Monday, January 31, 2011

Why Twenty Somethings Are Not Present And Accounted For

I don't know that the Vatican's use of social networking and the internet is going to be much more effective.

According to a current article in America Magazine, a recently held conference on the lack of twenty somethings in Roman Catholicism identified the following three issues as reasons Gen Xers and the Millennials are scarcely seen in Church.

  • The church should avoid the temptation to become a political power player. Surveys repeatedly demonstrate that young adults are turned off from the church when it appears to be shilling for a particular political party. Minor gains in policy may come at a huge cost: losing a generation of Catholics from both sides of the political spectrum.

  • Race and ethnicity remain sensitive and critical challenges for the Catholic Church, especially with the rapidly growing Latino population. Young Latinos are taught a sense of ownership and belonging in their parishes that is not fostered and developed in traditionally Euro-centric parishes. As a result, these young adults sometimes leave the church altogether when their talents are underutilized in mixed parishes. (The prevalence of Euro centrism is an issue in other cultures as well.)

  • The split between church leaders and young adults on issues of gender and sexuality is growing. Young people are more likely to support same-sex marriage and female ordination than their older counterparts and the hierarchy, and many cite these issues as reasons they don’t feel at home in the church. Young adults won’t support any institution where they feel that any group of people is not fully welcome and included.

  • I think it's interesting that the article doesn't state dogma and doctrinal issues other than those surrounding sex and gender.  I often wonder if the above issues, which are cultural, are not excuses hiding the real reason for lack of participation, which is younger generations don't buy into a whole lot of Church teaching, like the Nicene Creed for starters.  I suspect if it were only the aforementioned issues, the Episcopalian, Lutheran, and other denominations would have a much higher youth profile than Catholicism.  Since they don't, it leads me to believe the younger generations aren't into a whole lot of what passes for traditional Christianity.  Bishop Shelby Spong may indeed have his pulse on some unpalatable truths for the Vatican's re evangelization effort.

    I can remember one conversation with a young person (who shall go nameless) about the Incarnation of Jesus.  This YP did not believe any of the teachings surrounding the birth of Jesus.  It made absolutely no scientific sense.  If Jesus was born of a virgin and sex was not involved in his creation, then he certainly wasn't human and Jesus couldn't be a clone or the result of parthenogenesis because then he would have to be a she. The Holy Spirit may be a lot of things, but one thing the Holy Spirit is not, is human. What ever Jesus's genetics were, they were either human or he was some sort of hybrid.  If he was a hybrid he wasn't human. 

    It's hard to argue with this kind of straight forward logic. And then of course, came the counter question.  "Do you seriously believe this stuff?"  My answer was, "not exactly.  A lot of it isn't relevant to my experience of the Faith so I tend to ignore it.  Let's just say I probably won't be taking certain bishops oaths of fidelity any time soon." 

    "Then why stay or bother with Catholicism at all?' was the next question. My answer to that caused some consternation.  I said because the magic is real. Something is really happening and that happening is independent of what you or I or anyone else thinks, and that to me is exciting. It's in that experience of the magic, that I find the truth of Catholicism.  It's not found in all the verbiage.  (I'm using the word 'magic' here, not in the Harry Potter sense, but in the awe and wonder sense.) My young friend did understand what I was getting at because said young friend had been to a couple of Native American Sweat Lodge ceremonies.  Real ceremony puts a participant in a place outside of time and space.  They make one feel potentials are certainties and certainties are potentials.  They are good places to be. Everyone belongs.  There is a palpable feeling of connection to something beyond perceptual reality, and yet there is no fear.  This is religious magic of the good sort.

    But then there is the other sort.  The sort which is front and center in the just released Anthony Hopkins thriller, The Rite.  I have more than a sneaking suspicion the new evangelization is going to feature this sort of Catholic magic somewhat prominently.  This kind features fear of the supernatural and promotes the priesthood as exorcist/protector against Satan and all his works.  This kind might sell movie tickets, but it doesn't really inspire the average Joe to actually follow the teachings of Christ.  At best it might inspire Joe putting the number of the local exorcist on speed dial.

    This would not be a good step should the Vatican and the USCCB continue to sneak in the exorcism  and demonology thing as the USCCB did at it's last Baltimore meeting, and the Vatican has done with their exorcism school--a school which is ironically run by the Legion of Christ and is featured in The Rite.   What they might want to consider is working hand in hand with current science in an effort to get a better understanding on just how human consciousness works and what it's potentials are, but to do that means giving up the medieval notions of the mind/body/soul split and moving to a more  integrated holistic understanding of  humanity.  That kind of thing might just capture the imagination of the younger generations and that would be a good kind of evangelization.

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011

    Pope Benedict Has Some Words For Bloggers

    Pope to Catholics online: It's not just about hits
    VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI told Catholic bloggers and Facebook and YouTube users Monday to be respectful of others when spreading the Gospel online and not to see their ultimate goal as getting as many online hits as possible. (Thank God it's not about the hits. Now I can stop comparing EC to Huffpo.)

    Echoing concerns in the U.S. about the need to root out online vitriol, Benedict called for the faithful to adopt a "Christian style presence" online that is responsible, honest and discreet. (Someone asked me the other day what I liked best about this blog and blogging. I said the fact the community keeps the conversation on a much higher plane than average and that I learn a lot from the comments.)

    "We must be aware that the truth which we long to share does not derive its worth from its 'popularity' or from the amount of attention it receives," Benedict wrote in his annual message for the church's World Day of Social Communications.

    "The proclamation of the Gospel requires a communication which is at once respectful and sensitive."

    Benedict didn't name names, but the head of the Vatican's social communications office, Archbishop Claudio Celli, said it was certainly correct to direct the pope's exhortation to some conservative Catholic blogs, YouTube channels and sites which, with some vehemence, criticize bishops, public officials and policies they consider not Catholic enough. (Hmm, this is interesting.  I guess it's still OK to criticize these officials for not being honest, not being Christian, and for being secretive, deceitful, and self promoting. Oh and too often criminal.)

    "The risk is there, there's no doubt," Celli said in response to a question. He confirmed that the Pontifical Council for Social Communications was working on a set of guidelines with recommendations for appropriate style and behavior for Catholics online. (Oh goody, a whole new category of sin.)

    "I don't love such things, but I think we can define some points of reference for behavior," he said, adding that he hoped such a document would come out as soon as possible.

    The Vatican's concern comes at a time when incendiary rhetoric — in the media and online — has come under increasing fire; even U.S. President Barack Obama has urged greater civility in political discourse following the attempted assassination of a U.S. congresswoman.

    In his message, Benedict echoed many of the same themes he has voiced in years past about the benefits and dangers of the digital age, saying social networks are a wonderful way to build relationships and community. But he warned against replacing real friendships with virtual ones and warned against the temptation to create artificial public profiles rather than authentic ones. (I'm all on board with Benedict on this one.)

    "There exists a Christian way of communication which is honest and open, responsible and respectful of others," he wrote. "To proclaim the Gospel through the new media means not only to insert expressly religious content into different media platforms, but also to witness consistently, in one's own digital profile and in the way one communicates choices, preference and judgments that are fully consistent with the Gospel."

    The 83-year-old Benedict is no techno wizard: He writes longhand and has admitted to a certain lack of Internet savvy within the Vatican. (I bet the brouhaha over SSPX resulted in a whole lot more Internet savvy--like learning how to do a basic Google search.).....

    ........Celli acknowledged that the pope's annual message — which is full of technical jargon — is not his alone. Celli's office prepares a draft and the pope then makes changes. Celli said he didn't know if Benedict had ever been on Facebook, but said he expected one of his aides had probably shown him around. (I hope Benedict gets with it on Facebook because I might even ask him to be a Zoomate.)


