Saturday, December 26, 2009

Edward Schillebeeckx (1914-2009)

Editor’s Note: The following is a media release by the Edward Schillebeeckx Foundation.

December 23, 2009 – After a short illness, theologian Edward Schillebeeckx has died in Nijmegen, where he lived. He was 95 years of age.

Theologian Edward Schillebeeckx (born in Antwerp in 1914), advisor to the Dutch bishops at the Second Vatican Council in Rome (1962-1965) and at the Dutch Pastoral Council at Noordwijkerhout (1966-1970), played a major role in ecclesiastic and theological renewal in the second half of the twentieth-century.

With his academic studies and pastoral books, he inspired a large reading public, both within and outside the Christian churches. His erudition and eminent knowledge of the Christian tradition went hand in hand with a strong commitment to Church and society. His theology was focused on human beings in the creation of a pre-eminently humane God, whose object is human salvation: Deus humanissimus.

Edward Schillebeeckx was always addressing new and pressing issues. As a young man he already evinced a keen interest in the questions of believers who found the straitjacket of the neo-scholastic tradition too confining and had started reflecting on God, Jesus of Nazareth and the meaning of life for themselves. In Schillebeeckx they recognized a theologian who realized that many traditional answers no longer sufficed for perceptive Christians who, in the face of war and violence, of secularisation, of new scientific discoveries and the ‘miracles’ of technology, were seriously wondering: ‘Do we still need God?’, ‘What can I actually believe?’, ‘Why do I believe and to what end?’ or ‘What dare I hope for?’

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, confronted by these questions, Schillebeeckx wrote such influential works as Sacramentele heilseconomie (The Sacramental Economy of Salvation, 1952, not published in English), Christus sacrament van de Godsontmoeting (Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God, 1959) and Het huwelijk (Marriage, 1960, not published in English). Many recognized him as a major innovator in the fields of theology and religious experience. Because of this, Cardinal Alfrink asked him to act as advisor at the Second Vatican Council. His concern for people prompted him to take on the flood of critical questions that was unleashed by this Second Vatican Council. He consistently stressed that God is not directly accessible as a separate being and that human beings have to take responsibility for their own history, a responsibility that they must face up to in solidarity with others, especially the poor in their midst. This is a matter of human faith in God, for “in your own footprints you will discern the imprint of God’s love.” That is how we become aware of God, not directly but always in a mediated way.

In the 1970s and 1980s Schillebeeckx published his major works: Jezus, het verhaal van een levende (Jesus: An Experiment in Christology, 1974), Gerechtigheid en liefde, genade en bevrijding (Christ: the Christian Experience in the Modern World, 1977) and Mensen als verhaal van God (Church: the Human Story of God, 1989), and other treatises on the church’s official ministry, politics and democracy, pastoral volumes and articles.

These works were born of his studies of, and participation in, vital movements in the church and the world at large, including those towards a growing autonomy in faith and ethics, towards democratization, the engagement of Christians in politics and of women in the church, liberation theologies and base communities. He is also known for his critical identification and repudiation of all manner of ideologization, which either legitimizes established positions or obstructs new ones.

In the nineties, after he had finished Mensen als verhaal van God (Church: The Human Story of God), Schillebeeckx led a rather retired life. Theologically speaking, however, he remained quite active, and turned once again to the subject of his first major work: religious rituals and the Christian sacraments. On the one hand, he wanted to take into account the developments in cultural anthropology and what is known as ‘ritual studies’, while, on the other hand, he tried to incorporate the theological insights that he had acquired since the seventies into the experience of and reflection on Christian liturgy. He was not able to finish the book he had planned to write on these issues.

As a theologian Schillebeeckx operated at the interface between what is handed to us from the past and the contemporary world. Many see him as pioneering a fresh understanding of faith, in which mission is acquiring a new character marked by a greater appreciation of the distinctive properties of Christianity as well as other religions. For, according to Schillebeeckx, God’s truth is so abundant that no single religion can interpret him fully, nor can our knowledge of God be grasped by the best of all religions put together. For God is new each moment and greater than all religions combined.

Recommended Off-site Link:
Edward Schillebeeckx Dead at 95 - Robert McClory (National Catholic Reporter, December 24, 2009).

