Tuesday, November 13, 2007

More on the new USCCB president

Jason Berry, a journalist who has produced a lot of the coverage of the sex abuse crisis in the church, wrote an op-ed in Sunday's LA Times that should raise eyebrows. It is disturbing that George gets credit for getting Rome to agree to the Dallas Charter but then in his own archdiocese doesn't seem to take sex abuse seriously. Berry also gives coverage to one of George's auxiliaries, Bishop Thomas Paprocki, a canon and civil lawyer, who argued at the "Red Mass" for lawyers and judges that the church was under attack. As covered by Berry: " 'The church is under attack," Paprocki declared, comparing the civil litigation to Henry VIII's seizure of "church property and kill[ing] those who did not accept his notion of the supremacy of the crown.' "

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Phew! We're not the only ones

Thus describes the relief expressed by some U.S. bishops that sex abuse is just as bad everywhere else as it is in the church.

Say that again?

That's right, the new John Jay study tracking sex abuse in the U.S. church reports that the increase in sex abuse in the church mirrors that in the rest of society. Even more, the study's author, Karen Terry, suggested, according to the Baltimore Sun that it was "not something distinct about the church that led to the abuse." She went on to express the desire to (quoting the Sun) "better understand the connection between societal changes--including attitudes about sex and homosexuality--and the jump in reports of sexual abuse by priests."

Huh? Tagging the gays again, eh? What connection could there possibly be? That the sexual revolution caused more sex abuse, or that it led to people reporting sex abuse? It is disturbing that, for no apparent reason, Terry felt like she had to mention homosexuality, forgetting once again that most pedophiles are married heterosexual men and that most victims of sexual abuse and assault are female.

What good may come out of this is the recognition that the sexual abuse of children is pervasive in society and goes well beyond the Catholic church. Now the church has the opportunity to be a model and advocate for stamping this kind of abuse out. Will the bishops rise to the challenge?

Well, since they're getting ready to elect Francis George of Chicago as president, who hardly has a spotless record in this regard (you can read Chicago Sun-Times coverage here), I doubt it's going to be high on the agenda.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Guess who's coming to America...

The pope is coming! The pope is coming!

It's official, according to the Associated Press: B16 is coming to the U.S. of A. in April, visiting Our Nation's Capital and Our Nation's Other Capital (New York). On the docket are meetings with President Bush, meetings with other religious leaders, and, interestingly, meetings with Catholic university presidents. (Hmmm ... university presidents?) And an address to the United Nations.

The press is focusing heavily on the pope's visit to Ground Zero, linking it to the possible candidacy of Rudy Giuliani--a thrice-married Catholic-who-doesn't-go-to-Mass (as the press has been describing him). Not sure what the connection is there--something about abortion and gay marriage or something. No one seems to mention that about half the Democratic field is Catholic.

But I have to wonder: Why is the pope coming to the U.S. during a presidential election year? The nominations will probably be decided by April, of course, but still...

Of course, we're going to be treated to not one but two baseball stadium Masses--yuck! The homes of the Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees will play host to liturgical extravaganzas, which, I have to say, I find to be the most bizarre invention of John Paul II. A mass with 30,000 people is kind of silly, liturgically speaking.

Sorry, all you JPII lovers, I know you love those things. But I think they're liturgical nightmares. My humble opinion... I wonder if it will be in Latin...

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Ordained in a synagogue?

Though I thought Archbishop Raymond Burke's dramatic letters to the St. Louis women ordained as part of the Womenpriests movement were a little overwrought, I can't say I agree with their tactics. There is something profoundly strange about ordaining Christian ministers in a synagogue--and I wonder if many Jews wouldn't feel the same--and, frankly, I think it points to the problem with the whole Womenpriests movement: their understanding of ordination. (Read St. Louis Post-Dispatch's coverage here.)

Many people question restricting Holy Orders to men, but I think the real problem is with our current understanding of priesthood. Over history, ordination has increasingly been separated from local churches (dioceses) and parish communities. Theology, strongly influenced by St. Thomas Aquinas' understanding of the sacraments, came to see priests as a "cause" that made the sacraments possible, which unfortunately has given us an almost magical understanding of the sacraments, as if by some virtue conferred at ordination, a priest "transforms" ordinary bread and wine into Christ's body and blood. A more developed understanding of ordained ministry recognizes God's grace at work in the action of the church gathered (the liturgical assembly) and its ordained leader--and doesn't separate the head of the assembly from the body.

The Womenpriests, in my view anyway, have adopted that problematic theology. The first ones were ordained on a boat in the Danube River by an unidentified bishop--technically outside any local church community. Now two have been ordained in a synagogue. What can that possibly mean? Now they have the magic and can "perform" sacraments like any other priest?

I empathize with those who feel called to ordained ministry in the Roman Catholic Church whom the church will not ordain because they are women or married or gay or lesbian. It seems to me that many have God-given desires that have been affirmed by their faith communities--the mix that I think should lead to ordination. But including those people in an unreformed structure of ordination won't necessarily make that structure more just, and it may serve only to solidify distinctions between lay and ordained.

What we need first is a renewed theology of ministry--one that begins with baptism rather than ordination. Then I think the question of ordination, and who is ordained, and to what ministry, might look quite a bit different.


Friday, November 09, 2007

Bring back the rack?

The archbishop of St. Louis, Raymond Burke, has upped the ante in ecclesiastical penalties, according to the Associated Press. In threatening two women who will be ordained this weekend as part of the Womenpriests movement, Burke suggested a fate worse than excommunication:

"Burke reminded [the women] that the pope has stated infallibly that only men can receive a valid ordination, and wrote that 'in order to protect the faithful from grave spiritual deception' if they go forward, they would 'incur automatically ... the censure of excommunication.'

"Further, Burke wrote, 'additional disciplinary measures will also have to be imposed.'"

Rose Marie Dunn Hudson, one of the ordinands, wins for best comeback: "What is he going to do, burn us at the stake, or what?"

Probably "or what." I think there's a museum of the Inquisition somewhere in Mexico where Burke could do some research. Maybe he'll get lost in there.

Looks like the road to women's ordination just got bumpier.


Come out at Mass! Or not.

Not much to blog about of late, but a press release titled "Fr. Euteneuer responds to Jesuit who 'came out' at Mass" caught a colleague's attention. Euteneuer is president of Human Life International, which bills itself as "pro-life" missionaries to the world. His "open letter" to Jesuit Thomas Brennan, who came out at a student Mass at St. Joseph University in Philadelphia, carried the usual denunciations of the "unholy desire" Father Brennan acknowledged. (Only Euteneuer's site and Lifesite News covered the incident.)

Ironically enough, I did find myself agreeing with one of Euteneuer's points (though not his constant personal attacks against Brennan):

"Holy Mass is not a forum for your self-expression. You chose the sacred liturgy and the pulpit reserved for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the launching pad for your personal testament to homosexuality ... You've read the same documents I've read about the liturgy, and none of them say the liturgy is your personal stage."

True enough, and it is a criticism that could be leveled equally against priests and homilists of various political persuasions. Though I think it can be appropriate for priests to come out--and thus put the lie to the claim that gay priests are somehow a danger to the church--the liturgy isn't the place. The Christian assembly has other work to do, and it needs its leader to stick to the task at hand.

But I do wonder why two prolife websites are so concerned about a relatively minor incident at a small Catholic college in Pennsylvania. What does a gay priest have to do with abortion or euthanasia?