FEBRUARY 9 , 2004





Time to open files
Six years ago I read with regret the news of the passing of Msgr. George Francis, the founder of St. Bede Parish in Hayward. Growing up in the parish, I attended the school, served as an altar boy and thought I knew the monsignor well. In seeing his obituary relegated to the next to the last page of The Voice and comprised of but a few paragraphs, I actually thought the man and his accomplishments had been slighted. I now know otherwise.
The news of monsignor’s scandalous and criminal behavior came as a complete shock to me. I wanted very much not to believe it. Msgr. Francis played a major role in shaping my faith. To think that I placed so much regard in his teachings leaves me feeling shortchanged. Fortunately, other religious and lay teachers supplemented his efforts so I’m not completely at a loss for faith role models.
I have often defended my Church and felt that many of these accusations were the product of “manufactured” repressed memory syndrome in search of cash. In light of Chancellor Flannery’s comments though, I expect the allegations made against the monsignor were well founded, previously documented and known at the upper levels for quite some time.
What bothers me is how the information about the monsignor and others remains secret. Was the diocese just hoping it would never come out? The media has a field day exposing institutions that fail to live by their own rules. I feel it is the diocese’s responsibility to open up its files (masking the names of the abused) so we can know the extent and names of the abusers if credible evidence exists.
Confession, or the “sacrament of reconciliation” as it’s now known, is not about withholding information but baring the soul. While the current healing services are a step in the right direction, I would prefer to know the whole truth now instead of having it parceled out as settlements are announced.

Chris Ferreira

A Church full of victims
The Oakland Diocese will pay a $3 million settlement for a victim of pastoral child abuse. Cases of other victims and other victimizers remain to be settled. This forces me to look yet again at the ongoing horror of ecclesiastical behavior during the last decade.

I have seven nieces and nephews raised in that pastor’s parish. This priest established and guided what I considered to be an exemplary and active Christian community. How could he do so much good while engaging in such reprehensible behavior?

But this kind of child abuse is not an isolated case. According to news reports in the last few years, there are perpetrators and victims of ecclesiastical sex abuse on all levels of the hierarchy and in all parts of the world. As each ugly revelation appears I am more deeply convinced that the Church harbors a systemic and fundamental infection that nurtures a
culture of victims.

These victims are faithful lay men and women and their sons and daughters — their daughters encouraged to accept secondary status in the kingdom of God, their sons encouraged to leave the world and enter a “higher” society of the priesthood, their priests often striving for ecclesial advancement to a “higher” society in the Roman hierarchy. All are victims.

For a thousand years this system may have worked; only the universal Church has the universal record that can demonstrate the success or failure of this culture over time. What we see today are victims of the system everywhere in the Church - children, lay women and lay men, parish priests and pastors, bishops, cardinals…even, and perhaps especially, the Pope. All are victims of a Church culture coexisting with and apart from the Good News that Jesus commissioned us to preach to the ends of the earth.

The Holy Spirit holds a mirror up to the Church so that we can recognize what it has become. This culture of ecclesiastical power will change now.

Martin Bailey

Need for financial disclosure
That (now deceased) priest in Hayward who molested a little girl for four years just cost the diocese $3 million. That would build a lot of cathedral.
As a practicing Catholic for over a half-century, I would like to know where that money came from. Even though the Church in my lifetime has disclosed little to no financial information to us members, this is a pretty large figure to remain undisclosed.

James M. Knowles

Incomplete apology
The apology given by Bishop Vigneron in Antioch to the victims of sexual abuse was disappointing. He apologized for “pastors” and “some of our brothers.” Never did our bishop make an apology for the tolerance our bishop leaders extended to pedophiles. No mention was made of the bishops who have been implicated in covering up crimes against children. There was no recognition that victims of abuse were denied compassion and validation from our leaders. His apology was only on behalf of errant priests.

