Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Papal stumble

Pope Benedict today in an audience had to supplement his remarks made at Auschwitz last weekend to explicitly acknowledge that Hitler ordered the deaths during World War II of 6 million Jews simply because they were Jews. Prominent Jews, including the chief rabbi of Rome, thought B16's remarks too theological. And they were right.

Benedict's original speech asked why "God was silent" in the Shoah and described the Nazis as "criminals," but he didn't acknowledge the hard truth of Hitler's popular support and the fact that it takes a whole lot of willing accomplices to kill 6 million people (along with the other 2 or so million that died in the camps). Anti-Semitism lay at the heart of both, which by no means was reserved to Germans of the mid-20th century.

Which brings us to another hard truth: We Christians have barely begun to scratch the surface of our religious anti-Judaism, though I think we have made strides toward eliminating the more race-based anti-Semitism that was at the heart of the Nazi genocide. But those racial theories would likely not have been possible without the historical anti-Judaism of Christianity, the roots of which can be found even in the scriptures, especially in the Gospel of John. And it continued right on through the Fathers of the church, the medieval theologians, and the Protestant reformers.

It has only been 40 years since Catholicism officially repudiated the idea that the Jewish people were responsible for Christ's death, and only 20 years or so since the Lutheran World Federation did the same. And we still have a the gigantic theological task of coming to a new understanding of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity that doesn't described Judaism as a failed and supplanted relationship with God.

And the pope--a German, a member (though unwilling) of both the Hitler Youth and the German Army, visiting the most notorious of death camps--has to do better than a theological musing on why God was silent. They were too many Christians aiding and abetting the silencing of God's people for that.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Promises, promises

In another sign that the Anglican Communion is going to fall apart over gay sex, the retiring (obviously liberal) bishop of Oxford has argued that the Bible actually supports gay marriage (!!), and that conservatives should get behind it. The Rt. Rev. Richard Harries also argued that openly gay, partnered men should be allowed to be bishops, angry that one of his own choices, Canon Jeffrey John, had to withdraw as candidate for Bishop of Reading (or maybe was bishop? Hard to tell from the story.) after his long-term same-sex relationship came to light.

That's not the funny part, of course. This is: The Telegraph story later drew attention to the fact that Anglican clergy are allowed to enter Britain's newly passed civil partnerships for same-sex couples "on the condition that they assured their bishop that they would abstain from sex." OK. Anyone want to police that? We Romans try that "living as brother and sister" stuff for those remarried without benefit of annulment. I don't think it has been widely adopted.

Of course, the evangelicals in Anglicanism had their response: "Same-sex partnerships are not congruous with the Bible," said Rev. David Bantingsaid, adding: "Sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage are not blessed by God."

There must be a lot of unblessed sex going on out there. I hope it's not also bad sex, because I hear God gets really mad about bad sex. God thinks it is incongrous.

Anybody heard about that earthquake in Indonesia? Killed 5,000 people, left 200,000 homeless.

The morning after ...

The morning after a bachelor party is a miserable affair after a raucous evening. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), one groom-to-be's weekend of fun (along with his 18 companions) was interrupted by B16's visit to Poland, which, in addition to sanitizing the television of unwanted ads, also banned the sale of alcohol during the four-day papal visit.

Of his busted stag party, Carl Smith could only say: "I had coffee with some nuns this morning. They were very nice but it's not exactly rock 'n' roll, is it?" Truer words ... (no offense to the many rockin' women religious I've known).

Well, Carl, you may be feeling it now, but think of it: You've just avoided years of fights over what really happened that weekend.

Way to go, B16! Striking another blow for marriage!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Sins of the founder

It's taken a while, but the media is finally looking at the nearly eternal pontificate of JPII with a critical gaze, thanks to what an L.A. Times editorial calls "the punishment" of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado. That "punishment" should have come a long, long time ago--allegations were first leveled in 1993--but Maciel and his Legion were long protected by John Paul, who just months before his death heaped praise on Maciel on the anniversary of Maciel's priestly ordination.

The Times editorial credits Pope Benedict with this belated action, but he was just as much part of the cover-up. Ratzinger himself reserved sex abuse cases to his own Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith--for reasons that are beyond me, since the CDF deals with doctrine, though it greatly expanded its mandate under our brother Joseph. Any blame for the delay in the investigation belongs as much with Ratzinger as it does with Wojtyla.

