Monday, October 19, 2009

About The Other Pax Christi Workshop I Attended

Mount Taylor is now a protected Native American Sacred site--at least by the State of New Mexico. This effectively prevents reopening the uranium mines.

The other workshop I attended on Saturday was a great gift. Not so much because of the material presented, but because of it's subject matter. Sr. Joan Brown (osf) gave an introduction to eco spirituality. Since this was an introduction to the concept, and very time restricted, she was unable to get into eco spirituality with any depth. However, I did pick up some very valuable resources and resource people. For Catholics, Fr. Thomas Berry is probably the most notable voice, although he was most certainly influenced by Teihard De Chardin's thinking, and much of what he writes extrapolates from Chardin's thinking.

My own experience of eco spirituality is centered in Native relational concepts. It has been a process of years and years of inner work to get to the point where I have even a smattering of understanding of what Natives mean when they talk about the Earth as a consciousness and humanity as part of that consciousness. My personal path has been made much more difficult because of how I was raised as a child.

Western religious and philosophical thought is reflected in how we parent and are parented. The Catholicism in which I was raised saw mankind as corrupted by original sin and the earth as something to be feared and overcome. For both me as a child, and the environment around our home, the idea was to instill order and mold both to something better than our flawed starting point. To put it in different words, my parents saw their duty as bringing the Kingdom of order to our house and my psyche.

As a child I spent hours and hours and hours mowing the lawn--in patterns--raking leaves, pulling weeds, and planting flowers in designed beds. A native child would have spent the same amount of time experiencing his natural environment, learning to relate by observing relationships in action, being open to all kinds of information, and internalizing the patterns of nature, not overlaying patterns on nature.

When an Indigenous elder would tell stories about the spirit of the coyote, an Indigenous child would have understood that spirit to be of the same spirit as his own, a real and knowable part of his active consciousness and part of the same pattern of nature he inhabited. He would understand he could be the spirit of the coyote and that coyote could be part of him.

I on the other hand, understood myself to be separate, distinct, and above the coyote. I simply experienced it as a legitimate target for my rifle. I've often thought it prophetic for my later life that I was never able to actually pull the trigger. On some level of consciousness I saw that the coyote was at least related somewhat to my beloved dog. My brothers were not plagued with such reticence. Perhaps because they did not have a beloved dog, the coyote stayed totally 'other'.

It took me a really long time to understand that when Native elders spoke about the lack of boundaries in consciousness between nature and mankind, they were speaking literally. They were not using metaphor or a kind of 'deus ex machina' literary device. They were talking about real experiences and real potential in human consciousness.

Hunters would talk about calling their targets to them, not going out and looking for them. They had an ability to enter the consciousness of the animal, see it's surroundings, and use that information to find it. The believed this melding occurred (or was permitted) because the animal had given it's consent to be killed for the benefit of the hunter and his family. The hunter prayed, not with an attitude of fearful expectation, but of trustful certainty and gratitude. There for his consciousness was attracted to and intersected with a willing animal and he was given all the information he needed to find this animal. Jesus did this same thing with the Apostles when the Apostles couldn't find fish. Jesus never had the same problem and always knew where the nets should be dropped. Hunting is just one example of many examples in stories Native elders tell to illustrate this other way of knowing empirical data through the use of expanded notions of human consciousness.

Eco spirituality is about trusting that the earth and the cosmos has an inherent ability to maintain it's own balance and it's own healing. The earth does not need the Western world view to bring it to some sort of higher order or sanctified state. It does not need to be tamed and controlled, but rather trusted, because it takes our existence and our consciousness into it's equation of balance. It invites us to participate on a level which is both magical and loving. It invites us to drop our artificial boundaries and experience the true magnificence and inter dependence of God's intent for His creation.

The religious structures of the West could be the last best hope to get this message out before the Western world view destroys this planet. Before that can happen, these religious structures have to rethink their theology and move from an insistence on the ontological evil of man and a fear based notion of God, to one of trusting love and a shared community with all of creation. If one listens carefully, one can hear this message coming from the Indigenous communities, the theology of the East, and trends in the study of human consciousness--and tentatively, from the Vatican itself.

To conclude, I left this Pax Christi event with information on two ways the West is heading toward global disaster. One through the Military Industrial Complex and one through global warming. The hope lies in shared consciousness and opening the mind to the possibilities inherent in that view of consciousness. It is in this awareness that real solutions to our problems exist. As Albert Einstein is reputed to have said, it's difficult to find solutions in the thinking that created the problem to begin with. It's time to expand the thinking and learn to live in two worlds--the world of matter and the completely inner connected world of creative consciousness.

For more information on the work of Sr. Joan Brown see this website:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I Attend A Pax Christi Meeting And Suffer Brain Lock

Yesterday I made the short trip to Santa Fe to check out Pax Christi New Mexico. I had intentions of actually acting like a journalist and interviewing Fr. John Dear or Fr. Louis Vitale. Instead I got brain locked by a workshop on the influence of the Military Industrial Complex on the State of New Mexico. I forgot to do any interviews, but I did get Fr. Dear to autograph a copy of his autobiography "A Persistent Peace". I appreciated not having to pay an exorbitant amount of money to meet two of my heroes and make some new ones. In fact, I didn't have to pay anything. I donated from my heart.

The factoid which brain locked me was that Kirtland Air Force Base is storing 1900 disarmed nuclear warheads. Each of these warheads is reputed to be 100 times more powerful than the ones dropped on Japan. Which means Kirtland is storing the equivalent of 190,000 Hiroshima sized nukes. These are not part of our operational arsenal which is estimated to be somewhere around 8000. I kept asking myself why the US needed to build this kind of nuclear arsenal. This is so far beyond over kill it's incomprehensible.

I had this vision of the proverbial crazy uncle who never found a newspaper or magazine he could throw out. He just had to keep adding and adding to his collection until there was virtually no usable space left in his house and one navigated past tall stacks of newspapers and magazines which shaped narrow little aisles. I'm sure the storage areas at Kirtland are more organized than this image, but still, who benefits from this craziness of our very own Uncle Sam?

I can think of a few people--a very few people. It's certainly not the State of New Mexico whose child poverty rate in some of the very counties the DOD has set up shop exceed 40%. The only county whose poverty rate is below 10% is--shock--Los Alamos, at 2.7%. Albuquerque is in Bernallilo county, and it's child poverty rate is at 20.4%.
Your tax dollars given to DOD contractors in New Mexico between 2000-2008 is $9,602,546,507. That's nine trillion, six hundred two million plus dollars spent in this state by the Federal Government. To give this number another frame of reference, the war in Iraq has cost us 692 billion. And yet with all this money, at a poverty rate of 19.3%, New Mexico is third behind Louisiana and Mississippi. Where has all the money gone? Out of state, that's fer sure.

In effect, what's happened in New Mexico is that it is a dumping ground, testing center, and ugly step child of the Military Industrial Complex. A small coterie of businessman and politicians have lined their pockets by bending over for DOD dollars and allowing unfettered access to the Land of Enchantment for the Wizards of Mass Destruction. The numbers just locked my brain and I forgot to be a real journalist.

I can write that as I scribbled notes on statistics and weapons projects, Fr. Dear was sitting right next to me scribbling the same notes. I think he might have gotten brain locked too. At one point there was an open discussion on the topic of where has all the money gone. The general consensus was Wall Street and their neo con corporate buddies, which means most of it's probably off shore. I, who sometimes needs a verbal censor, stated some of it had to be going to the religious right and some of that meant the religious right in oh say, Africa, if the current synod indicated anything. Why else would those bishops keep mentioning abortion and gay marriage in the States. They had to be getting some kind of payback for their efforts. I thought I maybe had gotten out of line, but I got a very big smile from a certain Franciscan.

I'll post more on this Pax Christi meeting in the coming days because there is more to post, but I had to get unbrainlocked before I could deal with other events. I will say I bought a sweat shirt from Stop The War because this grass roots effort surely deserves support. Their mission is too important not only to the captive citizens of New Mexico, but to the world.

