Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Benedict Quotes Chardin On The Cosmos As Living Host

A rose offers life to another rose. Sort of Chardin's version of the 'trickle down' theory.

Pope cites Teilhardian vision of the cosmos as a 'living host'
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR. National Catholic Reporter, July 28, 2009

Though few might have cast him in advance as a "green pope," Pope Benedict XVI has amassed a striking environmental record, from installing solar panels in the Vatican to calling for ecological conversion. Now the pontiff has also hinted at a possible new look at the undeclared patron saint of Catholic ecology, the late French Jesuit scientist and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Benedict's brief July 24 reference to Teilhard, praising his vision of the entire cosmos as a "living host," can be read on multiple levels -- as part of the pontiff's rapprochement with the Jesuits, or as a further instance of finding something positive to say about thinkers whose works have set off doctrinal alarms, as Benedict previously did with rebel Swiss theologian and former colleague Hans Küng.

The potential implications for environmental theology, however, are likely to generate the greatest interest among Teilhard's fans and foes alike -- and more than a half-century after his death in 1955, the daring Jesuit still has plenty of both. Admirers trumpet Teilhard as a pioneer, harmonizing Christianity with the theory of evolution; critics charge that Teilhard's optimistic view of nature flirts with pantheism.

Benedict's comment came during a July 24 vespers service in the Cathedral of Aosta in northern Italy, where the pope took his annual summer vacation July 13-29.

Toward the end of a reflection upon the Letter to the Romans, in which St. Paul writes that the world itself will one day become a form of living worship, the pope said, "It's the great vision that later Teilhard de Chardin also had: At the end we will have a true cosmic liturgy, where the cosmos becomes a living host. (I actually feel that this is the present truth about the cosmos, and mankind is just too blind to understand it.)

"Let's pray to the Lord that he help us be priests in this sense," the pope said, "to help in the transformation of the world in adoration of God, beginning with ourselves." (Ourselves is the only part 0f the cosmos that needs transformation.)

Though offered only in passing, and doubtless subject to overinterpretation, Benedict's line nevertheless triggered headlines in the Italian press about a possible "rehabilitation" of Teilhard, sometimes referred to as the "Catholic Darwin." That reading seemed especially tempting since, as a consummate theologian, Benedict is aware of the controversy that swirls around Teilhard, and would thus grasp the likely impact of a positive papal reference.

At the very least, the line seemed to offer a blessing for exploration of the late Jesuit's ideas. That impression appeared to be confirmed by the Vatican spokesperson, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, who said afterward, "By now, no one would dream of saying that [Teilhard] is a heterodox author who shouldn't be studied."(That's a very optimistic reading of conservative thinkers who tend to equate Chardin as the patron saint of the New Age movement.)

Teilhard's most prominent living disciple in Italy, lay theologian Vito Mancuso, told reporters that he was "pleasantly surprised" by Benedict's words and that they have "great importance."
Teilhard, who died in 1955 at the age of 73, was a French Jesuit who studied paleontology and participated in the 1920s-era discovery of "Peking Man" in China, a find that seemed to confirm a gradual development in the human species. Teilhard has also been linked to the 1912 discovery of "Piltdown Man" in England, later exposed as a hoax.

On the basis of his scientific work, Teilhard developed an evolutionary theology asserting that all creation is developing towards an "Omega Point," which he identified with Christ as the Logos, or "Word" of God. In that sense, Teilhard broadened the concept of salvation history to embrace not only individual persons and human culture, but the entire universe. In short order, Teilhard's thought became the obligatory point of departure for any Catholic treatment of the environment.

Yet from the beginning, Teilhard's theology was also viewed with caution by officials both of the Jesuit order and in the Vatican. Among other things, officials worried that his optimistic reading of nature compromised church teaching on original sin. In 1962 -- seven years after his death -- the Vatican's doctrinal office issued a warning that his works "abound in such ambiguities and indeed even serious errors, as to offend Catholic doctrine."(The Church might get a lot futher if they considered the concept of original ignorance, which is the true state of an incarnated person.)

In 1981, on the 100th anniversary of Teilhard's birth, speculation erupted about a possible rehabilitation. It was fueled by a letter published in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, by the then-Cardinal Secretary of State Agostino Casaroli, who praised the "astonishing resonance of his research, as well as the brilliance of his personality and richness of his thinking." Casaroli asserted that Teilhard had anticipated John Paul II's call to "be not afraid," embracing "culture, civilization and progress."

Responding to ferment created by the letter, the Vatican issued a statement insisting that its 1962 verdict on Teilhard still stands -- to date, Rome's last official pronouncement on Teilhard. (The statement was issued in July 1981, four months before then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, took over as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.)

Across the years, Benedict has sometimes seemed to be of two minds himself.
In his 1968 work Introduction to Christianity, Ratzinger wrote that Eastern Christianity has a deeper appreciation for the "cosmic and metaphysical" dimension of Christianity than the West, but that the West seemed to be recovering that perspective, "especially as a result of stimuli from the work of Teilhard." He argued that Teilhard gave authentic expression to the Christology of St. Paul. (The West is also behind Indigenous understanding and appreciation for the "cosmic and metaphysical" dimension.)

As Pope, Benedict has occasionally used language that seems to reflect a Teilhardian touch. In his 2006 Easter homily, the pontiff referred to the theory of evolution, describing the Resurrection as "the greatest 'mutation,' absolutely the most crucial leap into a totally new dimension that there has ever been in the long history of life and its development." (Yes, Yes, Yes. The whole idea of Jesus's teachings were to give us the road map to make the same leap.)

Yet Ratzinger's ambivalence about Teilhard is of equally long vintage. In a commentary on the final session of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), a young Ratzinger complained that Gaudium et Spes, the "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World," played down the reality of sin because of an overly "French," and specifically "Teilhardian," influence.
Overall, the impression is that Benedict finds much to like about Teilhard's cosmic vision, even if he also worries about interpretations at odds with orthodox faith.

Benedict's July 24 remark on Teilhard builds upon the pope's strong record on the environment, considered by many observers to be the most original feature of his social teaching. Most recently, Benedict devoted a section of his new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, to a call for deepening what he called "that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God."

In her recent book Ten Commandments for the Environment: Pope Benedict XVI Speaks Out for Creation and Justice, Catholic writer Woodeene Koenig-Bricker described Benedict as "the greenest pope in history," arguing that he has not only made strong environmental statements but also put them into practice.

In that light, one wonders if Benedict's shade of green could eventually allow Teilhard to be named the patron saint of Catholic ecology de jure, as well as de facto. If so, July 24 could be remembered as the first stirring of an "evolutionary leap" in the late Jesuit's reputation and official standing.


Is Pope Benedict beginning to show some signs of rethinking his days in the CDF with his all too frequent need to silence forward thinking theologians? For this Pope to even quote Chardin is a step away from his previous insistence on spotless orthodoxy.
I'm just a little bit bemused. Maybe all those New Age channelers are on to something when they keep talking about how the energy has changed and the old type of thinking will no longer hold sway. Or in Chardin's thinking, the noosphere is moving forward and Benedict is getting connected. Maybe it's just the water up in the Alps.
In any event, Benedict has given me more than one pausal moment in the last few months. He is becoming something of a contradiction, and there is no question he is our first green Pope. Ecological sensitivity does begin to give one a much bigger view of the cosmos and man's place in it---as in mankind is actually in the cosmos, and not above it, not destined to control and manage it, but destined to live in creative harmony and balance with it.

Even if Pope Benedict only throws out a few thoughts along these lines, and those just occasionally, he is still laying the ground work for a different Catholic vision, and that is a very balanced thing to do. As Pope he's giving me hope, where as I had none when he led the CDF. Or maybe it's just the water I'm drinking.

Monday, July 27, 2009

In Brazil It's Reproductive Roulette, Not Reproductive Choice

The real 'women' of Brazil the Church's policies are directly effecting.

Originally posted on Clerical Whispers, July 19, 2009

Abortion might be illegal in Brazil, but that doesn't mean you can't get one -- a million people do every year.The rich pick up the phone and go into a fancy clinic. The poor go to the drugstore and buy an ulcer pill. (So much for the effectiveness of making abortion illegal.)

