Wednesday, November 19, 2008

An Open Letter To Pope Benedict

Last night I was out and about with my Joe sixpack buddies and was asked how the blog was going. I remarked it had been a frustrating week because tempers were flaring over Obama and abortion and excommunications and women priests and lazy cafeteria catholics and true believers and all in all. It was worse than talking with them. They laughed. We plinked more money in the Keno machines. Then one turned to me and asked an interesting question. Do you really think women priests are going to save the Church?

I had to think about this for a minute. No, I said, I don't think women priests are going to save the church, but I think a woman's point of view would change things enormously. He's a Catholic so I asked him a question. "Would you rather go to confession to your mother or your father?"

"No brainer", he says, "It would be my mom hands down, even though she was the weird disciplinarian, but she also listened." And then he paused. "Now, that I think about it, the weirdness went up with the number of lies in my excuses. Dad just went to screaming and yelling and things would go down hill from there." This then brought up a raucous time where all of us recounted our worst punishment stories, and yes, his mother had some weird punishments.

In the end though, all of us agreed we would rather go to confession to a woman rather than most men. It had to do with perceptions about which sex generally listened better, spouses not included, as marriage can be a long series of confessions.

I was almost shocked this morning to run across a letter to Pope Benedict which mentions this very point about confession. But there's so much more to this letter, and it so shows the difference in approach between men and woman, and it's so much better than anything I could write. I offer the following letter with great respect for the woman who wrote it. It's all about the potential for the feminine voice in the Church. (I especially liked the paragraph about cats. Because it's true. Cats know when your praying and they can't get enough of your energy when you pray. They do have to climb up on you and it does set them to purring.)

Dear Brother in Christ, Pope Benedict XVI,

I write to you on behalf of Fr. Roy Bourgeois, who, as you know, is facing excommunication in a few days from now, because he is following his conscience on the issue of women ordinations.

I don't know him personally, but he feels like a dear brother. I've (through the internet), heard his homily at the ordination he attended, and I've read a few articles, and his letter in response to the excommunication letter. And his words are really touching my heart, it's very healing to hear a priest speak openly about the injustice he feels is being done to so many Catholic women with a call to ministry within the Church... I'm grateful to him for his courageous witness - and I wish that all other priests and bishops around the world who believe that God wants to show the Church that this call is indeed genuine, would also dare to speak up for change. A change that would be strongly welcomed by many Catholics in our days, and especially among young people (even priest candidates in Rome, as an anonymous open letter from one of them recently shows, I'm sure you must have seen it). Besides, this is nothing new... Women served in the early Church...

Fr. Roy was ordained the same year as I was born, and he's been serving the Church all this time. Amazing thought! That's more than I've done... But I could have been a priest for many years, as I felt the call already at the age of 14. I love the Church profoundly, and would love to serve as a priest... Like so many other Catholic women. And like several of our woman Saints, among those Thérèse of Lisieux, my patron Saint, who once led me to the Church. I attended the festive ceremony in 1997 at St. Peter's Square, when she was declared a Doctor of the Church. How that must have surprised her, and made her smile in heaven! "Little" Thérèse among all those distinguished old male teachers of the Church...! I'm happy that she now has this position, since the Church must listen carefully to all its theological Doctors.

Thérèse tells us openly about her call to be a priest, a call that didn't leave her even when she felt death approaching. She handled the hosts with lots of love as a sacristan, while she thought about celebrating Mass. She asked her sisters to shave a tonsure on her head, and she united herself in prayer with the young priest missionaries she would have liked to follow. And she said that she was happy to die - so that she didn't need to suffer the pain of not being ordained at the time she would have been ordained - if she had just been a man... There are numerous witnesses who knew her who confirms this. I find it amazing that her writings haven't been censured. And they speak right into our times.

I often think that it's like the body of the Church is jumping ahead on just one leg. While she (!) could be dancing and rejoicing and move much faster and more graciously than now, showing the world who God is (both feminine and masculine), if she would use both her legs, not just the male one. It's as if the Church body has made herself crippled, although she's actually whole. She's strangely refusing to use one half of her body in ministry...

