Now Proscribed

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

This is an enlightening juxtaposition of events: an inmate on Arizona’s Death Row for 23yrs had his conviction thrown out by a Federal Judge who ordered that he be immediately granted a new trial or release from custody; at about the same time Pope Francis issued an amended version of the Church’s teaching on the use of Capital Punishment for the Catechism.

The Judge in the above case ruled that the 1995 Trial of Barry Lee Jones was a rush to judgement by prosecutors, it lacked due diligence and a thorough professional investigation and there were major failures with his legal representation. These issues, along with others such as prosecutorial misconduct, withholding of exculpatory evidence or shielding the jury from critical information, are often seen in trials. These issues are particularly egregious when the defendant is subject to capital punishment. Imposing a sentence of death is absolute and irreversible when carried out so the trial requires the highest level of jurisprudence and for that reason, the procedure for capital trials is designed with many safeguards. Unfortunately, those safeguards are not always adhered to. As a result, organizations such as the Innocence Project have demonstrated not just that a trial was corrupted but that dozens of inmates on Death Row were actually innocent of the crimes they were so charged. The possibility and the reality of innocent people sentenced to death should give us all pause to reconsider if recourse to capital punishment is something we should still employ.

In the 1990’s I was part of the International Catholic Correctional Chaplains Association and we petitioned Pope John Paul II to reconsider, in light of current conditions, the Catechism’s teaching on Capital Punishment (#2267). As history records, Pope John Paul did update the teaching when he published his encyclical letter The Gospel of Life. The amended teachings said that while the principle still stands, namely, that the state or community has a right to protect itself against an unjust aggressor even to the point of using lethal means when absolutely necessary, because of developments in modern day corrections, the state can protect itself adequately with non-lethal means and therefore capital punishment should not be used.

Pope Francis amended the teaching in #2267 of the Catechism, stating:

Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good. Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption. Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

The amended version of #2267 is saying that the conditions by which the use of capital punishment can be morally acceptable no longer exist and therefore its use at this time is both proscribed and morally illicit. The teaching does not state that the death penalty is intrinsically evil (always and everywhere wrong) but rather that its use is inadmissible. It also newly adds to the teaching that the death penalty is an affront to the dignity of the human person, something John Paul II hinted at but did not explicitly state in The Gospel of Life. But not everyone is happy with the change, not because they are necessarily supporters of the use of capital punishment but because they see the amended teaching as a bridge too far, an innovation in that it is too much of a break with the moral principles of previous teaching and thus an inauthentic development of Church doctrine. We can leave that debate up to the theologians and one day I will revisit the theology of the Development of Doctrine that St. Vincent of Lerins so aptly explained.

But in light of the above-mentioned Capital case and many others, it is easy enough to agree that the use of the death penalty is fraught with errors, potential false guilty verdicts and in the case of horrific crimes the rush to judgement. Because of that, the potential that the state, who acts in our name, may be guilty of the worst kind of injustice by putting a not-guilty person to death is reason enough to end the use of the death penalty. Since the amended teaching in #2267 is to be inserted in the Catechism, like the other moral teachings in it, this amended teaching is binding on the conscience and requires our assent. Therefore, we all should prayerfully consider the teaching and pray that the Holy Spirit will enlighten our minds to understand it fully.

I fully welcome the amended teaching, especially based on my own experience with Death Row cases, but I realize that may not be the case with all Catholics. Private dissent is part of the Catholic moral tradition but it requires an honest willingness to consider all the implications of the teaching and to do so privately with one’s confessor or spiritual director. When one privately dissents from a moral teaching of the Church it puts the person’s communion with the Church at risk and therefore it is necessary to keep an open mind, willingness to struggle with the teaching by not closing the door on further enlightenment and holding to the possibility that you may be wrong.

>Love, Fr. John B.

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Servants for 20yrs!

