Friday, June 30, 2006

Coming to a church near you

Well, it didn't take long to find some Catholic news. The new secretary for the Vatican's Congregation for Worship, which since about 1990 has been systematically gutting the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, a man by the name of Archbishop Albert Patabendige Don, has said that the current liturgy is "not in the spirit of Vatican II," according to the Tablet:

"'The Vatican II decree Sacrosanctum Concilium ... was about making the liturgy the entry point to the faith, and liturgical changes were expected to emerge organically, by taking account of tradition, and not precipitately. The direction of liturgical prayer in the post-conciliar reform has not always reflected the texts of Vatican II, and in this sense, we can speak of a necessary correction, of a reform of the reform. We must regain the liturgy in the spirit of the Council.'

"Today, the problems concerning the liturgy turned upon language (vernacular or Latin), and the position of the priest (facing the congregation or God), said the Archbishop in an interview with La Croix, a French Catholic daily newspaper, on 25 June. 'Nowhere, in the conciliar decree, is it laid down that the priest must henceforth face the congregation, nor that the use of Latin is forbidden. If the use of modern languages is accepted, notably for the Liturgy of the Word, the decree clearly specifies that the use of Latin will be maintained in the Latin rite. On these subjects, we await the Pope's instructions,' he added.

"The archbishop noted how much young priests in Rome liked celebrating the Tridentine rite. 'I must make clear that this rite, that of the Missal of St Pius V [the Tridentine liturgical book], is not "outlawed." Should we encourage it more? The Pope will decide. But it is certain that a new generation is demanding a greater emphasis upon mystery.' "

That's right, kids, "facing God"--which means facing away from the people of God evidently--and Mass back in Latin.

I saw this coming; Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie has been warning people privately that worse things than new English translations were coming, and I figured this is what he meant.

But if the liturgy wars before were restricted to the Congregation for Worship, Vox Clara, ICEL, and the bishops’ conferences, the new one will be far worse, because if the permission is broad enough it will be up to either the local bishop or even to the presiding priest to decide which liturgy to celebrate. Imagine Fr. Junior, the oil still wet on his hands, showing up at St. Cunegunda refusing to preside facing the people, or even in English.

All of this is especially funny because the “reform the reformers” have been working hard to squeeze out any freedom for presiders, so we’ll have “uniformity”—which is after all what makes us Catholic, right? Yet at the same time, the same folks are pushing for wider use of the “ancient” [sic, they’re late medieval] liturgies. Doesn't sound like uniformity to me.

To use the current administration’s favorite expression, make no mistake: The “reform the reformers” want the Latin Mass, and everybody else be damned. Now, will anyone lift a figure or open their mouths? Any bishops?

Schism watch

Not much on the Catholic front today--short of yet another, if incoherent, denunciation of civil unions in Italy by B16--so on to the Anglicans, or better, to the U.S. Episcopalians, who don't look like they're wilting before Anglican Communion demands that they get back in line on gays.

Just after a House of Bishops resolution that encouraged "restraint" in the election of further non-celibate gay bishops, the diocese of Newark has included among its four candidates for bishop a gay priest from California, Very Rev Canon Michael Barlowe, who has been partnered for 23 years to another priest. Of course, he may not be elected, and, if he is, he may not be confirmed by the House of Bishops, but there you go.

Whether you agree with the move or not, that's what we call spine, something the U.S. bishops have almost none of, at least if their rollover on the English translation of the Mass is any indication. (Wait till you hear the explanation of why we have to respond "And with your spirit" to the priest. You'll love it.)

Still, I don't get why the Anglicans can't work this one out. Only three provinces have women bishops (Canada, the U.S., and New Zealand), and not all of them ordain women at all, which seems a graver communion-related issue than homosexuality. Regionalism is the Communion's stock and trade; we Catholics could learn a thing or two from them on that one.

Still, the Communion won't be quick to kick the U.S. out, since it's the Episcopal Church that funds most of the rest of the Communion's charitable work, especially in those places so strenuously objecting to ECUSA's stand on sexuality. We'll see if the conservatives put their money where their mouths are.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Is this guy for real?

Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, continues on his major tear of late against the West, notably against countries that are sanctioning any alternative to traditional forms of marriage. His most recent comments, in an interview with the Italian Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana, singled Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and the Nordic countries for "exporting" their liberal social policies:

"We are changing the definitions about life: male and female, father and mother are disappearing. Everyone becomes a 'partner.'

"Civil unions are a legal fiction, two people who promise each other nothing, who promise nothing to their children nor to the state but want the same rights as marriage." He went on to call gay marriage "absolute nothingness." If it's nothing, why worry about it?

