Thursday, July 17, 2014

Jennifer Hasselberger Drives A Truck Through The Lies Of The Clerical Caste Of The Archdiocese Of St Paul and Minneapolis

Archbishop Neinstedt gives the camera his best "I would never tell a lie" expression.

 I just finished reading Jennifer Hasselberger's deposition released by Jeff Anderson and Associates.  The deposition was given for a civil suit against the Archdiocese of Minneapolis/St Paul and involves child sexual abuse by a priest known to have serious sexual issues, but was never the less, appointed pastor of the parish at which the abuse cited in this civil law suit occurred.  Jennifer writes this at the very beginning of her deposition:

1. The statements made herein, unless stated otherwise, are only to be considered as reflective of the situation and circumstances of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. These statements should not be understood to be representative of the practices of other Catholic dioceses in the United States, of the universal Catholic Church,or of the Holy See.

I'd love to believe the circumstances cited in her deposition were exclusive to the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, but after doing decades of research, I can no longer find it in my Catholic soul to believe the situations and attitudes she describes are unique to this Archdiocese.  They are not the exception to the rule.  They are the actual observed practice, and this in spite of all the recent rules written specifically to look as if these practices are no longer the rule.  The real rule in operation, as Jennifer shows beyond a doubt, is now as it always has been: the welfare of the offending priest before any thought of any justice for a victim.

I also know there really are dioceses where the unwritten rule does not hold sway, but these are the exceptions.  The exception is not the level of duplicity and corruption in the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis.  The only exception here is that a highly placed Archdiocesan individual refused to play the clerical game, and unsurprisingly she just happened to be a lay woman.  As for religious women and lay men?  They were complicit at least to the extent that information stayed in house that belonged in the hands of police.

I don't know how many times I have written, here and in comments elsewhere, that the corruption and abuses will not stop until Catholics are released from the conditioning that God desires a magical celibate male priest as essential to the sacramental functions in the Church.  The abuses of our clergy, both sexual and financial, will never end as long as all the power is in the hands of the very men who are causing all the problems.  Pope Francis will not solve any of these issues by leaving the current theology of the priesthood as is.  He has done nothing that demonstrates to me he has any desire to change one aspect of this theology. Even if it is eventually decided to let married men in the priesthood, that does not change a thing about the exclusive power held by the priesthood.  

I guess I would be more inclined to have some hope if our priests actually demonstrated some spiritual ability beyond that ascribed to them in Catholic ritual and the catechism, but those priests are so few as to be insignificant.  In the meantime, actions like those described in Jennifer Hasselberger's deposition only serve to demonstrate our current priesthood relies on the power laity give to them and not on any power exclusively theirs that they have taught us God gives them. I wish the average rank and file would think about this the next time they drop cash in the collection basket.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Women In The Clergy Doesn't Have To Be A Threat, But It Sure Is

Forty years ago this was such a violation of gender roles women hockey players were unthinkable.  Unfortunately  Catholicism has not seen fit to open the limits of it's female gender expectations for quite a bit longer than forty years and it's truly harming the Church.

Over at his blog Bilgrimage, Bill Lyndsey starts out a recent post with a really important statement.  I've been thinking a lot about this sentence for the past couple days, especially the last clause:

"One of the most fateful (and evil) decisions made by the Catholic hierarchy in the 20th and 21st century has been to treat the movement of women around the world to claim full personhood and a full range of human rights for women as illegitimate, and as a threat to the Catholic faith."

Bill's post goes on to ponder the recent Hobby Lobby decision and it's ties to the GOP attacks on women's reproductive rights, but my musing dealt specifically with why women's rights are treated by the Church as a real threat to the Church itself.  It's not just women's rights that seems to be the threat, it's gender redefinition that is more and more becoming a major talking point in conservative Catholic circles.  The attempt to circumscribe women's ability to access contraception and abortion are the most visible signs of the Church's discomfort with the advancement of women claiming full personhood, but my gut says this 'threat' is about way more than whether women have enough babies to satisfy the male God.  There seems to be something more going on.

Here's another example of the threat of gender redefinition in another area.  This comment concerns the problems the Anglican Church have with installing women bishops.  On the surface the comment first struck me as frivolous and then I really thought about the point Tridentinus was making and I think he is absolutely right about a certain mindset:

"Can you imagine the C of E with half of its bishops not recognising the other half as priests, let alone bishops? Can you imagine the problem for parishes in deciding whether their priest was validly ordained or not? Every priest will have to have a pedigree declaring that no woman was involved in his ordination nor in the ordination of the bishop who ordained him or the bishop who consecrated that bishop. Ok, for now but in twenty years?
The mind boggles.
It doesn't really matter anyway as none of them are in Holy Orders but transpose it to the Catholic Church and the result is chaos."

What boggled my mind is thinking a given priest or bishop would have to have proof of ordination that didn't include women anywhere along the priestly pedigree.  It's hard for me to think of a pedigree or lineage that excludes the female half, but that's what Roman Catholicism has bequeathed to the world...a spiritual ministry whose pedigree is free of the female.  Is this supposed to be the most pure thing male humanity can imagine God wants,  or is this just truly sick?  

After much thought, I have come to the conclusion it's truly sick and that Bill Lyndsey is truly right, only in a sick system can the movement towards the full personhood of women be a threat to Catholicism.  Pope Francis can talk all he wants about a deeper theology of women, but what Catholicism really needs is not a deeper theology of women, but to reflect on why so much of it's current theology, eccelsiology,  discipline, and doctrine excludes the thought and presence of women and why that developed into the albatross it's proving to be for the post modern world.  If this evaluation was done honestly and with integrity, I think we would find out it didn't start with Jesus.

