Monday, December 26, 2011

The Divine is Greater Than Our Dogmas

By Angie O'Gorman

Editor's Note: This commentary was first published December 22 by the National Catholic Reporter.

A few years ago during a Sunday homily, a Catholic priest in Australia preached to his congregation that the most dangerous place on Earth was a woman’s womb. I know what he was trying to get at, however poor his attempt, however misplaced his intentions, however misogynist his worldview. A terrible sadness rose in me when I heard about this, and a great anger. But why does this come to my mind now as I begin to reflect on the coming Christmas Mass at dawn?

The other image that comes is Bethlehem as it exists today in occupied Palestine, a war zone.

In between these two images I sit immobilized by what we have done to the Incarnation, by the total denial of God among us that now defines how we live with each other and the creation from within which we come.

Did it matter at all, that birth under the stars, that birth in an animal stall when a woman’s womb was good enough for Jesus? Are we so mythologized to the uniqueness of the scene that we miss the message? Do we think that Jesus was the only baby born that night to poor parents sheltering in a barn? Do we think Mary and Joseph were unique in their mixture of joy and pain and worry at the birth of their son? None of it was unique. It was normal. That’s the point. The Divine in our life is normal. It is normative. It is how things are. That is what matters, God is here, participating. What we celebrate at Christmas merely gives us eyes to see it. Words to describe it.

In Jesus’ native Aramaic the concept we know as heaven has an imminent quality. According to scholar Neil Douglas-Klotz, the Aramaic carries the image of “light and sound shining through all creation.” There is not a sense of above and beyond as in the English word heaven. But we already know this. Generations of Catholics learned that God is everywhere, omnipotent and omnipresent; then we stuck the Divine up in heaven and that was that.

Christmas can help us readjust, help us see the Divine more transparently in life, in places where we would least expect. A barn, for example, a baby. The Incarnation we celebrate at Christmas is a call, our belief in it a commitment, to seek awareness of the Divine free of the impediments of culture, class or even catechism. That process calls for a degree of openness most of us rarely embrace or even know as possible. Yet I have a feeling the Divine is so imminent, so within the essence of things, that it is only a matter of learned blindness that keeps us from seeing. It is not something natural to us to be so dense. We can do better. We can break through.

May the incarnation dawn in us this Christmas . . . May we awaken into a broader and deeper awareness of God present, especially in those on whom we project our own partial truths and worst fears. May we remember the Divine is greater than our comfortable categories and dogmas, is greater, dare we admit it, than ourselves. And in that light, may we remember that our enemies are not God’s enemies, and welcome the grace to stop inflaming the conflicts we decry and disowning the victims we create.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Quote of the Day

Christmas marks the birth of the world's greatest peacemaker and nonviolent resister. His coming is told in political language. We hear of a kingdom that will have no end, of his lordship, of glory to God and peace on earth.

Notice, for example, that the angels do not sing, "Glory to Rome! Glory to America! Glory to empire! War on earth to all those not in the empire's good favor!" Sometimes, the culture of war would have us believe that's the Christmas message.

But no. The angels speak of glory to God, the reign of a peaceful child, the coming of peace on Earth. To celebrate Christmas is to take sides against war, poverty and empire. If we adopt the politics of Christmas, we will welcome that peaceful child and his gift of peace, which means we will join his ongoing campaign of nonviolent resistance to war and empire, his ongoing holy occupy movement.

With the nonviolent Jesus, we are saved from war, empire and death. We have been given a way out of the world's violence through his creative nonviolence, steadfast resistance, active peacemaking and universal love. And we have been taught how to live in love, grace and prayer.

As we relearn the politics of Christmas, may we recommit ourselves to his work for peace so that we can do our part in the upcoming year to help end war, poverty and injustice. Then maybe we will be able to join the heavenly multitude and sing with angelic harmony, "Glory to the God of peace!"

– John Dear
"Christmas and the End of the War in Iraq"
National Catholic Reporter
December 20, 2011

NOTE: John Dear's new book, Lazarus, Come Forth!, has just been published by Orbis Books. It explores Jesus as the God of life, calling humanity (in the symbol of the dead Lazarus) out of the tombs of the culture of war and death. This book and other recent books, including Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings; Put Down Your Sword and A Persistent Peace, are available from For more information, go to John Dear's website.

