Friday, April 10, 2009

Constant decline in the number of priests puts the Mexican Catholic Church at risk of collapsing

by Mariana Viayra Ramírez
(English trans. by Rebel Girl)
La Crónica de Hoy

The Catholic Church in Mexico is at risk of collapsing from the lack of seminarians and an ever aging population of priests and bishops, who average about 68 years of age, warns Elio Masferrer Kan, president of the Asociación Latinoamericana para el Estudio de las Religiones.

The expert on the subject mentioned that while about 150 priests are ordained each year in the whole country, around 50 resign and 120 die on average.

"The decline in the priesthood is constant", emphasized the professor and researcher from the Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia (ENAH).

He mentioned that ex-seminarians have stated that their main reason for declining the priesthood is celibacy, "they do not agree with celibacy and comment that it is better to resign than to lead a double life."

After interviewing ex-seminarians, Masferrer Kan noted that they do not think that celibacy is the best gift to God, "they no longer believe that much (...) they don't have any interest in playing hide and seek, they are not interested in living like Marcial Maciel."

He cited as an example that this year only eight young men are going to be ordained as priests in the Archdiocese of Mexico, and other years 18, 20, or 24 young men have been ordained, "that is to say, there are ever fewer people in the seminaries."

According to the Vatican's Statistical Yearbook, in Mexico there is one priest for every 6,300 faithful and the world average is one for every 2,200 faithful.

He also points out that the annual increase in diocesan priests was 173 in 2000, 292 in 2005, and 175 in 2006.

BOYCOTT. In contrast, he indicated that the number of deacons -- who can be married and dedicate their lives to God -- is continually growing, "but a part of the Catholic Church is opposed to this (...), Samuel Ruiz did it, he ordained married deacons and they stopped him because they thought it was contrary to the Catholic Church."

The anthropologist recalled that Samuel Ruiz took that step, ordaining married deacons, to confront the expansion of the Protestant sects, "Benedict XVI has 91 permanent deacons.."

"There are people who want to keep maintaining a life -- so to speak -- in the world, but with certain roles in the Church," he said.

Nonetheless, he pointed out that that is boycotted by a sector in the Church that wants a completely celibate clergy.

He explained that in many cases when bishops see some seminarian is "getting away from the fold and putting forward things they don't like they just don't ordain him, they boycott the ordination."

"Because they have made known positions that don't agree with the Church's they have been left outside, that is quite usual (...) the bishops are not going to ordain somebody who doesn't agree with their line," he stated.

He added that this strikes against the Catholic Church's own dynamic because "it only leaves a clergy that is not innovative and that makes the Church lag behind."

THE LOW DOWN. The Latin American Bishops' Conference (CELAM), has admitted that 10,000 people a day leave the Catholic Church in Latin America, when faced with tough religious competition.

In that sense, Bernardo Barranco, sociologist of religion, has stated that one of the greatest challenges for the Catholic Church is to recover from the loss of the faithful, the loss of the vitality of Latin American Catholicism when faced with the tough religious competition of the other Christian denominations, like the evangélicos and even la Santa Muerte.

Barranco recalled that during the 5th General Conference of the Latin American an Carribbean Bishops in Aparecida, Brazil, the Latin American bishops suggested with a lot of drama that there was some sort of flight of Catholics to other religious denominations.

"Something is happening in the Mexican Church that should worry the bishops a lot (...), it's one of the most worrying phenomena that the Church has ever experienced in Latin America and Mexico is no exception," the expert said.

At the same time, he pointed out that the bishops have committed great pastoral neglect in recent years, which has provoked Catholics to emigrate to other religions like Protestantism.

"Therefore it is a model that is more worrisome in itself, than for the faithful themselves". Because of it, he noted that the Catholic Church needs a sort of pastoral revolution to recover its spiritual leadership.

Barranco, who is also the vice-president of the Centro de Estudios de las Religiones en México, suggested that the statistical trend shows that the Church has continued to lose parishioners from year to year, decade to decade.

"If one compares the statistics from 1990 to date, it is evident that the Catholic sector has been declining -- not in a dramatic way but, yes, substantially," he said.

The sociologist, a specialist on the subject of religion, said that currently most of the people identify themselves as cultural Catholics, but "between that and being really Catholic there is a very big distance."

For example, he said that according to the 2000 population census, 85% of Mexicans are Catholic, but in the real sense, the percentage is much lower, not more than 10%.

Papal nuncio criticizes liberation theology in Mass at Caacupé

I'm not sure what is worse in the papal nuncio to Paraguay's remarks as reported in this article: his ignorant mischaracterization of liberation theology, his shameless exploitation of the conflict between the Boff brothers, or his self-serving misinterpretation of Sacred Scripture -- in this case Jesus' words of support for the anonymous woman who anointed him at Bethany: "Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me." (Mark 14:6-7). One would think that this one sentence puts into question Jesus' consistent focus on loving the poor. Monsignor Antonini would do well to look at Gustavo Gutiérrez' marvelous exegesis on this passage.

