(Editors note: The following is an excerpt from the “Diocese of Jackson, Parish Finance Council, Decree and Guidelines” of the Required Financial Practices section, that details how financial donations are to be handled and accounted for in the Diocese of Jackson.)
Financial Reporting a) Record financial transactions and prepare financial statements: Financial transactions are recorded and monthly financial statements are prepared using ParishSoft ConnectNow Accounting software.
b) Financial records: All financial records documenting transactions should be available to the parish as needed. Records should not be kept offsite at the residences of employees or volunteers where access to the financial records may be limited. Financial records are the property of the parish and must be kept on the parish premises.
c) Regular financial report preparation: Financial reporting is made regularly and timely to facilitate control and corrective action. The financial reports should be presented in detail capturing bank accounts held at local financial institutions and Diocese accounts (not just operating accounts) and debt obligations. Financial statements should contain all activity of the Parish.
d) Communication of financial results: Parish financial results are reported each month to the pastor and finance council. In addition, results should be shared with parishioners on at least an annual basis including sources and amounts of income, parish debt obligations, unpaid bills and parish savings.
Sunday and Holy Day Collections a) Count teams: Collection bags should be maintained in the safe until the next business day when the count team is assembled and ready to begin counting. At least two (preferably three) unrelated people, not employees, should be present when collections are counted. No one should ever sort and organize money prior to the arrival of the count team.
b) Proper rotation of count team duties and members: Multiple count teams that are periodically rotated should count collections. If there is only a single count team, then count duties should be rotated.
c) Collections are handled properly: All checks are restrictively endorsed during counting procedures, and a cash collection report is compiled and signed by each of the count team members. It is helpful to establish written cash handling guidelines indicating names and duties of team members.
d) Adequate physical safeguards: All cash receipts should be deposited intact daily or locked in a safe and deposited the next day. Limit entry to the safe to two people requiring such access, each should have the safe combination and/or key. The safe combination and/or key should be adequately safeguarded. Use your bank’s drop bag process whenever possible to ensure safe/timely deposit of funds.
e) Segregating collection duties: Ideally, different individuals complete the receiving, processing, recording and bank reconciliation functions. This option is not always possible especially if there are only one or two individuals available to perform these duties. Separate and rotate these duties among the available people as much as possible. Perhaps the pastor, or a volunteer parishioner with the proper background, can perform or review one of these functions monthly.
f) Parishioner contribution statements: Someone who is independent of the counting, depositing and recording of collections prepares and distributes year-end parishioner statements whenever possible. Reported variances between the donation and collection are investigated and resolved.
g) Tracking parishioner contributions: Do not back date envelopes to the Sunday date printed on the envelope; use the date of the collection. For instance, families submitting multiple envelopes (for previous Sundays on one Sunday) should be entered with the Sunday date on which the multiple envelopes were received, not the date printed on the envelopes.
h) Reviewing parishioner donor contribution summary report: Periodically (quarterly) print the donor contribution summary report and compare it to the Sunday collection worksheets for accuracy. Make corrections as needed.
(If you suspect proper procedure is not being followed with regard to church donations, call Nancy Meyers (601) 960-8458, Cathy Pendelton (601) 969-2135 or Carolyn Callahan (601) 346-6038)
By Jordan Nettles
GREENVILLE – On Friday, Oct. 25, loved ones gathered at St. Joseph Church in Greenville, Miss. for the funeral Mass of Rev. Jeremiah Francis Corcoran, known lovingly as Father Frank. Father Frank passed away on Oct. 17 at Delta Regional Medical Center at the age of 88.
Born in Nenagh Co. Tipperary, Ireland to a devout Catholic family, Father Frank answered a call from God to bring the Gospel to Mississippi, where he served for 65 years as a priest. In answering that initial call, he offered a resounding “yes” to God, which he continued to offer throughout his many years of ceaseless prayer and service.
The sanctuary in Greenville was packed with fellow priests, former parishioners, and friends and family members of Father Frank. Among the congregation were two of Father Frank’s nieces from Ireland, Michael Shalloe and Eimear O’Farrell. The service began with loving words from both of them.
“Today is a celebration of a great life,” said Shalloe, setting a tone for a Mass that would remember and honor the life of Father Frank. She recalled her uncle’s great love for family saying, “Family, to Father Frank, was everything.” O’Farrell spoke in Gaelic for several minutes, with a nod to loved ones watching the live-stream from Ireland.
Bishop Joseph Kopacz presided over the Mass and led concelebrants to the altar to the processional hymn, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You.” Father Mark Shoffner, Parochial Vicar at St. Mary Basilica and Assumption of The Blessed Virgin Mary in Natchez, gave the Homily.