And the cover-up continues: In point of fact, Maciel has only agreed with a Vatican request to retire in solitude and penance, following a number of bishops accused of similar wrongdoing. This case deserves a full hearing, and the Legion itself should be conducting its own inquiries. Victims of abuse often become abusers themselves, and, if social scientific research is to be trusted, there's reason to believe that the sins of the father were transmitted to his spiritual sons. If the Legion wants to nip that kind of speculation in the bud, it should openly investigate all the allegations, at least if it wants to continue to exercise pastoral ministry among the people of God.

Maciel's retirement may be a step forward. But it's a baby step, and it needs to be followed by larger ones.

The gall

I'm not usually sympathetic to bishops, but I think you have to have compassion for this kind of media scrutiny: The Boston Globe reports that Bishop Robert Malone of Portland, Maine had his gall bladder removed yesterday. Why does everyone in the Boston metro area need to know this?

Thank God it wasn't prostate surgery.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

This is getting creepy ...

B16 has jumped on the baby bandwagon again, this time blaming Canada's low birthrate on--you guessed it--godlessness. Heathens!

Papa Ratzi has been using his soapbox of late to lament secular Europe's unwillingness to procreate. I hate to say it, but I have to wonder if what he's really worried about is the predominantly Muslim and far more prolific immigrants of Europe eventually outnumbering the "real" Europeans.

Interesting that a pope who wants big families evidently has only one brother, also a (childless) priest, refuses to allow priests to marry and have children, and continues to forbid in vitro fertilization. And then there's the obvious fact that, with children in the industrial world surviving, there's no need to keep having more children once you've got a couple. Then, of course, there is the reality that the planet is starting to show signs of strain from the 6 billion of us tramping around on it all the time.

So get that twinkle out of your eye, Joseph!

Friday, May 19, 2006

The peril of parody

The Vatican must have become a little sensitive lately, blowing a fuse over Irish media company RTE's photo shoot involving a woman in bishop's clothing (GASP!) near St. Peter's. Indeed, it seems the model broke Italian law by wearing clerical clothing without actually being a cleric. Oh dear.

Hopefully new Prime Minister Romano Prodi will have the Italian Parliament repeal that law, because at the rate B16 is going fashion-wise, everyone in Italy will want to dress just like him by year's end.

I've already bought my fur-lined Santa cap. Thank God I live in the home of the fashionable free!

For your penance...

Another thoughtful commenter ("Shannon") on my post regarding Rob Spaulding, the Mundelein seminarian pled guilty to killing two other seminarians in a drunk-driving accident, also thinks I've been too harsh, especially since, as she points out, many of us (she lists herself and I confess as well) have been guilty of the same. The end of her reflection deserves attention: "He owned up to his mistake by pleading guilty. He didn't expect to be treated any differently because of who he was. As Catholics we preach about forgiveness. The mothers of the victims have forgiven him. Shouldn't we?" (Read her whole comment by going to the May 6 post, "Who gets justice, who gets mercy?," then going to comments.)

I don't disagree with our obligation to forgive, I just don't think that means there are no consequences. Even in confession we get a penance, and I think it's necessary to make some amends, some attempt to restore what has been broken, even when that's really impossible. I'm not sure that should mean jail time--especially since our criminal "justice" system seems to care little about actually helping the people there--but I'm not sure the end result in this case was sufficient.

As to the mothers' heroic forgiveness, I'm still not sure why that should have bearing on a judicial sentence. If they were still angry, if they didn't want to forgive, should Rob have been sent to the slammer?

Justice--well, kind of. OK, not really.

Breaking news yesterday that the founder of the Legion of Christ--a group both incredibly influential and luridly reactionary--has finally been restricted from public ministry should come as a bit of relief. Or, perhaps, as a shock, since it took 13 years to finally occur. Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado as been accused by "more than 20 but less than 100" (according to an unnamed Vatican source) of sexual misconduct, usually with seminarians of his own order. (The accounts are blood-curdling; Maciel allegedly told one victim that Pope Pius XII granted permission for the abuse to help Maciel get relief from a stomach condition.) Then-Cardinal Ratzinger shut down a 1999 investigation, which was then reopened in 2004 when more accusers came forward.