Monday, December 21, 2009

Is Christmas Christian?

By Richard Rohr, OFM

Editor’s Note: This article by Catholic theologian and spiritual visionary Richard Rohr, OFM was first published in the November-December 2008 issue of Tikkun magazine.

As a Franciscan priest, I think I have the right to ask that question. We from the Catholic tradition too easily presume that because the title is right, the train following it is on the right track. We are not often open to asking if the train has anything to do with the direction of the original engine. In this case, the birth and message of Jesus of Nazareth.

We all know that the date of December 25 is not derived from Christian tradition. It instead traces back to the third-century Roman feast of the Rebirth of the Sun-normally celebrated as soon as they could observe the same, sometime after the Winter Solstice. Right away, that tells us that the first few centuries of the Common Era had no interest in knowing when Jesus was born or even celebrating it. That came with calendars and the demarcating of precise time.

Frankly, we must confess that it was likely our founder, St. Francis (1182-1226), who began to make Christmas the sentimental celebration that it has become, although his intention was never at all in the direction it has taken. He was the great lover of poverty and simplicity, and would be aghast at the consumer- and group-defining feast that Christmas has become. He merely replicated the drama of the stable with live animals and music.

For Francis and the early Franciscans, “incarnation was already redemption” and the feast of Christmas said that God was saying yes to humanity in the enfleshment of his Son in our midst. If that were true, then all questions of inherent dignity, worthiness, and belovedness were resolved once and forever - and for everything that was human, material, physical, and in the whole of creation. That's why Francis liked animals and nature, praising the sun, moon, and stars, like some New Ager from California. It was all good and chosen and beautiful if God came among us “as Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

But groups need and create their identity symbols, and the celebration of Christmas became the big one for Christian Europe, just as Jewish people need Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and Muslims need Ramadan and pilgrimage. The trouble is that the meaning became group-defining instead of life-transforming. As we say today, it got “off message”! It was no longer God’s choice of the whole, but God's choice of us! (In fairness, most religions make the same mistake at lower levels of transformation).

At those lower levels of civil religion or any religion as a “belonging system” the original meaning is always lost and often even morphs into its exact opposite. Strange and sad, isn’t it? In this case, the self-emptying of God into humble and poor humanity (Philippians 2:7) became an excuse for us to fill, consume, dominate, use, and spend at staggering levels for ourselves. In fact, the days leading up to December 25 are the economic engine around which the entire business economy measures itself in Christian-influenced countries. One might think that the fasting of Ramadan and Yom Kippur might have been a much clearer act of solidarity with the actual mystery celebrated.

Well, this year we might he forced under duress to celebrate the feast of Jesus’ humble birth with honesty! Our economic meltdown is showing for all to see what our real gods have been. It is not the Lord of Israel or his Son that we love, nearly as much as we do our limitless growth, our right to empire, our actual obligation to consume, and our sense of entitlement to this clearly limited planet.

In Christian circles, when I call these false gods into question, I am invariably criticized on other grounds of heresy and church protocols, almost so we do not have to look at what our real loyalties have been and are. “Let’s keep talking about Biblical interpretation or papal infallibility so we never have to look at our lifestyle.” For far too many of us, our final loyalties have been to the system of America, to the free market, to the protecting of the top and not the bottom where Jesus was, and to what Pope John Paul II called “rigid capitalism.” He said in several of his encyclical letters that capitalism had to be critiqued and regulated just as much as socialist communism (e.g., Loborem Exercens). Strange that most western Catholics never quoted him on that theme!

So, come, let us celebrate the feast anew! May we who have consumed the mystery of Jesus now consume his whole meal, and may it free us from needing to consume so much of everything else. If you really have the One, you should not need more and more of the other. Maybe our humble Jesus is stealing our idols from us, and inviting us back into his Bethlehem stable.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Gerald Arbuckle on the "Critical Role of Dissent"

The following is excerpted from Gerald A. Arbuckle's book, Refounding the Church: Dissent for Leadership.


