Thursday, December 31, 2009

Stuck On Rewind

I thought I'd check and see what I wrote last year on December 31st, and after reading it, decided to rewind it.

Again another year has just flown by and the same issues are even bigger than last year. As to Barack Obama, he looks to be another rewind of Bill Clinton---a centrist Democrat. This basically boils down to placing corporate rights and well being over individual rights and well being. This can be seen in the bushel baskets of money tossed at Wall Street coupled with the health reform legislation whose definition of extending health care really means legally forcing thirty million uninsured to buy health insurance from for profit health insurance companies. Wait a minute--whose health is really being insured here?

Here's last year's offering:

I don't know if I'm getting a little older or what, but this year has gone by extremely fast. It feels like it should be September or something. I look out my window and see snow, so Mother Nature has kept pace with the pace, but I know I haven't.

In other respects time seems to be dragging. It seems like Barack Obama was elected two years ago rather than just under two months ago. Maybe that's just me getting impatient for a change from the Bush/Cheney years, which now that I think about it, seems to have lasted three decades.

In too many respects the Bush/Cheney years actually have lasted three decades. Bush/Cheney were nothing more than a direct extension of the Reagan revolution, and since we learned nothing from the Reagan years, we get an even deeper recession and even more unfathomable debt this time around. And like last time, our corporate and family elites got a lot richer at the expense of our futures and our children's futures, and probably their children's futures. Good for them.
For the last couple of days I've been researching Pope John Paul I. That has put me back 30 years ago and has sparked a lot of memories, and a lot of connections.

1978 marked the mid point of the Carter administration. It was a time of inflation and recession and the world's poorest were paying the biggest price. AIDS was just coming on the radar screens, although most people were only aware of it if they had gay friends. Iran had 50 some American hostages and it's successful revolution had brought about the first real Islamic theocracy. Our CIA, along with Britian's MI6, was heavily involved in raising and supporting right wing dictatorships in Latin America. The Roman Catholic Church was in the midst of it's own theological war and that war revolved, not around Latin and sexuality, but around the issues of social justice, poverty, and papal authority.

John Paul I represented the liberal wing of the Church. He had some serious ideas as to how the Vatican would operate in the future. In his last television address before he died, JPI had this to say:
"Believe me, we who live in opulence, while so many are dying because they have nothing, will have to answer to Jesus as to why we have not carried out his instruction, 'Love thy neighbor as thyself'. We, the clergy of our church and our congregations, who substitute gold and pomp and ceremony in place of Christ's instruction, who judge our masquerade of singing his praises to be more precious than human life, will have the most to explain." (Here in the US our priority seems to be loving our corporate neighbors.)

This Papal statement is 180 degrees away from the interests of our current Vatican which is following in JPII's reformation and precisely putting the pomp and ceremony and singing praises, above human life. JPI believed the Church had amassed it's gold and opulence on the backs of the poor, and it should start giving it back to the people from whom it was taken. In some respects, Jimmy Carter was the American equivalent of JPI. In both situations they paved the way for the resurgence of the right.

Some of the things I learned do not fit well into the myth of St John Paul II the Great. Within days of his election to the papacy he authorized a 250 million dollar renovation of Castel Gondolpho and the Papal palace. The heated papal swimming pool at Castel Gondolpho is probably the most famous. The very next day after his election he put the Vatican bank directly under his own control, meaning he was not accountable to the curia for any of his transactions with regards to this bank. (The now cleared to be Beatified John Paul The Great. The myth rolls on.)

The Vatican Bank is not a bank so much as a financial clearing house for religious organizations and Peter's Pence. It's day to day management was in the hands of members of Opus Dei, and it did numerous transactions for a group of neo fascist Free Masons known in Italy as P2. In fact the treasurer of both the Vatican Bank and the P2 was the same member of Opus Dei. The biggest religious institutional depositor, by far, was Mother Theresa. JPII's renovations were financed by this bank. Under his laisez faire leadership it became a major source of money laundering for the Mafia.

Today the Vatican Bank still makes the top ten on a list of financial institutions suspected of money laundering. This is not surprising given that it is completely free from international scrutiny and answerable only to Benedict. It's lack of transparency and recent history, make it ripe for this list. "By their fruits you shall know them."

I'm not making any of this up. Do a simple google search and you will be directed to The Vatican Bank scandal. There are numerous citations of testimony from court cases involving all the major players except for the ones JPII protected with diplomatic immunity when he made Opus Dei a personal prelature. The prelature decree was post dated to the day before the scandal blew up in his face. Somehow he still managed to come up with 250 million dollars (this is close to a billion in today's money) to return to investors whose money had been 'lost' through Vatican Bank transactions. The numbers of assassinations and 'suicides' associated with this scandal is mind boggling.
I bring all this up to explain something we will all see more of in the coming year. One of JPI's assertions is that greed and bigotry go hand in hand. Someone must be put down in order for other's to climb over to keep their excessive portion of the pie. When threatened, the powers that derive the most benefit from unequal distribution of wealth, identify an 'other' to stir up fear in populations to keep themselves in power. After the depression, it was the Jews. In this deep recession, just like the one Reagan put us into, it will be gays and abortion, but mostly gays. The powers don't give a damn about gays. They do care about how the issue plays politically. It plays well, far better than abortion, especially with minority groups.

The object is not to convert the left, or the right, the object is the center. It was the centrists in Germany who brought Hitler to power, and by the time they woke up, he had already made his position certain and unchangeable. The International wealthy, who have no national allegiance, will use the collusion of the Vatican to play the gay card against the center. GW Bush even went so far as to travel to the Vatican in 2004 to ask that more pressure be put on American Bishops to speak out on the gay and abortion issues. This pattern will continue and intensify. (And so it has.)

My hope is that in 2009 more Catholics will begin to understand that the Vatican (as opposed to the Church) is very much a political organization before it is a spiritual organization. I hope that more Catholics will look into the connections between Opus Dei and the intelligence and financial communities. Opus Dei has way too much influence in the Vatican. I hope Catholics will look past the "gays threaten civilization' garbage, understanding these are the same things said about the Jews during the last Great Depression. (Uganda certainly bears this out.)

I hope people will read this article so they can see how this scenario played out for the German industrialist Fritz Thyssen and his good American buddy George Prescott Bush and really really understand there is no such thing as National Interests when it comes to making and keeping personal family fortunes.

I hope Catholics come to understand that the real oppressors and threats to humanity are those who are bound and determined to keep the world enslaved to unfettered unregulated greed. It's time we understood that the Vatican has amassed a great deal of wealth through criminal capitalism and that it too has thrived on the poverty of others. It's time to stop confusing the Vatican with Christ and way past time to hear the words of John Paul I. "It is the inalienable right of man to own property. But it is the right of no man to accumulate wealth beyond the necessary while other men starve to death because they have nothing."

May 2009 bring the Change We Seek.

OK, it didn't happen this year, and unless things really change it may not happen in 2010 either. For whatever reason we do seem to be stuck on rewind.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Some Brilliant And Thought Provoking Comments On The Sexual Abuse Crisis.

This photo will probably go down in Church history as the epitome of a clerical abuser and his "Great" enabler.

John Allen has written another article for the NCR in which he gives advice to the Irish hierarchy on what and what not to do in the wake of the Murphy report. My intention with this post is not to critique his article but to put before my readers some of the thoughts of the commenters. In my opinion these are the voices of thoughtful, caring, committed Catholics and well worth reading and pondering. Much more so than John's column, which any PR hack could have written.--(OK I guess I just did critique his column.)

Here's an Irish solution that John didn't mention, that many Irish Catholics are acting on.

"I've been following these horror stories from the Murphy Report rather closely, as I am Irish myself, and have had several Irish friends who have suffered both physical and sexual abuse at the hands of Irish clergy, brothers, and nuns. Although I agree with your five pieces of advice, there is another piece of advice, that I must say more than a few Irish Catholics are following. Specifically,formally renouncing their Catholic heritage via a form readily available on the internet. The completed and witnessed document is then posted to the Archdiocese of Dublin. Interestingly, the number of converts to the (Anglican) Church of Ireland has been dramatically increasing over the past five years, according to The Irish Independent. I felt a sense of pride and relief when I dropped the aforementioned document into the post box."

