Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mary "Monster Monstrance" Posting from 2008 Gets Its Eighth Comment in Six Years

This blog has been silent for the last three months, waiting to see if Pope Francis will actually deliver on his promising start as Bishop of Rome.  His revival of a liberation-theology approach to Catholic evangelization remains strong.  But for me the ultimate test is whether the upcoming Synod on the Family will actually produce much needed changes to official teaching on human sexuality, same-sex marriage, birth control, divorce and remarriage, and the church's stance on the civil treatment of these issues.  Or will the synod focus solely on the tactic that the teachings are sound but mercy should be shown to those who are incapable of living them?

The global invitation for people to comment on the issues raised the hope that the lived experience of real human beings might finally be taken seriously -- and respectfully.  However, the bland discussion document generated by Vatican officials to summarize that vast input was disappointing:  rather than considering that any of those teachings could be improved or updated, the officials dug in their heels and suggested that the problem was not deficient doctrines but inadequate communication of teachings that were not only sound but unsurpassable.  Once the bishops assemble for the synod, they may dismiss the document as the poppycock it is and actually debate the real issues -- as the bishops did at the Second Vatican Council when they were offered other reactionary drivel as discussion starting points.  But until the synod starts, it's impossible to know if that will happen, unless Francis plays some other card(s) in the intervening months.

Meanwhile, since life goes on in the months before the synod, my concrete discussion of specific church teachings probably needs to resume.  Among the first postings will be one on an academic paper by a theologian at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley (one of my almae matres) about the church's position on civil same-sex marriage.  The paper offers a way that the church could accept civil same-sex marriage without changing how it treats marriage internally.

But the immediate occasion for today's posting is a new development on a previous one from June 12, 2008, Mary Quite Contrary:  Monster Monstrance Promotes Mariolatry and Wafer Madness.  That posting commented on the public unveiling, with huge fanfare, of a 700-pound, nine-foot monstrance in the shape of the Virgin Mary at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Chicago.  More or less in the area of the statue's uterus was a 12-inch consecrated host.  The point of my comments was two-fold:  the monster monstrance was bad theology of Mary and bad theology of the eucharist.

The new development is that the 2008 posting has just received its eighth comment in six years.  When I made the comments, I did not expect them to garner more feedback than any other posting since I started the blog (in 2006).  The feedback has been positive and negative and often quite heartfelt.

In response to some of the more negative feedback, I have said more than once that I would do a more elaborate blog posting on the subject of eucharistic adoration.  But as I have re-read my original analysis and my responses to many of the comments, I don't think there is really too much to add.

The eucharistic theology I was taught in graduate school correctly emphasized that the Real Presence of the Risen Lord during the liturgy came about through actions (blessing, breaking, sharing, eating, drinking), and not through the kind of metaphysical change envisioned by theories such as transubstantiation.  I believe that Real Presence based on liturgical actions remains a sound theology, and that any theory that implies change to the bread and wine at an elemental (or even physical) level is a dead end.  Some who have read the original posting get that, and some deny that.  But saying more on the subject will probably convince no more readers than have been convinced already.

The theology of Mary and of the eucharist are not unimportant matters, and I am glad that my posting has caused readers to comment more and at greater length than on anything else that I have written.  However, I have done postings on many other church teachings that I think are more important than those embodied in the monster monstrance.  So I remain amazed that the monstrance post struck so many nerves, when issues that get my adrenaline pumping more have aroused nary a peep.

As W.H. Auden lamented on the eve of World War II, "All I have is a voice..."  I can wish that others will listen to it.  But whether they actually do, or provide feedback that tells me they are listening, ultimately is not for me to say.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Why John Paul II Does Not Deserve Symbiotic Sainthood with John XXIII

Religious and public media are abuzz with tomorrow's planned joint canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II in Rome -- a first in the history of the Catholic Church and also the first time the current pope will celebrate the ritual with his retired immediate predecessor among the concelebrants.

There is also much discussion of which pope is the real saint being recognized and which one is enjoying a sort of symbiotic sainthood.

The most popular coverage would have it that world-stage extrovert John Paul II, the first of the two to be fast-tracked heaven-ward, is the big fisherman in this tale, with Pope John XXIII as a jolly afterthought -- even though it was John XXIII who convoked the revolutionary Second Vatican Council, pushed it toward aggiornamento with the modern world, and (among other things) made a non-Italian pope a real possibility for the first time in centuries.

