Sunday, November 25, 2012

Many Voices, One Church

Note: Continuing with our series that recognizes and celebrates the contribution of lay preachers within the local church of St. Paul-Minneapolis, the editorial team of the PCV in honored to share the following homily for the 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

For an introduction to this series, click here. Also, please note that to avoid possible negative consequences, names of preachers and/or parishes are not always disclosed in this series.


Readings: Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26; Matthew 25:31-46.

Today’s gospel and the whole sense of the “end times” intrigue me on many levels. Matthew says that when the Promised One comes, all the nations will be assembled below the royal throne for judgment. Although no actual demographic data is available for 99% of the span of human stay on Earth, and there is no common agreement on when “human” life (as distinct from humanoid life) actually started, estimates put the total number of humans having lived on Earth at somewhere between 90-108 billion people. That would mean that, if the “final judgment” were to come soon (next month according to the Mayan calendar!), according to those estimates, there would be somewhere between 90-108 billion people in that grand final assembly before the royal throne. It’s going to take a while to separate all those sheep and goats!

And, another point of intrigue for me - if the judgment doesn’t come until the “end times” when the good “will inherit the riches prepared for them” and the evil ones “condemned into the everlasting fire”, where have all of those 95 billion or so folks, good or bad, who have died up to this point in time been hanging out for the last several hundred thousand years while waiting for this end times reward or punishment?

So much for that overly literal interpretation! On to another theme in today’s readings, that of the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. Ezekiel speaks of the tender care which God, as the shepherd, gives to the sheep, a relationship with which many of that day could identify as they cared for their own sheep. But Ezekiel uses that understanding of a loving, caring relationship as a challenge to the leaders of the day who do not model that relationship. God says “I shall judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.” This warning of Ezekiel might well be relevant not only to the kings in Ezekiel’s time but also to our own time. In fact, according to Monika Hellwig’s commentary on the readings, “the interdependence between rulers and ruled, between popular values and expectations and government actions, is even more evident in our democratic situation.”

Which brings me to the main idea I want to address today, the difference between sheep and goats. I’ve often wondered why the goats get the bad rap in this Gospel reading. So I did a little research on sheep and goats. Sheep are very docile, gather in flocks, follow the shepherd, and are easily led.

Think about that for a moment. Think of those characteristics in humans. Very docile, gather in flocks, follow the shepherd, easily led! Let’s put that in the context of this recent election and leadership in the church and nation today. Let’s assume that, just as Ezekiel recognized the kings of his day as the shepherds, we recognize the church and government leaders of our day as shepherds. (I said, let’s assume, not take that for granted!) In that context of the church and government leaders of our day as our shepherds, consider the sheep-like characteristics of the flock – very docile, follow the shepherd, easily led. Not the best relationship in that case!

Goats, on the other hand, are aggressive, very independent, wander off from the flock deliberately at times and cannot be led. When the shepherd calls the sheep, they respond immediately. When he calls the goats, they come when and if they want to. Sheep like to graze in pastures and fields. Goats like to explore and browse along the edges. Goats sometimes rear and butt horns to establish dominance or their point of view.

Again, in the context of this recent election, and in the context of leadership in the church and nation today, I believe that we need some goats, some good goats, to be – perhaps not aggressive but more assertive. We need good goats to challenge the hierarchical dictate to “pray, pay and obey”. We need good goats who are not easily led, who do wander off from the flock deliberately at times to explore and browse among soul-enriching alternatives. We need good goats who are not afraid to rear up and butt horns at times against the establishment when they perceive that that that leadership fails to be good shepherds. I believe that Roy Bourgeois is a good goat as are the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and those who support them, the “nuns on the bus”, those who opposed the constitutional amendments.

We need to listen to the parable which Jesus shares in Matthew’s gospel in which he repeats four times the actions which God requires of the just - to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to welcome the stranger, to clothe the naked, and to visit the ill and imprisoned. I think that we, as Spirit of St. Stephen’s Catholic Community, are good sheep in that regard. But I also believe that we are, and continue to be challenged to be, good goats just as I believe Jesus was.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Swiss Benedictine Abbot Speaks of Church Reform

By Anthony Ruff, OSB

Note: The following was first published November 13, 2012 at Pray Tell.

The Benedictine abbot of Einsiedeln in Switzerland, Abbot Martin Werlen [left], penned a brochure which has caused a bit of uproar: “Discover Together the Embers under the Ashes.” The abbot of Einsiedeln is a member of the Swiss Catholic bishops’ conference.

All the baptized and confirmed of a diocese, he suggests, should be involved appropriately in the naming of their bishop. Maybe cardinals could have term limits – “For example, people from the whole world, women and men, young and not so young, could be called for five years into the college of cardinals,” wrote the abbot. Further: “If, for example, these people could meet every three months with the Pope, it could bring a new dynamism into the leadership of the Church.”