Here's a comment which gets to the heart of the matter of who really needs to take accountability for the perpetration of sexual abuse on the global level it truly is: (Edited for length)

In Ireland, the Bishops/Sacrificial Lambs are Starting to Resign
Hopefully, the Irish people have learned something from the American, Canadian and Australian Pedophilia Priest Scandals by requiring their 5 bishops, involved in the Dublin Archdiocese coverups, to resign. The whole world applauds their determination to publically expose one of the main sources of the problems, the bishops. Unfortunately, the problem doesn't end with the bishops, because any moron knows that the bishops carried out an agenda set down by none other than the Vatican. The current Pope, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, formerly the Office of the Inquisitions is incredulous when he says how shocked he is, for it was his office that reviewed all of the Priest/Nun Pedophilia complaints from all over the world, requesting the dismissal of Pedophiles in the clergy!

Does the Vatican really think that by pressuring 5 bishops to resign that people, all over the world, aren't going to be asking WHY the Pope didn't do something to stop the coverups sooner? Instead, sensing that the public smells blood, in order to protect the Pope and Curia, the Vatican is graciously accepting the resignations of Irish Bishops, the Church's Sacrificial Lambs, in hopes that the Irish people won't demand the resignation of the Pope, for his participation in the coverups as head of the CDF....

The proverbial "Buck should stop" at the Pope's desk! But the whole heirarchy will rise up in defense of the Pope by trying to deflect the blame on morally incompetent bishops. OH, these poor, little sacrificial lambs. They've given their lives for the Church and they have been amply rewarded for their incompetence as human beings. Unfortunately, they were educated priests of God, Bishops of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, who should have been steeped enough in the Gospels and the writings of Saint Paul to know that they were committing heinous crimes by subverting justice for the victims and inventing the lies, called "Moral Reservation," instead of LIES.

The following comment critiques Allen's assertion in his book Future Church that the abuse crisis is not global and just a passing moment. (Edited for length)

Typical Allen summary that obviously must pick and choose what to highlight. In his new book, Future Church, released prior to the Murphy Report, Allen states that the sexual abuse crisis is a passing moment; that it mainly impacts english speaking countries that follow the same legal system; he points out that the "new" southern hemisphere catholic church rarely pays attention to this issue.

What Allen misses is the connection between his point four - "culture" - and how Rome and bishops are the issue. This same type of culture will impact the southern church and as globalization increases, southern hemisphere nations will adopt legal systems that more closely align with current western nations - why? becuase they have evolved and best support human dignity and the gospel message. Does he really think that this evolution will never spread to the other hemisphere? He says that sexual abuse is just accepted as part of life - just like poverty, disease, etc. in Africa, South America, India, China. His views are narrow and short sighted.....

....What happens in Ireland will rebound on Canada, US, England, South Africa, Australia, etc. - the issue is the silence, cover -up, and lack of leadership in Rome. He speaks to only abuse of children but the current sexual culture of the church (western and southern hemisphere) have created huge issues - in his book he calls these isolated incidents?

There is no mention of current legal cases that are attempting to work around the foreign state status of the Vatican to hold bishops and Rome accountable for Allen's definition of "culture." If one of these cases is successful, everything Allen says here is moot. Nowhere does he state that it has been the catholics in the pews, the media, and legal means that have forced the church to reluctantly face facts - he again minimizes this or says it is a passing phase.

This next comment is painful and very sad in it's bald truth.

I'm afraid this is mostly garrulous and self-important rubbish. A "heads-up for the Irish"? "To prevent headaches down the line"? "Engage the pope early and often"? "Now that it's clear the crisis isn't just an American problem"?

The Church in Ireland is imploding. This is the same church whose venerable early missionaries carried the Gospel to the German tribes, and whose globetrotting brothers and nuns contributed more than anyone to the vitality of the Catholic Church in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is now utterly laid to waste, and very probably it will never recover.
Against all this, John Allen's tone of homespun advice from Tucson and Spokane just seems irritating and inappropriate.

Here's another straightforward and truthful observation:

Actually I believe the U.S. Church could learn from the Irish church. In Ireland there is clear leadership by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. His response to the report in writing and more importantly his stance on the removal of bishops is in stark contrast to the lack of leadership and lack of calls for resignations of U.S. Bishops.

And this comment draws a very pertinent analogy about the sexual and intellecual abuse enabled by the Vatican under Cardinal Ratzinger. (Edited for length.)

Pope Benedict, rather than "cleaning up this same mess" has done his part when he was Cardinal Ratzinger as head of the CDF. He heard all of the reports about pedophile priests and he had a chance to "cleaning up this same mess." At the same time he made the point of condemning some theologians while enabling the mess and torture of pedophiles to spread systemically. We know by this witness what the priorities of the institution really are and are not and it is more politically motivated than it is motivated by the power of the Holy Spirit.

While you continue to pray for the Pope, I will pray for the victims of sexual abuse and for the victims of intellectual predators in the Church. The RCC leadership has destroyed the lives of souls and destroyed all semblance and true character of the merciful and compassionate mind of Christ. Both types of predators will be unabated until the Pope and his entourage of ecclesiastical & lay enablers such as Opus Dei and the Legionnaires of Christ choose to allow the Holy Spirit to guide them and teach them. This is my hope, my prayer and dream that they will see the Light of Christ and be blinded like Saul and healed by Jesus. If they truly believed in Jesus Christ they would follow him.

Finally, the succinct words of Jim McCrea who frequently comments on this blog: (I didn't dare edit this one.)

Nowhere in this article do I find an expression of the need to engage the laity in participating in the design and implementation of corrective actions. Once again, it’s all about the clergy, including the pope. This is way too much self-serving navel gazing.

All well and good, but if the church in Ireland is to survive it will need to regain the trust of the people who decreasingly grace the pews, pay the bills and provide future candidates for the clergy and religious institutions. They are, after all, the reason for the structure that has failed them and itself so very miserably.

Without a recognition of rampant clericalism and the need to do away with that, this will all become just another instance of clergy-identified and clergy-defined persecution of the church, i.e., them.

Wake up folks --- or you’ll be preaching to emptier churches and dealing with emptier coffers.


I saved Jim's comment for last because he touches on the crux of any healing for the Church, it's victims, and the priesthood. Until the clergy admit that the abuse cover up is symptomatic about how insecure they are in their definition of priesthood, and that it was an exercise in unconscious self destruction, there will be no real healing.

If the Vatican and it's bishops were so sure about the correctness of their theology of the priesthood there would have been no motivation to cover up the flaws of those who couldn't cut the mustard. They would have acted with alacrity to laicize and prosecute offending priests.

The fact they did just the opposite says they really don't believe their own schtick. The Vatican needs to swallow the bitter medicine and mature the theology of the priesthood before national churches with in the global church begin to drop like dominoes.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Senate Health Care Bill: The Flock Is Not All In The Same Pasture With The Bishops

Catholic Group Supports Senate on Abortion Aid
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK New York Times Published: December 25, 2009

WASHINGTON — In an apparent split with Roman Catholic bishops over the abortion-financing provisions of the proposed health care overhaul, the nation’s Catholic hospitals have signaled that they back the Senate’s compromise on the issue, raising hopes of breaking an impasse in Congress and stirring controversy within the church.

The Senate bill, approved Thursday morning, allows any state to bar the use of federal subsidies for insurance plans that cover abortion and requires insurers in other states to divide subsidy money into separate accounts so that only dollars from private premiums would be used to pay for abortions. (Confining moral questions to the state level has been TRADITIONAL AMERICAN practice--hence all the different abortion and marriage regulations in all the different states.)

Just days before the bill passed, the Catholic Health Association, which represents hundreds of Catholic hospitals across the country, said in a statement that it was “encouraged” and “increasingly confident” that such a compromise “can achieve the objective of no federal funding for abortion.” An umbrella group for nuns followed its lead. (The LCWR.)

The same day, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called the proposed compromise “morally unacceptable.”