Excommunication is a similarly odd phenomena within our Church body. So odd to see her shutting off her own limbs from the powerful blood flow of the holy Communion!

And not just any limbs. It's the prophetic limbs that are often shut off. Those who were Jesus' own didn't understand him... It seems to be the same today for his followers. But they'll keep speaking until their last breath - prophets can't be silenced... This is their mission: to show the Church what's missing! To speak soft words where they're needed, and sharp words where they're required.

I'd like to humbly ask a few burning questions: Who do you think Jesus would excommunicate?

Would He cut off living branches from the tree?

What is easier: to change a tiny paragraph in the Canon law which doesn't correspond with the Gospel message and Jesus' way of treating women and men equally - or keep hurting the Body of Christ again and again?

Where in the world can you find a mother who would stop giving some of her children food? And what mother would forbid only her girls to prepare food and serve it to their siblings? Shouldn’t the Church Mother act as good as these earthly mothers? (I love this paragraph,)

Excommunications are actually getting the opposite result than they probably are meant to give. Trying to get rid of one after the other will only put this matter (women ordinations) even more on the agenda. It's so much better to communicate than to excommunicate!

I've read the most recent homily by your preacher, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa. He speaks about women in it, like several times during the passed years, which I actually encouraged him to do when I once met him. I'm happy for this, because it's really needed. But I wish the urgent need for women in the heart of the Church would be as visible and clear. We need to hear the perspectives also of women in homilies. We need them serving at the Eucharistic table, as well as in the confessional. Many (both women and men) say it would be so much easier to confess if the priest was a woman... Both men and women are needed to make the priestly ministry as beautiful and complete as it's meant to be... Both reflect the image of God - together....The wonderful Pope, John XXIII, didn't live long as a Pope, but long enough to initiate revival, inspired by the Holy Spirit. (Nice take on complimentarity,)

I've heard that you attended the Council as one of its most brilliant progressive theologians... You quoted Karl Rahner (who btw has written at depth about the priest-poet, well worth reading), when he said something like: "The dogma is no package, well wrapped and tightly tied up, but an open window."

I wish I could reawaken some of that youthful glow within your heart, bring fresh air through the Vatican doors, and open all the windows widely... (Well, the risen Jesus knew how to walk also through closed doors, behind which frightened apostles were sitting...!)

Now it's time to listen in deep prayer to what the Holy Spirit is repeatedly saying to the Church at present. God is calling so many women to serve... Please, consider to receive and embrace this gift...! It's for the good of the whole Church, ultimately the whole world...And please don't let my brother get excommunicated, or any other of my brothers and sisters who dare to say what they, and so many silent Catholics, actually think! Fr. Roy is just the kind of priest that is most appreciated and needed among the faithful!

As he has spoken courageously - I can't remain silent.

I love my Mother, the Church, and say all this out of love for her...Catholicity is all about Communion and union, so when one limb is suffering - all the others are also suffering (if they're healthy and thus able to feel compassionate). I suffer immensely by the thought of others getting excommunicated. I've spent some sleepless nights now, praying about this, actualized by what Fr. Roy is going through. And led by holy inspiration, I got the idea to ask, like Maximiliam Kolbe, the Saint, who stood right in front of a man who is now in my parish and who witnessed his words: "may I take his place?"

I wish to stand in solidarity with all those who are excluded and marginalized in our society and in the Church, I think that's what being a Christian and following Jesus is about, to rejoice with those who rejoice, and cry with those who cry, to ultimately give up one's life, and everything that one holds most dear... And the Church is my life, my home, my everything... I would never want to be without the Eucharist - that would be to starve spiritually. I imagine it's pretty much the same for Fr. Roy. But if someone has to be sacrificed to keep up the present human rules and regulations, then don't excommunicate someone who is a "father" of many... You may punish me instead...

