Monday, April 29, 2013

An Important Challenge From The German Church

Germany's Cardinal Kasper has also called for women deacons and Cardinal Reihard Marx, one of Pope Francis' Great 8 is on record for this statement about women's ordination:  We must go on thinking about this intensively. Perhaps we have not yet come to the end of the road we set out on together.”

While the USCCB head is discussing 'dirty hands' and and how this gives him permission to exclude Catholics, his German counterpart is talking inclusion and reform.  Pope Francis has some work to do in getting his upper leadership on the same page.

Women Catholic deacons 'no longer taboo'

The Local - 4/29/2013 
Germany's top Roman Catholic has called for women to be allowed to become deacons, which would enable them to perform baptisms and marriages outside of mass - a novelty for Catholic women.
Archbishop of Freiburg Robert Zollitsch, who chairs the German Bishops' Conference, called for the change at the end of a four-day meeting to discuss possible reforms.

The conference, the first of its kind, invited 300 Roman Catholic experts to propose reforms. Zollitsch's comments echo year-long calls from the Central Committee of German Catholics to permit women to become deacons. On Sunday, Zollitsch said that aim was no longer a 'taboo.'

Zollitsch said the Catholic Church could only regain credibility and strength by committing to reform. He described an "atmosphere of openness and freedom" at the conference.

Deacons assist priests during church services and can perform baptisms and marriages outside of mass. Their primary role however is to serve the needy in their community and their duties are considered secular rather than pastoral.

Another proposal to emerge from the conference was to extend the rights of remarried divorcees to sit on church bodies such as parish councils. Conference members also discussed the possibility of granting them the right to receive Holy Communion and attend confession.

"It's important to me that, without undermining the sanctity of marriage, these men and women are taken seriously within the church and feel respected and at home," said Zollitsch. At present the reforms remain speculative and there is no proposed time-frame for their implementation. The position of divorcees remains highly controversial within the Church.

The conference also touched on the difficulty, particularly in eastern Germany, of recruiting people to work for Catholic institutions such as hospitals and kindergarten. At present the Church can only employ Roman Catholics. However Zollitsch called for work permits to be extended to non-Catholics and to those with "different lifestyles." This would technically apply to homosexual people too. However Church labour reforms are unlikely to be introduced in the next three years. (But the odds are all these reforms will begin happening now, as Zollitsch has verbally opened the door.)

While reform might be slow to come, the sentiments expressed at the conference are a signal to many that change is on the way. "I have never experienced a process of strategy development as transparent as this one," said Thomas Berg, of the Baden-Württemberg Leadership Academy, who attended the conference.


I wrote before, I think in a comment, that the resignation of Pope Benedict and the election of Pope Francis has opened some fissures and let off some pressure.  This German conference and AB Zollitsch's remarks are another major indication of this phenomenon.  More and more bishops are talking meaningful reform and not just rearranging deck chairs--except in the US.  This latest from Germany is unique simply because it's a request from an entire national Church, an important national Church whose financial clout is second only to the US.  I cannot imagine this sort of thing happening during the papacies of Benedict or JPII.  Yes, the German Conference put it's foot down about a few things, most notably a couple of bishop appointments, but to advocate for major changes in the Diaconate, hiring and firing practices, and for pastoral ministry to irregular marriages is huge, and could never have happened before February 28th. 

Here in the US we are still mired in the Benedict/JPII Church as can be seen in the tripe written by Cardinal 'dirty hands' Dolan, the removal of gay employees simply on the reception of single anonymous letters, and the continued coddling and mishandling of abusive priests.  There is an arrogance in too many of the US bishops that is breath taking in it's application.  If there is one national Bishops conference that exudes a fundamental cancerous clericalism, it's the USCCB. None of this is really not all that surprising since it seems to be molded in the image of Cardinals Bernie Law, Justin Rigali, and Roger Mahony, and this is not to forget the boys from Bishop Bruskewitz's Nebraska stable.  They may differ in terms of theological emphasis, but not in clerical privilege and diocesan 'ownership'.  God only knows how much money the California crop has spent on Cathedrals.  It's most likely only exceeded by the amount they spent on clerical abuse.  It's no wonder Cardinal O'Malley is the US Cardinal selected by Francis for his kitchen cabinet of 8.  There was no other real credible choice.

As to these proposals from Germany, they are the first necessary steps in restoring gender balance in the Church. The next step is to free priests to marry.  These are not truly reforms, but the recovery of past practices.  They will be easily accepted in the third world because women hold real positions of spiritual authority in Indigenous cultures.  Unfortunately, while they would be welcomed in the US Church, they would not be forthcoming from our current crop of bishops--at least not all of them.  What I would like to see is a similar gathering of laity and bishops in US, and more than that I would like to see Pope Francis mandate similar gatherings in all national Churches.  It is the only feasible way for lay Catholics to have meaningful say in the Church.  It's not democracy, but at least it's a long step from absolute monarchy. The German Church has opened an important conversation and laid down an important challenge--not that this exact scenario hasn't happened before--the question is will the result be different.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Synchronicity Gives Me A Perfect Example

No dinner for this child at Cardinal Dolan's table.

In my previous post I made the point that a celibate male priesthood has only the experience of being the child in the parent/child relationship and that leads to directly to a authoritarian paternal paradigm.  There is never the kind of dialogue that carries on between parents and adult children.  The following is from Cardinal Dolan's personal blog.  It illustrates this issue in spades.

All Are Welcome!

April 25th, 2013
It was a lesson I began to learn when I was seven or eight . . .
My buddy Freddie from across the street and I were playing outside.  Mom called me for supper.
“Can Freddie stay and eat supper with us?”  I asked.
“He’d sure be welcome, if it’s okay with his mom and dad,” she replied.
“Thanks, Mrs. Dolan,” Freddie replied.  “I’m sure it’s okay, because mom and dad are out, and the babysitter was just going to make me a sandwich whenever I came in.”
I was so proud and happy.  Freddie was welcome in our house, at our table.  We both rushed in and sat down.
“Freddie, glad you’re here,” dad remarked, “but . . . looks like you and Tim better go wash your hands before you eat.”
Simple enough . . . common sense . . . you are a most welcome and respected member now of our table, our household, dad was saying, but, there are a few very natural expectations this family has.  Like, wash your hands!…
So it is with the supernatural family we call the Church:  all are welcome!
But, welcome to what?  To a community that will love and respect you, but which has rather clear expectations defining it, revealed by God in the Bible, through His Son, Jesus, instilled in the human heart, and taught by His Church.
The Church is Catholic . . . that means all are welcome;
The Church is one . . . that means we have a Person — Jesus — and His moral teaching that unite us;
The Church is apostolic . . . that means that His teaching was entrusted to His apostles, and carefully handed-on by His Church.  The sacred duty of the Church is to invite people, challenge people, to live the message and teachings of Jesus.
This balance can cause some tensions.  Freddie and I were loved and welcomed at our family table, but the clear expectation was, no dirty hands!
Blessed John Paul II used to say that the best way to love someone was to tell them the truth:  To teach the truth with love.  Jesus did that — He was love and truth in His very person — and so does His Church.
We love and respect everyone . . . but that doesn’t necessarily mean we love and respect their actions.
Who  a person is?  We love and respect him or her . . .
What a person does?  Truth may require that we tell the person we love that such actions are not consonant with what God has revealed.
We can never judge a person . . . but, we can judge a person’s actions.
Jesus did it best.  Remember the woman caught in adultery?  The elders were going to stone her.  At the words of Jesus, they walked away.
“Is there no one left to condemn you?”  the Lord tenderly asked the accused woman.
“No one, Sir,” she whispered.
“Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus concluded.  “Now go, but sin no more.”
Hate the sin; love the sinner . . .(Uhmm Tim, Jesus welcomed and forgave her BEFORE the 'sin no more' statement and his forgiveness was not contingent on her 'sinning no more.")