The pill is called Cytotec and costs about two dollars a dose in the States.
In Brazil, though, it's a whole month's minimum salary these days [about $100], which is precisely where the Catholic Church comes into the story. It was direct pressure from the Church that pushed the pill, an effective abortifacient, from over-the-counter to prescription-only, with the accompanying price rise that sort of thing entails.

Not that this stops people from needing Cytotec. The poor who don't want to be pregnant have few other options -- just the usual gamut of back-alley procedures. Nor can they afford the kind of doctor who gives prescriptions, so they buy the pills under the table, which costs them a full month's pay, subsistence money, by the way, that would have clothed and fed their children -- because they all have children. And they know in ways the Bishops working against them seem not to fathom exactly what another one would cost them, and it's a price they cannot pay.

So they go hungry and take their chances with a pill the Catholic Church has driven to the black market. And the problem with that isn't only the price. The fingers-to-the-bone money they're paying might be for a two-cent coated aspirin. It may be strychnine. They cross themselves as they swallow, and wait a few days. If the bleeding doesn't stop, it still isn't a crime to go to the hospital.

Although it will be, if the bill the Church has managed to get in front of the Brazilian Congress that would criminalize the buying and selling of Cytotec becomes law. If it does, then the choices of the poor who have problems with the pill will be prison or bleeding to death.

The bill has opposition and is unlikely to pass. But it's hard to recognize the Church in Brazil as the same one that in the Eighties was home to the great liberation theologists, whose conception of crime entailed less people desperate to escape pregnancy than capitalist systems that by their very nature sinned against the poor.

Those priests worked in the streets, lived in the slums, knew the unwanted children, knew their mothers; but there have been four popes since the Vatican II of Pope John XXIII, and they have squelched, silenced and driven from their ranks those dreamers who actually sought significant social transformation.

Now the Church in Brazil is manned by the likes of the Archbishop of Recife, whose latest idea of social activism [March, 2009] was to ex-communicate the mother of a nine-year-old rape victim, who got the child an abortion.

The doctors, too -- even though the child weighed seventy pounds, stood not four feet tall, and was carrying twins that would have killed her.

But all involved in the whole affair were mortal sinners -- except for the serial rapist himself, the child's stepfather, who alone among them was not ex-communicated. The laws he broke were "man's, not God's," said the Archbishop. (Rape is a violation of the sixth commandment. I thought the ten commandments were also God's laws.)

This last got people into the streets. The Catholics for the Right to Decide passed out signs that read: "Catholics have sex for pleasure, use condoms, support sexual diversity, and have abortions!"

No news, of course, for anyone who's visited Brazil.
But "When will the Church hierarchy change?" the signs continued, and that is the question.
Certainly not soon enough for the 20,000 children between the ages of ten and fourteen who did have babies in Brazil last year. All of whom were the result of rape, much of it incestuous; and all, pretty much, born prematurely. Even the ones who lived are unlikely to become rocket scientists. The girls among them will be lucky to escape their child-mothers' fate.

But about them, the Church is strangely silent. The born, with their scabs and their hunger, their diapers and crying, are perhaps less appealing than the unborn, who are quiet, perfect, "sin-free," as the priests tell the people from the pulpit. Not unlike the perfect teddy bear.

"And the tragedy of that," says Beatriz Galli of Inaps, an advocacy group for reproductive rights, "is that now what we are seeing is very young rape victims 'volunteering' to carry the babies. The priests cheer, but what happens a year later to a destitute twelve-year-old with a child?"
The streets are full of them, but the Church isn't in the street these days.


I frequently wonder if the Church actually cares about the fruits of their anti abortion/anti contraception campaign. Who benefits from a ten year old child having a child who is most likely the result of incestuous rape and always the result of legally defined rape. It's certainly not the two children involved.

I posted in an earlier thread that the Recife rape victim, which precipitated this entire discussion, was not an isolated case. It was all too common. I've also written that enforcement without compassion is tyranny. It seems to me our Catholic hierarchy is practicing a form of tyranny, and they are not content with practicing this form of pastoral tyranny from the pulpit, they are demanding it become secular law. Women and girls must carry their pregnancies to term, while the men who are equally responsible for these pregnancies are ignored.

This particular conflict between abortion absolutism and real life situations scream for the addition of common sense and compassion. The only way that can ever happen is for the Church to return to an understanding of life which doesn't place the unborn on a level higher than the born. There is no justifiable reason I can see for making unborn life more important than the life of an innocent child mother. It's this notion of escalating the absolute worth of the unborn over that of the born that I can not agree with in conscience. Catholic moral teaching has never done this traditionally. It used to know that absolutism can cause harm in an imperfect world. Not any more. Not when it comes to sexual issues. Especially not when it comes to women.

It's hard to see how a twelve year old girl can make a reasoned assessment about being a good parent---especially in view of the fact she will most likely be committing to being a good single parent. No first time parent, no matter how old, has a clue about what parenthood really entails until they become a parent. Up until that magic moment, notions of parenting are mostly fantasy. But then maybe that's the whole problem with the hierarchy, they don't seem to have any imagination about what exactly they are demanding from girl mothers. For them the whole moral question ends at birth, but for the mother, the whole moral question is really just beginning. How moral is it to raise a child, born prematurely, on the streets or in an already poor and dysfunctional family? According to the Cardinal Levada and the CDF, Catholics aren't supposed to ask those kinds of questions.

As long as the unborn have an exalted absolute status above any of the born, those sticky moral questions about life after birth will never be taken into the moral equation. That's not just wrong, it borders on heresy. Abortion is however, a powerful political tool, and in Brazil the abortion issue certainly seems to be far more about exercising power than exercising compassion.

For child mothers the issue is not reproductive choice, but enforced, choice less reproductive roulette. The real loser in this moral equation is the unborn child who suddenly finds him or herself born. That's the issue the Church in all it's righteous wisdom refuses to address and why the Recife rape story is not going to go away.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Truth Found In Love Or Faith Supported By Reason?

Bill Lyndsey has some thought provoking observations concerning Benedict's latest encyclical on his Bilgrimage blog. He asserts that Benedict is attempting to reconnect the idea that truth must be centered in love in order to be truth. Bill also maintains that the disconnect between love and truth was a central theme of the last two papacies because these papacies were an attempt to shore up clericalism at the expense of the Church's much greater tradition.

The following is a comment from one of Bill's readers. Brian has some very astute observations about how this whole disconnect effected him personally. It struck a chord with me because I too in my more conservative days thought the exact same way Brian did---Get the basic formula down and then act on it. Any real understanding of love was entirely secondary.

People who have hitched their wagon to "the Truth" are, unwittingly, weakening the Church's message and mission. They compare some dogma or papal utterance to, say, the immutability of 2 + 2 = 4.

IMHO, the "Truth" they talk about is, in fact, more of a reflection of human thought and language than of God and his love. The mind must freeze phenomena into concepts in order to understand the world, although the world keeps flowing by - flowing towards God, if you will. They barter and trade with frozen Truths with which they build a house with no foundation, i.e. Love.

I don't want to belittle the importance of being able to construct and use a theological language. I just want to point out that many people mistake that language and its formulations for their religion, their object of worship.

When I was still in a conservative mindset, I, looking back now, put more emphasis on (what I thought were) accurate statements of data and less emphasis on loving action. Certainly, I was very much concerned with my own actions regarding myself (my thoughts, words, my body) but outward loving action to others, to the poor, always seemed like something you can do after you get all that data straight and adhere yourself to it firmly. To do otherwise would seem misguided - like the way I abruptly judged agnostics who did good works.

I feel that's why the Pope, and people like the late Fr. Neuhaus, are/were always repeating the 'complimentary nature of faith and reason.' Fr. Neuhaus, especially, always sounded frustrated with how anyone could think otherwise. "So the earth was discovered to go around the Sun, no big deal. So human beings and other lifeforms evolve over time, no big deal, our truths remains unaffected." etc etc. Of course they have to take this attitude towards scientific revolutions as a defense mechanism - otherwise, such revolutions, taken seriously, might threaten their adamantine Truths - especially the ones that deal with Nature itself, i.e. statements of 'Natural Law'. (Scientific facts like the one in quantum physics which states the nature of the universe is relational, and evolving towards an ever more complex and organized state. It is not static nor ultimately definable in Newtonian terms.)

