Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Demoralizing Process

In an open letter to James Lundholm-Eades, the co-chairs of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform highlight a number of concerns related to the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocesan Strategic Planning Task Force, of which Lundholm-Eades serves as director.


October 19, 2009

James Lundholm-Eades, Task Force Director
Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis
328 West Kellogg Blvd
St Paul MN 55102

Dear Mr. Lundholm-Eades:

Thank you for your efforts on behalf of the people of the Archdiocese in addressing the problems we face as a local church.

We understand that both the Archbishop and the Task Force want to enable a vibrant Catholic community at the Archdiocesan level. We appreciate this goal since we believe the Church’s mission is to create a diocesan community that manifests God’s love for humanity as embodied in Jesus. So we too want a vibrant local church.

From our point of view, vibrancy in a human community is not possible unless all the relevant questions people want to ask are allowed on the table. The process for the strategic planning, although ostensibly an attempt to listen, is flawed in one essential aspect: it does not allow for the discussion of what the facts mean. What should be done will depend in large part on the analysis of the facts in relation to the Church’s mission.

To call the process “highly consultative” while barring questions about why the current situation is as it is will only demoralize people. We have heard many say they do not trust this process. Despite reassurances to the contrary, they say the decisions have already been made. They say that the emails, phone messages, and letters go into “a black hole.” People’s refusal to accept the obvious good will of the reassurances is symptomatic of the flaw in the process. We fear the goal of creating a vibrant local church will not be accomplished, though the resources may be efficiently re-allocated to look better on paper.

We request an Archdiocesan-wide discussion of all the relevant questions people want to ask. The meaning questions we would like to address are the following:

• Why do young adults abandon faith formation classes immediately after Confirmation? Why are such a large percentage of children offered no faith formation at all or, if the offer is made, why are they not accepting it?

• Why don’t two-thirds of registered Catholics go to Mass?

• Why are good and capable men not stepping up for ordination as priests?

• Why is celibacy required for the role of priest?

• Why aren’t women’s vocations to the ordained priesthood recognized and accepted?

• Why are third and fourth generation American Catholics leaving the church in great numbers?

• How is the money collected by the Archdiocese spent? We want the Archbishop to be accountable for his expenditures as the parishes are accountable for theirs.

The Task Force’s response when these questions are raised is that they are outside the scope of its mandate. Of course, they are, and that is the problem. We do not think that response will suffice.

If the Task Force requests the power from the Archbishop to facilitate such a discussion with the people of the Archdiocese and is denied that power, we suggest that as a matter of conscience you consider resigning en masse unless and until a full communication process is approved.

Though we are not experts, we have many ideas about how this process could be organized and will be happy to discuss them with you. There are many professional discussion facilitators in the Archdiocese who would, we are sure, be available to help. Some of the crucial elements are that all subjects be allowed to be discussed, no threats of job loss or excommunication will follow open discussion, and that representatives from all the people, not just those chosen by leadership, be involved in planning the discussion.

We think this is the only way to legitimate the process.

Sincerely yours,

Paula Ruddy
Michael Bayly
Bernie Rodel

Co-Chairs, Catholic Coalition for Church Reform

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Holding the Courage Apostolate Accountable

. . . The Catholic Church, Homosexuality,
and Reparative Therapy

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

St. Martin’s Table Restaurant and Bookstore
(2001 Riverside Ave., Minneapolis)

5:00 -6:30 p.m. – Soup supper ($5.00)
6:30 – 8:30 p.m. – Program (free and open to the public)

Almost 30 years ago Archbishop John Roach called for “competent and compassionate pastoral ministry” for LGBT persons and their families within the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. Under subsequent archbishops we’ve sadly witnessed such ministry undermined and usurped by rigid doctrinal fundamentalism and discredited pseudo science.

Recently, the American Psychological Association repudiated “reparative therapy,” i.e., attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation through therapy and prayer. Yet the Courage Apostolate of the Catholic Church, which employs a 12 step-like program to help their members “recover” from “same-sex attractions,” continues to support individuals who seek “reparative therapy.” Courage also maintains links on its national website to pseudo-scientific organizations that endorse and/or offer reparative therapy.

On November 17, the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) will host a forum featuring three speakers sharing their perspectives on this situation and offering steps that can be taken to hold the Courage Apostolate accountable – both locally and nationally –for its support of reparative therapy.

Speakers will include:

Dr. Simon Rosser, Ph.D., M.P.H., L.P.
Internationally renowned researcher on sexuality and sexual health

Philip Lowe, Jr.
Former member of the St. Paul-Minneapolis chapter of Courage

Michael Bayly
Executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on
Sexual Minorities and author of Creating Safe Environments for LGBT
A Catholic Schools Perspective

The program component of this event is free and open to the public,
although a free-will offering will be requested.

