Friday, February 28, 2014

Two Anniversaries, Two Different Men, One Real Evangelizer

There was never a completely bad day in Mr Roger's neighborhood.
There were just way too many bad days in Pope Benedict's neighborhood.

Yesterday was the 11th anniversary of the death of Fred Rogers.  No one, and I mean no one, had more impact on the formation of my daughter's early view of the world than Fred Rogers.  She would sit riveted during his show, a firm believer in Mr Roger's neighborhood, a firm believer in treating all people just like Mr Rogers treated all people.  He truly evangelized her into being the person she is today, and I am truly proud of her.  I suspect this is true for a lot of her generation, that Mr Rogers had more to do with their outlook than any other early life influence.  Whatever one may think about the millennials, one has to admit they have a pretty welcoming concept of neighborhood.

Today marks the 1st anniversary of the resignation of Pope Benedict.  He had virtually no impact on my daughter's formation as a human being, except as a lightening rod for how the Roman Catholic Church did not function at all like Mr Roger's neighborhood.  He was not one of her evangelizers.  His was not a friendly inviting neighborhood and in the US, Catholicism is still not a very friendly neighborhood for a lot of people.
Pope Benedict was a lot of things but he did not have an ounce of the evangelizing impact of Fred Rogers. 
Pope Benedict's resignation did finally result in what appears to be the election of Catholicism's version of Fred Rogers.  One could say Benedict did lay the groundwork for cleaning up the neighborhood.  I sure hope Pope Francis has his share of cardigan sweaters. 

Pope Francis seems to have taken a lesson in evangelization from the same source as Fred Rogers....the teachings of Jesus, not the teachings of Augustine.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Of Vatican Miracles And Mounting Frustration With The Vatican And Vatican Miracles

Paul VI never made the cover of Rolling Stone, but he made Time's cover more than once.  This is the one for when he issued Humanae Vitae.

I didn't intend to go two weeks without posting, but it looks like I certainly managed to do so.  For some reason time just seems to be going ultra fast for me lately.  I keep track of dates and appointments on a 5 week white board and today marks the end of five weeks.  It seems like maybe two weeks since I last changed all the dates.  Maybe this is God's way of  packing more life in a short amount of time.  I would hope I'm experiencing aging at the same rate.  If I age two weeks for every five, I could be around a lot longer than I think.  It's a miracle.

Speaking of miracles, the Vatican has just announced one for Paul VI.  It involves the cure of an unspecified problem with a fetus who upon birth did not exhibit the expected birth defect.  The Vatican makes no bones about this miracle validating Paul VI's issuance of Humanae Vitae:  "The Postulator of the Pope Paul VI’s cause said this was an extraordinary and supernatural event which took place through the intercession of the late Pope. It was in line with his magisterium and the contents of the “Humanae Vitae” encyclical, i.e. the defence of life, “but also the defence of the family, because that document discusses married love, not just unborn life. This healing is in harmony with Montini’s teaching.”"  I certainly hope this blatant politicizing of a miracle and the canonization process of a pope doesn't portend miracles for every contentious issue promulgated by any pope in the last two hundred years.  I anxiously await the next PVI miracle.  If there is any justice or honesty, it will be the full cure of AIDS in a gay man.

Pope Francis has aslo been on my radar these past two weeks.  I was hoping the latest meeting of the C8 would end with the announcement of the names on the commission on clerical abuse, and maybe more information concerning it's mandate.  There was no such announcement.  This commission is still a matter of one sound bite from Cardinal O'Malley and absolutely no walk.  The voices for justice, like Betty Clermont's, in this area are now getting louder and their arguments harder to refute the longer Francis fails to act.  It's been almost a full year and Francis has yet to act in any meaningful way on clerical abuse.  He is repeating the sad pattern he had with this issue in Buenos Aires.  As Gerry Slevin also points out, so far the priority has been all about putting the Vatican's money in order rather than giving the victims of the Catholic priesthood some justice.

Today Pope Francis installed 19 more Cardinals in the presence of his predecessor Emeritus Pope Benedict.  To my knowledge this is the first major Vatican ceremony for which both popes have been present.  Kudos to Benedict for not making himself a visible lightening rod for his flock of Vatican II reformers.  However, in many ways Benedict really hasn't had to be very visible because Francis has gone to some length to assure us all he is in continuity with Benedicts' thinking and policies. Francis has not broken with Benedict at all.  He has chosen to maintain his distance by emphasizing points of Benedict's writings which Benedict's vatican did not emphasize and by symbolic changes rather than disagreeing with the over all reform of the reform.  For all the hand wringing on the uber right, Francis has not so far been some ogre out to target the Traditional Latin Mass crowd.  He just hasn't emphasized it in his own practice.

