Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Plugging Holes In A Potential Volcanoe

Christianity Confronts its Greatest Challenge

by Michael Morwood

The events in St Mary’s, South Brisbane, can too readily be dismissed as an in-house Roman Catholic dispute culminating in the Archbishop removing a priest he considers to be unfaithful to Roman Catholic teaching and practice.

This dispute is more far-reaching than that. What we see here is not so much the tip of an iceberg but rather the flaring of a volcano. This volcano has enormous size and power. Institutional Christianity would do well to deal with it rather than plug holes.
What does this volcano represent and why does institutional Christianity, all the while proclaiming that “the truth will set you free”, steadfastly and even dishonestly refuse to engage the issues?

The refusal to engage has an uncanny resemblance to the refusal to engage Galileo.
Scientific knowledge clashed with Scripture and belief set in concrete. Far easier to silence (try to plug the volcano erupting) the source of knowledge rather than confront issues that called long cherished beliefs and Church authority into question. It took the Roman Catholic Church centuries to apologise for its treatment of Galileo. And once again, Church authority is digging in the heels and refusing to engage what is staring them in the face.

The fundamental issue today is also scientific. One example is the Hubble Telescope and its pictures that reveal to us a universe we could never have imagined even 25 years ago – a universe with hundreds of billions of galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars. Another example is 20th century knowledge about the age of this planet and how life developed on it.
This scientific “story” not only invites but demands that Christians (and people of all religions) reflect on their understanding of the mystery they call “God” in this context. Christianity traditionally has two streams of thought.

One stream of thought proclaims that God is everywhere as the source and sustainer of all that is. In this thinking everyone and everything is connected in and through this Presence. And, as some great Christian thinkers have told us very clearly, this Presence is beyond our comprehension, our understanding and our human images. This needs to be clearly understood. This is part of traditional Christian thinking. It is basic Christianity. (This understanding of God is Christianity 101. See first Chapter of John.)

The other stream of thought has focused on God as a Deity who thinks, plots, plans, reacts, intervenes and plays favourites. In simple terms, this deity can be referred to as the “elsewhere God” because he denied access to himself and then sent “his Son” (from where?) to earth. (This is the God of the Old Testament.)

Jesus, in the first stream of thought, is the revealer of God-with-us (everyone!) in our living and loving. He opens eyes and minds to the unseen reality in which we are all immersed and have existence. Jesus challenged people to give expression to this Presence in their lives, so that the “reign” of God, characterised by compassion, generosity, forgiveness and love, would be evident among us.

In the second stream of thought, developed in the Christian Scriptures well after Jesus died, Jesus became the unique “way” to the elsewhere deity. He “opened the gates of heaven”; he “saved” us. Or, at least, he “saved” people who believed he was the unique way to God.
It is not surprising that the second stream of thinking about God and Jesus came to dominate the Christian religion. After the break with its mother religion, Judaism, the Christian Church claimed to have unique access to God through Jesus.

As Cicero would ask, “Who gained?”

Clearly institutional Christianity had much to gain by this thinking. It gave the new religion unique identity and authority. It could – and did – claim that only through entrance into this Church and fidelity to its beliefs could anyone have access to God when they died.
The Christian religion, in its creedal statements, locked itself into this story of Jesus gaining access to an elsewhere deity rather than honouring Jesus’ preaching about God-with-us.

And now this religion is facing the biggest shift ever in its history because so many Christians simply no longer give credence to the worldview or the notion of God that underpins traditional, acceptable, orthodox Christian theology. These Christians are not being “unfaithful” to Jesus or the God Jesus preached or a stream of thought that has always been part of Christian thinking. They just want their religion to shift from a no-longer-believable story about or emphasis on a deity who has definite opinions on whether women should be ordained priests or stem cell research or whatever.
They want their religion to honour God’s presence in people the way Jesus did. They want prayer and liturgy to reflect this Presence with them and to be empowered by it rather than constantly reaching out to a listening deity who might or might not hear or answer their prayers. They want their religion to preach what Jesus preached: the accessibility of the Divine Presence to all people who reflect on their love and generosity.

But, in the Roman Catholic Church, Rome and Episcopal authority do not want this to happen. It seems there is intense fear that the Christian religion will collapse and lose its identity; central authority (and power) will be eroded if there is any shift from thinking about Jesus as the unique “way” to an elsewhere God. So there exists this tight control, this constant plugging of holes to stop the volcano erupting. Theologians are silenced to such an extent that there now exists in the Roman Catholic Church what can only be called a climate of acute intellectual dishonesty, driven by Rome and many bishops. Theologians can not say or write what they really think about this enormous shift and its implications for the Christian Creed and Church identity because they will be silenced. Catholic parishes have been under enormous pressure for some years, with a watchdog, reporting mentality rife in some dioceses, not to make changes to rituals, even though the rituals are shot through with notions of and language about an elsewhere deity. (This is to me the saddest aspect of all of the recent theological controversies. It's almost gotten to the point that it's a sin to think outside the box of redemptive atonement theology. Just like it's becoming sinful to be a Democrat.)

Sadly, the expression given to this shift in St Mary’s, South Brisbane, will be plugged. It will be done in the name of fidelity to Church doctrine and practice. The Archbishop may well think he has right on his side as well as absolute power and authority. But that’s what happened with Galileo and the greatest disappointment for anyone with any understanding of the real issues at stake in this dispute is that Church authority are looking at “truth” with blinkers on.

There is another “story” about God and the universe, about Jesus as revealer of that Mystery, about the Church doing faithfully what Jesus did. It’s a wonderful story, faithful to Christian roots and it has the potential to revitalise the Church at all levels. Rome says Catholics are not allowed to tell, preach or celebrate this story in any shape or form. The Archbishop does what Rome tells him to do.

Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church need to be more courageous in facing the world and these times than this.


Michael Morwood's own history with Cardinal Pell of Australia illustrates the points that he makes in the above article about the silencing of priests and theologians who ask hard questions about the Church's world view. Is it possible to take a theology of atonement developed in the fourth and fifth centuries after Jesus, and make it relevant to twenty first century believers? It may still work in some quarters, but the exodus of laity from the church would seem to say it's past it's sell date. People are looking for a sense of God which is with them, not a God who is out there somewhere in an unavailable zip code.

One of the knocks on St. Mary's was the fact the Fr. Peter Kennedy acknowledged the difficulties he himself had with certain Church teachings. Things like what we meant by the Divinity of Christ, the Virgin birth, certain concepts about the Trinitarian relationship, some of the sexual morality doctrine, and priestly celibacy. It's not that he preached homilies about this, because apparently he didn't, but he did discuss these things outside of formal worship. St. Mary's was a congregation which was given the freedom to think and question, and this led to an expression of worship which took it outside certain aspects of the Catholic tradition. This does not mean St. Mary's didn't express aspects of other parts of the Tradition, other Traditional threads which have been seriously ignored by the Institutional Church, especially since the Council of Trent.

Michael Morwood points this out in his article. There has always been a current in Church thinking which de emphasized the God out there in favor of the God with us and with in us. This is more the God of the monasteries than the God of the institution, and it's certainly not the God of the laity. This 'God with in' is also much more prevalent in the Eastern church than it is in Rome, and this is also the vision of God which is being supported by quantum physics.

The 'God with us and in us' vision actually needs a strong vigorous community to support one's growth in evolving in this God. Jesus Himself made that point in numerous parables. This is not a vision of God which is discovered in a self vacuum. It is a God that is discovered in others, in all others. It is in His reflection in others that we see Him in ourselves. St. Mary's seemed to epitomise how contagious this view of God is for a very disparate flock of people. St. Mary's demonstrated the power of a living God, not a boxed God. It is a shame that room could not be found for this parish in our current Church structure. St. Mary's really does have a message about a viable future for Catholicism. Unfortunately the bigger message is that institutional Roman Catholicism prefers it's past to it's potential future.

