Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Forget Conscience, Let's Talk Corruption

I wonder if Cardinal Bertone felt the need to send Archbishop Vigano packing because the good Archbishop was photographed hanging with the wrong people.

John Allen has just posted another piece on Vatican corruption.  In this one the Vatican denies they are really linked to the corruption.  This time the corruption involves a Dominican friar, Rev Francesco Maria Ricci, who somehow accessed two million dollars which he invested and lost in an Italian ponzi scheme.  The denied connection stems from the fact the Dominican was a postulator for the causes of saints on behalf of the Dominican order, not an employee of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.  In other words said friar was a client of the congregation, not a member of the Congregation.  Here's the text of the Vatican denial:

 The Rev. Francesco Maria Ricci, who is spoken on in the article, is a religious of the Dominicans, who works on behalf of his Order.
He does not belong in any to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. In fact, it’s important to note that postulations and postulators are ‘clients’ of the Congregation, to which they address themselves to promote their causes, but they absolutely are not part of the Congregation.
Therefore, it must be underscored that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and its Prefect, Cardinal Angelo Amato, have absolutely nothing to do with the events spoken of in the article in question.

The Vatican is pretty funny sometimes.  Fr Marcial Maciel was not an employee of the Vatican either but he sure was up to his neck in corrupting the Vatican and in Vatican corruption.  Fr Ricci may be one step removed from actually working for the Vatican, but he is not one step removed from funneling money into and out of the Vatican by virtue of being a 'client postulator' of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.  Sainthood does not come cheap, even for Dominican saints and somehow this particular postulator found himself with 2 million Eu in disposable funds.  I will be very interested in following this story because I suspect there will eventually be other names associated with this scandal who also have access to serious funds from unaccounted sources with Vatican connections. 

This brings me to the other Vatican corruption story John Allen has been reporting on, that of Archbishop Vigano and his sudden transfer from the Vatican to the US as Papal Legate.  Archbishop Vigano is a man I can truly respect.  Too bad Cardinal Bertone and his like minded cronies didn't respect him.  But of course John Allen comes to the rescue to explain Bertone's and Benedict's actions.  I just love Allen's excuses.  They are so inventive:

  • First, it's never wise to take everything you hear in the Italian press at face value. Some of what passes for reporting in Italy would make the biggest blowhards and scandal hounds in the American media look like Edward R. Murrow.  (And some of it is absolutely true.)
  • Second, much of what Viganò's letter refers to as "corruption" may have a relatively innocent explanation, especially by the norms of traditional Vatican culture. For instance, when bidding procedures are fudged to award contracts, it's not necessarily because somebody's been bought off, but rather to reward firms and individuals seen as loyal to the pope, to the church or to key figures in the hierarchy. That's not to defend such practices, simply to acknowledge they're not what Americans usually mean by "corrupt." (So corruption is not corruption if it's done in a traditional culture of corruption.  This must be why Macial and the Legion gave 'donations' not bribes. How quaint this all is.)
  • Third, by most accounts, and despite his background in diplomacy, Viganò didn't always have a deft touch in terms of office politics. His transfer, in other words, wasn't necessarily a referendum on his financial philosophy so much as his rocky relationships with other personnel. (Vigano made the big faux pas of 'not going along to get along'.)
  • Fourth, if Benedict XVI truly wanted to repudiate Viganò, there were certainly plenty of options other than naming him to arguably the most prestigious position Vatican diplomacy has to offer. (Benedict couldn't afford to have it appear that he was in fact punishing Vigano for ruthlessly cutting out the corruption and Vigano certainly doesn't buy the 'promotion' bs.)

So there we have it, Archbishop Vigano was promoted for a job well done and there is no corruption in the Vatican just a bit of slop in how business is conducted.  Personally I'm trying to figure out how Archbishop Vigano was able to save the Vatican City States some 44 million in less the 14 months.  That's a lot of slop.  It leads me to believe all those contracts rewarded for 'loyalty to the Vatican' had a lot of paybacks to those who let those contracts.  This would be business by the Mafia model, not the Jesus model.  But then Jesus didn't need to take kick backs because Jesus could make His own bread.  Just a stray thought.

As bad as the sexual abuse crisis is, I made the point a very long time ago that the root of all the corruption associated with the Roman Catholic Church is money.  I wrote when the lights begin to shine on how the Vatican does business the real rats will be exposed.  One of those rats is the cronyism and the cultivating of generations of clerics to maintain the Vatican's version of 'the Family'.  My prophetic instinct tells me the next financial scandal to be exposed will center on Mr. Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, the head of the Vatican Bank and the global reach of Opus Dei--especially in South AmericaArchbishop Vigano has only exposed the very tip of very big iceberg.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Ramblings On Sex And Religious Conscience Exemptions

Jesus understood legislating Platonic ideals was an exercise in futility.  People evolve and mature into living those ideals.  Our Bishops seem to have a different less 'human' understanding--especially when it comes to sex and women.

I have to admit I have found the religious conscience exemption brouhaha over birth control to be utterly fascinating.  There have been millions of words written on this topic in the course of the last month.  Too many of them utter hysteria, and most of those kinds of words coming from the mouths of Catholic Bishops.  I do agree with these bishops on one point, this has now become a battle with serious implications for religious freedom, who gets it, how far it goes, and whether conscience clauses are the domain of the individual or another ill advised extension of individual rights to corporate entities.

What I really hope is the Catholic conversation gets much deeper, goes beyond the religious freedom debate and into the heart of matter.  I can not get past the fact that at this moment in time everything uttered by our Catholic leadership is sexually oriented.  It doesn't matter if it's the dissembling about the clergy abuse scandal or gay marriage or abortion or now the current birth control debate.  The Catholic conversation is about sex.  For a while the Liturgical changes took center stage, but inevitably the hierarchical conversation always comes back to sex, and always about sex as it pertains to women and gay men--which really means men who act sexually like women.  Rarely, if ever, do we hear anything about sexual morality as it applies to straight men--see the recent Catholic convert and multiple adulterer Newt Gingrich.

All this talk about controlling the sexuality of women and gays sends one incredible message about Catholic spirituality.  That message seems to be the if humanity can 'control' their sexual urges they become instantly spiritual.  Unfortunately that's not true.  Usually humanity becomes emotionally and spiritually stunted because their sexuality never gets integrated into the totality of their person.  They are always at war with a very deep and powerful aspect of the human condition.  Spiritual peace is very difficult to achieve under this set up--as is any form of real wisdom and maturity.

