Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

January 31, 2007


Closing a parish church is one of the most difficult decisions to be faced by a bishop. The New York Times of January 28, 2007 described the pain felt by parishioners on hearing of the closing of East Harlem's Our Lady of Angels church. Several parishioners were quoted as to how much the parish meant to them. One can only sympathize with their sense of loss and the rupture of the strong spiritual and community bonds formed over the years. But one can only object to a group of Bostonians who, as reported in the New York Times, have come down to provide aid and advice to parishioners as to how to confront their archbishop by use of the media, demonstrations, and law suits. These outsiders may have no awareness of the long planning process that Cardinal Egan has undertaken over several years, utilizing professional planners and extensive consultation with vicars, local clergy, and parishioners throughout the affected areas. Provisions have been carefully made for adequate services for those whose churches are to be closed. Protests may well be justified where arbitrary decisions have been made with little or no consultations with the locals who are affected. That is not the case here.Church authorities would be remiss, if in the face of enormous demographic changes and shortage of clergy, they did not act to best utilize available resources where the need is greatest, rather than simply accept a status quo. Protests by locals, while understandable, are none the less ill-considered in light of what has gone on. The entry of outsiders, who neither know nor care about the extensive planning process undertaken, is simply unacceptable. The Cardinal Archbishop has acted with the kind of transparency and consultation that may not have been experienced by the outsiders.Another confrontation faced Cardinal Egan by way of an article, "The Cardinal's Sins" in the current issue of "New York" magazine. Allegations critical of the Cardinal's administrative style that surfaced in an anonymous letter of a couple of months ago and several of his actions were rehearsed again. Among these were his abrupt dismissal of some seminary faculty members and the sharp hostility that he showed to members of the bishops' own National Review Board as they attempted to carry out their mandate. Remember NRB member, former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating labeling some bishops as "mafia types". When I gave a deposition before the Board, one of its members, a prominent lawyer used by President Bill Clinton, exclaimed to me that he could not understand the hostility shown by many bishops to Board members, who gave up considerable time and income to help the bishops themselves. However these characterizations and actions may be appraised, nothing in them approaches in the slightest degree the popular or theological notion of "sins". Was the editor's title, quite unjustified by the content of the article, chosen because it was sensational, more attention getting, and more revenue producing? In any event, what the article reports should not in any way be labeled "The Cardinal's Sins". Rather "New York" magazine has committed a journalistic sin!
Posted by Msgr. Harry J. Byrne, JCD at 12:56 PM 0 comments
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January 28, 2007


Last Monday marked the thirty-fourth anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision of the US Supreme Court, which opened the floodgates on what eventually proved to be unrestricted abortion. Popes, bishops, and pro-life advocates have spoken out forcefully and authoritatively against abortion, emphasizing the inviolability of human life. But it is apparent that these authoritative statements of condemnation, however logical and well-founded, have not been adequate to stem the tide of political and popular acceptance of the pro-choice stance on abortion, There is need to recognize and rebut the principal argument for legal abortion: the notion that women have unrestricted liberty, including their control of their reproductive functions.

Regrettably, feminist ideology is perceived by many, both pro-choicers and pro-lifers, as necessarily including a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy. This need not be so. The organization, “Feminists for Life”, embraces the wide range of women’s new freedoms and new roles, but emphatically rejects the pro-choice option as part of the feminist package. When “Feminists for Life” were denied participation in various feminist gatherings, many prominent pro-choice intellectuals opposed their exclusion. Pro-life feminists, they declared, were just as legitimately feminists as pro-choice members. “Feminists for Life” thus gives enormous support and credibility to the pro-life position. They are feminists, indeed, as they support the ongoing freedom and new opportunities for women. But they draw the line at the notion of freedom for abortion choice.

Our Church does not share the kind of platform enjoyed by Feminists for Life”. It speaks out of a context widely regarded by many Catholics and non-Catholics, as opposed to the modern advances of women. Its denial of the abortion freedom is regarded as just one more of many anti-women attitudes and policies of our Church. A mother was asked, “How many sacraments are there?” “Seven for boys,” she answered, “and six for girls”. Not only is a woman’s ordination to priesthood out of the question. John Paul II forbad even any discussion of the topic. At a time of great shortage of priests, our Church imports priests from other countries, who frequently lack the language ability or cultural sensitivity for ministry here. Laymen, some retired, some still occupied with their profession or business, are ordained as deacons. They baptize, perform marriages, preach from the pulpit, have an ordained role in liturgies. Our religious sisters with a rich history in the life of our nation, with scholarly degrees, substantial experience in teaching and spiritual counseling, and with appropriate language and cultural skills cannot baptize, witness marriages, preach in the pulpit, or have a role in liturgies.

Altar girls have been permitted only in recent years but are still banned in many dioceses. Women unlike men cannot be formally installed as lectors. Pope John Paul II, in his many writing, including the encyclical “On the Dignity of Women”, praises women but invariably insists “on the complementarity of their roles”. It was JP II who sat in stony silence on his 1979 visit here while Sister Theresa Kane respectfully addressed him on the role of women.
Women have broken the glass ceiling in business and the professions, They are CEOs, judges, senators, governors of states, physicians, surgeons, and professionals in all fields. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi spoke of breaking the marble ceiling on her election as the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives. Aside from St. Paul’s “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Jesus Christ.” Aside from matters of justice; aside from failing to utilize in a time of need fully one half of our constituency, there would be the not inconsiderable benefit for our Church having a more credible context out of which to present our pro-life message. We are perceived as holding an outmoded patriarchal ideology of which being anti-abortion is a part. Our pro-life position need not carry this burden. By applauding the salutary advances of women in our society, we provide ourselves with a context out of which we speak in more persuasive tones.

By breaking the stained glass ceiling in our Church, our pro-life voices come out of a far more acceptable context.