Tuesday, January 31, 2006

We liberals are so damn dumb ...

Georgetown University is "welcoming" Patrick Reilly, the president of the Cardinal Newman Society and self-appointed savior of Catholic higher education, to give a lecture on whether or not Georgetown University is actually Catholic. At issue: Whether the Vagina Monologues, a play by Eve Ensler, should be performed on Catholic campuses.

It's not that the question of what makes a university Catholic isn't a legitimate one. The issue is that the Newman Society and groups like them focus on two issues: Abortion and sex. Not war and peace. Not economic justice. I'd love to see a Catholic university attacked because its business school doesn't promote Catholic social teaching's approach to capitalism. Believe me, that's not likely to happen any time soon.

And why? Because conservative cultural warriors are so heavily funded that they can buy their way in, even to Georgetown, regardless of the actual merits of their arguments. And all they really care about is abortion and gay marriage.

And that's why liberals are stupid. In our desire to promote "dialogue," we give anyone with a loud enough voice and big enough pocketbook our podium. Believe me, kids, Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, the rightest of right-wing Catholic institutions, will destroy its campus before it lets a liberal Catholic speak on any issue.

But kudos to The Hoya, Georgetown's newspaper, for its insightful editorial on how Georgetown manages to be Jesuit, Catholic, and a real university.

Abused on a "technicality"

Now from the Sun-Times:

The cardinal was hamstrung by a technicality in church law, he explained. According to protocols for handling allegations of clergy sex abuse of minors drafted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and approved by the Vatican in 2002, any clergyman with even one "credible allegation of abuse" against him must be removed from ministry.

Neither the Willowbrook boy nor his parents has ever brought accusations directly to the archdiocese, thereby stalling the canonical process by which McCormack could have been removed, George said. McCormack was removed from St. Agatha only after he was criminally charged. Archdiocesan officials have said they first learned of abuse allegations against McCormack in August, when the mother of the Willowbrook boy went to police. Church officials did not punish McCormack because they could not determine whether the abuse allegations were "credible."

I'm sorry, but this just sounds like BS to me. Suddenly our autocrats are impotent? This sounds like a self-serving argument to me. George may not have been able to technically remove McCormack as pastor, but he could have required him to live elsewhere, could have restricted his activities, could have done loads of stuff. But he didn't.

I'm actually a fan of canon law and the rights it guarantees not only to the ordained but to laypeople. And I imagine that not a few priests have been snared by frivolous accusations. At the same time, George has never shied from firing lay employees without process; he's using a canonical due process argument now to weasel out of admitting his own failure.

And besides, saying that the family never made an allegation is just blaming the victim. The police reported the allegation; that should have been enough. If it isn't, there's a gigantic loophole in the bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Besides, parsing the word "credible" is a recipe for trouble; they've got to spell out exactly what they mean.

Bring in Anne Burke!

How not to say "I'm sorry"

Here are Cardinal Francis George's two quotes from this morning's Chicago Tribune story on his meeting with parents at St. Agatha Parish, whose pastor has now been accused by three children of molesting them:

1. "I'm sorry to be with you because this occasion is one that shames me certainly." Translation: I'm embarrassed to have to come here under these circumstances.

Who cares? This isn't about him, it's about the now three children allegedly abused by their pastor. It's about the failure to put the priest on administrative leave as soon as the police reported that he had been questioned for an allegation of sexual abuse. It's about the failure of the archdiocese to put a qualified investigator in the situation, instead some priest living in the house. And as long as the church is organzed the way it is, the failure of the archdiocese is the failure of the archbishop.

2. "I am truly sorry that you had as a pastor someone accused of molesting small children." Really? Now how did that pastor get there again? Did the parish hire him? If parish's actually had any real say in who their pastors are, this might fly. But McCormack was assigned to St. Agatha's, by the archdiocesan personnel board, over which the cardinal has administrative authority. I could have made the same statement to the parents and it would have been no less true.

Now my question: What did the cardinal personally know, and when did he know it? This is too easy to blame on a failure of processes. Someone is responsble for the failure.

Now for a lesson in apologizing, which my mother taught me so long ago that I don't remember how old I was. It goes something like this (all together now):




No thats or buts, please.

Maybe we should all practice that one.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Mea Culpa Award

Just wanted to apologize to the ten of you: These last few posts put even me to sleep! I'll try to think of something zippy soon--maybe B16 will trot out some new papal attire or something, perhaps a dashing white top hat?

We can only hope.

Why Intelligent Design isn't

Jesuit Father George V. Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory, has been an outspoken opponent of the Intelligent Design camp, going so far as to publicly criticize Vienna Archbishop Christoph Schonborn for an article the archbishop wrote in the New York Times that called Catholic support for the theory of evolution into question.

Coyne is both clear and inspiring. My favorite paragraph:

If we take the results of modern science seriously, then what science tells us of God must be very different from God as seen by the medieval philosophers and theologians. For the religious believer modern science reveals a God who made a universe that has within it a certain dynamism and thus participates in the very creativity of God. Such a view of creation can be found in early Christian writings, especially in those of St. Augustine in his comments on Genesis. If they respect the results of modern science, religious believers must move away from the notion of a dictator God, a Newtonian God who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly. Perhaps God should be seen more as a parent or as one who speaks encouraging and sustaining words. Scripture is very rich in these thoughts. It presents, indeed anthropomorphically, a God who gets angry, who disciplines, a God who nurtures the universe. God is working with the universe. The universe has a certain vitality of its own like a child does. It has the ability to respond to words of endearment and encouragement. You discipline a child but you try to preserve and enrich the individual character of the child and its own passion for life. A parent must allow the child to grow into adulthood, to come to make its own choices, to go on its own way in life. Words which give life are richer than mere commands or information. In such wise does God deal with the universe. It is for reasons of this description that I claim that Intelligent Design diminishes God, makes her/him an engineer who designs systems rather than a lover.

Read the whole talk if you've got 15 minutes to kill.


For the five of you who read this from outside the Chicago area, apologies for the extended local rant. But things like this aren't just happening in Chicago--we wouldn't have three dioceses in bankruptcy right now if clerical sex-abuse were an isolated problem.

My point: We Catholics can no longer afford to have the church run by an ordained-only boys' club. It doesn't make sense financially, it doesn't make sense theologically. I've got nothing against the office of bishop, but I am against ecclesiastical tyrants. Our church would be much better off if bishops were supported by and even responsible to a local church council that included lay people with varying expertise as well as the ordained, religious, and lay pastoral ministers.

There's plenty of precedent in church history for this kind of arrangement, but we're never going to get it as long as laypeople keep writing their checks and wringing their hands instead of demanding real structures of oversight and accountability--and not just another "advisory" board. The baptized deserve no less.

And another thing ...

Today's Chicago Tribune coverage of the McCormack fiasco focused on the parish in question, St. Agatha, where auxiliary bishop John Manz presided on Sunday with Tom Walsh, the priest who was supposed to be "keeping tabs" on McCormack. The archdiocese is saying that Walsh didn't have "enough information" to do his job--which I presume means he doesn't have the training to do what they asked him to do and never should have been put in the situation in the first place--and it obviously didn't work.

I think the parishioners are letting these priests off the hook a bit easily though. They seem to want to blame McCormack only, but plenty of people, including Walsh presumably, knew what was going on and didn't say boo to anyone. If I was a parent at St. Agatha, I would be pissed off, and not just a little.

George is supposed to have an "informal" meeting with the parish today. He claims now that if he'd had more information, he would have "tried" to remove McCormack earlier.

Tried? For all practical purposes, a Catholic bishop is an autocrat, and George hasn't been shy about using his authority. He could have sent McCormack to the priest gulag up at the diocesan seminary (where a number of priests in similar situations are quarantined) the minute the police reported the allegation. He didn't.

But will he ever say the words: "I, we, screwed up. We're sorry we put your children in danger"? I'm not holding my breath.

Put her in charge!

