Intriguing look at a Catholic priest in Congress. So to speak...
Reprinted from the Washington Post
Daniel Coughlin, House chaplain, marks 10 years of service
By Ben Pershing
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
In the beginning, there was partisanship.
When Daniel Coughlin was chosen to be the first-ever Catholic House chaplain in March 2000, Democrats made clear that he wasn't their pick. A top Democratic spokeswoman called the decision to appoint him -- made unilaterally by then-Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) -- "a graceless, tactless, partisan maneuver."
Ten years later, Coughlin is still in the job, and there is ample evidence that the rancor that accompanied his selection has disappeared: Last week, lawmakers from both parties streamed onto the House floor to honor his decade of service.
"He has seen us through the dark and through the bright," Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said of the chaplain. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) confessed to being "a better person for having known Father Coughlin and having been counseled by him." Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) called him "an inspiration."
That Coughlin would receive such praise was not foreordained, given how his service to Congress began.
After the previous chaplain, James Ford, decided to retire, a bipartisan committee of lawmakers was formed to vet possible replacements. The committee forwarded three names to Hastert, who then selected one -- Charles Wright, a Presbyterian minister -- as his choice for chaplain.
But Democrats complained that another of the three candidates, a Catholic priest, had more support on the committee. Some Democrats suggested that Hastert's choice might reflect an anti-Catholic bias among Republicans.
Furious at the allegation, Hastert nonetheless urged Wright to withdraw. And then the speaker decided to hand the job to a Catholic priest who hadn't been on anyone's list of candidates: Coughlin.
Having spent most of his first four decades in the clergy near his native Chicago, Coughlin was blissfully ignorant of the ways of Washington.
"I didn't follow politics at all," Coughlin recalled last week.
When Hastert picked Coughlin on the advice of Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago, Coughlin was serving as the vicar for priests, meaning he was a counselor to his fellow ministers during their times of trouble.
That job, it turns out, wasn't so different from his current one.
"My transition from working full time with priests to now being here working with politicians was an easy transition," Coughlin said. "Who likes to talk more than ministers or priests, and politicians? So I have the easiest job in the world -- I just listen."
Indeed, listening is Coughlin's most important task, as lawmakers, aides and other members of the congressional flock regularly visit the chaplain in his comfortable, wood-paneled office in the basement of the Capitol.
Although Coughlin is the first Catholic to hold the post after 58 consecutive Protestants, his door is open to all faiths. (According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 55 percent of House members are Protestants, while 30 percent are Catholic and 8 percent are Jewish. The chamber includes nine Mormons and two Muslims.)
Aware of the controversy surrounding his selection, Coughlin says his mantra from the start was "I'm here for everybody."
In addition to spiritual guidance, lawmakers seek out Coughlin to discuss their families, their health and even their career decisions.
Beyond counseling, Coughlin's office helps organize regular Bible study groups, as well as Torah study and a Muslim prayer service.
C-SPAN viewers probably know Coughlin best for his delivery, spelled by the occasional guest chaplain, of a prayer to open each day's House session. Coughlin often tailors his words to the season and the events of the day, whether they're hopeful or somber.
"As so many dead are laid to rest we must memorialize their ordinary innocence, their daily hopes and responsibilities, as well as their love," Coughlin said on Sept. 13, 2001, the House's first day in session after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Coughlin's prayers are studiously nonpartisan, though observers may occasionally read more into his words than intended. When he delivered a recent ode to the beginning of spring, Coughlin said some Democrats thought he was referring to health-care reform. "They heard it with a slight twist that I was not really addressing," he said.
Being nonpartisan meant not weighing in even when the Catholic Church became a central player in the health-care debate and the divisive subject of abortion funding. Though his personal views are clear -- "I accept wholeheartedly the teachings of the church" -- Coughlin said he was able to counsel members on all sides of the debate, particularly those who were struggling with how to vote on reform.
Coughlin has also been mostly quiet on another controversial topic -- the clergy abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic church in the United States and around the world.
As vicar for priests in Chicago, Coughlin sometimes counseled members of the clergy who had been accused of sexual impropriety. He did the same during an earlier stint as director of the Cardinal Stritch Retreat House, a facility near Chicago that has served as a rehabilitation facility for troubled priests.
Coughlin has been away from those jobs long enough that he hasn't felt caught up in the internal debates that now consume his fellow priests. "I'm removed from the church in a lot of ways . . . the day-to-day," Coughlin says.
He returns to Chicago several weeks a year to visit his 95-year-old mother (and to watch his beloved Cubs). Asked how long he hopes to stay in the employ of Congress, Coughlin makes clear he is eager to spend even more time back home.
"Not too much longer, because this year I'm celebrating 75 years of age, 50 years as a priest, 10 years here," Coughlin says. "It's time for someone else."
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Saturday, April 3, 2010
On Good Friday evening, I witnessed the Passion Experience performed by the young adults and teens of Immaculate Conception - Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Everett, Washington. The performance was co-written by IC-OLPH Youth Minister Casey Ross and parishioner Debora Johnston and directed by Debora Johnston. I present it here for you.
May you and your family experience the blessings of an Easter celebration filled with the love of our risen Lord.
Peace & Blessings...
May you and your family experience the blessings of an Easter celebration filled with the love of our risen Lord.
Peace & Blessings...
Friday, April 2, 2010
By Julie Muhlstein
When I first saw a Catholics Come Home commercial, I was already there — “home” in a pew at Everett’s Immaculate Conception Church, my parish for nearly 30 years.
