Saturday, September 30, 2023

Irish priest calls for the word "God" to be abolished

Peter McVerry calls for all to act on homelessness - Association of  Catholics in Ireland

Speaking to the Ciara Phelan Podcast on the Irish Examiner, Fr. McVerry said he would have left the priesthood years ago if his understanding of God had not changed. 

He told Phelan that he would prefer people to replace the word God with a different word. 

"I’d prefer to use the word mystery. We live within a mystery. I think people can understand that," Fr. McVerry told Phelan. 

"One of the things we all search for is meaning - what's the meaning of life? And that can be found only in mystery. 

"We keep searching to understand who God is. We'll never understand who God is because God is mystery." 

Fr. McVerry also discussed celibacy in the Catholic Church during the interview and said he would not have been able to do the work he has done with homeless communities if he had a "family and children to look after". 

However, he also admitted that it is difficult to persuade young people to join the priesthood due to the discipline that requires priests to abstain from sex. 

Fr. McVerry said it is difficult to convince young people to take a vow of celibacy in a highly sexualized world where "sex is in front of your eyes everywhere". 

He also believes that young people are sexualized too young due to their access to digital devices. 

"Celibacy is a huge ask for young people in today's world." 

Fr. McVerry added that he is in favor of women joining the priesthood and said he believes the church should be run by lay people in the future, shifting away from a focus on the priesthood. 

"For me, it's not a question of priests. We shouldn't focus on priests. The church of the future is going to be run by laypeople. If priests have a role, it will be as a leader of the community and as a minister of the sacraments." 

Fr. McVerry described himself as a " very angry" man during the 45-minute interview, criticizing the way homeless people, vulnerable people, and people on the margins are treated by the authorities in Ireland. 

"I think my anger has grown and become more focused over the years. There should be no homelessness in a country as wealthy as Ireland. There should be no poverty in a country with billions of euros in surplus taxation.

"There should be no children on long waiting lists for mental health treatment," he added. "I just think we have our priorities all wrong."

'Absolutely no evidence of financial fraud' at Peter McVerry Trust, says founder

Fr Peter McVerry SJ - Peter McVerry Trust

The founder of the Peter McVerry Trust has said there is "absolutely no evidence of financial fraud or misappropriation of funds" after an inspector was appointed to look into the serious financial issues within the charity. 

In July this year, the homeless charity had informed the Department of Housing it was facing serious cashflow problems

Accountancy firm PwC was then appointed to carry out a financial and governance review of the trust, following concerns. 

This week, the Approved Housing Bodies Regulatory Authority (AHBRA) launched a "statutory investigation" into the charity and an inspector has been appointed, who will then present the regulatory body with a report on their investigation and findings. 

Fr McVerry had claimed the issue happened because his charity had tried to help too many people.

On Thursday, he said the pandemic saw much of the trust's fundraising events cancelled and its income drop "substantially".

"So now we are having to pay back taxes along with our monthly tax liability for PAYE and PRSI for over 500 employees. That is a challenge. That is an example of the situation we are in," Fr McVerry told South East Radio.  

"There is absolutely no evidence of financial fraud or misappropriation of funds. Let me be very clear with that and there is absolutely no effect on our services to homeless people. 

We continue to provide all the services we have always provided to homeless people.

"Our finances are solid, our assets are exceeding our liabilities, so we are struggling at the moment, with our funders, to resolve the cash flow problem."

Fr McVerry said he was "very confident" the issue would be resolved in the next few months. 

In response to the AHBRA investigation, he believes it means the "cash flow problem should have been noticed and acted upon much quicker". 

"So there are questions for us to answer, why we weren't aware of it more quickly? We may have to put more financial expertise onto our board, but it's simply a question of they want to make sure that our finances are solid," Fr McVerry said

"We are absolutely confident that our finances are solid and that they will — the fact that they have already stated in the PwC interim report that was made that our financials are solid."

Fr McVerry also reiterated that the work of the trust was not in any jeopardy and the work it is carrying out for homeless people continues "uninterrupted".

"There are no reductions in services or no cutbacks in services," he added. 

"Everything we do it continues and we hope our donors aren't put off by these. We depend very heavily on our donors and we hope they will continue to support us and not be put off by any such that there's something amiss in the organisation."

Catholic Church facing day in court over Father James Chesney’s links to IRA attacks

Who was Father James Chesney? - BBC News

The Catholic Church could be in court next year over what it knew about the alleged IRA activities of a priest.