All hail Judge Anne Burke, an Illinois appellate judge and former chair of the National Lay Review Board, which was created by the U.S. bishops to monitor compliance with their own Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Burke was not willing to take even the smallest bit of nonsense from Monsignor Francis Maniscalco, a spokes-priest for the U.S. bishops' conference, who said that the National Lay Review Board was "not a court of appeals on individual cases." Burke had argued the the NLRB should investigate the sex-abuse case unfolding on Chicago's west side.

Burke's response, as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times:

"Monsignor Maniscalco is being disingenuous. The National Review Board should be asking the Office of Child and Youth Protection to investigate and audit whether or not the archdiocese has followed the charter!

"Did the archdiocese include these allegations [against McCormack] in their most recent audit given to the Office of Child and Youth Protection? I think not. They are [legally] mandated to do so.

"If the National Review Board, which was created by the bishops who in turn set up the Office of Child and Youth Protection for the purpose of auditing dioceses, can't ask the Child and Youth office to look into it, then who can?

"The bishops weren't supposed to decide whether the complaint was substantiated! That's why they set up the review board. They wrote the charter to restore trust. The review board in turn would make a determination on whether allegations were substantiated after an investigation was conducted by the Office of Child and Youth

"I can assure you the archdiocese didn't include these allegations in their audit presented to the National Review Board six months ago.

And as for Cardinal George's complaint that the family of the victim wouldn't cooperate, Burke responded:

"Many times victims do not cooperate. That doesn't let you off the hook. You look further. It doesn't let the police off the hook. They investigate further.

"Administrative suspension pending investigation is what normally happens. One doesn't need to wait for temporary removal until criminal charges are filed. It could be too late by then.

"The bottom line: Children need to be protected, and the church needs to rebuild trust."

I got to be a part of an interview with Judge Burke, and all I can say is that if we had more people like her at the top--lay and ordained--our church would be a different place. She's done a great service to all of us by her refusal to knuckle under to episcopal pressure, and children in Catholic churches and schools are a lot safer because of her.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Rottweiler or German shepherd?

Papa Ratzi continues to surprise. First an encyclical on sex and love devoid of condemnations (though highlighting a few concerns and warnings) and now this: B16 encouraged the Roman Rota, the court responsible for annulments, to speed up the annulment process so that divorced and remarried Catholics can fully participate in the sacramental life of the church--specifically so that they can receive communion. Some people are having to wait as long as five years for decisions, though 90 percent of applications for annulments are eventually granted.

I still think we would do better to acknowledge that some marriages entered with the best of intentions do fail and stop penalizing those who divorce and remarry. Why a court in Rome is deciding the case of a couple in Kansas is totally beyond me; annulments would be far more efficiently and pastorally handled at the diocesan level anyway. Maybe we ought to take the resources poured into the annulment process and devote them to helping couples in second marriages succeed instead.

Still, though he's hardly an outside-the-box thinker on this one, I give Benedict marks for being pastoral. If not for that disastrous document on gay seminarians, I'd say he was off to a good start.

Blessed are the peacemakers

After months of silence, the kidnappers of four Christian Peacemaker Team members have said that the hostages will be executed if all the detainees in Iraq were not released. CPT members go to war-torn areas of the world as witnesses to nonviolence. Depending on where they are, they record testimony (CPT members were among the first to report the Abu Ghraib torture), help refugees, and try to build peace in any way they can. They really take the Christian vocation of reconciliation seriously.

It certainly puts a lot of other church nonsense in perspective. Though I doubt I have the courage to do what they do, these people get the gospel, and like many who both get it and live it, they're paying the price.

Remember them--and everyone mired in Iraq--in your prayers. Their names are James Loney, Harmeet Singh Sooden, Tom Fox, and Norman Kember.

Cardinal sin

The latest Chicago sex-abuse case continues to unfold, and Cardinal George still can't seem to get it right. Acknowledging in today's Chicago Tribune that the diocesan process for dealing with sex-abuse allegations "failed," he still tried to shift blame (after earlier blaming the family and the nun who reported the original incident), taking aim at abuse survivors' groups especially for encouraging parents to go to the police rather than the church. The archdiocese's abject failure to act on an allegation from 2000 regarding Daniel McCormack, then asking another priest to keep tabs on McCormack when another allegation surfaced, demonstrates the wisdom of SNAP and other groups that the police should be involved.

Of course, what is totally ridiculous is that McCormack--once a seminary official--was named a dean the day before the whole thing broke, even though he was being "supervised" at the time. That's proof enough of just how shallow the reforms have been. Barbara Blaine of the SNAP complained of a "pattern" of ignoring and even promoting abusers, citing the case of Ken Martin, a Delaware priest who pleaded no contest to abuse charges from before he was ordained but who was working for the archdiocese as a theological censor. What I don't think Blaine and the other survivor groups know is that Martin is still on the archdiocesan payroll doing the same work from Maryland, just no longer staying at the cardinal's mansion. George argues, perhaps rightly, that priest-abusers can't just be abandoned, but I don't think that justifies putting them in positions of influence.

The point: George continues to promote those who are ideologically sympatico with him, despite their histories, then pleads ignorance or the failure of "processes" when things blow up. He claims there is no cover-up, and perhaps there isn't, but it sure does look bad. George has only himself to blame for the egg on his face on this count. What I'd really love to hear him say is that he and the archdiocese screwed up, period--without immediately pointing the finger at someone else. The "process" didn't fail, people failed, and as a result at least two more preadolescent boys were exposed to a sexual predator.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The unending scandal

Another Chicago-area priest has been indicted on molestation charges, accused by at least two boys of asking them to take off their pants in his presence. One boy was 8 years old the first time it happened.

And what's worse? The archdiocese was warned in 2000 about an incident involving the same priest and the same behavior. A nun who worked at a Catholic school where Father Daniel McCormack presided once a week hand-delivered a letter to the archdiocese about the 2000 incident. McCormack actually acknowledged then to the nun that he had used "bad judgment." That's his euphemism for asking a 4th-grade student who asked to be an altar boy to take down his pants so he could "measure" him.

McCormack wasn't relieved of duty as pastor of St. Agatha on Chicago's west side until this week, when a third accuser stepped forward; previously he had served as director of formation for Chicago's college seminary (!!) at Loyola University. (For those who don't know, he was responsible for ensuring the mature human development of seminarians.) Originally, the archdiocese placed another priest in the parish to "monitor" the accused when yet another boy made an allegation last August.

How much longer will it be before diocesan officials are indicted for conspiracy? The Chicago Sun-Times gets high marks for blowing this one open. The Chicago archdiocese supposedly has one of the best child protection programs in the country. Makes you wonder what's going on in dioceses with "bad" programs.

After 500 years, Swiss Guard integrates

A friend sent this pic of the first non-while Swiss Guard, 21-year-old Dhani Bachmann, born in India but adopted at age 5 in Switzerland. As a naturalized Swiss citizen, he qualifies for service.

Who says the church can't change?

Good-bye Gumbleton

The pope is expected to accept the resignation of Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, who at 76 is past mandatory retirement age for bishops, according to the Detroit Free Press. A peace activist above all, Gumbleton is probably the most controversial living U.S. bishops--and I'd argue, one of the best.

Though his resignation probably won't mean a great deal to his ministry--I imagine he'll keep doing what he's been doing--whether he'll remain pastor of St. Leo's Parish in Detroit is up in the air. Adam Maida, archbishop of Detroit, would likely be glad to be rid of Gumbleton, so I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Gumbleton's retirement is a big loss for Catholic liberals; even though he was "only" an auxiliary, it was nice to know there was at least one bishop like him. With Ken Untener of Saginaw, Michigan, now two years dead, the U.S. hierarchy has lost its two leading liberal lights. There are a very few left.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Heavenly bodies

The pope's new encyclical doesn't break any new ground, but there isn't much in it that will upset people, I think, and it has a couple of nice bits, notably about the connection between the eucharist and concrete acts of service.

But I still think B16 makes the usual clerical mistake when talking about sex and sexuality, namely, making it more than in it really is: "Amid this multiplicity of meanings [of the word love], however, one in particular stands out: love between man and woman, where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness. This would seem to be the very epitome of love; all other kinds of love immediately seem to fade in comparison."

