Monday, February 28, 2011

Roman Catholic Womenpriests: Differing Perspectives

Following are (at least) two differing perspectives on Roman Catholic Womenpriests. The first is from National Catholic Reporter columnist Jamie L. Manson. It was first published February 15 on the NCR website.

The second perspective is from Tony Equale and was first published February 21 on his blog in response to Manson's NCR piece.

The Progressive Catholic Voice offers both perspective in the hope of facilitating respectful dialogue on the topical issue of ordination in Roman Catholicism.


Women Priests Demonstrate
Profound Faithfulness to God

By Jamie L Manson

National Catholic Reporter
February 15, 2011

Late last week, a new iPhone app designed to help Catholics prepare for the confessional made its debut. The app tailors its questions to a person’s gender and vocation. So if you punch in both “female” and “priest,” you immediately receive the message “sex and vocation are incompatible.”

The women and men featured in the new documentary Pink Smoke Over the Vatican would beg to differ.

This weekend Pink Smoke had its debut as part of the Athena film festival hosted by Barnard College in New York. The film had been screened previously at the national Call to Action conference last November. The documentary chronicles the fight against the injustice of the ban on women’s ordination in the Roman Catholic Church.

The film’s title refers to the action taken by the Women’s Ordination Conference in the days leading to the elevation of Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI. Imitating the Vatican’s symbol of white smoke sent into the air after the election of a pope, the activists burned Pink Smoke to raise awareness of the critical lack of women in the papal election process.

Attendees at the Barnard screening were treated not only to the film, but also to a panel discussion featuring filmmaker Jules Hart, Good Catholic Girls author Angela Bonovoglia, Roman Catholic Womenpriest (RCWP) Jean Marchant, and Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois, who received a letter from the Vatican's Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in 2008 warning him of excommunication for refusing to recant support for women’s ordination.

These latter three panelists are also featured in Hart’s film, along with a variety of players in the women’s ordination movement. Interestingly, Hart herself is not a Catholic.

For those who have invested time and energy into supporting the movement, the film serves as a helpful review of the highlights in the struggle for women’s ordination. Those who are less knowledgeable about its history will benefit greatly from this hour-long introduction into the key historical moments and theological convictions behind the effort to achieve the full inclusion of women in the Roman Catholic priesthood.

The film touches on the verse from Romans 16:7 where Paul refers to a woman named Junia as an apostle. Archeologist Dorothy Irvin’s explorations into the evidence of women “presbytera” in the early church, found in frescos in catacombs, is also highlighted briefly.

Irvin’s research indicates that images of women in ministerial positions were eradicated after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in 313 CE.

A segment is also dedicated to Ludmila Javorová, who was secretly ordained in 1970 by Bishop Felix Maria Davidék so that she could serve the underground Roman Catholic Church during Czechoslovakia’s communist rule.

Javorova remained silent about her ordination until 1995 -- six years after the fall of communism -- when she told her story to Miriam Therese Winters who published the interview in the book Out of the Depths.

But the heart of the film really belongs to the Roman Catholic Womenpriests. Their movement is traced back to the 2002 ordination of seven women on a boat that sailed the Danube River, avoiding the jurisdictions of German and Austrian bishops.

One year later, an unidentified male bishop in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church ordained two of the original seven women as bishops. The RCWP believe that their ordinations are valid because of their unbroken line of apostolic succession within the Roman Catholic Church.

The RCWP believe that, because their ordinations were performed by bishops, they were ordained in a line of unbroken apostolic succession. The ordinations continued -- in 2005 on the St. Lawrence Seaway, which borders the U.S. and Canada, and then on the three rivers in Pittsburgh in 2006.

Several of the women who were ordained in these ceremonies, including Victoria Rue and Juanita Cordero, are interviewed in the film. Cordero’s late husband, former Jesuit Don Cordero, also lends humor and wisdom throughout the film.

Interestingly, the voice that is probably heard most throughout the documentary belongs to a male Catholic priest.

Bourgeois speaks movingly about his calling to follow his conscience when a long time friend and fellow activist, Janice Sevre-Duszynska, decided to pursue her life-long call to ordination through the RCWP. Bourgeois concedes that many priests fear losing their jobs, pensions and sacramental power if they speak out about the ordination of women.

But says Bourgeois: “I’d rather eat at a soup kitchen and be free rather than not do something that I’m called to do.”