I think one thing that needs to happen is exactly what happened with women's athletics back about forty years ago.  A lot of men back then thought women's team athletics was nothing more than a few 'wannabe men' or terminal 'tom boys' who were hell bent on forcing their way onto the masculine stage.  Sports for women was almost exclusively individual sports like tennis, golf, swimming, gymnastics, and some track events.  Those sports featured girls and women cavorting in skirts or short shorts or swim suits and for the most featured grace and elegance, but not too much power and muscle, and were to be given up immediately upon marriage and motherhood.  Team sports like basketball and volleyball and softball and such represented some sort of gender busting magical line.  Hockey was unthinkable..except by a few of us whose dads or brothers needed us to be puck fodder in a hockey goal and we were dumb enough to do it just to be included in the fun.  We found out it was a lot of fun.

Then came Title IX and everything changed for women.  For my male contemporaries, some who really were upset with this legislation,  I would laughingly tell them wait until you have a daughter and then suddenly realize you have another captive audience for your sport fantasies.  It's amazing to me how many of these daughters went onto have great careers in sports.  So I know change in gender roles and expectations can happen, be accepted, rejoiced in and bragged about--endlessly.  Every time I watch a women's college basketball game between U Conn and Tennessee I have to pinch myself because back in my day we were lucky to get our parents and family to come and watch our games.  

The problem for the Church is priests don't have daughters and that means our lay men are going to have to do some 'mansplainin' to their clerical brothers about the fact there are no magic gender lines.  There's only patriarchy and an unexamined expectation about gender roles--roles that women never had a lot of input in how they developed, but that input is precisely what today's woman expects to have....and that's probably the big 'threat' to Catholicism and the root to all the clerical angst about femi nazis and the evolution of gender roles. Women expect to be treated as intellectual and spiritual equals and will not accept a few token crumbs.  Game on. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Joys Of Summer Reading During The Week of The 4th of July

Kudos to Bill Day for this cartoon image.

I spent part of my summer week reading the Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case.  It had some interesting language.  Some of that language was Justice Alito's and in spite of Justice Alito's attempt to allay the fears of Americans that the Supremes decision to give religious rights to corporations would not necessarily include other right wing religious causes, the facts are proving his words to be just words. Other court decisions handed down subsequent to the Hobby Lobby decision have now put all contraception up for grabs.  It didn't even take 24 hours for the pleas to religiously discriminate against LGBT to land on President Obama's desk.  With one 'narrowly defined' decision, the Catholic males on the Supreme Court have opened the door to Catholic sexual morality in the public as well as private sector. Humanae Vitae can now spread through out America, though not by conversion or the lucidity of it's reasoning,  but by the time tested method of coercion.  Happy 4th of July Americans.  We can all celebrate the fact the just five men on the Supreme Court have seen fit to once again expand the rights of corporations as individuals, and this time over the rights of slutty American women.  You go boys.  

I know I will sleep better at night knowing that if I owned a corporation like Hobby Lobby,  I could profit from the things I object to, but not have to spend corporate money to pay for those.  It would be really swell knowing that 'remote cooperation with evil' only extended to the expenditure side of my ledgers.  Of course if I owned a company, I would be more likely to claim a religious exemption to ED drugs as too many men who use them are either single or past the point of being able to responsibly raise children.  Four of those five male justices would not qualify for ED drugs under my religious scruples, but I also know that since ED drugs are Catholic kosher Judge Alito and company would probably not grant me such an exception under the belief that ED drugs serve a compelling public interest.  After all boys will be boys and have a right to be chemically assisted boys. 

To go along with the Hobby Lobby decision, I also had the pleasure of reading the paper written for the bishops going to the upcoming Synod on the Family.  It was a predictable read, a boring read, and also had some interesting if not very pastoral language.  Apparently the Catholic flock involves a lot of sub species of sheep the Vatican considers 'those people' in Catholics who do not live the pristine Catholic sexual and relational life.  It was predictable in the sense that 'this people' knew right from the get go that the failure of the Catholic laity to embrace Humanae Vitae was going to be all our ignorant self centered cherry picking fault.  And so it was.  As one of the ignorant self centered cherry pickers, I would suggest in the future that Catholic bishops demand Catholic parents not send their Catholic children to schools where science is taught.  I would also suggest that our bishops would better use their time throwing science teachers out of their jobs rather than Gay or pregnant single female teachers..unless those people happen to be one of those science teacher people.  It was those damn science teachers and their damned science that completely eroded my ability to accept Humanae Vitae and not become one of those people.  Instead I became an ignorant self centered cherry picker of a Catholic, really and truly one of 'those people'.  

It seems I have a lot of company.  So much company that we should form a real company and demand our religious rights to celebrate our diversity and get on with living a very different form of Christianity.  A Christianity that does not seek to meld itself with the American Corporate oligarchy, or American Exceptionalism, or American Military Interventionism, or is a paid for shill for some of our most wealthy American Catholic families.  And I'm pretty sure any corporation called 'Those People' would have to be a cafeteria style restaurant where the line moves to the left, but still serves everyone.


Saturday, May 31, 2014

About This Upcoming Meeting With Clerical Abuse Survivors

SNAP will continue to be needed as long as enablers in the clergy keep their frocks....and their futile strategy to keep the laity as religiously immature as they were at ten.

I took a break, again, because I had to put a huge amount of energy into my real job.  After four weeks of top of the heap stress, there was a huge turn around and it now looks as if things are going uphill in a big way.  I wish I could say the same for the clerical abuse crisis.

There were a lot of Catholic stories in the past month I could have written about and didn't.  It wasn't because I wasn't interested or they weren't important.  Many of them were important.  Many of them revolved around the Vatican and the CDF and the Vatican and the IOR and everywhere and always, Pope Francis.  However one story kept changing spots and that story is still the most important story hanging over the Church:  the clerical abuse crisis.  I have lately been thinking this story won't go away because the Vatican is terrified of it's real solution and that solution is completely revamping the theology of the priesthood.