Count me part of a less visible but more vocal crowd who finds this thinking entirely backwards.  Not only is John XXIII the real saint, with Vatican II the only miracle anyone should need for proof.  More than that, John Paul II does not deserve to be called a saint at all -- and it is demeaning to the memory and accomplishments of John XXIII to attach John Paul II symbiotically to the real sanctity of Good Pope John.

The primary reason this symbiosis is so irrational and unjustified is that John Paul II dedicated his entire papacy to trying to undo what John XXIII and Vatican II accomplished.  Until the election of Pope Francis, I feared that John Paul II had largely succeeded.  Francis, fortunately, put the breaks on many of John Paul's reactionary moves, including neo-clericalism, neo-ritualism, and above all, the Vatican opposition to liberation theology.

It's nice of Francis to placate the John Paulistas with canonization, and to provide cover for John Paul's apostasy toward Vatican II by letting him bask in the long-deserved glorification of John XXIII.  But let's be clear:  it's John XXIII, whose style and substance Francis reflects so genuinely, who deserves to be called a saint -- not the pope who tried to scuttle John XXIII's reforms.

In the case of John Paul II, what should have been the straw that broke sainthood's back was his failure to stop the priestly pedophilia crisis, which he knew about as far back as 1984.  If trying to destroy Vatican II was not enough, surely punishing sex abuse victims and their families with disinformation campaigns and legal stonewalling should have been more than sufficient to derail his train to glory.

In this regard, Father Thomas Doyle has a commentary just posted by the National Catholic Reporter, in which he gives his own first-hand account of what John Paul II knew about the crisis and when he knew it.  Doyle, a canon lawyer who has represented priest abuse victims for thirty years, knows what he's talking about:  he was on the staff of the papal nuncio at that time and was the staffer who prepared briefings, incident reports and in-person orientations for the highest ranking Vatican officials.  John Paul II had direct knowledge of the scope of the problem and did nothing about it for years -- except to make the scope and the duration of the problem worse.

Of John Paul II's canonization, Doyle has this to say:

"The past 30 years have led me to the opinion that his sainthood is a profound insult to the countless victims of sexual assault by Catholic clergy the world over. It is an insult to the decent, well-intentioned men and women who were persecuted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during his reign, and it is an insult to the memory of Pope John XXIII, who has the misfortune being a canonization classmate."
 
Father Doyle takes on "some of the bizarre statements John Paul's two main cheerleaders have been making..." -- referring to long-time John Paul American apologist George Weigel, who has slithered his way into the title of NBC News Senior Vatican Analyst, and to JoaquĆ­n Navarro-Valls, John Paul's press officer.

Anyone who values Vatican II and Pope John XXIII who called it should read in grim detail the evidence that Father Doyle hurls against the record of John Paul II and Doyle's forceful skewering of the cheerleaders' attempts to distract us from that evidence.

Doyle shows undeniably that making John Paul II an official saint is a colossal mistake.  Perhaps official Catholicism won't rectify it any time soon.  But history has already convicted John Paul II, and there is nothing in history to redeem the evil that he did.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sr. Joan Chittister Lambasts "Religious Freedom" Pretext for Shunning Gays

Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister writes a regular column for The National Catholic Reporter called "From Where I Stand."  In the latest column, New 'religious' group just as deadly as the ones that preceded it, she likens those who would deny services to gay people on the grounds of a bogus "religious freedom" to those who previously excluded -- and killed -- blacks, Jews and women.

She notes that the effort recently defeated in Arizona has also been proposed in several other states.

The column follows in full.

Here's the problem with religion. You never know which religion you're going to meet: the "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" kind or the "Get thee behind me, Satan" kind.

You have to be very careful not to confuse one with the other. Your very life could depend on it.

The golden-rule types take people into the center of the community; the get-out-of-my-sight kind keep people out of it. One kind of religion embraces those who are different from themselves; the other excludes those who are different, the ones who are not like them: blacks if they're white; Jews if they're Christian; women if they're men.

Some people have lived restricted lives and even died at the hands of those who sought to restrict them -- some for trying to eat at white lunch counters or sitting down on buses; some for having ancestors in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago; some for serving soup that was cold or not ironing the shirts right.

The important thing to remember is that it doesn't really matter how the transgressions were defined. What matters is that the arguments in defense of doing it were always the same: God didn't want mixed races, or God wanted women to obey men, or God wanted Jews punished because the Romans crucified Jesus. Go figure.

