Peace & Justice Blog

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A Lay Person to the Church Leaders: You Have Let Us down!

Column by Carolyn Woo, former president of Catholic Relief Services

The McCarrick breaches and the Pennsylvania DA report of criminal child sexual abuse by the Church drew anger, disgust, sorrow, disappointment, and sadness for the “collateral damage.” I think of the priests who made God’s love real for my husband David and me, bishops who stood up for peace and justice, and the many colleagues who labor daily with sacrifice and joy in difficult ministries.  I want the Church hierarchy to know that collectively it has let us down, diminished our work, and made it that much more difficult to serve. And they did it in God’s name and our names.

My heart breaks when parents asked why they should send their children to Catholic schools.  The question does not seek an answer as it is an expression of their anger and loss of trust. I read in disbelief of  Archbishop Viganò’s claims that constraints placed on McCarrick by Pope Benedict were undone by Pope Francis.  I saw no constraints as I and many others participated in numerous public events of worship and ministry officiated by McCarrick in the Benedict years. To hijack the abuse of children for the purpose of settling personal grievances and further demonizing gay people is a new low.

I have served on a couple of sexual abuse review boards and can vouch for the strict protocols and safeguards implemented to prevent future incidents.  We must continue to be watchful as no mechanisms are perfect.  The PA reports, however, shed light on the flaws of our current approaches. Let me name three.

First, the focus of most efforts is on prevention with the desire to put the past behind us.   Yet the victims cannot just erase the past and undo the consequences of the abuse. The past stays with us in the suffering and ravage lived out everyday by victims.  We must own this past, give an account of what happened, and acknowledge our failure. A church that embraces confession as a way back to God cannot at the same time endorse the protection of deep, dark, deadly secrets against God’s children.

Second, it is very clear to me now that the way we think of victims is transactional in nature with a good dose of caution by lawyers and insurance agents.  We support victims with payments for counseling services and compensate them with monetary settlements to close the case, silent the voice, and remove the person from our conscience.  We did not think of them as family, people under our care and whose lives we plundered.  We have offices to administer the process, but not sufficient pastoral commitment to seek forgiveness and heal the soul.  Now we wonder why victims are still angry, still hurting.

Third, the Catholic Church appears to run on “self-governance.” After forty years of observing and administering organizations, I conclude that self-governance is an oxymoron.  Our pledge to “accountability” and “transparency” is about responsibility to the “other”: the people we are supposed to serve, the stakeholders affected by our actions, the parties that support us. It is their voices, needs, concerns which must drive the scope of and methods for achieving accountability.  Self-governance holds on to the power of the hierarchy to define that agenda.

Governance in the Church is wrapped up with ordination. What are the assumptions and premises which underlie this coupling? It is time to re-examine this embedded practice to build a more faithful Church, a more inclusive community, and an engaged laity capable of living the joy of the Gospel. It is our church: let us rise up for what needs to be done.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Dominican Pilgrimage, July 2018

Blog by Sr. Roberta Miller

Who is a pilgrim or what is a pilgrimage? What does a ‘sacred place’ mean?

Most of us like to travel—some to experience something new or different; some to retreat of a place for quiet reflection close to nature; others look to re-acquaint   with family relatives and friends. To my surprise my July pilgrimage: Deepening the Dominican Spirit fulfilled all three desires as I indeed entered into the sacred places of Fanjeaux and its surrounding areas where Dominic walked, ministered and was challenged. Dominic became alive as a compassionate, loving human being whose life’s journey in listening, learning and responding to issues with prayer, dialogue and community resonates to our needs today.

Dictates and military might do not overcome human conviction.  Personal relations combined with dialogue grounded in truth eventually reach into hearts and minds. As we gradually were immersed into the spirit of Dominic in the troubled times into which he was thrust, we saw that in the life of Dominic the truth of reality was always unfolding, expanding in order to understand and respond in compassion to the errors of his time. For Dominic it was human persons who required education, respect and understanding of their issues if errors in perspectives of God and behaviors were to be changed. Our visit to and climb of Mount Monsegur where 500 Cathars took refuge to withstand French military assaults was a vivid testimony to the futility of brutal force to convert the inner strength of human conviction—even if by death by fire on the stake.

Our world is also in transition as we have forgotten our human oneness in diversity.   Individual power and status twists our perspectives of God and life as we seek to dominate this earth. How do we strive to meet the injustices perpetrated through migrations, trafficking, use of fossil fuels, earth’s pollution, ignorance and ideological stubbornness? Words may inspire; living justly in charity and “treasuring voluntary poverty” brings about change. We are all pilgrims in the   spirit of Dominic, seeking ways to bring the people of God to the Good News of God’s ways.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Dangerous Language and Immigrants

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP

Recently several of the sisters and I attended a workshop sponsored by Faith in Public Life called Language of Violence, Language of Peace (Preventing Violence 101). The presenter was Rachel Brown, an expert in genocide prevention.  Rachel described the problem with dangerous language which is a subtle and hidden way to incite and justify violence against another group of people.  Currently, this language is being used all the time and at the very highest levels of our government. Here are the six justifications for using this language and some examples of how it’s being used against immigrants.

De-identification or dehumanization portrays certain groups as not having feelings and experiences as we do. In fact, they are not even human.  When immigrants are said to ‘infest’ or ‘breed’ in our country, they are being compared to disgusting vermin or animals.  Don’t we often us desperate means to combat an infestation?

Threat Construction shows the other group as posing a dangerous threat, making them appropriate targets for violence. For example: Aren’t immigrants raping our women and taking our jobs? Shouldn’t we make every effort including the violence of separating children from their parents to keep them out of our country?

