Wednesday, September 30, 2009

CCCR Plans Second Joint Meeting of Work/Study Groups

Members and friends of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform’s work/study groups are invited to the second joint meeting of these groups at Elsie’s Restaurant (729 Marshall St. NE. Minneapolis) on Wednesday, October 7, 2009 (7:00 - 9:00 p.m.).

Since April 18 of this year, Catholics of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis have been gathering in work/study groups so as to grow in knowledge about topics that are of concern to them — Catholic identity, Catholic spirituality, social justice, human sexuality, clericalism/mandatory celibacy, bishop selection, faith formation of children, authority and governance, ecclesiology, communication among polarized people, and patriarchy. In a September 7 letter to Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, the three co-chairs of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) - Paula Ruddy, Bernie Rodel, and Michael Bayly - said that the purpose of the work/study groups is for Catholics to deepen their faith and spirituality as well as their knowledge.

“We’re very much aware of the great numbers of people who are abandoning the Catholic faith,” the co-chairs wrote. “Many of these people have abandoned the Church because of matters of conscience. This situation is of serious concern for many of us.”

The three co-chairs note that the Catholic laity and clergy who comprise CCCR are people who are intensely aware of the problems of conscience in the life of the Church that the work/study groups have identified and are facilitating dialogue around. “That is why we want to work together –including with our church leaders – in analyzing the problems and instituting practices that will alleviate them,” they wrote in their letter to Archbishop Nienstedt. “We consider the problems to be both structural and cultural. The discussion has to go deeper than a focus on single issues.”

The CCCR co-chairs are well aware that there are some who dismiss and malign as anti-life, anti-family, and anti-authority anyone who seeks reform within the church. This is unfortunate, they believe, as they “do not want to contribute to the angry polarization in the Church that mirrors the political ‘culture wars’ in our country.”

To this end, the leadership of the CCCR has been attempting to engage local church leadership in dialogue. So far their efforts - including the co-chairs’ September 7 letter to Archbishop Nienstedt - have been unsuccessful. Undeterred, the group continues in its own discussions and planning. The bulk of this activity occurs within what the Coalition has termed “work/study groups.” Currently there are ten such groups meeting regularly across the Twin Cities. Each group is focused on a specific topic, and approximately 75 people are involved in one or more groups.

“We started with topics as people wanted to address them,” note the co-chairs. “We hope to give some shape and order to the process and develop a program for the conference we are planning in September 2010. We’re calling the conference a Synod of the Baptized and entitling this one ‘Claiming Our Place at the Table.’ From this conference, we hope to spread the discussion of our problems of conscience and some suggestions for practices that will bring about cultural change throughout the archdiocese. We believe that this discussion is for the good of the local church.”

The members of CCCR’s ten work/study groups met jointly for the first time in July. The October 7 joint gathering will feature a presentation by Dr Glenda Eoyang and Dr. Lois Yellowthunder. This presentation will focus on facilitating organizational change, and will be based on Eoyang and Yellowthunder’s ideas and insights on complexity theory and applied to the organization of our own archdiocese. Their presentation aims to assist participates in 1) understanding the church as a “self-organizing system;” 2) recognizing the creative options for action within this system; 3) becoming familiar with language that empowers; 4) identifying rules for effective action; and 5) acknowledging the hopes, dreams, and expectations that continue to move forward the work of CCCR and the work/study groups in particular.

For more information about October 7’s second joint meeting of CCCR’s work/study groups, call Paula Ruddy at 612-379-1043.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Removing the Plank in Our Own Eye

By Paula Ruddy

I went to hear Michael Crosby, OFMCap, talk to the peace community, Pax Christi MN, at its annual assembly on Saturday, September 26. Inspiring is the word for it. Michael is the author of numerous books and consults widely. To learn about him go to and to learn about his new program to teach the positive use of power go to

What was inspiring to me was the peace community itself in a day long workshop, about 80 strong, men and women who have been dedicated to the ideal of peace and the work of peace year in and year out. We clapped for a young person in attendance because he was a young person in attendance. They are living the mission of the Church from the strength of their own community. Nothing so beautiful as the experience of the moment within a community of caring persons.

Michael Crosby talked about power. First he asked us if we wanted it, and he got the expected ambivalence. Tentative hands went up for yes, lots of hands went up for no. We didn’t know what to think of the question. Should we want power or not? Crosby over several years has developed a constructive vision of power and its uses, undergirded by a theology of the Trinity that borrows from analogs of quantum physics and personalist philosophy.

All matter is composed of interrelated parts. Nothing exists in singularity, all the packets of energy combining and exchanging in constant communication to create power in the material universe. Analogously the individual person does not exist in singularity but in relationship.

Michael Crosby speaks of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not as two men and a bird, but with language that gets to the heart of personhood, the “I am-ness” of the self and its essential relatedness. God is the I Am, in communion with Another, Thou Art, in a dynamic We Are. God’s life is a community, a communion of love. Jesus of Nazareth is humanity identified with the Thou with whom the I Am communes, from which communion breathes the We Are, alive in the universe. All humanity is destined for communion with God through our brother Jesus and in his Spirit. That is the Christian vision.

So what about this God-inspired human power? It is the energy of the person to influence others in relationship. The power to influence, exercised freely, can be positive or negative. Relating negatively produces control, coercion, exploitation, manipulation, domination resulting in fear, abuse, injury, conflict, violence, hate, and ultimately, indifference. Destructive control kills the ability to care. The person abused by power stops caring. Indifference, or hardness of heart, is the antithesis of the life emanating from the Trinity of persons related in love. A Christian cannot be indifferent. S/he must care.

The ability to care, power used in positive ways of relating, produces respect, affirmation, challenge and correction, resulting in freedom, trust, healing, collaboration, understanding, peace, love and compassion. The person influenced by loving care himself/herself becomes a caring person. A community of caring persons is in the image of the life of the Three-personed God.