"All other loves fade"? Mother and child? A pastor for God's people? God's love for us? What about unmarried people? Celibates? "Body and soul inseparably joined"? "Inseparably"? Doesn't describe most of the marriages I know--the body part at least.

Setting aside the fact that only one model of committed human relationship (heterosexual marriage) merits mention, I guess I don't get making one kind of human love "better" than any other. The mystery of love needs all kinds of expression for us to really grasp it. My life would be impoverished indeed if I didn't experience love in its many facets: from a partner, from parents, from family, from friends, from colleagues--all reflecting God's love for all of us.

And another thing: Here's a perfect example of why it makes sense to ask people who actually have sex about their lives before issuing a document about erotic love. If you did ask us, we'd probably tell you that the heart of our relationships is not sex but closer to taking out the trash and making dinner--that is, the day-to-day of life together, none of which by itself rises to the ecstasy of orgasmic mysticism but taken as a whole is a sign of God's fidelity to creation.

To his credit though, Benedict acknowledged earlier in the week the criticism that when it comes to sex the bishops are like "blind men explaining colors." Well, kind of. It's not that you don't have anything to offer, it's just that we do, too. Wouldn't you like to ask us what we think?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Catholic Stasi

The Cardinal Newman Society, a conservative Catholic group that seemingly has loads of money to investigate the abortion views of anyone who speaks at a Catholic college or university, is taking aim a Richard McBrien, a priest and nationally known theologian at the University of Notre Dame. McBrien's most recent syndicated column, which appears in a number of diocesan and other newspapers, allegedly contains a plagiarized sentence from a Boston Globe story.

The sentence in question is clearly related to the Globe story, which McBrien has admitted, but in his defense just a few sentences before he cited the story, though not the author. McBrien was sloppy and has admitted it.

But that's not enough for the Cardinal Newman Society. In a letter to the president of Notre Dame, Patrick J. Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, wrote, "Because this concerns the reputation of one of the most well-known Catholic universities in the United States, we urge you to give this matter serious consideration. If the faculty member is indeed guilty of such dishonesty, we urge you to consider whether he belongs at Notre Dame."

The Newman Society, of course, could give a damn about plagiarism; they just want to discredit a theologian they disagree with. And they are contributing to the current tattle-tale atmosphere in the Catholic church, in which every conservative group with an agenda sends secret agents to parishes searching for "abuses" and scores of research assistants pore over theological journals and newspaper columns for any whiff of "error." And someone is bankrolling this effort to the tune of millions. Ever wonder what the salary of the president of the Catholic League, Bill Donahue, is? How 'bout the president of the Cardinal Newman Society.

The people of God don't need secret police. The very idea is unworthy of the baptized, and the self-appointed guardian-of-truth Newman Society has had a chilling effect on academic freedom at Catholic universities. Cardinal Newman, a 19th-century Anglican-turned-Catholic, would be spinning in his grave if he knew what was being done in his name. Just read his "The Idea of a University" (1854), where he argues for academic freedom and open debate as the core of what a university is all about.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Opus Dei on offense

Having just read Rome correspondent John Allen's fat book on Opus Dei (that's the title of the book), I'm wondering why the usually secretive group gave Allen so much access. He got to read eyes-only journals and the Opus Dei catechism (under controlled conditions, of course) and met with loads of Opus bigwigs. But why now?

Doh! The Da Vinci Code, dummy. With 24 million copies in print and a Tom Hanks blockbuster coming out, Opus finally has to come out of the ecclesial closet, explain their wierder-sounding practices (that whipping yourself thing, and the spiked band that celibate members wear for a few hours a day). Plus, in Allen they found a more sympathetic ear, since I think he went into his interviews presuming the hype around Opus Dei was more smoke than fire. And sure enough, he concludes that while Opus needs to do some PR work, they're not as bad as some fear. And Opus Dei's Rome spokesperson, Marc Carroggio, evidently agrees, giving the Zenit News Agency an entire interview about the book. (Publisher Doubleday must be thrilled. With 86,000 members and hundreds of thousands of admirers, Opus is bound to buy a boatload. Allen stands to do pretty well himself.)

I'm still not so thrilled with Opus. With only 86,000 members out of 1.1 billion Catholics--four bishops in the U.S. alone and an number of key Vatican positions--they wield entirely too much influence in the church for their numbers. They are still the only group given their own bishop, and their refusal to publicly identify their ministries gives me the creeps. (The former archbishop of Westminster Basil Hume required Opus to identify it's ministries in his diocese, but here in Chicago, you wouldn't know "Mid-Town Center" has anything to do with Opus Dei unless you also knew that the parish it's attached to is Opus.) Allen gives the group's reasons for this--"secularity," or not wanting to be identified as explicitly religious--but I'm not convinced.

In the end, I guess I should be thanking Dan Brown for flushing Opus out. Even though he wrote the most poorly researched, sensationalistic, and downright silly piece of pulp fiction since I don't know what, he actually managed to rattle Opus Dei enough that they decided to let a little light in.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Keeping the pope's Prada shoes safe for the church

Finally the Vatican throws me a bone. How could I have missed it? Today the Swiss Guard is celebrating the 500th anniversary of its service at the pope. What a good opportunity to save a little money and dump some really ugly uniforms. (Contrary to popular belief, those uniforms were not designed by Michelangelo. If they had, it would have been proof that the man was not gay since those uniforms are just too damn ugly for words.) Abolish the Swiss Guards!

I know, I know--they're part of the "pagentry" of the Vatican. No, they're another sign that the Catholic church still has one foot planted firmly in the Renaissance. And besides, the Guards were originally mercenaries hired by Pope Julius II in 1506 to protect him from his many, and I do mean many, enemies. (Like the citizens of Rome!)

Oh, alright, the pope can keep them. With all those grouchy clerics, the Guards--who have to be at least 5 foot 8, Swiss Catholic, male, and evidently good-looking (I haven't seen an ugly one yet)--add some nice eye-candy to the Vatican experience, and I think some actually do provide security.

Asked if women might ever be allowed to serve as guards, though, their current commander responded, "I can't imagine that we would open up the Swiss Guard to women. The barracks in the Vatican are small and cramped, the soldiers are young and I don't want to enlist problems."

Like what? Since they're all Catholic and chaste, I'm sure there wouldn't be any problems on that count. I mean, it is the Vatican. I'm sure there's an alarm or something that goes off if there is any hanky-panky too close to the papal apartment.

And why should those plume-y hats be restricted to men. And don't tell me Jesus only picked men for his Swiss Guards, 'cause I'm not buying it!

Father--in this case, my dad--knows best

Couldn't let this comment on my New Orleans post languish in comment-world:

I believe that the problem is that God is too occupied controlling the outcome of football and basketball games and not focused on the major disasters.

If we praise God for the most insignificant happenings, such as winning the big game, at some point we have to look at the other side -- that God was against us -- so we lost the game; or to carry it further -- we were hit by a hurricane because we did something bad. Otherwise, we could have pushed the course of the storm by our prayers. (So that it hits less righteous folks.)

When the M8.5 earthquake hits San Francisco and kills thousands of people, I am sure that someone will emphatically state that it is God's punishment for the immorality and liberalism of S.F. But haven't M8.5 earthquakes hit that area dozens of time over the centuries? Were those earthquakes in anticipation of future sins?

God doesn't intervene in a hurricane or earthquake anymore that he intervenes in a football game. If he was an interventionist he probably would have sent a message to New Orleans a few hundred years ago saying "You might want to rethink building a city below sea level because I might be occupied controlling several thousand football games when a hurricane hits."

In the interest of full disclosure, the "anonymous" commenter is related to me by blood--actually, it's more accurate to say I'm related to him.

And if you were wondering, I'm also related to "P. Cones," who often leaves a comment when she's not busy running her antique empire in the heart of East Tennessee. ("Cones Cupboard" in Sweetwater--don't pass it up if you're on I-75.) Her last zinger on the bishop of Biloxi's plan to close a Hurricane Katrina-ravaged school--"Unfortunately the Catholic Church's priests, bishops, and so on, have a policy of 'My way or the highway.' Hmmm, let's let them take the highway and see how they do by themselves!!"--should demonstrate that I come by healthy suspicion of all things clergy honestly!