La Nación

Yesterday, the apostolic nuncio of His Holiness, Monsignor Orlando Antonini, criticized liberation theology, an ideological tendency that emerged in Brazil with ex-bishop (sic) Leonardo Boff and supported by president Fernando Lugo, stating that the doctrine of this belief is erroneous in making the poor first and central and not Christ, as the Catholic Church preaches.

It was during his homily at the main Mass celebrating Palm Sunday in the sanctuary at Caacupé, where the papal representative was in charge of blessing the palms in the celebration that, due to bad weather, took place inside the basilica of the Virgin, a place that was small for the number of faithful who attended. A group of students from Presbitero Daniel Escurra school, dressed as Hebrews, accompanied the "triumphal entry of Jesus" into the church.

With his message against liberation theology, Antonini revealed the open wound within the Paraguayan Catholic Church caused by the departure of the ex-bishop of San Pedro from the ecclesial fold, who later became the President of the Republic and champion of the poor.

Antonini said that Jesus himself clarified that between Himself and the poor, "He was to be chosen, not the poor."

God in First Place

He added that there is an explanation for this strange reaction of Jesus and that his words are prophetic. "They seem like words written for today, precisely in reference to the phenomenon that has occurred with a certain theology in the last 40 years," he added, alluding to the school of thought founded by Boff.

He pointed out that Jesus' response aims to establish priorities -- God in first place, above all things, including above the poor.

"This is not about God egotistically trying to claim a primacy that crushes man; on the contrary, by knowing God first, the poor will be truly valued and their just demands attended to," he stressed.

He paraphrased Father Clodovis Boff, brother of the founder of liberation theology, to point out that the theory of this school of thought had in practice inverted the order of things, giving primacy to the poor and their liberation -- its center being the option for the poor -- and leaving God in second place.

"The poor are the point of departure of this theology and thus an inversion of priorities, of primacy, occurs; now there is not God, but the poor, and this is serious, if not fatal," he said.

He stressed that by putting the poor as the starting point of theology and ministry, what happens is the exploitation of faith -- on the basis of the poor, "one falls into utilitarianism or functionalism, in relationship to the Word of God and theology in general." He added that the inevitable result is the reduction of faith and "particularly its politicization."

"The lack of definition in that theology's current rhetoric comes from there, the oscillating between religious and social and political rhetoric. From there, also the mistake it falls into of subconsciously conferring on its point of departure, the poor, the dignity of being the primary or fundamental principle," the prelate said.

He said that on the church level, liberation theology becomes one more branch of the populist movements. "The Church becomes an NGO and physically empty, losing agents (priests and religious), militants and faithful." he stressed.

Bishop of the Poor

President Fernando Lugo is a known proponent of liberation theology. This fact earned him the nickname "Bishop of the Poor". In his electoral campaign for the presidency of the republic, he draped himself in this school of thought by affirming his preferential option for the poor.

The current head of state has even said that his "spiritual father" is Leonardo Boff, the founder of this ideological tendency, who was in Asunción just a few weeks ago leading the religious Mercosur with Carlos Alberto Libanio Christo, better known as "Frei Betto", another adherent of this school of thought.

The event was organized by Lugo who was trying in this way to include religion in the dialogue between members of the regional bloc.

P.S.: Regular followers of this blog are probably wondering why I'm not blogging about the paternity suit that was filed this week against President Lugo. The contents of Viviana Carrillo Cañete's deposition are pretty damaging, at least according to this article in Vanguardia, but, unlike Monsignor Antonini, I would like to wait until Lugo himself publicly responds to the charges.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

For Love To Rise, Tear Down Walls

As we proceed into Holy Week, I continue to see so many things that are contrary to the message of Jesus. Today I am thinking about walls -- the physical wall that the inhabitants of a rich neighborhood in Buenos Aires, San Isidro, are trying to build between themselves and the poor in neighboring San Fernando. The poor took matters into their own hands and started to tear down the wall and a judge has intervened, ordering its construction to be suspended. But how far this is from the message of Christ, who not only reached out to rich and poor but gave a preferential place to the "anawim" -- the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.

I am also thinking of the spiritual walls our institutional Catholic Church builds when it wants to exclude this one or that one from the Eucharist. Tonight we will be celebrating a Christ who opened the table to everyone. He didn't quiz them on their marital status or how they voted on a bill or in the polling booth. He didn't look at their clothes or shoes. He washed their feet, no matter how dirty or smelly, as an example of servant leadership and he broke bread even with the man who would leave the table to betray Him. This is the Christ I follow, but when I hear what comes out of some members of our hierarchy, I feel excommunicated. I wonder if I have any place in this Church at all, except sitting in the back with the rest of the marginalized Catholics and watching while the privileged "worthy" few step up to take communion.

I wonder how many of the mansion dwellers in San Isidro who want to build walls between themselves and the poor will go to communion this week, and how many of the humble residents of San Fernando will stay in their pews, feeling unworthy to come forward. Until we stop building walls and excluding those who are different from us, Christ has not truly risen.