Michael Crosby’s construction of the uses of power fit right in with all I have been thinking about during the past weeks. As a member of a work/study group of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) preparing for the Synod of the Baptized in September 2010, I have been thinking about the Church’s mission. What is the mission of the Church? Our study groups have been trying to articulate the mission first so we can think about what practices will create a culture that will help fulfill the mission. You can imagine my mental “Oh, Yesses!” as Michael Crosby spoke. Some people did say Amen out loud.

What is our vision of Church? First off, it is a community. Isn’t each community to be modeled after the Trinity in loving relationship? The Christian Church is a vast community of smaller communities of persons baptized into Christ. The Roman Catholic Church is one very big community within the Christian Church. Our Archdiocese—bishops, clergy, lay people--is one community within the Roman Catholic Church. Each parish is a community within the Archdiocese. Circles within circles.

And what is the power/energy within the community to be used for? Isn’t it about equality, respect, inclusion, affirmation, patient kindness, support of full human development through relatedness: in a word, love? The ability to care exercised within the community makes it a caring community to act in the world to spread the word and deeds of God’s love for humanity demonstrated in and by Jesus. That’s how I applied Michael Crosby’s power analysis to the question of the Church’s mission.

It was getting late in the day and I had a daydream during Michael Crosby’s last sentences.

Just as Michael finished, a bishop came into the church basement room where the peace community was gathered. He wasn’t dressed like a bishop, no cope or mitre, or even a Roman collar, but I knew he was a leader by the energy that emanated from him. As he was making his way to the front of the room, he was greeting people, “Hello, Joe and Marilyn. Tom and Darlene, how are you? Chris, thanks for all the great work! Hello, Florence, good to see you. Brigid, I knew I’d see you here! How are you Mary and Angelo. Duane. Steve. Mary. Kathleen. How wonderful to see you all.”

First he thanked them and acknowledged the years of good work they had been doing. His sincere praise was like water on a struggling garden. People came alive to it, their own energy uplifted by his.

His next words were electrifying, “How can I help?” Sitting down among the gathering, he said, “The people working in CCCR have recommended an Archdiocesan Peace Commission. We have saved some money out of the Chancery budget, but it may not take much money. We could publicize your projects and arouse wider interest among the parishes for the work you do. We could have training sessions for non-violent communication in parishes. We could have Peace Sunday once a month with materials suggesting help for homilists. We could show how the negative use of power in families is destructive of children’s development; we could show how affirmation causes children to bloom. What do you think? There are lots of possibilities here. I think it is at the heart of our mission. Any volunteers to help plan this? “ He must have earned their trust in their prior dealings with him, because many people volunteered.

The dream ended. But I was left with a glimpse of a church community mirroring the loving energy within the Trinity and the spark igniting the Church’s mission. Hmmm. A Peace Commission. Is it a good idea? Contact and leave us a message if you want to work on it.

For more information on Pax Christi International, Pax Christi, USA, and Pax Christi MN, go to the following websites:,, and

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Choice for Catholic Bishops: Confrontation or Engagement

By John Gehring

Catholic progressives are not the only faithful worried about the dangers posed by some U.S. church leaders turning away from civil engagement in the public square and embracing a confrontational style when it comes to politics. The Obama-Notre Dame commencement controversy – along with the shrill tone of our nation’s bitter abortion culture wars – has provoked self-reflection among those bishops who see prudence and reason as a more effective strategy for winning hearts and minds.

In a rare public airing of criticism from an active bishop, Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe, New Mexico gave a provocative interview recently with the National Catholic Reporter decrying the combative tactics of a few bishops as counterproductive to getting a fair hearing for Catholic values. He lamented the fact that some church leaders even refuse to talk to politicians or deny them communion based on a single issue. Sheehan also disagreed with his brother bishops who lashed out at the University of Notre Dame for inviting President Obama to give the commencement address. According to the National Catholic Reporter, here’s what Sheehan told his fellow bishops:

I don’t feel so badly about Obama going [to Notre Dame] because he’s our president. I said we’ve gotten more done on the pro-life issue in New Mexico by talking to people that don’t agree with us on everything. We got Governor Richardson to sign off on the abolition of the death penalty for New Mexico, which he was in favor of. We talked to him, and we got him on board and got the support in the legislature. But you know, he’s pro-abortion. So? It doesn’t mean we sit and wait, that we sit on the sides and not talk to him. We’ve done so much more by consultation and by building bridges in those areas. And then to make a big scene about Obama - I think a lot of the enemies of the church are delighted to see all that. And I said that I think we don’t want to isolate ourselves from the rest of America by our strong views on abortion and the other things. We need to be building bridges, not burning them.

While the media highlights the most controversial religious voices – Cardinal James Stafford describing Barack Obama’s election as an “apocalyptic” event surely made irresistible headlines – most Catholic leaders recognize the need for thoughtful dialogue. Pope Benedict XVI’s recent cordial meeting with President Obama at the Vatican offers an example of how the global Catholic Church recognizes politics is the art of the possible rather than a zero-sum game. The Holy Father found common ground between the church’s broad international agenda and many of the president’s priorities: Middle East peace, nuclear deterrence, poverty alleviation, religious freedom, comprehensive immigration reform, and addressing the dire impact of global climate change. Instead of vilifying Obama on the issue of abortion, Pope Benedict gave Obama a signed copy of “Dignitas Personae,” a Vatican document on bioethics. No screaming or spectacle, simply a gracious model of faith and reason at work.

The Catholic Church risks losing credibility in the public square when even a few bishops are perceived to be closely aligned with ideologues pushing narrow agendas. As Archbishop Emeritus of San Francisco John Quinn recently wrote in America magazine: “The condemnation of President Obama and the wider policy shift that represents signal to many thoughtful persons that the bishops have now come down firmly on the Republican side in American politics. . . . The perception of partisanship on the part of the Church is disturbing to many Catholics given the charge of Gaudium et Spes (a seminal document of Vatican II) that the Church must transcend every political structure and cannot sacrifice that transcendence, no matter how important the cause.”

