Thursday, December 20, 2007

Whoa there!

Pius XII's case for beatification just hit a speed bump, courtesy of his current successor, Pope B16. Pius has been accused of being overly friendly with the Nazi government, having negotiated a concordat with it before becoming pope, and Jewish groups especially have protested his possible beatification. Quite wisely, the current pope is gathering a committee to do further research, according to Reuters.

The Pius XII controversy, however, indicates one of the problems with the current beatification process: Beatification/canonization has become some kind of stamp of approval--for a religious founder, a pope, what have you--instead of a reflection of actual devotion. JPII and Mother Teresa probably have legitimate causes, but Pius XII? Where are the faithful with a devotion to him? But I think some are pushing his beatification as a way to clear his name, which could be a disaster if it is ever discovered that he failed in some spectacular way during a critical time in history.

No matter what, you have to have compassion for the guy that was pope during those terrible years. But making him a saint is probably not the best strategy to show it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Compass review heads south

Caving to Bill Donohue's Catholic League, CNS has pulled the generally positive review its film reviewer gave The Golden Compass.

First Brokeback Mountain, now this. Glad I’m not reviewing movies for the USCCB! In both cases CNS reviewer Harry Forbes provided a thoughtful evaluation, commenting both on artistic/cinematic value and moral content. In both cases "someone" intervened to get the review pulled. You can find the story at the Baltimore Sun. Archbishop Edward O'Brien of that city expressed relief that the review had been taken down because it caused "confusion."

The review is still available for the time being at Catholic Online.

Funny clip from the “morally problematic” elements of the film, with which USCCB reviews always end: "The film contains intense but bloodless fantasy violence, anti-clerical subtext, standard genre occult elements, a character born out of wedlock and a whiskey-guzzling bear."

Since when is a “character born out of wedlock” morally objectionable? Though the whiskey-guzzling bear is enough to prevent me from seeing the film. Polar bears are suffering enough! As for the anti-clerical subtext, well . . .


Monday, December 10, 2007

Where angels fear to tread

With an election year nearly upon us, most commentators on things Catholic are focusing on politics and Catholic interactions with it, from abortion, euthanasia, and gay marriage to health care and the war in Iraq. But there is an equally interesting debate going on right now, this one theological, about Catholicism and the significance of other world religions--and it can be just as bruising.

The latest casualty is Peter Phan, a Vietnamese American professor of theology at Georgetown, whose book Being Religious Interreligiously (Orbis) just got the doctrinal ding from the U.S. bishops' committee on doctrine. Outlined in a 15-page statement, the committee judged Phan's work deficient on three grounds: the uniqueness of Christ in the history of salvation, the place and purpose of other religions, and the uniqueness of the church as the "universal sacrament of salvation" for all people. Phan, a priest of Dallas, joins Jesuits Jacques Dupuis and Roger Haight on the list of Catholic theologians censured for being overly generous toward other religions.

What makes Phan's case interesting is that the US bishops are the ones dealing with it, rather than the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. (We are still waiting to see if the CDF will weigh in.) Also of interest is the role that the August 2000 (and recently reaffirmed) CDF document Dominus Iesus is playing. Though issued "only" by the CDF, it is being relied upon to fill in the blanks left by Vatican II, which was silent on many of these interreligious questions--whether God wills other religions, for example. (Vatican II at least answered in the affirmative for Judaism.) But Dominus Iesus is still a document of the Curia--it's not even technically a "papal" document, though it does have Pope John Paul II's signature on it. It's a "declaration" of the CDF and doesn't quite carry the gravitas of a Vatican II document.

Still, it looks like trying to tackle the reality of religious pluralism is a recipe for rebuke. Too bad, too, since it's more necessary than ever.

Friday, December 07, 2007

I can't believe we're still doing this...

CNS coverage of the plenary indulgence for Lourdes, in case you want the plenary for the 150th anniversary of Mary's appearance at Lourdes. It’s ever so Catholic:

1. Option 1: Visit Lourdes any time between Dec 8 2007 and Dec 8 2008 (Immaculate Conception); visit the following four places, preferable “in order”: The parish where St. Bernadette was baptized; the Soubirous family home; the Massabielle grotto; the chapel where St. Bernadette received her first Communion. (Be sure and get the order down; the indulgence may not stick if you do it backward.) At each location the faithful should end their meditation by praying the Lord's Prayer, the creed and the special jubilee prayer or a prayer to Mary.

