Friday, March 28, 2014

PO Meets With PF

According to some really right wing outlets, these two are smiling over their plan to turn the entire globe into one big Marxist colony through wealth redistribution.  Notice the red book?

President Obama met with Pope Francis yesterday at the Vatican.  The Vatican still stands.  The Earth still orbits the sun.  The political scene has not dramatically changed.  Most everything is exactly as it was before these two men exchanged gifts and shook hands....including the spin on what really happened.  If you get your information from media outlets that tend to the right, PF dressed down PO over ACA, birth control and abortion, gay marriage,  and trampling on the religious freedom of the USCCB and Hobby Lobby to control the sex lives of American women.  If you get your information from the other side of the media equation, the culture war issues were an after thought compared to Syria, Lebanon, the Sudan, Palestine, other global hot spots, pervasive income inequality, and the human trafficking and slave trade.  

When I look at the issues that Pope Francis has stressed since his election just over one year ago, it's hard for me to believe he would concentrate on the ability of American corporations to exercise their supposed religious rights, when it is US based international corporations who are the prime movers in global income inequality.  It's hard to believe PF would concentrate on gay marriage laws in the US when conversing with the man who is in charge of the world's biggest military industrial complex.  I have a feeling that's why the one gift Pope Francis gave to President Obama that is not mentioned by the US press is a medallion of the Angel of Peace. There's a message here that the parochial culture war concerns of the USCCB are not the primary concerns of global leaders--religious or secular.  I suspect this is a message the Cardinal Burke's of the USCCB are not going to hear.

The real business was most likely exchanged between Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin and the less mentioned members of President Obama's team, Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice.  I would imagine the religious freedom measures discussed here had less to do with Hobby Lobby and more to do with Iraq, Syria, and other nations in which the numbers of Christians who are experiencing martyrdom is a real religious liberty issue unlike the politically contrived issues in the US.  I have no doubt the US issues were brought up if only because US conservatives represent a large chunk of Vatican donations.  US bishops, unlike their Northern European counterparts who enjoy tax subsidies, are beholden to their major financial donors and those tend to be affiliated with the one percent, meaning the USCCB's agenda too often appears for sale to the highest bidder.  Pope Francis certainly has larger global concerns and recognizes that President Obama does as well. No matter how right wing news outlets wants to spin things, US politics took a back seat to these larger global concerns, and that is as it should be.

While I certainly think yesterday was about more than a photo op, I do not think it was earth shaking either.  It may be that the president and the pope exchanged phone numbers as well as gifts and that isn't a bad thing.  Pope Francis has experience in global areas that President Obama does not, and vice versa.  An open information exchange between these two men is a good thing.  It's a much better thing in fact, the locking horns over birth control and gay marriage.  It sets a needed example of dialogue over confrontation and that's something both men have said they firmly believe in.  PO, in his remarks afterward mentioned one thing that I have written repeatedly.  The issue of wealth distribution is becoming a serious national security threat. Pope Francis would certainly agree with this given his experience in Argentina.  For this alone I am glad the two met.  It is here that these two men have much to share....even if some folks think that sharing will lead to global Marxism.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Arc Of Justice Has Curved Through Michigan

So did every kid wish their parent's marriage was a little more gay and they took advantage of the 'complimentary' roles by playing one parent off against the other.

Federal Judge Bernard Friedman issued a ruling which struck down Michigan's constitutional ban on gay marriage.  Unlike other Federal judges, Friedman made his decision after allowing for a jury trial.  I followed the day to day doings and often found myself laughing or just stunned with the testimony on behalf of the State.  The testimony of Mark Regnerus was especially humorous, but the take down of his position by other witnesses was even better.  I'll have more on that later, but first the following is the full editorial from this morning's Detroit Free Press.  It's well worth reading.

Editorial: A victory for marriage and children of Michigan

By The Detroit Free Press Editorial Board - 3/21/2014  
Marriage had always commanded the law’s reverence and protection. Now, in a ruling that breathes new vitality into that venerable institution, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman has struck down the discriminatory Michigan law that excluded thousands of same-sex couples and their families from the advantages of wedlock.Friedman’s carefully reasoned decision is a victory not just for plaintiffs April DeBoer, Jayne Rowse and their three adopted children, but for thousands of other Michigan children, including those currently languishing in foster care. Experts called by the plaintiffs testified that same-sex couples are disproportionately likely to adopt such hard-to-place children, and Friday’s ruling will make it easier for them to do so. (Pope John Paul I argued for gay adoption in Italy back in the mid 60's precisely for this reason.)

