Saturday, March 5, 2011

Was Cardinal George Espousing A Catholic Version Of The Prosperity Gospel Shell Game?

I have to admit I was stunned with Cardinal George's take on God's love. Stunned.  As one commenter posted, I too wanted to bang my head with my keyboard.  How in the world have we gotten to the point where a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church felt compelled to write that God loves some people more than others?  Yesterday I wrote that this was a view of God that suspiciously mirrored an immature paternal figure.  Although such a view of God is easily justified in the Old Testament, it can't be justified from the teachings of Christ.  Yet we see this view of God continually portrayed by the Christian right to justify all kinds of policies which do in fact make it seem that God loves some people more than others.  In Evangelical circles this is espoused as the 'prosperity gospel'.  It's crap, but it's stench is pervasive in our politics.

A few weeks ago Huffington Post ran an op ed piece by George Lakoff entitled "What Conservatives Really Want".  I think it helps explain what Cardinal George was up to with his pernicious take on God.  I don't believe anyone's salvation or potential sainthood was on Cardinal George's mind.  The following is an excerpt from Lakoff's piece.

 "The way to understand the conservative moral system is to consider a strict father family. The father is The Decider, the ultimate moral authority in the family. His authority must not be challenged. His job is to protect the family, to support the family (by winning competitions in the marketplace), and to teach his kids right from wrong by disciplining them physically when they do wrong. The use of force is necessary and required. Only then will children develop the internal discipline to become moral beings. And only with such discipline will they be able to prosper. And what of people who are not prosperous? They don't have discipline, and without discipline they cannot be moral, so they deserve their poverty. The good people are hence the prosperous people. Helping others takes away their discipline, and hence makes them both unable to prosper on their own and function morally. (And this father figure loves some of his children more than others, especially his sons, and especially his first born son.  Unfortunately none of this is particularly true for today's fathers who seem to love their daughters as much as their sons and don't give much preference to one's birth order.)

The market itself is seen in this way. The slogan, "Let the market decide" assumes the market itself is The Decider. The market is seen as both natural (since it is assumed that people naturally seek their self-interest) and moral (if everyone seeks their own profit, the profit of all will be maximized by the invisible hand). As the ultimate moral authority, there should be no power higher than the market that might go against market values. Thus the government can spend money to protect the market and promote market values, but should not rule over it either through (1) regulation, (2) taxation, (3) unions and worker rights, (4) environmental protection or food safety laws, and (5) tort cases. Moreover, government should not do public service. The market has service industries for that. Thus, it would be wrong for the government to provide health care, education, public broadcasting, public parks, and so on. The very idea of these things is at odds with the conservative moral system. No one should be paying for anyone else. It is individual responsibility in all arenas. Taxation is thus seen as taking money away from those who have earned it and giving it to people who don't deserve it. Taxation cannot be seen as providing the necessities of life, a civilized society, and as necessary for business to prosper. (This is true even as one drives on tax built roads and laughs at the sucker who was pulled over by the Highway Patrol for driving drunk.)

In conservative family life, the strict father rules. Fathers and husbands should have control over reproduction; hence, parental and spousal notification laws and opposition to abortion. In conservative religion, God is seen as the strict father, the Lord, who rewards and punishes according to individual responsibility in following his Biblical word.  (And in that view, men have all the sexual rights and women have all the sexual responsibilities--otherwise known as complementarity.)

Above all, the authority of conservatism itself must be maintained. The country should be ruled by conservative values, and progressive values are seen as evil. Science should not have authority over the market, and so the science of global warming and evolution must be denied. Facts that are inconsistent with the authority of conservatism must be ignored or denied or explained away. To protect and extend conservative values themselves, the devil's own means can be used again conservatism's immoral enemies, whether lies, intimidation, torture, or even death, say, for women's doctors.

Freedom is defined as being your own strict father -- with individual not social responsibility, and without any government authority telling you what you can and cannot do. To defend that freedom as an individual, you will of course need a gun.

This is the America that conservatives really want. Budget deficits are convenient ruses for destroying American democracy and replacing it with conservative rule in all areas of life.


I wonder though if the blinders aren't being taken off some people's eyes about the real agenda of the paternal conservative movement.  If this model is being so thoroughly challenged and refuted in the Muslim world, proponents of such a view in the Catholic world have to be getting somewhat scared.  They might even go so far as to insist God loves some people more than others as if to prod a reluctant flock into to sticking with a model of God that no longer has much relevance to the culture as a whole. 

The conservative movement actually has two strains, neither one of which is truly Christian.  I personally prefer the 'small government' libertarian group far more than I do the 'big government of big patriarchy' form.
The libertarian form is pretty prevalent out here in the West, which can be seen in the almost totally Republican Wyoming State legislature voting down intrusive abortion and gay marriage legislation. Small government means small government.  It does not intrude in bedrooms, boardrooms, or doctor/patient relationships.  Big patriarchy intrudes everywhere but the boardroom and the specific agenda is to keep the boardroom obscenely profitable and always in control.  In the West, big patriarchy is no longer the sole province of men.  We seem to have any number of political women willing to anoint themselves as the last best chance for big patriarchy.  The presence of women does not make it less 'big patriarchy'.

Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I am not about to imply that the Democratic party is particularly Christian.  It used to have the social justice thing down pretty well, but that got seriously diluted under the Clinton form of the party.  President Obama appears quite willing to put aspects of 'big patriarchy' in play when it suits his agenda.  As time passes it's an agenda which looks suspiciously as corporate in it's core as any Republican agenda.  I suspect that's why we see on one day President Obama agreeing to the extension of the Bush tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy and then a few days later he masks this over by deciding not defend the constitutionality of DOMA.  Or one day he axes fifty percent of community action programs and then crows about cutting a few billion from the trillion dollar defense budget.  Defense cuts which amount to finding a quarter under the seat of your car when you make a hundred thousand a year, while the community action cuts amount to finding your uninsured car stolen.

On the bright side I look at the fallout from the Wisconsin budget fiasco and I'm beginning to get a warm spot in my heart.  I am beginning to take hope that the majority of middle class Americans are catching on to the shell game being played in our politics and looking across the artificially created divide between social liberals and social conservatives.  The game for both political parties has never really been about abortion or gay marriage rights or any of the other social agendas.  The game has always been about the wealthy staying wealthy at the expense of any one but themselves. 

If any of this wealth had ever trickled down, like Reagan convincingly maintained it would,  it might be a different story, but it hasn't trickled down.  It's been a one way torrent up.  It's no wonder that religious officials like Cardinal George, a man whose own career has benefited from what little does trickle down, would suddenly be spouting nonsense about who God loves and doesn't love. 


Friday, March 4, 2011

Another 'Pastoral' Message From Cardinal George

This is especially true if you happen to believe in some silly abstract thing like equality under the law.