During the panel discussion after the screening, Bourgeois admitted that he is embarrassed that it took him so long to speak out against this injustice. He says that he longs to speak about it to his priest friends and to bishops. But when he raises the issue, they immediately shut him down and refuse to talk about it.

“It is a power issue for them…there is a fear of losing privilege,” says Bourgeois

One of the film’s finest contributions is the way it evokes the sorrow of women who have been denied the ability to fully serve the church that they call home. Without a hint of anger, it depicts the longings of these women -- longings that can only come out of a deep commitment and even deeper love for the church.

In her the panel presentation, Marchant offered some insight into this pain.

Prior to her ordination, she served as director of healthcare ministry for the Boston Archdiocese. More than 70 percent of the members of the Catholic Chaplains Association are women. As chaplains, they build deep relationships with the sick and the dying. And, yet, when the time for last rites approaches, these women are forced to call a priest.

Typically, he does not know the patient and often fails to involve the female chaplain in the prayers and ministrations. For Marchant, offering the sacrament should be the culmination of the chaplain’s journey with the patient.

The one weakness of the film is its lack of younger voices. With the exception of a few scenes of an interview with NCR columnist Nicole Sotelo, who speaks powerfully about the importance of struggling for justice in the Catholic Church, all other interviewees appear to be baby boomers or older.

When I asked Marchant about the interest in the RCWP among young Catholic women, she said that she get many inquiries from newer generations.

“One of the dilemmas they face is that they are either working in the church and cannot afford to those their jobs, or they are over-committed by their careers and raising families.”

Currently 120 women in the U.S. have been ordained as RCWP.

Though members of the RCWP are considered excommunicated, many of them look forward to a future when they can be reintegrated into the Roman Catholic Church, should the church ever open the sacrament of holy orders to women.

But some critics of the movement have argued that the RCWP tests one of the great tenets of feminism, articulated by the late Audre Lorde: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

Scholars such as Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Mary Hunt believe that Catholic women should think beyond ordination and seek a church that functions more like, in the words of Schüssler-Fiorenza, “a discipleship of equals.”

Most womenpriests identify themselves as “worker priests.” Though they carry on their professions in fields as various as teachers, non-profit workers, artists and architects, on weekends they celebrate liturgies in homes, non-Catholic university chapels, and Protestant churches.

These womenpriests dwell in the liminal space between the established, clerical world of the church and the revolutionary, risky world of the prophet. And, like many prophets before them, they find themselves in exile from the religious structure that they call home.

The womenpriests are manna for many Catholics who, too, are in exile; these communities of Catholics are clearly manna for the womenpriests as well.

Though it does not ask the question, Pink Smoke left me wondering to what extent this liminality actually gives birth to and maintains the integrity and faithfulness of the RCWP.

In many ways, their movement reflects the early Christian Church before it was accepted by the Empire. The risks that many womenpriests take infuse their ministries with a deep sense of commitment.

Their willingness to sacrifice the privileges and securities of paid ministry demonstrates a profound faithfulness to the God who has called them.

If womenpriests are one day permitted to reenter the established church, how much of their holy creativity and prophetic edge would be lost in the transition back into the institution?

Pink Smoke leaves you hoping that all of the grace received through their living as marginal church communities will be remembered and sustained when women are welcomed finally into the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church.

Jamie L. Manson received her Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School where she studied Catholic theology and sexual ethics. Her columns for NCR earned her a first prize Catholic Press Association award for Best Column/Regular Commentary in 2010.


Women Priests

A response to the Jamie Manson article
in the NCR, 2/15/2011

By Tony Equale

February 21, 2011

For many Catholics who are seeking church reform, the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood is a settled subject. How could there possibly be any disagreement? Women are working in every career choice open to men, including the police, and the army. Why not the priesthood? There is no reason.

I am not challenging women’s rights. I accept the principle of egalitarianism for all humankind, and of course that would apply to any role in any organization. But I would not want the defense of that principle to obscure what is at stake with Church reform. For me the question is not whether women should be priests in the Roman church, but whether in a christian com­mu­nity there should be any priests at all.

I claim that the institution of the “sacramental” priesthood as we know it in our times, is a greco-roman elitist innovation that did not exist until well into the 2nd century, a hundred years after the founding of the church. It was designed precisely to eliminate christian egalitarianism, create a hieratic caste, mystify the ordinary people and concentrate power in the hands of the upper class. It represented the unwarranted transformation of a legitimate ministerial role — the presbyter — into an ontological caste that did not previously exist in the christian scheme of things, and certainly not in the mind of Jesus. It was an essential step in bending christianity to the cultural requirements of the class-based society run by the Roman Empire. It makes the people themselves complicit in their own impotence by making it seem impossible for a christian group to have the eucharist unless it be performed exclusively by the magical hands of a representative of the (upper class) bishop.

