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Annual LA religious ed conference once again flouts Church teaching

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LOS ANGELES, California, April 2, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — I attended the recent Los Angeles Religious Education Congress (LA REC) and found much of it illustrative of some serious and troubling things faced by Catholics and the Church today.

There was active undermining of the faith in some of its programming, a high-ranking prelate found complicit in clergy sex abuse cover-up made an unabashed appearance at the event, and painfully man-centered renditions of the Mass delivered a bizarre spectacle in place of reverence.

The unorthodox elements allowed at the REC communicated archdiocesan approval, which is a real problem.

And with the Church’s clerical sex abuse scandal still unfolding, the appearance there by Cardinal Roger Mahony was a slap in the face to victims of clerical sex abuse.

Mahony’s history of mishandling sex abuse cases while archbishop of Los Angeles is well documented.

It’s fair to say he embodies the mishandling of clerical abuse by the Church’s leaders, and as such his appearance at the REC was unacceptable.

His cover-up of clerical abuse in the archdiocese is not the entirety of his legacy, but certainly at this moment in time, out of respect for abuse victims, it should take precedence in determining whether he publicly represents the Church.

Additionally, other troubling aspects of his legacy appear to have taken hold in the REC and are cause for considerable concern.

The REC

Catholics in the tens of thousands attend this annual conference, most of them from California, but many traveling from across the United States and a few from elsewhere in the world. Thousands of young people are brought in for its youth day.

It’s spread across the Anaheim Convention Center and into several adjacent hotels, with hundreds of workshops presented, and hundreds of exhibitors selling their products to Catholics in attendance. Likewise, many workshop speakers sign their books in the large exhibit hall.

I heard it affectionately referred to as “Congress” as though the event needed no determiner. Next year’s dates and theme have been released, and the promotional push for excitement already begun.

It has been going on for decades, and alongside that affection from many attendees, it’s also developed a reputation for tepid representations of the faith, liturgical aberrations and the infusion of dissident programming.

The issues are well known. LifeSite reports on the dissenting presenters each year, and groups of Catholics have protested at least as far back as the 1990s.

A focus on dissenting from Church teaching on sexuality

The type of dissent can vary, but has mainly concerned Church teaching on homosexuality.

There were 10 LGBT-themed workshops out of the 300-plus on this year’s program, nine categorized as LGBTQ Ministry. Workshop descriptions focused on LGBT acceptance and made no mention of chastity or Catholic sexual moral principles.

The Church’s authorized apostolate for same-sex attracted Catholics, Courage, which affirms chastity and Catholic teaching, was also not part of the REC event.

Among the things Catholics were told at some LGBT-themed presentations was that to welcome LGBT-identifying Catholics one must accept them “as they are,” a tacit call to affirm sexual inclinations -- a nudge, a wink and a pass in regard to active homosexuality.

“Community” was given priority over conversion.

LGBT-identifying Catholics are more than their sexuality, it was said. At the same time, it was paradoxically inferred that their sexual inclinations are a fundamental part of who they are.

Calling LGBT-identifying Catholics to be chaste was referenced negatively, as though doing so “reduced” them to the concept of chastity.

And it was asserted that it’s discriminatory to focus at all on calling them to chastity -- a fundamental call the Church holds for all Catholics.

But we shouldn’t have this expectation of LGBT-identifying Catholics, REC attendees were told, because supposedly the call is not applied to all Catholics across the board.

Since “two wrongs make a right” in this flawed rationale, and no one else is expected to be chaste, presumably homosexual activity is justified.

LGBT-affirming outreach and activist groups were endorsed as resources and examples for parishes as well at this archdiocesan-sponsored religious education event.

Overall, this affirmation is false welcome, it’s a point-blank invitation away from God, and it’s dangerous.

When a Church entity presents teaching that conflicts with Catholic principles, it creates confusion and scandal.

This was born out at the LA REC, as I witnessed attendees in more than one workshop who accepted this perilous LGBT affirmation. Some were lined up to purchase a book from one of its purveyors, Jesuit Father James Martin, just one among the event’s controversial presenters.