Take the polarization over health care reform. While the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has long promoted universal health care and views it as an essential human right, a few bishops sound like they are reading from right-wing talking points when they warn, as two did recently, about a “government socialization of medical services.” Another bishop wrote that the “Catholic Church does not teach that government should directly provide health care” and warned, “any legislation that undermines the vitality of the private sector is suspect.” This raised some red flags with prominent Catholic theologians and social justice leaders who warned in a statement that these comments only “embolden opponents of reform and distort Church teaching about the essential role government has in serving the common good.”

Catholics in America have journeyed a long way from being a despised immigrant minority in a culture that questioned their commitment to democracy. Today, Catholics are leaders in the influential fields of politics, business and journalism. The Catholic Church is a powerful voice for social justice, peace and human dignity around the world. But the church is also at a defining crossroads. The choice between an embattled fundamentalism that hunkers down against hostile threats from a wider culture and the hope of a vibrant faith engaged in constructive dialogue could well define the future of Catholicism.

John Gehring is Media Director and Senior Writer for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. This article was first published at

Peace Activists Charged with Trespass at the 2008 RNC Talk About Their Day in Court

By Coleen Rowley

Eight peace and anti-torture activists were convicted of trespass at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul. At the time of their arrest, they were carrying messages, including a letter to President Bush, placards describing the victims of the indiscriminate killing and copies of international and constitutional law documents concerning the illegality of the Iraq War as well as the illegality of torture.

The St. Paul city assistant prosecutor argued however, that the case involved nothing but the power of the police to control crowds and the judge accepted the notion that the issue of trespass was more important than the issues of international and constitutional law. (In other words, the type of narrow legal reasoning prevailed that could be used to convict Rosa Parks of sitting in the wrong seat on the bus without letting her argue the illegality of the wrongful, illegal racial discrimination that restricted the seating.)

As a result of not being able to talk about their “claim of right” negating any criminal intent to commit the crime of trespass onto the property fenced off for purposes of the RNC, the eight were convicted. They included a retired surgeon, a physics professor, an Air Force veteran, a nun, a social worker, human rights workers, and educators. The good news was that Conscience almost got its day in court! Those who go along and follow unethical, unlawful orders will someday find they are the ones with the guilty consciences.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Church is Dead; Long Live the Church

By Jim O’Leary

I had the privilege of a complete Catholic education in Minnesota, beginning in first grade for twelve years with the Sisters of St. Joseph through grade school and high school and then on to the seminary where I received another eight years, tuition free, of a Catholic education and then, in 1957, right into the priesthood - back in the days when all priests were Democrats. Even when I went to graduate school for a Masters in Social Work, it was in a Catholic setting. Archbishop Lucey of San Antonio had funded a social work education program so that the Church could better serve the poor. It was the first social work masters degree program in Texas and run by the Incarnate Word Sisters. That whole background explains why I am today a proud liberal, a proud Catholic, and a yellow dog Democrat.

So far as I know, back in the 60’s, all the Catholic bishops supported Caesar Chavez, even at the risk of alienating wealthy titans in the agriculture industry, especially in the lucrative vineyards. Cardinal Mahoney went against his own wealthy Italian wine making family in California to march with Cesar Chavez at the same time Dorothy Day was getting arrested along with Cesar. Perhaps you will recall the photo of our Catholic-educated Bobby Kennedy attending a Mass out in the fields with Dorothy and Cesar.

Yet when the Bushes and Ronald Reagan campaigned openly against the social justice teachings of the Church, Catholics voted for them. They should have known better. They were voting against their own identity.

Beginning with deacons and deaconesses in the Acts of the Apostles right up until the Social Security Act in 1935, which established a safety net for the poor, and crafted in great part by St. Paul’s own Monsignor John A. Ryan, the Catholic Church’s stand for the Gospel teachings of Jesus has always been obvious.

From the beginning of Christianity, it was only the Church which founded schools and hospitals and cared for the poor. In the Middle Ages, when European Catholics first confronted Chinese culture, the Chinese were immediately struck by the compassion found in Christianity and were attracted to it. In every age, our saints have been those who cared for the poor and neglected, whether it was St. Peter Claver or St. Martin de Porres working with African slaves or Bridget of Ireland who gave away all her clothes to poor beggars at her door. Catholics were always taught who came first.

Here is how the world saw us in the first century:

There is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as if they were passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland but for them their homeland, where it may be, is a foreign country. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days on earth but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all, but all persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many. They are totally destitute but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do, they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life.

- From A Letter to Diognetus (Nn. 5-6; Funk, 397-401)

If American Catholics had only paid attention to the papal encyclicals and the bishops’ letters on poverty, workers’ rights and peace, then Catholic social teaching would be better known today and no longer described as “our best kept secret.” What a shame! With over 30% of the Congress made up of Catholics and with six out of the nine Supreme Court justices Catholic, we have arrived politically. Just think what the Church could do if its social teachings were known and lived by the laity. Now, sad to say, even the most liberal of Catholic Democrats has to run on improving the lot of “the middle class,” without a word about the really poor. Catholics vote like everybody else, forgetting the common good but remembering their pocketbook.

Yet the work of Christ goes on, quietly now, as if the Church has resigned from politics. Parishes everywhere turn their Confirmation classes loose on social justice projects, even sending them on trips to the Third World. There are the Jesuit Volunteers, mostly graduates of Jesuit colleges, whose motto is “We will ruin your life” (i.e., your life of ease, pleasure, comfort and wealth). There are the execution vigils stubbornly carried out in every diocese in Texas, sometimes as many as three times a week, and almost exclusively made up of Catholics (granted those are mostly nuns). There are prison ministries which never garner any headlines but offer encouragement to thousands of inmates. There are the homeless shelters, the soup kitchens, the drop in centers, and the welcoming of illegal immigrants by such simple things as Catholic parishes in border towns leaving their churches open all night and advertising it in their parish bulletins, providing some good places to hide and sleep. It has always been the case that convents and rectories were known as places to get handouts. Even though there was never any formal study to show Catholics to be more generous than others, just ask any hobo where the best place to go is.