The earliest accounts of the life of christian communities portray a fellowship where fixed caste status for the clergy grounded in ritual alchemy, was not in evidence. Likewise, infrastructure (buildings) if they existed, were a secondary feature of the community. It’s not insignificant that the two phenomena seem to have arisen together, suggesting that “buildings,” i.e., property and wealth became a factor requiring the creation of new “sacramental structures” that would insure that control stayed in the proper hands. These developments were exactly what made christianity an attractive choice as the “new” Religion of the empire. An egalitarian group of slaves and tent-makers operating out of homes and storefronts just would not do for “divine Rome.”

By the 4th century, with the elevation of christianity to the status of State Religion of the Roman Empire, the connection between church property and the Roman upper class was such a conspicuous part of ecclesiastical reality that we see Constantine himself sending his legions in 316 to restore North African church buildings to their “rightful” bishops. What made this restoration so shocking, besides the use of imperial force, was that the “rightful” bishops were in most cases the same men who had “handed over” (traditores) the (sacred) books to the Roman authorities during the persecution of Diocletian, causing the “people” (afterwards called “Donatists”) to refuse to receive them back as their bishops. But Constantine had made a huge transfer of basilicas, temples and other buildings to christianity from the Roman polythesitic religions, and he would not abide having “his” imperial church buildings taken over by a mob of disobedient nobodies. Every facet of the empire was run by obedience to the Roman authorities. The Empire’s new Church would be no different. Precedent had to be set.

“Ordination” functioned in this context to insure a mystified control of the Church and its sacramental life by the upper classes. This is the “priesthood” that the RCWP is banging on the door to enter … rather than to eliminate in order to return the eucharist to the fellowship of equals. How can we support an elitist anachronism in the name of gender equality? It’s time, I think, to stop talking about the church and the “ecclesistical careers” that have been denied women, and begin talking about the kind of living community that Jesus encouraged his followers to form.

Just look at the ludicrous scenarios described in the Manson article. Imagine, mature adult christians, so mesmerized by the Roman sect’s absurd claims about apostolic fidelity being bound to mechanical legal ritual that they are ordained in the middle of rivers in order to avoid the reach of episcopal jurisdictions! This is not rebellion. It is a crass submission to the legalistic mystifications that have been developed to soli­di­fy power in the hands of those in control. It is to be complicit in the elevation of caste superiority into a christian category in utter contradiction of the egalitarianism preached by Jesus.

In the late sixties Ivan Illich was something of a guru to a group of Catholic people in the New York area interested in serving the poor and in serious church reform. Many of us learned spanish and the principles of pastoral acculturation at his feet in Puerto Rico and in Mexico. On one occasion we shared with him our enthusiasm for a married deaconate and perhaps the ordination of married men as a first step in the larger reform of mandatory celibacy and the ordination of women. To our surprise he told us he did not agree. “Until clerical culture changes,” he said, “the only thing you will accomplish will be to draw this new group of unspoiled laypeople into a dysfunctional clerical culture, effectively adding to the unchristian stratifications within the church. You will just perpetuate something that should not exist.”

I hear in those words the very same counsel as offered by Mary Hunt and Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza, mentioned by Manson, that “Catholic women should think beyond ordination and seek a church that functions more like … ‘a discipleship of equals’.” The depth of reform that this would entail is truly beyond imagination … but only because of the hierarchy’s insistence on clinging to power and to the ideological (dogmatic) props that protect it. Otherwise, it’s not unimaginable at all. It’s time to stop begging them for what they will never give … and at any rate do not own. It is not theirs to give! To seek ordination under these circumstances is to buy into the very system that debases us.

You want to celebrate the eucharist? By all means, do it! But don’t tie it to being ordained a “priest.” And that goes for us all!

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Benefit in Support of CALGM

A benefit in support of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry (CALGM) will take place this Saturday, February 26 (6:30 p.m. onwards) at Prospect Park United Methodist Church (22 Orlin Ave. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414).
Note: This is a new location for this event.
For directions, click here.

Come share the joy of supporting
lesbian and gay ministries in the church!

Tickets $25

New members receive one free ticket with membership.