As his first year anniversary approaches, I have to admit I find Pope Francis something of an enigma.  I was much more on board the first three or four months of his papacy and now find myself wondering more and more if he really knows where he wants to take the Church.  Consultation is great, but action is better.  He does things that I find confusing.  First he is spending millions and millions on all kinds of outside big name consulting firms while simultaneously laying off Vatican staff and freezing their wages to save money.  This is the behavior of a vulture capitalist, not a follower of Saint Francis.

I'm also not understanding how the Vatican can release a statement stating this: The Catholic Church, on her part, in condemning every form of violence perpetrated in the name of religious belief, will not cease in her commitment to peace and reconciliation, through interreligious dialogue and the many charitable works which provide daily assistance and comfort to the suffering throughout the world.”"  and yet not say anything to Nigerian and Ugandan bishops who are all on board with directing the exact kind of  language at gays that was used against Jews in Nazi Germany.  It's head scratching to me because I'm of the opinion that when one says they 'condemn every form of violence perpetrated in the name of religious belief' they actually mean it.  Apparently not in the case of gays and lesbians, at least not in the Vatican under Pope Francis.

Then finally, I have been frustrated with the Synod on the Family.  This just doesn't include the multitude of ways various national bishops groups have interpreted the Vatican's request for information from a survey the Vatican designed--very poorly I might add--it also includes frustration with how many different groups of cardinals are getting their fingers in the pot before the bishops synod actually convenes.  The reason I find this frustrating is this seems to be a circling of the big wagons in response to the fact what data has been released shows the laity is not on board with Catholic teaching, and most especially not on board with Humanae Vitae.  And this brings me back to the new miracle attributed to Paul VI.  Our powers that be can not seriously think this kind of appeal to piety is going to prompt 78% of global Catholics to stop using artificial contraception.  

Given this kind of dissent, maybe it is a good idea to circle the red hatted wagons before the purple ones have a say or bring with them evidence of a global rejection of a doctrine that neither the folksy talk of this Pope or the erudite defense of the retired Pope or the miracle of a dead pope is going to persuade laity to accept.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Women And Pope Francis According To John Allen + Some More Vatican/UN Interaction On Women's Rights

This last little factoid pretty much puts things in a brutally honest light.  

I've been meaning to write on John Allen's final column for the NCR for a while, but other things came up. Today I will.  The excerpts below are from the first topic of that column and is a classic example of John's penchant to write prescriptive columns under the guise of descriptive journalism.  I want to give a shout out to Bill Lyndsey who pointed this out in one of his blog posts about four years ago.  In his final column John prescribes for us what Pope Francis really means about more space for women in the Church. When I've used red highlighting, it's because these are buzz words leading into prescriptive thoughts rather than objective reporting.  I can get away with prescriptive writing because I don't claim to be an objective even handed centrist reporter on all things Catholic.

Following the Allen piece are a couple of paragraphs from another Vatican interaction with a UN committee.  This one happened yesterday at the UN's Eighth Session of the Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals on “Promoting Equality, including Social Equity, Gender Equality, and Women’s Empowerment.”  The suggestions from the Vatican about promoting gender equality and women's empowerment are far more concrete than the musings of Pope Francis on women in the church but probably indicate pretty much where Francis is really at.  Given the prioritization of women's roles in the Vatican message to the UN, we can rest assured there won't be any pregnant priests on Pope Francis' watch.

Given the through-the-looking-glass dynamic of the media today, everything Pope Francis says or does is defined as news, however hard it may be to pin down what it means and however often he may have said or done precisely the same thing before.

Thus a short talk Francis gave to an Italian women's center on Saturday made headlines, in this case because of what he said about women in the church.

Here was the line: "I'm happy to see many women sharing some pastoral responsibilities with priests in accompanying people, families and groups, and also in theological reflection. I hope that the spaces for a more capillary and incisive feminine presence in the church will be enlarged."

Never mind that Francis had issued some version of that line at least half a dozen times before or that he added no new concrete detail about what "more space for women" might look like. He uttered the words, so reporters and analysts were obliged to swing into action.

In truth, it's easier to say what "more space for women" doesn't mean in the mind of Pope Francis than what it does. We know he's taken women priests off the table, and we also know he's not interested in naming women cardinals. In his December interview with the Italian paper La Stampa, Francis said anyone advocating women cardinals suffers from "clericalism," meaning the idea that to be important in the Catholic church, you have to be a member of the clergy.

In fact, Francis' conception of what "more space" means seems to have little to do with office-holding of any sort.

