Friday, October 24, 2014

What's Your Accent?

I had to leave Pittsburgh before I learned I had an accent.  I grew up listening to Bill Burns on the KDKA-TV noon news saying, Getta load of dis! and Myron Cope and his Double Yoi! as he announced Steelers football.  At age 20 after college I was assigned to St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimroe, Maryland, to study theology.  I was the only student in my class from the diocese of Pittsburgh.  And immediately the seminarians ribbed me for the "funny way" I talked.

The kidded me:  "Say again I'm goin' dahntahn to git a pahnd of grahnd rahnd."  They were puzzled when I called my classmates yinz guys.  They didn't know what gumband or stil mill or Arn City Beer or jumbo sammich or pop meant.  I told them they were nebby and they laughed, but they didn't catch I just insulted them.

So I began to listen more intently.  I heard the men from New England drop their r's ("Let's drive in my cah to Hahvahd.")  The natives of Bawlmer (Baltimore) made fun of the politicians in Warrshngton (Washington).  The guys from upstate New York would tawk (talk) and wawk (walk) funny, ayeh.  (Like the Canadians who ended each sentence with eh!)  Southerners from Loovul (Louisville, Kentucky) and Nawlins (New Orleans, Louisiana) obviously had a distinctive dialect.

Then it hit me--EVERYONE has an accent, every person has a "funny way" of talking to someone not from their 'burgh.  Listening to NPR radio, I heard interviews with English-speakers and their distinctive accents from Britain, Scotland, Ireland, South Korea, India, South Africa, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Australia.  On CNN were diplomats, movie stars and athletes from every corner of the globe for whom English was a second or third language.  Their pronunciations were very different from mine, yet still able to be understood, and sometimes downright charming.  In his first address to the world after his election as pope in 1978, Saint John Paul II poked fun of his faulty Italian grammar, delivered with a Polish accent.

In my assignments over the years I have lived with priests from Nigeria, India, France, Canada, and South Korea.  Parishes throughout our diocese have hosted priests from a dozen countries, who were studying at Duquesne University or Pitt, or sharing their stories about their missionary needs.  I will admit some were easier to understand than others.  But from time to time I also wondered, could they comprehend my Pittsburghese?

This is a long way of asking for everyone's patience when a visiting priest celebrates the Mass in one of our churches.  You may think, "He speaks funny."  The priest is probably too polite to say he thinks the same about you.

When you think about it, the Eucharist is a structured back-and-forth between priest presider and people responders.  All of the dialog, and the great Eucharistic Prayer, is familiar ritual.  The only real problem at Mass with a priest who has a nonnative accent is the sermon.  This is a good time to reflect for ten minutes that the Mass is primarily about our worship of God through Jesus Christ our Savior, not about how eloquent (or lengthy) the preacher is.

Over the previous three decades, western Pennsylvania has grown more diverse again with immigrants.  In the period from 1880 to 1915, immigrants (and their "broken English") were from Germany, Italy, Poland and Ireland.  Since 1980 we have welcomed folks from the Carribbean, Mexico, Japan, the Phillipines and China.  Walk the campuses of CMU or Pitt and you will overhear many versions of English-speakers.  

In New Castle we are blessed to have Father Joe Pudichery reside at St. Vincent de Paul Rectory in his retirement.  Father Joe, a native of India, has been a priest for 52 years, almost all as a member of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.  The parishes where he has served sing his praises for his compassionate ministry and love of them.  I know that Father Joe retains a particular lilt and inflection from his native country.  Yet he prays the Mass with us and for us with the same fervor and spirit.

Jesus understood what it meant to be a preacher in a foreign land.  Early in his public ministry Jesus left his home town and moved to Capernaum in Galilee.  Philip was one of the first to accept Jesus's invitation to be a disciple.  Philip then invited Nathanael to listen to Christ.  Nathanael's snarky response was, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?"  (John 1:46)  In effect, Nathanael called Jesus a "country bumpkin."  But after a personal conversation Jesus won him over.

When Jesus was arrested in Jerusalem, the apostle Peter followed him into the high priest's courtyard.  Here Peter denied knowing Jesus three times.  Bystanders from Judea knew Peter was a disciple of Jesus, because his Galilean-accented Hebrew gave him away.  (Matt 27:73)  Yet the Holy Spirit had the last laugh.  After Christ's resurrection and ascension, Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and preached to Jews from twelve communities around the Mediterranean Sea.  Despite their varied languages, all understood Peter.  (Acts 2:7)  May our every word, conversation and prayer--in a world brimming with languages and accents --give praise to God.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"I Thought We Were All Done With That" another painful chapter

In August one of our priests was taken off of active ministry, and placed into "administrative leave," while accusations of sexual abuse against him are investigated.  We have no word on the progress or lack thereof in that investigation, as nothing more has been given to us by our bishop.

But in the news there are many examples of sexual abuse, use and possession of child pornography, by clergy of various religions and denominations as well as leaders of professions.  As I wrote in my previous post on August 6, sexual abuse is real, even if the various entities in the Catholic Church in our country and around the world are getting more serious about preventing it among professionals and volunteers working in the name of the church.

A few examples...

