Editorial: What in Heaven are these people thinking?

from the Springfield Republican, Dec. 27, 2011:

Instead of turning to lawyers and courtrooms, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield and parishioners of Mater Dolorosa Church in Holyoke should consult the one authority that can settle their dispute over the church’s status – the Gospel. 

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court,” Jesus exhorts his followers in the Sermon on the Mount. 

“Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.” 

Those words have always been good advice, but we wonder if anyone is listening in this case. Both sides are expected to appear in Hampden Superior Court on Wednesday in the dispute over the church’s future. 

The diocese eliminated Mater Dolorosa and Holy Cross parishes June 30 due to declining enrollment and other issues and merged the two into Our Lady of the Cross parish, which worships at the former Holy Cross church. Since then, parishioners have appealed the decision to the Vatican and are maintaining a 24-hour vigil at Mater Dolorosa. 

The dispute grew worse last week when parishioners at Mater Dolorosa say the diocese “kidnapped” the infant Jesus and other creche figurines. Diocesan officials say the statuettes now belong to Our Lady of the Cross Parish and would be used for the enjoyment of former Mater Dolorosa parishioners who worship there. 

“Kidnapped” is an overstatement of what occurred, but regardless of the legal rights or wrongs, moving the statuettes was not wise. 

Simply put, it’s beneath the diocese’s dignity to engage in an activity that to many minds resembles a neigborhood spat. The Catholic Church is far, far bigger than this. 

Before more money and goodwill is expended in this dispute, we urge both sides to settle their differences. 

The closing and merger of churches is the proper business of the bishop and his advisers. These officials are not lying when they say they lack the staff and resources to keep every church in the diocese open. 

Meanwhile, the diocese should refrain from actions that reasonable people find vindictive. 

Will wisdom prevail? We can’t say, but as one Republican colleague quipped, it seems that the only wise men in this case are about four feet tall and made of plaster. The star they followed did not point to a courthouse.
My commentary:

The editorial urges that "both sides settle their differences". Perhaps the writers are not familiar with the mindset of the people living at the Elliot St. chancery. For them, the very idea of "sides" and "differences" within the church are anathema. In their reading of Catholicism, no differences are allowed. It simply does not matter that differences of opinion (the dialectic method, if you will) might lead to sharing ideas, re-thinking, creative dialog, and positive change.
I may be stretching a point, but that is essentially how the diocese appears to operate, in defiance of Vatican II, the wisdom of the larger church (which the editorialist rightly celebrates) and common sense.
However, I disagree that the closing and merger of churches is the proper business of the bishop and his advisors. Bishop McDonnell got himself into this pickle in the first place by relying on a closed loop within the corporation. And, it is not simply a question of "staff and resources", i.e., management.
On the contrary, the equality of laity and clergy demands that collaboration and deliberation take place before major structural changes—which parish closings certainly are—take place. The bishop cannot, under canon law, arbitrarily decide to open and shut parishes like so many ATM branches, even if those decisions are shared with trusted and long-time advisors. The reason is simple: parishes are owned by parishioners.
What is different about MD is that the usual stringing along, fog-machining and snow-jobbing that church officials employ failed. The MD parish council refused to roll over.
A side-benefit of Crèchegate is that, as night follows day, the usual unwise reaction immediately spilled forth from house dupa Mark Dupont. This provides sorely-needed insight into how the chancery operates.
 In the Republican article of Dec. 23 about the kidnapping of the baby Jesus, Jeff Kinney reports that Dupont defended the deed by stating that:
 “I think it would be an enormous mistake to discount the many more former Mater Dolorosa parishioners who, despite their own sadness at leaving their beloved church this year, have joined in the new parish, working with their fellow parishioners to create a successful Catholic community for future generations,” Dupont said. “Why shouldn’t those folks, who can make the very same claims as the occupiers as to past membership and support, be allowed to enjoy this manger for their Christmas celebration as one reminder of their former parish and church, and past Christmases there?” 
I think people underestimate the value that Mark Dupont provides. He is a faithful mirror of diocesan intentions. His words, if you take the time to read them carefully, expose how Bishop McDonnell thinks and what the stakes are in this seemingly petty dispute about 4-feet high plaster figurines. 
It doesn't matter to Mr. Dupont that Advent started on Dec. 1 and that Fr. Alex waited until Dec. 21, a few days before Christmas, to decide that the new parish needed the creche, and to yank the creche out. It doesn't matter that Fr. Alex did not try to talk to the parishioners before the yanking. It doesn't matter that another creche could have easily been found. And especially, it doesn't matter that the creche was ALREADY IN USE. 