Father Shoffner, who grew up in Greenville, spoke with love and humor about Father Frank. “Today we gather for Father Frank, one who golfed, and ate, and prayed, and ate some more,” he began. Father Shoffner then spoke in detail about the example Father Frank set for the many people whose lives he touched, often in a deeply personal way through the holy sacraments.
“It is important for us to live a life ordered towards God,” Father Shoffner said. “That is the great end in all of us, is to be ordered towards Him whom created us, who willed us forward from Himself. And [Father Frank] was showing that, and we know in his story has lived that, as an example.”
Father Shoffner highlighted Father Frank’s devotion to prayer and his acceptance of God’s plan, which led him to bring the word of God to communities thousands of miles away from his own in Ireland. “We’re blessed by that example,” Father Shoffner said. “He gave us a picture of fidelity, and that is what the Lord asks of us. A life of fidelity.”
Father Frank began his priesthood in Pascagoula, Miss. in 1954. He served across the state, also taking assignments in Jackson, Vicksburg, Meridian, Greenville, Crystal Springs and Hazlehurst. He retired to Greenville, Miss. in 2004.
Father Frank planned his own funeral, down to the hymns that should be sung and the priest who should give the Homily. This included informing Father Shoffner that he wanted him to preach at the funeral, before Father Shoffner was even in seminary.
Of course in the midst of sadness, there was great joy at the Mass, as well. As Father Shoffner pointed out, “He’s able to behold God [in] a way he has never been able to see Him before.”
(Jordan Nettles is the Marketing Assistant and Digital Publishing Coordinator at University Press of Mississippi. She graduated from the The University of Southern Mississippi and attends St. Richard Church.)
JACKSON – Over the last year, federal authorities have conducted an investigation into events at our parishes in Starkville and Macon that involved Father Lenin Vargas. One year ago those federal authorities executed search warrants at those parishes and at the offices of the Diocese of Jackson. The Diocese remains steadfast in stating that neither Bishop Joseph Kopacz, nor any Diocesan Official, committed, condoned or covered up fraudulent activity. In late 2017, when the Diocese learned there might be problems with parish finances at St. Joseph Starkville, Bishop Kopacz ordered an audit be conducted and based on those audit findings, took actions to bring the parish back into compliance with Diocesan policy. No Diocese official had any knowledge that Father Vargas was asking individuals for money until the affidavit was unsealed in November 2018. During the course of the investigation the Diocese has worked to bring forth the truth that will lead to a just resolution and reconciliation throughout our Catholic community. To wit: • The Diocese has cooperated fully with federal investigators.
• The Diocese has reached out to those who donated to Father Vargas and returned parishioners’ contributions. If you gave directly to Father Vargas but have not spoken with the Diocese, please do so. We want to hear from you.
• Father Vargas was stripped of his priestly facilities and authorities in the Catholic Church in Mexico were notified of his standing.
• Diocese-wide protocols were implemented for “special collections.”
Yet there is still work to be done. The Diocese will continue to seek reconciliation and restorative justice for the communities impacted by this investigation. The Diocese will also continue to reach out to those who donated, but feel betrayed, to seek a just resolution with them and continue to support those communities to rebuild trust and confidence. Additionally, the Diocese will continue to be transparent in our dealings with all Diocesan leadership and ministries. Finally, continue to pray for our St. Joseph and Corpus Christi parishes and all those in the Starkville and Macon communities who have been hurt by this investigation. We hope in Christ for new life and peace.
What is the seminary like? The reality might surprise you. If you are like I was growing up, you may think that a house of priestly formation resembles a silent monastery, filled with monk-like figures trying to discern God’s call in isolation. Well, that’s not the reality. The reality is that while a diocesan seminary certainly is a house of prayer, it’s also a house full of activity, excitement and men who bring different gifts to the table and are seeking to use them to glorify the Lord. My favorite thing about seminary was the fraternity. Yes, there was class. Yes, there was prayer. But there were also apostolic opportunities, social events, community events, community fundraisers and other “regular stuff” that helped us to build a brotherhood. And that brotherhood becomes so strong because it is rooted in a love of Jesus Christ. We were all a bunch of normal guys who were considering whether to do what the world has come to see as abnormal, to live a life for God alone. And we loved it. And we supported one another and challenged one another and now we still support and challenge one another. This summer myself and several of my classmates made a five-day retreat together at a house of Benedictine nuns in Northern Missouri. It reminded me of the great bond that we still have, a bond for which I am so grateful. Have you ever wanted to see what a seminary is like? The Office of Vocations offers trips throughout the year, including visits to seminaries. If you are interested please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit www.jacksonpriests.com/come-and-see to check out the trips we have coming up this fall and winter. – Father Nick Adam
Friday, Nov. 8-11 – Saint Joseph Seminary College offers a retreat for high school men (juniors and seniors) who are interested in learning more about seminary life. The retreat lasts from Friday evening through Sunday lunch and gives discerners a chance to get a feel for the seminary routine and meet seminarians and professors.