Father James Chesney is suspected of having been involved in IRA attacks during the early years of the Troubles - including the 1972 Claudy atrocity which killed nine people.

It’s alleged church leaders at the time knew about Chesney’s IRA links.

According to a 2010 Police Ombudsman’s report, a police investigation into Chesney was stopped after senior officers conspired with the government and Catholic Church to protect him.

Instead of being questioned about the Claudy attack, Chesney was transferred to a parish in County Donegal following secret talks between the then secretary of state William Whitelaw and the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal William Conway.

Chesney died in 1980 at the age of 46 without ever being quizzed about the Claudy massacre.

No one has ever been charged in connection with the attack on August 31, 1972, when three car bombs devastated the County Derry village.

It was blamed on the Provisional IRA - but the terror group has never admitted being responsible.

At the time of the attack, Chesney is believed to have been a senior figure within the south Derry brigade of the IRA.

While not believed to have been involved directly with the placing of the bombs in Claudy, he was suspected of helping to plan the attack.

In 2013, relatives of three of the victims – William Watson Temple, 16, David Miller, 60, and James McClelland, 64 – launched legal action against the PSNI, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and the Catholic Church over the events surrounding the Claudy attack.

Two years ago, the PSNI and Northern Ireland Office agreed confidential settlements “without an admission of liability”.

The relatives are continuing with a civil case against the Catholic Church.

The relatives’ solicitor Barry O’Donnell, from KRW Law, said his clients had always made it “very clear” they hold the IRA responsible for the deaths of their loved ones.

However, he said the civil case against the Catholic Church was proceeding.

“The actions were taken against three defendants, the Catholic Diocese of Derry, the Chief Constable of the PSNI and the NIO,” said Mr O’Donnell.

“The actions against the PSNI and the NIO were settled in mediation.

“The court case against the Catholic Diocese of Derry continues and it would be inappropriate to comment on the action whilst court proceedings continue.”

Mr O’Donnell urged anyone with information about the Claudy – even now 51 years later – to come forward.

“The families would appeal to anyone that has information on who carried out the bombings to contact the police or the families’ solicitor at KRW Law.”

When contacted by the Sunday World, a spokesperson for the Catholic Church declined to comment on the legal action.

“There are live proceedings currently before the court and having taken legal advice it would not be appropriate to make any comment or answer any questions relating to those proceedings until they have been concluded.”

However, it is understood if a settlement is not reached, the case will come before a court next year.

Claudy is often described as one of the forgotten atrocities of the Troubles.

The attack took place on the same day as Operation Motorman - when 12,000 British soldiers entered republican no-go areas in Belfast and Derry in a bid to regain control.

The first bomb exploded without warning outside McElhinney's shop and bar on Main Street in Claudy.

Minutes after the first bomb went off, killing three and fatally wounding three others, police officers discovered a second device in a van beside the village post office.

Officers evacuated people towards the Beaufort Hotel - but a third bomb had been concealed in another van outside the hotel.

Soon after the second bomb detonated, the third exploded, killing three more.

Police believe the bombers attempted to telephone a warning from nearby Dungiven but the lines were down as the result of past bomb damage to the phone exchange.

They then told Dungiven shop owners three bombs were planted in the village, but the proprietors were also unable to contact the authorities due to the line problems.

One shop owner rushed to Dungiven police station with the warning - but it was too late.

Father Chesney had long been suspected by police of being a member of the IRA.

In his 2010 report, Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson revealed the part played by the RUC in the high-level cover-up around the priest.

Mr Hutchinson's officers examined diaries belonging to Cardinal Conway which confirmed contact with him and Mr Whitelaw over Chesney and correspondence between the RUC, which was led by chief constable Sir Graham Shillington, and the government.

Mr Whitelaw, a minister in Edward Heath's Conservative government, died in 1999, Cardinal Conway in 1977 and Sir Graham in 2001.

Findings in Mr Hutchinson's report included:

Police believed Chesney was the IRA's director of operations in south Derry and was a prime suspect in the Claudy attack and other terrorist incidents.

A detective's request to arrest the cleric was refused by an assistant chief constable of RUC Special Branch who instead said, "matters are in hand".

The same senior officer wrote to the government about what action could be taken to "render harmless a dangerous priest" and asked if the matter could be raised with the church's hierarchy.