One last thought. Unlike a certain New Age guru, Fr. Dear and Fr. Vitale are the real deal.


A third person died last night of systemic organ failure, never recovering consciousness after last weekend's sweat lodge experience. James Arthur Ray delivered another one day seminar this past Tuesday at 800 per person, but his 'reasoning' had nothing to do with money:

"This is the most difficult time I've ever faced," Ray told the crowd of about 200. "I don't know how to deal with it really."
An audience member asked Ray to describe what happened at the retreat, but he declined, saying only that he has hired his own investigative team and is cooperating with authorities.
"We're looking for answers," he said. "I'm as frustrated and confused as other people are."
Ray added that he wrestled with whether to go through with Tuesday's seminar, which he said was scheduled weeks before the sweat lodge deaths.
"My advisers told me, 'Don't do that. You don't know who'll show up. They're going to eat you alive,'" he told the audience. But he said it was important for him to keep his commitments.
"I'm grieving right now," said Ray, who received a standing ovation at the end of the seminar. "I'm grieving for the families."
(160K is a lot of motivation to keep a commitment.)

Chief Orval Looking Horse of the Sioux Nation has offered his assessment of this tragedy. The following is an excerpt, but the whole article is worth reading.

What has happened in the news with the makeshift sauna called the “sweat lodge” is not our ceremonial way of life.

When you do ceremony, you can not have money on your mind. We deal with the pure sincere energy to create healing that comes from everyone in that circle of ceremony. The heart and mind must be connected. When you involve money, it changes the energy of healing. The person wants to get what they paid for. The Spirit Grandfathers will not be there. Our way of life is now being exploited. You do more damage than good. No mention of monetary energy should exist in healing, not even with a can of love donations. When that energy exists, they will not even come.

Only after the ceremony, between the person that is being healed and the intercessor who has helped connect with the Great Spirit, can the energy of money be given out of appreciation. That exchange of energy is from the heart; it is private and does not involve the Grandfathers. Whatever gift of appreciation the person who received help can now give is acceptable. They can give the intercessor whatever they feel their healing is worth.

In our prophecy, the White Buffalo Calf Woman told us she would return and stand upon the earth when we are having a hard time. In 1994, this began to happen with the birth of the white buffalo. Not only their nation, but many animal nations began to show their sacred color, which is white. She predicted that at this time there would be many changes upon Grandmother Earth. There would be things that we never experienced or heard of before: Climate changes, earth changes, diseases, disrespect for life and they would be shocking. There would also be many false prophets.

In a previous post I gave the story of the White Buffalo Calf Woman. For a potentially mind blowing experience I also encourage readers to this link which will take you to Jayden Cameron's blog Gay Mystic, in which he discusses other appearances of a 'white woman' and her influence on Eastern religions.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Real Life (And Death) Intersect With "New Age" Spiritual Seekers

Sweat Lodges are nothing for 'wannabe's" to fool around with, even if they have made a fortune off of other 'wannabe's'.

The following story about a sweat ceremony gone tragically wrong has been bothering me all week. I'll have more to say after the article.

Sheriff probes sweat lodge deaths as homicides
By FELICIA FONSECA -Associated Press Writer -Friday, October 16, 2009 PRESCOTT, AZ --

The deaths of two people during a sweat lodge ceremony led by self-help expert James Arthur Ray are being investigated as homicides, authorities said Thursday. (As well they should.)

Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh said the deaths of Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown N.Y. and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee were not accidental. (This is not to say they were pre meditated, but I think the sheriff could make a pretty compelling case for negligent homicide.)

"A combination of circumstances led to the deaths," Waugh told reporters. "Whether or not we can prove a criminal case, that has yet to be determined."

Waugh said investigators are looking at the way the sweat lodge was built, the fact that people had fallen ill at previous sweat ceremonies led by Ray, and questionable medical care on site. Ray is the primary focus of the probe but others also are being investigated, the sheriff said.

A call to Ray's spokesman wasn't immediately returned after the sheriff's announcement. Ray led more than 50 people into a makeshift sweat lodge at a retreat outside Sedona on Oct. 8. After about two hours, Brown and Shore were pulled out of the sweat lodge. Nineteen other people were taken to hospitals, and one remains in critical condition. (Original reports had 64 participants in the sweat.)

"He's a motivational speaker who tried his hand at very dangerous physical things, and it was reckless," Brown's cousin and family spokesman Tom McFeeley said of the sheriff's announcement. "It doesn't surprise us in the least."

A search warrant was served Wednesday at Ray's Carlsbad, Calif.-based company, James Ray International. Deputies were looking for medical records of those attending the Sedona retreat and other, unspecified items, Waugh said.

Ray declined to be interviewed by the sheriff's office on the night of the incident and returned to California. The motivational speaker, author and self-help guru offers clients the promise of both spiritual and financial wealth if they sign on to his programs. The five-day "Spiritual Warrior" course during which the deaths occurred had about 50 participants who paid more than $9,000 each. (Imagine you too can be a "Spiritual Warrior" for just nine thousand dollars--not guaranteed you will survive basic training.)

The culmination was the sweat lodge ceremony that ended in tragedy. Records obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday showed local fire officials responded to the same retreat for a person who fell unconscious during a Ray-led sweat ceremony in 2005.

Ray held a telephone conference call with many of the sweat ceremony participants on Wednesday, according to people on the call. A recording of the call was made and transcribed by one of the listeners, said McFeeley, who also listened in and provided the transcript to the Associated Press.

During the call, Ray stressed the importance of eating healthy food, exercising, resting, meditation and surrounding themselves with "like-minded individuals."

"Remember all that we've learned and experienced and knowing by law of the universe that out of every apparent chaos comes a greater state of order, an order that never existed prior to the chaos," he said, after asking those on the conference call to imagine themselves standing in a prayer circle. (Such as the order found in perhaps a state prison.)

Ray said he used the call as a way to provide closure to those attending the retreat outside Sedona, according to the transcript. Ray's spokesman, Howard Bragman, confirmed the telephone conference was held.

Ray stopped short of apologizing to participants for not being at the Angel Valley Retreat Center the morning after the deaths, saying "I hope you understand it certainly wasn't my wish not to be with you and bring you some kind of closure." (He couldn't be with them because he had to consult his attorneys, and he couldn't apologize because his attorney's must have told him an apology could be incriminating. My ass it's about 'closure'.)

Fewer than a dozen callers were identified in the transcript, all of whom praised Ray and described his intentions as "pure" and their experiences as "profound." They also expressed sympathy for the families of the victims but suggested that the deaths of Brown and Shore were by choice.

"It breaks my heart to know that the families are suffering," said one caller identified as Brent. "I think that the people that left, I do believe they made their own choices, whether on this level or the next, but I do feel really for the families."

McFeeley said the comments on the call solidify his belief that Ray is controlling the people involved in his self-help program."There were reasonable people at this event, and it shows the power one man can have when you combine physical and mental mistreatment," McFeeley said. "Everything in this retreat seems to have been taken too far, and those statements were hurtful to hear and probably more hurtful to communicate them to the family last night."


First a few clarifications. Sweat Lodge ceremonies are not truly comparable to saunas or hot tubs. They are not primarily about physical cleansing or sweating away pounds, toxins, or any other reason people get hot and sweaty. They are first and foremost a spiritual ceremony with definitive procedures as important to the nature of the sweat exactly as Catholic rubrics are important to the nature of the Mass. Native Americans are outraged with how this sweat was conducted and sick to death of the New Age movement co opting their spiritual ceremonies--especially self proclaimed gurus like James Ray who pocket huge money off their ceremonies.

Their view of the sacrilege of this process of hi jacking their ceremonies can only be understood if you can imagine James Arthur Ray claiming the authority to say Mass and charging huge sums of money for the experience. James Ray, and others like him (including some Natives), are pitching the novelty of Native American ceremonial practices for their own profit.