The even deeper message is that straight men can only become more spiritual by forcing women to be the controlling agent of male sexuality.  In heterosexual marriage it's women who have the moral mandate to say "NO", but not the physical or psychological strength to enforce it.  Historically this arrangement has worked out terribly for millions and millions of children who weren't wanted or couldn't be supported by either of their biological parentsI know, I work with the 'fruits' of this arrangement every single day.  I tire of hearing my clients say they would have been better off aborted or never born.  I should probably mention here that my clients are the sickest of the sickest.  For the most part they are the mentally ill who have been sexually and physically abused as children, born of addicted or mentally ill mothers, abandoned by their biological parents, and raised in the children's institutional system.  They wouldn't recognize real love in their lives unless it was accompanied by a kick in the head.  Too many of them were raised Catholic.

Forced sexual discipline is not spirituality, especially when that forced discipline is only directed at one gender. It's just an exercise in male self delusion.  Jesus didn't address individual sexual morality except in context of marital infidelity.  If there's a message there it isn't about birth control, and it isn't about gay marriage, and it isn't about abortion.  It's about marital infidelity and casting stones at 'others'.  People don't become saints because they don't engage in sex.  They become saints by relating deeply with others and not demanding sexual gratification as an inherent right or without accepting the responsibility for the consequences. 

The fundamental flaw in this whole Catholic debate is our sexual morality is being written and 'enforced' exclusively by  male celibates who think sexual continence is some how related to 'holiness' and who seem to firmly believe that unless men take vows of chastity on behalf of and under the direction of Holy Mother Church  it's up to regular unholy women to set the boundaries on the sexual lives of the less devoted males.  It's no wonder real life men and women have utterly rejected Humanae Vitae and roll their eyes at JPII's Theology of the Body.  Those two papal teachings might work well in some Platonic world of absolute ideals, but that's not the world lay Catholics actually live in.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Some Thoughts On Catholics Crossing Rivers And Catholic Hemispheres

Archbishop Lois Antonio Tagle of Manilla may lead the both the Philippine Church and the global church through some interesting times.

In all the coverage of Benedict's creation of the Anglican Ordinariate I've never found any numbers about the influx of Catholics into the Episcopalian Church.  Instead I've found glowing reports about the influx of Anglicans into the Catholic Church through Ordinariate.  This is true whether the coverage is from mainstream media or Catholic media such as America, Commonweal, or the NCR.  It's always about those Anglicans/Episcopalians coming in, and dead silence about the route out.  The following excerpt is taken from Episcopal Cafe and lo and behold, it gives the statistics for the boats on both the Tiber and the Thames.

.......Thus far, 100 priests and fewer than 1,400 people in 22 church communities have expressed an interest in the ordinariate. Gather them all in Washington National Cathedral, and the place isn’t half full. Only six of these 22 communities have more than 70 members, which suggests that their longterm viability may be an issue. And there is no evidence to suggest that these small congregations are the thin edge of an as yet invisible wedge.  (If 16 of these communities have less than 70 people then the long term viability of the Ordinariate should be a concern.)

The prominence the ordinariate has achieved in the media has unsettled some Episcopalians. As a denomination, we are still recovering from several years worth of news stories in which the departure of some three percent of our membership for a more theologically conservative body was variously described as a “schism” or an “exodus.”

In part to bolster Episcopal spirits, and in part to provide reporters with some sense of perspective, I thought it might be helpful to take a look at some numbers. According to the 2004 U. S. Congregational Life Survey—which I believe is the most recent one available—11.7 percent of Episcopalians were formerly Roman Catholic.

The Episcopal Church had slightly fewer than 2,248,000 members in 2004, indicating that not quite 263,000 of its members were former Catholics.

The Episcopal Church has shrunk some in the last seven years, and now has about two million members. Assuming that the percentage of former Catholics in the Episcopal Church has remained constant (I think it is likely to have risen, but that’s an essay for another day), there are currently some 228,000 former Roman Catholics in the Episcopal Church.  (I would think the percentage has risen as well and that the influx of Roman Catholics has had somewhat the same effect Latin immigration has had for Catholicism.)

There may be a good reason that the departure of fewer than 1,500 Episcopalians to the Roman Catholic ordinariate deserves extensive media coverage while the departure in recent years of more than 225,000 Roman Catholics to join the Episcopal Church goes unmentioned even in stories about the creation of the ordinariate, but I don’t know what it is.

The stories on the ordinariate also report that as many as 100 priests—many of whom may be Episcopalians—have also applied to join the ordinariate. Is this evidence that the Catholic Church is winning priests from the Episcopal tradition? It reads that way, unless one knows, thanks to the Church Pension Group, that 432 living Episcopal priests have been received from the Roman Catholic Church.


For all the ballyhoo surrounding the Anglican Ordinariate the truth is the river flowing out of Catholicism and into the Episcopal Church has a whole lot more traffic in both clergy and laity.  There is plenty of reason to think this isn't going to change in the near future, especially in North America and other Anglo countries in which both Catholicism and Anglicanism are historic churches.  As for the developing South, well, that is going to be a very different story.

The Catholicism of the South is not the Catholicism of the North.  The same is true for Protestant Christianity.  In the North the talk is of reform and a return to a less hierarchical and more inclusive Christianity which includes acceptance of homosexual unions, an ordained ministry for women and the openly gay, a relational approach to sexual morality, and all of this with an emphasis on the individual spiritual journey rather than the collective identity approach of our ancestors.  None of this is on the radar of Catholicism in the South where traditional sexual and gender roles are sacrosanct, patriarchal authority holds cultural sway, collective spirituality is what gives life to the individual journey, and the miracles, exorcisms, and Divinity of Jesus are not just literal truth, but the main point of discipleship.  In some respects this is a Catholicism that is about a 'return on one's spiritual investment', especially in areas in which the modern western approaches to healing and mental illness are few and far between or economically beyond the reach of the poor and impoverished.

There's certainly no question that the Catholic tradition supports these notions of healing and exorcism, and the power of the Virgin Mary, the Communion of Saints and Angels, and Charismatic practices flourishing in the South.  It was in these beliefs that missionaries connected with the original indigenous populations. And it's equally true that the long Catholic tradition has very little support for any notions of gender equality, gay unions,  a relational sexual morality, or a less authoritarian clerical structure.  It would seem then that global Catholicism will not reflect the reforms hoped for by progressive Northern Catholics.  The river into the Episcopalian/Anglican Church will stay quite congested.

At first glance the future for Catholicism appears to be centered in the exploding Catholic South where traditional piety, traditional sexuality, and traditional forms of male hierarchy hold sway. This would be especially true in the poorer urban areas with a high population density from rural immigration.  Maslow's hierarchy of needs is at it's most base level in these situations.  Ideas which need  freedom from physical survival angst don't come up on any one's radar---like women's ordination. However, ideas which do impact one's physical survival do hit the radar screen---like women's access to birth control.  

