Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pallium Primer

Tomorrow, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, four U.S. archbishops will be in Rome to participate in the Pallium Mass. Each of them -- along with all archbishops appointed in the past year all around the world -- will receive a Pallium from Pope Benedict XVI.

So what is the Pallium?

One man with over 25 years of experience wearing one, Cardinal Roger Mahony, the retired archbishop of Los Angeles, explains on

It is a circular band about 2" wide, worn about the neck and having two pendants--one hanging down in front and one behind. It is worn over the chasuble at Mass. Every February two lambs are blessed each year and their white wool is used to make the Pallium. The wool is presented to the Pope, and Sisters then make the Pallium for the new Archbishops. ... The new Palliums are solemnly blessed on the eve of the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, and are kept in a special silver-gilt container in front of the Main Altar in St. Peter's Basilica.

The four U.S. archbishops who are receiving this special sign of their office are:

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller

Archbishop of San Antonio

Age 54

Ordained a priest June 22, 1984

Previously served as auxiliary bishop of Chicago (2003-10)

Currently youngest archbishop in USA

Archbishop Jose Gomez

Archbishop of Los Angeles

Age 59

Ordained a priest August 15, 1978

Previously served as auxiliary bishop of Denver (2001-04), archbishop of San Antonio (2005-10), coadjutor archbishop of Los Angeles (2010-11)

First Latino appointed to a U.S. diocese traditionally headed by a cardinal

Archbishop Paul Stagg Coakley

Archbishop of Oklahoma City

Age 56

Ordained a priest May 21, 1983

Previously served as bishop of Salina, Kansas (2004-10)

Fourth archbishop of Oklahoma City

Archbishop James Peter Sartain

Archbishop of Seattle

Age 59

Ordained a priest July 15, 1978

Previously served as bishop of Little Rock (2000-06), bishop of Joliet (2006-10)

All three bishops heading dioceses in the state of Washington (Seattle, Yakima, Spokane) retired and were succeeded between June 2010 and April 2011.

The presence of Archbishop Gomez on this list raises another detail about the Pallium, that even an archbishop who's previously served as an archbishop in another diocese receives a new Pallium with his new assignment. The U.S. Church saw this recently with Archbishop Timothy Dolan's 2009 appointment to New York. Archbishop Dolan had previously served as archbishop of Milwaukee.

Hat tip to David Cheney, Doug Weller.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Choice to End All Choices

If there is a prize in the game of semantics, it should go to the word CHOICE. And if you need someone to collect the prize for abusing the word, I offer those who promote what is deemed the choice to die. The patron of the movement, which is now enshrined into law in the states of Washington and Oregon, is the late Dr. Jack Kervorkian, the pathologist who once helped people die in the back of a 1968 van that he converted into a death machine. Curiously, when he himself passed on a few weeks ago, it was in a clean bed in a hospital where he had been ill. No Volkswagen van for Dr. Death.

Words develop emotional dimensions, which is why the right-to-die Hemlock Society, named for Socrates’ suicide juice of choice, is now called Compassion and Choices. Giving people the choice to die has a nicer ring to it than giving people the right to kill themselves or giving them the license to kill others. Those working for the freedom of choice to die, however, are working for the choice to end all choices.

With modern medicine, people live longer lives and take longer to die. Dying is a commonplace and responsible medical professionals have developed the modern day hospice movement and palliative care programs to address it. Palliative care offers a comprehensive care approach for those with potentially fatal illnesses, such as heart failure, rheumatoid arthritis, emphysema and cancer. It involves curing and comforting. If cure becomes less likely, for example, with end-stage cancers, end-stage heart failure and end-stage renal failure, it can lead to hospice care with its emphasis on comfort when cure seems out of the question.

When I was a reporter covering the hospice movement, I learned that people have two fears when confronting end of life: pain and isolation. Hospice and palliative care address them both. Advances in medications mean pain can be controlled. Medical staff can handle that. Dealing with fear of isolation lies in the hands of the rest of us. It is a call to the community to surround the dying and chronically ill with emotional support, prayer and the message that every moment of their lives has value to us. Every life has dignity at every stage.

Hospice and palliative care programs rely on family and volunteers for the team that provides medical, emotional, intellectual, psychological, social and spiritual care. They work to enable a meaningful life right now. They believe that life has meaning whether you’re on the job, in your lounge chair, or nodding off in bed.