    Off hand I can think of more than a few conservative websites who should take heed of this message from our infallible Pope. Even on a progressive publication like the National Catholic Reporter, the frequent onslaughts from Fr. Z'z brigade against certain writers makes my blood boil.  Mostly because the comments are utterly predictable and almost always adhominem.  Since many of them give the advice to find an Episcopalian Church down the road, I find it all most impossible to refrain from suggesting they find another website further down the Internet.

    I had to chuckle with Archbishop Celli's assessment of the current Vatican website.  It is relatively primitive. It certainly doesn't have the eye candy or interactive opportunities of some other religious websites, say like EWTN. Maybe Celli should give them a call. I'm sure they could give the Vatican tons of advice--and on more than modern communication opportunities.

    Speaking Facebook and avatars and invented Internet personalities, my daughter got me interested in playing Zooworld.  It's become our long distance sharing experience.  We chat on the phone and the chat program at the same time. Redundancy is also a modern communication trait. To get anywhere in Zooworld you really do need zoomates, but I didn't want to evangelize to get any, so we made up Facebook pages for all our pets and gave them their own zoos.  So if you go to my Facebook page all you see is Zooworld stuff and half my friends are really personal pets.  I can't wait for Archbishop Celli's guidelines to see if this would be considered a sin.  It is for Facebook, who deleted one our pet's zoos for having been created with an email account registered to my daughter.  That is being remedied courtesy of Yahoo not being so picky.

    In many respects the Internet is kind of fantasy world, but it's also an amazing vehicle for creating communities which transcend boundaries.  It is possible to create a different consensus reality through Internet communication and other social networks, and that is really it's power. I think back to the recent Iranian elections and how quickly information passed into the global community via cell phones and the Internet.  Lives were saved because of it. Secretive governments and institutions can no longer control the real time information flow and that is a reality that calls for a major fine tuning in relating with one's constituency.  In the long run these institutions will have to come to the conclusion it's better to tell the truth and let the truth go viral, rather than a never ending series of disinformation, out right lies, and hypocritical platitudes directed at others. 

    It really is a new and evolving world out here in the blogosphere.  So far the Vatican has been using it poorly, in a one way direction that lacks the give and take and information flow of comm boxes.  It's a method that denies the real creativeness of this medium, one of the very thing that takes it beyond newspapers, tracts, and sermons--and it's global.  It's still mind boggling to me that this blog gets comments from people across the globe, and not just predominately English speaking countries.

    I guess I can afford to be in awe of all of this because it doesn't threaten me on any fundamental level.  For institutions like the Vatican, which brook no real dialogue or discussion of issues, and desperately wants to maintain total control of the information flow and dialogue, I bet there are times the Vatican is tempted to see the Internet as a diabolical invention. I on the other hand, see the hand of the Holy Spirit.

    Monday, January 24, 2011

    Benedict Lectures Italian Police While Italian Prime Minister Avoids Same

    Things have cooled off between Italy's two super powers and one may go down in flames.  It won't be the one in white.
    Silvio Berlusconi, the embattled Italian Prime Minister is having scandalous issues again.  Seems he may have a predilection for sex with under age teenage girls.  This latest scandal may or may not have prompted both Cardinal Bertone and Pope Benedict to speak on public personages and rediscovering the moral roots of society.  If true, this would be very close to a pot calling the kettle black kind of thing.
    Rediscover moral roots of society, Pope urges - January 21, 2011
    In a January 21 meeting with police official of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI said that it is crucial to uphold clear moral principles at a time when the public fears “that moral consensus is breaking down.”
    The Pope’s comments, calling for a revival of public morality, were interpreted by many reporters as a subtle reference to the personal scandals plaguing Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. But in fact the Pontiff’s remarks were addressed to a broader sense of turmoil in society—a sense that all ethical standards have been called into question. The Pope spoke of “a sense of insecurity, primarily due to social and economic instability, but also exacerbated by a weakening of the perception of ethical principles that underpin the law and personal moral attitudes, which always give strength to the rules that govern society.” This is especially true when the lack of personal moral attitudes and ethical principles is at the heart of major religious institutions.  People expect to get snowed by politicians.  They don't expect to get snowed by bishops.)
    In such a climate the public witness of the Church is especially important, the Pope argued. He observed that many people today think that all morality is subjective, “because modern thought has developed a reductive view of conscience, according to which there are no objective references in determining what has value and what is true; rather, each individual provides his own measure through his own intuitions and experiences, each possesses his own truth and his own morals.”(It might be better if the Church found a different person to give that public witness.  Unfortunately Mother Theresa and Padre Pio are dead.)
    The result of this subjective approach, the Pope continued, is that “religion and morals tend to be confined to the subjective and private sphere; and faith with its values and its modes of behavior no longer merits a place in public and civil life.” The importance of faith is “progressively marginalized,” he said, at precisely the time when the witness of faith is most important. (That's actually a pretty good description of what happened with clerical sexual abuse.  The importance of the Faith got progressively marginalized until it wasn't a factor.)


    I can easily imagine that Silvio Berlusconi is paying scant heed to anything coming from a Vatican spokesman about sex with under age teenagers, especially in view of the fact the age of consent in the Vatican City States is twelve.  Perhaps Berlusconi should consider changing his place of residence.  He would still appear to be a cradle robber, but he would be a legal cradle robber--not that this would give the appearance of weakening ethical principles or engaging in a personal form of moral relativity or anything like that.

    It is really sort of mind boggling that Benedict is lecturing Italian Police on the damage public figures and institutions have done in weakening the rules that govern society and undermining trust in the body politic.  It makes me wonder if he really has a grip on just how damaging the sexual abuse crisis has been to his ability to project any kind of moral voice in the West.  I really don't think he understands the' do as I say, not as I do' days are long gone.  There really isn't much difference between actively engaging in immorality or protecting those that do the engaging.  Police have to deal with both kinds of perpetrators because both have their role in the victimization of others.  At least in Berlusconi's case, he is alleged to have paid up front.  Not that that makes him some sort of moral giant--relatively speaking.

    I also find it really ironic that Benedict is lecturing to Italian police at the same time the Vatican is attempting to spin the 1997 letter to Irish bishops.  This was the letter which instructed said bishops not to talk to the police at all when it came to criminal sexual activity.  I'm aware that John Allen says that's not what the letter says in his piece for the NCR, but I doubt seriously that any of the bishops who read that letter took it the way Allen has spun it.  I feel pretty safe in that statement because no bishop turned an abuser over to the police until after 2002.  Things may have changed, but they didn't change voluntarily or because the Vatican suddenly found a 'true' moral compass.

    It will be interesting to see how Italy's version of a Teflon Don weathers this latest scandal.  Berlusconi has done the Church a number of favors, mostly involving tax breaks and other concessions while pushing the Vatican's culture wars.  Losing the support of the Vatican will not help Berlusconi's chances at keeping a workable coalition together since it would probably cost him his last remaining conservative supporters.

    Maybe this will start a novel concept amongst right leaning people.  Maybe they will start to demand that their leadership actually walk their talk.  This might mean that a three time marriage adulterer like Newt Gingrich will never again be able to say anything along the lines that it only matters that he says what people need to hear not that he actually lives it.  Maybe the Vatican will get that message as well.

    Saturday, January 22, 2011

    About That Twelve Step Program For Gay Men--Where's The Courage In That?

    Twelve step programs are at their most ineffectual when they try to change mother nature.