The divide frames one of the most contentious issues facing House and Senate negotiators as they try to produce a bill that can pass in both chambers.

For months, the bishops have driven a lobbying campaign to bar anyone who receives insurance subsidies under the proposed overhaul from using them to buy coverage that included abortion. Citing the bishops, a group of House Democrats forced their liberal party leaders to adopt such a provision and threatened to block any final legislation that fell short of it. Abortion rights supporters, in response, have vowed to block any bill that includes such a measure.
Officials of the Catholic hospitals’ group and the nuns’ Leadership Conference of Women Religious declined to comment.

Catholic scholars say their statement reflects a different application of church teachings against “cooperation with evil,” a calculus that the legislation offers a way to extend health insurance to millions of Americans. For the Catholic hospitals, that it is both a moral and financial imperative, since like other hospitals they stand to gain from reducing the number of uninsured patients.

And in practical political terms, some Democrats — including some opponents of abortion rights — say that the Catholic hospitals’ relative openness to a compromise could play a pivotal role by providing political cover for Democrats who oppose abortion to support the health bill.

Democrats and liberal groups quickly disseminated the association’s endorsement along with others from the nuns’ group, other Catholics and evangelicals.

“I think it is a sign that progress is being made, that we are getting there,” said Representative Steve Driehaus of Ohio, one of the Democrats who forced the House to adopt the stricter restrictions in its bill. The hospitals’ statement, he said, recognized the Senate’s compromise as a meaningful step, making him “optimistic” that Democrats could find a bill that he and other abortion foes could support.

Other abortion opponents argue that liberals are overstating the hospital association’s influence. “They don’t carry the same sway,” said Representative Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat who led the effort that resulted in the House bill’s including a full ban on abortion coverage in any subsidized health insurance plan.

Mr. Stupak said he still had commitments from at least 10 Democrats who voted for the House bill and pledged to vote against the final legislation if it loosened the abortion restrictions — enough to keep the bill from being approved. “At the end of the day we are going to have something along the lines of my language,” he said. Abortion rights supporters said the signs of openness from Catholic groups were helping some Democratic abortion foes accept the Senate compromise.

“We have known for quite some time that the Catholic hospitals and also the nuns are really breaking from these hard-line bishops and saying, ‘This really is our goal: to get more people into health care coverage,’ ” said Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado.

The abortion rights faction of the House Democrats was initially dubious about the Senate bill’s provision but has warmed up to it after reassurances from their Senate counterparts, Ms. DeGette said. President Obama and Democratic Congressional leaders say they aim to follow 30-year-old rules blocking the use of federal money for elective abortions, but lawmakers have fiercely disagreed over how to do so.

Like most Catholic groups, the Catholic Hospital Association has echoed the bishops’ opposition to any federal financing of abortion in health care proposals. But its officials also stood at the White House last spring to endorse Mr. Obama’s plans as part of an administration deal with the hospital industry.

After the Catholic Hospital Association’s endorsement of the proposed compromise, Catholic conservatives and some abortion opponents accused the group of selling out to the Democrats.
“The Catholic Health Association does not represent the teaching of the Catholic Church on the non-negotiable defense of innocent life,” the conservative Catholic activist Deal Hudson said in a statement, calling the association’s move “utterly offensive.” (Neither do you Deal, especially on any other defense of life other than fetuses. For instance, I find your defense of 'pre emptive war' utterly offensive.)

Catholic ethics experts said the groups evidently disagree about how far to go in avoiding even remote complicity in abortion.

“The Catholic Health Association seems to be using traditional principles of cooperation with evil,” said Prof. M. Cathleen Kaveny of the Notre Dame University Law School.

Such principles, she said, could permit support for “imperfect legislation,” as long as one’s intent was not to “further abortion,” one made every effort to “minimize the harm,” and one achieved “an extremely important good that can’t be achieved any other way.”
In contrast, she said, “some bishops have adopted a prophetic stand against abortion that wants to eliminate any form of cooperation with evil no matter how remote.”

The United States Bishops Conference has not responded to requests for comment. But in a letter to the Senate before its vote this week, the bishops’ group argued that the bill still made some level of support for abortion the default position of the federal government, requiring states to actively “opt out” to avoid participating in insurance plans that offered indirect subsidized coverage of abortion.

Citing the abortion provisions and limitations of the coverage of immigrants, the bishops wrote, “Until these fundamental flaws are remedied, the bill should be opposed.” (But not one peep about forcing Americans to buy private health insurance, a most certainly a form of corporate socialism, and not one word about the cherry deal worked out between the Whitehouse and Big Pharma preventing medicare and individual Americans from buying cheaper drugs from other sources.)


Looks like bishops all over the world are finding themselves arguing for Catholic positions their flocks are not backing. Both seem to be looking at things from different sides of the pastoral fence and arguing for different interpretive positions concerning Catholic moral law. The abortion provision in the pending US health care legislation maybe just the tip of the ice berg. It's just one example of the pending chasm between the interpretations of the official hierarchy and the rejection of those from the flock which is expected to live with those interpretations.

It seems the Irish flock is forcing a number of bishops to resign --now up to four--in spite of these bishops difference in opinion as to the moral responsibility of their actions in the abuse scandal. In this particular case it certainly appears Dublin's Archbishop Martin is in the same pasture with his flock.

Traditional Catholic moral thinking has never been Prophetic (one could say Evangelical). It has always been far more nuanced. The concept of cooperation with evil is probably best epitomised by the Just War theory.

Individuals have always been able to opt out of these justified compromises based on their personal convictions. Admittedly, such a stance is not always appreciated by the hierarchy. Franz Jagerstatter comes to mind.

Speaking of Franz, that leads me to wonder why the Church is taking such an absolute Prophetic stance with abortion when it certainly didn't concerning Nazism and other acts of fascism. The silence of Pius XII is being presented as a form of 'cooperating with evil' in order to 'achieve an extremely important good which can't be achieved any other way'. Given the Holocaust I'm still trying to figure out just what exactly was that 'extremely important good' that necessitated all that silence as all that slaughter of the innocent proceeded unimpeded. Must have been pretty important, whatever it was, because the Canonization of Pius XII is also proceeding more or less unimpeded.

I'm beginning to wonder if that 'extremely important good' wasn't just the fact that this slaughter was not communist in origin. The Church certainly wasn't silent in it's condemnation of Communism. Which means what? The same heinous acts from Fascists are less odious to God? But I digress.

The USCCB is finding itself in the position of publicly losing control of the health care debate, not only in congress, but with in it's own Catholic ranks. I don't think this is a position they saw for themselves after their Stupak led success in the House. Deal Hudson and other neo cons can state that the CHA and the LCWR don't speak with any authority, but that position holds only if a Catholic truly believes the hierarchy has the sole authority to speak for the Church. Guess what, that's not true and never has been true. If Deal Hudson really believed the hierarchy were the only authoritative Catholic voice, he wouldn't be blogging because he himself does not toe the official teaching line on a number of issues, not the least of which is pre emptive war.

Here's an excerpt from the linked post of Deal's that demonstrates his selective use of official Church authority:

Stupak "gets it" because he's not going to hide behind the skirts of Catholic groups who compromise the Church's teaching on life issues, and who do so without any authority. By dismissing the influence of the CHA, Stupak not only rejects the cover of a lobbying organization with vested interests, but he also defers to the authority of the bishops and their insistence that the health-care bill be stripped of abortion funding.

(Funny how Deal never mentions that Stupak is a card carrying member of the Evangelical "C" Street Family. Maybe that would shed suspicion on Deal's whole message about Bart's uber Catholic obedience to the authority of the bishops.)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

An Ecological Message Where Benedict Theologically Tries To Have His Cake And Us Eat It Too

Revolutionaries, Pastors and Skeptics in Catholic ecology
by John L Allen Jr on Dec. 22, 2009 NCR

Pope Benedict XVI dedicated his recent message for the Jan. 1 “World Day of Peace” to the environment, under the title of “If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation.” Though the pope obviously didn’t choose that theme to give The Future Church a boost, it does lend some additional heft to the eighth major trend I identified shaping the Catholic future: Ecology.