It is no secret that people who are seriously and/or chronically ill can become depressed and feel they want to die. The answer is not "Here, let me help you.” It is to express compassion, to send the message that they’re not alone and that others walk with them.

Such support calls for selfless friends and relatives who know how to sit patiently and quietly and when to call others for help. Those who opt to help another live life as much as possible instead of ending it with a deadly medical cocktail respect life at every stage. They recognize the slippery slope where taking a life of someone who wants to die moves easily into taking the life of someone you want to die. Where taking the life of someone with little beneficial time left slides into taking the life of someone whose life you think has no benefit no matter how long they live. One can quickly arrogate to oneself the role of God.

The dying deserve choices in everything from choice of care to choice of where to receive it. Other choices may involve whether to pray or sit quietly. Whether to have visitors. Whether to see a spiritual guide. Whether to have apple sauce or ice cream. Whether to call an old friend. Whether to increase pain medication.

Caring involves sharing – everything from a funny story about the grandkids, the latest news report, who was at church in the morning and who called last night. It might even involve sharing a beer, though not one laced with hemlock or its modern equivalent.

Choices provide a sense of control and we all like to keep our options open. But when a choice eliminates every other choice thereafter, it’s really not a choice at all.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Never Has So Much Harm Been Done By So Few

Media reaction to the John Jay Report on “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests. 1950-2010” has centered on what the New York Times deemed the “Woodstock defense,” that is, blaming the libertine spirit of the bohemian music and peace meeting in 1969.

Let it be known that any insult to the hallowed Woodstock days puts gray-haired hippies up in arms. We wore the peace sign, sang “Kumbaya My Lord” to simplistic guitar music and cheered on peacenik confreres who disrupted the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention. But the only thing most of us violated was good taste. (Orange shag carpeting anyone?)

Unfortunately by arguing about Woodstock, many miss the gist of the report, which is that the number of cases of child sexual abuse by clerics declined dramatically starting in the mid-80s. Cases dropped as education in seminaries increased and as dioceses began to implement safe environment plans and protocols for interaction between adults and children. It also helped that some priests in well publicized abuse cases wound up doing time. The John Jay report notes that as abuse went into decline in American society, statistics show that the numbers of abusers dropped more quickly in the church than elsewhere. Educating priests-in-training and volunteers and teachers on the job, and publicizing crimes by priests who went to jail were dramatic wake-up calls, even for people who didn’t recognize criminal behavior instinctively.

Last year in the U.S. Catholic Church of 68.2 million members, there were seven credible accusations of abuse of a minor by a priest. There should not be any, and punishment for abusers should be swift. Even in the worst days of abuse, however, it was an estimated four percent of priests who abused. Obviously there should have been no abuse, but it is unfair to ignore the fact that abusers constituted a small percentage of priests. When it comes to abusers smearing the reputations of dedicated, clean-living clerics, never has so much damage been done by so few.

The John Jay report rightly criticized the church’s lack of transparency and pointed out that when the church dealt with an abuser, it kept its actions a secret. It is understandable, given the ignorance about sex abuse in society until the very late 20th century. Just a couple decades ago, and even perhaps more recently, if one parent discovered the other sexually abusing a child at home (where most abuse happens), he or she didn’t discuss it at the PTA or go to the police. They might have tried to get spiritual or emotional help secretly for the perpetrator and the victim, though the crime is so shameful as to be paralyzing. A bishop told me a few years ago that one of the scandals in this matter was that bishops weren’t even speaking with one another. No one at a bishops’ meeting was apt to ask: “Hey Joe, any of your priests abuse kids?”

The silence is broken now. This is good. People, including well-trained children, speak up and speak out. Bishops notify the police when there is a credible accusation. Children are taught to tell parents and teachers when someone’s familiarity makes then uncomfortable. Everyone knows that “Keep your hands to yourself” has meaning even after kindergarten.

The gray-haired hippies, who are now retiring from proper jobs in areas such as education, law, medicine, and public service, agree. They reflect nostalgically on Woodstock. They look wistful when they hear the strains of “Where have all the flowers gone?” and they smile for “Puff, the magic dragon.” The Catholic hippies might even hum the sing-songy “Sons of God, hear his holy Word….” Woodstock evokes memories of wise or unwise passion. It doesn’t, however, equate to sexual abuse of a child.

Sexual abuse of a child is an intolerable aberration for which there is no excuse. For those who ever thought it was not harmful or even, incredibly, thought it was acceptable, education and prison time sent a message. But it had nothing to do with wearing love beads and tie-dyed shirts.