Monday, August 18, 2014

Elizabeth Johnson on Doing Theology, the Vatican's Investigation of the LCWR, and Criticism of Her "Little God Book"

The following is excerpted from a talk Sister Elizabeth Johnson gave last Friday, August 15, 2014, at the annual meeting in Nashville of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the umbrella organization for most of the 50,000 Catholic nuns in the U.S. For the past two years the LCWR has been under investigation by the Vatican over a range of perceived problems with their doctrinal views and their social justice mission.

Johnson's talk in Nashville last Friday served as an acceptance and thank you speech for the leadership award presented to her by the LCWR. The group's decision to honor Johnson was rebuked by Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, who declared it an “open provocation against the Holy See.”


I find doing theology an interesting, tough, and wondrous ministry in the church. One thousand years ago, Anselm defined theology as “faith seeking understanding.” Rooted in the Christian tradition and equipped with scholarly tools, those of us in the theological guild think about the meaning of faith and the way it is practiced. The purpose is to shed more light on the gospel, so it can be lived out with deeper understanding and vibrant love of God and neighbor. My scholarship has engaged a variety of subjects, such as language about God, the meaning of Jesus, the communion of saints, and evolution and creation, among others. Whatever the subject, for me teaching, writing, and public lecturing have always been an invitation to students, readers, and listeners to “Come and see,” as John’s gospel put it (Jn 1:39). Vatican II taught that “The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power” (DH 1). So come and see, think, raise questions, make connections, learn the tradition, see for yourselves how beautiful the faith is, as a step toward encountering and living out the love of the holy mystery of God.

Every cultural era brings new questions which theologians try to address. Early on one key question arose for me when I realized that all the great thinkers whom I had been exposed to in my studies were men. I loved many of their insights. But where were the women? I was struck by the absence of their critical insights and spiritual wisdom. Inspired by a pioneering generation of American women theologians, I grew committed to bringing women’s voices to the table. This does not mean thinking about women all the time. It does mean using the human dignity of women as one lens through which think about other religious and ethical subjects. It means attending to poverty, lack of education, sexual violence, and other injustices that ruin women’s lives. It means employing theologically what promotes the flourishing of women in all their diversity.

The year I received my doctorate and began university teaching, this direction grew stronger when four North American church women were murdered in El Salvador: Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan. Their courage and commitment had a profound impact on me. The spark of their lives has moved me to do theology in like spirit, attentive to the struggles and hopes of those most in need and under threat of violence.

Clearly, my work engages theology done by men and does so with critical appreciation. But I am convinced that this is not enough for the church of today and tomorrow. The submerged female half of the church, indeed of the human race, is rising, and the faith we pass on to the next generations will be poorer if women’s insights are ignored.

In taking this path, I and today’s cohort of women theologians are charting a new path. For centuries the study of theology was reserved for ordained priests as part of the hierarchy’s office to teach. One cannot overestimate the impact of Vatican II which opened the doors of theological study to lay persons. While excellent theology continues to be done by ordained priests, all kinds of new questions, methods, and understandings are now blossoming, fed by the experience of the laity, women and men alike. I take this leadership award to be in part a recognition of this seismic development. With gratitude I accept it as also paying tribute to women who do theology in this vein and to men whose work has an eye for inclusive justice.

Normally I would stop here. But it would be disingenuous to ignore the criticism from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith directed at the LCWR for giving me this award. Note that I would not be speaking about this if Cardinal Gerhard Mueller had not made his remarks public. The CDF sees this award as an insult to the U.S. Bishops whose Committee on Doctrine criticized my book Quest for the Living God. From Cardinal Mueller’s statement it appears that neither he nor the staff advising him read the book or my written response to the concerns raised, but rather channeled the U.S. committee’s judgment.

Yes, Quest was criticized, but to this day no one – not myself, nor the theological community, nor the media, nor the general public – knows what doctrinal issue is at stake. Despite my efforts to give and get clarification, none was forthcoming; the face-to-face conversation I sought never came about. It seems the committee reduced the rich Catholic tradition to a set of neo-scholastic theses as narrow as baby ribbon, and then criticized the book for not being in accord with them. But as Richard Gaillardetz said in this year’s presidential address to the Catholic Theological Society of America, the committee’s assessment of Quest is itself theologically flawed. Indeed, the committee’s statement raises a multitude of issues in a confused way. It criticizes positions I take that are in accord with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In several instances it reports the opposite of what the book actually says, in order to find fault. I am responsible for what I have written, but not for what I have not said and do not think. In my judgment such carelessness with the truth is unworthy of the teaching office of bishop.

Cardinal Dolan of New York told me that the reason my book was singled out was because of its influence. And in truth, despite the committee’s criticism, thousands of messages poured in from people who had found Quest a help in their own journey of faith. Sales went through the roof (my community is grateful for the royalties!). Translations into European and Asian languages continue to be made; currently German is underway. I simply hoped that the book would serve this wider readership with insights into the living God, abounding in kindness in the midst of our suffering world.

But now again my little God book and its author come under fire for supposedly serious yet still unclarified errors. What is going on here? To borrow Phyllis Trible’s words from her study of Eve and Adam, let a female speculate. It appears to me that a negative reaction to works of theology that think in new terms about burning issues has become almost automatic in some quarters. A judgment made somewhere that “this is harmful” gets picked up, amplified, taken for granted, and repeated. The adverse reaction becomes institutionalized. Reasons are murky, but a negative miasma colors the atmosphere whenever the subject comes up.

This kind of institutionalized negativity sheds some light on how critique of my book and criticism of LCWR are intertwined. For the doctrinal investigation of LCWR gives evidence of a similar generalized negative pattern that has been a-building over recent decades. While reluctant to examine the context in scholarship and in life of statements made at LCWR Assemblies, the investigation’s statements express more of a vague overall dissatisfaction or mistrust on certain topics. Judgments are rendered in a way that cannot be satisfactorily addressed. In the absence of careful analysis, negativity spreads. Both of us are caught in an adverse situation not of our own making.

Through careful discernment the LCWR has forged a response which is publicly modeling a different form of leadership. To a polarized church and a world racked by violence, your willingness to stay at the table seeking reconciliation through truthful, courageous conversation has given powerful witness. This is costly. The LCWR is experiencing the truth of Clerissac’s adage, “It is easy to suffer for the church; the difficult thing is to suffer at the hands of the church.” Nevertheless, under duress, you persist, giving honest, firm voice to your wisdom gained by years of mystical and prophetic living, as Pat Farrell said last year. What a grace for our time.