The apology had an unintended consequence. I felt incredible empathy for the hardworking priests ministering in this diocese, several who were on the altar with the bishop. It seemed as if the apology was on their behalf. For a second I forgot I was in church because the whole situation reminded me of corporate America where the CEO blames his underlings for problems they had little or no control over. Like good soldiers, the priests remained respectful and motionless.

On the one hand, I want to applaud Bishop Vigneron’s courage for standing in front of a church, under such trying circumstances, and saying anything. This had to be a very difficult moment. I want to give him credit. However, his refusal to acknowledge the culpability of our leadership made his apology seem empty, hollow, and, dare I say, silly.

Mary Fadhl

Jesus wasn’t hierarchical
The Pope said the Church has a “hierarchical constitution” resting on the will of Christ (Voice, Jan. 26). However, the word “hierarchy” is nowhere to be found in the New Testament. Moreover, the only words of Our Lord about the structure of the Church (and He was miffed!) were that the Apostles would lead by being totally servants to those they “led” and would not exercise power downward in any way.

The Greek word is “katexousiazousin”, the use of power, like the Gentiles do, in a “downward” manner. As a matter of fact, the most leading among them, He said, would be Slave of All (“pantwn doulov”) – hence all the Popes’ motto, “Servant of the Servants of God” (“Servus servorum Dei”).
Starting with “servant” instead of “slave,” I suspect the temptations of the centuries have got us into a need for some adjustments in words, attitude, and dress at the Vatican. Sometimes it is embarrassing.

Frank Nieman
Pleasant Hill

Wary of ragged tissues
I was very grateful to Bishop Vigneron for reminding parishioners to be considerate of their neighbors by staying away from Mass when they have colds or other contagious conditions.

I look healthy, but I must take medications which lower my immune system. When I get a cold, I have it for months. I am careful to attend a less popular service and to sit apart from other people, but, yes, I am afraid. I know that receiving Communion does not magically protect me against infection or illness. (If it did, I wouldn’t have gotten sick in the first place.) But with the cooperation of my fellow parishioners, I can avoid being excommunicated by disease.

Some of them have been wonderful. One man was even feeling well enough to come back to church after an illness, but turned around and went home again after seeing the Bishop’s letter. I missed not being able to pray with him and receive his hugs at the kiss of peace, and I thanked God for him every day he was away.

But I am angry when I hear coughing and sniffling behind me all through the liturgy of the word, then turn at the kiss of peace to see someone stuff a ragged tissue in a pocket before extending the same hand to me.

Name Withheld Upon Request
via e-mail

Civil unions won’t harm
I am writing in response to Bishop Vigneron’s article (Voice, Jan. 12) regarding marriage and same-sex unions. His comments seem to imply that changing societal norms could somehow weaken or diminish the institution of marriage. Such comments, I fear, reflect a subtle lack of faith in the abiding presence of God and in our Church’s sacramental mission.

Throughout history and across different cultures, the expectations of married people and their rights and responsibilities within their respective societies have taken many forms. Even within our own Biblical tradition, the marital status of Christ’s own forbearers now seems shocking to most of us. And yet the love poetry of King Solomon to one of his many concubines is cherished by the Church as nothing less than an allegory of Christ’s love for his holy bride.

Undoubtedly, society’s understanding and definition of civil unions will continue to evolve. The sacrament of marriage, however, as so eloquently described in the Bishops’ “Question and Answer” document, is clear and constant — an abiding blessing.

Church teaching and tradition have never defined marriage as a primarily legal structure; it is a sacred union rooted in the divine plan for creation. No government, nor any other human institution for that matter, can do anything which would weaken or diminish that abiding gift of God.

The institute of marriage among Catholic Christians could no more be weakened by same sex unions than Holy Eucharist could be diminished by people breaking bread and drinking wine at dinner or the sacrament of Baptism be lessened by the nightly ritual of children being immersed in bathtubs before bed.

I find this implicit lack of faith, which runs through the article, to be concerning. Do the leaders of our Church have so little faith in God’s ability to save and sanctify that they fear a redefinition of civil unions might really weaken and devalue the holy bond between married people?

