Friday, October 26, 2007

Pope poo-pooed Pio

Padre Pio, the famous stigmatic who died in 1968 and was canonized in 2002, had one very high-placed doubter: Pope John XXIII. The late pope wrote in his personal diaries, according the U.K. Times Online: "I am sorry for PP, who has a soul to be saved, and I pray for him intensely. What happened - that is, the discovery because of the films - si vera sunt quae referentur (if it is true what they say) - of his intimate and incorrect relations with the women who constitute his Pretorian guard, which even now stands firm around him, leads one to think of a vast disaster of souls which has been diabolically set up to discredit the Holy Church in the world, and especially in Italy." Ouch! The Times further reports that Pio's much-celebrated stigmata was self-inflicted with carbolic acid. Don't know the background on PP's "Pretorian guard."

Padre Pio was, however, a favorite of JPII, who not only oversaw his canonization but made Pio's memorial obligatory for every church--in other words, celebrating his feast day is not optional. I guess his vote counts more than J23.

The Times article originally had one howler, about one of PP's supposed spiritual gifts: "Followers of Padre Pio believe he exuded 'the odour of sanctity,' had the gift of bipolarism (being in two places at once), healed the sick and could prophesy the future." As one commenter rightly noted, that gift is bilocation. (The article is now fixed.)

Of course, PP is now elevated to the altars, along with folks like Josemaria Escriva, who also had some troubles in his past according to some. Not that I doubt either is in heaven. But it makes one wonder if the canonization process is sometimes more a testament to how easy it is to get into heaven rather than a testimony to how hard it is.

God's mercy covering a multitude of sins and all.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Blame it on the gays?

In the aftermath of the Monsignor Stenico Vatican sex scandal, the now-expected commentary on homosexuality and/in the Catholic Church is now appearing. Of note is a column by Anglican (I think) priest Martin Reynolds, who lives with his partner and their family in Wales. The heart of his contention is that Stenico represents the double-edged character of the Christianity/homosexuality coin: Gay people (men in particular) are both persecuted and persecutor. A selection from his column in the UK New Statesman:

"The Anglican family of Churches is tottering on its foundations over the place of lesbian and gay people in its hierarchy, divided between those who see homosexuality as an acceptable deviation and no bar to office and those who privately might still enjoy a bonfire or two with gay people as both passive and active participants.

"For let’s be clear gay Christians have not just been the fuel for these bonfires. Homosexual priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes have been amongst the most enthusiastic to set the fires and throw on the victims as an attempt both to disguise and deny their own sexuality. Fr Tommaso’s defense that he met the young gay man "to better understand this mysterious and faraway world which, by the fault of a few people--among them some priests--is doing so much harm to the Church” may be a painful reminder to all of us of this."

I must admit that I have found some of the most violently anti-gay people in Catholicism--both lay and ordained--to at least fit the standard gay stereotypes (on which basis it is, of course, unfair to judge). But there have been no small number of anti-gay Christians who have turned out to be gay themselves, two prominent members of evangelical "ministry" Exodus International (a group that allegedly makes gay people straight in the name of Jesus) being a case in point. (They re-embraced their homosexuality and partnered up.)

With the conflict over homosexuality in the church that complex, no wonder homosexuality has become of late what Rev. Reynolds calls a "first order" truth of Christianity rather than the "third order" issue it probably really is in the grand scheme.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Set-up in the Holy See?

One thing guaranteed to give a story legs: Gay sex in the Vatican. Great, just what the Holy Father needs.

Monsignor Tommaso Stenico, a section head at the Vatican Congregation for Clergy, is the cleric involved, the "victim" of a journalistic sting in which a "young man" secretly filmed Stenico in his office propositioning said "young man" for sex. Reports are a little varied--some say the priest gave an interview in his office with his face and voice disguised, others just that he was secretly filmed. You can read the Guardian's most recent update here. Either way, Stenico has now been suspended from his duties.

This is, of course, another silly distraction, one which the Vatican leaves itself open to by being so vociferous in its opposition to any legal recognition of same-sex couples (as it recently did in Italy) and its absolute condemnation of sex between people of the same gender. Any indiscretion or outright hypocrisy by any individual priest is bound to be news, and Stenico's claim that he was investigating a satanist plot to ensnare priests just makes the whole thing more lurid.

This story is no good for gay folks either. Every time there is another Larry Craig or Monsignor Stenico it just reinforces the following stereotypes: gays are trying to convert your children (it was a young man, after all); gays are so perverse and desperate that they have sex in public restrooms; gay sex is super weird—they’re all into S and M, you know (the Guardian made sure we all know that it was "sado-masochistic sex" Father was looking for).

Sanity, please.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Once-in-history chance?

A group of 139 Muslim scholars and clerics has issued an open letter to Pope Benedict and other Christian leaders inviting Christians and Muslims to dialog. Issued to coincide with the festival at the end of Ramadan, "A Common Word between Us and You" argues: "Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world's population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians," according to the U.K. Guardian.

The question for Catholics is how the pope will respond. There is another significant anniversary coming up, that of B16's Regensburg speech that deeply offended many Muslims because of his association of Islam with violence. This letter is an olive branch, and the Holy Father would do well to hang on. And it is significant for the number of its Muslim signatories: Islam has no centralized authority, but the dozens of scholars and muftis have tens of millions of followers.