This profit motive in and of itself completely denies the spiritual reasoning for the ceremony. Native Americans who are legitimately authorized to lead sweats, never ask for payment because they do not see themselves as the operative agent which brings healing or any other boon. Those agents are their spiritual ancestors or Holy Ones. Any gifts given by participants are by the choice of the participants, not as a mandated entry fee.

I've participated in many sweats and might have a pretty good idea of what went wrong. A sweat lodge big enough for this many people, (and this one wasn't), needs a lot of rocks to get generate the heat necessary for an effective sweat. To get the back of the lodge to this temperature the people sitting around the central rock pit are experiencing a great deal more heat. I suspect it's from the people closest to the rock pit that the fatalities and injuries resulted.

A traditionally constructed sweat lodge never uses plastic tarps because plastic doesn't let the lodge breathe. Ray's sweat was constructed with plastic tarps. Traditional sweats use blankets, or cloth canvas, because they will allow the lodge to expand and contract with temperature fluctuations. This can be especially critical when a prayer round lasts a long time.

Sweats are normally composed of four rounds. At the end of a round participants are allowed--many times encouraged-- to go outside and cool down. I have never participated in a two hour round, but I have participated in sweats where we were allowed outside in the middle of a round because the ceremonial leader was concerned with the length of time the round was taking.

Sweat lodge ceremonies are first and foremost spiritual ceremonies. They are not generally exercises in physical endurance. Unless, I guess, you've paid nine thousand dollars to become a New Age version of a 'spiritual warrior'. From other reports, it appears to me that James Ray was attempting to put people in a state of physical deprivation in which a neural chemical process would be triggered which fosters visions. Previous to the sweat participants also engaged in a 36 hour vision quest in which they were encourage not to take food or water. The state of deprivation necessary to trigger visions is also puts the person very close to physical death.

Native medicine people are well aware of this phenomenon and it's potentially lethal consequences. Their ceremonial leaders are generally also gifted psychics who can follow the progress of their participants and intervene when necessary. Somehow I doubt James Ray went through the decades of training it takes to bring a medicine person to this level of psychic ability. If Ray was relying on the ability of his participants to make rational choices about their physical being after his program purposely induced this kind of mind altering state, he was a complete and total idiot.

One of the other things which has really bugged me about this incident is it's another example male 'spiritual' leaders extolling the virtues of 'spiritual warriors' and spiritual warfare. What is with this? Good God, aren't Americans engaged in enough real wars?

The spiritual path isn't about overcoming or defeating anything external to one's self. If there is such a battle, it's not a battle at all, it's an internal process of moving through personal issues, of getting beyond them, not beating them into submission.
Spirituality can be about changing energy, but that isn't accomplished by demonstrating how physically tough you are or how much hate and anger you can generate. It's accomplished by the depth of love, compassion, and connectedness you can give and receive to and from others.

The kind of change real spiritual leaders talk about is accompanied by life giving acts, by healing, by symmetry and beauty, by a sense of personal peace. It is not accompanied by death and destruction, huge amounts of material wealth, or hiding behind lawyers after you've really screwed up.

James Ray is hardly a spiritual guru. He is just another in a long line of opportunistic predators. Like any other spiritual or religious movement, the New Age movement is full of them. Seeker beware.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In Peru Women Have The Right And Duty To Die When It's Their Life Or An Embryo's

Cardinal Cipriani of Peru might just want to watch Otto Preminger's movie The Cardinal. He might get some insight.

I can remember the first time I saw the movie "The Cardinal". The movie follows the life of an American priest as he climbs the corporate ladder. One of the dilemnas the Cardinal was confronted with when he was a bishop was making the medical decision between the life of his pregnant unwed sister and the child whose labor and birth was killing her. He opted to 'leave it up to God' rather than choose the intervention which would kill the child but save the life of his sister. I assumed he made the choice in that way partly from Church teaching and partly because he himself didn't want to play God, having to determine which life deserved life more.

At the time I thought leaving it up to God was a reasonable dodge concerning a very difficult moral choice. Now we don't have to dodge because Peruvian bishops have come out and said women have no inherent right to life above their unborn child. But in reality, since they oppose the choice of therapeutic abortion for the sake of the mother's life, they are saying women have no right to their own life if it's threatened by their pregnancy. Peruvians won't be given the same choice the Cardinal in the movie had, of leaving the outcome up to God. Law will force Peruvians to choose in favor of the embryo.

Peru's Roman Catholic bishops slammed a bill allowing abortion in rape and fetal deformity cases, calling it a "death penalty" for embryos in a country where capital punishment is illegal.

"Life is a right from its conception... any attempt to justify the elimination of children about to be born into illness or disability brings to light our difficulty in accepting sick people," the Peruvian Bishops Conference (CEP) said in a statement. (This is life at all costs. Easy for him to say bishop won't have to pay for those costs for the family or the child. I guess this means a child has the absolute right to be born into absolute misery.)

Spearheaded by Peruvian Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, the church has openly lobbied lawmakers to drop proposed legislation to legalize elective abortion for rape cases or when the fetus is deformed.

The bill was approved by a parliamentary committee a week ago, sending it for debate in the full Congress.

Cipriani denied allegations made in a report by civil groups that said some 300,000 illegal abortions are performed each year in Peru.

The CEP said life should not be terminated for any reason, neither for rape nor to save the life of the expectant mother.

The notion that "the mother's life is worth more than her child's is arbitrary and false," it said. (Which means the notion that the unborn child's life is worth more than the mother's is alive and in play.)

"Since we've done away with the death penalty in Peru for even the worst criminals, how can we accept the death penalty for an embryo that hasn't even had the time to commit a mistake and cannot even defend itself?" it said. (But he will accept a death sentence for a woman who also has done nothing of a criminal nature. **I couldn't help but notice the Cardinal never uses the term child or baby in this story. It's always fetus or embryo, until that statement on the abritrariness of a mother's life over her child's. Where is Freud when I need him?)


It's getting harder and harder to step around the fact that in Catholicism the right to life runs in this order: men, especially men who have the power to declare war on others-- usually justified by a perceived need for self defense; the unborn, whose innocence gives them an ontological right that supersedes their mother's right to life and her right to self defense-- but not their father's; and finally women and existing children who are at the mercy of those whose right to life is further up the pecking order. So says God through his Church.

Over on Inside there is another article by Todd Aglialoro, he of the masculine Catholicism article. This one deals with the five pro abortion dodges used by pro choice Catholics and others. My frustration wasn't so much with the article itself as it was with some of the comments. The article is predictable and refutes pro choice arguments from a strictly theoretical position. This position is an essentially male point of view uncluttered with practical input from women. In this view males seemingly have little to do with abortion. It's not their problem except from the standpoint that they must protect the theoretical unborn children of mothers and fathers they don't know--and make sonograms mandatory for pregnant women in any health care reform. (I guarantee I could show them a sonogram of a fetal pig at a similar embryological state that most abortions occur and they couldn't tell it from a fetal human.)

My issue is not with the main article, it's in the comments. One man asked a very good question. He wanted to know how the criminalizing of abortion would be investigated and penalized. Like every other time I personally have brought this question up, he was attacked and the question never answered. Rather than offer any practical understanding of the implications of criminalizing abortion, his male detractors stayed in the realm of theological theory and justification. No one addressed the practical implications of enforcement or punishment.

I suspect the reason they won't is because any practical real life application would necessitate major violations of rights to privacy, patient/doctor confidentiality, and self incrimination. Not too mention, if the Catholic teaching became law, women would be legally classed as an inferior class of humanity, subject to the right to life of an embryo. Just as in Peru. Maybe I'm off base, but it seems to me these are serious constitutional issues, the very one's that precipitated Roe v Wade.

Serious theological reasoning should also have to take in to consideration practical consequences of the theology. It's easy to argue abortion from the realm of theory, and for most men abortion stays in the realm of theory. What I appreciated about the movie 'The Cardinal' is that it took this very issue out of the realm of theory and made it ever so very real for the Cardinal in question.