Whenever the pope issues a document, church leaders around the world generally rush to praise its wisdom, and that’s certainly the case this time around. Cardinal Francis George, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, today said, “Pope Benedict seamlessly weaves together concerns for peace, poverty and care for creation. He calls on us to act to protect both human and environmental ecology for the two are inseparably linked.” (I have written previously that Benedict would intentionally twist scientific ecological issues to support unscientific biblical natural law doctrine.)

Such statements could suggest uniform support in the Catholic world for the pope’s environmental push, but anyone who knows Catholic realities understands that opinion in the church is usually anything but uniform.

In fact, Catholic reaction to today’s rising ecological sensitivity is extraordinarily diverse. In the book, I identify three basic camps: Revolutionaries, Pastors and Skeptics. In truth, these are more ideal types than real people, since actual flesh-and-blood Catholics probably incorporate elements of at least two, and maybe all three, into their thinking.

Here’s how I present the three groups in the book.

Revolutionaries, Pastors and Skeptics

The modern point of departure for Catholic environmental theology was a revolutionary: French Jesuit Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who died in 1955. A paleontologist, philosopher and theologian, Teilhard believed that evolution is humanity’s participation in the redemption begun by Christ. When evolution reaches its climax in what he called the “Omega point,” Teilhard said the cosmos will achieve a form of “Christogenesis.” Those views got him into trouble with Church officials, concerned that Teilhard’s thought flirts with pantheism. Seven years after his death, the Vatican censured Teilhard’s work, and in 1981, on the 100th anniversary of Teilhard’s birth, the Vatican reaffirmed that judgment.

Many Catholics still find much to commend in Teilhard. Archbishop Celestino Migliore, for example, the Vatican’s Permanent Observer to the UN, said in 2007 that whenever he goes to upstate New York he stops at Teilhard’s grave in Hyde Park, reflecting in the woods about Teilhard’s vision of the “Christification” of the cosmos.

Descendants of Teilhard today include eco-theologians and philosophers such as Fr. Diarmuid O’Murchu and Fr. Thomas Berry, as well Rosemary Radford Ruether, Matthew Fox and Brian Swimme. Though each has a distinct outlook, most share a sense that if Catholicism wants to embrace ecology, it needs a radical overhaul. In 1992, Berry said: “We should put the Bible away for twenty years while we radically rethink our religious ideas.” In O’Murchu’s Quantum Theology, he suggests that institutional religion is destined for extinction. “What we cannot escape,” he wrote, “is that we as a species have outlived that phase of our evolutionary development and so, quite appropriately, thousands of people are leaving religion aside.” (I suspect institutional religion as it's currently experienced is destined for extinction.)

These personalities have a small but dedicated following, and they’ve helped to drive ecological questions to the forefront of the Church’s consciousness, but they’ve also set off doctrinal alarms. Fox drew a Vatican censure in 1988, and was dismissed from the Dominican order in 1992. O’Murchu attracted critical notice from the doctrinal committee of the Spanish bishops’ conference in 2006. The bishops charged that O’Murchu “speaks much of God and constantly talks of human liminal values in a ‘planetary’ or ‘cosmic’ context, but says almost nothing about Jesus Christ.” (This is certainly not true of O'Murchu's latest work.)

For a less speculative and more pastoral approach, consider a 2000 letter from the Catholic bishops of the Pacific Northwest in the United States and Canada arguing for conservation of the Columbia River Watershed. From the outset, the bishops announce their intention to steer a middle course between “economic greed” and “ecological elitism.” The core principles upon which the letter is based are stewardship, respect for nature, and the common good. They promote the idea of creation as the “book of nature,” a source of revelation and theological insight alongside the Bible. In general, the bishops move quickly from sketching a few brief theological ideas into direct application to concrete environmental problems. They’re apparently less interested in supplying a new theological vision than in mobilizing action.

The bishops offered ten considerations to guide future discussion:

• The Common Good• Conserving the Watershed as a Common Good• Conserving and Protecting Species of Wildlife• Respecting the Dignity and the Traditions of Indigenous Peoples• Linking Economic and Environmental Justice• Community Resolution of Economic and Ecological Issues• Social and Ecological Responsibility in Industry• Conserving Energy and Promoting Alternative Energy Sources• Respecting Ethnic and Racial Cultures, Citizens and Communities• Sustainable Transportation and Recreation.

The Columbia River Watershed pastoral letter is widely considered a turning point in official Church teaching on environmental questions, and has served as a template for similar projects in other parts of the world.

Skeptics in the Catholic fold include Antonio Gaspari and Riccardo Cascioli, who teach in the master’s program in environmental science at Rome’s Regina Apostolorum sponsored by the Legionaries of Christ. Both Gaspari and Cascioli have deep Catholic credentials. (Here John shows his true colors. Gaspari and Cascioli have deep Catholic credentials only with in context of the Legion and Opus Dei.) Gasparri has written for “Zenit” and Inside the Vatican, while Cascioli worked for Vatican Radio. Together, they published a two-volume work called The Lies of the Environmentalists in 2004 and 2006. Its argument is that the “catastrophism” of environmentalists is exaggerated. In some cases, they argue, it serves as a smokescreen for radical philosophical notions such as those propounded by the utilitarian philosopher and animal rights activist Peter Singer, who denies the unique spiritual status of human beings. In other cases, they suggest, dire warnings of ecological catastrophe may promote the interests of environmental lobby groups, law firms, and the media, by keeping public alarm at a fever pitch and thereby ensuring both funding and massive audiences. (Now it's immoral for competing interests to garner publicity and funding to present their point of view. Interesting case of projection here.)

In the United States, a group called the Interfaith Council for Environmental Stewardship put out the “Cornwall Declaration” in 1999, following a meeting of leading Catholic and Evangelical conservative intellectuals. Catholic signatories included Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Robert Royal, Fr. Robert Sirico, and Fr. J. Michael Beers. Though affirming the legitimacy of environmental awareness, the statement referred to global warming, overpopulation, and rampant species loss as “unfounded or undue concerns.” More broadly, it warned of setting economic development in opposition to good stewardship, describing that as a false dichotomy which would, in their view, keep the poor in misery. (Essentially this doctrine used the poor as an excuse to allow for the continued exploitation and degradation of the environment even though the evidence might suggest otherwise.)

While a preponderance of Catholic thought and activism may be “greening,” these voices suggest it will by no means be a smooth development.


Here is a link to Pope Benedict's 'World Day of Peace' message. It's really well worth reading as John Allen is correct in that it is certainly not going to be received with universal acclaim. In my estimation his message is compromised and limited because he is chooses to limit it by both his insistence on the use of Genesis as justification for the fall of man, and the subsequent Christology which comes from his repeated and over reliance on Genesis. It would be different if Benedict treated Genesis as metaphor, but he insists on using it as literal truth.

In my opinion, this use of Genesis as literal truth really undercuts the rest of his message which is far more indicative of a higher stage spirituality, especially in the first half of his message. When he resorts to using Genesis as truth in order to define Jesus's message as one primarily of redemption, and to emphasise man's supremacy over the rest of creation, he really undercuts some of his other ideas. It's hard to put forth a message of universal equality from a standpoint of hierarchical supremacy in which man is supreme and over the created world.

Benedict gives credence to the scientific reality of climate change and eco degradation, but in the end seems to advocate for a strategy that will allow mankind to have it's cake and eat it too.

Well, maybe we could do that if all of us were operating from the higher stages of spiritual development and would agree to take a smaller piece of the cake after agreeing that it should come with less frosting, decorations, and sugar. But, as John Allen inadvertently illustrates in this article, we are not all on that same higher more inclusive spiritual page. Some of those who are not all that high up the spiritual food chain, are in John's opinion "deeply Catholic". It seems to me that definition of 'deeply Catholic' is a hole Benedict can't really climb out of and one that completely undercuts his otherwise brilliant call for universal solidarity, human equality and ecological responsibility.

Of course this is the same Pope who would take the cake of Catholicism and make it very very small if that would insure it kept all it's clerical decorations, frosting, and sugar.