    For some reason I seem to be practicing 'article avoidance behavior'.  There have been a couple of news worthy events which have either punched a button of mine, or are just too unbelievable for my brain to handle.  It could be both.  The story about the twelve step program for gay men--notice it's only for gay men--has been written about extensively, but not by me.  Then finally my curiosity about the actual twelve steps finally overcame my avoidance behavior.  So here are the twelve steps:

    We admitted that we were powerless over homosexuality and our lives had become unmanageable. (I can think of dozens of straight men who could say the exact same thing about their own sex lives, and I have dealt with an uncounted number of the female wreckage they left behind.)
     We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.  (Oh my.... I guess one has to admit being gay is the same as being insane. Unless this is a typo and they meant sanctity.  I kind of doubt it.)
    We made a decision to turn our will and our lives to the care of God as we understood Him. (A truly humble person knows they aren't capable of understanding God.)
    We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. (In a system which teaches that gay is a ticket to straight to hell, any such inventory under the direction of the Church would take a certain amount of fearlessness.)
    We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. (The intrinsic nature is the problem in Catholic thought---which takes gay way beyond addiction.)
    We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of our character. (Gayness is not a defect, but petitioning God to remove it is delusional and that is a defect.)
    We humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings. (And when God is done removing all one's shortcomings, the gay part will still be there because gay is not a shortcoming
     We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make direct amends to them all.  (Wouldn't it be nice if our bishops took this one seriously?)
    We made the direct amends to such people whenever possible except when to do so would injure them or others. (This one too.)
    We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
    We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for the knowledge of God's Will for us and the power to carry it out.  (Once again, no one can claim to understand God--least of all any Church that actually claims they do.)
    Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.  (Can't wait for KC produced DVD.)


    Anyone who is familiar with Twelve Step programs will notice a few deviations from the norm in this particular twelve step program.  That happens when one is trying to stuff a square peg in a round hole.
    I'm still trying to figure out what in the world this program is attempting to accomplish.  If it's to help a person modify abusive exploitative sexuality, a twelve step program for that already exists--and it works with either gays or straights.  I suspect this program at core is not about addictive abusive sexuality.  It's about reinforcing 'correct Catholic thinking' about gay sexuality.  I also suspect it's sort of aimed at seminary types who could probably get a seal of approval if they participate in this program. 

    There is also no compelling reason not to start a group for straight single men, and that might actually help accomplish a reduction in abortion and unwed motherhood. So I'm wondering why there is no group for straight single men.  The amount of destruction left behind by irresponsible ego driven straight single men is legendary and it's effects on society are far more damaging.  In fact the Diocese of Colorado Springs could start with the Air Force Academy which has already gone through a number of scandals involving the rape of female cadets.  Date rape is exploding on all our college campuses and that's not happening because of gay men. Virtually every college and university fraternity could support such a twelve step group. The Church could also start a group in the inner city where marriage before sex is about as likely as caviar with dinner.

    I really want to know why straight single men are always left out of all the sexual discussions?  Is it because the Church actually has no courage when it comes to dealing with straight men and the repercussions of irresponsible straight sex?  That would be my guess.  It doesn't take courage to focus on the supposed flaws of a sub group already thoroughly conditioned to accept such a focus.  This is just more abusive marginalization dressed up as a pastoral initiative.  It's also an abuse of the Twelve Step therapeutic approach which is targeted at addictive behavior, not romantic attachment.  And maybe that's what's bugging me.  The Church seems incapable of seeing homosexuality in terms of romantic attachment just as it's seemingly incapable of seeing aspects of single male heterosexual activity in terms of an exploitative and outright selfish 'lifestyle'.

    For me personally, I see this myopic blindness as a result of the true position of women in Church thinking--somewhere far far behind men and boys.  The Church has always recognized men and boys can be sexually exploited so of course gay men need twelve step groups. After all back in the day St Damien didn't give his rants about clerical sexual abuse over girls and women. His rants were over exploiting men and boys. Given this long history it's no wonder there are no Church sanctioned twelve step Courage groups for straight men. Women and girls have historically been accused of bringing on their own abuse.  Like gays, women have promiscuous 'lifestyles'.  Straight men are never described as having a sexual 'lifestyle'.

    As for lesbians, they only get on the radar in Chaput Catholicism when they do maternal attachment stuff like put their children in Catholic schools.  Then the reaction doesn't even pretend to be pastoral.  Every good Catholic knows instinctively that lesbians are incapable of healthy maternal attachments. This is in spite of the fact recent data show lesbian couples are actually very good at raising children. The best actually.

    Hmmmm. That's another part of my problem.  Now a days Catholics are asked to believe hierarchical teaching IN SPITE OF THE FACTS.  Which leads me to believe our hierarchy should take a twelve step rubric to heart.  The one that says 'Let go and Let God'. If they did they might find out they really do not understand the mind of God, and if they got that far down the road to spiritual awakening, some of them might actually begin to get over themselves.

    Thursday, January 20, 2011

    Musings On The New Anglican Ordinariate

    Oooops, wrong three bishops--my bad.

    Three Anglican Bishops Ordained As Catholic Priests
    By Al Webb - Religion News Service

    LONDON (RNS) Three former Church of England bishops, disaffected by their church's ordination of women, have been ordained as priests in the Roman Catholic Church under a new special section created by the Vatican.

    Their ordination as Catholic priests at London's Westminster Cathedral was confirmed Saturday (Jan. 15), two weeks after they were formally received into the Vatican's ranks.

    The three -- former Richborough Bishop Keith Newton, former Ebbsfleet Bishop Andrew Burnham and ex-bishop of Fulham John Broadhurst -- quit the Anglican Church in protest over women's ordination and the likelihood of women becoming bishops.

    The Catholic Church created a new religious home for the rebels in a special section called the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, intended specifically for Anglicans who want to become Catholics while still retaining aspects of their Anglican heritage. (Nothing like catering to the mind set of the middle ages in the twenty first century.  There has sure been a lot of that lately.)

    Newton, whom Pope Benedict XVI named as leader of the new ordinariate, suggested to journalists that as many as 50 other Anglican clerics and members of as many as 30 congregations might become Catholics in the coming months. (He also had a few thoughts on housing and financing for his expected 50 other Anglican priests. The British Catholic bishops are kicking in some money, but probably not nearly enough to avoid a certain amount of down sizing.)

    Archbishop Vincent Nichols, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, conducted the ordination of the three men, whom he conceded had experienced "some parting of friends" in their decision to abandon the Anglican Communion.

    But he described their switch as "a unique occasion marking a new step in the life and history of the Catholic Church." (It might be a new step for their version of Catholicism, but it doesn't change anything at all for any other Catholic.)

    Under the new rules, the three men will be allowed to stay married but cannot be elevated to bishops in the Catholic Church. (They will wind up getting everything but the title.)

    Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, head of the global, 77-million strong Anglican Communion, had already accepted the resignations of Newton, Burnham and Broadbent "with regret."


    I've been avoiding posting on this topic.  Of all the recent decisions made by the Vatican, in some ways this new ordinariate irritates me the most.  It's been interesting  along these lines to see just how little press this recent ordination ceremony has received.  Maybe it's gotten more in the British Isles.  Perhaps this lack of  attention is because no matter how it's spun this is more or less like rewarding grown men for throwing a tantrum.  Which is exactly how I see it.

    We've been down this road before and I wasn't impressed then either.  At that time, back in 1982, I was irritated that priests crossing the Tiber could keep both their wives and their jobs, but Roman Catholic priests who married were tossed out like so much garbage.  It was  like a double whammy of good old misogyny.  Now we get to add a heavy dose of gay bashing to go with the misogyny.  This is really not a particularly inspiring message to send or swallow. 

