Saturday, August 14, 2010

"Tone Deaf": Pope Benedict XVI and the Church in Ireland

I have to wonder why on earth the Pope would want to lend more credibility to the accusations that he has been soft on child abusing priests and the bishops who protected them. But that is precisely what he is doing.

In a letter to priests and other Dublin Church officials, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (photo) reported that the Vatican has rejected the resignations of his two auxiliary bishops, Bishop Eamonn Walsh and Bishop Raymond Field, following their reported involvement in the Roman Catholic Church's cover-up of child abuse. In their joint Christmas 2009 statement, Walsh and Field had said they had hoped their resignations might "help to bring the peace and reconciliation of Jesus Christ to the victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. We again apologize to them."

The Vatican's refusal to accept the resignations is being seen as a rebuff to Martin, a veteran Vatican diplomat who was appointed in 2004 to lead Ireland's most populous diocese through a growing storm of child-abuse scandals. In doing so with firmness and determination, Martin has become a hero within the Catholic hierarchy to many abuse survivors.

Survivors of clerical child abuse in Ireland were disgusted by the decision. "So much was expected of the pontiff, and so little was delivered," said John Kelly, leader of an Irish pressure group called Survivors of Child Abuse, who was molested and beaten in a Catholic-run workhouse for boys.

Another victim of abuse, Marie Collins, called the decision "an insult to the people of Dublin." "They want the faithful in the church to respect the bishops and the Pope, but they are showing no respect toward us. There has to be a proper, official statement because this is just too important to be slipped out the way it has," she added. She said the attitude shown by the church so far has been that the laity are "just not worthy" of an explanation.

Collins' impression about the Church's attitude was corroborated by Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi, who refused to confirm that the resignations had been rejected or to offer reasons why bishops allegedly involved in covering up abuse would be kept in their posts. He said it is the Vatican's policy to make public announcements only when resignations are accepted, not when they are rejected.

Excuse me for a moment because I'm just not getting the concept: you assign Archbishop Martin to clean up a huge mess and when he finally manages to secure the resignations of two of the parties who were partially responsible for the mess, you refuse to accept the resignations? Archbishop Martin has been hasty to assure his flock that even though these two men will remain in office, they will be given different assignments -- mundane work like hearing confirmations rather than more important administrative duties.

I hope the Vatican doesn't expect this case to be closed because Collins and another high profile victim of clerical child abuse, Andrew Madden, author of Altar Boy, A Story of Life After Abuse, will be speaking and receiving 'Outstanding Courage Awards' at the Humbert Summer School in Castlebar, Co Mayo, next week.

The Humbert School, which bills itself as "a premier national forum for public debate on issues relating to contemporary Ireland, the peace process in Northern Ireland and Ireland’s role in the European Union and world affairs", will be taking up the clerical abuse crisis in particular and Church reform in general during its 2010 program. Author Robert Blair Kaiser will kick the event off with a keynote address on the theme "Catholic Church Reform: No more thrones". Fr Iggy O’Donovan, OSA, a Church historian, Bridget Mary Meehan, Ordained Bishop of the Roman Catholic Women Priests, and Brendan Butler, Lay Catholic Activist and chairperson of the El Salvador Support Committee will offer "Reflections on reaction of Pope Benedict and Irish Hierarchy to abuse crisis", followed by a panel of victims of abuse.

I expect that the Vatican, with its latest decision and "we don't have to explain nothing to nobody" attitude, has only guaranteed that the Humbert program will get more media attention than usual.

Gramick: Equality is a Catholic value

David Taffet
Dallas Voice

In 1971, Sister Jeannine Gramick became friendly with a gay man while she was working on her doctorate in mathematics education.

“Sister, what is the Catholic Church doing for gays and lesbians?” he asked her.

She realized the answer was, “Very little.”

That’s when Gramick began working on LGBT issues in the Catholic Church and has since dedicated her career to helping gays and lesbians.

In 1977, Gramick co-founded New Ways Ministry, a Catholic social justice center working for the reconciliation of lesbian and gay people and the church. She founded several local Dignity groups and has served on the board of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

“I do this because I believe this is what God is calling me to do,” said Gramick, who was in Dallas this week for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious with Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry.

DeBernardo said he came of age after Vatican 2 in the social justice tradition of the church. He said what’s more important isn’t someone’s sexual orientation but that people are not being treated equally.

New Ways helps parishes that want to become more gay friendly and helps them develop strategies to do that.

Gramick said that since she began her work, a number of bishops in the United States have supported her. But more and more conservative members of the clergy have been appointed to higher positions since she first took her vows.

In 1999, the Vatican prohibited her from doing pastoral work with gays and lesbians and the next year she was ordered to stop speaking about homosexuality and about Rome’s investigation into her work.