For an idea of Fr. O'Murchu's views try this link. His take on Genesis is a little different from Benedict's.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A pair of today's Christmas Angels as pure in their prayer as the original Christmas angels.

Welcome to the real meaning of Christmas
Dec. 23, 2009 An NCR editorial

Those who knew Benedictine Fr. Godfrey Diekmann (1908-2002) will forgive his Teutonic exuberance regarding the centrality of the Incarnation. His friend, colleague and biographer, Sacred Heart Sr. Kathleen Hughes, tells the story of a dinner conversation in the student dining room at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., where Godfrey got worked up about the key to Christian theology and life: “He startled and silenced a good number of tables around us when he shouted, ‘It’s not the Resurrection, dammit! It’s the Incarnation!’ Then, as students slipped away, he continued, ‘But we don’t believe it. We don’t believe we are invited to become the very life of God!’ ” (I think it's both, but, not really understanding or believing in the Incarnation precludes understanding the implications of the Resurrection.)

Diekmann’s lifelong passion, inspired by his mentor, Virgil Michel, founder of the American pastoral liturgical movement as forerunner to the Second Vatican Council, was to unfold the startling implications of what he called “the Gospel of divine life.” Salvation is first revealed not in Christ’s death on the cross or his resurrection, Diekmann believed, but in his conception and birth. Christmas, not Easter, is the moment of salvation. God’s entry into time and history as human revealed human destiny for all of us. Our existence is an invitation to friendship with God; our future is life with God. For Christians, baptism articulates this transformation, but the potential is universal, anthropological. To be human is to be offered divine life. What Jesus had in essence we are given as gift. The Word is made flesh, and from that moment, nature is being perfected by grace toward life in God.

Why should such theological table talk impress us? And why, as Diekmann lamented, is it so hard to believe? Because as Christian doctrine emerged, especially in the West, redemption was emphasized as the result of Jesus’ death on the cross. If such a terrible sacrifice was the price of our salvation, then human sin must have been terrible indeed, a state of degradation so pervasive and hopeless that only a life of penance and vigilance could keep us safe. The church’s role was to channel grace to sinners through the sacraments. A fearful laity lived at the edge of damnation, dependent on the parish priest, who held ultimate power. A loving God receded into the distant heavens, while his divine Son sat sternly atop a hierarchy of clergy with the power to grant or withhold forgiveness. Outside the church there was no salvation, so millions of people were consigned automatically to hell.

If this sounds familiar, you are a Catholic of certain age and generation. If the invitation to friendship with God seems too good to believe, even heretical, you might be hearing the Gospel for the first time. If such an adjustment of theological emphasis seems refreshing, even liberating, then now you know why Vatican II was so necessary. Welcome to the real meaning of Christmas. Step out of the shadows into the light. The mystery is here, all of it, and it is not just for Jesus, but, through him, for all of us.


Jesus was not born in order to bring fear of damnation or fear of His Father. He was not born to bring fear at all. He came to bring knowledge of our true state as children of His Father all sharing in His life. He came to bring peace, and the security of knowing each and everyone of us was loved and cared for because we were all seen as worthy of the love of His Father. It was our destiny to find the relationship, to share in that life, and to live that life to bring forth the Kingdom on Earth---"Thy Kingdom come, the will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
Jesus was born from that incredible Font of Love to show us the way, the truth, and that Life.

Catholicism can not be drug back into denying these truths just because these truths don't support the current form of male corporate clericalism. The real message of Christmas is far too important to be subordinate to the Crucifixion. We are our Father's children.

Merry Christmas one and all, and may all your celebrations be safe and free of incidents.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Ugandan Catholic Bishops Finally Speak

Archbishop Lwanga when not advocating the Vatican line on Traditional Family Values is an outspoken advocate of African concerns on climate change, political corruption, corporate predation, and equitable distribution of resources.

Had to post this one. The Ugandan Catholic Church has finally come out against the anti homosexuality bill, but only AFTER it was tabled for further discussion.

The Catholic Church in Uganda Against Homosexuality bill
Written by Dr. Cyrian Kizito Lwanga, Archibishop of Kampala Wednesday, 23 December 2009

We, the Catholic Bishops of Uganda, appreciate and applaud the Government’s effort to protect the traditional family and its values.

The Catholic Church is clear in its teaching on homosexuality. Church teaching remains that homosexual acts are immoral and are violations of divine and natural law. The Bible says that homosexuality is strictly forbidden (Lev. 18:22) “Do Not lie with a man as one lies with a woman, that is detestable”, Further more the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “ Homosexual acts are contrary to the natural law, and under no circumstances can they be approved.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2357)

However, the Church equally teaches the Christian message of respect, compassion, and sensitivity. The Church has always asked its followers to hate the sin but to love the sinner.

Considering the fact that all are called by God to fulfill his Will in their lives and to repent of their sins (Mk1:14-15) “After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Homosexuals have the need of conversion and repentance. They also need support, understanding and love as all strive to be members of the Kingdom of God. (I learned something here: that the prohibition against unnatural sexual acts is equal to the Christian message of love. Where did Jesus say that?)

The recent tabled Anti-Homosexuality Bill does not pass a test of a Christian caring approach to this issue. The targeting of the sinner, not the sin, is the core flaw of the proposed Bill. The introduction of the death penalty and imprisonment for homosexual acts targets people rather than seeking to counsel and to reach out in compassion to those who need conversion, repentance, support and hope. The bible says in Luke 6:36-37 “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.”

Further more, the Proposal to prosecute those who fail to disclose information regarding homosexual acts puts at risk of the breach of confidentiality and professional ethics of persons such as Parents, Priests, Counselors, Teachers, Doctors and Leaders, at a time when they offer support and advise for rehabilitation of homosexuals. The proposed Bill does not contain clauses encouraging homosexuals to be rehabilitated. As a Catholic Church, we have a mission to reach out to all of the people of God as Christ showed no one is beyond God’s mercy and love, “In Mt 9:10-13, while Jesus was at table in his house, many tax Collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus… The Pharisees saw this and said to his Disciples, Why does your Teacher eat with Tax Collectors and sinners? He heard this and said, Those who are well do not need a Physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire Mercy not sacrifice, I did not come to call the Righteous, but sinners.”

The criminalizing of such reaching out is at odds with the core values of the Christian faith. (One wondered how long it would take before some pastoral authority pointed out that they too could be put in jail for doing their pastoral job. Benedict certainly didn't bother and he so easily could have since this violates his notions of religious freedom.)

Additionally, in our view the proposed Bill is not necessary considering that acts of sodomy are already condemned under section 145 of the penal code. (Interesting how the anti gay thing always comes down to acts of sodomy, which means boys are never to act as girls in the natural course of things.)

+Cyprian. K. Lwanga
23rd December 2009


Now that the bill has been tabled for a rework, I guess it's OK for the Ugandan Catholic bishops to criticize what was a disastrously flawed bill. This criticism also followed other criticism about the political implications of this bill, but never the less, it is still far more than the Vatican has said.

I was personally stuck by the implicit admission that Catholic teaching on homosexuality might have had something to do with the introduction of this bill. After all Archbishop Lwanga did have to write that the Catholic Church teaches that Christian compassion is equally important as denouncing unnatural sex. Which does, in it's essentials, admit that Catholicism now sees right sexual acts as equal to the Gospel message itself. How in the world has a Church living in the 21st century gotten to this point?

Bill Lyndsey has two very good posts outlining how the Church might have gotten to this point. (Here and here.) It is most definitely a product of the thinking of John Paul II and Ratzinger/Benedict. It most definitely serves the notion that straight males have a divine and natural right to assert themselves in the natural sexual order. Just as in these two Popes thinking, straight males have the same divine right in the Church's spiritual sacramental order. Just as they both teach that God must always be thought of as male. The three issues are most definitely related and exist to insure that Catholic theology upholds the Divine order inherent in the 'Traditional' patriarchal ordering of society. If one thinks otherwise, they are sadly mistaken.

This is why the three trends which Benedict has consistently and recently attacked are gay rights, secularism and secular feminism, and liberation theology. These three issues attack the rights of straight males to order society as the embodiment of the Divine order of how culture ideally works.