When the Church finally allowed a historical-critical look at the Scriptures, we were blessed with an age of great theologians. What was never allowed was this: if we can review the Scriptures scientifically and find a better understanding of them, should we not also take a new look at those dogmas/practices which have rested upon the old/inferior understanding of Scripture?

That's why the contemporary Church is anti-intellectual, because it must be in order to maintain the current power model. It can only maintain its feudal caste system by being a giant mountain of inconsistency. More and more, it will become obsessed with what will look increasingly like an alternate natural science. In short: the recent emphasis on Truth is just another arrow from the quiver of defending power. So is the recent push for 'remembering our Catholic identity', which gives rise to homilies about how we're 'not like Protestants'.


Brian has a very important point in his last paragraph. In order to maintain the illusion of immutable unchanging truth, Catholicism is already engaged in creating an alternate natural science. It's an alternate science which selectively chooses amongst numerous scientific studies in order to find the few which seem to support it's view of humanity. "Catholic" scientific and medical experts are as adept at practicing self fulfilling science as some pastors are when cherry picking the scriptures. Neither group seems capable of stepping outside their preconceived world view to let the over all body of data speak to them.

I think Bill has a point about what Benedict was trying to accomplish with Caritas en Veritate. Pope Benedict does seem to be trying to put a little love back in the dogmatic truth pile. What really needs to happen is to pull a little truth from the whole love pile. When love is the foundation for truth, the need for a 'Catholic identity' becomes irrelevant. Similarities become more important than differences and society and individuals become healthier. The process of becoming a more healthy person through active love, takes precedence over the products of dogmatic church teaching. This necessitates a process of removing the personal internal impediments to practicing love, rather than internalizing an external set of doctrine. The trouble is, it's much harder to do this process because one has to let go of ego defense mechanisms rather than find everything under the sun to support one's ego defense mechanisms.

In this sense it's more about Faith supported by trust, than Faith supported by reason.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Man's Spiritual Path And The Lesson In Quaking Apens

" Star Gazer" by Santa Clara Pueblo artist Roxanne Swentzell. I love her work and she has been one of my favorite discoveries on this trip.

Here's a very good piece by Rich Heffern of the National Catholic Reporter. He makes a point I frequently make to other people who want to live a spiritual life, and it's also the biggest difference I've found between traditionalists and a whole host of others.

"I'm spiritual but not religious"
by Rich Heffern on Jul. 24, 2009

St. Francis of Assisi was wont to pray for nights on end, “Who are you, God, and who am I?” He was unable to find satisfying answers to these questions in the culture and institutions of his times.

One Sunday he was listening to a sermon in which the preacher quoted Jesus telling his followers to take nothing for their journey, to rely upon the kindness of strangers – in short, to embrace poverty as a spiritual way. Francis was galvanized. He left Mass overjoyed and committed the passages to memory, saying: “This is what I want. This is what I long for.”

Francis had noticed that whenever and wherever he encountered poverty and simplicity in his life, then his heart would warmly glow, his insides would light up with smiles. The scripture passage validated this important inner experience. His enthusiasm enkindled and his creative energies given direction, he went on to create a band of brothers who lived simply and in solidarity with the poor.

Francis took his direction in life from this inner navigation, following his deepest enthusiasm wherever it led him. He created a new way of living and working with others. His enthusiasm was the key that opened up his inner life and creativity, and then joined that life to the service of his community.

Due to the split in our religious sensibility that has plagued us for centuries, we tend to experience our spiritual traditions turned upside down. In our religion there has long been a tendency to discount our own living, our own experiences and our inner searching and questioning in favor of a top-down system of formation, direction, and organization. Ordinarily we were offered scripture, ready-made and digested theology, together with the lives of heroic individuals who lived in the past as models to emulate, and then given a creed of beliefs to memorize.

Thus armed, we were expected to venture forth “into the world” to do the best we could to cope with its slings and arrows, to meet the hard challenges of living by copying the behavior of others. Frequently the mere possession of this body of creed and knowledge was offered to us as our “passport” to salvation.

The suggestion that we might be able to directly experience the divine mystery in the midst of our lives, both in our enthusiasms and struggles, that in fact our daily living is the central arena where the encounter with the divine takes place, such notions were available only to a chosen few, usually those who chose religious life or ministry as a vocation. We were, in effect, cut off from our most fundamental spiritual nourishment and from the mystical experience that is at the roots of all religions. (I would say we were 'purposefully' cut off from our own mystical experiences.)

In Christianity, for example, surely the New Testament’s accounts of Jesus’ birth are telling us, among other things, that the great Mystery does not visit only the elite, that the divine is found in the most unexpected and unlikely places.

The reversal of this upside-down religious view is summed up well in the commonly heard phrase: “I’m spiritual but not religious.”


My friends tend to think I am taking this concept of 'follow your inner muse' too seriously. I don't, because I've found that once you open to the inner muse there is nothing about it that can be taken too seriously. To some of them, my up and leaving Helena for Northern New Mexico is some sort of mid life crisis, but there are others who truly understand what I am about and why this move is not really a choice, but an assent to a choice which in some sense was already made for me.

It's easy to tell when this happens, because every thing needed for such a move just falls into place. I now have a home here, and it more or less fell into my lap. While I had planned on using three or four days to find some place to live, it took a grand total of two and one half hours and that time included switching all utilities into my name. I am typing this from my new home. It has everything I really needed, but not necessarily what I might have wanted. It meets my monthly expenditure limit, has recently been completely updated, has two bedrooms and a back yard large enough for a garden, but not so big I begin to resent the upkeep. Although it's in the middle of a city north of Santa Fe, it's relatively isolated and quiet. It's the perfect pueblo for this me on a new journey.

Part of my inner prompting has been discovering the similarities in religious spiritual traditions and learning from the best of the rest. The Northern New Mexico area has more to offer on this quest than does Helena. Since this also includes quantum physics and neuro biology, I imagine I will be spending my fair share of time in Los Alamos, which is about as far as one can get from the spirituality displayed in Chimayo or traditional Pueblo Indian ceremonies. Except in some weird way, it all fits.

I am hardly the only person engaged in this kind of search. I have met many spiritually gifted people from other religious traditions who are actively engaged in the same process. The idea is not to denigrate our own particular backgrounds, since our early religious formation is a fundamental part of how our brains were neurologically entrained, that would be pure folly. The idea is to enrich our own traditions understanding about the universal concepts of the spiritual process and it's effect on the totality of one's self.

Spiritual experiences do effect the total human person. They are not a matter of of changing some archetypal soul, they effect biological reality and neural development in profound ways. It's not just personalities that change, it's the neuro chemistry of the brain which houses the personality that also changes. This is why groups who use coercive formation techniques are successful, just as at the same time, they are irresponsible and ultimately immoral. They take what is supposed to be an open ended process and subvert it to their own agenda.

Following Jesus is not about becoming a carbon copy of His every move, it's about discovering His insights with in yourself, in your own way, and arriving at the same conclusions, using His life as a model of the process itself, not as some sort of ultimate end product. When religions take a process and turn it into a product, they have lost the concept of evangelization.

I think it's fitting that the patron saint of this area of New Mexico is St. Francis. You can see the influence of his life and the Franciscans every where. St. Francis was profoundly changed by his mystical experiences. He truly marched to his own drummer, but his path was towards a more complete understanding of who he was as well as God. His path did not run parallel to Jesus's, it moved toward intersection with Jesus. In this process St. Francis made a lot of enemies because his enemies prefer we all walk the same path. Unfortunately we are all uniquely individual, and walking an identical path as dictated by authority is not only impossible, it is not desirable. We all have a unique contribution to make to the whole from our own unique perspective. If God truly desired spiritual clones, we would be genetic clones. Kind of like high mountain Quaking Aspens, which are clone colonies. The fact humans are unique individuals says a great deal about what God might expect from humanity. It's not lock step conformity.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sanctuary at Chimayo built in 1806 on the spot where a Franciscan brother found a crucifix from a predecessor with the original Franciscan expedition in the early 1600's. The dirt from this site is considered as healing as the water from Lourdes. I had many requests from friends for some of this dirt. My camera bag will never be the same!