She refused to be muzzled and continued working tirelessly.

The head of her order was worried that Gramick faced excommunication. She suggested they travel to the tomb of the founder of their order in Munich, Germany, to pray for divine intervention.

They flew from Baltimore to Rome where they changed planes for Munich. On the plane from Rome, she sat next to a man she thought might have been a priest.

That’s where the divine intervention happened.

She interrupted him to introduce herself.

“I’m a nun,” she said and asked if he was with the church.

The man introduced himself as Cardinal Ratzinger. When she told him her name, he joked that he had known her for 20 years, meaning they had a thick file on her and had been investigating her for that long.

Before they landed, the head of her order told the cardinal her concern that Sister Jeannine would be excommunicated.

“Oh, no, no, no,” Gramick said the future Pope Benedict told her. “It’s not that level of doctrine.”

Gramick said that the work of New Ways Ministry is not considered an excommunicatable matter. She noted that despite the Vatican’s position on LGBT issues, no one has been excommunicated for working on gay and lesbian social justice issues.

Although Gramick disagrees with the pope’s position on a number of issues and believes the Vatican still doesn’t understand the impact pedophile priests have had on so many lives, she is gracious in describing him.

She recalls him as a friendly, spiritual, holy man.

“He was praying when I interrupted him,” she said. “He has a good sense of humor.”

She said that meeting him put a human face on the institution.

DeBernardo explained the work of New Ways Ministry. Helping parishes become more supportive of gay and lesbian Catholics is a major focus of the organization. He suggested a number of ways parishes can become more supportive.

“The oppression runs the gamut from silence to violence,” said DeBernardo. “Just breaking the silence is a good way.”

He suggests starting support groups in churches. Some churches have integrated gays and lesbians into their education programs.

“If you’re having a discussion on sexuality, you have to mention homosexuality,” he said. “You can’t ignore it anymore. It’s an important part of the current discussion on sexuality.”

Recognizing the gifts gay and lesbian members bring is another important step. One parish, he said, recognizes a lesbian mom or the mother of a lesbian every Mother’s Day.

He said his approach is not “one size fits all.” What works in one area of the country won’t work elsewhere. What works in one church won’t work in a neighboring parish.

In Maryland, New Ways is experimenting with a new program targeting legislators as well as Catholic grassroots voters.

DeBernardo said support of gay and lesbian issues is strong among the grassroots and among middle managers in the church.

“But bishops get the media,” he said.

The project, that they will bring to other states debating same-sex marriage legislation or other equality laws, helps educate legislators that they will not lose Catholic votes by voting in favor of social justice.

Gramick said that there is a disconnect between the church hierarchy and Catholics in the pews.

She spoke at Resource Center Dallas on Wednesday, Aug. 11, to a group of Catholics from around the Metroplex interested in her work.
A teacher who attended said she was afraid she would lose her job if she helped gay students who came out to her.

Gramick suggested the teacher help her students by teaching the full range of Catholic theologies. While the hierarchy teaches one thing, a vast majority of Catholic writers and theologians teach something else, Gramick said.

A parent of a gay son wanted to know how to help others in her parish and in other parishes around the diocese.

“Baby steps,” DeBernardo suggested.

He said the church puts a strong emphasis on family.

“Catholics are so much about keeping families together and when you have large families, you’ll have gays and lesbians in your family,” he said.

“Church leaders think a lot about sex,” he said. “For people in the pews, while sex is important, they don’t think of it as the primary way of interpreting the world. People know that sex is only one part of their lives.”

Gramick estimated that as many as half of all priests are gay. She said that the Catholics in the pews, however, separate the pedophile priests scandal from homosexuality.

Gramick said that when the scandal first erupted, there was a lot of confusion between sexual abuse and gay priests.

She said that people came to church because they liked their priest and didn’t care about his sexual orientation.

Congregations are showing their independence on the issue, Gramick and DeBernardo said.

One church in Greenwich Village has marched in the New York gay Pride parade for years. This year, New York’s new archbishop told them they could not carry their church’s banner in the parade.

Instead they all wore T-shirts with their church’s logo and carried a blank banner.

“They were on CNN. That was great publicity for the church that was being gay friendly,” Gramick said. “Not so good for the archbishop.”

Friday, August 13, 2010

Immigration News Roundup - 8/13/2010

1. Mercy Without Borders: Mark and Louise Zwick, the founders of Casa Juan Diego Catholic Worker in Houston, have a new book coming out in November called Mercy Without Borders: The Catholic Worker and Immigration. The book, to be published by Paulist Press, "is the Zwick's' story, a Catholic Worker story, interwoven with the stories, the joys, hopes, and tragedies of immigrants who have come to Houston, and an impassioned plea for a change in the political and economic forces which drive people to immigrate." The Zwicks have been truly devoted to helping our hermanos and hermanas for many, many years, so click on the book title and pre-order a copy of their book to help them and Casa Juan Diego, OK? Gracias.

