The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

Pope Francis Launches New Panel to Speed Up Abuse Cases

Pope Francis on Nov. 11 created a new Vatican body to deal with the most serious cases of child sexual abuse and to streamline complaints against the clergy.

The Vatican said the pope would nominate seven cardinals or bishops to consider appeals from clergy accused of abusing minors in a bid to speed up the judicial process of clergy who have received an initial assessment by local bishops.

The members of the panel, or “college,” may come from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which currently handles cases, or elsewhere in the church. Members will also be asked to deal with serious abuses of penance in the confessional.

The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, called the pope’s proposal a “good solution” to help alleviate a backlog of cases.

Bishops accused of sexually abusing minors will still have their appeals handled by a session of CDF members at their monthly meetings.

“This is a good sign Francis is giving: He is basically saying that the CDF remains competent, and gives them an extra instrument to promptly deal with a specific type of appeals against decisions, namely recourses against administrative decrees,” said Kurt Martens, a canon law expert at Catholic University in Washington.

The immediate changes were outlined in a papal rescript, or “Rescriptum,” signed by the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and printed in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official newspaper.

The pope has adopted a hard line on clerical sex abuse and at times asked for forgiveness while lambasting church leaders more than once for protecting abusers.

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3 Ways 'All Are Welcome' Is Hurting the Church

I see it on nearly every church sign, every church mailing; on the inside fold of every bulletin:
All Are Welcome!

Worship at 9 a.m. Sunday, All Are Welcome!

Potluck Dinner at 5 p.m. Saturday, All Are Welcome!

Vacation Bible School 9 a.m. Monday - Friday, All Are Welcome!


As the pastor of a Lutheran congregation outside Chicago, I find myself tagging it on — almost thoughtlessly — to our invitation cards and mailings as well.

It's almost an auto-signature for churches today: “All Are Welcome!”

And the impulse is a good one. For centuries the church has been exclusive rather than inclusive, despite Jesus' desire to the contrary. We have excluded women, African Americans, immigrants, gays and lesbians, people with special needs, senior citizens, singles, 20-somethings — at times the church has been downright discriminatory.

A friend of mine once told me he was desperate to find a church where he could not only worship but perhaps join the choir and get involved with music ministry. He brought his friend, another professional musician, to check out area churches. They found one they liked and were surprised when the minister asked them into his office. Ascertaining that they were both, indeed, gay, the minister said: "Well, you can attend. But just sit in the back row."

Thanks be to God, my friend didn't give up his search or lose his faith. He has since found an affirming congregation and leads incredible music there.

But too many of us have these stories: The congregation that saw single folks as irrelevant. The congregation that scorned Spanish-speaking immigrants. The place that found people with special needs disruptive.

Fortunately, many churches became aware of the way they had been contradicting the primary, freeing message of the Gospel: that all may be one in Christ Jesus, and that there is no longer Gentile or Jew, man or woman, black or white, slave or free, gay or straight, rich or poor ... (from Galatians 3:28).

As a needed corrective to become inclusive rather than exclusive, churches have hit upon a simple formula. It goes something like this: "Let's add ‘ALL ARE WELCOME’ to everything we publish. Let's make WELCOME the center of what we do."

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Gay Debate Challenges Traditional Definitions of ‘Evangelical’

It used to be that defining an “evangelical” was pretty straightforward: some version of a “born-again” experience, a deep appreciation for the Bible as the written Word of God and a conviction to spread salvation to the masses.

Opposing homosexuality wasn’t part of that holy trinity, but for most evangelicals, it was more or less a given that all sexuality outside of man-woman marriage is sinful. Not so much anymore.

Growing cultural acceptance of homosexuality is leading many Christians to reconsider their historic opposition. As intractable as the debate itself can be, American evangelicals nonetheless are experiencing lively conflicts over maintaining boundaries. What can you believe about gays and still call yourself an evangelical? And who gets to decide?

In October, the Vatican’s Synod on the Family and a major conference of establishment evangelicals in Nashville both featured softer rhetoric on gays and lesbians while reaffirming the view that homosexuality is morally disordered.