Contact the Office of Vocations if interested in attending any of these events.
JACKSON – Michael Earl Raff, a bold champion of civil rights, public service, the Arts and the city of Jackson, died on Oct. 23, 2019, at Hospice Ministries following a long illness. He leaves behind a broken-hearted family and a legion of relatives, friends and associates.
Born in Sioux City, Iowa, Michael was the son of the late Mary Nash and Earl Raff. The eldest of five children, his childhood was spent attending Catholic schools where he excelled in academics and sports, especially football. He developed a work ethic for which he later became famous. The family moved frequently during his childhood, and Michael often recalled the difficulty of attending seven schools in a five-year span. This gave him the resilience and the appreciation for friendship that marked his character.
Michael attended Notre Dame, majoring in business and earning membership in the coveted Blue Circle Honor Society. After graduation, Michael answered the call from God to the priesthood. He attended the Immaculate Conception Seminary in Conception, Missouri, earning a BA with Honors in Philosophy in 1965 and an MA in Theology, with Honors, in 1969.
His abiding sense of justice and disdain for bullies propelled Michael to Mississippi to join the fight for Civil Rights. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese by Bishop Joseph B. Brunini, on May 24, 1969 at St. Peter’s Cathedral, in Jackson – the church he served so faithfully, first, as an assistant pastor and, later, as a beloved parishioner. This is the same church where his extraordinary life was be celebrated on Monday, Oct. 28.
From 1969 to 1971 Michael served as pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish in Ocean Springs, after which he returned to Jackson as executive director of the Mississippi Council of Human Relations to improve racial relations, to advocate for the poor and disenfranchised, and to act as a liaison for businesses, labor and government to work towards equal employment in state jobs. It was a fateful assignment for it was during this time that Michael met Linda Glass, whose commitment to racial equality was the same as his own. His resignation from the priesthood and marriage to Linda created a partnership for social justice that is unequaled in our time. They each supported the other in their ministries to care for “the least of these.” Their marriage has been a source of delight and inspiration to all who know them.
Instrumental in the founding of Legal Services, Michael developed legal assistance to the poor from 1978 through 1983. He brought his skill in advocacy to the Mississippi Legislature. His experience with Legal Services and battles against unfair energy services led him to run for Public Service Commissioner, a race he lost by a heartbreakingly small margin. Michaels’ expertise in public service led him to work for two governors and for several Jackson mayors, as he developed and administered programs for the poor, the homeless, the young, the old, the hungry and the otherwise forgotten. Along the way, he has accumulated honors only Princes of the Realm accrue: The NAACP Goodman, Chaney, Schwerner Award to Individuals Contributing Most to the Political Power for All Citizens; The Southern Center for Human Rights “Founders Award for Advancing the Cause of Justice;” the Association of Community Action Award for Outstanding Dedicated Service; the Mississippi Religious Leadership Founder Award for Exemplifying Ideals of Peace and Justice; the Center for Justice’s Champion of Justice Award; and the Friendship Ball Honoree in 2000.
But most people reading this will remember Michael best as the Pasta Man and, later, as the consummate and abiding host at Thalia Mara. Beginning in 1989, Michael opened “My Favorite Spaghetti,” in a closed service station on the corner of Jefferson and High Streets. A total departure from his public service career, My Favorite Spaghetti was a great success; Jackson’s first healthy option for fast food. Doris Ward was his mainstay, but he hired his children and many of their friends and taught them the famous Raff work ethic, which is still talked about to this day. Michael talked about them too, relishing in and taking pride in their successes in life.
A kind and gentle single-mindedness of purpose is what folks remember about Michael’s work as Director of Cultural Services for the City of Jackson, his final and, according to him, favorite job. As Director of Cultural Services, Michael oversaw Thalia Mara Hall, Smith Robertson Museum, The Arts Center and the Municipal Art Center. He supported the efforts of the Museum of Art, Ballet MS, the IBC, the Symphony, the Muslim Museum, MS Opera and Very Special Arts.
At Thalia Mara, Michael advocated for and oversaw the refurbishment of the auditorium, a Herculean effort, completed in 2014. No one who saw him, battling arthritis and struggling to walk, will ever forget the transcendent joy the gift of being at Thalia Mara brought him. He retired in November 2018.
