Monday, February 22, 2010

For an explanation of where the lit areas are in the brain, and what it may signify click here. It appears compassion is as deep seated in human neural functioning as fear or anger and involves some of the same centers. A theology of God based in compassion can be just as powerful as one based in fear and anger.

If there has been one incident in the past year which really underlines the differences in neural mapping between the world view of the conservative Catholic base and the progressive Catholic base, it's been in the passionate responses to the rape of the nine year old Brazillian girl and the subsequent therapeutic abortion of her twin fetuses. As Archbishop Fisichella is finding out, there is no room for compassion when it comes to the absolutist position on fetal life--not for the girl and certainly not for him.

Move to oust head of Pontifical Academy for Life
Feb. 19, 2010 By Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY -- Several members of the Pontifical Academy for Life have suggested that the academy's president, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, be replaced because he "does not understand what absolute respect for innocent human lives entails." (This is a beautiful statement about Grand Scale morality and how no compromise can be tolerated because it is an attack on the entire moral structure. Even when the issue concerns a totally innocent sexually abused nine year old girl, her situation can not be used to violate the Grand Scale morality about the total evil of abortion.)

The controversy stems from Fisichella's criticizing a Brazilian archbishop's response to 9-year-old girl's abortion for lacking compassion.

The call came in a statement distributed to some news outlets Feb. 18, five days after the academy ended an annual meeting at the Vatican. It was signed by five of the academy's 159 members.

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told journalists Feb. 19 that the group had not yet made a copy of their letter available to Pope Benedict XVI or the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

"It's a bit strange that persons who are members of an academy address a request of this kind without addressing it to the competent authorities," Lombardi said. "It's astounding and seems incorrect that such a document be given public circulation." (This might seem astounding to Father Lombardi, but it's perfectly reasonable to the five signatories because a Vatican authority figure violated the Grand Scale moral belief.)

Lombardi also said "the natural place to discuss" the group's criticisms would have been during the general assembly itself and not in the public arena.

The criticism of Fisichella stemmed from an article he wrote last year, which said a Brazilian archbishop's response to an abortion performed on a 9-year-old girl had shown a lack of pastoral care and compassion. (The absolutist position has no room for compassion or understanding. Understanding in this case only involves understanding there can be no compromise.)

The Vatican, reportedly after complaints from some Academy for Life members, later issued a clarification reiterating its teaching against abortion and saying the Brazilian archbishop had, in fact, acted with "pastoral delicacy" in the matter.

When the academy met at the Vatican Feb. 11-13, many observers expected the disagreement to take center stage. But the issue was not directly raised, according to participants, and Fisichella told Catholic News Service that the atmosphere at the meeting was "serene and calm."

In their statement, the five members said they had made "a political decision" to not publicly question Fisichella's leadership during the assembly's proceedings because "an open challenge to Fisichella in the assembly would have divided the academy." (Essentially they weren't going to take a chance on submitting their point of view to a general consensus. There is no such thing as a legitimate general consensus of opinion when it comes to issues of fundamental morality. There is only fundamental morality.)

Another reason the group decided not to openly dissent during the meeting, it said, was because they believed there was "a reasonable hope that the Holy Father will recognize the need to provide [the archbishop] with an occupation better suited to his abilities." (Like silent retirement.)

However, several days after the assembly concluded, the group decided to publish its critical statement, in part because of an opening address Fisichella delivered to the academy Feb. 11. The statement said the archbishop not only did not retract what he said in his 2009 article, but claimed that the Vatican's subsequent clarification -- issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- had vindicated him.

According to the statement, Fisichella described criticism against him as "personal attacks ... motivated by 'spite.'" (Probably not. They are more likely personal attacks motivated by disgust that he failed to tow the absolutist line. In that sense they may be directed at him but aren't really about him.)

The proceedings of the pontifical academy were not public. Asked to verify the account given by the five signatories, an official at the academy told CNS Feb. 19 that an academy member "has no right to publicize" proceedings from a private meeting. (Apparently they do.)

The statement said the lack of a public and open challenge to Fisichella "has created the unfortunate impression that academicians are behind his presidency, resignedly or otherwise."
"Far from creating unity and genuine harmony in the academy, Fisichella's address on the 11th of February had the effect of confirming in the minds of many academicians the impression that we are being led by an ecclesiastic who does not understand what absolute respect for innocent human lives entails," it said. (He probably doesn't understand the moral principle in the way that his detractors do, and he never will.)