In any event the questions aren't going to go away because all the messengers get silenced. For one thing the Church no longer has the power to silence all the messengers because not all the messengers are clerics or theologians. Secondly the Church has run smack dab into the inter net age and can't begin to plug the holes represented by every one's ability to access all the information they want. And finally, but most importantly, human consciousness itself is changing and seeking different answers to age old questions. This is a consciousness seeking union and oneness, not division and otherness. The theology and Church structure of the Jesus of Trent is not going to be able to give credible answers to those seekers.

So St. Mary's may now be officially in exile outside of the Church, but it's message is still alive and still symbolizes real problems for the Roman Catholic Church in a modern secular world. Those problems aren't going to go away just because a bishop or a pope says so or refuses to acknowledge they exist. To maintain that posture is to admit one has no answers. That's not a healthy place from which to teach much that's believable about God.

Monday, March 30, 2009

This is not the bishop who says condoms are sometimes needed.

A Portuguese bishop has said that people with AIDS must use condoms to prevent the spread of the disease, apparently contradicting Pope Benedict XVI, who said the distribution of condoms could endanger public health.
Speaking to journalists, the Bishop of Porto Manuel Clemente said condoms in such cases are "not only recommendable, they can be ethically obligatory."

On a trip to Africa earlier this month, the pope told reporters, "You can't solve (the AIDS crisis) with the distribution of condoms," adding, "On the contrary, it increases the problem."The Vatican insists AIDS should be controlled by changing people's behavior.

"The great solution to the AIDS problem, like any other problem, has to be behavioral," Clemente said.

However, AIDS sufferers "have a moral obligation to prevent and not provoke the illness," he said at a monument unveiling in the port city Sunday.

Clemente is the second Portuguese cleric to contradict Pope Benedict XVI. Armed Forces bishop Januario Torgal Ferreira said a week ago that to ban condom use was equivalent to consenting to the death of many people.

He added that the people giving the pope advice "should be more learned." (The trouble is if you think you already have all the answers you have no reason to learn anything more.)


Seems the Catholic world is in the midst of debate on two major issues, abortion and the use of condoms in AIDS prevention. Bishops are finally demonstrating they have differences with the Vatican. In the case of Archbishop Fisicella and the Brazilian rape case, there are differences even with in the Vatican. What's a Pope to do?

Apparently Benedict has opted to stick with the absolute bottom line. The best way to protect oneself from AIDS and abortions is celibacy. Sex itself leads to these problems so the way one avoids them is to be celibate or monogamous. This is all based on natural law, except in real nature, sex is not expressed either celibately and rarely monogamously, as those two conditions do not express the genetic diversity necessary to keep a species viable. That seems to be true for human nature as well.

Humans have compensated for the length of time it takes to raise their biological progeny and for males to spread their seed, by developing social systems which accommodate predominately male sexual expression. Humanity has been fairly creative in how these social arrangements have been constructed. Polygamy seems to have been a favorite choice as it crosses a lot of different cultures. Another favorite choice seems to be the public marriage and the hidden mistress, especially in Catholic countries. Sexual experimentation before marriage for males, is another all time favorite. The old wink and nod 'boys will be boys' before they become men kind of response. And then there's the tried and true oldest profession, prostitution in all it's forms. Almost all cultures, condemn in one form or another, a similar compensatory situation for women.

What the Church has historically failed to meaningfully address are these issues of social compensation for male sexual expression. The current Pope's take on condemns is one such case, which is why I find Bishop Clemente's take refreshing. He's honest about the fact most cultures do not demand sexual monogamy in males. If we aren't serious about this then we must get serious about the consequences of those attitudes. If males are HIV positive it must then become immoral for them to exercise their sexuality without using condoms, and it should be the right of a sexual partner to demand that they do. Or as Bishop Ferriera says, "to ban condom use was equivalent to consenting to the deaths of many people."

Africa's entrenched cultural attitudes towards the rights of male sexual expression is one of the major reasons that it has been difficult to get a handle on the HIV pandemic. This is especially true with regards to polygamy and prostitution. Every NGO understands that changing male cultural attitudes and the consequent attitudes of women to their own sexual rights is critical to the fight against HIV. Empowering women is most likely going to be far more effective than handing out condoms.

There are partner trust issues in which one partner feels to request the use of a condom implies lack of trust in their partner. There are issues of feel, in which males don't like the feel of sex with a condom. There are issues of power with in family relationships, and this includes mothers in law with their son's wives. Their are issues of stigma in which neither sex will get tested until it's too late. There are a lot of issues in Africa which need to be addressed and no one thinks the condom is the panacea, but neither is the Pope's approach.

Bishop Clemente is right. The Pope could shore up his own arguments if he insisted it is morally reprehensible for an HIV infected person to engage in sex without protection. Of course Benedict can't do that, because making this distinction undercuts Humanae Vitae and his own teaching authority. Popes have taught that non procreative sex is mortally sinful in all it's expressions. So once you have in theory deemed masturbation and the use of birth control as more morally reprehensible than rape, you can't exactly extol the use of condoms in any sexual situation. Even if it prevents the death of an innocent person. Mortal sin is after all mortal sin, nuancing mortal sin could be seen as relativism. God forbid.

I guess Benedict could say "as long as you're on you way to hell anyway, you might as well use a condom on the way down". Kind of like my mother use to say, "If you're going to be tactless, be nice about it." I doubt we'll ever hear even that lame reasoning from this Vatican.

I suspect we will continue to hear vague high blown statements about respect for women and women's genius, but no specific statements about men's direct contributions to the lack of respect for women and women's creative genius. Not when we demand nine year old girls carry products of incestuous rape to full term. No respect for women or innocent girls in that one, only the demand that they accept the fact they are at the mercy of their reproductive system as controlled by the whims of men.

That's true everywhere in the third world, women at the mercy of the sexual drive of men. The ban on condoms and the absolute stance on abortion makes it very evident that as far as the Church goes women will have to be dependent on men controlling themselves. Since society, including the Church, only gives lip service to that notion, I say Bishop Clemente is absolutely right. Pass out the condoms. I also say Archbishop Fisicella is absolutely right, it's time for some realistic compassion when it comes to abortion and viciously exploited female humanity.

Hopefully these prelates represent a small but growing contingency amongst the hierarchy that substituting absolutism for dealing with reality is neither Christ like nor effective in dealing with real life problems. One can hope anyway.


A spokesman for Archbishop Wuerl said church officials in Washington would act in accordance with the admonition from Kansas City. A church official in Washington said the admonition does not prohibit priests from serving Mrs. Sebelius if she does present herself, but declined to speculate on what would happen in that event. (Quote taken from Washington Times. Also there is this response as posted on the National Catholic Reporter.)

Apparently both bishops have decided to honor Bishop Naumann's request, except it sounds like double speak, especially Bishop Loverde's response to Archbishop Burke. What I really think is happening is that both Wuerl and Loverde are trusting Governor Sebelius will honor this and not make an issue of it. Exactly as she has done in Kansas. If that turns out to be the case, she has more integrity than two wishy washy bishops.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Moving Up The Spiritual Food Chain--Notre Dissapoints Cardinal DiNardo

Nothing like a little incense for a dramatic photo effect. This really is Cardinal DiNardo.

Notre Dame draws Texas fire from Cardinal DiNardo
Houston, Texas, Mar 28, 2009 / 04:46 pm (CNA).-

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, on Friday became the first American cardinal to publicly criticize the University of Notre Dame for inviting President Barack Obama to be this year's commencement speaker and to award him with an honorary law degree.

In his weekly "A Shepherd's Message" in the Texas Catholic Herald, Cardinal DiNardo expresses his disappointment with Notre Dame's decision.