Guess the Internet has opened up new ways to keep an eye on your young-uns. We don't mind.

Bless me, Mother ...

It's been kind of a slow church news week, so I haven't had much to comment on (complain about) this week.

My stint as a guest blogger on BustedHalo.com has been a bit more interesting. After a quick exchange on whether JPII deserved the monicker "Great" (me, no; opposite number, of course), we've moved on to women's ordination. And I must say, my "dialogue" partner has some incredibly interesting arguments for a boys-only club. And for a real treat, read "Colorado Catholic's" comment on my Jan. 18 post, " 'Subjected' sex?" CC suggested that I would understand the male-only priesthood if I would just stand naked next to my wife and look in the mirror. Uh huh. He then progresses to how sexual intercourse itself--missionary position, I assume--explains why only men can be priests, to which I have only one response: Gross!

Actually, I'm so bewildered by the logic being offered against women priests that I was driven to use the word "vagina" in a conversation with my mother, as in: "Mom, you won't believe this, but the other blogger thinks women can't be priests because they have vaginas." I've been disturbed ever since. A true lapse in mother-son decorum.

But the more I think about the whole thing, the stupider it seems to me. If Jesus suddenly appeared and handpicked a hundred candidates for ordination, I doubt that even half of them would be male. Of course, since Jesus never ordained anyone to begin with, he'd probably say something like, "Who the hell told you to invent priesthood anyway?"

Mary Magdalene and other the other female disciple and apostles (yes, Saint Paul names at least one!) must be rolling over in their graves.

Here's a link to the Busted blog if you've got time to kill...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Vengeance is California's

This morning the state of California murdered a 76-year-old mostly blind and deaf man who was convicted of four murders in the early 1980s. Clarence Ray Allen was executed by lethal injection this morning while victims' families looked on.

"Mr. Allen finally received the justice he deserved tonight," prosecutor Ward Campbell said a half-hour after the execution. "I was always confident this day would come. I am just very glad to have it finally be done."

Our allegedly majority Christian nation seems to have forgotten that final judgment belongs to God. Whatever his sins, this blind and deaf 76-year-old was no longer a threat to anyone; he nearly died himself of a heartattack a few weeks ago.

Whatever happened to mercy? "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us"?

I'd grant that murder is a hard one to forgive, but is it really to be blood for blood? Is that what we mean by "justice."?

God strikes mayor of New Orleans with dementia

That can be the only explanation for C. Ray Nagin's suggestion that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were a sign that God was mad at America for the Iraq war and problems in the African American community.

"Surely God is mad at America. He sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it's destroyed and put stress on this country," Nagin said. "Surely he doesn't approve of us being in Iraq under false pretenses. But surely he is upset at black America also. We're not taking care of ourselves."

You know, I understand the man is under stress, but it's time for religious people (much less politicians) to stop using this explanation for natural disasters. I can hear every atheist saying, "See, I told you religion is insane. Those people worship a homicidal maniac." And, along with Pat Robertson's God-gave-Ariel-Sharon-a-stroke remark (for which he apologized after Israel threatened to put the brakes on an evangelical tourist center in Israel), I pity anyone struggling with faith. This would certainly put them over the edge.

There's no doubt it's hard to reconcile this big bad world with a great good God supposedly in control of things, but someone has to come to God's defense. God is not some cosmic bully or an absentee landlord. For my part, I believe God to be profoundly present with those who suffer these catastrophes--hell, I think God suffers right along with us, dies in every drowned child, feels abandoned in every elderly person left to fend for themselves. We are, after all, made in God's image and likeness.

But I would rather go to hell than live in eternity with a God who drowns black children because of the sins of their parents (or their elected officials), or destroys people's homes because of all the sinning going on in the French Quarter (or in Washington, D.C. for that matter). Or drowns 250,000 South Asians with a gigantic tidal wave for God knows what reason. Or abandons countless women and children in Darfur to rape and murder by marauding bands. Or strikes millions of African babies with HIV and AIDS to make a point about sexual morality. That God is insane.

And I ask you: Where are the ministers, the preachers, the theologians who all know there is another way to deal theologically with disasters like these. Isn't there one Catholic bishop who will say, "God, who loves you more than anything, who has inscribed you on the palms of God's hands, would never, ever, ever, bring you harm." Or even, "God is grieving with you, suffers in you, weeps with you." Why can't we just admit that sometimes we have no f-ing idea "why" things like this happen; maybe God can't do a single thing about it. (And, of course, it's always easier to blame God than to acknowledge the part we play through our mad consumption of the planet and destruction of its resources.)

What the hell is the Incarnation all about if not to assure us that Emmanuel, God-with-us, whom we just celebrated at Christmas, is with us always, even in this sometimes terrible, beyond terrible, mess.

Mayor Nagin, I'm terribly sorry for your loss. But please don't say another word to a reporter about the part you think God had in all this. Though I'm sure you get a pass in the circumstances, it's best not to take God's name in vain.

Monday, January 16, 2006

In limbo

Another good reason to have married priests: The ever-readable Eugene Cullen Kennedy, a former priest, psychologist, and occasional contributor to the Chicago Tribune, in a spirited defense of the now-banished limbo:

In the very week that the Roman Catholic Church officially closed limbo, a group of coal miners spent their last hours in its murky counterpart deep in the earth of West Virginia.

Church officials did not, like troubled automotive executives, close a plant that was no longer financially profitable. They declared that limbo never existed, even though its mythic meaning remains spiritually significant to every man or woman who has waited in one of the many limbos of life, in hospitals, for example, where anxious people wait for the birth of a child or the death of a loved one.

We have all been to limbo spiritually. We are there right now in one way or another. Where are we if not in limbo when we await the return of someone we love from a long trip, as parents and families do for a son, daughter, spouse or parent who is in Iraq? Are we not in limbo when we wait to see if we can be fully forgiven for our human failures or for the hurts we cause to those we love?

Limbo is a necessary space for humans held in the grip of time. Limbo, thought to be a place for unbaptized children that the Church didn't know what to do with, is actually the place we are when we don't know what to do with ourselves. Limbo is the mythic homeland for those of us who feel the pull of the eternal in our longing for life and love and the yank of time as it also feeds our loss and heartbreak.

These possibilities play about the lives of coal miners, soldiers, policemen and people who seem safe at day's beginning, like those who went to work in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Vatican officials may take limbo off their theological survey but they cannot take it out of the lives of human beings. We pass through or stand waiting outside of it every day.

Limbo has never been a place for sinners as much as the condition of life for those who live with setbacks, separations and illness as a condition for experiencing the eternal in themselves. Vatican officials, including popes, would be better off taking a good look at all that people suffer in trying to live good lives rather than condemning them for inhabiting what they cruelly call a "culture of death."

Writing limbo off like land on which they refuse to pay the death taxes tells us that at least some Vatican specialists fail to understand myths as symbols and stories about the mystery of being alive.

Don't know what he's like in person, but if his preaching and pastoring was half as good as his writing, his departure to marry was a great loss for the church.

Bishop knows best?

A post-Katrina success story may be facing closure, according to the Chicago Tribune: St. Clare Elementary School in the diocese of Biloxi reopened for class on Halloween in military-style tents, primarily through the efforts of an Alaska businessman and volunteers from Old St. Patrick Church in Chicago. Biloxi's bishop, Thomas Rodi, however, is considering closing the school after reassigning its popular pastor, and parents are crying foul, especially since the school's beachfront location could be a huge financial windfall for the diocese.

"I feel so violated that we have to go through this," said Mary Beth Martina, whose son attends the school. "This is the one place where we should feel reassured and calm. We are fighting the insurance companies, the muck. And to have to fight to save our church, our school." You said it, sister.

The diocese says rebuilding in the current location would leave the school vulnerable to another hurricane, which may be true, but the problem is the decision-making process. Catholic families--who, after all, foot the bill for the entire operation anyway--deserve better than some decision made from on high, even if it's a good one.