And by now you may perhaps wonder who I am... Maximiliam Kolbe got the same question. He answered: "I'm a Catholic priest."And I'm just a simple Catholic lay person, an artist and theologian, a priest only at heart and not through ordination. I haven't broken any single Church rule, but I've spoken freely, by inspiration and out of conscience, when asked what I believe. I feel that unity among Christians and within the Catholic Church (in spite of different opinions - we share what is most important after all: our faith, a sacred gift from God), is part of my mission, and thus I find it very hard to stand injustice or prejudices. I wish to see a renewed Church where everyone is welcome, a Church where no one is shut out... And if someone is threatened to be excluded, I must stand up for him or her. (Here's your answer anonymous, and stated far better than I could have.)

To something else - but still connected to this. I've heard that you love cats - we have that in common! As you might have noticed, they're very free and independent creatures. But they stay where they're given food and are treated well. They're also fascinated by prayer, and come and lay down purring in one's lap during silent prayer if one allows them to... A cat I know once ended up sitting and looking intensely at my icons... I wonder what he saw through those heavenly windows...

I've also heard that sheep need no fences, they stay where there's fresh water.

And we Christians, who are drawn to the Source of Life itself, who could draw us away from it? If there's love in the Church - and Love has indeed its dwelling place among us - then there's no need for fences...

God gives us this beautiful call to freedom, and invites us to use all our gifts and talents. The Gospel yesterday speaks about these talents - everyone’s talents need to be recognized and developed. Also those of women with a call to serve. Where else should we go? Which other source should we drink from? Is it really right of the Church to bury our gifts....?

If theology at some point turns out not to correspond with what we know about God - it needs to be reconsidered and eventually rewritten. I’ve studied all the arguments against women ordinations in detail, and I’ve found that none of them is solid enough to build any teachings upon. It’s rather the opposite way - they all fall down like a pile of cards if they’re slightly touched. I thus hope you will welcome and reopen theological discussions about this in the Vatican, through inviting theologians from all over the world who has studied the question at depth - both women and men, and both those who based on their studies are positive to change, and those who aren’t, and they should all have the right to speak and vote…

I'll end this letter by a poem that I dedicated to the previous Archbishop of St. Louis, Raymond Burke when he excommunicated my sister in Christ, Sr. Louise Lears, whom I don't know in person either (but, as you know, lives amazingly touches those of others also at a great distance). It somehow fits also in this sad situation. With all due respect, much love in Christ, and with fervent prayers that you'll intervene to make a good and just decision regarding Fr. Roy...

Your little sister,
Charlotte Thérèse
(in Sweden)


Thank you Charlotte Therese on behalf of myself and all who read this blog.


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  2. This letter brought tears to my eyes. It is absolutely marvelous. Now we just must pray continually that the Holy Spirit will work for a conversion of heart throughout the autocratic pyramid.

    Thank you for your enlightening blog.


  3. I've been pondering the connection between this letter and the ever increasing corruption that is being revealed in the heirarchy of the catholic church.

    When I woke up this morning it was clear ... exclusion = corruption.

    Wherever there is exclusion, there is also corruption. Wherever there is corruption, there is exclusion.

    Wherever there is inclusion, corruption diminishes and eventually disappears.

    Inclusion = harmony and order

    Exclusion is a masculine trait.
    Inclusion is a feminine trait.

    This is one of those things that the image in my awareness is very clear, but the words to describe the image arent just yet. I realize that the descriptions are simplistic and generalized, but they always are when awareness begins to expand.

    Anyway, I put this here in hopes it will generate some discussion, from which more clarity will unfold.

  4. Dad, it may be that the Holy Spirit is chipping away at the base of the pyramid and there may come a time when the whole thing comes tumbling down---soon.

  5. The real difference between exclusion and inclusion is fear.

    The Vatican is terribly afraid, and it should be. Excluding everything an everyone does nothing for the fear. There's always something to be afraid of and another shadow lurking in the darkness.