2. 8 percent of U.S. newborns have undocumented parents: One of about every 12 babies born in the United States in 2008 was the offspring of unauthorized immigrants, a Pew Hispanic Center study released Wednesday concluded. According to the study, an estimated 340,000 of the 4.3 million babies born in this country that year had parents who were in the United States without legal documentation...More than three-fourths of all unauthorized immigrants in the United States in March 2009 were Latinos, Jeffrey S. Passel, the study's author, said. And nearly one of every four children under age 18 in the nation was a Hispanic.

3. The 14th Amendment: The statistic immediately above on births to undocumented parents has led some lawmakers to call for revising the 14th Amendment to the Constitution which guarantees U.S. citizenship to anyone born on U.S. soil, regardless of the origin of the parents. Some Republicans, such as Arizona Sen. John McCain, have since backtracked, realizing perhaps that supporting this move would not help them get the much-needed Hispanic vote. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano today called the idea of amending the Constitution "just wrong". For those who are confused about the debate surrounding this issue, the immigation experts at the Center for American Progress have helpfully separated fact from fiction in a memo titled Birthright Lunacy.

4. Poll finds Catholic identity of young Latinos decreasing: A recent poll of 1,500 Hispanics conducted by Univision and the Associated Press found that among Hispanics in the United States, 62 percent still identify as Catholic, but that includes only 55 percent of young adults 18 to 29, compared with 80 percent of elders 65 and over. Univision also reported that, though a majority of Hispanics are Catholic, they are less likely to practice the faith, with only 35 percent of those surveyed attending religious services weekly. On religious and social issues, the poll found Hispanic Catholics to be more liberal than their Protestant counterparts. Seventy percent of Hispanic Protestants said the Bible is the actual word of God, to be taken literally, compared with 46 percent of Hispanic Catholics. Just 26 percent of Protestants said abortion should be mostly legal, compared with 41 percent of Catholics. The poll also found that 49 percent of Latinos who speak more English than Spanish are in favor of legalized abortion, a number which is comparable to the opinion of the general public. And 59 percent of Protestants said same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry, compared with 29 percent of Catholics.

5. McDonnell appeals to feds for immigration tool to train troopers: The Washington Post reports that Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) sent a letter this week officially asking U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to allow his state's troopers to act as immigration and customs agents. The governor seeks to have certain Virginia State Police trained to enforce immigration laws within the state's borders, emphasizing that he is especially interested in targeting undocumented individuals who are engaged in major drug offenses, violent offenses and DUI.

What is the legacy of the pedophilia crisis in the Church?

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

In the 16th century, at the height of power of the Renaissance popes in Rome, who were involved in scandals of all kinds, a cry arose throughout the Church for its "reform from head to toe." This cry came from the laity, the lower clergy and theologians such as Luther, Zwingli and others. The response was the Counter-Reformation, which transformed the Catholic Church into a bulwark against the movement of the Reformers, further hardening its power structures.

Now, the scandal of pedophile priests in several Catholic countries has given rise to a strong clamor for structural reforms in the Church. This outcry comes not only from below, as at the time of the Reformation, but mainly from above, from cardinals and bishops. First, this sin and this crime was approached with a disastrous management by the Vatican. It initially attempted to discredit the facts as "media gossip," then sought to hide them, even using "pontifical secrecy" under the pretext of safeguarding the presumed intrinsic holiness of the Church, then minimized the facts, or resorted to arguing that a plot was being mounted by dark secular forces against the Church and, finally, faced with the impossibility of any excuse or escape route, the disturbing truth came to the surface.

The Pope took harsh measures against pedophiles, deemed insufficient by many people in the Church itself, because "zero tolerance" and canon and civil punishments are not enough. All this comes a posteriori, after the crime has been commited. Nothing is said about how to prevent such scandals from recurring and what reforms should be introduced in the experience of celibacy and the education of candidates for the priesthood. A priority is not placed upon the protection of innocent victims, many of whom reveal a dark spiritual void, the result of feeling betrayed by the Church, in a mixture of guilt and shame.

Then the high authorities made serious allegations against each other. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna accused Cardinal Angelo Sodano, when he was Secretary of State (the next highest position after the Pope), of having concealed the pedophilia of his predecessor in the See, Cardinal Hans-Herrman Groer. German bishops criticized their bishops' conference for not having been sufficiently vigilant against the notorious sexual abuse of Bishop Walter Mixa of Augsburg, who was forced to resign. Also with reference to the Bishop of Bruges in Belgium, who abused one of his nephews for 8 years.