The ruling is also a humiliating defeat for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who squandered hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars to mount a pathetic legal defense that demeaned his office and disserved his constituents. He would be well advised not to compound his bad judgment by appealing Friedman’s decision. (Pathetic is actually a generous description of a defense that even included the 'expert' testimony that gays are going to hell.)

This newspaper opposed the state constitutional amendment that barred legal recognition of same-sex marriages before voters enacted it in 2004, and we have remained skeptical of the suggestion that it promotes any legitimate public interest. Judge Friedman’s carefully reasoned opinion makes it clear that our skepticism was well-founded.

Friedman’s ruling makes short work of the state’s specious arguments that the same-sex ban was calculated to “promote responsible procreation” or assure that Michigan children are raised in an “ideal family structure” headed “by two biological parents.” The judge noted that Michigan has never withheld legal recognition from opposite-sex couples who were unable or unwilling to conceive, and said, “The overwhelming weight of the scientific evidence” contradicted the state’s assertion that children raised by heterosexual couples fared better than those raised by same-sex couples.”
The real threat to such children was a discriminatory marriage ban that “undermines the very aim ... of civil marriage, namely, family stability.”

Friedman did not even address the state’s contention that allowing same-sex couples to marry would “dilute the public socialization of young people into a marriage culture” or “send a message to women that they have no significant place in family life.” (Yes, the State did argue that gay marriage would send the message that women have no significant place in family life.  This in a trial about the adoptive rights of two lesbians no less.)

Ironically, DeBoer and Rowse never set out to challenge Michigan’s dubious grounds for prohibiting their marriage; they sought merely to secure their family’s future by cross adopting the special-needs children they have been raising together for years.

But Michigan law permits only married couples or single people to adopt, a policy to which Friedman recognized no obvious constitutional objection. The real obstacle to the joint adoptions that DeBoer and her partner sought, he reasoned, was the same-sex marriage ban that barred them from obtaining the credentials required of adoptive parents.

At the judge’s suggestion, the plaintiffs amended their lawsuit, transforming their challenge of Michigan’s adoption law into a frontal assault on the Michigan Marriage Act (MMA) that voters adopted in 2004.
The state’s argument that the MMA was a designed to further the best interest of Michigan’s children was a loser from the get-go. Even the attorney general had to concede that DeBoer and Rowse’s children had flourished under the couple’s care. A series of experts called by the plaintiffs testified that a deluge of research established that children raised by same-sex couples fared just as well across a broad series of metrics as those of similarly situated opposite-sex parents. Friedman said he found their testimony “highly credible” and “entitled to great weight.”

Whatever personal objections he may have to same-sex marriage, Schuette should have recognized that the constitutionality of Michigan’s 2004 ban was on shaky ground after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year. The Windsor ruling prompted attorneys general in many states to abandon their defense of bans like Michigan’s, and Schuette might have saved a lot of time and taxpayer dollars by following their lead.

Instead, Michigan’s messianic attorney general pressed on. Schuette insisted that he was only defending the democratic prerogative of Michigan voters. But that was a political slogan, not a legal argument, and Schuette’s courtroom defense of the same-sex ban was paltry grab-bag of junk science and religious chauvinism.

The first of the so-called experts that the state summoned to defend the marriage ban was disqualified outright; the second was publicly censured by his academic peers, and the third memorably ended his testimony by opining that unrepentant gays and lesbians were doomed to burn in hell.

In his ruling, Friedman dismissed the state’s experts as “unbelievable” representatives of “a fringe viewpoint that is rejected by their colleagues across a variety of social science fields.”

The attorney general has yet to disclose the tab for this parade of incompetents, but it represents only a portion of what taxpayers will ultimately for his Pyrrhic legal crusade; inevitably the state will be ordered to pay a substantial share of the victorious plaintiffs’ costs, too.