The PCV wishes all its readers
a joyful and peaceful Christmas!

See also the previous PCV posts:
Finding Christ at Christmas
Is Christmas Christian?

Image: Simon Dewey.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Quote of the Day

In an effort to promote passage of the marriage amendment to the state's Constitution, Archbishop John Nienstedt wants area Catholics to recite a special prayer during mass.

Just last week, a priest in our archdiocese was convicted of criminal sexual misconduct. Despite having the same information as the jury that convicted him, the archbishop assigned him to a parish 40 miles away from his supervision.

In addition, the archbishop responded to the courageous victim's concerns over the placement, according to the trial testimony, with the hurtful words, "trust your shepherds." Mass always begins with a penitential rite.

I would propose a prayer at the start of archdiocesan masses asking forgiveness for these failings.

– The Rev. Michael Tegeder
Letter to the Editor
Star Tribune
December 18, 2011

Recommended Off-site Link:
A Prayer for Archbishop NienstedtSensus Fidelium (December 17, 2011).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Pastor Mike Tegeder Challenges Archbishop Nienstedt's "Bullying Behavior"
One Courageous Parish Priest
Local Catholic Priest Speaks Out on the MN Bishops' Anti-Gay DVD Controversy

Pope Benedict's Peace Message Calls for Wealth Redistribution

By Francis X. Rocca

Editor's Note: This article was first published December 16, 2011, by Religion News Service.

VATICAN CITY (RNS) – Noting a "rising sense of frustration" at the worldwide economic recession, Pope Benedict XVI said that a more just and peaceful world requires "adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth."

The pope's words appeared in his message for the World Day of Peace, released on Friday (Dec. 16) at the Vatican.

The message laments that "some currents of modern culture, built upon rationalist and individualist economic principles, have cut off the concept of justice from its transcendent roots, detaching it from charity and solidarity."

Authentic education, Benedict writes, teaches the proper use of freedom with "respect for oneself and others, including those whose way of being and living differs greatly from one's own."

Peace-making requires education not only in the values of compassion and solidarity, but in the importance of wealth redistribution, the "promotion of growth, cooperation for development and conflict resolution," Benedict writes.

The pope also calls on political leaders to "ensure that no one is ever denied access to education."

The message was presented on Friday by officials of the Vatican's Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace. The same body published a controversial document in October blaming the world's economic and financial crisis on an "economic liberalism that spurns rules and controls," and calling for global regulation of the financial industry and the international money supply.

See also the previous PCV posts:
From Jesus' Socialism to Capitalistic Christianity
Occupy Advent and the Vatican: A Revolution of Hope

Recommended Off-site Links:
Church Teaching, Occupy Wall Street Agree, Vatican Officials Say – Cindy Wooden (National Catholic Reporter, October 24, 2011).
New Vatican Document: Good News for Poor, Bad News for Tea Party – Daniel C. Maguire (Religion Dispatches, October 25, 2011).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Female Priests Push Catholic Boundaries

By Rose French

Editor's Note: This article was first published December 10, 2011, by the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

Dressed in a priestly white robe and green stole, Monique Venne lifted communion bread before an altar – defying centuries of Catholic Church law.

Despite promises of excommunication from the Vatican, she and six other women in Minnesota say they are legitimate, ordained Catholic priests, fit to celebrate the mass. They trace their status through a line of ordained women bishops back to anonymous male bishops in Europe.

"We love the church, but we see this great wrong," said Venne, 54, who co-founded Compassion of Christ Church, a Minneapolis congregation that just celebrated its first anniversary. "Not allowing women to be at the altar is a denigration of their dignity. We want the church to be the best it can be. If one leaves, one cannot effect change. So we're pushing boundaries."

Minnesota has emerged as a hotbed for the growing movement to ordain women as priests, with the highest per-capita number of female Catholic priests in the nation, according to the organization Roman Catholic Womenpriests. Women priests are working in the Twin Cities, Red Wing, Winona, Clear Lake and soon St. Cloud. The group claims about 70 women priests in the United States and more than 100 worldwide.

