When a priest is accused, the parish suffers too

When a priest is accused of sexually abusing a minor, the parish community inevitably becomes a victim.

The natural instinct of parishioners is to defend their spiritual guide,  and rally for his return.

No such outcome will occur at St. Leo Catholic Church in the Little Italy section of Baltimore, since it was announced this week that the pastor who was removed from his post more than a year ago because of a sexual abuse accusation reportedly has admitted to the offense.

The story about Pallottine Father Michael Salerno is on the Web site of The Catholic Review, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, as well as one of the local daily newspapers, The Sun.

I covered this story when I was a reporter at the Review, and remember the gasps from parishioners when they were told about the accusation and Father Mike’s removal. They voiced their anger about the person who made the accusation and pleaded to have their beloved pastor returned to service.

In the weeks and months that followed, parishioners who lived in the Little Italy neighborhood posted signs in their windows in support of Father Mike, and several even held a rally to protest his removal.

Not only was Father Mike a popular pastor, he was a successful one too, taking the reins of a struggling city parish in 1997 with only about 100 families and grew it to more than 800 families by 2007.

Those parishioners were suffering after Father Mike was removed, just as I’m sure they are suffering now with this latest announcement.

“Remembering Emilie”

Following up on yesterday’s post on the sad news of the death of Emilie Lemmons, we now offer a link to Catholic Spirit editor Joe Towalski’s column reflecting on her life, which has now been posted on the paper’s Web site. Towalski includes excerpts from Lemmons’ “Notes from a New Mom” articles over the past year and a half, plus there are links to some of her full columns for you to explore.

A sad but inspiring journey of a Catholic journalist, dead at 40

Death is nothing new to me.

Both of my parents died young, I’ve experienced the loss of friends and other family members, and I held my mother’s hand as she passed into the afterlife. As a journalist, I’ve covered more funerals and death-related tragedies than I care to count.

Emilie Lemmons

Emilie Lemmons

So, when I was assigned a story today about a Minnesota Catholic journalist who lost her 16-month battle with cancer at the age of 40, I didn’t flinch.

Then I read Emilie Lemmons’ column — “Notes from a New Mom” about how she was dealing with her grim prognosis — in the Dec. 17 issue of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and I found myself more inspired than sad.

The column was moving, spiritual, and forced me to examine my own mortality. I highly recommend giving it a read.

It turned out to be the last column Lemmons would write for the paper. She died Christmas Eve, leaving behind a husband, two small sons, parents, siblings and friends. The number of comments on her blog, Lemmondrops, reacting to her husband’s announcement of her death (280 at last count) would suggest that she has continued to inspire others.

Jim Harney never forgot about the world’s poor

 Justice advocate Jim Harney as portrayed by Rob Shetterly. (CNS/Rob Shetterly)

Justice advocate Jim Harney as portrayed by Rob Shetterly. (Rob Shetterly)

Catholic peacemaker Jim Harney, who promoted justice for the world’s poor through photography, lectures and retreats throughout the U.S. and Canada, died Dec. 26 after a protracted bout with brain cancer.

The 68-year-old former Catholic priest first gained notoriety as one of the Milwaukee 14, a group of priests and faith-based peace activists who burned some 10,000 Selective Service records with homemade napalm in a Sept. 24, 1968, protest against the Vietnam War.

Beginning in the 1980s, Harney lived and visited much of Latin America, the Caribbean and Iraq to document photographically the impact of economic globalization and war on the world’s poor. He also has led retreats for people seeking to tie together the work for justice and their faith life.

Most recently he was an artist in residence at Posibilidad in Bangor, Maine, a nonprofit center which seeks to engage people in conversation about those excluded from society.

Harney is being remembered by justice advocates as a wise elder whose concern for the struggles of poor people will continue to serve as an inspiration in their work.

A reminder that Christmas is not yet over

An angel is depicted with the Star of Bethlehem in a window at St. Mary's Cathedral in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (CNS/Crosiers)

An angel is depicted with the Star of Bethlehem in a window at St. Mary's Cathedral in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (CNS/Crosiers)

Terry Mattingly, a religion expert who writes a weekly column for Scripps Howard News Service and is also a major contributor to the Get Religion blog (which is must-reading for anyone concerned about the coverage of religion in the mainstream media), gave a nice little plug in a couple places last week to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ special Advent and Christmas section on the conference’s Web site. Mattingly pointed out (and we probably all need reminders) that the Christmas season doesn’t end when the carols stop on the radio and people throw their trees to the curb. (I saw two discarded trees just this morning on my drive to work.)

Since today is only the fifth day of Christmas, and since the USCCB points out that the Christmas season doesn’t really end until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the site is probably worth a visit each day from now until Jan. 11.

Happy Birthday, Vatican City!

VATICAN CITY — Mark your calendars. On Feb. 11, Vatican City State turns 80 years old.

To celebrate, the commission governing Vatican territory is presenting a special exhibition that will open Feb. 12 in the Vatican’s Braccio di Carlo Magno in St. Peter’s Square.

The show will document the birth and development of the world’s smallest country after the Lateran Pacts were signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Gasparri and Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini on Feb. 11, 1929.

Among the many interesting and notable objects at the show will be the actual accord from the Vatican Secret Archives, making it the first time the original treaty will be on public display.

An early engraving of the layout of Vatican City (CNS photo courtesy of Vatican Library)

An early engraving of the layout of Vatican City (CNS photo courtesy of Vatican Library)

There will also be a scale model made out of birch wood of the 108-acre Vatican City State and the magnificent miter of Pope Pius XI who oversaw the building of the state’s new infrastructure during his 1922-1939 pontificate.