The self-criticism made by Canberra Archbishop Mark Coleridge is impressive, acknowledging that Church moral concerning the body and sexuality is rigid and Jansenist in style, creating an "institutionalized immaturity" in seminarians, tending towards discretion and secretism in the face of crimes, in order to maintain the good name of the Church, fruit of a hypocritical triumphalism. The primate of Ireland, Diarmuid Martin, sincerely questioned the future of the Church in his country, such has been the number of pedophiles in institutions for many long years. He acknowledges that reforms are urgent, because the Church "can not be imprisoned in the past" and must fundamentally change its structure to prevent such deviations. Perhaps the most lucid and courageous document came from the Auxiliary Bishop of Canberra, Pat Power, who calls for a necessary "total systemic reform of Church structures." He states that: "It needs to be recognised that all wisdom does not reside exclusively in the present all male leadership of the Church and that the voices of the faithful must be heard." He bravely acknowledges that "if women had been part of the decision-making in the life of the Church", the Church might not be in its current crisis.

We could present the voices of other high church officials, but it is important to note that this scandal has affected the capital of ethics and trust of the institutional Church, paradoxically leaving a positive legacy: it raises the question of basic reforms, adopted by Vatican II. These, however, were boycotted by the Vatican Curia and the last two popes who were aligned with a conservative view and against all modernity.

Those of us who love the Church with its lights and shadows view the current crisis as an opportunity raised by the Spirit so that the institutional Church can really find the best way to convey the good news of Jesus and help humankind cope with an even greater crisis, that of the life-system and the Earth-sytem that are terribly threatened.

Isn’t it time to reopen the windows of the Second Vatican Council?

By William H. Slavick
The Times Record
Friday, August 13, 2010

The Vatican has been generous with censures and excommunications since the John Paul II-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger duo took up residence and initiated what Cape Town Bishop Kenneth Dowling recently described as “‘restorationism.’”

Dowling goes on to define that term as “the carefully planned dismantling of the theology, ecclesiology, pastoral vision, indeed the ‘opening of the windows’ of Vatican II — in order to ‘restore’ a previous, or more controllable model of Church through an increasingly centralized power structure ... which now controls everything in the life of the church.”

Key to that control is maintaining the monarchical celibate patriarchy, even by denying the Eucharist to half of the Church — which, from a pastoral viewpoint, is indefensible.

Essential to that end has been Vatican rejection of the worldwide move toward equality for women, manifest in its demanded changes in a U.S. bishops’ pastoral on women that led to it being abandoned.

The Vatican responded to calls for ordination of women with mumbo jumbo that women cannot image Jesus and that the Church lacks permission to ordain women. But women served among Jesus’ following as evangelists, presided at the Eucharist in early centuries, were bishops in Italy and Ireland and ordained to serve Cold War Czech prisoners. Scripture offers no bar to their ordination.

For lack of a convincing case, Pope John Paul II ordered that discussion cease.

As women have despaired of Vatican intransigence and been ordained by accommodating Roman Catholic and Old Catholic bishops, the excommunication machinery has cranked into high gear. Now the Vatican declares any role in the ordination of women a grave mortal sin against the sacrament, meriting the same judgment process as child sex abuse.

Unfortunately, too many Catholics are still conditioned to pray, pay and obey. Too few appreciate that the dismantling of Vatican II is lawless: Council determinations trump contrary papal, Curia and bishop postures. Unilateral, uncollegial papal decrees denying equality to women are not doctrine.

So the recent and present pope, most Vatican Curia and many bishops are properly liable to censure and excommunication if they do not recant of their restorationist errors — or heresies — and arrogant abuses of authority. Lacking, of course, is a formal juridical authority to excommunicate them!

There is the judgment of the people of God. Cardinal Bernard Law and the Vatican recognized their authority when Law resigned as archbishop of Boston on Dec. 13, 2002 in response to outrage over the coverup of the Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandal in his diocese.

So, before more Vatican II faithful have departed — not the Church but this life — they must identify crimes against the supreme Church authority, identify the criminals, present evidence, and call guilty hierarchs to account.

To whit:

— Council reforms reestablished the Eucharist as a participatory community action, with a priest presiding, not a clerical performance full of pomp and foreign language and with the laity passive witnesses.

— Consequently, allowing the Tridentine rite and supplanting Council regulations for text translation with ignorant, literal renderings of early Latin translations from Greek and Aramaic are lawless usurpations of authority.

— The Eucharist and pastoral care are clearly essential: prioritizing an arbitrary requirement of celibacy (only in the Roman rite, not in Eastern rites) and the male gender for Holy Orders is irresponsible — unchristian — as is subordinating the needs of abuse victims to the Catholic Church’s image. Vatican sexism is, arguably, heresy.