His theoretical belief system was tested by very personal and practical consequences. His more or less non decision bothered him for the rest of his life. It had real emotional, spiritual, and practical consequences for this Cardinal--and according to the Church, his decision was the RIGHT decision. It didn't however stop him from experiencing guilt and loss or knowing he forced his other family members into the position of caring for the subsequent child. Knowing and experiencing this tragedy made this bishop a much more pastoral and compassionate shepherd. He knew doubt about previously held theoretical absolutism. Sometimes there are no good answers.

Real pastors know this because this is what the human condition is all about. It's about finding one's way through doubt and learning from experience. It has been this way from the very first moment a human recognized the capacity for self reflection and independent action.

Taking away a fundamental right from one class of humanity in favor of another makes great theoretical sense, usually appears self evident, and seems rational--if you don't question the underlying assumption. And it's really great when you can assign responsibility for the whole theoretical problem on the 'other' whose behavior you are tying to criminalize. It's so much easier when by definition it isn't your personal problem.

This is a lesson the Peruvian bishops have not learned anymore than the Bishop of Recife, Brazil. I suggest they sit down and view the movie 'The Cardinal'. It may help them understand their theory is not so black and white when it comes to the consequences of the reality.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The USCCB On Marriage And Family--zzzzzzzz

Our bishops seem to have cell phones that don't reach the laity, but work quite well reaching the Vatican. There is no touch tone for the Holy Spirit--especially when it comes to sex and adult spirituality.

Bishops aim for a pastoral way to say 'No'
09:21 AM By Erin Siegal, REUTERS

No. No. No.

The nation's Catholic bishops won't say it so baldly, of course. But they're close to it in the draft of "pastoral" letter leaked to Catholic media. (They didn't say NO. They called cohabitation, contraception, gay sex, and divorce intrinsic evils. That's maybe a little stronger than NO.)
In their upcoming meeting next month, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is set to address how they guide the faithful on critical points, on marriage ("Life and Love in the Divine Plan"), childbirth ("Life-giving Love in an Age of Technology") and end-of-life decisions (revising the bishops ethical directives to Catholic Health Care Services).

These are all areas where Catholics, statistically, have been behaving pretty much like non-Catholics. The Church wants to root their actions and choices in the life-sustaining sacraments but many believers want to make up their own moral minds instead.

Hence, there are gay Catholics, co-habiting Catholics, divorcing Catholics, Catholics using artificial contraception for avoid pregnancy or high tech assistance such as IVF to fight infertility, and there are Catholics writing their end of life medical directives to shut off artificial nutrition and hydration when they may never be conscious again.

Can the bishops reel them in?

The National Catholic Reporter, looking at a leaked draft of the pastoral letter on marriage says in an editorial that it's so heavy-handed and crudely done -- full of "sweeping denunciations" and lacking in "pastoral solicitude" that the bishops should "scrap the entire text ... and start fresh." (I honestly tried to read the whole thing, but it's not just heavy handed, it's mostly cut and paste from the writings of JPII and Benedict. It's ponderously repetitive and boring and at time insulting.)

Their story on the draft version of the letter (to be amended by bishops at the annual fall meeting in Baltimore) says it repeats that cohabitation and contraception are "intrinsically evil" challenges to "the very meaning and purposes of marriage." The proper nature of marriage is "ordered to the procreation and education of offspring." It is in offspring, write the bishops, that married love "finds its crowning glory."

Same-sex marriage, NCR quotes the draft:
... Redefines the nature of marriage and the family and, as a result, harms both the intrinsic dignity of every human person and the common good of society. (But hey, gays are worthy of our respect and deserve to be treated with dignity, even though the idea of celebrating gay love harms the intrinsic dignity of every human person and the common good of society.)

In the editorial, NCR notes:
... The draft does speak of the dignity of all people, including gays and lesbians, but it does not lead with this insight." Nor did it offer any creative counter approaches to offering health care or other crucial benefits to people who share a home with someone not their legal spouse -- whether it's a same-sex lover or elderly auntie.


I really did try to make it through the whole pastoral draft, but I admit, it was beyond my patience and tolerance level. In an effort to save readers some time, I'll paraphrase the entire draft.

Everything is intrinsically evil when it comes to sex, unless sex is discretely engaged in for the purposes of procreation in a sacramental marriage.
That about sums up the entire message. No need to read the fifty or so pages which expand this basic concept--unless you want to subject yourself to excessive verbiage on the intrinsic evils of not understanding this basic concept.

The pastoral begins in the garden with Adam and Eve where we are informed that Eve is made to be Adam's help meet and they are to be fruitful and multiply, and yes indeed they are made equally in God's image with COMPLIMENTARY roles. This leads directly to the first of numerous cut and paste statements from one or the other of our last two popes. Oh yea, and the often stated but completely erroneous idea that the Church has always recognized marriage as between one man and woman for ever and ever amen--except for when it hasn't, which was more or less it's first 1100 years, which for some reason isn't mentioned.

By the time I quit reading this pastoral it had more or less condemned 97% of American Catholics to hell if they don't mend their 'intrinsically evil' ways. Which leaves about 3% of American Catholics saved and pastorally directed. A reasonable person might wonder what a Church actually has to offer when it's leadership wipes out 97% of it's membership in one pastoral letter.

A reasonable person might wonder if this statistical fact might just indicate that said leadership is completely out of touch with the real lived experience of their flock. Or maybe this is just an attempt to rally the true believing base, ala Rush Limbaugh. Judging from the comments on the NCR itself, it is not rallying the 97% it condemns to potential hell.

I personally agree with the NCR editorial board that the USCCB should just let this one quietly die, exactly as they did their 'pastoral' letter on women. At least with the pastoral letter on women they actually consulted women. Some people feel the disconnect this consultation presented between the teaching on women and women's real experiences of the teaching is why that letter was dropped. Too much truth I guess.

This current pastoral letter most certainly didn't consult anyone but JPII and Benedict. In my book, that's kind of a definition of a cult when only one or two voices are consulted. This letter actually reads like most Opus Dei letters which constantly reference the thoughts of St. Escriva. I imagine a lot of members of Opus Dei are in that 3% and so they will be quite supportive of this letter. I wonder how many of them secretly wonder where God is when they sit at the kitchen table and try to balance the bills.

In this pastoral letter God is much more concerned with creating children than providing for them. In fact I don't believe this pastoral letter even deals with any of the 'providing for" aspects of creating the children we are to 'raise and educate' as our primary marital duty. Kind of like the abortion debate. There's nary a word about providing the post birth care those potential humans will require.

I guess we are to trust in the providence of a God who lately has seemed quite indifferent to providing post birth care. Or maybe He is trying to provide--health care reform comes to mind--but His erstwhile leaders are too busy accepting provision for themselves from the very folks who aren't interested in bringing God's providence to fruition for the rest of us. Just a thought.

In any event, save yourself some serious frustration. Don't attempt to read the whole thing. The NCR article and editorial has it about right. This letter is intended to be read by the Vatican for a pat on the back and career advancement. It's not a useful or meaningful communication for American laity.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Is Militaristic Manly Catholicism Really About Keeping Score?

Saint Barack would not qualify as a militaristic 'manly' Catholic. For that matter neither would the real St. Francis who also attempted dialogue with Islam. I doubt a photo of either one graces the head quarters of Blackwater.
The following excerpt is from an article by Todd Aglialoro entitled "The New Catholic Manliness". It is taken from Deal Hudson's website Inside These are Todd's concluding paragraphs and I excerpted them because they sparked quite a number of comments on the militaristic bent of Christianity vs Islam.

This militaristic view of Christianity is part of what I see as the dark underbelly of American Christianity in which masculinity seems to be getting mixed up with militarism, and Jesus becomes an excuse to 'flex one's manly muscles' against perceived enemies rather than the Teacher of a way which calls for radical love of one's enemy.