This is Cardinal Dolan's take on why the Church loves gays but kicks them from the table.  Gays have dirty hands like little Freddy.  We are not to take the message that gays are dirty hands, but just that good daddies make sure there are no children with dirty hands at the dinner table.

Someone needs to sit down with Cardinal Dolan and spend some time explaining to him that Jesus did not have a contingent form of love.  Jesus did not relate to people as if they were seven or eight year old children and he was some uber parent.  Jesus referred to his followers as his brothers and sisters not as his children and there is nothing in the Gospels where Jesus refused to feed people if their hands were dirty.  

And I don't know about Cardinal Dolan's family, but it was my mother who decided who was or was not welcome at the table in our house, and I don't remember her kicking too many people from the table for dirty hands, sexual orientation, or an alcohol problem.  If she had the family ranch would have had too few to labor in it. 

When Insanity Is Taught As Reality

I have to blame my daughter for getting me started on this particular insanity--again.  But it's nice to know poor  Mario will never find his princess presiding in a cathedral--ever.  I can keep my search strictly to castles.

This has been a chaotic week for me and so I've fallen behind with blogs I cherish reading.  This morning I was able to catch up somewhat and found a brilliant piece by Bill Lyndsey over on Bilgrimage.  In it Bill is pondering the events at the funeral he recently attended for his uncle.  He wonders why churches let women talk before the services, astute brilliant caring women, but not during services where the ownership of a phallus trumps the intelligence of any female.  I wonder that myself, because I think it's the underlying elephant in the room when it comes to the CDF and the LCWR.  The following is an excerpt from Bill's post:

Something about this seems not quite right to me. Something about this seems screamingly wrong to me, and what's wrong about it all seemed to me to be in stark relief at my uncle's funeral. Women whose moral insights are far sharper than the conventional moral insights of preacher men who haven't had to think much about the complexities of making the gospel message they deliver critically pertinent to the world in which they live are permitted no say at all once the preaching and the praying begins, with the invocations of Father God and the songs to the Father in Heaven who sent His Son to save us all from sin.
Half the church sits in silence while the other half claims to be God. What struck me very strongly at my uncle's funeral is not merely how wrong--how insane--this arrangement and the theological system undergirding it are.
What struck me is also how much damage this arrangement (which is how most cultures in the world do business, so that patriarchal religion is merely aping the culture at large with its ideology of male entitlement and female subordination) damages us. How it damages the world in which we live. How it damages our religious institutions to shut out the interesting, accomplished, morally astute voices of women while letting the voices of less interesting, less accomplished, less morally astute men posture as God speaking to the rest of us who sit in meek submission and silence receiving God's words from God's phallic emissaries.


The gender issue is not going to go away.  Argumentation which leads with 'that's the way we've always done it' is not going to persuade in cultures in which 'the way we've always done it' have gone the way of the Dodo bird. More and more people are waking up to the fact that relegating the thoughts of educated intelligent women secondary to possession of a penis is truly, as Bill writes, insane.  Women's 'genius' is not limited to family and pregnancy.  No matter how many times women are told by men that this is their genius,  this constant repetition will not make it true.  This mantra also has the negative impact of minimizing the contributions of men to family life and lets men off the hook when it comes to taking responsibility for their children while giving secular legal systems a free reign to curtail male rights to interact with their own children.  It's promoted a situation in which too many men can pay for them but not play with them.

In Catholicism, the other situation I've found somewhat insane, is promoting celibate childless men as the experts on families and family life.  When one's sole experience of family is strictly from the child end of things, it shouldn't be surprising that an authoritarian paternal mode is the default method of interaction.  Actual parenthood involves many more paradigms than using reflexive authority to make your point and influence behavior.  Anyone who has raised teenagers is well aware of this fact, and the older one's children become, the more listening and the ability to dialogue become more and more prominent.  A parent reaches the stage where the relationship becomes far more about equals than parent child.  Unless it involves grandchildren.  Then, as my own mother informed me, grandparents get to enjoy and spoil the grand children without the problems of raising them.  The actual parents are not allowed to voice any opposition to this arrangement.  This resulted in driving back to Nevada from the ranch with a seven year old on a sugar high with a car full of toys informing me I was 'really mean and not nice like Grandma' because I wouldn't stop at every tourist trap for seven hundred and fifty miles to check out the toys.  But I digress.

There was one time when the celibate childless men allowed married lay people with children to have a voice.  That was back during the papal commission on birth control.  That lay voice was an eye opening experience for the vast majority of the clergy on that commission.  They voted to allow for artificial birth control because they heard from thousands of Catholic men and women that family life was not like Ozzie and Harriet, father did not always know best, and that Mr Ed had better advice than Fr Ed.  Pope Paul VI opted to reinforce the authority of childless celibate popes and the results of that decision are seen in generations of empty pews and fewer and fewer vocations.  We have now reached the point that young women are less inclined to participate in religion than young men.  That's a first and that is a damning sign for the future.  Unless Pope Francis can work some sort of gender miracle with in the Church, his predecessor will have gotten precisely what he wanted, a much smaller remnant church in the West with almost all vocations coming from Africa.  This will last only as long as women bring up the rear in access to educational and economic opportunities in Africa.

I'm well aware that the conservative Catholic will say it was birth control itself that caused all these problems for the Church.  Fewer children equals fewer vocations they will say and birth control  most definitely raises the 'it's all about me' quotient.  I've found that interesting in that it implies vocations are directly dependent, not on God, but on women having many children.  The historical idea seems to be that God calls some of the surplus children to religious vocations.  There is of course, another truth. God wouldn't have to rely on the surplus children if Catholicism didn't insist on a completely celibate male clergy.  God could rely on volunteers from all of His children which seems to be the message from the Pentecostal and Evangelical movement. If all Catholics could participate in the sacramental life of the Church, including leading the liturgy, we would have more than enough sacramental leaders and no gender issue.

Pope Francis is certainly familiar with the explosion in Pentecostal and Evangelical churches in Latin America.  He's also familiar with the popularity of Christian Base Communities in Catholic Latin America, a movement which was severely curtailed by his two predecessors precisely because Benedict and JPII felt these lay led communities diluted the theology of the celibate male priesthood.  Gender is one elephant in the Catholic livingroom, but the other is the celibate male priesthood itself.  Is Catholicism defined by it's desire to follow the teachings of Jesus or by it's uniquely celibate male priesthood?  Pope Francis appears to me to believe that for him the Church is both/and.  Unfortunately as far as women are concerned this is not really a both/and statement.  It's an 'I am/you are not' statement and that is not what Paul tells us Jesus taught. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Reform Is Coming: Italian Bishops Need Not Apply

Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras said he was backing more posts for women after the Pope named him this month to lead a task force of eight cardinals from around the world to reform the Roman Curia, an alleged hotbed of intrigue, infighting and corruption.
The cardinal's comments, made to The Sunday Times, were backed by Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi on Sunday.
"It is a natural step – there is a move towards putting more women in key roles where they are qualified," he said....