One hopes that this will blow the lid off the idea that sex abuse is merely an American problem. Maciel is Mexican, from a culture in which it is probably more difficult to talk about sex abuse as it is; the fact that it took so long to finally get the truth out has most to do with John Paul II's protection of Maciel, along with his refusal to believe that the founder of one of his beloved movements could have used his talents drawing young people (which JPII applauded) for such nefarious purposes.

Still, and this is a sign that the Vatican remains unwilling to really uncover the truth, today's Vatican statement about Maciel merely asks him to withdraw from public life, forgoing a canonical inquiry because of Maciel's "advanced age." (I love how managing to get away with something for a really long time keeps you safe when you finally are found out.) The Legion's statement borders on the repulsive, asserting Maciel's innocence and claiming that he will follow Christ's example by not defending himself from the accusations. Jesus, incidentally, did defend himself--by speaking the truth, not by hiding from it.

The truth is out now, though, and I imagine more victims will begin telling their stories.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

And we wonder why things don't change

I don't know if this is good news or bad, but Georgetown's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (basically a group that does studies on U.S. Catholics) got media coverage today for a working paper it published about a month ago on lay Catholics' response to the sex abuse crisis. (If you want to click the working paper's link, you'll find it easy to read, lots of graphs and stuff.)

Of note is that parish giving has not declined really at all; diocesan fundraising has, however, with the number of respondents who said they'd given to a diocesan appeal in the past year going from 38 to 29 percent over the course of the study (2002 to 2006). Perhaps most interesting is that confidence in church leadership is back up to 77 percent after declining at one point to 55 percent.

How to interpret this? On the one hand, it's a testament to the resilience of Catholic laypeople that self-identification as Catholic (23 percent of the U.S. population) and Mass attendance (33 percent going regularly) has remained steady through all this. At the same time, the study showed a surprising ignorance of what is going on--or indifference?

One thing is for sure: Catholics don't seem to want to punish their parishes or the poor for the failure of bishops. Still, I find it hard to see how the laity are going to assert themselves if they are unwilling to raise some ruckus over this.

Da Vinci a dud

Reviews are coming in, and it looks like the movie is about as good as the book, which means it stinks.

Of course, since the churches went crazy over the whole thing instead of letting Da Vinci stand or fall on its own merit, it will still gross $100 million.

Have we learned anything yet?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mission country?

The archdiocese of Chicago has just announced its ordination class for 2006--12 new priests for its 2.3 million Catholics. Setting aside the fact that probably twice that number are retiring and more will die in the coming year, it's hard to miss a significant absence: Not a single new priest will be from Chicago, and only one will be from the United States (Michigan). Four come from Poland, three from Mexico, two from South America, one from Vietnam and one from Tanzania. In the whole U.S. ordination class this year, foreign-born priests now make up 30% of the newly ordained, up from 24% in 1998.

Houston, we have a problem.

Now, I should say that I don't think it's a bad thing for a local church to include clergy from other local churches; in fact, it's probably a good thing that keeps any church from being insulated from the gifts and needs of the rest of the baptized. But there's a reason the European missionary clergy and bishops in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have progressively been replaced by indigenous leadership: The leaders of God's people in each place should come from among them, and they need to be people who can help the gospel take flesh in that place and culture.

The U.S. needs a native church leadership, too, one that reflects our democratic, multicultural values, one that recognizes that women deserve an equal place in society. Whether this is true anywhere else, the churches in the U.S. are ready for a clergy that really reflects the church, one that, of course, includes new arrivals to the this country, but also includes married people, gay and lesbian people, and, of course, women. But continuing to steal clergy from other clergy-poor churches is no solution--and it's no less colonialist than stealing their other natural and human resources.

Papal landside?

Proving just how little cardinals--at least Italian ones--really fear excommunication for talking outside the conclave, a new book by Emanuele Roncalli (a nephew twice removed from the pope of the same surname, John XXIII of happy memory) claims Cardinal Ratzinger garnered as many as 90 out of 115 votes on the third ballot. Roncalli, like seemingly every Italian journalist, has an Italian cardinal that isn't really that afraid of hell, or at least dying outside the church, which is allegedly the penalty for violating the secrecy of the papal election.