During his trip to Brazil in July, Francis told the Brazilian bishops that he wanted them to "promote the active role of women in the ecclesial community" because "if the church loses its women ... it risks sterility." That prompted a question on the papal plane about what exactly he meant by "promoting an active role," to which he replied: "It can't be limited to the fact that girls can be altar boys, or that women can be the president of Caritas or a catechist. No! It has to be more than that, profoundly more, even mystically more, and that's why I've spoken about [the need for] a theology of women."

"Women in the church are more important than bishops and priests," the pope insisted. "That's what we have to try to explain better, because I believe we don't have a way of making that explicit theologically."
 (No doubt women are more important than bishops and priests in producing future generations of bishops and priests.  I don't know how that fact is supposed to be more explicitly stated theologically since so much theology already insists women's role is first and foremost reproductive.)

Here's the key point: When Francis talks about "more space" for women, it's less about creating new roles and more about assigning greater value to the roles women already play. It's psychological, theological and moral "space" he wants to enhance, not so much corporate and institutional.
(I'm not sure John Allen has this right since he left out 'mystical' in his prescriptive statement about the intentions of Francis. If John is right, what he is saying is that Francis hopes to accomplish what is essentially a snow job to maintain the status quo between the sexes in the Church.)
As a veteran of the pastoral front lines, Francis grasps that if its women were to walk away tomorrow, the Catholic church would come grinding to a halt. He knows it's women who raise kids in the faith, women who make parishes run, women who keep alive popular devotions and practices, women who mobilize the church's human resources when people are in need, and on and on. (It's also women who provide the 'space and time' men have in order to do what men tell women only men can exclusively running the very Church which would grind to a halt if women stopped being women the way male Catholic theology has traditionally defined women.)

If the Catholic church is a "field hospital," as Francis has put it, he knows that women are its primary medical staff. (But not the doctors.)

That's not to say Francis won't create more "space" for women in the conventional sense of the term. He could, for instance, name a woman as his spokesperson, a job that's generally the second most visible in the Vatican after the papacy. As part of a restructuring of Vatican finances, he could create a new position of comptroller and assign it to a woman, effectively entrusting her with the Vatican's power of the purse. Or, if the much-rumored consolidation of several current Vatican departments into a new "Congregation for the Laity" actually happens, the pope could tap a laywoman to head it. 

(That last suggestion might be a bit dicey, because assuming that the new congregation will exercise delegated powers of the pope, some canonists will say that anyone wielding those powers needs to be a cleric. However, if there's one thing we've learned about Francis, it's not to be too dogmatic about what he will or won't do.) (I think Pope Francis is well aware of the fact that clericalized men will not accept female leadership, and John should know this as well since he interviewed Leslie Anne Knight after it didn't work out so well for her.)
Maria Voce, head of the international Focolare movement, has also suggested that Francis might create a council of lay advisers alongside his Council of Cardinals, a body where women would play a key role.
In the end, however, such steps would be only symbols of what Francis seems to mean by "more space for women."

The substance is a new way of explaining why women actually don't need anybody to lift them up. If people saw the church in the proper light, as Francis understands it, they'd realize that women are already where the action is.  (This last prescriptive paragraph is all OD.  If all Francis intends to do for women is try to convince them that they aren't on the bottom of the pyramid, but really at the top, he's more a great manipulator than a real reformer.)


And now here's a more concrete insight into how women are to be valued. It's from the presentation given by Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, at the UN's Eighth Session of the Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals on “Promoting Equality, including Social Equity, Gender Equality, and Women’s Empowerment.”  These excerpts are taken from Zenit's coverage of the presentation.

....Yet it would be naïve to conflate equality with sameness.  The approach to women in the Sustainable Development Goals must acknowledge and enable women to overcome barriers to equality without forcing them to abandon what is essential to them. Women worldwide do not live in isolation, but exist within the context of relationships which provide meaning, richness, identity, and human love. Their relationships, especially their role within the family – as mothers, wives, caregivers – have profound effects on the choices women make and their own prioritization of the rights which they exercise across their lifespans. (Notice how AB Chullikatt completely ignores the fact that women are culturally pressured into this prioritization and in many cases have no choice about their lives as mothers, wives, and caregivers.)
In formulating the Sustainable Development Goals, the global community must sidestep a simplistic assertion that shortfalls in women’s economic and public achievements can be remedied only by the negation of their procreative capacities. A truly rights-based approach to women’s equality demands that societies and their institutions remove unjust social and economic barriers that interject a false dichotomy between the relationships that enhance their lives and their participation and gains across other human rights.  Development for women will be truly sustainable only when it respects and enables women to choose and prioritize their actions according to equal opportunities within the context of real family relationships that frame their lives, not in spite of them. (The Vatican's prescription for women's equality and rights means family first, and then solutions within that context. It is a prescription for a form of reproductive slavery not expected of men.)