The abbot isn’t making demands; he intends rather to offer some starting points for a broad discussion within the Church. He said, “Fire is missing. We have to face the situation and see what’s behind it.” And this: “The problems are known. But little is happening by way of solution for the problems.”

The title of the brochure hearkens to Cardinal Martini’s last interview in which he said, “I see in the Church today so many ashes above the embers that I’m often assailed by a sense of powerlessness.”

The abbot speaks of “disasters of our own making” (selbstverschuldete Schlamassel) in the Catholic Church today. Some church officials complain that the same problems keep being brought up since 40 years, to which the abbot remarks, “When problems are not taken up, or one is not permitted to speak about them, such behavior puts at risk the credibility of the church and even the very content of the faith.” Playing off the “Appeal to Disobedience” (Pfarrer-Initiative) of the rebel Austrian priests, the abbot states that it is an “act of disobedience” when people and realities are not taken seriously.” (The word “obedience” has as its stem the Latin word for “listening.”) “Because officials do not do their duty and thus are disobedient, initiatives are begun as emergency measures and cries for help. This is understandable, but can also lead to schism and abandoning the institution.” Although he has understanding for such initiatives, he wishes to go down another path: together, discovering embers in the ashes.

European media are reporting great interest in the abbot’s provocative statement. The brochure sold out in the abbey gift shop on the third day and is now in its second printing.

See also the previous PCV posts:

A Call to Leadership
Belgium Catholics Issue Reform Manifesto
Austrian Cardinal Roils the Vatican
In Ireland, One Thousand People Attend Conference on Future of Catholic Church
An Open Letter to Prof. Josef Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI
The Divine is Bigger Than Our Dogmas
Urgent Tasks for Church Renewal
A Church in Flux
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"

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"A Bloodless Yet Painful Martyrdom"

The following statement was released November 21, 2012 by Roman Catholic Womenpriests-USA (RCWP).

RCWP Condemns Dismissal and Excommunication
of Fr. Roy Bourgeois

Roman Catholic Womenpriests-USA (RCWP) stands in solidarity with Fr. Roy Bourgeois, who was dismissed from Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers after 45 years of service, fired as a priest and excommunicated as a Catholic on Monday, November 19. We view this as a bloodless yet painful martyrdom suffered on our behalf, because he has been a vocal and visible champion for women's ordination as essential for a just Church. Bourgeois was dismissed from the priesthood and his order by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) for refusing to recant his advocacy for full equality of women in the Roman Catholic Church. RCWP publicly expresses respect, support and concern for Fr. Roy. RCWP decries this injustice and calls on all Roman Catholics to express their own dismay, anger, disgust and rejection of the CDF's action.

Fr. Roy told an RCWP member that his dark night of the soul has ended in a moment of grace when he understood that this sense of dismissal is what women feel.

Rev. Monique Venne, co-pastor of Compassion of Christ Catholic Community in Minneapolis and a Roman Catholic Womanpriest said, "I am distressed and angry that the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith (CDF) has done an end-around the Maryknoll order by kicking Fr. Roy Bourgeois from Maryknoll and forcibly laicizing him because of his public support for women's ordination. Having talked with Fr. Roy several times, most recently this summer, he has been nothing but kind and gracious under the enormous pressure he has suffered for the last four years."

This dismissal and excommunication warrant solidarity by all Catholics outraged by this action. RCWP calls on sympathetic Catholics to protest against the dry rot of sexism in the Roman Catholic Church by participating in the campaign Boycott the Basket. We request that financial support to parishes and Catholic organizations and charities be redirected to Progressive Catholic reform organizations, such as RCWP, School of the Americas Watch, Call To Action-USA, Voice of the Faithful, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or a local RCWP worship community. We encourage people to:

• Write op-ed letters to your local newspapers.

• Read My Journey from Silence to Solidarity by Roy Bourgeois, available here.

Purchase and view the DVD Pink Smoke Over the Vatican, featuring Fr. Roy.

• Send letters of support to Fr. Roy at: Women's Ordination Conference, P.O. Box 15057, Washington, DC 20003, Attention: Fr. Roy Bourgeois.

The unjust action against Fr. Roy continues the CDF bullying against those who advocate for an inclusive and just Church. No predator priests or their protective bishops have been excommunicated for their crimes against the innocent. The few dismissals of pedophile priests by the CDF did not occur with the speed or severity as did this reaction to a priest who has refused to recant his stand for women's equality in the Roman Catholic Church.

Fr. Roy said, "The Vatican and Maryknoll can dismiss me, but they cannot dismiss the issue of gender equality in the Catholic Church." We agree.