My friend Roger wrote the following poem during Holy Week that happens to speak wonderfully to this theme.


What is love?

I reach out.
You reach back.

And God?

God is the reaching,
meeting, meaning.

And walls?

Walls are what blocks
the flow of life to life,
cuts off the caring,
kills the sharing,
gets in the way
of the Way.

They are the death
that needs to die
for love to rise
from the grave.


1. The wall in Buenos Aires

2. In Papua New Guinea, Fr. Sam Driscoll, O.F.M. Cap., commemorates Jesus washing the feet of His apostles on Holy Thursday.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Abortion Wars Continue - Part 2: Notre Dame

The fight over the invitation to President Obama to speak at Notre Dame's commencement continues and is bordering on the ridiculous. On the anti-Obama side:

  • The American Life League wants Notre Dame removed from the Official Catholic Directory which would cut the university off from a lot of Catholic foundation funding. "We found a tragic attitude at the University of Notre Dame -- apathy, if not hostility, toward the faith," Judie Brown, ALL president, said in the statement. "The university is backing away from the Catholic Church."

  • Ten priests in the Congregation of the Holy Cross order that helps run the University of Notre Dame signed an open letter published Wednesday in the campus newspaper, asking Notre Dame's president — the Rev. John Jenkins, also a Holy Cross priest — and the university's board of fellows to reconsider having Obama speak at the May commencement and receive an honorary degree. "We prayerfully request that Fr. Jenkins and the Fellows of the University, who are entrusted with responsibility for maintaining its essential character as a Catholic institution of higher learning, revisit this matter immediately. Failure to do so will damage the integrity of the institution and detract from all the good work that occurs at Notre Dame and from the impressive labors of its many faithful students and professors."

  • Cardinal Francis George, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, weighed in on the matter, saying that Notre Dame's invitation to Obama had "brought extreme embarrassment to many, many people who are Catholic, including their own bishop." "Whatever else is clear, it's clear Notre Dame didn't understand what it means to be Catholic when they issued this invitation," he said.

  • As of April 7, over 250,000 people had signed a petition sponsored by the Cardinal Newman Society calling on Notre Dame to withdraw its invitation to President Obama to speak at the May 17 commencement.

  • has gathered statements from 24 bishops opposing Notre Dame's invitation and that doesn't even include the latest prelates in the opposition fold: Bishop Alexander Sample of Marquette, Michigan, and Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo, North Dakota. We regret to have to add that the highest ranking Hispanic bishop in the U.S., Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of San Antonio, Texas, is on the list.
And, of course, the illustrious Randall Terry has renewed his threat to make Notre Dame's commencement "a circus."

Personally, and while I think it would be absolutely wrong for Notre Dame to rescind the invitation, I wouldn't blame President Obama if he were to beg off this speaking engagement. This is not a lunch counter sit-in where there is anything lasting to be gained by standing one's ground. He has bestowed an honor on Notre Dame by making it one of the three schools where he plans to speak this year. He could have achieved the diversity he sought by addressing any private institution of higher education -- perhaps Earlham College, if he felt the need to address a religious school in Indiana, or maybe one of the traditional black colleges like Fisk. Instead he chose to walk into the lion's den that is Notre Dame.

President Obama has also reached out to Catholics in other ways, recently adding USCCB general counsel Anthony R. Picarello Jr. to his Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which currently also includes Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, and Arturo Chavez, president of Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio.

But the right wing of the Catholic Church seems to want to build walls rather than bridges, to spit on President Obama's outstretched hand.

But, on the positive side, those who support Obama's presence at ND are starting to get organized. The Black Cultural Arts Council, aided by the College Democrats, the NAACP, the Black Students Association, La Alianza, the First Class Steppers and the Hispanic alumni group MEChA, have begun a petition campaign in support of him.

For BCAC member Matthew Tipton, Obama's Commencement speech will be an experience of personal fulfillment as well as an opportunity to think about abstract notions of Catholic identity."When I got word of it, I was almost in tears - it's my graduation," Tipton said. "It's the President of the United States and that is special in itself. For it to be the first black president, it adds another layer to it. He's a beacon of hope that we can come out of poverty and come out of these situations that we're in."

Stay tuned...

Photos: Randall Terry's anti-Obama banner; Notre Dame students sign BCAC petition in support of Obama

Tony Blair: A Catholic convert stands up for gays

Back when I was considering becoming a catechist (before realizing that the diocesan child protection hoops were too extensive to be worth jumping through), I struggled with the Church's teaching on homosexuality. I told my priest at that time that I could not imagine ever telling a group of kids that homosexuals are objectively disordered. I find it even difficult to tolerate the homophobic comments and jokes to which we have been subjected in various retiros and charlas in the Renovación. To my priest's credit, he suggested that I should avoid talking about the issue completely and just tell the children that they are the sons and daughters of a God who loves them.