Several Protestant denominations have allowed women to be ordained ministers for decades. But the [Roman] Catholic Church views an all-male priesthood as unchangeable, "based on the example of Jesus, who, even though he had revered relationships with women who were his disciples, chose only men to be his apostles," said Dennis McGrath, spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

"Women who claim to have been ordained Catholic priests in fact have no relationship to the [Roman] Catholic Church because their ordination is not valid," he said.

Dozens of congregations

An increasing number of Catholics disagree with the church on this. In a poll last year by the New York Times and CBS, 59 percent of U.S. Catholics favored letting women become priests, with 33 percent opposed.

That's encouraging news for Roman Catholic Womenpriests, founded nearly nine years ago in Europe. It began after seven women were ordained aboard a ship on the Danube River by three male bishops. The group claims their ordinations are valid because they conform within the bounds of "apostolic succession."

"I do believe we are connecting through the original church, which started with the apostles," said Regina Nicolosi, 69, of Red Wing, who became bishop for Womenpriests' Midwest region in 2009.

Dozens of U.S. congregations are being led by women priests, a movement many Catholics view as a means to solving the church's problem of declining numbers of male priests. Roman Catholic Womenpriests is the first group to claim "apostolic succession," said Marian Ronan, associate professor at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif.

The church sees that as a threat to its authority, Ronan said.

The Vatican issued a pronouncement in 2008 that women who sought ordination and bishops who ordained them would be excommunicated. Last year, the Vatican also labeled female ordination a delictum gravius, or grave crime.

Venne says women who work on church staffs also face the likelihood of getting fired for becoming priests. Male priests who support them can't do so publicly because they risk their retirement pensions if they are excommunicated.

Proponents of female ordination argue, however, the New Testament and early Christian art show women as priests and in other leadership roles.

'I feel like it's a nationality'

Asked why they insist on remaining Catholic when they could be welcomed as ministers in other denominations, the women say, in so many words, it's their religion, too.

"I'm as much Catholic, – I feel like it's a nationality, – as I am English, German and Polish," said Linda Wilcox, 64, who felt called to become a priest after working in the St. Paul library system for nearly 35 years. She is one of four women priests at Compassion of Christ.

Women priests in Minnesota come from a variety of backgrounds: chaplain, librarian, even meteorologist. A significant number are married and have children, another forbidden activity by the church, which calls for its priests to be celibate.

Like many women who've joined the ranks of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, Nicolosi has a master's degree in theology.

Venne and other women at Compassion of Christ recall "playing mass" when they were children and pretending to be priests. As young girls, they felt rejected that they could not be altar servers, let alone priests.

"At the core of my being I knew that couldn't be," said Judith McKloskey, 65, of Eden Prairie. "Jesus included everybody." For years at her parish church, Pax Christi, she served as a lay preacher and ran a national association for lay ministry. She was ordained in 2007.

Venne, of Burnsville, the former meteorologist, was in a Bible study group with McKloskey and decided to pursue the priesthood after participating in her ordination. Venne was ordained in June.

"I felt as though I was fulfilling what God wanted me to do," she said. "It was something I'd been called to since I was in fourth grade and because the way the Catholic Church was structured, I wasn't able to recognize it until years later. I couldn't even be an altar server in those days."

Nicolosi was helping her husband train to become a deacon in 1980 when she realized she "had a call, too. I experienced the injustice of doing the entire training and being totally qualified but not being able to be ordained."

Answer to priest shortage?

Compassion of Christ is a small congregation, with only about 15 to 20 people attending regularly. One is Pauline Cahalan, 66, a lifelong Catholic who started going a year ago.

"Basically there's just something missing with the fact that there's this philosophy or rules that say the Holy Spirit only inspires men to be priests," Cahalan said. "And that if a woman gets that calling ... they're supposed to ignore it and deny it. That just doesn't make sense to me.

"We have such a shortage of priests. To me this is one of the answers ... that we would recognize the vocations when the Holy Spirit calls women and let them become priests."