I have spent the last day or so commenting on the National Catholic Reporter article written by Margaret Gail Frawley-O'Dea.  She states in this article that she views SNAP as counterproductive in regards to the upcoming meeting Pope Francis announced on the plane as he was flying back from a highly successful trip in the Middle East.  This was a trip in which he garnered great international press coverage for the Vatican and himself.  His sudden turn around on meeting with abuse survivors struck me as an attempt to hide a change of tactics behind the fog of universal positive press coverage.  As usual the Vatican's chief spokesman Fr Frederico Lombardi restated things the very next day.  There will be a meeting between the Pope and survivors from around the globe but not in the next week.  Maybe in a couple of months.  At this time there are no American survivors invited and no date set.  Cardinal O'Malley will work out the details.

SNAP took an assertive and somewhat cynical approach to this meeting with the Pope.  After all this is the same Pope who after the first less than positive meeting with the UN more or less stated that no other institution had done nearly so much as the Catholic Church on this issue, so why all the finger pointing?  But now, after a second less than positive take down by the UN, a meeting in which the Vatican claimed it had no jurisdiction over any clergy outside the Vatican City States,  the same Pope wants to meet with survivors and celebrate his daily Mass with them and claims that the impotent Vatican is never the less investigating three bishops for something related to abuse.  Most Vatican observers think these three bishops are involved with clerical abuse themselves, and include the Polish diplomat Jozef Wesolowski, Scotland's Cardinal Keith O'Brien, and Chile's Cristian Molina....none of whom committed clerical abuse in the confines of the Vatican City States.

It would have really been healing for some survivors if the name Bishop Robert Finn had been mentioned because it is very often the betrayal from the people and institutions who should have cared and did just the opposite that causes the most long term damage in survivors.  I think this message is not getting out in any way that people are getting their heads around.  Frawley-O'Dea's article did not help one little bit in helping the rank and file understand this fact.  Every time a bishops acts as callously and deceitful as has Milwaukee's Listecki, or Minneapolis's Neinstedt, or Kansas City's Finn it destroys the kind of relational trust survivors need to forgive the enablers.  It's one thing to forgive the 'sick' puppy who raped you,  it's another entirely to forgive the supposedly healthy adults who wouldn't believe you and wouldn't act to stop the abuse.

So I think SNAP is dead on with their cynicism about this upcoming meeting and right to caution survivors about the damage this meeting could do in the long term.  There is one thing about Francis that truly has bothered me and unfortunately he keeps doing nothing but furthering my angst.  He seems bent on keeping the laity religiously infantilized and dependent on the clergy.  Allowing married clergy does nothing about the religiosity, much of it surrounding the priesthood, that keeps laity infantilized.  Fixing the IOR does nothing about this, and his continual references about the devil and Holy Mother Church only serves to reinforce the infantilization.  And I can't even let myself get started on the CDF.

Sometimes I think the only really adult voices in the Church come from victims organizations like SNAP, the victims themselves and their few supporters.  Unfortunately that doesn't say much for meaningful reform in the Church.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Cardinal O'Malley Talks About Bishop Accountability....And The Deep Denial Of Some Of Them

A photo from back in the day when their friendship hadn't gotten quite as complicated as it is now and will be in the future if Cardinal O'Malley pushes the issues of clerical abuse victims.

We have the first general reports about the just recently concluded meeting of Pope Francis's clerical abuse commission.  Boston's Cardinal O'Malley gave a press conference which also included abuse victim Marie Collins.  The AP report included more back ground story about the commission than actual news from the press conference.  The following is an excerpt which includes statements from the press conference dealing with the bishop accountability issue:
......Briefing reporters Saturday, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston, said current church laws could hold bishops accountable if they fail to do their jobs to protect children. But he said those laws hadn't been sufficient to date and new protocols were needed.

"Obviously our concern is to make sure that there are clear and effective protocols to deal with the situations where superiors of the church have not fulfilled their obligations to protect children," O'Malley said. That could include an effort toward creating an "open process" that "would hold people accountable for their responsibility to protect children...." (I'd love to know more about this 'open process'.)

.....Marie Collins, a committee member and Irish survivor of sexual abuse, said she came away from the inaugural meeting of the commission "hopeful" primarily because the issue of accountability was addressed straight on.

"I know there are many survivors around the world who are hoping, and have great expectations of this commission," Collins said. "And what I can say so far is you can't make concrete promises. But as a survivor myself, I am hopeful that we are going to achieve what is hoped for. It's very, very important."

The AP article is upbeat and sounds pretty hopeful for the Church to finally have some accountability for bishops who failed miserably in protecting children.  The coverage from Religion News Service covered a different issue and does not come across quite so hopeful as both Cardinal O'Malley and Marie Collins have strong statements about curial denial of the extent of the problem.

.......“Many don’t see it as a problem of the universal church,” said O’Malley who heads the Vatican’s new commission for the protection of minors.

In many people’s minds it is an American problem, an Irish problem or a German problem,” he said. “The church has to face it is everywhere in the world. There is so much denial. The church has to respond to make the church safe for children.....”

........ Collins, who was sexually abused by a priest at age 13, said she, too, had been “shocked” by the denial she had witnessed among some Catholic bishops about the extent of clerical sexual abuse.
“…They truly believed it only happened in certain countries,” she said.

This commission has some serious work to do, especially if it has to mount a 'lets' face some truth' campaign for bishops who are in total denial about the extent of clerical abuse.  No,  it is not an Anglo/German problem.  It is a systemic problem with in the global clergy.  Just because there is still a deafening silence from some parts of the globe doesn't mean there was and is no abuse.  Given the human rights abuses against women and children in these still silent areas, it is a sure bet that there is clerical abuse.  One can double down on that bet when the clergy in these areas are trained by the same system that produced abusers in the older Anglo/European Church.  