Contact person: Rev. Monique Venne, RCWP, 952-894-9639,

Related Off-site Link:
Roy Bourgeois: They Finally Got Him – Tom Roberts (National Catholic Reporter, November 20, 2012).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Roy Bourgeois' Statement on His Dismissal from Maryknoll
Roy Bourgeois: "The Exclusion of Women from the Priesthood is a Grave Injustice"
Christian Sacrifice and the Unholy Crusade to Defrock Roy Bourgeois
Fr. Roy Bourgeois: Ordination of Women Inevitable

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Roy Bourgeois' Statement on His Dismissal from Maryknoll

I have been a Catholic priest in the Maryknoll community for 40 years. As a young man I joined Maryknoll because of its work for justice and equality in the world. To be expelled from Maryknoll and the priesthood for believing that women are also called to be priests is very difficult and painful.

The Vatican and Maryknoll can dismiss me, but they cannot dismiss the issue of gender equality in the Catholic Church. The demand for gender equality is rooted in justice and dignity and will not go away.

As Catholics, we profess that God created men and women of equal worth and dignity. As priests, we profess that the call to the priesthood comes from God, only God. Who are we, as men, to say that our call from God is authentic, but God's call to women is not? The exclusion of women from the priesthood is a grave injustice against women, our Church and our loving God who calls both men and women to be priests.

When there is an injustice, silence is the voice of complicity. My conscience compelled me to break my silence and address the sin of sexism in my Church. My only regret is that it took me so long to confront the issue of male power and domination in the Catholic Church.

I have explained my position on the ordination of women, and how I came to it, in my booklet, My Journey from Silence to Solidarity. Please go to:

In Solidarity,


Related Off-site Link:
Former Maryknoll Head Decries Vatican Interference in Bourgeois Case – Joshua J. McElwee (National Catholic Reporter, November 20, 2012).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Roy Bourgeois: "The Exclusion of Women from the Priesthood is a Grave Injustice"
Christian Sacrifice and the Unholy Crusade to Defrock Roy Bourgeois
Fr. Roy Bourgeois: Ordination of Women Inevitable

Monday, November 19, 2012

Catholic Group Wants Answers on Archdiocese Spending

By Rupa Shenoy

NOTE: This article was first published November 16, 2012 by Minnesota Public Radio.

EAGAN, Minn. — A group of nearly 100 Catholics is calling for accountability and transparency in the church's finances.

At a meeting in the Twin Cities suburb of Eagan Thursday night, Martha Turner of Catholic Coalition for Church Reform said she hopes to start a conversation with the Archdiocese for St. Paul and Minneapolis.

"We would like to hear your stories," Turner said. "We want to hear from you, we want to hear your experiences and your concerns about how the money is used that you donate to your parishes and that some of which ends up in the archdiocese."

The archdiocese spent $650,000 in a failed attempt to pass a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Michael Anderson, one of the leaders of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, asked the audience if the archdiocese's spending was improper.

"How would we feel if the archdiocese had invested a million dollars saying 'vote no' in opposition to the marriage amendment?" Anderson asked. "Would we be complaining about that? I don't know. I think it's an honest question."

Several people at the event said the church's stance made them feel like they had to choose between going to Mass and supporting gay friends and family. They said they wanted to have more of a say in the way the church spends its money. A few said they had reduced their donations or stopped going to church.

The coalition plans to send comments to the archdiocese. The archdiocese didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.


The archdiocese sent the following in an email Friday afternoon.

The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis is aware that the group calling itself the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR), recently held a meeting questioning the archdiocese's financial transparency and accountability. The CCCR is not supported or endorsed by this archdiocese, the universal Roman Catholic Church, or any entity or organization affiliated with either this archdiocese or the Church.

The archdiocese has a long-standing commitment to sound management practices and to act prudently regarding the resources entrusted to us by the faithful. Decisions regarding the sources and uses of funds, including assessments, are made in consultation with the archbishop's staff and monthly reviews by the Archdiocesan Finance Committee. In addition, financial statements are prepared by internal staff and outside auditors, and all finances of the archdiocese are reviewed by the Archdiocesan Finance Committee, by the Audit Committee and by the Archdiocesan Corporate Board. These groups include lay members who are highly experienced in finance and accounting matters.

"Early each year, the archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Spirit, publishes an Annual Report pertaining to the most recent fiscal year. This report, which is also available on the archdiocesan website, reflects the financial statements of the archdiocese that have been audited by independent certified public accountants who rendered unqualified opinions on the financial statements.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Archbishop’s Statement on His Marriage Amendment Defeat

By Paula Ruddy

The Archbishop has issued a statement in the wake of the defeat of his relentless campaign to make sure gay and lesbian citizens of Minnesota will never get equal protection of the civil marriage laws. He says “It has never been the aim of the Catholic Church to alienate anyone.”