Cardinal DiNardo begins his column by commenting on Pope Benedict's recent letter explaining his decision to lift the excommunications of the four bishops ordained by the schismatic Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Praising the Pope's call for internal peace in the Church, the Cardinal says that "vigorous and heartfelt discussion, even debate, needs to be placed in the arms of charity for effectiveness." (So CNA why don't we just use a completely misleading headline. Cardinal DiNardo did not call down fire on Notre Dame.)

"In light of what I wrote above," the cardinal says in the final part of his column, "I want to venture a comment on the recently released statement of the University of Notre Dame; that statement noted that the President has accepted an invitation to give the Commencement Address this year as well as receive an Honorary Law Degree."

“I find the invitation very disappointing,” Cardinal DiNardo writes.

"Though I can understand the desire by a university to have the prestige of a commencement address by the President of the United States, the fundamental moral issue of the inestimable worth of the human person from conception to natural death is a principle that soaks all our lives as Catholics, and all our efforts at formation, especially education at Catholic places of higher learning."

According to Cardinal DiNardo, “the President has made clear by word and deed that he will promote abortion and will remove even those limited sanctions that control this act of violence against the human person. The Bishops of the United States published a document a few years ago asking all Catholic universities to avoid giving a platform or an award to those politicians or public figures who promote the taking of unborn human life. Even given the dignity of Office of the President, this offer is still providing a platform and an award for a public figure who has been candid on his pro-abortion views." (President Obama is not Catholic and is entitled to different views. I have never heard President Obama promote abortion. I have heard him uphold the constitutionality of choice concerning what is a legal act in this country---just as Cardinal DiNardo has experienced with Texas laws concerning the death penalty. I do not consider all death penalty advocates to be promoting executions. Some of them are actually upholding the laws of the State of Texas regarding the State's right to execute.)

"Particularly troubling, he continues, is the Honorary Law Degree since it recognizes that the person is a 'Teacher,' in this case of the Law. I think that this decision requires charitable but vigorous critique. (Barack Obama is a teacher of Constitutional law.)

Cardinal DiNardo was also joined by fellow Texas bishop Gregory Aymond, who also spoke about the scandal on Friday.

"In my opinion,” writes the Bishop of Austin, “it is very clear that in this case the University of Notre Dame does not live up to its Catholic identity in giving this award and their leadership needs our prayerful support.”

Counting Bishop Aymond and Cardinal DiNardo, four U.S. bishops have criticized Notre Dame's invitation to President Obama. This past Tuesday, Bishop John D'Arcy, the bishop of the diocese that Notre Dame is located in, announced that he would not be attending
Obama's commencement and suggested that the university was choosing “prestige over truth.”

Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix spoke out against the invitation on Friday, saying that Notre Dame was committing “a public act of disobedience to the Bishops of the United States.”


First off let me say that Cardinal DiNardo is my favorite Cardinal. He is usually nuanced and his take on tough issues is always done charitably. I frequently read what he has to say on any number of issues because his reasoning is sound and he can see both sides of an issue. Check out this interview to get a feel for how Cardinal DiNardo approaches things.

He is very outspoken on the death penalty and immigration. He is a staunch defender of the gift of Hispanic spirituality to American Roman Catholicism. He is very pastoral, and a frequent celebrant of the Sacrament of Confirmation for his Houston Archdiocese. I just really like the man. He is a true proponent of the seamless garment of life, so I guess I'm not too surprised that he spoke out concerning President Obama speaking at Notre Dame.

At least he did it charitably without condemning either Fr. Jenkins or Notre Dame. Although I still think his use of the term 'promoter' of abortion is inaccurate with regards to President Obama. It was refreshing not to read other appellates such as 'agent of Death', 'baby killer', or promoter of the 'culture of death'. Cardinal DiNardo is a change from some other Archbishops which instantly come to mind. He can disagree and be civil about it. I respect that.

It maybe that Cardinal DiNardo realizes if he wants to get serious legislation passed regarding immigration, it's a good idea not to completely condemn and alienate the President. Since the Church got exactly no where on this issue with President Bush and the Republicans, and the current administration is on record supporting reform, Cardinal DiNardo seems to have taken a higher road, than say Randall Terry or The Cardinal Newman Society whose supporters are not the least bit interested in immigration reform---or the whole notion of the seamless garment of life.

I also thought it was fascinating that Cardinal DiNardo brought the Notre Dame issue up in context of Benedict's letter apologizing to bishops for the mess created by his rescinding the excommunications of the four SSPX bishops. He used this letter of Benedict's to make some opportune points:

The motivation by the Holy See for an attempt at reconciliation with the four bishops and their followers was to embody the hard work of faith, hope and love, the constant preoccupation of the Church and the unity of all believers. It is not easy to break down obstinacy and narrowness on the part of some just as it is not easy to soften the arrogance and one-sidedness of others. Disunity and hostile disagreement do not serve the unity of faith or the credibility of believers. Various groups in the Church cannot bite and devour one another without destruction, a line that the pope draws from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians 5:13-15.

I think that the Holy Father’s letter is timely advice for us all during the Season of Lent, a time of genuine interior purification and renewal. I sometimes receive letters from people who mar their otherwise intelligent or well-taken arguments by such nasty invectives that the whole argument or point of view is put in jeopardy. Vigorous and heartfelt discussion, even debate, needs to be placed in the arms of charity for effectiveness. My hope is that this will be the case for all of us in our own local Church.

I sincerely hope that certain Archbishops take this letter to heart. (and maybe some bloggers.)

In closing, I would like to recommend this video of a speech given by Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson while he was in the US last year. In it he lays out some pertinent points of how power is exercised in the Roman Catholic Church. One of the points is that bishops have their hands tied by having to uphold papal teachings no matter the cost. It seems to me that Cardinal DiNardo manages this tight rope far better than most other prelates. The speech is about an hour, so if you missed Mass today, it could be enlightening penance.


Fr. Peter Kennedy and the Parish community have concluded talks with the Archdiocese and have elected to turn the keys to the church over to the diocese. Fr. Kennedy's last Mass will be Easter Sunday. At that point the parish will move into another site and Fr. Kennedy will continue to offer Mass and the Sacraments. The congregation of St. Mary's considers themselves a Catholic community in exile.

Archbishop Bathersby was not a participant in the negotiations, only his 'representatives' showed. One wonders if turning over the building will be enough punishment for this congregation or if Archbishop Bathersby's absence indicates more sanctions are coming. Maybe I'm an idiot, but I'd like to think Cardinal DiNardo would have handled this differently, that there is still a place for dialogue and charity with in the Church, that a unifying hand can reach out to the left as well as the right. Or maybe I'm just a hopeless Christian idiot.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Bishops Say No To Reiki

Catholic bishops say no to Reiki treatment
Mar. 27, 2009 By Daniel Burke, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Catholic Bishops said Thursday (March 26) that Catholic chaplains, health care facilities and retreat centers should not promote or support Reiki therapy, a Japanese alternative healing practice.

Reiki "finds no support either in the findings of natural science or in Christian belief," the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Doctrine said in six pages of guidelines.
"For a Catholic to believe in Reiki therapy presents insoluble problems," said the committee, which is chaired by Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn.

Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the bishops' conference, said that over the last 18 months a number of bishops have asked the doctrine committee to evaluate the use of Reiki and make a judgment on its suitability for Catholic institutions.

About 2 million Americans have used Reiki, according to a 2002 survey by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Practitioners believe that a salutary life energy flows through the body and fosters well-being, the center said. The energy is often transmitted through experienced Reiki practitioners who lightly touch or place their hands above the patient's body.

But the bishops said "Reiki lacks scientific credibility" and "has not been accepted by the scientific and medical communities as an effective therapy." (And neither were chiropracters or acupuncturists.)

