Monday, February 20, 2006

Throwing good money after bad

Not to land another one squarely on the chin of my home church, but this weekend saw the Chicago archdiocese's second attempt at a "Festival of Faith," a conference meant to rival the L.A. archdiocese religious education conference, which draws about 25,000 people and a big pile of cash for the church there. Unfortunately, Chicago's first attempt, held over Halloween weekend in 2004, was a financial catastrophe (think at least six zeroes), partially because it was over Halloween, and partially because no one wanted to pay $22 to park at a church conference, which was held at Navy Pier, a major Chicago tourist attraction with prices to match. Plus, the pier is super-long--think a half-mile from end to end--so you can imagine the more mature conference-goers trying to huff it to the talks.

Last weekend's festival of faith was held at a more accessible suburban convention center, but even with the compulsory attendance of Catholic grammar school teachers (given the day off) and high school students (anything to get out of class) on Friday, attendance was, uh, probably not what was hoped for. Saturday was no better, especially since there was no group that could be ordered to attend--although an article in the Chicago Sun-Times claimed 6,500, which I guess is accurate if you count those attending the golf conference next door.

Of course, one reason for this is the extremely short list of "approved" speakers, which included a number of bishops no one has ever heard of and skews to the right. (I sometimes wonder if the list of "disapproved" is longer than the approved.) L.A. is more open with its speakers, and everyone from liberals to conservatives can find something that interests them. (Sounds like a good conference, no? Well, that is, if, like me, you are a gigantic church nerd.)

Of course, in the end, the event is another waste of the people of God's money. Back in the good ol' days under Cardinal Bernardin, the archdiocese used to sponsor "Jesus days" at area high schools that would draw a good crowd and a lot more bang for a lot less buck. For some reason, though, we've evidently decided that folksy gatherings at high schools aren't fancy enough, so we have to throw a big shin-dig whose attendees are mostly conscripts.

I knew I could find something to grump about if I gave it a little thought. It is Monday, after all.

Even mouthy liberals need a break

I ran out of blog-steam last week--nothing was really getting my Irish up after a week of ranting about sex abuse in the Chicago archdiocese. Plus, the BustedHalo blog went on a week longer than it was supposed to, during which time my opposite number and I blogged past each other about whether George Bush is really prolife. (You guessed it, I say no, she says yes. I'm right, of course.) :) You can still check out the blog if you want, but I warn you that a new pair started today, and the first entry is miles long. Short and sweet is more fun; plus 250 words doesn't permit much nuance so everyone gets to sound like a fringy wacko.

On another note, folks worried that Michael Jackson might be singing the prayers of the late Pope John Paul II can rest assured that the King of Pop won't be able to rehabilitate his image on the coattails of a dead pope. (Here's my original post about the possibility.) Father Giuseppe Moscati, speaking for the company hoping to set the prayers to music acknowledged that, in light of Jackson's history, his image "cannot be put alongside that of the pope."

Phew--JPII's sainthood cause dodged a bullet on that one!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Tacky, tacky

A group called "Catholics for the Cardinal" staged a rally in support of Francis George yesterday at Holy Name Cathedral as he tries to recover from the St. Agatha sex-abuse nightmare; though the group's press release promised 500, the Chicago Tribune said the number was about 100.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the rally included zingers like this: " 'People hate Cardinal George because he stands for the truth. This is the truth,' said Chicagoan Kelly Ames, talking through a bullhorn and waving a rosary made of redwood beads. 'We cannot lose him. We cannot let people get him down.' "

What in the hell are these people thinking? And what truth can she be talking about? The truth in this case is that George and the archdiocese royally screwed up. These people should be having a rally in support of the people at St. Agatha, of survivors of sex abuse. Write George a personal letter of support, but don't compound the archdiocese's inaction by staging a callous demonstration.

Adding insult to injury, Chicago priest Thomas Hurley of young adult-oriented Old St. Patrick Parish actually used his Sunday homily to defend Daniel McCormack, the priest at the center of the controversy. Hurley argued that since he'd known McCormack for years, he was sure the allegations were false. What a good use of a homily! That will keep those folks in church!

On top of it all, the Chicago archdiocese is currently in the middle of its annual appeal, in which parishes are required to participate. Yesterday was the Sunday priests were supposed to preach about the appeal; the next two Sundays are "commitment Sundays," when parishioners fill out their pledge cards. Great timing.

Add to this a cryptic letter Chicago-area priests received from Cardinal George encouraging any of them living "double lives" to come forward, according the local news, which evidently received leaked copies of the letter. I'll bet that's good for morale, and I'm sure all the priests in question are lining up right now.