Members of Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese of Seattle, which covers all of Western Washington, got a Sunday morning preview of the TV ads before they began airing about six weeks ago. The commercials have been seen in our region during sports, news, prime time and daytime shows, on network and cable TV throughout the Lenten season leading up to Easter.
Created by Catholics Come Home Inc., a Georgia-based nonprofit organization, the campaign is meant as an invitation. With ads that cover church history, spiritual reflections and testimonials of people who have returned to Catholicism, the aim is to bring inactive Catholics and others into the faith.
“I think the ads are definitely having an effect,” said the Rev. Hans Olson, pastor of St. Mary Magdalen Church in Everett. Olson said Lent and Easter typically bring people to church, “but not in the numbers we’ve seen.”
Through responses in church and talks he’s had, Olson estimates that 25 to 30 people have come to St. Mary Magdalen recently because of the Catholics Come Home messages. He also thinks the ads have influenced faithful regulars. “Probably more than anything, it’s brought an awareness to Catholic people already here, an energy towards their faith,” Olson said.
While Olson said this is “a perfect time for people” to be seeing the ads, this is also a wrenching time for the Roman Catholic Church. The church in Europe, particularly in Ireland and Germany, has been rocked anew by claims of sexual abuse of children by priests, some dating back decades.
The New York Times has also reported extensively on a Wisconsin abuse case involving a priest who worked at a school for the deaf from the 1950s to the 1970s.
At the Vatican Wednesday, the spokesman for Pope Benedict XVI, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told the Associated Press that the pope sees the abuse scandal “as a test for him and the church.”
As a Catholic who never left the home that is my church, I pray that the highest church leadership will come completely clean, admitting wrong where wrong was done.
Honesty and real contrition could go a long way toward bringing many Catholics home.
Tom Peterson, founder and president of Catholics Come Home Inc., doesn’t disagree.
“There are people who betray our trust, and they need to be rooted out. We need to show love to the people they’ve hurt,” said Peterson, 48, a Catholic who lives in Roswell, Ga., near Atlanta. “It’s awful, and we pray for repentance and conversion of people not living a truly authentic Catholic life.” At the same time, Peterson said, “there have been millions of very faithful, heroic priests in the world giving their very hearts and souls to serve the poor and help people.”
Peterson started Catholics Come Home after attending a retreat about 13 years ago. At the time, he said he was “a lukewarm Catholic” who attended Mass but wasn’t fully living his faith.
Originally from Phoenix, Peterson said the first Catholics Come Home campaign was aired in the Diocese of Phoenix in 2008. Churches there reported increases of about 12 percent in attendance in the months after the ads ran. Peterson said most people responding to the ads have said their reasons for drifting away were secular — they got out of the habit of attending Mass — and not due to complaints about the church.
In addition to the Seattle Archdiocese, ads are currently running in Green Bay, Wis., with more campaigns planned in several large cities.
John Shuster is a former priest, a self-described “married priest.” He heads the Northwest chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a national group known as SNAP. Shuster, 58, of Port Orchard, said he is not an abuse victim, but has been in contact with many who are. Ordained in 1973 in the Society of the Divine Word, a Catholic missionary order, he served parishes in east Los Angeles and in Mexico before leaving the Catholic priesthood in 1983. He and his wife, Sally, work together in helping abuse victims.
He, too, prays for openness in the church. “Part of being a good priest is to stand up for what is right,” Shuster said. “Act as Jesus would. Jesus stood up.”
By the way, Shuster likes the Catholics Come Home commercials.
“I think they’re good,” he said. “Spirituality is important. We have a soul, just like a body, that needs to be fed.”
Julie Muhlstein: email@example.com.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
I saw a beautiful idea in the Letters To The Editor section of tomorrow's edition of The Catholic Herald, Britain's leading Catholic newspaper.
This letter so eloquently sums up my feelings about the abuse scandal. I am sickened by the details and feel helpless to do anything for the reputation of a Church that has done so much good throughout the centuries.
As a card-carrying member of the news media and a passionate Catholic, I am saddened by the way this scandal is being used by some to sell newspapers and boost TV news viewership.
Don't get me wrong, a light needs to shine on this atrocity. But I ask this question of my brothers and sisters in the news media, how much of this coverage is motivated by hatred or disdain of the Catholic Church? Or hatred or disdain for faith itself?
The same percentage of abusers existed in the Catholic Church that exist in Little League, Boy Scouts, etc., and other such entities in our modern world. Less than 5-percent. That means 95-percent of clergy are upstanding shepherds of the faith.
As members of the Catholic Church, we should stand united in seeking repentance for the horrendous sins of members of Church clergy. We should vow as laity and clergy to never let it happen again.
A call is out for an Universal Day Of Repentance. Who will join in the effort?
2 April 2010
The Holy Father should not have to face the abuse scandal alone. We should stand beside him.
From Mr Kevin Greenan
SIR - The seemingly endless scandals relating to child abuse within the Church are both devastating and shameful (albeit that the guilty were/are a very small, sick minority of priests and religious). The question of the suppression of the exposure of these evil individuals being either protected or ignored by the hierarchy, to protect the reputation of the Catholic Church, is something that fills me with both bewilderment and anger.
The latest story of 200 deaf children in the United States being abused is utterly repulsive.
Not only have the lives of countless thousands of children been affected, the trust and love of the vast majority of our decent priests and religious is now virtually in tatters as the public hear the word "priest" and think of child abuse. How the Church will recover, none of us can truly say. What is for sure, it will be decades before this shameful period is in our past. Why should the Holy Father stand alone and apologise?
We as a Church people need to have a universal day of repentance, standing beside the Holy Father and asking those hurt and abused to forgive us. Pope Benedict should not bear this burden alone.