.....In his general audience on April 3, the Pope noted how women were the first witnesses of the Resurrection, adding that, "The Apostles and disciples find it harder to believe in the Risen Christ, not the women however!" 

This was a message about the importance of the role of women in the Church," said Carlo Marroni, a Vatican expert at Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore. "That said, the question still gets handled cautiously as it touches on the issue of ordination for women."

Women have taken on a number of key roles at the Vatican, including Sister Nicla Spezzati, the undersecretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Flaminia Giovanelli, the undersecretary, at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

St Peter's is run by a woman, Maria Cristina Carlo-Stella, who is the head of the Fabbrica di San Pietro, the Vatican office in charge of the basilica. (Wonder if the theologian of Benedict's papal household was aware of this.  Why she could be fixing the roof or something.)

"But that is still very few," said Marco Politi, a Vatican watcher at Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano. "Look at Germany and the US, where women have many key positions in the dioceses." (Three barely qualifies for tokenism.)

Cardinal Maradiaga, the head of the group, who speaks six languages, plays the saxophone and trained as a pilot, said he would be scrutinising the controversial Vatican Bank, which has been linked to scandals.
Pope Francis formed the task force after complaints that the Vatican was unresponsive to the needs and requests of cardinals outside Italy and Europe.

Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa, the retired archbishop of Santiago, Chile, and one of group, has warned that the Vatican was overpopulated with Europeans.
"Forty European bishops working for the Holy Father and for the government of the Church are too many," he said.  (40 is not tokenism. It's excessivism.  Maybe by the time this group of Cardinals is done the numbers of bishops vs women will be reversed.)


Pope Francis' gang of eight cardinals certainly seem to have a different perspective on management than I had first thought. The above article contains some interesting and potentially reform inducing thoughts.  The addition of more women certainly would raise the level of input from women and coupled with downsizing the quotient of bishops would more than likely enhance their voices--and the voices of laity in general.  I would also think reducing the number of bishops would put real breaks on careerism amongst the clergy.

I would love to be present when Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga starts in on the IOR or Vatican Bank.  As it stands right now, there are no longer any Italians involved with the IOR Board of Directors and the bank's president is a German. Board members are German, Swiss, or American.  Credit card transactions are being handled by a Swiss financial services group.  All this is no doubt due to the Bank's troubles with the Italian banking system which has in the past frozen substantial transactions, accused the Bank of money laundering, complained of the lack of transparency in regard to account holders and others could use those accounts, and stopped credit card transactions through Duetsche Bank--again because of money laundering concerns. It certainly looks as if the Vatican, under Bertone, has switched to non Italians and non Italian financial services to put some distance between itself and Italian banking regulators.  Perhaps Cardinal Maradiaga might want to start his investigation with the previous bank president, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, who was summarily fired, complete with character assassination by the Bertone led board and specifically under the signature of the American KofC CEO Carl Anderson.  Tedeschi complained about lack of transparency at the bank, but was also implicated in IOR money laundering as well as questioned about the same issue at another bank.

There were Italian reports that Cardinal Bertone received a two million euro 'charitable donation' at the last IOR Board meeting in 2012.  It may be that this was a method of helping the Salesians pay off their legal and settlement fees from multiple abuse cases, but it's fishy none the less.  I have not been able to find an article about this in English, but this would be relevant with regards to Cardinal Maradiaga as he is also a Salesian. I'd appreciate it if anyone finds any links verifying this story about Cardinal Bertone.  In any case, Pope Francis has already cancelled bonuses for the four other Cardinals who are tasked with supervising the lay Board and the over all management of the IOR. 

Any way one looks at it, these cardinals seem very serious about changing the culture in the Vatican.  I can easily believe this last conclave was a referendum on the Italian curia and their method of doing business by non Italian cardinals.  The truth is the Church is no longer an Italian or European enterprise and it's better for all concerned the Vatican reflect that fact.  This is not to say the Church is doing swell in Latin America because it isn't, but continuing along the same path was not going to fix anything anywhere and fresh eyes do sometimes come up with fresh solutions.  Besides, it will be nice to have some female faces, and truth is, there isn't any real canonical reason some of them couldn't wear cardinal red.

A Strange Link Between Two Very Different Men Continues Unto Heaven

Maybe some dysfunctional relationships are made in heaven and maybe for God's inscrutable purposes.

I read early this morning in the National Catholic Reporter a John Allen story about 'unblocking' the canonization process for Oscar Romero.  While not really surprised, because this was expected under Pope Francis, I was none the less happy.  Here's the first part of the story:

Francis 'unblocks' Romero beatification, official says

A Vatican official responsible for the sainthood cause of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador announced Sunday that the cause has been "unblocked" by Pope Francis, suggesting that beatification of the assassinated prelate could come swiftly.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia spoke Sunday in the Italian city of Molfetta at a Mass honoring the 20th anniversary of the death of Bishop Antonio "Tonino" Bello, known as one of Italy's premier "peace bishops."
In addition to being the president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, Paglia also serves as the postulator for Romero's sainthood cause.

The Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints has been studying the Romero case since 1996, after the church in El Salvador formally opened the procedure in 1990.
At the end of his 20-minute homily Sunday dedicated to the memory of Bello, Paglia said: "Just today, the day of the death of Don Tonino, the cause of the beatification of Monsignor Romero has been unblocked."

Happy that the cause for AB Romero has been 'unblocked',  I clicked over to Vatican Insider and learned about another Canonization process.   This one not being blocked, but fast tracked at the speed of light as far as these things usually go.

The Vatican doctors approve the miracle to make Wojtyla a saint 

"A saint now!" The canonisation of Wojtyla is getting closer quickly and it could be celebrated next October. In fact, in the past few days, the medical council of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has recognized as inexplicable one healing attributed to the blessed John Paul II. A supposed "miracle" that, if it is also approved by theologians and the cardinals (as it is very likely), will bring the Polish Pope, who died in 2005, the halo of sainthood in record time, just eight years after his death.

It all happened in great secrecy, with maximum confidentiality. In January, the postulator of the cause, Mgr. Slawomir Oder, submitted a presumed miraculous healing to the Vatican Congregation for the Saints for a preliminary opinion. As it is known, after the approval of a miracle for the proclamation of a blessed, the canonical procedures include the recognition of a second miracle that must have occurred after the beatification ceremony.

Two doctors of the Vatican council had previously examined this new case, and both gave a favourable opinion. The dossier with the medical records and the testimonies was then officially presented to the Congregation, which immediately included the examination in its agenda. In the past few days it was discussed by a committee of seven doctors, the council (presided over by Dr. Patrick Polisca, Pope John Paul II's cardiologist), Pope Benedict XVI's personal physicians and now Pope Francis's. The medical council also gave a favourable opinion, the first official go-ahead by the Vatican, by defining as inexplicable the healing attributed to the intercession of the blessed Karol Wojtyla.