What is going on here? Let this female speculate further by placing three frameworks around this situation, which will show that major forces are at work.

1) An historical framework: I could point to the centuries-long tension between religious orders and the hierarchy. This is not to say that some religious and some bishops do not work fabulously well together. But a strain perdures between a prophetic charism that seeks radical living of the gospel and an administrative charism focused on order. Stories of conflict between mother superiors and some bishops worldwide provide multiple examples; Australian Mother Mary MacKillop, first excommunicated and now canonized, is perhaps the clearest. Historians are already writing about the critique of the LCWR as yet another chapter of this historic tension.

2) A sociological framework: I could engage in a gendered analysis of power. The church did not start out this way, but as an institution it has evolved a patriarchal structure where authority is exercised in top-down fashion, and where obedience and loyalty to the system are the greatest virtues. Never before in the history of the church has there been such a cadre of educated women carrying forward the mission of the gospel as is now represented by the LCWR. In this framework the current CDF investigation appears to be an effort by certain ruling men to control committed, competent women whose corporate religious discernment makes them adult believers of conscience, silent and invisible no longer.

3) An ecclesiological framework: I could focus on the differing embrace of renewal in the post-Vatican II church. Implementing council’s mandate, women religious vigorously renewed their lives in accord with the gospel and the spirit of their founders. Consequently they moved toward the periphery, away from a cramped ecclesiastical center which Pope Francis calls “unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (Evangelii Gaudium 49). Certainly the LCWR and the Sisters they lead are far from perfect. But they’ve got the “smell of the sheep” on them, embodying a church “that knows how to open her arms and welcome everyone.” Like a “field hospital for the wounded,” they have stood in solidarity with the poor, immigrants, battered women, LGBTQ persons, and even the wounded earth itself. To my knowledge, a similarly vigorous process of post-conciliar renewal has not taken place at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a particular curial office at the center. It has become common knowledge that Pope Francis was elected with a mandate to reform the Curia. This mandate, of course, includes the CDF. Until such reform happens, criticism is almost inevitable because the different pace of renewal has resulted in different ways of being church.

Finally, let me dream of one more framework that might yet take shape, namely, reconciled diversity so we can collaborate mutually for the good of the world that God so loves. As Pope Francis wrote, conflict does arise but it can become "a link in the chain of a new process." This can only happen if people have peacemaking hearts, and are willing to go below the surface to see others in their deepest dignity (EG 227-228).

Gustavo Gutierrez has expressed his admiration for Gerhard Mueller, citing how this student of his worked many summers among the poorest of the poor in Peru. Can the LCWR’s evident commitment to the poor become a common ground for mutual understanding? To this day it extends a hand in friendship, seeking communion with the CDF in solidarity with the marginalized of this world. Perhaps Cardinal Mueller can extend a hand of friendship back to American women religious, who at first may seem as strange to him as were the Peruvian poor but who are also God’s beloved people. It would be a blessing for the church if he could find a creative way to bring this investigation to an end in a productive manner. When the needs of the suffering world are so vast; when the moral authority of the hierarchy is hemorrhaging due to financial scandals and to many bishops’ horrific dereliction of duty in covering up sexual abuse of children, a cover-up which continues in some quarters to this day; when thousands are drifting away from the church; when the liberating gospel of God’s abounding kindness needs to be heard and enacted everywhere: the waste of time and energy on this investigation is unconscionable. Wouldn’t it be great if we could be partners, not adversaries, for the good of the church and the world.

To read Elizabeth Johnson's LCWR talk in its entirety, click here.

Related Off-site Links:
At LCWR Assembly, Elizabeth Johnson Speaks Her Mind – Mollie Wilson (Commonweal, August 18, 2014).
Johnson to LCWR: Sisters Ahead of Hierarchy in Living Vatican II Renewal – Dan Stockman (National Catholic Reporter, August 15, 2014).
Under the Vatican’s Dark Cloud, Nuns Continue to Support LGBT People – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, August 19, 2014).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Cardinal Gerhard Mueller Rebukes U.S. Nuns for Honoring Feminist Theologian Elizabeth Johnson
Quote of the Day – July 28, 2012
Redefining Radical: Catholic Nuns Vs. the Vatican
What the Nuns' Story is Really About
Quote of the Day – January 6, 2014

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Lay Coalition Nominates Seven Clergy to Be New Twin Cities Archbishop

By Brian Roewe

Note: This article was first published July 31, 2014 by the National Catholic Reporter.

On the same day St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt doubled down on his commitment to remain leader of his apostolic see, Catholics elsewhere in the region discussed his possible successor.

The Catholic Coalition for Church Reform announced Wednesday they had identified seven nominees believed to have the ability to lead the archdiocese into its future and likely out of the current clergy abuse scandal ensnaring the archdiocese since September.

While calls for Neinstedt to be replaced have rung louder in recent weeks, including in editorials in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The New York Times, Nienstedt on Wednesday fortified his resolve to remain archbishop "as long as the Holy Father has appointed me here," he wrote in a column in his archdiocesan newspaper.

In the past, Nienstedt cautioned local Catholics from interacting with the coalition, which includes local chapters of DignityUSA, Call to Action, and Roman Catholic Women Priests.

The group solicited nominations from area Catholics through parish handouts and its website, reaching its seven candidates after whittling down an original list first from 55 priests, then from 23. They are Fr. J. Michael Byron, Fr. Paul Feela, Fr. Paul Jaroszeski, Fr. Phillip Rask, Fr. Timothy Wozniak, current moderator of the curia and vicar general Fr. Charles Lachowitzer, and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché.

In the fall, the committee plans to hold "know the nominees" workshops. During the first half of November, an "election-like process" will produce the three names they will send to Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the apostolic nuncio to the United States. Per canon law, the nuncio provides the pope three people for consideration when a bishop's see opens.

In determining eligibility, the group weeded out those over the age of 65, those from outside the area and those receiving only a single vote during a nomination process that produced a few hundred names. Also omitted were those with direct ties to the abuse scandal.

A consultant committee of four laypeople and five priests scrutinized each of the remaining candidate's abilities in a range of areas: pastoral experience, credibility, theological aptitude, and experience working in social justice areas, with multiple generations, and in interfaith and diverse partnerships.

One of the committee members, Cathy Edwards, said they weighed certain aspects higher than others, specifically "the ability to really act as shepherd and unify factions, which is quite a significant challenge in our archdiocese right now."

Although the current climate presents challenges, the nomination process preceded the scandal's beginnings and formed out of a 2012 meeting, Edwards told NCR.