Let me try to understand this: He wants to deprive some people of any possibility of living a socially accepted, legally sanctioned, married life, and they are not supposed to take that personally?

He initiated an eight year attack, pitting a heterosexual majority against a homosexual minority to prevent the democratic process from working in the minority’s favor. This attempt to limit marriage by constitutional definition ultimately failed on November 6, 2012. Resisting it took a tremendous expenditure of time, energy, and money. The moral cost may never be recovered. And he never meant to alienate anyone?

Look at the history: There has been a law in Minnesota specifically prohibiting same-sex marriage since 1997. Did John Nienstedt need to do anything to prevent gay marriage? No, he didn’t, but he decided a preemptive move was necessary to prevent any future “activists, politicians, and state court judges” from changing the status quo. So he mounted his campaign to amend the Minnesota constitution with a letter signed by all the Minnesota bishops in 2004. The letter defined marriage as a union of one man and one woman “with no legal equivalents.” No legal rights at all for the homosexual minority.

In 2006, the DFL controlled the senate judiciary committee, and they kept (then) state senator Michelle Bachman’s amendment bill from a floor vote. So it did not get on the ballot. A legislator’s oath to uphold the constitution prevents him/her from putting basic human rights of a minority on the ballot for a majority to vote on. The 14th amendment of the U.S. constitution provides that the state shall not deny any person equal protection of the law. If heterosexual people have the legal right to marry, there must be good reasons to deny homosexual people that same right. Whether there are good reasons is a question for the legislators themselves to answer. It is not for a majority of voters to decide whether a minority can have equal protection of the law. I remember Senators John Marty and Dean Johnson holding that moral line in the senate judiciary committee in 2006. The Archbishop does not seem to understand this basic principle of equality in a democratic constitutional republic, or he pretends not to. I find that alienating.

With a Republican majority in the state houses in 2011, the amendment was the Minnesota Catholic Conference's top legislative priority. The Archbishop sent priests to hearings to testify for the amendment and paid lobbyists to talk to legislators. Despite their oath to uphold the constitution, the legislators put the bill on the ballot for 2012. The phrase “with no legal equivalents” had been dropped. When the Archbishop framed same-sex marriage as a threat to straight marriage and the common good, the majority was set up against the minority to assure the passage of the amendment.

During all these years and especially during 2012, the minority had to defend against this attack on a right it didn’t even have but might possibly gain in the future. It was a strenuous, expensive, and sometimes demoralizing effort. It caused anxiety, anger, and grief in both the No voters and the Yes voters. Even in the little phoning I did to ask people to vote NO, I felt rage that justice depended on people who seemed to have no awareness of the effects of their vote on other people’s lives. For them a YES vote, easily done, would have no consequences.

Some Catholics suffered conflict between their consciences and what their church was telling them to do. Family ties were strained. Priests were told to be silent on the issue. Parish staff who didn’t agree had to “stay under the radar.” Some people could not bear to pray the Archbishop’s mandatory prayer or hear their pastor’s political instruction at Sunday Mass. Catholics had to hear the leadership of their church ridiculed in the public forum. Some people left the Roman Catholic Church for good.

The moral cost, the cost in human dignity, of this campaign was enormous—and alienating.

Yes, there were also enormous joys in the gay community and its allies working together. The spirit among the people of faith community was inspiring. And thanks to the good sense and fairness of Minnesota voter, straight and gay, the Archbishop’s campaign was defeated.

But isn’t it outrageous now for the Archbishop to say in his statement that this was a normal give and take in the democratic process? He sees himself as a good citizen who has done his best in a fair and honorable contest for the common good. I think it is instead like a man who has brutally tried to cripple and rob you, coming to shake hands after he has finally failed, congratulating himself on his attempt on your life. He even says he isn’t finished with you yet. But try not to be alienated.

Is there any way to call Archbishop John C. Nienstedt to account for the damage he has done? Would we be justified in trying to do so? What is the common ground he speaks of? Many of us begged him repeatedly to reconsider his strategy to “strengthen marriage,” but with absolute power and Rome’s approval, he has no incentive to hear any other point of view.

Or is this just another occasion to shrug off the banality of evil and put up with all the cynical comments about bishops? Anyone?

Related Off-site Links:
A Call for Healing in Minnesota – Eric Fought (, November 12, 2012).
Chastened Catholic Bishops Told They Have to Reform Themselves – David Gibson (The Washington Post, November 12, 2012).
Bishops Stay Course on Gay Marriage Fight – Rachel Zoll (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, November 12, 2012).

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Quote of the Day

As a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, I would ask our archbishop, John Nienstedt, to prayerfully consider stepping down from his office. It would be healing for our state and our church and would show some magnanimity on his part. His misguided crusade to change our Constitution, spending more than a million dollars and, more importantly, much goodwill, has been rejected. Elections have consequences.