So once again these two men are linked with major events announced with in the same 24 hour time frame.  The last such day was when AB Romero was assasinated and JPII signed the document which would have removed Romero from his position as Archbishop of San Salvador.  Pretty amazing coincidences I have to think.

JPII was always going to be declared a saint.  He himself set the process in motion that would see that he would be fast tracked when he removed the position of Devil's Advocate.  That particular task is now in the hands of his official promoter.  One might think that would be a conflict of interest, but I guess it's much easier to move saints through the process without someone trying their best to 'block' said process.  Unlike Romero whose process has somehow managed to be 'blocked' for over thirty years.  He must not have gotten a very good promoter or his promoter didn't find the necessary doors to sainthood nearly as wide open as did JPII's promoter.  In any event, Romero could be canonized in the same time frame as JPII because if Pope Francis determines Romero is a true martyr -which he is - than the miracle business isn't necessary.  It is distinctly possible both men could share the same Canonization day.  Pope Francis could save the Vatican some money and the entire Church could try to sort through the all the mixed messages.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Things Are Changing And They Won't Stay The Same

This Photo from the NY Daily News demonstrates cell phone photography at Benedict's and Francis' papal elections.  This photo strikes me as potentially prophetic about how much lay participation each will have engendered.

Here's a couple of stories that have the rad trads going this Sunday morning.  The Sunday Times article is behind a pay wall and I have been unable to find a free copy.  NCR has just begun their annual donation drive so that link will begin with a video appeal.

Pope’s strongman blasts old guard aside

The pontiff is to give more women top jobs and break the grip of Italian cardinals, his key aide tells John Follain in Vatican City

 John Follain - The Sunday TimesUK - 4/21/2013
POPE FRANCIS plans to appoint lay women to top jobs in the Vatican and to dilute the power of Italian cardinals in a radical shake-up of the Catholic Church’s government following a series of scandals.
In a move branded as “revolutionary” by Vatican watchers, the Pope last weekend appointed eight cardinals to advise him on the governance and reform of the Curia, the church’s bureaucracy which has been tainted by controversies over child sex abuse by priests, leaks of papal files and allegations of corruption.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, whom Francis named to head the panel and who is now seen as a “power behind the papal throne”, predicted a difficult fight ahead for the Argentine pontiff.

Another Vatican voice backs civil unions for same-sex couples

John Allen - National Catholic Reporter - 4/21/2013
Another veteran Vatican figure has signaled openness to civil recognition of same-sex unions, in the wake of similar comments in early February from the Vatican’s top official on the family. It’s a position also once reportedly seen with favor by the future pope while he was still Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The latest expression of support for civil recognition as an alternative to gay marriage comes from Archbishop Piero Marini, who served for 18 years as Pope John Paul II’s liturgical Master of Ceremonies.

“There are many couples that suffer because their civil rights aren’t recognized,” Marini said.


This is going to be one interesting papacy.  I have to agree with Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, Pope Francis may have some hard sailing ahead.  John Allen remarks later in his article that the comments of Archbishop Marini and the earlier comments of Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family appear to be undercutting French and US Bishops.  I would agree, and that's because both archbishops framed their statements as a matter of civil rights and the French and US bishops have consistently stated in one form or another that gays have no rights to a legalized form of partnership.  I'm sure the same right wing argument will be leveled against women holding meaningful positions in the hierarchy--women have no rights to any leadership position in the Roman Catholic Church which would make male clerics subordinate to them.  Rough sailing ahead indeed.

I don't know where all this will eventually finish.  I don't think Pope Francis does either which is why hope and trust are recurring themes for him.  His multiple references to the Holy Spirit at large in the Church is another indication to me that he is willing to tip a few dominoes without having to know how many will then go down.  I don't know if that's a John XXIII kind of Pope or something new altogether.  I do know it takes a lot of faith and a lot of courage to make major decisions, even with the best of information, not knowing precisely how it will all come out.  I think that's called leadership.

I have no doubt Francis knows his main opposition will come from the right and it will come hard, strong, and not particularly Christ like.  He experienced that himself over the civil union question in Argentina.  This was the only issue he lost as president of the Argentine Bishops Conference. I will keep that in mind when it seems he is keeping progressives on something of a roller coaster ride.  

I also think Francis is a very strategic pope.  If the Rodriguez Maradiaga interview turns out to be correct, last weeks affirmation concerning the investigation of the LCWR makes some sense.  If Francis intends to appoint lay women to high positions in the curia he gave the right wing a sop.  Since lay women includes all sisters and nuns I will be curious to see how many religious women are included in these appointments. Personally,  I would really hope one of them is Leslie Anne Knight.  I have reason for my hope.

Just to review, Leslie Anne Knight was the president of Caritas Internationalis until 2011 when she was refused the necessary nihil obstat to run for another four year term.  This nihil obstat was under the purview of the Secretary of State's Office and not to grant her this Vatican seal of approval was a decision of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.  The Cardinal who led the Board of Directors for Caritas and was sandbagged by this decision,  taken completely behind his back,  was none other than Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga.  The following is taken from the Tablet's coverage:

"Cardinal Rodríguez wrote to all directors of the 165-member international confederation on 5 February to inform them of the Vatican’s decision. The letter, which was seen by The Tablet, notes that Secretariat of State officials met a CI delegation on that same day and gave only a verbal account of why the Vatican refused to approve Dr Knight’s candidacy. The cardinal does not mention those reasons in his letter, but does say that the CI bureau, in an extraordinary meeting, “expressed their incomprehension at the reasons provided” and “reaffirmed their positive view of Lesley-Anne Knight’s work for Caritas and the Church”.

Anyway, I will be very interested in Pope Francis' appointments because there's a new dealer at the table and he is not going to use the old stacked deck.  Amen.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

When Art Is Too Real And Jesus Becomes An Inconvenient Truth

This is one powerful depiction of Jesus by sculptor Timoth Schmalz,  drives home the challenge of His message for 21st Century Catholics.

I might be a little late with this post, since it's been featured on Huffington Post and other outlets, but art is timeless.  Problem with this piece is it may be too timely, at least in the sense that Jesus might actually have had to sleep on a few benches if He were here today living and teaching amongst the marginalized of our large inner cities. 

The following is an excerpt of an article by Leslie Scrivener originally in Toronto's  It explains how 'Homeless Jesus' actually was rejected and made homeless by two prominent Cathedrals, the Catholic one in New York and the Catholic one in Toronto. Artist Timothy Schmalz calls this ironic.  I call it typical of protecting a particular Catholic mindset from the hard truths of the Gospel--or not wanting to appear hypocritical, or both.