"This is an absurd state of affairs in a Pontifical Academy for Life, but one which can be rectified only by those who are responsible for his appointment as president," it said.

Pope Benedict appointed Fisichella as president of the academy in 2008.

The signatories of the statement included: Luke Gormally, a senior research fellow of the London-based Linacre Center for Healthcare Ethics; Christine De Marcellus Vollmer, chairwoman of the Washington-based Alliance for the Family; Msgr. Michel Schooyans, a retired professor of theology and philosophy at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium; Dr. Maria Smereczynska of Poland; and Dr. Thomas Ward, president of the U.K.-based National Association of Catholic Families.

Vollmer sent Catholic News Service a copy of the statement Feb. 18. In an e-mail, she said that despite hopes that the controversy over the Brazilian abortion had been properly clarified, Fisichella had "reignited the crisis" with his speech to the academy.

The abortion case prompted an unusual series of statements from different Vatican departments, as well as worldwide commentary. After doctors in Recife, Brazil, aborted the twins of the girl, who had been repeatedly raped by her stepfather, Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho of Olinda and Recife announced the excommunication of the girl's mother and the doctors involved, saying the abortion was "a crime in the eyes of the church."

Fisichella, in an article published March 15 in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, reiterated the church's teaching on the serious evil associated with direct abortion and the penalties involved. But he also wrote that the local archbishop had put too much emphasis on the punishment of automatic excommunication incurred by the girl's parents and the doctors who carried out the abortion and didn't show enough pastoral care or compassion for the people involved.

The girl "should have been defended, hugged and held tenderly to help her feel that we were all on her side," Fisichella said. (To a more progressive empathic thinker, this is entirely appropriate, but to a moral agenda thinker, the girl isn't an issue, the moral principle is the entire issue.)

Four months later, the doctrinal congregation published in the Vatican newspaper a clarification saying that any confusion over the church's stance on direct abortion had been caused by "the manipulation and exploitation of Archbishop Rino Fisichella's article."

Before the academy met at the Vatican, one of the five signatories of the Feb. 16 statement, Schooyans, had widely circulated among journalists an article he wrote criticizing Fisichella.
While he didn't name the archbishop directly, the monsignor quoted from the archbishop's March 15 article and said it was one example of many in which some members of the church were engaged in a dangerous form of "bogus compassion." Schooyans was not present at the academy's assembly.

When asked about the priest's critique, Fisichella told CNS Feb. 12, "If a member of the academy, if some people, for reasons of political exploitation, wanted to misconstrue my words, it is not my responsibility. Rather it's the responsibility of those who wanted to create a situation of conflict."
(Unfortunately for Archbishop Fisichella, responsibility isn't an issue for the Fr. Schooyans of the world because the only thing that counts is the moral principle and the end really does justify the means.)

I've gone back and reflected on this particular story a great deal in the last year. It really does serve to illustrate the fundamental differences in world views between conservative religious believers and progressive religious believers. To a conservative, who is concerned with defending historic core principles, (in this case historic usually means family or birth culture), the principle always takes precedence over singular circumstances. There are no exceptions.

I suspect this particular case doesn't go away because it does not lend itself to dispassionate logic for either side in this debate. This kind of case generates real emotion in both progressives and conservatives. My original reaction to this story of Archbishop Cardoso's excommunication of the doctors and mother of the nine year old was a very strong physical disgust. Just like some folks react to other folks eating worms. I had such an adverse physical response because the Archbishop's official response violated my world view about the importance of compassion, and more deeply than that, it violated my personal historical experience of Catholicism. My Catholic experience had always placed pastoral compassion above rigid enforcement, placed relationship above obedience, had taught love of God and others over fear of hell. My brain was not conditioned to obedience and absolutism, but to love and union with the Mystery of the faith.

I'm aware that right now the meta paradigm for the Vatican is the truth of the history and tradition of Roman Catholicism and thoroughly grounding that truth in the hierarchical Petrine tradition of papal infallibility. Nothing, no matter how illogical or indefensible will be allowed to interfere with that meta paradigm. Any means will be used to justify that end, even abuse victims of all kinds.

My difficulty is that I truly believe Jesus meant that authentic authority to be grounded in Christ like compassion, not what currently passes for papal infallibility. Jesus taught constantly about practical compassion and very little about infallibility. Maybe what He really meant when He gave the keys to Peter is that as long as Peter acted compassionately through love, what Peter bound or loosed would be honored in heaven. That's a whole different kind of basis for Papal infallibility. It's a whole different intellectual basis for papal infallibility and it's reasonable in the definition of reason used in yesterday's post, because it involves emotion as well as rational thought. It's holistic and there for healing, not divisive.