Onward, Christian Soldiers

As I pursued this investigation of the new Catholic manliness, two common threads emerged. The first was the influence of Pope John Paul II, who by all accounts was the inspiration, motivation, and architect of the whole project. First, as a pastor and spiritual father: In him "the orphans of living parents found their Papa," as Bolster puts it. And second, by laying down a theological and philosophical trail for Catholic priests, ministers, and laymen to follow. The late pope's writings on the theology of the body helped us to understand how gender "gets right to the core of who we are," says Monsignor Swetland. Bollman concurs, adding that John Paul took the "impoverished anthropology" that his era had inherited and replaced it with a "Christian anthropology based on the inherent dignity of man and woman." Only from that foundation, he says, could we begin to rebuild an authentic male spirituality.

The second common thread was the martial metaphor. Every one of my sources spoke of a battle against the temptations and obstacles the modern world puts before men, a war against the false, cheap version of manhood it whispers in our ears. Again and again they made use of military imagery in defining male spirituality: Bolster and Monsignor Swetland -- both former naval lieutenants -- stressed the need to adapt the military virtues of discipline, valor, and self-sacrifice to the work of spiritual combat. (Assuming there is such a thing as 'spiritual combat' , one does not engage in said war with muscles, M16's, and Air Craft Carriers--unless your name is Eric Prince.)

It may one day be recognized that the growing use and acceptance of military language to define manhood within the Church turned out to be not just apt but critical. For there is one religion that has no problem attracting and keeping male followers. Its wholly transcendent God doesn't desire spiritual conjugality with His people. Its leaders don't preach mercy, or celibacy, or strength through weakness; they do not have to contend with the paradox of the Cross. And the zealous adherents of Islam do not turn the other cheek.


If the use of military language to define manhood with in the Church--especially the American Church- gains ground and acceptance, it won't be apt. It will much more likely be catastrophic.

One does not solve the paradox of the Cross by purposely ignoring it in favor of militarism.

Buddhism also has no trouble attracting and keeping male members and it is the least militaristic of all spiritualities.

If we were supposed to be worshipping an exclusively transcendent God there would have been no need for an Incarnated Jesus who shared this human condition and gave us His teachings about how we should live our humanity. He did not form an army and did not enforce military discipline. He made no effort to protect Israel from the Romans. Nor did He define Rome as His personal enemy. His 'enemies' were not individuals or groups of individuals, they were the self absorbed attitudes we hold towards ourselves and others. His weapons were truth and love.

It doesn't take much in the way of personal sacrifice, discipline, or valor to blame the ills of the so called 'effeminate' Church on feminism, effete clergy, or unruly heterodox catechises--all of which Todd and his 'experts' use to decry their perceived current lack of manliness in the Church.

Nor do any of them bother to trace the history of the exodus of males from the pews. They make the erroneous assumption this all started post Vatican II. They are only about 300 or so years off, with the world wide exodus accelerating during the reign of Pius IX. Apparently manly men have had nothing to do with the current sad state of affairs. They are all emasculated victims.

I wish these 'manly' men would practice a little honesty. Christianity, with it's call to turn the other cheek, let go of your ego, drop your status objects, learn the self discipline and sacrifice necessary to really love someone, and operate from equality rather than power, is all unappealing to their definition of 'manly' men.

More than that though, Christianity is about internal personal growth, not external personal acquisition. This more than anything does not appeal to most men. Nor is it a notion that appeals to our peacock hierarchy, which is all over the externals at the expense of the internals.

It is very very difficult to keep score when the effort is ordered to internal growth and not external acquisition. It's not easy to quantify love, humility, or spiritual growth.

To me, that's what this pursuit of a militaristic manly Catholicism is really about. It's an attempt to return to a more external quantifiable spirituality, and away from an internal qualitative spirituality.

This dichotomy is not really about gender or the feminizing of the Church. It's more about the fact that Catholic spirituality went internal and qualitative after Vatican II. There was no more enumerating of sins, no more emphasis on indulgences, no more lists of devotional acts like first Fridays or novenas, no more High Masses and low masses. There was no longer any real way to keep an external score in Catholicism. In fact keeping one's grace score no longer mattered because the whole notion of hell didn't matter. Not only was it hard to keep score, but it didn't seem there was anything left to win or lose.

Becoming more Christ like, inclusive, and loving became the goal. Becoming Christ like is a much more difficult enterprise than arbitrarily keeping a sanctifying grace score in order to WIN one's way into heaven. What JPII did with his saint factory was put the winning back into the heavenly equation, while at the same time Cardinal Ratzinger was putting hell back in the heavenly equation. I sometimes see the 'reform of the reform' as a concerted effort to bring back the score board. This manly militarism fits right in with that effort.
To conclude it's no wonder some folks just hate the Spirit of Vatican II. Who wants to play a game where keeping score doesn't matter, and it really is about how well you learn to play the game.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ideologies That Are Foreign to Africa Include Traditional Catholic Sexual Teachings

The African Bishops needs to hear more from these voices and less from their own--and they seem to know it.

Synod for Africa ponders how to tackle polygamy, meddling by foreign interests
Vatican City, Oct 9, 2009 / 10:21 pm (CNA).-

Yesterday and today at the ongoing Synod for Africa, bishops raised issues of concern that ranged from how to deal with polygamy to asking sister Churches in developed countries to persuade their governments to stop trying to impose “ideologies that are foreign to Africa.” (Catholic notions of monogamy and celibacy are also an imposition of ideologies that are foreign to Africa--especially African males.)

Bishop Evaristus Thatoho Bitsoane of Lesotho took the floor on Thursday afternoon to explain how his local Church can fulfill the synod's theme. “The Church in Lesotho, like many other local Churches of Africa is involved in the area of health, education and in the service of the poor. Lesotho is about fifty percent Catholic and the Church has the majority of schools in the country. From these numbers one would hope that Catholic principles would prevail in the running of the country,” he explained.

But this is not the case, Bishop Bitsoane continued, “On the contrary, people embrace anything that will enable them to have bread on the table even if it is opposed to the teaching of the Church.” (It's pretty hard to embrace any ideology when one is starving.)

Pointing out that Lesotho is just one of many countries of Africa who have signed the Maputo Protocol, he said that even though “the services of our Catholic hospitals are appreciated by many, we are afraid that many abortions will be performed in private hospitals.” (The Maputo protocol is an addition to the African Union statements on human rights. It deals specifically with the rights of women. The Catholic Church in Africa rejects this document principally because of article 14 which deals with reproductive rights and includes a right to abortion in certain circumstances.)

“What the Church of Lesotho needs urgently in order to continue her service to the poor,” Bishop Bitsoane stated, “is for the sister Churches of the developed world to influence their governments not to impose ideologies that are foreign to Africa.”

The Synod Fathers also reflected on how to bring the values of the Gospel to African cultures that are rooted in pagan practices.

Bishop Matthew Kwasi Gyamfi of Sunyani, Ghana said on Friday morning that, "In some parts of Africa because of the culture and tradition of the people before the Church was introduced, many African women find themselves in polygamous marriages through no fault of theirs.” (How is this no fault of theirs if it is an accepted cultural practice? These women must know they are likely to wind up in a polygamous marriage. Why punish the second and third wives? Where's the call to men to stop this practice?)

According to Bishop Gyamfi, this situation means that “many of the women attending church are denied the Sacraments of Initiation, Reconciliation and Marriage.”

The bishop pointed out that this treatment is unjust and has damaging effects for those women who were “first wives with children” of polygamous marriages. “The Church needs to address this painful and unpleasant situation in Africa by giving some special privileges to women, who have been the first wives with children and through no fault of their own have become victims of polygamous marriages, to receive the Sacraments of Initiation and others,” he said.
If these “sorely tried women” are allowed to receive the Sacraments, Bishop Gyamfi said that they will be able to “share in the peace and reconciliation offered by the compassion and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ Who came to call sinners and not the self righteous.”


