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.