To me, of course, this is another sign of how stupid the whole "secret papal election" thing really is. It isn't secret, and it's just barely an election (with only 120 men out of 1.1 billion Catholics getting the franchise, based on a papal decision to make the guy a cardinal). And, no, we haven't always done it this way. And we shouldn't anymore.

In other news, Pope Benedict evidently donned an aviator's beret in an audience with members of the Italian aviation industry, a sign that his much vaunted fashion sense is surely slipping.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Musical cathedras

Two episcopal appointments today worth noting: Pittsburgh's Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh will now be archbishop of Washington, D.C. Wuerl was originally sent in the late 1980s from Rome to Seattle to rein in Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen there, whom then-Cardinal Ratzinger judged too welcoming of gays. Wuerl has always been a little tainted, though; the U.S. bishops were so outraged by Wuerl appointment as coadjutor (co-bishop, basically) in Seattle that they practically forced Rome to move him. He will be replacing one of the few moderates left among the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. It will be interesting to see if B16 give Wuerl the red hat for his service.

The second new appointment follows the (ahem) abrupt resignation of Joseph Imesch of Joliet, Illinois. He was due to turn 75 in June, but the outrage over his response to sex abuse allegations, mentioned several times here, surely accelerated his retirement. Usually it takes a year or so for a bishop's resignation to be accepted. The whole thing is too bad, too: Overall Imesch was a fairly openminded bishop, the champion of the U.S. bishops' pastoral on women that the Vatican put the kibosh on. Unfortunately he's going to be remembered for his fairly callous response to accusations of sex abuse in his diocese. He'll be replaced by James Peter Sartain, now bishop of Little Rock, Arkansas. Don't know anything about him yet.

Monday, May 15, 2006

"Traditional" values

Much has been made of the trouble in the Anglican communion over the election of Gene Robinson--a partnered gay man--as bishop of New Hampshire. Everyone seems to agree that his election, and the larger issue of the homosexuality, pits the "liberal" Christians of the West against the more "traditional" Christians of Africa, Asia, and South America.

Let's add this to the mix: Those horrible "liberal" Anglican bishops of Canada are protesting legislation pending in Nigeria that would make it a crime to publicly support gay rights. One of the legislation's supporters: The Anglican Church of Nigeria.

Traditional my backside. Let's be honest: Sometimes the appeal to tradition is nothing more than a cover for bigotry. The travesty is that any church--Roman included--would publicly support the restriction of anyone's civil and human rights.

Military-industrial blasphemy

While everyone is getting all riled about The Da Vinci Code, no one notices the genuine blasphemy right under their nose. Case in point: Residents of southern Utah are protesting the military's plan to test a 700-ton fuel bomb in the Utah desert that will send a 10,000 foot mushroom cloud into the air, kicking up along with it radioactive debris left over from the nuclear tests done there in the 1950s and '60s. (In 1990 Congress passed The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act because of all the radiation-related cancers in the area resulting from the allegedly "safe" testing.)

Where's the blasphemy, you ask? Well, if risking the health of some people to test a gargantuan bomb meant to kill other people at taxpayer expense isn't enough, how 'bout the name of the test itself: "Divine Strake." The military uses such religiously inspired operation titles all the time.

Whatever happened to "War is hell"? The proper name for this travesty is, I think, both biblically inspired and appropriate: "Abomination." Of course, we're too distracted by a silly work of fiction to pay attention to the true perversion of our faith.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Biblical herstory

On a lighter note, yesterday's papers carried 2005's top baby names, with Jacob and Michael topping the boys and Emily and Emma the girls. An odd comment about why the boy names tended to be more biblical than those for girls from Cleveland Evans of the American Names Society caught my attention: "There's a lot more men mentioned in the Bible than women."

Grrr... Forgetting the Bible girls again are we? So I came up with about 52 girl names from the Bible, women and their stories we so conveniently forget. I'll just put a few of their names here. You go look up their stories.

