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'If you want to be happy for the rest of your life' - Study finds women of faith most satisfied in marriage

Denver, Colo., May 22, 2019 / 12:00 am (CNA).- A new study examining the correlation between religion and marital happiness found that women who are part of a highly religious, traditional couple are most likely to report being happy in marriage, as well as sexually satisfied in their relationship.

In addition, a woman in a highly religious couple was most likely to report that she and her spouse share responsibility for important household decisions, rather than one spouse making all the family’s decisions.  

The study of families in 11 countries, conducted by the Institute for Family Studies, found that “highly religious couples in heterosexual relationships” enjoy happier marriages and more sexual satisfaction than less religious, mixed, or secular couples.

At the same time, however, religious couples are not any less likely to experience domestic violence than are less religious or secular couples, the study found.

“In many respects, this report indicates that faith is a force for good in contemporary family life in the Americas, Europe, and Oceania,” the authors, made up of a mix of sociologists, professors and researchers, wrote. Many of the religious respondents to the survey cited family prayer as an important factor in a flourishing family.

“Men and women who share an active religious faith, for instance, enjoy higher levels of relationship quality and sexual satisfaction compared to their peers in secular or less/mixed religious relationships. They also have more children and are more likely to marry. At the same time, we do not find that faith protects women from domestic violence in married and cohabiting relationships.”

The 11 countries studied were Argentina, Australia, Chile, Canada, Colombia, France, Ireland, Mexico, Peru, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and the study drew on data from the World Values Survey (WVS) and the Global Family and Gender Survey (GFGS). Authors included those affiliated with Brigham Young University and Pew Research Center.

The authors focused on four outcomes regarding marriage: relationship quality, fertility, domestic violence, and infidelity. They note that many societies are experiencing a general turning away from “traditional” family life as fewer people marry and have children, and more people cohabitate or wait to marry later than in the past.

“Faith may buffer against this post-familial turn, both by attaching particular meaning and importance to family life and by offering norms and networks that foster family solidarity,” the authors wrote in the introduction.  

“But these questions are also important given that religion may be a force for ill—legitimating gender inequality or violence in the family—a concern that has taken on particular salience in light of recent headlines about religion, domestic violence, and child sexual abuse.”

Relationship satisfaction

The researchers defined “relationship quality” in terms of several factors, including a couple’s reported overall satisfaction, how important they view the relationship in their life, their satisfaction with their sex lives, and whether or not important household decisions are decided jointly or by just one of the partners.

In the sample used, 19% of couples reported never attending religious services, 60% attended only minimally, and 21% attended regularly.

Both women and men in “highly religious” couples— i.e. regular attendees— reported significantly greater satisfaction in their relationship than did both the other groups, with liberal, secular couples running a close second.

The difference was especially notable for women: women in “highly religious” relationships were  about 50% more likely to report that they are “strongly satisfied” with their sexual relationship than their secular and less religious counterparts.

“For women, then, there is J-Curve in relationship quality, with secular progressive women doing comparatively well, women in the middle doing less well,and highly religious women reporting the highest quality relationships,” the authors wrote.

“Among men, highly religious traditional men were found to be significantly higher in relationship quality than men in shared secular progressive and less religious progressive relationships.”

In addition, women in highly religious couples were most likely to report that she and her spouse practice joint decision-making in their relationship.

The researchers assigned a “relationship quality” score in order to compare different religious affiliations in their sample, with a higher score representing greater overall satisfaction. Catholic couples sampled reported an overall score of 15.83, which is equal to the score reported by Muslims and slightly higher than the score for nonreligious couples.

Protestants and Latter-Day Saints lead the table with scores of 16.36 and 17.24, respectively.

“In listening to the happiest secular progressive wives and their religiously conservative counterparts, we noticed something they share in common: devoted family men,” the authors wrote in a New York Times op-ed accompanying the release of the study.

“Both feminism and faith give family men a clear code: They are supposed to play a big role in their kids’ lives. Devoted dads are de rigueur in these two communities. And it shows: Both culturally progressive and religiously conservative fathers report high levels of paternal engagement.”

Relationship to domestic violence

The study found that “women in highly religious couples are neither more nor less likely to be victims of IPV [Intimate Partner Violence], and men in highly religious couples are neither more nor less likely to be perpetrators of IPV.”

Domestic violence— including hysical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and controlling behaviors— is neither more nor less prevalent among religious couples than among nonreligious ones, they concluded. Infidelity was highest among men in mixed or less religious couples than any other, however.

“Although women in less/mixed religious couples have a 26% probability of ever having been the victim of violence in their relationship, compared to a 21% probability for women in highly religious couples, and a 23% probability for women in shared secular couples, none of these differences are statistically significant,” the authors note.

Religion’s and fertility

In terms of fertility, the study found that people aged 18-49, who “attend religious services regularly have 0.27 more children than those who never, or practically never, attend,” and thus  “those with egalitarian gender role attitudes are less likely to be married and have slightly fewer children.”

The authors also examine a theory, which they say is common among academics in their field, that a shift in many societies toward greater gender equality, which often takes the form of married women continuing to seek work outside the home, may actually help to raise the fertility rate back to replacement levels in countries where it is especially low.

“In modern societies where women typically have high demands in the public (paid work) sphere of their lives, support from partners is necessary to make bearing two children commonplace,” the authors explained.

“Today, this support often comes in the form of a father involved at home with his family. If women commonly carry a “second shift” of work after they get home from paid work, they are more likely to retreat from childbearing than if they have a supportive partner on the home is men’s sharing of the second shift—their involvement at home—that is expected to support replacement fertility.”

In contrast to this theory, however, the authors’ research demonstrated that those who hold egalitarian gender role attitudes have far fewer children than people of faith.

“Individuals who support workplace equality, those who embraced a progressive gender role ideology, actually had significantly fewer children than those who supported favoring men when jobs were scarce,” they noted.

Even in areas such as Europe where fertility rates are low, across the board people of faith have more children than their secular counterparts, they found.

“Across low-fertility countries in the Americas, Europe, East Asia, and Oceania, highly religious people are not decreasing in number, and neither are their more traditional gender role attitudes impeding their fertility,” the authors concluded in that chapter.

“We have shown that people of faith contribute toward sustainable fertility in modern low-fertility societies.”


Florida Catholic Conference asks governor to halt execution of serial killer

Tallahassee, Fla., May 21, 2019 / 05:38 pm (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Florida are calling on the state’s governor to spare the life of Bobby Joe Long, a convicted serial killer who is scheduled to be executed on Thursday.

“Although [Long] caused much harm, society has been safe from his aggressive acts in the decades of his incarceration. Without taking his life, society can be protected while he endures the alternative sentence of life without the possibility of parole,” said Michael Sheedy, executive director of the Florida Catholic Conference, in a May 20 letter to Governor Ron DeSantis.

Long has been on death row since 1985 and is scheduled to die by lethal injection on May 23.

He pleaded guilty to killing eight women in and near Tampa Bay during an eight-month span in 1984. He also claimed to have raped dozens of women.

Long’s lawyer has argued that the 65 year old is mentally ill and suffers from epilepsy, which could lead to him having a seizure when the lethal injection drugs are administered. The lawyer said that Long is constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty.

The Florida Supreme Court recently denied Long’s appeal on procedural grounds.

On behalf of the state’s bishops, Sheedy asked the governor to consider commuting the sentence to life without parole.

“Floridians around the state are gathering in prayer for all who have been harmed by Mr. Long’s actions, for him, and for an end to the use of the death penalty. We also pray for you as you consider this request,” he said.

Sheedy acknowledged the heinous nature of Long’s crimes but said that capital punishment will not further public safety.

Since Long was sentenced, Sheedy said, modern medicine has gained a greater understanding of brain trauma and its effects on behavior. He highlighted the history of Long’s brain injuries.

“His attorneys have filed briefs that call attention to the multiple traumas he experienced throughout his life, including the motorcycle accident he suffered in 1974. That incident profoundly affected him and his behaviors. It contributed to his receiving a disability rating from the military, from which he was honorably discharged,” said Sheedy.

Even without these mitigating circumstances, the Florida Catholic Conference would still oppose the death penalty for Long, he said, pointing to a change in the Catehcism of the Catholic Church last year to hold the death penalty as inadmissible.

“The death penalty is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person and denies the possibility of redemption,” Sheedy said.

“Please promote a consistent pro-life ethic in our state. The cycle of violence – to which Mr. Long’s acts have contributed – must end. His execution would only perpetuate it.”

Democratic governor of Louisiana says he will sign heartbeat bill

Baton Rouge, La., May 21, 2019 / 05:05 pm (CNA).- The governor of Louisiana - a Catholic Democrat - says he will sign a bill banning abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, if the legislation arrives on his desk.

“My inclination is to sign it,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards, according to the Monroe News Star.

“It's consistent with my unblemished pro-life record in my years as a legislator and governor,” he said earlier this month.

Last year, Edwards signed a bill to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The governor has cited his Catholic faith as influencing his pro-life beliefs.

The bill still needs approval by the House. If enacted into law, it would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually around six weeks into pregnancy. Similar laws have been passed in several other states this year, including Kentucky, Georgia, Mississippi, and Ohio.

While the national Democratic platform is clear in its support for legal abortion, Edwards said on his monthly radio show that his views align with many members of his party in Louisiana.

