Wednesday, November 30, 2005

No gay priests, part 5: Let the spin begin

From the "it's not as bad as it sounds" camp:

Timothy Radcliffe, former head of the Dominican Order in the British Catholic weekly The Tablet: "What is it that is meant by a 'deep-seated homosexual tendency'? The counter-example given by the document is of someone who goes through a temporary phase of homosexual attraction, and asserts that the seminarian should have overcome this at least three years before ordination to the diaconate. That would not cover all the cases of seminarians who are reflecting on their vocation in the light of this document.

"It could also be interpreted as having a permanent homosexual orientation. But this cannot be correct since, as I have said, there are many excellent priests who are gay and who clearly have a vocation from God. Perhaps it is best understood as meaning that someone whose sexual orientation is so central to his self-perception as to be obsessive, dominating his imagination. This would indeed pose questions as to whether he would be able to live happily as a celibate priest. But any heterosexual who was so focused on his sexuality would have problems too. What matters is sexual maturity rather than orientation."

I have great respect for Radcliffe, but this is pretty tortured and more than a little circular. He's right to say that sexual maturity is what matters, at least to reasonable people, but I think this document's writers don't think that is possible in those with "deeply-rooted homosexual tendencies."

Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Washington, in the Washington Post: "I think one of the telling sentences in the document is the phrase that the candidate's entire life of sacred ministry must be 'animated by a gift of his whole person to the church and by an authentic pastoral charity.' . . . If that becomes paramount in his ministry, even though he might have a homosexual orientation, then he can minister and he can minister celibately and chastely."

Of course, then he goes on to talk about people that are "consumed" by being gay (the whole interview can be found here). I admit I have no idea what that means. Besides, if people make their sexual orientation the center of their lives, both church and society can take a hefty portion of blame for building up so many taboos about it.

Of course, on the other side you have Bishop John D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, in the same Post article: "I would say yes, absolutely, [the document] does bar anyone whose sexual orientation is towards one's own sex and it's permanent. . . . I don't think there's any doubt about it. . . . I don't think we can fuss around with this."

Though I think he's kind of nutty about this--there are evidently no gay priests in his diocese--I think he's right to cut through the sophistry.

Though it's legitimate to parse the document as Radcliffe and Skylstad have, I think the ramifications of a "plain" or straigthforward reading are clear (and, let's be honest, you need a graduate degree in theology and fluency in Vatican-speak to attempt the non-plain reading): This document says that if you are a healthy, well-integrated gay man (self-accepting, mature, open), the hierarchy doesn't want you, no matter how celibate you are. (In fact, I think they don't believe that the person I'm describing can even be celibate.)

I think the people of God might have a different opinion, of course.

No gay priests, part 4: Yes? No? Maybe?

A look at the headlines on this issue are starting to show just how confused everyone is about this document:

Guardian, UK: Vatican rules firmly against gay priests
The Independent, UK: Pope restates ban on gay priests and says homosexuality is 'disordered'
Times Online, UK: Pope's gay priest ruling is hailed by moderates
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Vatican document on priesthood raises questions
ABC Online, Australia: Vatican's stance on gay priests causes confusion
San Francisco Chronicle: Gay-inclined are cut some slack

Not that we expect accuracy or guidance from the secular media on this, but I wonder if the "confusion" is caused by the belief, both in the church and outside it, that being "gay" necessarily means having sex. No one presumes this about heterosexuals, of course, since most people are heterosexual and are evidently not having sex. Maybe that's the real problem here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Speaking of heroes

Heaven gets the better end of this stick: Patty Crowley, superCatholic, died last weekend. It's hard to offer a better example of a modern Catholic: theologically informed, socially aware, totally dedicated. Her Chicago Tribune obit is pasted below.

Significantly, the Trib omits her anger about Humanae vitae, Paul VI's encyclical on birth control, which signalled the first rollback of Vatican II's reforms, not so much because of its content but because of its process. Although the birth control commission he appointed strongly favored a change in the teaching on birth control, he discarded their recommendations and went out on his own. The chasm created between the church's teaching as proposed and the practice and belief of the people of God has yet to be mended.

Of course the line for which Crowley is famous (which perhaps doesn't do her justice) is her response to a priest on the birth control commission, who wondered what would happen to the millions sent to hell for using birth control if the teaching changed:

Marcelino Zalba, S.J.: "What then with the millions we have sent to hell, if these norms were not valid?"

Patty Crowley replied: "Father Zalba, do you really believe that God has carried out all your orders?"

Too bad she wasn't a bishop.

Patricia Crowley 1913-2005
Activist `changed many lives'
By Brendan McCarthy,Tribune staff reporter

November 27, 2005--Patricia "Patty" Crowley's strong beliefs led her to start social movements, open shelters and counsel convicts. A determined woman, she tried to cure social ills with more than temporary bandages.

Homeless women on Michigan Avenue? Mrs. Crowley helped establish Deborah's Place, a Chicago agency for homeless women.

Lonely female inmates in the Metropolitan Correctional Center? Mrs. Crowley counseled them and taught them to crochet during weekly visits that spanned three decades.

Disconnect during the 1940s? Mrs. Crowley helped found the Christian Family Movement, a Catholic lay group that combined study of Scriptures with social action. It spread worldwide.

"If she felt there was an injustice or something wrong somewhere, she would try to fix it," said Jane Clark, longtime friend and member of the Christian Family Movement. "She was fiery. She could always get things done. She changed many lives."

Mrs. Crowley, 92, a devout Catholic activist and social reformer, died of Parkinson's disease Wednesday, Nov. 23, in her Chicago home. Her resume includes a long list of humanitarian and outreach efforts. To understand the plight of homeless women better, Mrs. Crowley slept on a mat on the floor of the homeless shelter twice per month.

"She felt we were called to do things for others, especially those that have less," her daughter Sister Patricia Crowley said. "She was a woman of action."

Today, a supportive housing complex in the 1500 block of North Sedgwick Street bears her name.

"You get a better idea of what it's like to be in someone else's shoes if you see them and talk to them," Mrs. Crowley told the Tribune in 1988.

Mrs. Crowley's biggest accomplishment--at least, the one for which she is most recognized--was the creation of the Christian Family Movement. Throughout the 1940s, Mrs. Crowley's husband discussed social issues and values regularly with a group of married men. In 1949, Mrs. Crowley helped form a women's group. Soon after, the men's and women's groups, about seven couples total, joined to form the Christian Family Movement.

"We began to analyze what feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the homeless--what did all that mean we should be doing?" Mrs. Crowley previously told the Tribune.

Mrs. Crowley and her husband were among three married couples--and the only American couple--to take part in the Papal Birth Control Commission, an international panel named by the Vatican in 1964 to study birth control.

Mrs. Crowley was born in Chicago and graduated from the Convent of the Sacred Heart in 1932, her daughter said. She graduated from Trinity College in Washington, D.C., in 1936. In 1937, she married Patrick Crowley, whom she met at a Good Friday mass at the University of Notre Dame. The couple had five children. Her husband died in 1974.