Being at the REC underscored the need to pray and fast for its dissident presenters, but also for the archdiocese that gives them a platform, and certainly for those who have bought into the dissent.

Mahony

In regard to the scandal surrounding the appearance by Mahony, who led the archdiocese from 1985 to 2011, the archdiocese has said, among other things, that he has apologized to and met with victims.

That’s great, but with the wound raw and permanent for so many, this explanation is cold comfort.

A local Catholic I spoke with explained it this way: As Catholics, we are taught to forgive. And Cardinal Mahony, provided he is truly repentant, should qualify for forgiveness as much as anyone. But the cardinal should be penitent in a less public way.

I agree.

So did the more than 10,000 individuals who signed petitions from LifeSite and the Ruth Institute opposing Mahony’s appearance, which LifeSite delivered to the archdiocese on the first day of the REC.

It’s a tricky situation, granted.

Mahony’s successor, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, had removed Mahony from public and administrative duties in the archdiocese in 2013 after the court-ordered release of clergy files from the largest Catholic Church sex abuse settlement to date (Some $660 million-plus).

The settlement by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles took place in 2007 during Mahony’s tenure, and the documents released later in 2013 detailed his part in actively shielding priests from prosecution, along with his having worked to keep abuse cases from becoming public.

It was a proper and courageous move on Gomez’s part to prohibit Mahony from public duties in his archdiocese. But the REC is held in the neighboring Diocese of Orange, led by Bishop Kevin Vann.

Understanding that Mahony is a cardinal and answers to the pope, the question still must be asked: Did either Gomez or Vann speak with Mahony ahead of time about the scandal of his appearing at the REC, with which both bishops are associated?

That’s not all

Mahony, it should be noted, has also flouted Gomez’s restriction from appearing in the LA archdiocese.

He has not been shy about appearing outside the LA Archdiocese either, accepting engagements in other dioceses and speaking for five-plus minutes from the floor of the USCCB’s Fall General Assembly this past November about his thoughts on how the bishops should “lead by witness” in the abuse scandal.

It’s also worth noting that Mahony was named by former U.S. papal nuncio to the U.S. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò in his “testimony” on the cover-up of abuse by high-level prelates. Viganò said Mahony was “linked to” Theodore McCarrick.

Important as well is the resignation by former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating from his post as head of the National Review Board (NRB), the lay panel commissioned by the USCCB to investigate the clergy sex-abuse scandal when it first 17 broke years ago.

Keating resigned from the NRB in 2003 after having voiced frustration about the failure of some bishops — Mahony included – to answer the board’s questions.

Keating’s resignation followed Mahony’s angry public response to the former governor after he likened the bishops’ response to the board’s inquiries to that of the mafia — citing hiding and suppressing of evidence.

Speculation was and is that Keating was forced out, and many believe Mahony was behind it.

Additionally regarding dissent from Church teaching, Mahony had shown support for the homosexual activist Rainbow Sash Movement, the group that put on publicity stunts daring Catholic clergy during Mass to deny its members Communion.

And it’s important to remember Mahony went after EWTN foundress Mother Angelica in 1997 after she criticized a pastoral letter he issued on the Eucharist for being weak on the Church’s tenet on the Real Presence. Among other things, the cardinal had lodged a canonical complaint in Rome against her.

Immigration

Mahony inexplicably felt the need to present a workshop at the LA REC on immigration related to junior high and high school students.

During the question and answer period, Mahony continually evaded questions from one particular man in attendance. It wasn’t clear whether the man was trying to ask something about immigration, but it was clear Mahony was dodging his question.

Security was ready to descend on him as Mahony continually passed him over for other questions. The cardinal finally told him sternly, “I’ve already talked to you.”

When it was clear the man wanted to persist in asking Mahony his question, the cardinal was taken out a side door and security approached the man.

There was not much of a scuffle, but the exchange raises the question of what Mahony was avoiding.

What about these Catholic families?

His immigration focus is well known, but there is something else regarding Mahony that is not as widely known and should be.

While in California, I spoke with two local Catholic parents of same-sex attracted children.