Now, one of Catholicism's most famous converts, former British prime minister Tony Blair, founder of the Blair Faith Foundation, shows in an interview with one of England's gay publications, Attitude (free registration required to read full interview), that he too is not willing to compromise on his support for gay rights. And his assessment that the leaders of the Catholic Church are not in step with the flock on the issue of homosexuality is born out by a recent Gallup poll that found that 54% of American Catholics believe homosexuality to be morally acceptable.

...Attitude: But why do you think so many of the world’s most senior religious figures disagree? The Pope said in a speech that ‘homosexuality is a more or less strong tendency ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil, and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder’, and even compared the tolerance of homosexuality to the destruction of the rainforests.

Blair: Again, there is a huge generational difference here. And there’s probably that same fear amongst religious leaders that if you concede ground on an issue like this, because attitudes and thinking evolve over time, where does that end? You’d start having to rethink many, many things. Now, my view is that rethinking is good, so let’s carry on rethinking. Actually, we need an attitude of mind where rethinking and the concept of evolving attitudes becomes part of the discipline with which you approach your religious faith. So some of these things can then result in a very broad area of issues being up for discussion.

That’s when I understand why religious leaders are very reluctant. But I sometimes say that organised religions face the same dilemma as political parties when faced with changed circumstances. You can either hold to your core vote, basically, you know, say: “Look, let’s not break out, because if we break out we might lose what we’ve got, and at least what we’ve got, we’ve got, so let’s keep it”. Or you say, “let’s accept that the world is changing, and let us work out how we can lead that change, and actually reach out”.

Attitude: Can you foresee a situation where in your lifetime or mine, we would have a pro-gay Pope, for example?

Blair: I don’t know, is the honest answer. I don’t know. Look, there are many good and great things the Catholic Church does, and there are many fantastic things this Pope stands for, but I think what is interesting is that if you went into any Catholic Church, particularly a well-attended one, on any Sunday here and did a poll of the congregation, you’d be surprised at how liberal-minded people were.

Attitude: That’s quite a radical line for a Catholic: to say that the average Catholic congregation speaks for the Catholic Church more than the Pope does?

Blair: Well, I’m not going to say that! [Laughs] On many issues, I think the leaders of the Church and the Church will be in complete agreement. But I think on some of these issues, if you went and asked the congregation, I think you’d find that their faith is not to be found in those types of entrenched attitudes. If you asked “what makes you religious?” and “what does your faith mean to you?” they would immediately go into compassion, solidarity, relieving suffering. I would be really surprised if they went to “actually, it’s to do with believing homosexuality is wrong” or “it’s to do with believing this part of the ritual or doctrine should be done in this particular way”...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Abortion Wars Continue - Part 1: Brazil

Last month we blogged about the Archbishop of Recife, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, who excommunicated the mother and medical team of a nine-year old girl who got an abortion after being raped and impregnated by her stepfather. Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, took issue with Cardoso Sobrinho's action in an article in L'Osservatore Romano (3/19/2009), "Dalla parte della bambina brasiliana". Here is a good English translation of this compassionate while still canonically accurate response from the Novantiqua blog:

On the side of the Brazilian girl

Often the debate on some questions is carried out in a closed manner, and different perspectives do not always allow us to consider how high the stakes really are. It is precisely in these moments when we must look to the essentials and leave aside for a moment whatever does not touch upon the problem directly. The case, in all of its drama, is simple. There is a nine-year old girl—they call her Carmen—whose eyes we must look into without distracting our gaze even for a moment, to make her understand how much she is loved. At Recife in Brazil, Carmen was repeatedly raped by her young stepfather, she became pregnant with twins, and she would no longer have an easy life. The wound is deep because the utterly gratuitous violence destroyed her on the inside, and made it so that only with difficulty would she ever again look at others with love.

Carmen represents a story of daily violence, and she has had a place on the pages of the newspapers only because the archbishop of Olinda and Recife was swift in declaring excommunication for the doctors that helped her to interrupt her pregnancy. A story of violence that, unfortunately, would have gone unobserved, accustomed as we are to the occurrence of facts of an incomparable gravity every day, if it weren’t for the sensation and the reactions aroused by the intervention of the bishop. The violence on a woman, already grave in itself, takes on an even more appalling character when the one who suffers it is a child, with the aggravating circumstances of the poverty and social decay in which she lives. There are no words fit to condemn such episodes, and the feelings that arise from them are often a mixture of anger and rancor that only die down when justice has really been done and there is the certainty that the punishment inflicted on the delinquent in question will be served.

Carmen should have in the first place been defended, embraced, sweetly caressed, to make her feel that we are all with her; all, without any distinction. Before thinking about excommunication, it was necessary and urgent to safeguard her innocent life and bring it up to a level of humanity for which we men of the Church should have been the professional heralds and teachers. It did not happen so, and unfortunately, this has affected the credibility of our teaching, which in the eyes of many appears as insensitive, incomprehensible, and bereft of mercy. It’s true, Carmen bore within herself other innocent lives like her own, even if they were the fruit of violence, and these lives were suppressed. Nevertheless, this is not sufficient reason to give a judgment that falls like an axe.