I finally have Internet access. I had to beg, plead, and otherwise demean myself in order to get my daughter to let me use her laptop. For unknown reasons she can get Internet access with her plug in card and I can not. It's kind of irritating because yours truly pays for both cards from the same provider. Must be a message there.

We've had a great deal of fun on this trip and learned an awful lot about the history of the Santa Fe area. We've been to Chimayo, which some consider the American Lourdes, and then went to the Native American ruins at Puye. There was an interesting coincidence at the two sites. Both depicted the Sacred Heart, one in a wood carving at Chimayo, and one in a stone petroglyph at Puye. The tour guide at Puye stated that the petroglyph probably referred to the Spanish Conquistadors. I found that interesting in that most archaeologists feel the Puye caves and cliff dwellings had been abandoned before the Spanish conquest, which means this particular petroglyph was added later, probably in the early 1600's.

The Santa Fe area is a great mix of Native and Catholic spiritual practices as can be seen in the evolving history of the area. The Basilica of St. Francis is a unique mix of modern, Native, and old Spanish influence. It's mind boggling to think that the churches in this area predate virtually anything on the East Coast, and the Native history extends back 10-12,000 years. For my daughter and myself, this has been a truly enlightening trip. Tomorrow we head to Los Alamos to see the influence of modern science on this historical area, and then we will probably head to Roswell and to see the 'alien' influence on. So far New Mexico truly has been the land of enchantment.

One thing we have noticed is less semi traffic and empty hotel rooms. I don't think the tourism statistics are going to be very strong for this summer, and no matter where we've been, there are lots and lots of houses on the market. This is making the recession very tangible, as the for sale signs cut across all socioeconomic classes.

Now that I have almost sold my soul for access to a laptop which works, I will be posting more frequently. Hope everyone's summer is going well in spite of the fact our spineless congress can't seem to act on health care reform. I thought it was interesting that after PO's speech the other night the mainstream media dumped anything he said on health care in favor of the one out lying question on the Professor Gate's arrest. It's a classic example of how the media determines the message we get to hear, especially when pharmaceutical companies are paying for all the commercial time.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Why The Fate Of The F22 Is Important To The GLBT Community

US Senate Passes Hate Crimes Bill; Faces Veto Over F-22 Funding
Jim Burroway July 17th, 2009

The U.S. Senate late last night passed the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act as an amendment to a defense appropriations bill. The Senate approved the bill in a voice vote after voting 63-28 to block a Republican fillibuster of the hate crimes amendment.

However, the hate crimes bill could become collateral damage over a fight for more funding for the F22-fighter program. The White House and the Pentagon is trying to terminate the program which has been plagued with cost overruns and peformance problems, and they oppose the $1.75 billion in funding included in the appropriations bill. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it includes that funding. A bipartisan amendment to remove the F-22 funding is scheduled for a vote on Monday.


Is it just me, or is there something totally bizarre about the fact a hate crimes bill is threatened with a veto because of a very expensive weapons system? Describing it's potential veto fate as 'collateral damage' is totally appropriate given the weapons system is the F22.

This is a pretty diabolical way to have your cake and eat it too. If the Senate wants to maintain any kind of credibility the bipartisan ammendment to remove the F22 funding needs to pass. These issues need to be deliberated on their own merits.

Only in American politics would hate crimes legislation be tacked on to a defense spending bill. Should the ammendment not pass, we might see President Obama have to make a real decision with real consequences. Such as is passage of the Mathew Shepard bill worth 1.75 billion more dollars pumped into a weapons system the DOD no longer supports as they feel the 187 F22's we already have is enough.
Maybe President Obama can think of it as a jobs program, rather than a jobbed bill he has to veto. Or maybe he can let Japan support Lockheed Martin's assembly line by letting them buy the 2oo they've indicated they want to counter the North Korean threat, and the fate of the F22 will be decided elsewhere.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Fr. Thomas Berg On The Legion Investigation

The Vatican investigation of the Legion of Christ officially got underway on Wednesday. The visitor for North America is Archbishop Chaput of Denver. His selection should have made North American members of the Legion and Regnum Christi breath a little easier. Archbishop Chaput is a big supporter of obedience driven conservative lay apostolates such as Opus Dei, the Neo Cats, and the Legion. I see his appointment as analgous to having selected Sr. Joan Chittister to over see the LCWR investigation. Like that happened.

In the interests of giving a fair and balanced assessment of what should happen with this investigation I offer the insights of Legion trained priest Fr. Thomas Berg. The following exctracts are taken from an article written by Sandro Magister of the Chiesa Espresso web site. It's lengthy, but well worth the read.

Q: When you recently left the Legion, you expressed in a statement your sympathy for the congregation in which you were formed as a priest. What are your hopes now that the apostolic visitation to the Legion of Christ has been announced?

A: I, like the vast majority of persons in the Church, try to remain positive and hopeful for the Legion and Regnum Christi movement. We only want the best for our brothers and sisters in Christ. We understand that this might involve taking some tough medicine, but I believe it is possible for a majority of these wonderful men and women will rise to the occasion because they really do have a profound love for Christ in their hearts. I would like to insist again that I bear no hatred, anger or resentment toward the Legion. Much less, do I spend every waking hour thinking about the Legion. I am getting on with my life. Nonetheless, your initiative in posing these questions has afforded me the opportunity to say a number of things that in conscience I believe need to be said at this juncture.

Q: What would be your suggestions to the five visitors?

A: I will limit myself to one overall suggestion: help the Legionaries to engage in an honest and objective self-critique. What I have found most unsettling of late is the kind of group-think that has settled in among the Legionaries: "We really don't think there is anything wrong with the internal culture of the Legion, but if the Holy See tells us to change things, we will." The docility to the Holy See, though laudable and correct, masks a huge internal flaw: the Legion's corporate inability to engage in a healthy self-critique. This is no time for a business as usual approach, but that has been the impression one generally gets from the Legionaries over the past five months of the crisis. (This inability to self critique perfectly mirrors the founder.)

That inability to see and honestly recognize the flaws and errors that so many people outside the Legion are able to see speaks volumes. The Legionaries should be reminded that it is not the task of the Holy See to reform the Legion. The Legion will only be genuinely reformed when it reforms itself from within. But that can only begin with a self-examination that arises from within the Legion and owns up to the Legion's errors.

Q: How would you suggest dealing with the centrality given to the writings, the person and the figure of the founder, Marcial Maciel?

A: I hope that the Legion will very quickly accelerate its disavowal of, and disassociation with, Fr. Maciel. On that point, I see no other way forward. All - and I mean all - the pictures of Maciel yet hanging in Legionary houses have to go. They have to stop referring to his writings in public (I understand that at one recent Legionary community mass the homilist still saw fit to quote from one of Maciel's letters). A simple step in that direction, by the way, requires the immediate abrogation of their custom of referring to Fr. Maciel as "nuestro padre" or "mon père" - terms of endearment whose use he allowed and fostered. Amazingly, many if not most Legionaries still insist on using the term.

Q: What are the issues you think should change in the internal culture of the Legion, especially related to the recently suppressed "vow of charity", meaning the vow not to criticize one's superiors?

A: At the core of serious problems in the internal culture of the congregation is a mistaken understanding and living of the theological principle - in itself valid - that God's will is made manifest to the religious through his superior. The Legionary seminarian is erroneously led to foster a hyper-focusing on internal "dependence" on the superior for virtually every one of his intentional acts (either explicitly or in virtue of some norm or permission received, or presumed or habitual permissions). This is not in harmony with the tradition of religious life in the Church, nor is it theologically or psychologically sound. It entails rather an unhealthy suppression of personal freedom (which is a far cry from the reasoned, discerned and freely exercised oblation of mind and will that the Holy Spirit genuinely inspires in the institution of religious obedience) and occasions unholy and unhealthy restrictions on personal conscience. (I have yet to come across one of these conservative new movements which doesn't insist on this same form of mindless obedience to superiors. This is not formation, it is purposeful brain washing.)

Furthermore, Legionary norms regarding "reporting to," "informing," "communication with," and "dependence on" superiors constitute a system of control and conformity which now must be considered highly suspect given what we know about Fr. Maciel. They furthermore engender a simplistic, and humanly and theologically impoverished notion of God's will (its discernment and manifestation) that breeds personal immaturity. (This is so on target.)