Schuette’s ideological proclivities dictate that he will appeal Friday’s ruling to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. But the U.S. Supreme Court will have the final word, and the extensive record created in the DeBoer case has provided new evidence that bans such as Michigan’s cannot be squared with constitutional principles of equal protection and due process. (This is precisely why Judge Friedman insisted on a trial, to get the point across that gay marriage bans are not grounded in legal reasoning, but in emotional and religious arguments.)

We have no doubt that, before the current decade is out, most Michiganders will regard their state’s legacy of discrimination against same-sex couples as an indefensible lapse of decency. Gay or straight, they can be grateful for a federal judiciary that stands ready to defend the dignity and liberty to which every citizen is entitled.


I'm not going to rehash all the testimony in this trial.  Judge Friedman pretty much stated the only conclusion a rational person could draw about the State's experts:  "unbelievable" representatives of a fringe viewpoint that is rejected by their colleagues across a variety of social science fields".  Mark Regnerus irritates me personally because he has utterly compromised the whole notion of objective scientific study.  It galls me that he is getting paid as an expert witness in these kinds of cases through the use of tax payer money.  It also galls me that he took 700,000 from the Witherspoon foundation, a right wing religious think tank, and then lied about this at the same time he is caught asking the Heritage Foundation what they 'expect' from his study.  This is sadly reminiscent of the kind of research bought and paid for by the tobacco companies.  It is nothing less than scientific prostitution.  Unfortunately, Regnerus being the conservative Catholic he is, is also one of those conservatives who doesn't truly believe rules of engagement apply to him personally when he is on a crusade.  The end justifies the means.   Unfortunately for Regnerus and his other fellow 'experts',  in this case their means most certainly justified this end. 

Michigan's Tea Party Attorney General has asked for a stay on this ruling, which he will undoubtedly get based on the similar Utah decision which was stayed by the Supreme Court itself.  I agree wholeheartedly that gay marriage needs to go to the Supreme Court and be decided once and for all.  It's not equal justice for a gay couple,  if in having to move from one State to another,  their marriages or adoptions are nullified by having to do so. There is also the additional fact that many special needs kids are in foster care that could be in stable families if gays could adopt.  The idea that keeping these kids from being adopted by gay couples who would provide for them is somehow protecting these kids from a less than optimum environment can only be seriously believed by people who are totally unfamiliar with the foster care system.  In the foster care system the 'parents' are paid for taking these children.  In most cases foster care parents do a wonderful job in difficult circumstances, but in others, these children are commodities and pay the price for that status.

Of course the Catholic bishops of Michigan have issued their objections to this ruling in their usually galling form which always includes 'persons with same-sex attraction should not be judged, but rather accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity'.  They never add, 'and given second class status as citizens'.  Here is part of their statement: 

“Today’s decision from federal district court Judge Bernard Friedman to redefine the institution of marriage by declaring Michigan’s Marriage Amendment unconstitutional strikes at the very essence of family, community and human nature. In effect, this decision advances a misunderstanding of marriage, and mistakenly proposes that marriage is an emotional arrangement that can simply be redefined to accommodate the dictates of culture and the wants of adults. Judge Friedman’s ruling that also finds unconstitutional the state’s adoption law is equally of grave concern.

“As this case will likely move forward through the courts, it is necessary to state clearly that persons with same-sex attraction should not be judged, but rather accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity......
......Going forward, we, the Catholic bishops of this state, working through the Michigan Catholic Conference, will collaborate with those who are upholding Michigan’s Marriage Amendment and adoption statute and will assist to the greatest extent possible efforts to appeal Judge Friedman’s most regrettable ruling.”

I feel sorry for Michigan's Catholics, not only will they get to see their tax dollars wasted going forward, they will also get to see their donations wasted in the same effort.  They get double dipped.  I certainly hope those married Michigan Catholics understand that their bishops think may of their marriages are about 'an emotional arrangement and their wants as adults'.  They should at least begin to wonder why their bishops don't object to heterosexual marriages that are childless by choice or infertile because of age issues.

In the meantime the Arc of Justice continues on it's path to the Supreme Court Building in Washington DC and the wind behind it is getting stronger.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Does Pope Francis Really Want His Message For Clergy To Roll Down Past The Vatican Hills?

Francis may have some logistical issues getting this sentiment outside the clerical culture of the to the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois for instance.