First from the Hebrew Bible: Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Leah, Rachael, Asenath, Zilpah, Bilhah, Shiphra, Puah, Miriam, Zipporah, Keturah, Deborah, Jael, Delilah, Hannah, Ruth, Naomi, Abigail, Jezebel, Judith, Esther, Huldah, Bathsheba, Karen-Happuch, Jemimah, Kezzia, Dinah, Tamar, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, Tirzah, Susanna, Michal, Achsah, Gomer.

Now from the New Testament: Mary (all of them), Elizabeth, Salome, Herodias, Joanna, Mary Magdalene, Martha, Rhoda, Syntyche, Euodia, Lydia, Junia, Prisca, Chloe, Lois, Eunice, Anna, Sapphira, Nympha, Phoebe, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Tabitha.

Then, of course, are all the women mentioned in scripture whose names are forgotten: Moses' mother, King David's mother, the Syro-Phonecian woman of the gospel, the woman with the hemorrhage, Lot's wife, Simon's mother-in-law, the widow of Nain, the Israelite servant girt of Naaman, the Shunemite woman, the widow of Zarephath, the woman who anoints Jesus, the Samaritan woman, the woman taken in adultery, Potiphar's wife, the maid who questions Peter before Jesus' death, the daugher of Jairus who was raised from the dead, most of the women who followed Jesus, the widow who gave all she had to the temple treasury in the gospel, Noah's wife, Job's wife, Tobit's wife, the girl who pulls Moses from the river, the daughter of Pharaoh who saves Moses, the mother of the seven sons martyred in Maccabees, Jephthah's daughter (whom he sacrificed), the Levite's concubine, the queen of Sheba, the mother of the sons of Zebedee, the wise women of Abel, the prophet daughters of the apostle Philip, the women of Jerusalem who cry for Jesus on his way to Calvary, Samson's mother.

Need I go on? Salvation history is a story about men only because we allow to be.

Stranger than fiction

The Sunday papers were filled this morning with articles chronicling every church's attempt to "get ready" for the Da Vinci Code's release May 19. With one guy quoted in the Chicago Tribune calling Da Vinci "the most serious attack against Christianity" in his 30 years of ministry (puh-leeze), the rhetoric is heating up.

I'm struck by the fact, however, that the same people crying foul about Da Vinci were thrilled with Mel Gibson's Passion, which was no less a fantastic extrapolation of history--work of fiction, if you like--than Da Vinci. Of course, Mel's screen version of Anne Catherine Emmerich's "The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (there was very little gospel) was hailed as a great act of evangelization, despite its anti-Semitic tone, vividly pornographic depiction of Jesus' torture and death, and complete disregard for modern biblical scholarship.

In other words, we don't mind works of religious fiction as long as they suit our purposes, whatever those may be.

Friday, May 12, 2006

When the perfect is the enemy of the good

This just barely qualifies as religious--well maybe it's only moral. But here goes: Under pressure from conservative and "industry" groups alike, the agency that regulates Internet domain names has dropped plans for a .xxx suffix (like .com, .gov, .edu) for pornographic websites. Ironically, .xxx was opposed by both Larry Flynt of Hustler magazine fame (it would segregate porn sites) and Christian groups like the Family Research Council (who said it would legitimize the industry).

Well, on the one hand, perhaps it's not a bad thing that porn be segregated to certain areas of the Internet; a .xxx suffix might allow parents to block those sites. And groups that offer sex education and other information about sex and sexuality could still, one would think, retain their .com, .org, and .net addresses. I hardly think the porn business would suffer.

As for "legitimizing" porn, and here's the business part, I hate to tell you this, but online pornography is now an $11 billion (yep, that's a "b") a year industry. Whether you think it immoral or not, it isn't going away. It seems better to acknowledge that, protect those who should be or want to be protected from that content with reasonable regulation, and move on. There are other fish to fry. (I could go on about Christians' obsession with sex, but I've been criticized by one commenter already for focusing too much on bedroom politics. Best to acknowledge the plank in one's own eye, I guess.)