More seriously, the lived manner in which Legionaries practice obedience is laced with the kind of unquestioning submission which allowed the cult of personality to emerge around the figure of Maciel in the first place and covered for his misdeeds. Legionary seminarians are essentially trained to suspend reason in their obedience and to seek a total internal conformity with all the norms, and to withstand any internal impulse to examine or critique the norms or the indications of superiors.

Granted, the primary motivation behind such living of obedience is the ideal of total "immolation" of oneself for the love of Christ as embodied in the relentless living of all norms and indications of the superiors. This "immolation" of intellect and will is at the heart of the "holocaust" that the Legionary is invited to live for love of Christ and the Church. While the motivation is valid, and generations of Legionaries have pursued this in good faith, in the long run it not only proves profoundly problematic, but also explains the negative personality change which many, if not most, Legionaries undergo over time: the shallowness of their emotional expression, the lack of empathy and inability to relate normally to others in so many contexts, the general sense of their being "out of touch," etc. Only exceptionally do Legionary priests move beyond this, but only thanks to the multiple talents and human gifts they brought with them to the Legion.

Q: What elements do you find more disturbing and in need of special attention from the visitors?

A: Just to name a couple. Why, for example, were approximately 25 Legionary priests convoked yet again - as groups are every year - to a two-month long "spiritual renewal" at the Legion's center for spirituality in Cotija, Michoacan Mexico, housed in the very house (now retreat center and museum) that Fr. Maciel grew up in? Why there? Why in Cotija? Why now?

Why, furthermore, has the Legion continued to engage in vocation work? Now? In these circumstances? It would be a very honest gesture for the Legion of Christ to simply call a halt to all vocational work at least for the duration of the canonical visitation, and even better until it finally gets its house in order.

And one of my deepest concerns is that current Legionary seminarians are not presently in a position to adequately discern what Christ is calling them to do. And this is because they are systematically deprived of the kind of information they not only have a right to know but a fundamental need to know: a complete presentation of the basic facts of Fr. Maciel's double life; the understanding that the religious life, with its norms and internal discipline, they have come to live is deeply problematic and in need of thorough scrutiny and review; a thorough presentation of the reasonable criticisms that have been leveled against the Legion and Regnum Christi; and an honest admission on the part of the major superiors of the Legion's errors.

We should all find it deeply disturbing that most Legionary seminarians - and the same can be said of consecrated members of Regnum Christi - to this day live their daily lives largely unaware of most of these things, shielded as they are from virtually all negative information about the Legion and Regnum Christi. Consequently, they lack the requisite interior freedom to genuinely discern God's calling in their lives at present. This is something to which the visitors need to pay careful attention.

A much deeper issue, of course, is the question of the charism. I personally feel the need for the Church eventually - in some formal way - to reaffirm the validity of an institutional charism in the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi. Regnum Christi members especially need to know from the highest Church authority whether there ever really was a genuine charism inspired by the Holy Spirit at work in the Legion and Regnum Christi, or whether what the Church has witnessed in the sixty-eight year phenomenon of the Legion was rather God simply drawing much good out of a primarily human and deeply flawed enterprise.

This question - whether there is a genuine institutional charism present here or not - is very serious and, as it presents itself in the case of the Legion, unprecedented in the history of the Church. I hope that the visitors will turn up useful information that will assist the Holy See in discerning the answer to that question.

Finally, I fear there may be more victims of Fr. Maciel out there. Their welfare has to become more clearly a palpable and obvious priority for the Legionary superiors. I am hopeful that the major superiors of the Legion who may be now have acquired much more information in this regard will be entirely forthcoming with the visitors.

Q: Do you think that the current leadership of the Legion is too closely associated to the founder to continue directing the Congregation?

A: That's a valid question. The Holy See might weigh in on it, but ultimately it seems the proper answer to that question would have to arise from a general chapter of the congregation which, in my opinion, should be conducted under the close supervision of the Holy See and suspending the current dispositions for a general chapter as outlined in the current constitutions of the Legion in a manner that would allow broader participation by a diversity of members, especially those who are not or have not been in leadership positions.

Q: Can a congregation such as the Legion survive without the "model" provided by a founder?

A: God can do all things. The Holy Spirit could surely raise up a group of Legionaries - cofounders who have disassociated themselves interiorly from Fr. Maciel - who, under the Spirit's inspiration, could provide model lives for future members and direct a new generation of Legionaries to draw from the rich treasure trove of religious spirituality which is the Church's patrimony. This could also be transmitted to the Regnum Christi movement.


I've been doing a lot of research this past year into the various "new lay apostolate movements"
which were so well received and supported by John Paul II. These groups like the Legion, Opus Dei, Miles Jesu, Neo Cats, and a whole host of smaller copiers, may indeed be the one big legacy JPII has left the church.

All of these groups are centered, one could say fixated, on one charismatic leader whose unique interpretation of Catholicism is passed on verbatim, without question, in secrecy, with no financial transparency, a very compartmentalized leadership system, and an aggressive insistence on obedience and loyalty. They are all from the same cookie cutter, almost all Spanish in origin--fascist Spanish--and none of them have had any real Vatican supervision once the money started rolling into the Vatican bank. The Legion just happens to be the group whose narcissitic charismatic leader was also a pedophile. It maybe the real Holy Spirit driven charism of the Legion is to expose the cultic and dehumanizing nature of these parallel forms of Catholicism. Every single criticism Fr. Berg has of the Legion can be laid at the feet of almost all of these movements.

The other thing I've noticed is that there doesn't seem to be any such thing as heresy on the right, no matter how far out on the right one gets. It seems to me there is a lot of heresy in the notion that one particular person is idolized as if they were Jesus Himself. To ask the Legion to get rid of their adoration of Maciel is going to be as difficult as it would be to ask Opus Dei to get rid of their adoration of the now Saint Escriva, or for the Neo Cats to disavow Kiko Arguello. It won't happen because all these groups don't seem to be as much charism based, as personality based. Their founders made sure the charism was well blended with their own personhood. The two are equated and consequently impossible to separate.

I'll have more on these groups in future posts, but I'll make this prediction. The selection of Archbishop Chaput as the North American Investigator for the Legion would seem to insure the Legion will come out of their investigation with few substantive changes and a lot of thanks from the Vatican. The LCWR will not be nearly so lucky.

On a more personal note, I will be taking off on a working vacation for the next two weeks or so, and while I will try to keep up a daily post on this blog, I'm making no promises. Change is in the winds and it's all very exciting. One of the things I hope to do is to make the Pax Christi vigil at Los Alamos the first of August. I have my daughter convinced it's the Catholic thing to do. Maybe I'll get an interview with Fr. John Dear--or not.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Choice For Death

LONDON — He spent his life conducting world-renowned orchestras, but was almost blind and growing deaf – the music he loved increasingly out of reach. His wife of 54 years had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. So Edward and Joan Downes decided to die together.
Downes – Sir Edward since he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1991 – and his wife ended their lives last week at a Zurich clinic run by the assisted suicide group Dignitas. They drank a small amount of clear liquid and died hand-in-hand, their two adult children by their side. He was 85 and she was 74.

The deaths were a poignant coda to Edward Downes' illustrious musical career, and have reignited a debate in Britain about whether people should be able to help ailing loved ones end their lives.

The couple's children said Tuesday that they died "peacefully and under circumstances of their own choosing" on Friday.

"After 54 happy years together, they decided to end their own lives rather than continue to struggle with serious health problems," said a statement from the couple's son and daughter, Caractacus and Boudicca.

"They wanted to be next to each other when they died," Caractacus Downes told London's Evening Standard newspaper. "They held hands across the beds.

"It is a very civilized way to be able to end your life," he added.

Downes' manager Jonathan Groves said the couple were inseparable and would have reached the decision together.

Sir Edward would have survived her death, but he decided he didn't want to. He didn't want to go on living without her," Groves said.

One of Britain's most renowned conductors, Downes had a long and eminent career, which included years as head of the BBC Philharmonic and a five-decade association with the Royal Opera House.

In recent years he had become almost blind and nearly deaf, increasingly relying on his wife for support.