Clerical abuse is part of the clerical tradition because, and here comes the accountability issue, the clerical caste is way way more important to the Institutional Roman Catholic Church than it's laity.  This is why the laity and our children always come last when it comes to accountability.  We don't count in the sacramental scheme in which Grace, the fuel to propel us to heaven, is a virtual monopoly of the priesthood. It is on this system that the Church is now founded.  Priests count. Laity pay.

Maybe it's time the laity got out of their own denial about this fact of traditional Catholic ecclesiology because this power differential is exactly the reason all the abuses are possible.  In that sense this commission may have another 'let's face some truth' campaign, and this one, aimed at laity, will be much harder to manage if the whole idea of this commission is to keep the current clerical system in tact. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

St John Paul II: The Pope Of The Family.....Really?

St JPII will be looking down from heaven on the Synod on the says Pope Francis.

While I can't say that I was overwhelmed with last Sunday's dual canonization, I can say one remark from Pope Francis surprised me.  It was about JPII and how he was the Pope of the Family.  I was not quite sure how this particular designation was merited, but then found out it was merited because that's what St JPII himself wanted to be remembered as, and if there's one thing I know about JPII, he got what he wanted.  Pope Francis obliged.  He stated so in his short homily as excerpted below from the Tablet article:

In his own service to the People of God, John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family. I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains.

I am not particularly happy that Francis felt the need to point this out.  JPII is not my idea of a man who understood the contemporary family even though he was raised in a one parent family.  He always appeared to me as a man who understood the importance of maintaining the traditional idea of family because it was useful in a geopolitical sense.  The traditional family model underscored male authority, kept women open to pregnancy after pregnancy, was the backbone of the Church itself, and was the established form of enculturating children in their proper gender roles. I have always seen Theology of the Body as more of a social political treatise than a theological work, but then I've always thought JPII was far more interested in playing in the geopolitical field than the spiritual field. He was good at the geopolitical thing and not so good at the spiritual thing.  How he suddenly becomes good at the family thing is too typical of his papacy.  "I say I it is, therefore it is".

However, if one accepts the geopolitical bent of JPII's papacy, and also accepts that Pope Francis, as a JPII appointee, was a willing player in these geopolitical games, then it makes sense that Francis inform us all that JPII might now be the spiritual driving force behind the Synod on the family.  That does not bode well for the transparency and dialogue needed for this synod.  I can easily imagine JPII's Theology of the Body will be quoted endlessly, neck and neck with the soon to be beatified Paul VI's Humanae Vitae.  There will be rejoicing in fascist family circles and groans from Catholic families who don't qualify either economically or in their actual makeup as a proper fascist Catholic family.  And as Bill Lyndsey musingly points out, gays as parts of heterosexual families or as parents with their own families, need not worry about being counted as families or members of families since the 'family' has been the flag behind which a great deal of anti gay crusading has been done by the Catholic powers that be that know everything there is to know about families.  (I'm practicing really long sentences so I can be a translator of liturgical Latin.)

I should also point out that with in this past year, gay marriage has also become an excuse for Roman Catholic agitation about the 'war on gender identity'.  This is especially prevalent guessed it, Poland.  Which I am led to believe is not just gay men acting feminine (clerical men are immune to this charge), but women taking birth control pills while acting as if they have an intrinsic equality with men.

This naming JPII the 'Pope of the Family and Patron Saint of the Synod on the family' is just one more red flag amongst many when it comes to this upcoming Synod.  I figured things weren't going as planned when all of sudden bishops conferences like England's, which had been transparent and seriously attempting to get lay input, suddenly clammed up about the results of their efforts.  The dust up between Cardinal Kasper and his cardinal detractors over different approaches to divorce, the sudden need of the CDF's Cardinal Muller to issue a thirty some page defense of Catholic marriage law, and the total silence from the Vatican on the inhumane laws targeting gays in Uganda and Nigeria, are just some of the red flags that lead me to believe this upcoming synod will not be a spectacular pastoral success.  I see another potential Humanae Vitae written all over it.  Should that come to pass, it will be another nail in the future of Roman Catholicism in the developed world and would very shortly be mirrored in the developing world.  One need only look at the failure of the Bishops Conference of the Phillipines who lost a 15 year battle against reproductive rights for Philippine women and their families.   My advice to those who will be attending this synod is not to look to JPII for inspiration the Catholic family, but to the lay women of the Philippines because it there the future of the Catholic family resides.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Opus Dei Brings Out Their Best Spin Meister's To Defend Their Pope

Greg Burke must have felt a strong need to pull his fellow OD member Jaoquin Navarro-Valls out of retirement on behalf of respinning JPII's dismal record on clerical abuse.

I swore I wasn't going to write one more word on the upcoming Canonizations of JPII and John XXIII, but that was not to be.  This morning Joshua McElwee posted an article for the NCR in which two very prominent JPII apologists attempt to convince us JPII acted with expediency on clergy sexual abuse.  The two men are, American neocon George Weigel and JPII's papal spokesman Dr Jaoquin Navarro-Valls.  Both are closely connected with Opus Dei.  This is important because JPII decreed Opus Dei a Personal Prelature of the Papacy.  This act essentially took OD beyond the control of any local bishop, gave OD a great deal of freedom to operate, and paid back some debts. (For some reason, 'Lannister's always pay their debts' comes to mind.

John Paul II derived great deal of benefit from his association with Opus Dei....all the way to and through out his papacy.  Now that their 'pope' has taken hit after hit in the major news outlets over his handling (mishandling) of the clerical abuse scandal, Opus Dei has brought out their best spinners to defend the soon to be Saint John Paul II.