Other survivors include three other daughters; Mary Ann Kono, Cathy George and Theresa; a son, Patrick; a brother, John Caron; a foster son, Al Augustine; 10 grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren.

Copyright (c) 2005, Chicago Tribune

Reality check

With the hullabaloo around the gay priest thing, it's probably important to keep a little perspective: Four members of the Christian Peacemaker Team, a Christian organization that goes to wartorn parts of the world to promote peace and nonviolence, have been kidnapped by “The Swords of Righteousness Brigade" in Iraq. Of the two Canadians, one American, and one Briton, only the latter's name is known: 74-year-old Norman Kember.

You know, it can be hard to figure out how to live as a Christian in this nutty world, but the CPT is definitely one damn heroic way of doing it.

Makes some of the controversy about who can be ordained and who can't seem a little self-absorbed.

Monday, November 28, 2005

No gay priests, part 3: It's logical

Having posted two rants, I have to admit that the Vatican's latest move against gays in the priesthood is the logical outcome of its official teaching that a homosexual orientation is an "objective disorder." This expression, coined by no less than the current pope in 1986, was a reaction against some who were arguing that a homosexual orientation was morally neutral. Not so, said then-Cardinal Ratzinger, and he backed it up by silencing Sister Jeanine Grammick and Father Robert Nugent, founders of New Ways Ministry (for gay Catholics and their families), some years later.

If you think homosexuality is indeed a disorder, especially one that seems to prevent "affective maturity" according to the latest document, then how could you possibly ordain a homosexual person? You can't.

And so the real problem is not the latest document but the teaching itself, which is more Aristotle than Jesus anyway. There is no scriptural warrant for it, it doesn't follow directly from the deposit of faith, and it flies in the face of common sense and modern psychology. Whether the church wants to admit it or not, gay and lesbian people are just as healthy, just as capable of forming stable relationships and creating families, and just as capable of contributing to society as heterosexuals. There may be a debate about the morality of sexual behaviors, but it's time to acknowledge that calling homosexuality an "objective disorder" is just plain wrong. And it's only a 20-year-old teaching for crying out loud; that's hardly straight from the lips of Jesus, or St. Paul for that matter.

No gay priests, part 2: Objectively stupid

Kudos to Archbishop Sean O'Malley for getting out front and assuring lesbian and gay Catholics that the church doesn't hate us. Although he frames his remarks in light of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's legalization of same-sex marriage, the timing is, uh, serendipitous to say the least.

O'Malley writes: "We do not want Catholics who have a homosexual orientation to feel unwelcomed in the Catholic Church. We remind them that they are bound to us by their baptism and are called to live a life of holiness. Many homosexual persons in our Church lead holy lives and make an outstanding contribution to the life of the Church by their service, generosity and the sharing of their spiritual gifts. We must strive to eradicate prejudices against people with a homosexual orientation."

Wow, that's a hell of a way to welcome gay and lesbian Catholics. And thanks for the reminder about baptism, archbishop. Are you also not "bound" by the baptisms of gay and lesbian people, bound to speak out when our dignity is impugned as it has been and continues to be by Catholics in the public square, by documents that fail further undermine our dignity? You say you recognize the contributions of gay and lesbian Catholics; if we do contribute and some of us lead holy lives, why is it that gay men cannot be ordained?

And please name one single way the institutional church in a gathering larger than one bishop has striven to "eradicate prejudices against people with a homosexual orientation." Unless you mean actively opposing civil rights legislation and non-discrimination ordinances for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, I'm not sure what you could be talking about.

[I know, I know, some bishops have said nice things, but not many, and certainly not if it cost them anything, Bishop Gumbleton of Detroit the exception.]

I hate to say it, but in addition to thinking that gay and lesbian Catholics are "objectively disordered," they must also think we're objectively stupid.

No gay priests, part 1: Jeez, this is embarrassing

My first response to the Vatican document forbidding the ordination of men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" is absolute embarrassment. Hello out there... No psychologist worth her salt refers to homosexuality as a "tendency"; in fact the psychological community is pretty much unanimous that sexual orientation is a largely fixed dimension of the human personality; it's external prejudice or internal rejection that causes problems.

Now, as long as celibacy is a requirement, I have no problem with not ordaining sexually active gay men, just as I have no problem with not ordaining sexually active straight ones. But please tell me this: What does someone who is "actively homosexual" up to? If it's really just about sexual activity, why doesn't the document say that? Don't tell me they're just modest. Does that mean that someone who is self-accepting, who acknowledges his sexual orientation openly and integrates it in the appropriate context is "actively homosexual"? Well, since it seems that only those who have had "homosexual tendencies that might only be a manifestation of a transitory problem" (note the use of the world "problem") can be ordained, then I'm guessing that healthy, integrated gay men need not apply.

The best of all, though, is the restriction on those who "support the so-called gay culture." Since culture throughout Western history has received significant contributions from gay men and women--often with church support--this one's kind of hilarious. Michelangelo, anyone? Since the biggest tourist attraction in St. Peter's, the Pieta, was created by a man with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" on a papal commission, I really think the Vatican museum ought to put it under lock and key. Oh, that's right, Michelangelo was not a priest.

And there's the rub: The Vatican wants to have it both ways, the gifts of lesbians and gays without having to acknowledge the true identity of those that offer them. And that's unjust. And it's unworthy of baptized people.

Finally woke up from that T-giving nap!

To all 10 of you that read me, sorry for the hiatus, especially in light of the most recent news. Even grumpy Catholic bloggers have to travel around the holidays!

Surprisingly enough, there was even some Catholic news in my hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee's local newspaper, the News Sentinel--nope, not the big "no gay priests" story (more on that later), but two whole articles on the Mass: One on the growth of the Catholic Hispanic population, the other on the Latin Mass now being offered in two area parishes. Please remember this is East Tennessee; there are only about 40,000 Catholics in the whole eastern third of the state.

Now I must admit that at one time I was more rabid about opposing the Latin Mass (I think the Spanish one is just peachy, since it is a living language that baptized people actually speak). I still wonder what the whole let's-go-back-to-Latin thing all about. Nostalgia? Is God somehow nearer when prayer is incomprehensible (and let's be honest, there are probably as many pronunciations of ecclesiastical Latin as there are priests who celebrate Latin Mass).

But now my question is this: The most recent moves in the vernacular liturgy have been to basically force everyone to do the exact same thing. Why do the Latin Mass folks get a pass on that? As far as I'm concerned, they can celebrate the Latin Mass, as long as they'll allow those of us who want to continue the liturgical reforms of Vatican II get to keep going on that path.

But that doesn't seem like it's going to be permitted. Hmmm... wonder why...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Don't be afraid!

This from a colleague from the Reformed tradition of Protestantism, on the obstacles to ecumenism, specifically on "guarding the Table" by preventing intercommunion (or insisting some people shouldn't be allowed to receive communion at all):

"The fear of grace, I think, gets in the way of Protestants and Catholics working together."

One reason I think the Catholic church (and maybe the Orthodox as well) are so dead-set against intercommunion is that the experience of sharing eucharist will indeed spark real Christian unity before church leaders are ready for it.

