‘Houston, we’ve got a problem’

Apollo 13 astronauts Fred Haise, Jim Swigert and Jim Lovell. (NASA photo)

Today is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 13 crisis, when the spacecraft was crippled in the middle of its planned trip to the moon. Forget a lunar landing and moonwalk; finding a way to get the three astronauts home safely was going to be a formidable enough challenge for the NASA engineers.

Houston control center during final 24 hours of Apollo 13 flight. (NASA photo)

A member of that space mission, Jack Swigert, was a Catholic. The predicament facing him and his crewmates held the nation and the world spellbound. Three-and-a-half days after Swigert issued his famously simple summation of the oxygen tank blast that crippled Apollo 13 — “Houston, we’ve got a problem” — NASA brought the crippled craft safely back to earth.

The rescue achieved a new popularity thanks to the 1995 movie “Apollo 13,” with Kevin Bacon playing Swigert.

One might think there would be nothing that could surpass such a dramatic point in someone’s life. And possibly so. Swigert made an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in 1978. Four years later, he ran for a U.S. House seat in a newly created congressional district in Colorado and won, but he did not live to be seated. Two days after winning the Republican primary in September 1982, doctors found he had bone cancer.

Thinking they had found the cancer at an early stage, Swiger’s physician said at the time tht his chances of survival were “probably better than those for getting back from the moon in a broken spaceship.” Swigert  won the general election with 63 percent of the vote, squeezing in chemotherapy during full days on the campaign trail. That Dec. 19, he was airlifted to Washington for treatment, and the cancer was found to have spread to his lungs. He died eight days later.

Statue of Mary that survived Nagasaki nuclear blast to visit US for first time

Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki, Japan. (CNS/Paul Haring)

While another in a series of important events aimed at making the world safer from nuclear weapons occurs this week with the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, plans are under way to bring a statue of Mary that survived the 1945 nuclear blast in Nagasaki, Japan, to the United States for first time.

Actually, only the head of Mary will be displayed at a May 2 Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, reported Ecumenical News International. It’s the only part of the wooden statue that survived the powerful explosion.

The Mass will mark the opening of a four-week U.N. conference on nuclear nonproliferation.

The statue once stood in Nagasaki’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception -– Urakami in Japanese. The cathedral was leveled by the blast, which claimed an estimated 74,000 lives.

The Mass will be one of several activities in which Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki will participate beginning April 30, ENI reported.

Although born in March of 1946, the archbishop is considered a survivor of the Nagasaki bombing because his mother was pregnant with him when the blast occurred Aug. 9, 1945.

Archbishop Takami and Bishop Joseph Asumi Misue of Hiroshima in February called on all world leaders to work toward the abolition of all nuclear weapons.

The archbishop reportedly also is expected to meet with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon or his deputy to deliver the February statement directly.

‘The Holy Father that I know’

Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., weighed in March 31 on recent coverage of sex abuse and the church by The New York Times and attorney Jeffrey Anderson’s disclosure of documents to the newspaper, mainly concerning the case of Father Lawrence Murphy, the late Wisconsin priest who molested over 200 boys when he ran a school for deaf and hearing-impaired children in Wisconsin during the 1960s and ’70s. The bishop points out that the Times coverage was far from thorough and focuses on old complaints about the church while ignoring the wholesale sexual abuse of minors occurring today in government institutions.

Bishop Lori’s column appeared originally on the Web site of the Knights of Columbus. It is reposted here with permission.

It is Holy Week, that time out of time, when we remember the most important events of all time: Jesus’ suffering, his crucifixion, and his conquest of death. The world, of course, is filled with distractions. In this holy season some, especially the news media, want us to focus instead on the supposed failures of our pope, Benedict XVI. The New York Times is again leading the attack, now accusing the Holy Father himself of being complicit in “the widening sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.” I want to share with you my reflections about this subject.

It appears that the timing of these articles is calculated. The March 25 New York Times story suggesting that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, permitted a known offender to continue in ministry for almost thirty years was based upon documents provided to it by Jeffrey Anderson, an attorney who has received over $100 million suing Catholic institutions and who is now suing the Vatican itself. Mr. Anderson received these documents in discovery in December 2008. Why did he wait until now to hand them over to the Times? Was it to help his suit against the Vatican? Was it to coordinate with claimant groups protesting in the Vatican on the very day of the Times report? Was it to promote legislation friendly to plaintiffs’ lawyers such as we are fighting here in Connecticut and elsewhere? Was it to sully the holiness of this week? We don’t know. We do know that Mr. Anderson controlled the timing, and the Times helped.

The truth is that there is no widening problem of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, at least not in our country. A comprehensive “Causes and Contents” study conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice showed that, by the early 90s, this problem was largely corrected because many bishops already had in place safe environment programs and zero tolerance policies. In 2002 the U.S. bishops took additional steps to reach out to victims and to ensure the safety of children and young people by issuing their landmark Charter and Norms. For our church serving almost 70 million American Catholics, there were six allegations of childhood sexual abuse by priests occurring in 2009. No other institution working with children gets close to this level of safe environment.

Let us now focus on the stories in the New York Times regarding Father Lawrence C. Murphy, the deceased Milwaukee priest who was accused of molesting young people during the 1960s and 70s when he headed a school for the hearing and sight impaired. To be sure, his heinous behavior was utterly reprehensible and destructive. At the same time, however, the Times’ story incorrectly reports that Cardinal Ratzinger was complicit when, “instead of discipline,” Father Murphy was “quietly moved” to the Diocese of Superior where he continued “working freely with children in parishes” for 24 years until he died in 1998. The police looked into the allegations regarding Father Murphy in 1974 and apparently found insufficient evidence to take any action. Nevertheless, Father Murphy lost his job as head of the school for the hearing and sight impaired in 1974. The documents the Times itself posts show that his removal was not “quiet” but that the police were informed, that there were protests and leafleteering, and that there was “disclosure and public humiliation in 1974.”

Finally, the Times states that Father Murphy was “never disciplined.” This simply is not so. The Times does not tell its readers that, shortly after new allegations came his way in 1993, Archbishop Rembert Weakland promptly suspended Father Murphy’s faculties and ordered him to cease all public ministry, all unsupervised contact with children, and all contact with persons, places, and situations giving rise to temptations. The Times either hid the fact that Father Murphy was disciplined by suspension of his faculties because it did not comport with the story it wanted to tell, or because Mr. Anderson withheld the documents from the Times that detailed this discipline.

In fact, if the New York Times had bothered to check with Father Thomas Brundage, the judicial vicar for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee from 1995-2003, they would have been found that at the time of his death, Father Murphy was still a defendant in a canonical trial (an internal trial conducted by the church) in Milwaukee for the crimes of sexual abuse and solicitation within the confessional. Thus, the New York Times either was less than forthcoming in stating that Murphy suffered no discipline, or Mr. Anderson, through selective document disclosures, played the New York Times like a fiddle. The shameless and reckless assertions by the Times and other media outlets that Cardinal Ratzinger somehow interfered with the trial by the church are categorically false. Father Brundage, who was the presiding judge of the canonical trial, says unequivocally “with regard to the role of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) in this matter, I have no reason to believe that he was involved at all. Placing this matter at his doorstep is a huge leap of logic and information.”

Here’s what I know about Pope Benedict XVI and sexual abuse. As detailed by John Allen of The National Catholic Reporter, when Cardinal Ratzinger became the Vatican’s “point man” on the problem in 2001, he personally reviewed hundreds of files. He then wrote the bishops of the world that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would henceforth handle all sexual abuses cases involving priests. Under his leadership the congregation provided bishops with crucial direction and support in canonically removing offending priests from ministry. In most circumstances, the congregation approved direct administrative actions so that bishops could discipline and remove priests without the delays of full canonical trials.

In 2002, I assisted in writing the Charter and Norms for the Protection of Children and Young People. I was also one of the four U.S. diocesan bishops who went to Rome to secure approval of the Norms. I personally witnessed the pivotal and positive role that Cardinal Ratzinger played in helping the American bishops to respond to the sexual abuse crisis. Thanks to Cardinal Ratzinger, the United States Norms won approval from the Holy See. Together with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the Norms have helped the U.S. bishops to bring about a true culture change in the church. State of the art safe environment programs have been developed. Countless victims have been assisted. Priests who posed a danger to young people are out of ministry. Dioceses cooperate closely with law enforcement officials (contrary to yet another faulty op-ed piece in the New York Times). The congregation also helped bishops of other countries deal with the sexual abuse crisis. When he became pope, Benedict XVI made resolution of the abuse problem a priority. Instead of attacking this pope, we should be thanking him for helping the church confront this crisis in a way that benefits victims, the church, and society.

There is an additional problem with the New York Times report worth mentioning. It states that Father Murphy “also got a pass from the police and prosecutors who ignored reports from his victims.” This clause is the entire comment that the Times gives to the failure of the one government entity that had the greatest power to conduct an investigation and remove an alleged sexual perpetrator from being around children. The church has no search warrants or prisons. The police do. When government fails to manage the risk of sexual abuse, the New York Times and other media too often give government a pass. If we really care about protecting children, then the fourth estate needs to focus its spotlight on those institutions with the greatest problems. In January of this year, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that one out of ten young people incarcerated in government-run detention facilities were sexually victimized by their guards during the single year of 2008. This represents 2,370 victims. Where was the Times report? And the number of sexual abuse victims in public schools dwarfs the problem in juvenile detention facilities.

The Times sued the Diocese of Bridgeport to acquire privileged documents from court files so that it could re-publish stories of long settled sexual abuse cases that occurred during the 1960s and 1970s. Yet it ignores that since 1992 in Connecticut alone, 112 Connecticut public school teachers and coaches have lost their license to teach because of sexual contact with students; and since 2006, 19 foster parents paid by the State of Connecticut have been disciplined for sexually abusing the children in their care. Where’s the outrage and the calls for resignations? Having the pope and the Catholic Church bear the entire blame of childhood sexual abuse may benefit the trial lawyers and serve the agenda of their media partners, but it does nothing to protect children today. Transferring billions from Catholic dioceses, religious orders, and their charitable and educational ministries in a time of economic crisis only creates new victims. It is time that church-bashing give way to responsible reporting and even-handed public policy.

‘Media decides, then reports’

Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote an item headlined “Media decides, then reports” for The Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog today on media coverage of the sex abuse crisis. Her main point is that the news media show “a frightening naiveté” when they report on the release of documents by attorneys suing the church as if those documents were new or had just been discovered.

She concludes:

There’s a lot to be reported on child sexual abuse. It’s a sin and a crime and more prevalent in society than anyone ever dreamed before the 21st century. Some organizations, such as the Catholic Church in the United States, have made massive efforts to deal with it. People are learning how to spot abusers. The Catholic Church has educated more than two million people to do so. Children are learning how to protect themselves. The Catholic Church has educated more than five million children in this regard. There are lots of stories there. But such stories take time to report and plaintiffs’ attorneys make no money promoting them. And that, at least for now, isn’t news.

You can read her entire piece here. The issue is also addressed in another section of the “On Faith” blog, which describes itself as a “conversation on religion and politics.” There, several regular “On Faith” panelists weigh in this week on the question of whether the news media is being fair to the pope.

Mike Krzyzewski: Life Beyond the Rim

That’s the headline on a feature story from St. Anthony Messenger magazine about Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski — “Coach K” to any of us who follow basketball. For those of you who don’t follow sports, Krzyzewski’s Duke team won the national championship of college basketball Monday night.

The St. Anthony Messenger feature is from 2006 but it’s still worth reading today. It paints a portrait of Krzyzewski as a man who is more than a basketball coach, a man whose Catholic faith is a major part of his life.

Catholic paper gets Vatican-watcher’s view on abuse crisis

Sandro Magister (CNS/Paul Haring)

Our Sunday Visitor editor John Norton today published a commentary on the sex abuse crisis from veteran Vatican-watcher Sandro Magister. Headlined “Decoding accusations against Pope Benedict,” the article for the April 18 edition of the national Catholic newspaper includes a broadside at The New York Times for what Magister considers a double standard in how the newspaper reports on the church, comparing its story last month on the accusations of a “coverup” by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the case of an abusive Wisconsin priest to other reporting it has done on similar issues.

Pope’s Easter message: “Let us sing to the Lord”

VATICAN CITY — Here is the Vatican’s English translation of Pope Benedict XVI’s Easter address given with his blessing “urbit et orbi” (to the city and the world):

Cantemus Domino: gloriose enim magnificatus est.

“Let us sing to the Lord, glorious his triumph!” (Liturgy of the Hours, Easter, Office of Readings, Antiphon 1).

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I bring you the Easter proclamation in these words of the Liturgy, which echo the ancient hymn of praise sung by the Israelites after crossing the Red Sea. It is recounted in the Book of Exodus (cf 15:19-21) that when they had crossed the sea on dry land, and saw the Egyptians submerged by the waters, Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, and the other women sang and danced to this song of joy: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed wonderfully: horse and rider he has thrown into the sea!” Christians throughout the world repeat this canticle at the Easter Vigil, and a special prayer explains its meaning; a prayer that now, in the full light of the resurrection, we joyfully make our own: “Father, even today we see the wonders of the miracles you worked long ago. You once saved a single nation from slavery, and now you offer that salvation to all through baptism. May the peoples of the world become true sons of Abraham and prove worthy of the heritage of Israel.”

(CNS/Paul Haring)

The Gospel has revealed to us the fulfilment of the ancient figures: in his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has freed us from the radical slavery of sin and opened for us the way towards the promised land, the Kingdom of God, the universal Kingdom of justice, love and peace. This “exodus” takes place first of all within man himself, and it consists in a new birth in the Holy Spirit, the effect of the baptism that Christ has given us in his Paschal Mystery. The old man yields his place to the new man; the old life is left behind, and a new life can begin (cf. Rom 6:4). But this spiritual “exodus” is the beginning of an integral liberation, capable of renewing us in every dimension – human, personal and social.

Yes, my brothers and sisters, Easter is the true salvation of humanity! If Christ – the Lamb of God – had not poured out his blood for us, we would be without hope, our destiny and the destiny of the whole world would inevitably be death. But Easter has reversed that trend: Christ’s resurrection is a new creation, like a graft that can regenerate the whole plant. It is an event that has profoundly changed the course of history, tipping the scales once and for all on the side of good, of life, of pardon. We are free, we are saved! Hence from deep within our hearts we cry out: “Let us sing to the Lord: glorious his triumph!”

The Christian people, having emerged from the waters of baptism, is sent out to the whole world to bear witness to this salvation, to bring to all people the fruit of Easter, which consists in a new life, freed from sin and restored to its original beauty, to its goodness and truth. Continually, in the course of two thousand years, Christians – especially saints – have made history fruitful with their lived experience of Easter. The Church is the people of the Exodus, because she constantly lives the Paschal Mystery and disseminates its renewing power in every time and place. In our days too, humanity needs an “exodus”, not just superficial adjustment, but a spiritual and moral conversion. It needs the salvation of the Gospel, so as to emerge from a profound crisis, one which requires deep change, beginning with consciences

I pray to the Lord Jesus that in the Middle East, and especially in the land sanctified by his death and resurrection, the peoples will accomplish a true and definitive “exodus” from war and violence to peace and concord. To the Christian communities who are experiencing trials and sufferings, especially in Iraq, the Risen Lord repeats those consoling and encouraging words that he addressed to the Apostles in the Upper Room: “Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:21).

For the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that are seeing a dangerous resurgence of crimes linked to drug trafficking, let Easter signal the victory of peaceful coexistence and respect for the common good. May the beloved people of Haiti, devastated by the appalling tragedy of the earthquake, accomplish their own “exodus” from mourning and from despair to a new hope, supported by international solidarity. May the beloved citizens of Chile, who have had to endure another grave catastrophe, set about the task of reconstruction with tenacity, supported by their faith.

In the strength of the risen Jesus, may the conflicts in Africa come to an end, conflicts which continue to cause destruction and suffering, and may peace and reconciliation be attained, as guarantees of development. In particular I entrust to the Lord the future of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea and Nigeria.

May the Risen Lord sustain the Christians who suffer persecution and even death for their faith, as for example in Pakistan. To the countries afflicted by terrorism and by social and religious discrimination, may He grant the strength to undertake the work of building dialogue and serene coexistence. To the leaders of nations, may Easter bring light and strength, so that economic and financial activity may finally be driven by the criteria of truth, justice and fraternal aid. May the saving power of Christ’s resurrection fill all of humanity, so that it may overcome the multiple tragic expressions of a “culture of death” which are becoming increasingly widespread, so as to build a future of love and truth in which every human life is respected and welcomed.

Dear brothers and sisters, Easter does not work magic. Just as the Israelites found the desert awaiting them on the far side of the Red Sea, so the Church, after the resurrection, always finds history filled with joy and hope, grief and anguish. And yet, this history is changed, it is marked by a new and eternal covenant, it is truly open to the future. For this reason, saved by hope, let us continue our pilgrimage, bearing in our hearts the song that is ancient and yet ever new: “Let us sing to the Lord: glorious his triumph!”