In Minnesota, the movement is expanding. One of the four priests leading Compassion of Christ, Mary Smith, will leave at the end of the year to become the full-time pastor at a new congregation in St. Cloud.

The four women say a significant reason why they buck Catholic Church convention is because they were inspired by seeing other women celebrating mass. Now they're paying it forward.

"I hope the women priests can help fire the imagination of young women in the church today, that this is a possibility," Wilcox said. "We are equal."

See also the previous PCV posts:
Ordination of Women in Minneapolis Reflects Emerging Renewal of Priesthood and Church
Roy Bourgeois: "The Exclusion of Women from the Priesthood is a Grave Injustice"
Roman Catholic Women Priests: Differing Perspectives
Ministry, Not Maleness, is the Theological Starting Point for the Priest

Recommended Off-site Links:
“We Are All the Rock”: An Interview with Roman Catholic Womanpriest Judith McKloskey – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, August 4, 2008).
A Woman Priest Reflects on Her 10-year Anniversary – Jamie L. Manson (National Catholic Reporter, December 7, 2011).

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Out of Step With the Flock: Bishops Far Behind on Birth Control Issues

By Kathleen Kennedy Townsend

Editor's Note: This commentary was first published December 9, 2011, by The Atlantic.

Even though 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women
use birth control during their reproductive years,
the U.S. bishops are fighting it.

Last month, the Vatican issued a clarion call to all people of conscience. It wasn't about contraception or masturbation or gay marriage or any of the other aspects of peoples' love lives have drawn religious ire through the ages. Instead, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace stepped forward to question the morality of a global economic system that relentlessly enriches a privileged few while the rest of humanity struggles to keep their heads above water.

The council reaffirmed the notion highlighted in Pope Benedict XVI's 2009 encyclical on the economy, arguing that open markets – usually the engines of prosperity – can foster poverty and inequality when unscrupulously exploited for selfish ends. As a counterbalance, the council called for international standards and safeguards to stem the world's worsening inequities in the concentration of wealth.

With millions of Americans looking for jobs and struggling in this economy, you might expect the nation's Catholic bishops to join the Vatican's quest to level the economic playing field. However, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have other priorities. They are consumed just now with the subject of birth control. The bishops' leadership is unhappy about a new national policy that includes birth control under preventive health care: a designation that requires new health plans to cover it in full, without the co-payments and deductibles that keep many women from using it effectively. This policy, which was adopted last summer and goes into effect next August, is both laudable and common-sense.

With yesterday, the 8th day of December, marking the Feast of the Immaculate Conception – which refers to Mary's being conceived free of original sin, not the conception of Jesus – it would be wise of the bishops to realize that the conception of Mary by her human parents, Saint Joachim and Saint Anne, is a reminder that woman are people of conscience and can decide for themselves when it is best to conceive. In fact, birth control use is universal, even among Catholic women: 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women use birth control during their reproductive years.

Yet the more conservative bishops don't approve. So they're working with congressional Republicans to undermine this new benefit. If they succeed, millions of women – Catholic and non-Catholic alike – will miss out on the promise of the new health care law.

At issue is the health insurance that religiously-aligned employers sponsor for their workers. When health officials adopted the new birth control policy, they made an exception for "religious employers," giving them an exemption from this benefit. That concession, granted over the objection of health advocates, recognizes a narrowly defined refusal provision.

But that wasn't enough for the bishops' conference and their congressional allies. They now want the exemption expanded to cover not only "religious employers" but also the thousands of hospitals, schools, universities, and service organizations that are affiliated with religious organizations. The USCCB's demands are undermined by the fact that many of these Catholic entities currently offer birth control coverage through the health plans they offer employees. This larger exception would do nothing to protect religious freedom. But it would deny a benefit to a whole class of workers – including hundreds of thousands of non-Catholics – who want it, need it, and are legally entitled to it.