Of course, you can constrain God's grace only for so long.

Keep the baby, lose your job

A school in Queens, New York has fired an unmarried teacher who became pregnant, saying that it violated the school's ban on pre-marital sex. Michelle McCusker told St. Rose of Lima School in Rockaway Beach that she was pregnant and intended to keep the baby, so they fired her. She's suing for gender discrimination, on the ground that as a woman, the ban on premarital sex is applied inconsistently; in other words, if a man had sex out of wedlock, it's not likely he'd get caught unless he did it in front of the principal. I hope she wins.

Big Mouth Bill Donahue of the Catholic League is, of course, crying foul, saying that the only discrimination is the kind "practiced by nature"--in other words, the "intelligent designer" made it easier for women to get caught: "If they win, every rabbi or minister will have to listen to what state bureaucrats have to say about the running of religious schools," he said.

Don't you get it, Bill? This is why so many see Catholics as hypocrites. McCusker could have quietly terminated her pregnancy, with none the wiser. Instead, she makes a courageous decision, asks for support from her Catholic (allegedly prolife) employer, and gets fired for having sex outside of marriage. Nice. If we Catholics put our money where our mouths are there would be no lawsuit in the first place.

A saying of Jesus comes to mind: "Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners." I sometimes like to imagine that Jesus made quotes with his fingers when he said "the righteous," since none of us really are. I think there's something in there about casting the first stone, too.

This while the former vicar-general of the Phoenix archdiocese, also a founder of Life Teen, an incredibly successful (and incredibly conservative) Catholic youth program, was just arrested yesterday and charged with ten counts of indecent exposure, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and assault involving five minors and two young adult men. Even if he turns out to be innocent, thousands of others are not.

Another saying of Jesus comes to mind: "Woe to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them." Indeed, you even permit yourselves what is forbidden to everyone else, not only what is immoral but illegal! All while preserving and using your position of religious power.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Frosted mini-popes

Cardinal Christophe Schoenborn has evidently become some kind of "intelligent design" cause celebre. A new Reuters story following up on the Vienna cardinal's New York Times op-ed piece defending ID begins this way: "When Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn waded into a heated debate over evolution in the United States, his goal was not to persuade American schools to teach that God created the world in six days."

And there's the problem: Why is the archbishop of Vienna (Austria!!) "wading into" a debate occurring in Kansas for pete's sake? Why isn't anyone asking the bishops of Kansas what they think instead? With all the mess in Austria--a major sex scandal at a seminary (think dirty pictures of seminarians and child porn on seminary computers), diocesan finances in ruins--how does the cardinal have time to stick his nose in other peoples' business.

The attitude lying behind his intervention is the idea that because the church is "universal" and because Schoenborn is a cardinal, he exists in some ecclesial superstructure that makes him competent to intervene elsewhere. But the theological fact of the matter is this: Schoenborn is head of the church of Vienna, nothing more; his service to the Holy See as a member of the College of Cardinals is something else altogether, but it certainly doesn't make him a mini-pope who can tell other local churches what to do. One pope is enough, thanks very much.

The church may be "universal," but it's also local, and as subsidiarity--an oft-forgotten principal of Catholic social teaching--reminds us, issues should be handled at the local level whenever possible, where decision-makers know the situation and can respond appropriately. (Not that I'm confident the bishops of Kansas will come up with anything "intelligent.")

Or, to be blunt: Butt out, Bornie!

Now I have to go ice my "intelligently designed" right ankle, which was not made to roll sideways. Why didn't God have tennis in mind when putting human joints together?

Adding insult to injury

One more SOA note: Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin has agreed to serve on the advisory board of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly the School of the Americas, reports the National Catholic Reporter.

Morlino on accepting the appointment: "I was somewhat surprised when I was approached about this opportunity to serve our country, but I am enthusiastic about the opportunity to support our military and our brothers and sisters, neighbors in the Western Hemisphere, by standing up for the truth about morality and justice." Does he really know what this place is all about? Open mouth, insert crosier.

He looked less like a tool in his response to a National Catholic Reporter editorial on his appointment, which was negative to say the least: "I truly believe that had I not accepted this appointment, I would be saying to my diocese, the church and the world that human rights are someone else’s responsibility." Glad to hear it. Then get to work on shutting the place down, if you please.

Father Roy Bourgeois of SOA Watch is a little more convincing: "They’ve been trying to get a bishop on board for some time. [He] will be used by the Pentagon and the military to legitimize what we see as evil." Amen, brother.

Of course, Morlino might have more credibility if the U.S. bishops were at the front of the crowd condemning the torture committed by the U.S. in the "war on terror." Can you hear the crickets chirping?

School's still not out

This past weekend saw SOA Watch's annual protest against the School of the Americas--cleverly renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation--in Fort Benning, Georgia. Some 20,000 gathered this year--the largest group since the protests began in 1990--with 41 people arrested for trespassing on Fort Benning property. Those convicted of civil disobedience now face up to six months in prison for a first offense. Two elderly (think 70s and 80s) nuns have already served six-month terms for previous nonviolent protests.

That's right, six months for protesting an institution that trained torturers for the brutal right-wing Latin American regimes of the 1980s and early '90s, including the one in El Salvador, where Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated in 1980 and where in the same year an American Catholic lay missionary and three American religious sisters--Jean Donovan, Dorothy Kazel, Maura Clarke, and Ita Ford--were raped and murdered for their work with the poor. Investigations have tied School of the Americas "grads" to all of these, along with the murder of six Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter in 1989. This is not to mention, of course, the tens of thousands of forgotten men, women, and children tortured, murdered and disappeared during that time.

Of course, it's hard to condemn former Latin American regimes for torture when our own country has similar abuses on its hands, from Abu Ghraib to the newly discovered prisons in Poland and Romania, where the CIA has been "interrogating" "detainees." And, as we have recently discovered, the new Iraqi government is learning quickly from our example.

Perhaps that's a reason why the SOA protest drew a record crowd this year. Now if we could just get more people to protest the human rights abuses being perpetrated in our names and with our tax dollars. If President Bush is looking to trim the budget, he should look no further than the SOA.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Diocesan downsizing

This may seem like a small thing, but the diocese of Rochester in New York is closing four parishes, merging them into others, evidently due to a shortage of clergy.

I realize that sometimes parishes have to be closed because the church--that is, the people--no longer live there. But to close parishes because of the shortage of priests is wrongheaded, especially when parishes have sufficient people and resources to support a Christian community. As has been pointed out elsewhere on this blog, lay people are picking up most of the slack; a parish with 200 families could certainly continue with a paid lay pastoral administrator. That would leave what priests there are to serve as sacramental ministers, freeing them up to do what they are ordained to do anyway. You may need a priest for eucharist, but you don't need one to have a parish.

Of course, there are many Protestant congregations with far fewer families; they manage to continue, with clergy at that. What have they figured out that we Catholics haven't? Oh yeah, they don't require clergy to be male and celibate.