2. Option 2: Visit any public sanctuary, shrine or other worthy place dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes to receive the indulgence Feb. 2 (Feast of the Presentation) to Feb 11 (first apparition). Include prayers. There should be some communal service involved.

3. Option 3: Do it at home between Feb 2 and Feb 11. (!!) Presumably this is only for the sick and elderly who can’t make the trip. But it’s a nice touch.

At least Martin Luther can rest easy that the indulgence is not being sold. If they’d done it this way then, St. Peter’s never would have been built!

But I still can’t believe that we’re still talking about “temporal punishment due to sin.” (Incidentally, you can apply the plenary to the poor souls in purgatory.) Purgatory’s a nice idea and all—we’re always trying to make sure everyone gets a zillion chances at heaven—but sometimes I think we get too specific. I’m into Catholic exotica, but this stuff (private revelation) is all totally OPTIONAL after all (Lourdes at least, if not purgatory too).

But I guess it can’t hurt to run up to Leland and Ashland here in Chicago and grab the plenary--that's where the local Our Lady of Lourdes Parish can be found. Bases covered and all.

Of course, if the BVM appears to me, I’m going to have a lot of explaining to do…


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

More on the new USCCB president

Jason Berry, a journalist who has produced a lot of the coverage of the sex abuse crisis in the church, wrote an op-ed in Sunday's LA Times that should raise eyebrows. It is disturbing that George gets credit for getting Rome to agree to the Dallas Charter but then in his own archdiocese doesn't seem to take sex abuse seriously. Berry also gives coverage to one of George's auxiliaries, Bishop Thomas Paprocki, a canon and civil lawyer, who argued at the "Red Mass" for lawyers and judges that the church was under attack. As covered by Berry: " 'The church is under attack," Paprocki declared, comparing the civil litigation to Henry VIII's seizure of "church property and kill[ing] those who did not accept his notion of the supremacy of the crown.' "

Labels: ,

Phew! We're not the only ones

Thus describes the relief expressed by some U.S. bishops that sex abuse is just as bad everywhere else as it is in the church.

Say that again?

That's right, the new John Jay study tracking sex abuse in the U.S. church reports that the increase in sex abuse in the church mirrors that in the rest of society. Even more, the study's author, Karen Terry, suggested, according to the Baltimore Sun that it was "not something distinct about the church that led to the abuse." She went on to express the desire to (quoting the Sun) "better understand the connection between societal changes--including attitudes about sex and homosexuality--and the jump in reports of sexual abuse by priests."

Huh? Tagging the gays again, eh? What connection could there possibly be? That the sexual revolution caused more sex abuse, or that it led to people reporting sex abuse? It is disturbing that, for no apparent reason, Terry felt like she had to mention homosexuality, forgetting once again that most pedophiles are married heterosexual men and that most victims of sexual abuse and assault are female.

What good may come out of this is the recognition that the sexual abuse of children is pervasive in society and goes well beyond the Catholic church. Now the church has the opportunity to be a model and advocate for stamping this kind of abuse out. Will the bishops rise to the challenge?

Well, since they're getting ready to elect Francis George of Chicago as president, who hardly has a spotless record in this regard (you can read Chicago Sun-Times coverage here), I doubt it's going to be high on the agenda.

Labels: ,

Monday, November 12, 2007

Guess who's coming to America...

The pope is coming! The pope is coming!

It's official, according to the Associated Press: B16 is coming to the U.S. of A. in April, visiting Our Nation's Capital and Our Nation's Other Capital (New York). On the docket are meetings with President Bush, meetings with other religious leaders, and, interestingly, meetings with Catholic university presidents. (Hmmm ... university presidents?) And an address to the United Nations.

The press is focusing heavily on the pope's visit to Ground Zero, linking it to the possible candidacy of Rudy Giuliani--a thrice-married Catholic-who-doesn't-go-to-Mass (as the press has been describing him). Not sure what the connection is there--something about abortion and gay marriage or something. No one seems to mention that about half the Democratic field is Catholic.

But I have to wonder: Why is the pope coming to the U.S. during a presidential election year? The nominations will probably be decided by April, of course, but still...

Of course, we're going to be treated to not one but two baseball stadium Masses--yuck! The homes of the Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees will play host to liturgical extravaganzas, which, I have to say, I find to be the most bizarre invention of John Paul II. A mass with 30,000 people is kind of silly, liturgically speaking.