The Japanese practice differs from Christian faith healing because "the healing power is at human disposal," the bishops said. In contrast, "for Christians the access to divine healing is by prayer to Christ as Lord and Savior."

Moreover, practicing Reiki puts Catholics' spiritual health in danger, the bishops said, by corrupting worship of God and turning religious devotion "in a false direction." (Reiki is not a religion, although some practioners set themselves up as ministers, thats more of a legal dodge.)

"A Catholic who puts his or her trust in Reiki would be operating in the realm of superstition," the bishops said, "the no-man's-land that is neither faith nor science."


I think I'm getting permanent heartburn. This document came out on Wednesday while the Vatican is still trying to spin Pope Benedict's 'scientific' understanding as to how condoms encourage the spread of AIDS. In fact Benedict was attacked fairly strongly by the British medical publication Lancet.

Now we have the USCCB declaiming the superstitious and unscientific basis of Reiki. Apparently they've forgotten the same thing was said about acupuncture and Reiki is very similar in outlook and language. Reiki practitioners just don't use needles, but the idea of chi energy and chakras is core to Reiki.

I'll be up front here. I know a lot of Reiki practitioners and I have a very definite opinion about the system of accreditation. I think in the West, Reiki is a very lucrative pyramid scheme. It didn't start out that way in Japan. In fact the original practitioner Dr. Usui, never charged for Reiki treatments or the students he mentored. Like most spiritual healers he felt developing spiritual healing talent was idiosyncratic and came with spiritual discipline. He did not teach a formalized system. Padre Pio would recognize a lot of himself in Dr. Usui, including the mystical experiences.

That all changed once Reiki hit the West. For whatever reason, if money is to be made it will be made and schools will be started and levels and initiation ceremonies will cost more and more money. Had this document dealt with this aspect of Reiki, I'd have been impressed. But it didn't. Instead it attacked the underlying assumptions on which Reiki is based, and quite frankly to an outside observer Reiki is no more superstitious than belief in the healing powers of relics.

Jesus was a hands on healer. The Gospels testify to that over and over again. Jesus said if we believed in Him we would do greater works than He did, because He was going to His father. This implies connection with the energy of His Father through Him and through the hands of His followers. It's not that different from Reiki's concept of universal energy. It's probably the same energy under a different name. Theoretical quantum physicists would not be so quick to condemn the influence of human consciousness on the material world.

For that matter, neither would a lot of the medical field in that pharmaceutical companies have to design double blind studies specifically to rule out the well known placebo effect---mind over matter. Some people think it's incredibly unethical to use double blind studies precisely because half the participants will not get the active agent and suffer harm. At least Reiki doesn't harm anybody even if it should be proved it doesn't help anybody.

I've worked with some talented Reiki healers, but I don't subscribe their talent to Reiki. I subscribe it to how they live their lives and their spiritual discipline. Catholicism does not have the corner on spiritual healing. God apparently doesn't limit himself to Catholic healers, no matter what the bishops think.

I also know a number of Catholic practitioners who went through Reiki training because Catholicism does not offer training or support for Catholic healers. As such they practice a form of Catholic Reiki sometimes centered around the intercession of the Archangel Rafael. (Not sure he would be my first choice, but then what do I know? All the healing he's ever been involved with for me has always been at the expense of my ego.)

I think what this is really all about is another shot at the New Age movement. One thing we do know about the West is that people are leaving organized religions in order to find a more honest spirituality. Spirituality and religion are not the same thing. Neither are Faith and religion. The sad thing is attacking New Age spirituality does nothing for spirituality with in Catholicism. This is another area where our bishops might find dialogue an eye opening experience. Not everyone involved in 'New Age' spirituality is out to make a buck.

There are some hugely talented spiritual people doing very important work. It's not an accident that Indigenous elders take some of them very seriously, even as equals. Catholic leadership seems to be of the opinion that none of this has anything to do with Jesus or Catholicism. They might be very surprised at how wrong that assessment actually is. It's one of the reasons I write this blog. Human consciousness is changing and instead of keeping our Light under our own little bushel, we need to share it. Is that really such a heretical concept?

Notre Dame Blasted By Bishop Olmsted Of Phoenix

Bishop Thomas Olmsted is not quite as riled up about human rights issues in his own diocese.

I keep using CNA articles because CNA is owned by some of the very same people who donate to and sit on the board of the Cardinal Newman Society. I'm sure Bishop Olmsted made every effort to see that CNA got a copy of his email to Notre Dame. Nothing like knowing you are going to get some big time publicity.

Bishop of Phoenix accuses Notre Dame president of disobeying U.S. bishops

Phoenix, Ariz., Mar 26, 2009 / 04:49 pm (CNA).-

The outcry over the invitation of President Obama to deliver the Notre Dame’s commencement address and receive an honorary law degree has now drawn Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix into the fray. In a strongly worded email to Fr. John Jenkins obtained by CNA, Bishop Olmsted accuses the university’s president of committing "a public act of disobedience to the Bishops of the United States."

"I am saddened and heavy of heart about your decision to invite President Obama to speak at Notre Dame University and even to receive an honorary degree," began Bishop Olmsted.
But the prelate went further, charging that Fr. John Jenkins, the university’s president, has committed "a public act of disobedience to the Bishops of the United States" by inviting Obama to the May 17 Commencement.

The grounds for the bishop’s charge are found in a 2004 statement from the U.S. bishops which calls on the Catholic community and Catholic institutions not to "honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions." (What if President Obama is not acting in defiance of Catholic teaching, but taking a different strategy in combating abortion?)

The Bishop of Phoenix also said that Fr. Jenkins could not have invited President Obama out of ignorance. "No one could not know of the public stands and actions of the president on key issues opposed to the most vulnerable human beings," he said in his email.

After quoting Pope John Paul II to say that all other human rights are meaningless if the right to life is not respected, Bishop Olmsted said he hoped that Fr. Jenkins would realize he has made an error. (But JPII also understood it was incumbent to respect the needs of the mother as well as the needs of the unborn, as the unborn are totally dependent on the needs of the mother.)

"I pray that you come to see the grave mistake of your decision, and the way that it undercuts the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel of Life in our day." (No it doesn't.)

The University of Notre Dame and Fr. Jenkins have also come under fire from Bishop John D’Arcy, in whose diocese they are located.

Bishop D’Arcy said on Tuesday that he will not be attending the commencement ceremony and suggested that Notre Dame "has chosen prestige over truth."

An online petition calling for Fr. Jenkins to cancel the invitation to President Obama had reached over 170,000 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.


I wonder how many other bishops who have no ecclesial authority in Notre Dame's diocese will weigh in. This is not an opinion which Bishop Olmsted has given, this is a direct condemnation of Fr. Jenkins. Where was Olmsted when President Bush was giving commencement addresses?

I just did a Google search and in 2007 when President Bush spoke at St Vincent's College in Pennsylvania not one bishop said one peep. President Bush, the all time leader in prison executions, who allowed for limited use of stem cells, authorised the use of torture, initiated devastating raids on illegal immigrants while doing little or nothing against their employers, whose economic policies have obliterated most Americans savings and homes, who gave us the Iraq morass, the ineptitude of Katrina, and Supreme Court choices which have done exactly squat with Roe V Wade, that president, and the college which invited him to speak, are left utterly alone.

Why is this I wonder? Why is Barack Obama a baby killing agent of death, while George Bush sails blissfully along, apparently under our bishop's moral radar? Is a pro choice politician really that much worse than President Bush's record? Or maybe it's really a political party thing.

There is absolutely no way this insanity would have occurred thirty years ago. None. That it is happening today is nothing short of embarrassing for American Catholicism. In my opinion our political battles surrounding abortion have made the American Catholic Church a cancerous node in the global Catholic union. The vast majority of abortions are the result of other social problems which President Obama is willing to address. That doesn't make him a baby killer.