Sculpture of Jesus the Homeless rejected by two prominent churches

Leslie Scrivener - - 4/13/2013
Jesus has been depicted in art as triumphant, gentle or suffering. Now, in a controversial new sculpture in downtown Toronto, he is shown as homeless — an outcast sleeping on a bench.
It takes a moment to see that the slight figure shrouded by a blanket, hauntingly similar to the real homeless who lie on grates and in doorways, is Jesus. It’s the gaping wounds in the feet that reveal the subject, whose face is draped and barely visible, as Jesus the Homeless.
Despite message of the sculpture — Jesus identifying with the poorest among us — it was rejected by two prominent Catholic churches, St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.
“Homeless Jesus had no home,” says the artist, Timothy Schmalz, who specializes in religious sculpture. “How ironic.”
Rectors of both cathedrals were enthusiastic about the bronze piece and showed Schmalz possible locations, but higher-ups in the New York and Toronto archdiocese turned it down, he says.
“It was very upsetting because the rectors liked it, but when it got to the administration, people thought it might be too controversial or vague,” he says. He was told “it was not an appropriate image.”
The Toronto archdiocese tried to help him find an alternative location, including St. Augustine’s Seminary in Scarborough. But Schmalz, who describes his work as a visual prayer, wanted to reach a wider, secular audience. “I wanted not only the converted to see it, but also the marginalized. I almost gave up trying to find a place.”
Now the sculpture stands near Wellesley St. W., outside Regis College at the University of Toronto. It’s a Jesuit school of theology, where priests and lay people are trained, with an emphasis on social justice.
Bill Steinburg, communications manager for the Toronto archdiocese, says the decision not to accept the sculpture at St. Michael’s may have had to do with renovations at the cathedral and “partly to do with someone’s view of the art.”
To some who have seen it, it speaks the message of the Gospels. When theologian Thomas Reynolds came upon it he felt “the shock of recognition.” He quoted the biblical passage: “ … the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
“I’m so used to seeing images of Jesus that are palatable,” says Reynolds.
But recent depictions of Jesus in political and social contexts have spurred controversy.
At Emmanuel College, the educational arm of the United Church where Reynolds teaches, there is a graceful sculpture showing Jesus’ suffering in a crucified woman. Schmaltz says he intended that his Jesus the Homeless can be interpreted as either male or female....
....Jesus the Homeless is provocative, says Reynolds, because it ‘punctures the illusion of normalcy.
“In certain ways, Christian communities have been privileged and considered themselves the norm in society and that has made Christians comfortable in our complacency.”
Schmalz, 43, roots the sculpture in his experiences in Toronto, where he trained at the former Ontario College of Art. “I was totally used to stepping over people. You’re not aware they are human beings. They become obstacles in the urban environment and you lose a spiritual connection to them. They become inert, an inconvenience.”......


I don't know if this sculpture was rejected because of gender issues or hypocrisy issues or because it isn't a comfortable presentation for Catholics who prefer Jesus safely on the Cross dieing for their sins.  Whatever the reason, Homeless Jesus is a powerful and haunting statement of just how hard Jesus' teachings really are.  Under this Pope, it may be that Homeless Jesus could find a home in the heart of the Vatican. It would make an interesting contrast to some of the other art in St Peter's.  After all Jesus was a homeless vagrant teacher long before He became Catholicism's 'King of Kings'.  It never hurts to celebrate and remember one's roots. Sometimes it helps one see where everything started going wrong.

AB Chaput On The State Of His Archdiocese--It's A Mess

For AB Chaput, trading the Rockies for the Phillies was easier and more successful than swapping Archdiocesan management jobs.

Archbishop Chaput recently gave an acceptance speech for an award bestowed on him by Philadelphia's Catholic Philopatrian Literary Society.  He joins a long list of Philadelphia movers and shakers.  In this speech he was his usual pull no punches self.  His take on the state of health of the AD of Philadelphia is that of a patient on life support.  It's hard to see how Philadelphia will be able to pull off the World Meeting of Families with it's papal visit scheduled for 2015 without a huge influx of help from other dioceses.  The following is taken from with thanks to the NCR for first bringing this to my attention.

Archbishop gives stark, frank assessment of archdiocese at Philos dinner - 4/15/2013
In his acceptance speech it became clear that if you ask Archbishop Chaput a question he is not apt to sugar-coat the answer. Although he is happy to be Philadelphia’s Archbishop, he said his answer as to how he has enjoyed the past 19 months is, “I haven’t liked it at all.”

Quite honestly, “It has been an awful time,” he said. “We’ve had huge problems with the clergy which has been a great sadness to the Church, a great sadness for the priests and a great sadness for all of you here. I have had to make decisions about the future of their lives that have been extraordinarily difficult not only for them but for their families; their moms, their brothers and sisters.” (And no words about the victims of these priests and the difficulties for their families, and so in this respect, he carries on in a line of other self referential Philly clerics.)

Coupled with this, he said, “I have had to close about 50 schools and will be closing parishes in the next couple of years in a way that will be disappointing to a lot of people. We have financial problems that are unimaginable.”

The Philadelphia archdiocese does have a distinguished history and Archbishop Chaput listed some of its past accomplishments, for example the home of two saints, an honor shared in America only by Hawaii. It had the largest Catholic school system in the country. It is home to a large number of Catholic colleges and universities. It still had more parishes (until recently) than Los Angeles, which is more than three times as large in Catholic population.

“This is an extraordinary place,” Archbishop Chaput said. “But things have changed immensely.”
He pointed to the practice of faith, with Mass attendance hovering around 20 percent when it once was about 75 or 80 percent. The church and schools were built on the assumption that the high numbers would always be there. (It's a very different story when one's Archdiocese isn't being bolstered by immigration as was Denver during his tenure.  The truth of the Philly numbers speak directly to the disconnect between the Church and the post modern world.)

“Things have changed,” he said. “The problems we have financially are not admitting we have to change. Not in terms of our values and enthusiasm but in terms of how we look at our structures. We can’t keep open parishes that are empty; we can’t keep schools that have only 80 kids in them, we just can’t.” (And neither can you ignore the all important question:  "Why has this happened?" for which the answers might just involve 'values and enthusiasms').

Change, he said, is going to be awkward and difficult, but “if we are going to be the Church that Jesus Christ wants us to be, we have to be different.” (That's an understatement.)

The Archbishop reminded his audience that the early Church as established by Jesus had no buildings. The first Christians continued to worship at the Temple and synagogues until they were expelled and then the churches they built were very small. The Church, he said, “is not a building it is the people of God, all of us together.” 

Dealing with all of these problems that have built up over the years is a distraction. “I spend all of my time trying to figure out how we are going to do the next thing,” he said. “I ask your patience.” (Poor man. It's the price of monarchical leadership.)

As an archdiocese, “we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “I hope that when I turn 75 and the Pope says it is time to retire and get out of here you will have a reason to give me an award. You don’t have any yet. But we will do it together because I know you love the Lord and love His Church. Let’s do it together.”


Wasn't it Jesus who said 'by their fruits you shall know them?'  Seems to me this was a cogent observation on the part of Jesus.  This stark assessment of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia proves His point.  Forty years of princely mismanagement has cost the Church in Philly 71% of it's practicing Catholic population.  Of course, the Princes of the Archdiocese had a lot of help from the Kings and Princes in the Vatican, but even with that help, Philly is a prime candidate for an award for Pope Francis' definition of a 'self referential' church.  

I actually have some empathy for AB Chaput.  He's worked his whole clerical life at the beck and call of Rome, participated in many a political machination, was involved in more than one 'investigation' and his reward is to oversee the rapid decline of one of America's premier historical Archdioceses.  He was the quintessential careerist and is now in a place where he must think and act creatively on his own.  He is thoroughly enmeshed in what the governance structure of Rome, the one he faithfully and blindly served,  has produced in Philadelphia.  