The following is an excerpt from McElee's article.

.....Navarro-Valls said Friday that John Paul II was not able to act more quickly in Maciel's case because the pope was dying while an investigation he ordered was being concluded. As part of that investigation, Navarro-Valls said, John Paul II had sent Charles Scicluna, then an official at the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and now an auxiliary bishop in Malta, to collect testimony in places around the world.

"The pope knew that the investigation was underway but was not informed of the results" because it was only concluded as he was dying in 2005, Navarro-Valls said. (It hasn't gone unnoticed by some of us that as long as the Legion was in the news, Opus Dei wasn't. On the other hand, this is also a tacit admission someone else was running JPII"s papacy in it's final years.  I wonder who that was?)

The former spokesperson also said he met with Pope Benedict in the "first days of his pontificate" to discuss the findings in the Maciel investigation.

Navarro-Valls said he pressed upon the new pope in that meeting the importance of making the results of the investigation public, which he said Benedict immediately agreed to, telling him to hold a press conference the next day. (Navarro-Valls statement is true only in the sense that we were told Maciel was ordered to a life of penance.  We were not told why he was so ordered, nor given any details from the investigation itself.  Nor were any apologies issued to Maciel's victims.)
Also speaking Friday at the Vatican briefing was American writer George Weigel, who has written several biographies of Pope John Paul II. He also defended the pontiff's record in responding to clergy sexual abuse.
During the time of reporting on sexual abuse in the Boston archdiocese in 2002, Weigel said, there was "an information gap" between the news being made public in the United States and at the Vatican. (Oh, that's right.  This was all happening in that time frame when no one in the Vatican knew how to use the internet. Of course there was an information gap.....cough, cough.)

"I think there was an information gap particularly between the United States and the Holy See in the first months of 2002 so that the pope was not living this crisis in real time as we were in the U.S.," Weigel said.  (It's hard to function in real time when your handlers don't give you real time information.)

"But once he became fully informed in April of that year, he acted decisively to deal with those problems," he said.  (This would be precisely the time that Secretary of State Cardinal Sodano would have become aware of the fact that Boston's Cardinal Law suddenly needed a position with the Holy See.) 

In April 2002, John Paul met with 12 U.S. cardinals and bishops' conference officers at the Vatican. He told them he was "deeply grieved" by news of clerical sexual abuse and said there was no place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm children.  (And took exactly no meaningful action.)

Weigel also said that John Paul II had been a "great reformer" of the Catholic priesthood and had faced a "crisis" during the 1970s of "weak seminary formation" of priests, a "small minority" of who were engaging in sexual abuse....... (I can't wait for Bill Donohue to use these exact same talking points....except 'a small minority' will become 'gay priests'.)


The quick canonization of JPII and the coupling of same with the fudging of qualifications for John XXIII may not go down as high points in Pope Francis' legacy.  All I've gotten out of this is that canonization has become a political process as opposed to a spiritual process.  Personally, I wait for the day the Church begins to canonize people whose miracles happen in their lives and not after their deaths....and involve other areas than medical miracles.  The truth is the placebo effect is far more efficacious than the efforts of either of these popes, but I would imagine that's not a truth pious Catholics want to believe.

Now for a quick personal note.  I was not able to do much with this blog for the last two weeks due to commitments at work.  Between being down two full staff positions and compensating for mandatory training, all of us saw far more of work than we might have liked.  Hopefully that's over for awhile and I can get back on a more regular writing schedule. 


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Pope Francis On The Possibility of Married Priests

For some reason when discussing the priest shortage, one rarely hears that one big reason is the increase in lay Catholics.  That the increase in Catholic laity is mirrored by the decrease in Catholic priests makes for an interesting statistical picture....... and in a not good kind of way.

Pope Francis has been in office for just over a year and finally he has given us an idea of what he meant when he suggested that Bishop's conferences should share in determining the direction of the Church in their own geographical areas.  I am not surprised that a married priesthood is one of the first of these areas.  The following is taken from the Tablet and is an excerpt of the article by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt.
Pope says married men could be ordained priests if world's bishops agree on it 
10 April 2014 15:23 by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt
A bishop who met with Pope Francis in a rare private audience on 4 April has said in an interview that the two men discussed the issue of the ordination of “proven” married men – viri probati – in a serious and positive way.

Bishop Erwin Kräutler, Bishop of Xingu in the Brazilian rainforest, spoke to the Pope about Francis’ forthcoming encyclical on the environment, and the treatment of indigenous peoples but the desperate shortage of priests in the bishop’s huge diocese came up in the conversation. According to an interview the Austrian-born bishop gave to the daily Salzburger Nachrichten on 5 April, the Pope was open-minded about finding solutions to the problem, saying that bishops’ conferences could have a decisive role.

“I told him that as bishop of Brazil’s largest diocese with 800 church communities and 700,000 faithful I only had 27 priests, which means that our communities can only celebrate the Eucharist twice or three times a year at the most,” Bishop Kräutler said. “The Pope explained that he could not take everything in hand personally from Rome. We local bishops, who are best acquainted with the needs of our faithful, should be corajudos, that is ‘courageous’ in Spanish, and make concrete suggestions,” he explained. A bishop should not act alone, the Pope told Kräutler. He indicated that “regional and national bishops’ conferences should seek and find consensus on reform and we should then bring up our suggestions for reform in Rome,” Kräutler said. (Every time I read a comment from a conservative Catholic that implies the priest shortage will be solved by conservative seminaries, I seriously wonder how informed their understanding of this shortage really is.  27 priests for 700,000 Catholics is not a shortage, it's a catastrophe. Bishop Krautler's diocese is far from alone in the global church.)