    I actually have a difficult time understanding how conservatives and traditionalists can be excited about this move.  All these Anglicans have demonstrated is that their given word in a sacred context is meaningless when it comes to conflict with their personal 'opinon'.  They left their flocks in the lurch even though the Anglican Church had bent over backwards for decades to accommodate their 'issues' with women clergy.  The American Episcopalian Church is a different ball game.  In England, there were real attempts made to placate the anti women clergy crowd--to no better success than the more aggressive approach taken by North American Episcopalians.  This says when it came to women clergy, the only acceptable position for traditionalists was none and this has now been extended to include  gay clergy.

    Speaking of which, I seriously wonder how these suddenly Catholic Anglicans with their suddenly found love for the papacy are going to deal with all the closets full of gay clergy in the Catholic hierarchy.  I imagine not very well.  On the other hand I can also imagine that given the theological mindset of this grouping of Anglican clergy they most likely have their share of sham marriages.  And all of this leaves me wondering about the maturity level of any of the male participants in this whole charade of a new Ordinariate.  It doesn't look like ecumenical Christian love to me.  It looks like one more method for dragging the Catholic priesthood through the mud. 

    Tuesday, January 18, 2011

    Too Much For My Blood

    This story is just too much for me to handle.  How far back into the dim recesses of Catholicism is too far back?

    John Paul II's Blood To Be Relic In Polish Church
     MONIKA SCISLOWSKA   01/17/11 09:44 AM   AP

    WARSAW, Poland — A vial containing blood drawn from Pope John Paul II shortly before he died will be installed as a relic in a Polish church soon after his beatification later this year, an official said Monday.
    Piotr Sionko, the spokesman for the John Paul II Center, said the vial will be encased in crystal and built into the altar of a church in the southern city of Krakow that is opening in May.

    The exact date of the opening is not yet known, but it should be shortly after John Paul's beatification at the Vatican on May 1.

    Sionko said the idea came from Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the archbishop of Krakow and the longtime friend and secretary of the late Polish-born pontiff. The blood was drawn for medical tests at Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic shortly before John Paul's death on April 2, 2005, and is now in Dziwisz's possession, he said.

    "It was the cardinal's proposal," Sionko said. "He is of the opinion that this is the most precious relic of John Paul II and should be the focal point of the church." (What ever happened to the body and blood of Jesus?  I thought those were the focal points.)

    The church in the Lagiewniki district is part of a center that will be devoted to cultivating the memory and the teaching of the late pope – who was born Karol Wojtyla in Wadowice, southern Poland, and spent decades in Krakow.

    Many Catholics in the world are rejoicing over Pope Benedict XVI's announcement last week that he will beatify John Paul on May 1. Beatification is the last major step before possible sainthood.

    The idea of displaying the pope's relics has met with some reservations, even inside the Catholic Church.

    "The tradition of relics comes from medieval practices of teaching the Bible through images and symbols," said the Rev. Krzysztof Madel, a Jesuit priest in Nowy Sacz who has publicly questioned the usefulness of displaying John Paul's blood. "But in today's rationalized world the message should rather come through teaching about someone's life." (Rumor has it there was also money in that relic 'business'.  Maybe that hasn't changed.)

    After John Paul's death, some Polish officials said they hoped John Paul's heart would be removed from his body and returned to his homeland for burial. However, church officials dismissed any possibility of dismembering the body, saying the age had passed for that practice.

    Dziwisz said Friday that he has always been against dividing of the body, but that "relics have always existed and will always exist."  (He may be against dividing the body, but not recovering some souvenir blood samples.)


    It sure does look like Cardinal Dziwisz is going to play his connection with JPII for all it's worth.  I am seriously at a loss for words because I can not comprehend this story. Contrary to Vatican assertions, the age has not passed for the practice of enshrining relics, just dividing up body parts.  To be honest, I have a hard time reconciling the theology of Benedict with this kind of thing, but then maybe I'm just plain wrong.  It could be the thing to do if the Vatican is hell bent on promoting the kind of cultic Catholicism with which JPII surrounded himself. It's not like this relic business wouldn't appeal to the followers of St Escriva, the not so saintly Maciel, and the guitar wielding song singing Neo Cats.

     According to NCR's Jason Berry, Cardinal Dziwisz did all right off those cultic personalities, so why not continue the trend with the biggest cult personality of them all.  If he plays his personal JPII relics right, why he could become a cult personality himself.  He's already parlayed his relationship with JPII into an international best selling book--a book that made no mention of the hefty 'donations' he received from lay followers of the Legion or Maciel himself.  Makes me wonder what more our esteemed leadership could possibly come up with next. 

    There are time it's embarrassing to claim any connection with Catholicism in the twenty first century and this is one of those times.

    Monday, January 17, 2011

    More On The Placebo Effect

    Don't laugh too hard because this has actually been done and golly gee about a third of would be surgery patients showed the exact same results as if they had really been operated on.

    The first assumption one has to dump in order to understand how the placebo effect works, is the assumption--long held as a kind of biological dogma--that DNA controls our fate.  One also has to dump it's corollary that the cell nucleus is analogous to the brain of the cell.  Both of those assumptions are wrong.  The more accurate statement is that the cell membrane, with it's multitude of information receptors and effectors, is the brain, and DNA is a sort of semi hardwired software program. 

    In this analogy DNA will not open a given 'window' (gene) unless it's told to by the keyboard of receptors residing in the cell wall.  The agents which press those 'keys' in the cell wall are either matter, in the form of specific chemicals, hormones, or amino acids; or they are energy waves like light and sound which is why we see and hear. Molecular biologists have calculated that energy signals are processed 100 times more efficiently than chemical signals. The instantaneous appearance of some healings may actually be relative to the cellular information being processed.

    One of the tools used with some effect to trigger the placebo effect is hypnosis. The fact hypnosis works indicates that another one of those cellular energy wave triggers is generated by thoughts, both conscious and unconscious.  Those energetic thought waves can not only originate in the individual person, but can also come from other humans acting in the individual's environment. 

    There is an interesting story about a young Britsh physician in the 50's, Dr Albert Mason,  who was using hypnosis to treat a young man for what he thought was a really bad case of warts. The young man's body was totally covered with wart like lesions except for his chest.  In Mason's first session with the boy he gave the suggestion the skin on one arm become healthy and pink and sure enough when the boy returned the following week, the arm looked very healthy. Mason then consulted with the boy's attending physician and found out the real diagnosis was not warts but congenital ichthyosis, a disease which is both genetic and lethal. Undaunted Mason continued with his hypnotic treatments because it worked,  and the boy continued to respond. 

    This case was a sensation in the British medical community, but not for long. When Mason attempted to repeat these results on other patients with congenital ichthyosis he was not nearly as successful.  In later years he attributed this to his own lack of belief in his ability to repeat his success because he then knew what he was trying to treat was 'incurable' and he lost the cockiness and surety his ignorance had given him.  With this particular disease, Dr. Mason's belief structure had taken him from a powerful placebo catalyst to an inert and ineffective doctor exactly like all his peers.  Big Pharma to the rescue.

    Along these same lines, I was watching an episode from the first season of the Tudors which dealt with a surge of plague running rampant through the British Isles.  Given what we know about the virulence of these plagues and the ineffectiveness of the standard treatments, it's not unreasonable to think a significant number of people survived because of the placebo effect.  Since the placebo effect triggers real cellular and genetic changes, it is also reasonable to speculate these changes in immunological ability were passed on to succeeding generations through the changed DNA of survivors.  The effect of measles in the European populations vs American Indigenous populations comes to mind. This would be different from immunizing generations of children because it would involve a change in the actual DNA of survivors, not an externally introduced capacity for the immune system to recognize a particular invader.  This could have significance for today because it is entirely possible there have been placebo effect healings in an occasional HIV sufferer who would then be a potential carrier while showing no identifiable effects from the disease, but the change in information in their genetic programming might be very interesting to know.