In the case of Carmen, life and death confronted each other. Due to her very young age and her precarious health conditions, her life was in serious danger because of the pregnancy under way. How to act in these cases? It is a tough decision for the doctor and for the moral law itself. Choices like this one, even if under different case studies, are repeated daily in intensive care units, and the conscience of the doctor finds itself all alone in the act of having to decide what might be the better thing to do. Yet no one arrives at a decision of this kind nonchalantly. It is unjust and offensive even to think so.

The respect owed to the professionalism of the doctor is a rule that has to involve everyone and cannot allow us to arrive at a negative judgment without first having considered the conflict that has been created in his inmost self. The doctor carries with him his own history and experience. A choice such as that of having to save one life, knowing that this will put another at serious risk, is never gone through easily. Certainly, some are so accustomed to these situations that they no longer even experience emotion. But in these cases, the choice to be a doctor is reduced to a mere trade, lived without enthusiasm, and soon only passively. Nevertheless, to stereotype would be unjust, let alone incorrect.

Carmen has again presented a moral case that is among the most delicate. To treat it hurriedly would not render justice either to her fragile person or to those who were involved in different capacities in the event. Nevertheless, like every unique and concrete case, it deserves to be analyzed in its particularity, without generalizations. Catholic morality does have principles from which it cannot turn away, even if it would like to. The defense of human life from the moment of its conception belongs to one of these principles and is justified by the sacredness of existence. Every human being, in fact, bears the image of the Creator impressed upon it from the first instant, and hence, we are convinced that the dignity and the rights of every person must be recognized as belonging to it, primarily that of its untouchableness and inviolability.

Procured abortion has always been condemned by the moral law as an intrinsically evil act, and this teaching remains unchanged from the very origins of the Church into our own day. In the constitution Gaudium et Spes — a document of great openness and forethought in reference to our contemporary world — the Second Vatican Council unexpectedly uses unequivocal and very hard words against direct abortion. Formal cooperation in it constitutes a grave fault which, when it is performed, automatically takes one outside of the Christian community. Technically, the Code of Canon Law uses the expression latae sententiae to indicate that the excommunication is implemented precisely in the moment itself in which the deed takes place.

There was not a need, we believe, for so much urgency and publicity in declaring a fact that is carried out in an automatic manner. A need is more greatly felt for the sign of a testimony of nearness to those who suffer, an act of mercy which, while firmly maintaining the principle, is capable of looking beyond the juridical sphere to arrive at that which the law itself foresees as the goal of its existence: the good and the salvation of those who believe in the love of the Father and of those who receive the Gospel of Christ like the children that Jesus called to his side and squeezed in his arms, saying that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.

Carmen, we are on your side. We share with you the suffering you have experienced, we would like to do everything to restore to you the dignity which you have been deprived of and the love which you will need all the more. Other people deserve excommunication and our forgiveness: not those who have allowed you to live and who will help you to recover hope and trust, despite the presence of evil and the wickedness of many.

Francis Rocca, writing for The Washington Post, indicates that Fisichella's article contradicts Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops, who publicly defended Cardoso Sobrinho's action and sees it as symptomatic of the divisions in the Curia. Quoting respected Vatican journalist Sandro Magister: "It is yet another sign of the disorder that reigns in the Curia...It shows that Benedict XVI is paying the price for refusing to reform the Curia."

Lent Prayer (and Action!) for Immigrants

The Archdiocese of Chicago has been encouraging people to pray and reflect on the situation of immigrants this Lent and I've printed their prayer below. But, in New Haven, Connecticut, Fr. James Manship, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church, a predominantly Hispanic parish, is taking the defense of his people a step further. From the New Haven Independent:

Case Dismissed, Priest Goes On Offense
by Thomas MacMillan
March 26, 2009 3:24 PM

Moments after a Fair Haven priest’s case was dismissed, Latino advocates gathered outside the Elm Street courthouse to announce they’ve asked the feds to investigate allegations of race-based harassment perpetrated by East Haven police.

Father James Manship, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church, was in State Superior in New Haven Thursday morning, answering charges of disorderly conduct and interfering with a police officer. After a two-hour wait, the charges against the priest were dismissed in less than a minute. State prosecutor David Strollo said the state did not have sufficient evidence to go forward with the case.

Manship was arrested by East Haven police on Feb. 19 while videotaping what he described as systematic police harassment of Latinos in East Haven. East Haven business owners say local police have targeted them and their customers for intimidation and traffic stops without reason.

Father Manship’s video footage of his arrest, which he released two weeks ago, contradicted the police arrest report and undermined the prosecution’s case. Thursday was his second court appearance, following a plea of not guilty three weeks ago.