– Rev. Michael Tegeder
Letter to the Editor of the Star Tribune
November 8, 2012

To read the PVC's series of open letters to Archbishop Nienstedt from Catholics of the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese, click here.

Related Off-site Links:
Both 'Marriage Amendment' AND 'Voter Photo ID Amendment' Rejected by Minnesota Voters – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, November 7, 2012).
Election 2012 Shows A Social Sea Change on Gay Marriage – Lauren Markoe (Religion News Service via HuffPost Gay Voices, November 8, 2012).
Same-Sex Marriage: 'Minnesota, in Particular . . . is Proof That Tide Has Turned' – Beth Hawkins (MinnPost, November 8, 2012).
Minnesota Bishops Lament Defeat of 'Marriage Amendment' – Rose French (Star Tribune, November 8, 2012)

Monday, November 5, 2012

All the Archbishop’s Men: Silent on Voter Restriction

By Javier Morillo

NOTE: This commentary was first published November 2, 2012 on Javier Morillo's blogsite, Thug in Pastels.

I attended last night’s MPR debate about Minnesota’s upcoming vote on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, which featured two national figures on each side of the issue as well as two local leaders. Representing the No Side: Bishop Gene Robinson, Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire and Sarah Walker, a leader in restorative criminal justice and Board Member of Minnesotans United for All Families. Representing the Yes side were Brian Brown, President of the National Organization for Marriage and the Reverend Jerry McAfee of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis.

While the two men of the cloth disagreed a lot over scripture, I’d like to focus this post instead on one of the political arguments made by Reverend Jerry McAfee of Minneapolis, one he has made in public before – that the progressive political infrastructure has been singularly focused on marriage, to the detriment of the campaign to defeat the Voter Restriction Amendment. McAfee has received a lot of press attention by MPR and other press outlets for his complaint that the DFL was not doing enough to defeat the Voter Restriction Amendment, a top priority for the African American community.

I have been in meetings with Reverend McAfee where I heard –and agreed with–his frustration with the relative lack of attention that was being paid to the Voter Restriction Amendment. I disagreed with his analysis of the why, but I could relate to the frustration many of us felt earlier this year that there was a collective failure on the part of the progressive left to take the Voter Restriction Amendment seriously. While the Reverend sought to blame “the DFL,” I thought the problem was broader. While the progressive infrastructure had, in the past two years, mobilized to keep “Right to Work” and other budget amendments from getting on the ballot, polls showing big support for Voter ID in concept were met with a collective shrug of “we can’t win that.”

That has changed. Polls show the more Minnesotans learn about the Voter Restriction Amendment, the less they like it. And the resources have finally begun to flow. We are outspending proponents in the final week and have a broad coalition of faith, labor and community groups educating voters about this Amendment and flipping people in droves to the position that, however you feel about Voter ID, we can agree that this particular legislation was poorly written and will be expensive, and therefore we need to Send It Back to the legislature. DFL sample ballots include the Vote No on Voter Restriction position printed on it, and the party’s field operation, together with the work of TakeAction and the faith-based coalition ISAIAH, has had tens of thousands of conversations with voters. These have been at the core of the shifting poll numbers.

Although at the MPR debate last night the Reverend noted the same complaint about the relative lack of attention to Voter Restriction, it’s not his failure to note that progress has been made that I found frustrating. The change that stood out to me was that, since those first stories the Reverend McAfee has, as he was last night, become a prominent voice for the Vote Yes on the Marriage Amendment campaign.

How can the same person who blasted the DFL for its supposed indifference to Voter ID now stand with Archbishop Nienstedt of the Catholic Church, probably the single largest institution in the state of Minnesota that is actively silent on the Voter Restriction Amendment? And I don’t mean “stand with” figuratively. The Reverend has a featured speaker along with the Archbishop when Nienstedt rallied religious leaders in mid-September to Vote Yes.

And yet, under the iron fist of an Archbishop pathologically obsessed with same-sex marriage, the Catholic Church has changed its position on Voter ID from opposed to neutral – neutral on this issue of extreme importance to communities of color.

All the Archbishop’s Men: Singularly Focused on Marriage

Before engaging the Catholic Church’s sleight of hand when it comes to the Voter Restriction Amendment, let us recall that not all of the faithful are silent on an amendment that will keep many poor and elderly citizens from voting. In mid-October, the Minnesota Council of Churches announced its opposition to the Voter Restriction Amendment:

In a written statement, the Council’s President, St. Paul Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Bishop Peter Rogness said “the fundamental issue that brings us here is our concern for those for whom this step – which seems easy for most in the mainstream – becomes a barrier to participating in the shaping of our public life together.”

It was an issue of “defending the right of the last, lost and least to vote and therefore oppose the amendment,” he added.