The critical role of dissent in pastoral discernment is far from being a new insight in the Church. Think of what would have happened if St. Peter had forbidden St. Paul and others to raise at the Council of Jerusalem the critical issue of the evangelization of non-Jews. If that had occurred, the Church would have remained a little sect confined to Jewish People. Through St. Ignatius Loyola particularly, we have come to see that the way of dissent should be a normal method of decision-making for the Christian. For Ignatius, as for all Christians, the overriding need is: what is God asking of me or this group? In order to be able to hear the Lord speaking we must spend time in prayerful reflection during which we deliberately propose all kinds of alternatives without pre-judging any of them. Yet all this is impossible if we are not willing to enter into ourselves to discover the obstacles to true listening to the Spirit: the interior chaos of prejudice, fear and sinfulness.

The Christian, as he/she gradually begins to be freed of these interior barriers, is able to evaluate the alternatives and slowly feels comfortable with the one that he/she senses is what God wants. A modified discernment process, deliberately aiming to evoke dissenting views for evaluation, is precisely the method adopted by the US bishops for the writing of their key pastorals, for example on peace. It does not lessen their authority. On the contrary, it enhances it because the method, based on the people of God model of Church, recognizes that the Holy Spirit speaks through the legitimate gifts and concerns of everyone within the body of Christ: and people come to own the document that they feel able to comment on.

In brief, dissenters reframe things we take for granted by offering new ways of viewing issues or by putting them into contexts that we did not previously think possible. Dissenters expand our imaginations. They are upside-down thinkers, terribly annoying to us when we are too attached to the security of our ideas or habits, but very necessary if we want to know what God wills of us. The leader who does not cultivate an atmosphere in which dissent is valued risks the judgment that he/she wants to be God, and no right-minded person, versed in the lessons of Genesis, wants to have that said of him/her!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Obama's Nobel War Speech

By John Dear, SJ

President Obama’s speech last week in Oslo, where he received the Nobel Peace Prize, undermined the example of all the peacemakers of the ages. Standing before the world, he defended America’s military misadventures, dismissed non-violence and endorsed the just-war theory as the way to peace.

The peacemakers Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received particular attention. With a kind of rhetorical sleight of hand, Obama admired and scorned them at the same time, saying in effect: here are good men but, in our modern world, impractical men. With that, Obama undercut his own soaring campaign rhetoric espousing audacious hope. Hope withered on the moment. Here is yet another American president beating the drums of war in the name of peace. Nothing makes the heart sink like the notion, a very Orwellian nightmare: “the way to peace is through war.” His speech was a veritable call to despair.

I leave it to others to comb through the speech’s details. I prefer to regard matters more broadly. Namely, Obama struck me as a modern-day Constantine who, in the fourth century, pulled off the unthinkable. He beguiled the early church into renouncing the non-violence of Jesus. And he placed in the church’s hand something more “practical”--the pagan Cicero’s justifications for war. Pure legerdemain.

Obama reminds me, moreover, of Augustine, who himself embraced Cicero’s notions and hoodwinked further with the idea that sometimes “the best way to love an enemy is to kill him.” Just as Constantine banished the non-violent Jesus, Obama has, in effect, banished Gandhi and King. And he did it oh so subtly, like a New York pick-pocket, giving with one hand and taking back with the other. His speech has been a big hit here in Washington, where I write this.

Obama cited an excerpt from King’s Nobel acceptance speech in 1964. “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem. It merely creates new and more complicated ones.” And he paid King due respect: “As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life’s work,” Obama said, “I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak, nothing passive, nothing naive in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.” But then Obama branded both as ineffectual and naïve. Non-violence, he said, could “not have halted Hitler’s armies” or convinced “al-Qaida’s leaders to lay down their arms.” And my heart dropped when he concluded: “Instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace.”

On both counts I disagree. King and Gandhi were not naïve. When actually put into practice, when enough of us do the hard work, non-violence works. Hearts change and structures of injustice and war begin to unravel. From India to South Africa we have seen how non-violent change happens.

I disagree on the second point, too, the point that says war makes for peace. The chief axiom of non-violence says the very opposite. The ends lie within the means, just as the tree exists within the seed. How can the anguish of war -- destruction, displacement, hunger, terror, torture, martial law, summary executions, civilian casualties, oceans of grief -- how can these ever favor us with peace? The only way to peace is through peaceful and loving means.

Obama has arrogantly overstepped his bounds. If Obama is right, then St. Francis and St. Clare were wrong. If Obama is right, then Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King, Dorothy Day, and Mother Teresa were wrong. If Obama is right, then the non-violent Jesus is wrong. And we should put his memory aside.