“I know that for many in the national party, on the national scene, that's not a good fit. But I will tell you, here in Louisiana, I speak and meet with Democrats who are pro-life every single day,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

Edwards ran for governor on a pro-life platform. In a TV advertisement in 2015, his wife Donna had spoke about her first pregnancy. She said they were pressured to have an abortion by the doctor after they found out their daughter had spina bifida. They couple refused, and their daughter is now married and employed as a school counselor.

“I was 20 weeks pregnant with our first child when the doctor discovered she had Spina Bifida and encouraged me to have an abortion. I was devastated, but John Bel never flinched. He just said ‘No, no we are going to love this baby no matter what’,” said Donna in the video.

Edwards is up for re-election this year. According to the AP, his Republican opponents U.S. Representative Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone have tried to associate him with the abortion advocacy of the national Democratic party.

But the governor rejects that characterization.

“This is not an easy issue to pigeonhole people - or especially me - on, at least, because I don't think the labels really work,” Edwards said.

Pennsylvania Catholic church vandalized with pro-choice graffiti

Philadelphia, Pa., May 21, 2019 / 03:54 pm (CNA).- A Catholic church in Pennsylvania was vandalized with pro-choice graffiti over the weekend as the abortion debate escalates around the country, following the passage of a major abortion law in Alabama.

Parishioners at Notre Dame de Lourdes parish in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania were greeted at Sunday Mass by messages that had been spray-painted on the church’s doors and outside walls, according to CBS Philly.

A message painted in black on the front doors read: “You do not have the right to decide how others live.” Another message on the side of the church read: “#ProChoice.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">A church in <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#DelawareCounty</a> was vandalized with abortion rights graffiti. <a href="">@joeholdencbs3</a> has the story: <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; CBS Philly (@CBSPhilly) <a href="">May 20, 2019</a></blockquote>
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“It was very shocking to come up to the church and see that,” Jessica Prince told CBS Philly. “I’d have to say the first half of Mass was me crying the whole time because I was so upset somebody would do that to the church.”

“If people wanted to come and stand outside our church and protest our beliefs, go for it,” Prince added, “but vandalizing a property, I think, is taking it way too far.”

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia told CBS Philly in a statement that security footage of the incident had been found and handed over to police, who were investigating the incident.

“...the parish will cooperate with law enforcement as it investigates the incident. This afternoon, parishioners successfully removed the graffiti,” the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said.

In February of this year, an incident in which a man threw a statue of Mary into the trash and damaged the statue at a Brooklyn parish was investigated as a hate crime by authorities.

The graffiti incident comes after Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law a bill that will outlaw nearly all abortions in the state. The law is intended to directly challenge Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that declared it unconstitutional for states to prohibit abortions.

The Human Life Protection Act (HB314) will make attempting or performing an abortion a felony offense for doctors, though women would not face criminal charges for undergoing an abortion.

It also comes just weeks after Pennsylvania state representative Brian Sims posted videos to Twitter in which he harassed and doxed multiple people, including three minors, who were praying quietly outside of a Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia.

Sims later apologized for violating Planned Parenthood’s policy of not engaging protestors, although he did not apologize to the woman he had confronted.


Burns: 'Sensational' raid on Dallas chancery was 'traumatic' and unnecessary

Dallas, Texas, May 21, 2019 / 03:05 pm (CNA).- The Bishop of Dallas says that a May 15 police raid on diocesan offices was sensationalism, traumatic, and a waste of resources.

“This event was most traumatic for those who were present in the building at the time, as some of the approximate 40 law enforcement agents approached employees in ski masks and SWAT gear,” Dallas Bishop Edward Burns said in a statement.

Burns said that while a subpoena would have sufficed for obtaining documents from the diocese, “the Dallas Police Department chose the sensational action of conducting this unnecessary raid.”

“We find this week’s events to be most troubling and consuming of significant resources that could have been put to much better use.”

Investigators from the Dallas child exploitation unit arrived at the chancery the morning of May 15 to search for information and evidence in relation to five current or former clergy of the diocese.

According to a search warrant affidavit, the investigation focused on Fr. Edmundo Paredes, Fr. Richard Thomas Brown, Fr. Alejandro Buitrago, Fr. William Joseph Hughes, Jr., and Fr. Jeremy Myers.

Searches were also carried out at a warehouse storage facility and a nearby parish.

All five men were included in a list of names of clergy “credibly” accused of sexual abuse released by Texas’ dioceses in January. The Diocese of Dallas released the name of 31 accused clerics, including 24 incardinated in the diocese and seven priests either from other dioceses or religious orders who had worked in Dallas.

Burns said that the raid was executed because police falsely believed the diocese was hiding from police information that seemed to be missing from its files.

“But in reality, the Diocese cannot turn over what it does not have. All of the files for the names in the affidavit have been turned over, and the Diocese was working directly with Police on this, spending hours combing through thousands of files, some of which were decades old,” he wrote.

While some 51 pages were given to police well after initial documents were given to police, Burns said this was because they were discovered during an ongoing review of 221,855 pages of relevant documents in possession of the diocese.

“To imply that these documents were intentionally withheld in any capacity is to truly misrepresent the nature of our correspondence with the Dallas Police Department,” Burns added.

The raid, Burns said, represented a breakdown in collaboration between police and the diocese.

“Despite months of working with members of the Dallas Police Department and civil officials with respect to the release of our list of credible allegations on January 31, 2019, some members of the Police Department still felt it necessary to write the affidavit and institute this raid,” the bishop lamented.

“In speaking to civil authorities, I say that the Catholic Church needs you; we do not want to feel as if we are your enemies, but that is precisely what we have been made to feel today. I will continue to work diligently in removing even the hint of sexual impropriety among the clerics in this Diocese, and I pray that the Dallas Police Department will help me to do this.”

Wounds & Caresses

Readers familiar with Paul J. Griffiths’s work know they must be prepared to encounter provocation in his new book, Christian Flesh, for Griffiths is a provocateur in the best sense, someone who intends to leave the reader uncomfortable and thereby provoke conversation. Griffiths enjoys a good scrap of the clarifying kind, and in this book I think he has invited readers of various stripes to a variety of good scraps.

The fundamental category of Griffiths’s ethical analysis is, as the title suggests, “flesh.” “Body” is reserved for inanimate material (including corpses); “flesh is living body” and “haptic,” constituted as flesh by its ability to touch other flesh and to be touched in return. Two basic categories of touch are identified: the “caress” and the “blow” (or “wound”), but “the gift of flesh is given and received, among humans, principally by caress.” “Caress” includes gestures we normally associate with the word—e.g. the “copulative caress” and other “more intimate” caresses such as lovers “kissing open-mouthed, staring into the darkness of one another’s pupils”—but also gestures called “caresses” by a kind of extension, such as the caress “given by mother to child in the womb,” the “intimate oral caress” young children offer almost everything, and even “strangling—a caress that is also a wound.”

In the “devastation” of the Fall, flesh is fragile, mortal, its very capacity to caress inextricably tied to wounding: “the concupiscent caress…wounds what it touches.” The flesh of Jesus is the great exception. As “the flesh of a divine-human person,” it is not subject to the vulnerabilities of devastated flesh except insofar as Jesus willed. Jesus’ resurrected flesh, in a transitional state, is not available for touch until it has ascended, when it is again available to “lingual and manual caress,” in the Eucharist. Jesus’ flesh is thus flesh “transfigured.” It opens the possibility for our flesh—and the caresses it gives—to be transfigured in and as his own. In baptism our flesh is “cleaved” to Jesus’ flesh.

This creates a new category of flesh, “Christian flesh.” As Griffiths explains, “Those who are Christian…are by definition so in a fleshly sense; there’s no other way they could be Christian. ‘Christian flesh,’ therefore…labels just and only those who are Christian.” Christian flesh has an intimacy with Jesus’ flesh that non-Christian flesh does not. From 1 Corinthians 6:12–20, we learn that Christian “bodies are Christ’s limbs” and Christ’s limbs should not make themselves one flesh with prostitutes. Christians are told to “abandon fornication” and “glorify God in your own body.” Thus, Griffiths writes, “Christians are glued to Jesus’ flesh, stuck on it, brought into it, made participant in it…. Their flesh’s limbs are, now, analogically and participatorily, Jesus’…. What they do with them is what he does with his.” “When Christian flesh glorifies the Lord, it acts in accord with what it is; when it does not,” as in fornication, “it speaks against what it is by what it does.” Since Christian flesh participates in the freedom of Christ’s flesh, “all things are permitted” to Christian flesh, even if not everything is “expedient” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Thus the key question is what is consistent with “Jesus-cleaved” flesh.

Baptism is the paradigm of fleshly gift, and because of that it asks nothing of those who receive it, except that they do receive it, and as fully as possible. The extent to which they receive it is the extent to which they reciprocate it, returning it with appropriate passion; and the extent to which they reciprocate it is the extent to which they do not perform fleshly actions that speak against it.

