Saturday, December 28, 2013

'Healing Message' from Pope Francis Provokes Conservative Outrage

By Sara Kugler

NOTE: This commentary was first published December 24, 2013 by MSNBC.

Pope Francis sent Christmas gifts last week to two thousand immigrants living in a shelter near the Vatican. The packages, containing pre-paid international calling cards, stamps, and a metro pass, were a thoughtful gift for immigrants who may be estranged from their families and lacking the means to connect with them.

Fordham University Professor of Theology Michael Peppard told Sunday’s Melissa Harris-Perry panel that the gifts exemplify the Pope’s focus on a “culture of encounter” by giving a gift that “enabled people to encounter their loved ones and have some sense of family stability.”

The new pope’s first apostolic exhortation, released in late November, is critical of what he describes as “unbridled consumerism” and its impact on how we value human life. “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless… Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded,” the Pope wrote.

Pope Francis has also made changes in the Vatican that indicate a desire to move the tone of the church, included removing conservative Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, who has advocated for pro-choice Catholics to be denied Communion. Reverend Paul Raushenbush, Senior Religion Editor at the Huffington Post, described that decision as a move towards creating more inclusivity and a “healing message” in the church.

The exhortation from the pope sparked outrage among some conservatives in the United States. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh decried it as “pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of People.” Anthea Butler, professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, suggested on MHP that such criticism is ignorant of traditional Catholic doctrine that focuses on poverty.

“What we’ve heard from the conference of Catholic bishops is nothing but Protestant Evangelical doctrines about what not to do with your body, and we haven’t talked about what we’re going to do with people’s souls and their everyday lives,” Butler said. “That’s what makes Pope Francis different.”

Butler pointed out that there is a history of Marxism in the Latin-American church, stemming from Father General Pedro Arrupe, who wrote about a preferential option for the poor, and Gustavo Gutierrez who emphasized the concept in his development of Liberation Theology. “This option for the poor has always been there in the Catholic Church,” Butler said.

She argued that commentators like Limbaugh and others have worked to create a “prosperity Jesus” with the message that if you’re not rich, you don’t have the blessings of God, which Butler cited as at odds with the traditional teachings of Jesus.

Raushenbush explained that some might be reacting strongly to the Pope merely because he is relentlessly articulating a message supporting equity that they are not used to hearing. “You don’t have to be a Marxist to critique capitalism,” he said on Saturday. “Pope Francis is saying we have to do better, because the poorest among us are suffering. Thirty thousand people will die today of starvation, extreme poverty; that’s a failure. Pope Francis is naming it.”

Peppard said the Pope’s message does include the core Marxist critique that excessive concentrations of capital lead to exploitation and dehumanization. He described the Pope as advancing a Catholic worldview in line with that message, that “people are more than the sum total of their economic indicators… more than the sum total of market forces.” The Pope is “trying to lead to humanization,” he explained.

The Pope has also emphasized environmental awareness as part of his critique of the capitalism, writing:

In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which becomes the only rule.

Pope Francis has met with anti-fracking advocates, and included in his first inaugural homily a repetition of the phrase, “Care for the poor, care for creation.” Peppard pointed out that a focus on the environment is in line with his focus on the poverty, since environmental degradation disproportionately impacts the poor.

Despite loud criticisms from those with a media platform, the Pope is viewed favorably among Catholics in the United States across political persuasion. Ninety-four percent of liberal Catholics report favorable views of the Pope, as do 91% of conservative Catholics.

Sara Kugler is the program coordinator at the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South at Tulane University, which is headed by Melissa Harris-Perry. Find them on Facebook, and on follow them on Twitter at @AJCProject. Watch the discussion in full at the end of the original post.

Related Off-site Links:
Pope Francis’ Off-script Christmas Nod to Atheists is Part of a Pattern – Cathy Lynn Grossman (Religion News Service via The Washington Post, December 26, 2013).
The Year Pope Francis Allowed Britain's Catholics to Break Cover – Sam Jones (The Guardian, December 26, 2013).
Pope Francis Named Time Magazine's 'Person of the Year' – Josh Levs and Michael Pearson (CNN, December 11, 2013).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Pope Francis is Going to Be Heard
The 'Francis Effect': Five Ways the Pope is Resuscitating the Catholic Church
Conservative Catholics Question Pope Francis' Approach
Local Catholics Respond to Pope's Interview
The Pope's Radical Whisper
Pope's Reform Path: Francis Shakes Up Church Establishment
A Humble Pope in An August Office
Waiting for Francis to Reform the Curia? He Already Has
Reflections on a New Face

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Bill O’Reilly’s War on Jesus

By Robert Scheer

NOTE: This commentary was first published December 24, 2013 by

Maybe it is time to put Christ back in Christmas. Bill O’Reilly annually demands we acknowledge that the man, or myth, that has been moved to the center of this once pagan ritual be properly identified with a religion, or philosophy as he puts it, that carries a moral message. True, the nation’s early Puritan settlers considered the holiday somewhat blasphemous, but we obviously are in need of moral guidance from any quarter that is plausible.