On the day of the Council of Churches announcement, Our Vote Our Future, the campaign to defeat the Voter Restriction Amendment, sent out a press release listing among the faith groups opposing the Amendment the the Minnesota Catholic Conference. They then sent a corrected press release stating, “In fact, the Minnesota Catholic Conference changed its position a year after originally opposing it. They are no longer taking any position on this amendment.”

Wait, what? Changed its position? Back when Voter ID legislation was being debated at the Capitol, The Catholic Spirit reported it opposition:

Opponents, including the Minnesota Catholic Conference, say the requirement would disenfranchise the elderly, college students and minorities.

Katie Conlin, interim social concerns director for MCC, told The Catholic Spirit: “The reality is that a lot of people don’t have photo identification. And while these bills would create a free government-issued ID for people . . . that doesn’t address the difficulty in getting that ID for some folks.

“You would still have to have some sort of supporting documentation in order to get the ID,” Conlin explained. “Let’s say you’re a woman who got married and had a name change. Then you would have to have your birth certificate, your marriage license and proof of your current residence.

“Then you’d have to get to wherever it is that the ID is going to be issued,” she added. “It would affect anyone with limited access to transportation.”

(See State Catholic Conference Opposes Voter ID Bills, The Catholic Spirit)

So, what happened? Sources tell me the Catholic Conference position changed after a meeting they had with Dan McGrath, the one-man-show at Minnesota Majority running the effort to pass the Voter Restriction Amendment. I asked Our Vote Our Future if they had been invited to address the Catholic Conference as well. Communications Director Eric Fought had this to say:

There was a sudden shift in the position of the Minnesota Catholic Conference earlier this year, as they moved from being opposed to the Voter Restriction Amendment to ‘neutral.’ Recently, Mr. Adkins told a reporter covering the race that he offered a meeting with the bishops to a representative of our campaign in September.

No such offer was received. We most certainly would have welcomed the opportunity to address the bishops about the many costs and consequences of the Voter Restriction Amendment. There is no doubt, Minnesota Catholics will be greatly affected by this poorly written amendment.

Where is the Outrage?

Can we imagine what it might be like if, from every Catholic pulpit, priests were giving sermons against the Voter Restriction Amendment, they way they are being instructed to speak for the Marriage Amendment? Might the polls showing an evenly split electorate on Voter Restriction tip in the direction of a No Vote?

That is a good question for Reverend McAfee. As I said, I agreed with his frustration about the lack of resources going to the effort to defeat Voter Restriction even as I disagreed with this analysis of why it was happening. For him, this was about the DFL privileging a wealthier gay (and white) constituency. To me, there were some benign reasons and some deeply problematic. First, marriage was put on the ballot two years before the election, giving the campaign time to mount an enormous effort, and the broad, multi-partisan coalition to defeat that amendment required that campaign–early on and when no other amendment was on the ballot – to decide to be singularly focused on the marriage amendment.

More problematic, however, there was also a collective failure of the progressive (not just party) infrastructure to take on the Voter Restriction fight early on. With a few exceptions, for example, unions were very slow to take on this fight. After Tuesday, when I believe we will edge out a narrow victory and defeat the amendment, we should look at the representation of organizations representing people of color at the tables that make decisions about what fights to take on and which to sit out.

But, I must ask again the Reverend McAfee — how can someone so upset about the perceived singular focus of the left on marriage now stand with the Vote Yes campaign? If there is a Vote Yes GOTV operation out of New Salem Baptist Church, it is presumably funded by the “Minnesotans for Marriage” campaign. That campaign, as has been widely reported, is being funded almost single-handedly by Archbishop Nienstedt and the Catholic Church, the single most powerful institution in the state of Minnesota that is doing what Reverend McAfee accused the DFL of doing — being singularly focused on marriage, to the detriment of the efforts to defeat Voter Restriction.

Will the Reverend, before Tuesday, denounce the Archdiocese silence on Voter Restriction?

People of Faith Call to Action

If you are a Catholic, you might want to call the Archdiocese and ask the Church why it is silent on a ballot question that, if passed, will restrict the representation of the poor and dispossessed in the electorate. Even better, volunteer with other people of faith to phone bank this weekend. You can do so through ISAIAH.

If you belong to a Church that is turning you out to Vote Yes on Marriage and No on Voter ID, ask your Pastor – why are we standing with the Catholic Church, which is hurting our effort to defeat Voter Restriction? Then, VOLUNTEER.


I just heard from a Catholic friend, parishioner at St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis, who called the Archdiocese to ask why the Church was only speaking out on one Amendment. The person who answered the phone first claimed the Catholic Conference had spoken out against the Voter ID Amendment [they had, then changed their minds]. After my friend pointed out that the Catholic Conference’s website is filled with marriage amendment missives alone, this person told my friend that “there is no evidence” that communities of color will be disenfranchised if the Amendment passes. Sounds like this “neutral” person has some talking points from Minnesota Majority.