These parents are largely alone in trying to keep their children safe and observant of the faith. They’re getting next to no help, save for Courage and its related program for family members, Encourage. Many of the other people in their children’s lives have fallen for the faux welcoming mantra — and criticize them for holding fast to Church teaching on sexuality.

These Catholic parents told me that Mahony did not allow the Courage apostolate to minister within the archdiocese when he was at the helm.

So while he led the archdiocese, the cardinal directly negatively impacted their efforts and ability to be Catholic parents to their children.

It has gotten better, they said, because Archbishop Gomez has given his blessing for Courage to operate. But the apostolate is still overshadowed in the archdiocese by other outreach that is LGBT-friendly, also something Mahony has been known for.

Mahony brought in two young women for his REC workshop to tell attendees what they have experienced related to the deportation of their family members.

What about the families harmed by his prohibition of an apostolate that upholds Catholic teaching on sexuality? What about the divide created in families by the affirmation of dissent from Catholic sexual morals?

Lex orandi, lex credendi

Local Catholics noted for me as well that Mahony’s leadership ushered in “liturgical renewal” of a troubling sort. The REC liturgies indicate that this continues today.

I attended Eucharistic liturgies on two of the three adult days of the event. For some reason, they’re not called Masses.

I went the first day, but could not bring myself to go again on the second day. I’m a lover of things sacred and normally I would crave Mass, but I purposely stayed away from the liturgy on the second day because the first one was so difficult to get through.

The closing liturgy on the final day had significance related to the overall event and I was also obliged to attend because it was Sunday.

I can’t think of the last time I viewed Mass as an obligation, but this reaction was a product of having attended these REC liturgies, and it was not a welcome feeling.  

I know the closing Mass is on YouTube, and I saw later it was garnering reaction on social media while still in progress.

I’ve covered my share of liturgies, so the concept of a less than ideal presentation of it is not new to me, but I could have gone to my grave happy having not experienced liturgical dance in person.

Styles and tastes, and the questions of licitness and validity aside, these two Masses conveyed more 1970s pop concert than the sacrifice of Our Lord. Why?

I will also say that it’s probably not the best idea for clergy – even when presiding over such arena Masses – to reciprocate to members of the crowd waving their cell phone lights to the recessional music.

When exiting the two liturgies, the maxim “Lex orandi, lex credendi” - the law of praying is the law of believing — marched through my mind and left an unsettling feeling.

While I came away with an unfortunate sense of lukewarmness from the overall event, it’s likely there were non-problematic elements of the LA REC that many Catholics found gratifying.

Was there significant community experienced among the attendees? Yes, but at what price?

Pray, fast and give witness

How can Catholics respond to the troubling components of the REC?

A lot of people have a lot invested in the event, and I’m sure some might say you shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I think that you’d better make absolutely sure the water you’re putting your baby in for a bath is entirely healthy in the first place – especially if you are the Church and there are souls in your care.

What a shame that such a sizable crowd of Catholics was assembled, and so much time, money and resources spent - and the opportunity missed for a robust conveyance of the faith, both in every last workshop offered and also the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

We can and should pray for Cardinal Mahony and all of the victims of clergy sex abuse.

We can express concern to the respective dioceses (see below).

We can also support the Courage apostolate and its companion Encourage.

And we should pray fervently for our Church and fast, giving authentic and avid witness to the Catholic faith.

To respectfully express concern:

Most Reverend José H. Gomez
Office of the Archbishop of Los Angeles
3424 Wilshire Boulevard, 5th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90010-2241
Phone: (213) 637-7534
Fax: (213) 637-6510 
[email protected]

Most Reverend Kevin W. Vann
Bishop of Orange
13280 Chapman Ave.
Garden Grove, CA 92840
Phone: 714-282-3000
Fax: 714-282-3029
[email protected]

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Lisa Bourne

Lisa Bourne is a Catholic wife, mother and journalist for LifeSiteNews. Her love for the Church and its rich Traditions informs each of those vocations. Lisa is grateful for any opportunity to save lives and souls, and seeks to do so whenever possible through writing, speaking or photography.