Coast to Coast: July 12 to 18


In Vancouver, the Catholic school board has created a policy for dealing with transgender children after one family pulled their child out of a lower mainland Catholic school and filed a human rights complaint.

The dioceses of Edmonton and Mackenzie – Fort Smith have signed a covenant of cooperation, inspired by John Paul II.

In Winnipeg, the Jesuit Centre for Catholic Studies got a big boost thanks to a major donation to St. Paul’s College. The gift will help further develop the Jesuit centre.

Can you imagine paying $25.14 for a 295ml container of orange juice? (think of the size of a can of juice concentrate). That’s reality for families in Canada’s north. The Vincentians are now working to bring food security to northern residents.

Vatican Connections: July 19, 2014

The  Church could play a significant role in tackling youth unemployment in Europe, according to a noted banker and economist.

Mohammad Yunnus, known for establishing the micro-credit Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, made the suggestion at a conference hosted by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The conference, called The Global Common Good: Towards a More Inclusive Economy” brought together economists and bankers from around the world.

Yunnus said the current economic system “is comparable to a machine that feeds itself continually sucking the lifeblood from the wide base of humanity to transport it up high towards a restricted elite.” He said moral responsibility has no space in a company’s annual financial report, and Economics schools don’t tackle such issues with their students.

While charity is a worthy concept, it is an unsustainable model according to Yunnus. Instead a new model is needed that is a mix between the for-profit business model and the charity model. In this alternate business model money “does its job, and comes back [into the business] and can be re-used infinately through independent businesses that are self sustaining.”

The current economic system is also “an insult to the human being” and the current level of youth unemployment, which seems to have been accepted “as if it was predestined by God…do we not insult God by accepting this destiny?” He said special funds for social enterprises have been created in Bangladesh specifically for unemployed young people, who are now reaping the rewards of this type of support.  He said the same approach could be used in Europe.  “The Church could easily create funds for social enterprises with the aim of solving the problem of youth unemployment in Europe.”

The creation of funds for social business enterprises would mean more options for helping people in need, and less likelihood those people would remain dependent on assistance.

Yunnus was one of 65 participating in the conference, including Bank of England Chancellor Mark Carney, US Economist Jeffrey Sachs, World Bank director Bertrand Badre, and Oxfam International Director Winnie Byanyima.



Coast to Coast: July 5 to 11, 2014

Here’s what’s been happening across our country this week:

The Catholic Civil Rights League of Canada has chosen a new executive director. The previous director, Joanne McGarry passed away earlier this year after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

In Vancouver St. Mark’s and Corpus Christi Colleges have a new president.  The previous present was made Bishop of Mackenzie-Fort Smith.

And that bishop….Bishop Mark Hagermoen is blogging as he goes about his pastoral duties. Last week he went to visit some of his parishioners in the far north, and posted this blog about the experiences.

Vatican Connections: July 11

Pope being presented with Pope App

Traditionally in Rome once the last wisps of fresh air are sucked out of the atmosphere by the July heat and humidity, the city vacates and the Vatican essentially shuts down. Not this summer.

Bishops who cover abuse

The second week of July delivered a plate full of news-worthy Vatican events. On July 6 the pope met with six people who had been abused by clergy as children. Not only did he ask for forgiveness, but during his homily he said bishops who fail to report abuse the appropriate authorities will face consequences. Now the question being asked is: when will we see that statement backed up with concrete guidelines or changes to cannon law?

In December, when Cardinal Sean O’Malley announced the creation of the commission to journalists at the Vatican, he said one of the areas the commission would focus on would be compliance and non-compliance of Bishops. As of early July, the commission was still finalizing its own statutes and identifying experts who should be added to the commission. As yet the commission does not have any members from Latin America or Asia. Drafting regulations regarding Bishops’ roles in reporting abuse would, at this point, would be pointless if those rules do not reflect reality across the globe. Don’t expect the commission to turn its attention to the matter of bishops before its membership is finalized.

Money Management

Next up was the presentation of the Vatican financial summary for the year. The real financial news came mid-week with the announcement of a new president for the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR)  and some restructuring of various Vatican financial offices.

Ernst Von Freyburg, who was appointed in 2013 just days before Pope Benedict XVI ended his papacy, is stepping down as head of the bank. He is being replaced by Jean Baptiste de Franssu. Von Freyburg was not prepared to be the full time director of the Vatican Bank. His successor will be based in Rome and dedicate himself to the bank full time.  IOR has also closed thousands of accounts belonging to people who do not have direct ties to the Vatican anymore. With this housecleaning, IOR will refocus it’s work and become more of a “neighbourhood savings and loan” (without the loan aspect).

As was announced several weeks ago, the Secretariat for the Economy will have a Project Management office. That office will be run by Danny Casey, former business manager for the Archdiocese of Sydney and World Youth Day Sydney. The secretariat will also assume the “Ordinary Section” of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (known by its Italian acronym APSA). That means the secretariat will deal with matters related to employees and employment at the Holy See, keep track of income and expense and prepare a budget every year, and over see the financial functions of Vatican offices and departments.