One of the things I've appreciated about Pope Francis is his insistence on conversion with in the ranks of the priesthood.  The whole 'taking on the smell' of the sheep concept.  The problem I have with this idea is I have no idea how he is going to see that this gets done in any kind of meaningful way outside of the Vatican walls.  A point made over and over again by a lot of Catholic commenters is that it's one thing for Francis to project such an image himself, getting lay Catholics all excited in the process, but it's an entirely different matter on the diocesan and parish level. Francis can open a hundred hearts to the Gospel message of Catholicism and the local Church can close 150.

The following article from the Washington Post by Melinda Henneberger is about one such diocese and one such parish.  St Mary's Catholic Church in Mount Carmel, Illinois is a singular example of how to close 150 hearts.

An Illinois parish shows why Pope Francis can’t fix the Catholic Church by himself

By Melinda Henneberger - Washington Post - 3/14/2014

Some members of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Mount Carmel, Ill., dare to hope that Pope Francis can save their parish after an awfully rough couple of years.

Their beloved longtime pastor was forced out by the bishop in the summer of 2012 for improvising prayers during Mass. Just when things were settling down, his successor announced that he had met someone and was leaving the priesthood to “explore a relationship” with her. For now, the bishop has appointed a newly ordained deacon to run the parish — except the deacon has been married four times, and not everyone at St. Mary’s, the parish where I grew up, is comfortable with that.
“We feel if we can get through to the pope, we’ll get it cleared up,” said Jim Pohl, an usher at St. Mary’s who also tends to the flowers and funeral dinners there. “He’s got a lot of problems everywhere in the world. But “we know he would help us if he knew.” (Given who the bishop is, it's not surprising they are appealing to Francis' pastoral sensibilities.)
For structural as much as practical reasons, the bishop of Rome is probably not going to involve himself in the workings of a parish in a town of 7,000 on a bluff overlooking the Wabash River. But the challenges facing St. Mary’s are the same issues Francis and his global flock of 1.2 billion are up against: the fights over liturgy, the isolation that can accompany priestly celibacy, the shortage of vocations to the priesthood in rich nations and, most of all, questions about divorce and remarriage.
That Catholics have such faith in Francis is a tribute to his ability to make people across the planet feel the warmth of the embrace he gave a disfigured man in St. Peter’s Square last November. But most of the challenges in Rome, Mount Carmel and everywhere in between play out locally, where the bishops are firmly in charge. They are the men with the greatest power to shape the day-to-day experience of Catholicism. And because more than half of the roughly 5,000 bishops in the world were chosen during John Paul II’s 26-year pontificate — including 143 of the 253 active bishops in the United States — it’s still very much John Paul’s church, led by men in his mold, and will be for years to come.  (It's also true that most of these bishops were raised as children in the Pre Vatican II church and ordained from seminaries that further refined their indoctrinated obedience to, and fear of, authority and authority figures.)
That’s certainly the case at St. Mary’s, a 150-year-old community of German farmers and townsfolk that’s come apart in the past 18 months. After Father Bill Rowe was ousted for straying from the approved Missal and his successor, Father Trevor Murry, got up at a Saturday evening Mass — and every Mass the next day — to announce he was leaving the priesthood after a dozen years, the bishop of Belleville, Edward Braxton, had to find someone to run the parish. His choice of Deacon Steve Lowe, who had openly derided Rowe as insufficiently orthodox despite his own multiple marriages, has struck some members as hypocritical.  (A google search of Bishop Braxton will quickly show one that his hypocrisy level has been called into question many many times.)
“How can I look up to [Lowe] when he’s been married three or four times?” asks the 78-year-old Pohl. “How can I go to church with him up there?” His voice cracks when he considers the alternative. “I’ve been a Catholic all my life.”
What seems to bother parishioners most is the apparent capriciousness of kicking one guy out for praising Jesus at the wrong moment, then installing as his replacement someone whose chief credential seems to be his loyalty to the bishop. In a parish of 450 families, attendance at weekend Masses has slipped from a couple hundred to mere dozens. Rod Paille, a lifelong parishioner who owns a vitamin shop just a couple of blocks from St. Mary’s, has stopped going to Mass but still attends a weekly Bible study that Father Bill has led for many years — but that he must now hold in the basement of the local Lutheran church. “So many people are leaving,” Paille says. “It’s a sad situation.” (It's a predictable situation too.)
And one Francis is unlikely to take on, either by firing the bishop or the deacon. Power in the Catholic Church is far more diffuse than generally understood; despite all the focus on Rome, most local decisions are made by local bishops, who are only rarely removed, whether for heresy, financial misconduct or on moral grounds. Even if Braxton, who oversees 116 parishes in Southern Illinois, is so unpopular that a majority of his priests signed a petition urging him to resign in 2008, the church is not a democracy.  (In short, this is the shoal on which the good ship Francis will run aground and sink.)
It simply isn’t organized to deal with modern personnel problems, either, says Tom Reese, a Jesuit priest and senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter. “Our structure was created to deal with princes and nobles,” he said, “and the only way you can get rid of princes and nobles is by poisoning them.” (And no, he doesn’t recommend it.)      (Shades of John Paul I)
“But,” he asks, “do we really want [Francis] acting like a CEO with the bishops as branch managers?” He wouldn’t have wanted such concentration of power under more-conservative popes, Reese said.  (No, but laity might like Francis to put more over site accountability on the hands of local laity.)
Francis is trying to address the problems felt so keenly in parish communities, where both the Gospel and the grievances are lived out, but change in the church comes slowly, largely through the pope’s example and through the appointments he’ll make over time. This October, church leaders will meet in Rome to discuss a range of family matters, including divorce. Recently, Francis preached with great compassion about failed marriages, even calling divorce a “misfortune” that should evoke caring rather than denunciation.  (Francis' two predecessors also used the concept of rolling one head to send a pointed message to 1000 others.)
When a marriage fails, we must “accompany those people who have had this failure in their love,’’ the pope said. “Do not condemn; walk with them.”
Deacon Lowe clearly does feel condemned for his multiple marriages, and he returns the sentiment: “They want to do nothing but piss and moan,’’ Lowe said of his new flock, adding that only about one in five parishioners, by his reckoning, are “stepping up instead of stepping away” at this time of crisis. Bringing up his marital history, he says, just shows how out of sync with Francis his critics are. (Hmmm, a certain Deacon also seems to have missed the 'Who am I to judge' message.
“Yes, I’ve been married four times, but only once in the church,’’ meaning that the first three marriages were not considered sacramental unions. Lowe, who worked in a tool factory that closed down more than a decade ago and now has a car-detailing business, has been married to one woman for the past 20 years; she was married to another St. Mary’s parishioner when they met but later obtained an annulment. (Right or wrong, there’s a widespread impression among Catholics that annulments, which are granted on the diocesan level, depend more on favoritism than facts.)
“I am trying my damndest” to hold St. Mary’s together, Lowe said, despite his suspicion that “there’s a certain percentage of people looking for an excuse not to go to Mass.”
On the contrary, what’s so poignant to me is how much his unhappy flock does yearn to be in those pews. “My great-grandfather and grandmother and aunt have their names on the windows’’ of St. Mary’s, built in 1900, says another lifelong parishioner, Clare Kidd. “It’s our church.”
That is true, of course, whether or not our family names are etched in stained glass. It is our church. And in the end it will be up to us, and not just Pope Francis, to fix it.