Of course, the ACLU may revoke my membership card. Don't have to worry about that with the Family Research Council. Phew!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Going gynecological

Catholic schools just can't help themselves: After a New York-area school fired one unmarried teacher for getting pregnant while on the job, and a New Jersey school another for fathering a child out of wedlock, the Appleton Catholic school district has now fired a woman for getting fertility treatments. Kelly Romenesko, who taught middle-school French at two Catholic schools, evidently told a principal that she would be absent to complete an in vitro procedure. After she became pregnant with twins, the district fired her, presumably for using a procedure condemned by the church. One wonders why they didn't warn her beforehand.

Note to self: Don't tell employer--Catholic or otherwise--anything about personal medical procedures.

Still, how far is this going to go? What if a school somehow finds out a married teacher is using birth control pills? That the phys-ed teacher had a vasectomy? That the religion teacher is gay?

Even employees of Catholic institutions have some right to and presumption of privacy. Maybe Ms. Romenesko's mistake was telling the principal what exact procedure she was having, but in her defense, she may have felt obligated to give a complete explanation of her absence. Still, I imagine if every secret of this nature came to light, Catholic institutions would have to fire all their employees, right up to the bishop!

This is weak ...

Now that Italy has a center-left government likely to pass some form of civil partnership for same-sex and unmarried heterosexual couples, B16 has come out with his anti-gay guns blazing:

"It is especially urgent today to avoid confusing [marriage] with other types of union based on a weaker love," he told a family conference.

Once again, Papa Ratzi has said more about this than he needs to. It's one thing to say that the institution of marriage is so old and so foundational that the label "marriage" should only be applied to male-female unions. But it's another thing altogether to call same-sex relationships a "weaker love." What does he know about it? And on what grounds would he make such a claim?

B16's defenders will no doubt argue that there is some deep philosophical principle lying behind the pope's position, but I doubt it. There's something else going on here: It's quite frankly too unreasonable to insist that governments make no provision whatsoever for couples and families that fall outside the norm of lifelong heterosexual marriage. All these "non-traditional" families pay taxes and otherwise contribute to civil society; many raise children. Justice demands that they have some status under the law.

Besides, I don't think heterosexual love has any claim to greater "strength" than any other kind of love, at least if divorce and domestic violence rates are any indication.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Tune out

Sirius radio has just announced that it has signed

wait for it ...

wait for it ...

an exclusive deal with Cardinal Edward Egan to do a satellite radio show on Sirius' new "Catholic Channel," which it is producing with the collaboration of the Archdiocese of New York. That 24 hours, 7 days a week of daily Masses from St. Patrick's Cathedral and God knows what else.

I wonder who will get better ratings, Howard Stern or Cardinal Egan.

I think I'll buy stock in XM.

The Pope's in town. Keep it clean.

The Italian news agency ANSA is reporting that sex will be banned from Polish national TV during the pope's coming visit, which begins May 25. That means no ads for condoms--or underwear. (I guess the pope doesn' t wear any.) A commission of Catholic journalists will be monitoring coverage. The ANSA story says that the censors are "determined to avoid anything which might distract viewers' attention and sully coverage of Benedict's" visit.

The prohibitions could make B16 happy in more ways than one: Not only will there be no naughty ads to disturb him (though I doubt he'll have time for TV), Poles may forget their condoms, resulting in a papal baby boom nine months later. Since Benedict's been worried about plummetting birthrates, he could congratulate himself for being an occasion for conception.

We can call them "Bennie babies"!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Headlines you never thought you'd see

"Heterosexual elected Episcopal bishop of California" was the headline Reuters gave the news of (heterosexual Alabaman) Mark Andrus' election over the weekend to lead the Episcopalians of California. Now that's certainly not the lead-in of an article about a bishop you would have expected 10 years ago! There were some other funnies, too:

There was Relief as California diocese elects straight bishop from the Guardian and Anglicans avert clash over gays from the London Times. The Washington Post was a little more negative with Episcopalians Reject Gay Hopefuls. On a lighter note, there was also Joy as gay dean stays at St. Mark's from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (about one of the gay candidates who wasn't elected), which was much snappier than the Chicago Tribune's All Saints keeps its pastor, about Rev. Bonnie Perry, the lesbian candidate from Chicago, who unfortunately didn't garner much support.

