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Faith & Parish

When Vatican II came to the Bronx, Part II


In the late sixties, for the first time I could remember, priests came to the house for dinner. Fr. Eugene was a favorite because he always performed a few magic tricks over coffee. Fr. Ignatius, who oversaw the altar boys, somehow scrounged up enough money from the modest parish fund one Christmas to buy each of us knock-hockey games.

There was Sr. Richard, of course, who taught us folk songs. Sr. Stephan was her best friend. By 1970, they would be allowed to revert to their birth names: Maryann and Karen -- it was a revelation to know them by their actual names, and picture them as real daughters who once wrote their own book reports and drew their own Mother's Day cards. By 1971, they would lose the face-enveloping nun's habits, too, and wear only a small scarf on their heads. But they were never demystified to me. They were always the face of the church in my eyes: only now that face had cheeks and hair -- and a smile.

Computer tool aims to optimize priest assignments


Mission Management

So few priests. So many parishes. What's a bishop to do? This question may rightly belong in a Sunday New York Times' crossword puzzle, but it's real and it's at the center of long-term planning in dioceses around the country. It becomes more complicated when priests' language skills are a key factor in parish assignments. Some dioceses, for example, have parishes that are predominantly Spanish-speaking, but there are not enough Spanish-speaking priests to cover the parishes.

Fired! Do church employees get unemployment benefits?


Mission Management

Unemployment is difficult. For many, it's downright tragic. But at least when the hammer falls there's the guarantee of a half year's worth of benefits through the government's unemployment compensation system.

Unless you work for the church. Churches and religious organizations are exempt from paying unemployment taxes, which fund the system.

During another brutal economic environment — the Great Depression — Congress enacted the Federal Unemployment Tax Act in 1935. The act called for a cooperative federal-state program of benefits to unemployed workers. It is financed by a federal excise tax on wages paid by employers in "covered employment," explains attorney and certified public accountant Richard Hammar, in an article titled "The Church as Employer: Unemployment Taxes" (Church Law & Tax Report).

The federal act was amended in 1970 "to exempt service performed in the employ of a church … or an organization which is operated primarily for religious purposes and which is operated, supervised, controlled or principally supported by a church," says Hammar.

When Vatican II came to the Bronx


Part One of Two parts

To this day, I'm no good at math. I blame Vatican II.

In the spring of 1968, I was in fifth grade at Immaculate Conception Grammar School on Gun Hill Road in The Bronx. I was struggling with long division, as taught by the "New Math" imposed back then on all junior high school students. With "New Math," it was not good enough to get the answer right -- you also had to utterly understand the theory behind the answer. In fact, it was better to get the theory right and the actual answer wrong.

That was, by happenstance, also a very Roman-Catholic-church-way-of-thinking about nearly everything. It was an outlook that served the church well for hundreds of years -- until suddenly, with Vatican II, it did not. And in 1968, in the spring, Vatican II came to my working-class neighborhood in The Bronx. It would change my church and it would change me. Ultimately, it would keep us together.

Prop 8 has Catholics divided at the parish level


Researchers will tell you: it takes a lot to stir American Catholics out of their pews and into engagement with their church and parish. Most people are content to sit through Mass, grab a donut on the way out, and get moving with their Sunday.

One hot topic changed all that on a Sunday last November in my Southern California parish: the battle over Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage ballot initiative supported by the Catholic Church and eventually approved by voters.

First a little recent news: the Los Angeles Times noted in an editorial that Prop. 8 continues to divide the state. The locus of that lingering anger is state now Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George -- who's had the poor luck to rule both in favor and against single-sex marriage.

Early last year, George ruled legislators couldn't ban same-sex marriage on their own. But when voters did just that via the ballot, George then sided with them -- ruling the will of the people should not be overturned by court fiat. So now both sides in the debate are going after him.

Shy bishop's career buffeted by abuse scandal, Katrina



Conventional wisdom holds that history requires years to render judgment on leaders, but this much is sure of New Orleans Archbishop Alfred Hughes: The two greatest catastrophes ever to befall the Catholic church in New Orleans both detonated on his short watch.

Hughes' seven-year tenure opened with the firestorm of a national sexual abuse scandal and ended in painful recovery from the most destructive hurricane ever to hit New Orleans.

Rebuilding a parish, pastor comes to love people more


Jersey City, N.J.

Our Lady of Czestochowa Church was packed for the 12:30 Mass on Mother's Day. Four families waited at the rear of the church with their infants who were to be baptized. In the congregation, there were dozens of young families with young children and scores of young singles.

Fr. Tom Iwanowski looked out familiarly on a congregation whose primary membership is made up of people between the ages of 25 and 50, a demographic that most religious leaders would covet. In little more than a month he would be moving on from this community where he had arrived 14 years ago, at the request of the previous archbishop of Newark, with the simple mandate to "go and change the direction of the parish."

Change it he did.

Myers, da Cunha discuss problems, promise of Newark


The Archdiocese of Newark, like many other sees, is going through a period of transition and reorganization. Financial problems, demographic shifts and continuous waves of new immigrants create particular problems as well as opportunity for the church in Newark.

Archbishop John J. Myers and Auxiliary Bishop Edgar da Cunha discussed these and other issues confronting the archdiocese during a nearly hour long interview May 7 at the archdiocesan offices. Sitting in also was James Goodness, director of communications for the archdiocese.

Following is an edited version of the exchange.

NCR: tLooking at these broad trends across the country, including demographic shifts and the rest, are there new models emerging, both in terms of ministry, lay involvement and that kind of thing? Discuss the process you've been going through here that has involved a lot of collaboration as I understand it. The church isn't what it was 40 years ago. Where are we in that?

Carving out a spiritual home



If the local parish is the hub of Catholic life, then members of intentional eucharistic communities might be like citizens of the suburbs -- close enough to still identify with the city but far enough out to avoid a lot of the noise and confusion.

And like the suburbanite who might answer Kansas City, Denver or New York to the question “where do you live,” some community members find “Catholic” an easy designation for their spiritual home when the reality might be more complex.



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October 10-23, 2014


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