I just don't see how laity are going to fix this problem short of doing exactly what the parishioners of St Mary's have done, and that's walk out the door.  Nothing they do will move Deacon Lowe, much less Bishop Braxton. Both these men believe they have God's annointed authority and those sheep who won't follow their authority are self centered slackers, non believers,  even anti Catholics.  There is no middle ground here and consequently no pastoral solution short of Pope Francis rolling Braxton's head, and if that happened it wouldn't be because Braxton made a mess of St Mary's it would be because Braxton has a clergy revolt simmering in the Belleville Diocese.
I think the more likely scenario for a solution will come when Francis announces his choice to replace Chicago's Cardinal George, who as Braxton's superior,  has always had his back.  The Chicago appointment is perhaps the biggest message Francis will be able to send US Catholics about how serious he is about pastoral leadership. 
I have a sick feeling that this appointment will not be in the Bernardin mode, but more in the Wuerl mode---a moderate political type who won't upset the 1% and threaten their cash flow into US church coffers.  I hate to write that, but I can't help but notice how different Francis is with Northern European bishops whose flocks are taxed to support the Church.  In this case Francis is supporting these bishop conferences, especially on the divorce issue.  I expect that's because the agenda is not to antagonize the dollar base any further than it already is and a more pastoral approach with the laity will hopefully stem the tide of those who have renounced their Catholic tax status.  The US is a different story where all such cash flow is voluntary and one multi millionaire is worth 50 St Mary's parishes.  Francis has already started back tracking on some of his more pointed digs at unregulated capitalism, at least to the extent he hasn't bothered to correct some of the spin coming from Cardinal Dolan.  Additionally, Francis has most certainly given the green light to continue the USCCB 'religious freedom' charade, whose consequences are far more important to certain wealthy Catholics than it is to the vast majority of parishioners in places like St Mary's.
I hope I'm wrong about my speculation.  I'd like to believe the "In God We Trust" that Francis preaches is not ultimately about a certain kind of paper those four words happen to be printed on.  I'll have a better idea when he announces his choice for Chicago.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Pope Francis' First Year Shines Light On Some Serious Catholic Issues