Of interest to us Catholics who would like a little more participation in the selection of our own bishops, though, was the election process: Candidates had to achieve a majority of both clergy and lay delegates to be elected (it took three ballots in this case), and the diocese had a year-long search process to find qualified candidates. For those folks out there who will immediately complain that "the church is not a democracy," I think the Episcopalians show that democratic participation is not only desirable, it can be successful, too, even in the difficult situation facing the diocese over whether they would elect a gay partnered bishop. It sure beats the most recent headline about a Catholic bishop's "election": Pope Benedict XVI appoints new Bishop in Kerala. Do you think he consulted God's people in Kerala?

Of course, I think this obsession with the sexual orientation of clergy is more than a little ridiculous and immature, even a titch peeping-Tom-ish (there must be a real word for that). As my friend and former coworker said when her Episcopal parish asked whether their new priest should be gay or straight (and I'm paraphrasing here): "Shouldn't that be the priest's business?"

From your lips to God's ears.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Catholics not for Condi

In a twist on the debate over "appropriate" commencement speakers at Catholic colleges and universities, senior members of the theology department at Boston College are protesting the honorary doctorate Condoleeza Rice will receive when she speaks at commencement later this month. A letter entitled "Condoleezza Rice Does Not Deserve a Boston College Honorary Degree" was sent by Rev. Kenneth Himes and Rev. David Hollenbach to all B.C. faculty members arguing that Condi's support of the Iraq War should disqualify her from being honored. About 100 faculty members have signed it, according to the Boston Globe.

Responded Rev. Paul McNellis, a pro-Condi (adjunct) member of the philosophy department, who scorned the letter's invocation of JPII's opposition to the Iraq War: "This is the only time these people have cited Pope John Paul II on anything."

I'm waiting for the Cardinal Newman Society, always on the lookout for "inappropriate" speakers, to weigh in. At there are a few liberals--although calling Himes a liberal is a stretch' he's a world-class theologian well above the fray--still willing to rabble-rouse a bit.

Papal no to politicians

In another interesting twist, Pope Benedict is restricting the number of political audiences he grants. From now on, the pope will receive only heads of state and heads of government, clearly a move to prevent politicians from claiming the papal stamp of approval. Of course, B16 has shown no compunction about getting into politics himself, but at least no one else will be able to use his office for political purposes.

We'll see if the U.S. bishops follow his lead as the 2006 mid-term election season heats up.

Clerical climbers

Ordaining new priests for the diocese of Rome yesterday, B16 denounced clerical careerism--and this wasn't the first time. Chalk this up as another positive sign to this low-key papacy: Climbing has become rampant, especially in the U.S., with a degree in canon law the sure path to higher office--note, for example, the number of canonists (basically church lawyers) being made bishops (basically pastors). Under JPII, the U.S. episcopacy became a den of yes-men, most of whom have followed similar career paths from seminary or Roman service (either in the Curia or religious community government) to becoming bishops, rarely touching their toes in the nitty-gritty of parish life.

The content of Benedict's admonitions is classically pious, imagining priesthood as this radical act of self-giving to Christ and the church, but his tone is that of a reformer. He knows he has a problem--all he has to do is take a look at his own Curia, clerics who've never seen a day of pastoral service in their lives. Now we have to see what steps Papa Ratzi might take to clean house.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Who gets "justice," who gets "mercy"?

A comment left by Matthias on my last post, about the Mundelein seminarian who was given probation for killing two other seminarians while driving drunk, is worth bringing forward, though it's long, so I'll ask you to click the comment button on the previous post. The heart of his argument was that the judge, though inclined to give jail time, accepted the petitions for clemency offered by the mothers of the two victims, who had been in contact with Robert Spaulding over the past year. Clemency, then, wasn't the result of white or any other kind of privilege, but clearly an act of mercy granted by the judge on behalf of the two mothers.

Matthias' argument is both compelling and compassionate, and I don't do it justice. Please read it before continuing. I still have to ask, however, whether probation sufficiently acknowledges the social damage done by Spaulding reckless behavior. The victims of drunk driving are not just the ones in a single accident; consider, for example, that Mundelein's property sits across the street from Mount Carmel High School. What if the school had been having a function that evening? The common good demands a serious response to drunk driving, and I'm afraid many who have directly suffered its effects will see this as a slap on the wrist, even favoritism to would-be clergy.

