Friday, April 12, 2013

It’s never slow at the USCCB, but spring seems really busy.

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh 
I’m working on one of my favorite projects, the Class of 2013 ordination report.  A few weeks at North American College during the recent papal transition has left me high on seminarians. As I review data on the almost 500 U.S. men to be ordained soon. I’m impressed. A few years ago we started to ask the ordination class to complete the sentence “People would be surprised to know….” One seminarian said he keeps bees, another was a golf pro, another can make a saddle. Several studied for the priesthood after their wives died. LaFayette, Louisiana seminarian Mark Miley, father of Catherine and Alex, spoke about his joy contemplating his new vocation: “It is the same feeling that one feels when your child is born.”

Yesterday I watched the Medal of Honor ceremony for the late Korean War Chaplain Father Emil Kapaun, from the Diocese of Wichita livestream from the White House. President Obama moved people to tears as he read of the heroism of the priest who died at 35 in a prisoner-of-war camp. Major General Donald Rutherford, a priest of the Diocese of Albany and chief of chaplains at the Pentagon, led the ceremony with prayer. I saw Father Shawn McKnight, a Wichita priest and head of the U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, in the crowd. The cause for the canonization of Father Kapaun, who carries the title “Servant of God,” is in process.

The annual report for 2012 on clergy sexual abuse of children soon comes out. Finally there is a decline in allegations, offenders and victims. I’d dance for joy were it not for the fact that there were six credible cases of abuse of minors in 2012. Even with 56,000 priests and permanent deacons in this country and 77.7 million Catholics, that there were six instances of abuse of a minor is horrific. The six make a good case for vigilance and safe environment programs. Child sexual abuse is a human problem, a crime and a sin. It means all have to take the steps needed to keep individuals with such problems away from children. The estimated $26 million put into parish and school safe environment programs last year was money well spent.

Immigration reform is front and center. On April 19, at least 14 Catholic organizations, USCCB included, will sponsor congressional briefings on “Catholic Social Teaching: Re-Framing Immigration Reform.” Presenters will be Kristin Heyer, Ph.D., professor of theological ethics at Santa Clare University and author of Kinship Across the Borders: A Christian Ethic of Immigration; and Kevin Appleby, director of Migration Policy and Public Affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services called for comments on its mandate to coerce businesses, religious or otherwise, to pay through employee insurance policies for contraceptives, including abortion-causing drugs, and female sterilization. It got well over 350,000. The Sunlight Foundation, which monitors government transparency, reports that the second-most remarked upon regulation got 4,600 comments.

World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, when Pope Francis meets with young people, will be July 23-28. Paul Jarzembowski, just hired by the bishops’ Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, carries the WYD portfolio. He may be seeing the “Francis effect,” with the number of participants growing since the election of the pope, the first ever Latin American pope, who hails from Brazil’s neighbor Argentina.

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