Unfortunately, he is singularly unprepared to deal with this mess with any kind of effectiveness now that his main enabler is off the papal stage.  He is too concrete a thinker, too black and white a decider, and too frequently reacts from the victim perspective.  When he is finished, most of the financial numbers will add up. The one for Mass attendance will not.  That one will continue to drop, unless Francis can somehow effect a global change in structure and pastoral emphasis that bypasses all the concrete thinkers, black and white deciders, and perpetual victims that his predecessors elevated to the hierarchy. 

AB Chaput in some ways is already a Francis cleric.  He is not ostentatious, has lived simply, was a member of a religious community before he was a bishop and maintains his connections.  But unlike Francis, Chaput has relished being in the political spotlight and used his episcopal positions to garner favor amongst right wing political and curial elites.  Since he doesn't appear to have done this for the usual perks, (other than career advancement which may not have been one of his goals) I have to believe he is truly a concrete, right wing,  victim thinker.  That is not the definition of a pastoral bishop.  If Chaput is to have any real impact on the one number that actually counts--the practicing Catholic number--he is going to have to undergo a radical conversion in his world view.  But in order to do that, he is going to have to stop thinking of himself as an unworthy victim constantly reacting too things, dependent on higher authority to bolster his authority.  He has to learn to accept himself as having the personal competence and the innate worthiness to successfully complete what he has been tasked to do. He has to stop whining and start winning hearts and minds. He has to learn to trust in others where he mistrusts in himself.  He has to pick up, what will be for him a true cross, in living Pope Francis' pastoral expectations.  If he can do it though, he will find that the fruits are different and the burdens are lighter.  He will then understand it's going to take real change on the part of the entire church hierarchy to really untangle the mess in Philadelphia.  It's not just on his shoulders.  If he can get that, he can then become part of meaningful solutions for the Philadelphia's everywhere on the Catholic globe, and there are a lot of them.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Pope Francis Concurs With EPBXVI: The LCWR Must Have Male Coaches

Pope Francis will continue to rule with aid of 8 elder men in red and the LCWR will remain in the CDF dog house.  Oh well, I didn't expect change in either of these areas.

Yesterday I wrote about my angst concerning Pope Francis and today it was confirmed.  Under Francis nothing will change for the LCWR.  They will continue to be under the direction of three male coaches because Francis believes the CDF was correct in it's assessment--the LCWR was not playing the Catholic game by the rules. 

From the Vatican website: 
 Today the Superiors of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith met with the Presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in the United States of America. Most Rev. J. Peter Sartain, Archbishop of Seattle and the Holy See’s Delegate for the Doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR, also participated in the meeting.
As this was his first opportunity to meet with the Presidency of the LCWR, the Prefect of the Congregation, Most Rev. Gerhard Ludwig Müller, expressed his gratitude for the great contribution of women Religious to the Church in the United States as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor which have been founded and staffed by Religious over the years.
The Prefect then highlighted the teaching of the Second Vatican Council regarding the important mission of Religious to promote a vision of ecclesial communion founded on faith in Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Church as faithfully taught through the ages under the guidance of the Magisterium (Cf. Lumen gentium, nn. 43-47). He also emphasized that a Conference of Major Superiors, such as the LCWR, exists in order to promote common efforts among its member Institutes as well as cooperation with the local Conference of Bishops and with individual Bishops. For this reason, such Conferences are constituted by and remain under the direction of the Holy See (Cf. Code of Canon Law, cann. 708-709).
Finally, Archbishop Müller informed the Presidency that he had recently discussed the Doctrinal Assessment with Pope Francis, who reaffirmed the findings of the Assessment and the program of reform for this Conference of Major Superiors.
It is the sincere desire of the Holy See that this meeting may help to promote the integral witness of women Religious, based on a firm foundation of faith and Christian love, so as to preserve and strengthen it for the enrichment of the Church and society for generations to come.
The LCWR has released a statement, which confirms the above and concluded:
The conversation was open and frank. We pray that these conversations may bear fruit for the good of the Church.


This confirms some of my thinking from yesterday. It's not so much that the LCWR is a group of women leaders, it's that they have an authority to their witness in direct competition to the authority which has been severely eroded in our male leadership. This authority is not seen as appropriately complementary.  It if for this reason I dismiss the complaints about a few sisters engaging in acts and speculation which cross doctrinal boundaries.  At bottom it isn't about those few sisters, it's about the real authority carried in witness of the LCWR member communities.  Even Mueller has to admit the face of the Catholic Church in the US is a product of the historic and continuing efforts of these congregations.

In tandem with this authority of witness, Francis also spoke yesterday on careerism in the clergy.  He made the point that one must live their witness. One's walk must match their talk and that all Christians must root out the idols that prevent them from emulating the teachings of Jesus.  Personally I think Roman Catholicism should root out the idol of male entitlement which precludes the clergy from truly understanding women are capable of being much more than spiritually dependent children or fertility gardens for boys bound for the priesthood. This kind of 'rooting out' is not going to happen under Francis and never was going to happen. He will encourage his clergy to live more like the sisters, but he will never encourage the sisters to share rule with the clergy.  So while the culture moves further and further away from women being dependent on men, Catholicism will not.  It will keep it's women sacramentally and spiritually dependent on ordained men.  It will keep it's gender definitions rooted in only the second creation story in Genesis and it's sexual morality defined by acts and not relationships.  It will become less and less relevant as a cultural insitution, even if Francis is capable of making a dent in clerical careerism.  In the end though, if the relationship between men and women does not change to reflect a true equality, all the reform in the world in the exclusively male clerical structures will be futile and ephemeral.  The collective consciousness of humanity is moving away from patriarchy and hierarchy and making equal space for the feminine impulse towards creativity and mutual consensus.  

Am I disappointed in Francis?  Not really.  Before this Conclave I had very little hope that underlying gender issues would ever be on the table.  Too much of Catholic theology is wrapped up in unexamined male entitlement.  As Mary Hunt states it:  If God is male, males must be gods.  The idea that God has no gender never computes.  The idea voiced by St Paul in Galatians that--There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus--has evolved to the point we no longer make distinctions between Jews and others and we no longer approve of slavery, but 2000 years later we still haven't gotten the last part.  We still have huge distinctions in gender expectations and Catholicism still insists women are spiritual dependents rather than active agents in their own right.

I can easily believe the LCWR leadership when they write that their conversation was open and frank. I suspect that kind of conversation about women will continue all through the papacy of Francis and most likely beyond him.  For me, I will be very happy if all he manages to do is close the Vatican Bank and institute meaningful collegiality because I suspect any change in the place of women is not coming from the top.  It will come welling up through the bottom.  Decentralization of Vatican authority can only help that bottom up change.  So while the men still insist on their rightful place as coaches to the ladies, I do see a future in which this changes.  And of course, this explains my observation from yesterday about why so many men hold coaching positions in women's highschool and college athletics--it sends a very real message about traditional male authority over women.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Things Are Changing Very Fast In The Worlds Of Gender And Marriage And This Will Be The Challenge Frances May Not Be Ready To Acknowledge In His Reforms

Forty years ago I played on this same basketball court to a total crowd of maybe twenty.

I have to admit I am truly stunned with the accelerating change in attitudes about gay marriage.  This might be a real-time example of the snowball phenomenon in which a small ball starts rolling down hill and becomes the catalyst for an avalanche. Or to put it differently, get enough effort behind an idea and once the collective consciousness reaches a certain point or critical mass,  a chain reaction starts, change occurs, and there is no going back.  There will be no going back on gay marriage.