Sustainable Development Goals should provide the opportunity to confront inequality through the promotion of women’s engagement on an equal basis in society without disregarding entirely the family relationships in which women exist. Labor policies should go beyond facilitating equal job access and ensure reconciliation of paid work with family responsibilities: through family and maternity policies, and ensuring that equal salaries, unemployment benefits, and pensions are sufficient for a sustainable family life. Access to equal education and vocational training must accompany measures to accommodate family work and care needs. Serious efforts are needed to support women in their family choices. Civic participation should be designed to accommodate the participation of all women, including those with family responsibilities.  (This list of policies should most certainly pertain to men and their family responsibilities, but ABChullikatt does not mention men at all. I find this interesting because shared parental responsibilities is not just crucial to the enhancement of women's opportunities and rights, but to the sustainability of the modern family unit.)


I don't have any hope that the place of women in the Church is going to substantially change if Catholics look to the Vatican for that change.  For all John Allen's semi optimistic prescriptive speculation, the truth is in Chullikatt's presentation to the UN.  Catholicism places women's reproductive ability and family relationships ahead of any other aspect of their humanity.  The men of the Vatican assure women that is what they are and what they want and how they must organize and prioritize their lives, and all this without even acknowledging in too many places on this planet women and girls don't even have a choice to make those choices----but of course even when a woman chooses to have a child, but does it wrong in the eyes of the Church, the Church will kick her out.  Great.

Friday, February 7, 2014

More Attention On My Home Diocese

We have not 'come along way baby'.  Not in Butte, Mt.  Not in the Catholic Church.

Last week I wrote about the Helena Diocese declaring bankruptcy and it's use of mediation with the 362 abuse victims rather than the usual confrontational style of other dioceses.  This week I get to write about another story that has generated a lot of national and international interest, that of the firing of an unwed pregnant teacher at Butte Central Catholic school.  

I found three things really interesting about this story.  The first interesting thing is that the Diocese acted on an anonymous letter. Which tells me that even in my little diocese, the right wing morality police have all the leverage, even beyond the leverage of Pope Francis who has baptized the children of single parents, 'cold called' one who chose not to have an abortion, and has strongly suggested the doctrines of the Church are opportunities for pastoral action, not for condemnation and judgement.  He's even made pretty strong statements about Jesus coming to save sinners--like himself--and not to create a Church of self righteous pious saints strictly for self righteous pious saints.

The second thing I found hugely interesting was the statement from Diocesan School Superintendent Patrick Haggarty:

 “The Catholic moral teaching is that the sacrament of marriage is a holy union between a man and a woman,” Haggarty told the Standard. “And we certainly believe and we teach our children who attend our schools about the sacrament of marriage. That’s as old as our church. Not only do we teach that to the children kindergarten through 12th grade, but we’re held to that standard as well.”

As far as I can tell, the teacher involved did not violate Church teaching on marriage. She violated Church teaching on sex outside of marriage.  I think poor Mr Haggarty was attempting to defend the wrong Church teaching, but then most teachers fired from Catholic schools lately, have been violating Church teaching on marriage because they happen to be gay teachers getting married.  Maybe Mr Haggarty just got a confused, or maybe he was attempting something else.  That would be using an unmarried pregnant woman to help some of his fellow Catholic school administrators on the hot stove for firing gay married teachers.  Now they can all say 'See, we fire other teachers for violating Catholic teaching on marriage.  We aren't discriminating in any way at all.'  Except of course they are, and they will be until some straight man is fired for masturbating, adultery, divorce, using pornography, getting his girl friend pregnant, carrying condoms in his wallet, or some other violation of Catholic sexual morality.

The third thing I found interesting is the defense the teacher's attorney, Brian Butler, will use to get her reinstated.  It worked in Cincinnati in the case where an unwed teacher who opted to get pregnant via AI was fired.  This defense operates on the legal premise that no school or school contract can force a women to give up her constitutional right to have a child.  The Cincinnati case had some other interesting facts that didn't factor into the actual legal case.  The teacher was not Catholic and was also a partnered, but non married, lesbian.  The salient point however,  was that any contract which stipulates a person give up their constitutional rights, is not a legally binding contract in the USA or any of it's States.  The Archdiocese of Cincinnati was ordered to pay their fired teacher $170,000.  I suspect a similar outcome in Montana.