For more information, call 612-201-4534.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

CCCR's 2010 Synod: A Second Progress Report

Paula Ruddy reports on the second joint meeting
of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform’s
Work/Study Groups

Elsie’s bowling alley, bar, restaurant, and parking lot in NE Minneapolis was jam packed on Wednesday night, October 7, 2009. About 70 of the people were CCCR work/study group members and friends, gathered into the back room away from the din of strikes and spares and gutter balls. About 30 people arrived at 5:30 for drinks and dinner and informal conversation. Threading our way through the Northeast neighbors, we were all ready to engage in the mini-workshop by 7:15.

During the presentation by Dr. Lois Yellowthunder and Dr. Glenda Eoyang on methods of adaptive change, the energy in the back room was as high as the energy in the bowling alley. Glenda is founder and director of Human Systems Dynamics Institute, a training center and consultant to governmental units, companies, and other organizations wanting to improve their function in service of their missions. Lois is an anthropologist and urban planner who often works with Glenda. Some of you may have heard their presentation at Call to Action in Milwaukee in 2007.

Most of us in the room were of a certain age, meaning we grew up in the 40’s and 50’s, in an era that believed change is initiated from the power positions at the top, that it is predictable, controlled, and that you can look to history to tell you the future. We believed we could make large mapped out plans for human systems as we could for mechanical and structural systems and engineer them to completion. We now know that human community is organic, but the old programming is hard to uninstall.

Glenda and Lois did not go into the causes of the cultural shift that occurred around mid 20th Century. We didn’t take time for the trace-back to quantum physics and evolutionary biology, chaos theory and complexity theory, but they spelled out the differences in how we now look at creating human systems. We now know that each person is an agent in the creation of the future. We know that each action has unpredictable influence on other actions because of the connectedness of everyone within the systems. What emerges from each set of interactions creates the future. We don’t look to “the man” to have a master plan. We are in charge of the future ourselves. Every person has power; every action counts.

But how, then, do people direct change? Isn’t this theory all a bit helter-skelter? That is where the Adaptive Action Model comes in. The self-organizing system moves in the direction of its goals. An individual agent is, after all, a conscious, thinking, feeling, imagining, and willing person. A community is made up of conscious individuals. An individual and a community can envision a good life, a good society, or the ultimate goal of human life. People have created ethical systems and religions in this visioning, and these provide the goals toward which the self-organizing system moves. The Christian vision of humanity’s union with God is the goal toward which a community could move if it held the belief steadily in consciousness and acted with intention.

What? So What? Now What?

But Glenda and Lois did not talk about what the vision should be. That is up to us. They brought us into the here and now of directing change by acting with intention. In the Adaptive Action Model, we ask, “What is the situation here?” “So what does it mean in context; how should it be interpreted according to our vision?” and finally, “Now what shall we do?’ The What?-So What?-Now What? questions, asked in each situation you find yourself, give you power to influence the system in reiterative patterns. What we choose to do to further our vision causes patterns of ideas and values to emerge that in turn influence the actions of others in the system and cultural change happens. That is power.

Glenda and Lois talked about the power of language to influence change. Negative words can make us feel powerless, diminished, hopeless, decreasing our power to interact. Positive, affirming words build us up and give us a sense of our own power to choose our path. Using words that describe imbalances of power can diminish a person’s view of his/her place in the scheme of things. For example, the phrase “the hierarchy” puts the people referred to in a superior category within the system. A person with the leadership role might be called bishop but “the hierarchy” sets him apart and creates classes of membership. What does the word “magisterium” mean? Is everyone infused with the Holy Spirit within it? We can re-think our language to reflect an egalitarian balance of power.

We need some simple rules, Glenda and Lois suggested, like virtual “boids” in computer experiments. Program them with three simple rules and they fly in successful patterns like instinctively programmed birds do. Individual agents form working teams and can create coherent patterns if each follows some simple rules. The Golden Rule, derived from the vision of every major religion and ethical philosophy, is a rule that could, if everyone followed it, create a beneficent social system. Glenda and Lois suggested we may want to adopt it for our working teams. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or negatively, Do not do to another what you would not have him/her do to you. Or Love your neighbor as yourself.

In the last section of their presentation, Glenda and Lois asked us about our hopes and dreams. What is our vision of a fully functioning local church? What is our vision of the Church’s mission? If we keep that vision steadily in our communal consciousness, our self-organizing system will move in that direction. Each action of each individual agent acting intentionally within the connectedness of the system triggers the emergence of the future we long for.

The CCCR vision is a church fully alive, locally and universally, that radiates Jesus' core teaching of radical equality, unabashed inclusivity and transforming love. It is humbling and exhilarating to think we have the power to do this.

Paula Ruddy is co-chair of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR).