Joan, a former ballet dancer, choreographer and television producer, had devoted years to working as his assistant, but she was recently diagnosed with cancer of the liver and pancreas, and given only weeks to live.

Groves said he was shocked by the couple's deaths but called their decision "typically brave and courageous."

The double suicide is the latest in a series of high-profile cases that have spurred calls for a legal change in Britain, where assisted suicide and euthanasia are banned.

Under British law, assisting a suicide is punishable by up to 14 years in prison. But courts have become reluctant in recent years to convict people. No relative or friend of any of the Britons who have died in Dignitas clinics has been prosecuted.
(This is sure indicative of an officially mixed attitude towards assisted suicide.)

The Metropolitan Police force said it had been notified of the deaths, and was investigating. Charges are unlikely.

Despite evidence of changing attitudes, parliamentary efforts to change the rules have all been defeated – most recently last week, when Parliament's upper chamber, the House of Lords, voted down an amendment that would have relaxed the prohibition on assisted dying.
Sarah Wootton, chief executive of campaign group Dignity in Dying, said the couple's deaths showed the need to regulate assisted suicide.

"This problem is clearly not going to go away," she said. (It certainly isn't.)

"People should be able to make such decisions for themselves, but safeguards are the key," she said.

Peter Saunders, of the anti-euthanasia group Care Not Killing, argued that loosening the law could "put vulnerable people, many of whom already think they are a financial or emotional burden to relatives, carers and the state, under pressure to end their lives through a change in the law."

More than 100 Britons have died in Swiss clinics run by Dignitas since the organization was established in 1998. The organization takes advantage of the country's liberal laws on assisted suicide, which suggest that a person can be prosecuted only if they are acting out of self interest.
Roughly 100 foreigners – most of them terminally ill – come to Switzerland each year to end their lives. Some are healthy except for a disability or severe mental disorder. Typically they go to a room run by Dignitas, which provides them with a lethal drink of barbiturates. In five minutes they fall asleep – and never wake up.

Other countries, including the Netherlands and Belgium, and the states of Oregon and Washington in the United States, allow the incurably sick to obtain help from a doctor to hasten their death.


Depending on one's point of view, the Downe's story is somewhere between a fitting end to an incredible love story, or a willfully selfish act which condemns them to an eternal hell.

This is one of those stories in which the circumstances color one's perspective. One of those circumstances is that Dignitatis, as an outside provider, assisted in this dual suicide. Had the Downes chose to suffocate together in their car, it would be a different story. Society wouldn't be faced with having to make choices about a 'service' which assists an individuals death. We in the West do not deal well with death anyway, opting always for life or at least not doing any harm. The whole notion of assisted suicide violates both those notions. A lot of us can't seem to grasp the idea that forcing life on others might actually be harmful in an of itself.

This is not about a Terry Schiavo and what is appropriate end of life care for people dependent on others. This is about two elderly adults, facing terminal or very debilitating physical disintegration, freely choosing to end their lives---and the choice of others to help them.

People make this same kind of choice all the time, but they usually act on the choice alone. The Church's pastoral position is generally that people didn't really freely choose to commit suicide. In choosing death, they couldn't have been in their right mind, and therefore did not really possess free choice. However, when others choose to help them in this choice, those others are engaging in murder and part of the culture of death.

Catholicism's position says no one in their God given right mind chooses death, or chooses to avoid terminal suffering. Life is too valuable a gift, even when it's a cross and reduces one to a dehumanized state. At that point one's life becomes an opportunity for the exercise of compassion in the people who love the incapacitated person. The Downes case says just the opposite. The compassion is exercised in helping them with their choice to end their lives together with some dignity.
I think we in the West have made dieing with any kind of dignity very difficult because we are obsessed with avoiding and denying death. Somehow the very fact we die is a failure. Those who love us can feel excessively guilty at their own failure to keep us alive. This is especially true with suicide.
One of the questions I think needs to be given more consideration is what the Downe's decision really states. Is it legitimate to have a view of death which is morally positive, and not always and everywhere morally neutral or negative. Will society support an individuals free choice to embrace death even when they need assistance to accomplish that choice.

Britain seems to be brain locked on this question. Laws, never enforced, are still on the books and legislation to change them is still being blocked. A religious view of death as sort of the ultimate evil to be avoided is still alive and well in secular society. But when the will to enforce the law is absent, this generally signals changing, if officially unrecognized, attitudes. Britain may not want to admit it, but it does seem that semi officially there is a changing attitude to death and dieing that says one can choose dignity in death over a longer life.

One of the last conversations I had with my mother was one I never expected. I lived out of state and was home for a holiday when out of the blue she asked me if it was OK to want to die and not live any longer. She had a long history of lung and heart complications which had been recently compounded with an insulin dependent form of type II diabetes. She was going blind. She was not ennobled by her suffering, ill equipped to deal with it, and tired of watching herself deteriorate to the point she was completely dependent on my dad, who himself was not young and visibly going down hill.

I told mom I had a difficult time believing that God meant death to be avoided at all costs since it was God Himself who originally determined life would have an end point. It seemed to me it was man who determined that life at all costs superseded death. Probably because the whole concept of heaven being vastly superior to earth would lead people to purposely seek to end their lives in order to experience heaven. She laughed and laughed and laughed.

She said she wasn't looking forward to experiencing heaven as she didn't really have a clue about what that was about, but she was looking forward to not experiencing pain. Then she asked if I really thought there was an afterlife. Absolutely, I said and I also told her I thought individuals could live a long enough life in which their real business was no longer about living, but about dieing. Besides, we were far more than our bodies and preparing for death meant getting in touch with that aspect of our totality. That part would let her know when she was ready.

She thought about that for awhile and then told me she thought she was close to being there. She told me two other things. The first was to make sure my dad and my brother and sister would honor her request for no heroic measures. They were to let her check out. The second was to make sure there would be no more helicopter air flights to hospitals because she was terrified of flying in helicopters and that would surely kill her. We both laughed at the inconsistency in that. Both requests were honored and she died in my dad's arms.

I suppose she could have been kept alive longer, but it was time. In a sense she opted for passive suicide, embracing her death and not running from it--except for the helicopter thing. The choice facing society is about the rights of individuals to choose death and official legal compliance in that choice. Like the article states it is a question which isn't going to go away.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Story The Vatican Won't Let Die--The Brazilian Rape Case

Cardinal Levada and the CDF seem unable to let some controversies fade off into oblivion. Me thinks he doth protest too loud.

Brazil rape victim flap leads to new Vatican condemnation
Jul. 13, 2009 By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY Commenting on the controversial case of a 9-year-old Brazilian rape victim who underwent an abortion, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said the concern the church needs to show the girl does not change the fact that abortion is wrong.

In declaring that the doctors and others who were involved in helping the girl procure an abortion automatically incurred excommunication, the church does not intend to deny the girl mercy and understanding, said the statement published in the July 11 edition of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.

The penalty of excommunication "places in evidence the gravity of the crime committed (and) the irreparable damage caused to the innocent who was killed, to the parents and to all of society," the statement said. (Again there is no mention of the rapist step father, the gravity of his crime, and the damage he caused. Total silence on the causal agent.)

In early March doctors at a hospital in Recife performed an abortion on the girl, who was pregnant with twins, weighed a little more than 66 pounds and reportedly had been raped repeatedly by her stepfather from the time she was 6 years old. Abortion in Brazil is illegal except in cases of rape or if the mother's life is in danger.

Interviewed by the media after the abortion, then-Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho of Olinda and Recife noted that abortion always was a sin and that, according to canon law, anyone participating in the abortion -- including the girl's mother and her doctors -- would automatically incur excommunication.

In the midst of expressions of outrage from around the world over what appeared to be a lack of pastoral concern and compassion for the girl, the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life said the church's first reaction should have been to minister to the girl.

The girl "should have been defended, hugged and held tenderly to help her feel that we were all on her side," said Archbishop Rino Fisichella, head of the academy.

The Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife then issued a statement saying, "All of us ... treated the pregnant girl and her family with extreme charity and tenderness. ... All efforts were focused on saving all three lives." (With the intent to let the nine year old die if that was necessary to save the twin fetuses.)