So, what would Jesus do about the profound inequality of opportunity that both the pope and our president have identified as the most pressing moral crisis of our time? O’Reilly didn’t cotton to the statements of either man and took particular umbrage over the comments that the spiritual leader of his own Catholic faith made in late November: “... Pope Francis said that income inequality is immoral. ... I don’t know if Jesus is going to be down with that.”

It is a timely question to ponder when many of us honor the purported moment of Christ’s birth with a last minute burst of shopping so desperate as to suggest the gluttony of the Roman Empire that led the early Christians to revolt in disgust. It is an indulgence much in evidence today, as the pope warns: “The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalance and, above all, their lack of concern for human beings. ...”

Score one for the pope. Although there is much to argue about in Christ’s enduring legacy, divinely inspired or not, there can be no doubt that equality of opportunity is explicit in the core Christian doctrine that every infant has a soul as significant as that of any other, and that we all will be judged by how well we respect the sanctity of the lives of those born into the most forlorn of circumstance.

That is also the crisis of the moment. As President Obama stated recently in pledging, once again, that he would treat the growing inequality of opportunity as “the defining challenge of our time,” he noted “the premise that we’re all created equal is the opening line in the American story.” That precept drew heavily upon the predominant Christian faith of the settlers even as they betrayed it in their treatment of this land’s original natives and its imported slaves.

Clearly the nation’s founders skipped Christ’s tale of the Good Samaritan in Luke where a compassionate response to a disheveled wretch is offered as the necessary requirement for eternal salvation. But it is the sentiment that informed Pope Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation condemning the growing worldwide gulf between the super-rich and the vast majority of more humble folk:

“The thirst for power and possessions knows no limit. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the rule. ... Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God.”

Quite a challenge for our nation that largely continues to request at every public occasion that God bless America. We are a country, as our president tells us, where “the problem is that alongside increased inequality, we’ve seen diminished levels of upward mobility in recent years. A child born in the top 20 percent has about a 2-in-3 chance of staying at or near the top. A child born into the bottom 20 percent has a less than 1-in-20 shot at making it to the top. ... The combined trends of increased inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American Dream, our way of life, and what we stand for around the globe.”

What we stand for is a launching pad for multinational corporations that wantonly exploit the resources and peoples of this planet with abandon. All the while, these modern plunderers are protected by the massive military power of a U.S. government that those same corporations refuse to support with the profits they have buried abroad. In return, they stuff the shopping malls, real and virtual, with an intoxicating display of imperial spoils that most of our citizens can barely afford.

Sorry, Bill, Jesus is not going to be down with that; trust the pope on this one.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Birth of Jesus

As told by Mary

Editor’s Note: As noted with the Annunciation fragment, the following was found in a clay jar inscribed “Letters from Cousin Mary”. My source says they are in poor shape, hard to restore and hard to read. This is the second story he/she has been able to read and translate.

I told you that my folks were freaked out by my pregnancy, but what was worse was a visit to our town by one of those itinerant preachers, this one promising to establish a “New Morality”. So, of course, all those busybodies who don’t have a life or a clue about anything really got into this and started working overtime to cleanse our town of its sluts and loose women (note that, somehow, evil was to found only among the females of the population).

My family panicked. “Mary, as soon as you start to show, they will stone you to death. Already, they are snooping about, seeking out the monthly blood. We need to get you out of here right away.”
“But my baby is not a child of sin; he is God’s baby,” I said.

“They won’t understand that,” they said. “They will just see that you are pregnant and not married. You must save yourself and your child. We have relatives in Judea; you must find them and seek shelter with them.”

The old “extended visit to the relatives” tale is usually trotted out to spare the family of the shame of a pregnant, out of wedlock daughter, but in my case it was to spare my life. I couldn’t keep my promise to God if I died and my baby with me, so I left for Judea with a party of traders. Judea was familiar because we have been to the Temple several times, but I could not find the cousins I was told to ask about. I was left to my own devices after the traders took off for Egypt or the East.

Fortunately, there are a lot of fine people in Judea, and ironically,the most generous are not those who have the most, but those with the least. It was among them that I found shelter. I did what I could to help out, from fieldwork to housework, but still they had to share their meager stores of food and their cramped little houses; they insisted it was no sacrifice. Most of all, they opened themselves up to me and treated me as one of their own family. They saw that I was getting really lonesome, especially for my mother. I really wanted her to be with me when the baby was born.