Hors-d’oeuvres, beer and wine, and dessert will be served. Music will be provided by One Voice Mixed Choir. A silent auction will also take place.

This is a great opportunity to support the work of CALGM, and to meet and socialize with CALGM board members and local Catholics working to make a place at the table for all!

About CALGM: The Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry (CALGM) is an association of diocesan, parish and campus-based ministries and those involved in these ministries. CALGM reflects the Catholic Church's commitment to pastoral concern and support for lesbian and gay Catholics, their parents, families and friends. These ministries, under the leadership of bishops, pastors and other pastoral leaders, seek to apply Church teachings regarding the integration of sexuality and spirituality and the recognition of the dignity, respect and inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the life and mission of the Church.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Quote of the Day

. . . In stating that he has failed in his attempts to reform “the Church”, [Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin] is not in fact referring to the whole, true church of all Catholics, but only to that part of it that is part of the Vatican power structure, the Catholic oligarchy. Personally, I have a growing sense that in the broader church, the one that really matters, the fundamental reform is already taking place, and may in fact be quite far advanced. This is the reform that takes place not in Catholic rule books, the Catechism and in Canon Law, but in the minds and hearts of Catholics.

It has been well known for years that ordinary Catholics simply do not any longer believe what they are told on matters of sexual ethics. The sexual abuse problems have further weakened their acquiescence, and have increased their opposition to claims of papal infallibility, of obedience to authority, and to church rules on ordination to the priesthood. Painfully for the Vatican, it has also reduced the willingness of many Catholics to continue paying for the the settlement of law suits, and the maintenance of the clergy, in a church where they are not allowed any input into decisions or the selection of priests and bishops.

We now know that a very substantial proportion (at the very least) of professional theologians essentially agree with them, and concur with the archbishop on the need for fundamental reform of church culture. This has become public in Germany, but is almost certainly also the case in other regions – only the precise proportions, and the willingness to go public, are likely to differ significantly elsewhere. . . .

– Terence Weldon
"Irish Archbishop Agrees: Catholic Church Needs Fundamental, Cultural Change"
Queering the Church
February 24, 2011

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Twin Cities' "Peter Canisius": Liar and Coward

By Michael J. Bayly

NOTE: This commentary is cross-posted at The Wild Reed.

Peter Canisius is a popular saint among so-called traditionalists – no doubt due to his role in the restoration of Roman Catholicism in Germany in the years following the Reformation. It’s doubtful, however, that he exhibited the characteristics of the cowardly individual who has taken on his name while conducting a campaign of misinformation and outright lies here in St. Paul-Minneapolis. All kinds of people have fallen for his mischief-making and lies, even Thomas Peters, the “American Papist” of

In order to explain the latest campaign of the Twin Cities’ “Peter Canisius,” a bit of background information is necessary. . . .

It's those gays again!

It all starts with a long-time member of the Minneapolis parish of St. Frances Cabrini renting space at the parish for a benefit this Saturday for the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministries (CALGM).

CALGM, formerly the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries (NACDLGM), is an association of diocesan, parish and campus-based ministries that, according to its website, “strives to reflect the Catholic Church’s commitment to pastoral concern and support for lesbian and gay Catholics, their parents, families and friends.” CALGM also notes on its website that “these ministries, under the leadership of bishops, pastors and other pastoral leaders, seek to apply Church teachings regarding the integration of sexuality and spirituality and the recognition of the dignity, respect and inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the life and mission of the Church.”

The parish of St. Frances Cabrini is well-known for its welcoming of all – including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals and families. Its pastor has a long association with CALGM. The fundraiser was promoted within the parish and, as far as I know, within another well-known “liberal” parish within the Twin Cities. As the executive coordinator of one of the area’s more well-known and unabashedly activist Catholic LGBT organizations (CPCSM), I was unaware of this fundraiser. It seems to me that it was clearly meant to be a low-key event – the aim of which was not to question or challenge church teaching on homosexuality but to simply raise funds for a rather non-activist Catholic group that, from my experience, does its utmost to work within the church to promote respect for LGBT people – efforts that are actually mandated by the Roman Catholic Church.