In December 1972, Mr Whitelaw met Cardinal Conway to discuss the issue. According to a NIO official, "the cardinal said he knew the priest was a very bad man and would see what could be done". The church leader mentioned "the possibility of transferring him to Donegal..."

In response to this memo, RUC chief constable Sir Graham noted: "I would prefer a transfer to Tipperary."

An entry in Cardinal Conway's diary on December 5, 1972, confirmed a meeting with Mr Whitelaw took place and stated there had been "a rather disturbing tetea-tete at the end about C".

In another diary entry two months later, the cardinal noted that he had discussed the issue with Chesney's superior and that "the superior however had given him orders to stay where he was on sick leave until further notice".

Chesney was transferred across the border to Malin Head parish in County Donegal in late 1973 and never ministered again in Northern Ireland.

According to church records, he denied involvement in the IRA when questioned by his superiors.

In his 2010 report, Mr Hutchinson said there was no evidence the police had information that could have prevented the Claudy attack.

However, he said the RUC's decision to ask the government to resolve the matter with the church, and then accept the outcome, was wrong.

"The decision failed those who were murdered, injured and bereaved in the bombing," he said.

"The police officers who were working on the investigation were also undermined."

Mr Hutchinson said the decisions made must be considered in the context of the time.

"I accept that 1972 was one of the worst years of the Troubles and that the arrest of a priest might well have aggravated the security situation," he said.

"Equally, I consider that the police failure to investigate someone they suspected of involvement in acts of terrorism could, in itself, have had serious consequences."

As regards the role of church and State officials, Mr Hutchinson said his investigation found no evidence of criminal intent on the part of any government minister or official or any official of the Catholic Church.

However, he added: "The morality or 'rightness' of the decision taken by the government and the Catholic Church in agreeing to the RUC request is another matter entirely.”

Wheelchair pilgrims call for Camino improvements

Symbols of the Camino de Santiago - Viajes Camino de Santiago

A group of Spanish pilgrims with Motor Neurone Disease are lobbying for improved access for wheelchair users on the Camino de Santiago.

The 60-strong group, including volunteer helpers, have delivered a 30-page travel log, noting the places on the Camino where access for wheelchair users needs improving, to the Pilgrim Office in Santiago de Compostela.

At one point on their seven-day journey through Galicia, the group was forced to travel along a main road because a bridge on the official Camino route could not accommodate wheelchairs.

The organiser, Carmen Martin, told the Archdiocese of Madrid’s Alfa y Omega that she hoped Camino authorities “would at least take a look” at their complaints.

She said: “Probably not everything can be fixed in one go, but things could be improved bit by bit. It would be very sad if we came back next year only to come up against the same hurdles.”

Most of those on the CompostELA 23 pilgrimage had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS – known as ELA in Spanish), the most common form of Motor Neurone Disease.

Martin is campaigning for a “Camino de Santiago that is universal, accessible and inclusive”, and gave a 40 per cent rating to the Camino’s current accessibility for wheel-chair users.

Of the 344,969 pilgrims in 2023 to have obtained a Compostela – a certificate stating they have travelled at least 100 km to the shrine of St James – 150 have come in wheelchairs.

“Sadly, a wheelchair Camino guide hasn’t been published yet,” said Rachael Diaz-Pinto, the general manager for the Confraternity of St James (CSJ), which promotes pilgrimages to the Spanish shrine.

“I have heard that sections of the last 100km from Sarria [in Galicia] which aren’t suitable for wheelchairs. Fortunately, a lot of the Camino runs close to country lanes and quiet roads though, so these are what wheelchair users and cyclists use when the terrain gets too difficult.  We recommend wheelchair users may wish to buy cyclist guide to the Camino Francés to see where these sections are.”

Diaz-Pinto added: “Wheelchair pilgrims have said in the past that the municipal pilgrim hostels tend not to offer accommodation to those with support vehicles. However, with private hostels there’s never a problem.”

Pilgrims may now complete the first 25 kilometres of their journey to Santiago outside Spain, including along the St James’s Way in England. 

David Sinclair, a CSJ volunteer told The Tablet that for English pilgrims in wheelchairs on this 68.5 mile route from Reading Abbey to Southampton the terrain was often difficult.

“The main challenge is that farmers’ fields often have stiles, kissing gates and swing gates making them difficult to cross without a number of helpers. The St James Way’ certainly has a lot of these field boundary obstacles as it passes through countryside villages in Hampshire. There are stretches though that could without much, or no effort, accommodate wheelchairs.”

