Monday, May 17, 2010

Keeping Integrity in the Arguments

People may argue about the merits or failings in the 2,000+ page health reform tome that was passed by the Senate in March, but you’d expect them to do so with integrity. Right now, I’m not so sure.

Example: America magazine ran a caustic editorial upbraiding the bishops for opposing the health reform bill. The bishops wanted the bill to have language like the Hyde Amendment, which precludes federal dollars from being used, directly or indirectly, to snuff out innocent life. The House agreed to this, but the Senate did not. After the bill passed, America dismissed the bishops’ criticism as based on “[t]enuous legal arguments,” “debatable, technical questions of law,” and an inconclusive “tissue of hypotheticals.”

Anthony Picarello, the General Counsel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, took issue with America in a letter to the editor. America printed a shortened version of it, and it's worth noting what ended up on the cutting room floor. You can read Picarello’s unedited letter here.

For example, the magazine cut out criticism of its sloppy research. America said the bishops’ arguments against the bill were unavailable for people to consider during the debate, but USCCB's analyses were posted, almost in real-time, on its page dedicated to health care reform.

The editors also cut clear proof that their especially harsh words for the bishops have an especially weak basis. They claim “many other legal analysts” disagree with USCCB. Actual number of legal analyses that address all of USCCB's arguments: zero. Actual number of analysts offering any legal reasons at all: two.

America also omitted how those two legal analysts ignore USCCB arguments, rather than take them on. For example, critics emphasize that there are existing regulations that forbid Community Health Centers (CHCs) from using federal funds for abortions. True enough for *existing* funds, but the critics never acknowledge -- least of all try to rebut -- the argument that those regulations can't be applied to the *new* funds. That silence is telling.

Perhaps the cruelest cut of all came when America erroneously identified Picarello as a USCCB media relations staffer, instead of USCCB General Counsel. I tried to comfort him by noting it was like a monsignor being misidentified as a cardinal. Picarello didn’t quite agree, but he did chuckle.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Sex Abuse Prevention and the International Priest

A look at the demographics of priests in the United States finds more priests coming from foreign lands. In addition, a survey of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), a Georgetown University-based research center, shows between 20 and 30 percent of ordinands to the diocesan priesthood for each of the last 10 years were born outside the United States. Most have come from Mexico, Colombia, the Philippines, Poland and Vietnam.

The growing diversity is a natural outcome given the influx of immigrants from all over the world and efforts to find priests for appropriate pastoral care to the immigrant communities.

These foreign-born priests are a blessing for the Church as they become inculturated into U.S. church and society. Part of that inculturation for ministry includes training in programs for child and youth protection, which have become a vital part of parishes throughout the country.

The National Review Board (NRB), which oversees the U.S. bishops’ Office for Child and Youth Protection, recently spearheaded a look at how international priests are trained and their backgrounds checked to make sure they comply with diocesan standards for child protection.

Initial results show that 152 of the 195 U.S. dioceses and eparchies rely on various forms of communication from the bishop or superior of a religious order who endorsed the priest for work in the U.S. It also found that 51 dioceses went beyond that and conducted a search of criminal history records in the country of origin. Given that the reliability of criminal history records in many foreign countries is not high, personal contact with the bishop of the diocese of origin is important to fulfill the bishop’s obligation to thoroughly evaluate “the background of all incardinated and non-incardinated priests and deacons engaged in ecclesiastical ministry.” (Charter or the Protection of Children and Young People, Article 13)

Teresa Kettlekamp, executive director of the Office for Youth and Child Protection at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), says that “a frank and candid discussion on the past behavior of the priest is essential.”

“Some foreign countries do not have the same sense as exists in the United States as to the seriousness of sexual abuse and boundary violations,” she said. International priests need to have “a clear understanding of these issues.”

Through an audit process, the Review Board found that all priests and deacons, wherever they’ve been born, are required to undergo safe environment training, but few diocesan child and youth protection staff are aware of a formal acculturation or mentoring programs for foreign priests that included stress on expectations relayed to safe environments.

As a next step in assuring child safety the Review Board recommends that safe environment training and diocesan Codes of Conduct be explicitly reviewed with all international priests and, if language competency is an issue, that discussion be in the priest’s native language to be sure he understands. Other recommendations include pairing the new priest with a mentor and a spiritual advisor and developing a checklist for the acculturation process. Such efforts can ease the entry of new clergy into life in today’s Church in the United States, which otherwise can overwhelm a man.