— The Council was clear in distinguishing the realms of church and state, espousing religious liberty, and establishing primacy of informed conscience. Neither popes nor bishops are empowered to set aside those Council determinations in favor of obedience to a pope’s or bishop’s claimed “superconscience.”

— Recent unilateral papal changes in canon law, enforcement provisions and establishment of unprecedented penalties are directly contrary to the Council’s call for collegial decision making.

— The hierarchy’s relative indifference to environmental degradation, denials of human dignity, wars, corporate greed and consequent poverty disrespect the Council call to engage the world.

— Early and medieval popes, the Council of Toledo, and 1059 Synod of Reims declared that no bishop may be recognized who is not chosen by the people — the people of God’s conveniently forgotten veto power over a closed, self-perpetuating patriarchy.

It’s time to muster the people of God to require our supposed teachers’ and pastors’ fidelity to the Gospel and Church teaching.

For starters, how about women rejecting en masse criminalization for pursuing equality in Church ministry?

William H. Slavick posts on and has published extensively in the Catholic press. He is long-time coordinator of Pax Christi Maine.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Re-Doin' the Vatican Web: An Open Response to Msgr. Lucio Adrian Ruiz

I am a Catholic and have been a librarian and webmaster for the last 14 years. I am a regular user and, as such, I would like to offer an open response to Msgr. Lucio Adrian Ruiz's comments in L'Osservatore Romano.

1. Language: You talk about branching out into Arabic and Russian, and yet a substantial amount of material on the Vatican Web site is not even available in English. Italian may be the lingua franca of the Catholic Church but English is the lingua franca of the Web. It is the main second or academic language of those whose primary language is not represented on your Web site. This includes countries with substantial Catholic populations and vocations such as India and Nigeria. Before moving into new languages, it would be more important to make sure all materials currently available are in English too. Unfortunately, computer-assisted translating, which does not work very well from Italian into English, is not an acceptable alternative.

2. Structure: You speak of making the Web site a virtual replica of the Apostolic See. While that concept sounds laudable, it is potentially a recipe for very bad Web design. Organizations often want a Web design that replicates their institutional structure, where documents are organized according to the division that produced them. The result is that documents on the same subject are scattered all over the Web site. The end user, on the other hand, is more interested in the subject than the authoring entity and is better served by having documents grouped according to topic.

3. Navigation, Norms, and the Home Page: As the Web has evolved, some "best practices" or design norms have emerged. Among these are the left side text navigation bar and the upper right hand corner search box. Another is "bread crumbs" - that navigational line at the top of each page that lets the user know where it "lives" on the site so that the user can go back to a point where he or she might find related documents. While some may think that automatically implementing these kinds of norms makes the sites boring and identical, they make it easier for the users to get the information they are looking for quickly, especially if they land in the middle of the site from an external search engine such as Google or Yahoo. It's like the Catholic Mass. The universality of certain words or gestures helps the faithful to feel at home no matter which Catholic church they are attending, even if the Mass isn't in a language they know.

As for navigation, there are also common, universally understandable categories on an organization or corporate Web site that information professionals automatically look for: About Us, News, Publications, Departments or Divisions, Multimedia, Contact Us, etc... I would love to see a similar structure on the Vatican's home page instead of a bunch of meaningless icons, where I have to click around to figure out where you've hidden the Code of Canon Law, for example. The top and center of the Home Page is customarily used to highlight whatever the organization thinks is hot, what it wants to "push" to its viewers. That, presumably, is what the "Focus" part of is doing right now.

4. The Look: With respect to graphics, my only plea would be to lose the ubiquitous pink marble background. There is a reason that most major news and corporate Web sites use a white background for their texts. The current look is old and stodgy. It may be in keeping with what some of us think the Vatican is like under the current administration, but it's probably not the image you really want to project, especially if you want to attract and keep young people in the Church. A little tasteful animation and Flash would not be unwelcome either.

5. L'Osservatore Romano: I'm glad to hear that this publication will have its own site and I hope this will mean a bigger archive of past issues, especially of the daily edition. You say that "osservatore" and "romano" come up as frequent search terms and it is because this publication is often cited in news articles and people look for the original source.

