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Who gets to be 'Catholic'
The ^ | Nov 4, 2006 | MIRKO PETRICEVIC

Posted on 11/05/2006 4:44:33 PM PST by Alex Murphy

Debate over Bill Clinton's appropriateness for a fundraiser highlights church's desire for 'a sense of unity' on fundamental issues


The Catholic Family Counselling Centre hangs its name high on the exterior wall of its Queen Street South building in Kitchener.

The word Catholic differs in design from the sign's other words. Whether that highlights, or downplays, the agency's Catholic identity is debatable.

Local Catholics, meanwhile, are debating whether or not the agency -- founded by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton -- is entitled to continue using the word Catholic at all.

It's a question almost as old as Christianity itself. Who's in? Who's out?

The debate was sparked by the counselling centre's decision to invite former U.S. president Bill Clinton to be keynote speaker for a fundraising lunch in Kitchener next week.

In recent years, the Diocese of Hamilton has given the centre about $36,000 annually -- about 1.5 per cent of its operating budget. And in 1999 it donated $100,000 to help construct the centre's building. It was one of the earliest gifts to the project and helped attract other donations.

But some Catholics oppose Clinton's visit because as president he twice vetoed a bill that would have banned abortions when a fetus is more than 20 weeks old. Abortion is against Roman Catholic Church teaching.

So while the sign on the counselling centre does say Catholic, the diocese's seal of approval and its future support are under review.


The Catholic Family Counselling Centre is non-denominational. It has no religious requirements for it clients or 65 staff members. And not all board members are Roman Catholics.

The staff includes community development workers, credit counsellors. Social workers and psychologists provide personal counselling.

Mostly funded by donations, its own fundraising efforts, the United Way and government grants, the centre serves about 20,000 people every year. Those from low-income households may receive counselling at subsidized rates.

The long relationship between the Diocese of Hamilton and the centre has been strained by the Clinton event, says Most Rev. Gerard Bergie, auxiliary bishop of the diocese. He and the diocese's two other bishops won't attend and are advising parishioners not to attend.

"To this point in time, it hasn't broken the relationship, but it has strained the relationship," Bergie said in an interview last week, adding that it would be ideal to maintain the relationship.

"However, ultimately the (centre's) board has to determine whether they value their Catholicity."

Bergie acknowledges the centre's mission has always been rooted in the Catholic tradition and the Catholic faith to help anyone in need.

"Their mission is very specific -- it's a Catholic mission."

The agency isn't charged with the job of evangelizing or spreading church teaching.

But, says Bergie, "there also has to be a certain sense of unity in fundamentals. I think that's the key. In essentials there be unity in thought and belief.

"If we look at Mr. Clinton in his views with regard to, let's say in particular abortion . . . to us as Catholics this issue is so fundamental that we believe that there must be unity in that."

Diversity of opinion within the church has its limits, Bergie said.

"If there is so much diversity, then what do you actually believe in? What unifies you? In essentials, there has to be that unity."

If the bishops determine the agency isn't Catholic enough, support from the diocese could end.

"Traditionally we fund Catholic organizations," Bergie said. "If they decide not to be part of that, I don't think that's the diocese saying . . . we don't support helping the poor and those in need, because we do it in so many different ways on so many different levels. We just may not be able to do it on that particular level in the Kitchener-Waterloo community."

Jack Fonseca of Kitchener, a Roman Catholic and a spokesperson for the local chapter of the group Defend Traditional Marriage & Family, says the counselling centre should "repent" by cancelling Clinton's visit.

"They should be given a chance to come back in line with Catholic teaching and then, if they refuse to . . . they should stop using the Catholic identity and the name Catholic, because they're not."

Dissent within the church largely creates confusion about who is and who is not Catholic, Fonseca says.

"There's room for discussion. There's room for seeking understanding of why the church teaches what it teaches. But there's not room for dissent . . . there's not room for rejection of apostolic teaching and what's defined as moral truth."


Cathy Brothers, executive director of the Catholic Family Counselling Centre, argues that Clinton is an appropriate speaker for the agency.

The former president was raised a Southern Baptist and graduated from Georgetown University in Washington D.C., a Catholic university, she noted.

"He's not from some alien anti-Catholic land."

Clinton spoke last week at a symposium at Georgetown University. There was no protest from the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, where the school is located.

Besides, Brothers says, the United States has millions of Roman Catholic voters who helped elect Clinton as the country's president -- twice.

While president, Clinton championed initiatives to reduce spousal abuse.

"We don't just want to just make a lot of money by bringing in a comedian," Brothers says. "We want to bring in somebody that shares our passion for the importance of changing the world."

Clinton is also familiar with the so-called "San Diego model" of fighting domestic violence in which police, justice officials and counselling agencies work from the same building to investigate spousal abuse and help victims.

Earlier this year, a dozen Waterloo Region police officers and employees of social services and non-profit agencies moved into the centre so as to address domestic violence more effectively. That's one reason the agency now needs to raise money and expand its offices.

Brothers says the agency didn't intent to offend the bishop, Most Rev. Anthony Tonnos, by hiring Clinton to speak. "We have absolute respect for the bishop," she said.