 The following is excerpted from an article attributed to Cardinal George in Catholic New World, the official newspaper for the Archdiocese of Chicago.  Cardinal George starts out explaining the canonization process for JPII and then dives into idiocy, heresy, or bizarre rationalization, depending on your point of view:

......A saint lives in loving intimacy with God, who creates that love in the saint by first loving him or her. Since there are great saints and little saints, God doesn’t love everyone equally. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know why God loves some people more than others, but recognizing this difference reinforces our conviction that everyone is unique and challenges any assertion that everyone is equal, except before the abstract principles of the law. Life, however, is not a dialogue with legal principles. In life, differences abound in our relations to God and to other people. The differences — between the two sexes, among diverse races and cultures, in personal history and desire — make life rich. If we ignore them, we risk living only with ideas, divorced from real people. We become ideologues of “equality.” (I don't believe I have ever read a sicker rationalization to discriminate against others.  This entire paragraph has to be code for his campaign against gay 'marriage rights'.)
 Even if God loves each of us differently and unequally, he still loves us all. Thinking of sanctity, we have to ask also about our love for God. Do we all love God equally? Obviously not; but why not? I suppose there are as many answers as there are human creatures, but two reasons not to love God or at least not to love him as he wants to be loved come to mind.

First of all, perhaps our intimacy with God is stymied by fear, especially by fear of punishment. We tend to avoid those we fear; we ignore those who might ask us embarrassing questions, even God. This has been the pattern of human interaction with God ever since Adam and Eve hid from him after their disobedience in the garden. Perhaps, secondly, we resist intimacy with God because we resent losing our autonomy, our imagined self-sufficiency. To love another means he or she has entry into one’s life. To love God means he directs our life in ways we sometimes don’t care to go. Better to keep our distance, loving enough to be safe but not given to considering what God wants in our every thought and action. What makes great saints, however, is the desire to please God in every detail of their lives. (Now I get to add the fear that God doesn't love me as much as others, and I'm supposed to accept it doesn't matter that I will never know why.)


I have never been overly impressed with the thinking of Cardinal George and I can pretty much guarantee that isn't going to change in the near future.  The above essay might even be the signature entry for a new blog called Unenlightened CatholicismI have to wonder if the next offering from George will be plagiarized from the Protocols of Zion.

The idea that God loves some of us more than other of us is the worst type of Stage I spiritual thinking.  It is the product of an absurd level of anthropomorphising as it essentially says "God is just a bigger form of an immature daddy".

Except, I don't believe for one second Cardinal George actually believes his own writing.  I think he is quite capable of stooping low enough  to relativise God's love in order to justify the USCCB's anti gay marriage crusade.  It's right there in the first paragraph when he writes that God's relative love challenges the assertions of equality under abstract laws.  Next thing you know, he'll be writing that God loves the conceptus more than he loves any human who has actually taken a breath.  Oh wait, the USCCB actually pretty much already says this.  Well then maybe George will next speculate that God does not love members of unions as much as He loves Walmart employees and that furthermore God loves Walmart ownership even more.

It is really sad how pathetic our American Catholic leadership has become.  I would love to hear some bishop somewhere call George on the theology in this article.  There really does come a time when integrity should call for real bishops to break ranks with their so called leadership, and this is one of them.  Dragging God through the mud in order to prop up a political stance is about as low as it gets. 

I'm seriously beginning to wonder if one has to flunk an integrity test to get a red hat or if one's integrity is drained away by getting a red hat.  I do know that the last month has not been full of positive Kodak moments for the integrity quotient of American Cardinals. When I look at the stories around Bevilaqua and Rigali in Philadelphia, Mahony in LA, and Dolan in NY I guess Cardinal George deciding God's love is relative shouldn't really surprise me.  I just wish it wasn't so. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Just What Is The Message The Vatican Is Sending To Caritas?

The next Secretary General of Caritas International may have to create a climate for evangelization.

Ever since I first heard that the current Secretary General of Caritas International had not been approved for a second term by the Vatican I have had an uneasy feeling about this move.  John Allen conducted an interview with the soon to be finished Secretary General, Lesley-Anne Knight, and I am still uneasy.  There's something rotten smelling about this move by the Vatican.  Maybe it's just that Caritas represents 5.5 billion dollars the Vatican does not have direct control over.  Here's the interview part of Allen's article:

NCR:There are concerns about the Catholic identity of Caritas. What do you make of that?
Knight: When you come into Caritas Internationalis from one of the member organizations, as I did, you recognize that we encompass small organizations – as in Nepal or Iraq or Mongolia or Macau, that may be no more than a bishop with a priest or two and a religious sister – as well as really big players, such as Catholic Relief Services in the United States or Caritas-Spain. There is absolutely no way you are going to be able to put them into a frame which is going to make everyone at any one time happy.
For me, that’s what it means to be Catholic. That’s the church I grew up with. It’s the spirituality of ‘In my father’s house, there are many rooms.’ Caritas brings together that all-embracing meaning of the church, where you are comfortable and welcome and included. (I would not be the least bit surprised if this wasn't part of the issue as well.  There's most certainly a Vatican contingency that is not into that 'many rooms' idea.

 How do you explain the tensions between Caritas and the Vatican?
Some of the reaction may be that my agenda has been very outward-looking. I have a sense that we have sufficient organizations and energy and resources in the church which are inward-looking. My point has been, can we also look outwards at a world that needs us and the values that we hold? We’re developing a strategic framework for 2015, the core of which is the eradication of poverty and the idea of being one human family. That takes us out of ourselves to something bigger than ourselves. It’s an outward-looking confidence, that says I’m Catholic and I’m caring about you – not because you’re Catholic, but because I am. I think this gives us as the Catholic church a legitimate, credible face within what is a very secular society. (That's because it does.)

Has that outward focus sometimes come at the expense of internal relationships with the Vatican?

I would agree that perhaps relationships between our organization and the Holy See reflect our difficulties in finding a way to relate to one another. Part of what’s coming out now from the Holy See, and it’s been put very clearly in Cardinal Bertone’s letter to the bishops, is the need for improved communications and relations with the Roman Curia. The trouble is, what does that actually mean? It must be understood that right relations and communications and dialogue are actually a two-way street. We need to consider how this now actually works.

In the four years you’ve been Secretary General, how many times have you spoken with the Secretary of State?

Cardinal Bertone has never spoken to me. He has never invited me to a meeting or asked to speak with me. I have only spoken to people at under-secretary level. There has also been minimal contact from Cor Unum.
This is connected to the concern about whether Caritas is Catholic enough, because it raises the question, does the Holy See actually know what Caritas is doing? … The information flow tends to be one-way. I submit all my reports and my finances [to Vatican officials]. I send a monthly update newsletter, which goes to all the top officials in the Secretariat of State. This month it will be Libya, plus the one-year anniversary of the Chile earthquake and the World Social Forum. I always say if there’s anything you would like to have more information about, or if you’d like a discussion about something, please contact me. There’s absolutely zero response.