The document rightly notes that sacramentally married couples are “the best advocates ... and the first teachers of the next generation about the dignity of marriage.” That dignity, grounded in the vast goodness of God, can surely withstand any imagined risks associated with granting our fellow citizens the same legal benefits we married people enjoy.

Even more concerning is our bishop’s statement of the need to accept this fear “without reservation [as being] implied in any claim to belong to the Church” and as being essential to “one’s saving relationship with the Lord Jesus”.

Even if fear were warranted, I fail to see how actively striving to deny civil rights to our follow citizens could benefit either God’s Church or ensure one’s saving relationship with Christ. There is nothing in the core beliefs of the Church that I am aware of — neither in dogma nor in doctrine — which demand that in order to be redeemed Christians must hold particular views on taxation, inheritance and hospital visitation rights or health benefits.

In fact, based on the Lord’s command to “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s”, one could reasonably conclude just the opposite. To imply otherwise, in an open letter to the churches of the diocese, is at best misleading and sadly reflects a style of leadership that the People of God have long since outgrown.

John Plowright

In defense of marriage
How can any practicing Catholic disagree with Bishop Vigneron’s commentary (Voice, Dec. 15) on the U.S. bishops’ document, “Between Man and Woman: Questions and Answers About Marriage and Same Sex Unions.”

Isn’t it about time our Church leaders speak out about sin and stop skirting issues that might be offensive to some of us? The sacrament of marriage is clearly defined in Church law as a union between a man and a woman, no mention of diversity.

As for the letter in Reader’s Forum (Jan. 12) pertaining to the certitude of the document, who is more qualified than the bishop to make those statements.

We will always have conflicting opinions about moral issues, but please do not confuse “politically correct” with the Ten Commandments and do not attempt to make the same sex union issue seem trivial by comparison to the sexual abuse problem, and therefore tolerated.

Dolores Carter

Focus on Frankenfoods
I read with interest the commentary on genetically modified foods (Voice, Jan. 12). I offer a different view on the issue.
Organic farmers are working hard to grow crops free of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and GMO’s. They are worried about their crops being cross-contaminated with GMO’s.

Monsanto has developed what it calls a “Technology Protection System” that renders seeds sterile. If employed, farmers would not be able to harvest their own seeds and would have to come back each year to Monsanto for seeds at a tremendous cost to them and profits for Monsanto. Do we really want to make poor farmers in other countries dependent on companies like Monsanto? Though they claim their motives are to feed the hungry, somehow I have my doubts.

Consumers in this country do not know they are eating GMO’s because they are not labeled. However, organic foods are free of GMO’s, and a few companies have opted not to sell GMO products.

Constance Taylor

In favor of life
The commentary by Dr. Ronald Connolly (Voice, Jan. 12) seems to miss one of the major ethical issues in the Schiavo case. In that tragic situation, one is faced with a direct disagreement between a husband and a set of parents as to the welfare of a young woman.
The interests of the disagreeing parties are divergent, as the husband, currently in a relationship with another woman, wishes to facilitate the death of his wife, while the patient’s parents, with no financial or other “benefit,” wish to continue to support the life of their daughter.
Ms. Schiavo is not the so-called “vegetable”; she has breathing function, and some medical experts have opined that she has a certain cognitive response when stimulated. It seems to me that when there are, as in this case, “differences of opinion,” the decision should always be made in favor of life; and this is the position which Terri Schiavo’s parents (and the governor of the State of Florida) have espoused.

Robert A. Fink, M.D., F.A.C.S.

Let your wishes be known
I thank Dr. Ronald Connolly for his discussion (Voice, Jan. 12) of the Terri Schiavo case and the complex and difficult decision to use or not to use extraordinary medical means to keep us from dying. Two important issues come to my mind.