One year ago today Pope Francis took the walk of a life time down the Sistine road and without a Toto.

Of all the first year reviews of Pope Francis, the one that resonated most strongly with my own thinking is that of Paul Vallely in the UK Guardian.  Like Vallely, I think Pope Francis is an enigma.  While I give him huge marks for changing the tenor of the papacy from Imperial Roman Pope to populist Bishop of Rome, for initiating reforms in the structure and financial practices of the Vatican, and for opening doors to real synodality and collegiality, there are other areas, mostly involving Church discipline and doctrine, in which Francis is like a chameleon...or the Vatican Press Office with all it's clarifications makes it seem as if Francis is a chameleon.  I've found it fascinating that Catholic conservatives and Catholic progressives appear to be using Francis like a Catholic Rorshach test of some sort.  One side maintains he's a revolution the other claims Francis is walking the exact same path as his two predecessors.  Francis does nothing to clarify the fog.  Vallely makes this point in the following observations:

There is a carefully cultivated ambiguity about the man who is the 266th successor to St Peter. And it is producing a war of words between conservatives and liberals, inside and outside the Catholic church, with each trying to claim the pontiff for their side in a religious culture war. The stakes are high. This is a pope who has attracted almost seven million visitors to papal events in the 12 months since he took office – triple the number who turned out to see Benedict XVI the year before.

A glance at his Wikipedia page reveals one side of the battleline. It has clearly been written primarily by religious conservatives. Its entries seek predominantly to accentuate the religious orthodoxy of the man who was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Throughout his papacy, it insists, Pope Francis has been a vocal opponent of abortion. He has asserted that he is a "son of the church" and, therefore, loyal to existing doctrine. He has maintained that divorced and remarried Catholics may not receive holy communion (a totemic issue in the traditionalist v progressive divide). The reason he does not sing Gregorian chant during mass is because he had part of one lung removed as a young man.

The casual reader would be advised to take all that as a large dose of spin. Francis's opposition to abortion has hardly been vocal; indeed, he has proclaimed that the church has hitherto "obsessed" too much about it. There is an artful inscrutability to what he means by "a son of the church"; it is a statement about the past, not the future. He has repeatedly hinted that he wants to end the policy of banning divorced and remarried Catholics from communion. He does not chant in Latin because he feels traditional styles of worship do not connect with ordinary people in the wider non-European world.

But what about the other side of the argument? Liberal Catholics, like the new pope's many enthusiasts in the secular world, look to the first non-European bishop of Rome for 1,200 years and see something altogether different. He is "a miracle of humility in an age of vanity", to quote Elton John. He has shown his readiness to break with tradition by washing the feet of women and Muslims. He has told atheists they can get to heaven so long as they "obey their conscience". Most onlookers are attracted by his demand for "a poor church, for the poor" and his letter scolding the rich and powerful at Davos for neglecting the "frail, weak and vulnerable".

The world was taken aback when the head of a church whose key document on the pastoral care of gay Christians is called Homosexualitatis Problema asked: "Who am I to judge?" Yet he has shown no such reticence in adjudging the shortcomings of the medieval monarchy that is the Vatican, describing its courtly Curia (officials) as the "leprosy of the papacy".

All of which, conservatives counter, is a wish-fulfilment Fantasy Francis. It mistakes style for substance and ignores the fact that the new pope's actual teaching demonstrates what the prominent US conservative George Weigel, a biographer and confidante of John Paul II, has called a "seamless continuity" with the German and Polish popes who preceded him. (Yes indeed, Francis the Catholic Rorschach test.)