I realise this is a CNA article and is most certainly written with a bias, but this article is almost funny in it's blatant hypocrisy. I guess it's OK for Roman Catholicism to introduce foreign ideologies in African culture, but no one else--especially if those ideological intrusions involve the rights of women. It's no secret that priestly celibacy and monogamous marriage have not exactly been received by Africans as compatible with their prevailing culture and tradition--especially by male Africans. Maybe it's this failure to convince African men to give up their historical traditional sexual rights that necessitates the attempt to police and curtail the reproductive rights of women.

Bishop Gyamfi doesn't even try to address the issue of polygamy, but instead suggests special privileges for first wives. This is certainly an interesting theological proposition in that it further fractures the status of lay women while leaving men free to pursuit other wives--if outside the Church. It seems to me that according to the Catechism it's not which wife you are in the polygamous pecking order, it's that a polygamous pecking order even exists and you are participating in it. Sorry, I just can't get my head around this one.

What's even more fascinating is that the 'sister churches' of the West, (the churches that are supposed to be convincing their governments and NGO's to keep their secular sexual notions out of African culture) are also being asked to accept an accommodation with polygamy at the very same time those churches in the West are using the threat of legalized polygamy to block gay marriage. Oh, and these bishops are also reserving their right as Roman Catholic bishops to add their two cents to the gay marriage and abortion debates of the West. I think I'm having trouble accepting their two cents.

What we seem to have operating in Bishop Gyamfi is good old fashioned guilt and a de facto admission that the Church has been generally unsuccessful in convincing African males to rethink their traditional reproductive rights. Since the Church hasn't made much headway with men they are building the fort of Catholic sexual teaching on the backs of women. So the Official Church pushes no condoms in HIV marriages, no access to contraception much less therapeutic abortion, no sexual education for women, and tries to minimize their little problem with illicitly married clergy. Then in order to feel less guilty Gyamfi suggests some sort of bizarre special theological status for first wives and the bishops deplore the genital mutilation of women. Give me a break.

African women know what the issue really is. In a culture that has traditionally privileged male sexual expression, privileged male clerics are not going to threaten the male status quo. Excuses will be made and compromises invented which will skirt around this issue. It seems to me that it's past time to bring the voices of women fully into the discussion of where Catholicism is headed in Africa. (and everywhere else) It maybe that women would tell the hard truth about their family experiences, not just for themselves and their children, but also for the men they love.

In the weird world of Catholicism the women have nothing to lose and everything to gain. On the other hand, African Catholic bishops, some of whom have hidden wives and children, have everything to lose and nothing to gain. It's not hard to figure out where the truth will come from in that dynamic.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

President Obama Wins The "Yasser Arafat" Prize And Vatican Congratulations

Obama's Nobel Prize Inspires Conservative Outrage And Confusion
Sam Stein-Huffington Post-10/09/09

The unexpected news that President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize early Friday morning has prompted a serious debate as to whether the award was deserved and what exactly Obama should do to commemorate the moment.

It's also created a remarkable bit of fury among the president's Republican opponents. One week after conservatives were exuberant with Obama's failure to secure the Olympics for his hometown of Chicago, they were left bitter and bemused that he was bestowed the world's most prestigious honor.

"The real question Americans are asking is, 'What has President Obama actually accomplished?'" reads a statement from the Republican National Committee. " It is unfortunate that the president's star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working towards peace and human rights. One thing is certain -- President Obama won't be receiving any awards from Americans for job creation, fiscal responsibility, or backing up rhetoric with concrete action." (He's also the first President in US history for whom the opposition party has no constructive input what so ever all all. Apparently patriotism for Republicans has been reduced to nothing more than opposition to President Obama.)

The White House, itself, was surprised when it awoke to the news, with press secretary Robert Gibbs informing the president in the wee hours of the morning. And, from the moment it was announced, the prize presented as many political hurdles as they did moments of congratulations.

Even Obama's supporters raised questions about whether the reward was deserved, with progressives pointing to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a detention policy that still enrages civil libertarians as logical points of contention.

For Obama's critics, however, the Nobel Prize has touched a far more bitter nerve -- affirming their firmly-held beliefs that the president is more symbolism than substance and that he's accomplished little of note on the international stage except to serve as an emblem of U.S. repentance for the Bush years. (There is some truth to this, which goes to show just how needed that repentance might be for the rest of the world.)

"This fully exposes the illusion that is Barack Obama," conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh told Politico via e-mail. "And with this 'award' the elites of the world are urging Obama, THE MAN OF PEACE, to not do the surge in Afghanistan, not take action against Iran and its nuclear program and to basically continue his intentions to emasculate the United States... They love a weakened, neutered U.S and this is their way of promoting that concept. I think God has a great sense of humor, too."

"I did not realize the Nobel Peace Prize had an affirmative action quota," wrote Erick Erickson, of the site, "but that is the only thing I can think of for this news." (It's amazing how affluent white males can't leave race out of anything having to do with PO.)

"Obama isn't the first American president to win the Nobel Peace Prize, but he's the first to win it without having accomplished anything," wrote John Miller, of the National Review. "Obama's award is simply the projection of wishful thinking." (Try hopeful instead of wishful.)

"The prize seems not just premature but embarrassing," wrote Mark Krikorian, also on The National Review, "this just reinforces the Saturday Night Live meme that Obama has done nothing. This really might be his Carter whacking-the-bunny-rabbit moment." (More likely it's a GW Bush getting his ass kicked moment.)

Indeed, an online petition was started just hours after the announcement was made, objecting to the "absurd decision to award B. Obama Nobel Peace Prize."

And so, in the immediate aftermath, the meme had already been established -- seconded by the usual purveyors of conventional wisdom -- that the Nobel Prize was more burden than benefit for the White House. The conclusion: the president needed to turn the prize down.

"I predict right now that he will find a way to basically turn it down," Time Magazine's Mark Halperin told MSNBC's Morning Joe. "I think he is going to say, I share this with the world or whatever. I don't think he'll embrace this. Because there is no upside."

"The damage is done," added Mika Brzezinski shortly thereafter.

UPDATE: Either sensing an opening to cast the Republican Party as actively rooting against America, or just fed up with the stream of negative responses, the Democratic National Committee put out an unusually blunt statement Friday morning. The gist: that the GOP sides with the terrorists.

"The Republican Party has thrown in its lot with the terrorists -- the Taliban and Hamas this morning -- in criticizing the President for receiving the Nobel Peace prize," wrote DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse. "Republicans cheered when America failed to land the Olympics and now they are criticizing the President of the United States for receiving the Nobel Peace prize -- an award he did not seek but that is nonetheless an honor in which every American can take great pride -- unless of course you are the Republican Party. The 2009 version of the Republican Party has no boundaries, has no shame and has proved that they will put politics above patriotism at every turn. It's no wonder only 20 percent of Americans admit to being Republicans anymore - it's an embarrassing label to claim."


I may be in the minority, but I wasn't surprised the President Obama was given the Noble Peace Prize. Like the Vatican I suspect it has a lot to do with his stance on nuclear arms reduction and push for the renewal of the two state solution in Palestine. Here is the Vatican's statement:

"The awarding of the Nobel Prize for Peace to President Obama is greeted with appreciation in the Vatican, in light of the commitment demonstrated by the President for the promotion of peace in the international arena, and in particular also recently in favor of nuclear disarmament. It's hoped that this very important recognition will further encourage that commitment, which is difficult but fundamental for the future of humanity, so that the desired results will be obtained."

The Republican Catholic Church is following Rush Limbaugh's lead, some going so far as to opine that the only people more naive about nuclear weapons than President Obama is Pope Benedict.

Funny how obedience to the Papacy never includes anything which contradicts neo con thinking.

I've always found it amusing that Republicans will rant on and on about the Iranian program but nary a peep about Israel, India, and Pakistan. It seems to this naive follower of Benedict--at least on the nuclear issue-- that India and Pakistan pointing nukes at each other is a much more iminent threat to peace than Iran maybe someday having a useable weapon.