Michael was preceded in death by his parents and brothers Richard and Mark Raff and Linda’s parents, Marvin and Mary Emma Glass. Surviving him are his beloved wife Linda; daughter Lauren (Ney) and children Clayton and Olivia; and son Matthew (Ginger) and children Mary Emma and Nash. He is also survived by his sister Sharon Kelly (Jerry); his sister Margie Labelle (Ron) and their children and grandchildren; and Linda’s sisters, Sandra Waide (David) and Mary Beth (Roland) and their children and grandchildren.
Memorials may be sent to Catholic Charities or The Mississippi Center for Justice.
By Daisey X. Martinez
JACKSON – I went to a detention center in Louisiana to visit a Mississippian who has been there since Aug. 7th. Honestly, I was hesitant about going inside and thought about backing out. Then, I thought about all of the times that I heard Matthew 25:34-40 growing up and made up my mind to go inside.
While I was waiting for the guards to bring in my potential new friend, I looked around the bare room. There were men in beige-colored uniforms sitting with women and children. I saw many smiles and happy tears, but the sadness of the situation lingered. The young man to my left was making a flower out of candy wrappers for his little sister. When he was finished, he turned around and called to one of his block mates; the young man introduced him to his mother and two sisters. The older man smiled and told the young man’s mother that her son was a good kid.
As I felt tears gathering in my eyes, a man with a curious look on his face approached me. It was the person that God wanted me to visit. I immediately apologized to him in case he had hopes that it would be his wife and daughter sitting at the plastic table and then asked him if it was okay that I had come. He turned down my apology and thanked me instead. Visitors are rare, but when he does get a visitor, it helps him escape from his current reality and he’s thankful for that.
I learned that he loves scary movies, enjoys playing video games (so much that his daughter’s middle name is the name of a character from one of his favorite games), adores playing soccer and that his wife basically rejected him when they first met. We laughed about that last part. He is from the same state in Mexico that my father is from, so we talked about the traditions and foods from that beautiful place. He told me that his daughter just had a birthday and has been asking when he will be coming home. He tells her he is on vacation because the truth would be harder for his young daughter to understand.
I was so happy that this man was starting to open up to me because I was worried about him. He was in the same detention center where just a few weeks before, a prisoner of ICE had committed suicide. I wanted to let him know that there are so many people outside of this place that cared about him and all of the others who are in this situation. I told him that not everyone sees him as a criminal. Some people understand the reasons he had to come into this country. I’m not sure if he believed me.
He told me that he understands that he broke some rules, but has been living a quiet life for the past two decades. He was hard at work when ICE showed up and took him away. He knows of others who would get arrested for a DUI or some other crime and then let go. He doesn’t understand why people who were working were separated from their families.
I wanted to keep talking to him, but time was running low. I looked at him and asked him if I could pray for him right then and there. He nodded and we conversed with God. We then stood up and I asked if I could hug him. My brother in Christ hugged me back and I pray that he knows that God loves him and hasn’t abandoned him. With a promise that I would return, I said goodbye.
I really wish that there wasn’t a language barrier so that we could all hear the struggles and stories of the immigrants in our state. People can argue about the methods used to get here, however, for a brief moment, I wish we could live the words of Matthew 25 “…When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?”
(Daisey X. Martinez is the Associate for Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the diocesan Office of Intercultural Ministry. She is part of a network of volunteer drivers who pick up released people from the ICE detention centers and work together to get them home to their families in Mississippi. If you would like more information on how to be a volunteer driver, please email email@example.com.)
BROOKSVILLE The Dwelling Place, Advent Hermitage Overnight, Dec. 13-14 begins with 5:30 p.m. dinner. In the prayerful space of a hermitage, come away, block out our society’s noisy Christmas preparation and focus on the real meaning of Christ/Emmanuel coming among us. Director: Clare Van Lent, MA CSp., founder and director of the Dwelling Place. Cost: $90 per day. Details: (662) 738-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
CHATAWA St. Mary of the Pines Retreat Center, An Advent Day of Reflection “What am I Waiting for?” on Saturday, Dec. 7 from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Advent is always seen as a time of waiting and anticipation. Sister Pat Thomas, O.P., a member of the founding staff of the Peace Center in New Orleans, is currently a leader in pastoral and educational roles around the country. Suggested donation: $40, includes lunch. Details: Sister Sue Von Bank (601) 783-0801 or email@example.com.