Maybe some day.


  1. How can such people be communicated with, witnessed to, in order to hopefully bring them into a more compassionate, loving state of being? Can there be such a dialog? Are they that different that they can not understand compassion at any level? or love? If all this would fail, to at least get such people to respect others experiences? To live and let live? I understand being wierd different, how do u begin to open wiring up?

  2. Colleen, what you say about your visceral response to the lack of compassion exhibited by Archbishop Cardoso's excommunication of the doctors and mother of the Brazilian girl is echoed in a comment Coolmom has made today at Bilgrimage.

    She speaks of this as a "breaking" experience for her.

    I think a lot of folks are being broken to pieces right now by the open warfare that a certain element of Catholics, particularly in the U.S., are mounting--on everyone except their own righteous remnant group.

    Lots of pain to go around, and few pastoral leaders to offer the slightest bit of solace and guidance through it all. I think we'll end up finding solace and guidance in exodus communities that try to hold onto essentials like practical compassion at a time in which truth is being equated with what has no moral force at all, from the standpoint of practical compassion.

  3. Anonymous, I think that prayer is the only way to open wiring up. Being a mature adult, reasoning as an adult with compassion are being Christ-like. Those who do not get that message from Christ's teachings have their own agenda that is not connected to Jesus. In the early Church such one's were approached and if they did not convert they were dealt with by ignoring them.

  4. I also feel as if something has broken in me, although I do get something out of the Mass and participation. How long will it be until we are forced to choose sides?

  5. Butterfly and anonymous, I believe centering experiences are what are important. There are several entries into centering. I first started with contemplation, then went to yoga with both mental and physical centering, then to psychoanalysis and back to contemplation. I believe that all these processes and probably more often lead minds then brain transformations toward love and hope and away from fear, condemnation and absolutism.
    R. Dennis Porch, MD

  6. Kathy, re: the feeling of being broken: I read an interesting article yesterday--I think it was at Alternet, but from the journal Tikkun.

    It was about a recent conference held in California to help progressive activists in the U.S. who are people of faith deal with their depression and loss of hope with the current political situation.

    The article helped me to name some of my own mourning right now--to realize it's part of a far wider trend among many people of faith who have hoped and worked for progressive change.

    I can't say it gave me instant answers, but it reminded me that I'm not going through this darkness alone. (And yes, I think we'll be forced to choose--in fact, I think that reality has already been here for some time now.)

  7. Anon, the communication can't be on a head basis, it must be on a heart and experiential basis. It is there that meaningful connection is made and minds can be opened and new neural pathways entrained. And even then expecting change is sometimes a fool's errand.

    After all, only one of ten lepers had enough insight to thank Jesus for his healing. The other nine were just a tad bit too self absorbed.

  8. I agree with you Bill "(And yes, I think we'll be forced to choose--in fact, I think that reality has already been here for some time now.)"

    Many have decided to not give any money to the institutional Church, but to donate to the poor. Many have left the pews for other Churches or go to their room and pray. Many are supporting causes that are compassionate responses to ignorance, evil and injustice in the world and in the Church hierarchy.

    It's important to mourn and it is healthy to mourn. Christ will light the way for us!!!

  9. I think I am moving from fighting against to moving towards--not sure where yet. I am coming to accept that few in my Church community will even note my absence-too busy focusing on getting to heaven. I am lonely much of the time as my faith community is mostly on line, or the inmates at the jail where I volunteer on Sunday but I think it is a desert time and I need to listen right now.

  10. acoolmom - I feel as if we are in the same boat. We are not alone though, but in the desert called by Christ to come to His saving grace and light where we find healing, strength and compassion.

    About anger, it needs to be channelled and directed in a positive way, for it is a great energy to use for our benefit. Too often people use anger in destructive ways and there was a recent study linking anger to heart attacks. I took note yesterday, that Dick Cheney apparently has anger issues that are turned inward and outwardly destructively and after his speech yesterday had chest pains.

    As a side to this I also took note that someone intimated in a music website that people were not connected to their emotions, have been stuffing them for a long time. We've been programmed to do this by the RCC and the world at jobs, etc. Vatican II, I believe, was an attempt to connect the laity to the Head, Jesus, so that we could get in touch with our emotions, get wired properly before they boil over into wars and fighting, sickness and death such as he witnessed in WWII.