6. Interactivity: With all due respect, I believe that the Vatican is wrong to fear incorporating more interactivity into the Web site. Increased interactivity is the hallmark of the modern Web site and the direction in which most developers are going. Without compromising the basic communications structure, you could:

a) Include RSS feed options on news releases or the daily VIS for example.

b) Include "share" options for the big social networks on all major new materials posted, even if it means that a statement from the Pontiff winds up on somebody's Facebook page with the comment "Can you believe the Pope actually said this? Give me a break!" Note: We can already do this without the "share" feature; adding it just makes the Vatican look more modern and open.

c) Occasional controlled "chats" with the Pope and other high Vatican officials: You compared the Pope's Web presence to the Angelus where he is high up in a window, untouchable, unanswerable, offering his prayer and blessing to his flock. A clerical "wizard of Oz". But the Pope is our spiritual father and we should be able to communicate with him and ask him questions as children ask their biological fathers. Sometimes a child asks difficult questions. Sometimes the father doesn't know the answer or chooses not to answer. But if the Holy Father is afraid to participate in an online chat because someone might ask "Why can't women be priests?" or "Isn't it better to let people use condoms than spread STDs?", our Church has a bigger problem. The Pope should be able to defend the basic teachings of the Church in any situation, even when his critics may not like or agree with his answers. This Pope is a teacher, and it is conceivable that he might actually enjoy taking questions -- even contentious ones -- from his flock. Try thinking of it as a world-wide papal audience rather than the Angelus and you might bring closer to a modern Web presence. Major news organs routinely hold online chats with celebrities and know how to do so without gaffes and scandals.

7. Focus Groups: As you are redesigning the Vatican Web site, I would strongly recommend that you convene focus groups of users in the ten countries that you say most frequently access These groups should combine "in house" users (clergy, Vatican staff), information professionals (i.e. librarians in different settings -- school, university/seminary, public), and informed lay users (teachers, professors, journalists). Three questions:

i) What do you expect to find on the Vatican Web site?
ii) How easy is it to find it?
iii) How would you change the Web site to make the information easier to find?

Knowing how people use the Web site can help you to help them and bring you closer to achieving your ultimate goal of getting the Word to the ends of the earth.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Doin' the Vatican Web: A sneak preview from the capo

This interview was originally published in Italian as "Un clic per entrare nella casa del Papa" (Click once to enter the Father's house). We bring it to you in English. One comment: As a frequent and frequently frustrated user of the Vatican Web site in spite of being a professional librarian with more than passing familiarity with Catholic Church structure, I have many, many ideas for a redesign but, according to this interview, it is an intentionally one-way enterprise. No feedback solicited or welcome.

by Gianluca Biccini
L'Osservatore Romano

It's the site of the Pope and the Holy See, the point on the Web where the Petrine magisterium is present and alive, "the Pontiff's virtual arm, legs, voice", the way to get to "urbi et orbi" via the digital highway -- this is the image that the man responsible for the Internet service of the Vatican Governorate, Argentine bishop Mons. Lucio Adrian Ruiz, chooses to speak about the Internet domain that allows access to information about the activities of Benedict XVI and the Holy See. Born in 1965 in Santa Fe, where he was ordained a priest at twenty-five, Bishop Ruiz is a specialist in the field, having done extensive studies in his home country and in Spain, and taught information sciences in two universities in Rome and Bogota.

What is

It's the cornerstone on which the official presence on the Web of the Pope and the Apostolic See rests. This site, we can say, is a virtual presence of the Petrine ministry of the Pontiff to the universal Church on the Internet. An "extra" with respect to the traditional media - newspapers, radio and television - because thanks to the Web, you can read, listen to and view again anywhere -- "to the extreme ends of the earth" -- any content that is there permanently. Anyone who wants to, can draw from the official source the full text and words of papal teachings without going through other media, where they are often cut and interpreted at will.

Is the only official site of the Vatican?

As the site of "the Pope", yes. But there is a whole ".va" family that officially presents the different aspects of the Apostolic See: and and too, and so on. Starting this year, many other sites of the various Roman dicastries will come into being as part of the ".va" family, ie, a virtual presence and representation of what one finds in true reality when one visits the Apostolic See in Rome. We consider a kind of virtual window for the Pope to the Web, like the Angelus one, which allows the Pope to "look out on the Internet", to appear and make his voice heard and his presence felt throughout the world . A window that allows, to some extent, the exercise of the Petrine ministry of the universal father and teacher over the Internet. Therefore, just as there is no room for dialogue with those who come to see and hear the Pope during the Angelus in St. Peter's Square, our site does not provide interactivity with users -- it isn't a chat line or a social network, nor is there an e-mail address to write to him.

Why not?

There are both practical and theological reasons. Regarding the first, just think how many people would want to interact with the Pope, which would make it impossible to manage a workload like that; as regards the latter, it must be remembered that the universal mission belongs to the Pope, while for the staff, for contact with every single individual, there are priests and bishops, whose role should be enhanced to avoid the risk of suppressing the wealth of the Church, which has a whole hierarchy of ministries and charisms. However, this does not mean that we do not realize the need to modernize the language, to make it understandable to users of the Internet today, which has changed so much since the site first appeared. So we are considering not only a graphic but also a structural renovation that will allow the content, even the virtual presence of the Pope, to be used in a better way on the Internet.