One elephant in the living room, however, is the massive number of decaying physical plants that many parishes have inherited. At one time showpieces for ethnic communities, many are falling apart, too old to update. One predominantly poor Mexican parish in Chicago is stuck with a massive church built by Germans two generations ago. The archdiocese recently had to spend $2 million to secure the exterior facade--money that would have gone a long way in keeping the much-needed parish school going, which it still is, though its continued existence is financially precarious.

What stops us from selling these properties and moving in to more modest digs appropriate to our needs and resources? Though many of these old buildings are beautiful to some and historically significant to others, they are hardly more than museum pieces, built for a liturgy that doesn't exist anymore, and few communities, especially in urban areas, don't even have the money to heat them, much less repair, renovate, and maintain them.

Better to let go of at least some of our past, as painful as it may be.

Give to Caesar...

The IRS has sent a warning letter to a Pasadena, California Episcopal church because of an anti-war sermon by its rector emeritus. It seems the IRS thought Rev. George Regas went too far in his condemnation of the Iraq war and other Bush administration policies; liberal religious organizations allege a conservative bias on the IRS' part, although it seems that some conservative churches have received similar warnings.

I think the IRS has a point; if religious groups want to get involved in politics, then they can't play both sides by claiming tax-exempt status. Rev. Regas has a point to: "I needed to talk about the values of peace and the freedom of choice." And sometimes that means opposing those in power and even naming names.

My solution: Churches, pay your taxes! Religious groups on all sides of the political spectrum lament the fact that American religion has become a completely private affair, but they perpetuate it by accepting privileges from state and federal governments, the most lucrative of which are massive tax breaks; politicians, after all, want to be seen as friendly to religion.

But it's not "friendly" at all. Rather, it corrals religion and religious language, making it easier to marginalize and manipulate. It also allows some groups to amass large fortunes with which they still pursue their political agenda. How else would evangelical Protestants (and not a few evangelical Catholics) have acquired so much political power?

Friday, November 18, 2005

The "R" stands for "rich," the "D" for "dumb"

In "Republican" and "Democrat," respectively, that is.

While I don't imagine this to be a political blog--although rest assured that "to the left" describes more than my religious leanings--I can't pass this one up from Andrew Greeley's Chicago Sun-Times column today (via my friend Bob once again). After lamenting the Democratic leadership's failure to offer an real agenda, Greeley argues:

"Democrats must return to their traditional themes of economic and social justice. They must rediscover the truth that their constituencies are not just the liberal activists (though their causes are important) but the hard-pressed working and middle-class people. The Republican administration and the Republican Congress are presiding over a major shift in wealth from the poor and the middle class to the rich. Thus, they are trying to take $70 billion from food stamps, Medicare, education (loans and scholarships for college students) and veterans and give the money to the rich in increased tax deductions. Pension money and health care money is being taken away from workers and retired workers to provide profits for badly run organizations (like United Airlines and General Motors) and their exorbitantly compensated executives."

My question is, of course, more for Catholics: Why do many of us let Republican political operatives use words like "prolife" without meaning it? Why do many of us get hooked by abortion, but not by the chronic lack of health care so many already-born children suffer? Just yesterday Congress passed some $50 billion in cuts to social programs--food stamps, Medicaid, basically taking food and medicine out of the mouths of the poor--and tomorrow will follow it with billions more in tax cuts for the wealthy.

Where are the Catholic bishops, so quick to deny communion to pro-abortion politicians? If anyone who deserves to be denied food from the Lord's Table, it's someone who votes to cut food stamps for crying out loud. Not that I think denying communion is a good idea anyway, but let's at least be even.

How long will it take, though, for "pro-life" to mean "pro-poor"? Or for "pro-family" to mean health care and a just wage and worker safeguards? Especially since it's right there in Catholic social teaching--not that "I'm-so-Catholic" Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) seems to be aware of it.

But it seems we'd rather spend our political capital "defending" the "sanctity" of marriage rather than the actual well-being of families.

Those Cafetarians are at it again!

Despite the Ratzinger Fan Club's clever new slogan--"The cafeteria is closed"--it seems that a good 75% of American Catholics want to keep it open; seventy-five percent think they can be a good Catholic and not go to Mass every Sunday AND use artificial birth control. (Why are those two things paired?) A good 75% also support the ordination of married men, 61% would accept celibate women as priests ("Celibate women? Who wrote this survey?), and 81% want priests who have left and married to be allowed to return to active ministry.

I, on the other hand, am for the complete abolition of "priesthood" and for a restoration of the ancient orders of ministry, including presbyter (which is technically the office "priests" are first ordained to anyway). How 'bout we just pick a few of the parishes natural leaders and designate them to preside at eucharist? Or maybe choose the best preachers in the community and depute them to preach? What if we sent them for some good training once we discovered their inborn talents? No? But that's not likely to happen any time soon anyway, so no need to worry. Oh well.

In the meantime, it seems we could alleviate the "priest" shortage, and try out a married clergy to see how it would go, by readmitting to active ministry some of the guys that left to marry. That way we don't have to ordain anyone new; a lot of those guys are older anyway, so the experiment kind of has an expiration date. (Plus, we Romans have been accepting and ordaining married Anglican and Lutheran men for a while. There are something like 300 married Roman Catholic priests now working in the U.S.)

Of course, I'm pretty sure that when the sky doesn't fall because of married priests, people will be just as happy with their married clergy as with their celibate, and we'll have a married priesthood. And then maybe we'll rediscover celibacy as an actual charism instead of a "discipline." In fact, you have to wonder if some of those opposed to relaxing the discipline are resistant just because they "had" to do it and are mad others won't "have" to.

But I do understand their concern. It is a slippery slope. Once married men are ordained, influenced as much by their wives as by the bishop, can ordained women be too far away? And once the gay priests come out, and the sky doesn't fall, and they want to have partners (as some already do), and the sky still doesn't fall, we'll have openly gay clergy--better than closeted ones as far as I'm concerned.

So it just depends on how fast you want to get to the bottom of the hill. But the ball is already rolling.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Pro-lifers for Plan B

With all the controversy around the FDA's refusal to approve the emergency contraception drug Plan B (despite the recommendation of its board of experts), Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman makes a prolife argument for approving the drug, especially in light of its effectiveness in preventing conception but not implantation. "As a longtime pro-lifer, I think anti-abortion groups had solid grounds to oppose the morning-after pill when its function was unclear--as I did. But given what we now know, it's a grave mistake to keep opposing it. In fact, there are grounds for celebration: A drug once believed to produce abortion is found to prevent abortion."

So, the big question for the prolife movement: Do we want to prevent unwanted pregnancies or not? When some in the prolife movement speak (Chapman quotes the American Life League: "Plan B aborts children and hurts women"; and Concerned Women for America, which opposes it partly because of its "abortifacient potential") I find myself wondering if what they're most concerned about is making sure people who have sex outside of marriage suffer "the consequences"--in this case, pregnancy. And that seems like a wrongheaded approach to me.

A final interesting point from Chapman: "There is no way to be 100 percent sure that emergency contraception never interferes with implantation. But the mere possibility of an adverse event is a poor reason to reject its use. After all, breast-feeding is known to cause uterine changes that can prevent a fertilized egg from being implanted. No one in the pro-life movement would say mothers should therefore abstain from nursing. Just as nursing is morally and ethically permissible because it advances worthy purposes, so is the morning-after pill."