Asked whether he had raised the question of ordaining married men at the audience, Bishop Kräutler replied: “The ordination of viri probati, that is of proven married men who could be ordained to the priesthood, came up when we were discussing the plight of our communities. The Pope himself told me about a diocese in Mexico in which each community had a deacon but many had no priest. There were 300 deacons there who naturally could not celebrate the Eucharist. The question was how things could continue in such a situation. (The better question is why things have been allowed to get to this point.)

"It was up to the bishops to make suggestions, the Pope said again.”
Bishop Kräutler was then asked whether it now depended on bishops’ conferences, as to whether church reforms proceeded or not. “Yes,” he replied. “After my personal discussion with the Pope I am absolutely convinced of this.”

Last September the Vatican Secretary of State, then-Archbishop Pietro Parolin – who was then Apostolic Nuncio to Venezuela – answered a question put to him by El Universal newspaper by stating that priestly celibacy “is not part of church dogma and the issue is open to discussion because it is an ecclesiastical tradition”. “Modifications can be made, but these must always favour unity and God’s will,” he said. “God speaks to us in many different ways. We need to pay attention to this voice that points us towards causes and solutions, for example the clergy shortage.”.......(And this is just a nicer way of saying the solution will not include women.)


For those who don't know, Latin American bishops brought up the question of married priests during Vatican II.  Pope Paul VI killed that notion.  This was over 50 years ago.  Since then the priest shortage has gone critical all across the global Church.  If American Catholics think it's bad in the States, in South America and Africa it's much worse, and it doesn't help these areas that Bishops in the West are filling their depleted ranks with priests imported from the developing world.  Demographic trends with in the priesthood project an even deeper crisis as the greater majority of today's priests reach retirement age in ten to fifteen years.  But the truth is, in many dioceses there really isn't any such thing as a priest fully retiring as long as they can still walk and talk.

The issue that has really mystified me is why the Vatican has allowed this situation to develop.  The trends were available to see back in the late 60's and 70's.  Paul VI's insistence on maintaining celibacy only accelerated the trends and while the Vatican lists about 69,000 priests as having asked for dispensation from the priesthood from 1965-2000, estimates which include those who left without asking for dispensation top 100,000.  As ominous as those figures are, the real clincher was the 90% drop in seminarians from the unusual levels in the 50's and this drop has resulted in the closure of 2/3rds of seminaries in the US alone. 

It is beyond me, that knowing all these figures, there hasn't been a collective demand for changes to the discipline in the priesthood from our bishops.  It is perhaps this issue that gives a real idea of the kind of 'yes sir, no sir' bishops bequeathed to us by the last two papacies.  Apparently the current zeitgeist in the collective clerical Church is that it is much better to lose the flock than advocate for any change in the priesthood.  I'm not sure there is a stronger statement about their lack of concern for the souls of the laity unless it is their dismal record with clerical abuse---and that was also motivated in part by the desire to protect the myth of the celibate priesthood.

While there is hope in this latest sign of potential change from Pope Francis, there is also frustration.  Ordaining viri probati  would certainly help, but there are also tens of thousands of priests who left to get married who could be reinstated if they so desired.  Many of them do.  And then there is the whole question of ordaining women, but that probably won't happen until the last male priest has taken his last breath and there is no other choice.  However, I think long before that happens, the Church will break out into intentional Eucharistic Communities who will not be tied down by mandates from Rome about who can or cannot say Mass.  The People of God will find their own solutions long before Rome comes up with anything meaningful and maybe that's the answer as to why the Vatican has refused to act for so long.  The answers don't reside in the Vatican.  They reside in the hearts of the People of God where in resides the Holy Spirit.




Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Complicated Knot: Can Fr Francis Stay True To Himself When Acting As Pope Francis?

Mary the Undoer of Knots.  Notice how she is not using scissors or swords to untie these particular knots.  There are no shortcuts to those pesky spiritual knots.

One of the things I have to keep in mind about Pope Francis is that he seems to have two different modes of being Francis.  First there is Fr Francis the elder pastoral traveler on an open ended spiritual pilgrimage along with all the rest of us, and secondly there is Pope Francis the titular monarch with a very different path he walks with the triumphant Magisterial Church and with his fellow global power brokers.  

I always have to keep in mind which Francis is speaking and how far the speech will effect the interactions of the other Francis.  The following article is by Vatican Insider's Andrea Tornielli.  It covers the homily Francis gave this morning at Saint Martha's House.  It's a great representation of the thinking of Fr Francis the fellow pilgrim---until one gets to the second to last paragraph and then there's a bit of the other Francis.

Francis: “Even today there’s a dictatorship of narrow-mindedness”

Andrea Tornielli - Vatican Insider -4/10/2014
Today there is a dictatorship of narrow-mindedness that kills people’s freedom. This was the Pope’s message at his morning mass celebration in St. Martha’s House. 

In his homily Francis reflected on the attitude of the Pharisees and how closed they were to Jesus’ message. Their mistake, the Pope pointed out, was "detaching the commandments from the heart of God.”  They thought everything could be resolved by respecting the commandments. But these commandments "are not just a cold law,” because they are born from a relationship of love and are "indications" that help us avoid mistakes in our journey to meet Jesus, Vatican Radio says, quoting the Pope’s words.(Exactly, commandments, laws, and rules should be directional signs on the pilgrim's road, not final destinations.)

By doing so, the Pharisees close their hearts and minds to “all things new.” "This is the drama of the closed heart, the drama of the closed mind - the Pope said - and when the heart is closed, this heart closes the mind, and when the heart and mind are closed there is no place for God,” only for what we believe should be done.  (And closed hearts and minds are concerned mostly with what they believe should be done by others.)