I also have believed for a very long time that the real threat in gay marriage is it's implied gender equality, and that is a legacy of the women's movement.  I look back on the women's movement and stand stupefied by the changes in some areas that have occurred just in my lifetime.  Back in the early 70's I played basketball on the first team my high school ever had and followed that up by playing on the first team the college I graduated from ever had.  I can honestly say I never envisioned women's collegiate basketball reaching the heights it now currently enjoys.  And yet, I'm saddened to know that male coaches significantly out number female coaches on both the high school and college levels and I don't why that should be. That too, I never expected.  So it seems women still have some more walking to do when it comes leadership roles, and this brings me to Pope Frances and his reforming the Church.

I have really been impressed with Francis in the opening days of his papacy.  He has walked his talk and modeled a very different concept of clerical service from what has previously passed as normal in Rome. I have taken a great deal of hope in his sermons and actions--and I have also carried around a certain undefined nebulous angst that I couldn't identify.  I think I've now identified my angst.  I will not be at all surprised if women under Frances will be allowed to take a higher profile, to operate in more areas, but are never allowed to wield authority in the spiritual or temporal leadership of the Church.  Women will be players, but never coaches.  This is why I am very curious about what Frances will do with the LCWR situation.  EPBXVI through the CDF essentially stated that sisters can play but they will no longer coach themselves.  They have to live their respective charisms using the strategies chalked up for them by their male coaches.  In Catholicism gender complementarity means women do not infringe on the leadership prerogatives of men.  Women are not independent free agents, they are perpetual spiritual dependents.

Frances is going to have to face this gender issue because women no longer accept rigid gender definitions which assign them a dependent role without their consent.  The change in gender definitions for women have by necessity changed the gender definitions for men.  Younger men and women do not see gender in the same rigid terms as previous generations, and this means they see relationships differently.  Marriage is no longer the first relational choice. More and more marriage is coming after children have appeared in the relationship.  The dependency issue has evolved into interdependency as both genders work both inside and outside the home.  Marriage has moved from mother and children dependent on father to children dependent on both parents with less differentiation in roles.  Gay marriage is no threat to this kind of marriage, it only affirms it and this is one reason gay marriage is overwhelmingly accepted by younger generations.  But here's the rub for Catholicism.  This kind of gender equivalency in marriage carries with it a huge threat to  patriarchal religious structures.  It does so because neither gender is operating under those patriarchal definitions and reserving authority strictly to males makes no sense and will make even less sense to children raised in this kind of family. 

A relational arrangement based in an equal interdependence is very different from one based in a dependent form of gender complementarity. If culture in general mirrors family arrangements then we can expect ever further changes in the culture.  The question I have is whether Catholic theology can adapt to changing gender roles and responsibilities.  So far the answer is a resounding "NO".  That will have to change.  The theology will have to adapt to the much larger increase in feminine input and leadership through out the culture.  None of this is going to be easy for a Church which has traditionally been led exclusively by men and whose underlying theology is so dominated by male thinking and male analogies.  

Unfortunately, I don't actually have a lot of hope in Pope Frances taking the Church very far down the road to gender equality, but I do have hope he takes the Church very far down the road in redefining male leadership and how it's expressed.  That would be a bridge to more change in the future and that future could come much quicker than any of us expect.  I certainly never thought I would live to see the day when women's college basketball drew the same sold out crowds the men's version does.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Pope Francis Is One Of The Simple People

No more solo papal walks on the First Class deck of the Catholic Titanic for Pope Francis.  He's commanding a different kind of papal barque.

One of the differences between Pope Francis and Emeritus Pope Benedict is their definition of 'simple people'.  Francis sees 'simple people' as those living a simple less encumbered life, and teaches all should strive for that simplicity.  EPBenedict seemed to see 'simple people' as less educated and less sophisticated than himself, and thought these people should be protected from people of similar education, sophistication, and intelligence, like Hans Kung and others.  These were the people who didn't meet Benedict's criteria for properly formed Catholic intelligentsia.  The following article from Vatican Insider really demonstrates the simplicity of Francis.  Francis called a long time friend to wish him happy birthday and then drops the bomb shell about a planned December visit to Argentina.  What are friends for other than to share news and views?

Francis: “I’m staying at St. Martha’s House because I don’t want to isolate myself"

 ANDREA TORNIELLI - Vatican Insider - 4/5/2013
Pope Francis told a priest friend  of his that he will be visiting Argentina in December and also explained why he has not moved in to the papal apartment, preferring to stay in the Domus Sanctae Marthae (St. Martha’s House), the Vatican residence where the 115 cardinal electors stayed during the Conclave. Francis likes dining with others, chatting and sharing news.

Francis telephoned Fr. Jorge Chichinzola, parish priest of the Church of Holy Martyrs in Posadas in the afternoon on Easter day. “He called me at 17:10 to wish me for my birthday. I guessed it was him straight away: sometimes he would call a day before to make sure the phone line was active. “How are you? he asked me.” Fr. Chichizola talked to radio LT4 Red Ciudadana about their conversation and said he had spoken to Bergoglio just a few hours before the Conclave started.

The Argentinean priest, who was ordained at the same time as the new Pope, said Francis confirmed he was going to visit Argentina next December and added that he “never forgets his friends.” But during last Sunday’s telephone call , Bergoglio talked to Fr. Jorge about his reasons for staying in St. Martha’s House. Francis “likes sitting down to table with others, chatting and sharing news. He doesn’t want to be isolated.” When they showed him the rooms in the papal apartment, he said: “This is too big for me.” “He also added that he was driving his escorts and security staff crazy because he likes getting close to people, but that now they are getting used to it,” Fr. Chichinzola said. (I suspect this means they have accepted the fact Francis is willing to entertain personal risk in order to be accessible to the faithful. There is no changing his mind.)

“He is a man who is not afraid of taking risks and will continue along his path. He told me that one of his security guards brought him a letter written by one of his children and he replied to it.”

 The Pope’s words confirm the reasons that led to him deciding not to live in the papal apartment: Francis likes meeting people even at lunch and dinner time. He doesn’t like isolating himself.


I think the change in papal styles, and what those changes imply, is going to take some getting used to for all Catholics.  In some respects Francis reminds me a lot of myself.  To say I live a simple life style is an understatement and I do eat a lot my meals in a communal setting with some interesting and simple dinner companions. Yet on the other hand, I could also understand Pope Benedict's more solitary academic life style because that reflects part of me as well. On my days off I am very solitary and spend hours researching and writing.  What my two lifestyles have taught me though, is that really effective evangelization is easier accomplished out and about, mingling with people and 'being' in a full and honest way my belief structures.  I don't necessarily live all my academic interests, but they do influence my conversation and 'being'.