In other parts of the country, laypeople have also attempted to add their voices into the decision-making process of appointing a new bishop. Groups in Albany, N.Y., and Greensburg, Pa. – both dioceses where bishops recently turned 75, the age they must submit resignation letters to the pope – have encouraged area Catholics to make known the qualities they seek in their next bishop.

The Minnesota coalition did not contact any nominees before arriving at the final seven, to whom they sent letters informing them they are viewed as competent leaders and to refrain withdrawing their names until possibly contacted by the nuncio. Calls by NCR to several of the nominees were not returned.

Piché stands out as the lone bishop among the remaining nominees and the only one receiving a nomination despite the group's exclusion of clergy involved in the abuse scandal. Piché's name appears infrequently in the depositions taken of various church officials but appears 23 times in the affidavit of Jennifer Haselberger, who listed the bishop among the reasons she previously rejected the notion that Nienstedt resign.

"It was and is my opinion that the worst possible situation from a child protection standpoint would be one where Bishop Piché would assume even temporary governance of the Archdiocese," she wrote. "I say this because, in my experience, Bishop Piché was a bigger obstacle than Father [Kevin] McDonough to any sort of movement towards truly implementing the requirements of the Charter."

In the affidavit, Haselberger described Piché as advising a pastor to "move slowly" on the case of Harry Walsh – laicized in 2012 after past accusations of child sexual abuse were discovered in his file – and advocating for several priests with known boundary violations.

In addition, Piché's time as pastor (1997-2003) of the Church of St. Joseph in West St. Paul overlapped with the period Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer served as its associate pastor (2001-2006). However, Piché had moved on to the Church of All Saints in Lakeville by the time Wehmeyer, convicted in 2012 of child sexual abuse and possessing child pornography, made advances toward two young men at a local bookstore in May 2004.

Edwards told NCR she was unaware of Piché's involvement and that the committee concluded its work shortly before Haselberger's affidavit became public.

In the group's press release, board member Paula Ruddy acknowledges "as lay Catholics, we can't actually elect our leadership, but we want to raise our voices as concerned Christians who want a sustainable, healthy, church."

Edwards said awareness is one part of the effort that one day could lead to Catholics having a different expectation toward their role in the selection of their bishop.

"I think what I really hope to see is continued positive progress of the baptized to be aware of and claim our responsibility for helping the direction of our church," she said.

Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.

NCR Editor's Note: This story was updated to clarify the process the coalition took to nominate possible candidates and to contact those whom it selected.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Quote of the Day

Nothing seems to stop the force of compassion. In a world long drenched in inequity and soreness, it stays. It stays with a ferocious resiliency. Nothing is able to keep it down. There is no weariness or bloodshed or sorrow that can come close to destroy it. The reverse is true: the more ridiculous it is to show acts of compassion, the more it endures. It is abundantly wasteful, being thrown about sometimes in futile or harsh settings. It refuses to fade away even when brutality and greed get their way in the world. They have not and can not extinguish the force of compassion.

Another tenacious grace: hope. It is far more than wishing for better tomorrows. It is having gracious awareness of what is going on right now. It is seeing this life as a bewildering tapestry of miracles, and not doubting that this is the way it will continue. This sort of hope breeds patience. We do not expect a particular outcome. We find it more reasonable and easy to to know that whatever is ahead is completely unknown. But what is next will be sparkled with hints of the extraordinary gift just be a part of God’s fabric.

This sort of hope allows us greater permission to acknowledge when the present has darkness or awkwardness. Having this deep hope allows us to better settle into the messiness and frayed parts of our lives, remembering it has all, and will be all, weaved into a sacred journey. It does not remove from us any torment or confusion. It helps us know what to do: surrender the troubles of our lives to this God who seeks closeness.

– Pat Malone, SJ
Excerpted from Greg Kandra's article,
"R.I.P, Fr. Pat Malone"
July 24, 2014

Recommended Off-site Links:
Rev. Patrick Malone, Pastor Who Ministered to Ground Zero Workers, Dies at 55 – Alia Conley (World-Herald, July 22, 2014).
Firm: The Blogsite of Patrick Malone, SJ

Sunday, July 27, 2014

To Heal Church, Nienstedt Must Resign


By the Editorial Board of the Star Tribune

Note: This editorial was first published July 26 by the Star Tribune.

Signs abound that the leadership crisis sparked by priest abuse of children in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has come to a breaking point. Consider these developments just this month:

• A judge in St. Paul — a city whose history and culture are inseparable from the Roman Catholic Church — refused to set aside a lawsuit’s claim that the Twin Cities archdiocese and the Diocese of Winona had created a public nuisance with their handling of abusive priests. District Judge John Van de North said he is seeking more information on that charge as he allowed a suit to go forward on claims of negligence.

• An affidavit by former archdiocesan canon law chancellor Jennifer Haselberger reported a “cavalier attitude about the safety of other people’s children” at the archdiocese’s top levels, leading to lax investigations and continued priestly service by suspected abusers. Haselberger resigned from her post in 2013 because, she said, she could no longer work for an organization that was not fully cooperating with an investigation of illegal activity within it.

• The archdiocese confirmed to the Star Tribune that Archbishop John Nienstedt is the subject of a months-long investigation of sexual misconduct with seminarians, priests and other men.

• Minnesota Public Radio aired an hourlong documentary, “Betrayed by Silence,” detailing how three St. Paul/Minneapolis archbishops — Nienstedt and his predecessors John R. Roach and Harry Flynn — ignored or downplayed evidence and, until this year, concealed the names of priests credibly accused of molesting children.

• An editorial in the New York Times said that if Pope Francis is serious about holding bishops accountable for the abuse scandal that has rocked the church, a “good place to start” would be St. Paul and Minneapolis, with the removal of Nienstedt.

Today, with sadness, this newspaper joins that call. For the sake of one of this state’s most valued institutions and the Minnesotans whose lives it touches, Nienstedt’s service at the archdiocese should end now.

It will take months, and maybe years, for legal and ecclesiastical proceedings to sort out the charges that have been leveled by Haselberger and others who’ve been wronged by the church and its leaders. Those cases should go forward with care and diligence. Minnesotans deserve assurance that in this state, justice is available even when “the least of these” fall prey to people entrusted with power.

But the continued presence of the embattled Nienstedt in the chancery increases the likelihood that those matters will impede the work of the church in the larger community. Deservedly or not, Nienstedt has become the face of a coverup that has put children in harm’s way. His credibility is in tatters. The archdiocese needs a different leader — a reformer — to have a reasonable chance of restoring its damaged reputation and sustaining its service to the community.