I am really tired of abortion politics, but what I am most tired of is the notion that the only solution to the abortion issue is the criminalization of abortion. This strategy does not stop abortion. Providing women with the resources to raise their children stops abortion. Insisting males take responsibility for their sexual activity impacts abortion, something President Obama has been quite willing to repeatedly and forcefully state. Something I personally have never heard stated in a sermon.

I wish some bishop would explain to me and others like me, why it's gravely sinful to operate from the understanding that abortion law in this country isn't going to change, and that other strategies must be pursued. Why must we choose a patently losing strategy in order to be fully Catholic? It seems to me it would be sinful to continue to pour money and time into a failed strategy at the expense of any other strategy. Strategies which actually do save lives.

I suspect this doesn't happen because the Notre Dame controversy isn't about abortion. It's about sabotaging President Obama for the crime of being a victorious democrat. It's about fomenting Catholic Republicans to keep flexing their muscle to keep the donations coming, to keep Republican activists in charge of Catholic opinion. That our bishops either encourage this or sit in total silence is very curious. This is especially curious given the tone of this monologue coming from the right.

In any event, we have another mini Catholic election happening over Notre Dame. The Cardinal Newman Society has their hundred seventy thousand votes and counting, and God only knows how many votes have been generated in support of Notre Dame. There are a ton of initiatives and email campaigns now under way. This link will take you to We Support Notre Dame.org, sponsored by Notre Dame alumni. Please lend your support. Yes We Can etc etc etc.

I think it's fitting that Notre Dame is the center of this controversy. In many ways Notre Dame is the center of American Catholicism. Just as moderate Catholic Americans took back this country by helping to elect Obama, it may be time for moderate and liberal Catholics to take back our Church. It's been hijacked by Republican operatives for far too long.

And speaking of hijacking, check this link. It gives a very spirited take on Bishop Olmsted and his attitudes towards immigration and Maricopa County Sherrif Joe Arpaio. Sherrif Joe is famous for his tent city, chain gangs, pink tee shirts, and monster immigration sweeps. His latest high profile inmate was Charles Barkley NBA Hall of Famer. Needless to say, Mr. Barkley did not have to wear black and white stripes, pink tee shirts, or work a chain gang.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Update: Burke Apologizes To Fellow Bishops--Kind Of

ROME, Italy - In response to the March 25, 2009 press conference of Mr. Randall Terry in Washington, D.C., the Most Reverend Raymond L. Burke, Archbishop Emeritus of Saint Louis and Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, issued the following statement:

“Recently, Mr. Randall Terry and some of his associates visited me in Rome and asked to videotape an interview with me to share with pro-life workers for the purpose of their encouragement. The interview was conducted on March 2, 2009.

“Sadly, Mr. Terry has used the videotape for another purpose which I find most objectionable.

“First, Mr. Terry issued a media advisory which gave the impression that I would be physically present at the press conference during which he played the videotape, when, in fact, I was in Rome.

“Second, I was never informed that the videotape would become part of a press conference.

“Third, I gave the interview as a Bishop from the United States to encourage those engaged in the respect life apostolate, not as the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.

“Fourth, I was never informed that the videotape would be used as part of a campaign of severe criticism of certain fellow bishops regarding the application of Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law.

“If I had known what the true purpose of the interview was, I would never have agreed to participate in it. (A simple Google search might have clued you in. I thought you Vatican types were supposed to be conducting Google searches now.)

“I am deeply sorry for the confusion and hurt which the wrong use of the videotape has caused to anyone, particularly, to my brother bishops.”

(Most Rev.) Raymond L. Burke


This seems to be the apology of someone who is hedging his apology. Better to blame Randall Terry for getting him in trouble with his fellow bishops, than to actually admit he over stepped himself, hence it Terry's wrong use of the video he is apologizing for, not what he said in it.

I don't know why Archbishop Burke is surprised he would be sand bagged by the militant pro life crowd. They have been using covert and fraudulent means to attack Planned Parenthood clinics for some time now. In fact Deal Hudson wrote in praise of this very tactic this very day. Kind of ironic that Archbishop Burke is all flustered that he was victimized by the same tactics. Not that he too wasn't attempting to sand bag his fellow bishops behind their backs by secretly pumping up pro life workers, but hey, all are fair game in the pro life war.

My how the worm does turn.

Another Blast From Archbishop Burke

Randall Terry's fervent dream, Archbishop Burke signing Decree of Excommunication for American Catholics who voted for Obama.

The following are excerpts from a conversation between Archbishop Raymond Burke and Randall Terry, former head of Operation Rescue. Randall Terry was in Rome conferring with Vatican authorities with the explicit agenda of having the Vatican remove Archbishop Wuerl of Washington, Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles, Bishop Loverde of Arlington Va, and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Mr. Terry wanted these prelates removed solely on the basis that they have not publicly stated they will deny Communion to Catholic politicians who are pro choice.

The operative words here are politicians and pro choice. Apparently Mr. Terry does not feel there are any other worthwhile issues for the American hierarchy to consider. It is evident from his language, that neither does Archbishop Raymond Burke. In fact, one of the things that struck me is that Archbishop Burke failed to notice that Mr. Terry's use of language with regards to President Obama was not exactly Christian. The full interview is posted here at the National Catholic Reporter website.

For the umpteenth time, I and the others are asking, under Canon 915 what should or should not be done?

The Canon is completely clear, it is not subject in my judgment to any other interpretations. When someone is publicly and obstinately in grave sin we may not administer Holy Communion to the person. And that, basically, for two reasons: number one, to prevent the person himself or herself from committing a sacrilege, and secondly, to protect the sanctity of the Holy Eucharist. In other words, to approach, to receive our Lord in Holy Communion, when one insists on remaining in grave sin, is such a violation of the sanctity of the Holy Eucharist, so that Communion must not be given to people who are publicly, obstinately, in grave sin. (For a large number of us, this sentence has zero credibility as long as strong arm real killers like Robert Mugabe flaunt themselves at the Communion rail with no sanctions from you, or your dicastery, or any other Vatican dicastery)

And so does that apply to politicians of any party that are saying: "Yes, it’s okay to abort children" –to kill children?

Yes, for someone who in any way contributes in an active way to the murder of innocent defenseless infants in the womb—children in the womb—from the very inception of human life, this is the greatest of sins. And such a person, until he or she has reformed his or her life, should not approach to receive Holy Communion. (It's official, abortion is now the greatest of all sins. So much for the first commandment.)

There are many Catholics who believed that to vote for Obama - knowing his promises to extend child-killing even further - that to knowingly vote for him under those circumstances was a type of cooperation with moral evil. It was cooperating with evil. Do you concur with that and if so, why? (This whole thing is too much. I personally think it's been a great moral evil to have spent millions on Roe V Wade so the Republicans could cripple our welfare system which directly led to more abortions.)

Well, the fact of the matter is, it is a form of cooperation, because by voting we put a person in office. And people say, “What does my vote matter?” Well, your vote is either a vote to put someone in office who will do what is right and just, or someone who won’t. And so if you, knowing that abortion is a grave crime against human life – is the killing of an innocent, defenseless human life - and you vote for the candidate who says that he intends to make that more available – that practice of infanticide - you bear a responsibility. That is, you have cooperated in the election of this person into office, there’s no question about it.

(It's official, Catholics are to vote on the abortion issue alone. Everything else pales in comparison. So much for tradition and history and sanity and social justice.)


How wonderful for we Catholic Americans that our votes will be this simple. Forget the economy or the two wars, or our place in the global community, all we have to consider is whether or not a politician is against Roe v Wade. We don't have to worry about silly things like whose money is behind that politician's campaign, or whether they have any real qualifications, or whether they actually have an understanding of any other issue. See Sarah Palin. Nope, all we have to do is check Deal Hudson's blog and check out his abortion stats. Thank God Archbishop Burke and Randall Terry have conspired to make this voting thing so much simpler for us Catholics.