This is one reason I closely follow the debate in the Philippines between the hierarchy and the government over women's access to birth control. This is one place where the Vatican plan to use the South to sustain it's current structure and theology is clashing head on with the actual needs of people in the pews. In a real sense, the Philippines is a Southern hemisphere clash of wills over Humanae Vitae and the celibate male authority that teaches it.  This battle played out in the North almost fifty years ago and much of the call for reform began with it's utter rejection by the laity.  The Bishops and their supporters have managed to keep the bill from being finalized for some ten years, but it finally appears the tide is turning because women and young Filipinos have had enough and together they represent a lot of votes.  There is a growing sense of moral betrayal by the hierarchy in the Philippines which may be one reason the Vatican appointed Louis Antonio Tagle, something of a pastoral moderate, as Archbishop of Manilla. 

If the Vatican is truly banking on the South to sustain it's power and prestige Benedict and JPII certainly had different ideas about how that should play out in the Vatican itself.  JPII had a College of Cardinals that was  40% from the South and Benedict has almost totally reversed that trend. I wonder if that's not because the flavor of the Church in the South appealed more to JPII the Mary worshipping Polish mystic than it does to Benedict XVI the German intellectual theologian.  In some respects, Pope Benedict is presiding over a global Catholicism for which neither the pentecostal South or the rebellious North have much appeal.  No wonder he's rumored to be considering retirement.  

If we've learned anything from the Arab Spring it's that today's youth are very well connected with access to all kinds of information, that the Internet/cell phone explosion is creating something new in collective humanity, and that it won't be easy for existing power structures to deal with the change this implies.  The Vatican is not immune to this.  Catholicism was the first truly global social entity, but if it wants to maintain relevance in today's global world, it can no longer afford to think in centuries.  We can make pretty accurate predictions about the demographic look of the Church fifty years from now, but how that demographic will practice Catholicism is another thing entirely.  One thing for sure, it won't be in any Anglican ordinariate.


Monday, January 23, 2012

A Well Formed Conscience: The Topic Of The Day

This photo has always bugged me and now I know why.  Anyway, it doesn't have much to do with the post, but it is a great papal guilt trip.

The NCR has just posted an article by Santa Clara University ethics professor David DeCrosse.  It's probably the best explanation I have read delineating where the USCCB is coming from in their definition of conscience as opposed to where I am coming from--except for one thing.  Catholic reasoning on conscience has always placed a huge emphasis on authoritative teaching and personal practical reasoning.  I've always felt this was incomplete no matter which aspect a given Catholic gave pre-eminence.  Jesus added practical compassion to the reasoning part, and most certainly gave place of primacy to the spirit behind a given law rather than the words or the speaker of the law.  Laws promulgated and/or acted on without compassion are a form of tyranny, not justice.  Just think back to the nine year old girl in Recife, Brazil, or Sister Margaret McBride in Phoenix.

Later on in this essay--I have only extracted a number of paragraphs which explain the reasoning of our bishops--David DeCrosse quotes one of my favorite lines from A Man For All Seasons.  It's the one in which Sir Thomas More speaks about man's role as serving God in the tangle of one's mind.  When I was much younger that really spoke to me, but as I've matured I would change it.  The real service comes from serving God in the tangle of one's heart.  Now to David DeCrosse:

......With this emphasis on law, the distinctiveness of the bishops' model of conscience comes into view. Where a theologian like Thomas Aquinas speaks of conscience combining obedience to moral law and the exercise of practical reason, the bishops heavily favor the former over the latter. On the one hand, this means that conscience is best understood as the way by which we adhere to the moral laws requiring respect always and everywhere -- in the bishops’ eyes especially meaning turning from what they call the “intrinsic evils” at stake in the use of the artificial means of birth control; in gay marriage; and in taking innocent human life from conception onward. On the other hand, the bishops’ emphasis on law as the pre-eminent category of conscience means that they leave little room for practical reasoning to help the conscience figure out what to do in the face of complexity. Practical reasoning, in this view, is wishy-washy, feckless, diluting the clear demands of the moral law. Or, as Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., said when explaining why Illinois bishops did not seek an exemption from a state law legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples that could have required Catholic Charities to place foster children with such couples: “It would have been seen as, ‘We’re going to compromise on the principle as long as we get our exception.’ We didn’t want it to be seen as buying our support.”  (God forbid the USCCB be seen as selling out to both the left and the right.)

What has led to the diminished role for practical reason in the way the bishops understand conscience? Two key conceptual matters come to mind, both taken from concerns laid down by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. One is the sharp opposition to the “creative conscience” outlined by John Paul II in the 1993 papal encyclical called “Veritatis Splendor.” In that document, John Paul criticized any number of developments in Catholic moral theology including one that argued that conscience’s use of practical reason in the face of a host of particulars could lay the basis for claiming occasional exceptions to the otherwise universal mandate of the moral law. But the pope said that this view of the “creative” possibilities of conscience had things precisely backwards. It’s not the creative use of practical reason that should determine what is morally required in a particular situation. Rather, it’s the moral law -- “requiring meticulous observance,” as John Paul put it -- that determines what reason should conclude that a particular situation demands. In “Veritatis Splendor,” John Paul was taking aim at theologians working in the area of interpersonal and, especially, sexual morality. But, I believe, his powerful views have shaped the position of the bishops on the current matters of conscience, which pertain primarily to issues of sexual morality in a political, not interpersonal, context. (For JPII obedience trumped reason each and every time in each and every situation.  All hail the Catholic Borg.)

Along with the “creative conscience,” John Paul also condemned what he called the belief that complex situations could yield a “double status of moral truth.” In fact, the issue of “double status” is another way of articulating what is at stake with the use of the “creative conscience.” The notion of “double status” holds that while there may be one truth at a doctrinal or abstract level, there may be another truth -- even one proclaiming an exception to a doctrinal truth -- that emerges in the face of the complexity of concrete conditions. As with the “creative conscience,” John Paul dismissed this notion outright. Moral truth is not divisible and, anyhow, the clarifying truth of the moral law holding always and everywhere tells us pretty much everything we need to know about what any concrete situation requires. (Had Jesus subscribed to JPII's thinking, the woman caught in adultery most certainly would have been stoned with Him throwing the first stone.)