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

15 August 1998 was a day the world became a better place. That is the date of the founding of the Servants of the Plan of God/Siervas del Plan de Dios of which our wonderful Sisters are a part. That means Wednesday, August 15 is their 20th anniversary.

Their community and mission were approved by Pope St. John Paul II and their foundation was a response to the late Pontiff’s call to reinvigorate the Church as we approached the Third Millennium of Christianity. A new era calls for new ways of proclaiming the Gospel. Just as Jesus said, “a good steward brings forth from his storehouse both the old and the new.”

The essence of their spirituality is that having been gripped by the love of Jesus they eagerly go forward to share that same love with everyone. The image that most inspires them is that of the Virgin Mary going forth to her cousin Elizabeth to bring to her Jesus and to assist her in her time of need. Despite Mary’s own life having been turned upside down, she knew that the only thing she could do with the gift that she was given was to share it. The Servants in a similar manner share the gift of Jesus through the works of mercy to bring God’s gift of salvation to human beings.

Over these two decades the Servants have exploded across South America and also have foundations in Rome, Africa, Philippines and since 2016 here in the US. Gratefully they chose us as their first foundation in the US! Since they arrived here, well, life has never been the same! I can say for sure they are not a glum lot! Their energy, enthusiasm, kindness and joy are the best gift we could have ever received. In the midst of many administrative tasks, the Sisters remind me each day of what is really important, why I do the things I do. The love of Jesus is what matters most.

One of the realities of community life is that the needs of the community are always a priority. Which means sometimes the members get reassigned to new ministries based on the needs of the members. So, this summer we said farewell to Sr. Maria Alejandra and Sr. Veronica. I am very grateful for their service and willingness to venture into the unknown and help plant their community of consecrated women in the soil of our Parish. Their spiritual fingerprints will remain on our parish and our hearts. At the same time, we welcome Sr. Monica who will also serve as the Superior of the Community. We are still awaiting the arrival of Sr. May Lourdes, who hopefully will be here in the Fall. I am excited to have both of them here with us and to share their gifts among us.

Please plan to join us to celebrate their Twentieth Anniversary and also the holy day of Obligation of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Wednesday, August 15 at the 7:00pm Mass. Bishop Olmsted will be here to celebrate with us as well.

Speaking of which, our Bishop you may have heard has been appointed the Apostolic Administrator of the Byzantine Eparchy of Phoenix, pro-tem. (An Eparchy is the same as a Diocese in the Eastern Catholic Church). It is a very unusual assignment for several reasons. First, even though the Eparchy falls under the jurisdiction of the Pope, it is unusual for a Latin or Roman Rite Bishop to be appointed an Administrator of an Eastern Catholic Church. In this case the Eparchy serves the Ruthenian Catholics in 13 states in the Western part of the US. Additionally, normally an Apostolic Administrator is appointed when a See is vacant (Sede vacante), either because of the death of a Bishop or his transferal to another Diocese. In this case, the See is not vacant (Sede plena) as there is a Bishop in place but he has stepped aside temporarily until the problems in the Eparchy can be worked out. Apparently, there are some serious divisions and problems in the Eparchy and our Bishop will serve as an objective third party to hopefully mediate the problems. So, pray for him as he takes on this extra call of duty and certainly for the Ruthenian Catholics to settle whatever ails them.

See you on the 15th to celebrate with our Sisters and our Bishop as we wish them both “felicidades”!

Love,

Fr. John B.

Back To School

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

Wake up all the teachers time to teach a new way
Maybe then they’ll listen to whatcha have to say
Cause they’re the ones who’s coming up and the world is in their hands
when you teach the children teach em the very best you can
The world won’t get no better if we just let it be
The world won’t get no better we gotta change it yeah, just you and me.