The messages are: 1.) the parishioners within the church are not to be compared to the parishioners who have moved on to Holy Cross. 2.) the parishioners within the church are dirt, because they don't hang on every word of Bishop McDonnell, and 3.) the parishioners who have moved on to Holy Cross should therefore be celebrated, and elevated, because they do hang on every word of Bishop McDonnell. It could not be clearer. 

This good/bad dichotomy, this up/down thinking, this fear/love extremism is at the heart of how the chancery operates. They show no mercy for those on the "other side" of what they want. It is all about power. And, bear in mind, this treatment is dished out to those who are fellow Catholics, and undeniably part of the People of God. Is it any wonder that many Americans continue to accuse the officials of the Roman Catholic Church of intolerance, and suspect their motives? 

If this were the Middle East, those responsible for this despicable point of view within Elliot St. would be called the Taliban. We have not yet found a word to describe them here in the Springfield Diocese...but I'm working on it.

update: Bishop v. Mater Dolorsa

Bishop v. Dolorosa Members
Wed., January 4, 2012; 2 P.M.
Hampden  County Superior Court
(Hall of Justice)
50 State Street (2nd or 3rd floor)
Springfield, Mass.

Absolutely Elliot St.

UPDATE: please note correction: the day of the prayer service is Friday, Dec. 23.

There are two critical events happening this week, one sponsored by the ostensibly absolute rulers on Elliot St., and one by the community of the People of God at Mater Dolorosa, 71 Maple St., Holyoke. It's hard to decide which is more important.
 On Dec. 23, Friday night at 6:30 p.m., there will be a prayer service at Mater Dolorosa, with organist Jeff Chirgwin. Special features are traditional Oplatek Polish blessings, Polish and English Christmas carols, and nonperishable food items collected for Kate's Kitchen. The event is  organized by passionate supporters of the church, who seek prayer and support in their struggle to keep the doors of the church open.
Pretty much the opposite will be happening on Wednesday, Dec. 28 at 2:00 in the afternoon. Diocesan law firm Egan, Flanagan & Cohen, P.C., will be representing the Bishop in an equally enthusiastic attempt to throw the parishioners out via motion for summary judgement for trespass. The hearing will take place at Hampden County Superior Court (Hall of Justice), at 2:00 on the 2nd or 3rd floor of 50 State St., Springfield.
If it's true that lay participation in governance and clerical enforcement of the status quo are at opposite ends of the spectrum, we need to ask: how did we get here? 
How did the People of God, a small cluster of fisherman, tax collectors, prostitutes, and generally, the unwashed, (albeit with a few well-off widows thrown in), led by a visionary carpenter's son, evolve into a corporation that willingly and even eagerly uses all of the tools of political discourse to enforce their will on those not of our faith; who are willing to wield civil law like a hammer, and not just against supposed "enemies" such as the media, abuse victims, bike path advocates and historical commissions, but also, almost unbelievably, against their own people, the ones who give the widow's mite (giving from their necessity, not from their excess), and who give freely, generously, unendingly, so that the corporation has the necessary funds with which to prosecute them in court?
Big question, but we must not be afraid to tackle it. 
In the big picture it would seem that the centuries-old doctrine that the Catholic church is the one true church, bar none, to the exclusion and even the damnation of others, and the resulting emphasis on an "absolute" point of view (though overturned by changes in theology around the middle of the 20th century) exerts a powerful undertow. Much as they would deny it, many of the current hierarchy (and not a few lay people) still think of Catholicism as the one true religion and others as off-brands, and even disreputable. It is an article of faith for these believers that other religions must be judged unreasonable, as well as incompatible, simply because they are not Catholic. They have no standing, and never will. 
But, don't the claims of the world's other religions, which are strikingly similar in their moral make-up, practices and outlook, overlap with ours in any significant way? Nope, the die-harders would say. "Of course," they would say, "we have to play nice with others, and we do, but only as an accommodation, not because it is the ideal. In an ideal world, everyone would be Catholic. Because truth and Catholicism are one and the same." 
Now, how much of a leap is it to apply this same thinking of "The One Way" to the strategies and political programs dominating Elliot St.? Has it not been repeatedly pointed out by McDonnell, Dupont, Pomerleau, and Egan (with LaBroad, Liston and others in the background) how much better it would be if the misled and uninformed parishioners at Mater Dolorosa (and at St. Stan's, and at dozens of other protesting parishes) just did what they were told to do in the first place? In short, if they simply obeyed?
This rigid stance of the One True Whatever has the advantage of appearing impeccable to its adherents. It also offers simplicity in a complex world — a world of give and take, of shortfalls in time, money, and in the resultant need for dialog and even compromise. But dialog and compromise are defeats, for the true believer, because they are less than the Ultimate Good. The transcendent worth of the unfixed position can easily blind the adherents to less noble impulses — such as the lust for power. Belief in the One True Whatever easily justifies an entire system of control, persuasion, and rhetoric — and, failing that, legal action. Don't think for one moment that Bishop McDonnell deplores legal action. It's just one more tool in his kit. Having said that, he would rather persuade, and to this end, pastors in pulpits are good at working chancery positions into their sermons. These attacks are deployed on anything that stands in the way of what the adherents believe the absolute truth demands. 
There are many issues that illustrate how this absolutism affects the Springfield Diocese, but one of the most egregious is the legal memorandum that John Egan and Co. filed on Oct. 11. This was reported several weeks later by Fr. Bill Pomerleau on the diocesan web site:
"Egan’s lawsuit is pressing the court to rule on the underlying issue of the church occupation: whether the Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield (RC) has a right to dispose of its property as it sees fit..........Egan’s memorandum of law accompanying his motion states that in Massachusetts, Catholic dioceses are recognized civilly as corporations sole controlled by the incumbent bishop."
In the first place, here's a fact check: NO property in the Diocese belongs to the RCB, to Bishop McDonnell personally, or to anyone other than the people of the Diocese. Pomerleau knows this, but apparently he's forgotten. The notion that the Massachusetts dioceses are "corporations sole controlled by the incumbent bishop" is equally false. The reverse is true. Corporation sole was created in 1897 for an entirely different purpose, as we shall see. Again, Pomerleau should know this, not only as a priest, but as an aspiring journalist.
What is truly different about the last few months is that when the word came down from Rome about what should be done with St. Stan's, St. George's and St. Patrick (find a use for them), this was promptly vetoed by Bishop McDonnell. One could almost hear the conversation on Elliot St.: "who do these people in Rome think they are?"  As was observed by Peter Borre, in remarks to the Associated Press:
 "What is new is the die-hard attitude of the diocese of Springfield -- signaling that they will continue their illogical policy of passive resistance, because the Vatican `does not require that these church buildings be reopened,'" Borre said in an emailed statement. "What is the logic of Catholic churches that are locked and CLOSED to Catholic worship?"
No one from Elliot St. has answered this question.
Back to Pomerleau: when he says that Bishop McDonnell should be able to dispose of his property as he seems fit, and that he "controls" the Diocese, he opens the door to a host of counter-arguments. Some are civil, some canonical.