With their priest exonerated, Manship’s parishioners are now going on offense. Angel Fernandez, a parish leader at St. Rose of Lima, announced that Yale attorneys filed a complaint with the Department of Justice on Thursday morning seeking a federal investigation into allegations of race-based harassment by East Haven Police. East Haven Latinos and their advocates said they hope that a federal investigation will result in oversight and reform of East Haven’s police department.

The Complaint

Courtroom C was filled to capacity at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, its gallery brimming with Father Manship’s supporters wearing yellow ribbons. The yellow ribbon “signifies simply that we are united,” said Carmen Zambrano, head of the New Haven Ecuadorian group, Virgen Del Cisne.

Strollo, delayed nearly two hours because of scheduling confusion, requested a nolle. A successful nolle means that the case is closed, but gives the prosecution 13 months to bring the charges a second time.

Manship’s attorney, Yale law student Sarah Chervinsky, objected to the nolle and requested that the charges be dropped entirely. Strollo agreed, and the judge dismissed the case. The entire exchange took less than a minute.

“Can you imagine being arrested for no reason?” Father Manship asked rhetorically at a press conference on the New Haven green following his court appearance. He said that he had been fortunate to be a white man and a priest, represented by a team of attorneys. Others facing false charges are not so lucky, he said.

“I’m happy that this case is over. It’s been a distraction,” the priest continued. “Now we can get to the business at hand.”

The business at hand, announced St. Rose parish leader Angel Fernandez, is a federal investigation of racially motivated police harassment in East Haven. This abuse, Fernandez said, includes Latino drivers being pulled over without reason, Latinos being beaten while in police custody, and the systematic harassment of Latino businesses in East Haven.

Student attorneys from Yale’s Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization, a clinic at the law school, have collected over 20 personal stories of alleged police harassment and compiled them into a formal complaint, which they sent to the U.S. Department of Justice. The 14-page complaint requests an investigation of East Haven’s police department.

The document alleges a “pattern and practice of race-based violence and racial profiling against Latinos in East Haven.” It outlines four main areas of concern: racially motivated violence against Latinos, harassment and intimidation directed at Latino motorists and business owners, the “tacit approval” of the police department, and police retaliation against Latinos that have spoken out. Fernandez said that police abuse has escalated in East Haven in recent weeks, since Latinos have gone public with their experiences.

Taken together, the stories of East Haven Latinos form a “picture of a community living in justifiable terror of their local police force,” Fernandez said.

East Haven officials have repeatedly denied harassing Latinos in town. The town’s mayor met last week with Latino residents for a general conversation. (Discussion about cop harassment was off limits.)

Lindsay Nash, a second-year law student with the Yale clinic, said that the attorneys are hoping that a Justice Department investigation will result in federal oversight of the East Haven police department. She said that in other cities in similar situations, the Justice Department has put in monitoring, oversight, and external complaint procedures. “We’re looking for similar reform,” Nash said.

The Yale attorneys said that they have put in a number of Freedom of Information Act requests to the East Haven Police Department, asking for information on policies and procedures and data regarding racial profiling. After several weeks and several letters, East Haven police have not responded to the FOIA requests.

East Haven Responds

“Were they authorized to speak for the Latino community?” said Attorney Hugh Keefe, lawyer for the East Haven Police Department.

Contacted by phone, Keefe took issue with the notion that members of the St. Rose of Lima Church could speak for an entire community of Latinos in East Haven.

“I don’t mean to nitpick,” Keefe said, “but who are they authorized to speak for?”

“Absolutely, people ought to speak on their own behalf,” Keefe said. But people should not “pretend to represent a whole ethnic group.”

Keefe said that he doesn’t understand why complaints about the East Haven police haven’t been brought to any of the “all kinds of agencies” that could handle them in East Haven, including the mayor’s office and the police commissioners.

East Haven Mayor April Capone Almon could not be reached by phone. On Thursday afternoon, she issued a statement by email: “It is not unusual for a situation such as this, to go the route of a Department of Justice complaint. East Haven, like many other towns, has been through this process before and been given a ‘clean bill of health’. I respect the Department of Justice process and I look forward to its findings.”

State and Church Take An Interest

Two attorneys from the Connecticut Human Rights Commission were present at the press conference and exchanged contact information with the Yale attorneys. The HRC lawyers — who declined to give their names — said that they have begun to “look into” the situation in East Haven. The commissioners have been very concerned about the allegations of racially motivated police harassment, the lawyers said.

The commission is just beginning to examine the relationship between East Haven Latinos and police, the lawyers said. Potential outcomes of the investigation include the initiation of a public hearing, or the issuance of a cease and desist order against the EHPD. The commission could also mandate training and require a change of police policies.

“That’s a long process,” one of the commission’s attorneys said.

Also present in the courtroom and at the press conference was Father Joseph Cronin, priest at Our Lady of Victory church in West Haven and a former seminary classmate of Father Manship. Cronin said that he was there to support Manship and said that the Fair Haven priest has the support of other clergy as well.

“A lot of priests understand it,” Father Cronin said. “Standing up for people he’s serving - that’s what he should be doing.”