    Placebo is a big subject with a multitude of variables, but it's effects are real and Big Pharma knows it.  In this post I've only scratched the surface of some of the relevant biological thinking and none of the research.  For those interested in more depth, Bruce Lipton's book 'The Biology of Belief' is a good place to start and his website lists numerous links to the most up to date research in cellular functioning, the new field of epigenetics, and the latest in human consciousness.

    Tomorrow I want to get into the nocebo effect, which works exactly the same on a cellular level. Western culture is experiencing an explosion in cancer, auto immune, and mental health diseases.  I suspect it's not a coincidence that we are experiencing this in parallel with our recent communication advances like television, radio, and movies. It could very well be we have created a very toxic thought wave environment-- to go along with our toxic material environment--and our bodies are biologically acting this out for us in the form of disease.  Churches, historical Roman Catholicism in particular, have laid the groundwork for a lot of personal toxicity with their theologies of sin, guilt, and the irredeemable nature of humanity.  It is not surprising that very very few of our religious have demonstrated much of a capacity to be strong placebo enhancers other wise known as spiritual healersLike Dr Mason, eventually their belief structures ensure they will be as inert as the rest of their peers.

    Saturday, January 15, 2011

    About That Miracle VS Placebo Issue

    Recent studies say about fifty percent of our doctors do prescribe some form of placebos.

    Before I get started on discussing whether one can tell a spiritual miracle from the placebo effect, I want to extract a few paragraphs from a lengthy article on Big Pharma's problems with the placebo effect. It's not just medical committees at the Vatican that have problems with the placebo effect, so does Big Pharma, and for a multitude of reasons. The scariest reason for Big Pharma is that the placebo effect is getting stronger. People seem to be more adept at mentally triggering the body to heal itself.  The down side? This also means that people are getting more adept at triggering the nocebo effect--getting the body to turn on itself.  But first here's some fascinating stuff about Big Pharma's problems as reported in Wired Magazine in August of 2009.

    .....Last November, a new type of gene therapy for Parkinson's disease, championed by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, was abruptly withdrawn from Phase II trials after unexpectedly tanking against placebo. A stem-cell startup called Osiris Therapeutics got a drubbing on Wall Street in March, when it suspended trials of its pill for Crohn's disease, an intestinal ailment, citing an "unusually high" response to placebo. Two days later, Eli Lilly broke off testing of a much-touted new drug for schizophrenia when volunteers showed double the expected level of placebo response.

    It's not only trials of new drugs that are crossing the futility boundary. Some products that have been on the market for decades, like Prozac, are faltering in more recent follow-up tests. In many cases, these are the compounds that, in the late '90s, made Big Pharma more profitable than Big Oil. But if these same drugs were vetted now, the FDA might not approve some of them. Two comprehensive analyses of antidepressant trials have uncovered a dramatic increase in placebo response since the 1980s. One estimated that the so-called effect size (a measure of statistical significance) in placebo groups had nearly doubled over that time.

    It's not that the old meds are getting weaker, drug developers say. It's as if the placebo effect is somehow getting stronger. (That's because it is.)

    The fact that an increasing number of medications are unable to beat sugar pills has thrown the industry into crisis. The stakes could hardly be higher. In today's economy, the fate of a long-established company can hang on the outcome of a handful of tests.

    Why are inert pills suddenly overwhelming promising new drugs and established medicines alike? The reasons are only just beginning to be understood. A network of independent researchers is doggedly uncovering the inner workings—and potential therapeutic applications—of the placebo effect. At the same time, drugmakers are realizing they need to fully understand the mechanisms behind it so they can design trials that differentiate more clearly between the beneficial effects of their products and the body's innate ability to heal itself. A special task force of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health is seeking to stem the crisis by quietly undertaking one of the most ambitious data-sharing efforts in the history of the drug industry. After decades in the jungles of fringe science, the placebo effect has become the elephant in the boardroom.

    For me this increase in placebo effect was an exciting bit of news.  One of the ideas which has gained great prominence in psychic/spiritual circles is that humanity is experiencing a major shift in consciousness.  One of the indicators of this shift is an enhancement in the mind/body connection.  In other words our mental beliefs will have more potency in effecting the expression of our reality. The placebo/nocebo effect would be one example of this effect of belief on the expression of our reality.  We are what we think and believe about ourselves--and our bodies will reflect that thinking.  In this paradigm any dualism between mind/body or soul/body does not exist because they are intimately entangled on the quantum level of reality.  This has always been true, but for what ever reason, the effects, both positive and negative,  are expressing themselves more overtly and faster.

    Further along in the article the author lists some of the behaviors researchers have identified which seem to enhance the placebo effect.  Not surprisingly they define this set of behaviors as 'therapeutic ritual': way that placebo aids recovery is by hacking the mind's ability to predict the future. We are constantly parsing the reactions of those around us—such as the tone a doctor uses to deliver a diagnosis—to generate more-accurate estimations of our fate. One of the most powerful placebogenic triggers is watching someone else experience the benefits of an alleged drug. Researchers call these social aspects of medicine the therapeutic ritual.

    In a study last year, Harvard Medical School researcher Ted Kaptchuk devised a clever strategy for testing his volunteers' response to varying levels of therapeutic ritual. The study focused on irritable bowel syndrome, a painful disorder that costs more than $40 billion a year worldwide to treat. First the volunteers were placed randomly in one of three groups. One group was simply put on a waiting list; researchers know that some patients get better just because they sign up for a trial. Another group received placebo treatment from a clinician who declined to engage in small talk. Volunteers in the third group got the same sham treatment from a clinician who asked them questions about symptoms, outlined the causes of IBS, and displayed optimism about their condition. (The empathetic pastoral approach.)

    Not surprisingly, the health of those in the third group improved most. In fact, just by participating in the trial, volunteers in this high-interaction group got as much relief as did people taking the two leading prescription drugs for IBS. And the benefits of their bogus treatment persisted for weeks afterward, contrary to the belief—widespread in the pharmaceutical industry—that the placebo response is short-lived.

    It doesn't take much of a leap to see that actual spiritual rituals specifically engaged in to heal someone could trigger a very powerful placebo response. In fact sometimes spiritual rituals are designed to trigger the effect. It's just not called placebo. Indigenous shamans and medicine people have known about this for eons and have gone to great lengths to design situations which enhance a given persons belief in the power of the ritual, strengthen their belief in God and in their own ability to heal themselves.  In most healing rituals the patient is not a passive recipient, but an active participant.  In other words, they are to some extent their own doctor, their own priest, establishing their own connections with God to bring on their own healing. I've witnessed and participated in these kinds of spiritual rituals numerous times and have seen some mind blowing results. A half a dozen of which would most certainly have met the Vatican's criteria for a miraculous healing.  That hardly makes me a saint.

    This is a huge topic and deserves more than one posting so tomorrow I'll get into some of the biology of how this type of 'miracle' happens.  The truth is, knowing as much of the science behind the phenomenon as one can is important in Western culture because our faith and belief structures are heavily influenced by science. We are far more likely to give ourselves permission to trigger the effect if we understand to some extent how it might work.  Plus, knowing something about how this works can also help avoid triggering the nocebo effect, and that's just as important.