We’ve been hesitant to make this call until now for two reasons. We consider it presumptuous for a secular news organization to advise a church about internal matters. And just two years ago, the Star Tribune Editorial Board and Nienstedt openly quarreled about the ballot question that would have constitutionally banned same-sex marriage in this state. Although that disagreement is unrelated to today’s call for Nienstedt to depart, we know some readers will question our motivation.

A larger concern now overrides those considerations, however. The Catholic name attaches not only to churches, but to schools, colleges, hospitals, homeless shelters, congregate dining, care for the elderly and a host of other good works that serve more than Catholics. The damage that brand name is suffering in Minnesota has become severe enough to put public support — and, crucially, donor support — of all things Catholic at risk. The abuse scandal has become more than an internal problem.

Catholic organizations, including the annual fund drive formerly known as the Archbishop’s Appeal, have gone to considerable lengths since the scandal broke to distance themselves from the chancery, both legally and in public perception. The distraction from core mission that those efforts represent is regrettable. The likelihood that they will also be insufficient if Nienstedt remains is growing, and worrisome. Minnesota needs the work that those church-affiliated entities do.

This state also has benefited since its founding from the calls for compassion, social justice and civic harmony that have emanated from this archdiocese. The moral authority that those calls once carried is now badly eroded, and Nienstedt is in no position to restore it.

Neither does the chancery incumbent stand much chance of rallying support for new practices and attitudes that might prevent future scandals. The church is paying a high price for its misdeeds and misjudgment. But it is also being presented with a rare opportunity to bring in a new order of transparency and accountability, provided a leader emerges who can rally the faithful behind a reform agenda.

We’ve heard from prominent Minnesota Catholics who have made quiet but urgent pleas to the Vatican for Nienstedt’s replacement. Those pleas deserve heed. But we also hope Nienstedt takes to heart the example of Pope Benedict. Eighteen months ago, Benedict concluded that he was not up to the task of meeting the church’s leadership needs, and broke with 600 years of tradition to resign from office. His decision was not a display of weakness, but of love for his church. Nienstedt’s resignation would show the same.

See also the previous PCV posts:
Archbishop Niestedt Needs to Go. Now
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, "Regime Change is Not Enough"
Healing Can’t Start Until the Knife is Removed from the Wound

Related Off-site Links:
Roman Catholicism's Fundamental Problem: The Cultic Priesthood and Its "Diseased System" of Clericalism – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, July 23, 2014).
Jennifer Haselberger Was Ignored, Bullied Before Blowing Whistle on Archdiocese, Records Show – Jesse Marx (City Pages, July 15, 2014).
MN Archdiocese Wanted to Label Marriage Equality-Supporting Priest ‘Disabled’ – Andy Birkey (, July 22, 2014).
Betrayed by Silence: How Three Archbishops Hid the Truth – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio, July 14, 2014).
Has Archbishop Nienstedt's "Shadow" Finally Caught Up With Him? – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, July 1, 2014).

Image: Michael Bayly.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Embracing Ambiguous Parables: Looking for Insight on Justice and Change in the Church

By Bill Moseley

Note: The following is the text of a reflection delivered before the start of mass at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church on the weekend of July 19-20, 2014.

People of God, my name is Bill Moseley and it is my privilege to reflect with you on today’s readings.

Some days it’s hard to motivate myself to go to church. I’m not talking about a lack of gumption to get out of bed, but rather about being shocked by news stories so bad that you’re embarrassed to self identify as a Catholic. This was one of those weeks for me. Listening to MPR’s investigative journalism series about the clergy sexual abuse cover up in the Twin Cities Catholic Church, and learning of a new lawsuit against the Archdiocese, made me simultaneously grateful for good journalists and aghast at how wayward an institution representing the teachings of Jesus had become.

It is with this frustration and malaise that I approached this week’s Gospel reading which, perhaps serendipitously, had something to say about good versus bad, justice versus injustice. In this Gospel (Matthew 13: 24-43) we hear three parables, followed by a troublesome explanation. While I’ll come back to the explanation, the first parable portrays a farmer who instructs his workers to wait on removing weeds from his wheat field until harvest time (the weeds having been sown by an enemy). The second and third parables then describe heaven using two different metaphors: heaven is like the small mustard seed that grows into a bush; and heaven is like yeast that a woman kneads into flour making the batch of dough rise.

As a college professor, I’ve always admired Jesus’ abilities as a teacher. While many teachers are loath to admit this, students actually forget the vast majority of what we impart to them. For example, while I think it’s pretty darn cool that the Tropic of Capricorn may be found at 23 ½ degrees south latitude, and that this is the southernmost point of direct solar radiation, these factoids almost instantly vanish from my students’ minds after the midterm exam. However, what many good teachers learn over time is that stories stick in students’ minds much longer than factoids. Indeed, students may forget the textbook explanation of the Tropic Capricorn – but still recall my story of being busted for speeding by the police in Botswana as I raced over the Tropic of Capricorn in 2012 – excitedly telling my son that we were crossing this line on, of all days, March 21 – the vernal equinox.

Clearly Jesus knew the power of stories as an effective way to convey understanding. Much of what we know he actually said has been passed down to us in the context of these stories (or versions of these stories), which still resonate some 2000 years later. Jesus also liked to work in metaphors. The Bible, reflecting the largely rural livelihoods of the time it was written, is rife with agricultural and pastoral metaphors and stories. The nice thing about a metaphorical story is that not only is there a greater chance that it will be remembered, but it often allows you to convey a certain amount or nuance or even contradiction.

The challenge for us in our contemporary American setting is that the majority of us have little or no connection to agriculture. Therefore the nuance and contradiction embedded in these stories and metaphors may be lost on us – or worse yet – reinterpreted to a different end.

Take the first parable about the farmer who instructs his workers to wait on removing weeds from his wheat field until harvest time (the weeds having been sown by an enemy). This is interesting on a couple of different fronts. The first is that letting weeds mature alongside your wheat crop is bad agricultural advice because weeds compete with your crop, resulting in a poor harvest. While the folly of such advice might not jump out at us now, it likely would have been apparent to Jesus’ largely agrarian audience – and a very strong signal that this story was indeed a metaphor for something else. The metaphorical meaning, many believe, is a warning to not rush to pass judgment, to not be too hasty to identify and pull weeds - or to sort out the bad from the good.