And we forswore them all and thought we had learned something.

Until, lo and behold, we now discover that we have a new group developing, just as deadly, just as "religious" as the ones that preceded it. This new group made its first great public move in Arizona last month, just after the country in a great sweeping gesture of goodwill voted against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Most disconcerting, perhaps, is the fact that this group's power grab was as bold and shocking as the exclusionists before them. It was done as if we never learned anything from all our previous attempts to exclude multiple other groups before this -- Native Americans, women, the Irish, Eastern Europeans, anyone who fell outside the pale in the past.

This time, they wanted to discriminate against people in the name of "religious freedom" -- read lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. They wanted public businesses that had been formed under the auspices of state law for the sake of public commerce to have the legal right to refuse to serve patrons who seek the services promised to the public under those same laws.

It was a matter of "religious freedom," they said. A business owner could refuse service to those whose lives offended his/her religious beliefs. It was a personal matter, they argued, a matter of private conscience.

But the argument is not all that simple.

The state that gives businesses tax breaks and public security protections and requires quality control of goods and services for the sake of the public good has the right to require that those services be available to the public. Or forget the tax breaks and the public police and fire protection and the legal recourse to protection of that business under the law.

After more than a century of segregation, people across the country stood up to refuse another century of shunnings in the name of God.

We have all watched our gay children committing suicide to avoid the bullying and social discrimination that dogged their lives. This time, Arizona said, "Enough of that."

We all see young gay women and men doomed to lives of rejection and ridicule for choices not their own, and people everywhere are beginning to say no to that.

We all remember Matthew Shepard's beaten and bloodied body hanging cruciform on a farm fence in the name of the one whose own crucifixion was due to his defiance of exclusion. And courageous people are now saying "Never again" to that.

So now, the exclusionists whose "religion" defies the very principles of the God who created the others as well as themselves are working again to sequester and silence those who are other than themselves. And all for simply wanting to share the services the rest of us take for granted in the public square.

So if they get the right to do those things, what will the future look like for the rest of us?

Well, if this new kind of exclusion becomes standard, beware of your own social fragility. If your Mormon grocer finds out that you drink, you may never be allowed in the store again. Or your Jewish restaurant owner finds out you eat pork. Or your Muslim gas station owner does not approve of women drivers. Or your Catholic pharmacist figures out that you take birth control pills. (Don't worry, Viagra will apparently be allowed.)

Just a thought.

"Oh, nonsense," do I hear you saying? "Those things couldn't possibly happen."

I hope you're right. I just want to remind you that people have been killed because they were Jewish, or black, or women -- or gay. So why not again? Why not here? Why not, if it's all legal?

From where I stand, I would caution against complacency about this issue. After all, there are already other states with movements to write "moral" discrimination into law under the guise of "religious freedom," among them, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah.

After all, the next time, you may be what someone considers "morally offensive to their deeply held religious convictions." Just as were Jews, Catholics and blacks to the Ku Klux Klan in the United States. Or gypsies to the Nazis. Or now, homosexuals in Uganda. All of them by very religious people, they tell us. The other kind.

Friday, December 06, 2013

With Francis, "The Message of Those in the Margin Has Been Heard in the Halls of Power"

Jeff Dietrich, who has been a member of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker for over forty years, has published in the National Catholic Reporter a commentary hailing Pope Francis that I find just excellent.

Dietrich praises Francis for speaking with the authority of the Roman Catholic Church itself what the Catholic Worker people have been living and proclaiming from the margins for decades.

Below is the entirety of Dietrich's piece, including the following picture that NCR posted with it.


Pope Francis leads a meeting with the poor in the archbishop's residence Oct. 4 in Assisi, Italy. The meeting was in the famous "stripping room," where St. Francis stripped off his rich clothes, gave them to his father and began a life of poverty dedicated to Christ. (CNS/Paul Haring)

I have never expected to be affirmed for the work that I do. So it was shocking and a little disorienting to receive affirmation for my often-less-than-appreciated efforts from the very last place I would expect: the highest authority of the Roman Catholic church.