    Friday, January 14, 2011

    Santo Subito? I Don't Think So

    Santo Subito with El Diablo Augusto Pinochet

    It didn't take a psychic to see this one coming.  It's been a done deal since the day JPII died.  The chosen date for the beatification is May 1.  May 1st is a day that should warm the hearts of  St. Faustina followers-at least this year- and remind any would be European Communists that May 1 is no longer their 'feast' day.

    John Paul II To Be Beatified In the Spring
    By RACHEL DONADIO - NY TIMES - 1/14/2010

    VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI moved his beloved predecessor one step closer to sainthood on Friday, confirming a miracle by John Paul II and setting May 1, the first Sunday after Easter, as the date of his beatification.

    The designation means he is considered “blessed” and can be publicly venerated. Sainthood would follow after the confirmation of one more miracle.

    Thousands are expected to attend the beatification ceremony. Benedict is expected to celebrate the Mass himself, a much-needed bright spot in his papacy, which in recent months has been weathering a sexual abuse scandal in Europe and violence against Christians in the Middle East.

    Wildly popular, John Paul was seen as a man of his time, a Pole who marshaled the Catholic Church’s energies to help end the cold war. But he was also criticized for how he handled a sexual abuse crisis that burgeoned in the United States as early as the 1980s.

    At John Paul’s funeral in April 2005, the faithful filled Saint Peter’s Square, some carrying banners reading “Santo subito,” or “Sainthood now.”Benedict honored their wishes, putting John Paul on a fast track to sainthood, waiving the traditional five-year waiting period for the process to begin, but insisting on a thorough investigation into his life.  (I actually think Benedict put JPII on a fast track precisely to avoid a thorough investigation of JPII's papacy.)

    Benedict said Friday in a decree that a French nun had been miraculously cured of Parkinson’s disease thanks to John Paul’s intercession. John Paul himself had Parkinson’s. In a statement, Benedict said that a Vatican-appointed committee of cardinals, bishops, doctors and theologians had determined that the recovery of Sister Marie Pierre Simon from Parkinson’s was “miraculous” and “scientifically inexplicable.”
    Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the archbishop of Krakow and John Paul’s longtime personal secretary, said he was thrilled at the news. He said he was “happy” that the wish for “santo subito, that people have been praying for, is finally coming true........”


    I find it kind of ironic that I might actually be on the side of the uber traditionalists on the cause of JPII's sainthood and for the same reasons. John Allen, in his column today, sums up these reasons:

    Second, some traditional Catholics may object to the apparent haste in John Paul’s cause, arguing that it risks cheapening the canonization process if there’s a perception that a particular candidate is being moved forward too hastily. Perceptions that the usual process has been “short-circuited,” some warn, may suggest that other church teachings and disciplines can be massaged or set aside. They add that according to Catholic theology, the church has no power to “make” a saint – it can simply ratify that a particular figure is already in Heaven. By that logic, there’s no rush, since if John Paul is indeed a saint, formal beatification and canonization won’t add anything.

    I would personally add a fourth reason, that this kind of fast tracking also lends itself to questions, not of any perceived or real holiness, but of the espousing of the currently favored theological/political ideology and notions of Catholic identity.  I think it's noteworthy that this canonization is not particularly favored by either the progressive wing of the Church or the uber traditionalists.  This seems to define JPII as  something of a neo con whose main claim to fame will be that he concurred with and became a major player in neo con games of world control.  St. JPII and St Ronnie Reagan will be forever linked with the fall of the Berlin wall, but they will also be forever linked with the oppression of liberal elements in Central and South America and the favoring of any number of despotic rightwing dictators.  (see above photo)

    That's on the political side, on the holiness side, JPII and Sr Faustina will be forever linked and this linkage defines JPII's notions of holiness.  They were pretty dark notions of holiness and how holiness should be expressed.  I have spent a number of hours reading Sister Faustina's diaries and came away less convinced of her visions and more convinced she was at least partially delusional and that the Vatican may have had good reasons to suppress her diaries and sanction her spiritual advisor Fr. Sopocko.

    JPII as Cardinal Archbishop of Krackow was instrumental in having the sanctions lifted, and then during his papacy insured she would be canonized.  St Faustina's was the kind of Catholic piety, with it's elevation of suffering, obedience and hell avoidance behavior, which became the hallmark of the theology of most of the various cults of personality that came to the forefront during JPII's papacy. 

    It's interesting in reading some of hagiographical biographies of Faustina that her superiors are consistently portrayed as impediments to and disbelievers in her holiness.  They are people who purposely tried to thwart her visions for their own selfish or class reasons.  There is never any consideration that these same superiors might have been genuinely concerned that Faustina was not playing with a full deck and did indeed suffer from delusions and a pathological religiosity.   Along those lines I find it very interesting that she belonged to an order of nuns called the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy and then had visions of Jesus defining Himself as Divine Mercy.  It's almost as if Faustina had to 'one up' her own order by envisioning Jesus rather than Mary as the font of mercy.
    In any event, given JPII's seeming inability to differentiate between habitual piety and true conversion, or between personality disorders and saintliness, or his willingness to confuse obedience with faith, I don't think I personally can credit him with the spiritual gift of discernment.  I shudder to think that had Maciel's 'wives' not come forward with DNA evidence of Maciel's children we could have had a St Maciel to go with our St Escriva.  And for the same reasons, this conflation of one's personal devotional life above their actual acts in the world.  We are supposed to buy this conflation in the case of JPII. Here's more from John Allen:
    "Vatican officials today did not offer any response to substantive criticism of John Paul II, but in past cases when popes have been moved along the sainthood track, they generally insist that beatifying or canonizing a pope is not tantamount to endorsing every policy choice of his pontificate. Instead, they say, it’s a declaration that this pope lived a holy life worthy of emulation, despite whatever failings may have occurred during his lifetime – including his reign as pope."
    I think someone needs to remind the Vatican papal saint makers that the book in the New Testament that deals with their predecessors is not entitled "The Prayer Life of the Apostles".  It's entitled "The Acts of the Apostles".  Just sayin'. 
    Santo Subito?  I don't think so.  As to the reported miracle, that's more likely due to Santo Placebo, but I'll have more on that notion tomorrow--- because it's an important and understudied notion.

    Thursday, January 13, 2011

    Vatican Decision On Neo Cats In Japan Puts Another Nail In The Charade Of National Bishops Conferences

    What makes this photo fascinating is that Neo Cat founders Kiko and Carmen have so much pull, Carmen can be photographed with Benedict XVI in sweats.  At least they are black sweats.

    The other day the Vatican announced a decision, that while it hasn't gotten much play, pretty much defines the authority of national bishops conferences to act on their own authority.  At the same time the story gives great insight into the power of the various Spanish personality cults with in the Vatican.  The cults can and the bishops can't.

     Neocatechumenal Way Will Not Be Suspended in Japan

    MADRID, Spain, JAN. 7, 2011 (

     The Neocatechumenal Way will not be suspended in Japan for five years, as was previously announced by the country's episcopal conference, reports the lay movement.

    According to a spokesman of movement, Alvaro de Juana, this decision was communicated recently in writing by the Vatican Secretariat of State to the Neocatechumenal Way founders: Kiko Arguello, Carmen Hernandez and Mario Pezzi.

    De Juana informed ZENIT that the letter came after Benedict XVI presided at a Dec. 13 meeting with a representation of several Japanese bishops, among them the president of the episcopal conference, Archbishop Leo Ikenaga of Osaka, to address some aspects of the Neocatechumenal Way in Japan.

    A few weeks earlier, the Japanese episcopal conference announced that it would suspend the activities of the movement in Japan for five years.