Now why might Jesus urge such caution? It could be that we just don’t know enough to adequately differentiate between the weeds and the wheat, between the bad and the good. For example, I distinctly recall as a young Peace Corps volunteer going out to work in the farm fields of my host family in Mali, West Africa. The task was to weed a millet field early in the growing season. The challenge for me was that the young millet plants and the weeds were virtually indistinguishable. As such, with all the good intention of helping my host family, I set about pulling up their prized millet plants which would grow into a staple food crop. Fortunately my family quickly noticed the unfolding destruction and, ever so graciously, suggested that I might take a break.

The other reason for caution and restraint in rushing to judgment is that weeds, like bad or even evil behavior, can be subjectively classified as such. Take the common dandelion. Americans spend millions annually to expunge this so-called weed from their lawns. In contrast, my depression era grandmother used to eat dandelion greens as a staple in her summer diet. In fact, dandelions have been gathered as food for millennia, and were cultivated for consumption in some areas of Eurasia. Furthermore, dandelion leaves contain abundant vitamins and are good sources of calcium, potassium, iron and manganese. The point is that dandelions are nutritious food in some contexts, and weeds (or something to be expunged) in another. Dare I suggest that our distinctions between right and wrong can sometimes be similarly subjective. For example, mixed race and same-sex relationships were long viewed as illegal, wrong, and punishable in our country. This only began to change after a protracted civil rights struggle – and such relationships are still seen as a problem in many areas of the US and the world. As such, given the somewhat subjective nature of classifying good and bad, caution and restraint in rushing to judgment is sound advice.

While we need to be cautious and careful about passing judgment, does this mean there is no room for distinguishing between good and bad, or for calling out injustice when we see it? The problematic explanation at the end of the gospel offers one possible answer to this question. It suggests that “the evildoers [will be thrown] into the fiery furnace, where they will weep and gnash their teeth… [and] the just will shine like the sun in the realm of God.” In other words, it suggests (in a way) that we put up with the current injustice with the comfort of knowing that justice will be rendered in the afterlife. Now, I’ll be honest, I flagged this explanation as problematic because I don’t really care for the fire and brimstone language. I see the advice as a palliative for the masses (urging people to put up with bad situations), and most biblical scholars agree that this passage was added at a later date and does not reflect something Jesus actually said.

I suggest that the answer to our question, about whether or not there is room for calling out injustice in the present, might lie in the second and third parables. Again, these parables liken heaven to: a mustard seed that grows into a bush; or a person kneading yeast into flour, allowing for all of the dough to rise. In both these parables I see a ‘justice trickling-up’ philosophy. Good starts in small and humble places and then grows, slowly at first, gaining momentum with time. We needn’t wait for justice until the afterlife. We, the people, the church, working proactively, can make good things happen and triumph over injustice. In other words, our actions for justice matter. We need to be active not passive.

Now before you feel too good about my interpretation, I want to be clear that some ambiguity and tension lurks in these parables as I read them. On the one hand, Jesus is cautioning us to not rush to judgment, to be careful about categorizing good and evil. On the other hand, he tells us that justice and hope rise from below, that we can build heaven on earth, and that we must address injustice in this world. Be cautious, careful and fair, but not to the point of inaction.

Coming back to where I started, the news this week about the Archdiocese was very painful for me to hear. However I take heart in the fact that the church is us, not the Archdiocese. What I believe this crisis makes clear is that governance in the institution popularly known as the Roman Catholic Church really has to change if it is to continue serving and representing the people, the real church. While clergy sexual misconduct appears to be the problem, underlying this are deeper issues of transparency, open governance, and equal participation by all. We, of course, need to be careful, cautious and fair in addressing the injustice and crimes highlighted in this institutional crisis (all humans are fallible and deserve forgiveness). Real change implies that the hierarchy of power within the institution may and ought to shift radically as a result of this crisis. We should not be afraid of this change. We’ve been slowly working the dough for a long time and, to borrow from Terry Dosh, now it is time for the bread to rise.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Catholic Case Against Religious Exemptions

By Francis DeBernardo

Note: This op-ed was first published July 21, 2014 by The Advocate.

In post-Hobby Lobby America, the question of whether religious exemptions should be included in laws prohibiting employment discrimination of LGBT people has increased in complexity. It used to be that religious leaders and lawmakers could strike a comfortable balance of protecting faith groups’ rights to self-determination and LGBT people’s rights to equal opportunity. But the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision disturbed that balance, and now the Employment Non-Discrimination Act may be gutted by including overly broad religious exemptions. President Obama’s expected executive order today barring anti-LGBT employment discrimination by federal contractors reportedly will not include these exemptions.

Because the Hobby Lobby decision broadened the scope of what kind of entities can claim religious exemptions, several national organizations working for LGBT equality now fear that such provisions in ENDA will render the proposed law’s protections meaningless. As a result, they have withdrawn support for the bill. Similarly, the Supreme Court case seems to have emboldened some conservative religious leaders to lobby Obama to include strong exemption language in his upcoming executive order.

While the Hobby Lobby case focused on insurance coverage for contraceptives, a number of commentators have noted that the decision may easily be applied to religious objections to LGBT issues. Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said, “If a private company can take its own religious beliefs and say you can't have access to certain health care, it’s a hop, skip, and a jump to an interpretation that a private company could have religious beliefs that LGBT people are not equal or somehow go against their beliefs and therefore fire them.” And Equally Blessed, the Catholic LGBT equality coalition, detailed some of the potential disasters that can spring from this case: “This ruling might open the door for corporations not to provide benefits to employees in same-sex marriages, or not to cover appropriate health care services for transgender employees.”

So, while corporations don’t pray, corporations are now given the same exemptions that used to be the privilege of legitimately established religious groups. This expansion of privilege is far beyond what has long been considered fair religious exemptions for institutions whose primary purpose is salvation, not profits.

As a practicing Catholic, I see that such an expansion cheapens the position of faith in society. Faith is about developing an intimate relationship with a personal God and reflecting that relationship in my attitudes and practices toward other people. Faith is about sacrificing some privileges because of wanting to live in accord with principles. Faith is not about having access to government contracts. Faith is not about forcing people to live by an employer’s personal beliefs, no matter how sincerely those beliefs may be held.

Hobby Lobby’s approach to religious exemptions diminishes the importance of persons and relationships in religion. Because the court favored institutions’ interests over individuals’ concerns, it has actually harmed religious faith. It provided power to institutions, but did not respect human consciences and souls, which are the mechanisms people use to apprehend God in the world and in their lives. As Justice Ginsburg stated in her dissenting opinion, "The exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities."