Fear Remains

“I’m half happy,” said Marcia Chacon after the press conference. Chacon is the co-owner of My Country Store, the small grocery store in East Haven where Manship was arrested.

Chacon said that although she was pleased with the outcome of Manship’s case, she was afraid about police retribution in response to the Department of Justice complaint. She said that police intimidation had increased after she spoke out at a previous press conference.

“I feel partly more safe, but I don’t know what the police is going to do after this,” Chacon said. “I am very afraid.”

“I’m very, very nervous,” Chacon continued. “But if we don’t do something, this behavior will continue.”

Lent Prayer for Immigrants

God of the journey, God of the traveler,

We pray for those who leave their homes in
search of work and safe refuge;
may they feel your loving presence.

We pray for all citizens of the United States;
may we welcome and assist those who come
to us in their need as our brothers and sisters
in Christ Jesus.

We pray for wisdom and courage for our
legislators; may they reform our immigration
laws to reflect God’s justice and compassion
toward those emigrating to our country.

We pray for those who fan the flames of fear
and discrimination against immigrants,
whether documented or undocumented, may
their hearts be touched by your divine love.

We pray all this in the name of our God, our
creator, Jesus, Our Savior, and the Holy
Spirit, who unites us all. Amen.

Plegaria Cuaresmal Pro Inmigrantes

Dios del caminar, Dios del viajero,

Rogamos por los que dejan sus hogares en busca
de trabajo y refugio seguro
Que sientan Tu presencia amorosa.
Pedimos por todos los ciudadanos de los Estados
Que acojamos y ayudemos a los que vienen aquí
en su necesidad como hermanos y hermanas en

Rogamos por la sabiduría y valentía de nuestros
Que reformen las leyes migratorias para reflejar
la justicia y compasión divinas hacia los que
inmigran a nuestro pais.

Rogamos por los que inflaman las llamas del
miedo y la discriminación para los inmigrantes,
documentados o no:
Que sus corazones sean movidos por tu amor

Pedimos todo esto en el nombre de nuestro Dios,
Jesús nuestro Salvador y el Espíritu Santo que
nos une a todos. Amen

by Rev. Charles W. Dahm, O.P., Priests for Justice for Immigrants

Monday, April 6, 2009

U.S. Catholic Bishops Support DREAM Act

Bishop John Wester, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, sent a letter of support last week on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to the primary sponsors of the DREAM Act (S. 729, H.R. 1751) in the House and Senate:

On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), I write to express our support for S. 729 [H.R. 1751], the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act). This legislation would make a difference in the lives of undocumented youth who were brought to the United States by their parents and now, because of their lack of legal status, face obstacles to their future. By removing such barriers, the DREAM Act permits immigrant students to pursue a promising future through college education or military service.

Those who would benefit from the DREAM Act are talented, intelligent, and dedicated young persons who know only the United States as their home. They can become some of the future leaders of our country, provided we are wise enough to provide them the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

Under the DREAM Act, deserving immigrant youth can adjust to permanent resident status provided that they entered the United States before age sixteen, have been physically present in the United States for not less than five years, demonstrated good moral character, have no criminal record and do not threaten national security, and have earned their high school diploma. This bill also offers students a fair opportunity to earn U.S. citizenship if they commit to and complete at least two years of college or two years of honorable service in the military.

Importantly, this legislation will apply to students in both public and private education, including those attending Catholic schools. It will also place a college degree within their reach by removing restrictions currently in law that limit states from offering them in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.

It is important to note that these young persons entered the United States with their parents at a young age, and therefore did not enter without inspection on their own volition.

The DREAM Act represents a practical, fair, and compassionate solution for thousands of young persons in our nation who simply want to reach their God-given potential and contribute to the well-being of our nation. We urge Congress to pass this measure as soon as possible. Thank you for introducing this important piece of legislation. We look forward to working with you until it becomes law.

Most Reverend Bishop John C. Wester
Bishop of Salt Lake City
Chairman, USCCB Committee on Migration

¡Gracias, hermanos Obispos!

Un Viernes Santo sin tregua

I lay in bed yesterday morning listening to Eugenio's peppy voice on the radio exhorting the faithful to rise and shine, put on something red (his favorite color and the liturgical hue of the day) and hurry to church to wave palm fronds and reenact Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

I sighed. All I could think about was the litany of absurd and violent deaths the last couple of days:

Death and violence. Violence and death. Death and violence. Un Viernes Santo sin tregua.

In this context, the popularity of La Santa Muerte makes sense. The available evidence suggests that she is running the show, not el Rey de Reyes. Singing hosannas to the King of Kings feels like a charade when the only words my heart can form are: "My God, My God, why have You forsaken us?"

I turned the radio off, wept, and went back to sleep.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Evangelicals Make Case for Welcoming Immigrants

By Michelle A. Vu
Christian Post
Wed, Apr. 01 2009 11:05 AM EDT

WASHINGTON – Usually, conservative evangelicals are not known to support immigration reform. But several prominent leaders of the movement made their case Tuesday evening for new immigration laws, joining a growing number of Christians who refer to the Bible for support in "welcoming the stranger."