But now comes the really wierd part: "I fear that faced with current legislation, speaking in defense of life, of the rights of the family, is becoming in some societies a crime against the state, a form of disobedience of the government, a discrimination against women.

"The Church risks being brought in front of some international court, if the debate gets any more tense, if the most radical opinions are heeded." Sorry, your eminence, but there's plenty of "tenseness" coming from your end. People in glass houses and all that.

Besides, what on earth could he be talking about? On what charges will the church be brought up on? Anybody?

When a collar is just a collar

Another sign of how clueless the secular media is about Catholicism: The website of a Houston TV channel is highlighting "an honor from Pope Benedict that only a few get" for their archbishop. Guess what it is:

A pallium!!! Whoo-hoo! Few, eh? You mean, like, every single archbishop in the whole entire world? For those of you who don't know, a pallium (and the website got this right), is "a circular [kind of] band of white wool that is worn over the shoulders and symbolizes the archbishop's authority and unity with the pope." The authority part is a bit of an exaggeration, since an archbishop is really just a bishop with better piping on his cassock.

At any rate, the pallium is basically another piece of medieval fashion, highlighting yet again the endless ecclesial drag clerics spend the people of God's money on. Recall, after all, that the archbishop travelled to Rome for the "pallium Mass" with a retinue from Houston. How Middle Ages!

Yes, yes, I know: That's our "tradition." No, really, it's not. It's just a holdover from a medieval church, along with the absolute papal monarchy, the system of imperial legates ("nuncios"), and the completely non-representative divine-right governmental structure.

But I guess Jesus wants it this way. He said so at the Last Supper.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Obama to Dems: Get religion

Barack Obama--my senator and the only black member of the Senate--took aim at his fellow Dems yesterday on religion: "Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation. Context matters." He went on to defend "under God" in the pledge and prayer groups at public schools--after hours, of course.

Obama backed his comments up with an authentic-sounding testimony of his own (something John Kerry was never really able to come up with in 2004): "Kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to his will and dedicated myself to discovering his truth." Praise the Lord!

Classic evangelicalism, and it begs the question: Is Obama telling the Dems to get religion or get evangelical? Case in point: "Nothing is more transparent than inauthentic expressions of faith: the politician who shows up at a black church around election time and claps--off rhythm--to the gospel choir." Point taken, but let's not forget that clapping at church--much less Christianity--isn't everyone's expression of faith, and just because you can sway in the Spirit with the best doesn't mean your religion is any better or more authentic than anyone else's. I for one don't doubt John Kerry's faith, despite his whitebread inability to clap in rhythm.

But it's hard to argue the evangelicals in this country have the corner on "religion" nowadays, and anyone who wants their votes better learn their language. But I'm not buying until I hear pols like Obama tell me that their "submission" to Christ means real justice for the poor and disenfranchised, real concern for God's creation, real steps to bring about peace--though Barack may be the one who can convince me.

Until then, from right or left, stump-speech religion will continue to be what it has been at least since Reagan: A bunch of pious crap that covers a whole lot of sinning against the weakest among us. Let's face it, the religion of Reagan, Bushes I and II, and probably even Bill Clinton (though less so) has been the free market and "what's best for business."

What does the Letter of James say again? "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, brothers if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (2:14-17).

Back to the Renaissance!

Now that the U.S. and other English-speaking bishops have approved a new 19th-century-style archaic translation of the parts of the Mass ("And with your spirit, anyone?"), the pope has decided to do them one better and suggest a return to Gregorian chant and Roman polyphony in the liturgy, pushing liturgical music back another 300 or 700 years, depending on which you choose.

In Bennie's defense, however, it was hardly an authoritative statement, just remarks given at a concert in his honor. I'm sure if he reflected on Vatican II's requirement of full, conscious, and active participation by the entire assembly, I'm sure he'd realize the folly of reintroducing musical forms that no one except trained choir monks and professional choirs were ever able to sing. Beautiful though they were, those liturgical halcyon days were at best a series of really terrific concerts.

I prefer the remarks of a certain Cardinal Carlo Furno, grand master of the Equestrian Order (Knights) of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, who, according to UPI, said it was "better to have guitars on the altar and rock and roll masses than empty churches."

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Turn that frown upside down!

B16 coined a new slogan for his papacy yesterday when speaking to the Catholic bishops of the Baltics, according to Zenit. Discussing, as usual, "the frailty of conjugal bonds, the plague of abortion and the demographic crisis," the pope warned of a new "tyrrany of instability" rising up to further undermine all that is good and right in the world.

Now many feared that Papa Ratzi had completely spent his creative juices with his original jeremiad against the "dictatorship of relativism," but we can all rest assured that he has many three-worders lined up to go to war with the soundbites hurled by mad feminists, the homosexual agenda-ers, and the in vitro fertilization industry.