Political conservatives are not the only ones who have religion. So, it should be no surprise that one of the strongest groups asking that religious exemptions not be included in ENDA and the executive order are religious leaders themselves. In one letter sent to President Obama by 100 religious leaders, their request to exclude exemptions came from a religious belief in non-discrimination and human dignity. They stated: “Increasing the obstacles faced by those at the margins is precisely the opposite of what public service can and should do, and is precisely the opposite of the values we stand for as people of faith.”

Moreover, not all religious people feel that their faith is threatened by policies that promote LGBT equality and reproductive health for women. In fact, for many religious people, it is indeed their faith that motivates their advocacy for these principles. So, we are left with the question: Just whose religious liberty is being protected and whose is being infringed upon when we allow for broad exemptions?

For example, many Catholics oppose the bishops’ calls for religious exemptions because they uphold the lesser-known, but more central, Catholic principle that an individual must ultimately be ruled by one’s conscience, not by the dictates of doctrine or authorities. So most Catholic lay people respect lesbian and gay people’s dreams to be married and a transgender person’s decision to transition, and they oppose the interference of government or religious institutions to discriminate against what they see as personal and religiously-based decisions.

When we ask, what is a particular denomination’s view on hiring LGBT people, there is likely to be a variety of opinions, each based on principles of faith, about what is the just and moral thing to do in this situation. While Catholic bishops seem reluctant to hire LGBT people, over the past two years we’ve seen that Catholics in the pews support the employment of LGBT in Catholic institutions.

As the Catholics of the Equally Blessed coalition wrote to the Senate last year when ENDA was being debated: “… the bishops do not speak for the majority of your Catholic constituents, many of whom believe, as we do, that the religious exemptions in the current draft of the legislation are not too narrow, as the bishops contend, but far too broad…”

My Catholic faith teaches me that all people have human dignity, that all people are equal. The Catholic social justice tradition teaches me that the right to employment is a sacred and basic human right and should be respected by individuals and institutions such as government. My respect for religion teaches me to value the diversity of religious opinions, as well as the diversity of human beings. From these perspectives, both ENDA and the expected executive order are better served without any religious exemptions included.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, blogs at Bondings 2.0.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Archbishop Nienstedt Needs to Go. Now.

By Rubén Rosario

NOTE: This op-ed was first published July 20, 2014 by The Pioneer Press.

I picked up a summer must-read this past week. It has drama, conflict, intrigue and zips along at 107 pages.

No. It's not Invisible by James Patterson, though I really wish it were fiction. This read has a decidedly boring title: "Affidavit of Jennifer M. Haselberger."

It should be retitled "The Archdiocese That Forgot Christ," for this is really what it is: a scathing account of how top church officials from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis put kids and adults at risk.

It is the best argument yet, since the local clergy abuse and mismanagement scandal broke months ago, that Archbishop John Nienstedt should step down or if he refuses, be removed from his post.

I'm not saying this lightly.

He is, as Haselberger told me, "my archbishop." But he needs to go for the good of the church and the good people in it. Now.

A turning point for me, as it was for Haselberger, who served as chancellor for canonical affairs from 2008 to April 2013, were statements Nienstedt made after he celebrated Mass at a church in Edina last December. This was two months after Haselberger, reportedly rebuffed at every attempt to expose alleged cover-ups or mishandling of abusive and misbehaving priests, contacted Minnesota Public Radio and publicly bared the goings-on.

Nienstedt told reporters that he believed the issue of clergy abuse had been taken care of by the time he became archbishop in 2008 and that he was surprised when the news stories broke. Given that he had indeed reviewed recent clergy abuse files and that a priest was convicted the summer before of abusing two children, Haselberger almost fell out of her chair.

"To see an archbishop, who had recently celebrated Mass and was still vested and holding his crosier, lie to the faithful in such a boldfaced manner was heartbreaking to me," Haselberger wrote in the affidavit, which is part of a clergy abuse civil case filed by St. Paul attorney Jeffrey Anderson on behalf of a former child abuse victim.

"When he said those things, he knew he was lying," Haselberger told me last week. "And he knew that I knew that he was lying. And anybody who was associated with this work and knew him, knew he was lying. That to me is what is so hard about it."

Recent shenanigans

Haselberger's affidavit paints a disturbing picture of church officials acting more like a cabal of corporate schemers or a power-driven political administration run amok than like shepherds of the state's largest Roman Catholic diocese.

Haselberger details how archdiocese officials gave special payments to abusive priests, allowed others to continue in public ministry and failed to notify authorities of abuse allegations in violation of a 2002 churchwide policy.

In the case of the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, Haselberger warned Nienstedt and others of his sexual proclivities and habit of trying to pick up men. Not only were her concerns ignored, Wehmeyer was promoted to pastor of a church on St. Paul's East Side before his conviction for molesting two boys in his parish.

These were not allegations decades old. They were recent. There's the tale of former Vicar General Peter Laird's attempt to declare disabled Father Mike Tegeder of St. Frances Cabrini Church in Minneapolis because of his criticisms of Nienstedt in the debate over the proposed marriage amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage. Laird resigned soon after Haselberger's concerns were made public.

"You can quote me that I find him unabled," Tegeder said Friday of Nienstedt.

Haselberger also takes aim at Laird's longtime predecessor, the Rev. Kevin McDonough, who served as the archdiocese's point person for handling clergy abuse allegations. McDonough, according to Haselberger, took a softer approach on abusive priests and essentially gave lip service to abuse victims. She recalls in astonishment the day he asked to see a document of dismissal, which is essentially a letter formally kicking a cleric out of the priesthood, because he had never seen one.

Nienstedt apparently has an ornery side to him, warning folks not to bother him and sending critical emails to church subordinates that one described as "nastygrams," according to the affidavit.

Haselberger recounts how Laird basically ignored her concerns and refused to read documents about a priest, removed from ministry just this year, who had a sexual attraction to young boys.

"I literally followed Father Laird out of the building one evening with those highlighted documents in my hands, saying that if he didn't have time to read the whole documents, he could at least read the highlighted remarks. He refused," Haselberger wrote.

Laird's reaction, Haselberger noted, was just one example of a "cavalier attitude toward the safety of children."

Cavalier? More like shameful.

A difficult choice

It wasn't easy for Haselberger to turn whistleblower. She's nobody's fool and a woman of faith. She knows of many others within the church who knew what she knew but did not come forward for fear of reprisals.

"I hated that," she said.