When violence is painted with a range of praiseworthy virtues like duty, toughness, or loyalty; and opposition to violence is depicted as ‘weakness’ or lack of such virtues, it is called virtue talk or valorization. Those legislators who support Trump’s actions at the border and the ICE raids are ‘protecting’ our country from the horrible fate of more immigrants.  “Democrat immigration policies are destroying innocent lives and spilling very innocent blood,” Trump declared last week while speaking in Ohio.

Guilt attribution shows the other group as guilty of heinous crimes and thus deserving a violent punitive response.  Every time an immigrant is accused of committing murder, the fact that they are undocumented is made the primary focus. Murder is unconscionable but many more murders are committed by native citizens than immigrants.

Assertions that violence is the only available course of action due to forces or constraints beyond the control of potential perpetrators is called the destruction of alternatives. The violent separation of children from their parents was frequently defended as the only way that immigrants could be kept from entering the U.S.

Finally, when violence is highly likely to produce extensive benefits in the future, which will outweigh any civilian suffering that results from the violence, it is referred to as future bias.  Richard Spencer, a leading white supremacist, believes that immigration and multiculturalism are threats to the white population. He dreams of a future that is a white “ethno-state.” And has  called for “peaceful ethnic cleansing” to remove nonwhite people from American soil.

Dangerous language will continue to be used as long as we tolerate and keep silent about the underlying belief that white Americans are somehow better than everyone else. St. Catherine of Siena reminds us to “speak the truth in a million voices.  It is silence that kills.”

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

How Do We Save The World?

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP

Part 1: End Poverty

This is the first of a series of blogs about the Sustainable Development Goals devised by the United Nations. These 17 goals imagine a world without hunger, poverty, and natural disasters caused by climate change.  They vision a world in 15 years where children can grow up in a healthy environment including access to education and sustainable development.  And while there has been significant progress over the last 15 years, there are still millions of people who fall into these categories.  Each of my blogs will highlight one goal and provide information on the progress yet to be made.

The first goal is to end extreme poverty by 2030. It seems daunting but when you consider that in the past 15 years, extreme poverty was reduced by half, it is possible. Around the world, 800 million people or 10% of the world’s population, live on $1.90/day. In 2017, economic losses attributed to disasters were estimated at over $300 billion. This is among the highest losses in recent years, owing to three major hurricanes affecting the United States of America and several countries across the Caribbean.

While extreme poverty has eased considerably since 1990, pockets of the worst forms of poverty persist. Ending poverty requires universal social protection systems aimed at safeguarding all individuals throughout the life cycle. It also requires targeted measures to reduce vulnerability to disasters and to address specific under-served geographic areas within each country. Based on 2016 estimates, only 45 percent of the world’s population were effectively covered by at least one social protection cash benefit.

In the US, extreme poverty is called deep poverty and is defined as a household with a total cash income below 50% of its poverty threshold. According to the Census Bureau, in 2016, 18.5 million people lived in deep poverty. This is 5.8% of the total population.  For a single individual under 65 years old, a deep poverty income would be below $6,243 and for a family of four with two children, it would be $12, 169.50. Nearly 8.2% of all children lived in deep poverty compared to 3.3% of adult over 65.

Regardless of the amount, when an individual or his/her family are not able to purchase enough food to be nourished, don’t have healthy living environment or cannot attend school, there is a problem that world governments must care for.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Opening Eyes, Opening Ears, Opening Hearts

“What you do to the least of these people, you do to me.”

(Matt. 25:40)

Blog by Sr. Mai Dung Nguyen

A conservative estimate is that LGBTQ people make up about 10% of the U.S. population. Hearing these numbers, I asked myself. “If at least one in ten people identifies as LGBT, how is it that I do not recognize them in my life?  Then a Bible quote came to me; “Have you had eyes but do not see and ears but do not hear?” (Matt.13:13-14) Looking back on my life, I have begun to realize that they were all around me but for some reason, I did not see them.

I began to remember that in my earlier life in Vietnam, I was introduced to the LGBTQ world at a very young age when my biology teacher told my class that her friend had transitioned from male to female. Then, during my high school years, I had two gay classmates. Years later, as a medical student, my friends and I met an intersex person in a hospital whose genital, chromosomal, or gonadal characteristics were not completely female or male. She identified as female and presented as female, but the doctors insisted she be assigned as male. When I came to the United States and attended a community college, I knew another transgender person who transitioned from female to male. To me these people were strange and weird, which is exactly how many of my friends saw them too. I did not try to understand them, or have compassion and sensitivity toward them.

The turning point came for me a few years ago when I came to know a transgender person.  I  listened to that person’s story and came to know the family.  I cried at the profound trauma and injustice this individual and their loved ones faced. I realized that they do not choose to be vulnerable, rejected, or alienated.  I needed to learn and understand more.

Recently I was blessed to meet another transgender person. After forty years of struggle to be the woman that was not inside of him, he is now a handsome man who is successful in his profession. He helped me to see transgender people from another perspective.  Each person is different, but all go through unbelievable pain, struggle and rejection. But yet, with courage and help, many of them get to the other side of that experience and live generous, productive lives with self-confidence.

As a Dominican trying to preach the Gospel through my living, I am questioning myself.  As a Dominican Sister of Peace, can I let LGBTQ people touch my heart and feel free to love and care for them as God loves and cares for them, without being afraid or judgmental?  Can I be a model of compassion to future generations in the Church as we live the Gospel in the midst of a violent world?

I thank God for giving me opportunities to meet such a diversity of people.  This community of marginalized people is educating me to appreciate the different parts of the Body of Christ.

For many years, I had eyes but did not see, and ears but did not hear.  How about you, my sisters and brothers in Christ?

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog