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Pennsylvania diocese opening faith-based addiction recovery high school

Allentown, Pa., Dec 17, 2018 / 03:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, is opening a drug and alcohol recovery high school for students, combining education, counseling, and faith in promoting healing.

Kolbe Academy will start its first term in September 2019. It will be a Catholic high school for students dealing with addiction, looking to recover from drug or alcohol abuse.

The academy is named after St. Maximillian Kolbe, who is the patron saint of people struggling with addiction.

Before entering the school, a student must have reached at least 30 days of sobriety. The school’s tuition will be about $16,000, which is similar to a 28-day treatment program. According to the diocese, it expects to establish scholarships to assist students with tuition.

Brook Tusche, the diocesan deputy superintendent of secondary and special education, told CNA that she had first discovered recovery schools after working in the public school system. She said the lack of effective resources in public schools for students with substance abuse was frustrating.

Normally, students who undergo treatment have only a 20 percent chance of sustaining their sobriety when they re-enter school. In comparison, she said recovery high schools have an 85 percent success rate maintaining sobriety.

After serving as a special education supervisor and director at a public school, Tusche was asked to join a recovery charter school. However, she found that secular recovery schools were still missing an important aspect – faith, described by Alcoholics Anonymous and similar groups as accepting a higher power.

“Many of these models were private, public, or charter, and they were not engaging a faith component,” she said. “Being actively engaged in my faith family and my work, I learned so much about addiction and recovery that the faith component is it. That’s the missing piece.”

Tusche pointed to a study conducted by the Pew Foundation, which highlighted the role of faith in the healing process. She said the study looked at those who reached long term recovery, 10 years or more of sobriety, and uncovered a widespread connection to faith.

“Those addicts in the recovery said the single reason they were able to maintain their sobriety and continue to grow in their recovery was because of their faith.”

In 2017, there were more than 72,000 drug overdose deaths in the nation, Tusche said, and Pennsylvania was the state with the fourth-highest overdose rates.

Kolbe Academy will accept about 80-90 students, in order to ensure an environment conducive to healing.

“That is done very deliberately to keeping a very small environment so that we really can cultivate the family component as well as the students’ individual healing and recovery,” Tusche said.

The program is a trifecta of sorts, promoting healing through a strong diocesan curriculum, intensive counseling, and a plethora of spiritual and sacramental opportunities.

Part of the education, she said, will be an online component. This is especially important for students whose school life has been impaired through their addiction or the initiation of their recovery. The virtual class option will allow students to catch up on the credits they may have missed.

The school will also utilize a variety of mental health professionals, including certified recovery specialists, certified coaches, and drug and alcohol certified counselors.

Part of the school’s goal, Tusche said, is to direct students to develop a peer-to-peer fellowship model.

“Recovery is more than just putting down the substance…[it’s] really understanding who they are themselves, understanding their strengths, some of their triggers for them.”

A major aspect of the counseling process will be family counseling and the development of a family support system. Because addiction affects family, friends, and the community, Tusche said, it is important to undergo healing along with the community.

“In order for true healing to happen, we all have to experience that healing, and families and friends need to be a part of that process because [the addicted] struggle with a stigma, with their own sense of guilt and shame, their own enabling.”

The family support will deal with a spectrum of experience levels – parents who may never have previously encountered addiction in their lives or parents who themselves struggle with addictive habits. The school will look to connect those families with other resources in the community, such as Catholic Charities.

The final aspect of the recovery program is spiritual – the school will include frequent prayer and service opportunities, seeking to reach students of all faiths.

It will be an “authentically Catholic experience with Mass, sacraments, with prayers in every class, with service, with campus ministry, and opportunit[ies] for kids who are Catholic and who are not Catholic to come in and experience what higher power is,” Tusche said.

While many high schools have a zero-tolerance policy, meaning students are expelled if they are caught even once with drugs or alcohol, Kolbe Academy will work with students to discover the reasons behind the relapse. Tusche clarified that the school will not tolerate terrorist threats, weapons, or intent to distribute.

“For individual use or relapse that may or may not have happened on campus, we are going to work with students for their safety and for their continued healing,” she said. “That may mean increased drug testing, increased accountability, [and] increased counseling sessions.”

Relapse does not always occur, but if it does happen, it is important for students to recognize the reasons behind the relapse, she said. Students can learn to identify the triggers which appeared before the relapse and the behavior that set them up for that regression.

“The most important thing in a relapse isn’t the actual day they brought the substance into their system, it’s looking back prior to that because a relapse really is behavioral, the thinking behind a relapse starts before they actually ingest that chemical.”

With the statistics pointing to rapidly increasing overdose deaths nationwide, Tusche voiced hope that faith-based recovery schools will be modeled throughout the country.

“Clearly, there is opportunity for and a need for more of this model, not only here locally, but when you look at those staggering statistics – 72,000 lives lost – this could be a national model in integrating quality academics, intensive recovery support in a faith based environment to help these kids heal, and really embrace their true identity and God’s purpose for their life.”


Saint Jose Manyanet y Vives

St. Jose Manyanet y Vives was born on January 7, 1883 in Catalonia, Spain. At the age of five, José’s mother dedicated him to the Virgin Mary, and later entered the seminary while still a youth. He was ordained in 1859 and served as the secretary of the bishop of Urgell, the seminary librarian, and the chancery administrator before responding to the call to found two religious congregations.He founded the Congregation of the Sons of the Holy Family in 1864, and the Missionary Daughters of the Holy Family of Nazareth in 10 years later, both dedicated to the education and protection of the Christian family, as well as education and parish ministry.He also founded several schools and centers, encouraged devotion to the Holy Family, and wrote many books on issues surrounding the family and spiritual guidance. Also, in the cultural ambit he worked for the construction of the Servant of God Antonio Gaudí’s masterpiece, the Temple of the Holy Family in Barcelona, Spain.He suffered from physical illnesses all his life, particularly due to two open wounds in his sides for the last 16 years of his life. He died on December 17, 1901 in Spain, and was canonized May 16, 2004 by Pope John Paul II.

The cycle of porn and loneliness

Richmond, Va., Dec 16, 2018 / 04:46 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Andy*, a devout Catholic and recently married man in his twenties, encountered a vicious cycle of pornography in high school and some college – a cycle of porn and loneliness.  

“[Porn] would create this whole loneliness, but then, [because of] that loneliness itself, I was seeking for some sort of connection and I was seeking that through the use of pornography, like this reciprocating cycle,” he told CNA.

Starting sophomore year of high school and ending sometime in college, Andy’s porn use would also make him feel shame about interacting with people. It would lead him to be more anti-social, then to loneliness, and ultimately to more porn use. He said it was real, human connection which broke that cycle.

“I found that one of the things that actually helped me break that cycle was actually more interaction with people that were really good friends and people that were there for me.”

Andy’s experience is not uncommon, according to a recent study from the Institute of Family Studies.

IFS linked greater porn use to increased loneliness and higher levels of loneliness to more porn use, pointing to a vicious and unhealthy cycle. One of the men behind the study, Mark Butler, wrote an article describing the research.

“If loneliness can lead to pornography use, and pornography use may bring about or intensify loneliness, these circular linkages may create a vicious cycle, pulling the user even further from health-promoting relationship connections,” he wrote July 3.

The study surveyed more than 1,000 people from around the world, and a statistical model was developed to analyze the potential reasons behind this cycle of loneliness and porn use.

Butler wrote that “each incremental increase in loneliness was associated with an increase in pornography use (by a factor of 0.16), and each incremental increase in pornography use predicted a significant increase in loneliness (by a factor of 0.20).”

“While the magnitude of effects was small, they were statistically significant,” Butler wrote. “Interlocking partnerships like this are worrisome since they represent an entrapment template associated with addiction.”

The model highlights the biological experience and results of the sexual system that ought to produce greater relational connection through pleasure and comfort.

“First, there’s the physical pleasure of arousal, intercourse, and climax – the engine designed to ensure offspring. Then, after climax, partners experience the brain’s 'love' plan for pair bonding, when oxytocin … is released, producing feelings of comfort, connection, and closeness.”

However, without a partner with whom to bond, the sexual activity produces a false relationship experience, “offering temporary ‘relief’ from lonely feeling, but soon enough, the user again faces a real-world relationship void,” he said.  

The mental fantasy of a relationship experience invited by pornography “only tricks the brain for a while,” Butler said.

“The user can’t escape the fact that when the experience is over, they’re still alone in an empty room. So, when sexual intoxication wears off, the experience may only end up excavating a deeper emptiness – a setup for a vicious cycle.”

The temporary escape from the long term loneliness creates a false-belief that porn is a “fix” for loneliness, he said, noting that it is similar to drug addictions.  

“The sexual system’s combination of two very different rewards – intense sensual gratification during arousal and climax, followed by oxytocin’s relief and comfort during the resolution period – could be thought of like a combined cocaine-valium experience and ‘hook.’”

“We hypothesize that this experience could create the potential for getting trapped in the short-term, feel-good escape of pornography joined with long-term loneliness.”

Butler also pointed to other studies that show a decrease in porn use after marriage, suggesting that human connection contrasts with this vicious cycle.

“Married persons use pornography less than single persons. The fact that pornography use decreases after marriage may hint at a link between pornography, relational success, and loneliness.”


*Name changed to respect privacy

This article was originally published on CNA July 11, 2018.

The Scripture Readings for Christmas Eve/Day

There are different readings (and prayers) for the "Four Masses of Christmas" celebrated at: the Vigil, in the Night, at Dawn, and in the Day.  Check here for the texts for each and commentary on them. (Note, however, that some pastors will choose to use these texts interchangeably.)

One way to prepare for celebrating Christmas is to take a look at how the four gospels present the birth, the origin of Christ.  This post provides those texts for you, below.

Did you know:
- that Luke's account never mentions the wise men?
- that Matthew's account doesn't mention the shepherds or a manger?
- that Matthew's Joseph had three significant dreams regarding the Nativity?
- that both Matthew (ch. 1) and Luke (ch. 3) include a genealogy of Jesus
       and that they're different?
- that neither Mark nor John includes the story of Jesus' birth at all?

 A little comparative study here may provide some surprises - and give you some good trivia questions for Christmas gatherings!

The gospel texts of the Christmas story follow here:

St. Luke by Peter Wilke
Chapter 2
(preceded in Chapter 1 by the story of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and their son, John the Baptist; and the story of the angel appearing to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, announcing that she will conceive by the Holy Spirit.)

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there, the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
"Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."
When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us."
So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.
When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child.
All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.
And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.
Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.
When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,"
and to offer the sacrifice of "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons," in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
"Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel."
The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted
(and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

St. Matthew by Peter Wilke 
Chapter 1
(Preceded by the genealogy of Jesus)
Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
"Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means "God is with us."
When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.
Chapter 2
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem,
saying, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage."
When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet:
'And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"
Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star's appearance.
He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage."
After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him."
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.
He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, "Out of Egypt I called my son."
When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:
"A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more."
When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt
and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead."
He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.
But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there. And because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee.
He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazorean."

St. John by Peter Wilke
Although there is no Nativity narrative in John, his gospel does treat of the origin of the Word made flesh.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be
through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.
But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God.
And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.

St. Mark by Peter Wilke
There is no Nativity narrative in the Gospel of Mark.  It begins with the preaching of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry.

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How this classical Catholic school welcomes children with Down syndrome

Louisville, Ky., Dec 16, 2018 / 02:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Students with Down syndrome study Latin and logic alongside their classmates at Immaculata Classical Academy, a Catholic school in Louisville, Ky., that integrates students with special needs into each of their pre-K through 12 classrooms.

The school emphasizes “education of the heart,” along with an educational philosophy tailored to the abilities of each student. About 15 percent of students at Immaculata have special needs.

“When you look at these students with Down syndrome in a classical setting, it is truly what a classical education is all about -- what it truly means to be human,” the school’s founder, Michael Michalak, told CNA.

“You can't learn compassion in a book,” Michalak explained.  He said the students at Immaculata are gaining “the ability to give of yourself to help others” through mutual mentoring constantly taking place in the classrooms.  

Michalek founded the academy along with his wife, Penny, in 2010. The couple saw a need for a Catholic school in which students like their daughter, Elena, who has Down syndrome, would not be segregated from her siblings. They wanted to keep their children together without compromising educational quality or spiritual formation.

“A classical education is, I think, the best education for a child with special needs because it is an education in everything that is beautiful, true, and good. It is perfect for these children,” Penny told CNA.

The school’s course schedule is configured so that students can move up or down grade levels by subject at each class hour, according to individual needs. “A second-grader might go to third grade math class and a child with Down syndrome in second grade might go over to first grade or might stay in second grade,” Michael Michalak explained. “Nobody is looking around and saying, 'Oh, they are going to special classroom.’ They are just going where they need to be.”

“In the midst of all of this we are not leaving students behind,” Penny added, “We keep our high academic standards while integrating students with special needs.”

Since its founding, the independent Catholic school has grown to a student body of 160. Other Catholic schools across the country have begun looking to Immaculata as a model, the Michalaks say.

“Whenever anyone visits our school, they always say, ‘Oh my goodness the joy of this place!’” Penny told CNA.

The couple attributes the school’s sense of joy to the Holy Spirit and “the joy of belonging.”

“Inclusion is more of a buzzword these days, but it is true that we all want to belong and we all want to be loved,” said Michael Michalek.

"Prayer is the air that we breathe. We start the day with prayer. Every class starts with a prayer and ends in a prayer,” said Penny, who entrusted the school to our Our Lady at the school’s founding with St. Maximilian Kolbe as its patron.

"Our whole philosophy is to teach every child as if we were teaching the Christ child, so that is how we handle each and every student," Penny continued.

A developing religious community, the Sisters of the Fiat, also teach at Immaculata. The sisters take an additional vow to serve those with with special needs, along with the traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

The school’s founders say they are aware of their unique witness and role in a world where many children with Down syndrome are aborted. The estimated termination rate for children prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome in the United States is 67 percent; 77 percent in France; and Denmark, 98 percent, according to CBS News.

At the annual March for Life in Washington, DC, students from Immaculata Classical Academy hold signs that read, “Abortion is not the cure for Down syndrome." The students are united in mission as “a pro-life school” and pray together for an end to abortion for their brothers and sisters with Down syndrome around the world, Michalak said.

The Michalaks have also adopted three children with Down syndrome.

Michael sees the founding of a school like Immaculata as the natural Catholic response at a moment in history when children with Down syndrome are especially at risk.

"Look at what the Catholic Church has done throughout history: We see orphans; we build orphanages. We see sick people; we build hospitals. It is in this particular time and place that we saw the need to take the lead on this and to start a school that incorporates the whole family.”

His wife adds, “When you are doing something that you feel called by God to do, it is a vocation, it is a mission, it is a can you not be full of joy when you know that this is the will of God. It is very rewarding.”


This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 2, 2018.

New Jersey bishops finalizing plans to compensate sex abuse victims

Newark, N.J., Dec 15, 2018 / 05:42 pm (CNA).- In the wake of sex abuse allegations against a former cardinal, the Catholic bishops of New Jersey have announced the creation of a fund to compensate victims of clergy sex abuse, while details of similar funds in Pennsylvania are also being finalized.

The New Jersey program aims to compensate “eligible victims of child sexual abuse including those whose financial claims are legally barred by New Jersey's statute of limitations,” the New Jersey Catholic Conference said in a Dec. 14 statement. “This program follows the many initiatives adopted by the Catholic dioceses in New Jersey since 2002 to implement safeguards and procedures to provide safe environments for children and to provide assistance to victims.”

Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille Biros will design, implement and administer the statewide compensation program. Feinberg is an attorney and mediator who headed the September 11 victims’ compensation fund.
He and Biros have adminsitered sex abuse victims compensation programs for many diocese in New York and Pennsylvania. New Jersey’s bishops described them as “respected internationally.”

The program will accept submissions of individual claims of sexual abuse of a minor, evaluate the claims, and settle them. It will be independent of any participating diocese. Program administrators will have “complete autonomy” to determine if a claim is eligible and what amount to compensate a victim.

The Catholic Church in New Jersey has already paid out $50 million in settlements to abuse victims, mostly involving claims where lawsuits are barred by the statute of limitations on civil actions, the Catholic bishops of the state said.

“This will give victims a formal voice and allow them to be heard by an independent panel,” the Newark archdiocese said last month in an announcement that the program was under development.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said last month that “the program also will assure that victims who have not received any financial compensation will be paid, regardless of whether their claims meet the time requirements of the statute of limitations.”

Tobin added that New Jersey’s dioceses will “undertake a complete review of their files” and release the names of all priests and deacons who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor. The list is expected to be released in early 2019.

In September, New Jersey’s Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced the creation of a task force in the state to investigate the allegations of sexual abuse and cover up.

Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop emeritus of Washington, headed the Newark archdiocese from 1986 to 2000 and was the first Bishop of Metuchen when it was founded in 1982.

In the early 2000s, the Archdiocese of Newark and the dioceses of Trenton and Metuchen paid settlements to men who alleged they were abused by McCarrick when they were adults studying in seminary. These settlements were not public knowledge until the summer of 2018, after two men came forward to say that they had been abused by McCarrick as minors.

Cardinal Tobin told journalist Mike Kelly he had heard rumors of McCarrick’s sexual misconduct soon after he became Archbishop of Newark in 2017, but did not investigate because he found the rumors unbelievable.

In neighboring Pennsylvania, a grand jury report published in August claimed to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 300 credibly accused priests. It presented a devastating portrait of efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations, either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal.

The accusations concerned incidents that are often decades old. Most of the priests accused of abuse have died.

Seven of the eight Roman Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania have said they will create compensation funds for victims of clergy sex abuse. The Altoona-Johnstown diocese started its own victim assistance program in 1999.

Bishop Lawrence Persico of Erie, Pa. announced details of a victims’ compensation fund on Friday, the Erie Times-News reports. That fund will also be administered by Feinberg and Biros, who are administering other funds in Pennsylvania.

“It is my sincere hope that the establishment of the Diocese of Erie’s Survivors’ Reparation Fund will provide some measure of justice, closure and validation for the terrible acts that victims endured,” Persico said. “Although money will never fully heal the deep wounds felt by survivors, this fund is a crucial step in the diocese’s ongoing reconciliation and reform efforts.”

Victims could have access to the fund by mid-February, with a claims period open for six months.

Known victims of abuse, whether by diocesan clergy, lay employees or diocesan volunteers, will be notified by letter.

Those victims not known to the diocese may submit a form on the Diocese of Erie’s website. Those who claim abuse will be asked to submit documents backing their claim.

Both minors and vulnerable adults will be eligible for the first phase of compensation, but not those who were victimized by members of religious orders.

The fund administrators will determine compensation based on many factors including the severity and duration of abuse; the age of the victim at the time of abuse; whether the diocese failed to act on prior knowledge of the accused abuser; when the abuse was reported; and the credibility of the claim.

Victims who accept compensation will be required to waive any rights they have against the diocese related to sex abuse allegations.

Persico emphasized that victims who accept compensation will not be obligated to refrain from public comment or public disclosure of abuse.

The estates of deceased victims and victims of non-diocesan personnel could be compensated in a second phase, depending on future contributions from insurance companies and religious orders.

Persico has said he favors such a compensation fund rather than a two-year window for victims of past sexual abuse to sue in cases where the statute of limitations for civil action has expired. Such legislation is stalled in the Pennsylvania legislature.

The diocese has argued that even if the statutes of limitations is lifted, the first claimants could receive significant judgments that leave little compensation for the majority of other victims.

Persico has backed an end to the abolition of statute of limitation for criminal penalties for sex abuse.

Monday Morning Offering: 12/17

Image: George Mendoza

Good morning, good God!

You ask me to rejoice - in good times and in bad.
You ask me to pray - all the time.
You ask me to be grateful - no matter what.

You ask a lot, Lord, so, in turn,
I'll try to offer a lot this Monday morning...

I offer you my desire 
to rejoice even when times are tough...
I ask you to stir up within me:
the joy that's yours to give;
the joy that only you can give;
the joy that can't be quelled by fear;
the joy whose source is deeper
than even my deepest grief...

I desire a joy greater than any loss I've known,
deeper than all my wounds
and stronger than all my fears...

Give me a joy that survives
my moods, my feelings,
my ego and my thin skin...

I pray for a joy that lasts,
endures, suffers through
and comes out on the other side
whole, true and intact...

When my heart is dry and my soul cloudy,
plant within me, Lord, seeds of joy
to blossom in seasons when my happiness
depends upon you alone...

I offer you my desire, Lord,
to know, to sense, to respond
to every nudge of your Spirit
prompting me to pray...

When I'm too tired or too busy,
when I'm angry or disappointed,
when I'm forgetful or self-centered,
just plain foolish or too lazy to pray,
send your Spirit to wake me up,
to turn my heart around,
to give me the wisdom to turn to you in prayer...

Open my eyes, Lord, to all the blessings
I've received from your hand,
all reasons to be joyful:
the blessing of life and the blessing of freedom;
the blessings of a place to live, water to drink,
food to eat and friends to love;
the blessings of your mercy, your grace,
your Word and even yourself
in the sacrament of the table
where we gather to give you thanks...

Free me of envy, Lord,
and jealousy of others:
make me grateful for what I have
and help me find my joy
in all that is already mine...

I offer you my desire, Lord,
to rejoice always,
to pray without ceasing
and to give thanks in all circumstances...

Remind me of all the joy you've given me, Lord:
help me hold those memories in prayer,
and give me a heart grateful
for all you've given and all you promise me...

Hear my prayer this Monday Advent morning, Lord,
today and through the week ahead...



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One of my favorite Christmas images

Photo by RMH

Just a happy Christmas image, one of my favorites:
my sister's grandson, Austin, peeking in at her window in Georgetown, Colorado...

This was taken six years ago  - but  that only makes it more special!

Joy to the world!

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Pause for Prayer: SUNDAY 12/16

In these days before Christmas we find ourselves surrounded by the happiness of others who might seem to have a joy in their hearts we have trouble finding in our own.  When it's hard to find the joy, difficult to rejoice, we might pray this way...

I will rejoice, Lord -
in every joy I've ever known...

I rejoice in joy forgotten:
help me remember and savor it...

I rejoice in the simple joys of youth
even if my youth was not always joyful...

I rejoice in the good times:
let me not forget them
or lose them among lesser memories...

I rejoice in hope that lifted my spirits -
even if sometimes hope left me disappointed...

I rejoice in those who've loved me:
family, friends and each kind stranger
whose path has crossed my own...

I rejoice just in knowing
you want me to be happy, Lord,
in mind and heart, in peace...

I rejoice in knowing you forgive me, Lord,
each and every time I fall and turn to you
for pardon...

I rejoice in all the second chances
you've so generously granted me
and all the new beginnings I have known...

I rejoice in knowing that even when I'm sad
your gifts of peace and joy are there for me,
they wait for me...

Help me claim what joy I've turned away
when I was hurt and angry, Lord,
or sinking in self-pity...

I rejoice in knowing
my burdens aren't forever
and that all shall be well, Lord,
that all shall be well,
that all manner of things shall be well...

In all times, Lord, in good and in bad,
I thank you for the joy
of simply knowing you...

And because I know you love me,
I rejoice, Lord, I rejoice...



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Homily for December 16

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent
Scriptures for today's Mass


It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Well, that’s what the song says - but for many,
the truth is something very different - and not so wonderful…

• When you tear off the bright ribbons and wrappings of Christmas,
you’ll often uncover, underneath, some sadness...
• If you look closely behind all the quick and easy holiday smiles,
you may find tears, moistening many faces…
• As you listen to Christmas music,
you might hear your own heart echo strains of loneliness and loss…

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

But if you douse the candles and pull the plug on the lights on the tree,
if you take down the wreaths and the mistletoe…
You see, it’s not all that difficult to looka lot like Christmas -
for many, the really hard part is to feel a lot like Christmas.

Happy holidays!  Happy holidays!

But “the holidays” just aren’t a happy time for many people.
And even for those who do find the holidays to be uplifting
their happiness is often marked by some degree of sadness,
moistened with tears, laced with melancholy,
edged with a certain measure of sorrow.

So, a bittersweet experience - as it is for me this year.
This year I celebrate my 25thChristmas as a pastor in Concord:
my 25th and last Christmas in Concord.

Much of what this season purports and pretends to be
is, for many, just that: a posture, based on a presumption
that we’re all supposed to feel and act in a particular way,
-- in a particularly joyful way - every time December rolls around.
For many folks, that’s very difficult;
and for some it’s nearly impossible.