To me it looks like just another case of finger-pointing and blame-dodging. And it's not going to do a thing to keep children safe.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Homosexual hierarchy?

A friend and former coworker asked what I thought about the Village Voice's recent story on a New York lawsuit filed by Bob Hoatson, a Newark archdiocesan priest and former chaplain of Catholic Charities there, against nine Catholic officials, including Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, Archbishop John Myers of Newark, and Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany. Hoatson alleges he was fired in retaliation for blowing the whistle on clergy sex-abuse coverups by the bishops in question. The really racy bit: Hoatson alleges all three bishops are gay and have been sexually active, and that they covered up abuse because they feared being "outed" by accused priests. (I'd encourage everyone to read the VV story.)

Is Hoatson telling the truth? In my experience and those around me, I'd say it's at least possible. That very thing happened in an Irish diocese about ten years ago; a bishop moved an abuser around for fear that the bishop's own trips to Thailand and sexual escapades there might be discovered. The well-known case of former Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, who paid off a former male lover to the tune of $450,000, comes to mind as well, as does the case of Bishop Patrick Zieman, the former bishop of Santa Rosa, California, who was involved in both a financial and sex scandal, in which the bishop kept quiet about a priest who was skimming the parish collection in exchange for sex with the priest in question. (Ick, ick, and double ick!) The priest, it turns out, was never ordained in the first place, and Zieman is now living in a monastery.

Of coures, the Albany diocese paid a former prosecutor $2.2 million over four months (!!) to investigate the claims against Bishop Hubbard; she found no "credible evidence" against him, but her investigation was hardly independent, though lucrative for her (and a raw deal for God's people in Albany!). Egan and Myers deny the allegations.

It's sad to say, but I'm prepared to believe almost anything about bishops nowadays. Time will tell if Hoatson's allegations are true, or even if they see the light of day. But the actions of bishops around sex abuse make them worthy of suspicion. Whether it's something this disgusting or just the old boys' club in action remains to be seen.

Of course, all this just feeds into the conservative frenzy that sex abuse and the problems with the church have something to do with gay people. The problems are caused by sick people, of course, some of whom happen to be gay. That distinction is unfortunately lost on many.

Self-interested? Then don't vote Republican!

I'll admit, perhaps it was a low blow to accuse Catholics who only vote on abortion of being self-interested because it doesn't really cost them anything to have the courts tell women they can't have abortions. But my critique stands: Real prolife policies will cost real money, and we prolifers better put up or shut up. We've already wasted hundreds of millions trying to overturn Roe. Care to guess what real good we could have accomplished if we devoted that money to women and children in difficulty?

But now a good reason to vote Democrat in your own self-interest: You may lose your group health coverage if we leave the GOP in power too long. The horrors of Bush's proposed budget include a number of gross violations of Catholic social teaching, but among the worst and most sneaky is his attempt at health-care "reform--"health savings accounts"--which is basically another giveaway to the rich and the for-profit medical industry.

What's wrong with health savings accounts? Only this: If Bush gets his way, quality medical care will further be restricted to those who can afford it. After all, you have to have money to save for your sick days, and everyone knows that the minimum (slave) wage doesn't leave any margin for sickness. Already pension benefits are evaporating right and left; now employer-sponsored, group health insurance is going to go the way of the dinosaur, with no national program to replace it.

It sounds so reasonable that generally healthy people should take out high deductible policies and receive tax breaks for health savings accounts. Of course, realize that removing the "well" from the insurance pool will make coverage for the rest astronomically expensive. And since the poor are more likely to have chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, and heart disease, guess who's going to be out of luck. Ever had skin cancer? Depression? Heart defect? HIV? Welcome to the land of not covered.

Catholic social teaching identifies health care as a human right. Already our for-profit system is making it a luxury.

And don't think for a second that the abortion rate will go down if Bush gets his version of health-care reform. A $400 abortion is a helluva lot cheaper than the $20,000 in medical costs it takes to carry a deliver a child to term.

The "Bush is prolife" bait-and-switch

The BustedHalo blog came to an end this week with a little politics--the women's ordination thing just wouldn't go away, so it was time to change the subject. My opposite number, who describes herself as a "prolife Democrat," said she voted for Bush in '04 because he is "pro-life." I think she and all the other "Bush is prolife" Catholics got snookered by Karl Rove and Co. My response:

I hardly see how a man who presided over more than 130 executions as governor and jacked up the war budget 48 percent as president—while cutting social programs for the poor and undercutting environmental standards—can be called “pro-life.”