Since all things are permitted—because baptism asks nothing of those who receive it except that they do receive it—no act is malum in se, evil in itself, at least for Christian flesh: “There are no bans and no precepts and no commandments.” Scripture may seem to have bans, but these are all translatable from the imperative to the indicative: “Don’t have sex with temple prostitutes and don’t eat food offered to idols can be rendered, when thinking theologically about what they must mean, as having sex with temple prostitutes / eating food offered to idols isn’t what Christian flesh does.” Thus, “there are no universal norms binding Christian flesh…with respect to matters of the flesh.” The “preacher, the catechist, or the canon lawyer” may need more, Griffiths concedes, but moral theology should be content with realizing that “there are uses of the flesh that, for Christians, typically involve idolatrous fornication.” But that does not make any of them malum in se, including “sex between adults and children.” I hasten to add that it is clearly not Griffiths’s intention to promote or countenance such behavior. But it does leave this and other acts Griffiths mentions—such as the eating of living human flesh, buying and selling sex as a commodity, and violent pornography—in a kind of uneasy limbo, not to mention cases which go unmentioned, such as the direct killing of innocent human life and rape. Even if one does not regard these as malum in se for Christians, wouldn’t one at least want to say that such acts are never consistent with “Jesus-cleaved flesh”?


In Griffiths’s account, the “flesh” of Christ appears oddly disconnected from the very personal act of love by which the divine Word redeemed us.

After systematically applying his principle to various matters regarding dress, eating, and sex, Griffiths notes that his ultimate disagreement with “magisterial teaching” on sexual ethics is “not a contradiction” of it “but rather a dubium,” a “doubt about whether in its usual acceptation that teaching is right.” Actually, a dubium is just a technical term for a request for clarification in cases where a law or statement seems unclear. In that sense, I would like to pose some dubia to Griffiths.

First, what is the relationship between the moral theology he sketches in this book and natural law? Negative precepts of the natural law—e.g., the prohibition against direct killing of innocent human beings—are universally binding, for Christians and non-Christians alike. One benefit of natural-law theory is that it assumes a certain solidarity among humans as humans. It binds us together as aspiring moral agents, both in what we should avoid, and even more in what we can admire and encourage, across cultures and religions. Does Griffiths not believe there is a natural law? Or does he simply believe it does not apply to Christian flesh? Not to believe in natural law at all would seem a much more radical departure from Catholic moral teaching than to disagree about particular teachings. To believe in natural law while also believing it does not apply to “Christian flesh” would seem to set Christians apart from other people in a way that decreases the possibilities of solidarity. It appears to divide Christians from other human beings precisely with respect to that feature of our humanity that one might expect to be the basis of universal solidarity: our common flesh and blood.

Second, is the insistence on “flesh” as the fundamental term of moral analysis related to an underlying ambiguity in sacramental theology? Griffiths makes a point of not using “body” as his fundamental term, yet Catholic sacramental theology hinges on the “body” much more than on “flesh.” Individual Christians are not the “flesh” of Christ but members of the Body of Christ. Griffiths does not mention the one place in Scripture where “flesh” is used in this connection (Ephesians 5:31–32), perhaps because there the “one flesh” union is between Christ and the whole church, not between Christ and individual Christians. This makes a great deal of difference. In relation to the rest of the world, the church is characterized not as one kind of “flesh” among others, but as a body. Nor are the members of this body bound together by having a different kind of flesh, or by cleaving individually to Christ’s flesh; rather, they are bound together by the one sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, accomplished “for love of the world” (John 3:16). The church—as a body, the Body of Christ—is thus ordered toward the world in the very same love. It is, in this way, “like a sacrament—a sign and instrument of communion with God and of unity among all humans” (Lumen gentium, 1). Baptism does not give us a special kind of flesh but rather incorporates us into the Body of Christ and, in so doing, orders us toward love of the world in Christ.

Furthermore, the Eucharist is “body, blood, soul and divinity”; it is not ordinarily described as the “flesh” of Christ (despite John 6:51–55) because such a description would risk literalizing the sacrament. Griffiths, I think, is insufficiently attentive to this risk. It is not enough to say, as he does, that the “flesh” we are “lingually caressing” in the Eucharist is the “ascended flesh” of Christ. He does say that we encounter this ascended flesh “under the veil of bread and wine,” but that veil seems particularly thin when one can “lingually caress” what he also calls the “breadflesh and wineblood,” both highly ambiguous expressions. Griffiths does claim that John 6 is speaking of Jesus’ “ascended flesh” and not his “natal flesh” when it says that this flesh is edible, but this distinction turns out to be less firm than it seems, for Griffiths later claims that Dante’s Ugolino is damned not for eating his children’s dead bodies, but for not eating their living flesh when it was offered: “For Ugolino to weep, to call his children by name, and to eat their living flesh freely offered, would have been to enter into a eucharistic economy, an economy participant in that constituted by the natal flesh of Jesus, freely offered.” But Jesus did not saw his natal fingers off and offer them as food to his disciples. The Eucharist is not a sacramental version of cannibalism. Here one can see the connection between Griffiths’s unwillingness to say there is anything malum in se (such as eating living human flesh) and his alarming tendency to literalize sacramental language.

A third and final dubium: Is the ambiguity in Griffiths’s sacramental theology related to an underlying ambiguity in Christology? Although he writes that Jesus is a “single person with more than one nature,” and the incarnation is “of the Word, the second Person of the Trinity,” he also describes Jesus as “a double-natured person, a divine-human person.” This is, at the very least, an unnecessarily confusing formulation, as is the claim that Jesus’ flesh is “the human flesh of a divine-human person.” Why not just say it’s the human flesh belonging to a divine person? That would be clearer, more precise, and much more in keeping with the canonical formulation: “He who was crucified in the flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, is true God, Lord of glory, and one of the Holy Trinity” (Constantinople II, CCC 468). Or again, when Griffiths writes that Jesus’ flesh “is human flesh proper to a person who is both human and the LORD, both Jesus of Nazareth, born to Mary, and the Christ, the Messiah who is the son of the living [G]od,” he needlessly suggests two sons—one Mary’s, the other God’s. These ambiguities obscure the mystery that Christ, for our sakes, lowered himself to become sin, persisting in that solidarity through a death he made his own, even though death properly belongs only to the sinful.

In Griffiths’s account, the “flesh” of Christ appears oddly disconnected from the very personal act of love by which the divine Word redeemed us. The Incarnation seems to lose its sacramental character of mediating the self-emptying act of the Word to all flesh through the flesh that is unambiguously his. Is all flesh really beloved by God? Or is Christianity just another sect, with a new elite kind of flesh that belongs, unambiguously, to no one except the sectaries, who enjoy a kind of liberty that no one else can claim? Is human flesh as human flesh thereby degraded? Is there not a tinge of Gnosticism to this theology? These are the questions raised for me by Christian Flesh. This book has prompted me to ponder the issues it raises more deeply, for which I have its provocative author to thank.


History or Hit Job?

In 1966, the American Council on Education issued a study that failed to uncover a single Catholic university with a “distinguished” or even “strong” graduate department among the three-hundred-plus Catholic universities and colleges in the United States. This prompted Monsignor John Tracy Ellis, then the leading historian of American Catholicism and a tart critic of Catholic intellectual life, to suggest a radical consolidation.

“I don’t think we should have more than three Catholic universities in this country,” he told me in an interview for Newsweek: “one on the Atlantic seaboard, one in the Middle West and one on the West Coast.”

Given the autonomy of each institution, Ellis knew that a reduction in numbers in the service of concentrated excellence would never happen. But that didn’t prevent a public-relations contest among the larger Catholic universities. Should Georgetown or the Catholic University of America represent the East? Which Jesuit university should survive in the West? But in the middle of the country, the winner seemed obvious: it had to be Notre Dame.

Why? The biggest reason was Theodore M. Hesburgh, who in 1952 had begun his remarkable thirty-five-year tenure as the university’s president—or its “second founder,” as one historian at the university has put it. In addition to driving Notre Dame into the front ranks of higher education, Hesburgh distinguished himself in public service, serving six U.S. presidents in sixteen various assignments, including the National Science Board, the Presidential Commission on Civil Rights, and the Select Committee on Immigration and Refugees. He was on Harvard’s Board of Overseers and represented the Vatican to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

On his ninety-sixth birthday in 2013, lawmakers from both political parties threw Hesburgh a gala in Washington during which they unveiled a portrait of him that now hangs in the National Gallery—the only Catholic priest so honored. He had long since been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Medal of Honor. At his death two years later, a great many admirers, myself included, hailed Hesburgh as the most consequential American priest of his era.

Wilson D. Miscamble is having none of it—or at least very little of what he dismisses as “the learned hagiography of [Hesburgh’s] obituaries.” His American Priest is the first biography of Theodore Hesburgh since his death and—more to the point—the first to measure the man and his achievements from a conservative political and theological perspective.

An Australian, a fellow priest of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, and a former chair of Notre Dame’s history department, Miscamble writes well and is an able historian. He obviously cares about Notre Dame and, inevitably, invites reflection on what has been lost as well as gained in Catholic higher education. Notre Dame during the Hesburgh era is as good a place as any to ask what happened.

But American Priest is a biography, after all, and what Miscamble concludes about the character and motives of his subject can be simply put: Theodore M. Hesburgh bartered away the Catholic mind and soul of the university he loved for the pottage of academic prestige, and in the process he himself became the liberal establishment’s “accommodating and acceptable priest.”