There are also some things about this situation that I find just plain angering.  One of those was the Church double speak about how wonderful it was that this teacher did not abort and opted to choose life--in spite of the fact it would cost her her job--but still, we have to kick her to the curb, throw her out, and say sayonara sinner.  For me this totally proves 'pro life' is a secondary moral good to punishing sexual sins.  Actually, I've known that for decades as it goes a long with that 'pro life' concept that it's better to have your child die of AIDS than use a condom.

Another angrifying issue is the sheer blindness of some of the editorializing on this situation.  Deacon Greg Kandra waxes eloquently about how this situation should have been handled--in a media sense--without ever questioning whether it needed to be a media issue at all.  The problems the Church faces have been seriously exacerbated by limiting the discussion to media presentations instead of looking at the core problems.  No matter how much spinning one spins, firing a pregnant teacher in mid term can not be spun in the Church's favor.  It is not pro life.  It is not charitable.  It's operating like a field hospital whose sole treatment is amputation.  It is unconstitutional.  It is not about defending the sanctity of marriage, or of sexuality, or of life.  It is about defending the hypocrisy of the Church.  I've had enough of that.


Fr Lombardi Defends Holy Father Church From The Clueless UN

Fr Lombardi condescends to rebut the UN Report on the Rights of the Child.  Apparently the adults of the UN don't have the brains to understand the machinations of the Holy See well enough to do such a thing.

I'm almost impressed.  Someone was working overtime in the Vatican--Greg Burke's Office perhaps--to read all the commenting on the UN Report and make up a talking points list for the Vatican's rapidly aging official spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi.  He issued his communique with it's list of rebuttals this morning in Rome.  More than a few of those talking points were intended to reestablish the proper order of things vis a vis Roman Catholicism and a puny UN Committee that is basically insignificant.

Here's the proper understanding of the place of this committee in the greater global sphere of influence:

"The recommendations made ​​by the Committee are often quite sparse and of relative weight. It is not by chance, that there is rarely heard a worldwide echo of the recommendations in the international press, even in the case of countries where problems of human rights and [problems regarding] children are known to be grave.

Once Fr Lombardi has made the point this is an obscure committee, he then tells us the Vatican gave 'ample' written evidence to the committee and submitted to a whole day of questioning, (well two Fathers did) essentially implying the Vatican was doing this obscure UN Committee a favor.  And then after all of this the Committee releases it's report, which apparently was supposed to pat the Vatican on the back for being the most important global force in children's rights because Lombardi then writes this:

What is there to observe in this regard? 

First, the Holy See 's adherence to the Convention was motivated by a historical commitment of the universal Church and the Holy See for the sake of the children. Anyone who does not realize what this [commitment] represents for the sake of the children in the world today, is simply unfamiliar with this dimension of reality. The Holy See, therefore, as the Holy See’s Secretary of State, Archbishop Pietro Parolin has said, continues its efforts to implement the Convention and to maintain an open, constructive and engaged dialogue with the organs contained therein. [The Holy See] will take its further positions and will give account of them, and so on, without trying to escape from a genuine dialogue, from the established procedures, with openness to justified criticism – but the Holy See will do so with courage and determination , without timidity.
It is precisely that historical commitment that the UN was questioning by bringing up specifics such as the Magdalene Laundries, abuse in boarding schools and orphanages, baby selling schemes in Ireland and Spain, referring to and ostracizing children of single mothers as 'bastards', doing absolutely nothing about it's stated doctrine concerning discrimination against gays, expecting very young girls to carry pregnancies to term, official teachings based in notions of 'complimentary' which do no more than set in new double speak the dignity of girls and women as subordinate to their reproductive capabilities,  refusing to teach or even consider condoms or other birth control for adolescents in developing countries---not even for HIV/AIDS prevention, and then of course, the issue that strikes at the heart of Holy Father Church's spiritual soul, the global clerical sexual abuse scandal.
The Holy See can 'dialogue' with courage and determination and without timidity of that I have no doubt.  The real question is will it dialogue with transparency, without obstinancy and obfuscation, and with a desire to learn something from how the rest of the world views the actions of the Roman Catholic Church.  Based on HISTORY, I doubt it.
Lombardi's very first point of contention is that the Committee doesn't get the unique structure of the Holy See.  Of course, of course:
"In particular, the [Observations’] lack of understanding of the specific nature of the Holy See seem serious. It is true that the Holy See is a reality different from other countries, and that this makes it less easy to understand the Holy See’s role and responsibilities . [These particularities], however, have been explained in detail many times in the Holy See’s twenty years and more of adherence to the Convention, and [specifically addressed] in recent written responses. [Are we dealing with] an inability to understand, or an unwillingness to understand? In either case, one is entitled to amazement.
Perhaps the poor Vatican is just dealing with a bunch of stupid women and hack third world academics, huh Father?  But unlike Lombardi, the committee most certainly spelled out how they saw the specific nature of the Holy See.  That's something Lombardi doesn't deign to do here, but then I suspect the idea of Lombardi's rant is not to correct misconceptions, but to belittle and demean the committee.  After all it would be hard for him to admit the scope of the Holy See's responsibilities morphs depending on what court room or official investigation they are dragged into.
Lombardi then goes on to list most of the other talking points used by Austen Ivereigh et al,  and ends with a big fat Holy Father whine fest"
The way in which the objections [contained in the Concluding Observations] were presented, as well as the insistence on diverse particular cases, seem to suggest that a much greater attention was given to certain NGOs, the prejudices of which against the Catholic Church and the Holy See are well known, rather than to the positions of the Holy See itself, which were also available in a detailed dialogue with the Committee.  (OOH how novel, the always useful anti-Catholic card. Except, those NGO's like SNAP and it's victim/survivors have a right not to see the Catholic Church as Holy Mother and to question it's commitment to Christian principles. They are not anti Catholic, they are anti Catholic hierarchy, and they are not alone.)