How is it going?

First of all it should be clarified that it will be a long process -- has 500,000, that is to say, half a million pages in it. But it will still be done. To begin this process, we have posed two questions. The first: how to make the Pope "live" on the Web, i.e. how to present his Petrine ministry in the digital age. The second: how to deepen the knowledge of the Web, its language and its culture, to give suitable answers, as requested by Benedict XVI in his message for World Communications Day 2010. "The increased availability of the new technologies demands greater responsibility on the part of those called to proclaim the Word, but it also requires them to become become more focused, efficient and compelling in their efforts," and John Paul II wrote: "The engagement in the media, however, is not just multiplying the announcement: it is a deeper matter, because the evangelization of this modern culture depends largely on their influence." But that is already permanently present at all levels - audio, video and text - live or delayed, and the whole world can see, hear, learn their thinking, drawing from official source. Ultimately is not just a site but is "the missionary image of the Pope" in digital format, in various languages and locations, thanks to the technology tools that allow it.

How long has the official site existed?

The first version, a page with the message from John Paul II, dates back to Christmas 1995. The site with the navigation sections - the Holy Father, the Roman Curia, information services, archives - was published during Easter in 1997. In my view, a truly historical event, like many other major events, marked by the missionary vision of a Pope who understood that this tool allowed him to get "to the extreme ends of the earth." Today, with Benedict, all this takes on a new life because his recent messages placed the Internet among the new tools at the service of the Word which can not be ignored by the Church. That rush of grace and life that flows from the Eucharist has a new channel to reach people all over the world and the Church must accept this challenge.

Can you briefly described the main items?

The most active area that is updated daily is dedicated to the papacy of Benedict XVI. The activity calendar lists all commitments with the relevant documentation: video, text and photographs. The texts are published on the website in real time, possibly in multiple languages. A section is devoted to the teaching of the popes since 1900. All documents are collected according to specific types: encyclicals, motu proprio, apostolic letters, apostolic constitutions, messages, which are combined with the catecheses and all the daily pronouncements, such as speeches, homilies, letters, the Angelus, prayers. For example, on the screen of the liturgical celebrations, you can see the updated calendar of the Pope's commitments, accompanied by information and photographs.

Are new items being planned?

We're going to expand the section on the Popes, including all the successors of Peter, trying to put the key documents of each one so as to have the common thread of papal teaching online. A collection on actions related to the diplomatic activity of the Holy See will be forthcoming. There will soon be new documents in the Chinese section. And we are working on a video archive of the Pope: we will create, that is, a page with the collection of all films currently on the site. It must be recalled that since August 2009 we have been recording streaming broadcast by the Vatican Television Center for individual events associated with the activity of the Pope and inserting videos in their points of reference -- the Angelus, audiences, homilies, travel, for example.

And the Focus page?

This area of the home page is dedicated to the launch of new screens. New icons are made from time to time to showcase a new area of the site.

Other languages are currently being used. Are you planning any others?

A possible opening to Russian and Arabic is being projected, but on the question of language, a problem arises due to the possibility of available staff.

How many hits are there daily?

On average three million hits a day when there are extraordinary events. But it should be noted that these are hits, not users. Because a user can log on several times a day. Only with a new statistical system - we are in the process of implementation - will we know the actual number of people who surf the site.

What are the countries that "click" most often?

In order, the top ten with the most hits are the United States, Italy, Spain, Germany and Brazil, followed by South Korea, Mexico, Canada, France and China.

What is the "rush hour" for traffic [to the site]?

The busiest time is between 3 p.m. and midnight (Rome time).

What are the most wanted items?

The search engines record the most typed words as: "vatican o vaticano", "catholic", "romano", "osservatore", "church", "santa". [Translator's note: the bishop is giving us a literal, multilingual list of search terms]

Is it possible to trace the identikit of the Web surfer while he (or she) is moving around the information universe of the Holy See?

Depends on the time and occasion. For example, during Holy Week, it is a more spiritual presence; in the case of special events such as the travels of the Pope, it is more journalistic and general information instead. When John Paul II died and for Benedict XVI's election both streams coincided, the religious one and the informational one.

A fascinating theme is security and hacker attacks. Can we talk about any?

There have been several incidents over the years, not to mention the daily attacks from different entities, but it's better not to linger on this for security reasons. There has always been a good relationship with Interpol, the telecommunications police and Italian intelligence to help us in our daily analysis and careful protection of our systems. We also have a lot of help from the companies that produce safety systems, in addition to the customer-supplier relationship, there is great affection for the Pope that pulls together really important efforts. Like all large systems, we are subject to the appetite of the "hacker" or the professional. We must always be careful and follow the development of information security issues.

At this point, let's talk about the Internet service.