Despite his “culture of life” rhetoric, not one pro-life cause has advanced since Bush’s election, unless you count the “compromise” on embryonic stem-cell research: not health care for the poor and uninsured, not abortion, not the death penalty, not end-of-life care, not welfare, nothing. Even the Medicare prescription drug benefit was a trillion-dollar giveaway to the drug companies. The Christian right has only abstinence-only sex education to show for its political investment in Bush II. Bush has, of course, gutted the social safety net and pursued policies in direct contradiction to Catholic social teaching on the economy, the environment, and war and peace. (Interestingly enough, liberal Catholics are condemned for questioning church teaching on women, birth control, and sexuality, yet it is evidently OK to dissent on a war that has produced civilian casualties in the tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands.)

[This is probably where I allowed my grumpiness to bleed through too much:]

I’d further argue that Catholics who vote only on abortion are guilty of self-interest. Pro-life policies that actually affect the abortion rate—full funding of food stamps and WIC, childcare tax credits, guaranteed health care for pregnant women and their children—will necessarily result in a tax increase (or a decrease in “defense” spending), definitely not likely to happen under any Republican administration.

How much cheaper it is to simply demand that abortion be made illegal via that courts than to really acknowledge that the gospel, Catholic social teaching, and the common good demand a just system of taxation and a domestic policy that puts the poor—and I count the unborn among them—first. Cafeteria conservatives, heal thyselves.

Monday, February 06, 2006

King of Pop sings the Pope

In case you need a chuckle, on the pop culture front, it appears that Michael Jackson has expressed interest in putting some of the late JPII's prayers to music, according to a Reuters article. An Italian music company has rights to about 24 of the late pope's prayers and is looking to find a group of international artists to put them to music. Not sure if Jackson will also choreograph them, but let's hope he keeps the crotch-grabbing to a minimum, as those moves might put JPII's cause for sainthood in jeopardy.

The choice of Jackson would not be without controversy, however, especially in light of his recent legal troubles. According to the story, "Father Giuseppe Moscati of the Edizioni Musicali Terzo Millennio, which specializes in church music and organizes musical events at the Vatican, dismissed the recent controversy surrounding Jackson, who is living in Bahrain after a Californian court acquitted him of child molestation charges last June.

" 'He has been cleared of all charges,' Moscati said."

Hmm, let's have a pop idol whom everyone believes to be a child molestor sing the prayers of a pope whom many blame for responding too slowly (or not at all) to the child sex abuse crisis in the U.S. church.

Probably shouldn't highlight that irony in the liner notes ...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Stop calling me names!

As for that "we are a sinful people" thing, we should definitely cut that out. We are a holy people, dammit, and that holiness is a gift from God, which I grant we don't always live up to. But any parent knows that if you tell a child she is bad, she will be. If you tell her she's good, she'll probably live that way.

How 'bout this: Instead of a penitential rite every Sunday, where we remember our sins, let's remember our baptism. It's right there in the book for Mass, the rite of blessing and sprinkling holy water. How 'bout we remember we're a new people every Sunday, a forgiven people, a chosen, blessed, and beloved people. A good and holy people. Not a pack of sinners.

I dare any priests out there just to try it. Every Sunday for a year, do the sprinkling. Preach about it. Instead of yammering on about sin and conversion, tell people that they're holy. Believe it yourself--even if it's sometimes hard to believe.

But, dammit, that's the Good News. We're holy, blessed, because God makes us so.

Stop calling me a sinner! And don't call yourself one either. I know I sin, and I'm sure you do, too, but that's not who I am or who you are. I am God's beloved son, and so are you (or maybe you're a daughter, but you get my point). If we started really believing that, I think the world might change.

Sorry for being such an idealist. Well, not really.

Feeling guilty?

Hate to be a one-note wonder here, but this sex abuse thing just keeps churning my stomach. Turns out the Rev. (sic) Daniel McCormack used to begin every Mass with "We are a sinful people," a phrase that's, uh, not in the book (and I'm a liturgist, so you can trust me on this one). I've always been suspicious of priests who constantly harp on sin. More often than not, they're telling us something about themselves, in addition to projecting their own guilt onto us.

Then there's this from some poor parent at St. Agatha's, as reported by the Chicago Tribune: "I am really sorry for my rush to judgment," said Jula Bledsoe, 56, a longtime parishioner at St. Agatha Catholic Church, where McCormack served. "I'm Catholic. I'm rushing to judgment; I'm doing everything that's not right. That's not a good thing, especially being an African-American. That's appalling, because we're always judged so quickly." Who said Catholic guilt was dead? Honey, you're not doing anything wrong; Jesus is mad, too, and hurt.