But no, Obama is wrong. We as Jesus’ followers need to insist on the Way of non-violence. We need to practice and demand love for enemies. We need to renounce the just war theory. It’s inapplicable because no longer can its conditions be met, if they ever could. The fire power of modern warfare had made the theory obsolete. But even so, it is inadmissible because Jesus commanded otherwise.

I realize mine is a minority voice. Sarah Palin applauded Obama’s speech. So did Newt Gingrich. One wonders how many Catholic bishops, priests, religious and lay leaders did the same. To their minds non-violence doesn’t work. Sometimes you must destroy a village to save it. Apply the right rhetoric and every war can be justified.

These are the notions of our times; they hang in the air. But I urge people not to believe the president’s war rhetoric. More, I urge church people to take up the work of making non-violence more widely understood and accepted.

Ken Butigan, a teacher of non-violence with the Franciscan group Pace e Bene (see writes this week that Obama was able “to discredit non-violence -- and thus buttress his argument for war -- because there is no sturdy conviction in the mind of the larger public that non-violence is anything but limited, weak, passive, utopian and ineffective.” The zeitgeist deprives our imaginations of alternatives to war.

We need, Ken says, to “mainstream non-violence.” That is, to launch a systematic campaign to educate. Only then will the stigma of non-violence be lifted. “Just as we have gradually mainstreamed the rule of law, human rights, and the vision of democracy,” he says, “we have the opportunity to mainstream the power of creative non-violence.”

Then would the world learn how non-violent resistance, when put into practice, did indeed impede Nazis killing; how it brought down dictatorships in the Philippines, Chile and Serbia; how it led the Velvet Revolutions throughout Eastern Europe in 1989 and brought down the Soviet Union in 1991; how it informed successful movements in South Africa, Ukraine, Georgia, Indonesia, and East Timor.

Then we would all begin to become aware how people around the globe, this very day, are engaged in non-violent movements. (See, for example, Eric Stoner’s daily Web page,

I agree with Ken. The world urgently needs good people to take up this ministry of teaching Gospel non-violence. Ken’s program, “Pace e Bene,” offers an excellent course on non-violence that can be taken over a weekend or a semester; participants can later become facilitators to bring the course to their local communities.

If we are to widen the understanding and practice of creative non-violence, many more people will have to teach it. We need to teach non-violence -- its history, its methodology, its spirituality, its daily practicality -- widely. It needs to be taken into our schools, our churches, our libraries, our government offices, our workplace, our media, our prisons. And this ministry needs to be equal with every other church work, if not central.

Advent reminds us that the whole point of life is God, love, compassion, and peace. Each Advent, we hear eloquent speeches that contradict the president’s. The voices of Advent espouse the wisdom of non-violence which bears good fruit. Isaiah speaks of a world where swords will be beaten into plowshares, where the study of war falls away, where everyone lives in peace. Mary of Nazareth, in her noble Magnificat, proclaims God’s non-violent transformation of the world. John the Baptist calls us to prepare a way for the God of peace. Angels appear, a heavenly choir, and sing during a brutal season of “peace on earth.” Thank God for these Advent voices! Our true hope lies with them.

As Christmas approaches and I prepare to leave for Gaza, I pray that we will hear their voices, heed their words, and take hope from them. Let us embrace their message and give our lives anew to the non-violent Jesus and his way, even if we do not understand it all.

The Baptist King and the Hindu Gandhi both walked the non-violent path of the Gospel. As for Obama, he is set to go the way of all presidents. The lives of King and Gandhi, by contrast, still bear the fruit of peace. Their words and teachings are worth following for they point us back to the methodology and life of Jesus himself.

I hope we can reject the eloquent despair offered last week by President Obama and choose instead the hopeful examples of Gandhi, King and our Advent messengers. As we prepare for Christmas, we turn from war and empire, and look to the margins, among the poor and powerless, the humble and childlike. There we will discover the meaning, presence, wisdom and power of peace.

John Dear’s latest book, Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings, along with his recent autobiography, A Persistent Peace, and his collection of essays, Put Down the Sword, and Patti Normile’s John Dear On Peace, are available from For information, see

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What if We Said "Wait"?