Even though the second largest “denomination” in the country is now “ex-Catholic” and, by and large, progressive, don’t count out us guys who still belong to the largest denomination, the Catholic Church. We still go to Mass on Sunday and we still give a damn.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Claiming Their Right

Nuns, Social Workers, and Librarians Confront The Military Industrial Complex

By Steve Clemens

It wasn’t the usual group of criminal defendants in Hennepin County’s Courtroom 14D this past week where Judge Lloyd Zimmerman presided. Minnesota judges are used to facing defendants who have been charged with drunk driving, burglary, assault, and even murder. And it is a rare occurrence when defendants who face up to three months in jail agree to “stipulate to the facts” of the charges against them before any evidence is presented by the prosecutor. In fact, after the stipulation was entered into the court record, the prosecutor for the City of Eden Prairie rested her case.

After all, the stipulation said both the defense and the prosecution agreed to the “facts”: The nine defendants went on the property at 7480 Flying Cloud Drive on March 4, 2009; they had not been invited and, in fact, were asked to leave; they refused; and the police were summoned and arrested them on the charge of criminal trespass. Only one element of the case was disputed: did the defendants have a reasonable belief that they had a “claim of right” to be on that property despite the wishes of the owner?

The youngest defendant is 52. Three were Roman Catholic nuns in their seventies. There was also an elementary school librarian, a retired social worker, and an environmental engineer. At least four defendants are grandparents. And not a lawyer among them – they chose to go “Pro-Se”, to defend themselves. An old saying is often heard in the halls of most law schools: “He who defends himself has a fool as a client”. But these defendants thought this was no laughing matter. They sat before their jurors facing fines and jail because of conscience and conviction.

It was where the alleged trespass occurred that holds the key to understanding their determined and principled resistance – the headquarters of the largest Minnesota-based military contractor, Alliant Techsystems. Some of the defendants in the courtroom had begun their protest of the manufacture of illegal, indiscriminate weapons (especially cluster bombs) in the 1960s when Honeywell made them. After nearly twenty years of protest, vigils, and arrests, Honeywell chose to spin off their weapons products into another company, Alliant Techsystems – which is often referred to as ATK, their abbreviation on the stock exchange. That is significant. There is a lot of money to be made in selling both bullets and high tech weapons to a nation whose military budget grossly outpaces the rest of the world. But ATK doesn’t stop there. It markets its deadly products to more than 40 other nations.

Besides the deadly cluster bombs that one defendant told the jury “kills more children” when the “duds” are picked up by them thinking they might be toys, this war profiteer also makes depleted uranium munitions and land mines. Defendants testified about the effects of some of these weapons and cited International Treaties that ban their manufacture, sale, and use.

This is the lynchpin of the defendant’s case: did they have a “claim of right” to be on the property? The testimony from the stand connected the dots. The US Constitution states that treaties signed by our government become the “supreme” law of the land. The Hague and Geneva Conventions and the Nuremberg Tribunals signed by the U.S. declare weapons which are indiscriminate and kill civilians, damage the environment, and keep killing years after a conflict has ended are illegal. The Nuremberg Principles declare that “complicity” with war crimes and crimes against the peace or crimes against humanity is itself a crime. The defendants spoke about therefore having a solemn responsibility to take nonviolent action to try to prevent the manufacture, sale, and use of these illegal weapons.

What the defendants readily admit is on March 4th, they marched forth – right into the lobby of ATK carrying with them a notebook with the title: Employee Liability of Weapons Manufacturers Under International Law. They intended to hand this loose-leaf notebook to CEO Daniel Murphy or one of several other corporate officers and it contained a letter to him, sections of relevant International Treaties, and some case studies of weapons manufacturers who were prosecuted as war criminals under the Nuremberg Tribunals at the end of World War II. They requested to schedule a meeting with one of the corporate officials but were denied that as well. It was at that point they refused to leave.

Rita Foster, one of three Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet (CSJ), gave the opening statement for all the defendants. She described the actions and intent of the defendants on that morning in March.

Marie Braun was the first defendant to take the stand in her own defense. An indefatigable leader and organizer of the local anti-war movement and member of Women Against Military Madness, she told about meeting a German woman about her own age in the 1970s at a conference. When they were talking about their experiences growing up, the German woman told Marie that she had asked her parents why they hadn’t done anything to stop the Holocaust. Her parents told their daughter they “didn’t know” what was going on. Marie’s new friend told her, “I think they did know something.” They were afraid to act and now their daughter experienced the shame and guilt many Germans still feel today. Marie told the jurors she is now a grandmother and doesn’t want them to feel ashamed because of her failure to act – she knows what ATK makes.

Char Madigan, CSJ, who has worked with thousands of mothers and children who have suffered domestic violence, took the stand next. She talked about commonwealth versus corporate wealth and greed. She talked about taking responsibility rather than “hiding behind private property or trespass laws”. She said, “Just as property rights don’t protect from domestic abusers, nor should property rights protect weapons makers who violate international law. [Speaking] as a nun, property rights should not protect church officials from covering up pedophilia.” Char was clear that there should be some property rights but they have to be balanced and weighed with other important values, in her case with the value of international law to protect people during war.

John Hynes used to work at Honeywell until quitting in 1971. He was on the inside when Sister Char was vigiling outside! He told the jurors, “I wish someone had given me a copy of ‘Employee Liabilities’ when I worked at Honeywell.”

Kathleen Ruona only testified briefly and reminded the jurors that these weapons endanger all species, not just humans. John Braun, described the design and effects of cluster bombs. When he declared that civilians, especially children, were often victims of “dud” cluster bombs, the prosecutor objected, saying his statement was inflammatory.