As Miscamble makes clear in his preface, he never witnessed Hesburgh in action—never saw him command a room, which he did far better than most politicians, or chair a board, and never enjoyed even so much as an extended conversation with the man until 1998 when Hesburgh, then eighty-one, agreed to a series of interviews at the university’s rural retreat in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin. The sessions began at 8:30 p.m. in the evening, with Fr. Ted swirling his favorite Scotch toddy, and over six days amounted to about twenty-four hours of questions and answers. To judge by his endnotes, a great many of Miscamble’s questions dealt with issues like what Hesburgh thought of the priests who were contenders to succeed him—gossipy inside baseball of interest to few people outside of the South Bend campus.

Miscamble’s original aim, he says, was to write a “comprehensive biography of the ‘life and times’ sort that would build on” Hesburgh’s own as-told-to memoir, God, Country, Notre Dame, published in 1990. And that is how he sold his proposal to Fr. Ted. But two years later, he tells us, he participated in a formal university-wide conversation about the nature and challenges of a Catholic university at which “a sizable element on the university’s faculty seemed determined to emasculate Catholicism’s role in the academic heart of university.” Stung by that experience, Miscamble jettisoned his original idea in favor of “a more honest and authentic account of his life” than the “always positive persona of ‘Father Hesburgh’” so effectively presented in the best-selling memoir.

“Honest” and “authentic” are not the words that came to mind as I read Miscamble’s book. The chief conflicted figure in this book is the author himself. It is almost painful to watch him try to reconcile his instincts as a sober historian with his compulsive ideological thrusts. Time and again he undercuts his skillful narratives of Hesburgh’s manifest gifts and accomplishments with brief, Brutus-like stabs at his subject’s character and moral integrity. For instance, throughout the book we are told that Hesburgh “basked” in the praise he received from this or that secular audience, that he “did his best imitation of Uriah Heep” when it appeared very likely he would become president of Notre Dame, and so on. Had Miscamble worked like historian Robert Caro, say, to authenticate his otherwise gratuitous assumptions, readers would be less inclined to dismiss them as snarky efforts to portray his subject as vain and status-seeking.

In the same vein: no sooner does Miscamble tell us that Fr. Ted lived in a small room at Notre Dame overlooking a dumpster than he adds that, when in New York on business with the Rockefellers and other members of “the liberal elite,” Hesburgh often stayed in a suite at the Commodore Hotel—the unstated argument being that he lived extravagantly when on the road. In fact, the Commodore was a very ordinary hotel down the street from Newsweek that had seen better days, and the suite was corporate-owned and maintained for use by visiting board members. Lodging there saved Hesburgh from expensing the university.

Again, Miscamble several times tut-tuts Hesburgh for spending his Christmas breaks with the families of two wealthy friends on California’s Baja Peninsula. What he doesn’t tell us is that during those vacations, Fr. Ted celebrated Mass every morning for the peasant workers there, many of them Mexican immigrants, or that with the financial help of his Protestant hosts he built a chapel for them as well.

Miscamble’s chapters on Hesburgh’s service on behalf of U.S. presidents and the Vatican are generally accurate, at times even admiring. But having jettisoned his initial plan for a wide-angle focus on Hesburgh’s life and times, he inevitably skirts important contexts that would have dictated different conclusions.

For instance, Miscamble observes that during the civil-rights era, Hesburgh did not join protest marches (lest the famous photo of Fr. Ted singing “We Shall Overcome” with Martin Luther King Jr. in Chicago should make people think otherwise). He does acknowledge the important role Hesburgh played as chairman on the Civil Rights Commission. But for an author who considers Hesburgh’s legacy “conflicted,” he completely ignores how Hesburgh’s highly public support for civil rights brought him into conflict with Notre Dame’s white and mostly conservative alumni and donor base. I know because, as a civil-rights reporter in Omaha in the mid-1960s and later as a journalist in New York, I saw firsthand the Catholic anger he ignited, not only among conservative Nebraskans but also among the very Irish Notre Dame alumni living in liberal New York City.

Decades later in the biography, when Hesburgh is old and cannot see well enough to read, Miscamble is still biting at his subject’s heels. Hesburgh had student volunteers come up to his office on the thirteenth floor of the Hesburgh Library to read to him from a stack of newspapers and magazines. But Miscamble mentions only the New York Times, which, he adds condescendingly, “he still thought contained all the news that’s fit to print.” This slow drip-drip of snide asides and mischaracterizations continues to the end of the book.


Hesburgh knew from experience that academic freedom was not a value highly prized by some Vatican education officials.

What is it about Hesburgh that provokes Miscamble to abandon his historian’s cool? It’s partly the company he kept: this American priest ate with sinners. Miscamble’s Exhibit A is Hesburgh’s acceptance of an invitation from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1961 to join its board and, later, its executive committee. At the time, the foundation was deeply concerned about global population growth and ways to combat it. Hesburgh stipulated that he would not vote on issues involving abortion and contraception. Nonetheless, Miscamble believes that his board membership made him complicit in the foundation’s support for both. Miscamble fails to mention that the Vatican itself participated in the global conversation on population through its designated expert, Fr. Arthur McCormack, and that in a twenty-article supplement on the subject published in 1972 in the New York Times and paid for in part by Planned Parenthood International, Hesburgh’s contribution argued against both abortion and state-sponsored population controls: “To redeem the times, and the population problem as well, we must redeem sex—to make it once again the language of love, of generosity, of children responsibly and lovingly begotten.”

Equally pernicious, in Miscamble’s view, was the tradition Hesburgh began of inviting pro-choice politicians to the Notre Dame campus despite their position on abortion (though, to his credit, he cites Hesburgh’s cool deconstruction of Mario Cuomo’s famous but fatuous speech). Sometimes these politicians—such as Presidents Jimmy Carter (who waffled on the issue in 1976) and Barack Obama (who pretended to)—were given honorary degrees. Miscamble tells us that the aged Hesburgh “basked” again during Obama’s visit. But perhaps because he was busy protesting the president’s presence on Notre Dame’s sacred soil, Miscamble failed to notice that the most eloquent speech that day was given by the president of the university, Fr. John Jenkins, who managed to welcome Obama while insisting on the university’s commitment to defend the life of the unborn.

Indeed, it is Hesburgh’s failure to trumpet his pro-life commitment more publicly that impels this nasty assessment of his moral character:

To speak on abortion would have put him at odds with so many of his friends in the American establishment—with the Rockefellers, with Bob McNamara at the World Bank, with Mac Bundy who was then heading the Ford Foundation. It was not simply a concern about putting at risk the personal status and acceptance he had won; he represented Notre Dame, and his university was in the midst of striving to improve and to build its reputation as a modern American university. To speak out on civil rights brought favorable recognition to Notre Dame from the people who mattered in academe, the media, and the foundations. But abortion was quite different. What might they think of Notre Dame if its leader stood to the fore of the pro-life movement?

In a word, Hesburgh was a toady.

The charge is scurrilous and unsubstantiated. It is also craven. To judge by the endnotes, Miscamble used his brief time interviewing Hesburgh to ask him about everything but what really interested him—abortion, contraception, population control, and why he took Notre Dame and, indeed, all of Catholic higher education, in the direction he did. He could also have probed Jimmy Carter, Joseph Califano, and many other political figures who knew Hesburgh well about just how honestly and vigorously he did or did not represent the teachings of the church.

The simple truth is that Hesburgh supported Cardinal Joseph Bernardin’s Consistent Life Ethic, which Miscamble obviously doesn’t, and found opportunities to defend the church’s reasoning on abortion that were closed to bishops and cardinals. That’s a major reason why Hesburgh rebuffed several opportunities for an ecclesiastical career—decisions Miscamble finds suspect. But Hesburgh regarded the role as too confining. In any case, David Rockefeller, Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, and the other super-wealthy Republicans among the “liberal elite” knew full well that their “American priest” was opposed to abortion and Roe v. Wade, and I’m sure that it simply didn’t matter. Hesburgh served on many boards in his lifetime. Most of them needed him more than he needed them, and in numerous cases—like a Notre Dame graduate’s rural hospital in Ecuador and my cousin’s small not-for-profit that aids Christians in the Holy Land—Hesburgh lent his name to help them attract donations. Miscamble’s book gives us nothing of that side of the man.

Miscamble’s second major complaint against Hesburgh is that he convinced the Congregation of Holy Cross to relinquish control of Notre Dame to a lay board of trustees and then, Pied Piper–like, seduced a core group of Catholic university leaders into backing the so-called Land O’ Lakes statement, which framed the Catholic university as a place free of outside institutional control, and called to create a community of learners and scholars “in which Catholicism is perceptibly present and effectively operative.”

Miscamble recognizes that Hesburgh’s aim was to assure that Notre Dame and other Catholic universities would enjoy academic freedom, not only for their faculty but also for the schools themselves. But he treats this solely as a declaration of independence from ecclesiastical authority. To be sure, Hesburgh knew from experience that academic freedom was not a value highly prized by some Vatican education officials. But had Miscamble provided the relevant historical context, the reader would better understand why these moves came when they did.

One immediate goad behind the push for academic freedom was eighteen months of extraordinary turmoil on Catholic campuses. There was an unprecedented faculty strike at St. John’s University in New York, then the country’s largest Catholic university, over the abrupt firing of thirty-one professors without explanation. Theologians and other faculty at the Catholic University of America went on strike to protest the firing (also without explanation) of moral theologian Fr. Charles Curran. Other campuses erupted, demanding reforms like faculty senates with the power to protect academic freedom and an end to the seminary-like rules that, historically, had governed student life. Clerical control of universities was seen as high-handed and outmoded, especially since three out of four professors were lay. A handful of Catholic colleges went wholly secular. But the long-term threat, as David Riesman and Christopher Jencks saw in their penetrating 1968 study The Academic Revolution, was this: as the nation’s Catholics moved up the economic and social ladder, more of them would do what Joseph P. Kennedy had done with their sons—bypass Catholic universities altogether—unless they upgraded the education they offered.