Further, though, I don't doubt that similar pleas by mothers and even victims' families have echoed in the urban courtrooms of Chicago when the defendent is an African American male in the same circumstances. Yet over and over our "justice" system punishes black males far more harshly. As Catholics committed to both justice and mercy, I think we need to recognize an injustice, even when we may agree with a merciful result, as Matthias does. Would that our justice system would show such mercy when a black adolescent makes his first big mistake! But it generally doesn't. And I think we have to acknowledge that in this case, while at the same time we honor and applaud the two courageous women who showed mercy to the man who killed their sons.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Catholic privilege?

Quick, call Bill Donahue of the Catholic League. He may want to applaud Lake County, Illinois, for pro-Catholic bias. In this case Judge Victoria Rossetti gave former Mundelein seminiarian Robert Spaulding probation for a drunk-driving accident that killed two other seminarians and injured a third. Spaulding had a blood-alcohol level of .135 (the legal limit in Illinois is .08) and was driving 57 MPH in a 25 MPH zone on seminary property. Rowlands was also required to donate $5,000 to Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists and do 250 hours of public service. And his attorney said he might return to the seminary if the diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming would readmit him.

The judge claimed there were exceptional circumstances: Spaulding's remorse and lack of criminal record, and the testimony of the mothers of the two seminarians he killed. And perhaps you're surprised, that I, a bleeding-heart liberal if there ever was one, would want jail time for Spaulding.

To be honest, I'm not sure what a just punishment would be in this case--and I have to be honest here and say that I have probably driven a car when I shouldn't have myself--but I'd be willing to bet my savings account that if Spaulding had been a black Chicago teenager equally hopped up on an illegal drug, he would have served more than a year in prison, if not ten. But Spaulding is a white seminarian who was dead drunk on a legal drug, so he gets probation. And that's not just, no matter how much remorse he shows.

Some people call that white privilege, and it may well be, but I bet there's more than a little seminarian privilege, even Catholic privilege. How else do you explain probation, $5,000, and 250 hours of community service for reckless vehicular homicide?

Monday, May 01, 2006

And you wonder why no one comes to church

B16 yesterday used his Regina Caeli message to "warn" the faithful against "pseudo-histories" about Christ's resurrection, presumably in response to The Da Vinci Code's coming cinematic debut. I hate to tell you guys this, but every time you make a big deal about this movie, it's projected revenues grow by another $10 million. I'm going to die laughing when it grosses more than that other pseudo-historical work of fiction, The Passion of the Christ.

Enough with the negativity. Maybe people would be more interested in Catholicism if we weren't constantly lamenting this or that element of the surrounding culture. No one likes self-styled martyrs. Unfortunately, the "prophets of doom" that Pope John XXIII lamented when he opened the Second Vatican Council are running the show.

So cheer up, Papa Ratzi. The gospel is supposed to be good news.

And John XXIII, pray for us!

The doormats of God

News that the diocese of London, Ontario will be closing 36 of its 153 parishes--that's 20 percent--elicited these reactions from a parishioners, according to Canada's Globe and Mail:

“ 'We don't like it, none of us like it,' said one woman, who declined to give her name. 'He (the bishop) has the final word.'

“ 'It's a change we've got to put up with,' said Joe [Givlin], 85. 'Everything changes. I'd say there's nothing you can do.' ”

And therein lies the problem. Someone has convinced these folks there is nothing to be done, when the fact is, not only can something be done, but there's no reason to give the bishop the final word.

Why are these parishes closing? In addition to the fact that a lot of the buildings are old, 20 priests are retiring next year, and there are not enough clergy to staff these parishes.

Here's an idea for everyone whose parish is closing because of the priest shortage: Find the person or people in your parish who are its natural leaders--man or woman, married or single, gay or straight. Then present him or her or them to the bishop for ordination. When the bishop tells you he can only ordain a celibate male, tell him to get his butt to Rome and tell the powers that be to fix the problem they have created. The faithful, after all, have a right to the sacraments. If Rome wants to hang on to priesthood, start accepting the candidates both God and the people of God are calling to service.

Of course, we could get the ball rolling if some gutsy bishop would just ordain a couple of married men, but don't hold your breath for that kind of bold yet truly pastoral action.