For the first progress report of the 2010 Synod, click here.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

AIDS, Condoms, and Africa

By Michael Bayly

Father Giuseppe Caramazza’s recent argument that “The Catholic Church is Right: The Condom is No Cure for AIDS in Africa” sounds very similar to Dr. Edward C. Green’s. Green, the director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, is frequently cited by those who support the Vatican’s view that condoms are non-effective in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. For instance, in an article in the National Review, Dr. Green declared: “We have found no consistent associations between condom use and lower HIV-infection rates, which, 25 years into the pandemic, we should be seeing if this intervention was working.” Green made this comment in response to Pope Benedict’s remarks on the effectiveness of condoms earlier this year.

“The pope is correct,” said Green, “or put it a better way, the best evidence we have supports the pope’s comments.” He stresses that “condoms have been proven to not be effective at the ‘level of population.’”

The BBC’s William Crawley, has the following to say about Dr. Green and the complex issue of AIDS and condom use. (Note: I've added the emphasis in certain parts of the text).

Writes Crawley:

Dr. Green is sometimes described as an AIDS researcher in press coverage. We should be clear about his area of expertise. He holds a PhD in Anthropology from the Catholic University of America and studies public health strategies “at the level of population.” He is not a medical doctor, nor is he a virologist, nor is he an epidemiologist. He is a widely-respected academic who examines the impact of various public health strategies in various populations.

In 2003, he published a book, Rethinking AIDS Prevention, which challenged the general approach to AIDS preventing in the developing world. Specifically, he argued that the most successful strategy for preventing the spread of HIV in Africa was not the distribution of condoms but campaigns encouraging people to reduce their number of sexual partners. Monogamy was a powerful behavioural defence against HIV, he said. Condoms, though technically able to prevent the spread of HIV when used correctly, have failed, according to Dr Green. Why have they failed? According to Pope Benedict, condoms encourage promiscuity and this drives the AIDS pandemic. According to Dr Green – who has no moral or religious objection to the use of condoms – this strategy in Africa has had the counter-effect of encouraging people to engage in riskier behaviour while believing that they are protected by condoms. “This may be due in part to a phenomenon known as risk compensation, meaning that when one uses a risk-reduction ‘technology’ such as condoms, one often loses the benefit (reduction in risk) by ‘compensating’ or taking greater chances than one would take without the risk-reduction technology,” he says.

These conclusions led Dr Green to change his view on the usefulness of condoms in Africa. Notice that he maintains their usefulness in other parts of the world, such as the United States; he regards Africa as a special case for cultural reasons. [Interestingly, Caramazza also admits that condoms may work in places outside Africa.]

. . . The upshot is that [unlike the Pope, and presumably Fr. Caramazza] Dr Green strongly supports the ABC model in HIV prevention: “Abstain, Be faithful, or use Condoms if A and B are not practiced”. In the same year that Rethinking AIDS was published, Dr Green was appointed by George W Bush's Advisory Presidential Council on HIV and AIDS.

It is vital that we have a serious debate about HIV prevention and that we locate that debate geographically and culturally. It is wrong at the outset to simply assume that an HIV prevention model that works in the United States or Europe would necessarily work in sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers who believe condoms are an effective strategy represent the majority position within the HIV prevention community.

Against Dr Green’s concerns about “risk compensation,”, they argue that this points to a greater need for accompanying education programmes explaining the proper use of condoms and challenging risky behaviour.

The UN AIDS programme accepts – who wouldn't? – that “other components [of a successful HIV prevention strategy] include delay of sexual initiation, abstinence, being mutually faithful to each other when both partners are uninfected, and reducing the number of sexual partners.” But the UN emphasises that condoms still play a very significant role and their promotion must be culturally sensitive: “Condoms must be promoted in ways that help overcome sexual and personal obstacles to their use. Complex gender and cultural factors can be a challenge for HIV prevention education and condom promotion. Due to gender norms and inequalities, young girls and women are regularly and repeatedly denied information about, and access to, condoms, and often they do not have the power to negotiate the use of condoms.”

Against Dr Green’s [and Fr. Caramazza’s] claims that condoms have been ineffective in countries such as Uganda, the World Health Organisation maintains that “recent analysis of the AIDS epidemic in Uganda has confirmed that increased condom use, in conjunction with delay in age of first sexual intercourse and reduction of sexual partners, was an important factor in the decline of HIV prevalence in the 1990s.” This statement references a 2003 research paper exploring the Ugandan experience, “The Roles of Abstinence, Monogamy and Condom Use in HIV Decline.” published by The Alan Guttmacher Institute in Washington DC. (Read the paper in full here.)

This analysis concludes that “positive behavior change in all three areas of ABC - abstinence, being faithful (monogamy) and condom use - have contributed to the decline of HIV in Uganda to sustained lower levels.” It’s a long way from that statement to the claim that condoms are making the problem of AIDS worse.

To read Crawley’s article, “The Pope and Condoms,” in its entirety, click here.