Was the decision on the nihil obstat a complete surprise to you?

Absolutely. It was a total surprise. We had no inkling of this at all. Bear in mind that our executive board meetings are attended by Cor Unum. They are totally aware of all the processes. They knew I was fully endorsed by the board in November of last year. There was no question about what was happening, but there was no indication of what they were thinking.

Some may feel that you sometimes end up speaking for the Vatican internationally, in ways that should belong to diplomats or other officials.

Sometimes there’s a failure to recognize what it means to be in international development and humanitarian aid. My world is fast-moving. We need to get our message out to the world, and quickly. If I’m not able to respond quickly, my message and my role as Caritas simply isn’t there. I don’t have time to consult about every statement I make. We don’t do this because we’re trying to usurp anyone’s authority or break ranks. We do it because that’s the way our world moves now.  (That must be a difficult concept to understand for a parent institution that moves glacially.)

Donors and supporters of Caritas around the world may be looking on with concern. What message do you want to convey to them?

I would say believe in the poor, and the ability of the poor and the vast majority of the communities we serve to take charge of their own futures. There’s huge hope, and huge potential for development. At least eighty percent of Caritas workers are lay people, a majority are women and most of them are volunteers. A very small percentage right at the top is composed of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. The real work that’s happening, and the hope that’s there, is being generated by the day-to-day workers. The work will continue, and that’s terrific. That’s what our donors are supporting.
This is perhaps the conversation we need to have, to help our church and our hierarchical leadership to understand. If the British government, or Sweden or Germany or Canada, is donating millions to Caritas, it’s because they know and trust the value of the work we do with the poor. It’s not because they want to be seen to be supporting a Catholic organization. They know we’re there on the ground and have the outreach within civil society which they as governments cannot have. Look at our presence at an ecumenical level in Darfur. We’re one of the few outfits that has been permitted to continue working there. Why is that? It’s because they know what we’re doing on the ground, very discreetly, very quietly, and we have been able to continue.

Your message is that the work of Caritas will endure?

Absolutely. However, a key issue that we have to unpack at our general assembly in May is, what’s being said to us now? What’s being talked about now is the reintegration and renewal of works of charity in the context of evangelization. We need to understand what we mean by that? They clearly don’t mean that they want us to proselytize, because they don’t. But given the wide range of sensitive situations in which we work, how do we express that evangelization in a way that the Holy See is comfortable with?
How will we express Catholic identity, how will we express evangelization through our work, in a way that will not be seen as proselytism or as us not being able to deliver according to international standards of humanitarian aid, based on normal codes of conduct and good practice and transparency? For most of my Caritas people, the work that they do, their presence and their being, is itself evangelizing. They do it because they’re faithful, practicing Catholics who have made a choice to be in Caritas. (I'm fer sure this will mean no condoms in Africa and Indonesia and no gay out reach.)

What other issues do you see at stake?

We need to respect the collegiality of bishops. Each of my member organizations is accountable first and foremost to its national bishops’ conference. That national context needs to be respected too. If you’re Caritas-Japan, what does Catholic identity in Japan mean? It may not be the same as for Caritas in Spain. That’s the richness, but at the same time the vulnerability, of the Caritas confederation.

Are you worried about how Caritas members might respond?

I am concerned that some of our member organizations might become disillusioned with the confederation, might want to distance themselves from Caritas. That could seriously damage our confederation. We have already had indications from some members that they will withhold payment of their membership fees pending some reassurance about the future direction of the confederation at the general assembly.

What’s been the response so far?

What’s been very encouraging for us, for me and my team here, has been the immediate coming together of our board. They came physically to Rome, to be here with us and to meet. That was one of the first signs that this is something really important for us to unite around. If the Caritas confederation can come together to say that the service we give to the poor, and the witness we give to the world of our Catholic values through our work with the poor, is important enough for us to put aside a lot of our internal difficulties, that would be terrific.
One of the things we resisted was an initial request to just cancel the General Assembly. We said the most important thing we need now is to come together, in unity, and simply dialogue with each other. The most important thing I can do in the assembly is to encourage people to be courageous, to put the issues on the table, and to dialogue. I think that will bring us together.

Caritas is committed to trying to repair its relationship with the Vatican?

Totally. It may be that my personal way of being church, or someone else’s, doesn’t fit a particular brand at the moment. That doesn’t mean you walk away. It means you say, ‘Here I am. I’m Catholic. This is where I belong, and I’m not going anywhere.’ That’s what Caritas now will do, as long as I can lead it. We’ll say, we’re here, how can we help you? How can we be of service? How can we make you proud of us?

Have you given any thought to what comes next for you personally?

I haven’t been able to, in part because it has been a very big shock. It’s been a very big shock for my team. We’re a professional team here of internationals. We have to consider what this means, and I really haven’t thought about anything afterwards. I’ve committed to Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez and the board of Caritas that I will continue as the Secretary General until the next assembly, and I will continue with a professional job of work. That’s what we’re doing. We’re delivering the General Assembly, which is in May. I’m continuing with all my commitments, my meetings, until such time as I’m asked not to do that, which I’m presuming will be the general assembly.
I don’t want to think about it until then, in fairness to my staff and my team. If someone else is here in June and July, I don’t want them to be picking up pieces, as opposed to being able to consolidate work that’s under way.

Do you think this could have been handled differently?

We would have very much liked this to be within the family. It has been very, very painful for us that it has become so public. One of our issues we need to look at it is, why can’t we get our communications and our public relations right? It’s a huge problem, and it’s very unnecessary. It’s very damaging for our church.
Also, it takes up a huge amount of energy, time, and resources, which we should really be putting into the big issues of the day. At the same time I’m dealing with all of this, I’ve got 2,000 Eritreans on the border between Libya and Tunisia waiting to be brought over by Caritas-Italy. There are real issues of the day, and you’re forced to deal with these internal difficulties. That’s not helpful.


 I have this vision of Haiti where Caritas volunteers are working diligently in the camps hoping the next load of cholera vaccine arrives soon.   At the same time there is a passel of hierarchical types smiling for a photo op as they use a ceremonial shovel to break ground on a new seminary that has been bought and paid for by a couple of pious wealthy families in exchange for access to the Pope.

These are the two faces of the Church in Haiti and elsewhere.  I know which face I actually see Jesus in.  I don't think I'm alone and I wonder if that's not the problem the Vatican has with Caritas International and Lesley- Anne Knight.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The following is an excerpt from an interview John Allen did with Italian journalist Massimo Franco. Franco just released a book analyzing the papacy of Benedict XVI, a papacy which Franco finds quite lacking in a number of practical areas.

Your book seems stronger on diagnosis than cure. You make a convincing case that the Vatican hasn’t responded adequately to this transition from Catholicism as a majority to a minority, but you don’t really explain what a Vatican able to respond to this new cultural situation would look like.
I’m not surprised by what you say, because I’m a journalist. I’m not a pope, I’m not a cardinal, I’m not an intellectual. I have to analyze the origins of this crisis, but it’s not up to me to dictate the solutions.