It is a closed way of thinking that is not open to dialogue, to the possibility that there is something else, the possibility that God speaks to us, tells us about His journey, as he did to the prophets. These people did not listen to the prophets and did not listen to Jesus. It is something greater than a mere stubbornness. No, it is more: it is the idolatry of their own way of thinking. 'I think this, it has to be this way, and nothing more'. These people had a narrow line of thought and wanted to impose this way of thinking on the people of God, Jesus rebukes them for this: ' You burden the people with many commandments and you do not touch them with your finger'.” (For Fr Francis, the last sentence here is the heart of the matter.  We must chance touching others.)

Francis noted that Jesus “rebukes their incoherence.” "The theology of these people becomes a slave to this pattern, this pattern of thought: a narrow line of thought". "There is no possibility of dialogue; there is no possibility to open up to new things which God brings with the prophets. They killed the prophets, these people; they close the door to the promise of God. When this phenomenon of narrow thinking enters human history, how many misfortunes. We all saw in the last century, the dictatorships of narrow thought , which ended up killing a lot of people, but when they believed they were the overlords, no other form of thought was allowed. This is the way they think.”  (It's the way they act as well.)

"Even today there is the idolatry of a narrow line of thought,” Francis said. "Today we have to think in this way and if you do not think in this way, you are not modern, you're not open or worse. Often rulers say: 'I have asked for aid, financial support for this’, ' But if you want this help, you have to think in this way and you have to pass this law, and this other law and this other law…' Even today, there is a dictatorship of a narrow line of thought and this dictatorship is the same as these people: it takes up stones to stone the freedom of the people, the freedom of the people, their freedom of conscience, the relationship of the people with God. Today Jesus is crucified once again.” (Here's another Fr Francis linguistic tool, depending on  one's world view, this paragraph can be read as an attack on fundamentalist religious thinking or on the narrow agenda driven thinking of left wing progressives.)

“The Lord’s exhortation "faced with this dictatorship is always the same: be vigilant and pray; do not be silly, do not buy" things "you do not need, be humble and pray, that the Lord always gives us the freedom of an open heart, to receive his Word which is joy and promise and covenant! And with this covenant move forward!"” the Pope concluded this morning’s mass by saying.


Pope Francis is attempting to walk a very difficult path.  It's a path that holds contradictory and even conflicting expectations.  He is trying to do that which even did Jesus did not attempt, and in fact rejected. Francis is attempting to be a true follower of Christ while holding a position of unchecked power and huge global prestige.  Francis has accepted the devil's final challenge to Jesus in the desert.  Francis now has the whole world at his beck and call while he simultaneously attempts to call the whole world to become the penniless crucified Jesus.  This is the exact challenge which overcame John Paul II, sent Pope Benedict into retirement, thwarted the papacy of Paul VI, and only served to rally the conservative clerical troops against the People of God vision of John XXIII.  No wonder Pope Francis is enamored with the idea of Mary as the 'untier of knots'.  This contradictory dual role will be a tough knot to untangle.

Francis freely admits he failed at this task when he was the Jesuit provincial in Argentina.  He was overcome by his authoritarian side.  I appreciated his forthrightness in admitting this mistake because learning from mistakes is what we're here to do and why the Mercy of God is such an important a concept.  The question for all of us is usually if the lesson sank in deep enough to protect us from repeating it under different circumstances.  For Francis his current circumstances have vastly different consequences should he repeat his mistake and revert to authoritarianism.  I can remember when John Paul II was actually something of a populist in the early years of his papacy but then the traditional papal environment got to him and he became all about authoritarian papal prerogative and very little about humble priestly service.  From day one Francis created an environment around himself intended to deflect the papal temptations and reinforce the humble priest who needs people.  I certainly have respected him for that because it shows he knows well his own tendencies.  I have never thought all of his 'every man' acts were some sort of show.  I've always thought they were part and parcel of how he understood his humanity....everyone urinates even if they do it in gold urinals.  

Unfortunately, indifference to the perks and trappings of high office do not necessarily protect one from succumbing the other temptations of such high office.  We also saw in the last century a number of very powerful dictators who while eschewing the trappings of their position did not disdain to use and increase their very real authoritarian power over others.....and millions died. 

What I really fear is that although Pope Francis sees his papacy as something of a mandate to bring the Church and it's clergy back into some semblance of compliance with Jesus' notions about service, compassion, mercy, and love, Francis will be thwarted in this mission because he doesn't have a clergy willing to suffer loss of status for this vision.  The Pharisees, both clerical and lay, will not open their hearts or minds to a concept of Church which is open ended, poor, and merciful.  That's just way too dangerous to closed minds secure in their knowledge of how the world should work.  They will fight Francis tooth and nail to keep the world as they think it should be because they know this is exactly the way God wants it to run.  I will continue praying that Francis doesn't succumb to that very temptation, which is of course the core truth of the final temptation in the desert....the single minded idolatry of globalizing one's own thinking.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Pell: The Pastor Of Coins

Before heading off to become the Vatican's financial boss, Cardinal Pell had a few rough days explaining how he handled clerical abuse as Australia's clerical boss.  Not well.

I have been following the sexual abuse inquiry by Australia's Royal Commission for weeks.  It's been an eye opener, but nothing opened my eyes quite the way as did the testimony of Sydney's Cardinal Pell.  The Commission put Pell through two and a half days of questioning.  Days of questions for which Pell found all kinds of ways to pass the blame to subordinates, claim a faulty memory, and sometimes use a bizarre logic which seems part and parcel of a mind set removed from the reality of everyday life.  I guess that's not too surprising since Pell has reached the pinnacle of a reality that is by definition removed from much of everyday life, especially if one has chosen to make one's life mission ascending to the heights of that reality.  Cardinal Pell demonstrated in spades why clericalism, amongst some other trends,  will be the death of this Church.  Like many other failed pastoral leaders, he jetted out of Australia the very next day for a new position in Vatican City.  Vatican City, where the clerical heart beats strongest, and where he will become the Pastor of Coins.

