Questions sent to the candidates via email are posted here along with the answers sent by each candidate.
Question for All Cadidates
From Ellen L:
The situation with pedophile priests in not new - as a youngster because of family ties, I remember law enforcement and politicians forewarning the bishop when a priest was in "danger" of having charges brought against them. I do not believe that we have made progress because this problem is not just within our Church but within, if you will excuse the expression - the Old Boys' Club, as is now coming to light and is mostly ignored. I wonder where we are going and how much we will/can accomplish as we see those who hid the problem enjoying a good life (I cite Bernard Cardinal Law as an example).
And one thing I find particularly worrisome is the fact that our nuns are under fire from the Vatican. Is there any view as to how to address this as I feel the "boys club" members are not operating in the world as are our nuns who operate as nurses and physicians and social workers and these men are really out of touch with the human issue.
I am not sure how well I am expressing myself, but do any of you understand my confusion to the point that you can see a need for being proactive in this area too?
Believe me, I am no feminist, I am just concerned that we will lose the momentum if this issue is not also dealt with now. As a woman, long past childbearing ability, I have questioned who the victim is if a child of 10, 11, or 12 is raped and impregnated and forced to bear that child (use of the morning after pill vs abortion). Or if the fetus is fatally ill, is it wrong to abort it to save the life of the mother? Is birth control wrong if there is no other way to protect the mother from another pregnancy when she already has six or many more children, or if there is no way to support the child if conceived, or another pregnancy would compromise her life? I have gotten no answer, much less a satisfactory answer, from any of the clergy to whom I have asked these questions.
From Edward Greenan:
Dear Ms. LaFemina,
Conscience is the foundation of our moral lives. It takes precedence over anyone telling you what to do. If, in attempting to save the life of the mother, the fetus is aborted, moral guilt is not incurred. This falls under the principle of double effect: we intend the good (saving the life of the mother); the loss of life of the fetus is not intended.
Birth control should also fall under the consciences of the husband and wife; they alone bear responsibility before God to make decisions to care for all their children. Canon Law today frames the purpose of marriage as first the mutual love and support of the spouses, and then the procreation of children. Too many clerics drown themselves in the legal aspects of life and are afraid to speak what they truly believe. During Vatican II, the Commission to examine the issue of contraception voted 52 to 4 to reconsider the use of contraceptives for Catholic couples. The four negative votes got their way and Paul VI issued "Humanae Vitae" (which many believe would have been abrogated by John Paul I, if he had survived).
Your question on the minor child raped is really a situation that might fall under contraception rather than abortion. We truly need to have frank and open discussions on this issue. However, I believe that mercy is built on justice, and in the case you posited, the child has a right in justice so that she does not place her life (physical, emotional, social) in danger.
You express yourself eloquently on the heartbreaking dilemmas that have confronted and confront our lives as we try to live them in Christ. Many of our clerics prefer to protect the institution rather than the living church. Many of them are ignorant of the real message of the Gospel. How to get them to serve the faith rather than rule the faithful is the struggle of Voice of the Faithful.
From Phillip W. Megna:
I think the questions posed by Ms. Lafemina are amoung the most important currently facing our Church. I agree that the cover up of sexual impropriety is largely due to the Old Boys Club mentality within the hierarchy and I am convinced that the Old Boys Club is behind the cruel attacks directed by the Vatican and their surrogates in the United States Catholic hierarchy.
The questioner might not consider herself a feminist but as a husband of almost 47 years and the father of 3 daughters and a son I consider myself to be a commited feminist. I view the attacks on our women religious both individually as in the cases of prominent theologians Sr. Elizabeth Johnson and Sr. Margaret Farley and collectively as in the case of the Leadership Conference of Religious Women as the misguided attempts of a hierarchy composed not of the best, brightest or holiest but rather of the politically astute, obsequious and orthodox to retain power in a changing world where their medieval concepts of power and organization are no longer relevant. It is our obligation to support these women who were and are more important to our Catholic identity than a hierarchy which is an embarrassment to The People of God.
As to the issues noted which pertain to reproductive health and sexual morality, we must work for a Church open to the idea that there are few universal rules that cover all situations. Difficult situations approached with prayerful discernment may have than one right answer. We must work for a Church that supports each of us as we are faced with life's tough decisions which so often are faced in gray rather than black and white.
Respectfully submitted by Philip W. Megna
From Patricia T. Gomez:
Thank you for posing these thought-provoking questions.
Indeed, pedophiles have been an element in human society for many centuries, even back to the Golden Age of Greece. How society views pedophilia surely has changed. As you probably know, abuse of children most often is perpetrated by a family member or someone who is trusted by the family. Yes, perpetrators often groom their victims and victims’ families so they can freely access the innocent who often do now know how to talk about what has happened to them.