I'm sure all the other bishops in the USCCB also appreciate the pastoral simplification for them. They probably don't even care that Archbishop Burke is no longer part of their fraternity, and no longer has a diocese. They must be relieved to have their pastoral concerns so simply focused on one issue. I'm also sure they don't care if prioritizing their pastoral choices around this one issue causes disruption, divisiveness, and more laity to leave. Laity leaving will help with the priest shortage and justify more parish closings whose assets can then be used to pay off more abuse claims. What's a good bishop not to like?

Cardinal George won't have to feel compelled to go to the White House and talk with the Obama administration about all those lesser evils like injustice in economic distribution, immigration reform, universal health care, nuclear arms, pre emptive wars, global poverty, or President Eisenhower's favorite, the military industrial complex. All Cardinal George needs to focus on is FOCA, the bill that won't appear before Obama, and conscience clauses for Catholic hospitals which already enjoy enormous protection--that is unless they voluntarily choose to participate in certain state and federal programs.

I have to give a lot of credit to Randall Terry. The radical pro life people lost a major ecclesiastical voice when Archbishop Burke was moved to Rome. No problem, Terry just went to Rome to give his voice a voice, and Burke, being Burke, couldn't resist. So now we can all rest easier knowing abortion is the greatest evil ever, even though, it has never in the tradition and history of the Church, been considered the greatest evil ever.

It's been that ensoulment issue that's kept wiser heads from ever stating abortion is the greatest evil ever. Or maybe I missed the memo when it was decided that ensoulment occurs at the moment of conception, whenever that conception moment really happens---there is still a great deal of debate about that one since multiple sperm can fertilize the same egg and twins don't necessarily occur. Did I write twins? That's another issue altogether, and twinning certainly doesn't take place at conception. But there I go again, trying to make a simple issue complicated.

One other statement of Archbishop Burke's which gave me pause was his assertion that Jesus Christ gave His life "for everyone without exception, and with a particular love for the suffering and for those who are the most defenseless." I don't know where in the Gospels Archbishop Burke found his knowledge about Jesus dieing with a particular love for the suffering and for those who are most defenseless. The Gospels don't say that. They say he gave His life and His love for all---with no qualifiers. St. Paul says the same thing. Is this then another example of the creeping exalting of the unborn over the born? If it is, it needs to stop. This distorts the meaning of Jesus's crucifixion, and puts a spin on His sacrifice which is not supported in Tradition or the Gospels and is one more example of how out of control the abortion debate has become. In point of fact, the complete innocence of the unborn would preclude the necessity of the salvific act of Jesus's death and resurrection in their particular case.

Thank God for Fr. Jenkins at Notre Dame. While I agree that President Obama needs serious dialogue over abortion, I also think the pro life crowd needs serious dialogue over their rhetoric and their assumptions about the relative importance of the unborn vis a vis the born. Maybe Notre Dame is the best place for these dialogues. Last I checked, it still had a viable Theology department rather than a Catechism department.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Catholic Discourse In The Public Square

American Catholics engaged in abortion debate.

The contretemps around the Notre Dame invitation to President Obama continues:

ND President has no plans to withdraw Obama invitation
South Bend, Ind., Mar 23, 2009 / 06:33 pm (CNA).-

Notre Dame’s commencement invitation to President Barack Obama has become more controversial with the university's president, Fr. John Jenkins CSC, saying that he doesn't plan to withdraw the invite.

On Sunday, Jenkins told The Observer he did not “foresee circumstances” in which the University would withdraw President Obama’s invitation.
Referring to Notre Dame’s decades-old tradition of inviting presidents, Fr. Jenkins said, “Presidents from both parties have come to Notre Dame.” They’ve spoken on important issues like “international affairs, human rights, service, and we’re delighted that President Obama is continuing that tradition.”
On the issue of President Obama’s extreme pro-abortion stance, Jenkins said, “We are not ignoring the critical issue of the protection of life. On the contrary, we invited him because we care so much about those issues, and we hope…for this to be the basis of an engagement with him.” He argued that you “cannot change the world” if you ostracize people you want to influence.
As of press time, Notre Dame had not returned a request for comment, and it remained unclear as to how they plan to engage Obama on abortion.
In 2004, the US Catholic Bishops spoke clearly on this issue in “Catholics in Political Life,” “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”
Controversy around giving pro-abortion Catholic politicians a platform is nothing new to Notre Dame. In 1984, Notre Dame was also the site for the now famous speech, “Religious Belief and Public Morality: A Catholic Governor’s Perspective,” given by then New York Governor Mario Cuomo. In his speech, Cuomo laid out an argument now used by Catholic politicians to rationalize their support for abortion based upon living in a pluralist society. (In 1984 abortion wasn't near the explosive political issue it is now. Reagan did start the process though in 1984)

It is unclear how Notre Dame engaged Governor Cuomo on the issue of abortion after his speech.
Some Catholics, however, have expressed support for Notre Dame’s decision to honor Obama. America Magazine’s Michael Sean Winters, discussed his support in his blog post, “Three Cheers for Notre Dame.”
He expressed frustrations with the “right wing” of the Church and wonders why Catholics are so upset about this invitation, “What is it about President Obama that makes the right wing so crazy, so uncharitable, so frothing-at-the-mouth unreasonable?”
Winters also celebrated that the “crowd of conservatives” and “Pharisees,” who want to uphold the Bishop’s teaching, “[do] not own the Catholic Church. They certainly do not own Notre Dame.”
When approached for a phone interview, Winters declined and asked to converse over email. He reluctantly agreed to answer questions, noting CNA’s Under the Glass column, Lessons from Michael Sean Winters on how NOT to blog, which he called “a nasty thing” that “included a falsehood among many idiocies.”
On the topic of Notre Dame, Winters cited a report that Denver’s Archbishop Charles Chaput had “urged a letter writing campaign to the university’s president.” Winters dismissed the suggestion, saying that the archbishop “has no ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the matter.”
CNA was able to acquire an audio recording of the event in question and found that rather than calling for a letter writing campaign, the archbishop suggested it as a response to the situation.
Responding to a question about how “faithful Catholics should respond to [general] situations like [Notre Dame’s invitation to Obama], Chaput suggested, “Protest, write letters, express your concern, do it charitably.” He further reminded the audience that “Jesus said we need to be like sheep among wolves” and to “act like Christians when we disagree: to be bold, courageous, and clear, but charitable.”
When presented with this information and asked if he believes that a bishop is stepping outside his “ecclesiastical jurisdiction” by asking people to be engaged in the public sphere by writing letters, Winters responded by saying he would reply when CNA drops its accusatory tone.
After the email interview Winters updated his blog, stating, “Archbishop Chaput has my email and if he objects to the characterization on the blog referenced above, I will be happy to change it.”


However, Notre Dame isn't the only Catholic institution or group under fire for their choice of a speaker. This time it's Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele and the Vandenberg County Right To Life Committee who are under attack from Evansville Bishop Gerald Gettlefinger. The Bishop thinks Michael Steele's qualifications as a true pro lifer are colored by Steele's political opportunism, so he won't be attending his own diocese's Right To Life banquet.

Is it just me, or is all of this getting pretty crazy? I mean can you imagine the Notre Dame commencement dais with both Barack Obama and Dr. Mary Ann Glendon sitting on the same stage? Ambassador Glendon is to receive Notre Dame's prestigious Laetare Medal. What if President Obama shakes Ambassador Glendon's hand, will she then lose all her cred with the pro life movement? Will she lose all her cred just because she's sitting in the man's presence? Will the Cardinal Newman Society demand she not attend or receive the award because it's pretty evident Notre Dame is not backing down?