GREENWOOD The Sacred Nexus-Psychological Links to the Image of God is the latest book written by Michael Whelan, Ph.D., a psychologist and resident of Greenwood, MS. Dr. Whelan uses Holy Scripture, an array of ideas and perspectives by some of the great spiritual writers and psychologists as well as his vast experience from his private practice and first-hand assessment of convicted criminals at the MS State Penitentiary at Parchman. Proceeds from the purchase of the book benefit Locus Benedictus whose ministry is Inner Healing.
JACKSON 39th Annual Squat & Gobble, Thursday, Nov. 21 6-10 p.m. at the Railroad District, 824 S. State St., Jackson. Great food and beverages, door prizes, silent auction and entertainment by Dr. Zarr’s Amazing Funk Monster. Cost: $45 if purchased before Nov. 12 and $55 if purchased after Nov. 12. Proceeds to benefit the victims of human trafficking and domestic violence in the Metro area. Details: www.friendsforacause.com or (601) 955-1677.
METAIRIE La. Catholic Charismatic Renewal of New Orleans (CCRNO), Holy Spirit Women’s Retreat, “2020: Without a Vision the People Perish,” Jan. 24-26, 2020 at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Lafayette. Johnnette Benkovic Williams, Fr. Mark Goring, Deacon Larry and Andi Oney and Patti Mansfield will be featured. Details: www.ccrno.org; firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 828-1368.
PARISH, SCHOOL AND FAMILY EVENTS
ABERDEEN St. Francis of Assisi, Adult Bible Study studying the Gospel of John, Tuesdays at 11 a.m. Details: church office (662) 813-2295.
BROOKHAVEN St. Francis, Knights of Columbus Spaghetti Dinner Fundraiser, Thursday, Nov. 21, 11:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. Cost: $9 per plate, eat in or take out. Details: church office (601) 833-1799.
CLEVELAND Our Lady of Victories, “Taste of Italy” Lasagna Dinner and bake sale, Thursday, Nov. 14 from 4:30-7 p.m.
FLOWOOD St. Paul, Comedy Dinner Theatre, Saturday, Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. Fundraiser for Women’s Guild. Entertainment by The Detectives Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest. Cost: $35 per person. Details: church office (601) 992-9547.
HERNANDO Holy Spirit, Christmas Program/Pageant, Sunday, Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. Details: (662) 429-7851 or e-mail email@example.com to volunteer.
JACKSON St. Richard, Companions in Christ, meets every Sunday from 9:15-10:15 a.m. in the Mary Room. It is a small faith community for adults in their 30s who want to grow in their faith and spirituality. We offer rest, encouragement, and accountability on our journey. Get added to the weekly email list to receive reflections and discussion questions for upcoming meetings. Details: email Kathleen Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org or Facebook at “Companions in Christ at St. Richard’s.”
PEARL St. Jude, Adult Faith Formation meets Sunday morning during the school year in the classroom across the hall from the church office from 9:45-10:45 a.m. Bishop Barron’s series “Pivotal Players.” Details: church office (601) 939-3181.
YAZOO CITY St. Mary, Bake Sale, Lunch & Bingo fundraiser, Tuesday, Nov. 26 in the Parish Hall/Cafeteria. 7 a.m. to 12 p.m.; Bake Sale begins 12 p.m.; $5 lunch and also Bingo. The public is invited to participate. The funds raised will be used to benefit the Religious Education Program. Details: Diane Melton at the church office (662) 746-1680.
COLUMBUS Annunciation School, Thursday, Nov. 21, 8:30 a.m. Mass in the gym followed with 9:15 a.m. Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and reception for new building expansion.
Grand Opening Celebration at 5 p.m., which will include a BBQ dinner, light music and guided tours of the new building expansion. Details: school office (662) 328-4479.
JACKSON St. Richard School, Open House, Sunday, Nov. 17 at 11:30 a.m. Details: school office (601) 366-1157 or www.strichardschool.org.
The Special Kids Art Show, Thursday, Dec. 5 at 5 p.m. in Foley Hall. Icons, crosses, photographs and other artwork by the Special Kids will be on display and available to purchase. Details: church office (601) 366-2335.
Sr. Thea Bowman School, Open House, Sunday, Nov. 17 at 3:30 p.m. Details: school office (601) 352-5441 or www.theabowmanschool.com.
By Terry Dickson JACKSON – A champion on the football field and a hero on the battlefield, former Pittsburgh Steelers star and decorated Vietnam War veteran Rocky Bleier imparted valuable life lessons during a recent visit to Jackson. Bleier, a Pennsylvania native who was the keynote speaker during the Catholic Charities “Journey of Hope” luncheon Oct. 8 at the Jackson Convention Complex, told his audience that they possess “the power to make a difference, the power to change, the power to have an impact.” “There are three things we can never get back,” Bleier told the audience. “One is time, one are words and the other are opportunities. What a wonderful time it is for all of us to be here and share in what Catholic Charities is all about, to be a part of this community and being able to change people’s lives. Opportunities are very important, but we have to take advantage of those opportunities as they come around. The one thing I’ve learned in all the time that I’ve been on this earth is that the one business we’re all in is truly the hope business.”