She desired and trusted the church hierarchy to do right by children and vulnerable adults. She tried all internal channels to set things right. When those were rebuffed, her conscience ordered her to go outside the wire.

It's interesting how she was characterized by church officials as a "disgruntled employee" after the first stories were published. I would have been disgruntled as well, given what she put up with. That was before thousands of internal church documents, including many ordered released by a judge in a civil suit, corroborated her account of events. This week, this is what church officials said about the affidavit: "Her experience highlights the importance of ongoing constructive dialogue and reform aimed at insuring the safety of children."

Wanted: "No-nonsense kind of guy"

Nienstedt, now the subject of an internal church probe into allegations he may have had inappropriate relationships with seminarians and others, did put in place a task force on church policies and hired a law firm to review all clergy abuse files. Frankly, he should have done that before Haselberger was forced to go public. That's what leaders do.

If he were the CEO of a corporation, he would have been canned already, sent off with a golden parachute. But he is an archbishop in a top-down, male-dominated religious hierarchy that rarely polices itself on anything and is acutely hostile to a probing secular world and any attempts at outside scrutiny. We'll see what he does, though the church problems are endemic and entrenched.

"There are plenty of good priests out there, but they have been drinking the Kool-Aid for so long that they do not even know it," Haselberger said.

I asked Haselberger who or what kind of archbishop she would like to see take over. She would not speculate on names. ""I would say a no-nonsense kind of guy with more or less a pastor's heart."

That sounds good to me.

Rubén Rosario can be reached at 651-228-5454 or Follow him at

Related Off-site Links:
Jennifer Haselberger Was Ignored, Bullied Before Blowing Whistle on Archdiocese, Records Show – Jesse Marx (City Pages, July 15, 2014).
MN Archdiocese Wanted to Label Marriage Equality-Supporting Priest ‘Disabled’ – Andy Birkey (, July 22, 2014).
Betrayed by Silence: How Three Archbishops Hid the Truth – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio, July 14, 2014).
Has Archbishop Nienstedt's "Shadow" Finally Caught Up With Him? – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, July 1, 2014).

See also the previous PCV post:
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, "Regime Change is Not Enough"

Monday, July 21, 2014

"A Kind of Ecclesiastical Horror Story"

By Robert McClory

Note: The following review by Robert McClory of Rachel Pokora's book Crisis of Catholic Authority: Faith and Power in the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska was first published July 15, 2014 by The National Catholic Reporter.

Crisis of Catholic Authority is a kind of ecclesiastical horror story. It relates what can happen when an autocratic hierarch chooses to exercise his supreme, punitive power over some of his subjects. No one on this earth will restrain him, neither the priests of his diocese, nor his fellow bishops in the U.S., nor the high authorities in Rome, not even the pope himself. And like some ancient gothic curse, this awesome penalty has acquired a life of its own, continuing in full force for 18 years, outliving the resignation of the bishop who pronounced it, still in effect to this day and into the foreseeable future.

The bishop is Fabian Bruskewitz, who ruled the diocese of Lincoln, Neb., from 1992 to 2012. Those immediately affected by excommunication in 1996 were some 45 members of the Nebraska chapter of the Call to Action organization who happened to live in the Lincoln diocese. They were given one month to resign from the accursed group, at which time the penalty would automatically go into effect. Also presumably affected were any other Call to Action members who would move to Lincoln in the future without renouncing their membership.

It should be noted that no other U.S. bishop has followed Bruskewitz's lead in all these years, though the bishop himself has become a kind of folk hero to supporters of Mother Angelica's EWTN television station and other far-right conservative Catholic organizations.

Author Rachel Pokora narrates the story clearly, without rancor or bitterness. She is a professor of communications at Nebraska Wesleyan University who moved to Lincoln after Bruskewitz struck. She chose to join CTA's Nebraska chapter after experiencing the rigidity and extreme conservatism that marked parish life in the diocese, and she later served for several years as the chapter's president.

"Within a month in Lincoln, I had attended three different churches," she recalls. "Mass felt lifeless to me. I was struck by the authoritarian attitudes conveyed in the homilies. I lost track of how many times I felt angry during Mass and how many times I held back tears."

Pokora goes to some lengths (almost half the book) to supply the back-story to this tale of frustration, sorrow and fortitude. Bruskewitz's predecessor, Glennon Flavin, himself a hard-nosed conservative, was appointed to Lincoln in 1967, less than two years after the Second Vatican Council ended. He showed no enthusiasm for the changes that came from the council and a deep abhorrence for dissent of any kind. Flavin would reportedly not talk to inquirers in person or on the phone, would not respond to mail and would not cooperate with the press.

In 1981, representatives from seven Lincoln parishes formed a group called Catholics for Active Liturgical Life (CALL) in response to Flavin's decision to allow only "instituted lectors and acolytes" (that is, men and boys only) to read the Scriptures and serve at the altar at Mass.

Flavin ignored the group for 12 years, as its members appealed to him, the diocesan priests and the members of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops for some kind of resolution. Nothing came of it. In 1984, Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony, head of the bishops' arbitration committee, had attempted to help, only to tell CALL leaders after several months that Flavin "declined to participate in our conciliation process."

When Bruskewitz arrived, Lincoln Catholics found him very different from Flavin. He did not ignore the media, but he exhibited a biting, caustic tone more dismissive and accusatory than anything that that had come from his predecessor. At one point, Bruskewitz agreed to meet with CALL leaders, on the condition they read three far-right, inflammatory books ahead of time, including Ungodly Rage: The Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism. CALL members complied, but then Bruskewitz canceled the meeting. Nevertheless, he soon lifted the ban against women lectors.

With some satisfaction that a major goal had been achieved, CALL disbanded in 1993. Veteran members, along with like-minded Catholics from the Omaha, Neb., archdiocese later decided to join Call to Action, the largest Catholic reform organization in the U.S. Unlike CALL, CTA advocated major structural change, including participation of laity in the selection of bishops, and opening the priesthood to women and married men. Among CTA's members were several dozen priests and a few bishops.

In March 1996, the new organization, Call to Action Nebraska, informed the state's bishops of their existence. Bruskewitz's quick reply began, "A priest friend of mine who used to be a Protestant minister said that the difference between a dissenting Catholic and a Protestant is that the Protestant has integrity." He urged the writers to tell their followers that "membership constitutes a grave act of disrespect and disobedience to their lawful bishop."