The bishops' ploy is yet another indication of how out of step they are with their flock. In the mid-1960s, Pope Paul VI authorized a commission to make recommendations about the use of birth control. The laypeople on the commission voted 60-4 for change, while the clerics voted 9 to 6. Despite the majority of both clerics and laypeople in favor of change, Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, argued that this change would undermine Church authority, because it would look like the Church could not discern eternal truths.

Well, Catholic theologians, priests, and laity did discern truths, and it is the Church's authority that was undermined. Wojtyle wrote, "To change our position would mean that we should concede frankly that the Holy Spirit had been on the side of the Protestant Churches." Why, more than 40 years later, do bishops need to lobby Congress to get us Catholics to do what they want? Shouldn't they be able to persuade us on their own? The fact that they can't is a tribute to their own impotence.

As a woman and a lifelong Catholic, I sometimes marvel that faith can flourish despite the hierarchy's not infrequent disdain for the faithful – particularly the women faithful. Over the past century, birth control has improved women's health, enhanced children's prospects, and helped lift millions of families out of poverty. It would be difficult to find any other single issue that most Catholic women could agree on, much less the 98 percent who have thoughtfully concluded that they must do what they can to prevent unintended pregnancies.

The head bishops not only don't respect that judgment by members of the opposite sex, they have chosen to engage in supreme doublespeak by choosing to cite "freedom of conscience" as a justification for denying women their own freedom of conscience in resolving this intensely personal issue for themselves.

Considering how the Church has treated women throughout history, I would have hoped that today's bishops would make a special effort to listen to our concerns. After all, St Augustine, one of the great doctors of the Church, argued that women were not made in the image of God, and another renowned theologian, Thomas Aquinas, defined women as "misbegotten males." Pope John Paul II, in an effort to apologize for our history, wrote that women have two vocations: virgin and mother. He forgot president, prime minister, or priest.

Church-affiliated institutions employ millions of non-Catholics who signed on to earn a paycheck. Their choice of employer shouldn't determine whether they can plan their families. The new federal policy doesn't require anyone to use birth control, nor does it force any employer to dispense contraceptives. It's part of a larger effort to reform health care and ensure that cost doesn't deprive people of basic health services. Under the new national policy, the one percent of American women who never use birth control will be just as free as they are today to avoid it. The other 99 percent will gain access to a service that far too many still lack. By any reasonable definition, the policy benefits everyone.

Besides being ethically dubious, the USCCB's demands lack any legal justification. In exempting religiously affiliated employers from the mandate to cover contraceptives, the federal government adopted the same standard that many states already use. By that standard, a "religious employer" is one with a religious mission, a religious workforce, and a religious clientele. If the bishops' conference succeeds in rewriting that definition, millions of non-Catholic workers will lose a vital health service for themselves and their dependents.

It would also flout the will of the people. Americans want health insurance that guarantees basic care for all, and they agree overwhelmingly that birth control is part of basic care. In a Hart Research survey, 71 percent of voters agreed that health plans should cover birth control at no cost. Among Catholic women, the margin of support was 77 percent.

The most ideological of the U.S. bishops would do well to heed not only their more clear-sighted Vatican superiors but also the wisdom of so many women. That is, they could redirect the energy they waste obsessing about sex toward helping defeat the corrosive effects on tens of millions of Americans and their children of poverty, lack of health insurance, and unemployment.

Funny how the right often calls us "cafeteria Catholics," and yet here, rather than choosing to deal with the whole body of Catholic teaching, they are themselves obsessed with what we could call "pelvic politics" – and in the process shrinking the broad teaching of the Church to a few, narrow concerns.

From 1995 to 2003, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend served as Maryland's first woman lieutenant governor. She now works in finance in Washington.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"Your Heart Will Be Deeply Moved by What You Hear"

In an open letter published in today's Star Tribune, Retired Lutheran Bishop Herbert W. Chilstrom tells the Roman Catholic Bishops of Minnesota that they are making a "significant mistake" in backing the so-called marriage protection amendment. He also challenges them to take the time to meet with and listen to gay and lesbian persons.

"Hear as they tell you what it means to be a child of God and a faithful member of your church, persons who happen to be gay or lesbian through no choice of their own," Chilstrom writes. "I can promise you, based on my experience, that your heart will be deeply moved by what you hear."