Wake Up Everybody sung by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes

Well, school starts this week, at least our Parish Grade School, as it has every year since 1945. For most of us who started school on the traditional day after Labor Day it seems like there is way too much summer left for the first day of school to be upon us. The reason for earlier and earlier start times, is as usual, not about the children but all about the adults. Adults like the long fall, Christmas, err—Winter Holiday and Spring breaks. So be it. The other challenge is that most of our schools, grade schools and high schools are on different schedules. This makes it hard on parents who have children in both an elementary and a high school. One week the third grader is off and the next week the high school freshman is off. Childcare can be difficult and expensive to arrange. Though over the years I have tried to get at least the Catholic elementary and High Schools on the same schedule, I found out it is like trying to take candy from a baby, not happening without a meltdown. The best we have been able to do is have all of our Catholic elementary schools on the same schedule. Not much help to parents with a 5th grader and 10th grader. The reason I always am given for not being able to sync the schedules is, believe it or not, not academics but sports. Sports rule on the High School level. Seems like the cart before the horse but you would have better luck trying to stop a speeding train with one hand than changing the Sporting schedule at the High School level.

Don’t mean to sound like a killjoy and I do understand the tremendous value of athletic competition for young people. Over the years I have had the privilege of celebrating the funerals of many coaches, high school and college level and have witnessed the incalculable impact so many coaches have had on young lives. Maybe we should consider moving sports out of schools and placing them on the community level. So, Tempe would have sports leagues as would the other municipalities. This way our children would be playing and getting to know children not just from their school but from their neighborhoods. The same with families; maybe this would help create more cohesive communities with stronger neighborly bonds. There could be lots of benefits and the schools would be able to focus mainly on education.

Anyway, our school is ready to go and begin the year! Our teachers are ready to teach! I am happy to announce Mrs. Kelly Shewbridge (Ph. D candidate) as our Principal. Her mother was also a fantastic teacher and the family has teaching in their DNA! Mrs. Shewbridge has been with us for the past 10 years, first as a Third Grade Teacher and then as Assistant Principal. We also welcome Mr. Tony Grosetta as our new Assistant Principal. Mr. Grosetta is a graduate of Brophy High School and the Catholic School Leadership Program at Notre Dame University. He previously taught in Santiago, Chile and in a local Public High School. Also, this year in addition to our Reading Specialist, we have added a Math Specialist to help our students, (who like me) are not always best friends with numbers. We are also working with Dr. Anne Borik to introduce her Prayer in Motion Program (prayermotion.com) to help students be more mindful and prayerful. We also have EEG Biofeedback available with Dr. Monica Breaux at the Parish. This is a tremendous and simple way to help students with their challenges in attention, focus, behavior, over activity, autism,
and other issues.

Remember there are many ways you can support our School. Volunteers are always needed and welcomed, whether you have a particular skill or would like to help in the Lunch Room, just contact the school for details. Don’t forget to use Gift Cards from our Food-4-Thought Program (on sale every Sunday or you can order on line at olmctempe.com) the proceeds all help support our school families. You can even earmark a specific family to receive credit for your FFT purchases.
Finally, please support the Arizona Tuition Tax Program. There are many ways to do that and when you do you are eligible for a Tax Credit on your AZ Income taxes. There are many Student Tuition Organizations (STO’s) and the one that we suggest you support is Catholic Education Arizona. Our School or Parish Office is happy to answer your questions on how the Tax Credit works and how you can participate. This program is vital to helping our families afford the cost of a Catholic School education.

Love,
Fr. John B.

Snap It Off

Fr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

One thing we all know about most young people, mostly based on our own experience as former young people, is that young people will do stupid things. The difference today, as opposed to just ten or so years ago, is that young people also take photos of everything. So, put it together and we have young people doing stupid things and taking photos of themselves doing stupid things.

This is where real trouble starts. What may be innocent enough, when memorialized in a photo can seem to others as a nefarious action. I have watched many young people from as young as eight years old get into serious trouble, including being under criminal investigation over the photos they took of something they thought was just stupid fun. Often times their reputations are harmed, friendships are ended, expulsion from school and other heavy consequences follow them.