And then there was the financial incentive, which Miscamble also overlooks. Early on, Hesburgh recognized that those who handed out grants to universities prized academic freedom and were wary, to say the least, of institutions that answered to outside religious authorities. He also recognized that securing wealthy university-trustee board members was essential to raising the kind of money needed to make Notre Dame a “great university.” During his first ten years he increased average faculty pay nearly ten-fold, and over his entire tenure boosted the university’s endowment from $9 million to $30 million. (Today it stands at $13.1 billion.)

Miscamble’s third major charge is that Hesburgh deliberately abandoned the university’s commitment to the tradition of Catholic thought and culture that he inherited from his predecessors. But where’s the evidence? Hesburgh’s writings on higher education fill several of the record 444-and-counting feet of shelf space in the Notre Dame archives, not to mention commencement addresses delivered upon receipt of his 150 honorary degrees (a Guinness world record). Surely a study of these would cast light on the development of his thought on this topic. Instead, Miscamble relies on a two-page article Hesburgh wrote for America in 1962. In it, he explained why he thought Newman’s Idea of a University, written a century earlier when the limits of knowledge and inquiry were vastly narrower, was an insufficient blueprint for the range of knowledge and inquiry a modern university ought to provide. Miscamble cites this as evidence that Hesburgh had turned his back on Catholic philosophy and theology in higher education, a reading that the text does not support. This is gotcha journalism parading as historiography.


Fr. Ted was a romantic about Notre Dame, convinced that the religious atmospherics of the place alone were transformative.

I find Miscamble’s account of Notre Dame under Hesburgh faulty for two basic reasons. First, it ignores (conveniently, it seems to me), too much of Phillip Gleason’s Contending with Modernity, an elegant and authoritative account of Notre Dame and Catholic higher education before and during Hesburgh’s tenure. Second, Miscamble presumes that the undergraduate education at Notre Dame was more grounded in the Catholic intellectual tradition than it was, and that Hesburgh was personally more responsible for the transformations in the university’s Catholic culture than I think he was. I say this because I was an undergraduate there between 1953 and 1957, whereas Miscamble, who was educated in another country and at a later time, has to rely entirely on a few short books for his information about pre-Hesburgh Notre Dame. Moreover, because of my steady interaction since then with Hesburgh and with the university (both of my sons are graduates and one was a university associate vice president), I know or knew almost everyone mentioned in American Priest.

At the time Hesburgh was appointed president, Notre Dame was essentially a college, with only a slender number of graduate and law students. It was a university only in the sense that it had distinct undergraduate colleges of science, engineering, business and architecture, besides the College of Arts and Letters. There was no department of theology until Hesburgh created one, and the required religion courses were barely a step up from high-school apologetics.

To be sure, neo-Thomism was the philosophy that students were taught, but it was hardly the integrative discipline imagined by Miscamble. And when, by the 1960s, neo-Thomism had lost its hegemony in the philosophy department—as it did at Catholic universities across the country—it was not because of Hesburgh, as Miscamble suggests, but because of intellectual divergences and disagreements among neo-Thomists themselves.

A minority of us undergraduates did of course read Newman, Christopher Dawson, Josef Pieper, Jacques Maritain, and Étienne Gilson, plus the novelists and poets associated with the “Catholic Renaissance” that developed during the interwar era. Some of us even went to hear these figures when they lectured on campus. For the most part, though, we were the students of the legendary English professor Frank O’Malley, whose courses “The Philosophy of Literature” and “Modern Catholic Writers” were utterly unique and available to only about sixty students a year. O’Malley was also the advisor to the student literary magazine, the moderator of the Bookmen and the Wranglers, (the two intellectual undergraduate discussion groups), and the faculty advisor for those students—mostly his own—who applied for, and often won, Woodrow Wilson, Danforth, and other graduate scholarships, including a couple of Rhodes.

Miscamble cites O’Malley as if he were paradigmatic of a hearty Christian humanism pervading undergraduate classrooms. But in fact he was virtually a one-man band. Worse, Miscamble deploys an unsourced Hesburgh quote dismissive of O’Malley’s classroom performance (he was an alcoholic and mumbled at first when shucking a hangover) in order to advance his claim that Ted was at best indifferent to the Catholic element in Catholic higher education. This is another instance of gotcha journalism. The truth is that Hesburgh greatly admired O’Malley, and at the two-day conference on his work that opened Notre Dame’s sesquicentennial celebration in 1991, he acknowledged the irony that O’Malley, one of a number of outstanding Notre Dame teachers of that period who hadn’t bothered to get a PhD, would for that reason not be offered a teaching position by the now research-oriented Notre Dame that Hesburgh had himself created.

A deep commitment to undergraduate spiritual and intellectual formation, such as O’Malley’s, is not a virtue nurtured in graduate schools. And the specialization that is fostered there—together with the gradual transfer of authority over faculty hires to department heads—did more to transform Catholic higher education than the inability of Catholic universities to find an ideological replacement for the old Catholic pedagogy based on neo-Thomist manuals.

Did Hesburgh make mistakes? Of course. As Miscamble notes, one was lifting Fr. Richard McBrien out of obscurity and giving him the department of theology to run, which he did for eleven years. As dean, he was often asked to comment on television, where his reductive political approach to the post–Vatican II turmoil in the church did not reflect well on an otherwise distinguished faculty. I also think Hesburgh erred in agreeing to co-chair the Clintons’ Legal Expense Trust in 1994. I’d like to think their money-grubbing since Bill left office gave him second thoughts.

I also agree with Miscamble that Hesburgh’s later emphasis on service to others was a wholly inadequate marker of a Catholic education—especially since even some state schools now require proof of volunteer work on college entrance applications. Jesuit universities, with their pledge to form students into “men for others,” make the same mistake. I think Fr. Ted was a romantic about Notre Dame, convinced that the religious atmospherics of the place alone were transformative. My guess is that by the mid-1970s, he had been away from the university so often that he failed to realize that most Catholics entering Notre Dame had a poor grasp of the basics of the faith—and that most of them also left without much improvement.

Toward the end of American Priest, Miscamble writes that by investing his time and energy, and that of the university, in causes like civil rights, poverty eradication, and world peace, Fr. Ted hoped to create “the Kingdom of God on Earth”—as if he had been a nineteenth-century Protestant post-millennialist. To the contrary, Hesburgh brought to the major ills besetting the twentieth century an optimism rooted in the frank recognition of humankind’s propensity for evil. If it were not already taken as the title of another priest’s biography, the title I would have chosen for a book about Hesburgh is “Witness to Hope.”

American Priest
The Ambitious Life and Conflicted Legacy
of Notre Dame’s Father Ted Hesburgh

Wilson D. Miscamble, CSC
Image, $28, 464 pp.


Archbishop Gregory pledges openness at ‘defining moment’ in Washington archdiocese

Washington D.C., May 21, 2019 / 12:51 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Wilton Gregory expressed “deep gratitude and immeasurable joy” as he took charge of the nation’s capital see Tuesday.

“I want to be a welcoming shepherd who laughs with you whenever we can, who cries with you whenever we must, and who honestly confesses his faults and failings before you when I commit them, not when they are revealed,” Gregory said to applause during his May 21 installation Mass as Archbishop of Washington, D.C. in Washington’s National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

“We stand at a defining moment for this local faith community,” Gregory said.

“Our recent sorrow and shame do not define us; rather, they serve to chasten and strengthen us to face tomorrow with spirits undeterred.”

Calling his installation as the seventh Archbishop of Washington an “indescribably humbling moment,” Gregory pledged himself to a new era of openness in Washington.

The archbishop’s installation Mass was presided over by apostolic nuncio Archbishop Christoph Pierre and attended by eight cardinals, more than 50 bishops, some 300 priests, and nearly 100 deacons.

U.S. bishops’ conference president Daniel DiNardo, reportedly still recovering from a March stroke, was not in attendance.

The celebration was held at the National Shrine instead of Washington’s St. Matthew’s Cathedral in order to accommodate the crowds, numbering about 3,000.

Members of the faithful from around the archdiocese gathered outside the basilica waving flags and banners of welcome before the Mass began.

A Gospel choir led the music during the Mass.

Acknowledging the scandals that have rocked the Church, both in Washington and around the world, Gregory said, “We have been tossed about by an unusually turbulent moment in our own faith journeys recently and for far too long.”

“We clerics and hierarchs have irrefutably been the source of the current tempest.”

Recalling the image of the apostles’ fear on stormy seas, Gregory told the assembly that true peace is found by remembering that Christ was in the apostles’ boat.

“He invites us to place our trust in Him - not in trite and easy programs - but in Him and Him alone.”

Despite the pressure of recent scandals, Gregory said he had already received an “affectionate and embarrassingly gracious welcome.”

“The example I wish to set forth for you is that of a man filled with the faith, hope and joy of knowing Jesus Christ is in the boat.”

Gregory thanked Pope Francis for the “righteous challenge - more an opportunity” to carry the Gospel message to the poor, the marginalized, and the neglected.