A lack of desire to recognize all the Holy See and the Church have done in recent years, [especially as regards] recognizing errors, renewing the regulations, and developing educational and preventive measures, is in fact typical of such organizations. Few, other organizations or institutions, if any, have done as much. This, however, is definitely not what one understands by reading the document in question. (Now we have the 'no one has done more than us' card.  Except, Lombardi is leaving out a ton of somewhat recent history and the very important fact, the Holy See would have done absolutely nothing if it hadn't been forced to by secular institutions.  It has never led.  It was always dragged kicking and screaming.)

Finally, and this is perhaps the most serious observation: the Committee’s comments in several directions seem to go beyond its powers and to interfere in the very moral and doctrinal positions of the Catholic Church, giving indications involving moral evaluations of contraception, or abortion, or education in families, or the vision of human sexuality, in light of [the Committee’s] own ideological vision of sexuality itself. For this reason, in the official communique released Wednesday morning there was talk of “an attempt to interfere in the teaching of the Catholic Church on the dignity of the human person and in the exercise of religious freedom.”  (The committee asked that the Church consider the real life consequences of certain teachings regarding gender and sex and live up to it's stated belief in the dignity of the gay person. That's it.  That this is being spun as the UN trying to interfere with Church teaching is at best projection,  at worst deception.  There are real life consequences from the absolutism of certain teachings.)

Finally, one cannot but observe that the tone, development, and the publicity given by the Committee in its document are absolutely anomalous when compared to its normal progress in relations with other States that are party to the Convention. (That's only because the Holy See is such a special and unique State.)

In sum: if the Holy See was certainly the subject of an initiative and a media attention in our view unfairly harmful, one needs to recognize that, in turn, the Committee has itself attracted much serious and well-founded criticism. Without desiring to place [responsibility for] what has transpired “[on] the United Nations”, it must be said that the UN carries the brunt of the negative consequences in public opinion, for the actions of a Committee that calls itself [by the UN name].  (Oh, my god. puhlease.  This paragraph is totally embarrassing, or it should be,  but I forget I'm dealing the Holy Father Church.  So of course the UN has more mud splattered on it that does the Vatican--at least in the minds of the boys at the Vatican.)
There is so much more I could write about this, but it would degenerate into a complete line of snark.  No question the boys are circling the wagons.  I just find it really instructive that Jesus didn't whine at all about being whipped and Crucified, but the boys in the Vatican who have earned their whipping and Crucifixion can't stop whining, can't stop making themselves victims, can't begin to own up to the fact there are serious serious issues within the priesthood and with some Catholic teachings.  It's incomprehensible to me they expect adults to follow their spiritual leadership.  Finally,  I don't understand how it's possible to respect the rights of children when your knee reaction to criticism from adults is to demean and belittle them as if they were children.  Just sayin'. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Seriously Flawed Spinning Regarding The UN Report To The Holy See On The Rights Of The Child

Kirsten Sandberg, Chairmen of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child talks with Maria Herczog and Benyam Mezmur during the press conference releasing the draft of the UN response to the Holy See.  Finally the men in the Vatican have to answer to some women.  