Misinformation and outright lies

Enter “Peter Canisius,” hence forth to be referred to as PC. He (and, for reasons I won’t go into, I believe he is indeed a “he”) takes it upon himself to write and send out a “media release” about this fundraiser at St. Frances Cabrini Church. Through a friend of a friend I obtained a copy of this media release (sent by and discovered that its style wasn’t new to me. In the past, PC has written and distributed similar ones concerning various CPCSM events. They caused us a lot of trouble as he inundated news media outlets around the country with them. We eventually were compelled to post a disclaimer on our website. Anyway, like these previous ones, this latest media release concerning the fundraiser for CALGM was deceptively written to sound as if it came from those organizing the event; to sound as if, in other words, it was an “official” media release. Yet sprinkled among the legitimate information (time, place, venue, purpose, etc.) are clear attempts to stir-up the local traditionalists to inundate the chancery with calls demanding that this “scandalous” event not take place on church property. That this stirring-up is undertaken using misinformation and outright lies seems not to bother PC.

Here’s one example of misleading and inflammatory language used by PC: The parish priest, Leo Tibesar, is described as a “well known and highly respected same sex marriage and gay rights activist.” Can you imagine members of a Catholic parish going public with such a statement – even if it was true? It’s just asking for trouble (and PC knows it).

And here’s an example of an outright lie: PC declares in his media release that the fundraiser for CALGM “has the approval of the Archdiocese.” It’s a lie aimed solely at getting the attention of those within the church who see it as their duty to resist and challenge any attempt to acknowledge, let alone discuss, issues that they view as out-of-bounds (in this case, the issue of LGBT Catholics).

And, unfortunately, it seems to have worked. American Papist, for instance, fell for PC’s media release hook, line and sinker, with the site even referring to it as the “official notice for the fundraiser.” Earlier this evening American Papist announced that the fundraiser had been canceled, adding: “Members of the CatholicVote community have already sent almost 40,000 emails of support to [Archbishop] Nienstedt, and I think today would be a good time to send a few thousand more.”

Actually, I doubt the event has been canceled. Rather, as with similar incidents in the church of St. Paul-Minneapolis, it’s probably been relocated to a site off church property. Regardless, you can be sure local media outlets will cover this latest “controversy.” (I’ve already received one e-mail from a reporter asking for my perspective.) As a result of this coverage, more people will hear about the fundraiser, perhaps even attend it, and (hopefully) contribute more financially to CALGM. It all seems a rather hollow “victory” for those whipped into a censorious frenzy by the deceptive actions of an individual who, let's face it, is a liar and a coward.

Time to get out from "under the radar"

Now, it’s probably true that those organizing the fundraiser were naive in what they thought they could get away with “under the radar” on church property. That being said, they were nevertheless honest in planning and advertising their event. The same can’t be said, however, for the Twin Cities’ “Peter Canisius.” His actions are nothing less than despicable. He pretends to represent a group of people with whom he is clearly at odds; he’s deceives and spreads lies; and he causes hurt and pain to fellow Catholics who, in good conscience, are attempting to interact with LGBT persons in a spirit of “respect, friendship and justice.” (Live in Christ Jesus, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1976).

One thing that I hope will come out of all of this is the realization on the part of “liberal” parish members that quietly planning and doing things “below the radar” ultimately serves no one. There may have been a time when such a strategy worked but those times are long gone. “Traditionalist” spies are everywhere. And as the despicable actions of PC show, some have no qualms in misconstruing and embellishing with lies the announcements they see in parish bulletins. CPCSM learned several years ago that, like it or not, hosting events on “church property” gives all the power to the clerical caste to say “yea” or “nay.”

So my advice is: Don’t give them that power! Get out from under that "radar" and have your LGBT Pride Prayer Services or your fundraisers for CALGM on property not controlled by the church's clerical caste. And don’t worry that these sites are not “officially” Catholic. You make them Catholic by your presence. Start being the church you want to see – a church that can be (and is) present and active everywhere!

And for those discouraged by yet another carefully- and lovingly-planned event of welcome being squashed by those unreceptive to God’s spirit of inclusion, I have a threefold message: (i) The challenges we face as Catholics are the result of a ruling clerical caste within the church and its betrayal of the reforming spirit of Vatican II; (ii) There are communities of Catholics dedicated to responding in thoughtful and proactive ways to these challenges; (iii) Seek and become part of these communities.

A liberating model of church

Within and throughout the local church of St. Paul-Minneapolis there are numerous opportunities for such pro-active engagement. One need look no further that the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) of which I’m honored to serve as co-chair. Last September we hosted (on property beyond the control of the clerical caste) our inaugural Synod of the Baptized – an event that drew 500 people. We have another synod in the works (scheduled for September 17, 2011) and out of which will emerge a Council of the Baptized.