Sorry, all you JPII lovers, I know you love those things. But I think they're liturgical nightmares. My humble opinion... I wonder if it will be in Latin...

Labels: ,

Ordained in a synagogue?

Though I thought Archbishop Raymond Burke's dramatic letters to the St. Louis women ordained as part of the Womenpriests movement were a little overwrought, I can't say I agree with their tactics. There is something profoundly strange about ordaining Christian ministers in a synagogue--and I wonder if many Jews wouldn't feel the same--and, frankly, I think it points to the problem with the whole Womenpriests movement: their understanding of ordination. (Read St. Louis Post-Dispatch's coverage here.)

Many people question restricting Holy Orders to men, but I think the real problem is with our current understanding of priesthood. Over history, ordination has increasingly been separated from local churches (dioceses) and parish communities. Theology, strongly influenced by St. Thomas Aquinas' understanding of the sacraments, came to see priests as a "cause" that made the sacraments possible, which unfortunately has given us an almost magical understanding of the sacraments, as if by some virtue conferred at ordination, a priest "transforms" ordinary bread and wine into Christ's body and blood. A more developed understanding of ordained ministry recognizes God's grace at work in the action of the church gathered (the liturgical assembly) and its ordained leader--and doesn't separate the head of the assembly from the body.

The Womenpriests, in my view anyway, have adopted that problematic theology. The first ones were ordained on a boat in the Danube River by an unidentified bishop--technically outside any local church community. Now two have been ordained in a synagogue. What can that possibly mean? Now they have the magic and can "perform" sacraments like any other priest?

I empathize with those who feel called to ordained ministry in the Roman Catholic Church whom the church will not ordain because they are women or married or gay or lesbian. It seems to me that many have God-given desires that have been affirmed by their faith communities--the mix that I think should lead to ordination. But including those people in an unreformed structure of ordination won't necessarily make that structure more just, and it may serve only to solidify distinctions between lay and ordained.

What we need first is a renewed theology of ministry--one that begins with baptism rather than ordination. Then I think the question of ordination, and who is ordained, and to what ministry, might look quite a bit different.


Friday, November 09, 2007

Bring back the rack?

The archbishop of St. Louis, Raymond Burke, has upped the ante in ecclesiastical penalties, according to the Associated Press. In threatening two women who will be ordained this weekend as part of the Womenpriests movement, Burke suggested a fate worse than excommunication:

"Burke reminded [the women] that the pope has stated infallibly that only men can receive a valid ordination, and wrote that 'in order to protect the faithful from grave spiritual deception' if they go forward, they would 'incur automatically ... the censure of excommunication.'

"Further, Burke wrote, 'additional disciplinary measures will also have to be imposed.'"

Rose Marie Dunn Hudson, one of the ordinands, wins for best comeback: "What is he going to do, burn us at the stake, or what?"

Probably "or what." I think there's a museum of the Inquisition somewhere in Mexico where Burke could do some research. Maybe he'll get lost in there.

Looks like the road to women's ordination just got bumpier.


Come out at Mass! Or not.

Not much to blog about of late, but a press release titled "Fr. Euteneuer responds to Jesuit who 'came out' at Mass" caught a colleague's attention. Euteneuer is president of Human Life International, which bills itself as "pro-life" missionaries to the world. His "open letter" to Jesuit Thomas Brennan, who came out at a student Mass at St. Joseph University in Philadelphia, carried the usual denunciations of the "unholy desire" Father Brennan acknowledged. (Only Euteneuer's site and Lifesite News covered the incident.)

Ironically enough, I did find myself agreeing with one of Euteneuer's points (though not his constant personal attacks against Brennan):

"Holy Mass is not a forum for your self-expression. You chose the sacred liturgy and the pulpit reserved for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the launching pad for your personal testament to homosexuality ... You've read the same documents I've read about the liturgy, and none of them say the liturgy is your personal stage."

True enough, and it is a criticism that could be leveled equally against priests and homilists of various political persuasions. Though I think it can be appropriate for priests to come out--and thus put the lie to the claim that gay priests are somehow a danger to the church--the liturgy isn't the place. The Christian assembly has other work to do, and it needs its leader to stick to the task at hand.

But I do wonder why two prolife websites are so concerned about a relatively minor incident at a small Catholic college in Pennsylvania. What does a gay priest have to do with abortion or euthanasia?