    De Juana explained that "the Holy See has made a series of decisions," which were revealed in Cardinal Bertone's letter.

    "The first indicates that the suspension of the Neocatechumenal Way in Japan for five years -- as attempted by the country's Episcopal Conference -- is not admissible," he said.

    On the other hand, the spokesman added, it specified that "the dialogue between the bishops of Japan and the Neocatechumenal Way must be taken up again as soon as possible with the help of a competent delegate who loves the Way and respects the problems of the bishops."

    "Finally, if necessary, the latter must give concrete indications to the Way for each of its own dioceses, avoiding pronouncements of the episcopal conference," explained De Juana.

    "The Holy See points out in addition that the Secretariat of State will be in charge of giving the necessary instructions and will address, in contact with the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the questions referring to the presence of the Way in said country," concluded the spokesman.


    So much for the power of Episcopal conferences to make independent decisions.  Or maybe this is actually about the power of conservative lay movements who worship the Vatican.  In any event the Japanese bishops have certainly been put in their place when it comes to the Neo Cats.  I wonder if an individual bishop could throw them out of their diocese.  I would love to see a Japanese bishop test those waters.

    The cynic is me wonders if the Vatican is sucking up to the Neo Cats because they need these official Vatican cheerleaders to fill St Peter's square when JPII is beatified.  That was one of the main 'charisms' of the Neo Cats, to see to it that the crowds came out for JPII.  They also made sure guitar toting Neo Cats sang to the Pope on the days he was in residence at St Peter's.  Like Marcial Maciel,  Neo Cat founders Kiko Arguello and Carmen Hernandez were connected personally with JPII and had access to his inner circle.  They were on his private dinner guest list.

    The Japanese bishops had problems with Neo Cat secrecy about their doings, their individualized rituals, and enough concern with Neo Cat seminary formation that they shut down the Neo Cat seminary. The over all complaint about them was that the Neo Cats were affecting unity with in their dioceses.  These complaints are generic concerning these privately led, Spanish birthed, lay Catholic initiatives. They run on secrecy, elitism, Vatican worship, and predatory recruiting with in parishes and colleges.  In the case of the Japanese Catholic Church, Kiko and Carmen have more Vatican influence than the entire Japanese Episcopal conference.

    I've written before about two points this story illustrates.  The first is that the whole notion of subsidiarity is dead in Roman Catholicism.  It's all Vatican all the time.  The second is that these Spanish initiated lay groups
    like Opus Dei, the Legion, and the Neo Cats are a parallel church not answerable to any ecclesiastical authority outside the Vatican. Their influence with in the Vatican, which is not a reflection of their actual numbers--well human numbers anyway-- is seemingly unlimited. 

    These groups seem to function as sort of a fifth column for the Vatican with in Catholicism.  The definition of a fifth column is "a clandestine subversive organization working within a country to further an invading enemy's military and political aims." There are other names for groups who infiltrate their fellow citizens on behalf of a central state authority.  I'm being generous in describing them as a fifth column.  

    In any event be prepared to be overwhelmed by tales of Neo Cat allegiance and passionate piety when the Vatican roles out the JPII Beatification ceremony.  There will be guitars everywhere and some of them will be from Japan. 

    I don't imagine there is much guitar playing going on in the halls of the USCCB or other national conferences.  Their competency and authority goes only so far as their Vatican leash lets them.  No wonder professional groups like the Catholic Health Association blow them off.  I can't think of too many people who are intimidated by a dog on a leash, no matter how much the dog barks. 

    UPDATE:  The NCR has also posted on this story and it too is worth a read.  It seems the Japanese bishops are not going to accept this directive silently.  Good for them.

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    Maybe It's Time We Talked About A Maturity Scale Rather Than The Ideological Spectrum

    Don't be fooled by the flag pin.  When all is said and done, it's all about Sarah 24/7.

    One of the indicators of people who have moved from reasoned position of advocacy to a narcissistic need to excuse their unbridled 'enthusiasm' is when they make it very obvious the things they purport to espouse do not apply to them.  Sarah Palin's latest video in defense of her purposefully militant rhetoric is a classic demonstration of this pattern.  First she states the following to distance herself from any culpability in the assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabby Giffords:

    "Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them."

    Shortly there after she says this to make herself the victim, apparently oblivious to the fact she is now accusing the left of doing precisely what she says the language of the right does not do:

    "Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn."

    Sarah Palin is asking us to believe the left is capable of influencing the actions of others through rhetoric and association, but the right is not.  When a mentally ill young man actually does use an assault rifle to target a congresswoman Palin herself has asked to be targeted, that 's just an unrelated coincidence.  It's the rhetoric of the left that causes all the problems.

    This is a neat trick because it works with people who primarily use their reasoning faculties to support their own positions and then tear down their perceived opponents positions.  As I wrote the other day, this is sort of the classic use of intellectual reasoning for people James Fowler has described as Stage III on his spiritual maturity scale. The more emotion behind Stage III people, the more illogical their own take on things.  The human capacity to generate reasons for personal behavior is virtually limitless. Some of the hardest clients to work with are intelligent people who use their intelligence to generate one rationalization after another to avoid personal responsibility for their dysfunctional behavior.  It can sometimes seem like an endless battle in a therapeutic setting.  In a political setting, used by a national leader, it's damned dangerous.

    I wish someone with more computer savvy than I have could put together a Utube video juxtaposing the thinking of Gabby Giffords with Sarah Palin.  It would certainly serve to illustrate the difference in world view and conceptual thinking between two very different politicians.  This ability to get beyond one's own narcissistic needs and move into higher levels of spiritual maturity is not dependent on a progressive or conservative world view.  Two of my all time favorite priests were sacramental and theological conservatives, but totally other centered, and way way beyond using their lives to serve their ego needs.  Just as I have met many a progressive whose 'other centeredness' was just barely skin deep. Scratch the surface and I found a narcissist in liberal clothing.  Maturity is not totally influenced by one's political or religious views, but one's level of maturity certainly does influence how one expresses and acts on those views.

    Maybe the way around the political impasse is to stop categorizing people on the basis of the political scale, and start looking at politicians from a narcissism or maturity scale.  If a given politician's motivation is really all about them, it doesn't matter what side of the political spectrum their public persona happens to espouse.  The odds are their constituents are going to get screwed.  The same is true with religious leadership, and unfortunately for Roman Catholicism, our current leadership is too full of clerical Palin's rather than clerical Gifford's.

    The one thing I don't get about Pope Benedict and his constant homilizing on the evil's of selfish secularism, is why he refuses to see that same self centered culture has been fully instrumental in the formation of our clerical culture. The rise of 'pomp and ceremony' clerics with in the priestly ranks is not a sign of the Holy Spirit energising the traditional church so much as it's a sign of enculturated narcissism playing out in a clerical setting.  Hardly the mental formation from which selfless saints are made.  Truthfully today's young conservative cleric resembles the clergy of Benedict's youth in clerical clothes only.  Just as the political Palin's of our current political climate do not resemble the politicians who had the guts to make tough decisions for the good of this country in previous generations.  Back in the day when the government actually worked somewhat for the common good.

    One of the discussions I hope the US might start to embark on is what do we really want in our politicians. If maturity is a desired trait, then the Palin's of the world need to be exposed.  It's one thing to have a Palin personality espousing personal delusions as a talking head on Fox, but another thing entirely to have her representing the most powerful nation on earth from that same level of intense faultless self absorption. That scenario would be akin to having our own version of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and that's a scary thought.  