But there's the rub: Until lay folks demand more financial oversight and decision-making authority, bishops will continue to be able to dispose of parish and school property pretty much as they please--and they have both civil and canon law backing them up.

Just so everyone knows: The answer to the question, "Who owns my parish?" is easy: the bishop--at least until we get some substantial reform in our church, although after a $1 billion sex-abuse tab, you'd think we'd have it by now.

King for a day

It seems MLK Day has been adopted as yet another retail holiday: A Chicago-area mattress store produced a television commercial to promote its MLK mattress blowout. Lie down for racial equality!

Another day to shop: Not, I think, what Dr. King had in mind when he rode a bus across the Jim Crow South, marched through the streets of Chicago, and took thousands and thousands to Washington to dream big dreams.

Unfortunately, the generals of the retail-industrial complex know an opportunity when they see it.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Heretical or hysterical? Another point of view

Wanted to bring forward a reader's comment about the diocese of San Bernardino's heresy trial of Fr. Ned Reidy, who left the Catholic church to for one of the more liberal "American Catholic" denominations. (Here's the original post.) The commenter knows the church there inside and out, and he makes a good point:

Actually, Gerry Barnes, the bishop of San Bernardino, is dumb like a fox. You see, Ned Reidy was a long-time and very popular priest at the parish where he served. Then he quit his order, rather than be reassigned, and set up his own church just down the street from the diocesan facility. Naturally, his followers followed, especially since his new operation offered the same Catholic look and feel--same furniture, same hardware, same words, same ceremonies, and same guy dressed in the same duds. But of course it wasn't the same; it wasn't Catholic. But Reidy didn't tell people that, no more than any priest would inform his congregation of his bona fides. People just assume. So Barnes had to do something to warn the people that the sacraments they were celebrating were not going to make the church book. Announcements from local pulpits and church bulletins didn't work because the people Barnes was trying to reach weren't there. Then he hit upon the idea of a heresy trial with a good, old-fashion excommunication. It worked! Now, everybody in the country knows that Reidy's operation is ersatz Catholic and they can make an informed choice.
I suppose a heresy trial does work better than a press release, though I wonder if folks really thought Reidy's operation was actually Catholic, especially when his (female) associate pastor showed up! But I imagine there was a lengthy period of uncertainty...

Thanks for the scoop!

Condom-ned if they do ...

Planned Parenthood's website is now offering keychains with fobs that contain condoms inside--which have been around for at least 20 years--along with clever slogans such as "Break in case of emergency" and "The only thing that will come between us." Unfortunately, one labelled simply "Art" features the Sistine Chapel's famous Michelangelo mural of God reaching out to Adam--offering a condom. Not likely to spur conversation with Christians opposed to condoms, although Planned Parenthood hardly seems to care. And a few Christians are getting a little grumpy about them.

Kristian Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, called the Sistine Chapel key chain image "a very crude and crass manuver" that "does nothing to deal with the horrific promiscuity rate we have among teenagers." Well, that's true, but I don't think it's the promiscuity rate but the unplanned pregnancy rate PP was after.

Planned Parenthood can certainly be critcized for a restriction-less approach to abortion, but I also think that they're also dedicated to preventing unplanned pregnancies in the first place. When I taught sex-ed, I found their website to be full of helpful, comprehensive information about safer sex, methods of birth control and their reliability, and STD prevention--including abstinence!

And given the ruthlessness with which the both political and religious powers-that-be push abstinence only sex education and family planning not only in the U.S. but throughout the world, I think PP can get away with a nose-thumbing at religious opponents of their brand of prevention.

Mother knows best

More on the Carmelites and their vocation director, Jason Martin, who fathered a child then abandoned the mother in 2004, and was subsequently made vocation director of his order: The Carmelites, facing a lot of bad publicity, have paid back child support in the amount of $2,000 and pledged $213 a month until the child turns 18. Thank God that's over with!

Of course, it's not. Here, clearly, is one of the weaknesses of an all-male celibate priesthood. Women, whether clergy themselves or wives of clergy, would not have allowed a man to skip out on his obligations in the way Martin has, nor would they have "rewarded" him with such a high-profile position in the community. Add to this that $213 a month is a pittance--these men clearly don't know just how much it costs to raise a child--and we are still left with a big mess.

In light of my first post on this subject, a friend who placed a child for adoption said she could at least understand Martin's decision. I defer to her judgment on this, but I also think that women should be the ones to make such a decision since they bear the bulk of the burden. It's women who actually carry and give birth, women who are primary caregivers, women who disproportionately bear the physical, financial, and professional "costs" of childrearing. They should get final say, as far as I'm concerned, on whether to place a child for adoption or raise it, and the father of the child should have to accept the mother's decision. (Incidentally, I'd be far more comfortable with the legal and religious restrictions on abortion if women were the primary architects of both.)

I guess I've never really understood why biological fathers get equal claim anyway, especially those who have not made the legal (and/or religious) commitment of marriage to the women with whom they father children. Their "contribution" seems miniscule in relation to women's.

I don't want to downplay the importance of actual "fathers"--as opposed to sperm donors--especially since my own has been so faithful and dedicated to my family. But when it comes to difficult decisions related to pregnancy, adoption, etc., I think women should make the call.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Prolife president

I'm talking about Slick Willy here, under whose tenure abortions actually went down, despite the lack of any legislation restricting abortion. But this isn't about abortion but AIDS drugs: Bill Clinton's foundation has negotiated price reductions for two important second-line treatments for HIV infection, especially significant since the U.N.'s "3x5" program--3 million HIV-infected people in the developing world on HIV treatment by 2005--barely got to half its goal, primarily due to lack of funding.

And where's the current U.S. administration on this? After trumpeting a "pledge" of $15 billion to fight AIDS in Africa, authorization has languished in Congress while the Christian right in the Bush White House restricts funding to abstinence-only HIV-prevention and pregnancy prevention programs.

So here's to Slick Willy. While you may not like his Southern accent, taste in women other than his wife, or moral (ahem) foibles, he uses in celebrity and influence well. Not quite Jimmy Carter-well, of course, but there's time.

What the U.S. bishops should be doing ...

Maryland's General Assembly has overridden the governor's veto of a bill requiring Wal-Mart to spend more (8% of payroll) on its employees health care. Maryland has realized, evidently, that one of the social costs of low low Wal-Mart prices is an increase in Medicaid and other subsidies for Wal-Mart workers. (Some Wal-Mart stores have given workshops for employees on how to utilize the state Medicaid system.)

Catholic social teaching is clear that health care is a human right. One wonders why the Catholic Hospital Association and the U.S. bishops are not more voiciferous advocates of health care reform in this country; if they put half the money and energy into that as into ballot measures opposing gay marriage, who know what they might accomplish. If you want to reduce poverty and strike a blow for justice, curtailing the abuses of for-profit health care in this country is one sure way to go.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

More on Bishop Tom

Just to give a flavor of Gumbleton: At a Dignity/USA convention in Denver several years ago (Dignity is an advocacy group of GLBT Roman Catholics), Gumbleton, after faithfully repeating the church's teaching on the "objective disorder" of homosexuality, pointed out that the church also teaches the absolute immorality of nuclear weapons, yet provides the U.S. military with a military archdiocese, a bishop, and priests to serve those who produce, service, maintain, and deploy our nuclear arsenal.

The argument given for this discrepancy, he said, is that Catholics can disagree in conscience about the morality of nuclear weapons--with ecclesial approbation, evidently. Yet gay and lesbian Catholics are denounced for doing the same in their personal lives.

So: Nuclear weapons/possible destruction of the world, OK to disagree with church teaching; homosexuality/personal moral decisions about relationships, not OK to disagree.

This is both paraphrase and summary, so you shouldn't quote the good bishop on it, but that was the gist.

Great Gumbleton!

Detroit Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, already known as a peace advocate and supporter of gay and lesbian Catholics, is now also championing victims of clerical sexual abuse, revealing for the first time in his life that he was the victim of "inappropriate touching" by a priest in the 1940s. According to the Detroit Free Press, Gumbleton--a perennial thorn in the side of many other bishops--made his comments in support of a relaxation of the statute of limitations on abuse claims in Ohio, which dioceses there are vigorously opposing.