In reality, according to the League of Women Voters:

Approximately 11% of the voting population does not carry a photo ID that meets these rigid requirements. The percentage is higher among certain groups: the elderly (18%), younger adults (18%), minorities (25% of African-Americans) and people who are low-income (15%).

Looks the Archdiocese needs to update its talking points.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Is Pope Leading a New "Children's Crusade" to Help Romney Win?

By Gerald T. Slevin

Note: This commentary was first cross-posted November 3, 2012 at Bilgrimge and The Open Tabernacle.

Of the many stories generated by the medieval wars, or Crusades, against Islamic rulers that were frequently supported actively by various popes, few are more fascinating than the ones about the so-called 13th Century "Children's Crusade." The stories, which relate to the exploits of a large numbers of itinerants, including many docile and idealistic youth, suggest a uniquely organized effort to rescue the Holy Land. As with most wars, including the Crusades, what seems fairly clear is that children were frequently disproportionately among the casualties, directly or indirectly, including these youthful Crusaders. Then as now, the welfare of children seemed to be a low priority for a generally celibate clerical caste, notwithstanding Jesus' clear Gospel mandate to protect children.

As the U.S. elections soon arrive, the pope is desperately leading another crusade that disproportionately negatively affects children. The pope is flexing his U.S. election year muscles to rally and bring out conservative Catholic voters in critical swing districts by opposing contraception health insurance, as well as the other "hot" wedge issue, gay marriage, that the pope claims, without real evidence and without addressing contrary evidence, hurts families, including children.

The pope's longstanding worldwide effort against government support of effective and voluntary birth control family planning for the poor, in particular, has contributed clearly and unnecessarily to hundreds of millions of "unplanned" children worldwide, including many in the U.S., who are often consigned to lives of miserable poverty.

What is the pope's goal with this heartless anti-contraception crusade? Firstly, the pope's power is apparently thought to be directly related to his efforts to maximize the size of the Catholic population worldwide, especially when compared to the higher birth rates in many non-Catholic countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, as well as the increasing Islamic populations in Western countries. Reproducing more Catholics seems to be a clear papal objective, especially since in many countries, including in the West, the pope is also facing currently a growing Catholic exodus over major papal failures, including the pope's inability and/or unwillingness to adopt effective measures to curtail the worldwide epidemic of priest sexual abuse of innocent children.

After centuries of pursuing papal power politics by varying alliances with more powerful European absolute monarchs, the popes, following the loss in 1870 of the Papal States and a half century of self-imposed seclusion in the Vatican, emerged in the 1920's with a new power politics strategy aimed at the newly democratic and unstable European scene. The popes realized they could use their "mystical" influence over Catholic voters to cut deals, especially with budding dictators seeking a papal imprimatur for their less popular, fascist parties. In 1929 with Mussolini in Italy, in 1933 with Hitler in Germany and in the late 1930's with Franco in Spain, Pius XI, aided after 1929 by his Secretary of State and successor, Pius XII, concluded pacts that helped legitimize these fascist dictators in exchange, among other things, for financial subsidies and special privileges for the national Catholic Churches in those countries.

In the U.S., the popes did not significantly use their new-found electoral power to exchange papal influence over Catholic voters for governmental favors until the 1980's when Republican Ronald Reagan got electoral help from John Paul II in exchange for, among other things, extra U.S. support for Poland's Catholic dissident movement.

This pope and his U.S. bishops realized that an effective rallying cause for many conservative Catholic voters was the anti-abortion or so-called "right to life" movement, which already had considerable political momentum under its original lay founders and leaders. Since it cost the pope little to actively oppose abortion politically, especially since natural law arguments related to the right to life position coincided to a degree with a longstanding Catholic moral tradition, the pope and U.S. bishops made the anti-abortion issue their foremost election year wedge issue.

From the 1980's to the present, the pope and his U.S. bishops have used the anti-abortion issue as their principal "weapon" to induce conservative Catholic voters to vote Republican, although in the 2009 pact of the pope's U.S. hierarchy with Republican supporters available here, the anti-gay marriage "weapon" was also featured prominently.

The challenge apparently for the pope was to find a novel way to use these weapons against Obama, who had recently been showing signs of getting increasingly aggressive against the U.S. bishops for their ongoing cover-up of priest sexual predators. The new papal attack was launched against Obama's proposed rules requiring making available free contraceptive insurance for all employees of Church-controlled institutions, such as universities, but not for direct employees of the Church.

Since contraception generally negates the need for an abortion and, in that sense is "pro-life," the U.S. bishops and their Republican allies, including Paul Ryan, also pushed the definition of life back to begin at the moment of conception. By this extended approach, some issues could be raised, however disingenuously at times, by the anti-abortionists against Obama's health insurance rules.