Wouldn't it be great if the Vatican convened an ecumenical (all Christians) and inter-religious (including not only Christians and Muslims, but Jews and other interested religious parties as well) for a peace conference? Such an effort may work wonders for the inter-religious effort, as well as counter the "new atheist" (Hitchens, Dawkins, and the rest) claim that religion sows only dissension.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

With news coverage like this...

Who needs enemies? Check out this headline:

Pope attacks Iran at Jewish Congress

This, from the U.K. Times Online, has got to be one of their dumbest, and most incendiary, headlines in a while. Perfect timing, too, since the we're getting close to the anniversary of the pope's ill-timed and ill-phrased remarks on Islam given at Regensburg, Germany during the first year of his pontificate. You'd think the Times was trying to stir up trouble.

Anyone who cares to read the actual story will discover the pope was actually expressing support for Judaism to members of the World Jewish Congress. Even Benedict's quote was third-hand, coming from Maram Stern, secretary general of the World Jewish Congress, who reported that the pope had "recognised the question of Iran as an issue of big concern for him." "Issue of big concern"--that hardly sounds like a direct quote from Benedict (though I don't doubt that the pope expressed support for Israel and for Jews in general).

I imagine, however, that the pope was just as concerned about the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe and especially with Polish priest Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, who heads a Catholic media empire in Poland and has been accused of blatant anti-Semitism. But to read the Times, you'd think the pope had nukes of his own trained on Tehran.

I'm often critical of B16, but I also feel sorry for him sometimes. He generally says carefully nuanced things--whether you agree with him or not--which get translated by all kinds of people into five-word headlines that hardly capture his intent.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Ready for married priests?

If the alternative is a pastor who allegedly fathers a child out of wedlock with a separated woman and then does a survey about whether or not he should stay, you might be!

According to Agence France-Presse, Don Sante Sguotti, a priest of the Padua, Italy diocese, has been relieved of his pastoral duties after his affair with a parishioner came to light. When the news first surfaced six months ago, Sguotti held a parish referendum, in which only 16 of 200 respondents said he should resign. Young people in the town have taken to wearing T-shirts that say "We are all children of Don Sante." So incensed at his replacement were parishioners that only four women showed up to Mass last Sunday, the first presided at by Sguotti's replacement.

Makes a nice, happily married man look like your dream priest, doesn't it?

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Do you know your doc's faith?

Some Catholics have made big deals of late about the rights of Catholic pharmacists, for example, to refuse to fill a birth control pill prescription on religious grounds. With that--and my post on the Connecticut bishops' decision to permit Plan B in Catholic hospitals for victims of rape--in mind, I'm wondering how supporters of the "right to refuse" folks might feel about the following news story, in the U.K. Times Online:

According to a study by two British medical societies, a (very) few Muslim medical students have refused, on religious grounds, to study the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases or alcohol-related illnesses because the behavior that may lead to those conditions is contrary to Islam. One student even failed his licensing exam because he refused, on religious grounds, to give a standard medical exam to a female patient.

So, folks, are we talking apples and apples here, or apples and oranges? Are medical professionals obliged to provide the professional "standard of care" regardless of their personal religious beliefs? The Muslim professional society of doctors and dentists in the UK is not supporting these Muslim medical students, by the way, though the CT bishops are still seeking an exemption from the state law that would require Plan B.

I think this is a particular issue for women; many of the "refusals" are around women's reproductive health, and you can expect more when the vaccine for the virus that causes some cervical cancers becomes more widely available and the pressure increases to have pre-adolescent girls vaccinated.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

It's starting earlier this time

Such was Rudolph Giuliani's response to St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke's statement that Burke would deny Giuliani Communion should the former NY mayor present himself. Giuliani is facing pressure from Christian conservatives and Catholics for his support of abortion rights. I don't know what positive action Giuliani has ever taken to make abortion available though. Can you be denied Communion for thinking something?

Burke--who gets points at least for applying his no-Communion rule to both the GOP and Democrats--said, however, that the death penalty and preemptive war were different. "It's a little more complicated in that case," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In the abortion case, however, Burke says Giuliani is "publicly sinning." I think a preemptive war is a pretty public sin. The death penalty is committed in public, too.

Though I'm no fan of Giuliani myself, I think Burke is wrong on canonical grounds. A penalty like exclusion from Communion has a pretty high bar--directly procuring an actual abortion, or directly aiding the procurement of an actual one--a real act, not just a thought, or a political speech.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

This counts as crazy

The archbishop of Maputo, Mozambique, Francisco Chimoio, has accused European condom manufacturers of deliberately infecting condoms with HIV "in order to finish quickly the African people," according to the Guardian. About 1 in 6 of Mozambique's 19 million people are infected with HIV.

And I thought some the U.S. bishops were bad. Who picked this guy?

Chimoio is just another, if over the top, example of how the Catholic Church is on the wrong side of the HIV prevention debate. We can insist people behave like angels all we want, but that's no excuse for openly opposing an effective prevention strategy on a continent that already has 40 million orphaned children because of HIV and AIDS. The church's teaching on condom use is not so important that it trumps the need to prevent the spread of a pandemic. And suggesting a deliberate genocide against Africans is hardly the way to attack the real threat that is infecting 500 people in Mozambique every day.