If John Paul is going eventually be dubbed "the Great," perhaps Joseph's will be "Pope Benedict the Dour."

Cheer up, pope dude. As my mother (and many before her) always says, you attract more flies with honey than with--well, you know the rest...

Friday, June 23, 2006

Sorry folks!

Life's been crazy--loads of stuff happening, from liturgy to the Episcopalians, but work's been a little crazy. Don't give up on me, though--I'll be back!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Lord Archbishop Emeritus

You'd think things couldn't get any worse for poor Rowan Williams, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury who is trying desperately to hold the liberals (who insist on ordaining gays and celebrating same-sex unions) and the conservatives (who insist on denouncing the liberals) together in one church.

Now his predecessor, George Carey, is taking pot shots at Rowan, lamenting, "When I left office at the end of 2002 I felt the Anglican communion was in good heart. It is difficult to say in what way we are now a communion. Bitterness, hostility, misunderstanding and strife now separate provinces from one another and divide individual provinces." Don't hold back, Lord Carey. This is nothing new; evidentally the two don't really get along: Carey allegedly blackballed Williams when the latter was up for an episcopal appointment in 1998.

Of course, the only issue dividing Anglicanism right now is the place of gays in the church, and with Anglicanism's regionalism (for lack of a better word), which I admire, you'd think they'd manage to permit different approaches in different places. Of course, since the dispute is about sex (basically), everything stands or falls on this single issue. (The issue of women bishops, which the U.S. Episcopals have had for some time, is evidently less of a big deal to conservative Anglicans, while the Romans, of course, are about to give birth over the fact that the Church of England will soon start ordaining women to the episcopate.) In the end I'm starting to wonder if some Christians believe that the Word became flesh specifically to tell us what to do with our genitals.

To make matters worse, the Episcopal Church in the U.S. is beginning it's triennial meeting in Columbus, Ohio, where sparks are sure to fly. To quote one of Williams' staffers: "Dear, oh dear, oh dear."

Thank God we have no Pope Emeritus. If popes ever do start retiring at 75 like other bishops, I hope they have to retire to a monastery and make a vow of silence.

I take that back. Dueling popes might be more fun.

Catholic celebrity saved from Scientology!

REJOICE! Nicole Kidman, former apostate to Scientology because of her marriage to the increasingly bizarre Tom Cruise, is returning to Rome. She was spotted at her parents' parish in North Sydney and is reported to have secured an annulment from Cruise. Thank God.

Now she'll be getting married for real to country singer Keith Urban, a far more wholesome choice. And she'll be spending about $250,000 to buy out the Golden Door resort for her guests. Don't worry, I'm sure she'll also be tithing 10 percent. Or maybe not. One thing at a time.

That's it for your Catholic-to-the-Left celebrity update. Next week: Is Britney Spears' marriage to Kevin Federline really "awesome"?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Another reason to dislike Scalia

If his callous approach to the death penalty and his gallant, self-serving invocation of his Catholicism wasn't enough, Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia has now made news for using an obscene gesture in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston. When asked if he "gets a lot of crap from [his] critics" for his rulings on religion--clearly a softball from a Boston Herald reporter--he made the gesture you can see here.

The photographer who captured Scalia in all his grace was actually covering the event for The Pilot, the Boston archdiocesan newspaper. They ordered him not to publish it, but since he is a freelancer, they couldn't stop him. He sold the photo to The Herald, and The Pilot subsequently fired him.

Now why would the Boston archdiocese want to quash an unflattering photo of Scalia?

A better question, though, is why Scalia, a outspoken proponent of the wide use of the death penalty, even against minors and the mentally disabled and mentally ill, gets to speak in a Boston church while Voice of the Faithful chapters have difficulty meeting on church property is beyond me.

Backdoor reform

With down yesterday, I wasn't able to post what could be big news: A federal judge has ruled that a sex-abuse related lawsuit with the Vatican as a defendant can proceed, despite the Holy See's usual immunity from U.S. law because of its status as a sovereign nation. The case involved a Servite priest who first abused a child in Ireland, who was then transferred to the U.S., where he abused other children. The argument is that, since the Vatican has direct authority over bishops and their actions, it can be implicated in the abuse.

This won't go much further, of course; the State Department will likely be able to get the Vatican removed, and the Vatican has already appealed. Besides, Vatican pockets aren't as deep as one might think, fancy art aside.

But Catholicism has only itself to thank for the impression that it is a giant corporation instead of a communion of local churches. No one would think to sue the Archbishop of Canterbury for abuse in an Episcopal Church; that's because the Anglican communion understands itself--following far more ancient tradition than our current Roman super-papalism--as a federation of local churches, which is a quite Catholic ecclesiology.