PS. If you want to read Chapman's column, you better do it quick; the Tribune starts charging after seven days.

Prada's Pope

Well, we knew Pope B16 likes stray cats, but it turns out that he's also a fashion maven, sporting fancy red Prada shoes and high-end Gucci sunglasses. It seems he also may be ditching the Vatican tailor, Annibale Gammarelli, who has been preparing papal cassocks since the time of Paul VI, for his own designer of liturgical haute couture. Seems Papa Ratzi was irritated that he had to wear a high-water cassock right out of the conclave--none of the cassocks made for the new pope fit him at his election, so he had to wear something tea-length. All the rest of the cardinals snickered, I guess.

Add to the this way retro pallium (a liturgical garment worn by archbishops)--B16's is based on a design more than 1,000 years old--and that gives us one fashion-forward Holy Father.

Of course, he could really be fashion forward and ditch the whole medieval papal garb thing for a nice black Armani suit; I'm sure they could come up with a fetching French-cuffed clerical shirt to go underneath; Tiffany can provide cufflinks that would go with the pectoral cross and episcopal ring just so.

Papa Ratzi would be on the cover of GQ before you can say "The Lord be with you."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Maintaining "distinctions"

A friend sent this from the Chicago Sun-Times about on "new rules" for "lay ecclesial ministers": "The debate showed that a number of bishops worry that the term ''minister'' undercuts the status of priests."

Asks Bob (the friend): "Shouldn't they be more concerned with dealing with the shortage than protecting the 'status' of priests?" Hmmm, seems reasonable to me.

The bishops' argument, of course, is that the drop in priestly vocations is directly related to the fact that the priestly aura has been dimmed by the rise of the laity in Roman Catholicism. The solution is to mark out "special" places for the priest, emphasizing his "power" to consecrate the eucharist and forgive sins and bless things, as well as his identity as "alter Christus"--another Christ. This despite the fact that the sacraments belong to the whole church (with some members "ordered," as in Holy Orders, to lead the community in celebrating them) and that all the baptized are supposed to be "alter Christi."

Besides, I think "status of priests" is pretty much a done deal in the popular mind--justly or unjustly--because of the sex abuse scandal. Of course, those who deserve to have their "status" knocked down a peg or two because of that are the bishops. Still waiting for that.

I have to admit it, though: I wouldn't want to be your basic parish priest right now. You pretty much get it from all sides. But the good ones in my experience know they couldn't survive without the competent lay co-workers--and don't worry too much about calling them "ministers."

Stalemate in the liturgy wars

More on the U.S. bishops: It seems the movement to roll back the liturgical reform, which began with the rejection in the early 1990s of an inclusive-language lectionary, is starting to lose traction. At issue are the congregational responses during Mass, including the familiar "And also with you" response to "The Lord be with you." The current regime, installed after certain English-speaking bishops dismantled the commission charged with translating the liturgy into English, has proposed a more sacral translation that closely tracks the original Latin. In it, "And also with you" becomes "And with your spirit." And that's just the beginning. Even bishops have referred to the translations as "ponderous and often turgid,'' and "awkward."

Surprisingly enough, though, what looked like a done deal doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Right now, 57% of U.S. bishops favor keeping the current 1970 translation--a clear majority. It takes a two-thirds vote to approve the texts. Evidently the bishops are concerned about irritating an already disaffected laity. They should be.

The soft-sell on ending the death penalty

Glad to see that bishops of the United States have reaffirmed their opposition to the use of the death penalty, arguing that the U.S. cannot "teach that killing is wrong by killing those who kill." The statement follows on a new episcopal initiative to end the use of the death penalty in the U.S., inaugurated by the bishops to build on the declining support among American Catholics for capital punishment, less than 50 percent of whom think it should be used.

The USCCB press release goes on to acknowledge that because "people of goodwill can disagree on [capital punishment], the bishops encourage engagement and dialogue, not judgment and condemnation, in the hope of leading others to a reexamination and conversion." They go on to say they don't expect any big legislative or legal action to end the death penalty but, according to Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, chair of the bishops’ Domestic Policy Committee, "Rather, it will wither away in the daily and individual choices of prosecutors and legislators, judges and jurors and ordinary Catholics and others."

That seems reasonable to me; what puzzles me is that the bishops don't apply the same approach to other pro-life issues that are a little grayer. No one disputes that a Death Row inmate is a human person, but many across the scientific and religious spectrum wonder whether a newly conceived embryo is fully a person. While I think that the Catholic position on this question is the strongest and most reasonable, a softer sell on abortion might be more effective at winning hearts and minds than denying Democrats communion or seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade. Yet "judgment and condemnation" is often all we hear from Catholic bishops and other pro-life advocates when it comes to abortion.

Just a thought.

A pastor on prophylactics

Bravo to Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, South Africa, who continues his push for an adaptation of official Roman Catholic teaching on the use of condoms to prevent HIV transmission in sub-Saharan Africa. "There's a sense of security from black and white [when it comes to condoms]," says Dowling, "You can't do this. You can do that. But most of life is gray." He should know; his own diocese is overwhelmed with HIV.

Was that a bishop? Yes it was, and thank God. With tens of millions of Africans infected and with twice as many African children orphaned because of the AIDS pandemic, it's time for the church to recall one of Jesus' more memorable sayings: "The sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27). Elsewhere he points out that even on the sabbath it is lawful to save a life, though it violates the sabbath rest (Luke 13:15). Even better, how about when in frustration Jesus challenges his lawyerly opponents: "Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' "

Perhaps in the best of all possible worlds no one would ever use a condom; maybe the "best" sex is, indeed, the kind where there are no barriers whatsoever to sex's full possibilities. But we don't live in the best of all possible worlds, and this particular law is killing--yes, killing--vulnerable women especially, who often have no choice about sex, and the children who rely upon them. The moral authority and presence of the Catholic church could do much to level the playing field.

Which is more pro-life? Insisting on the validity of a teaching that few in the church really support, or freeing the consciences of poor African women to better protect themselves and their children from HIV? Isn't that what it means to be on the side of the poorest of the poor? Is "the truth" really more important than living, breathing human beings?

Or do we--and I do mean the majority of American Catholics who quietly disagree with the church's teaching on birth control--want to be held responsible on Judgment Day for our unwillingness to speak out on this matter? Because right now the church--and I mean all of us--are failing the moral test big time.

"Catholic" health care

More for U.S. bishops' meeting agenda: A press release from Consejo de Latinos Unidos, a Hispanic advocacy group, is demanding that the U.S. bishops tackle price gouging of the uninsured by Catholic hospitals. Some disturbing facts about Catholic health care in the U.S.:

More than $2 billion in profit in 2004 – all tax free; total includes charity care.
More than $1 billion increase in profits from the previous year.
More than $20 billion in cash and investments – all tax free.
More than $1 billion in profit from interest and capital gains income alone – all tax free.
Up to 700 percent price markups for uninsured Hispanics.
More than $1 million a year in total compensation for individual executives.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary increases from the previous year.