I just finished reading the UN's Report to the Holy See on The Rights Of The Child.  I read the full report from the perspective of defending the rights of children in all situations, not just clerical abuse.  I came away with a much different take than commenters like Austen Ivereigh, Mark Silk, or Micheal Sean Winters.  I did not approach my reading of the report as if it I had to instantly defend Holy Father Church from another secular attack.  In actuality, I was most edified to see that the report did in fact, deal with rampant gender discrimination in which girl's lives are not so valued as boys lives---at least not beyond the fact girls grow up to become mother's of boys.  I have found it really really fascinating that the men of the Catholic world of commentary have somehow missed all the paragraphs in the report that deal with this issue in favor of taking a few other paragraphs out of context.  On the other hand, it didn't surprise me because I was reveling in the fact that the men of Vatican were answering to the women of the UN and pretty much figured Holy Father's men would be out in full force.

My first really strong disagreement is that many of these commenters, including the Vatican's Archbishop Tomassi,  imply the UN has somehow failed to comprehend how the Church effectively operates and how limited the Pope actually is in terms of responsibility for Church organizations.  If that's true, then why does Section 3 of the Report go into detail as to how the UN Commission saw these very issues:

The Committee is aware of the dual nature of the Holy See’s ratification of the Convention as the Government of the Vatican City State, and also as a sovereign subject of international law having an original, non-derived legal personality independent of any territorial authority or jurisdiction.
While being fully conscious that bishops and major superiors of religious institutes do not act as representatives or delegates of the Roman Pontiff, the Committee nevertheless notes that subordinates in Catholic religious orders are bound by obedience to the Pope in accordance with Canons 331 and 590.  The Committee therefore reminds the Holy See that by ratifying the Convention, it has committed itself to
implementing the Convention not only on the territory of the Vatican City State but also as the supreme power of the Catholic Church through individuals and institutions placed under it's authority

The Vatican City States, the bishops, and religious institutes that answer directly to the Pope seems to pretty much define the scope of responsibility this Report attributes to the Pope through the Holy See.  This is not individual diocesan priests or individual nuns or the homeless shelter in the train station in Rome.  This is not to say that there aren't paragraphs which babble beyond this scope, but if one takes into consideration institutions which answer directly to the Pope such as Cor Unum, which oversees Caritas Internationalis and works side by side with the UN, it's a little easier to understand how at times the Report appears to be demanding tasks the Vatican itself would not be capable of doing unless one gets beyond the confines of the Vatican and includes bodies like Caritas Internationalis which might have the ability to do so.

The other objection I have to too much of the male editorializing, is this report does not deal exclusively with clerical sexual abuse, but you would never know that from the commentary.  MSW goes so far as to imply the Report blames the abuse crisis on homosexuality which is either a complete misreading of the report, or an intentional effort to reduce it's credibility in the eyes of people who will never read the report.  What the Report does ask in it's section on discrimination is that the Church work to end discrimination against gay and lesbian children and actively work to decriminalize homosexuality.  It is not asking for a change in Church doctrine, but for the Church to ACT on it's teaching about not discriminating against gays as people, something that is certainly not happening in the African Church and not being remarked on from St Peter's.

The sections that I really appreciated were the ones dealing with women and girls.  I didn't come away with the idea that the Report was seriously asking for changes in Doctrine.  What I did come away with was a notion that the Report was asking the Holy See to deal with the real life, on the ground, consequences of it's teachings.  Consequences such as the 'never under any circumstances abortion' doctrine that condemns very young girls to pregnancies that can kill them. Pregnancies which in almost all circumstances result from rape or incest. As an illustration, the Report brought up the incident in Recife, Brazil where a nine year old was raped by her step father, aborted twins, and her mother, the doctors, and other direct care givers were excommunicated by the Church. The step father was not.  As crazy as it seems, that the Church would not excommunicate the step father, that is the truth of the justice in Canon Law. A man will not be excommunicated for a sexual act capable of creating life, even if that act is rape, even if the resultant pregnancy from the rape kills a nine year old child.  Justice for these acts can only be found in the secular criminal system, not in Catholic doctrine or Canon Law. 

 Unfortunately, it is precisely this same Catholic Doctrine and Canon Law which hamstrings the Church from assisting in creating secular laws which will deal with the real on the ground consequences of Church Doctrine--especially as those doctrines and laws effect the Church itself.  This leads to things like the US bishops fighting tooth and nail against any initiative to extend the Statutes of Limitations in child sexual abuse.  So much for defending the rights of children.