He added: “I wonder if at some stage a petition could be presented to councils to assist with opening sections fully to wheelchairs.”

Tony Lemboye brings half-a-dozen young people from mainly care home backgrounds on the Camino every year for his charity, Young Star Mentoring.  

In 2017, the group included a 21-year-old man whose leg was amputated below the knee. He suffered from Chronic Pain Syndrome and while occasionally able to walk with crutches, he also travelled by wheelchair.  

“Helping him was a good experience and a focal point for the team,” said Lemboye. “Sometimes the wheel of the chair fell off or the ground was uneven.”

He says any wheelchair user planning to travel Camino hiking trails will “need two or three people to help you. But even if you are being pushed in the chair you are going to have to work hard too.”

Lemboye advises wheelchair-using pilgrims to “try and be prepared. You can practice in the UK on the North or South Downs with the team that will accompany you on the Camino. And think about where you are going to place your kit.”

Another tip is for pilgrims to choose a Mountain Trike wheelchair whose wheels are adapted for all terrains.

Final Curtain for the Pope’s “Spin Doctor”

The influential director of the most prestigious Jesuit magazine in Italy must give up his place and finds himself appointed to fourth place in the Dicastery for Culture. 

It is an astonishing transfer in more than one way for the man who has until now been presented as one of the men in the inner circle of the current pontificate, and which demonstrates how much the lines are shifting at the Vatican.

“Dear readers, after 25 years of my life spent serving the magazine, including 12 as director, the time has come for me to thank you, and to pass the baton to my successor, Fr. Nuno da Silva Gonçalves, former rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University.” 

It was through chosen words that Fr. Antonio Spadaro informed the readers of Civilta Cattolica of the change in direction at the top of the most prestigious Jesuit publication in Italy.

However, the religious does not find himself unemployed. 

On “X”, he thanked the Sovereign Pontiff and Cardinal Tolentino de Mendonça “who, learning that I was going to leave my functions at the Civilta Cattolica, asked me to spend my energy in the service of the Dicastery for Culture. This is a new page that is opening and which will allow me, I hope, to implement what I have learned from my previous experience.”

Beyond the agreed-upon phrases, the transfer of Fr. Spadaro, considered to be Pope Francis’s spin doctor – or public relations expert – on more than one sensitive subject, marks a step and illustrates a new distribution of cards in the power circles of the current pontificate.

Fr. Antonio Spadaro took the helm of the influential Jesuit journal, whose proofs are normally reread by the Secretariat of State, in September 2011, at the time when the strong winds that led to of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation began to blow, notably the first wave of the Vatileaks and the sensational positions taken by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.

Like so many others before him, Antonio Spadaro seems to share the fateful destiny of the unfortunate Icarus: caught in the spotlight of the media, the director of Civilta Cattolica may not have taken the measure of the reserve that was imposed on him, and did not make friends.

Should we see a cause and effect relationship? Following an internal consultation, the General of the Jesuits, Fr. Arturo Sosa Abascal, decided to put an end to the functions of the director of the Civilta Cattolica who now finds himself inserted into the Curia in a position which does not require being a bishop. 

It seems to be a consolation prize.

Beginning on October 1, Fr. Nuno Enrique Sancho da Silva Gonçalves will be the first non-Italian Jesuit to take the reins of Civilta Cattolica

He is a man referred to in turn by the Italian press as a “friend of the Pope.” 

New Jersualem cardinal calls Gaza under Israeli control an ‘open prison’

Jerusalem Latin Patriarch among 21 new cardinals anointed by Pope | The  Times of Israel

As Israel faces ongoing political and social instability, its new cardinal has said that since achieving stable peace in the near future is unlikely, constructive efforts in facilitating dialogue are needed.

Speaking to journalists during a Sept. 28 press briefing, Cardinal-Designate Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, said his appointment was a surprise, and that he sees the red hat as “a responsibility.”

“To be a cardinal is not just a title, but also a responsibility, to be a voice from Jerusalem, of Jerusalem, about our situation, and also from Jerusalem to all the churches, to be able to say something positive for constructive building in this very complicated context,” he said, referring to Israel’s socio-political crisis and the broader tensions of the Holy Land.

Constructive efforts in bettering the current situation are difficult “but not impossible,” he said, saying what can be done to improve the status quo “depends on what your perspective is.”