The issue is to disarm and get rid of all of them. I can't help but wonder how much more secure Israel would be at this very moment if the billions and billions they have spent on their nuclear arsenal had been invested in Palestine. Investing in people, rather than weapons, is the real path to lasting peace. This is a notion the Vatican has been trumpeting for many decades. It's called Catholic social justice.

It's not surprising at all to me that the Vatican is once again in Obama's corner. PO really does seem to inspire hope in everyone but Republicans when it comes to issues of peace. The question still remains though, can he cash in on the hope and give substance to his words. Other wise this honor really is too much too soon.

Friday, October 9, 2009

We Don't Address Them As Mrs. Christ, We Address Them As Sister

Sometimes the most courageous and authoritative person resides in the body of the most humble.

The following is an edited excerpt from a longer article posted at Commonweal. It was written by a sister who has spent thirty years with an LCWR congregation. It was written anonymously for fear of reprisal for herself, her congregation, and her local bishop. The first part of the article dealt with the visitation and reasons for same. I have begun the excerpt with what I think is the meat of the article. Sister X's attempt to answer some of the unstated why's of the investigation.

Perhaps there exists a basic problem of communication. Perhaps the personal and interpretive language women religious speak to each other is not sufficiently “Vaticanese.” The theological worldview of women has evolved in ways that bishops may not understand, let alone accept.

When I entered religious life after Vatican II, it was already taken for granted in sister-formation that the traditional language and categories of theology, mysticism, and spirituality were not adequate to express and account for the development of the person within religious life. Traditionally, of course, women religious often described themselves as “brides of Christ.” Today, however, thanks to what we have learned from modern scriptural scholarship and the work of feminist Christian thinkers about the role of women in the early church, women religious have sought to reclaim their historical roles alongside “the twelve” as followers of Jesus, community leaders, and missionaries. Our directors introduced us to the basics of religious life: union with God in prayer, identity with the church, Scripture, the vows, mission and apostolate, community life. But we also read sociology, psychology, and literature. Along with our Vatican II documents and the Jerusalem Bible, we read Jung, historical novels, and poetry. Our retreats included the Psalms, but also meditative films about nature. There was a great effort to integrate our spiritual life with “real life.” We came to identify ourselves with Mary, whom Jesus himself called “woman” in John’s Gospel, and with Mary Magdalene, the first witness of the Resurrection; or with one of the healed women in the Gospel who goes out and tells others about her life-changing experience, and attracts others to come to Jesus too. It was a process that has served me and many others well, enabling women religious to create a whole body of self-explanatory narrative, reflection, and theological analysis.

Did it also accelerate a growing distrust between sisters and the episcopacy? That distrust has been present for a long time. In the late 1960s, after Los Angeles Cardinal James McIntyre ordered the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary to get back into their habits and classrooms or get out of the diocese, the LCWR tried to address issues of women’s ministerial equality. Later, in 1976, came Inter insigniores, the CDF’s “definitive” rejection of the possibility of ordination for women. It shut down any formal discussion of women’s equality in the church. For many women religious, the emphasis shifted then to social-justice concerns.

Since then, Rome has been busy shoring up its doctrinal barricades, and in the process has seemed intent on casting feminism into the outer darkness. Under John Paul II, the Vatican became enamored with a reading of Scripture and the tradition as calling on every woman to understand herself spiritually as “spouse.” I find this at odds with the presentation of women in Scripture, and would point out that Jesus uses neither spousehood nor marriage as a model for discipleship. Quite the contrary. This reductionist anthropology, moreover, has become so arcane and removed from real life that much of what is written about how the church understands sexual symbolism has taken on a frankly gnostic character. (The idea of spousal relationships is not just part of a sexual gnosticism, it's also being used as the primary relationship definition for seemingly every relational possibility in the church.)

Do we really want to limit our notions of the essential nature and meaning of embodiment to little more than the physical function of father and mother and the social relationship of bridegroom and bride, husband and wife? Again and again in recent years, this seems to be Rome’s mantra. Particularly offensive was the 2004 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and the World, issued by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, which demeaned feminist theory as inimical to the common good of the church, the family, and society, and as the logical outcome of this analysis argued against women’s ordination. In my opinion, his letter expressed a great deal of hostility to what women have attempted to say about themselves for the past forty years. It hardly encouraged dialogue.
(The idea was never dialogue. It was to stop the process of redefining the meaning of femininity because acceptance of any redefining in the feminine sphere would necessitate a redefining in the masculine sphere and relational boundaries between the genders. Most marriages in the West accommodated this rethinking of gender roles. Not so the Church.)

What I sense today is that the Vatican will not budge in how it thinks theologically about what it means to be a woman; nor will it consider opening positions of real ecclesial authority to women. There is simply no getting away from the fact that in the Catholic Church it is men who tell women how they should understand themselves as women. Rome wants women religious to accept such understandings not merely without dissent, but without comment. The Vatican doesn’t want independent-minded women theologians or biblical scholars, and seemingly won’t read or quote them unless the women mimic the Vatican’s—and that means men’s—voice and views. But we are not “men” or “mankind.” We are persons with minds and hearts and voices, who have lived lives of integrity and loyalty, and who remain loyal to this church, even when it treats us as second-class citizens and makes us beg for financial support in our old age.

Since Rome wants to know about the quality of my life as a religious sister, let me tell you about a common form of liturgical life in my community. At our cemetery we recently observed the gravesite rite for a deceased sister. No priest was there. One sister led the prayer, and another sprinkled holy water, while the rest of us made the responses. Few of sister’s family members—nieces and nephews living many states away—were able to attend. In the end, we sisters are in effect the family, enacting one of the rights—called “suffrages after death”—that women religious have as a result of taking vows. Taking end-of-life responsibility for one another means a Catholic funeral, burial with your community members, and the prayers and remembrances of those with whom you “persevered unto death.”

Earlier that day we had been lucky to find a kindly but frail eighty-plus priest to say the funeral Mass at the motherhouse. Priests’ numbers have dropped, even in a metropolitan area like ours, and it’s all “retired” priests can do to manage multiple Masses and pastoral services at some local parish. Consequently, women religious aren’t at all assured of having daily Eucharist—the practice that grounded their spirituality for most of their lives as religious and one that is fundamental to their congregational constitutions. (Cardinal Rodé and his consultors would do well to ponder the relationship between Vatican policy and the “quality of life” of women religious: the refusal to ordain women has created a shortage of priests, and the quality of nuns’ spiritual and sacramental life has suffered accordingly.)

Fortunately, despite the crisis in priesthood, there were men present to serve us in conducting our sister’s last rituals on earth. I’m referring to the unionized cemetery crew. Until “the job moment,” they awkwardly stood at the edge of our prayer circle. One in muddy Levis discreetly chewed gum. Another had a plastic water bottle jammed into a back pocket of his raggedy khakis. Not exactly vestments. Finally the “job moment” had come. Balancing on their grass-stained, thick-soled sneakers, the four men carefully coordinated the sets of tightly woven, three-inch-wide straps around the coffin. Two quickly pulled away the steel beams holding the coffin above the open grave. The coffin’s weight shifted to the straps, and letting out the strap length evenly, fist over wrist, they skillfully lowered the coffin till it touched bottom.

Like other nuns, our deceased sister had put in many years of six-and-a-half-day work weeks, with lots of walking in the days before we drove cars. She had been a hospital nun, which meant that after her own shift ended, she would fill in on the floor for nurses who were sick. I recalled her at our dinner table. In her retirement years she had been careful about her diet, obsessively cutting off all fat from her meat. Nuns are self-effacing, and you never know all they did until you read their obituaries; but at the motherhouse you could always tell which had been hospital nuns. They were the fastest eaters at any table—a speed developed over years of eating in hospital dining rooms. You didn’t linger when you had other nurses to supervise and patients to tend.

The cemetery crew didn’t have to strain, since in her last illness our sister’s body, always thin to begin with, had become weightless, like a ballet dancer’s. We threw flowers down into the grave. Mine slipped into the narrow space between the coffin and the wall of earth. By her side, I thought.....