    Monday, January 10, 2011

    Cardinal George: Taking 'Possession' Of One's Vocation Means Punishing Trespassers

    Cardinal George is all for bishops taking 'possession' of their vocation.

    John Allen posted an NCR interview with Cardinal George over this past weekend.  The following excerpt contains the bullet points of the interview:

    Among the highlights of the interview:

     - George said debates over Catholic identity these days often pivot on the authority of the bishop – and he said bishops are more prepared to “take possession of their vocation,” not just as teachers and preachers, but as governors who exercise, however reluctantly, “the power to punish.” (This is another way of saying bishops are now firmly committed to the idea of 'owning' their diocese and that laity will be punished for trespassing on their intellectual property.)

     - He wondered aloud if the “Faithful Citizenship” guides issued by the bishops in advance of national elections may be an exercise in futility, since they offer broad moral principles to a pragmatic culture interested only in specific conclusions. (Broad moral principles don't cut it for the right, and that's a major problem with attempting to define a nuanced Catholic position. Eventually someone in the hierarchy is going to have to admit that today's Church authority prefers to cater to those in the early stages of spiritual development.)

     - He asserted the church has been “true to its promises” on sex abuse, weeding out predators and creating a safe environment. He expressed hope that as time goes on, the “zero tolerance” policy can be balanced against protecting priests from false accusations -- some of whom, he said, have been “severely damaged” by the experience. (This thinking conveniently ignores the fact that had bishops previously done their jobs correctly, today's bishops wouldn't have been forced into a zero tolerance policy.)

     - George conceded that while bishops are now punished just like priests if they abuse, there’s not the same degree of accountability for bishops who covered up abuse or failed to prevent it. He said more work may need to be done, while insisting there is a growing “informal” spirit of accountability in the church. (An 'informal' spirit of accountability is just another way of stating their is no meaningful accountability for bishops.)

     - He said a breach between the U.S. bishops and the Catholic Healthcare Association over health care reform has produced “good conversation” -- adding that if the CHA wants to repair relations, one important signal would be joining the bishops in support of the Pitts-Lipinski Amendment, designed to restore restrictions on abortion funding. (According to George, the CHA must come crawling to the bishops for trespassing on the bishop's intellectual property rights. No recognition at all that bishops like Olmstead trespass on the 'intellectual property' rights of the CHA and it's individual hospitals.)

     - George admitted some surprise that the bishops broke with tradition by passing over the vice-president of the conference, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, to elect Dolan as president. He admitted that given the pace of change in the 21st century, it now may be an anachronism to think the bishops can pick the right leader three years in advance. (What he's not saying is that Dolan was chosen in part because he can put a smiley face on the fact the current hierarchy has no intention of entertaining change in the structure of 21st Century Catholicism.) 


    There's no question Cardinal George has taken his teaching authority by the horns.  I can't for the life of me understand how he has the chutzpa to talk about the abuse crisis at all, when his own post Dallas Charter record is abysmal. Oh well, it is indicative of the over gist of this interview and Cardinal George's thinking.

    I found this interview with Cardinal George instructive for a different reason. It seems to underline the fact that the current members of the USCCB, and the Vatican curia for that matter, have made a real decision that the Church they represent is a church that caters to and fosters the mind set described by James Fowler's as Stage III spirituality--a stage Fowler called the 'synthetic conventional' stage. I encourage readers to check out this link to prickliest pear's Far From Rome blog in which he goes into detail in explaining this particular stage. From that post you will also find links the Fowler's other stages and an overview of Fowler's research. 

    For purposes of this post I'll only state that core aspects of Stage III thinking involve accepting external authority as validation for one's beliefs, and that where as one might use their higher reasoning functions to dissect their ideas about economics, they will not do the same with their religious beliefs.  This is easily seen in highly educated adults who believe they will incur the wrath of God should they turn their intellects on Catholic doctrine or question Catholic bishops the way they freely do their bosses and corporate policies.

    This is a really interesting set of behaviors when you consider bosses have one's material survival in their hands, and bishops have no such survival threatening abilities--unless you happen to actually be employed by them.  This says a great deal about the power initial religious formation has on people and why it can be such a potent chain for some.  It also gives a bit of an explanation as to why it can be so difficult for people who have essentially moved past the synthetic conventional stage to completely leave the Church. It's kind of like leaving your first true teen age love.

    Fowler doesn't limit his system to religious belief.  His stages can easily be applied to other areas of human belief.  Politics is another area in which it can be difficult to move beyond the views of one's birth family.  Perhaps that's why our bishops have gotten on the same page as the Republican party.  They both emphasise the same kind of idolizing of authority figures and same notions of governance. Punishment is in and compromise is out. 

    Sunday, January 9, 2011

    Some Karmic Lessons In Arizona, And Some Incredible Lies

    As of yesterday, Palin's office is claiming these were just 'surveyors symbols'.  Yea riggghhhhht.  Rep. Giffords is number four on this list of surveyor symbols.

    I wrote the following words Friday, for a post I didn't publish. It was a post about Arizona.  I didn't publish it because I felt I shouldn't.  That maybe I had posted too much on Arizona and perhaps this post was too negative.  The post was to be in reference to Arizona's ban on ethnic studies classes.  Here's how I started the post:

    There must be something in the desert water down in Arizona which is ramping up the fears of white conservatives.  It seems to have effected the neural functioning of Senator John McCain, Governor Jan Brewer, Maricopa County Sheriff Jo Arpaio, and lest I forget, Bishop Olmstead.

    Then on Saturday, as I was writing yesterday's post, came the tragic news of the shooting in Tuscon.  It was allegedly the work of a young white male with mental issues and  strong beliefs in rightwing conspiracy theories.  Huffington Post reports he had an active interest in at least one white supremacy group--a type of ethnic study group which is seemingly not banned in Arizona. My initial reaction was not shock that such an event happened, but that it didn't happen before now--especially in Arizona.

    Here are the words of Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik about yesterday's tragedy:

    After Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head and a number of others were wounded or killed in a shooting in Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said that the state has "become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.....

    ....."When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," said the sheriff. "And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."

    ......."it's not unusual for all public officials to get threats." However, he said the sentiment doesn't come without consequences.
    "And that's the sad thing of what's going on in America," he explained. "Pretty soon, we're not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people who are willing to subject themselves to serve in public office."

    When I heard these words from Sheriff Dubnik during his press conference last night, I was actually shocked he said them and then just as shocked at my own reaction.  I guess I had gone past the point of expecting to hear truth from anyone in governance of any sort in Arizona.  I was expecting to hear the kind of stuff that is now coming out of Sarah Palin's headquarters.  In reference to the map posted above, her Aides are now saying those aren't cross hairs from gun sights, those are 'surveyors symbols'.  This in spite of the fact Sarah was telling her fan base to 'take aim' at those office holders of all those 'targeted' congressional districts--one of whom was Representative Giffords.

    I dont' know precisely why Arizona has gone off the deep end, but I do know it was Arizona's own John McCain that legitimized the above mentioned Sarah Palin and it was that same John McCain who first attacked Palin for costing him the presidency and then crawled on his suddenly slimy knees to beg Palin to campaign for him so he could keep his Arizona Senate seat.

    Maybe there's a sort of karmic balance thing going on in Arizona.  In any event Americans are being given a real opportunity to take a long look at how our democracy is actually working and to determine if this is how we want it to look and sound in the future.  The Sara Palin/Glen Beck/Tea Party/Fox News legacy may just be the end of our access to our elected representatives, and as Sheriff Dubnik points out "pretty soon we aren't going to be able to find reasonable, decent people who are willing to subject themselves to serve in public office."  For sure, who would want one of Palin's 'survey symbols' on their forehead.