A case for the grass-roots review
of the new Roman Missal

By Michael G. Ryan

Editor's Note: The following article will appear in the December 14 issue of AMERICA magazine. It is written by Fr. Mike Ryan in response to the liturgical revisions that were approved after much debate in recent years by the U.S. Bishops at their November meeting.

It is now 45 years since the Second Vatican Council promulgated the groundbreaking and liberating document on the sacred liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium. As an eager and enthusiastic North American College seminarian at the time, I was in St. Peter’s Square on the December day in 1963 when Pope Paul VI, with the world’s bishops, presented that great Magna Carta to the church. The conciliar document transcended ecclesiastical politics. It was not just the pet project of a party but the overwhelming consensus of the bishops of the world. Its adoption passed overwhelmingly: 2,147 to 4.

Not in my wildest dreams would it have occurred to me then that I would live to witness what seems more and more like the systematic dismantling of the great vision of the council’s decree. But I have. We Catholics have.

For evidence, one need look no further than recent instructions from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments that have raised rubricism to an art form, or the endorsement, even encouragement, of the so-called Tridentine Mass. It has become painfully clear that the liturgy, the prayer of the people, is being used as a tool—some would even say as a weapon—to advance specific agendas. And now on the horizon are the new translations of the Roman Missal that will soon reach the final stages of approval by the Holy See. Before long the priests of this country will be told to take the new translations to their people by means of a carefully orchestrated education program that will attempt to put a good face on something that clearly does not deserve it.

The veterans who enthusiastically devoted their best creative energies as young priests to selling the reforms of the council to parishioners back in the 1960s will be asked to do the same with regard to the new translations. Yet we will be hard put to do so. Some colleagues in ministry may actually relish the opportunity, but not those of us who were captivated by the great vision of Vatican II, who knew firsthand the Tridentine Mass and loved it for what it was, but welcomed its passing because of what full, conscious and active participation would mean for our people. We can see the present moment only as one more assault on the council and, sadly, one more blow to episcopal collegiality. It was, after all, the council that gave to conferences of bishops the authority to produce their own translations (S.C., Nos. 36, 40), to be approved, it is true, by the Holy See but not, presumably, to be initiated, nitpicked and controlled by it. Further, the council also wisely made provision for times of experimentation and evaluation (S.C., No. 40)—something that has been noticeably missing in the present case.

This leads me to pose a question to my brother priests: What if we were to awaken to the fact that these texts are neither pastoral nor ready for our parishes? What if we just said, “Wait”?

Prayer and Good Sense

I know it might smack of insubordination to talk this way, but it could also be a show of loyalty and plain good sense—loyalty not to any ideological agenda but to our people, whose prayer the new translations purport to improve, and good sense to anyone who stops to think about what is at stake here.

What is at stake, it seems to me, is nothing less than the church’s credibility. It is true that the church could gain some credibility by giving us more beautiful translations, but clumsy is not beautiful, and precious is not prayerful. During a recent dinner conversation with friends, the issue of the new translations came up. Two at the table were keenly—and quite angrily—aware of the impending changes; two were not. When the uninformed heard a few examples (“and with your spirit”; “consubstantial with the Father”; “incarnate of the Virgin Mary”; “oblation of our service”; “send down your Spirit like the dewfall”; “He took the precious chalice”; “serene and kindly countenance,” for starters), the reaction was somewhere between disbelief and indignation.

One person ventured the opinion that with all that the church has on its plate today—global challenges with regard to justice, peace and the environment; nagging scandals; a severe priest shortage; the growing disenchantment of many women; seriously lagging church attendance—it seems almost ludicrous to push ahead with an agenda that will seem at best trivial and at worst hopelessly out-of-touch.

The reaction of my friends should surprise no one who has had a chance to review the new translations. Some of them have merit, but far too many do not. Recently the Archdiocese of Seattle sponsored a seminar on the new translations for lay leaders and clergy. Both the priest who led the seminar (an accomplished liturgical theologian) and the participants gathered there in good faith. When passages from the proposed new translation were soberly read aloud by the presenter (I remember especially the phrase from the first eucharistic prayer that currently reads “Joseph, her husband,” but which in the new translation becomes “Joseph, spouse of the same virgin”), there was audible laughter in the room. I found myself thinking that the idea of this happening during the sacred liturgy is no laughing matter but something that should make us all tremble.