So, if we can't get that kind of reform in the Roman church on the appeal to tradition, subsidiarity, and inculturation, maybe we can get it for economic reasons. Always go for the mammon, I say.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Hands off!

Just a couple of the more strident supporters of the anti-gay constitutional amendment:

From a sign at the pro-amendment rally: "Stop same-sex marriage: It endorses masturbation." I'm going to make that into a T-shirt.

Exodus International's Alan Chambers, who said he quit homosexuality 14 years ago: "Our children are being raped every day of school by what's being taught. Are you mad? I'm mad. I'm so mad. God have mercy." Change mad to "crazy," and I think you might be on to something. Maybe you're just on something.

And, my favorite, a reporter's question to one activist who was lamenting the "epidemic of fatherlessness" in America: "How would outlawing gay marriage encourage heterosexual fathers to stick around?"

Good question.

Vatican: Family "inbred"

Just as W was promoting a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, Papa Ratzi's Pontifical Council on the Family was issuing a new document "on the family," according the Zenit News Agency, which reports the purpose of the document is to "open the doors to the future research into these debated issues." How open? This open:

First, quoting JPII: "The family is inbred in man and has been established by God. But today man has become a riddle to himself and is experiencing the deepest crisis in history in his family dimension: The family is attacked as it has never been before; the new forms of union are destroying it; the fertilization techniques are totally ousting human love; the birth control policies are leading to today's 'birth winter.' " Obviously a bad translation, don't know who picked "inbred," but I think this qualifies as overstatement. I'd dare to guess that about .001 percent of births use IVF, especially since most of the world's births occur in the developing world anyway. That's far from "totally ousting human love."

Second: "Never before has the natural institution of marriage and the family been the victim of such violent attacks. The family and marital life models are changing … [and] if we look at the lengths people go to avoid having children, including contraception as well as abortion, the eclipse of any reference to God looks clear in the predominant view of responsible procreation." Violent attacks? Eclipsing God? And back to IVF: Why would infertile couples spend thousands on IVF and adoption if they were so relentlessly trying to avoid children? I strongly encourage the members of the Council to begin procreating immediately.

Finally, for you lesbian and gay folks out there: "Gay couples claim for themselves the same rights as those that are specific to husband and wife, they even claim the right to adopt. Lesbian couples claim for themselves the same rights, demanding laws that will give them access to heterologous fertilization or embryo implantation." Of that .001 percent of IVF treatments, I'd be willing to bet that .001 percent of those involve these outrageously uppity lesbian couples. Incidentally, does anyone know the Latin word for "heterologous"? Just asking.

And for you straight married folks, just so you know you're not off the hook: "The union and procreation factors [must] be always matched to each other in any marital act." The document does permit "periodical continence," in other words "the use of marriage only in non-fertile periods."

Is marriage something that's "used," like a lawnmower or other household appliance? Not a very nice way to talk about a sacrament. Oh yeah, what's a "marital act"? Sounds kind of dirty.

Can't wait to read the full English text!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Family feud

Yesterday, the prez unveiled the Republican national strategy for this election year to divert attention from the war in Iraq, the massacre in Haditha, soaring deficits, and economic policy geared to the wealthy. And he's gone for the usual target: gays, particularly those who want to marry but can't, despite the fact that they pay their taxes like other citizens.

And where will Catholics be on this one. Hmmm, let's see. B16 issues a new statement almost every week about "pseudo-marriages"; the U.S. bishops' conference is planning a massive lobbying effort to "defend marriage"; and prominent Catholics like Douglas Kmiec of Pepperdine University are out predicting the end of Christian churches if the state "forces" them to recognize same-sex marriage. Glad to see we're on the right (sic) side of the issue...

So what should we Catholics be for, you ask the lefty Catholic. How 'bout this: A massive overhaul of what we understand families to be, which would entail a massive change in our social policy that would actually support all families instead of favoring the ever-shrinking number of once-married heterosexual couples with 1.8 children. It would mean allowing people to create households, not based on sexual behavior (ICK! why would we do it that way?) but on mutual support. A family might be two unmarried or widowed sisters and the one adult child that lives with them. It might be a grandfather, his daughter, and her two children. It might be a same-sex couple or a heterosexual couple with children. And being a "household" would allow them to take advantage of tax, Social Security, and health care benefits now (unjustly) restricted to married couples.

You'd think we Catholics would be on the cutting edge of this: We've pioneered alternative families, from monasteries to various religious orders to Catholic Worker Houses and L'Arche communities--all families based not on sexual bonding but on mutual support and love.

After all, according to Jesus, his family had little to do with who was or was not married to whom but with those "who hear the word of God and keep it."