You must have some thoughts.
I think the problem is one of intellectual categories. It’s a problem of language, of being in tune with the Western world. That’s not the case at the moment. The Vatican, of course, boasts of being counter-cultural, but I think sometimes that’s a form of self-consolation.

Actually, I think the Vatican is right when it says that in the future, the West will have to come back to religion. The question is, which religion? Will the Vatican be there at the right moment, to respond to the questions people will be asking? (It's entirely possible the West will not return to any current religion, at least not in their current incarnations.)

I don’t have the answer, but I can say that there’s a disconnection between the West and the Vatican from the point of view of language. It’s not the fact that Catholics are a minority, but they are a self-referential one, not a creative one, with no capacity of expansion. That’s what I fear. The risk is to circle in on yourself more and more, divorced from the external world. (Circling in on yourself opens very very few doors, and taken too far, is not prophetic or counter cultural, it's more akin to pathological self absorbtion.)

How much of the church’s capacity to communicate with the external world actually depends on the Vatican?
Quite a lot, I think. But it’s important to say that the Vatican doesn’t just have a problem with external communication – the problem is internal as well. All the gaffes, the misunderstandings, the mistakes in recent years were not really provoked by a lack of communications skills with the outside world. That’s one dimension of it, but the real problem is that inside the Vatican, the discussion is not free and wide enough. (There's also the problem that the Vatican is insisting on controlling all Catholic voices.  The most current example of this is Caritas International which will undoubtedly find itself with more direct Vatican control under the guise of the Vatican's sudden need to emphasize Caritas's 'Catholic identity'.)

You think it’s not as simple as reforming the communications structures.
No, it’s reforming the machine inside the Vatican. I think the decisions are not considered carefully enough, or shared widely enough among the top people. The Holocaust-denying bishop case is a classic example, because it was not fundamentally a problem of external communication. It was not studied enough, not discussed enough, so the result was not just an external disaster, but also the demonstration that there isn’t a real professionalism in the Vatican. (The issue is not professionalism in any meaningful sense, it's mostly about professional obedience.)

Take another example: You just can’t say, as some Vatican personnel have, that pedophilia is associated with homosexuality. It’s scientifically incorrect. What it shows is that there’s a deep cultural confusion [in the Vatican], and they’re too often backwards. You have to know a subject well before you presume to talk about it – you can’t just make it up. There’s a true underestimation of what was at stake, as people were speaking out without any real preparation. It was astonishing how amateurish the reactions were, especially in the beginning.

It seems that what you’re saying is that the real challenge is to have people with cultural depth in key positions, before we talk about changing structures or systems.
That’s it. It’s a problem of culture and of language, because language reflects culture. The problem isn’t merely that you have a clear message and you can’t communicate it properly. The problem is that too often, the message itself is confusing and confused.

You say that fixing all this will probably have to await another pontificate. Why?
This pontificate has been a very difficult one, because you had to reconcile the heritage of John Paul II and the end of the Cold War with the need for change. That’s very difficult. Benedict XVI inherited not just the glory, but also the burden, of John Paul’s pontificate. For instance, he had to take a different approach to the sexual abuse crisis. This pope has been forced to look forward and backward at the same time.

In a way, Benedict is the scapegoat of a different historical situation. John Paul II was the last pope of the Cold War, and he was profoundly a man of the Cold War. This pope was the intellectual architect of John Paul’s papacy, but he’s forced to act in a post-Cold War world. It’s a time of transition, and I think he’s paying for something for which he was not responsible. He’s been overwhelmed by unresolved problems of the past. (I fail to see how Benedict can be both the intellectual architect of JPII's papacy and then not responsible for it's consequences. He very much helped create the problems which he now seems unable to resolve.)

Your book also seems to suggest that he’s surrounded by a regime that’s sometimes dysfunctional.
That’s a result of the fact that this is a time of transition. You must not forget that this pope was already old when he was elected, and he’s surrounded himself with people he trusts, but without a clear strategy for governance. The result is that some choices were not happy ones.

Here’s the big picture: The problem is that the Vatican is still dominated by a culture shaped by the Cold War, but the world has changed. What the Twin Towers attacks were for the United States, the sex abuse scandals are for the church. The Twin Towers meant that American unilateralism and military hegemony were over, and the sex abuse scandals meant that the ethical uni-polarism of the Catholic church was over. The West is in crisis, from a military, technological, economic and moral point of view. Both of the two parallel empires today are learning more inward, they’re weaker, and they don’t collaborate with each other. (There may be little collaboration on some levels, but it sure does seem moneyed interests still find some collaboration with certain mind sets in both the US and the Vatican.)


Franco makes some astute observations about the workings of the Vatican, and that may have been the sole area in which he concentrated, but I don't think Vatican problems are only in governance, structure, professionalism, and communication.  I think those are symptomatic of an out of touch world view which includes clinging to some core definitions of reality which no longer exist - if they ever did.  I think that's the fundamental problem the Vatican can't resolve and that's why there seem to be so many problems which never do get resolved.  It is impossible to speak the language of a given culture if one does not share at least some similar understandings of how reality works.  Understandings like democracy and transparency.

It seems to me this Vatican has made a very conscious decision to ignore most of how the West understands reality in favor of the understandings of the less developed parts of the globe.  This can only be an effective strategy for at most another generation or two.  At that point official Catholicism will have to change, or it will truly become a cultic cultural minority. There is no place in the world which is not being profoundly changed by the current communications revolution and the connections and intellectual revolution those connections imply.  

There are now 4.6 billion cell phones in operation across the globe and all of them are more or less capable of calling any of the others and a high percentage of them Internet capable.  Highly centralized authority structures which have maintained their governing power on the basis of controlling information and information flow are now toppling precisely because they can no longer either control information or react to the speed at which information now moves with in society.  A new kind of collective consciousness is being created in which people no longer accept being overtly controlled from above by a special class of insiders with access to information.  Transparency rules the day if only because it's really difficult to actually keep secrets in the the world of Wikileaks and social networking.  

The Vatican may not be a powerful government structure in the sense of military or economic might, but it still considers itself a major player in the world of cultural morality and cultural formation.  It is precisely in these two areas it has lost it's influence in the West because the Vatican is still insisting on a divine right to secrecy and self accountability.  It won't take a massive uprising like in Egypt to render the Vatican powerless, it will just take millions more completely ignoring it and finding spiritual meaning elsewhere.  After all, crossing religious borders is much easier than crossing national borders.  Catholicism can not sustain itself, even in the South, for many more generations on a governing policy which pastes theatrical piety on top of all the corruption.  "Do as Father says, and ignore what Father does" has pretty much wore out it's welcome as a strategy for keeping some obvious fictions, like celibacy, acceptable and believable.  