“If you truly think about it, no man is an island,” he said. “We didn’t get to where we are today by ourselves. We got here because of someone, something, an opportunity. We got here because of a coach, a teacher or a mentor. We got here because of a parent. We got here because of a drill sergeant. We got here because somebody took an interest, gave us a push, a nudge, gave us a job, opened a door, kicked us in the rear end. We got here because somebody cared.” Bleier regaled listeners with stories about his own journey and the people who helped him along the way. A product of Catholic schools, Bleier was a gridiron standout at the University of Notre Dame who was later drafted by the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers in 1968. However, his football career was almost immediately put on hold that same year when he was drafted into the United States Army. Bleier earned a Combat Infantryman Badge, Bronze Star and Purple Heart during his tour of duty in Vietnam, the latter award a result of an injury he suffered when a grenade exploded near him, taking part of his foot. Despite the severity of his injury, Bleier persevered and defied the odds, returned to the Steelers in 1970, winning four Super Bowl rings as part of a dynasty led by NFL Hall of Fame Coach Chuck Noll and Hall of Fame players Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris and Lynn Swann. In Super Bowl 13, Bleier, who played at halfback and on special teams, caught the go ahead fumble and recovered a late onside kick to seal the win against the Cowboys. He retired after the 1980 season. His blocking ability was a valuable contribution to the success of the vaunted Steelers running game. Bleier’s life story is the focus of his best-selling book, Fighting Back: The Rocky Bleier Story. Today, Bleier is in high demand as a motivational speaker. “No matter how hard we work, how talented we may be, how passionate we are about what we do in our community, there are times in our lives when we carry the weight of the world on our shoulders,” Bleier said. “There are times in our lives when we beat our head against the wall. There are times in our lives when we question our own ability and the choices that we make. There are times in our lives when the grass looks greener on the other side. You want to quit, move on and can’t carry the load.” “I suppose the whole moral of this story is that, if I would quit all those many years ago, I’d never have the opportunity to play those 12 years, play in those Super Bowls or have all those memories. The reason I got a chance to play wasn’t because of my size and speed, but ultimately because of one talent (blocking). We have to understand that each and every one of us possess a singular talent that is our own, different than anybody else’s. It’s really our responsibility to be able to find out what that talent is, and what we bring to our communities and our families and our cities and to be able to use it.” Approximately 750 people attended this year’s luncheon, which was preceded the previous night by a meet-and-greet with Bleier at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. Journey of Hope is one of Catholic Charities’ signature events and a major source of revenue. “As our state’s population continues to increase, so does the need. Because of the dedication, passion and commitment of the team, we continue to seek out ways daily to be innovative and creative, insuring that we provide effective and quality services to the individuals and families that we serve. This allows us to be better poised to continue with the mission that began so many years ago,” said Wanda Thomas, executive director of Catholic Charities. “Thanks to the supporters of Catholic Charities, those without housing have been housed, those in domestic violence situations have been kept safe, children have been placed in homes and able to find their forever families. It is the promise of bringing hope to many lives that drives us to keep pressing forward, and to say we can, and we will, give focus to the specific needs of our neighbors, we can and we will be advocates for those who suffer, we can and we will be the vessel to change lives.”
(Editor’s note: Bishop Joseph Kopacz is traveling at press time. He asked that we run this story in place of his regular column that includes his support for the Southern Baptist Conference as they begin to address the sex-abuse crisis within their denomination.)
By Joanna Puddister King and Vickie Carollo DALLAS – In early October, eyes were on the Southern Baptist Conference (SBC) as they hosted their Caring Well Conference from Oct. 3-5 to address the sex-abuse crisis occurring within the church after public awareness peaked after the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News released an investigative series in February of this year identifying at least 700 victims over a 20-year span. The first day of the Caring Well Conference, organized by the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, focused on hearing from abuse survivors. The overall sentiment from abuse survivors speaking was a sense of gratefulness that church leaders now seem to be taking sex-abuse seriously and not a “problem to be silenced.” On the second and third days of the conference attendees heard from speakers on “Caring Well” for those who have experienced abuse and how Christ can restore abuse victims, as well as choosing to attend various breakout sessions that offered subjects including understanding the grooming process, what church programs can do to screen for child sex abusers and what pastors and church leaders can do to address abuse, topics that the Catholic Diocese of Jackson has been addressing since 1987, long before the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June 2002. “I wholeheartedly affirm the commitment of the Southern Baptist Conference, stated at their recent Caring Well Conference to surface and address the crime and tragedy of child sexual abuse in the structures of their denomination. First and foremost, it is undeniably true as was stated at their conference, “that Jesus Christ can restore abuse victims,” said Bishop Joseph Kopacz.