Brothers says she has heard from some people -- most of them not familiar with the agency, she says -- who have protested Clinton's visit. Some have asked her to remove "Catholic" from the agency's name.

But she says the centre has received many more calls of support. It has sold about 800 lunch tickets, at $500 each.

"That tells me there's lots more support."

While the centre is non-denominational, keeping Catholic in its name is important, Brothers says.

"We feel that we are part of a tradition -- a Catholic tradition -- of respect and caring and compassion for all persons in the community . . . It's our identity. It's who we are."

Brothers says the agency regularly hears clients say they appreciate the fact that it values spirituality.

"We absolutely understand that faith is important in all people's lives. Our name helps to convey that."

Staff members don't offer pastoral counselling. But when people are in a crisis, counsellors often help clients find their faith, be it Catholic, Mennonite, Muslim or another non-Christian religion, Brothers said.

So if the agency were to drop its religious identity, it wouldn't be done lightly, Brothers said.

"We're not going to do it because a few people are offended by president Clinton."


But some people are more influential than others.

And for the counselling centre, losing the bishop's approval will mean more than just losing donations from the diocese, says David Seljak, associate professor of religious studies at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo.

It could put at risk some donations from individual Catholics.

Some, for example, don't donate to the United Way because it funds programs that might not conform to Catholic church teaching.

"If that legitimacy is taken away by the bishop, (the counselling centre) might find themselves in a crisis," Seljak says.

"The bishop's say in this is bigger than the $35,000 a year."

Achieving unity on what is essential Catholic teaching is difficult because the church is composed of so many people from so many different cultures and socio-economic levels, Seljak added.

Many Catholics would agree there should be unity in essential teachings, Seljak says, but would differ on what teachings are absolutely essential.

"The bishop will have one view of essentials. A gay Catholic will have another view. A left-wing Catholic will have a third and a right-wing Catholic a fourth."

Seljak says he doesn't expect a resolution any time soon to the question of who is "legitimately" Catholic.

"It all gets cleared up when the trumpet sounds and Jesus comes back and says, 'You guys were right and you guys were wrong.' "


1946 - The Catholic Welfare Bureau of Hamilton proposes a branch office in Kitchener, which is launched by Rev. Tom Brennan, diocese director of Catholic charities. In 1952 a separate Catholic Welfare Bureau for Kitchener, on King Street, is incorporated.

1963 - The agency's name changes to K-W Catholic Social Services. In 1972, an office is opened on Weber Street West.

1985 - The agency is renamed the Catholic Family Counselling Centre. Three years later it gets its own building on Weber Street West near Water Street. The Diocese of Hamilton contributes $120,000 in land.

2000 - The centre's current home opens at 400 Queen St. S., Kitchener.

Nov. 8, 2006 - Former U.S. president Bill Clinton will help launch a $1.6-million fundraising campaign for a centre expansion.

TOPICS: Catholic; Ministry/Outreach; Moral Issues; Religion & Politics

1 posted on 11/05/2006 4:44:34 PM PST by Alex Murphy
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To: Alex Murphy

This should be interesting.

2 posted on 11/05/2006 5:15:34 PM PST by ladyinred (RIP my precious Lamb Chop)
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To: Alex Murphy

The centre's connection with the Catholic Church seems rather tenuous, the history of how it came into existence seems to be about all that remains.

Perhaps they should just change their sign from Catholic to catholic and they're good to go.

3 posted on 11/05/2006 5:57:24 PM PST by siunevada (If we learn nothing from history, what's the point of having one? - Peggy Hill)
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To: Alex Murphy

Tapping foot. Where is everyone Alex? :-)

4 posted on 11/05/2006 7:36:45 PM PST by ladyinred (RIP my precious Lamb Chop)
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Comment #5 Removed by Moderator

To: siunevada

For a Catholic charity to invite a pro abortion speaker is wrong no matter how much money might be raised.

I think Catholic Universities and colleges inviting pro abortion speakers was addressed by the Vatican. If this is true the guidelines should be the same for any Catholic institution.

Now if we could only gets those nutnuns to shut up. We have enough heretic pro abortion CINO to give us years of scandal we sure don't need to import it.

6 posted on 11/05/2006 10:10:31 PM PST by lastchance (Hug your babies.)
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To: lastchance
For a Catholic charity to invite a pro abortion speaker

Right. But this hardly seems to be a Catholic charity any longer, it seems like a generic community organization. It retains the name but that's about it:

The Catholic Family Counselling Centre is non-denominational. It has no religious requirements for it clients or 65 staff members. And not all board members are Roman Catholics.

7 posted on 11/06/2006 5:41:10 AM PST by siunevada (If we learn nothing from history, what's the point of having one? - Peggy Hill)
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To: siunevada

I agree they are no longer a " Catholic" charity. Unfortunately they still have the name Catholic and that is how the community will see them.

This causes a scandal as some may see their invite of Clinton as an endorsement for politicians who support abortion. That alone is reason enough to remove Catholic from their name.

8 posted on 11/06/2006 7:14:36 AM PST by lastchance (Hug your babies.)
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