Based on the groundswell of recorded opposition to the parish-killing programs of the Diocese, it is easy to find evidence that the process was flawed, and that these flaws affect the validity of the suggestions made by the Pastoral Planning committee to McDonnell. This is because these suggestions cannot represent in any reasoned and representative way the will of the laity. In fact if you take the trouble to read the final document of Pastoral Planning, it reads from start to finish like an elaborate evasion. There are no minutes; no historical progression; no discussions; no names; and no guts. It is a conclusory document which reads like it was spun from thin air by one man on a word-processor in an office cubicle, and for all we know, it was.
Without a willing collaboration of the laity, the decisions of the Bishop fail as a matter of canon law. This is because Bishop McDonnell is an administrator, and not just a "decider" as Pomerleau and others would have it.
Pomerleau is also wrong on the civil side. Corporation sole does not mean that assets are "controlled" by the bishop. On the contrary, the law creating corporation sole makes it clear that it is the Catholic people, not the bishop, that are the beneficiaries of the property and other assets of the church (most especially, their own monetary contributions, which they have a right to confirm were used for the right reasons). The bishop is the trustee, and the Catholic people are the beneficiaries. It's not complicated.

Corporation sole also gave the Commonwealth power to examine the books of the Catholic church on an annual basis to be sure they're in order, and it also made the diocese subject to all limitations of any other corporation within the Commonwealth. Thus, far from giving the Diocese a legal license to find and punish people and entities that disagree with an absolute drive for power, corporation sole was created for an entirely different purpose: to give the Catholic people and the citizens of the Commonwealth reasonable methods of examining and regulating the activities of the officials of the Catholic church.
In the new year we will examine three significant newspaper articles about the creation of corporate sole dating from around 1898 or so. Contemporary quotes from legislators, both advocates and foes of the idea of corporate sole (and, why it was felt necessary in the first place) provide some much-needed context. These help explain the misstatements of Pomerleau and Egan, though they do not excuse them.
My Christmas wish is that as many Catholic people as possible attend both the court hearing on Dec. 28 and the prayer service on Dec. 23. They are worthy of our attention.