What can we do about this? Education and awareness-raising are what I believe offers the best protection to children and vulnerable adults in our society. Recognizing the danger signs in adults is essential. For more on this, there are resources posted on the VOTF web page that were submitted by members of the Protecting Our Children working group. Although making the environment safe for our children and preventing child abuse are vital and of primary importance in our church and our society, also important is being aware of grooming activities the perpetrators. Awareness is also needed when we look at behavioral changes in children, especially sudden changes that might indicate they are being abused. Such recognition is essential if we are to stop the abuse and get help for the child.
Your larger question on how to “crack” the network of secrecy within our Church reflects your understanding of our Church as institution and how that institution sees itself. The hunger for power, control, and advancement within that institution by the hierarchy has led to monstrous corruption and cover up of clerical abuses, in particular the moving of abusive priests to parishes without even advising the pastor that his new associate was a danger to children.
Where is VOTF going on these related issues? I believe we need to continue promoting education and awareness of how to prevent abuse and recognize unhealthy signs that an adult may be attempting to isolate a child with intentions of abusing that child.
VOTF needs to continue to point to the secrecy so prevalent in many dioceses, especially in financial matters. In the words of our former president, Jim Post, we need to let the sunshine disinfect the unhealthy practices and ways in order to make our bishops and diocesan financial councils accountable to all the faithful.
Now, I turn to your thoughts on our nuns and the recent threats to the Leadership Committee of Women Religious referred to in your question. I find it indeed worrisome and troubling that women again are being singled out as non-compliant with the dictates of the Vatican and the various Congregations at the Vatican. We do not know the motives of the bishops in escalating this issue at this time, but we should remember that the U.S. presidential election is a few months away and these critiques of the marvelous work that our nuns are doing may be politically motivated.
Right now, the LCWR has asked for our prayers and support. VOTF has emailed our membership to urge just such actions. The LCWR will soon meet again face-to-face at the Vatican with the Bishops who were appointed to oversee the latest round of inquisition. VOTF is poised to respond when we learn the results of that meeting(s), and we are ready to respond immediately when and if we are asked for specific actions in addition to the ones mentioned above. I have confidence that any such requests will be in consort with VOTF mission and goals. With prayer for the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit, VOTF will respond in a meaningful way on this issue.
The Women’s Initiative of VOTF is currently researching the historical and current role of women in the church. The aim of this project is to create a fact-based researched paper that will be foundational to the VOTF position of calling for the re-institution of the female diaconate. We have momentum, and it continues to march forward!
You also express concern for other issues that are the bishops’ talking points now before the election. You have not received answers from priests that you have spoken with on these topics. I too have asked many of the same unanswered questions that you have posed. I remember clearly as a teenager one priest-religion teacher who would throw his thick tangle of keys at my head to discourage me from asking these hard questions. How disheartening for us women, for men, for humanity to only get these cowardly responses. But I encourage you to continue asking your questions, indeed, to live the questions until we move the dialogue closer to a just understanding.
I know that VOTF has been doing just that on many topics, and I commit to help further that movement as a Board member.
Thank you for these thoughtful questions and reflections.
From Gaile Pohlhaus:
Ellen raises questions that are troubling many thinking Catholics today. And yet they are all of a piece. The fearfulness of the organizational Roman Catholic Church (and other churches too) about the question of sex has been pointed out for at least since the 1930's and before that as well.
Until Bishops and the Vatican can accept the fact that God saw the creation of male and female was "very good" we will still see abuse -- the misuse of sexual organs -- and the sole emphasis on the procreation of children despite what Vatican II told us.
VOTF must continue to work on all of its goals especially goal three.
Gaile M. Pohlhaus, PhD.
From Margaret Roylance:
You are absolutely correct that many of our bishops are very much out of touch with the daily lives of most faithful Catholics, making it very difficult for them to provide meaningful pastoral guidance. They are also part of an organization that has no rivals (even the military) in its rigid chain of command, so active bishops are loathe to say anything that could be interpreted as insubordination.
Once they retire, it is another matter. When the Structural Change Working Group reached out to all the bishops in the US for comment on VOTF’s vision for change in the church, the most open and honest responses came from retired bishops since they no longer fear retaliation in the same way.
Some bishops are also quick to make judgments that are not based on sound moral theology, perhaps because they have begun to believe that their unbounded authority within the diocese has rendered them infallible.
I believe that our bishops should engage in more genuine dialogue with the faithful Catholics in their care, and worry less about the small minority of “Taliban Catholics” who are quick to threaten a report of suspected disloyalty up the chain of command.
I strongly agree with you concerning the witch hunt that some American bishops have undertaken against women religious in this country. These women have been censured through a secret process and are right to request full disclosure of the charges asserted against them and the facts upon which the decision was based. VOTF should continue to support them in any way they ask. They have been and continue to be the face of Jesus to the poor and the outcast among us and a source of wisdom to many of us who seek to change the church from within.