No matter what you think about relaxing limitations, the legal spokesman for the U.S. bishops' conference, Mark Chopko, gets no praise from me in his arguments against it, rejecting a relaxation for "punishing the church today, and the people sitting in our pews today, for things that happened generations ago." Don't you get it? Some of the people sitting in our pews are the victims themselves, and some of the abusers are still preaching from our pulpits. This is one reason, and a good reason, why the U.S. bishops have lost most of their moral credibility.

And, besides, whatever became of the church understood as the one body--or is that only when there is no money involved? Victims deserve a just settlement for their suffering and injury, and it can hardly be argued that negligent superiors (bishops especially) were not responsible in part for some of the abuse. If the "people in the pews" feel unjustly burdened, they should make their views known and demand redress from their leaders.

As for Gumbleton, I can only lament that this great pastor never headed a diocese, primarily because of his outspokenness about peace, justice, and the dignity of gay and lesbian people. Still, he has made good use of the office given him, and I for one thank him for his faithful service.

Father's a father--and I don't mean spiritually

News that the current vocation director of the Discalced Carmelites, who lives in Chicago at the formation house for the order, fathered a child with an Ontario woman, then left her and was transferred to the U.S.--away from the jurisdiction of Canadian courts--is bound to raise hackles, and it begs the question: "What were you/they thinking?"

Father (and I do mean father) Jason Martin, 33, left active ministry in 2004 after reuniting with his high school sweetheart. Sparing us all the gory details, the relationship resulted in a pregnancy, although Martin had returned to ministry a few weeks before, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Says Martin's attorney: "After a great deal of consideration, at this time Jason wishes his involvement with the child to be financial only." So much for defending families. So far, the mother of Martin's child has received only $1,000 in support, despite the fact that the Carmelites promised support of more than $200 a month is Martin turned out to be the father, which paternity testing established.

But the fact that Martin was then made vocation director (!!), responsible for recruiting new candidates, truly makes this a circus. This is the guy the Carmelites want to put out there as a model of poverty, CHASTITY, and obedience? Much less a model of responsibility, accountability, and good sense.

I'm sure there are lots of folks at fault here, but there is one person who certainly isn't: Martin's son. And so I ask, do we really want a "spiritual father" who would prefer to be only "financially related" to his own biological son?

This is just a mess. And a damn shame, too.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Not the Billy Graham kind, though--from NBC, of all places.

Setting aside the uproar around The Book of Daniel, which is going to be a flop anyway, I have to mention my new favorite show--well, I've only watched one episode, so I'm going out on a limb--My Name Is Earl. Despite the fact that this sitcom is hardly politically correct, it's feature character is a man who has decided to make amends for his poorly executed life, with hilarious consequences, of course.

The gospel message last week? After trying to take his son and his son's half-brother to a roadside carnival (to make up for promising to do so and then skipping out on them for an ACDC concert), Earl discovers the carnival's closed up shop. At a loss for how to "fix" this one, he explains his dilemma to Earl Jr.

Jr.'s response: "We could just forgive you."

Earl: "What do you mean."

Jr.: "Well, they taught us at bad kids camp that if you love someone and they're honest and say they're sorry, you forgive them." Jr., with the approval of his half-brother, then crosses the carnival off Earl's list of amends to make.

All together now: "Aaaaaawwwwww..."

Betcha a hundred bucks those two TV minutes beat the hell out of most 15-minutes Sunday homilies.

An honest breeze from the pulpit

Congrats to Thibodaux, Louisiana priest Jim Morrison for coming out to his parish and college student ministry in response to the Vatican document restricting gay men from seeking ordination. Not only did he come out to parishioners, he had to come out to his parents and siblings first.

In his own words: "I have come to realize that while I was encouraging others to be honest, I was not putting these words into practice in my own life."

Ah, integrity. Refreshing, isn't it? And guess what? The world didn't collapse. The parish appreciated his honesty and faithfulness to his promise of celibacy, and the diocese continues to value his ministry.

I'll take 1,000 more, please. And maybe a couple of bishops, too.

Suggested additions to episcopal regalia

Ostrich feathers--only for bishops who keep their heads stuck in the ground.

Such as the bishops of Tanzania in Africa--a country with a population of 31 million of which 2 million are HIV-infected (the U.S. rate is only about 1 million out of population of 280)--are condemning a government sponsored health program for primary schools that teaches 12-year-olds how to properly use a condom, according to Reuters. That method of HIV prevention is only one of many forms of prevention included in the curriculum.

According to a Reuters report, Cardinal Polycarp Pengo, the archbishop of Dar es Salaam, said, "Introduction of the [teaching of] use of condoms in schools, apart from being sinful, is indeed justification and opening the door for immoral lifestyles." He said the church had to respond to "defend human dignity." From what?

It may seem harsh to expose 12-year-olds to condoms, but consider that Tanzania, like many African nations, is facing an unprecedented epidemic, that many young women experience sexual intercourse at an earlier age--the life expectancy is less than 50 now--and that there is little access to HIV treatment. HIV diagnosis means death, and women and girls are most susceptible to HIV transmission through heterosexual contact.

I just don't see how Catholic leaders can justify open opposition to programs that are proven to reduce HIV infection rates just because those methods aren't "perfect." Life in Africa--and in many other places for that matter--is not "perfect" by any stretch of the imagination--think little clean drinking water, famine, and exploitation by the West. I hardly think condoms are the greatest threat to anyone's human dignity. The are a matter of life and death.

Shameless self-promotion

Slow news day, so far, but if you're itching for a fight, check out BustedHalo.com's "Spiritual Smackdown" blog, which features two young adult Catholics from right and left in a contentious yet charitable debate. We each blog every other day, and readers can leave comments. BustedHalo's pretty balanced, but I expect to get slaughtered in the comments department! In the right pew, my opposite number works in grassroots organizing for causes pushed by the hierarchy. We have totally different backgrounds, so it should be interesting. My first post: "John Paul 'the Great'?"

If you want to see my answer, click the link above, or put the following in your browser address bar:


I'm "Windy City Guy," and if you don't know what I look like, I think I'll have pic there--bet you can't wait to go now! :)

Monday, January 09, 2006

Eye-roll please ...

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix has become the third U.S. bishop to require courses in Natural Family Planning--the only method of fertility regulation (how's that for a euphemism?!) approved by the Catholic church--for anyone seeking a Catholic wedding in the archdiocese. The bishops of Fargo, North Dakota and Denver are the other two. He also encouraged couples using birth control or banned fertility treatments like in vitro to "seek forgiveness."

There's no point in going into the whole issue of birth control; Catholic laypeople in practice have flat out rejected Humanae Vitae's ban on artificial birth control, which Paul VI included over the objection of his hand-picked birth control commission. Whatever wisdom to be found there--yes, I've read it multiple times--has long been lost because of the Vatican's insistence on the absolute immorality of any chemical or barrier method of conception. (I still would think that even the most conservative of Catholics should prefer birth control to abortion, but it seems most positions are pretty hardened.) Elvis has left the building on this one.

But birth control isn't the issue; the issue is requiring yet another hoop for Catholic couples who want to marry in the church. Already most dioceses "require" at least counseling and/or a premarital retreat, which of course is a good idea in a culture with a 50% divorce rate. At the same time, at least one of the parties to a Catholic wedding is baptized and so, according to canon law, has a right--yes, a right--to be married in their own parish as long as there is no impediment to marriage (like already being married, etc.). I'm not sure that any "requirement" would stand up to canonical scrutiny, much less this unwarranted intrusion into the couple's (future, of course) sex life.

Don't get me wrong; I think Catholic parishes and dioceses should offer and encourage couples to take advantage of all the tools that can make a marriage successful. But why not invite rather than demand? Others will argue that "they" (the couple) want "something" from "the church," forgetting that "they" are the "church," and the "something"--the sacraments--belong to "us," the baptized.

Besides, as my mother always says, you attract more flies with honey than with ... well, you know.