In spite of all the spinning being done by both sides, Catholics have learned some things in this first year of Francis.  One thing I've learned is that there are at least four different Roman Catholic Churches.  There is the Latin American version, the Anglo/Euro version, the African version, and the Oriental version and some of these versions are very very different in their world view.  When I looked at the results of the Univision poll which tested the views of Catholics on sex and family issues in 12 different countries I was seriously shocked at how far apart Africa was from the rest of the global Church, especially the Anglo/Euro Church.  I shouldn't have been surprised because the Anglican Church has been dealing with that split for decades. Catholicism's first chance to hash this split out will come in October at the Bishops Synod on the family.  We'll find out if Francis is any better at dealing with this chasm than the Anglican Primate Rowan Williams because the Catholic results show this split is not the result of progressive Anglican theology, it's about different world views, most of them having to do with women and gender expectations.

This brings me to the second thing I've learned this past year.  Neither the Church nor Pope Francis has any idea of what to do with the problem of women in the Church.  At least Francis recognized it's a problem, but his notions about the Marian and Petrine Churches do not address the problem much less solve it.  I understand that Francis is taking his concepts from Von Balthasar who had a great deal of influence on JPII.  I suppose it's a nice concept if one wants to keep men in total control because it places the feminine as the heart of the Church with the masculine as the head of the Church...a nice complimentary situation which really appealed to JPII. Really,  what woman could possibly be offended by being given the role of Mary in the scheme of things?   Perhaps a woman who understands that in this particular scheme of things Mary is mythologized perfection and mere mortal women are neither perfect nor myths.  I've often wondered why women have to emulate perfection but men get to emulate Peter who isn't exactly anyone's concept of perfect, but I digress.  This idea of Von Balthasar's only flies if you accept the underlying assumption that women somehow embody empathy, relationship, and nurturing and men don't, won't or can't without sacrificing their masculinity on the altar of celibacy.  I don't happen to buy any of it, but then I also happen to believe the clerical priesthood is the root and branch of all the Church's current scandal.  Which brings me to the third thing I learned this year.

Pope Francis is a priest before he is anything else.  I've written that before.  His defense of the Church over clerical abuse must stem from how much of a victim he feels as a Catholic priest in today's climate. One wonders why he has empathy for every other form of human misery, but not victims of his own clerical class.  He better get over it because there is more to come. He can speak all he wants about the cancer of clericalism but that cancer doesn't go away because someone calls it cancer.  Cancers have to be cut out, not left in place to become the next miracle for the next saint from the Vatican saint factory.  Clerical abuse stands as the most salient indictment of the whole Catholic clerical system and how abusive it is to the laity, to fellow priests, and to Jesus Himself.  Francis can not let this one go.  If he lives long enough to call another Vatican synod it should be on the priesthood because family aside, if change doesn't come to the priesthood even the Church in Africa is going to lose it's Catholic identity due to lack of sacramental access.  Without meaningful change there is no doubt clerical sexual abuse will continue... and bishops will keep hiding it, especially in countries which do not have Anglo reporting requirements.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Metaphor Worth A Thousand Words

It is said that metaphors are really important in forming religious minds and hearts.  The above photo is a metaphor for innocence betrayed.  At first it's kind of funny, until you really look at the cat's face and eyes and then it isn't so funny.  It's about experiencing something that is so instinctively terrifying at the hands of someone you trust in a place you can't escape.  A certain pope I can think of might want to meditate on this photo.  He might get why so many abuse victims feel betrayed....again by the Church.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

For Francis It's All About Priests----Just Like Himself

The clerical caste under Francis is not about to let go of their grasp on the Holy Spirit.  Although in this case the dove got away.  There's a message there for Francis and his limited ideas of reform.

After reading NCR's article and  a translation of yesterday's interview with Pope Francis in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera I felt like a light had dawned on a dark area and some of my confusion cleared.  I was also sick to my stomach.  Pope Francis' take on the abuse crisis could have been written by Bill Donohue. Really, if I had not gotten so excited about Francis last spring, I should have seen this coming along time ago. None of the Cardinals on his group of 8 have stellar records when it comes to the victims of the abuse crisis and that includes Cardinal O'Malley.  Cardinals Maradiaga and Pell are on record for statements that clearly indicate their concern was far more about offending priests than it was victims.  Francis' record in Argentina also shows he put priesthood before victim.  I'll get back to that point, but first the following is from the Southern Italian newspaper Gazzeta del Sul and gives yet more insight into where Francis' allegiances really lie.