Bishop Chilstrom's letter is reprinted in its entirety below.


To My Brothers – The Catholic Bishops of Minnesota:

In 1976 I was elected a Lutheran bishop in Minnesota – one of seven such Lutheran leaders in the state. Over the next years one of the highlights of my time in office was the annual noon-to-noon retreat with our eight Catholic counterparts in the state.

The bond that developed between us was deep and respectful. We shared our differences; we celebrated our likenesses. My friendship with Archbishop John Roach and Bishop Raymond Lucker, in particular, is a blessing I will treasure as long as I live.

May I share a word with all of you who now lead the Roman Catholic community of faith in Minnesota?

First, I would go to the wall to defend your right to work for the adoption of the so-called marriage protection amendment. Having said that, I must tell you that I believe you are making a significant mistake.

Over my 35 years as an active and retired bishop I have come to know hundreds of gay and lesbian persons. I have yet to meet even one who is opposed to the marriage of one man and one woman. After all, they are the daughters and sons of such unions.

What they cannot understand is why church leaders would oppose their fundamental desire and right to be in partnership with someone they love and respect who happens to be of the same gender and sexual orientation. They don't understand why they should not enjoy all the rights and privileges their straight counterparts take for granted.

More than a half century ago Father Francis Gilligan spoke out for equality for African American citizens of Minnesota. Though many argued on the basis of the Bible that these neighbors were inferior to others, Gilligan fought tirelessly for justice for these brothers and sisters.

In our generation homosexual persons are subject to the same discrimination. Their detractors often use the Bible and tradition as weapons of choice.

Is it not time for religious leaders, walking in the footsteps of Father Gilligan, to do the same for another minority, neighbors who are as responsible as our African American sisters and brothers?

I also suggest that you ask yourselves an important question: If the amendment is passed, will it make one particle of difference in our common culture in Minnesota? I don't think so.

Responsible lesbian and gay persons will continue to seek companionship with those they love. This law will only work to drive many of them deeper into closets of anonymity.

Instead, why not welcome them into our communities of faith where they can work side by side with us as equal partners?

Let me put out a challenge to each of you brothers. Invite 15 gay and lesbian persons from your respective areas, one at a time, to spend two hours with you.

Thirty hours are a pittance compared to the time you are investing to promote adoption of the marriage amendment. Use the time, not for confession, but to listen to them describe what it is like to live in our culture in Minnesota.

Hear as they tell you what it means to be a child of God and a faithful member of your church, persons who happen to be gay or lesbian through no choice of their own. I can promise you, based on my experience, that your heart will be deeply moved by what you hear.

When you have finished your time with these sisters and brothers in Christ, spend a quiet hour reflecting on a single question: "As I understand the heart of my Savior Jesus, how would he treat these sons and daughters of my church?"

Herbert W. Chilstrom is former presiding bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Related Off-site Links:
Mary Bednarowski on the Power of Our StoriesThe Wild Reed (April 19, 2007).
A Head and Heart Response to the Catholic Hierarchy's Opposition to Marriage Equality – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, November 23, 2011).
In the Struggle for Marriage Equality, MN Catholics are Making a Difference by Changing Hearts and Minds – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, May 26, 2011).
The Minneapolis (and Online) Premiere of Catholics for Marriage Equality – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, October 17, 2011).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Occupy Advent and the Vatican: A Revolution of Hope

By Alex Mikulich

Editor's Note: This commentary was first published December 6 by The National Catholic Reporter.

We live in a moment of economic, social, moral and spiritual impasse. Wondrous technological achievements fail to assuage our possessive individualism, fail to end extreme poverty, fail to cultivate life-giving connections between the rich and poor peoples of the earth, and fail to nurture our universal rootedness in the earth's ecosystems.

Scandals in almost every major societal institution erode public trust and any sense of our shared responsibility for each other. Technological prowess advanced through wars and multiple capitalist practices fail to care for the most vulnerable among us as they wreak ecological devastation and threaten the very existence of our planet.