On top of it all, St. Agatha is celebrating anointing of the sick today for all the parishioners. Now, please tell me, what message does that send? That the people are sick and in need of healing? That's an abuse of the sacrament if there ever was one. What we need is the ancient rite of penance, where public sinners--in this case, those whose incompetence left predators in the pulpit--cover themselves in ashes, publicly repent of their sin, and sit in the assembly for all of Lent, begging forgiveness. How about it, Bishop Joseph Imesch of Joliet? How about it, Cardinal George? Are you ready to throw yourself on the mercy of the people of God? Francis George is constantly talking about how sinful we are, how in need of conversion we are; Hierarch, heal thyself! And stop dumping your guilt on the rest of us.

Mike Sneed of the Chicago Sun-Times gathers some readers' response to this mess. Among the best, about my hero Anne Burke: " ... what she [Judge Anne Burke] says always expresses what we, the ordinary day-to-day Mass attending Catholics feel. I wish I could relate to her just how grateful we are to have someone in our Church speak so intelligently and logically. ... To continue to put the reputations and careers of priest[s] above the welfare of children is morally wrong."

Friday, February 03, 2006

Failing the "Mom test"

The news just keeps getting creepier here in Chicagoland: Yesterday a deposition by Joliet bishop Joseph Imesch was unsealed, in which he testified that, although he thought it "inappropriate" that a priest went skinny-dipping and then played nude poker with young boys, he didn't think it was "sex abuse." He went on to say that he didn't report to police the alleged "dating" relationship between a Lombard, Illinois priest and a young woman in the parish because "I'm not going to go say, `Hey, police, go check on my priest.'" The "young woman" the priest was "dating" in 1987 was all of 14 years old, and the priest eventually plead guilty to child sexual abuse. (Imesch claims not to have known the girl's age, though he admitted he never asked.)

As a coworker of mine pointed out, none of those situations would have passed "the Mom test." Damn right. In light of her comment, I propose each diocese empanel a board of Catholic moms; when something wierd is reported, it goes immediately to the Mom board, which then judges whether the behavior is appropriate or inappropriate. That's one way of getting around idiotic bishops. Sorry, I know that sounds mean, but skinny-dipping? Nude poker? "Inappropriate"? That's just stupid. Read the story for yourself.

Now on to Francis George, who yesterday finally took responsibility for his absolute, utter, and abject failure to protect the children of St. Agatha Parish against a serial abuser: "I hope that if there is anyone else abused by Dan McCormack that he or she will come forward. I'm saddened by my own failure -- very much so. I pray that there will be nobody who has been abused by Father McCormack who would not have been had I taken him out. That's a constant worry."

Of course, then he offers an excuse: "I think we got used to that pattern [allegations being raised years after the abuse occurred]. I know I did. It didn't take hold immediately that this was current and I should have found at least some fashion in the canons, some way to remove Father McCormack." Current? Where in the hell have you been for the past four years? Were you or were you not instrumental in getting the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People approved by the Vatican? Of course child sex abuse is still going on; but that's the problem: In their desire to "move on," the bishops of the U.S. are making themselves blind to what is still going on.

Every grammar school teacher knows what to do the minute an allegation of child sex abuse is reported. No matter what canon law says, George could have asked McCormack to take a voluntary paid leave while the allegations were investigated. He probably could have required McCormack to live at his house. He could have done a million things, and he didn't.

Here's what I think should happen every time a credible allegation surfaces: The accused man himself, in consultation with the bishop, informs the parish of the allegation and takes a voluntary administrative leave. The diocese conducts its investigation as best it can and makes its judgment, constantly keeping the parish informed. When the allegation is resolved, the man is either reinstated or removed.

Why all this above-board stuff? Has anyone noticed that what parents are really mad about is that they were kept in the dark? It's time to start trusting laypeople. We know that sometimes people make false accusations. What we don't like is being treated like children by the old boys' club.

I know that may be hard to swallow for priests, but any professional in regular contact with children faces the same scrutiny. And children deserve that kind of vigilance.