Immigrants, having become the fastest growing evangelical church in the United States, are not “the others,” but they are “us,” the leaders pointed out.

“I get asked a lot, why this issue? Why as Christians and evangelicals, in particular, do we need to care about immigrants and policies in particular,” said Matthew Soerens, co-author of Welcoming the Stranger, at the book’s launch event on Tuesday. “It is because those people we talk about, those immigrants, those aliens, they are us as part of the church.”

Soerens, who works directly with immigrants as a World Relief staff, says he has met many Hispanic, Asian, and African immigrants in his line of work. What he realized was that the church, which the Bible says is the body of Christ, includes a lot of immigrants in the United States.

“Corinthians tells us if one part of the body suffers then the whole body is suffering,” he said. “As Christians, as part of the church, we don’t have a choice but to engage in this issue. And people are suffering, they are living in fear.”

The leaders also referenced the New Testament story in Luke 10 of the Good Samaritan – "a stranger or alien himself" – who stopped to help the Jewish man.

“This and other parables remind us that ‘we are all aliens sent out to help other aliens find a place of safety in this world,’” says a 2006 statement by World Relief in support of comprehensive immigration reform. The statement references Jonathan Robert Nelson’s 2006 remarks for The American Bar Association’s “Fortress America: The State and Future of U.S. Immigration Law and Policy” event.

The leaders also cited verses, such as Deuteronomy 10:18-19, Leviticus 19:33-34, and Exodus 22:21 about showing love and compassion to "aliens," which are often alluded to by Christian immigration reform proponents.

“Immigration policies in the United States have changed a lot of times throughout our history and it is time for immigrant policies to change again,” said NAE president Leith Anderson, who noted at the onset of his remarks that he is the son of an immigrant.

“In terms of what that means, it means fairness, family, it means finance,” he said.

Anderson and other evangelical leaders talked about the inequality in current U.S. immigration laws and criticized how they break up families. He also called on the government to provide adequate finances to implement immigration laws and reduce the “enormous” waiting time for immigrants applying for legal status.

Pastor Derrick Harkins of the historic black Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., stated, “We are calling for nothing more than for those persons who are presently immigrants to be able to function and thrive within the context of what is just. We are talking about an earned right to citizenship. We are talking about them operating within the framework of a just set of laws.

“But we also talk about extending mercy. I hope that again – the language of the church thrives in this regards – that we understand that we are called to extend that measure of mercy. And that mercy means that the issue of family reunification act is indeed significant priority.”

Harkins and other evangelical leaders spoke at the Tuesday event to support the launching of Welcoming the Stranger, written by two World Relief staffs. The book seeks to “debunk” myths about immigration and equip evangelical leaders to discuss the controversial issue with their congregants.

World Relief is the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals and is one of the nation’s leading organizations when it comes to helping resettle refugees. It also provides immigration legal services, English classes and other assistance to refugees and immigrants in the United States.

The ministry officially supports border security, expanded legal avenues through which immigrants can enter the United States, expedited family reunification and an opportunity for the undocumented to earn legal status.

Evangelicals For Immigration Reform

Leith Anderson
President, National Association of Evangelicals
Washington Post

Immigration and Evangelicalism are both deeply rooted in American history and culture. They are coming together in 2009 with new books and new calls for immigration reform.

On March 31 on Capitol Hill Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang released their book, "Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate." It brings together the Bible's teaching about attitudes and treatment of "aliens in the land" and traces the history of immigration and immigration policies in the United States. I was there to give my perspective.

Immigration laws have been changed repeatedly through more than two centuries of American government policy. It is time for another update. The reasons are many, including fairness, families and finances. Fairness because we have contradictory laws and unjust enforcement of those laws. Families because our present policies are dividing when we should be uniting. Finances because government agencies have fallen behind in implementing present policies as agencies are understaffed and underfunded.

A family lives near me and faces a frightening dilemma. They are in our country legally. She is an immigrant from Africa who is now an American citizen. Her son came as a young child and has grown up in American culture, schools and language. However, he will graduate from high school soon and will celebrate his eighteenth birthday when his status will change and he must return to Africa. He has no friends, family, home, job or language skills in the country of his birth. There must be a better way. The Dream Act is currently moving through the Congress to keep families together.

The issues are complex. They are not only about securing the borders, which is an important part of immigration policy and practice. They are not only about jobs, collecting taxes, earning citizenship, uniting families and reducing years of waiting. Immigration policy is about all these issues and more. It's time to take a broad look and integrate immigration laws to make them fair and just and good.

Why is immigration policy important to evangelicals? Certainly because we believe what the Bible teaches about treatment of "aliens in the land." It is also because so many Hispanic, African and Asian immigrants are evangelical Christians who are in our denominations and churches by the millions. They are us.