Left to our own idolatry, the result is more of the same – insatiable consumer desire, increasing cynicism, politics and economics driven by the self-interest of the powerful against the common good, and the "presumptive" resort to violence as the solution to conflict.

In this time of global and national decline, economically, socially and morally, how do we take up the spiritual task of waiting this Advent? For what or whom do we hope in this season of longing?

As I prepare for Advent in this time of impasse, I suggest reflection upon the unlikely congruence of two divergent resources: the Occupy movement and the Vatican's recent statement on global financial reform, "Toward Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority."

In the words of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the authoritative office within the Vatican with the highest responsibility for Catholic social teaching, "the gap between ethical training and technical preparation needs to be filled by highlighting in a particular way the perpetual synergy between the two levels of practical doing (praxis) and of boundless human striving (poiesis)."

That is a theologically sophisticated way of emphasizing the need both to integrate spirituality and ethics, individually and collectively, and restore the primacy of spirituality and ethics over capitalism and finance.

How do we begin this work in Advent?

The Occupy movement practices a way of waiting and listening I find instructive for this Advent in this moment of societal breakdown. Each word and phrase spoken by every speaker is repeated, chorus-like, by the group. It is a way Occupiers slow down the pace of conversation to attend and listen to each other's voices. It is also a way that Occupiers give priority to voices of those previously unheard or marginalized. As they listen to each other, Occupiers seek to hear the voices of those who have not spoken or have not been heard.

I am struck by the wisdom of this Occupy practice for Advent in the way that it calls us to wait and listen, wait and attend, wait and be with one another in the midst of societal breakdown. It is a way of attending to what the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace calls the depths of "human striving" for enduring goods of love, peace and justice.

In the Occupy movement, if we listen and attend to the voices of the people, we hear diverse voices crying out for a different way of living, a different way of being in the world that values every voice, liberates every voice and joins every voice in the common work of mutual uplift, healing and new life.

Both the Occupy movement through this practice and the Vatican through its recent statement on global financial reform compel us to reflect on the need for a contemplative orientation that listens and embodies the cries of the oppressed, and their cries for freedom, for work, for liberation and for new life in God.

Advent calls us to the spiritual labor of waiting and listening to each other, to those who are in any way oppressed and to our deepest longings for love, connection, new life and God.

Yet such waiting as reorientation to the truly good is no easy task, for it demands "anguish and suffering," as the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace puts it, as we struggle for love and justice in the midst of societal sinfulness and decline.

This spiritual labor of waiting and listening, I suggest, invites people of faith to open ourselves to our shared vulnerability with all people and to our loss of meaning and empty imagination in the midst of societal moral and spiritual decline.

Precisely at this seeming "deadendness," abandonment and emptiness, I wonder if God might be calling us to experience transformed desire, personally and collectively, for new vision, love, courage and hope that renews life across the face of the earth. Might there be a miracle of transformation in the midst of emptiness and poverty?

As the contemplative Constance FitzGerald suggests, the miracle is that contemplative cries from people and the earth are "no longer silent and invisible, but rather prophetic and revolutionary."

This is where the Occupy movement and the Vatican most closely converge. Both call us to wait and listen. If we attend and listen to the groans within ourselves, from peoples everywhere and from the earth, we may yet hear the cry of new life and a new creation. When will we groan with all peoples and the earth for God? In waiting and listening to these groans, may we find the Spirit yearning within us for the manger where the revolution of hope and love is born.

Alex Mikulich is research fellow at the Jesuit Social Research Institute, Loyola University New Orleans. He is co-author of The Scandal of White Complicity in U.S. Hyper-Incarceration: A Nonviolent Spirituality of White Resistance (Forthcoming from Palgrave MacMillan in 2012).

Friday, December 2, 2011

Belgium Catholics Issue Reform Manifesto

By John A. Dick

Editor's Note: This article was first published December 2, 2011, by The National Catholic Reporter.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – The week before the start of Advent, four Flemish priests issued a church reform manifesto that called for allowing the appointment of laypeople as parish pastors, liturgical leaders and preachers, and for the ordination of married men and women as priests.