CCCR’s understands the church as a communion of communities based upon acceptance and the fundamental equality of all members. It’s a church that's participatory and collaborative in nature, embodying a dialogical spirit; and it’s a prophetic sign in and for the world. Such as understanding and model of church arises out of Vatican II and seems to us most in line with the Gospel message. It’s a model that has been promulgated by the Asian bishops and it fits well with the positive values of our democratic U.S. culture. In short, it’s a liberating model of church that many of us here in the Twin Cities believe is worth working to see realized.

In conclusion

There was a time when news of a gay-related event on church property being “canceled” by the clerical caste made me very angry. I may have even wanted to organize a protest outside the chancery or something. I still do often feel anger, make no mistake. In particular it angers me that some LGBT youth may hear about these stories and internalize the message that they're expendable. The internalization of such a negative message can be profoundly damaging. It can even lead some to suicide. Despite this, I'm less inclined to think that picketing the chancery over the canceling of a gay-related event is the way to go. You see, I've come to recognize and understand the model of church held by those calling to have such events squashed and by those doing the squashing. And I realize that the Catholic Church has no real future while ever it's imprisoned by such a model. It's a model that's actually collapsing without my help. I'd rather focus on working to build and embody a different model, a model that's truer to Jesus' vision of community -- one free from imperial trappings and patriarchal mind-sets.

I can’t say for sure how the church will emerge from its current crisis; what form or forms it will take in order to embody Jesus’ mission of justice and compassion. I just know that the model of church being pushed by those upset by the mere thought of a quiet little fundraiser for CALGM in the basement of a small Minneapolis church is simply incapable of conveying, let alone witnessing to the world, the vastness and beauty of God's truth in human life and relationships. And Catholics in the pews know this. Many have responded by quietly leaving. Others attempt to operate ‘below the radar” until something like what we’ve just seen in Minneapolis shatters their illusion that they are somehow insulated from the damaging effects of the declining institutional church. Still others, and I count myself among them, are quietly organizing and working for a church that Jesus would recognize; a church open to growth and change; a church that reflects the best of our tradition – including undertaking the always necessary and often difficult task of reform. I invite you to become, in any way you can, part of this work.

For more information about the work of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, click here.

Image: "Study of a Masked Man" by Arshile Gorky.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Archbishop Supports Wisconsin Unions

By Maureen Fiedler

Editor's Note: This commentary was first published February 21 on the National Catholic Reporter blogsite of Maureen Fiedler. Links and images have been added.

I don’t know if Madison, Wisc. has a “Tahrir Square,” but these days it must seem that the events of Egypt over the past several weeks are being replayed there, albeit in miniature. At least 20,000 protesters have swarmed the state capitol to protest a new budget cutting measure that would cripple public employee unions.

The new Republican governor of the state, Scott Walker, has launched a full scale assault on the right to collective bargaining by public worker unions, with the promise of cuts in benefits, especially health care.

According to the New York Daily News, Walker received a substantial contribution from the infamous “Koch brothers” during his election campaign.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee’s Archbishop, Jerome Listecki, issued a statement supporting the "legitimate rights" of public employees:

The Church is well aware that difficult economic times call for hard choices and financial responsibility to further the common good. Our own dioceses and parishes have not been immune to the effects of the current economic difficulties. But hard times do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers.

It frankly seems like a weak statement, but it’s better than nothing at all. The Catholic Church has long supported unions and the rights of workers; it is no time to abandon the long legacy of Pope Leo XIII.

Meanwhile, the Democratic members of the State Senate have left town, denying the Republicans a quorum that would permit a vote on the Governor’s proposal. Stay tuned to Wisconsin!

Important Update

Tomorrow (Tuesday, February 22, 2011) at 4:00 p.m. at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, there will be a rally in solidarity with the public workers (teachers, firefighters, etc.) of Wisconsin.

For more information, click

Recommended Off-site Links:
Class Warfare in Wisconsin: 10 Things You Should Know – Josh Healey (February 17, 2011).
From Cairo to Madison: Hope and Solidarity Are Alive – Medea Benjamin (, February 21, 2011).
Wisconsin: The First Stop in An American Uprising? – Sarah van Gelder (Yes!, February 18, 2011).
Comparing Egypt-Iran with Wisconsin – William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, February 21, 2011).
Wisconsin Power Play – Paul Krugman (New York Times, February 20, 2011).
The Real Reason for Public Finance Crisis – Richard Wolff (The Guardian, February 19, 2011).