Depending, it appears, on the day of the week and the particular audience he is addressing, Romney's "etch a sketch" position may or may not conform to the pope's position, but that does not appear to matter much to this politically pragmatic pope. What does clearly matter, however, is maintaining iron discipline among Catholics he controls for an unquestioned conformity to the pope's pure abortion wedge-issue position.

This was just made clear again by the disgraceful treatment of a U.K. theologian who was shabbily dumped at the last minute from a teaching position at the Catholic University of San Diego in California, as noted here.

The anti-gay marriage wedge issue appears to attract some additional conservative Catholic Republican voters, especially among some seniors, that adds to political clout the pope can offer the Republicans. In U.S. electoral politics, a shift in just a few votes in identified districts in a handful of so-called swing or battleground states can make critical difference in an election. This year with elaborate "computer data mining" of extensive voter information, the key locales can be identified with some precision. In some of these locales, the papal push against abortion and gay marriage, exploited by well-funded and non-stop campaign ads, could be the difference; hence, the potential value to Republicans of papal clout.

What is in it for the pope? In the almost half century since the pope condemned the birth control "pill" as a "mortal sin," the Catholic hierarchy, and especially parish priests, have said little effectively to American Catholics about birth control. Since American Catholics have overwhelmingly rejected the dogma, there was little to gain by hammering the issue. Nevertheless, there appear still to be "single-issue" conservative Catholic voters who are "pro-life", so the pope and U.S. bishops have resurrected this wedge issue with an anti-Obama twist, for what it may be worth the Republicans.

As with Pius XI's deals with Mussolini, Hitler and Franco, in the first instance the pope has an opportunity for financial gains if the Republicans are elected. American papal donors appear to be overwhelmingly Republican and, especially the top 0.01%, stand to save billions in U.S. taxes if Republicans gain the White House. It is reasonable for the pope to assume some of these tax savings will fund larger tax-deductible contributions to the pope and U.S. bishops, who are increasingly strapped due to billions spent on the priest sex abuse cover-up.

The power of the top 0.01%, in the U.S. and worldwide, is hard to over-estimate. As just brilliantly and boldly described by Reuters' top editor, Chrystia Freeland, in her book, Plutocrats, described here, increasingly the world's billionaires are dominating governmental policies worldwide. As she also notes, the richest man in history is Mexico's Carlos Slim.

The Catholic Church's most successful fundraiser for decades was Fr. Marcial Maciel, the disgraced sex-abusing head of the cult-like religious order, the Legion of Christ. Under Maciel, the Legion operated as a well-oiled cash machine that preyed on wealthy donors. As indicated in the recent book by Jason Berry, America's award winning investigative reporter on the Catholic Church's financial and child sex abuse scandals, Maciel had cultivated Carlos Slim as a financial source. As recently as 2004, as many of Maciel's perverse misdeeds were becoming more widely known, Slim was televised with Maciel at a NY Waldorf Astoria fundraiser for the Legion that was co-hosted by another plutocrat, Citigroup's then CEO, Sanford (Sandy) Weill. Berry's recent book is Render Unto Caesar: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church, described here.

Maciel reportedly funneled considerable funds to senior Vatican bureaucrats, including John Paul II's secretary. How much money plutocrats have already, or will soon be funnelling, to papal fronts or causes may never be known in this post-Citizens United world of anonymous donors.

A special feature in this election is the pope's clear efforts to protect his U.S. bishops from Federal prosecutors, especially given Obama's prosecutors' key role with respect to the recent first conviction, for a child endangerment crime related to one of his priest's sexual abuse, of a U.S. Catholic bishop, Finn, of Kansas City. Bishop Finn is an Opus Dei member and a protege of Philly's Cardinal Rigali. Rigali is a long time Vatican colleague of the current pope. Rigali just saw his former top Philly priest personnel aide, Monsignor Lynn, sentenced to up to six years in prison for child endangerment in connection with another priest's sexual assault of a young altar boy.

For an analysis of the importance of Romney to the pope's goal of protecting U.S. bishops from Federal criminal and bankruptcy courts, please read, "After Elections, Who Will Prosecute More Predatory Priests? Constitutional Lawyer Obama or the Three R's of Romney, Ryan & Ratzinger?", available here.

What the foregoing indicates clearly is that little has changed in some fundamental ways since the Middle Ages in papal efforts to use political power for the benefit principally of papal princes and their corrupt Vatican bureaucracy. This will end soon, as prosecutors from the International Criminal Court and elsewhere invade the Vatican armed with enforcible subpoenas directed initially at secret files on the worldwide abuse cover-up, as well likely on the Vatican financial scandals. Amen!