“It becomes evident that the Lord works best through a culture of commitment and compliance to foster safe environments and to promote healing and justice for victims and their families. As the Conference progressed it was clear that the Southern Baptists are on the front end of addressing this crisis in a systematic way. It takes time and The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its accompanying Norms, promulgated in 2002, nearly two decades ago, is living proof of what is required to get it right. The Charter with periodic revisions has transformed the landscape within the Catholic Church in the United States with the pledge to protect and promise to heal.” Bishop Kopacz describes the approach of the Catholic Church’s charter as having four aspects: the safe environment program, victims’ assistance, cooperation with law enforcement and transparency. Within the Catholic church, contributing to a safe environment involves the policy of conducting criminal background screenings on any diocesan employee and anyone who offers to volunteer at any parish, school or institution. More than 16,000 employees and volunteers have been vetted in this way since the Diocese of Jackson instituted background screenings in 2004. Provided the screening is clear, the volunteer or employee participates in an initial training through VIRTUS, Protecting God’s Children program. Through the live training session with a VIRTUS facilitator participants become aware of the issues surrounding child sexual abuse, the methods and means by which offenders offend and the ways in which abuse affects victims. Participants are empowered with steps to prevent and how to best respond to child sexual abuse. Ongoing training happens monthly in the form of an email bulletin with an article about the latest research or information on fostering safe environments in the church, the home and in society. Not only do adults receive training, but also children and young people in parish religious education programs, as well as, those in Catholic schools. In these lessons, children learn about safety and healthy boundaries and what they can do if someone tries to violate them. All lessons are organized so that each child experiences a completely different lesson plan each time the materials are presented. As a child advances to the next age group, there is a whole new set of age-appropriate lessons that explore the safety topics in greater detail. In the Catholic church victim assistance is essential to care for those abused by clergy or church leaders. In the church once an allegation is made, a series of responses are triggered. First, if the victim is a child – even if the abuse is just a suspicion – the case is turned over to the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services and then to either Vickie Carollo, Safe Environment Coordinator or to Valerie McClellan, Victim’s Assistance Coordinator. In the case of an adult who comes forward years later after abuse, he or she is offered professional counseling at no cost. McClellan offers counseling based out of Jackson, but if the victim is living out of state, she arranges for a counselor in the victim’s community. The goal for the Catholic church is to offer healing to the victim and his or her family. Additionally, McClellan gathers as much information as possible about the abuse, and with the victim’s consent, turns it over to the diocese. The vicar general, through the diocesan attorney, hires a private investigator to begin to look into the case and the accused is removed from active ministry or suspended while the investigator prepares a report for the Independent Review Board, the consultative body that assesses the credibility of all allegations of sexual abuse against minors. The review board then meets and votes on what actions to recommend to the bishop. When the allegation is judged to be credible, the abuser is removed from ministry as soon as possible. In the Catholic church, if a case is deemed credible, the diocesan attorney’s office will inform the district attorney in the county where the abuse happened and the bishop withdraws faculties from an ordained accused abuser at this time. At this point, the Chancellor’s office prepares a statement to be read at Masses or other parish gatherings in the communities where the alleged abuser has served and encourage other victims to come forward. This statement is also posted on the diocesan website. Per the Catholic church’s policy, even if there are no active cases of abuse being investigated, each parish must regularly publish a statement encouraging victims to report abuse. On March 19 of this year, the diocese released a list of credibly accused clergy dating back to 1924. The ministers reported were either deceased or already removed from ministry. Most importantly, the Catholic church’s commitment to transparency is paramount moving forward. After a group of journalists uncovered and exposed a pattern of abuse and cover-ups within the Archdiocese of Boston, the church has undergone a culture shift. “Each Catholic Diocese anywhere in the world, and especially in the United States, has a clearly defined governance structure with the Bishop at the center surrounded by his Chancery Staff. Throughout the diocese all pastors and pastoral ministers are ultimately accountable to the Bishop. Therefore, the implementation of programs, policies and procedures can be achieved on a faster track than what is possible for other denominations, including the Southern Baptist Conference, whose congregations are far more autonomous with respect to governance,” said Bishop Kopacz. “For us in the Catholic church the commitment to protect and to heal continues to grow because the will to do so exists at the center of governance, as well as at the grassroots in every parish and ministry. Vigilance