By the week's end more than 4,000 of publicly active Catholics had signed on to the "Believers Speak Out" manifesto. By Dec. 1, the number of signers had reached 6,000.

Among the supporters are hundreds of priests, educators, academics and professional Catholics. Two prominent supporters are former rectors of the Catholic University of Leuven, Roger Dillemans and Marc Vervenne.

"These are not 'protest people.' They are people of faith. They are raising their voices. They hope their bishops are listening," said Fr. John Dekimpe, one of four priests who launched the manifesto.

"Some people are fearful about approaching church leadership," said the priest, who lives in Kortrijk. "Is this being a dissident? I don't think so. The Belgian church is a disaster. If we don't do something, the exodus of those leaving the church will just never stop. ... I really want the bishops to reflect deeply about the growing discontent of so many believers."

Among the manifesto's demands, made "in solidarity with fellow believers in Austria, Ireland and many other countries," are that:

• Parish leadership be entrusted to trained laypeople;

• Communion services be held even if no priest is available;

• Laypeople be allowed to preach;

• Divorced people be allowed to receive Communion;

• As quickly as possible, both married men and women be admitted to the priesthood.

So far there has been no official reaction from Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, the Catholic primate of Belgium, any of the other Belgium bishops, or the Vatican. Privately, and off the record, one Belgian bishop has applauded the manifesto.

Jürgen Mettepenningen, a Leuven theologian and former press officer for Léonard, told the Belgian newspaper De Morgen that he hopes the manifesto can lead to a well-thought-out church reform. "When I reflect on what I have written and said over the past years, I can only say that the spirit of the manifesto is the very same spirit in which I have been trying to work to make the church more credible: true to the faith."

Last year, after reports of abuse rocked the Belgian church, an independent commission discovered sexual abuse in most Catholic dioceses and all church-run boarding schools and religious orders. The commission said 475 cases of abuse had been reported to it between January and June this year.

In one of the more prominent cases, Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe was forced to resign after admitting to years of abusing his nephew. In April of this year, he told Belgian television that he had molested another nephew and that it had all started "as a game."

The full text of the manifesto, "Believers Speak Out":

Parishes without a priest, Eucharist at inappropriate hours, worship without Communion: that really should not be! What is delaying the needed church reform? We, Flemish believers, ask our bishops to the break the impasse in which we are locked. We do this in solidarity with fellow believers in Austria, Ireland and many other countries, with all who insist on vital church reform.

We simply do not understand why the leadership in our local communities (e.g., parishes) is not entrusted to men or women, married or unmarried, professionals or volunteers, who already have the necessary training. We need dedicated pastors!

We do not understand why these our fellow believers cannot preside at Sunday liturgical celebrations. In every active community we need liturgical ministers!

We do not understand why, in communities where no priest is available, a Word service cannot also include a Communion service.

We do not understand why skilled laypeople and well-formed religious educators cannot preach. We need the word of God!

We do not understand why those believers who, with very good will, have remarried after a divorce must be denied Communion. They should be welcomed as worthy believers. Fortunately, there are some places where this is happening.

We also demand that, as quickly as possible, both married men and women be admitted to the priesthood. We, people of faith, desperately need them now!

John A. Dick, an American historical theologian, has lived in Belgium for 30 years. He is currently visiting professor of Religion in American Society at the University of Ghent. This report includes some information from Catholic News Service.

See also the previous PCV posts:
Council of the Baptized Launched in Minneapolis-St. Paul
American Catholic Council Issues "Declaration for Reform and Renewal"
Hans Küng Says Only Radical Reforms Can Save the Catholic Church
Hans Küng on Church Reform: "The Base Must Gather Its Strength and Make Itself Heard"
It's Critical That Catholics Find Their Voice
Let Our Voices Be Heard!
Austrian Cardinal Roils the Vatican
A Church in Flux
Urgent Tasks for Church Renewal
The Call of the Baptized: Be the Church, Live the Mission
The Independent Spirit and "Divisible Unity" of the Modern Church
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 1)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 2)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 3)
Colleen Kochivar-Baker on "Why We Stay"

Image: Bruges, Belgium (2005) – Michael Bayly.