But the issue of the “double status of truth” is not only an intra-Catholic matter of moral theology. Instead it also must be considered in light of the overwhelming emphasis of John Paul and Benedict on the threat to truth spawned by what they regard as the runaway relativism of Western democracies. And this brings us to the second conceptual factor behind the bishops’ reduced emphasis on practical reason in the exercise of conscience: The fear that human reason in a democracy like the United States is so damaged by relativism and sin that it is all but incapable of attaining moral truth on its own via an exercise of practical reason. John Paul argued that this dismal tendency of human reason was at the heart of the contemporary “culture of death” at work in a place like the United States. Benedict has similarly decried what he has called the way that human reason all too often does not accept truth because it does not really want to know it. Faced with such a negative judgment about the capacities of human reason, what is the Catholic conscience to do? Among other things, not assume it has the rightful freedom to exercise too much practical reason in the face of the complex circumstances of democratic life. In the eyes of the Catholic right, this was the downfall of those Catholic Democrats in Congress in 2009 who invoked their own prudential judgment to cast the decisive votes in favor of federal health care reform -- and who, in doing so, defied the official opposition of the American Catholic bishops to the bill on the grounds that it would violate the moral law against abortion.

It is important to note that the close link of conscience and the moral law speaks poignantly to the transcendence of the human spirit. The Arab Spring in 2011; Poland in the 1980s; Selma and Birmingham in the American South in the 1950s and ‘60s: The people in the streets in these times and places moved the conscience of the world because they witnessed to a demand for justice that always and everywhere surpasses the claim of oppressive power. By contrast, the problems of conscience now facing American Catholic bishops have nowhere near such stark dimensions. And this is true no matter how often some bishops and their allies on the religious right liken contemporary gay activists to the Ku Klux Klan (as did Cardinal Francis George of Chicago) or see in President Obama the alien spearhead of a war against Catholics (as did columnist Michael Gerson writing in the Washington Post).............


DeCrosse's article is well worth reading in it's entirety, as are the comments which follow.  Whether or not the USCCB intended to do so, the topic of conscience is well and truly on the minds of a lot of Catholics.  I personally think this is excellent as the spiritual path is all about serving God through the choices we make in the tangle of our minds and hearts.  Spirituality is not about obedience to authority.  Religion is about obedience to authority.  Spirituality is about going with in and forming an integrated self in union with the Divinity in one's eternal soul.

DeCrosse also touches on another of my pet peeves with this line:
 The fear that human reason in a democracy like the United States is so damaged by relativism and sin that it is all but incapable of attaining moral truth on its own via an exercise of practical reason."  This irritates me because the Church in which both Popes Benedict and John Paul II matured failed humanity miserably for the just the opposite reasons.  It blindly supported fascist autocrats which resulted in the utter devastation of Europe and the deaths of millions during WWII, and that Church did so without uttering anywhere near the condemnation of dictatorial fascism the last two popes have uttered about secular democracies.  To describe the current Western democracies as 'cultures of death' is laughable given what happened under fascism.  As one commenter mentions after this article, it is no wonder that the Church in Europe is more or less an empty shell.  The Church lost any claim to any kind of moral authority during WWII, and it's rapidly losing any claim for moral authority in rest of the world because of it's criminal handling of it's own morally depraved priests and it's continuing support for autocratic right wing ideologues in Africa and Latin America.  Of course this is the kind of thing that happens when obedience to authority is given a higher place of importance than compassion towards one's fellow man.  

For me the battle for the soul of Catholicism revolves around personal conscience and what will be the driving value in the formation of that conscience.  The past two Popes have emphatically demanded that value be obedience, but I firmly believe Jesus demanded that value be compassion.  My own personal experience has shown me time and again that compassion bears more positive life changing fruit than reflexive reliance on authoritarian control.  Unfortunately, the current clerical system isn't set up to demonstrate the value of compassion to it's members.  Obedience, well that's a different story.  That virtue is the reason the individual members of the USCCB are where they are and get to tell us what they do.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Irish Church Leadership Return To The Past To Find A Clerical Future

It's kind of strange to view Pope Benedict in a suit and tie, but then this was back in the days when he was unafraid of the vision of the Church articulated by Vatican II.  He looks downright dashingly secular.

Eugene Kennedy currently has a piece at the NCR about the recent decision of Irish bishops to remake Maynooth seminary into a more monastic setting.  The idea according to the rector is about "trying to get the balance right between the need for the seminary to be a distinctive prayerful community and ensure that the seminarians have all the benefits that the Maynooth campus has to offer."  In my own mind I didn't make the initial connection that Kennedy did with prisons.  I made the connection between the residential situation of big time college athletic programs and this seminary idea. Isolating young men from their peers seems to be a tried and true method for authoritarian male leadership to enculturate their pet values in their captive audiences.  The truth is that these kinds of artificial living situations don't lead to any kind of 'balance', they lead to the creation of serious imbalances in the maturation in some members of the captive audience.  The graduate school I attended has recently admitted they might have a problem with rape in their football program after the latest allegation involved three football players in a date drug gang rape. 

I've never been a fan of isolating young adults by gender or age or activity.  Where as these kinds of living situations might not be detrimental for most young adults, for others it is seriously detrimental as it can create all kinds of victims and enhance the worst aspects of these distilled cultural milieus.  That's one thought I had, but Kennedy had one paragraph in his piece I think deserves to be immortalized:

In short, the Irish bishops think they are solving a problem whose roots can be traced back to the isolation from the healthy experiences with others that characterized the supposed golden age before Vatican II spoiled everything by reminding the church that its whole purpose was to embrace the sinful world and relieve its suffering rather than to push it away like a leper whose suffering might contaminate it.

Those lines just really struck me as getting to the root cause for the 'reform of the reform'.  Vatican II had to be respun precisely because it spoiled everything by reminding the church that its whole purpose was to embrace the world, not push it away. It really doesn't surprise me that our current Pope is the biggest champion of this reform, because virtually his whole life after WWII has been spent in a clerical world designed to keep him safe and secure from the leprosy of secular contamination.  In some respects it appears he's substituted Hitler's demands for protecting the "fatherland" from the contamination of non Aryans with protecting Holy Mother Church from secularists and atheists.  It's really a juvenile boy thing, not a mature man thing.  I've seen this retardation of male maturity play out over and over again in numerous different settings and it's always at the expense of women and the least powerful.  It's the human version of the juvenile male elephant phenomenon.  It needs to be eradicated from Catholicism, not resurrected.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Power Of The Minority In Pursuit Of It's Own Survival Is Not About Faith

Not a particularly banner headline in global Catholicism.

Fr Richard McBrien's latest NCR post makes a couple of really important points about the period just after the Second Vatican Council.  He brings these points up in reference to the Year of Faith Pope Benedict has instituted for October 2012 to November 2013.  The last Year of Faith was called by Pope Paul VI, and that one did not turn out to be all that good a year for anyone's faith, least of all PP VI.  The following is an excerpt of the original post.