Thursday, February 17, 2011

On Chastened Idealism

By Amanda Udis-Kessler

Editor's Note: This article by Unitarian Universalist Amanda Udis-Kessler was first published January 8, 2011 on the blogsite of Tikkun magazine. It speaks to spiritual progressives of all religions and denominations.

Why should we be idealists? For the same reason that we get up in the morning: because life is beautiful and we can make this broken old world a little more beautiful than it already is. Because our political values call us in that direction and we know intuitively that we won’t get out there and make social change if we are not driven on by a hunger, a passion, a yearning for what we imagine could be. We might call it a world repaired. We might call it the Kingdom of God. We might call it Buddha-nature lived out fully. We might call it peace, justice, freedom and community. But politically, we are idealists because we have ideals that we are not yet ready to give up. These days we may feel pretty lonely at times but we know better than to lay down our values for cheap grace and expensive toys.

But we who are affiliated with the Network of Spiritual Progressives are, for the most part, spiritual as well as progressive, whatever being spiritual may mean to us. What it does mean, beyond any local semantics, is that our visions are grounded in something beyond the mundane. We might speak of Allah, or the ultimate ground of being, or the inherent worth and dignity of all people, or we might use any one of a hundred other names that speak to us of that which is greatest, or deepest, or most meaningful. But our concern is with meaning, depth, the sacred, the holy, and how that realm of life intersects with the day-to-day. We seek a world infused with meaning, regardless of how the meaning is translated. And this is part of our vision, part of our yearning. Most of us, I think, see the world repaired as a world in which everyone is utterly free to find their own way to, as Rumi put it, “kneel and kiss the ground.” Does this make us idealists? Of course. What else could we be?

Well, we could be chastened idealists. Why go this route, given what I’ve already said? Because we follow politics and we understand sociology and we accept that staying passionately involved in working for a better world does not mean putting on blinders. It can’t. And honestly, for all that is wonderful about the world right now, there’s a lot that is almost unspeakably horrifying. There are a lot of people in power, all around the world, who do not seem to care about human or planetary flourishing, and for whom religion is a means of social control, not the best reason ever to break down boundaries and welcome everyone in completely. So if we are politically savvy, we must acknowledge the tremendous challenges facing our vision. It is entirely possible that our vision will not come to pass in our lifetimes. And we must somehow simultaneously act as though our vision was close enough to touch and also as though we might work in vain for years. If we neglect the first part we fail to be Tikkunistas; if we neglect the second part we may well fall prey to depression and burnout.

Which leads to the spiritual side of chastened idealism. Unitarian Universalists tend to focus much of our energy on human potential and, in perhaps an overreaction to the Calvinism from which we emerged, to look away from human frailty. But in my experience, every religion worth its salt – including thoughtful UUism – takes seriously the ways in which human beings fail ourselves and each other regularly. Such religions simply don’t end the story there; they see human beings as originally blessed (per Matthew Fox) even as they acknowledge the challenges of living a good life that will repair and re-bless the world. Thus, and perhaps unusually for a Unitarian Universalist, I think there is a spiritual component to being a chastened idealist. It means recognizing that people are deeply good but not always exclusively good; that people are powerful, but not always powerful enough to fix that which cries out for repair; and that social structures can turn the greatest hopes of individuals and groups to dust even as it is individuals and groups that ultimately make up social structures.

I’ve just finished reading Heidi Neumark’s remarkable book Breathing Space, about her experiences as a progressive Lutheran minister in a South Bronx church. I recommend this book as an example of chastened idealism, what challenges it and what keeps it alive. For at the end of the day, our central task as spiritual progressives is to tend our idealism and make sure that is not too chastened, lest we fail to hew to our work and maintain our faith.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

CCCR's Action Plan for 2011

The Twin Cities-based Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) is building on its successful Synod of the Baptized of last September with a bold and hope-filled action plan for church reform.

The Progressive Catholic Voice is a founding member organization of CCCR, and so the PCV editorial team is happy to share the following message from CCCR. This message was originally published last month on the CCCR website.


Happy 2011, everyone!

What is the Action Plan for 2011?

First, just to remind ourselves of why we have a plan at all: Our experience of our oneness with God makes us rise up and go tell it on the mountain as Jesus did. We want to be part of a church institution that is singing the message loud and clear for this troubled world: God is love. Do not be afraid.