“If you want to arrive to a solution of peace where everyone is living peacefully and will love one another, of course we are not there, and I don’t think we are going to see this [anytime] soon,” he said.

Yet at the same time, Pizzaballa insisted that “it’s possible to create a context of peace, a context of encounter, of dialogue, in society, in groups, in movements.”

“There are many people, Israelis and Palestinians, belonging to different religions, Christians, Muslims and Jews, who are ready to cooperate, to do something positive in society. This is what we have to do right now,” he said.

Pizzaballa, who will get his red hat from Pope Francis Saturday, has been in the Holy Land for 34 years, and is seen as one of the most authoritative Church voices on regional affairs.

His appointment takes place amid a recent uptick in violence between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as ongoing tensions over the controversial judicial reform pioneered by the rightwing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Violence in the West Bank has surged following Israel’s general elections last November, bringing in the country’s most rightwing and nationalistic coalition to date, composed of hardline parties many observers accuse of being increasingly radical, worsening the violence.

For example, Netanyahu’s far-right coalition includes settler leaders in key roles, including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who in 2007 was criminally convicted for incitement of anti-Arab racism and support for a Jewish militant group.

Observers have argued that the presence of Ben-Gvir and other equally radical coalition members has empowered Israeli settlers to tighten Jewish control of the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Church leaders have spoken out against these actions, voicing concern that such efforts are a threat to the Christian presence in Jerusalem, while Palestinians have pushed back.

Christians themselves have been subjected to increased discrimination, with Holy Land leaders, including Pizzaballa, issuing repeated statements condemning acts of violence and discrimination, and urging greater religious tolerance and respect for minorities.

Observers have also warned that democracy in Israel is at stake amid the debate over a controversial judicial overhaul.

In July the Israeli parliament passed a controversial law stripping the Supreme Court of its power to declare government decisions unreasonable, marking the first step in a massive judicial overhaul which many fear will worsen the country’s crisis.

In his conversation with journalists, Pizzaballa said the Church’s position on issues such as the current political upheaval “is that we never say anything publicly about this, because it’s a crisis within the Israeli Jewish society mostly.”

“We say what we have to say, which is, you cannot change basic laws by majority, you need to have a vast majority. These laws should reflect the desire and the will of all the country, which is not the case right now,” he said.

Pizzaballa said he has met with Netanyahu several times, but not in recent years, and that there is no direct contact with the government, though the Church does have regular contact with certain state ministries, such as the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Tourism, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Another issue Pizzaballa addressed is current debate over the international status of Jerusalem, one of the most sensitive topics in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Jerusalem is claimed by both Israel and Palestine as their capital city, while international law under the United Nations formally recognizes Jerusalem as a Palestinian territory illegally occupied by Israel, with most diplomatic partners housing Israeli embassies in Tel Aviv.

However, in 2018 United States President Donald Trump made the controversial decision to move the US embassy to Israel to Jerusalem, prompting a wave of international backlash, including from Vatican officials.

“First of all, I have to say that it’s the first time after many years that the Holy See is talking about Jerusalem and the Status of Jerusalem. It’s something we didn’t hear, not only from the Holy See, but many other countries, for a long time,” Pizzaballa said.

Apart from the United States and a few other countries, there are no embassies in Jerusalem, he said, “because embassies are in Tel Aviv and also because from the international community, the status of Jerusalem is still under discussion, (it) should still be under discussion.”

“How realistic it is, it depends how strong the international community wants to be,” he said.

Referring to difficulties in moving between Israel and Palestine, which requires a special permit, Pizzaballa said the situation “hasn’t changed.”

“From Palestine, from Bethlehem, to go to Jerusalem you need permits, and permits are a nightmare, always. Our chancery is always working for permits for the Christian community, and the situation is changing continuously,” he said.

He said the Church has good line of communication with Israeli military authorities, “but it’s also true that we are always, in a way, in a limbo where you never know where you are.”

Pizzaballa also addressed the current situation in Gaza, a Palestinian city on the Gaza Strip under Israeli control which has traditionally been a hotbed of violence in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“Gaza is a prison, an open prison. Two million people packed inside there with a very difficult economic and social perspective for the future,” he said.

The Christian community in Gaza ironically complains the least, because they are “very well united, maybe because of the situation,” he said, and called the political and social situation of Gaza “something shameful.”