“Beginning today, that is my take here in the Archdiocese of Washington.”

Lourdes Rivera, a local mother of 14, told CNA after the Mass that she was “overjoyed” with Gregory’s homily.

“He spoke like a father - a father. I am so happy. He’s our new father here in Washington and our family now feels even bigger.”

Local resident Everett Jacobs added his hope that Gregory's arrival will bring fresh impetus to the new evangelization in the archdiocese.

“Bishop Gregory's pastoral spirit represents a reaffirmation of God's love for the Archdiocese of Washington. I look forward to his fresh proclamation of the gospel,” Jacobs said.

Gregory’s appointment was first reported on May 28, and his installation has been eagerly anticipated. Technically, Washington has been without an archbishop since Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s resignation was accepted by the pope in October last year, though Wuerl himself has served as interim leader of the archdiocese since that time.

Gregory paid tribute to his predecessor during his homily, calling Wuerl a “cherished friend” and “above all, a true Christian gentleman.”

The presence of retired Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles at the Mass generated some controversy among Catholics in attendance. Mahony has been accused of impeding police investigations of clerical sexual abuse in the 1980s, and was in 2013 relieved of public and administrative duties in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

The Archbishop of Washington is generally viewed as one of the most influential Churchmen in the United States; the five most recent archbishops were all created cardinals - including the now-laicized Theodore McCarrick. While Gregory, 71, is widely expected to be named a cardinal in the future, it is usual for the pope to wait until the previous cardinal archbishop from the same diocese turns 80 years old and becomes ineligible to vote in a conclave. Wuerl will turn 79 in November.

As a former president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2001 to 2004, Gregory was responsible for helping to lead the American hierarchy through the fallout of the Church’s 2002 sexual abuse scandals. He oversaw the formation and implementation of the “Dallas Charter” and USCCB’s “Essential Norms” in 2002.

Gregory’s appointment is also historic because he is the first African-American to be appointed archbishop in Washington, D.C.; the city itself is more than 50% African-American. Gregory is also the first convert to Catholicism to be appointed Archbishop of Washington.

Blind Spots

In late 2015, a few months after it happened, I found myself on the phone with Kathleen McChesney, a retired FBI agent. She’d begun her career in the 1970s by helping catch the serial killer Ted Bundy, later rising to hold the third-most-senior position in the Bureau. In 2002, after news of clerical sex abuse and cover-up in Boston, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops appointed her to establish and lead its Office of Child and Youth Protection. A prominent author, consultant, and expert on clerical sex abuse, McChesney had offered to listen to my story in order to help me determine the best way of moving forward.

Admittedly, in my case, her high-profile background seemed like overkill. But I did feel I needed serious professional advice. For most of 2015, I’d been a postulant with a monastic community in Italy. My novice master, a priest in his late thirties, had psychologically abused me for months before making sexual advances on me. I was twenty-nine at the time (I’m thirty-three now). While I managed to defend myself and escape, I felt the need for an institutional response to what had happened. I’d asked to speak with McChesney in order to find out what my options were.

McChesney heard me out, listening patiently as I narrated the events leading up to the abuse, beginning with my arrival at the monastery in late December 2014 and concluding with my departure in late October 2015. At the points where I thought the most awful affronts had been committed (Can you believe he did this? And that the community did nothing?), she would slow me down, asking a series of short questions that soon became a kind of refrain: Were there children present at the monastery? Or in the guesthouse? Did you ever see your novice master interacting with them? No, I would respond, before continuing with my story.

After about an hour, McChesney gently informed me that based on what I’d said, nothing illegal had occurred. It was what investigators call “adult misconduct”—harrowing and distressing behavior, to be sure, but not against the law. “You might think about it this way,” she said. “Your former novice master ‘hit on you,’ an adult. In a terribly abusive, uncomfortable way. But his behavior doesn’t rise to the level of a crime. You could ask a canon lawyer whether he may have violated his vows, but you need to decide on the kind of resolution you want.” I thought about it briefly, and told her I simply wanted the monastic community to know the real reason why I’d left, and to ensure it never happened again.

McChesney encouraged me to mail a detailed report to several offices in Italy: the monastery itself, the local diocese, and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL, the Vatican dicastery that governs religious orders) in Rome. That way, I would almost certainly receive a response. Furthermore, my former novice master would likely be disciplined; more importantly, he might be prevented from abusing other young men in the future. “You’ve got a great future ahead of you,” McChesney told me. “Don’t be discouraged. You’ll recover.”

The power that a religious superior wields over a young religious in formation, even today, is nearly absolute.

She was right. In fits and starts, I did begin to heal. After I sent the report (in March 2016, just after Spotlight had won the Oscar for Best Picture), two monks from my former community wrote back. They told me that they believed me, apologized, and informed me that they’d been in touch with CICLSAL. My former novice master had immediately been relieved of his duties. He would no longer be in contact with postulants, novices, or other young monks in formation. At the time, I considered this a satisfactory outcome. It meant that my story had been heard, and that I had contributed to making the monastery a safer place.

But then, last summer, revelations emerged about Theodore McCarrick, with detailed reports that the former U.S. cardinal had abused adult seminarians for decades. His priests and brother bishops had heard rumors about it (and in some instances had actual evidence of misconduct), yet mostly did nothing. That McCarrick managed to continue this pattern of abuse for as long as he did was indeed a “failure of fraternal correction,” as Fr. Boniface Ramsey, one of the primary whistleblowers in the McCarrick case, wrote in a Commonweal article last fall. Only now, with a swath of victims behind him and still no admission of guilt, has the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) finally brought McCarrick to justice. Acknowledging that his abuse of adult seminarians was a sin “against the Sixth Commandment,” the CDF also cited  “the aggravating factor of the abuse of power” in its decision to laicize him.

Of course, everyone knew that McCarrick’s behavior (exposing himself and forcing seminarians to share his bed) was wrong. Still, even after McCarrick’s conviction by the CDF, I’ve noticed that many commentators still tend to minimize the seriousness of McCarrick’s misconduct with adults. It’s an understandable reaction: men in their late teens and early-to-mid twenties aren’t children; they can defend themselves and resist abuse by simply saying no. Or so the argument goes. 

But having had direct experience of clerical abuse, I’ve learned that things aren’t always that simple. The power that a religious superior wields over a young religious in formation, even today, is nearly absolute. In monasticism, the model of the spiritual father, inherited from late antiquity, stipulates that in order to make progress in the spiritual life, novices must yield to their superior’s guidance in nearly every aspect of their lives. Not just in the way they dress, their schedule, and work assignments, but also in their diet, health care, prayer, even recreational pursuits. In a healthy setting, such relationships can be loving and productive. But the openness and vulnerability required for genuine growth always carries the risk of abuse. An unscrupulous superior, heedless of the trust placed in him by his novices or seminarians, can inflict serious harm. Cultures of abuse in religious houses are real and entrenched, and if the church wants to emerge from the current crisis, it has to address them systematically. Defrocking McCarrick is a good first step, but it won’t solve the problem.


I first met Antonio (not his real name) in the summer of 2012. Back then I was in the middle years of a doctoral program in Italian literature, just starting out on my dissertation on Dante and St. Francis of Assisi. Antonio was one of the younger monks at the monastery (he was about thirty-seven), recently ordained as a priest, and a part-time professor of medieval theology at one of the pontifical universities in Rome. He was leading a retreat for young people (mostly Italians), which I had learned of after I inquired about spending a few days there to pray. I was hoping for a respite between research trips and visits with friends.

And that’s just what I found. Besides the monastery’s beautiful medieval architecture and its idyllic setting in the Apennines, I was immediately impressed with Antonio’s charismatic personality. Not only was he very funny, he was also one of the most intelligent people I’d ever met, giving talks on philosophy and theology and leading tours of the community’s rare-book library. Antonio was open and friendly with everyone on the retreat, but he seemed to take a special interest in me, meeting with me privately and at length. We not only talked about my research, but discussed my vocational aspirations as well.

For a few years I’d been discerning a call to religious life (Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain had inspired me), and I found Antonio’s intuitive understanding of my spiritual journey both gratifying and encouraging. I trusted him, and soon we became friends, emailing each other every so often after I returned to school. The following summer, I returned to the monastery for another retreat, this time living in a cell, joining the community for meals, and taking part in daily spiritual direction with Antonio. Monastic life felt like a natural fit, and as I chanted the hours, worked alongside the other monks, and prayed alone in my cell, I felt at peace and at home.

I was planning to complete my thesis and graduate the following spring, so before I left, Antonio asked me to consider returning in the summer for a three-month observership. That way I could really see what monastic life was like and further discern whether God was in fact calling me to join the community. I agreed, and in June 2014 I returned to the monastery for an extended period of silence, solitude, and prayer.

Right after Christmas, I entered the monastery. I had every intention of staying for good.

I had long hours to myself. I was free to go hiking in the mountains or sit in a comfortable chair in the walled garden of my cell, where I’d read and write in my journal during the quiet afternoons. In this tranquility I learned more about myself, and more about Antonio, too. He was from an old aristocratic Italian family (there’d been princes, cardinals, and popes among his ancestors) but in his mid-twenties he had decided to give everything up to pursue a hidden life of poverty and prayer. His renunciation of power made me feel I could trust him even more.