The following excerpt is from the Australian blog Pearls and Irritations and was written by Chris Geraghty, a retired New South Wales district court judge.  Judge Geraghty watched the entire proceedings and his take is an honest expression of a Catholic truly saddened by what passed for Catholic pastoral leadership in a time of crisis for the Church of Australia.

"George Pell, Cardinal Archbishop, sat there day after day, an image of King Lear, a broken man, weary, slow and incompetent, a man who had spent his life climbing the greasy clerical pole, now at the tail-end of his life, being forced to answer questions and to confront his conscience, summoning hollow logic to assist in his defence, thrashing about blaming others, constructing academic distinctions, trying to exculpate himself and deflect the load which will inevitably be heaped upon him. His private secretary, Dr Casey, Mr John Davoren, the elderly man and ex-priest who used to be in charge of the healing service of the archdiocese, and Monsignor Brian Rayner, his former chancellor – all muddlers, all incompetent and unable to provide an accurate version of events, while he was macro-managing the show with his hands off the wheel. The board of any public company would have long since called for the resignation of its CEO.....

......As the days wore on and the archbishop grew tired, I began to understand a little of how the man’s brain worked. Slowly. Some confusions. Circles and dead-ends. Non sequiturs. Fending off blows, protecting himself. Appeals to trivial logic in the face of catastrophe. I could see how he came to be a man-made climate change denier, why over the years he had not given a lead on the many ethical and moral issues which were confronting our nation, why he had led the English-speaking world back to the old, fossilized and awkward formulae of the Mass, why he had not even mentioned the name of Father Ted Kennedy when he opened the Jesuit school for aborigines in Redfern, why he was unable to comprehend that his placement of Neo-Cats in Redfern had been a mistake and needed to be remedied, why he had not inspired his Sydney brethren to faith and action, why he had failed to engage the general community and had preferred to identify with the conservative, reactionary forces of times now past. He was dull. Colourless. Distant. Pugnacious. Yesterday’s man. Some might even say dumb. Now, for a few days, we were able to look behind the figure on the plinth, observing a king without his finery, seeing the man behind the frills and furbelows.  It was frightening to see how the system worked – and riveting.....

..... From his evidence, it was clear that Pell was desperate to regulate the outflow from the Church’s financial dam of assets. He wanted to remain in charge of the show. After all, the Roman Catholic Church was different – powerful, independent, international. A history going back centuries. Its own language, structures, legal system, customs and practices. Tax exemptions and immense political influence. She has always been treated as special.....

..... Pell exposed himself before the commission as the prize muddler par excellence. A tragic figure. I positioned myself at the back row of  les arenes,  and watched the commissioner and his cool, analytical counsel-assisting teasing the witness, delivering wounding blows at will, drawing blood, playing with their prey, delaying to the end  their final thrust into the very heart of an old bull already mortally wounded, standing beaten and defense-less in the centre of the ring.


Cardinal Pell managed to do a number of things while leading the Australian Church.  First he brought in a very conservative mindset and supported 'new lay movements' that had power and connections in Rome. Especially those lay movements with direct connections with the two previous popes. These included Opus Dei and the Neo Catechumenate.  Pell also led Vox Clara, the committee which over saw the new English translation of Roman Missal and which conveniently turned itself into a rubber stamp for blatant Vatican control of the translation.  On this front whatever Rome wanted Pell gave them. 

The second thing Pell managed to do was double the assets of the Sydney Archdiocese to some 1.2 billion dollars.  This was a pretty nifty trick given the general world economy during his tenure. One of the reasons for this increase in assets is directly attributable to the outcome of the Ellis case--the very case for which Cardinal Pell was called before the Royal Commission to testify.  The ruling in the Ellis case, which Pell took all the way to the Australian Supreme Court, determined neither the Roman Catholic Church in Australia nor it's Diocesan components were legal entities eligible to be sued in court.  In other words, under Australian law, the Roman Catholic Church did not exist as a legal entity and could not be sued.  Only individual bishops or priest perpetrators could be sued.  Ask Cardinal Mahony recently of the LA Archdiocese what that kind of ruling would have meant to the coffers of the LA Archdiocese....billions saved.  What that ruling meant for Australian victims was a kick in the teeth, but it ultimately resulted in the very Royal Commission which is now vindicating victims like John Ellis.  For an in depth look at the Ellis case and the reasons why Pell is no longer allowed to pastor people, but just coins, I suggest this article from the UK Guardian.  It's long, but well worth reading for the portrait of Pell the as the compassionless competitor who not only ran roughshod over Ellis, but had no scruples about throwing his subordinates and legal team under the landing wheels of his soon to leave for Rome plane.  

I do not think Pell's appointment to Rome as what amounts ot number three in the Vatican behind Pope Francis and Secretary of State Parolin has all that much to do with his personal business acumen as it does with his connections to Opus Dei and members of the Knights of Malta.  As Betty Clermont points out in her latest posting at Open Tabernacle, Pope Francis has appointed a lot of OD members or sympathizers to positions having to do with economic matters.  I sometimes wonder if the real 'work' of Opus Dei isn't using Roman Catholicism as the entry point and front for creating an new form of conservative global corporate oligarchy.  As long as the Holy See retains it's status as a Sovereign State, having all the rights and privileges  minus any obligations, it's an exceptional place from which to engage in global empire building of the hidden sort.  This is especially if true if one views the clergy as essentially a Trojan horse for access to governments and politicians.  In short, I'm not enthused about Pell's appointment.  I would have been more enthused if Pope Francis had appointed Cardinal Pell the Vatican Almoner and place the current Vatican Almoner Archbishop Konrad Krajewski in Pell's position as overseer of papal assets.  Unfortunately, even in the Vatican money rules so Pell is where that rule says he should be....pastor of coins.