So, when someone sent me this tweet by another priest, I thought “right on Father”.

There are lots of dangers lurking in our smartphones. But at the top of the list is “Snapchat”. Though it sells itself as being able to make photos and messages disappear after a time, they can still be saved in cyberspace.

You can save yourself and your child a lot of heartache by saying goodbye to Snapchat. But you might say, “my child would never have this problem” and you may be right but you can’t control what other young people send to your child’s smartphone or the photos they take of your child. I have watched the “innocent bystander” who appears in a photo get caught up in this mess or even when your child is not in the photo but it is sent to your child they can become an accomplice after the fact.

Hopefully you as parents can get rid of Snapchat without being a tyrant or causing too much resentment. But when it comes to non-negotiables, they are non-negotiable. Just as we make a young person wait until they are 16yrs old to begin driving, and even then they have restrictions or wait until 21yrs old to consume alcohol, full, unfettered use of smartphone apps should also be age appropriate.

Parenting in the 21st Century is not turning out as we hoped. Today, most young people know how to use smartphones and apps much better than their parents. Being one step ahead of your children is not so easy these days when it comes to technology. New land mines seem to pop up overnight. I strongly suggest clearing away this land mine before it blows up your child’s life.

Love,
Fr. John B.

(here is the screen shot he has in the letter 3rd short paragraph)

Bordering on…

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

Mass hysteria without borders about the Border seems to be the prevalent state of affairs.
My old teen-age heart-throb, Bethilda Bagshot, emailed me to demand that I firmly oppose the separation of parents and children at the border. So, I firmly oppose it. There, done, problem fixed. Actually, nothing has been solved nor will be by mass hysteria nor by finger-wagging or the tsk-tsk-tsk statements of many US Bishops. Pope Francis when asked about the problem, responded: “During the Obama years I celebrated Mass in Ciudad Juárez while on the other side of the border 50 bishops concelebrated and in the stadium there were many people. The problem already existed there. It’s not just an issue with Trump but goes back to prior governments.”
The Pope got it right when he said that this has been a long-term problem in the US and the program of separating minors from adults was started during the Obama administration.

Why did President Obama start this program that separated families? Was it because he was Stalin-Mao and Pol Pot all wrapped into one? Was he xenophobic or just couldn’t stand people from Latin America? Hardly. He was handed a problem that had exploded almost over-night and was trying to do something about it. His Administration did not start out separating families, it was a Federal Judge who stepped in and said that minors could only be held in detention with their parents for a few days and then had to be released, with or without parents. That is the genesis of this mess. The Obama Administration found out that family separation wasn’t workable and so instituted the “catch & release” policy that solved the separation problem but created other problems. By ending “catch & release” the current Administration brought things back to family separation and quickly learned the hard way that it is morally repugnant.
Two questions really need to be asked: why is there such an explosion of families and unaccompanied minors showing up at the southern US border and who really has the power to do something about it?

The message has been sent to people, especially in troubled places like Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, if you show up at the US Border with children you are guaranteed to get to stay. Or if you send your minor children to the Border they will be allowed to stay. The people sending the message are often human traffickers or smugglers. So of course, they offer, for a large fee to get people to the border. What they don’t tell them is that if they want to make an Asylum claim they can just present themselves at any US Port of Entry, ask for Asylum and they will not be turned over to the Dept. of Justice or separated from one another, but will be granted temporary legal status pending having their claim heard by an Immigration Court.
It seems that lots of people have rather romantic notions of people coming over the border seeking a better life in the US. While that is no doubt often the case, when you add in the reality of human smugglers, those romantic notions can actually be a much more sinister reality. That would include: child abduction, children being sold into child labor rings or being sold into child sex rings. Letting everybody in, no questions asked is fraught with potential human exploitation, which means we have a moral obligation to make sure that does not happen.