Gay rights and the reasoning behind them undercut the lack of reasoning in the Church's sexual theology; secular feminism and the reasoning behind these arguments undercut the Church's lack of reasoning on the whole issue of complementarity, and secularism and liberation theology undercuts the Church's teachings about patriarchal hierarchical social order, pointing out the horrendous social justice violations and wide scale poverty in countries who were colonized by European Christians. Hence we have in the past two weeks Benedict congratulating Ugandan bishops for encouraging a climate of freedom for Catholicism in Uganda in which Catholic teaching can flourish, and warning Brazilian bishops, yet again, about the evils of liberation theology.

And yet here we are, once again celebrating the birth of Child who we are taught was conceived without the aid of a man--as unnatural as it gets; was born in a hay manger in a stable because his adopted father could not garner a better place--not much male protection and providing here; and who is ultimately destined to die naked and powerless on a Cross---at the hands of conniving men. It seems male complementarity does not play much of a part in this story of Jesus.

In many respects the story of Jesus is about the repudiation of John Paul's definition of male complementarity. It's about the failures of male pride, male greed, male betrayal, male social and spiritual ordering, males finally concluding it was in THEIR best interests to execute a Divine male who taught a different inclusive world order. This is still a message both the Church and the world need to get before the male social order wipes us all off the face of this planet. Peace will not come from the traditional male order of things. Jesus said so.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Robin Hood, Rogue, Or Prophetic Voice Of Things To Come?

This is a pretty incredible story of creative church building on a number of levels:

The church bells rang all afternoon. Archbishop Rafael Romo Muñoz was on his way to say a Mass marking the transfer of Father Raymundo Figueroa, the beloved priest at Santisimo Sacramento parish.

Hundreds of men, women and children answered the call of the bells. But they weren't there to greet the bishop. They chained the gates and locked the doors. They hung signs."This church belongs to the people; not the church," read one.

When Romo stepped out of his SUV, 20 robed priests from the Tijuana diocese tried to form a procession, but burly men blocked their way. The archbishop tried to say a prayer, but the crowd drowned him out with bullhorns and bells. Priests and parishioners traded insults through the chain-link fence."Liar," one person yelled at Romo.

"We hope our brother reconsiders his attitude," Romo said, asking people to join him in prayer. The bells kept ringing. The archbishop, Baja California's highest Roman Catholic authority, retreated. The people applauded and bowed their heads in prayer.

More than a month after that chilly November evening, Figueroa remains the parish priest.

To parishioners, he is a brave figure who transformed a half-finished building into this seaside city's largest house of worship. To the Catholic hierarchy, he's a rogue who has financed his church through simony, the selling of the sacraments -- one of the Roman Catholic Church's oldest and most serious transgressions.

Romo was on a mission to oust Figueroa because complaints had been pouring in from priests and bishops as far away as Los Angeles. They accused the cleric of crossing into the United States and charging up to $180 for fast-tracked confirmations, first Communions and baptisms. Scores of Mexican priests have been crossing the border for this purpose, but Figueroa's case was so serious that Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles and Bishop Robert H. Brom of San Diego sent letters to Romo, according to Tijuana diocese officials.

"These are underground celebrations, hidden from the diocese here and the diocese there," said Father Juan Garcia Ruvalcaba, the vicar general of the Tijuana diocese. "It's a lot of money . . . and [Figueroa] doesn't provide an accounting to anybody."

Many Catholics in Mexico aren't fussy about bookkeeping when they see churches rising. They view Mexican priests like Figueroa as Robin Hood figures who raid relatively wealthy parishes in the U.S. to build up their impoverished churches.

Figueroa, 41, seems to relish his image as a populist tweaking the staid church. He's been hammered on talk radio, denounced from pulpits and criticized in an expose in the diocese newspaper. He delivers impassioned sermons greeted by loud ovations and vows of support from his congregation. When he is pressed to address the accusations, his answers are cryptic and cloaked in irony, only deepening the intrigue. He is clear about one thing: The church is picking on the wrong guy.

"I'm portrayed as the worst priest in the world. Never!" Figueroa said. "I've never become a drunk or a priest that runs around with women. There are priests like that, you know. Drunks. Pedophiles. I've only tried to serve this community as best as I can."

When Figueroa arrived at the parish in February 2007, the church was little more than a wooden shell with a bare concrete floor. Worshipers had to bundle together to ward off cold ocean breezes. Figueroa oversaw a frenzy of construction to complete the church, a modestly appointed but expansive space that features an open-beam ceiling, a granite crypt and seating for about 300.

The church became a source of pride. The parish rolls have grown dramatically to about 8,000 people, and instead of five Masses on Sundays, there are 14.

On Sundays, people occupy every cushioned pew and spill into the courtyard, where Figueroa's sermons are heard through loudspeakers. Figueroa's success as a builder explains only part of his appeal. Like many in the working-class hillside neighborhood of Colonia Constitucion, Figueroa grew up in a poor town in central Mexico. People identify with his sermons, which are filled with parables about village life and peasants, and he draws laughs with his impressions of stubborn old ladies and mischievous children.

"He talks to us, not above us," said Reyna Jaregui, 42, waiting for Figueroa to baptize her grandson. "If you don't understand something, he explains and explains again."

Figueroa has broken ground on projects at several other chapels in his parish. Other clergy eye the construction suspiciously.

"Be Alert," reads the Nov. 1 bulletin at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary church in Los Angeles."

Father Raymundo Figueroa of the Diocese of Tijuana is in this area and is presiding at baptisms and first Communions for a fee of $180 per person. He is here without permission of his bishop."

U.S. churches don't normally charge for the sacraments unless, as in the case of weddings, there are expenses such as musicians and flowers.

Simony was a common transgression in the Middle Ages, when simonists were condemned to hell in Dante's "Inferno."The modern consequences aren't quite so dire, but in the most serious cases they can include a priest's suspension.

Figueroa is suspected of organizing ceremonies from Chula Vista to the San Fernando Valley. Fifty to several hundred children at a time receive the sacraments in nonchurch settings, like parks and hotels, people's living rooms and backyards. Instead of church choirs and organs, strolling mariachis provide the music.

"They just do it in people's houses. You don't need much. For baptisms, a little water. For first Communions, you just set up a table," said Father Richard Zanotti of the Holy Rosary parish in Los Angeles.

Church officials say that Figueroa sometimes sends deacons to step in for him or contracts with bishops and priests from the Old Catholic Church, a breakaway group from the Roman Catholic Church.

Though sacraments administered by Figueroa are valid, those officiated by deacons or non-Catholic priests probably aren't, several priests said.

To avoid church scrutiny, the services are done on short notice, the cash-only ceremonies offering a convenient fulfillment of Catholic obligations. While the church's educational requirements for first Communion can take two years, Figueroa's classes, taught by laypeople from his church, take a matter of months.

"It makes it difficult for us. We have certain policies to help people prepare, and [Figueroa] has circumvented all that," Zanotti said.

Martha Gonzalez, 47, of Chula Vista said a fast-track first Communion for her son appealed to her. As a working single mother, she didn't have time to shuttle her then-10-year-old to catechism classes and church for two years. The classes, held in a garage, were supposed to last six months, she said. After a month and half she got a call from the teacher saying her son was ready for Communion. The classes were $160 and it would cost $20 more for flowers and chairs for the ceremony. About 60 children received first Communion in November 2007 at a park in San Ysidro, she said.

There was a canopy and a table and just enough chairs for the children. According to Gonzalez, Figueroa said a quick Mass and the children received certificates stamped with the seal of his church in Rosarito Beach. Gonzalez recalled someone saying that Figueroa also offered confirmations -- ceremonies that confer the holy spirit and normally require catechism classes. The next month, hundreds of children from Southern California showed up at Figueroa's church for confirmations, Gonzalez said. Those from Los Angeles paid $75, San Diego residents paid $65 and Rosarito Beach residents paid $35, she said.

Gonzalez said she is unsure whether her son's confirmation is valid. Confirmations normally must be administered by a bishop, but Gonzalez said she now doubts the cleric who confirmed her son was a Roman Catholic bishop.