......This is not the first time the church has been called to celebrate a Year of Faith, Benedict XVI pointed out. His predecessor, Pope Paul VI, announced one in 1967 to commemorate the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul.

Unfortunately, it began almost a year before the lowest point of his pontificate; namely, the publication of his last encyclical, Humanae Vitae ("Of Human Life") in July 1968 -- "last" because Paul VI was so taken aback by the negative reaction to the encyclical that he vowed never to write another one, and he did not.
The encyclical had declared that contraception is always seriously sinful. The central words that Paul VI used were that "each and every marriage act must be open to the transmission of life" (n. 11). (I sometimes wonder if the JPII generation actually understands how vehement the reaction was to this encyclical. It wasn't just a case of 'self centered' laity reacting--it was across the Catholic spectrum and included the vast majority of bishops. Unfortunately for laity, loyalty to the Vatican trumped personal conscience in way too many of these leaders. It sent a very loud message to Catholic laity about how far 'subsidiarity and solidarity' went between bishops and flock--as in nowhere.)

One might also place the publication of Paul VI's Credo of the People of God, which concluded the Year of Faith in 1968, as a distant second in relation to Humanae Vitae as another low point in his pontificate.
Benedict XVI said the Credo was "intended to show how much the essential content that for centuries has formed the heritage of all believers needs to be confirmed" (n. 4).

The Credo of the People of God was issued on June 30, 1968, just under a month before the release of Humanae Vitae, on July 25.

In my column for July 19, 1968, I wrote: "Insofar as this document allows the views of one particular school of theology (a minority view, let it be added, that was clearly rejected at Vatican II) to intrude itself upon the ground of authentic Christian tradition, the 'Credo' has transformed itself from an expression of common faith binding the whole Church together, into a personal brief on behalf of one party in the current theological debate." (Six days after Fr McBrien pens these prophetic words Humanae Vitae was released and we all learned just how much power that 'one party in the current theological debate" had in the Vatican.)

On the other hand, Benedict XVI did well to begin his own Year of Faith on the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II to "provide a good opportunity to help people under-stand that the texts bequeathed by the council fathers 'have lost nothing of their value or brilliance' [John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 308]" (n. 5).

And he concluded his apostolic letter on a very high note. He made it clear, in typically Catholic fashion, that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-18). He also cited Matthew 25:40: "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."

"What the world is in particular need of today," Benedict XVI wrote, "is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end" (n. 14).


I find myself in disagreement with Fr McBrien about Benedict's thoughts as quoted in the last paragraph.  I would word it differently. "What the word is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the Law of Love and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God's love and for the true life that comes with that Love."  Too many people already think they know everything there is to know about the word of the Lord and use those words to engender hate.  We don't need any more of that.  We have had enough of that.....and enough of the rules and doctrines those Words of the Lord have generated in an attempt to control the rest of us.

The minority theological view that McBrien references in the above was perfectly exemplified in Humanae Vitae.  The Law of Love is based in compassion and and in the idea of growth towards a fuller understanding of God's love and how that love is expressed amongst each other.  Humanae Vitae was the antithesis of that understanding, reducing sexuality to it's base biological function, utterly devoid of the concept of compassion and divorced from any notion of relational love.  I sometimes find myself laughing when PPVI is called 'prophetic' because of some of the observations in Humanae Vitae.  It didn't take a prophetic genius to predict once married couples could actually plan for their children that they wouldn't have a dozen children and that the birth rate would fall to or below replacement levels.  That was the whole idea in the first place.  

What didn't happen was any forward thinking political solutions to deal with that very predictable demographic fact.  The one obvious solution is immigration and population redistribution, but of course, that means white hegemony is dead in Europe and soon to be in North America.  For all our Christian love, we can't be havin' that. Pope Benedict must not want that either if his recent batch of Cardinals is any indication.  The truth is the last thing Mother Earth needs is relatively wealthy white consumers having more hordes of relatively wealthy white consumer children.  There is not enough Mother Earth to sustain that level of consumerism.

All of which brings me to Martin Luther King day. This was a man who was well on the path to understanding the Law of Love and the incredible demands it places on evaluating our attitudes towards our fellow travelers on the road of life.  The Law of Love demands we see our fellows travelers exactly as we see ourselves. There are no 'others'.  There is only 'us'.  That is a very difficult command to follow because we have to shed all the years of conditioning which have told 'us' we are 'us' because we are not 'them' and 'they' are not 'us'. Every time I read of some Bishop or another who is defining Catholicism against one or another 'other' of the month, I want to cringe. All of this is utterly antithetical to what Jesus taught and lived.  This is not love.  This is not Faith.  This is plain old fear.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Pope Benedict Continues To Create The Church In His Own Image And Likeness: White European Male

Not exactly a picture of representative demographics for a global church. A whole lot of red and a whole lot of white--and of course, no women at all.

I've been meaning to post on the recent appointments to the College of Cardinals because I found the appointments mind boggling.  Two, just two appointments from the South, just makes no sense.  Catholicism is exploding in Africa and South East Asia but instead of even a token attempt to represent that fact in the College, Benedict adds 18 white European and North Americans out of a total of 22 appointments, and 12 of those are Vatican bureaucrats.

The following excerpt is from John Allen's NCR piece and deals specifically with this issue of global representation:

.......During his recent trip to Benin, his second voyage to Africa as pope, Benedict XVI praised the African continent as a “spiritual lung” for humanity and pointed to it as a critically important zone for the future of the Catholic church.

Yet in the appointments announced today, Africa was conspicuous by its absence.
In the run-up to today’s announcement, it was widely believed that at least two Africans would be on the list: Archbishop Telesphore George Mpundu of Lusaka, Zambia, and Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga of Kampala in Uganda. In the end, however, neither made the cut. (The Philippines was also conspicuous for it's absence, and their one voting Cardinal turns 80 this year.)

At the moment, there are eleven Africans among the voting-age cardinals. Once the Feb.18-19 consistory takes place, there will still be 11 Africans, alongside 11 cardinal electors from the United States alone – despite the fact that Africa has more than twice the Catholic population of the United States.
In November, the number of African electors will drop to ten, as retired Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria turns 80.

Part of the problem may be that Benedict’s picks today were disproportionately skewed to Vatican officials, and the two Africans who hold senior positions in the Roman Curia are already cardinals: Peter Turkson of Ghana, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and Robert Sarah of Guinea, President of Cor Unum.

In general, today's nominations reinforce the dominance of the West in the College of Cardinals. Only three of the 18 new electors come from the developing world -- one Brazilian, one Indian, and one from China (Hong Kong). In that sense, the College of Cardinals will continue to be unrepresentative of Catholic demography, given that two-thirds of the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world today live in the global south, a share projected to rise to three-quarters by mid-century.  (The designate from Brazil has spent the last twenty or so years in Rome, so he might just as well be added to the tally of Vatican bureaucrats.)