Betty McKenzie, CSJ, was the third nun to address the Court. She testified about the effects of depleted uranium. She told the jury she was not a doctor or scientist but she had read plenty and heard experts talk about the horrendous effects the heavy metal poisoning and toxic radiation released from this newer super-weapon favored by the military. The judge instructed the jury, as he did for most of the witnesses, that her testimony was allowed not as “fact” but rather as to her “state of mind” when the defendant was arrested. It was up to the jury to determine if her beliefs and intent were “reasonable.”

The school librarian told a story about a children’s picture book where the main character observes various children in her school being picked on or bullied. When none of her friends come to her aid after being poked fun of, her older brother reminded her that she also didn’t “say something.” Pepperwolf told the jurors, “I couldn’t go back to school and face my students if I had this knowledge, this common knowledge of what these weapons do, and not ‘say something.’ That is the title of the book: Say Something.

Tom Bottolene gave the closing statement for all the defendants. He stated that the US Constitution was written for all the people not “we the corporations” or “we the government”. Since the case hung on whether the defendants had a reasonable belief they had a claim of right, Bottolene asked, “Is it reasonable to believe that this document has any meaning?” He went on to discuss the basis of international law and the rules of war. These were ratified by our government. And again he asked, “Do these documents have any meaning?”

He reminded the jurors that the Nuremberg Tribunals ruled that corporations were liable for their acts; that being told to or asked by the government doesn’t excuse those actions. He explained how the Nuremberg rulings became part of the United Nations Charter, another Treaty signed by the United States government. “Is it reasonable to believe that document has any meaning?” he asked again. Then he told the jurors about his friend, the late Sister Rita Steinhagen, CSJ. When she was on her way to prison for a nonviolent protest, she said, “I have the burden of knowing.”

For Tom, for the other eight defendants, and now the judge and the jury – all have the burden of knowing. We can’t tell our children like some German parents did after the Holocaust, “We didn’t know.”

Postscript: Just after I finished this article, the jury found all 9 guilty of trespass. The judge sentenced them to a $300 fine or 24 hours of community service. In my opinion, they have already performed a service to the community with their acts of conscience.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Three Moral Issues of Health Care

By Jim Wallis

(Editor’s Note: The following is excerpted from Jim Wallis’ latest column in the September-October issue of Sojourners.)

There is not a religious mandate or God-ordained system of health care or insurance. No amount of biblical exegesis or study will lead you to a policy conclusion on health care savings accounts, personal versus employer provided insurance, single payer public systems, or private insurance plans. Luke might have been a physician, but he still never commented on whether or not computerizing medical records should be a national priority.

These policy questions are still of vital importance and will be debated and discussed in the coming months at the White House, in Congress, in the press, and I hope in our churches. With an issue like health, deeply personal but of great public concern, I believe that the faith community has a unique and important role to play. That is, to define and raise the moral issues that lay just beneath the policy debate. There will be a lot of heat, maybe even a few fires, over the weeds of the policy, and the faith community has the opportunity to remind our political and national leaders about why these issues are so important — why they speak to our values.

There are, I believe, three fundamental moral issues that the faith community can focus on and call our political leaders back to, lest they forget. They are: the truth, full access, and cost.

The Truth

For decades now, the physical health and well-being of our country has been a proxy battle for partisan politics. When Truman tried to pass a national health insurance plan, the American Medical Association spent $200 million (in today’s dollars) and was accused of violating ethics rules by having doctors lobby their patients to oppose the legislation. In the 1970’s when Nixon tried to pass a national health insurance plan, strikingly similar to what many democrats are proposing today, the plan was defeated by liberal democrats and unions who thought that they would be able to pass something themselves after the mid-term elections and claim political credit for the plan. In the 1990’s the “Harry and Louise” ads misrepresented the Clinton health care plan but was successful enough PR to shut down that movement for reform.

Already, industry interests and partisan fighting are threatening the opportunity for a public dialogue about what is best for our health care system. As a resource for congregations, small groups, and individuals, Sojourners has worked with its partners to publish a Health Care tool kit [click here to download] to help frame and guide this necessary debate. This guide gives an overview of the biblical foundations of this issue and frequently asked questions about it. What we need is an honest and fair debate with good information, not sabotage of reform with half-truths and misinformation.

Full Access

The second fundamental value question is that of quality and affordable full access to health care. About 46 million people in our country today are uninsured and many more find themselves without adequate coverage for their medical needs. Many of them are working families who live in fear of getting sick or injured. Some delay seeking medical attention at the risk of their own health and increasing cost later on, or use emergency room services instead of primary care physicians. An estimated 18,000 people a year die unnecessarily, many from low-income families, because they lack basic health insurance. As a father, I know how important the health, wholeness, and well-being of my family is to me and is to every parent. Seeing your child sick is a horrible feeling; seeing your child sick and not having the resources to do something about it is a societal sin.


The third issue is cost. An estimated 60 percent of bankruptcies this year will be due to medical bills. Seventy-five percentof those declaring bankruptcy as a result of medical bills have health insurance. The costs of medical care stem from varied sources. Some of these costs come from malpractice lawsuits, some from insurance companies with high overhead and entire divisions of employees hired to find ways to deny benefits. Someone who thought they were insured could find out that their benefits were terminated retroactively because the insurer decided that there was a pre-existing condition. In the end, some are paying too much for care and others are making too much from these present arrangements.

There is a lot of money, to say the least, wrapped up in health care. The faith community needs lift up the concerns of those who have no lobbyists on Capitol Hill or PR firms with slick advertising campaigns.

These are pressing issues for our country, lives are at stake, and it is a debate we must have and take seriously. For the month of July, we will be taking this discussion to our blog and having some of our regular writers and guests give their opinions and perspectives.