The actual birth of Joshua was without much warning. All of us, men, women, and children were out working in the pastures because it was lambing time. Right out there my water broke and I went into quick contractions. The women did not think they could get me back to the village in time, so we took shelter in a little stable cut into the hillside. They shooed the animals out and spread fresh straw around. I wanted to lie down because of the pain, but they insisted that I stand, or rather squat while they held me up. Supposedly, the labor was faster and less painful that way. Yeah, right. “O God,” I cried out. “I’m doing this for you. Can’t you help out a little bit?” “Hush”, they said. “He doesn’t understand.”

Despite the pain, I can’t tell you what joy I felt when I saw my little baby boy for the first time. I tried to tell the shepherd women “This is God’s child.” They only said, “Yes, all children are God’s children.” They’re right, of course, but in my own heart I felt God was responding to my promise by giving me a healthy baby. “I haven’t forgotten my promise, God”, I said. “This firstborn I am dedicating to you in a very special way.”

Then the women let the men and the children in to see the baby. All of the people broke into songs of gratitude and praise for the new life among us. You would have thought it was choirs of angels singing. They sing very beautifully; that’s how they pass their time watching over the sheep in the pastures.

A band of ragged fortune tellers from the East happened by. They made predictions about how strong this child would grow up to be and how proud I would be of him, and then they, too, shared their humble possessions, giving me a small jar of ointment, some incense, and a couple of shekels. They said they were on their way to tell fortunes for the rich and powerful of Israel. You know who I mean, the ones who not only sold out to the Romans but were also picking up the vile Roman practices of soothsaying and astrology.

The women of Bethlehem have a unique ritual for the Purification. There is a little hot spring close to the stable, and there they have carved a small tub out of stone. New mothers sit in the hot water while the women sing songs from some ancient people – no one knows what the words mean anymore, just that they were told by their mothers that the spring and the songs were here long before Moses led us to the promised land. They let me sit in there a long time each day. It was great!

I took Joshua up to the Temple to present him as a firstborn, as the law requires, but also because he was to be specially dedicated to God. The priest asked, “Where’s your husband?” I said “I have no husband.” He said “you ought to have been stoned”, and turned away. There were two holy people there, Anna and Simeon, who saw this and told me they knew my baby was to be the redeemer of Israel. They gave him their blessings. For once, what Luke reports to be their prayers is right. He copied them exactly as I told him, even the part about my own soul to be pierced.

I’m out of papyrus, so that’s all for now. Take care.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Annunciation

As told by Mary

Editor’s Note: My source claims to have found this, and other stories, in a clay jar inscribed “Letters from Cousin Mary”. No independent confirmation has yet been made; the finder says he needs to re-assemble fragments and translate them before they fall into the hands of people who will try to suppress them. Therefore the reader is warned that their validity must be judged from the context.

The story of the annunciation found in Luke is all wrong. I know; I was there.

First of all, none of this was started by God. I started it, because God wasn’t doing anything. It’s like he had forgotten us, his chosen people.

I told him, “Just what the hell are you doing up there? You made a covenant with us not to forget us, your chosen people. Sure, we made some promises, too, not all of which have been kept, but on the whole, we have been faithful, no more golden calf and that kind of stuff. But you, where are you? Not long after we got back from Babylonia, we got conquered by the Greeks, the Hittites, the Romans, and who knows what other kinds of heathens. You call that keeping a covenant? Is it too much for us to have our own little country, where we can worship you in peace, without getting taxed into poverty, without getting drafted into some yahoo’s army of conquest?

“Well, God, I’m damn sick and tired of it and I’m not gonna take it anymore, Here’s what I’m gonna do: I’m getting pregnant, and this child I’m dedicating to you. I’m offering my firstborn. This kid I’m going to raise to know he’s special – that he is loved by you and that he is going to love you back. I’m going to tell him his whole life is dedicated to you. I’m going to tell him his job is to do your job – to get us our own country, to free us from these heathen, superficial, polytheistic barbarians, to restore the throne of David and Solomon, so we can act like we are a chosen people.”

That’s what I told God.

And then I got pregnant, and it wasn’t with this “overshadowing” BS, either. Luke makes it sound like some kind of Divine Rape. It was with a guy I love, a perfect mensch with good genes, so the firstborn offering would be perfect, without blemish, and with the guts to do what needed to be done.

Well, of course, you know what kind of hooha that raised. My folks were freaking out their minds. “We raised you to be a good girl, and here you are yelling at God, and now you get yourself pregnant. What will the neighbors think?” Well, you know what the neighbors thought.

(Here is where this fragment ends. It is to be hoped that additional pieces will become available soon.)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

New Disclosure Practices? Healing?

By the Editorial Team

The Archbishop is falling over himself to establish “new disclosure practices,” but the one essential disclosure practice is still missing: Call the police.