APSA will refocus its work to managing the buildings and assets of the Holy See and acting as the treasury of the Holy See. In the short term APSA will also focus on building relationships with other central banks.

The Secretariat for the Economy has also set up a “technical committee” to study the Vatican’s Pension Fund. In a press conference Cardinal George Pell, head of the Secretariat for the Economy, said Vatican employees pensions are secure for the next 20 years at least, but new statutes are needed to ensure long term viability of the fund.


A committee was also appointed to “propose reforms” to the Vatican media and communications structures. The global consulting firm Mackinsey & Co was contracted in December 2013 to review the current state of the Vatican’s various communication and media offices. The new 11 member committee will look at the final report from that assessment and propose ways to implement change.

Heading the committee is Lord Christopher Patten, former chair of the BBC Trust and the person who was brought in to coordinate Pope Benedict XVI visit to the UK in 2010. Lord Patten is also the Chancellor of Oxford University and served as the last Governor of Hong Kong. The rest of the committee is made up of Catholic media experts from around the world, including the American Greg Erlandson, publisher of Our Sunday Visitor.

One of the biggest challenges facing the Vatican in term so it’s media and communication operations is not the infrastructure but the organization. No other state has the state Television and Radio stations separated into two completely different entities. The accreditation process for journalists can be head-ache inducing. Videographers and Photographers deal with one office, while the producers they work with must deal with en entirely different office in a different department.

These new structures and process should pave the way towards smoother, user-friendly operations at the Vatican. However, those inside who are accustomed to the age old Roman ways of hiring, organizing and working, will no doubt find themselves outside their comfort zones.

For the full list of




Coast to Coast: June 28 to July 4, 2014

Here’s what’s been going on across the country:

The Archdiocese of Toronto will be home to the country’s first Catholic funeral home (officially, that is. There are several small funeral homes across the country run by Catholic families)

In Saskatoon, the diocese is sending its married couples on a date. It’s part of an annual initiative aptly  called “Date Date”

A group of students from Edmonton have invited Pope Francis to visit their city. Chances that he will accept are slim, but he did send a reply.

and in Vancouver, the summer institute will hold a day of classes in August. One of the presenters is Dr. Donna Orsuto, co-founder of the Lay Centre in Rome. Details here.



Vatican Connections: Woman named president of Pontifical University

sr mary melone _crop

When Pope Francis said he wanted to see space for women to have a more incisive and capillary role in the church, not many people understood what he meant. Reaction was split between the usual groups calling for the ordination of women on one side and the usual groups on the other side organizing all manner of symposiums and congresses about the theology of women. This week, the Fransiscan Pontifical Antonianum University took action and named the first ever female Rector Major of a pontifical university.

Sister Mary Melone is a member of the Fransiscan Sisters of Blessed Angelina. She holds several degrees in Theology, has been published in numerous theological journals, and has been the dean of the Antonianum’s Faculty of Theology since 2011.

Despite popular belief that the church actively keeps women out of key decision leadership positions, the Antonianum is not far behind its North American counterparts when it comes to naming women as university presidents. When it comes to Catholic universities, the Antonianum is ahead of the game.

Pontifical Universitites and non-Pontifical, Catholic Universities tend to have a specific religious order in their history. University presidents end up being members of that religious order. There are some exceptions: the University of St. Thomas, Houston has a lay president, despite its ties to the Basilian Fathers, and the Dominican – founded Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Conneticut is led by a lay woman.

Certainly things must be different for women in the secular academic world?

Yale was the first of the Ivy League universities to appoint a woman president, back in 1977. Since then, however, all her successors have been men. What’s more, it took the other Ivy League schools decades to follow the example.

Canadian Universities do not fare much better. While it is easier to find women in the president’s office at Canadian universities, the door to the presidential office did not open to Canadian women until the mid to late 1990s.

If the secular academic world is any indication, it may be decades before other Pontifical Universities discover the women within their ranks able to take on the presidency. Still, this week’s appointment shows that Pope Francis’ words may have taken root and we should prepare to see more women having their qualifications and credentials recognized in all manner of Catholic organizations.

Coast to Coast: June 21 to 27, 2014

coast to coast

This is what has been happening across the country this week:

In Ottawa, the government has made changes to the immigration rules for refugees and their families. Some say the changes could tear families apart.

In Regina, Archbishop James Weisgerber was presented with the St. Edmund Campion medal by Campion College.

In Edmonton, a Development & Peace animator has been honoured for her work with prostitutes. Her involvement in the issue started with an unexpected, late-night, knock on her door years ago.

In Vancouver, a Chinese priest who defied the odds now celebrates his 60th anniversary of ordination.

Vatican Connections: June 27, 2014

Most priests are not adequately prepared to deal with difficult pastoral situations, according to Vatican officials studying the pastoral challenges to the family.