can never weaken or grow slack with respect to the threat of the sexual abuse of children and young people because “sin is always lurking at the door, but we can overcome it.” (Genesis 4:7) Right now, the SBC is focusing on beginning education of church leaders and pastors with the book Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused by Brad Hambrick. Released in June 2019, the book brings together trauma counselors, victim advocates, social workers, attorneys and survivors to equip church leadership for the appropriate initial responses to a variety of abuse scenarios in churches, schools or ministries. The book also pairs with a series of 12 videos to help in the understanding and implementation of best practices. The SBC was part four of the “Caring Well Challenge,” an eight-step process of addressing the abuse crisis and learning practical ways to prevent abuse through caringwell.com. The steps include committing to the challenge; building a “Caring Well” team; launching the challenge; training at the national conference; equipping leaders through reading Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused; preparing policies, procedures and practices related to abuse; dedicating Sunday services on May 3, 2020 to address abuse; and finally, reflecting on the Caring Well Challenge at the 2020 SBC annual meeting. Phillip Bethancourt, executive vice president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the SBC, is “praying that the Caring Well Conference will not be seen as a solution to the abuse crisis, but rather a starting point for a movement of change that will continue long into the future.” Bethancourt recognized that “there is still much work to be done,” within the Southern Baptist Church and hoped that those who attended the conference go forward “with a greater dedication and resolve to take the steps that are needed to make our churches safe for survivors and safe from abuse.” On an annual basis all Catholic dioceses in the United States are audited by an independent firm to assure accountability and to shed light on all areas in the diocesan network that need improvement. The Diocese of Jackson will undergo an on-site audit of compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People as instructed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on Monday, Oct. 28 through Wednesday, Oct. 30. “In the commitment to transparency, we will communicate the findings of the audit for all to examine. I am so grateful to all staff and volunteers who are vigilant with putting into practice all of our protocols and procedures that foster safe environments and accompany victims on their path to healing and wholeness,” stated Bishop Kopacz. Anyone who has been a victim of abuse or exploitation by clergy, religious or lay church personnel and has not yet reported it is encouraged to do so. Victim assistance coordinator, Valerie McClellan (601-326-3728) and Safe Environment coordinator Vickie Carollo (601-960-8471) are available to assist in making a report.
MACON – Middle school youngsters from across the Diocese of Jackson stepped away from phones, computers and the world this month to take part in a spiritual retreat and to spend some quality time with the Lord. “The theme of our retreat was “One Church” focusing on the universality of the Catholic Church,” said Abbey Schuhmann, diocesan coordinator of the Office of Youth Ministry, who helped organize the annual diocesan Middle School Fall Retreat Oct. 12-13 at Lake Forest Ranch surrounded by 50,000 acres of pine forest in rural Noxubee County. “The overnight retreat provided the youth with a high-energy, faith-filled program throughout the weekend,” Schuhmann explained.
The weekend gathering was led by members of the National Evangelization Team or NET, a Catholic ministry program established 35 years ago out of St. Paul, Minn. Net ministers are typically aged 18-24. They volunteer a year of their time to work as trained missionaries without pay and solely focused on creating relationships with young people through retreats and programs and bringing them closer to Christ. “NET was very popular in our diocese in the 1980’s, and we are excited to have them serving in our diocese once again,” said Schuhmann about the team of young men and women, who visited two schools during their Mississippi mission. At Sacred Heart Southaven and St. Joseph Greenville they staged mini-retreats and shared their own personal encounters with Jesus Christ and their faith transformations, inspiring all in attendance. The fall program in Macon included talks, small group discussions, prayer, adoration before the Lord in the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There were plenty of opportunities for the young people to socialize and have fun. Throughout the weekend there were games of friendly competition including ping-pong, basketball, volleyball and gaga ball, the latest craze. Saturday, there was a bonfire by the lake, and the NET Team performed funny skits throughout the weekend and a drama was also part of the entertainment lineup. “Parishes from five of our six deaneries were represented at this year’s retreat,” said Schuhmann, pleased about the turnout. Adult youth leaders from the various parishes helped out where needed, and during the weekend, they had the opportunity to meet one another and discuss the youth ministry programs at their respected parishes. Bishop Joseph Kopacz visited on Sunday morning and celebrated Mass bringing participants together in praise and worship and inspiring all with his message. In fellowship, he joined the teens and adult leaders after Mass. For information on upcoming diocesan youth events and activities, please contact Abbey Schuhmann, coordinator for the Office of Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Jackson at email@example.com.