There’s more: the chilling reception the people of the dioceses of South Africa have given the new translations. In a rare oversight, the bishops of that country misread the instructions from Rome and, after a careful program of catechesis in the parishes, introduced the new translations to their people some months ago. The translations were met almost uniformly with opposition bordering on outrage.

It is not my purpose here to discuss in detail the flawed principles of translation behind this effort or the weak, inconsistent translations that have resulted. Others have already ably done that. Nor do I want to belabor the fact that those who prepared the translations seem to be far better versed in Latin than in English. No, my concern is for the step we now face: the prospect of implementing the new translations. This brings me back to my question: What if we just said, “Wait”?

What if we, the parish priests of this country who will be charged with the implementation, were to find our voice and tell our bishops that we want to help them avert an almost certain fiasco? What if we told them that we think it unwise to implement these changes until our people have been consulted in an adult manner that truly honors their intelligence and their baptismal birthright? What if we just said, “Wait, not until our people are ready for the new translations, but until the translations are ready for our people”?

Heeding Our Pastoral Instincts

The bishops have done their best, but up to now they have not succeeded. Some of them, led by the courageous and outspoken former chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., tried mightily to stop the new translation train but to no avail. The bishops’ conference, marginalized and battle-weary, allowed itself slowly but steadily to be worn down. After awhile the will to fight was simply not there. Acquiescence took over to the point that tiny gains (a word here, a comma there) were regarded as major victories. Without ever wanting to, the bishops abandoned their best pastoral instincts and in so doing gave up on the best interests of their people.

So the question arises: Are we priests going to give up, too? Are we, too, going to acquiesce? We do, of course, owe our bishops the obedience and respect that we pledged to them on the day of our ordination, but does obedience mean complicity with something we perceive to be wrong—or, at best, wrongheaded? Does obedience mean going against our best pastoral instincts in order to promote something that we believe will, in the end, actually bring discredit to the church and further disillusionment to the people? I do not think so. And does respect involve paying lip service to something to which our more instinctive reaction is to call it foolhardy? Again, I don’t think so.

I offer the following modest proposals.

What if pastors, pastoral councils, liturgical commissions and presbyteral councils were to appeal to their bishops for a time of reflection and consultation on the translations and on the process whereby they will be given to the people? It is ironic, to say the least, that we spend hours of consultation when planning to renovate a church building or parish hall, but little or none when “renovating” the very language of the liturgy.

What if, before implementing the new translations, we do some “market testing?” What if each region of bishops were to designate certain places where the new translations would receive a trial run: urban parishes and rural parishes, affluent parishes and poor parishes, large, multicultural parishes and small parishes, religious communities and college campuses? What if for the space of one full liturgical year the new translations were used in these designated communities, with carefully planned catechesis and thorough, honest evaluation? Wouldn’t such an experiment yield valuable information for both the translators and the bishops? And wouldn’t such an experiment make it much easier to implement the translations when they are ready?

In short, what if we were to trust our best instincts and defend our people from this ill-conceived disruption of their prayer life? What if collegiality, dialogue and a realistic awareness of the pastoral needs of our people were to be introduced at this late stage of the game? Is it not possible that we might help the church we love avert a debacle or even disaster? And is it not possible that the voices in the church that have decided that Latinity is more important than lucidity might end up listening to the people and re-evaluating their position, and that lengthy, ungainly, awkward sentences could be trimmed, giving way to noble, even poetic translations of beautiful old texts that would be truly worthy of our greatest prayer, worthy of our language and worthy of the holy people of God whose prayer this is? (If you think the above sentence is unwieldy, wait till you see some of the new Missal translations. They might be readable, but border on the unspeakable!)

“What If We Just Said No?” was my working title for this article. “What If We Just Said, ‘Wait’?” seems preferable. Dialogue is better than diatribe, as the Second Vatican Council amply demonstrated. So let the dialogue begin. Why not let the priests who are on the front lines and the laypeople who pay the bills (including the salaries of priests and bishops) have some say in how they are to pray? If you think the idea has merit, I invite you to log on to the Web site and make your voice heard. If our bishops know the depth of our concern, perhaps they will not feel so alone.