Pope says he 'shares pain' of wrongly accused priests

 06/03/2014 GazzetadelSudonline 

False claims of child prostitution ring hurt many, says Francis
Vatican City, March 6 - Pope Francis told a group of Rome priests Thursday that he "shared the pain" of priests suffering "unjust wounds" caused by allegations against some of them. "Lots of people have been injured, by material problems, by scandals, including in the Church," the pope said during a meeting with priests inside the Vatican. He was referring to an incident in March 2013 when former priest Patrizio Poggi was convicted and sent to prison for five years for pedophilia, and also denounced other priests, saying they were involved in a child prostitution ring. Police later said his claims were unfounded and Poggi was charged with aggravated slander. According to police, his accusations were driven by "resentment tied to personal reasons". The pope said the case hurt many in the Church. "I shared the pain of some of you, of the entire priesthood, for the accusations made against a group of you," Francis told the meeting. "I have talked to some of you who have been accused and saw the pain of these unjust wounds, (this) madness, and I want to say publicly that I am close to (you)," he said. Francis said he also apologized on behalf of the Church because the false accusations came from within its ranks His comments come following an interview published Wednesday, in which Pope Francis defended the Church's response to a long series of scandals about child sex abuse by clergymen.

There is no longer any question in my mind that Pope Francis, like his papal predecessors of the twentieth century is a Roman Catholic priest first, last, and always and that in his mind the priesthood is the Church.  For all his talk about service to the laity, he will never allow any changes to the priesthood he has completely identified with for his entire adult life.  I suspect his cardinal electors were relying on that identification as the brakes on meaningful reform with in Catholicism.  Given this mindset Francis is not about to identify with clerical abuse victims, as he is incapable of it, and will always put the priesthood above victims.  I now find his choice of papal name more than interesting since the original Francis purposely refused ordination.  I think there is a real message here.  Until he can somehow set his priesthood aside, he can not identify with the concerns of the laity.  This is true for amost all clergy, and is why I have very little hope the upcoming synod on the family will produce meaningful results for the laity.  The best that will happen is it will produce meaningful results for the clergy.  It might allow them a little more pastoral latitude on thorny issues.

It seems to me what Francis is trying to do is to have his cake and eat it too.  He wants just enough reform to keep the all male clerical priesthood untouched while engaging in some change.  We've seen movement on financial issues, at least in terms of getting the Vatican financial interests in compliance with EU requirements, but the over all supervision is still firmly in the hands of Cardinal priests. (And more and more Opus Dei.)  We have heard multiple statements on a wider role for women in the Church and multiple statements that this wider role will not include any form of ordination which only makes that wider role more widely subordinate to male clergy.  We have heard statements about acting on the abuse crisis and seen very very little action.  Check out this pathetic statement from Fr Lombardi, who is once again called into the breach to defend Francis.  Here's a taste:
"Regarding what has been described as the Pope’s “defensive” tone, Fr. Lombardi said that it was a recognition of the fact that while the Church has been committed to repairing past failures, it has “not been recognized objectively.”

The problem for Fr Lombardi and Pope Francis is the Church's efforts have been recognized objectively and they have been found seriously deficient. Not every Catholic lives reality wrapped in a clerical bubble.

The one trait that makes Fr Tom Doyle so different from his clerical bretheren is that he got out of his clerical bubble and put his priesthood on the back burner.  He became a human being first, and this allowed him to really see the clerical abuse crisis for what it was, how much had to change to effect meaningful change, and gave him the compassionate heart to recognize this crisis is not about priests. It is about the victims of priests.  The price for this spiritual maturation was sacrificing his priesthood.  The price for cleaning things up in the Church will be sacrificing our current theological justifications for the Trentan priesthood.  This pope, like Benedict, John Paul II, and Paul VI will not be able to climb on that particular cross.  For them the price is to high.  Instead, we Catholics will see them all canonized as martyrs to secularization.  Go us.