The prospect of death and life in their full reach puts things in a frank perspective, and I end with the same question with which I began this essay: Is the Vatican visitation truly being done out of concern for American nuns? Here in the cemetery, I couldn’t help but think that the question Rome is really asking is, “Why don’t you have more nuns to bury? Why aren’t there more of you?”

Do they really wonder why our numbers shrink and shrink? They might ponder their own actions. The visitation and investigation continue; the doctrinal assessment will ferret out our patches of heterodoxy. Standing at our late sister’s grave I remembered, as if it were yesterday, a question she innocently asked me years ago in a group meeting. “Do we have rights?” she wondered. “What are they?”


It's well worth reading the first part of this article if only to have the point driven home that Congregations of Sisters receive very little financial support from the Institutional Church. They are expected to fend for themselves--as they always have been. For the Church this situation is akin to me 'hiring' a baby sitter who I didn't have to pay for, demanded excessive hours from, and left them to rot in their old age with no health care or pension, having thrown them out of the housing I once provided.

The point Sister X makes about the Vatican's use of the paradigm of spousal relationship reflects my own observations. The New Testament does not obsess on this particular form of relationship at all. In fact Jesus tells us to be prepared to leave our spouses and parents and children, as that may be the price of following His way. He Himself was not married, did not have children, did not seem to overly value that whole notion. He certainly didn't define His relationship to us as groom to our bride. He referred to us as brothers and sisters, equal in the eyes of His Father.

I don't think it's an accident that the Institutional Church rarely uses that equally valid relationship between the genders--that of 'brothers and sisters'. That relationship carries with in it far more equality, especially in the Modern world. It implies a lot more give and take and a lot less knee jerk domination by one gender over the other.

Patriarchal families may have historically favored the first born son, but amongst the siblings themselves such primacy was not always recognized or honored. In my family when my eldest brother would pronounce on one thing or another, it was usually met by silence or laughter--usually depending on whether one was his brother or sister. It was rarely met with any kind of obedience unless we agreed with him. He had to earn our respect, which he finally managed to more or less do--mostly by default. Which leads me to another thought.

The LCWR sisters that I met after they shed their habits seem to me to have taken on a larger burden of authenticity. By this I mean, when they were in habit, the habit itself often times gave them an authority and authenticity they didn't have to earn. They had the authority of symbol. Once out of the habit, they had to earn this authority by the type of life they led. The habit no longer covered for a multitude of sins or occupational incompetence. They really had to walk their talk in a much more consistent and authentic way. I think they did this well, judging from the level of support American laity are extending them.

It may be this authenticity without visible sign that is also eating at the Vatican. Take away the trappings of their office, and I wonder how many of us would recognize their authentic Christ like behavior in the lives they lead. Would we instinctively acknowledge their personal authority to lead us? For instance I wonder how many Catholics would actually take Pope Benedict seriously if he dressed exactly like the bachelor professor he tends to be. I suspect his theology wouldn't be received from other professional theologians with quite the fanfare it has if he wasn't dressed in the clothing of the Papacy.
There is an aura around holy people that transcends their gender or manner of dress. I have met and identified members of the LCWR long before their status was made evident to me precisely because of this aura which surrounded them. That's true spiritual authority and it isn't based on being the 'bride of Christ'. It's based on living the way of Christ. One doesn't need to be male to effectively live the way of Christ or to represent His spirit to the world.
This kind of lived spiritual authority can be intimidating to those whose hold authority in the name of the Christ but whose personal spiritual authority is suspect. The list of the spiritually intimidated would probably include the American bishops and secret donors who instigated the CDF investigation. That's why we'll never know who they are and the secrecy surrounding this investigation will be maintained. This is also probably the reason Cardinal Rode tried to spread the blame by asking the entire USCCB to fund these investigations--more safety and more secrecy in more numbers.
I pray the bishops in the US who truly understand the gifts the LCWR have given their dioceses and this country tell Rode to bark up some other tree because this tree won't bend to hypocritical Vatican wind.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Is It Time To Separate Governance From Spiritual Leadership In Catholicism?

Ogalala Souix Holy Man Frank Fool's Crow in Cardinal red in his Cathedral. Photo is from a series by Horst Wackerbarth. In spite of his other wordly healing abilities, Chief Fool's Crow never had a dime to his name and certainly did not own this couch.

I keep rereading Cardinal George's interview and one of the things which has struck me really forcefully is that he never discusses the role of a bishop in any terms other than that of governance. The idea of servant leader never passes his lips. When I think back on the last year or so, the idea of servant leader never passes the lips of any out spoken bishop. Bishop Martino is probably the most perfect example of someone who saw themselves as unilaterally governing a Roman province rather than serving his people as Jesus called for repeatedly in living His own ministry. Bishop Martino lived from the Imperial Pontius Pilate school of leadership, rather than the Jesus Christ school of leadership.

One of the really major differences between Native American tribes (which see themselves as a cultural/spiritual communion) and the Roman Catholic church is precisely in the separation of the roles of tribal governance and spiritual leadership. Rarely are both forms of leadership held by the same individual. Spiritual leaders are not prone to be political agents, although they can influence the political process by reminding the political leadership of how the central concepts of their native spirituality should be reflected in their governance decisions.

It isn't always a smooth dialogue, as functioning well in the greater American society sometimes involves more compromise and capitulation than traditional spiritual leaders appreciate. The prime example of this kind of dialogue in tension is over gambling and casino revenues. Some tribes have found remarkable ways to handle this tension, and some have failed miserably.

It could be the USCCB fails at both governance and spiritual leadership because they are mandated to do both roles and there fore do justice to neither role. They failed horribly in their governance role regarding the sexual abuse scandal because they chose to protect the spiritual legitimacy of the ordained as their primary obligation. Had they been free to operate solely from a spiritual role, they would have had an easier time seeing their primary obligation as servant leaders was to alleviate the suffering of the victims.

The role of a separate governance agent would not have been encumbered by notions of protecting the spiritual legitimacy of any priest or bishop because that wouldn't have been that agents primary role. His/her role would have been to handle these situations as per the dictates of civil and Canon law, exactly as a Native political leader must handle situations according to both federal and tribal law. He/she is not so much concerned with spiritual legitimacy as with the health of the community.

Diocesan governance and spiritual leadership are two distinct and very different roles, especially in modern times when American Catholicism is handling billions of dollars and holds billions of dollars of assets. Cardinal George himself admitted that the model for leadership amongst today's bishops is that of the businessman-- which in America means our dioceses are acting more and more like rogue corporations than centers for spiritual development.

These ecclesiastical corporations have gotten to the point where they are now attempting to use the legal separation of Church and State to give them even more freedom to act as rogue corporations completely outside any over site agency. They seem to want the legal protections of both corporate and religious law. (Perhaps they are jealous of Native reservation status and desire to turn their Cathedral complexes into casinos.)

Jesus was very careful to separate notions of spiritual leadership from civic or political leadership. He said one can not serve both God and mammon. He said one must separate the things of Caesar from the things of God. It is too easy to sacrifice the spiritual mission for the sake of mammon, secular power and community prestige. We American Catholics have certainly paid the price for the consequences of our spiritual leadership losing sight of their spiritual mission.

I really believe that in the coming Emerging Church we will see definitive lines being drawn between the spheres of spiritual leadership and community governance. Ideally this will allow our spiritual leadership to focus exclusively on developing their spiritual gifts while allowing the governance issues to be handled by people whose gifts and training are actually in governance.

This is not a new ideal. It's a return to a very traditional ideal, one embodied by Peter who did not have responsibility for the actual governing of the Jerusalem Church. James did. Unfortunately Cardinal George's models for bishops didn't go that far back in the Tradition. Not surprising I guess, given the amount of mammon, power, and prestige the current bishops enjoy. Better we all become 'simply Catholics' and let them keep it, even though we pay for it and our own spiritual needs go largely unmet.