Giving Witness: Warm Hearts in a Cold Church

The welcome hustle and bustle of the Xmas season is upon us (and the unthinking frenzy that often accompanies it), but we must not forget the many lawsuits that Bishop McDonnell has initiated, which continue to drag their way through secular courts like so many ghosts of Marley burdened with hard steel chains. 
The wise decision of Judge Ponsor to allow preservation of Our Lady of Hope Church continues to be appealed by Egan and Co., who apparently would like nothing better than to knock it flat. The "Satan on a Schwinn" controversy continues in Northampton. And most importantly, a response is due from the so-called trespassers at Mater Dolorosa to the over 100-count lawsuit filed against them.

 The faithful parishioners of Mater Dolorosa are up against it. It doesn't help that church officials cut off the heat and have been harassing the vigilers in the sanctity of their spiritual home over made-up "concerns" about extension cords and circuit breakers that never troubled them back when Fr. Alex put them in. 

As the temperature plummets, we must never forget our brothers and sisters who are giving witness in cold churches tonight, INCLUDING ST. STAN'S IN ADAMS, and every night—in fact, 24/7..... 

Remember the gospel for tuesday:

R. (7a) The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the LORD;
the lowly will hear me and be glad.
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
Look to him that you may be radiant with joy,
and your faces may not blush with shame.
When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
The LORD confronts the evildoers,
to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.
When the just cry out, the LORD hears them,
and from all their distress he rescues them.
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
The LORD redeems the lives of his servants;
no one incurs guilt who takes refuge in him.
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.

god bless them.

Father Jane Doe?

Following the commentary about the "ministerial exception" being debated at SCOTUS.
One of the arguments making the rounds is that Hosanna-Tabor cannot be decided in favor of the teacher's right to sue her church for retaliatory firing because, down the road, this would affect the right of the Catholic church to ordain only males. This is absurd. 
Nonetheless, it has been widely reported. The best explanation I've seen for why this notion is false is given by Leslie Griffin:

"...Let me be clear. No one argues that the courts can force the Catholic Church to ordain women. That argument is a red herring. In the forty years that the ministerial exception has existed, I count only one court case of a Catholic woman who (unsuccessfully) sued to become a priest, but at least ten cases of Catholic women who knew with absolute certainty they were not priests. Yet those women were suddenly ordained ministers when they went to court to enforce their employment contracts against Catholic employers...". .........for more, go here
I was glad to read her comments about why the priesthood will not be impacted, no matter how this case is decided. Not only do they make perfect sense, but they also introduced me to the Weishuhn case.
After you examine Weishuhn v. Catholic Diocese of Lansing, Case No. 10-760 (another school teacher, also in Michigan), which is also being considered for review by the high court, you begin to understand what is really at stake. It is not doctrinal tradition, spiritual exercise, or belief, but simply: how far does church autonomy extend?  Is it right to disregard employment discrimination because the employer is a religious organization? We must remember that even in their own brief in Hosanna-Tabor, the Lutheran church admitted that firing Perich was retaliatory. Still, they want to get away with it.
Be that as it may, even assuming that religious institutions should get a pass on employment claims, should they also be immunized against suspect and even criminal behavior? Incredible as it may seem, this is the terrain of the lesser-known Weishuhn case.
The writ of certiorari is an eye-opener. Cumulatively, the arguments make you wonder why the court is bothering with Hosanna-Tabor; Weishuhn appears to be more cleanly stated.
check it out:
1. Whether the ministerial exception grounded in
the First Amendment should be so broadly defined as
to bar employees of religious institutions, such as
teachers of secular and religious classes, from
asserting a state civil rights claim where the
employment action does not involve selection of
employees or an examination of church doctrine?

2. Whether an employee of a religious institution
who is found to be a ministerial employee should be
barred from bringing a state whistleblowers’ action
when the employee was discharged for reporting
suspected violations of state law which the employee
was required to report?
The case shows to what spectacularly misguided use the "ministerial exception" can be put when placed in the wrong hands. In this case, the hands of the Most Reverend Earl Boyea, bishop of the Lansing Diocese, who is arguing, in essence, that when a mandated reporter (a school teacher), acting in good conscience and according to civil law, reports allegations of abuse, and is fired, that the teacher has no claim against her employer. Why? Because the teacher is a minister, and the employer is a church.
But wait, you say, females, whether teachers or not, cannot be ministers in the Roman Catholic church. True, Boyea would say. However, supposedly, Weishuhn's conduct in reporting, and the church's conduct in firing her, are both covered under the "ministerial exception" and cannot be examined by civil courts. It doesn't take a constitutional lawyer to know that's a bogus argument.

Even more egregiously, the Florida Supreme Court refused to intervene when a principal was fired after making allegations of personal sexual assault against a Catholic priest........her claim went nowhere, as a direct result of the "ministerial exception."
I wish I were making this stuff up.