The first casualty transparency exposes is almost always institutionalized hypocrisy.  No single institution should have had that lesson driven home more powerfully than the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church, and yet, there is still such defiant opposition that abusing priests are still being hidden, still being allowed to invent their own history, still being advertised as authentic spiritual christs, and in some cases still acting like little clerical gods.  It's all getting quite sad to watch.

I think the biggest difference in the two papacies of JPII and B16 is that JPII was able to rule more or less unimpeded by this information revolution.  He could get away with ignoring the Maciel's of the Church because the system of secrecy was still more or less in tact, the corruption and hypocrisy was still hidden behind his enormous stage presence, the Vatican bank could still launder money with impunity.  Not so for poor Benedict.  The landscape has radically shifted.  He needs to start listening to the voices out in Catholicism who will tell him the truth, like Archbishop Martin of Dublin and retired Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia, and find the courage to face their truths.  It's always possible that he was elected Pope precisely for this moment and this decision.  He really could save the Church by giving up his monarchical authority and returning to the theological concepts of his youth when he saw the vision in Vatican II.  He still has the time.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Priestly Celibacy As The Antidote To Secularism

Catholicism's first coach gives his players the game plan and it doesn't seem it involved celibacy.

In a recent Zenit article, Cardinal  Mauro Piacenza, Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy gives a rousing pep talk on the celibate priesthood as the antidote to secularism.  The following is an excerpt of the Cardinal's rationale for his thinking.  He doesn't mention other game plans like the Sermon on the Mount.

Cardinal: Support Celibacy to Fight Secularization 
Zenit - 1/27/2011

.........."In a world which is gravely secularized, it is ever more difficult to understand the reasons for celibacy," the cardinal acknowledged. 

He continued, "However, we must have the courage to ask ourselves, as the Church, if we wish to resign ourselves to such a situation, accepting the progressive secularization of society and of culture as an unchangeable fact, or if we are prepared for a task of a profound and real new evangelization at the service of the Gospel, and thus of the truth of man."  (If those scientific/techonological types would just stop with the forward progress already, Catholicism could once again reign supreme with it's unchanging always taught absolute truths.)

The prelate asserted, "I hold, according to that meaning, that the reasoned support of celibacy and adequately evaluating its worth in the life of the Church and the world might represent some of the most effective means to overcome this secularization."

He added, "What else could the Holy Father Benedict XVI mean when he says that celibacy shows that 'God enters into the reality of our time?'"

Intrinsic demand

"The reduction of celibacy to a mere ecclesiastical law, common in some environments, is to be absolutely overcome in light of the papal magisterium," Cardinal Piacenza pointed out.

He continued: "It is a law only because it is an intrinsic demand of the priesthood and of the configuration to Christ that the sacrament determines. (Unless you are Anglican or Lutheran and then it's not intrinsic to one's configuration to Christ.)

"In this sense, formation for celibacy, above and beyond every human and spiritual aspect, must include a solid doctrinal dimension, because it is with difficulty that one lives that which one does not understand." (Why is it that priests have to be 'formed for celibacy' but every other single person is just supposed to live it and understand it?)

The cardinal noted that "the debate concerning celibacy, which is reignited periodically over the centuries, does not contribute to the serenity of the younger generations in coming to an understanding of a fact that is to determinant of the sacerdotal life.(Maybe all the hypocrisy surrounding celibacy has something to do with upsetting the serenity of younger generations.)

He urged, "We must not betray our young!"  (No comment.)

"We must not lower the level of formation, nor, in fact, what the faith proposes," the prelate exhorted. "We must not betray the holy people of God, which awaits saintly pastors, such as the CurĂ© of Ars." (Better to deny them any sacramental life at all, then give them a married priest!  Hear! Hear!)

He added, "We must be radical in the sequela Christi!"

Divine logic

"Let us not be afraid of the fall in the number of clerics," Cardinal Piacenza urged. "The number decreases when the temperature of the faith is lowered, since vocations are a divine affair and not a human one, and they follow the divine logic, which is foolishness from a human point of view. Faith is called for!" (It's not the doctrine that's at fault!  It's the laity!)

"Celibacy is a question of evangelical radicalism," he affirmed.

"The essential question, then, is not to direct the debate so much to celibacy as to the quality of the faith of our communities," the cardinal stated.

He continued, "Could a community which lacks great esteem for celibacy, as an awaiting for the Kingdom or as a Eucharistic yearning, be truly said to be alive?" (Yes it can.)

The prelate exhorted, "We must not allow ourselves to be conditioned or intimidated by a world without God, which does not understand celibacy and that would like to remove it."

"On the contrary," he said, "we must recuperate the reasoned understanding that our celibacy offers as a challenge to the world, placing its secularism and agnosticism in profound crisis and crying out, through the centuries, that God is present and active!" (I don't think I get this last bit at all.)


Cardinal 'Knute Rockne" Piacenza has really given quite the locker room speech here.  I feel all revved up to go out and knock a few of those secularist sexual libertines upside the head and win one for the celibates. OK not really.  Actually I would rather sit down and plead with the Vatican to quit jamming the 'ontologically superior' celibate male priesthood down our throats.  It might not be so irritating if the laity wasn't being asked to cough up over two billion dollars to pay for their abusive ugly non celibate lapses.

Everything coming out of the Vatican seems designed to shore up the Trentan definition of sacramental priesthood. (at least for baptized Roman Catholics).  Whether it's the new Mass translations, or the Year of the Priest, or the instant excommunication for women who 'attempt ordination', or this peppy speech from the good Cardinal, nothing except maybe gay marriage, abortion, and suddenly exorcism,  is more important to Catholic identity than the celibate priesthood.  It makes me wonder if these ordained men ever consider that their personal world view might not be everyone's world view and might in fact actually be the problem for the major shortage of priests?  Are they not getting that a large number of laity know how to Google and that the clerical caste no longer has a strangle hold on all the available knowledge? 

To be honest I'm not quite sure what the Vatican actually means by secularism.  It seems it might be synonymous with 'modernism' or maybe with individualism or consumerism or satanism or all of the above.  But whatever it is, it is diametrically opposed to the celibate priesthood and it produces spiritually weak laity who have lost the ability to conjur up--I mean pray up-- enough priests.  Somehow the lack of priests is never a message that maybe, just maybe, today's laity are evolving beyond the need for a paternal father figure with quasi magical qualities.  

Even Knute Rockne knew he couldn't win football games without the right players operating in the right scheme, and even with all his success he still changed with the game.  In fact he changed the game.  Benedict should take a page from Rockne's play book and try a forward pass instead of constantly calling for backward laterals.  He might start winning a few fans back--so to speak.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bishop Morlino Of Madison Wisconsin Speaks About Budgets And Unions and Relativism, But Not To Bloggers Like Me

Bishop Morlino would say this is a relative sign in many ways.  I mean really, how many ways could one take the meaning of the words pink slip?