And yet, here’s St. Paul urging us in the scriptures today: 
Rejoice in the Lord always!  I shall say it again: rejoice!
Paul’s words might be hard for some of us to swallow,
especially if we find the holidays to be a difficult time.

But there’s also a truth, a wisdom, in Paul’s words
that can serve all of us well.
The joy St. Paul writes about is something quite different
than being “merry” in each year’s twelfth month.
The joy of faith is of far greater strength and substance
than “yuletide glee.”

Rather, the joy of faith is rather like a river
coursing through the depths of our hearts
even in those times when life, all around us,

may be desert-thirsty and  bone-dry:
times when we need, so desperately,
just one cool drop of water
to slake a thirsty sadness threatening to consume us.

The joy of faith is like a light, glowing,
somewhere deep within our souls
when everything around us is dark and cloudy,

that light does not go out.
When everything is over-shadowed by loss and disappointment,
that light still burns.
This is a joy within, waiting for the soul’s long, dark night to pass
and for a new day to dawn with light to shine on the path we walk
and lead us safely home to peace.

The joy of faith comes in that moment when,
somewhere deep within,  in a place we may have long forgotten,
we find a hint, a trace, a gift, a grace from God,
reminding us that there is another way,

there is another day;
that we’re not alone but that we walk with God,
who walks with us, who’s been with us,

every step along the way, all along our dark and rocky path…

The joy of faith isn't about being “merry.”
It’s about the peace that comes from trust in God,
in God’s abiding love for us,

even and especially in difficult and hard times:
in the hope that peace is waiting for us:
a peace that knows no sorrow, knows no pain:
a peace that has no end,

a peace that can reawaken joy in us.

And as if St. Paul encouraging us to rejoice always isn’t enough
he writes this, too:  Have no anxiety!    (Right!  “Have no anxiety!)
He says: In everything, make your requests known to God!

I know some people who are tired of praying.
They’re tired of praying because they’ve already prayed for so long
for someone, or for some thing or for themselves
and it seems that God’s not answering.
Sometimes it may seem that God’s not even listening.

But no prayer ever leaves our lips without God’s hearing it
and even our unspoken prayers, hiding in our hearts' silence -
are heard by God.

God’s doesn’t always answer quickly  - or in the way we want,
but prayer always draws us closer to the Lord,
who knew, himself, what it was to cry out
when it seemed no answer would come,
when it seemed that no one was listening to him.
We may not readily receive what we pray for
but every prayer can draw us closer to the love of God.
The presence, the companionship of God with us
is the first answer to every prayer.

And, St. Paul goes on to say:
If you rejoice always, and pray at all times,
then God’s peace will be yours.

What’s this peace Paul speaks of?
It’s more than the end of conflict. 
It’s more than a solution to my problems.
It’s the peace that comes of knowing that God is with me,
in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.
It’s the peace that comes of knowing that whatever I’ve done,
what ever my troubles may be, whatever tomorrow may bring:
God loves me as I am
and there’s nothing’s greater than God’s love.

This peace, then, isn’t a peace
I hope is somewhere “down the road”
at the end of all my difficulties and troubles.
The peace Paul writes about is the peace of God
accompanying me, on my rocky path, every step of the way,
through all my troubles.

Can we stop for a moment, then,
and maybe close our eyes and pray…
Can we put our problems in the Lord’s hands for a few minutes…

Can we remember something joyful in our lives:?
Can we remember a person, a relationship,
a place, a time, an event that brought us joy
– even something long ago?
Can we remember that joy and savor it, delight in it again,
for just a moment -  and thank God for it?
Can we hold that joy in a grateful heart,
and take in, drink in, the peace it seeks to offer us?

Let’s pray…

Lord, the jolly jingle's all around us but not in every heart...
Red and green are everywhere but some folks just feel blue...
The rushing 'round to buy and wrap disheartens lonely souls...

Plans for Christmas eve leave out those who'll be alone...
This “merry month” will be, for some - the hardest time of all...

So, help us, Lord, we pray...

Help us hear the tears that fall as Christmas bells are ringing...
Help us see the shades of blue that cloud a neighbor's joy...

Help us wrap our love to share with those who'll be alone...
And let your gentle touch rest upon hearts that know the ache

this season often brings,
let your blessing come, Lord, with grace,
to heal our hearts with peace,
on Christmas day...                         



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