When I finished reading this report I came away with one very strong observation.  It was about time a major secular body called the Church to account for the consequences of it's teachings and actions on powerless children. For all of Pope Francis' soaring eloquence about the importance of children and how precious life is, the Church he leads is both hugely hypocritical and strangely indifferent when it comes to the consequences children endure because of Catholic teachings--especially those little girl children who can never ever become leaders in one of the most gender discriminating institutions on the planet.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Diocese Of Helena Files Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

The Cathedral of Saint Helena is one of my favorite places in town.  The stained glass is awesome.

The Diocese of Helena is my home diocese.  It's a small diocese in which someone always knows someone who knows the bishop personally.  I can say I graduated from the same college Bishop Thomas did and I played softball with his sister---which in the normal way around here makes me highly connected. Although she was a very good first basemen, the truth is, while I met others in her family, I never met Bishop George Thomas and don't know him at all. This is in spite of the fact he was a senior when his sister and I were sophomores.  I do however, know the chancellor of the diocese from back in those same college years.  He probably wishes I didn't remember him quite so well.  In any event,  I give this information as a sort of disclosure.  I may not be the most objective reporter on this bankruptcy--but on the other hand, I am also very familiar with the abuses that went on in the Native American boarding schools.  I have met quite a number of those victims while participating in Native ceremonies across the State---and also as clients in therapeutic settings.

This LA Times article gives a pretty good overview of the numbers. The Helena situation is not exactly the typical case of a diocese avoiding transparency or payouts by declaring bankruptcy--like Listecki in Milwaukee.  In the Helena case most of the names came out in the settlement with the Northwest Jesuit Province, and the respective victims attorneys have listed others.  It's also not exactly about reams of diocesan priests being hidden and transferred from one parish to another.  In this particular settlement about 12% or just under 40 of the 362 victims, accused diocesan priests;  a little over 20% accused one or another Ursuline nun, and the rest were victims of the Jesuits who ran the Native mission schools and parishes.

Under Montana law, those victims who were compensated in the 166 million dollar Jesuit settlement, which included about 2/3rds of the plaintiffs in the Helena settlement, will receive money from the Helena settlement if their individual amount exceeds what they received in the Jesuit settlement.This helps explain why the mediated settlement was 15 million rather than a higher sum.  However, the operative word in that last sentence is 'mediated'.  This was not a confrontational process from the beginning.  The National Catholic Reporter ran a story about this mediation process.  It is worth reading.

The hang up in the mediation was not on the part of the Diocese or Bishop Thomas.  It was on the part of the Ursulines who eventually opted out of the mediated settlement, and various insurance companies who kept going to court to lessen their liability.  The Ursuline court case will be one of the very few that have involved religious orders of nuns in the US.  That in itself is interesting in that the Ursulines were far from the only order that ran boarding schools or orphanages.  The Ursulines may have felt that they were better off distancing themselves from the Helena Diocese settlement because they wanted to play the nun sympathy card and would rather take their chances with a jury.  Good luck, I'm sure the media spotlight will be very bright once their case comes to trial this summer.  I also have to admit I am glad they chose to go to trial because for once, Americans may actually get a glimpse of the day to day life in the Native American boarding schools.  For those whites of Anglo or European descent who grew up in fear of ruler wielding nuns, the truth of the Boarding Schools should give them some perspective. Where as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have issued government apologies for the misery their boarding schools inflicted on their Indigenous populations, the US has not uttered a peep.  If the Ursuline trial sheds some light on this very dark corner of US policy, some good may actually come from a truly horrible situation.

The Diocese of Helena is a very small potato in the Church garden.  Demographically Catholics are about 45,000 people in a Diocese covering half the State of Montana. If Montana follows the national trend, only about 1/3 of those 45,000 are practicing Catholics.  Given those numbers and the lack of real capital assets, I am not surprised the Diocese wound up in bankruptcy.  Scuttlebutt says the Diocese was heading towards bankruptcy before the law suits were filed, and that's scuttlebutt I can believe.  One need only drive through Butte, which was the heart of Catholicism in this area, and count the closed parishes. It's a micro picture of the macro Church in the Anglo and European worlds.  It may not be exactly what Pope Francis means by his 'poor church for the poor' concept, but it is a poor and shrinking church.

In closing, I believe Bishop Thomas is genuine about his apologies and his desire to see as much justice as can be done for victims.  I don't know anyone who hasn't been devastated when meeting victims face to face and really hearing what their lives were like in the Mission schools.  The guilt and shame become personal if only because one is a white Christian.  No one deserved the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse these kids went through and I truly believe Bishop Thomas cares.  Another bishop might have fought tooth and nail since most of the plaintiffs listed religious order abusers as opposed to diocesan priests, but the truth is, it was the system and the culture itself that carries the blame and Bishop Thomas is one of the few bishop who acts as if he gets it.