Two days later came the climax – a surprise article in the Lincoln diocesan paper that announced, "Any Catholics in and of the diocese of Lincoln who attain or retain membership in any of the above listed organizations are, by that very fact, under interdict and are absolutely forbidden to receive Holy Communion." Should they continue "contumacious persistence" in such membership for one more month, they would be, by that very fact, excommunicated. Absolution from such sin was reserved to the bishop. Twelve organizations were listed, including Planned Parenthood, the Freemasons, Eastern Star and even the Rainbow Girls, but it was patently clear that Call to Action was the major target.

The story immediately went viral. Reporters from all over the U.S. homed in on Lincoln, revealing the alarm, anger and general confusion of the public. Pokora does a fine job of covering reactions from press, clergy and laity. Many observers thought this was an unfortunate gaffe that would be quickly settled, as cooler heads, especially among the bishop's episcopal colleagues, intervened. No such intervention was undertaken, and no bishop publicly reprimanded Bruskewitz for failure to present specific charges or give the accused an opportunity to reply.

Though some church authorities (including Fr. James Coriden, a noted canon law expert) declared the excommunication invalid on its face, the still embattled 50 or so members of CTA in Lincoln forged on in the name of justice. The leader, until his untimely death in 2013, was Jim McShane, a retired college professor with a heightened sensitivity to injustice. What he wanted was a hearing, a day in court. He did not get it.

Pokora recounts the details of appeals that were carefully prepared and sent between 1996 and 2007 – to Bruskewitz, then to a wide swath of experts, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican's Apostolic Signatura. Though Bruskewitz announced at one point that a Roman congregation had rejected CTA Nebraska's appeal, neither he nor anyone else would provide an official document asserting that as fact. And so the excommunication endures.

Clearly, the Nebraska story cries out for systemic change. As Patty Hawk, who joined the Nebraska chapter after the Bruskewitz edict and has since served as co-president of the national CTA board, observes in the book's pages, "It's not about making certain changes. ... It's about creating and evolving and nurturing a healthy church environment. We have to reform our way of thinking about the church, about community. We have to reform our way of thinking about hierarchy."

Robert McClory is professor emeritus of journalism at Northwestern University, and has contributed to NCR since 1974.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Broadly Catholic, Narrowly Catholic: Can the Two Ways Pull Together to Save the Institutional Church?

Question posted by Paula Ruddy

As much as we all want this long culture war to be over, the conflict is hard to resolve. It came up in a committee in my parish this week; it is the main thread on the dotcommonweal blog just now about the role of Catholic theologians. The conflict is a constant undercurrent in Catholic life.

Usually labeled “liberalism” and “conservatism,” the division has been thoroughly analyzed for why it exists, what historical and psychological factors account for it. But what is the bottom line?

I’m calling it a difference between broad and narrow and I am asking you not to place a value on either word for the time being. Like the uses of optical lenses, both broad and narrow are good, but they are different. Narrow can be “bad” because it misses a lot. Broad can be “bad” because it can get very fuzzy without showing anything clearly. There are upsides and downsides to both.

Broadly Catholic Catholics recognize God in “the world” (hereafter BC’s). Another way of being Catholic is to recognize God within the Roman Catholic magisterial world, as distinct from “the world.” It is a narrower focus (hereafter NC’s). BC’s set out into the “secular” world in a maze of paths, highways, byways, guided by faith, the tradition, and a community, discerning the true, the good, and the beautiful from step to step. NC’s are happy with the path laid out by the magisterial community, illuminating the true, the good, and the beautiful in age old forms, warning of fruitless byways and evil open highways. Tradition is a guide to the BC’s, a set path for the NC’s. Too simple, I know, but the general idea is useful.

The bottom line raises fearful questions: if most Catholics turn to “the world” to be broadly Catholic, will the Roman Catholic magisterial world fall apart? If dogma is discarded because we all now know that truth is always on the horizon of knowledge, and goodness and beauty are all around us, what will happen to the magisterium? Will it have finances and authority to continue? If that world falls apart, how will the tradition be maintained and grow? Will most “broadly Catholic” people lose their way to the world’s banality without the guidance of the large community? Will Catholics who depend most on the Roman Catholic magisterial world be left behind with no support?

I see the magisterium in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis trying to solve the problem by narrowing the focus, trying to gather Catholics together for strength inside the corral of dogma, Catholic identity, pre-Vatican II practices, condemnation of “broadly Catholic” and “the world.” They are looking to Evangelical Protestantism for ways to narrow the focus and attract more people to be churched.

Wouldn’t it be better to spend the energy talking with the “broadly Catholic” to find ways to support all Catholics in living in the world and maybe even to influence the world? Could we get some leadership in that direction? What does anyone think?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

LCWR Joins Iraqi Sisters in a Call for Prayer

NOTE: The following media release has been issued by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

Facing imminent danger, the leader of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Sienna in Mosul, Iraq has called her sisters throughout Iraq to a time of intense prayer and retreat to beg God for the protection of the Iraqi people, especially the minority Christian community.

The Iraqi Christian community has steadily declined from approximately 1.3 million in 2003 to less than 300,000 today. Recent statements from Christian leaders have indicated that it is unlikely there are any Christians remaining in Mosul today.

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in the United States calls upon people of all denominations in the world community to join the Iraqi Sisters in a moment of prayer on Thursday, June 19 at 6 p.m. (in your time zone) to pray for an end to the violence and the protection of minority Christians in Iraq.

“We are living in extreme times. Christianity has been present in Iraq from biblical times, but at this point Christians are in grave danger and being forced out of this land or face martyrdom. The Dominican Sisters remain committed to accompanying their people regardless of the consequences,” said LCWR president Sister Carol Zinn, SSJ.

The Iraqi Christian Sisters are all Iraqi nationals and ministers in healthcare, social services, and education. In fact, the Iraqi Dominican sisters started the first Montessori school in the country. The Sisters serve all people, Christians and Muslims, in their ministry.

As the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine continue their days of intense prayer, they ask that people throughout the world join them on June 19, believing that this intensification of global prayer can make a difference.

“We believe that prayer has the power to change the course of events in Iraq,” Sister Carol noted. “We stand with our sisters and brothers who courageously remain with the people they serve and will join with them in prayer for as long and as often as it takes until the violence ceases.”

About LCWR: The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is an association of the leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States. The conference has more than 1400 members, who represent more than 80 percent of the approximately 51,600 women religious in the United States. Founded in 1956, the conference assists its members to collaboratively carry out their service of leadership to further the mission of the Gospel in today’s world.

Sister Annmarie Sanders, IHM – LCWR Director of Communications
301-588-4955 (office)
301-672-3043 (cell)