The doctrinal congregation said the statements from church leaders led to some confusion about the position of the church, "taking into account the dramatic situation of the child -- who, it turns out -- was accompanied with pastoral delicacy by the then-archbishop."

"In this regard, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirms that the doctrine of the church on procured abortion has not and cannot change," the statement said.

To deliberately abort a fetus is to kill an innocent human being, it said.
"Regarding procured abortions in certain difficult and complex situations," the doctrinal congregation said that "the clear and precise teaching" of Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical, "Evangelium Vitae" ("The Gospel of Life"), remains valid.

The statement quoted the encyclical: "It is true that the decision to have an abortion is often tragic and painful for the mother, insofar as the decision to rid herself of the fruit of conception is not made for purely selfish reasons or out of convenience, but out of a desire to protect certain important values such as her own health or a decent standard of living for the other members of the family. Sometimes it is feared that the child to be born would live in such conditions that it would be better if the birth did not take place. Nevertheless, these reasons and others like them, however serious and tragic, can never justify the deliberate killing of an innocent human being." (And yet these are some of the exact reasons used to justify the taking of born life. In this case the nine year old would have been justified in taking her step father's life in her own self defense.)

The doctrinal congregation said that performing an abortion to save a mother's life is different from carrying out a medical procedure that may have the side effect of causing a miscarriage as long as the death of the fetus was not the goal of the intervention. (This is a nice attempt to lessen the absolutist position on abortion and a women's right to life, but it's basically sophistry. The intent of her doctors was to save this girl's life. Is she to die because she didn't have cancer or some other life threatening illness in which the intervention would result in aborted fetuses as a side effect?)


I find it very interesting that the Vatican, at least the CDF, seems incapable of letting this story drop. They really should let this one fade away because it does not serve to help their absolutest position on abortion. If anything, every time they drag it back into the spot light they look less compassionate and more doctrinaire and authoritarian. It's totally about the letter of the doctrine at the expense of the spirit of the doctrine. Maybe it's the Holy Spirit doesn't want this story to fade away.

Archbishop Fisichella seems to be the only prelate that actually has his pulse on the outrage this story caused amongst lay Catholics, especially lay Catholics with children. I have a daughter and yet I can't begin to imagine how horrendous the mother of this girl must have felt. There is no way I would have let my daughter, who was also small at nine, die having twins. Especially under these circumstances.

I believe in respect for life, but I don't know that I believe in respect for life to the extent that an innocent nine year old must literally be sacrificed on the altar of pregnancy, especially this kind of pregnancy. This kind of pregnancy is very difficult to see as some sort of 'gift from God' when it is in fact, the consequence of repeated forced rape. I suspect the nature of the pregnancy is the exact reason the father is never mentioned by those in authority who support the excommunications. It's difficult to make a cogent case for pregnancy being a 'gift from God' under these particular circumstances. I guess we're not supposed to notice they ignore the circumstances of the pregnancy in favor of condemning the medical decision makers and the girl's mother. I'm waiting for the time when we can ignore the circumstances which lead to war in favor of absolute non violence. I tend to think that will be a very long wait.

As long as the CDF continues to bring this case to public attention, I will continue to give it attention. I'm sure had the mother decided to let this pregnancy go forward and place the lives of twin fetuses ahead of her own raped daughter the Church in it's 'compassion' would have given the nine year old a heck of a funeral and put her on the fast track to sainthood. She would have become the ultimate model for how all women and girls should sacrifice themselves on the altar of pregnancy. Abraham wasn't asked to sacrifice himself for the sake of Israel, he was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac. How come women get the exact opposite message when it comes to pregnancy?
The thing is, millions of women have sacrificed themselves on the altar of pregnancy and have for millenia. But it's one thing for an adult woman to choose to let "nature run it's course". It's an entirely different thing to force that on a nine year old. Especially a nine year old whose reproductive tract was never given a chance at a 'natural' course.

There's something truly galling about being 'taught' that in the interests of saving a woman from cancer, it's OK that a miscarriage might result from the radiation treatments because the intent wasn't the miscarriage, but when the intent is saving the life of a nine year old through direct therapeutic abortion, the exact same outcome is inherently evil. That's a form of hair splitting which only doctrinaire prelates more concerned with the doctrine than the people the doctrine actually effects, could come up with. It's paradoxical Catholicism at it's best. Sort of like asking Catholics to place the life of the unborn on a higher level than existing life, which of course, this situation clearly demonstrates we are to do. Where is this preferential option for the unborn found in the Bible?

And finally, where is it found in the Bible that an action taken to save a life is more intrinsically evil than violently raping that life? Enquiring minds want to know.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The President, The Pope, And Women's Reproductive Rights

Two powerful men discuss the reproductive rights of women like the one trailing silently behind in black.

From most accounts it seems that President Obama and Pope Benedict had a mutually beneficial chat. While agreeing to disagree on legal abortion, they do seem to have agreed that reducing abortions is a mutually common goal. They also agreed on the necessity for conscience protection clauses, the Middle East, global economics, and protection for the poor. They may not have agreed on the how's of how all this will be accomplished, but they do agree on the why's. Both men seemed to genuinely like and admire each other and that is a good thing.

The Pope gave PO a lot of reading material and PO gave the Pope the stole used by St. John Neumann and a letter from Senator Ted Kennedy. No one knows what was in the letter, but Senator Kennedy is facing terminal brain cancer and one can surmise Papal prayers can't hurt his prognosis. It was a nice gesture on the part of President Obama to take the time to deliver this letter. It serves as a reminder that no matter how global the concerns of the Pope and the President, in the end both are most effective on the individual level.

I am very glad to see the abortion issue being reframed around reduction because I think the idea of reducing abortions, and the attendant support systems being discussed, will have far greater impact on women choosing to carry pregnancies to full term. The reason I believe this is because it places the emphasis on a positive approach to women and pregnancy. In a sense it says it's not their duty or moral obligation to have children, but a gift they can choose to give and which society will support in the giving.

Our historical approach to women and pregnancy has been mostly a reactionary approach, determined by men who are totally and irrevocably dependent on women to give them children. Instead of seeing pregnancy as a gift of the woman,--a gift which came with a lot of personal risk--it was made her legal obligation and duty.

Reproduction does represent the one area in which men have no real control. They can't have their own children. Most of what passes for natural sexual morality seems to me to be a reaction to this fact. Women, their uteruses, and their children became the property of men very early in the Judeo Christian tradition. For women, producing and raising as many children as possible became a religious, legal, and cultural duty. Providing children was not seen as a gift of the mother. Pregnancy was seen as both an affirmation of male potency and a gift from God. The fact this gift from God frequently resulted in the death of the mother was explained by the fact Eve's sin brought this pain, suffering, and death thing into the equation. Men were blameless and victims of the whole mysterious process.

It's not surprising, given this history, that the whole notion of female reproductive choice is a red flag. It's an almost unconscious atavistic reaction, especially in patriarchal cultures. Churches still consider and teach that notions of fertility goddesses, earth worship, and other forms of female pantheism are the height (or dregs) of paganism. In some respects Catholic Mariology is the antithesis of and male answer to these pagan notions of enshrining female fertility. Catholics celebrate female virginity in the form of Mary with what can be seen as a cultic fervor. This fervor has effectively supported the doctrine that the choice for virginity is the sole reproductive choice Catholic women can make and the only one which is really celebrated. After that sole choice has gone by the way side, women are supposed to be obedient to male leadership and the vagaries of their reproductive systems. Theoretically men are bound by the same reproductive choice, but the consequences of failure to comply are rarely condemned with equal vehemence--except in the case of gay men.

It's hard for me to believe that President Obama sees that the only reproductive choice his daughters have is whether or not they will continue to be virgins. It is also conceivable to me that he personally doesn't agree with abortion and would be conflicted beyond belief should his daughters ever face such a choice.

Part of that conflict is that he truly does respect the right of women to control their own bodies as much as he respects his right to control his own body. He is also a father, knows the joy of bringing children into the world and is very much aware of the fact he can't do it himself. He truly sees his children as gifts from Michelle, rather than as obligations on her part to him. On this level there is a real fundamental difference between President Obama and Pope Benedict and it may well be irreconcilable.