There are a myriad of special interests groups who will be promoting their own self-interests during this process. The faith community has the opportunity to step in and speak for the interests of the common good and those who would not otherwise have a voice. I am sure that every one of the 18,000 preventable deaths that will happen this year from a lack of basic health insurance breaks the heart of God. And, it should break ours too, because healing is at the very heart of the Christian vocation.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Health Insurance Executive Recalls a Life Changing Experience

The following story is from Wendell Potter, a recently retired senior health insurance executive. Mr. Potter describes the single event that led to his deep questioning of the role of insurance companies in the U.S. health care system. These comments were made to Bill Moyers on The Journal, aired on PBS July 10, 2009.


I just didn’t really get it all that much until toward the end of my tenure at CIGNA. . . . It really took a trip back home to Tennessee for me to see exactly what is happening to so many Americans. In July of 2007 I went home, to visit relatives. And I picked up a local newspaper and I saw that a health care fair was being held a few miles up the road in Wise, Virginia. I was intrigued and drove to the fair which was held at the Wise County Fairground. . . . It was raining that day, and I walked through the fairground gates. And I didn’t know what to expect. I just assumed that it would be, you know, like a health fair – booths set up and people just getting their blood pressure checked and things like that.

But what I saw were doctors who were set up to provide care in animal stalls. Or they’d erected tents, to care for people. I mean, there was no privacy. In some cases people were being treated on gurneys, on rain-soaked pavement.

And I saw people lined up, standing in line or sitting in these long, long lines, waiting to get care. People drove from South Carolina and Georgia, and Kentucky, Tennessee – all over the region, because they knew this was being done.

It was absolutely stunning. It was like being hit by lightning. It was almost – what country am I in? It just didn’t seem to be a possibility that I was in the United States.

Universal Health Care: So That We Might Live

By Lisa Nilles, M.D., M.A.T.

(Editor’s Note: The following transcript is of a talk presented by Lisa Nilles at St Joan of Arc Catholic Church on August 30, 2009.)

Today’s reading from Deuteronomy describes a scene some 3200 years ago, in which the Israelites, after many years of slavery and wandering in the desert, are finally poised to enter the promised land. Moses, unable to enter with them, uses this last chance to pass on all that God has revealed to him. Moses instructs the people, “Now Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God . . . for this will show your wisdom and discerning to the peoples.”

Now fast forward some 600 years, for this is when the book of Deuteronomy was actually written. Israel is in crisis. It is divided into two kingdoms, and partially occupied by the Assyrians. In order to survive, the nation needs to unite and pull together. The Moses story reminds people of their history and the principles upon which Israel was founded. Additional laws in the book form the basis for the reforms enacted by Josiah that once again unite Israel. These additional laws address such things as social relationships, and care of the poor and needy. For example, “If there is among you anyone in need . . . do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.” Israel’s secular rules are infused with a conscience and guiding set of principles.

Now, fast forward again – this time to the United States in 2007. We are a nation at war, a nation divided by the ideologies of the “right” and the “left,” a nation on the brink of an economic recession. It is at this time that Wendell Potter, the head of corporate communications for CIGNA health insurance company, visits the Wise County Health Fair. He is astounded. He cannot believe that in this land of milk and honey, this land with a huge and successful health industry, thousands of people seek care in makeshift shelters, hundreds of miles from their homes. Indeed, there is a disturbing irony in the fact that the organization that coordinated this fair, Remote Access Medical, was founded in 1985 to airlift medical supplies to remote areas of the world such as the Amazon rain forest. Now, Remote Access Medical devotes 60% of its resources to free care in the United States. We have become the land of remote medical access. That this has happened is tragic. That it has happened in a setting where enormous profit is made from health care is a disgrace. When the health of our economy is measured by the profits of health insurance companies rather than the health of our citizens, we have become a nation that has lost its way.

Which brings us to today. We are now in the midst of a swirling health care debate, much of which has been reduced to a shouting match of staged events rather than a true dialogue. We are besieged with information and misinformation, overwhelmed with sound bites, disheartened by revelations of insider deals, and dismayed at the power of the voices of industry over the voices of the people.

Like Israel so many years before us, we need to return to, and be guided by, our unifying values. In the realm of health care reform, what is our unifying value?

The answer is clear: universal care. No more, no less. Everybody in, nobody out. The word “universal” does not allow exclusions of the sick, the poor, the unemployed, and the visitors to our nation. The word “care” does not allow allow exclusions of essential components of care such as mental health care, dental care, or medications.

Universal care is a value handed down to us over the millennia. Beginning with the admonition in Deuteronomy to care for the needy, to the words of Jesus to love our neighbor as ourself, to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights which named medical care a basic human right, to the papal encyclical Pacem in Terris which did the same.

In the din of the current debate, who is calling for universal care? How might we get there? Let me highlight worthy efforts at the national and state level in the march toward universal health care.

At the national level, pay attention to efforts to enact a form of national health insurance. National health insurance, as encapsulated in Rep. John Conyer’s “Improved and Expanded Medicare for All” bill, HR676, would open the doors of Medicare to every American. As a model for reform, we know that conversion from our overly complex and woefully inefficient multiple-payer system, consisting of upwards of 1300 private payers in addition to our public payers, to a single payer system, would save enough money in administrative costs that we could pay for universal health care without any increase in total health spending. It is a tragedy that “Medicare for All” was excluded from this year’s initial health care hearings. Nonetheless, due to persistent pressure from citizens, and with courageous congressional leadership from Rep. Weiner of New York, the “Improved and Expanded Medicare for All” bill has been promised a full House floor debate and vote this fall. This is the first time that a national health insurance bill will receive a vote on the floor of the House.

What about the “public option?” A strong public option could be a stepping stone to universal health care. A weak public option won’t add much of anything to our current health care system. This “public option” concept means that Americans would have the choice of buying insurance from a publicly administered plan, along with choices of privately administered plans. This sets up the debate – who can administer health care more efficiently – the government or the private sector? While this is an intriguing concept, for this test to succeed, there must be a guarantee that the public and private plans compete on a level playing field. To date, the bills written that include a public option are inadequate. They include a public option that is a far cry, and deadly weakened, from that imagined at the outset. Minnesota progressives, including ISAIAH and the Minnesota Universal Health Care Coalition, have outlined criteria necessary for a strong public option. We have sent letters to the Minnesota delegation with these details.