The first is that we must clearly communicate or request in writing that we do not want extraordinary medical means like a feeding tube used to prolong our dying. Checking with an attorney or with the Alameda County Area Agency on Aging, Senior Information and Assistance Hot Line (1-800-510-2020) would help you to make a decision on the best way to communicate that you do not want extraordinary means used to keep you alive.

Secondly, as past chair of the Alameda County Commission on Aging, I found that the fear most frequently and emotionally expressed by older people is that their physical body will live on when their brain is not functioning. They do not want to live without being able to experience anything said to them, or recognize anything going on around them or even know they are being touched by the loving hand of a spouse or friend. They believe that if they were brain dead and in a coma with no hope for cognitive recovery that they would already be dead, so let them go.

I encourage everyone to think, study and pray about the issues and communicate with family, friends and medical people about whether they do or do not want extraordinary means taken to prolong their lives.

David Melander

Celibacy is a witness
Mark Gotvald’s letter (Forum, Jan. 26) criticizing Bishop Vigneron’s column on celibacy states that “celibacy was imposed... to end clerical corruption.” I doubt that. The Church has always favored celibacy for priests as a life of total surrender to God.

Marriage requires 100 percent commitment to wife and family and priesthood requires 100 percent commitment to the flock the priest shepherds. The celibate priesthood is a witness to today’s sex-sodden society that heroic self-denial is possible.

The vast majority of our priests live out their celibacy faithfully which is why they deserve our admiration and affection. Our new bishop is a natural teacher and I have heard many people comment on how grateful they are to have him illuminate our faith for us.

Mary Arnold

Let’s talk about celibacy
I think Bishop Vigneron’s column (Voice, Jan. 12) misses the point in his “effort to give pastoral guidance” on priestly celibacy. Clearly, celibacy has a long history and tradition in the Church, and there is value for those who choose it. But it is also obvious that mandatory celibacy adversely affects the numbers who choose to train for the priesthood.

The question the Bishop critiqued was “Do you favor an open discussion of the mandatory celibacy rule for diocesan priests?” Apparently our Bishop does not, since he simply reiterated the teachings of Vatican II, where – almost 40 years ago – celibacy was reaffirmed for the Roman (but not all) rites of the Church.

His comments seem to underscore the now discredited notion that the hierarchy has the correct and unassailable position on every issue. As the painful events of the last few years can attest, this is certainly not the case.

Surely we are strong enough as the People of God in the Church of Oakland to have an open, honest and prayerful dialogue as to how we can increase the number of men (and hopefully women) who seek to minister as priests. Mandatory celibacy would be a good place to start.

Paul Maxwell

Discussion is long overdue
I am encouraged that Bishop Vigneron’s column initiates a desired open discussion of mandatory celibacy for diocesan priests. The witness of his own appreciation for this precious gift is a valuable testimony. The Spirit’s gift of celibacy surely is cherished in the Church.

But an open discussion of the exclusion from priestly ministry of those who are not called to celibacy is long overdue. This discussion will be difficult and a painful process. It really calls for more extensive discussion than can be provided in short letters to a Readers’ Forum.

We shall need to learn many lessons: how to listen to each other with patience, sensitivity and great respect; how to listen through the anger and pain as people try to express the yearning of their hearts, their hunger for Eucharist; how to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking in each other. St. Paul admonishes us, “Do not quench the Spirit … Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.” (I Thess. 5: 19, 21-22).

While celibacy for the kingdom is a gift of the Spirit, its legal imposition through the second millennium of our history has at times caused painful injustice. Alongside the gift given to the few, we have from the Gospels the Lord’s command to share his body and his blood in memory of him. How can we put the gift in opposition to his command?

In this discussion we can only hope to realize the Spirit and the patience shown by the saintly Pope John XXIII who reminded us, “In necessariis unitas; in dubiis libertas; in omnibus autem caritas. (In necessary matters, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.)”

Thanks again to Bishop Vigneron for his opening discussion of mandatory celibacy for diocesan priests.

Father Tom Lester
St. Leander Parish
San Leandro


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