America blogger Micheal Sean Winters, obviously no favorite of the Catholic News Agency, thinks the right will toss Ambassador Glendon over board. Sort of like a 'we eat our dead' phenomenon, I guess.

In the meantime, Catholic Michael Steele has already been tossed over board by Bishop Gettlefinger. I guess that means pro life Republicans aren't really pro life enough either. Does that mean we now have two 'parties of death'? I'm sure Archbishop Chaput will put all of this in perspective for us, and probably even write the master copy of the letters he will suggest we send somewhere in all charity. (After approval by the Cardinal Newman Society)

This will happen at about the same time Bishop Lori is telling us what gay legislators we could consider busing in to picket as they secretly work their secret gay agenda to take over the world. I suspect it will be Catholic Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts who has some choice words for Catholic Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. This would be the same Barney Frank who is desperately working to save the real homes of real married people with real children.

All of this fighting makes me think I was at a Mass and hockey game broke out. Speaking of hockey, Notre Dame's hockey team marches on. Maybe the team could donate their sticks to those who will be on their commencement dais. That could be interesting and by that time the team won't need them. Fr. Jenkins could wear a referee shirt. After all they are black and white and it sure looks to me like the Catholic Public Discourse could use a lot more referees and a lot fewer 'enforcers'.

(Thanks to the commenter who pointed out to me that Barney Frank is Jewish. I appreciate the correction.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Benedict's Thoughts On African Witchcraft

As part of a longer homily, Benedict spoke to the issue of witchcraft in African society. This excerpt deals specifically with Benedict's thoughts. Translation is from Zenit.

Today it is up to you, brothers and sisters, following in the footsteps of those heroic and holy heralds of God, to offer the Risen Christ to your fellow citizens. So many of them are living in fear of spirits, of malign and threatening powers. In their bewilderment they end up even condemning street children and the elderly as alleged sorcerers. Who can go to them to proclaim that Christ has triumphed over death and all those occult powers (cf. Ephesians 1:19-23; 6:10-12)? (Benedict should have mentioned that these particular groups are targeted precisely because they are a burden on societies which are currently incapable of feeding themselves. Proclaiming that Christ has triumphed over death and all those occult powers does not provide any more food.)

Someone may object: "Why not leave them in peace? They have their truth, and we have ours. Let us all try to live in peace, leaving everyone as they are, so they can best be themselves." But if we are convinced and have come to experience that without Christ life lacks something, that something real -- indeed, the most real thing of all -- is missing, we must also be convinced that we do no injustice to anyone if we present Christ to them and thus grant them the opportunity of finding their truest and most authentic selves, the joy of finding life. Indeed, we must do this. It is our duty to offer everyone this possibility of attaining eternal life. (The facts are that it is precisely the lack of real food, real security, real shelter and too many real mouths to take care of that lead to increases in witch craft claims and persecutions.)

Dear brothers and sisters, let us say to them, in the words of the Israelite people: "Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn, that he may heal us." Let us enable human poverty to encounter divine mercy. The Lord makes us his friends, he entrusts himself to us, he gives us his Body in the Eucharist, he entrusts his Church to us. And so we ought truly to be his friends, to be one in mind with him, to desire what he desires and to reject what he does not desire. Jesus himself said: "You are my friends if you do what I command you" (John 15:14). Let this, then, be our common commitment: together to do his holy will: "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15). Let us embrace his will, like St. Paul: "Preaching the Gospel [...] is a necessity laid upon me; woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!" (1 Corinthians 9:16).


Witchcraft and witchcraft persecutions are a very big deal in Africa, but Africa is not alone in dealing with the problem of witchcraft. In every country in which populations are fighting for survival, accusations of witchcraft against the elderly, most especially women, and children have increased in the last twenty years. Historically, accusations of witchcraft have been used to cull social groups of individuals who are perceived to be a drain on the collective good. What is happening in Africa is not a new problem, and it's not a cultural religious problem specific to Africa. History has shown that when witchcraft accusations become endemic, the answer is not found in evangelization, it's found in securing the future for people who are under a great deal of social and economic stress. Solving this issue is not going to be a case of whose juju is better than the other's juju. It will be solved when Africans have dealt with the social issues which breed the accusations.

Indigenous belief systems are not primarily rooted in Satanism or the occult. They are rooted in ancestral ritual and the spiritual systems which have helped indigenous cultures survive. Witchcraft practiced in it's negative expression is akin to Satanism as a ritual expression opposite that of Christianity. All spiritual systems have their negative counterparts. In John Allen's report on Benedict's sermon, he writes about a Kenyan symposium which specifically dealt with witchcraft. The quotes from Catholic clergy are especially pertinent:

In February 2007, the Catholic University of East Africa in Nairobi, Kenya, held a three-day symposium on witchcraft. Experts warned that witchcraft is “destroying” the Catholic Church in Africa, in part because skeptical, Western-educated clergy don’t take the beliefs behind it seriously.

“It is important for the Church to understand the fears of the people, and not to attribute them to superstition,” said Michael Katola, a lecturer in pastoral theology. “Witchcraft is a reality; it is not a superstition. Many communities know these powers exist.”

Katola warned that inadequate pastoral responses are driving some Africans into Pentecostalism.

“Many of our Christians seek deliverance, healing and exorcism from other denominations because priests do not realize they have redemptive powers,” he said. “If we don’t believe in the existence of witchcraft as Satanism, then we cannot deal with it.” (This sentence hits the nail on the head. Indigenous people do not see priests manifesting real spirituality in the sense of producing real effects. It's not a rejection of Christ, it's more an admission that the priesthood has no power in the spiritual realms that the Indigenous are used to seeing in their own spiritual leaders.)

Sr. Bibiana Munini Ngundo said that the Catholic Church has not paid sufficient attention to “integral healing,” leading people to put their trust in diviners and magicians. Fr. Clement Majawa of Malawi listed 14 categories of witchcraft practiced in Africa, and argued that the Church’s denial “only escalates the problem.”

“Since Christ in the gospels encountered the devil, it is proper for Christians to accept the reality of witchcraft,” Majawa said.

I see the witchcraft persecutions as a two fold problem, and Benedict really didn't address either problem. First and foremost this is a problem manifested in disjointed, stressed, poverty ridden areas of the world. Secondly it is a problem of spiritual manifestation. For Benedict to assume all indigenous healers and spiritual leaders are occultic or Satanic misses the boat by a large margin. They are not. The best are some of the most spiritual people on the face of the planet, quite capable of doing exactly what Jesus did, heal, comfort, cast out dark forces, and lead people to much better understanding of how spiritual forces work in and through humanity.

They fully recognize there are malevolent forces, but they are not made powerless nor intimidated by that knowledge. They also recognize that other traditions have their own connections, and that Christianity, especially Catholicism, has powerful connections for protection, healing, and unification. It would be unthinkable for them to disrespect our Communion of Saints and Angels. What they can't comprehend is why the vast majority of our ceremonial leaders are impotent in manifesting those connections. They see it as a disconnect between the talk and the walk. They are right, as Michael Katola stated in the above quote from John Allen when he said if Catholicism can not recognize the power, it can't deal with it.

Evangelicals and Pentecostals are making a killing stepping into this vacuum. They do it poorly, but it doesn't matter, because they at least are willing to go there. Until Catholicism is willing to seriously consider the fact that there actually is something to indigenous spirituality it will be hamstrung in it's evangelization.

This is not about superstition. This is about a reality which is bigger than the Western mind is willing to entertain. Catholicism has the tradition and the language, but it seems we've lost the vision and the connections. Angels are not mythical superstitions of childhood. Jesus and Mary are alive and real. They are as real as it gets and they have real ability to effect real change in our world. It drives me crazy that indigenous spiritual leaders can 'see' this as plain as day, and our leaders mouth platitudes about beings they don't really believe exist---at least in any meaningful sense.