Yet, for all of Antonio’s professions about poverty and solitude, he’d stayed in contact with what he called “his world,” and soon began bringing me into it. That July I found myself at the Biblioteca Nazionale in Florence, sitting with him in the director’s office. The two were friends, having organized a major book exhibition the previous year. After I was presented as Antonio’s friend, an aide took me to the manuscript section for a rare viewing of Galileo’s hand-drawn maps of the moon. We also saw the oldest extant manuscript of Dante’s Divine Comedy, copied by the poet’s son. Riding back to the monastery along the River Arno, I told Antonio how grateful I was. “This is what your vocation was meant to be,” he told me. “You’ll become our rare-books librarian, you’ll teach in Rome, or France, or England. You’ll organize shows, and participate in Italian cultural life at the highest level.”

It was everything I’d always wanted, a monastic vocation and a call to scholarship. It seemed to me that Antonio was the person who could help me achieve it. So after a conversation with the prior, Don Bernardo, we decided in August that I would return for a year of postulancy, the first stage of monastic formation. Right after Christmas, on December 29, 2014, I entered the monastery. I had every intention of staying for good.   


A victim of clerical abuse is rarely aware in the moment that he is being “groomed.” Things just unfold, playing out gradually and cryptically over a period of weeks, months, or even years. You only realize what’s happening once it’s already too late.

Still, from the moment I arrived to begin formation, part of me sensed something was off, that things weren’t going to be the way they’d been in the summer. A few days before my arrival, Don Bernardo had sent me a long confidential email with a few “pointers” for how to behave upon entry. Most of his suggestions were straightforward and unsurprising: cut your hair a bit, keep quiet in the hallways, and listen to the relatively conservative opinions of the older monks with a grain of salt. But Bernardo warned me to maintain a “safe distance” from Antonio, and not to become too involved in his “projects.” In the few months I’d been away, Antonio had been elected novice master. As such, he’d exert enormous influence over my daily life.

There were only three of us in the novitiate, and we spent almost every hour of every day together with Antonio. It didn’t take long before his initially euphoric spirit of welcome turned into a dour, controlling, and unpredictable moodiness. He kept me constantly on edge by insisting I change my routine in ways that struck me as arbitrary and counterintuitive. With respect to my spiritual life and methods of personal prayer, I was forbidden to keep a journal or pray the Ignatian examen—because these things were too focused on me rather than God. I was also told to stop going for runs. Antonio claimed that this old habit of mine betrayed an inner anxiety I needed to overcome. He told me to be wary of close relationships with friends and family outside the community. I needed time to adjust to my decision to become a monk; the anxieties and suspicions of my parents and friends back in the United States would only confuse me. Whenever I objected to these instructions, or told him about my misgivings, Antonio would remind me that monasticism was all about learning to “let go of my ego,” to die to myself, to relinquish the well-polished “mask” I’d spent so many years cultivating and hiding behind.

But it wasn’t just Antonio’s incursions into my spiritual life and physical routine that I found so disturbing. The community itself was also in constant disarray, lurching from one crisis to the next: the buildings needed costly repairs; dwindling vocations had left many of the monks feeling demoralized and fatalistic; there were even problems with the ingredients in the natural products sold in the gift shop, one of the community’s main sources of income. There always seemed to be some new battle in the community, and Antonio invariably found himself at the center of it. He often lamented that his intellect wasn’t properly valued by his brothers; he felt overworked and underappreciated.

I tried to keep all this in mind whenever he lashed out at me, as he did with increasing frequency and ferocity in the first months of my novitiate. The pretexts for his rage were always minimal, and his reactions disproportionate. Once, during morning prayer, I’d gotten up and adjusted a staticky microphone. Antonio berated me for my presumption and “privileged” attitude: I needed to know I wasn’t special. Another time, serving Mass, I’d taken a few extra hosts to him after he’d already closed the tabernacle, so that he had to unlock and reopen it. Embarrassed in front of a few dozen guests, he shouted at me, threatening reprisals if I ever got on his “bad side” again.

I complained to Bernardo, but was brushed off. Antonio’s astrological sign was Cancer, he said, so of course he had a crabby disposition. But he was harmless, and I shouldn’t take his outbursts so personally. Antonio said the same thing: I was too sensitive, and I should learn to cultivate indifference.

But Antonio’s aggressiveness also began to express itself in physical ways. It would start playfully and innocently enough: he’d snap dish rags at me as we cleaned the refectory, or he’d shake me by the shoulders when he caught me yawning. But sometimes he came at me more forcefully, punching me in the chest, or trapping me from behind with a wrestling hold. I told Giovanni, the vice-prior and Antonio’s superior, that such behavior made me uncomfortable. He agreed that it was inappropriate and asked Antonio to stop. Incensed that I’d given Giovanni the wrong idea, Antonio refused to speak to me until, days later, I finally confronted him. I’d misinterpreted his behavior, he said. It was all a sign of his esteem and affection for me. And if I didn’t like it, or couldn’t understand it, perhaps I ought to go back home to America. Maybe the monastery wasn’t the place for me.


I told myself I just needed to hang on, and things would get better.

Still, I felt like I couldn’t just leave. Prior to entering the monastery, I’d arranged all my plans—including my finances and my academic career—around becoming a monk in Italy. I was convinced that monastic vows and priestly ordination were what God most wanted for me. It was also, I should add, what I wanted for myself. So no matter how much Antonio’s strange behavior bothered me, I was determined to persevere: my vocation, and my life’s work, were at stake. I told myself I just needed to hang on, and things would get better.

Instead, they got worse. By mid-September 2015, I was badly depressed, often unable to attend prayer, or concentrate on my reading or work. I’d begun seeing a therapist, a friend of the community with a private psychoanalytic practice in Mantua, a four-hour drive to the north. Every other week, along with Matteo (a year ahead of me in formation), I’d travel up the A1 highway for back-to-back therapy sessions. Antonio remained back at the monastery, staying in touch via cell phone.

The therapist’s methods struck me as a little unorthodox. He discontinued my medication, which I’d taken regularly since early in graduate school. He also went on and on about a psychological “labyrinth”—an inner landscape of dreams, desires, and fears that I was supposed to traverse under his guidance. As we made our way through, he warned, I would likely experience a great deal of pain. But that shouldn’t discourage or scare me. Emotional distress, he said, was a sign the process was working.

My distress did grow worse, and Antonio took advantage of it. Telling me I needed a change of atmosphere to clear my head, he proposed that we take a day trip together to Rome. He didn’t invite anyone else. We drove down and parked on the Aventine Hill, high above the city center. Antonio told me I needed to view the city through his eyes, so we toured the university where he taught, as well as the churches and piazzas where he’d spent his childhood. We also visited his favorite cafés, restaurants, and bookstores. He kept telling me how highly he thought of me, and how much he cared about me, patting my back and putting his arm around me as I expressed doubts about my intelligence and my vocation. He bought me an expensive scholarly edition of the Divine Comedy. He told me he was glad I was finally coming out of my shell, that the therapy was working. By then I’d become so depressed that I craved these affirmations.

Then, back at the monastery, the physical abuse began. It always happened in closed spaces, like my cell, or his, or the library, archive room, or empty refectory. And always when I was most emotionally vulnerable. (Homesick and doubting my worth, I was often upset.) Antonio would sit with me on my bed, or beside me on a chair, and comfort me as I cried. He would embrace me, rubbing my back and shoulders until I calmed down. He’d say that he understood what I was feeling, that he’d experienced the same thing when he’d done psychoanalysis. Though I was suffering now, I’d soon be in better control of my emotions, he assured me. I just needed to hang on, and the suffering would pass.

Antonio also became bolder in what he allowed himself to say to me. His “esteem,” he told me, had grown into something deeper. He said he loved me. He wished he could take me away to a place where he could heal me. He even proposed that we escape to one of his “palaces,” where we could be alone, away from all the chaos and conflict of the monastic community, living and praying and working in peace.

And now he wanted me to reciprocate his affections. He demanded I perform what he called un gesto spontaneo d’affetto, a spontaneous gesture of affection. First, this meant that I had to give him a hug; after a week or so, he demanded that I kiss him on the cheek or forehead, and let him do the same. At first, I tried leaving the room without doing it, but he’d always block the door (he was taller and heavier than me). Only after performing the gesture was I permitted to leave. As I wrote later in my letter to the priors and the Vatican, I did so, but only “under extreme coercion and with grave emotional disturbance.” The abuse continued this way for about ten more days.

What finally prompted my departure was a deep awareness that I wasn’t free. It wasn’t just Antonio. It was everything: my therapist’s bizarre advice, the monastery’s insular culture, the community’s infighting, even the remoteness of the secluded, forested mountains. I’d never felt more alone. I told Antonio that I wanted to go home, that I didn’t feel like myself. “So what?,” he replied. He told me I didn’t have a self. I was “niente,” nothing.


I’d been trapped, my boundaries violated, my body and soul defiled.

But God, in his mercy, had a different view, and provided an escape. It was Sunday, October 18, 2015. Mass and the midday meal had ended, and evening prayer wouldn’t begin for another few hours. The corridors along the cloister garden were empty, and Antonio was away for the afternoon. I felt anxious and homesick. So on a whim, I called my former spiritual director, a Jesuit living in New York City.