Last week in Washington, however, a gay evangelical activist laid out a biblical argument for an affirming view.

Matthew Vines was raised in a conservative Presbyterian congregation in Wichita, Kan. Realizing and accepting that he was gay, Vines neither abandoned religion nor sought out a more affirming church. Instead, he delved deeply into the Bible and Christian teaching. He came away with the conviction that biblical Christianity could affirm same-sex relationships.

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Needed: A Progressive Christianity to Restore the Nation’s Civic Virtues

Election 2014: Something important has just happened.

Big money bought an election. Fear prevailed over confidence and loathing over reason. The majority chose not to vote, allowing a passionate minority — older, whiter — to change the balance of power. Attack ads drowned out issues. A broken political system tolerated cheating and bullying.

Most worrisome is the absence of the virtues that enable a democracy to function in a challenging world. Civic-mindedness gave way to clever voter-suppression tactics. Freedom of the press got lost in attack ads and deliberate distortions of reality. Respect for opponents is gone. So too is the search for common ground, competing ideas, confidence in the nation, confidence in government, confidence in the future. Gone, gone, gone.

How could this happen? Several reasons — from intellectual laziness to self-serving leaders. The reason that touches my world is the collapse of progressive Christianity as a teacher of civic virtues.

Progressive Christianity is only one voice on the spectrum of religious opinions. But over the years it has had a large impact in its insistence on honesty, fairness, tolerance and humility. Progressive Christians have fought slavery, racial injustice and oppression of the vulnerable. Our search for truth has allowed room for other truths, other voices — a critical attitude in preserving democracy.

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Treat Them As One of Your Own

Think about this: why would anyone travel thousands of miles on a journey that many do not survive — except for the hope that their destination (the U.S.) is significantly safer than where they currently live? I cannot imagine taking such risks unless my current circumstances left me with no other options besides death. I have met many people who are undocumented in the U.S. They are not criminals. They are not economic threats. They are mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, and sometimes teenagers trying to escape untold violence and oppression. They are our neighbors, community members, and friends. They are people simply trying to do what it takes to survive.

Our immigration system is broken. It is hard for anyone to say otherwise. But I think our values are broken too. When gun-toting vigilantes are able to successfully threaten buses full of children put at risk by their parents because it was a better option than staying at home, something is desperately wrong with our values. We can say their home country needs to get its act together, but that does not address the hostile response in the U.S. by some people. Politics aside, the morality of refusing such people violates the values of both my Christian faith and my understanding of how my country was founded by persecuted refugees seeking freedom.

Comprehensive immigration reform is about real people with real blood flowing through real veins. It is not about numbers, other than the fact that the U.S. grants the lowest number of visas to the countries with some of highest homicide rates in the world — violence that the U.S. government has had a hand in creating over the past several decades. This is not about following the law, because our current immigration laws are simply unjust and violate the values upon which this country was founded: a country of immigrants in which “all people are created equal.” It is about God’s children desperately seeking refuge in a country that boasts itself as the “land of the free” and the land of hope and promise.

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'The Theory of Everything,' Life's Greatest Questions, and Missed Opportunities

The new Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything, presents the relationship between the famed physicist and his first wife, Jane, in beautiful display. Screenwriter Anthony McCarten described the underlying theme of the film such:

“If all of us were some kind of cosmic accident, what chance love? That’s the point at which science breaks down, and something else exists.”

That rift between the proofs and facts that drive Hawking (played by Eddie Redmayne) and the “something else” represented by the inspiring story at its center is one that reflects a larger conversation about faith, science, and the unknown that feels like it’s been a part of culture from the beginning of time (all puns aside). It’s unfortunate, then, that the film doesn’t take the opportunity to explore those discussions beyond the surface level.

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Running from ISIS

Six weeks after ISIS overtook their village outside of Mosul, Iraq, Sief and Jacob Jebrita said they received an official cease and desist letter from the terrorist group saying their work was forbidden under Islamic law. The two brothers, partners in a small photography and videography business, lost their sole source of income. But that was just the beginning.