I have been working at the Catholic Worker soup kitchen on Los Angeles' Skid Row for over 40 years. I have published articles and books that have criticized prelates and politicians. I have occupied the cardinal's bell tower and his bulldozer to protest the exorbitant expense of a new cathedral. I have blockaded the mayor's bathroom, calling for porta-potties for the homeless. I have laid my body under city dump trucks to protect the personal property of the homeless from confiscation by city officials. I have gone to jail twice with the Occupy folks, protesting the excesses of Wall Street. I have always taken the part of marginal people, suffered the ire of the powerful, and felt the sting of being on the margins myself.

So I was thrilled to read Pope Francis' manifesto sharply criticizing the excesses of capitalism, calling for "a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets." This is not the church I have known since my days at St. Mary's Grammar School. It sounded a bit like what I have been doing for the last 40 years. I felt like the spy who came in from the cold, the voice in the wilderness suddenly propelled from the margins to the center of the very church I have spent my entire adult life criticizing.

Now for the first time in my life, I could hear a voice within the institutional church that echoed my own. Pope Francis' two fundamental issues are the same as mine: "the inclusion of the poor in society and ... peace and social dialogue." His is a strident voice calling for priests to leave the confines of their cozy rectories and secure sanctuaries and head out to care for and defend the victims of unmerciful financial markets. It is a voice that is not afraid to attack the only true "religion" of our era: capitalism. He tells us that "everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless."

While I do not agree with every papal utterance, especially those regarding women and sexuality, this may be a revolution in rhetoric only with no official policies to make structural changes within ossified church structures. For instance, I don't expect the pope to sell off the treasures of the Vatican and give it to the poor anytime soon or to fire all of the conservative prelates appointed by his predecessor. But in the meantime, I don't care.

This is a pope who cooks his own food and refuses to fly first class, live in a papal palace, ride in a limousine or wear the royal trappings of his office. This is a pope who is the solitary world figure with institutional authority that has the temerity to speak out against the idolatry and misanthropic nature of the world capitalist system. This is the only world figure to speak out boldly against the systematic starvation of the poor.

This is a pope who occupies the bulliest of all bully pulpits in the world and has radically moved the discussion of Catholic theology from what happens below the waistline to what happens in the streets. And if nothing else happens, he has removed theological justification from every parish priest or bishop who wants to build an extravagant, unnecessary church or purchase sumptuous satin vestments. He has prevented Catholic legislators like John Boehner and Paul Ryan from wrapping Ayn Rand capitalism in the mantle of Catholic social teachings. He has ripped the mask of rectitude from the leaders of the developed world who can no longer preach trickle-down capitalism as if it were the gospel of salvation.

But most of all, he has given hope to the poor as well as to the lone voices in the wilderness, "bruised, hurting and dirty" from their thankless work for justice on the streets. They can now speak not only with the authority of Jesus and the Gospels, but with the authority of the Roman Catholic church itself. Finally, the message of those in the margin has been heard in the halls of power. As one of my favorite poets once said: "The times, they are a-changin'."

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

If Pope Francis Puts People First, They Will Reform Deficient Doctrines

In an important new article in the National Catholic Reporter, Hans Kung -- the theological nemesis of every pope since Vatican II -- suggests that (1) the current head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has not bought into the pastoral outreach which Pope Francis has emphasized pretty much daily since his election, and (2) that, on the pope's specific outreach to divorced and remarried Catholics, the CDF has already taken steps that aim to prevent it.

Because Joseph Ratzinger headed the CDF under John Paul II and then incorporated CDF's conservative positions into his own papacy as Benedict XVI, Kung used to find himself criticizing the CDF and the pope simultaneously.  But with the election of Francis, a pope he clearly treasures and finds much more agreeable, Kung now gets to champion the pope against the CDF.

Beyond divorce and remarriage, Kung lists several issues on which Pope Francis and the CDF now seem to be pulling in opposite directions.

The significance of this cannot be exaggerated:  although this pope's instinct is to tackle pastoral outreach and pay as little attention as possible to "settled" church teachings, the CDF is not inclined to let him do that.

But in that stance, the CDF may actually be doing Francis and lay people a huge favor:  because the insistence of Vatican II, especially in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, is that the signs of the times and above all the lived experience of ordinary people must be allowed to reveal deficiencies in church doctrines and ways those deficiencies can be corrected.

So if he continues the inspired course he has followed since his election on March 13, 2013, Francis sooner or later will have to face the fact that pastoral outreach -- which means taking lay people seriously -- will lead inexorably to new teachings that will put new limits on the teachings they replace.

