Wednesday, December 20, 2006

His Holiness, the Grinch

Been swamped lately, but thought I'd pass along these gems from the Holy Father, from his last audience before Christmas:

"False prophets continue to offer cheap salvation which ends up in deep delusions." (!!)

"Today, many consider God irrelevant. Even believers sometimes seek tempting but illusory shortcuts to happiness. And yet perhaps even because of this confusion humanity seeks a savior, and awaits the coming of Christ."

Cheer up, dude! It’s Christmas! As they say, you draw more flies to honey ...

Do you think we can get a vice-pope to play the happy pope?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Bishop Mussolini

The Vatican has upheld, not surprisingly, Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz's decision 10 years ago to excommunicate all members of Call to Action within his diocese. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, said the excommunication "was properly taken within your competence as pastor of that diocese," according to Catholic News Service.

"The judgment of the Holy See is that the activities of Call to Action in the course of these years are in contrast with the Catholic faith due to views and positions held which are unacceptable from a doctrinal and disciplinary standpoint. Thus to be a member of this association or to support it is irreconcilable with a coherent living of the Catholic faith."

Of course, the excommunication only applies within the Lincoln diocese, and though Re seems favorable to Bruskewitz's judgment, he has no authority to excommunicate anyone, since he's not even a diocesan bishop. Only the pope can issue an excommunication that applies outside his local church.

The real scandal here is that the church has no real public forum (a court, except for the one Re presides over) for adjudicating these kinds of disputes--of course Re would rule in favor of the bishop! The original draft of the current Code of Canon Law made provision for tribunals that would be able to deal with situations like this, but JPII stripped them before promulgating the code because he didn't think the church was "ready" for them, whatever that means.

The code contains quite a few "rights" of the faithful, including the right to associate freely, participate in the church's ministry, and make one's views known to one's pastors, which Call to Action has been exercising admirably. Of course, rights are worthless when there is no system for defending them.

If you like quizzes

These will tell you if you're a heretic! Stephen Harris, a U.K. blogger, has created these quizzes that I actually find to be quite useful and nuanced--much better than those dumb Beliefnet ones, where I consistently turn out to be a Quaker. And I'm proud to report that I am Chalcedon compliant and scored as an 82% Roman Catholic--my highest denominational score.


More on those two nice men

A reader and I have been having a spirited debate about the two men denied Communion by the archbishop of Halifax. For his side, you'll have to check out the comments on the previous post; mine I get to move to the top. I am the blogger after all. :) And I've written quite a bit. And thanks to the commenter--I've definitely enjoyed the conversation.

The crux of our disagreement is whether the archbishop is justified in denying Communion to two men who obtained a same-sex civil marriage. My commenter says that since the two men are in a state of mortal sin, the bishop has the right to do so. I disagree.

First, only an individual person can know whether he or she is in a state of mortal sin; it is a condition of conscience rather than a checklist. The church has traditionally said certain things are mortal sins--from masturbation and missing church on a holy day of obligation to rape and murder (how's that for range?)--but it has never said an individual person is in a state of mortal sin, nor, for that matter, has it said that anyone is in hell. To do so has long been considered a failure of charity.

Technically, for someone free to marry (not already married or a committed celibate) contracting a civil (even a same-sex) marriage is not a sin. The baptized are free to exercise their legal rights within the bounds of the moral law, and the church has never said that contracting a civil marriage is a sin in itself. (Sex within a "merely" civil marriage is, of course, another matter.) It has only said that homosexual sex is sinful, and as I've pointed out, we don't know anything about the sex lives of the gentlemen in question. Just because certain church leaders have opposed laws recognizing same-sex relationships doesn't mean it is a sin to enter one. They are, after all, merely civil contracts. And there are other church leaders who have supported the creation of these legal instruments for a variety of reasons.

[My commenter pointed out the the archbishop may be making a justified "preemptive strike" to defend the church against further government intervention in marriage, for example, requiring faith communities to perform or accept same-sex marriages. My response:]

I'm not sure how using the Eucharist as a "preemptive strike" could ever be appropriate. If the archbishop has an issue with the government, the political process is the proper forum for such an action. His concerns may well be legitimate, but I don't see how making an example of these two individual men--especially since many Catholics in Canada have probably entered these arrangements--will achieve his purpose.