Allen never does offer any real explanation for Pope Benedict's choices, which leaves the field wide open for me to speculate. I can't help but speculate that Benedict has spent way too much time in the Vatican and for him the real Church is the white Eurocentric Vatican and the global church has some nice places to visit, but isn't 'mature' enough to participate in ruling the Church.  Some people might see this as a continuation of colonialism.  I would be one of them. 

It's almost like Benedict is terrified that he will go down in history as the Pope who presided over the demise of the Church in the West.  Numbers don't lie and in spite of all the talk of the New Evangelization, he IS presiding over the demise of the Church in the West.  Stacking the College of Cardinals with Western, mostly Italian technocrats, is not going to change this fact, and does nothing to further the advancement of the Church in the South. 

There is also something else that is nagging at me about these appointments.  If the priority is to protect the wealth of the Church it makes sense to appoint a pack of Italian and North American Cardinals, people who are joined at the hip to Western economic power.  In that case giving a red hat to Wall Street's favorite Archbishop makes more sense than giving one to Dublin's thorn in the Vatican side, or Westminster's Archbishop Nichols who seems to be one of the few Western Catholic leaders who sees gay marriage for the red herring it is. In the meantime the two thirds of the Catholic world who aren't invested in Wall Street or Fleet Street will just have to deal with the fact pastoral ability is not an apparent qualification for appointment to the College of Cardinals.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Cardinal Eats Some Crow And Catholics Take Notice

I see where Cardinal George has apologized for his remarks about the LGBT movement turning into some version of the Ku Klux Klan with it's anti-Catholic virulence. It only took him some two weeks, but better late than never.  In the meantime this brouhaha generated a great deal of comment, and some of it was truly worthwhile.  One commentary I found  particularly on target was this article from Jamie Manson in the NCR.
Cardinal George, given that his unfortunate choice of words were uttered in a FOX interview, truly did seem to be appealing to the fringe at the expense of the marginal.  I personally felt, if only for that reason, he did need to issue an apology.  And so he has.

There was one comment written in response to Jamie's article that I found brilliant, and have chosen to reproduce both that comment and the comment that precipitated it. The first comment is written by one the thousands of Catholic traditionalists named anonymous and the response to it by Presbyter Felix.


What are equal rights for LGBT persons? If it is to be treated with respect as human persons, then I agree with the author. If you are talking about the "right" to engage in sinful activity or to live in same-sex "marriage" then you have not understood the Church's constant teaching (or at the very least you disagree with this teaching). I myself am gay, but I am liberated by the truth however difficult it may be. Please don't fight for my "right" to live in sexual union with a person of the same sex. Fight rather for my right to be seen as a child of God deserving of respect. And this exactly is what Cardinal George is doing. He is a good shepherd who loves all of his flock, but who does not capitulate to untruths.

Cardinal George did not exactly show much respect for gays as children of God, and no body has attacked this writer's right to follow Church teaching.  What is in dispute is forcing non Catholics to follow Church teaching and using the debatable immorality of gay sexual acts as an excuse to deny the benefits of marriage to loving gay relationships.  Onto Presbyter Felix:
When you ask that others not fight for your right "to engage in sinful activity," you enter into a very dangerous area of politico-moral theology, or politico-moral enforcement. We have been through laws of miscegenation based on many people's understanding of the black races as belonging to the biblical Ham. We have witnessed slavery justified biblically in both Testaments with such citations as, "Slaves, obey your masters."
The Taliban demands strict adherence to Sharia law. How far shall we legislate biblical law? The Puritans went after dancing, card playing and even the external celebration of Christmas. Prohibition went after drinking, or at least selling alcohol. To say that there should be no public area open to anyone who opts for things that you consider sinful can quickly devolve into horrendous persecution. The church fully supported the Crusades and killed many Moslem citizens, ordinary people, in the process.

If homosexuality is not a sin, but an objective moral disorder - just as blindness is an objective physical disorder - then sinning while being homosexual is less of a sin than sinning while having no such moral disorder. That makes other sexual sins to be much more serious - such as practicing birth control, which is an entirely free-will act. Firing teachers, for example, for refusing to be tested for the use of birth control pills, etc. should be much more acceptable to you than the firing of homosexuals for acting out of an "objective disorder." Did not Jesus say in John's Gospel that the man born blind was sinless.

Your desire to close off all areas where sin can be committed would lead to a completely policed religious state, as in Saudi Arabia today. Your only hope would be that you always fall on the side of the police.


I really like the point Presbyter makes about the relative moral culpability between succumbing to an 'objective disorder' or committing similar such offenses while having no such moral disorder. I've written in the past that given the preponderance of weight that the Church places on the procreative aspect of sexuality, that sins of heterosexuals should be weighted far heavier than those of non procreative gays.  After all it is by far and away the sins of heterosexuals that destroy families and create the unwanted children which result in those abortions which Catholics condemn.  

While I'm sure it's very ego convenient for straight men to have gay sexual acts against which to minimize their own sexual immorality, such rationalization won't impress God when the final bell tolls. Just as I'm sure putting all the consequences and blame for abortion at the feet of women serves a similar function.  And just as operating from traditional ideas of gender place primary responsibility for raising children on mothers has given way too many men the freedom to bail on their biological children--or become, in the strict heterosexual biological sense, nothing more than sperm donors.

In a number of crucial aspects gay marriage really represents an evolution in the morality of sexual relationships in that they are about a practical equality between partners and a shared responsibility for the sexual expression of the relationship.  Marriage in this context is no longer about a 'right' to sexual expression, but more about the responsibility of sexual intimacy.  Spouses are not primarily objects of an 'ordered sexual attraction'. They are gifts from God in human form that one loves with the care and concern one extends to ones self, and that kind of relationship ordering is the perfect place to raise children.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

If President Kennedy Wasn't Ruled From Rome, Why Does Santorum Pretend He Is?

I don't think this particular Catholic presidential candidate is much like John F Kennedy, or much of a Catholic for that matter.  Oh yea, didn't he spend time living in a 'Family' residence on C Street in DC?

Seriously, the following article in Faith In Public Life Action Blog by John Gehring is one of the most succinct take downs of a religious right cafeteria Catholic I have ever read.  Rick Santorum is no True Believer Catholic, unless you throw out Catholic tradition on Just War, Social Justice, and a host of other Vatican and USCCB taught concepts.  Rick's concept of Catholicism, and I'll admit that to some extent one can make a historical and traditional case for it, is that Rich White Men Rule And Deserve Too.