Add to that that most Hispanics are Catholic and that one-third of U.S. Hispanics are uninsured and you get a big unjust mess. The bishops are always on Catholic hospitals to steer clear of anything close to abortion, birth control, in vitro fertilization, and euthanasia, but why they aren't on the Catholic health care system on this issue is beyond me. After all, Catholic social teaching identifies health care as a fundamental human right.

A personal note here: I went without health insurance for one month and paid cash for treatment of a throat infection. My total bill, including a generic prescription for antibiotics: $375. The cost to my insurance company for a similar treatment this year: less than $150. Once again, "economies of scale" screw the poor, since they only work if you can get access to them, and that usually costs money.

Wouldn't it be great if all 65 million U.S. Catholics could get together and agitate for a fair heath care system? Wouldn't it be great if the Catholic health care system actually embodied Catholic social teaching, known more for the services it provides to all--primary care especially--rather than those it doesn't (abortion and the rest)?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Picking up the slack

As they prepare to close the "public" part of their November meeting, the U.S. bishops are preparing guidelines for the formation of "lay ecclesial ministers"--basically lay people doing all kinds of church work, from religious ed to youth ministry to parish administration. Those who receive a salary and work at least 20 hours a week now number more than 30,000, an increase of 53% since 1990. They work alongside about 42,000 U.S. priests, down from more than 57,000 in 1985. Add to that the scores of volunteer lay parish ministers, and you'll get a good picture of who is keeping the U.S. church afloat.

Oh yeah, by the way, 80% of those lay ecclesial ministers are women.

The Blessed Mother's lip balm

The latest in Christian products: A new line of "Trinity" cosmetics ( With products like "Salt of the Earth" Seasoning Body Wash and "Milk and Honey" Comforting Body Cream, your body will be both clean and biblical.

"The misson of Trinity Cosmetics, Inc. is to use the teachings of the Christian faith to establish the finest cosmetics company in the world." Now just how does that work?

Their "inspiration" page is a bit of a hot: excerpts from Louise Hay and Mother Teresa, followed by a "shiny hair recipe." Yum.

I suppose we Christians are supposed to be "inspired" by this kind of thing, but I fail to see how jumping onto the billion-dollar beauty industry is counter-cultural. On the other hand, if their Christianity is more than label deep--that is, they don't use sweatshop labor, don't pollute the environment, don't test on animals, etc.--then maybe there's something here.

Or maybe I'm just being a grouch. But my beauty dollar is still going to Neutrogena.

Navel gazing

"There is no question, brothers, that these past few years have taken a great toll on us." So spoke Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Washington, to his fellow Catholic bishops, also lamenting the "avalanche of negative publicity" caused by a "handful of miscreants."

If I hear another bishop whine about his troubles relating to sex abuse in the U.S. Catholic church I'm going to lose my lunch. While I sympathize with the piles of good priests out there who have been affected by the sins of their (and our) brothers, the bishops will get no quarter from me. Individually and collectively, they are to blame for the repeat abuse that often occurred, and most still have yet to accept responsibility for their gross negligence. And let's be honest: 4,300 priests (4 percent) is more than a "handful."

The real victims are, of course, the abused themselves. Then their families. Then the whole people of God, who are now stuck with an astronomical $1 billion-and-counting financial bill, along with a loss of confidence in their leadership. (And don't give me the "no parish money" is being used. Every nickel any diocese has comes originally from some parish collection plate.)

And bully for Voice of the Faithful and the survivors' groups for keeping the heat on.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Fall gays--I mean guys

After months of leaks, an Italian newspaper, Il Giornale of Milan, is reporting that the Vatican will finally release a document on ordaining gay men on Nov. 29. It seems that only those with "deep-seated" homosexual tendencies, along with those who support the "so-called gay culture," will be excluded. Those who have "resolved" their same-sex attractions could be admitted as long as it's been three years since the "resolution."

Does that mean you can be ordained if you become straight? Or just lie about it?

All this will amount to, though, is another slap in the face for gay and lesbian Catholics and clergy. Evidently baptism is insufficient to wash away the effects of the "instrinsic disorder" of homosexuality.

How many times do psychologists have to say it: There is no direct connection between homosexuality and sex abuse. Period. Most abusers are heterosexual men.

Perhaps cooler, more intelligent and informed heads will prevail before Nov. 29. I hope so, anyway. I'll take a gay priest who is aware and integrated over one who has "resolved" his sexuality, whatever that means.

Props for Papa Ratzi

This praise for Pope Benedict from, of all people, progressive theologian Richard McBrien of Notre Dame: "I have observed little or nothing from my vantage point that would trouble me or other reform-minded Catholics. . . . Benedict is open and secure. He’s not afraid of discussion. The initial signs are encouraging.”

Much to my chagrin--I almost passed out when "Josephum" was announced from the balcony of St. Peter's--I have to admit that I'm encouraged so far by Ratzinger's "reign." Although the most recent Synod on the Eucharist didn't really do anything, the daily hour of open discussion instituted by Papa Ratzi allowed some frank debate about the communion for divorced and remarried Catholics and even some cracks around mandatory clerical celibacy. Even the National Catholic Reporter was positive in its editorial after the synod's close. (Of course, it could be that reform-minded Catholics have finally been reduced to grasping at straws.)

I think ol' Joseph got an eye-opener as well into the theological acumen of some of the bishops. Though he rarely intervened, he evidently felt the need to give the bishops a little refresher on eucharistic theology, according to the U.K.'s Tablet.

But something tells me that Joseph is up to a little on-the-job learning.

1,000 state-sanctioned murders

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, in December the U.S. will likely execute its 1,000th prisoner since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.

What astonishes me most is that a majority of Christians still support the death penalty, despite the fact that it eliminates the possibility of conversion and reconciliation, and despite the fact that Jesus was, like so many in this country, unjustly executed.

Though we may agree that certain crimes "deserve" death, can't we also agree that we are in no position to take on that responsibility? Do we really think anyone is helped to find closure with another brutally violent act?

And how are we ever going to convince people that human life should be protected from an embrionic stage when we won't insist that a fully grown person, guilty or not, should also have her or his life preserved?

Does anyone have some Windex?

For the first time since 1972, the annual meeting of the U.S. bishops will largely be closed to the public and the media. Why the bishops have chosen now, with the U.S. church still dealing with the spiritual, institutional, and financial costs of clergy sex abuse, is completely beyond me, especially in light of the increasing and quite reasonable demands for greater transparency coming from every corner of the church.

But a better question is why any church meeting, beyond those that truly require confidentiality, should be closed to the people of God. No media? Fine, but let us never forget that any authority in the church is held in relation to the whole Body of Christ. Though God's people no longer choose their own bishops, those bishops still have as their constituency the baptized they serve. And those people have every reason to expect transparency from their leaders, including what they do or don't advocate among the other bishops of this country. Closed-door meetings are truly a step backward.

But should we not go a bit further and ask why the pope should be elected in a secret conclave. Freedom from influence is often cited as the reason for secrecy, but it's hard to wonder if freedom from accountability isn't another, more pressing reason for secrecy.