The canons are very clear here: Only someone who "obstinately perseveres in manifest grave sin" can be denied communion. Canons that restrict the rights of the baptized have to be interpreted narrowly and on the basis of plain language. In this case, I think "manifest" is what is key: The sin has to be public, and in this case, if they are having sex, it seems to be in private. As I said, it is not a sin to enter a civil contract, and there could be many reasons one would choose to do so, government and tax benefits being obvious ones.

I know I'll be accused of naivete here--"of course they're having sex!"--but the point is, it's not my business, and canon law also says the baptized have a right to privacy. So I'm in no position to make presumptions about their secret sins or to speculate as to the condition of their consciences, both of which violate the demands of charity.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

OK, this is just mean

It seems a certain Canadian bishop is implementing the new U.S. bishops guidelines for denying Communion to the people of God. In this case the archbishop of Halifax, Terrence Prendergast, ordered the pastor of Stella Maris in Meteghan, Nova Scotia to deny Communion to 69-year-olds Daniel Poirier and Jack Murphy because they were married in a civil ceremony and took an announcement out in the local newspaper. Poirier had been director of the parish choir.

"It really was a blow," Mr. Poirier said, according to the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. "When we went to church there, it was like going into a warehouse; it was cold, because when everybody got up to receive communion, we had to sit down. [Forgive me for this lapse of charity, but I hope the secret sins of all those communicants were weighing heavy on their consciences as they walked past the two men. Talk about scandal!]

"One day we went and the priest talked about love and sharing and charity and all that, and I said to Jack, ‘No, I can’t take this anymore.’ So we walked out. I was almost in tears and my heart was broken."

My heart is broken, too. This is just stupid. And it gets worse when you listen to the bishop's letter to the men:

"Your state of life--after having celebrated a same-sex civil marriage and spoken about it publicly on radio and television--has established your relationship as a public scandal." [Of course, you can publicly be a spiteful cleric on radio and in television and still go to Communion.]

"This disciplinary measure is to remind you of the objective seriousness of your present state and to invite you to renounce it and to return to living according to Christ’s injunction to ‘sin no more.’ "

This "disciplinary measure"? Quite a thing to say when you are starving someone of the Body and Blood of Christ. The great scandal is that these men have been driven out of Catholicism; they now attend a United Church parish. Not to mention that I doubt the archbishop is scouring the papers for marriages between divorced Catholics who still go to church.

Sin no more, indeed. The couple reports that their priest told them the archbishop would have left them alone if they hadn't made their relationship public--it's evidently OK to accept the gifts and services of someone you know to be gay, as long as they don't tell.

Of course, this all goes back to what you think the Eucharist is. A merit badge for exemplary behavior? A reward for perfection? A mark of privilege? I for one don't think that's what Jesus had in mind. Go read the gospels--even Judas got to eat at the Last Supper.

Whether these two nice men are in a state of sin or not--and I don't think they are, at least no more than the rest of us--I hardly think anyone is in the position to point fingers. If worthiness was the test for Communion, nobody--and I mean not a single person, priests and (arch)bishops included--would get any.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Celibacy, round 2

Cardinal Claudio Hummes is backing off comments he made in Brazil that the church needs to change its celibacy policy. After noting in an interview with a Brazilian newspaper that "celibates are part of Catholic history and culture," he pointed out that "the Church can reflect on the issue because celibacy is not a dogma but a form of discipline."

Today's Washington Post has him backpedaling, but just a bit: "I have no new doctrine on priestly celibacy. I just say what the doctrine of the Church says. Obviously, it is the Pope who guides the Church." Well, yes, Claudio, but the pope just made you the head of the Congregation of Clergy, and I hardly think he was unaware of your position.

You heard here first, folks: B16 will begin the relaxation of mandatory celibacy in the Western church, though I'm not sure it will be completed while he is pope. "Experiments" will be permitted in the developing world, but it will eventually spread. And I think it's probably already a done deal, and the Vatican meeting a couple of weeks ago and remarks like those Hummes made are laying the groundwork.

Actually, and those more traditional folks among my readership might be surprised by this, I wish they'd hold off on celibacy (and women's ordination for that matter) until we get a renewed theology of ministry. I'd hate to see lay ministry phased out because we suddenly have enough married priests to do the work. What I'd really like to see is a whole new way of looking at ministry, one that gets us thinking outside the "clerical box." The kind of "experiments" we need go way beyond allowing priests to marry.