  11. I think I have been morning this loss for at least five years, as I gave up most of my contributions to the church except my share of what was necessary to keep the utilities on in my local parish.

    It is interesting that fifteen years ago I was on the Archbishops committee for Catholic Education. With a new Bishop, I became a persona non grata at that level and eventually at the level of my local pastor. This is all after 17 years in catholic institutions spanning grammar schools, hs, college and post graduate education. I likewise put my daughters through Catholic Education and Graduate Schools. I am a cradle catholic and suffer the with all of you the shock of losing our great Institution.

    It was even before the death of JP II that I began to morn. Over the past four years, I have been convinced that our Church is imploding from within the leadership. Centering prayerful contemplation has been most helpful when I am able to do the work and leave my own worries behind. It is work and often when I try to accomplish it, I just go to sleep unable to attain this state of inner peace. Some times my mind is just too full (self chatter) to do the work. I think the real question is being asked by coolmom. That is how not to move away from but toward something. Our children and grand children need some institutions to help with their struggles. I had the Jesuits and Benedictines, but who will my grandchildren have? If they are to remain trustworthy institutions for our children, I think the great Catholic Institutions of Study must once again move toward truth. I believe that our religion choices will be Independent or National Catholic Churches, or some forms of Protestantism. There is a lot of appeal in the Lutheran and Episcopal Churches. They also have their own Institutions of Higher Education. The real question in our depressive feelings about the implosion of the RCC is where do our children go now? Let's move in those directions.

    I have taken my alma mater out of my will until they can show me that they no longer will require theologians to be licensed by RCC Bishops. I am considering currently where to will these assets. It will be where I feel that there is a decent structure for future generations, I hope it could be to Jesuit or Benedictine founded institutions but so far I am still looking.

    May we find our grace and peace by moving toward positive construction in our own minds as well as in the institutions that we chose to join and support. dennis

  12. Dennis, I've been in mourning since I helped persuade my daughter to attend my alma mater only to find out the adherence to the mandatum had killed the life in the theology department. I think the last time I remember being at Mass was for the funeral of the priest who showed me what Catholicism could be, and who then took my daughter under his wing. Now that I think about it, I think that might have been my daughter's last Mass as well.

    I talked about this with a native mentor of mine and he said "Why are you mourning an illusion? Jesus lives, Mary lives, the church you mourn does not live in the same sense. We natives have no churches to mourn. Our faith lives in our hearts and how we walk that faith. If your faith lives in your heart and you walk that faith, there is nothing to mourn."

  13. Your comments & reflections are excellent, undergirded by an understanding of what Christ truly taught.

    But let me throw a monkey wrench in....

    1. The "Keys" which Christ gave to Peter were the Gospel itself. That/it is the key to 'the Kingdom of Heaven' (the spiritual/mystical family of all who believe in & try to live His Gospel.

    2. What is 'the Gospel? It has its core in what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount & Beatitudes, as expounded upon in the Parables.

    3. Only via comprehending, internalizing & trying to LIVE the Gospel can only truly enter the Kingdom.....and know & experience God. Thus doing His Will.

    While you did not express it in these terms, you believe this. Nobody in the Vatican believes this. Therefore they do not believe in the Gospel......therefore they are 'full of it'

    All 'saints' believed this; though not all of the 'canonized ones' did. The conclusion about them is...obvious.

    The 'authority' given by Peter to Christ was to teach the Gospel - spread it by word & personal example. The Church has utterly failed to do this since Constantine.

    Christ gave Peter & the Apostles the authority to forgive sins in His Name. Not to refuse to forgive them, nor to demand servile obedience or $$ in return.

    The 'loosing & binding' refer back to the Parable of the Unprofitable Servant. Who was forgiven his sins by his master, yet would not forgive others - being unmerciful to them. For this his master condemned & imprisoned him.

    There is a moral in there for the boys in the Vatican.....

    Christ also bestowed the power to heal ppl physically & power over demons. But, as Francis of Assisi noted in the 1200s, the Church had lost those long prior to his time.

    As its princes sold themselves & the Church organization to Mammon.

    ...and you cannot serve both God & Mammon, as Christ said.

    "Behold: your house shall be left to you desolate..."

    ...saith Christ in prophecy to the Administrators of the Vatican.

  14. Great comment. I take some solace in the fact Mammon is being exposed in spades when it comes to the machinations of the Vatican.

    Oh, one last thing speaking of healing. I have to admit I chuckled now that it seems JPII's miracle was probably, really, in actuality, a mis diagnosis.

    How prophetic.

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