Some may argue that the Spirit is freer to move without "outside" influences. But, after all, influence from the baptized isn't from the "outside" but from the church's heart.

Maybe the better question is why the bishops are meeting without the rest of God's people--lay women and men, religious, pastors, and the rest--without whom there is no church.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Catholic scoop on the end of life

In light of the last post, perhaps we should have a quick refresher on church teaching around death, which was largely forgotten in the case of Terri Schiavo. According to the U.S. bishops Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, Fourth Edition, (56-58, emphasis added):

"A person has a moral obligation to use ordinary or proportionate means of preserving his or her life. Proportionate means are those that in the judgment of the patient offer a reasonable hope of benefit and do not entail an excessive burden or impose excessive expense on the family or the community.

"A person may forgo extraordinary or disproportionate means of preserving life. Disproportionate means are those that in the patient's judgment do not offer a reasonable hope of benefit or entail an excessive burden, or impose excessive expense on the family or the community.

"There should be a presumption in favor of providing nutrition and hydration to all patients, including patients who require medically assisted nutrition and hydration, as long as this is of sufficient benefit to outweigh the burdens involved to the patient."

With those complex principles in mind, it makes good sense for an adult to indicate in advance the kind of care she or he would like in the case of a grave injury. A living will is an excellent tool for that purpose. A durable power of attorney for health care, which designates a proxy to make medical decisions in case of incapacitation, is better.

In fact, it is an act of charity to family members and friends to take advantage of these instruments. Had poor Terri done it, she and her family may have been spared the outrageous exploitation of her tragedy by all parties, which continues still.

Of course, once again, I have yet to hear the church's actual teaching in any post-Schiavo rhetoric. In the end, all the "pro-life" hyperbole about end-of-life care ends up burdening the consciences of people already facing difficult moral and personal decisions.

Pro-life, or afraid of death?

The lastest entry into the book of lurid "pro-life" hyperbole is this from a conference at Franciscan University in Steubenville: "A living will can kill a person." Citing the case of Terri Schiavo, who incidentally did not have a living will, Deborah Sturm, a registered nurse and member of National Association of Pro-Life Nurses, argued that secular living wills "are advocated by those who support euthanasia [and] have a general presumption for death."

I have to ask this of "pro-life" folks like Sturm: Are you really pro-life, or are you just afraid of death? Living wills don't "presume death," but they certainly acknowledge it as a possibility. Does it ever occur to us that in some situations people should be allowed to die in peace, even that it is abusive to cling to them, binding their bodies with unimaginable machines and tubes? We do, after all, live in hope of the resurrection, and none of us can avoid death.

Of course, if we were all really "pro-life," we'd focus less on the hard cases like Terri's and more on the 45 million people in our country without health insurance and on the hundreds of millions worldwide that go without basic medical care. We could mobilize the 65 million U.S. Catholics to agitate for universal health care, nutrition programs for pregnant and nursing mothers and their children, for a health care system that intervenes before chronic conditions require emergency care. But I have yet to hear any pro-life speaker suggest such a thing. The last guy I heard from National Right to Life preferred to focus on "home abortion kits" being pushed by "frenzy-eyed feminists" in the developing world. Boy, that really contributes to the conversation.

Of course, focusing on health care would cost us something--higher taxes, greater focus on the common good. The current pro-life focus on abortion and euthanasia costs the majority nothing--except of course the real heroes who dedicate their lives and resources to caring for the chronically disabled, who carry pregnancies to term when it would be easier to abort, who teach us how to die with real dignity. That's right, nothing. Instead, it lets us ride the moral high horse while not having to sacrifice anything.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Schism brewing...

After a conference in Egypt where the Anglicans of the global South called for the disciplining of the U.S. Episcopal and Canadian Anglican churches for accepting gay clergy and blessing same-sex relationships, conservative Anglican archbishops at a gathering in the U.S. are calling for conservative Episcopalians in the U.S. to go into schism.

Here's a great quote from Bishop Datuk Yong Ping Chung of Southeast Asia: "We will stand with you as long as you remain faithful, biblical, evangelical and orthodox." I love it when Christians put conditions like that on each other, something like, "I'll always love you--as long as you do as I say." Healthy. It, of course, both does and doesn't remind me of something similar Jesus said: "Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20 NRSV). Note the lack of qualification.

What's really great, of course, is that if liberal U.S. clergy went to Africa and Asia insisting that churches there make some changes, it would rightly be called imperialism. Even in Anglican polity, a local bishop has no jurisdiction outside his or her own diocese--like the Wicked Witch of the West in Munchkinland.

What puzzles me is why church communion cannot be maintained in situations of dispute like this. The issue is clearly homosexuality; it's hard for anyone to argue that Christians are of one mind about this. Even though the Roman Catholic church claims a single, monolithic teaching, even some bishops privately question the "instrinsic disorder" attitude toward homosexuality; the disagreement only grows the further "down" the ranks you go.

The thing is, sexual morality is not a "matter of faith"; it's not dogma and it's changed a lot as our understanding of the human person and human sexuality has grown. Sure, we try to figure out how to best live out sexuality as Christians, but our understanding of the moral law can and does change; for ample evidence, read John Noonan's A Church That Can and Cannot Change; you'll be surprised to find out how long it took the Catholic church to come around on the immorality of slavery.

If it's the case, and it demonstrably is, that church moral teaching can change, then why can't some churches, whose moral reasoning has reached a certain conclusion about, say, homosexuality, try that conclusion out to see if it works. No one is saying that African Anglicans have to ordain gay men, just like no one told them they had to ordain women.

For that matter, why can't the Roman Catholic church do the same around the questions of married and female clergy? The first issue is certainly not a matter of faith, and despite Vatican statements to the contrary, it's hard to argue the second is either, especially concering female deacons. Why not experiment? What do we have to lose? Hell, we may find that married clergy are too expensive to maintain. (Although I think some fear that women will be better at ordained ministry than men!)

And there's the rub. Once we start allowing local variation, we won't be able to "control" our sister and brother Christians. We'll have to trust one another to make good decisions. We might even make mistakes. Heaven forbid.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Will someone please shut this guy up?

Bill Donahue of the Catholic League, self-appointed defender of Catholics everywhere, is at it again, this time taking Wal-Mart to task (and getting an "apology") for using the greeting "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" in its December advertising. Bill frothed at the mouth over an email from "Kirby," a Wal-Mart employee who wrote:

"Walmart is a world wide organization and must remain conscious of this. The majority of the world still has different practices other than 'christmas' which is an ancient tradition that has its roots in Siberian shamanism. The colors associated with ‘christmas’ red and white are actually a representation of the aminita mascera mushroom. Santa is also borrowed from the Caucuses, mistletoe from the Celts, yule log from the Goths, the time from the Visigoth and the tree from the worship of Baal. It is a wide wide world.”

As funny (and inaccurate) as the email is, Bill's argument, basically that Christians make up the vast majority of Wal-Mart customers and so Wal-Mart should forget about everyone else, is even dumber, as if Wal-Mart ever used "Christmas" in an advert for evangelical purposes.