In order to do that, officials have to determine if the adults with children are actually their parents and if not, they have to figure out if the parents have given their permission for their child to be brought to the US by the adult they are with. Another problem is that some children are with only one parent, so again officials have to determine if the other parent has consented to their child being brought to the US. (Remember the Elian Gonzalez case in the 90’s; we don’t want more of that horror.) In the case of unaccompanied minors, we have to make sure that the family members they are being sent to in the US are actually able to take care of them and not abuse them. Unaccompanied minors are very vulnerable to exploitation and we need to do all we can to make sure they are safe and well cared for. There is also the question of public health. Large numbers of people arriving from very impoverished areas often suffer from diseases that we no longer see in the US so medical screening and care need to be considered as well.

Having a workable system that grants legal status to asylum seekers also allows them to get jobs and prevents unscrupulous employers from taking advantage of their undocumented status; be eligible for benefits and prevent welfare fraud; obtain legitimate I. D.s and Social Security numbers and help prevent identity theft. For the asylum seeker, legal status means not having to keep looking over their shoulder and fear deportation at any moment. This is why it is essential that a humane process be in place to sort out who’s who and efficiently and effectively adjudicate claims in a reasonable amount of time.

Who can fix the problem or at least lessen it? The US Congress. We can blame the President or the former President but they are limited by law as to what they can do. The Congress has the power to create a system that provides a humane and reasonable solution. But they haven’t done it for over 30yrs as they prefer to use the issue, which means using human lives on both sides of the border, as a political football to score points. But then again, to be fair, we the people have the power to stop the game.

Love,
Fr. John B.

Life Affirming

Fr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

July 25, 1968, a day that will live in infamy? That of course was the date of the promulgation of Humanae Vitae. 50 years later what has the failure to heed it’s teaching wrought and what has acceptance of its teachings bought?

As Pope Paul VI predicted the wide spread and uncritical acceptance of contraception has led to marital breakdown. No-fault divorce for one. This means for the first time in our history you can be commanded by a judge to appear in court for having done nothing wrong. A spouse who does not want to divorce is hauled into court and a great part of their life (and bank account) now is controlled by a judge for no other reason than for continuing to love their spouse. We can add to this sky-high rates of cohabitation (which amounts to experimenting on one another). The effects of contraception also contribute to harm women’s health, including death (just read the warning label on the pill or IUD); the poisoning of our lakes and rivers and water supply; the deformation of many aquatic species exposed to high levels of hormones in the water, the unknown effects on humans drinking and bathing in the same water supply. Same-sex marriage, polygamy, children raised without one parent, artificial insemination, surrogate mothers, unknown fathers from sperm donation and the legal and psychological mess these have caused; the spread of venereal diseases, increases in extramarital affairs; the birth of internet pornography, human trafficking in the sex trade, embryo destruction and experimentation all were spurred along by separating out procreation from conjugal love. And of course, abortion gives the illusion that having no child is better than having an unexpected one.

Paul VI also pointed out that women would suffer greatly at the hands of men. Perhaps the biggest effect of contraception has been that it lets men off the hook for their sexual exploits. What to do about pregnancy is the woman’s problem, whether to abort or raise the child as a single parent. All in all, contraception provides the perfect set up for men to be irresponsible and women to bear the brunt of the consequences.

It was also pointed out by Humanae Vitae that unscrupulous governments would impose contraception and sterilization on the population. China has had the “one-child policy” but surprisingly it has been the US government that is one of the biggest culprits in this by imposing our sexual mores on the rest of the world. The obsession with population control has led our government to tie all sorts of financial assistance and economic development to a country’s willingness to insist on “family planning”. That is code for “if you don’t make your people use birth control we won’t help you out”. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and the UN are accomplices in this. There is also the off and on-again policy of US tax money funding overseas abortions or fighting for abortion rights in other countries.