But just a minute. In our local church there seems to be a test for being 100% Catholic. We have no way to communicate with the appointed leaders. Gay people who have life partners are condemned as sinners. Divorced and remarried people are excluded from communion. All institutional decision-making is restricted to self-appointed men who are formed in a clerical culture. Women are not allowed into the holy of holies. Fear silences the non-conforming voice. And many people of conscience walk away. Does that sound like a church that is embodying the Gospel message?

Can we make some cultural and institutional adjustments here? We are hoping that with enough people working together we can make adjustments so the voice of the Spirit will sing through us a joyful song.

That’s where the plan comes in.

Number 1. We practice what we preach. The institution cannot prevent us from deepening our own spirituality or from forming our own supportive communities or from working our own programs of living the message of love.

Number 2. We gather people in small groups all over the Archdiocese in listening sessions. We envision the institution we need to support us in the Christian life we want to lead. We have formed some resource groups to bring information and ideas to parishes and inter-parish groups following the listening sessions.

Number 3. We establish a representative, deliberative Council to channel the energy created through the small groups into the work of producing and disseminating the policies we want to see implemented. For example, the Council’s first question could be something like this: As a matter of policy, within the diocesan organization, how should communication between the people and their bishop be facilitated?

That’s the plan for 2011. We will get together in the Synod of the Baptized in September to form our Council and get on with the work. Pray for us. Join our work by signing up on our website or calling (612) 379-1043. And save Saturday, September 17, 2011, to attend the Synod of the Baptized where it will all come together!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Is All Lost?

By Michael O'Loughlin

Editor's Note: This article was first published January 30, 2011 on the website of America magazine. To view it in its original form and to read responses to it from readers, click here.

What role does the church play, if any, to twenty-something Catholics in the United States?

This was the question that a group of Catholic thinkers, writers, pastors, lay ministers, and other church leaders attempted to answer this weekend at a conference held at Fordham University called, Lost? Twenty-Somethings and the Catholic Church.

The conference began with a panel of academics offering statistics on young adults and the church, trends that can easily be seen in many parishes across the country. Young adult Catholics aren’t going to Mass in sizable numbers, and when asked, fewer than ever before identify as Catholic. Panelists then sought to explain why so many young adults are leaving the church and offer ideas as to what might be done to stop the trend.

The Lost? website will post transcripts and video soon, but in the meantime, some items worth noting:

* The church should avoid the temptation to become a political power player. Surveys repeatedly demonstrate that young adults are turned off from the church when it appears to be shilling for a particular political party. Minor gains in policy may come at a huge cost: losing a generation of Catholics from both sides of the political spectrum.

* Race and ethnicity remain sensitive and critical challenges for the Catholic Church, especially with the rapidly growing Latino population. Young Latinos are taught a sense of ownership and belonging in their parishes that is not fostered and developed in traditionally Euro-centric parishes. As a result, these young adults sometimes leave the church altogether when their talents are underutilized in mixed parishes.

* The split between church leaders and young adults on issues of gender and sexuality is growing. Young people are more likely to support same-sex marriage and female ordination than their older counterparts and the hierarchy, and many cite these issues as reasons they don’t feel at home in the church. Young adults won’t support any institution where they feel that any group of people is not fully welcome and included.

There were many reasons to lose hope, but there were also some bright spots. For all the stats about why young adults loathe and leave the church, some twenty-somethings still participated in the audience. The examples of why some leave the church were answered with stories of why some stay. And while some of the conversation was disheartening and morose, some was full of energy and enthusiasm for the future (America's Jim Martin moderated an excellent panel that offered many concrete ideas to keep young adult Catholics in the church).

The challenges to make the faith and the church relevant and important to the next generation of Catholics are great, but perhaps not quite insurmountable. The conference itself is testimony that some church leaders are excited and eager to begin a conversation, and that in itself is hopeful. But even if a place is set, will disaffected and ambivalent twenty-somethings take their places at the table? Are church leaders speaking the right language, and if not, are they willing to learn a new vocabulary? Is the church marketing its unique value proposition to young adults in a clear and compelling manner? That is, what does the church offer young adults that they cannot get elsewhere?

There were few answers to these questions, and even fewer young voices to offer thoughtful analysis and opinion, but they were being asked, which is a welcomed start. The church is running out of time to retain this maturing generation, and by extension, future generations. For the church to lose the talent, energy, inspiration, and imagination of young adults would be scandalous, but all’s not lost. Yet.