or wrestle with the issue of women in church leadership, I thought this satirical list was worth sharing for both laughter and even reflection because that’s what good satire forces us to do.  And for what it’s worth, I’d encourage you to read some of my thoughts about why I believe  women should be included in all levels of church leadership.

Tracy Gordon 03-20-2012
Clergy abuse protest in Dublin, 2002. Photo via Getty Images.

Clergy abuse protest in Dublin, 2002. Photo via Getty Images.

VATICAN CITY — Following a yearlong investigation into decades of rampant abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, the Vatican today called for more rigorous screening of would-be priests and compulsory child protection classes in seminaries.

Pope Benedict XVI ordered the "Apostolic Visitation" of Ireland's seminaries, religious orders and four main archdioceses in 2010 after a string of Irish government commissions detailed the extent of child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions and exposed a cover-up by several senior churchmen.

The team of church investigators included New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who was tasked with inspecting Ireland's seminaries, and Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley.

A seven-page summary of the investigation's final report was released by the Vatican on Tuesday, and said investigators identified past "shortcomings" that led to an "inadequate understanding of and reaction to" child abuse, "not least on the part of various bishops and religious superiors."

But the investigators also stressed that the child protection initiatives undertaken since the 1990s were "judged to be excellent."

Alessandro Speciale 02-04-2012

VATICAN CITY — Ten years after the clergy sexual abuse scandal erupted in the United States, Catholic bishops from all over the world will meet next week at a Vatican summit aimed at preventing abuse and protecting children.

The conference, "Towards Healing and Renewal," will be held on Feb. 6-9 and is organized by the Jesuit-run Gregorian University in Rome.

The Vatican's top spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told reporters on Friday (Feb. 3) that the summit enjoys the "full support and participation" of the Vatican's highest offices, but Pope Benedict XVI is not expected to attend.

Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican's chief abuse prosecutor, said the protection of children must become "a permanent principle and concern" in every decision of the church.

"There cannot be a distinction between the good of the church and the protection of youth," he said Friday.

Colin Mathewson 07-26-2011

There's something special about the bookends of our lifetimes. I became a first-time father seven months ago and a hospice chaplain just one month past. Growing up and growing old, especially the first and last months of our lives, can be surprisingly similar experiences.

I fed my daughter sweet potatoes for the first time last night. Introducing her to solid foods has been a treat. While we're trying our best to teach her the sign language words for "food", "more", and " all done", Robin still finds closed-mouth grumble-whines to be the best way to let us know she thinks sweet potatoes aren't all that hot. Another subtly nuanced whine might instead wonder, "You don't happen to have any more mashed banana or applesauce around, would you?" My attempt to turn the filled spoon into an acrobatic and roaring airplane met with scant success.

Becky Garrison 11-15-2010
How are we to respond as people of faith to the recent revelation that more than 66,000 civilians have died in our two wars?
Joseph Nangle 07-01-2010
Why I remain a Catholic priest -- despite repeated scandal.
Rebecca Curtin 05-10-2010
Last month, at the height of the media coverage of the most recent sex abuse crisis, Father Francis Clooney, a professor at Harvard Divinity School and Director of the Center for the Study of Wor