I've been following the story out of Wisconsin on Governor Walker's attempts at union busting under the guise of budget balancing.  I must admit I got a chuckle out of his phony phone conversation in which he thought he was speaking with and colluding in that endeavor with a really really rich union buster like David Koch, and that got me wondering what Bishop Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin thought of union busting.  I wondered if he agreed with the sentiments of his fellow bishop Listecki, or if he was more of a right to work state kind of guy who believed any boss had the right to fire any employee for any or no reason,  such as writing a speculative paper for one's Master's degree in theology.

What I found instead is that I couldn't access the current Madison Catholic Herald which has Morlino's thoughts.  I did find a traditionalist blog called the Catholic Badger which had this quote from the paper on the distribution of Morlino's thoughts:

This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

I guess my ISP address is beyond the intention of the bishop, but it wasn't beyond his intention for an article he wrote in 2008 on why Madison Catholics should pony up the millions to replace the Cathedral of St Rafael which was burned to the ground in March of 2005.  Rebuilding the Cathedral and the money this would cost has been somewhat controversial.  Bishop Morlino came up with a fascinating logical system to justify the expense.  The article was actually a three part article, but he summed up the first two parts with the following paragraphs.  I should say that these two first parts deal with the fact Jesus came in a particular time and a particular space there for God approves of sacred times and sacred places--especially those having to do with sacramental Catholicism-----and BISHOPS!

Bishop's sacred time, space - the Cathedral

........Given everything that we've said to this point, what would be more reasonable than to say that the bishop, as the chief teacher, the chief sanctifier, and the chief governor of the diocese, needs, himself, sacred time and space. And the bishop's sacred time and space has a name - it's a cathedral!

The cathedral is named after the chair, which in Latin is cathedra, which only the cathedral has, from which the bishop exercises his office of teaching, sanctifying, and governing. And that is where the chair of the successor of the apostles rests.

So, if one understands the Eternal Plan of the Trinity - Jesus Christ coming in space and time, and making space and time sacred by His coming; and if one understands that He wishes to continue that space- and time-limited presence through His Body, the Church; and if one understands that the Holy Spirit gives life to the Church through the celebration of Sacraments; and if one understands that celebrating Sacraments requires sacred times and places; and if one understands that the teaching, and sanctifying, and governing of the Church happens through bishops, priests, and deacons; and if one understands that the bishop is the chief teacher, governor, and sanctifier in the diocese, then one should understand, by a logical step, that the bishop, in order to carry out his ministry needs the sacred time and space which comes with a cathedral. It could not be any other way if Jesus Christ is who He is!

So there you have it if you faithfully followed this, Jesus Christ because of who he is, makes it quite plain that bishops need expensive cathedrals in which to put their special chair which signifies their special connection to the Apostles, the very men who were actually in Jesus's time and space at which time they were taught by Jesus who did not actually have a chair or a bed or much of a cloak or even a place to lay his head. I hope you got all that because I don't.

As to what the good Bishop thinks about this whole messy union fight with the union busting governor thing, well, it's all a perfect example of secular relativism because what's fair for me is in my eyes and what's fair for you is in your eyes and so both sides are right and the Church in Madison can do no less that take a neutral stance because such a relativistic society leaves no other choice.  Hmmmm.  And here all along I thought there were a couple of Vatican encyclicals,  like the most recent one,  coming down squarely on the side of labor unions.  Maybe that was in a different time and space.  After all even time itself is relative.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Women Priests: Copying The System Isn't Really Changing The System

For me personally this ceremony just puts a band aid an a much deeper dysfunction.

Every once in awhile I come across a editorial or a comment which seems to speak precisely to my own thinking, or puts in a nut shell thoughts I have meandered towards from twenty different directions.  The following excerpt is from a response written to Jamie Manson's latest NCR article.  It is one such findThe author of the comment  is Tony Equale and you can read the entire comment at his blog.  But don't stop with just this commentary, Tony has other wonderful thoughts about some other very basic, but usually unexamined, concepts and assumptions.

...."I claim that the institution of the “sacramental” priesthood as we know it in our times, is a greco-roman elitist innovation that did not exist until well into the 2nd century, a hundred years after the founding of the church.  It was designed precisely to eliminate christian egalitarianism, create a hieratic caste, mystify the ordinary people and concentrate power in the hands of the upper class.  It represented the unwarranted transformation of a legitimate ministerial role — the presbyter — into an ontological caste that did not previously exist in the christian scheme of things, and certainly not in the mind of Jesus.  It was an essential step in bending christianity to the cultural requirements of the class-based society run by the Roman Empire.  It makes the people themselves complicit in their own impotence by making it seem impossible for a christian group to have the eucharist unless it be performed exclusively by the magical hands of a representative of the (upper class) bishop. (One can see this phenomenon really playing out in the defenders of Fr Euteneuer and other clerical abusers.)

The earliest accounts of the life of christian communities portray a fellowship where fixed caste status for the clergy grounded in ritual alchemy, was not in evidence.  Likewise, infrastructure (buildings) if they existed, were a secondary feature of the community.  It’s not insignificant that the two phenomena seem to have arisen together, suggesting that “buildings,” i.e., property and wealth became a factor requiring the creation of new “sacramental structures” that would insure that control stayed in the proper hands.  These developments were exactly what made christianity an attractive choice as the “new” Religion of the empire.  An egalitarian group of slaves and tent-makers operating out of homes and storefronts just would not do for “divine Rome.”

By the 4th century, with the elevation of christianity to the status of State Religion of the Roman Empire, the connection between church property and the Roman upper class was such a conspicuous part of ecclesiastical reality that we see Constantine himself sending his legions in 316 to restore North African church buildings to their “rightful” bishops.  What made this restoration so shocking, besides the use of imperial force, was that the “rightful” bishops were in most cases the same men who had “handed over” (traditores) the (sacred) books to the Roman authorities during the persecution of Diocletian, causing the “people” (afterwards called “Donatists”) to refuse to receive them back as their bishops.  But Constantine had made a huge transfer of basilicas, temples and other buildings to christianity from the Roman polythesitic religions, and he would not abide having “his” imperial church buildings taken over by a mob of disobedient nobodies.  Every facet of the empire was run by obedience to the Roman authorities. The Empire’s new Church would be no different.  Precedent had to be set.

“Ordination” functioned in this context to insure a mystified control of the Church and its sacramental life by the upper classes.  This is the “priesthood” that the RCWP is banging on the door to enter … rather than to eliminate in order to return the eucharist to the fellowship of equals.  How can we support an elitist anachronism in the name of gender equality?  It’s time, I think, to stop talking about the church and the “ecclesistical careers” that have been denied women, and begin talking about the kind of living community that Jesus encouraged his followers to form. (This has been the core question for me about women's ordination. My answer has always been that removing the core elitism is more essential than gender or orientation inequalities.)