  • In July 2013 19 former students of prestigious Yeshiva University in New York City filed a $380 million lawsuit against Rabbi Norman Lamm, chancellor, for failing to protect them from the abuse by Rabbis George Finkelstein and Macy Gordon.  The former students alleged that the rabbis abused them in the 1970s and 1980s.  Rabbi Finkelstein left Yeshiva University high school for boys in 1985; Rabbi Gordon left in 1984.
  • However, The Forward, a Jewish newspaper, reported that Finkelstein had "allegations that he behaved inappropriately with boys...for at least 30 years."  These were at his subsequent posts in the Samuel Scheck Hillel Community Day School in North Miami Beach, between 1995 and 1999.  And more recently one student filed a complaint against Finkelstein with the Jerusalem police, which he alleged took place at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue over a 30 month period ending in 2009.
  • In May 2014 71 people were taken into custody by the federal Department of Homeland Security for producing or distributing child pornography.  These included two registered nurses, a New York City police officer, a paramedic, a rabbi, and a Boy Scout leader.  Another one taken in was a police chief who was teaching classes about sexual abuse at a Catholic Church in Shrub Oak, New York.  The district attorney of Staten Island said the images and videos implicated in the arrests showed children raped and sexually assaulted by adults.  70 of the arrested were men; the sole woman was accused of having produced a sex video with her young son.
  • Last week Rabbi Barry Freundel, of Kesher Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C., was arrested on charges of voyeurism.  He was accused of secretly using a camera inside a clock radio to film women undressing and naked in mikvah (a ritual bath).  Police found over 100 deleted files of photographs on his computer.  Freundel, 62, is nationally known for his work in supporting women in leadership positions within synagogues, and reaching out to women to convert to Judaism.  Yesterday the D.C. Rabbinic Council admitted that it had received allegations against Rabbi Freundel at least two years ago of inappropriate behavior with adult women, but failed to act.
  • Justice Seamus McCaffrey of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was temporarily relieved of duty by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts for using office computers to send and receive pornographic files.  This is part of a larger investigation by the state Attorney General's office of many high level executive and judicial employees using state computers to send and receive porn.  
  • A volunteer youth worker at Living Waters Family Worship Center in Irwin was arrested a week ago on possession and distribution of child pornography.  Andrew Mark Patterson, 45, is alleged to have had over 1,000 images and videos of children engaged in sexual acts, some as young as age 4.  Patterson was also charged with child endangerment.  He is married with a daughter.  When police showed up to arrest him at his Monroeville home, the house was found to be in "deplorable condition," with strong odors of urine and ammonia, and feces from ten dogs.  
  • LOCAL UPDATE:  Today (October 23) a New Castle man pleaded guilty to one count of producing child pornography.  Donald Miller, 43, videotaped himself while abusing an 8-year-old girl in December.  He sold the computer at an Ohio flea market, but left the video on the computer.  The buyer saw it and notified police.  He was indicted in April.  He will be sentenced in U.S. District Court in January.
I take no pleasure from reporting just what I have come across in casual news-surfing over the past few months.  But it does show that the lessons of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church have not been learned by school officials, religious centers or other professional organizations.  

Sunday, October 12, 2014

New Parish Employee Manual Promulgated by Diocese of Pittsburgh

In 1986 the U.S. Catholic bishops issued a long and detailed pastoral letter on the U.S. economy in light of Catholic social moral teaching.  For hundreds of pages in "Economic Justice for All" the bishops gave spiritual guidance to leaders of business, industry, government, agriculture, the military, education, and academia, on how to look at our economy though the lens of human dignity and human rights.

Then in an almost unprecedented act, the bishops turned the spotlight on themselves.  They noted that the Catholic Church in our country employed tens of thousands of people, in 18,000 parishes, 1,400 social service agencies, hundreds of schools, colleges, universities, seminaries, hospitals and related organizations.  They acknowledged that historically Catholic institutions were known to violate church teachings, and sometimes did not treat workers justly.  The U.S. bishops called themselves and their collaborators in leadership ministry to provide just compensation and fair treatment for every employee.  But they went further, and urged in bold terms, "Indeed, the Church should be exemplary [as an employer]." (#347)

This fall the Diocese of Pittsburgh is working to put those challenging words into action at its grassroots.  Various diocesan offices collaborated to write a template of employment policies for the parishes which conform to civil and church laws.   The diocese itself has a generation of experience with a personnel policy, since the first personnel manual for central administration employees was implemented in 1990, and significantly revised last year.

Now every parish in the diocese is implementing a written personnel manual for its employees.  The pastors, finance council members, and business managers of our parishes have been reviewing the document from the diocese to make it applicable to their own specific pastoral situation.  At the same time, every employee will be consulted about his/her job description, designation as either fulltime or parttime, and what benefits (e.g., medical insurance, vacation, days off, etc.) beyond compensation they receive.  All of this is done so as to treat workers with the respect and dignity they deserve.

Written policies help build up dialogue and trust between the pastors and employees of the parishes.  They prevent arbitrary or capricious decisions.  These diocesan guidelines for a parish personnel manual foster accountability, transparency and sound business practices.  They assist in fulfilling church mandates and applicable civil law.  Written employment policies provide a framework for the spiritual practice of Christian stewardship to grow in the Body of Christ.

When I became a pastor for the first time years ago, I was ill-equipped to be "the boss."  I knew nothing about how to lead the parish employees or how much to pay them.  Over time, with the advice of astute businessmen and women on our finance councils, I was able to grasp the basics of employee administration.  But "ad hoc" decision-making was never a good idea.  Parish employees would ask me questions about their salary or benefits as I was running from one place to another.  Only when the details of the work situation were written down and put into the context of a system was I able to treat all parish paid workers fairly.

Some church professionals have a contract with the parishes or schools for their services.  These "lay ecclesial ministers" include school principals, directors of religious education, directors of music ministries, business managers and social service workers.  But equitable employee administration needs to extend to all workers, whether paid hourly or salaried.

If the Catholic Church is to retain its integrity as a voice for justice in the economic affairs of the world, it is essential to act in a just manner as an employer.  The road to fulfilling the right to just, family compensation for workers is a process of employment, administration, in light of our church;s social doctrine, which is marked by participation, collaboration and commitment to execution.  The implementation of a personnel policy in each parish is leading them to closer to be exemplary in the treatment of their workers.