It's something that has a double duty: the Internet service and the Internet services, namely, to provide, to all the Apostolic See, Internet access and all services connected to it (web, mail, etc..) to put forward on the one hand, the digital presence of the Pope, the Holy See and Vatican City in the Internet universe, and on the other hand, to bring the world to the Pope and the Holy See in the opposite direction, stimulating the flow required by the Church for a new evangelization in a "new culture". This depends institutionally on the Telecommunications Directorate of the Vatican City State, which brings together the various telecommunications services with the intent to offer effective and efficient service in this area.

How is it organized?

We are twenty people in a double structure, like a body that has two lungs: the technical staff and the documentary-graphics one. The first takes care of the technological aspects for two purposes: to give access to the Internet and provide Internet services, the second coordinates and places the content that comes from the Holy See and the State of Vatican City and is destined for the site. Therefore it deals with the organizational and graphical aspects of Similar work is done for related sites which are autonomous because they are particularly complex, but at the same time interact with us. Among the biggest ones I can think of are Vatican Radio and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples with its agency, Fides, but now we have eleven awaiting launch, including "L'Osservatore Romano" too. But the thing to emphasize is that this dual structure, the two lungs, have the consciousness of being part of one body and this unit not only creates a synergistic force of mutual aid but, above all, of studying and understanding the great mission to be accomplished for the Church, to bring the Pope's persona, his presence in the Internet world "to the extreme ends of the earth."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

You Can't Go Home Again: Mons. Ramón Antonio Talavera Goiburú, RIP

A less than glorious chapter in the history of the Catholic Church in Paraguay came to an end last Sunday with the death of Mons. Ramón Antonio Talavera Goiburú at 86. Mons. Talavera who was forced out of the Roman Catholic Church and of his homeland, died in exile in Foz de Yguazú, Brazil. After he was forced out of the Roman Catholic Church, Mons. Talavera joined the independent Igreja Católica Apostólica Brasileira, rising to the rank of bishop within that denomination.

Mons. Talavera was ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood on November 23, 1947 in Paraguay by Mons. Juan José Aníbal Mena Porta, the Archbishop of Asunción. The crisis came after the coup d'état that brought the brutal dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner to power.

Mons. Talavera, who was from one of the wealthy families within the Colorado Party, criticized the Stroessner regime for its repression, corruption, and human rights violations. He worked in support of political prisoners. In 1958, as a result of his activism, Talavera was kidnapped, beaten, and forced into exile.

Fr. Talavera's political activism also brought him into conflict with the man who ordained him. In his book La herejía de seguir a Jesús: intrahistoria de las ligas agrarias cristianas del Paraguay (IEPALA Editorial, 2003), David Fernandez talks about this falling out. He says that Fr. Talavera would sarcastically highlight the coziness between Church and dictatorship by referring to their respective leaders as "Monseñor Stroessner" and "General Mena Porta". The priest also joined with exiled Paraguayan political leaders from the Liberal and Febrerista parties to form the Unión Nacional Paraguaya, which aimed to overthrow Stroessner through peaceful means. Under pressure from representatives of the Stroessner regime, the archbishop silenced Fr. Talavera. Talavera responded by initiating a hunger strike on August 1, 1959. Stroessner converted Talavera's parish into military barracks which led to massive demonstrations. Shortly thereafter came the kidnapping and beating.

Archbishop Mena Porta sent Talavera to Uruguay to receive medical treatment and, while the priest was out of the country, spread the word that any declarations by Talavera were his own and not the opinion of the official Church. After Fr. Talavera was healed, he attempted to return to Paraguay and was not allowed to do so. Archbishop Mena Porta did not help him, having been won over to the dictatorship's side by Stroessner's promise of mandatory religious education in the public schools.

From Uruguay, Fr. Talavera went to Argentina and here the story gets a bit vague. He is said to have founded Nuestra Señora del Rosario parish in Formosa, Argentina in 1959 [the source says 1969 but that cannot be true since by 1969, Talavera was in Brazil]. While in Argentina, Fr. Talavera got married and went on to have four children, Isel Judit, Luz María, Ana Luisa Talavera and Juan Cristian. He was formally suspended a divinis in 1963 by the Archdiocese of Asunción.

Mons. Talavera moved to Brazil and joined the Igreja Católica Apostólica Brasileira which allows married priests. On June 21, 1966 he was ordained a bishop in that church in Sao Paolo by Dom Luige Masculo and, in 1997, was named auxilliary bishop of the Foz do Iguaçu diocese where he remained, working on various social action projects, until his death.

At his wake, Mons. Talavera rested in a coffin draped with the Paraguayan flag. His daughter, Isel Judit, said her father always cared about Paraguay and wanted to go back. "He couldn't because he had made his life in Brazil," she said.