Car lovers will enjoy the one-of-a-kind Citroen “Lictoria” parked at the show. It was specially made for Pope Pius XI and has a throne in the back seat.

In other news…

The Vatican said its Web site vaticanstate.va has gotten over 150 million hits since its inception last year.

And beginning Dec. 24, a new webcam was hooked up to offer Internet users a sneak peek of the pope’s gardens at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.

The garden-cam joins the previous five webcams pointed at: St. Peter’s Square; the basilica’s dome; the headquarters of the commission that governs Vatican territory; and Pope John Paul II’s tomb.

Vatican Nativity scene unveiled

The Vatican's Nativity scene at dusk on Christmas Eve. (CNS photo by John Thavis.)

The Vatican's Nativity scene at dusk on Christmas Eve. (CNS photo by John Thavis.)

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican unveiled its Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square at dusk on Christmas Eve. Workmen dropped a white curtain, and a few hundred camera flashes went off as a Vatican police band played. The scene changes a bit each year, and this one featured smaller home settings alongside Jesus’ manger in Bethlehem. A fountain and a hearth represented regeneration and light.

A few changes for the pope’s midnight Mass

VATICAN CITY — Like anyone preparing a traditional Christmas celebration, the pope’s master of liturgical ceremonies said he wants the venerable, tried and true elements to speak to people’s hearts as if they were brand new.

On Monday Msgr. Guido Marini, the papal Mass organizer, gave the Vatican newspaper a listing of rites and furnishings that have been added or moved for the pope’s Yuletide celebrations this year.

First, a prayer vigil will precede the pope’s Christmas Mass at midnight with “an alternation of readings, prayers and music to help the souls of everyone present enter a climate of prayer,” Msgr. Marini said. The vigil will end with the singing of the “kalenda,” an official proclamation of Christmas that had been part of the papal entrance procession for more than 20 years.


Pope Benedict XVI blessed the children who brought flowers to the Baby Jesus during his midnight Christmas Mass in 2007. (CNS/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Then, he said, the bells of St. Peter’s will ring during the singing of the “Gloria” to join the angels in announcing Christ’s birth with joy.

In the past, children from around the world, dressed in their native costumes, would bring flowers to the statue of the Baby Jesus and receive a blessing from the pope during the “Gloria.”  This year, Msgr. Marini said, the children will bring their flowers to the basilica’s Nativity scene at the end of Mass when the pope goes over to lay the Baby Jesus in it.

Another change involves the Vatican’s wooden statue of the Virgin Mary holding the Baby Jesus on her lap — a statue usually placed by the altar on the Jan. 1 feast of Mary, Mother of God. This year, Msgr. Marini said, the statue will be near the altar from Christmas Eve onward in order to “underline how Christmastime is also a Marian time. The Holy Virgin does not take anything away from the mystery of the Son of God made man, but helps us understand its real meaning.”


Pope Benedict XVI at the main altar in the Sistine Chapel Jan. 13, 2008. (CNS photo/Maurizio Brambatti, Reuters)

He also said that on the Jan. 11 feast of the Baptism of the Lord, when the pope will baptize 13 newborn children of Vatican employees in the Sistine Chapel, he would celebrate Mass at the chapel’s fixed altar, as he did a year ago. Under Michelangelo’s fresco, “The Last Judgment,” the altar is against the wall, requiring the pope to celebrate part of the Mass with his back to the congregation.

“Merry Christmas” in Chinese


VATICAN CITY — Every year, Vatican Radio offers Chinese Catholics around the world two special broadcasts of midnight Mass on Christmas Day.

First it will air live over shortwave and the Internet Mass from the radio’s chapel at 7 p.m. Rome time, which will be midnight in Beijing. Then at midnight Rome time, it will broadcast Pope Benedict XVI celebrating Mass live from St. Peter’s Basilica and provide commentary in Chinese.

Vatican Radio’s Jesuit Father Emanuel Lim told me today that a lot of people in China tune into the Christmas broadcasts. He said churches in China get so packed with people that many decide to stay home and follow the celebrations from the Vatican.  

He said a lot of non-Catholics are drawn to the midnight service “because they want to listen to the carols.”

Need last-minute ideas for Christmas gifts?

Here’s one: How about the gift of service?

Even when people do not have “the economic means” to give to others, “every one of us has the ability to pray and find a way to be of service,” said Detroit Cardinal Adam J. Maida in a pastoral letter on the economy, “Christ Our Hope,” issued in early December.

In the letter he offered hope and encouragement to those suffering hardships, and urged Catholics to show charity and solidarity to others in this time of difficulty.

Serving others at any time of year but particularly during this Christmas season might be the best present we can give to others — and to ourselves as it turns out.

In a Dec. 16 story in The Washington Post, Mark Snyder, director of the Center for the Study of the Individual and Society at the University of Minnesota said what those who volunteer regularly already probably know — volunteering improves people’s own self-esteem and gives them a deeper understanding of themselves and others.

In 2007 a study conducted by the federal Corporation for National and Community Service concluded that volunteering also helps people out physically, lowering rates of depression and reducing chronic pain. So if by now you haven’t finished that shopping list, a gift of time might be just the right item.

Or you can make a donation in a family member’s name to an agency that serves people or buy a gift card for a family member that he or she can redeem for a favorite charity.

One Web site that promotes this is JustGive, a San Francisco-based organization. It lists about a thousand legitimate charities in 19 categories, including many diocesan Catholic Charities agencies and national Catholic organizations such as Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. and Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities. The site is part of a movement to redefine Christmas gift-giving and promote more charity and less materialism.

Other sites touting holiday philanthropy include Network for Good, which also includes in its database a number of local and national Catholic organizations.


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