As my doctoral dissertation argues, this process is precisely the way church teachings change over time.  If the pastoral outreach does not lead to better teachings, then lay people will not have been taken seriously and the pastoral outreach will be regarded as bogus.

Francis has given every indication that in fact he does take lay people seriously.  Let us pray that he understands where this conviction must lead, and that he will have the strength and courage to lead us there.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Theologians Call Catholic Sexual Teachings "Incomprehensible," Urge Lay Input

The National Catholic Reporter has also posted an important article noting that over fifty Catholic academics in a dozen countries have signed a statement calling "the church's teachings on marriage and sexuality 'incomprehensible' and . . . asking bishops around the world to take seriously the expertise of lay people in their preparations for a global meeting of the prelates at the Vatican next year."

The signers urge the synod bishops to listen carefully to the experience of ordinary people who find unlivable the traditional church teachings on divorce and remarriage, cohabitation before marriage, same-sex marriage and contraception -- and they also urge all Catholics to take every opportunity to voice their experience by participating in the pre-synod questionnaire.

What is gratifying to me in particular is that the academics' critique of church teachings on human sexuality is sometimes a verbatim statement of the comments I made when I completed the church reform groups' survey.

National Catholic Reporter Offers More Ways to Give Input to Family Synod

The National Catholic Reporter has run several more articles on the questionnaire issued to prepare for the 2014-2015 Synod on the Family.

Among the most helpful was Lay Groups Launch Surveys to Answer Vatican Questionnaire, posted on Nov. 16, 2013.  It announces two surveys posted online for Catholics to communicate their input.

One of them, posted by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good on Nov. 1st at http://papalsurvey.com/, is not as helpful as some, because in allows for feedback only in narrative form.

However, the other is better:  it allows for multiple choice answers to many of the questions, followed by narrative comments if desired.  Launched by a coalition of 15 church reform groups, it's open for input through Dec. 15th. at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SynodOnFamilyUS.

The church reform groups, primarily members of Catholic Organizations for Renewal, include Call to Action, Voice of the Faithful, FutureChurch, DignityUSA, the Women's Ordination Conference, and CORPUS (which originated as the Congress of Resigned Priests United States, but now dubs itself simply as "a ministerial community").

I completed the church reform groups' survey and found it very helpful in providing my input.  Being able to use the comment fields after the multiple choice questions allowed me to give the rationale for several of my answers.  I highly recommend it to anyone who would like their input heard.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

There Are Ways for Catholics to Participate in the Vatican Survey on Family Synod Issues

There has been quite a buzz over the announcement November 5th that, in preparation for a 2014-2015 Synod on the Family, Pope Francis has asked for input from Catholics around the world on several controversial issues impacting family life today.

The controverted issues include divorce and remarriage, contraception, cohabitation without marriage, same-sex marriage, as well as how to provide pastoral care and inclusiveness to people who find themselves in such "irregular" situations (as the Vatican document describes them).

There is disagreement regarding the significance of the Vatican initiative (does it go beyond previous pre-synod practice, for example?) and whether the Vatican expects national bishops' conferences to get actual input from the people in the pews, or even perhaps the unchurched (the Bishops of England and Wales turned the questionnaire into a web link where anyone can give their opinions; still digging in their heels against "the Francis effect," the U.S. Bishops seem determined to avoid the laity at all costs).

But as the New York Times reported, this particular Vatican pre-synod initiative seems to go well beyond previous ones in the scope of its outreach and in unusually detailed content -- and to be unique because it seems to be in preparation for two back-to-back synod gatherings in 2014 and 2015.

Regardless of the U.S. Bishops' ultimate strategy on the questionnaire, there are ways for individual U.S. Catholics to participate in giving their personal opinions on the questions asked.

The National Catholic Reporter provides links not only to the questionnaire itself, but also to various cover letters that distributed it and contain physical addresses where written responses may be sent.

The Bishops of England and Wales are also open to survey answers on their website from Catholics in other countries (and apparently anyone who cares to join in).    But they have set a November 30th deadline for completing their survey online.

Progressive Catholics who have lobbied fifty years for more input from the baptized and more collegial decision-making in updating church teachings should not miss out on this historic opportunity:  Tell church leaders what we think and how they ought to extend pastoral outreach, care and inclusion to those who object conscientiously to church teachings grown out of touch with the deepest longings of the human heart.