A spokesman for Figueroa's church said confirmations are done by authorized clerics and that charging for sacraments is common in Mexico so churches can cover their expenses.

Gonzalez acknowledged that she's partly at fault for seeking the convenient route but said the church should better police its clerics: "What I learned from this. It's not about faith. It's just business."

The church's unhappiness with Figueroa became public in May when he said a Mass during the swine flu scare, disobeying Romo's order, issued for health reasons, not to hold public gatherings.

Figueroa said he held the ceremony only after his parishioners requested it.

But church officials said it was part of a pattern of disobedience going back several years. Figueroa subsequently refused to switch parishes as ordered by Romo, leading to the confrontation in November.

The clash that Friday evening exposed long-simmering social and class rifts.

Parishioners viewed the bishop and his entourage as elitists trying to remove the one priest who had achieved results in their long-neglected parish.

"Before him, there was nothing here," said Rudy Roldan, 21. "Father Ray arrived and he delivered results. People noticed."

Since then, Figueroa, who was not present at the confrontation with Romo, has engaged in an escalating war of words with other priests and the church hierarchy, which is weighing whether to suspend him. One Tijuana priest on a radio show accused him of taking money from drug traffickers. Figueroa suggested he might reveal the names of alcoholic and womanizing priests.

After Mass one Sunday afternoon, Figueroa made what seemed to be a startling admission about simony. "I wish I was the only one doing it. There's too much competition out there," Figueroa said during an interview in his cluttered sacristy.

A clutch of aides and parishioners burst into laughter. Moments later, he appeared to back away from his statement, saying his cross-border activity ended years ago. He said he used to celebrate the sacraments for people he knew from his days as a seminarian at the San Fernando Mission but stopped after church officials complained. He said he doesn't even have a U.S. visa anymore.

Figueroa kept talking while people crowded into the sacristy. He blessed a few babies, stamped some catechism cards and shook hands with friends.

The people simply want a church that's responsive to their needs, he said. He bristled at accusations of shady accounting and underground ceremonies. His door -- and books -- are always open, he said.

"In the eyes of God," Figueroa said, "nothing is secret."


Fr. Figueroa might have saved himself a lot of trouble if he had just said $160.00 donations strongly encouraged. The line between simony and coerced donations seems to be pretty thin.

"The people simply want a church that's responsive to their needs."

Don't we all.


I hope every one has a safe and holy Christmas. I'll be back posting on Sunday. My area of New Mexico is getting a gentle but persistent snow, so I too will be having a White Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Words Of Wisdom From Sister Joan And The Example Of The NHL

Red Wing Captain Nicholas Lidstrom is the embodiment of the Red Wing ethic. His teammates call him 'The Perfect Human'. At forty years old, he is still one of the top five defensemen in the NHL.

The following is the last half of an article by Sr. Joan Chittister published in the most recent edition of Tikkun Magazine. Sister Joan's reflections are great food for thought in this dark time of the year.

"Our current spiritual dilemma, then, lies in how to link the personal with the public dimensions of life; how to make private spirituality the stuff of public leaven in a world fiercely private and dangerously public at the same time.

The fact is that simple spiritualities of creeds, community-building, and social reform are no longer enough. We need now, surely, a spirituality of contemplative co-creation, a spirituality of progressive vision and prophetic action.

Genesis insists that the function of humanity is to nurture, cultivate, and care--to sustain, not consume creation. Carrying on God's work in the world is, in other words, "the spiritual life."
And how can people like us possibly manage to do that in a time as confused and divided as this? We may need to step back from issues for a minute and think about the nature of social change and its meaning. (The time around the winter solstice--er Christmas-- is a good time to step back and think about the nature of things--and to hope for a rebirth.)

The anthropologist Anthony F.C. Wallace teaches that major transformations of thought and behavior happen in a society when it discovers that a once-common set of religious understandings have become impossible to sustain.

At that point, Wallace says, society begins to undergo a "revitalization movement" of four major stages. Stage one is a period of serious individual stress. In this stage, people begin to question past values and start to establish new patterns of thought and behaviors. They don't think about things as they once did. What the generation before them took for granted--divorce, mixed marriage, birth control, segregation, homosexuality, capital punishment, in vitro fertilization, cloning, stem cell research, the role of women--they begin to debate and discard.

In stage two, there is alienation everywhere. Wide-reaching social stress becomes apparent. What we once called "our culture" is now barely recognizable. And people begin to decide that their problems aren't personal. Others feel the same. Groups form, organizations grow. Their problems, they decide, are a result of failure in the institutions they had always depended on for stability and direction. The churches are out of tune with their needs, they say; the schools remote from their life questions, they feel; the government corrupt and corrupting. There is political rebellion in the streets and schism in the churches.

People set out to do it themselves: join with others to ban the bomb, save the whales, eliminate the death penalty, put women in Congress, and join Voices in the Wilderness or the Network of Spiritual Progressives!

In stage three of a revitalization process, though people as a whole agree there is a problem, they can't agree on how to cope with this new social situation. Some want to change the system, to wipe it out and begin again. Others want to send in the troops and get the old system back in order. And the two groups quarrel and divide and blame authority. (This is perfectly described by Cardinal George when he stated the left and the right spend too much time on the bishops.)

Then, inevitably, in stage three a revitalization movement, a nativist, or traditionalist movement arises. Nativists argue that the danger has come from the failure of the people to adhere more strictly to old beliefs and values and behavior patterns. They want to do more of the same-old, but do it better. They want the "old time religion" and they find scapegoats aplenty: the economy would be all right if it weren't for unions, they argue; marriages would be all right if it weren't for feminism, and; the country would be fine if it weren't for liberalism. Or Blacks or Arabs or immigrants or Koreans or Khaddafi or Hussein or Gloria Steinem or whoever or whatever is the convenient scapegoat today. (In this particular era, the scapegoats of choice are gay men and women who have abortions. Neither of course, reflect on straight men.)

In the fourth and final stage, Wallace points out, comes the emergence of a new world view and the restructuring of old institutions to enable it. But how do we get there?

In simpler societies, the leadership for this rebuilding of the society usually came from a single charismatic person: "And Moses intervened," Psalm 89 reminds us, "And you, O God, turned aside your destruction."

In more complex cultures, like our own, multiple spokespersons--many leaders, a chorus of voices--are needed to lead the people to new understandings about old values.

The role of these spiritual leaders is not to repudiate the older worldview entirely, but to shed new light on it so that it can be remembered that God's spirit always manifests itself in new ways to meet new needs.

Then, more flexible people begin to understand and experiment with the new consensus and cultural transformation--the movement from death to life--of an entire people begins to happen.

Finally, Wallace points out, it will not be the older generation, the spiritual wanderers who brought with them the old ideas, goals, values and designs from one desert to another, who will lead today's institutions--it will be the new generation!

As Wallace says, it will be the generation that "grew up with" the emerging insights, who never lived in the old world; who spent their life wandering in a social desert, and knew no other, who will come to maturity. (In other words it will be the people who live on the margins, who learned to spiritually survive outside the mainstream of religious thought----like those scapegoated gays and women of all kinds.)

Then, the old institutions find themselves with new leadership. And the institutions are restructured. But that will happen only provided that they listen, if someone brings them up with the new questions and the new insights.

And how do we know it can happen? (Because the National Hockey League did it.)

Because in this country alone we have seen one generation withdraw their allegiance to a king; the next abolish slavery; and one after that regulate businesses; and the last empower laborers. And this one, now, is beginning to struggle for liberation, equality and survival.

"And Moses intervened," the psalm teaches, "and you turned aside your destruction." We need to intervene for the future of the whole human community of the globe.

What God saves, God saves through us. We need, in other words, to intervene for one another. We need a new worldview that puts the old one "in new light." (This is the core message of Christmas. God came to save man through becoming man, not acting some ultimate 'deus ex machina'.)

But how? And where will this "spirituality of contemplative co-creation," this progressive spirituality come from?

In what way can the spiritual leaders of our time help to build this bridge from privatized piety to public moral responsibility?