Spirituality and scientific reason are not mutually exclusive paths. I've written before that quantum physics is the language of choice amongst the world's greatest spiritual practitioners. There's a reason for that. Quantum physics opens on a world in which science has potential answers for how the spiritual manifests in the material, and it's not wrapped up in religious dogma. It mandates respect for the power of human choice and the equal dignity of all.

Maybe it's time Benedict spent less time at big outdoor Masses and a little more time around kivas, and sweat lodges, and indigenous campfires talking with indigenous elders. He may get a whole new perspective on just how important Catholicism really is to the spiritual well being of humanity. In the meantime, poverty, dislocation, and powerlessness is leading to the eradication of another age of elder women and defenseless children. Thank God the Church is in the forefront in dealing with these issues. In the long run is this is the best method of ending the persecutions.
(This link is to a paper issued by the UN Refugee Agency on the issue of witch persecutions. It's long, but very informative reading, giving one a much better idea as to how large an issue witchcraft accusation has become through out the developing world.)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Fighting Irish Are Under Attack

Notre Dame Criticised Over Obama Invite
Boston Globe----Posted by Michael Paulson March 21, 2009

The White House yesterday announced that President Obama will be the commencement speaker at the University of Notre Dame and, right on cue, a controversy has erupted in Catholic circles over whether it is appropriate for the Catholic university to honor a non-Catholic politician who supports abortion rights.

The university's announcement made no mention of the abortion issue, but noted that Obama will be "the ninth U.S. president to be awarded an honorary degree by the University and the sixth to be the Commencement speaker." The university plans to give Obama an honorary doctor of laws degree at the ceremony on May 17.

The question of how Catholic universities should treat politicians who have policy disagreements with the Catholic church has dogged Catholic higher education for years, but has intensified recently with the rise of prominent Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, now including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice-President Joseph Biden. In 2004, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement on "Catholics in Political Life" that declared, "The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions." It's not entirely clear to me whether the policy is meant to apply to non-Catholic politicians like Obama, but there have been controversies over such honors before, most prominently when some at Boston College protested an honorary degree for Condoleezza Rice in 2006 because of her role in the Iraq War. Last year, I took a look at the situation in a story for the Globe and found that Catholic colleges were increasingly shying away from controversial speakers.

Of course, the president of the United States raises the stakes considerably -- is a Catholic college really supposed to refuse a platform to the elected leader of the nation if he has a disagreement, however serious, with Catholic teachings? Today, many on the right are arguing that the answer is yes.

The Cardinal Newman Society immediately set up a protest web site, asking people to "Help Stop the Scandal at Our Lady's University." Greg Kandra, over at The Deacon's Bench, blogs, "This falls under the category of "What Were They Thinking?" Thomas Peters, at the American Papist, predicts that Notre Dame will not back down, but says, "What can and will happen, I hope, is a frank discussion in the public spotlight about a) the mission and identity of Catholic universities and b) a greater awareness of the anti-Catholic policies and legislation that Obama is currently pursuing." And over at Via Media, Amy Welborn suggests Catholic universities stop inviting politicians altogether:
"I think it would be easier on everyone, frankly, if Catholic universities cut the cord with politicians completely. I don't care how prestigious you aim to be, how much you want your graduates to contribute to the fabric of American civic life, even a sitting president cannot help but associate you with a political ideology.
I'm not arguing for the ghetto, at all, but we're not talking noble statesmen here. We're talking politicians who are divisive figures and who, Obama's case, are pursuing policies that directly threaten Catholic institutions."

At a minimum, there is sure to be significant protest of Obama's speech that will draw much more attention, and likely broaden the debate, over the question of who should be allowed to speak, and receive an honor, on Catholic campuses. The Rev. Austin Fleming, pastor of Holy Family parish in Concord, observes on his blog:
"I'm a Domer, a Notre Dame graduate (M.A. Theology/Liturgical Studies, '80), and worked in the ND Office of Campus Ministry for three years. That job found me on the commencement platform in 1981 when President Ronald Reagan received an honorary degree. Reagan's presence on campus sparked some controversy but I'll wager that was nothing compared to what we're going to see when Obama steps under the Notre Dame mantle."


This is will be a fun battle for the Fighting Irish. How utterly predictable that the Cardinal Newman Society would come out with all guns blazing. CNS has somehow become the giver of the Catholic Imprimatur for all speakers on all Catholic colleges. They are so powerful that even bishops respond to their evaluations, hat in hand, to kowtow to CNS opinion. Weak kneed Bishops so intimidated they are perfectly willing to dump on their own institutions of higher learning in order to stay in CNS's good graces.

And just who is behind the Cardinal Newman Society? You can read their own take here and then Bill Lyndsey's take here. Bill is the author of the blog Bilgrimage and has taken some heat for his views from some of the very people who have strong vested interests in the Cardinal Newman Society.

In either take you will find names like Bishops Martino, Bruskewitz, and Chaput, and names like Frs Fessio and Groeschel of EWTN fame, and political movers and shakers like Deal Hudson and Tom Monaghan. Names any of us who have done any research in the Catholic conservative movement come across over and over and over again. Names whose only vested interest seems to be to define Orthodox Catholicism exclusively on the issues of abortion, stem cell research, traditional marriage, and the Vagina Monologues.

These happen to be the only cultural political issues which neocon Republicans ever discuss and the only issues the Cardinal Newman Society focuses on in their witch hunt attempts to guard Catholic Orthodoxy at Catholic universities and colleges. Even in their tepid denunciation of Boston College for bringing in Condaleeza Rice as a commencement speaker, they didn't attack her on the basis of her support for the illegal war in Iraq, but because she's moderately pro choice and something of a libertarian.

Now they've taken on Notre Dame and President Obama over the exact same tiring issues of abortion and stem cell research. In essence they are desperately attempting to pit American Roman Catholics against their own president, over two issues, as if there are no other issues for Catholics. When you more or less control the conversation by owning and controlling the editorial content of one Catholic publication and website after another, I guess there isn't going to be any other issues.

I really have a very hard time getting my head around the fact that any Catholic, lay or otherwise, would make less than a handful of issues the litmus test for Catholic orthodoxy. This is an insult not only to a vast and wonderful tradition, but it's heretical in the sense that the core issue for Catholics should not be abortion, but Jesus Christ. Putting the abortion cart before the Jesus horse is backwards theology and distorts the entirety of His central message, which was about love and sharing and forgiveness, not condemnation, exclusion, and judgement.

One astute commenter on the Boston Globe story stated that conservative politics has had a much more profound influence on American Catholicism than American Catholicism has had on conservative politics. That's absolutely true, and it hasn't been a positive influence. It's been horribly divisive and narrow minded.

We've really reached some kind of state when our flag ship of Catholic higher education is robotically attacked for inviting the President of the United States to give a commencement address. Had this been last year, I can guarantee that the Cardinal Newman Society wouldn't have made a peep of protest against President Bush or Notre Dame because on the abortion issues Bush passed the orthodoxy test. Forget all the other Catholic issues Bush failed, for these guys, nothing trumps abortion. They have cynically put all their cards in that basket and have the money and influence to make it stick. The Fighting Irish are in for an extended battle with the so called orthodox Catholic right. I hope they stick to their guns. Notre Dame has a theology department which understands that Catholicism is about way more than abortion and that dialogue works better than condemnation.

I just wonder what the Cardinal Newman Society is going to say when Pope Benedict actually meets with President Obama this summer. I'll be interested in seeing if some uber Orthodox Catholic posts wondering if the Pope is serving grilled fetuses in honor of President Obama, as one did in response to the Globe article about Notre Dame. That one made me proud to be associated with American Catholicism. In the meantime I'm off the buy a Notre Dame hockey jersey.