We need to start seeing children and pregnancy as gifts given by women to their partners and that both choose to give to the greater culture. We can no longer insist pregnancy is a woman's duty or moral obligation. To do so demeans and cheapens both the process of pregnancy and the children that are the result. When children are seen as real gifts that women choose to give from love, men are far less likely to see them as cannon fodder--their children or anyone else's children.

When pregnancy is enforced as a moral and legal given, children are not truly gifts. They are commodities of the system. There is no dignity in being a commodity. Forcing choice on women only exacerbates this perception. Uplifting pregnant women and providing for their needs is a sound moral strategy in reducing abortions and ennobling the resultant children.

I think it's great that both Pope Benedict and President Obama have essentially agreed they can support this strategy. If it works and reduces abortion, maybe the idea of women's reproductive choice won't be seen as total anathema in certain circles. Celebrating and supporting a woman's choice to bring children in the world may go much further than repeatedly condemning the whole notion of women even having a reproductive choice.

And no, I don't expect the tried and true believers on either side of this debate to agree with me, but it's nice to see both PO and PB can see this concept of abortion reduction as a valid starting point. It's a starting point which may lead to places neither one can foresee, but that's not necessarily a bad thing for either of these two powerful men and could be a great thing for all the women and children who weren't privy to their manly discussion.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Is this a meeting between two global peace and justice socialists, or a trip to the wood shed for President Obama?

The Pope and Peoria
By Anthony Stevens Arroyo, Washington Post

For decades now, politics in the United States has tested relevance to Middle America by asking: "How will it play in Peoria?" The new papal encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, is a nuanced and carefully worded document of considerable length on the economic and social morality of globalization. I predict it will be the signature encyclical of the pontificate of Benedict XVI. But it won't play in Peoria. (It didn't play out too well in the world of Catholic neocons. George Weigel was downright insulting.)

Caritas in Veritate makes two assertions that will limit its appeal to Catholic America. First, the issue of abortion is made one of many and removed from the center stage of political issues. The pope sidesteps the argument that the primary political concern of Catholicism is to abolish abortion. This will surprise folks outside the Church who have caricatured Catholicism as a Johnny-one-note on political issues. More importantly, this papal encyclical will disappoint the American Catholics - laity and clergy alike -- who have considered abortion as the intrinsic evil that compels all the church's political attention.
(It's probably more accurate to say that this encyclical will disappoint those pro life Catholics who see the criminalization of abortion as the primary political concern of Catholicism.)

I am not suggesting that the encyclical revokes Catholic opposition to abortion (see #28). However, the pontiff contextualizes pro-life teaching by calling for remedies to the socio-economic causes of abortion, and much of the encyclical is dedicated to various aspects of how to end poverty and uplift the world's population with ample food, clean water, educational opportunities and the like (#43-51). Catholic Democrats will rightly consider this papal document to legitimize their alternative approach to Pro-life politics over the abortion-only policies that sounded very "Republican Party." Thus, the current divide in Catholic America will not be bridged with this instruction from Benedict XVI. In fact, the pope gives ammunition to the pro-life Democrats in their effort to reduce the number of abortions by addressing larger social issues. (Pope Benedict did call for remedies to the socio-economic causes for abortion but he didn't exactly endorse artificial birth control as an alternative to unwanted pregnancies. Nor did he address the fact that abortion is the birth control solution in too many impoverished countries.)

The second anti-Peoria directive is in sections #21-25 where Caritas in Veritate advocates governmental redistribution of wealth. The pope says governments should redistribute wealth to sustain domestic social services and whenever granting international aid. Unions are to be encouraged (#22, 25), immigrant workers are to be respected (#25), and the profit motive must be subordinated to morality and social justice (#35-37). The redistribution of wealth and energy with emphasis upon the quality of life fits the European context of a mostly Socialist economy better than the current economic structures of the United States. The culprits in a global economy, according to the pope are Capitalism and secularism (#37-38). (These are the ideas which have gone over like a lead balloon with Catholic conservatives. Apparently they prefer being trusted to take care of the poor from their own largesse on their own terms. Sort of the charity version of 'trickle down' economics.)

Although I believe Pope Benedict is insightful in his analysis, I do not think his words will play in Peoria. Many Catholics in America have absorbed the pro-Capitalist phobia against socialized medicine, government redistribution of wealth by taxation and anti-business regulations to protect the environment. When this encyclical urges socialist measures upon Catholics, Benedict XVI places the Church on the right side of history and the left side of U.S. politics. (On some of these issues Pope Benedict is quite to the left of President Obama.)

I suspect that there will be mighty few sermons in America next Sunday from Catholic pulpits to praise the papal message! The general message of love and truth will surely be lauded, but there will be little attention paid to details. Admittedly, a Sunday sermon is not the best setting to educate Catholics about the nuanced positions of papal teaching. Moreover, the political implications of the encyclical on this side of the Atlantic make it a hot-wire item, especially for Catholic Republicans. And while making Benedict into an Obama supporter will prove to be a temptation impossible for some to refuse, in fact, the papal teaching goes well beyond the proposals of Mr. Obama. Pope Benedict's teaching on social responsibility in an age of globalization, I fear, will not be understood or appreciated by most of Catholic America.
(I actually read one commentary from a conservative site in which the author states that the average Catholic really doesn't need to read this encyclical, as it's nothing particularly new, unlike Benedict's first two encyclicals.)

Globalization - a term so feared by those who suffer from the power of greedy corporations - is viewed by Pope Benedict as neutral itself, with the potential to reflect the "the unity of the human family and its development towards what is good" (#42). But it is not yet on the radar screen in most of Catholic America. (It will be on more Catholic radars as more US Catholics find themselves incapable of living above the poverty line.)

Rather than a hammered-together political platform, Caritas in Veritate might best be considered a packet of seeds. The long-term impact of this teaching is years into the future. The day morality intrudes into the market place decisions of governments will be the day that the encyclical flowers.


It's been fun to read conservative responses to Pope Benedict's encyclical. So far Caritas en Veritate has certainly focused the light on the truth that Conservative American Catholics are as cafeteria in their approach to the fullness of Catholic teaching as they have so loving accused their coreligionists on the left. This latest encyclical and the response to it, has certainly shown that Cafeteria Catholicism is a big tent.

One would hope that the biggest serving in the tent would be some humility, but somehow I doubt it. George Weigel in his review of this encyclical certainly showed zero humility or much respect for Benedict's intelligence. He blames most of the passages on wealth redistribution on loser social justice types from Paul VI's era. Come to think of it, he doesn't show much respect for Paul VI either. Even I never questioned Benedict's intelligence, although I might have said something about living in an Ivory Tower.

In the meantime, the oft called socialist President Obama has met with the newly minted socialist Pope Benedict. As of this writing there hasn't been much said about the meeting, only that it lasted twenty five minutes and that Pope Benedict tweaked his usual protocol and allowed for television coverage before their private meeting. Oh, and they did exchange gifts which I guess could be taken to mean they honored each other, but somehow I doubt there will be much of a hue and cry from the Cardinal Newman Society. They are probably too busy burning up phone lines and email accounts trying to figure out how to spin Caritas en Veritate for their true blue Catholic colleges into something which elevates free market capitalism to heavenly status. Good luck with that one.

In my opinion this encyclical will be prophetic for a couple of very important reasons. It's the first time this papacy has made a real effort to put some balance in the equation between social justice issues and family life issues. This is important because it's damn difficult to have much of a family life when the family can't sustain life. The inability of so many of our fellow humans to sustain life is the basis for the real culture of death. Weigel and his neo con buddies would prefer we ignored how much American interventionist policies and corporate greed have played into maintaining and creating that culture. That culture of death currently has one billion people on this planet facing starvation and millions here in the US one or two steps above starvation.

In my book placing criminalization of abortion before social justice is akin to a farmer throwing out seeds on an asphalt parking lot, believing it doesn't matter if they ever grow, just that they are given the chance to grow. I suspect in the discussion between President Obama and Pope Benedict on the the abortion issue, it wasn't about the criminalization of abortion, it was about providing access to a life style which sustains a culture of life. That is change the whole world wants to believe in and that is where real security for all peoples and all nations can be found. It's not found in Standard and Poors, or armies and armaments, it's found in the Beatitudes, and both men share common ground on those talking points.