I suggest that we must all begin again to look at the bases of social brokenness and see the spiritual link between the personal and the political. I'm suggesting that we look again at what ancients called the seven capital sins/signs of social brokenness, but this time on two levels: the level of the personal as well as the global. Remember with me: envy, pride, anger, lust, gluttony, sloth, covetousness.

Envy, for instance, on the personal level is certainly a lack of acceptance of self, which leads in its sinful form, to a rejection of others.

But globally, isn't this ethnocentrism as well? When we create and uphold criminal governments for our own good--such as in Iraq--rather than recognize the needs of the people of the country; when we impose our system and structures in return for trade, isn't that the failure to accept a thing for what it is?

Pride is, of course, the need to dominate and coerce others on the personal level. But on the global level isn't it also the mania for national superiority, for being "numero uno," for having the best of everything (e.g., strawberries in winter, whatever the cost to the pickers?).

Lust is clearly the exploitation of another for the sake of physical satisfaction.

We are beginning to recognize it when it's date rape or pornography. But is there yet enough conscience in us to also see lust as the national passion for the instantaneous gratification that justifies the exploitation of whole peoples so that we can have the cheap cash crops and conveniences we demand while raping their lands and looting their futures? Isn't it the exploitation that comes from lust that leads to the feminization of poverty and the loss of feminine resources and values in a world that is reeling from the institutionalization of masculine values? Two-thirds of minimum wage workers are single mothers with three children. Lust is child labor at 6 cents an hour: economic pedophilia. (Lust also confuses economic and political power with sexual potency. The two are seen to reflect each other, which is why some powerful men can't keep their zippers zipped and some women can't keep their hands off those zippers.)

Gluttony, the over consumption of food, leads to waste and bloatedness, and the misuse of resources on the personal level. But it is also surely at the base of the lack of distribution of surplus to the dying in Somalia and the destitute in Haiti.

Someone wrote of this culture: "We do not have a war on poverty; we have a war on poor people." And what are we religious people doing about it as we say our prayers and publish our theology papers, and repeat our rituals week after week?

We speak of covetousness as a lack of a sense of "enough" and we know that on the personal level that leads to the sinful brink of hoarding or an inordinate desire for unnecessary possessions. But what is the difference between that kind of covetousness and the demon that fuels militarism and the continual quest for superiority?

Anger we recognize as the cultivation of an eschatological sense of righteousness and judgment; of putting ourselves in the place of the patient justice of God. But what has happened to the national moral fiber when whatever evil we say of the other is counted as virtue? What about the sin of demonizing our enemies, or our refusal to sign arms accords or submit to an international military tribunal?

We abhor sloth as its assumption that anyone has the right to live off the efforts of others as laziness and lack of responsibility.

But where is spiritual leadership in the building of a new worldview about the sinfulness of multinational corporations that live off the backs of the poor, that give unjust wages and benefits, that take the unequal treatment of women for granted, and absorb women's lives at lesser pay for the convenience of others, and then moralize about that kind of domestic servitude as "God's will" for us?

So we go on blindly in our search for goodness: we counsel and educate for individuality and autonomy and control and independence in a world that needs community and mutuality and cooperation interdependence and human responsibility and contemplative co-creation and spiritual progressives.

We build small shelters for the homeless and huge rockets to make people homeless. And we go to church. And we go to church. And we go to church.

Yet 70 percent of the respondents to a survey conducted by the Williamsburg Charter Foundation said that religion has a place in public life. Well, where is that public religion in private life supposed to come from if not from us?

When Jacob saw Joseph in Egypt, He said, "Now that I know that you live, I can die." And God said to Moses, "Stay where you are. Where you are is holy ground."

And an ancient people tell the story of a seeker who asked, "Before I follow you, tell me, Does your God work miracles?" And the master said, "It depends on what you call a miracle. Some people say that a miracle is when God does the will of the people. We say that a miracle is when people do the will of God."

Clearly, the role of the spiritual people today is like that of Jacob's: not to die until we have assured a dynamic and meaningful spirituality for the next generation.

It is like that of Moses: to recognize where we are as the ground of God's grace. It is certainly like that of the Sufi master, who enables the individual to see life differently so that God's miracles can happen in our time, so that the reign of God can finally come.

Templeton wrote, "If we were holier people, we would be angrier oftener." And the Chinese wrote, "Time changes nothing; People do."

My prayer is that we can summon up within ourselves the kind of holy anger that will finally do something to take this country back to its best and glorious self.


One of the trends which is starting to emerge is that we need to break big things up into more self autonomous smaller things. Big and bigger is not always better. In fact, bigger seems to always reach a point in which it is no longer sustainable without becoming predatory. The first indicator of that is it's no longer controllable. This country has seen this phenomenon in both the financial and health sectors. All the supposed reforms do not touch the underlying size of either industry, nor put any meaningful controls on their continued expansion into one big all controlling and predatory monopoly.

Nature shows us that uncontrolled predation ultimately results in it's own demise. Cancer kills itself as well as it's host. Predatory pedophiles willfully left uncontrolled have killed the moral voice of Catholicism. The examples are endless. The solutions pitifully few. Off hand I can think of one modern example which put brakes on the predation and allowed the organism to flourish. I'm thinking of the salary cap in the NHL and NBA, but the NHL in particular, and most particularly the Detroit Redwings.

The Redwings were like the New York Yankees in that paying large sums of money to star players looking for the biggest buck was not a problem. The Wings and some other teams were pricing the NHL into oblivion and with it, any semblance of competitive balance or ability for fans like myself to ever afford a ticket. Ticket prices go so out of hand that most of us were relegated to the margins watching games on television, having to forgo the experience of enjoying hockey live in the arena where the experience is truly awesome.

The solution was to curb all the excesses. Implementing the solution resulted in the loss of an entire season and all it's revenue. It was a sacrifice of epic proportions for everyone associated with the sport. It caused all kinds of anger. Blame was tossed about like confetti. I certainly threw my handfuls. In the end though, implementing the salary cap has given all teams a competitive chance and stopped the escalating ticket prices. Teams have had to figure out how they were going to put the best product on the ice in the confines of a limited spending environment. Some have done this new math well, and some are no better off than they were previously, but all teams are playing on the same level ice surface.

Another rule also profoundly effects the competitive balance. Most professional sports leagues have the rule that the entry draft for new players is tagged to the performance of the teams participating. The rule is simply this "the last shall be first". The biggest beneficiaries of that rule were the Pittsburgh Penguins and last year they defeated my beloved Wings in the Stanley Cup finals with all the talent they drafted when they were last. Indeed, the last truly did become first, and the first became second.

Looking at the standings in the league this year is eye opening. Ten of the sixteen Western Conference teams are within eight points of first place. Since only eight make the play offs this means every single season game is meaningful. There is no more coasting through games for any team, which has made hockey all that much more exciting. A sport that was all but dead due to it's own pigheaded leadership-both labor and management--bit the bullet and has been reborn in a much better version. There are a couple of lessons here. It is possible to build new on the old, but it takes visionary leadership unafraid to push their vision to completion. It is possible to combine financial caps and a form of social justice and have a viable capitalistic product.
Why must the health and financial industry be managed philosphically differently from professional sports? Why not cap those players salaries? Why not level the playing field?
Why not restore a competitive balance? Why not protect small market teams?

As to my Redwings, this is a defining season for them. The salary cap meant they lost a handful of talented players to other teams, and the injury bug seems to have taken up permanent residence in their locker room. They have not gone to the NHL to ask for exemptions for themselves or special treatment because they are the Wings.
They may be the broken Wings. Yet, they are still there, still in the hunt. This is a testimony to something about the Wings which went far deeper than their owner, Mike Illitch's pockets. It's about loyalty, pride, and a unique community dedicated to each other. It's about the individual players contribution to his team, bounded by the needs of the team. Nick Lidstrom isn't scoring goals, but he is mentoring the next generation of Wing's defensemen and the Detroit defense is improving by leaps and bounds. Nick is all about servant leadership. The Red Wings are about team excellence. The NHL found out bigger isn't better and less really is more.

If our churches, business men and politicians can't give legitimate example and leadership in a changing world, maybe the NHL and it's players can.