Just look at the ludicrous scenarios described in the Manson article.  Imagine, mature adult christians, so mesmerized by the Roman sect’s absurd claims about apostolic fidelity being bound to mechanical legal ritual that they are ordained in the middle of rivers in order to avoid the reach of episcopal jurisdictions!  This is not rebellion.  It is a crass submission to the legalistic mystifications that have been developed to soli­di­fy power in the hands of those in control.  It is to be complicit in the elevation of caste superiority into a christian category in utter contradiction of the egalitarianism preached by Jesus. (To be honest, it was the idea that women needed to be ordained in the middle of a river to somehow circumvent parts of the canonical strictures in order to perform another canonically illegal act that soured me on the whole ordination issue.  There was something seriously wrong with that picture.)


I'm not unaware that the Roman Catholic Women's Priest movement state on their website that they seek an end to the abuses of patriarchal clerical power.  But what they don't state is that they seek to end the inherent flaws in the hierarchical system for which they desire to be a part.  Jesus was very explicit, in both deed and action, as to what kind of spiritual leadership he desired--an upside down pyramid in which power resided not in His servant priests, but in the community of believers.  Spiritual power would flow from the community to the servant leader--an upside down pyramid or a funnel.
Of course that kind of power distribution model is anathema to patriarchal systems which are essentially based on the microcosmic model of the male led family.  Jesus is even quoted as saying "Call no man father.", and yet here we are with a whole hierarchy of levels of childless fathers and scads of spiritual children desperately willing to defend the most abusive of these 'special' men.  Did Jesus teach that we should do so?  I don't recall that He did.  I do seem to recall that when Peter got all upset with just how far Jesus intended to take His notions of servant priesthood, Jesus called Peter Satan.

One of the lessons I take from the ongoing revolution in the Middle East is that once people have moved beyond a system, they will not mess around with reforming the system from with in.  That's especially true if the system is to be perpetuated by dictatorial papa's chosen son.  There's something about that whole notion of dictatorship by male blood line that seems to have finally run it's course in the Middle East.  If that's true, it would leave Roman Catholicism as the last major global organization that emulates the whole 'father to son' scenario.  I'm sure the Vatican is computing that thought themselves and not taking much joy from it.  They may even come to the conclusion that assimilating some changes to the clerical system, odious as they may be, is a wise move at this particular time.   If the Anglican/Episcopal Church shows anything, it's that for people who have moved into notions of a more mature adult spirituality, adding women and married priests to the old paternal/parental clerical system is not going to cut it.

I've also been following the Catholic stories coming from the US, Ireland and Germany.  In the US we have more stories of clerical authority gone amok.  In Ireland we have a story about clerical authority doing some serious repentance for having gone amok, and in Germany we have an exploding reformation movement designed to prevent clerical authority from going amok in the future.  Maybe it's time we seriously looked at the idea that our notions of clerical authority are just plain amok and do what Jesus actually taught us to do: Use the reverse pyramid scheme and find some servant leaders. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Richard Sipe Asks A Very Pertinent Question

Cardinal Mahoney at a previous trial where he did not commit perjury.  He just 'forgot'.  He did not wear lace either.

Richard Sipe - 2/17/2011

It is not outlandish to ask if Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles is a criminal for “knowingly endangering the children he was supposed to defend.” There is ample evidence already in the public forum that Mahony has known of priests who abused minors, reassigned them and allowed them to minister only to abuse other minors. He has not informed parishioners or even parish staffs, that the priests he was assigning had a record of abuse. Mahony who has a Masters in Social Work did not report known priest abusers to social services. All of this vast evidence is recorded in countless depositions on record from litigation [1] of abuse and Mahony’s own testimony under oath.[2]

Judge Jim Byrne who was touted by the cardinal as a poster boy for the integrity of the sexual abuse review board said in deposition that in all the years he served on the Board he “never thought” of helping the victims.

Lawyer, Larry Drivon, who has litigated many California cases of clergy abuse accused Mahony of perjury after letters he signed when he was bishop of Stockton, were produced in his 2004 deposition that showed—black on white—he had clear knowledge of events he denied under oath in deposition and on the witness stand in the 1998 trial of Fr. Oliver O’Grady.[3]  I attended the 2004 deposition of Mahony. I know the history of the O’Grady trial. I saw Mahony’s letters. As a layperson I would say that I witnessed the cardinal lying. His lawyer claimed, as did the cardinal that “he forgot.”

Los Angeles Grand Juries have been impaneled over the last nine years to determine the real picture of abusing priests in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in focus. Their problem is not the lack of evidence, but the monumental impediments the cardinal has sponsored to obstruct investigation and the release of documents needed to pinpoint facts of the cardinal’s knowledge and involvement in complicity and obstruction.

He has claimed that communications between him and his priests have a special privilege, not unlike that of confessional secrets. The Supreme Court could not swallow that. His obstructionism seems unbounded.

Currently he claims that he is a member of the therapeutic team treating priest abusers and therefore documents involving him enjoy a privilege of medical confidentiality. (How creative is this? This  Roger is truly the most artful of the LA Dodgers)

It has not yet been revealed how many millions the cardinal has spent in pursuing these facetious claims. But he has employed for his defense the lawyers and public relation firms used by Enron and the Tobacco industry. Birds of a feather. Truth and transparency be damned. Documents will show that Mahony is a crook.

[1] Depositions by Bishop Curry and Judge Byrne are illustrative of how priests were assigned and the oversight board operated.
[2] Mahony depositions, January 25, 2010; November 23, 2004; also Cf. Mahony trial testimony Fresno, CA March 17, 2009.
[3] Don Lattin. December 11, 2004. The San Francisco Chronicle.


Here's some facts and figures.  The cost of abuse settlement for the LA Archdiocese and subordinate bishops is well over 1 billion dollars. The cost of the new LA cathedral, Our Lady of the Angels, was 189.7 million.  I'm sure Cardinal Mahony intended the cathedral to be the lasting monument celebrating his legacy.  Sorry, ain't happenin'.

Why am I not surprised that Mahony has attorneys from Enron and Big Tobacco on retainer.  Could it be because he can't decide if he's going to get hit with criminal malfeasance or obstruction of  justice.  He'd probably have Johnny Cochran  on retainer if the man was still available.  Unfortunately I don't see where there is any trick defense available to Mahony if he really ever is brought up on criminal charges.  He's using them all up avoiding trials and depositions.  He's a member of their treatment team? Wow.

The sentence that really wowed me was the one attributed to Judge Byrn where he says the entire time he was on the clergy sexual review board he never once thought about the victims.  I don't think there's a better description of a criminal corporate mentality, and that in the end will be Mahony's legacy as a Catholic Cardinal and Archbishop.  He ran a criminal corporation and the really sad thing is he was hardly alone.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Meaningful Ritual Is An Experiential Event, Not An Exercise In Cerebral Theology

 I understand that as a Cardinal, Cardinal Pell is entitled to wear more lace than a mere Archbishop.  That is some serious lace.  But I wonder if it makes him a more powerful experiential leader, or is just more distracting eye candy.