In fact, if big Bill was really concerned about the integrity of Christmas, he should insist that retailers the world over stop using "Christmas" in their advertising! The very last company I want associated with Christmas is Wal-Mart, a company that has singlehandedly degraded working conditions, shifted good blue-collar jobs from the U.S. to sweatshops overseas, and decimated local economies all in the name of low prices.

So, Bill, if you really want to defend Jesus, how about opposing all the ways he gets used to drive conspicuous consumption in this "holiday season," instead of "defending" Christians from every perceived slight. We're pretty tough, you know.

Show me the money!

The Massachusetts Senate has passed a bill requiring religious organizations to make annual financial disclosures just like other non-profits. The big question is why they were exempt in the first place. This is clearly more fallout from the Catholic sex abuse scandal, which has cost Catholics in this country upwards of $1 billion, along with the shame of having such crimes go unnoticed and unpunished right under our noses.

The big question, though, is why local dioceses don't already issue annual financials, not because the law requires it but because the church's stewards (bishops on down) owe God's people a report of how the church's money (which comes from the people, after all) is being spent.

The real bad news here is that the people of God had to go to the legislature to get what they deserve from their bishops. If the money trail was clearly marked a long time ago, we might have discovered the sex abuse cover-up a long time ago.

Pat Robertson's God is gonna get you!

I know it's uncharitable, but when Pat Robertson says, ""I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover [Pennsylvania]: If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city," I think he qualifies for the Biggest Jerk of the Year Award. Dover's big sin: dumping eight of nine school board members who forced teachers to read statements about "intelligent design" before teaching biology class.

Just what kind of God does this guy believe in? Probably the kind that destroyed New Orleans with two hurricanes because of the debauchery in the French Quarter. Or maybe the one that wiped out 200,000 South Asians in last year's tsunami. That God just finished killing 80,000 people with an earthquake in Pakistan, too. The coup-de-grace has to be the AIDS pandemic, punishing all those sexual miscreants and their orphaned children. That was a stroke of genius.

Hmm, what human being most closely resembles Pat Robertson's God? I guess you'd have to ask which human beings are most famous for collective retribution; they also happen to be the biggest murderers in human history. Must I name names?

And has anyone noticed that Pat Robertson's God really has it out for poor people? Katrina's victims were mostly inner-city poor. Those drowned in the tsunami, too. And Pakistan's 80,000. So where did Pat find his God?

I'm sure the "God of the Old Testament" is going to unjustly take the blame here--"Sodom and Gomorrah, Sodom and Gomorrah," goes the constant refrain. But what about the God of the prophets, slow to anger, abounding in kindness--you know, the God who REALLY gets mad when the rich screw the poor? And supposedly Pat is Christian, so what about Jesus? "Blessed are the poor." Can't get any clearer than that.

The better question, of course, is why so many still believe in Pat's God. Sure, we want to know why bad, even really bad, things happen, but do we want a clean answer so much that we're willing to tolerate a heavenly monster?

That is, after all, what Pat's God is. A big omnipotent, moralistic bully. Take out the omnipotent part and God looks a lot like Pat Robertson.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Picking prudery over the poor

Italian Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana has apologized to its readers for running the silhouette of a woman's naked backside in a recent issue in an ad for a bathroom fan, saying it "broke a taboo," although the ad was really more of a joke than anything. In Chicago the pressure is on a gallery owner to remove from his windows reproductions of famous fine art nudes; the gallery is across the street from a Catholic church and school.

While I'm not for plastering nude bodies all over the place, if Catholics are only appearing in the media outraged about a sexy ad or otherwise complaining about sex, I'm afraid that our opposition to secular sexual mores is all we'll be known for. As it is, Catholicism in the popular mind is associated only with opposition to abortion, euthanasia, and homosexuality--not with opposition to the death penalty or war, not as an outspoken advocate for a just health care and welfare system. Where is the Catholic outrage now that Congress is proposing $54 billion in cuts in "entitlement" programs like Medicaid and food stamps?

Makes French nudes and barely sexy magazine ads look like small potatoes.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Grand Marshal of the Episcopal PRIDE parade

Though just elected for the Episcopal diocese of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson travels almost as much as Pope J0hn Paul II did, spending much of his time talking about the Christian churches and homosexuality. I keep thinking, though, that he'd have a lot more luck converting his detractors if he showed them what a good (gay and partnered) local bishop he could be instead of being the Big Gay Bishop of the World. (We already have Troy Perry of the Metropolitan Community Church for that--even if he is retired.)

Still, he is quotable, at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London: “We are seeing so many Roman Catholics joining the [Episcopal] church. Pope Ratzinger may be the best thing that ever happened to the Episcopal Church." Meow.

And: ""I find it so vile that they think [the Roman Catholic bishops] are going to end the child abuse scandal by throwing out homosexuals from seminaries.” Me, too.

The end of civilization as we know it

Can't pass this one up: I just don't get the hysteria over gay marriage, especially how it is going to cause an "anthropological catastrophe." This one is right up there with an earlier Vatican official's fear that same-sex marriage might lead to a new form of Nazism. And, really, just what is an "anthropological catastrophe." Come on, boys, haven't you noticed the AIDS pandemic? Genocide in Darfur? War in Iraq? Anyway, from our friends at Zenit, who really know how to write a headline:

Cardinal Warns of "Anthropological Catastrophe"
Sees Danger Behind Moral Relativism
MURCIA, Spain, NOV. 8, 2005 ( Cardinal Jozef Tomko warned about the dangers of ethical relativism, which he said might cause an "anthropological catastrophe."

The president of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses aired that warning today in his address at the opening of the academic year of the Catholic University of St. Anthony in Murcia.

The school will organize the first International University Eucharistic Congress this Wednesday through Sunday. In his address, the cardinal analyzed the crisis of Western societies. In particular, he addressed the cultural situation in Spain, where homosexual marriages now have legal status.

This "traditionally Catholic country," said the retired prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples "today sees how in its public life a whole series of moral, social, family and religious values is put in crisis, which touch profoundly the concept itself of the person and his relations, conscience and personal and social ethics."

This crisis, stated Benedict XVI's special envoy to Murcia's university congress, stems "also from the nation's public institutions themselves, with the danger of inducing in coexistence a moral relativism and ethical permissiveness capable of undermining the very foundations of the fundamental values of personal life and civic coexistence."

"When the human values of freedom, coexistence, respect for inalienable rights, family values, and correct education are at stake," Cardinal Tomko added, "if there is no enlightened and courageous testimony that is transmitted in an appropriate manner, including through the media, one runs the risk of causing an anthropological catastrophe, as has already happened in other places and other 20th-century political systems."

Evolution devolution

Still can't figure out why everyone wants to take on Darwin at this late date. With the Vatican seemingly against any retreat on evolution, we'll get to wait and see just how far the U.S. Catholic-Evangelical political mixer goes. A friend sent this link about Catholics and evolution:,,1052-1860310,00.html

Best line of all: "The teachings of the Church have never imposed a literal interpretation of the language of the Bible [including the creation stories in Genesis]; that was a Protestant mistake."