A matter of conscience

Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary in Canada is suggesting that Catholic Canadian politicians follow the example of Sir Thomas More and face martyrdom rather than bend on same-sex marriage, which has become legal in Canada, according to Toronto's Globe and Mail. More, who was martyred by King Henry VIII for refusing to acknowledge the king's authority over the Church of England, is the patron of conscientious objection for many.

Of course, conscience cuts both ways, and it's likely that at least some Catholics in Canada believe in conscience that, regardless of their religious beliefs about homosexuality or same-sex marriage, religious institutions should not be able to restrict the civil rights of citizens solely on religious grounds. And, despite their appeals to the natural law and marriage as society's foundation--both debateable--arguments against same-sex marriage or civil unions or what have you are fundamentally religious.

Ironically, I think Thomas More would not share Bishop Henry's position. If his writings are any guide--in his Utopia, he argued for a married clergy, the ordination of women, and divorce (though he is a Catholic saint!)--I bet he'd be a strong proponent of the separation of church and state. His martyrdom, after all, was directly connected to his refusal to submit to the secular ruler's claim of religious authority.

Remembering JPII

With the expected release of Mehmet Ali Agca, JPII's would-be assassin, the legacy of Pope John Paul II is likely to come up once again. While I am no fan of JPII's papacy because of what I think are major rollbacks of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council during his time at the wheel, one thing I wish got more play was the regularity with which he both asked for and offerred forgiveness. The pope's famous meeting with Agca two years after the assassination attempt will remain a testament both to John Paul's willingness to forgive and his sense of drama--he always knew how to use a moment, and I think that instinct often served his ministry well.

How I wish that spirit of forgiveness would enliven all Christians, especially we American ones. How might our response to September 11 have been different if the search for reconciliation had at least been a factor in what came next?

Friday, January 06, 2006

God to Pat Robertson: "Shut up."

OK, it wasn't God, it was me. But if Pat Robertson can speak for God just because he has a gigantic TV empire, I get to because I have a gigantic mouth and an Internet connection. Really, Pat and I are more similar than I care to admit.

But at least I'm not going around saying God afflicts old men with strokes, as Pat did about Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's recent health problems:

"God considers this land to be his," Robertson said on The 700 Club. "You read the Bible, and he says, `This is my land,' and for any prime minister of Israel who decides he is going to carve it up and give it away, God says, `No, this is mine.'"

Really, Pat, where does he [sic] say that? For a fundamentalist, you play pretty fast and loose with scripture. And besides, doesn't all land belong to God? I think the issue is whether the land in question belongs to the Jewish people. And as usual, Pat's god is pretty petty.

Pat Robertson must think God is pretty inept. If God really didn't want Israel to withdraw from Gaza, wouldn't "he" have given Sharon a stroke before the withdrawal. I mean, we all knew about it nine months before it happened. Surely God watches CNN.

Of course, Pat's comments only reflect what is a continuing right-wing evangelical intervention into Mideast politics by Left Behind Christians. Convinced that Jesus isn't going to return until only Jews inhabit the Holy Land, they've been funneling money like mad to hawkish Israeli political groups and to extremist in Israel who want to rebuild the Temple (after first destroying the Dome of the Rock mosque that currently occupies the Temple mount)--another pre-req for Jesus' glorious comeback. (Incidentally, Jews exit in act 2 of the Left Behind drama, when they all become evangelical Christians. If you're not familiar with the books, please don't read them. They're both inane and insane.) And they've pushed their agenda through the Bush administration, which has both Jews and Christians from the extreme right.

Shame on everyone in this situation. I have no idea how to resolve the political questions that plague Israelis and Palestinians alike. But I do know that promoting further conflict can hardly be God's will for the children of Sarah and Abraham, neither those chosen in the First Covenant nor those of us who believe we've been grafted to the Chosen People through Jesus.

Take it like a Christian

More on The Book of Daniel: Bob Waliszewski of Focus on the Family's teen ministries, complaining about the show's portrayal of Jesus said it shows Christ as a "namby-pamby frat boy who basically winks at every sin and perversity under the sun."

"When the pastor's teen son is sexually active and having many romps with his 15-year-old girlfriend, this Jesus says, `A kid has to be a kid,' " Waliszewski said. "I don't think NBC would have portrayed a Muslim cleric or a Buddhist monk, the Dalai Lama, in a show this way."

While the promos for the show do make Jesus look silly--though I'd say more hippie than frat boy--it's the last part that bugs me. We Christians are constantly drawing that "Muslim-Buddhist" comparison when complaining about the media. But it's an apples-and-oranges comparison.

Christians of all stripes are by far the majority religious group in this country. We use politics and the courts to push our agenda, from the Ten Commandments on public property to making sure a nativity scene appears at City Hall at Christmas. We also wield enormous economic clout and use it to influence corporations on their personnel policies (no domestic partnerships or we won't buy Ford!) and advertising buys (remember "Christmas" on the Wal-Mart holiday ads?). Evangelical Christians have been incredbly successful at this; George Bush is, after all, leader of the free world, along with his coterie of evangelical Christians. Lefty religious folk like me, not so much, St. Jimmy Carter the notable exception.

All that activity is fair game in a democracy, but like it or not, that makes "us" Goliath and everyone else David. You try to save your sacred grove of trees, as a tribe of Native Americans did recently, from road-building in this context. Even though the tribe said the loss of the grove would "destroy" their religion, Swing-vote Sandra (Day O'Connor) wrote in her opinion against them that the federal government had every right to do with "what is, after all, its own land" any way it pleased. ("Its own land"--that's rich indeed.) Think she would have written that opinion if it had been Christians in the dock? I don't.

Nope, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So I think we should take our knocks from wherever they come, and even thank our detractors for the much needed brotherly and sisterly correction.

Another reason to ignore the "Catholic" League

In sounding off about NBC's The Book of Daniel, the always-quotable Bill Donahue of the Catholic League said it was the "work of an embittered ex-Catholic homosexual." As usual, at a loss for logic, Donahue resorts to name-calling. So grown up. And so Christian.

Which begs the question: Why does Donahue's League get to be "Catholic." Canon law has some fairly strict requirements about when a group can claim it is associated with Roman Catholicism, and conservative groups have mercilessly wielded those strictures against liberal groups like Call to Action (leftish Catholic lay church reform group), Voice of the Faithful (centrist lay church reform group founded in response to the sex-abuse scandal), Dignity U.S.A. (advocacy group for GLBT Catholics), and most recently Catholic universities who permit debate about current theological/moral issues or invite "problematic" speakers (those who don't want abortion to be illegal, though not those who support or implement the death penalty).

Yet Bill Donahue can daily issue the nastiest, most uncharitable personal attacks on his, and I do mean his, opponents and still gets to be "Catholic."

And we wonder why Catholicism is associated in the minds of many with intolerance of difference and political extremism.


Well, rejoicing in the troubles of others is not very nice to say the least, definitely uncharitable, and probably a sin, but here goes anyway: The senior pastor of South Tulsa Baptist Church and one for four Southern Baptist Convention executive committee members from Oklahoma, has been arrested for propositioning a plainclothes police officer and charged with a misdemeanor, according to an AP story. Like most Southern Baptist senior pastors, Lonnie Latham has been outspoken opponent of things like gay marriage and an advocate of the Southern Baptist policy of befriending gays and lesbians in the hopes of saving them from the "homosexual lifestyle."

Anybody remember that aphorism about the gentlemen who protest too much? Of course, rather than chuckling at the irony, we probably ought to be sad for Latham and his family.

This comes as the Christian right is attacking NBC for its new series The Book of Daniel, about an Episcopal priest with a problematic family life (he uses painkillers, wife drinks, they have a gay son, another having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend, and a daughter selling marijuana). Though the American Family Association says the series was another sign of NBC's "anti-Christian bigotry," I think Latham's behavior is the bigger problem, as it contributes to the widespread belief that Christians, and especially their leaders, are a bunch of hypocrites when it comes to sex.