“Griffin, so good to hear from you! How are you?” “Not good,” I told him. He responded with frank concern. “When I hear a person’s miserable in religious life, it usually means God’s no longer calling them to be there.” I told him I didn’t understand what was happening. “I’ve never felt this awful before,” I said. He asked if I wouldn’t mind doing a bit of spiritual direction right then and there, over the phone.

“Sure,” I said. It had been so long since Antonio and I had done actual spiritual direction. The contrast was obvious: my former director listened for the Spirit, and pointed me to God; Antonio had only ever pointed me to himself. I told my former director what was going on with Antonio. His concern grew, and after I told him that Antonio had been forcing me to kiss him, he said without emotion: “You should not be kissing your novice master.” He was right, of course, and his blunt comment punctured the deceptions Antonio had drawn around me. I told my former director that I’d stay in touch with him over the next few days by email.

The next day, as I was returning from therapy in Mantua, I drove past the city of Bologna, where I’d studied for a year as an undergraduate almost a decade earlier. The sun was setting above the city, and it illuminated everything I felt: that I’d been trapped, my boundaries violated, my body and soul defiled. I resolved then and there to leave the monastery and return to the United States as quickly as I possibly could.

Somehow, Antonio already knew. That night at the monastery, he made one final attempt to dissuade me. But I communicated my firm decision to leave, and then tried to sleep. Early the next morning, I used my credit card to book a one-way ticket from Rome to Philadelphia. The flight was scheduled to depart the following morning.

Without informing the rest of the community, I packed my bag and prepared to leave. Antonio insisted on accompanying me, on the grounds that I wasn’t emotionally healthy enough to travel to Rome alone. Not wanting to cause a scene at the monastery, I agreed. On the train, he acted normally enough, as if my departure were a simple case of a failed vocation. That’s what he’d told the others in the novitiate, anyway. But when we finally arrived at the monastery in Rome where he’d booked two rooms in the guesthouse, he lost control.

I was unpacking my overnight bag. Antonio entered my room without knocking and advanced toward me. Then he put his arms around me, and started kissing me—trying for my lips but landing with his mouth all over my face. I pushed him away, said “no,” and he yielded. I then gave him the monastic community’s sign of peace, making it as clear as I could that he was (for a few more hours at least) my brother and my novice master, and nothing else.

I didn’t want to have to get the police involved, and focused instead on leaving without further incident. Antonio insisted on walking with me through downtown Rome, where he pointed out the advantages that I was losing. As we proceeded, I stuck to well-lit, open areas, always staying in full view of other pedestrians. Antonio couldn’t stop weeping, bemoaning the fact that he’d also “lost others” before me. He lamented that he’d have a hard time getting over me, but said that in the end he’d manage.

Back at the guest house, I locked my door, and slept fitfully. Early the next morning I took a train to the airport at Fiumicino. I checked in for the flight, collected my ticket, and cleared security. As the plane took off from the runway, I exhaled a sigh of relief. It was over.


Criminality seems like the wrong standard, and the church cannot content itself with “preventing crimes” against minors alone.

That doesn’t mean that once I left the monastery life became easy. Healing has taken a long time. But once I came home, I returned to relationships—personal, professional, and spiritual—that helped me recover the sense of self that Antonio had eclipsed. Connection with others helped me overcome what, in my experience, was the worst part of abuse: the feeling of loneliness and shame that it entails, the sense that it was somehow my fault.

Some readers may be wondering why I didn’t leave sooner. I often wondered that myself, after it was over. Why had it been so hard at the time for me to grasp what looked so clear and obvious in hindsight? Soon after I left the monastery, I began working with a therapist who helped me understand what had happened. We assessed the blind spots that had made me particularly vulnerable to Antonio’s manipulations. I had refused to allow myself to think that Antonio was anything other than the great monk and priest I’d initially understood him to be—no matter what my senses told me. The first step toward recovery, then, was learning to attend to what I actually see and feel.

After three and a half years, I’ve come a long way. I sometimes have flashbacks, but I’m no longer angry, and I’ve come to realize that what happened was not my fault. The anger was helpful at first: my indignation motivated me to do something concrete about the situation, to set the mechanism of reporting in motion. But then it became a kind of trap, preventing me from moving forward with my life. I knew that I had finally relinquished my hatred of Antonio when I found myself able to pray for him. As far as I know, he is still a monk, and remains a priest in active ministry.

The church knows what happened. The detailed letters I sent to the monastery priors, the local bishop, and the Vatican made three charges: that Antonio had abused me emotionally, had interfered with my therapeutic treatment, and had subjected me to prolonged sexual harassment. The priors accepted and acknowledged all three. In March 2016, I wrote separately to Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, the prefect of CICLSAL, to express my sadness and disappointment at having been so badly mistreated. I have a receipt acknowledging that my letter was delivered, but I never heard back from Braz de Aviz.

Just as I had blind spots that had be corrected, so too does the church. As I learned during my time in the monastery, one of the key factors that contributes to abuse is the closed environment of most seminaries and formation houses. Under these conditions, abuse is difficult to prevent and easy to conceal. Had more people had their eyes on Antonio, had they been given a fuller picture of his actions, perhaps the worst of the abuse might not have happened. Formal ways of reporting Antonio’s behavior, rather than isolated, ad hoc conversations with his superiors, would also have helped. I draw a simple lesson from my experience: for the church to begin solving the problem of adult abuse, first it needs to admit, openly and without flinching, that it has one. 

Some wonder whether the abuse of adults really deserves that definition, since unlike children, adult victims are capable of withholding consent. The distinction is important, and that’s why the abuse of children is treated as a crime. But as clerical abuse survivor and former member of the pontifical commission on sexual abuse Marie Collins argued in a recent Commonweal interview, adult abuse is still abuse. The church, she said, must expand its definition of whom it considers vulnerable—not just those with impaired mental faculties, but any adult in a position of relative powerlessness with respect to an abuser. (Pope Francis’s new motu proprio, Vos estis lux mundi, does just that, stipulating that “vulnerable persons” now include those whose “deprivation of personal liberty” impedes their ability to “resist the offense”—in other words, seminarians, novices, and religious in formation.) Criminality seems like the wrong standard, and the church cannot content itself with “preventing crimes” against minors alone. Christ invests it with the keys of heaven and hell, the power to loosen and bind sins, including sins that are not crimes. It needs to take this responsibility seriously.

In a way, I was lucky. I was twenty-nine, not a child or a teenager. I was also well educated and well connected, with loving parents, friends, and mentors who supported me as I got back on my feet. I had access to sound legal advice and the resources to pay for an excellent therapist. I finally extricated myself from the monastery because I had the option to do so. And I recovered because I had a robust support system waiting for me. Many victims have none of this.

For years, the laity have been looking for a sign that the church’s leaders finally understand the full extent of the abuse crisis, and that they will act in a manner commensurate with the pain inflicted by decades of inaction. I used to look for that sign, too. That’s what I wanted from Rome—some sweeping, apocalyptic gesture to make everything all right.

But such a sign will never come. Nothing the pope can say, nothing the bishops can decide, no amount of protocols and best practices or promises of transparency can ever make up for the horror of the injustices done to each and every victim. We must therefore alter our expectations. Not because the hierarchy tell us to, and not because reform isn’t necessary (it is), but because even the most radical reforms won’t change the past. Old wounds will remain. Only repentance and mercy can heal them, and only once the truth has been told. We are members of a broken institution, but we’re also a beloved people, accompanied by a provident God, who heals all wounds and wipes away our every sin.


With record number of seminarians, Phoenix diocese pledges support

Phoenix, Ariz., May 21, 2019 / 12:00 am (CNA).- With a record-high number of seminarians, the Diocese of Phoenix has dedicated more funds to support the formation of the Arizona diocese’s future priests.

There are 40 men studying to become priests in the Diocese of Phoenix, according to the Catholic Sun. That is the highest number of seminarians in diocesan history, and double the number of seminarians the diocese had eight years ago.

The formation costs of seminarians are often met through private donations. However, the diocese has allocated an additional $4 million from an ongoing fundraising campaign to support the education and living expenses of future priests.

The Catholic Sun reported that it costs $40,000 to support each seminarian per year. This covers expenses including, tuition, board, and health insurance. Each seminarian undergoes at least five years of official formation.

The money will be taken from the “Together Let Us Go Forth ~ Juntos Sigamos Adelante,” a campaign that began in 2017, and aims to raise $100 million in support of the area’s growing Catholic community. The money will help fund ministries, charities, schools, and churches.

Cande de Leon, director of the Office of Mission Advancement, told the Catholic Sun that a recent diocesan poll found that priestly development is a high priority for parishioners and Church leaders. The vocations aspect of the campaign, he said, will allow the laity to be directly involved with priestly formation by their donations.

“It is important to the Catholics in the Diocese of Phoenix,” de Leon said. “It gives every Catholic an opportunity to help play a part in the formation of our priests by making a sacrificial gift. The seminarians are making great sacrifices for us — the ‘Together’ campaign is an opportunity to make a sacrifice to our seminarians before they are priests.”

Anthony Dang, a Phoenix seminarians, told the Catholic Sun that support from his family and the diocese has given him the opportunity to engage in his studies without stress about how to pay for them.

“I am appreciative of what the diocese has done to cover the high cost of seminary formation,” Dang said.

“I am very grateful for that …. I look forward to being with the people and meeting them where they are at and supporting them in their lives, in whatever situation they happen to be in - to be an instrument of God to bring the light of Christ to others.”