If we tragically fail to enact meaningful national health care reform this time around, we must move ahead at the state level. We have a strong universal health care bill in the Minnesota Legislature, called the Minnesota Health Act. This bill, co-authored by Senator John Marty and Rep. David Bly, and supported by over 1/3 of Minnesota legislators, is based on the value of universal care. The bill begins with the following language, “In order to keep Minnesotans healthy and provide the best quality of health care, the Minnesota Health Plan must ensure all Minnesotans receive high quality health care, regardless of their income.”

We must persist until we have universal health care so that, in the words of Deuteronomy, “you may have life.” For indeed we know that those without access to health care are sicker and die younger than those with access. Dr. Michael Belzer, chief medical officer of Hennepin County Medical Center describes uninsurance as “a fatal disease.” Unless we reverse our current trend of steadily worsening access to health care, uninsurance will be the third leading cause of death in the 50-64 year old age group by the year 2015. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. insists, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” We must act.

I leave you with two ideas for becoming informed and involved in this historic march toward universal care.

First, watch the episodes of Bill Moyers’ Journal over the past months devoted to health care reform. These are available on the PBS website, and, as well, are catalogued on the Minnesota Universal Health Care Coalition’s website. Moyers offers a compelling look at the institutional forces behind the debate, and a poignant look at the devastating consequences to individuals denied access to care – in America.

Second, join the Minnesota Universal Health Care Coalition in the Campaign for the Minnesota Health Plan. It may be that the march to universal health care begins right here at home, not in Washington. Please join us. We need you.

Thank you.

Recommendations for Health Care Reform by the Minnesota Universal Health Care Coalition

As members of organizations representing physicians, nurses, labor, faith groups, and advocates across Minnesota, we are deeply concerned about improving the health and health care coverage of our communities. We feel strongly that a single-payer system is the most efficient and equitable way to guarantee affordable health care for all. Affordable access to health care is a fundamental prerequisite for promoting health. Consistent research supports our belief that a single-payer system will offer tremendous cost-savings over our current fragmented multi-payer system.

Absent a single-payer system, we believe a robust public option is an essential outcome of the current national health care reform discussion, and the design of that public option is critical to its ultimate success or failure. A well-designed public plan will protect consumers against discrimination in the health care marketplace, give enrollees a real choice of providers and help to ensure that all Americans have an affordable and accessible option for health care. In contrast, a poorly designed public option could quickly become unsustainable, fail to control costs or expand coverage, and make true reform even more difficult in the future.

As the federal health care reform discussion moves forward, we urge Congress to design a public option that will be viable and sustainable. We believe that Medicare is unusually efficient, and a public plan that possessed Medicare’s low overhead, reasonable provider payment rates and large size would have the ability to compete fairly with the insurance industry and lower overall health care costs. The Lewin Group* has stated in two reports that a public plan that meets the first six criteria below would be able to compete fairly with the insurance industry.

1. The public plan has a large pool of enrollees on the day it begins operations. This pool could be created in part by the automatic enrollment of Medicaid and SCHIP enrollees and a large portion of the uninsured.

2. The public plan is open immediately to all Americans (including large employers).

3. The public plan is authorized to negotiate on behalf of its entire enrollee population to achieve reasonable reimbursement rates for providers and fair prices from drug manufacturers.

4. The public plan is required – along with the private insurance industry – to cover a comprehensive set of benefits.

5. Enrollees in the public plan should receive subsidies that make the purchase of insurance from the public program affordable for all Americans.

6. Premium payments to all insurers should be adjusted to reflect differences in the health status of their enrollees to protect all insurers against adverse selection (higher costs caused by enrolling a disproportionate share of the sick).

There are numerous other criteria that would strengthen the public program. We believe the three criteria listed below should also be considered essential as well:

1. Require providers to accept enrollees of the public program.

2. Prohibit the public program from limiting enrollees’ choice of provider and giving providers incentives to deny care.

3. Ensure that states retain the right to establish their own single-payer systems.

As members of a broad spectrum of the public, concerned about the present state of our health care system, convinced that meaningful reform is possible and vital, we urge Congress to insist that any legislation creating a public program meet these criteria. If the public program does not meet these criteria, it will be unable to lower health care costs. If we do not lower costs, we will not achieve universal health insurance. If we do not achieve universal health insurance this year, we will have squandered a rare opportunity to improve the health and economic security of all Americans.

Charlotte Fisher, RN/NP
President, Greater Minnestoa Health Care Coalition

Reverend Dan Garnaas
Leader, ISAIAH

Chris McCoy, MD
Policy Committee Chair,
Minnesota Local Action Network of the National Physicians Alliance

Susan Hasti, MD
Chair, Minnesota Universal Health Care Coalition

Ann Settgast, MD & Elizabeth Frost, MD
Co-chairs, Physicians for a National Health Program – Minnesota chapter

Dan McGrath
Executive Director, TakeAction Minnesota

Joel Albers PharmD, PhD
Coordinator, Universal Health Care Action Network – Minnesota

* To develop criteria for an efficient, Medicare-like public option, we relied on the papers published by Jacob Hacker in 2001 and 2007 in which he presented a detailed version of a public program. Mr. Hacker is the most prominent advocate of the public option approach. We also relied on evaluations of Mr. Hacker’s papers by the Lewin Group, a subsidiary of United Health Group. Mr. Hacker’s 2007 paper is entitled, “Healthcare for America: A proposal for guaranteed, affordable health care for all Americans building on Medicare and employment-based insurance,” and is available here. The Lewin Group analysis of Mr. Hacker’s 2007 paper, published in 2008, is entitled, “Cost impact analysis for the ‘Health Care for America’ proposal: Final Report,” and is available here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Church’s Mission: Turned Upside-down by its Organization and Culture?