Of course none of this moves us toward what we Christians--including Catholics--really need: A grown-up conversation about human sexuality, minus the acrimony and name-calling.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Pope to "save" erotic love

The Vatican is saying more about Papa Ratzi's first encyclical, due out any day. With the title Deus, caritas est (God is love), the document is supposed to talk about the relationship between agape, commonly referred to as "unconditional love," and eros, the blanket Greek word for human desire of various sorts, including sexual desire.

If Cardinal George is right in his comments that appeared in today's Chicago Sun-Times, the document might be pretty good: "What the pope is going to do is to try to save eros. That is to say that our own human love, our desires, are good in themselves. . . . The distinction between agape and eros is not a clean one. In fact, one influences the other and therefore both should be considered good. But we are sinful creatures, so they can be misused."

Don Senior, president of Chicago's Catholic Theological Union (my alma mater) and go-to guy for all Chicago-area religion reporters, had some more intriguing thngs to say: "[The pope] has spoken about, in a couple of his statements already, a 'soulless materialism,' so trying to integrate human experience with the divine is really fundamental to him.

"It may be that he's worried about a picture of human love or sexuality that is devoid of any connection to the divine. And in a strange way, it may be part of his response . . . to the clergy abuse crisis." Uh-oh.

It's that last part that makes me nervous, and I think Senior, who serves on the Pontifical Biblical Commission and so knows B16 (formerly the PBC's chair), is probably on to something. And given Papa Ratzi's record on sexuality, and especially in light of the recent ban on those with permanently "deep-seated" homosexual tendencies from seminary, I'm a little nervous.

And yet B16 has surprised before, and he may again. So I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Interreligious monologue

More doom and gloom on the gays and religion front: The head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, has condemned homosexuality as unhealthy and a threat to society, according to the Times of London. His comments came in response the legalization of same-sex "civil partnerships," the first of which was celebrated last month.

According to Iqbal, "[Homosexuality] does not augur well in building the very foundations of society: stability, family relationships. And it is something we would certainly not in any form encourage the community to be involved in.”

Asked on the BBC Radio 4 PM programme if homosexuality was harmful to society, he replied: “Certainly it is a practice that in terms of health, in terms of the moral issues that comes along in a society, it is. It is not acceptable.

“Each of our faiths tells us that it is harmful and, I think, if you look into the scientific evidence that has been available in terms of the forms of various illnesses and diseases that are there, surely it points out that where homosexuality is practised there is a greater concern in that area.” Well, your faith may tell you that--or perhaps your personal interpretation of it.

Nice to see that the gays-spread-disease calumny is alive and well. Of course, we would all be rightly condemned if we said Islam was a threat to Western society because of its association with extremist politics and terrorism. Unfortunately, Iqbal evidently doesn't see the connection between his blanket condemnation of gays and lesbians and the illogical and prejudicial anti-Islamic rhetoric plaguing both European and American politics and media.

Not to be outdone, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Roman Catholic archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, used his New Year’s Day sermon to say that the introduction of civil partnerships was partly responsible for Britains living “at a time when the truth of marriage and family is obscured and distorted."

I still wonder what religious leaders across the spectrum are going to do when society doesn't collapse under the burden of legally-recognized same-sex relationships. Who will they blame then for sky-high divorce rates, unsupported and abused children, and the other problems that plague modern families? Will they finally acknowledge that the greatest threat to human families is an economy that values only the production of wealth at the cost of true human development and the destruction of the environment? Will they join their voices to oppose the resource-driven conflicts that turn children into soldiers, that separate families, and expose women and their children to exploitation?

I hate to be shrill, but I hardly think that the vast majority of the world's families give a damn about same-sex marriage. They're too busy trying not to freeze to death in earthquake shattered sections of Pakistan, trying to survive the aftermath of a tsunami in Southeast Asia, mourning children lost to AIDS and war in Africa, looking for medical care in the U.S., and trying to scrape by on a dollar a day in Central and South America.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Good shepherd

While the Catholic bishops of the United States keep their stony silence about our government's "extraordinary rendition" of terror suspects to torture-friendly countries, a Church of England bishop is taking Western governments to task, according to the BBC. The bishop of Lichfield, the Right Reverend Jonathan Gledhill, likened Western governments use of torture to the worst abuses of the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century.

His warning: "We might become the thing we hate - killing the innocent, alienating people of good will, imposing our will wrongly on other nations." In other words, we're behaving a lot like the "brutal dictator" we deposed in Iraq.

What's better is that Gledhill's salary is paid by his government--the Church of England is established after all--so you'd think he'd tone down his political rhetoric. If he doesn't feel constrained, what's keeping our bishops from denouncing this outrageous attack on human dignity? If being prolife doesn't mean being against torture, I don't know what it means.

Yet by and large U.S. religious leaders are silent while our government keeps company with the devil.

Poor--and I do mean poor--Portland

The Portland archdiocese has lost in its attempt to separate parish properties from its $53 settlement with sex-abuse victims. Parish assets can now be used to discharge diocesan debt in its bankruptcy proceedings.

The Catholic people of God in Portland are getting a raw deal, but not from the courts. The decision is quite frankly correct; that's how most diocesan finances are set up, with the bishop as a "corporation sole," owning all the property; the church can't claim otherwise just because the birds have come home to roost. It's a bad set-up for all kinds of reasons, primarily because it basically concentrates all the financial resources of the church--that means the people--in the hands of one person and those closest to him.

The bankruptcy filing itself was a terrible mistake; many saw it as a ploy to avoid paying just damages to victims of clerical sex abuse, and now it has backfired on the diocese. The people will be left with the bill, especially if parishes close.

How long will it take before Catholic lay people stand up and demand some accountability from their bishops--including real, structural change in the way dioceses are run? Until we do, we can't complain while inept bishops run the churches into the ground.

Perservering peacemakers

Despite the fact that four of their members remain kidnapped, Christian Peacemaker Teams is sending another representative to Iraq. Michele Naar-Obed from Duluth, Minnesota is heading to Baghdad on Friday. Right now she's a volunteer at a Catholic Worker House. If you didn't know, it was CPT who first reported the abuse of prisoners at U.S. facilities in Iraq in 2003. So in my book, that makes that patriots as well as first-rate Christians.

How's this for a quote from Michele: "I believe strongly that we have to have an alternative to warmaking as our means of solving conflict." Amen, sister. Please pass that along to your fellow Christians in our government--Democrats and Republicans alike.

And on the you-know-you're-doing-something-right-if front, Rush Limbaugh's now infamous quote about the CPTers is another sign to me that Rush is pretty much always wrong: "Here's why I like [the CPT kidnappings]. I like it any time a bunch of leftist, feel-good handwringers are shown reality." That's right, he said he "likes" it. Whose moral values is this guy defending?

Good luck, Michele. I wish to God I had your guts--and faith.

Devilish denim

Sweden's latest fashion trend is bound to cause some trouble when it arrives here: The logo of Cheap Monday Jeans features a skull with an upside-down cross on its forehead, which is designer, Bjorn Atldax, claims is "an active statement against Christianity."

"I'm not a Satanist myself but I have a great dislike for organized religion," he said, going on to refer to Christianity as a "force of evil" that has sparked war through history.

Atldax doesn't get high marks for logic, well-crafted argumentation, or even clever design in my book, so I tend to dismiss him; I like the response of one laid-back Swedish minister: "I don't think it's much to be horrified about," according to Bo Larson, director of the Lutheran Church of Sweden's Department of Education, Research, and Culture. "I believe that the way to deal with this is to start a discussion about what religion means." I doubt Atldax will be interested, but others might.

Not the best response in my book is vicar Karl-Erik Nylund, who thinks Christianity gets unfairly singled out: "No one wants to provoke Jews or Muslims, but it's totally OK to provoke Christians."

I think a good look at anti-Muslim rhetoric in Europe would indicate that there are plenty of Europeans interested in provoking Muslims, and the persistence of anti-Semitic political parties in many European countries indicates to me that Jews and Judaism are still on the receiving end of plenty of prejudice. And I'd say the same holds true in the U.S., especially when it comes to rhetoric about Islam.

So no whining from Christians about a pair of jeans, OK?