The Catholic Case Against Rick Santorum
January 4, 2012, 12:42 pm | Posted by John Gehring
GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a proud Catholic who often speaks about his faith on the campaign trail, is attracting some formidable buzz from pundits who view his strong showing in the Iowa caucuses as a sign that the former Pennsylvania senator might have enough mojo to rally a coalition of religious and blue-collar voters.

New York Times columnist David Brooks waxed poetic Monday about Santorum’s Catholic conservative sensibilities and touted the candidate as an authentic antidote to “the corporate or financial wing of the party.”
Evangelicals are also taking notice. Writing on CNN’s Belief blog, Chris LaTondresse, the founder and CEO of Recovering Evangelical, calls Santorum a post-religious right candidate “whose concern for poor and vulnerable people” is “firmly rooted in his Catholic faith.”

It’s easy to see why Santorum might appeal to some culturally conservative Catholics and moderate evangelicals who are wary of Democrats but also turned off by the Republican Party’s cozy embrace of economic libertarianism and tireless defense of struggling millionaires. Santorum is more comfortable with communitarian language, has been a strong supporter of foreign aid to impoverished countries and connects with personal stories of his blue-collar upbringing.

But it’s a political delusion to think Rick Santorum is a standard-bearer of authentic Catholic values in politics. In fact, on several issues central to Catholic social teaching – torture, war, immigration, climate change, the widening gap between rich and poor and workers’ rights – Santorum is radically out of step with his faith’s teachings as articulated by Catholic bishops and several popes over the centuries.

Catholic bishops, priests and women religious have been at the forefront of the fight for comprehensive immigration reform. Catholic leaders have called for an earned path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and consistently oppose draconian policies that break up families. Santorum has publicly challenged the Catholic bishops on this issue, telling the Des Moines Register: “If we develop the program like the Catholic bishops suggested we would be creating a huge magnet for people to come in and break the law some more, we’d be inviting people to cross this border, come into this country and with the expectation that they will be able to stay here permanently.”

While promising he doesn’t want to “break up families,” Santorum recently justified massive deportations that do, in fact, separate parents from children. He blithely said of those facing deportation to Mexico (a country currently ravaged by grinding poverty and gang violence) that “we’re not sending them to any kind of difficult country.” Tell that to the student brought here as a young child who doesn’t remember the country of her birth and doesn’t even speak the language.

Poverty, Inequality and Financial Regulation
Pope Benedict XVI has decried the “scandal of glaring inequalities” between rich and poor, and Catholic social teaching supports a more just distribution of wealth.  Santorum, in contrast, told the Des Moines Register: “I’m for income inequality. I think some people should make more than other people because some people work harder and have better ideas and take more risks, and they should be rewarded for it. I have no problem with income inequality.” As a Senator, Santorum voted for massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, which greatly exacerbated the gap between the top 1% and the rest of us.

The Vatican also recently released a major document on the need for more robust financial regulation of global markets to protect workers and the common good. Santorum clings to the thoroughly debunked lie that regulation caused our nation’s financial collapse. He told MSNBC’s Ed Schultz that “it wasn’t deregulation…it was government regulation” that in part led to our current economic problems. In Congress, Santorum also voted for the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which deregulated risky financial schemes that led to the economic crisis of 2008.

While Catholic bishops defend vital government programs that protect the most vulnerable, Santorum recently voiced support for Rep. Paul Ryan’s immoral federal budget plan—a plan the bishops expressed deep concern about because it would cut life-saving programs while spending trillions on massive new tax breaks for the rich. Even worse, Santorum said that the poor who receive government aid could learn by suffering more. When questioned about how his economic views clash with the Catholic demand for a “preferential option for the poor” in public policy, Santorum was completely unfamiliar with this bedrock Church teaching.

Workers’ Rights
The Catholic Church has defended the vital role of unions since 1891, when Pope Leo XIII released Rerum Novarum, an encyclical that puts the dignity of work and labor rights at the center of Catholic social teaching. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church clearly states that workers have a right to “assemble and form associations” and that unions are “a positive influence for social order and solidarity, and are therefore an indispensable element of social life.” Rick Santorum, on the other hand, has argued that all public sector unions should be abolished. In a presidential candidates’ debate, Santorum said he would “support a bill that says that we should not have public employee unions for the purposes of wages and benefits to be negotiated.”

Climate Change and the Environment
Pope Benedict XVI, who has been dubbed the “Green Pope” for his attention to environmental justice and climate change, recently urged world leaders meeting for climate talks in Durban, South Africa, to “reach agreement on a responsible, credible response” to the “disturbing” effects of climate change. Catholic dioceses across the country have encouraged Catholics to limit their carbon footprint, and national advocacy organizations like the Catholic Climate Covenant work to educate Catholics about their faith’s teachings on environmental stewardship. Santorum must not be listening. In an interview with Rush Limbaugh, he described the fact that climate change is caused by humans as “patently absurd” and a “beautifully concocted scheme.” Just this week, Santorum blasted a new Environmental Protection Agency rule limiting emissions of mercury and other air toxins from coal-fired power plants. Catholic bishops hailed the ruling as “an important step forward to protect the health of all people, especially unborn babies and young children, from harmful exposure to dangerous air pollutants.”

Torture and War
Many Catholic conservatives ignore the Church’s teaching about “a consistent ethic of life” and excuse a candidate’s position or record on the economy, immigration and the environment by downplaying their moral importance compared to the issue of abortion. Catholics can disagree in good faith on some issues, they assert, but not over “intrinsic evils.”  Unfortunately, even under this standard, Santorum fails. When it comes to torture, which the Church calls an “intrinsic evil,” Santorum is a proud proponent.

The Catholic bishops describe the barbaric practice as an assault on the dignity of human life. “The use of torture must be rejected as fundamentally incompatible with the dignity of the human person and ultimately counterproductive in the effort to combat terrorism,” they wrote in Faithful Citizenship, a political responsibility statement released before every presidential election.  But Santorum eagerly endorsed  “enhanced interrogation” techniques during the first Republican primary debate.

Santorum’s predilection toward pre-emptive war also clashes with mainstream Catholic theology. When the late Pope John Paul II warned against the invasion of Iraq, Santorum vocally championed the war. And while the Catholic bishops repeatedly called for a responsible withdrawal, Santorum remained a staunch defender of the occupation – blasting the “media” and “liberals” for undermining support for the war.

Catholic politicians across the spectrum will all find aspects of Church teaching that challenge their ideological agendas in discomforting ways. But for too long Catholics in public life have only been scrutinized when it comes to abortion and same-sex marriage. This does a disservice to voters, ignores the Catholic social justice tradition’s broad moral agenda and lets Catholic candidates like Rick Santorum off the hook even when they consistently disregard their faith’s teachings on key moral and political issues.