Not once in his message to the Catholic people of the Archdiocese—in the Catholic Spirit, December 5, and read from pulpits on Sunday, December 8—does the Archbishop indicate that he has learned the lesson of that necessary disclosure practice.

At the end of his four column statement about websites and future plans, the Archbishop says: “As has been our policy and practice for many years, we encourage anyone who suspects abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult within Church ministry—or any setting including the home or school—to first contact law enforcement.” Has it been his own practice “for many years” to first contact law enforcement when he learns of suspected abuse?

Call the police. It is that simple. Should the Archbishop consider himself a mandated reporter if he gets a report of sex abuse of a minor by one of the men or women he supervises? What if he picked up the phone and called the police? Calling the police is the initial, necessary disclosure, but it is also against the grain of Catholic culture, particularly clerical Catholic culture, to expose the church’s image.

Revealing “dirty family laundry” in public is taboo, but it can also be rationalized. The rationalization goes like this: The institution does so much good and it is relied upon by so many people that we do not want to weaken it by showing its shadow side. Good people who need the church will lose faith in it if priests and religious are seen to be sinful.

Cover-up keeps people in the dark short term, but cover-up creates the long term damage the secrecy is meant to avoid. The list of names of abusers reported in the paper all have multiple parish assignments following their names. Did anyone call the police? Catholic people have been formed to first go to the supervising bishop. That phenomenon deserves some analysis too. But obviously, the bishops did not call the police. They moved the offender from parish to parish. Had they called the police at once, and, as pastors, stayed with the victims throughout their ordeals with law enforcement and courts, we may not have had the multiple victims, billion dollar, shameful debacle we have had. It may be that Jeffrey Anderson, St. Paul attorney, and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) have provided the pastoral care that the bishops did not provide.

Is the Archbishop more clear about how healing happens? The Archbishop tries to frame his court-ordered disclosure of past clerical abusers as a “path toward healing.” There can be no healing until there is honesty.

To be honest, we suggest that the Archbishop might have to say, “We bishops and archdiocesan administrators have failed in covering up these cases of abuse. We abandoned the victims from fear of public exposure. I have failed in valuing the image of the institutional church over the well-being of children. I have been a bishop here for seven years, I had reports of suspected crimes committed by men under my supervision, and I did not call the police. My culture kept me in ignorance of the necessity to disclose, but the broader civil culture has been well aware of that necessity for some years. My failure to respect the civil culture contributed to my vincible ignorance and I will accept the consequences.”

If John Nienstedt remains in the position of Archbishop and he really wants healing, we suggest that he has to go on to say, “I am determined to attain some self-knowledge. I will look into the motivations behind the policies and practices I support. I know that putting the institution before the well-being of people was a tragedy when sexual abuse was involved. I am beginning to realize that my putting the institution before people has injured gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered people, their families, friends, and fellow citizens. Putting the institution before people has separated me from the people I am supposed to lead with the compassion of Jesus. My blindness has divided this Archdiocese I was sent here to unify and it has driven people from the church.”

Now if the Archbishop were to say all that, we could forgive each other and start being the local church we were meant to be.

If you think we need enlightenment in our response to the Archbishop's statement, please give us your opinions.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Safe Schools Call to Action

The following announcement is from the board of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR).

Dear Friends of CCCR:

Are you . . .
• A parent whose child is being bullied?

• An educator who wants tools and resources for bullying prevention and intervention so that all students can learn and thrive at school?

• A student who wants support to stand up for other students or for yourself?

• A community member invested in the well-being of every child who wants students to thrive in school and develop the skills they need to be successful adults?

Then join us on Sunday, December 8, for the Safe Schools Call to Action at South High School, 3131 19th Avenue South, Minneapolis.

Registration opens at 1:30 p.m. and the program runs from 2:00-3:30 p.m. Following the program, you can join us for a Q&A with our partners in the Safe Schools Coalition until 4 p.m.

You will learn more about the Safe & Supportive Minnesota Schools Act, a comprehensive anti-bullying bill, based on the best research to date on solutions to bullying.

CCCR is asking this question: So why is the Minnesota Catholic Conference of Bishops one of the biggest opponents to this bill when the bill already exempts private schools?

They say that if the bill becomes law Catholics in the public schools might be accused of bullying when expressing their beliefs about homosexuality. But bullying is defined as negative, aggressive, repeated behavior--not the same as sharing one's beliefs.

Do you think the reason given for opposing the bill outweighs the suffering and violence of bullying to kids beginning to discover their sexual identity? And what about those students being bullied because of race, ethnicity, economic status, disabilities, and other characteristics enumerated in the bill? Passing this bill will protect all students.

We do not think any kind of bullying is Church-sanctioned behavior, and we do think that the Catholic Church should support the State of Minnesota's effort to protect students from bullying and harassment. Join us in trying to get this bill passed.

For more information, please go to

We look forward to seeing you on December 8.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013