Sief and Jacob shared their story while sitting in St. Mary, Mother of the Church in Amman, Jordan, with a delegation of religious media. The church, led by Fr. Khalil Jaar, has become home to more than 150 Iraqi Christian refugees who have fled their homes while ISIS continues to push through the region.

Because of their Christian faith, Sief, Jacob, and their families were targeted by ISIS. They told me of a soldier ripping an earring out of a girl’s ear, slicing it open because it was not acceptable for her to wear jewelry. As ISIS militants forced people out of their homes, they would not allow them to bring anything with them at all except the clothes on their backs. They told me the story of one mother walking with her little boy who was forced to leave behind his bottle of milk after a soldier knocked it to the ground and shouted at them. As the situation worsened, they said they saw Yazidi men killed for refusing to accept Islam, and Yazidi woman sold into slavery in Mosul – $500 for younger women and $100 to $300 for older women.

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#LoveMakesAWay: Jarrod McKenna On Australia's New Freedom Movement

Editor's Note: Jarrod McKenna is an Australian Christian leader behind  #LoveMakesAWay, a movement of Christians seeking an end to Australia's inhumane asylum seeker policies through prayer and nonviolent love in action. Read more about McKenna, #LoveMakesAWay, and the indefinite imprisonment of immigrants in Australia HEREThis article originally appeared at Junkee.

If you care about the cause of asylum seekers in Australia, you know there’s not been much to cheer about lately – the government descends further into cruelty, while much of the populace just shrugs.

So when a group of priests and pastors were arrested for peacefully occupying the Sydney offices of immigration minister Scott Morrison in March, praying and demanding the release of kids in detention, it turned a few heads and went a bit viral. When it happened again and again in the following months, it felt like a movement. To date, more than 100 leaders from many different faiths have been arrested at Love Makes A Way prayer vigils in politician’s offices all over the country (the PM wasn’t spared; his digs were targeted in May).

The charmingly polite stubbornness with which they’ve taken the government to task has earned many supporters of all persuasions, even if the prayer bit is lost on some of them. Along with other “cranky Christian” activists like Gosford Anglican Church’s Father Rod Bower (he of the irrepressible message board) and rogue Catholic priest and Triple J presenter Father Bob, they’ve been a pain in the conservative arse even an atheist could love.

One of the main minds behind Love Makes A Way is Perth-based radical Christian leader Jarrod McKenna. With his blond dreadlocks, casual vibe, and jokes about how Christians are “daggy,” he’s hardly the sanctimonious, Bible-bashing type. But when the subject of human rights and nonviolent resistance comes up, the charismatic McKenna becomes passionate, even evangelical.

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U.S. Catholic Bishops Grapple with Pope Francis’ Priorities

With a controversial Vatican summit on family life just concluded and a papal visit to the U.S. expected in less than a year, the nation’s Catholic bishops on Nov. 10 began taking steps to adapt their agenda to the priorities Pope Francis set out — an emphasis on social justice and on creating a more welcoming church.

That change in focus has unsettled a number of American bishops who have been used to a hierarchy oriented more toward hot-button culture war issues like fighting abortion, gay marriage and the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.

The new shift was underscored by last month’s summit, called a synod, where many churchmen used unusually positive language in referring to gay people and cohabiting couples and others who do not always follow church teachings on family life.

In addition, the announcement Nov. 8  that Francis moved U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, a vocal conservative and critic of the pope’s approach, out of his curial post, combined with the pope’s surprise choice of low-profile prelate Blase Cupich as archbishop of Chicago have upended long-standing assumptions about how the church operates.

The bishops “still haven’t fully processed what’s taking place right now,” said Rocco Palmo, who runs a popular Catholic website, Whispers in the Loggia.

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This Veterans Day, Work for Peace

In the wake of the latest escalation of the U.S. “war on terror,” it’s time to remember the origin of Veterans Day. In 1926, Congress officially recognized the commemoration of Armistice Day on Nov. 11 with the exhortation, “the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.” Armistice Day commemorated the day when World War I hostilities ceased, and had been celebrated informally since 1919 as a day to work for peace.

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