Most of us don't actually get to fashion an ideal world for ourselves that let's us live our comfort level.  Most of humanity has to adapt to external circumstances and try to make those circumstances comfortable.  Francis has gone out of his way to provide some comfort for people in really trying circumstances.  He has made the comfort of the Church of the Poor as available to as many people as he could.  Living as he does has most certainly helped the authenticity of his effort.  It would be hard to substitute spiritual wealth for material wealth if he himself was living in the lap of luxury.  "Easy for him to say" would be the truthful if cynical view of that kind of faith expression. It really does help to live the talk, maybe especially if it is by personal choice, not forced circumstances.  I am well aware that I have had the freedom to choose to live simpler.  I have not always lived simply.  I am also well aware that part of that choice was directly predicated by a desire to remove a lot of stress, and not necessarily because I wanted to live a life more closely aligned with the Gospels.  I can also report that having done so, it is easier to live a life more closely aligned to the Gospels.  The Way not only makes spiritual sense, it's provides for less stress and that's always a good and healthy thing.

Pope Benedict also lived a pretty simple life, but not in the same way as Francis.  Benedict's idea of a simple life meant paring down the interests he pursued.  I have no doubt he could have lived in a monastic cell and been quite happy--as long as he had access to a really good library, really good music, and a close cadre of fellow academics.  I could lose everything I own except my computer and internet access because they give access to an incredible library, good music, baseball and hockey coverage, and the ability to communicate with lots of other people and opinions. Give me a computer and an Internet card and I could live in a cave--as long as it had running water and enclosed plumbing.  Unfortunately for Pope Benedict, his cave was pretty opulent.  It's very opulence necessitated other people tasked with maintaining it's opulence.  It made it too easy to define 'simple' people in a quite different way from Francis.  History will never record Pope Benedict as a 'populist' pope, and I firmly believe Benedict would personally be appalled if his papacy were ever to be described as such.  His was a papacy for the refined, not the shanties.  

EPBenedict would have never announced a major visit to his native country without going through the proper diplomatic channels.  He may have told his brother beforehand but his brother would have stayed silent. It's just not done.  Pope Franics however, had no problem with announcing his upcoming visit to Argentina in the most natural way for him, via a phone call to a long time friend.  That's the way it's done when friends and family matter more than protocol, and that may be the singular message of this papacy.  Friends and family matter more than protocol.  Life is meant to be lived simply but does not mean those living it simply are simple.  Jesus may have lived simply, but I don't think anyone who has studied the Gospels would call Him simple. Or to put it differently, the Barque of Peter is no longer the Titanic.  It's to be a barque with deck chairs and life preservers for everyone.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Jesus and Gender and Men and Women Behaving In A Good Way

Not exactly the image usually associated with Divine Mercy Sunday It's just my favorite icon of feminine service and protection.

For a very long time now I have believed that the so called 'pelvic' issues are not primarily about biology or abuse of procreative sexuality.  They are about maintaining rigid definitions of gender behavior and identity, and this is so because maintaining these gender definitions maintain patriarchy and the status quo of the social structure derived from patriarchy.  At a fundamental level this gendering is core to much of Catholic theology.

I had one spiritual teacher who ruminated on both his Native and Catholic upbringing and he came to the conclusion that core to Jesus' teachings were to bring men to an understanding of their full potential as humans, to get them to transcend their ideas of what it meant to be male.  Concurrently, the same was true of women, which is why Jesus treated his male and female disciples pretty much the same.  Each was capable of learning what He taught, and each needed different parables to bring home that point because each gender definition had their unique deficiencies.  He said in his own Native tradition ceremonies had been developed to do pretty much the same thing.  That was why the Sundance was at first strictly a male ceremony about offering blood to Mother Earth to facillitate creative generation.  Women did not have to do such a thing because they did it through child birth and menses as part of their inherent nature.  Women were also more directly connected to the spiritual which is why male medicine men rarely took on female apprentices.  Male training was more physically taxing because it took more to breakdown male barriers to communication with the unseen spirit world.  Why, sometimes men had to be taken to the threshold of death before they let go of their barriers.  He laughed and said it was a real case of having to almost 'die to live' type of situation.  Women weren't that pigheaded and if they paid attention to their intuition they would discover they didn't need rigid training or apprenticing because the spirit world would provide it.  For him being a woman would have been a much easier path to spiritual things because he himself was one of those men who had to almost die before he found that life.

I offer that last as a context for how I understand some of what Francis said in his Angelus talk on women and their witness to the Resurrection.  I offer an extract of that talk from NCR coverage:

...."The women are driven by love and know how to accept this proclamation with faith: they believe, and immediately transmit it, they do not keep it for themselves… In the professions of faith of the New Testament, only men are remembered as witnesses of the Resurrection, the Apostles, but not the women. This is because, according to the Jewish Law of the time, women and children were not considered reliable, credible witnesses.

In the Gospels, however, - Bergoglio continued - women have a primary, fundamental role. Here we can see an argument in favour of the historicity of the Resurrection: if it were a invented, in the context of that time it would not have been linked to the testimony of women. Instead, the evangelists simply narrate what happened: the women were the first witnesses. This tells us that God does not choose according to human criteria: the first witnesses of the birth of Jesus are the shepherds, simple and humble people, the first witnesses of the Resurrection are women. This is beautiful.” (Francis would have been more accurate if he had said "God does not choose according to 'male' criteria."
This is the mission of women, of mothers and women, to give witness to their children and grandchildren that Christ is Risen! Mothers go forward with this witness! What matters to God is our heart, if we are open to Him, if we are like trusting children. But this also leads us to reflect on how in the Church and in the journey of faith, women have had and still have a special role in opening doors to the Lord, in following him and communicating his face, because the eyes of faith always need the simple and profound look of love. The Apostles and disciples find it harder to believe in the Risen Christ, not the women however,” Bergoglio said.

Women certainly do have a special role in opening doors to the Lord and to the messengers of the Lord.  That role is first and foremost about love and how love is at the core of creation. It is about how service to creation is the proper way in which to relate to the unseen forces of love which guide and under-gird our reality.  This kind of service is not the submissive service we normally think of when we hear stories about women's 'work'.  It is very active, but in a different way.  It's centered in 'being' a fully competent human. That's why I've always found the statues of Mary standing on a globe with her foot on the serpent to be a very powerful statement.  When it comes to serving and protecting creation, the feminine principle rules, not because it's passive, but because it's patient and measured.  When action is necessary it is targeted, relentless, and final.

Over on the blog A Seat at the Table, there is a current post is about Sr Sandra Schneider's lastest biblical work entitled Women and the Word.  This post dovetails nicely with Francis' talk.  Sr Schneider also makes an observation very similar to my Native teacher, that Jesus' teachings went directly to the limits of gender definitions:

.....The [other] conclusion which flows from our reflections on the gender of God and the sex of Jesus is that both men and women are called to conversion. Men are challenged by Jesus to reject the cultural definition of masculinity as well as the patriarchal structures and behaviors which flow from it. In Jesus they have the assurance that there is another, and truly redemptive, way to be a man. Women are challenged to develop a renewed sense of themselves as adult children of God made in the divine image, as sisters and friends of Jesus who have put on Christ and who are called and empowered to represent Christ in Church and society....

Pope Francis may not agree completely with Sr Schneider's or my Native teacher, but he is modeling a masculine way of handling great power which is not usual for most men.  It is however, the way Jesus taught men would need to handle power in order to stay congruent with the Father's will.  I sincerely hope Francis keeps stressing this understanding of male servant leadership and puts the 'pelvic and gender' issues on the very back burner. It would give culture warriors pause and allow others to find a better path for gender expression.  One less enslaved to ideas that may be great for maintaining the status quo, but are in fact, very limiting to one's spiritual path.