Then there is the problem of AIDS particularly in Africa. We have made it policy that to get our money Africans must use condoms. In the process we have created a multi-million-dollar condom industry that preys on the people of Africa. The Africans have resisted this approach and told us again and again that it fails to stop AIDS. The best prevention comes from good old monogamy. Uganda’s promotion of monogamy has greatly slowed the spread of AIDS in that country. Despite the cries from African leaders that our imposition of the solution is not helping it is hard to fight the illusion that condoms are the most effective strategy.

But for those who do accept the teaching of Humanae Vitae and are willing to accept the sacrifices it entails they experience greater intimacy, stronger marriages, less divorce, no chemical side-effects, and happy families that are animated by trust in God and divine providence.

Humanae Vitae realizes the challenges married couples face and that not everyone will be able to accept its teaching all at once. The encyclical invites married couples to work towards fully accepting this teaching. This requires thought, effort, prayer and spiritual advice, in other words the formation of one’s conscience. In the end it fosters an attitude of self-giving which allows marriage to reflect the self-giving love of Christ. The letter also asks the medical world and scientists to develop better methods of natural family planning, to assist women with health issues related to pregnancy; it asks pastors to guide couples so that they can embrace this teaching; it challenges confessors to show mercy realizing the problems that couples face.

It is obvious from reading the letter that the Pope knew how difficult this teaching is and how much resistance it would generate. But reading his words 50years later it also reveals his great concern for the peoples of the world and our future. In the end Paul VI reminds us that we can not find the happiness that we seek without respecting the laws of God written in our very nature which oblige us to follow with intelligence and love.

Love,
Fr. John B.

The “C” Word

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

The “C-word”. I haven’t really used it before but here goes. The “C-word” as in Campaign. There, it’s actually a pretty nice word. Now mind you, not a political campaign but campaign as in the Diocese of Phoenix Campaign: Together, Let Us Go Forth, Juntos Sigamos Adelante. Our number has been called and it is time for us to participate in the Diocesan Campaign.

This is a rare opportunity for all of us to exercise the gift of extraordinary stewardship on behalf of the Diocese and our Parish Community. Our ordinary stewardship, the Sunday offering, the Charity and Development Appeal help keep the “bricks and sticks” that make up our local Catholic world strong and fruitful. This Campaign is a moment for us to invest in the future growth of the Church here in central Arizona.

In December our Diocese will begin its 50th Jubilee celebration. Many of you were here when we were still part of the Diocese of Tucson. But in terms of the Catholic Church fifty years is the blink of the eye. As a Diocese we are pretty much still in our infancy stage, comparatively speaking. Many of you, like me are transplants from other parts of the country or world. When you think of the Church in places like Chicago, New York, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Milwaukee, Philadelphia or Boston or even Lima or Mexico City, Berlin, Madrid, Manila or Goa there is an extensive infrastructure that was built by generations past spanning often centuries. The Phoenix metro area and the Diocese of Phoenix are just about the fastest growing areas of the US. All of that means, is it falls to us, as it did to previous generations of Catholics, to build up the local Church so that we can make new disciples through evangelization.

Our participation in the Campaign extends from July 1 until the end of 2018, God-willing we meet our goal. But why should we just meet our goal? Let’s strive to surpass the goal, after all God is not out done in generosity.

Over the next few months you will be hearing A LOT about this and how you can participate. I will be contacting you in many different ways and inviting you to carefully consider supporting the mission of the Church here in the Diocese of Phoenix. I have asked both Deacon James Carabajal and Sister Monica to assist me with the Campaign.

For now, I would ask you to pray that God cultivates your hearts to make them fertile for the seeds he wishes to plant in you and in your family and in our Parish. The first prerequisite for participating in the Campaign is to make sure that you are daily living as a generous believer answering the call of Jesus Christ no matter the cost. Now is the time to focus on our personal relationship with the Living Christ.

Sometimes we think, “what do I have to give?” The answer is “everything”. Though we all can’t give equally, we can all equally sacrifice.

So please join me as Together We Go Forth and make disciples as we strengthen the mission of the Church here in Tempe and beyond.

Love,
Fr. John B.