Nothing has irritated me more this political season that right wing politicians who pull the Catholic card because by saying they are against gay marriage and abortion. Puhleasse.  Those are only two Catholic cards in a deck of far more than 52. What has irritated me even more, is that most Catholic bishops seem to let this little fact pass by them, as if they were playing some sort of card game in which abortion and gay marriage are magical wild trump cards when it comes to politics, and religious freedom--as they define it--is what this card game is all about.  That leaves me at a loss for words and logic.  But then, that does seem to be where I really am when it comes to the official version of Roman Catholicism in the good ole USofA.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Bishop Ponders The Catholic Exodus

Ooops, here Bishop Hubbard engages in syncretism.  Must be one of those Spirit of VII guys.

Fr. Richard McBrien has a post generating a great deal of comment. In it he writes of the musings of Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany NY, on why there are so many cradle Catholics leaving the Church. Bishop Hubbard has actually written a number of interesting articles for the Diocesan paper, of which the one McBrien cites is one of Hubbard's more courageous pieces.  Bishop Hubbard also wrote a three part series about his recent Ad Limina visit to Rome which is really fascinating for what it doesn't say.  The exodus out of the pews also came up in his Ad Limina visit, but his reporting of it seems to imply that Rome sees but has no clue about what to do. I suspect they don't know what to do, because some of those 'to dos' would seriously impact the current clerical structure, and that would include the Vatican and it's maze of bureaucracy. (Kind of the same situation we currently see in all the failed attempts and hand wringing by politicians over reforming congress.)

Bishop Hubbard has held his See since 1977, which means he was a Jadot appointment and that makes him pretty unique amongst American bishops. I don't find it surprising that Hubbard would be the one bishop who is seriously pondering what is going wrong with Catholicism in the Anglo US.  If there is one thing I have noticed about JPII/Benedict appointments it's that they are not allowed to seriously ponder what might be wrong with how the Church is functioning, especially as regards their own behavior.  Although Pope Benedict has stated on more than one occasion that Evangelization has to start with personal conversion on all levels of the Church, talk is cheap.  Real conversion is a price this Vatican is not willing to pay.  Just ask Bishop Morris of Toowoomba or Archbishop Martin of Dublin.  Given that, I am thankful for Bishop Hubbard's willingness to even look at the truth of US Catholicism.

The comments following the article bring up some really good points, especially about why younger generations are less than enthusiastic about organized religion.  It's not just that there is enough hypocrisy to fertilize a thousand acres, or an intransigence about even attempting to deal with the knowledge coming from virtually every scientific field, or an insistence on Truths, which aren't Truth in any meaningful sense, it's also very much due to the lack of spiritual meaning or spiritual challenge.  It's easy to go to Mass on Sunday and sit through a boring sermon, but it doesn't really challenge one to go out and do as Jesus did.  In fact, it often substitutes for going out and doing as Jesus did.  One young man jokingly told me he puts more real effort into his softball team than what's required of him to be considered a faithful Catholic.  Well, I guess that's not really funny, because in his case, it's true.  Now that I think about it,  I turned golf into a spiritual practice because I spent way more time at golf than I did at Mass.  (Golf in the Kingdom my ultimate golfing tome.)

The more I think about reforming Catholicism, the more I begin to understand that changing structures and disciplines is only a small step.  Jesus wasn't just teaching a spiritual system, He was teaching a way of life that led to spiritual insights and breakthroughs.  He meant it when He said we could do as He did, and more.  The cost of converting to that understanding is very very high.  Real reform of His Church is going to exact a very very high price because the Church must reflect the spiritual understanding of it's founder. It can no longer afford to work in opposition to core Christian teachings about egolessness, lack of attachment to material assets, service to the poor, or the importance of non judgmental love.  In other words, Catholicism needs to start acting like a New Testament Church and a lot less like an Old Testament Church.  I think before that happens there will be a much bigger exodus and eventually that exodus will coalesce around a more mature and deeper Christian spirituality and even further down the road Rome will accept all of the change and claim it was always so---and Jesus will laugh.


Monday, January 2, 2012

2012: "Rebuild My Church"

The interior of "Martyrs of Uganda" Catholic Church in Detroit.  Parish was closed in 2006.

The above photo served as a reality check for me on a couple of levels.  I had just read this article about the next spate of parish consolidations and closures in the Archdiocese of Detroit.  The linked article features St Leo's parish, which NCR readers will know is the parish at which Bishop Tom Gumbleton served for years--and still does.  The photo above is of another parish located in a similarly blighted Detroit area.  The destruction of the interior has taken just five short years, aided by looters and the homeless looking for shelter. The city of Detroit is in serious straights and those straights are mirrored in the Archdiocese and in too many respects the Archdiocese reflects the incomprehensible damage the Roman Catholic Church in the West has suffered at the hands of it's leadership. 

As I look at the interior of the Martyrs of Uganda, I can't help but reflect that Cardinal Vigneron's predecessor, Cardinal Maida, sunk over 35 million of the Archdiocese's money into the JPII Center in Washington DC.  A boondoggle of a project that was just recently purchased by the Knights Of Columbus and will never ever make any money or be able to pay back Archdiocese of Detroit.  Taken together, the two buildings paint a damning picture of  the real priorities of too many of our bishops.  In Maida's case his hero worship of JPII was taken to Imperial levels at the expense of the desperate jobless poor of Detroit.  That one bankrupt DC building will ultimately be responsible for the creation of many more 'Martyrs of Uganda' and this go round of closure will take out St Leo's, a beacon of hope in an otherwise very destitute downtown landscape.  A sort of "Martyrs of Detroit'.

And yet on another level, the above photo speaks to the spiritual soul of Roman Catholicism in the twenty first century--at least in the West.  What appears to be an invincible edifice on the outside, is rapidly decaying on the inside, being cherry picked by spiritual leeches for it's last bit of life. 

My hope and prayer for 2012 is that those who truly care about the soul of this Church, and I know that includes many silent voices in leadership, use 2012 to engage in a serious reality check.  The real Catholic Church in the US is not about Cardinal George making KKK references about gays, or Archbishop Dolan spouting affirmative nonsense, or Cardinal Donald Wuerl pretending he's on the same theological level as Sr Elizabeth Johnson. It's about the thousands of 'Martyr's of Uganda' being closed in the middle of our poorest sections of our poorest cities.  It's about the rot that comes when one chooses to serve Mammon and a self serving tradition over the service to others and complete detachment from material desire called for by The Way. 

St Francis heard God command him to "rebuild my church", and Francis took it literally and rebuilt St Damiano, another abandoned and decayed sacred place.  God is again making the same call.  How many will answer?