By Paula Ruddy

The Progressive Catholic Voice belongs to a coalition of reform groups in the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis, called the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, started in April, 2009. It is now September, 2009, and we are active and growing.

The Strategic Planning Task Force in the Archdiocese has been conducting its investigation and consultation about parish reorganization since April also. Its statement that its work is “mission driven” has inspired us in the Coalition to think about the Church’s mission.

What is the mission of a Christian church? How is the Roman Catholic Church organized to carry out its mission as a Christian church? How does the culture within the local church reflect or serve the mission?

I am going to try to say how I have been thinking about it, and I invite anyone with clearer insight or questions or other views to respond.

In general:

The Roman Catholic Church fits into the larger circle of the Christian Church, and the Christian Church fits into the larger still circle of religions of the world.

All the religions of the world are reaching out for some connection to ultimate meaning, all in various ways. So are we.

The Christian Church believes that ultimate meaning to be revealed in Jesus of Nazareth and the community that grew up around him in the first century after his death. The good news of Jesus was that the Creator God is one, is loving, and intends the elevation of all humanity into Godhead. It is a vision of equality, inclusion, and reciprocal love. This insight has been carried down through all the evolutionary stages of culture to our own time. And in our own time, it is expressed in multiple religious cultures, Christian or not, and always limited by the developmental stages of the believers.

The Roman Catholic Church is a Christian church. It is supposed to be a community of believers who carry the message of God revealed in Jesus to the world. It is a matter of proclaiming that message as well as being a living sign, in our own communities, of what it looks like to be Christian. Christians take humanity where they find it, in themselves and others, and lift it up, as Jesus did, the hungry, the lame, the outcast, the searching mind and heart.

I take that to be the mission of the Roman Catholic Church just as it is the mission of every Christian Church.

That is the general context of my understanding of Church and its mission.

In particular:

But I would like to think more specifically about the organization of the Roman Catholic Church and how it fits with the Church’s mission. The argument contains two main ideas.

The first idea is that the Christian message is manifested, or not, in individual communities. Each community is supposed to be mission-driven, that is, to be a sacrament in itself.

In the Roman Catholic Church we have an episcopal structure rather than a congregational one. That is, the geographical Church is divided up into dioceses, each with a bishop at its head, and further divided into parishes. All of these dioceses and parishes are united by institutional elements in common. The Roman diocese is looked upon as the unifying head diocese. But the Christian message is to be manifest in each individual parish and diocesan community as it is in the whole global Roman Catholic community. It is a nesting of smaller and smaller units, but the Christian message is manifest more or less fully in each unit. Each parish and each diocese has the same mission as the Church as a whole.

The second idea is about how the bishops, the clergy, and the lay people divide up the jobs within the community. I think that how they conceptualize their roles determines how the community manifests the mission of the gospel. See what you think.

First, consider this description of the division of labor: The bishop and the clergy of the diocese are charged by their ordination with the running of the institution, the diocesan and parish machinery. They have the authority to administer the local community. The lay people have the responsibility to support the diocesan and parish with funds and to carry the message of the gospel into the world. The job of the bishop and clergy is to teach and prepare the laity, set policy and regulations, maintain the parish structures and administer the sacraments so the laity will have opportunities for growth in the spiritual life in order to carry the Christian message to the world they live in, the Church’s mission. The ordained supply support services, the laity fulfills the mission.

Then consider this description: the bishop and the clergy and the laity are all charged with the same mission by their baptism, to create the community that manifests the love of God for humanity. There are different ministries within the community, but all have the responsibility to participate in the spiritual (intellectual, moral, and empathic) growth of the whole community, to govern themselves, and to make the community organization supportive of the Christian mission. The whole community is focused on the mission.

Although the first description sounds workable, when you think about it you see that it unfortunately leads to abandonment of the Church’s Christian mission to the world altogether.

Since the power and the money are in the hands of the bishop, supported by the clergy, and their job is maintaining the institution, maintenance tends to become the mission of the Church; its mission is its own continued existence and power. The authority and importance of the office of bishop becomes exaggerated, the authority and importance of the office of sacramental minister, reserved to celibate males, becomes exaggerated. A clerical culture becomes the antithesis of the gospel message of equality, inclusion, reciprocal love. Doctrines develop to justify the maintenance of the status quo of the organizational structure. With a power imbalance like this in favor of the organizational elements, the organization becomes an end in itself.

The laity’s work in the world becomes the means to maintain Church buildings, clergy lifestyles and images. They have no power to demand accountability. Depending on the bishop and clergy for teaching about the mission, for policy guidance, for spiritual formation, the laity has not been trained to think of itself as responsible for its own preparation to be the sign of Christ’s message in the world. Nevertheless, they are left to absorb what Christianity they can from the homily on Sunday and from the modeling of the clergy. Lay people in many parishes have picked up the role of education but have no power to develop the magisterium of the Church for the continuing growth of the community.

On the other hand, if you think about the second description of how the local church could be organized, the power is distributed among all the community members, each serving a role. Some are ordained to serve as pastoral ministers, some as sacramental ministers, some as administrators, one as bishop, but all are responsible for the mission, which is to build a community of equality, collegial participation, sharing of ideas and values, all with the intent to show by its life how God loves the world. In other words, the organization mirrors the message.

So my argument is that the way we see ourselves as members of a Christian community with a mission makes a difference to how we carry out the mission. First we have to know the mission and then we have to conceptualize ourselves as a team to carry it out with power equally distributed among the team members according to their roles.

Moving from the set of ideas in the first description to the set of ideas in the second description is a cultural change. Cultural change is possible if we set about it intentionally. Think how we have gone from a smoking culture to a non-smoking culture within 20 years. .

The hearts and minds of the Catholic people have been moving in the direction of reforming our Church’s clerical culture for some time now. The goal of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform in its plans for a Synod on September 18, 2010, is to think of practices for ourselves and our fellow Catholics to bring about intentional cultural change in service of our Christian mission.

Come join us or give us constructive criticism. Both are welcome.