In catching up on some blog reading early this morning I was really taken with a two post series written by Australian priest Fr. Daniel Donovan for Catholica Australia.  In them he takes apart Cardinal Pell's understanding of the function of the Mass as catechesis.  Pell admits that the new translation is an attempt to re catechize Catholic faithful through the Mass.  The first short excerpt is from a longer article written by Tess Livingstone published this past May in The AustralianFirst a couple of explanations,  Tess Livingstone is known in Australian progressive circles as a Pell Cheerleader, and the Mr Elich mentioned in the first sentence is the Director of Brisbane's Liturgical Commission.

....When interviewed, Elich is unenthusiastic but more circumspect: "This is what the church has produced for us at this time and it is now up to us to make it work."

He cites a section of the new third Eucharistic prayer as an example of his concerns. It reads: "Look, we pray, upon the oblation of your church and, recognising the victim by whose death you willed to reconcile us to yourself, grant that we, who are nourished by the body and blood of your son and filled with his holy spirit, may become one body and one spirit in Christ."

Pell is unconcerned if people initially find such wording, with its emphasis on the sacred and the transcendent, a bit daunting. He compares the mass text to a good children's book in the sense that it will stimulate thought and broaden mass-goers' knowledge. (Notice how his operative terms are thought and knowledge.)

This, he says, will lead to a deeper understanding of theology as people encountered the occasional unfamiliar word such as oblation, a theological term for offering or gift.

"If someone writes a scholarly article a few hundred people will read it," he says.

"A few thousand people read a theological book, but the mass, a celebration in which tens of millions will participate repeatedly across the decades, is a highly effective form of catechesis. (So Cardinal Pell, who was the chair of Vox Clara, sees these changes in terms of thought, theology, and the imputation of knowledge---Mass as school.)


I really encourage folks to read both articles of Fr Donovan because he develops his arguments against Pell's understanding in some depth.  Basically Donovan argues that the Mass is a ritual and ritual is about fostering holistic experiences, a sense of presence, and immersion in the life of the community dedicated to Jesus's teachings. Rituals and rites are designed to elicit far more than a cerebral or thought response:

......Jesus' Ministry and Rituals
Rituals are symbolic actions and a rite is a collection of these actions. The prophets in Israel ritualised and the people immediately experienced God's effective presence in their history. Jesus followed this prophetic tradition and was constantly plagued by "the theologians" of the day wanting a cerebral response from him.
Jesus himself is the proto-sacrament because in his humanity he reveals the unseen God. John explains that "the Word became flesh" (Jn 1:14) and "from the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing for another" (v.16). Jesus is "Emmanuel" — God-with-us (Mt 1:23). Throughout his ministry, Jesus mediated God through his interaction with the people. The following examples from the Gospels (while not exhaustive) will illustrate this point.
  • In Mark 2:1ff, Jesus heals the paralytic with a holistic ritual "your sins are forgiven" and immediately, "some of the teachers of the law" present consider Jesus to be "blaspheming" because "only God can forgive sins" (v7). The physical cure of the paralytic is the explanation of the ritual (v.12) which silences "the theologians" but, more importantly, the ritual invites participation by the crowd in God's saving work.
  • Luke reports that John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?" Jesus does not feel compelled to answer the question directly but continues his healing ritual (Lk 7:20-21). The Baptist's disciples are " report what they see and hear (aural/oral): the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me" (Lk 7:22-23). What a "Cool" answer, Jesus work is holistic and nurtures faith.
  • John does not include a narrative of institution of Eucharist in his Gospel, but rather prefers the ritual of Jesus washing the disciples' feet (Jn 13: 1-17). Peter insists that Jesus is not to wash his feet (v.8) which eventually leads to the explanation of the ritual. "I ... have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet". Eucharist, for Jesus is not about doctrinal definitions but "service" so those who remember him at Eucharist remember him as Servant and they too, must "wash each other's feet".
  • For Luke (Lk 22:24-27) and Matthew (Mt 25: 31-46), the ritual of remembering must lead to action. There is an intimate connection between recognising and serving Jesus in the other and remembering and recognising Jesus in the Eucharist. The interconnectedness of ritual and life is the heart of God's saving work.
Through ritual Jesus expressed God's presence, he made mud and restored sight (Jn 9: 6-7) or wrote in the dirt (Jn 8: 7-8) or allowed people to touch him (Lk 7: 39) and he was forthright in refuting those who took the moral high ground attending to "correct content" rather than "the effect" of the ritual on all who witnessed the event. Jesus' ministry was intended to invite people to convert and to recognise God's presence among them (Mk 1:12-15), he invited his hearers to live the mystery not simply to define it.

Ritual is a Living Medium

........All rituals teach through effect rather than content. Religious rituals have the capacity to provide access to the living Tradition of the celebrating group long before the person is able to cognise or understand. Rituals also, allow the celebrating community to experience and embrace the Vision which assures that the Tradition is always open to and subject to the critique of the Kingdom thus The General Instruction on the Lectionary correctly, states that when the word of God is announced and proclaimed, there is an awareness of being a new people (effect) in whom the covenant proclaimed in the past (Tradition) is perfected and fulfilled (Vision). Tradition is not the dead faith of the living as some of the hierarchy would suggest; it is always the living faith of the dead who in ritual join in praising and thanking God.  Rituals ensure that communities remember their past but also can walk humbly with God and embrace the challenges of God's future.


As far as I'm concerned Fr. Donovan has hit the nail on the head with his two articles.  Ritual is about experience.  It is not about theology or knowledge or catechesis.  It is not brain candy.  Ritual when done right, by passes cognition in favor of a more holistic response.  It is about heart, not head.  It is about experience and effect, not rules and verbal content.  Language should never ever get in the way of the experiential power of the ritual.

For me there has been an interesting parallel development in Native American practice where elders are having to face that fact that passing on their knowledge and their rituals often means passing them on to people who are not fluent in traditional languages.  I can remember having talks with one elder about his concern for this issue.  He said he worried that the deceased ancestors would not recognize the rituals if they weren't done in traditional languages and they wouldn't come and lend their support, thus making the rituals far less potent an experience. But he was also Catholic, a not uncommon occurrence for many Native medicine persons, and drew on his experience from when Mass changed from Latin to English.  He didn't think he noticed any lack of connection with his Catholic ancestors, so maybe he was worrying for no good reason.

Ritual is always more about intent and honoring and respecting tradition than it is how all that might be expressed.  In the end this elder decided his concerns might say more about him than about his ancestors or the experiential power of his ceremonies, and he has subsequently dropped some of the language requirements.  Similarly, I think Pell's insistence on Latinized English and using the Mass to underscore catechesis and theology says a whole lot more about him than it does anything else.  

Unfortunately English speaking Catholics through out the world now get to experience his definition of verbal brain candy because he has the clout to stick the rest of us with his misunderstanding of rite and ritual. Lucky us.