This was one of the topics included in the Instrumentum Laboris, or working document, for the upcoming Synod on the family. The document was the result of a consultation process, which involved sending questionnaires to bishops conferences around the world.

Although the intent was to have as many faithful as possible respond to the survey, it  did not receive the same distribution in all parts of the world.  The end result, however,  appears to be a comprehensive picture of the current openness to the Church’s teaching on marriage, family, sexuality, and related issues.

The questionnaire appears to have revealed a fundamental problem: lack of education on the part of both lay people, and priests.

The working document cites a lack of knowledge of church teaching as the fundamental challenge in several areas. Most Catholics have not read any of the Vatican II documents, or post-Vatican II encyclicals related to marriage and the family. Marriage preparation classes are often perfunctory, a “missed opportunity” for evangelization, and many divorced Catholics do not seek an annulment because they assume their first marriage was valid. Similarly, Natural Family Planning is touted as ineffective, but few people actually know what that method of family planning entails.

When it comes to difficult pastoral situations, like same sex unions, there are few concrete guidelines for priests to follow. This leads to a wide range of responses from priests, not all of which are effective. The working document states that priests themselves asked for the formulation of pastoral guidelines for these situations.

Challenges to family go beyond education, however. Poverty and unemployment are cited as two factors that can breakdown of a marriage, or move young people to cohabitate instead of marrying. “The Church is called to offer real support for decent jobs, just wages and a fiscal policy favouring the family as well as programmes of assistance to families and children,” according to the synod of bishops.

While the content of the working document is, in many cases, exactly what the faithful have been saying amongst themselves for years, this is the first time those views and assessments are being stated openly in a Vatican document.

The Vatican has not yet named the experts who will participate in the Synod.


A late breaking development from Rome regarding clerical sex abuse:

Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, the former nuncio to the Dominican Republic, has been found guilty of sex abuse by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The sentence: laicization. He will no longer be able to minister as a priest. The former nuncio has two months to appeal the decision.

The Vatican Gendarme is still conducting a criminal investigation. The Vatican said on Friday that the archbishop has been able to move freely until now. Given the findings of the CDF, “appropriate measures” will be taken to ensure he cannot flee before the criminal investigation is completed.



Vatican Connections – June 13, 2014

Henrique Cymerman has made a career out of talking to people who technically, should be his enemies. That was exactly why Pope Francis enlisted his help to bring the Israeli and Palestinian presidents together to pray for peace.

Cymerman is the middle east correspondent for several news outlets based on the Iberian peninsula, including Spain’s La Vanguardia newspaper and Portugal’s SIC television.

Why would the pope turn to a journalist to help orchestrate his peace prayer gathering? Cymerman is Portuguese-born. His father was Polish Jew and his mother came from a Sephardic Spanish family. He moved to Israel as a young man, studying at the University of Tel Aviv. As a journalist he has interviewed the key players in the constantly evolving situation in the middle east. Cymerman was there when Anwar Saddat landed in Tel Aviv to announce he wanted peace, broke the news about the Madrid Peace Conference in the 1991, and was the last journalist to interview Yitzak Rabin, hours before the Prime Minister was killed.

Still, when Cymerman accompanied Rabbi Abraham Skorka to the Vatican about a year ago to visit the new pope, he had no reason to expect anything other than a good, long talk.

According to Cymerman he and Rabbi Skorka spent five hours at the Santa Marta visiting with the pope. Cymerman had his video camera with him, and recorded some of there conversation “but it was not an interview.”

The three men adjourned to the dining room to eat. Cymerman told Spain’s TeleCino that after the meal Pope Francis led them to one of the meeting rooms, closed the door, and with the cameras off, asked “How can I help? How can I help with the Middle East?” Both Cymerman and Skorka reportedly said “Come visit. Your presence will send a message”

From that moment on there were numerous phone calls, emails and messages. Because of Cymerman’s contacts in the middle east he was tasked with taking messages to some of the parties involved, delivering papers, and providing advice. Originally the gathering was supposed to take place during the pope’s trip but with the breakdown of peace talks between Israel and Palestine in April, it became more difficult to get both sides to meet in the region.

Cymerman was also granted an exclusive interview with Pope Francis, which was published in Spain’s La Vanguardia on Friday. The video version of the interview is scheduled to in Europe over the weekend.

The English translation of the interview is available on Vatican Insider.

Coast to Coast: June 7 to 13, 2014

coast to coast

Here’s what’s been happening in the church this week:

Antigonish is closing two churches due to “population decline”. One of the churches is considered the “mother church” of Sydney, N.S.

Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of St. Boniface takes a look at the future of it’s parishes.

Catholics in Caledonia, Ontario are waiting to find out why and who police are investigating at St. Patrick’s Church. Police have seized computers as part of a child porn investigation, but no charges have been laid nor have suspects been named.

and in Vancouver, the Archbishop is rallying the faithful again. This time he is calling on Catholics to pray and fast for Christians in Iraq as they flee in fear for their lives.