These bishops should resign in disgrace

In this instance I'm not talking about Francis George of Chicago and Joseph Imesch of Joliet, Illinois, both suffering from their incompetent handling of sex-abuse cases. Nope, I'm talking about people like Raymond Burke of St. Louis and Charles Chaput of Denver who did everything in their power to make sure Catholics felt morally obliged to vote for George Bush. How did they do this? By making abortion, euthanasia, stem-cell research, and gay marriage the only issues Catholics should vote on--not welfare, not war and peace, not a just system of taxation, not health care.

Why am I bringing this up now? Because today Bush asked for another $70 billion in funds for his unjust war in Iraq--you know, the one predicated on bad intelligence and scare tactics. That brings the total to $390 billion on Iraq alone (despite the fact the administration fired Lawrence Lindsay for suggesting the Iraq adventure would cost $200 billion). That's $390 billion not going to the 46 million Americans without health insurance, $390 billion not going to education, $390 billion not going to drug abuse and crime prevention, $390 billion not going to securing ports and high-risk targets from terrorism, $390 billion not going to protecting the environment--the adverse effects of which fall most heavily on poor children, who have asthma and childhood cancer at alarming rates. In the end, it's $390 billion worth of screwing the poor. And don't forget, the most recent budget cut $40 billion from Medicare, Medicaid, and student loans--while Halliburton and Exxon executives got stinking rich. Yeah, yeah, it's just market forces. Nope, it's gross injustice.

On top of it all, the abortion rate has not declined one iota since Bush has been in office, despite him beating the "culture of life" drum; even if Roe v. Wade gets overturned by the Roberts-Alito-Scalia-Thomas axis, the abortion rate won't go down. The issue will simply return to the states. But I guarantee you that if pre- and post-natal care were guaranteed every pregnant woman and every child, and if nutrition, housing, childcare and education assistance for single pregnant women were priorities, the abortion rate would go down. But no one, not even Bush-voting Catholics evidently, is willing to pay a red cent in higher taxes to save unborn children. We'd rather make abortion illegal, blame women for having sex and getting pregnant out of wedlock, and doom their children to poverty than accept that we have moral responsibility for every single child of God born, no matter how or to whom or in what circumstances. That's what it means to be pro-life, pro-child, and pro-family as far as I'm concerned.

I know, I know, this is supposed to be about Catholicism not politics, and it is. We Catholics from right to left should be able to agree, based on Catholic social teaching, that domestic policy should be directed first to the needs of the poor and vulnerable (not to trickle-down economic nonsense), that health care is a human right, that war, if ever undertaken, should only be engaged in as an absolute last resort. And single-issue bishops like Chaput and Burke share at least part of the blame for acting like it was a sin to vote for John Kerry.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The truthiness about women's ordination

My BustedHalo dialogue has still got me on women's ordination, and I happened to notice this from Australia, the standard argument against women's ordination, this time from Sydney's auxiliary bishop, Julian Porteous: "I always point to the fact that when God became incarnate, it was as man. And I also say that Jesus did not feel constrained by cultural or religious laws of the day, so the choice of men as disciples was deliberate." OK, remember, just because you say something over and over doesn't make it true. (Note to George Bush: This goes for you, too.)

First, yes, Jesus was a man, but even Thomas Aquinas said God's Word could have become incarnate in a woman (he said it was just be inappropriate, since women are of lesser dignity than men--that whole Eve and the apple thing, you know). So, unless you want to argue that women are not sufficient for the incarnation, dump that one.

Second, enough with the BS that Jesus only had male followers. There are plenty of women in the lists in both the gospels and the letters of Paul: the Marys, Martha, Salome, Junia (named an apostle by Paul), Chloe, Phoebe, Prisca, Lydia, Rhoda, and my personal faves, Lois and Eunice. Some of these women hosted the church in their houses and may well have led the Lord's Supper. Others, including Prisca, were missionaries and teachers in their own right. You think she held back so the men could lead?

Connecting the ordination question to the all-male list of the Twelve is even less helpful because

wait for it ...

Jesus never ordained anyone. Not even at the Last Supper, unless you think the "Do this in memory of me" is an ordination, in which case only men should be allowed at Mass. (Talk about empty churches!)

Ta-da! Church tradition doesn't talk about "priesthood" in relation to anyone for a couple of centuries, when we started picking up those bad ol' pagan ways from the Romans--they had loads of "priests." We had elders (presbyteroi), deacons, and overseers/bishops ("episcopoi"), but not "priests." And at least some of those were women.

No matter how you turn it, the argument against women priests always collapses into the Jesus was a boy and only picked boys argument. Fancy it up all you want with words like "complementarity" and "in persona Christi capitis," but it's little more than the sign painted on the outside of every little boy's treehouse: "No girlz allowed!!!"