Rev. Michael G. Ryan has been pastor of St. James Cathedral in Seattle since 1988 and serves on the board of the national Cathedral Ministry Conference.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bishops, Health Care, and Abortion

By John E. Carrigan

Editor’s Note: The following was first published in the Indianapolis Peace & Justice Journal, Volume XXVII No. 12 - December 2009.

It seems to me that Catholic House members, and perhaps some bishops are confusing two elements of canon and civil law, namely the question of law and the question of fact. The killing of a human being is clearly prohibited by the Constitution of this country, and is assumed to be known by all citizens. The question of fact, however, namely whether the combined egg and sperm is human from the first moment of conception, is not nearly so well known and is not required to be known under the Constitution. In fact I believe that both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, doctors of the church, believed that the zygote did not become human until 90 days after conception.

The document on Religious Liberty of the Second Vatican Council clearly states that in a pluralistic society like the United States those who are not Catholic cannot be required to follow Catholic teaching. It was this element of the Vatican’s newly adopted teaching that allowed John Kennedy to reassure Baptist ministers in Houston in 1959 that he would not impose Catholic teaching on all were he to be elected president; and that position is widely credited with his actually being elected president.

The bishops’ position is inconsistent because while they are happy to accept fungible (mixed) dollars for Catholic hospitals, social programs, etc., they are vehement in their refusal of Catholic fungible dollars for abortion to those not obliged to accept Catholic teaching on that matter. Seems to depend on whose ox is gored.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

More on Abortion: A Plea for Conversation

By Paula Ruddy

It is past time for the U. S. Catholic Bishops to imagine better strategies in their efforts against abortion. First, cease the “non-negotiable” language. No one is negotiating. Rather, we could be trying to reason together compassionately as humans are capable of doing.

I am “against” abortion. Aren’t we all “against” it just as we are against war and poverty and all extinction of human life and dignity? It is more complicated than being “for” or “against.” The question of whether or not to have an abortion, like all moral questions, presents in the context of human suffering. The pregnant woman perceives herself to be in a problematic situation. She is deciding how to solve the problem.

It is hard for me to imagine circumstances in which having an abortion is a good moral solution to the problem. The potential in that infinitesimal joining of genetic material called conception is undeniable. The science about fetal material and all the logical distinctions that can be made do not seem to have persuaded a large number of people. The embryo is, or will become, a human being. What other moral goods justify extinguishing that potential?

I am not saying there aren’t any overriding goods; I am only saying it is a life and death choice, a serious one. In our society, we presume that adults are free to make a choice about any particular act, according to their own consciences, unless the people have specified a law against it. For abortion, this freedom of choice holds good for the first trimester. Some states have laws restricting the freedom at varying stages of pregnancy.

Some women presumably have made moral choices to abort. At the same time, is there any doubt that the 45 million decisions to abort by U.S. women between 1973 and 2005 (that is the statistic I read on the Guttmacher Institute website) were not all well-considered moral decisions? We are a society of people in a stage of cultural evolution that is not the highest on a scale of moral reasoning, compassion, or know-how in the equitable distribution of the world’s resources, natural or human made. The question of abortion is tied to poverty and a lack of a sense of self-worth and life-management skills. Our social institutional arrangements for the well-being and human development of all are not working well. Everyone reading this knows this.

Isn’t this the place for the U.S. Catholic Bishops, with all of us in support of them, to get to work? We have to develop our own capacities for moral reasoning and compassion in the process of communicating with our culture. The bishops, if they wanted to, could concentrate on this. Preaching and pastoral letters don’t work. Psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, management experts, mothers and fathers in families know how individual and cultural growth happens. The key is communication. Learning that might be the first step for the bishops. This is one enormous area for conversation.

I want to float an idea for why the legal system is not the way to deal with the problem of abortion. It is a cultural and moral problem for which the legal system is not adequate.

In criminal law, the state takes up the cause of an injured citizen to prosecute the perpetrator of the injury. The people of the society have said through their representative law-makers that some injuries affect the common good in such a way that the state should step in and protect the physical safety and property of its citizens. It is the state protecting one citizen from the intrusion of another citizen on his or her well-being.

Let’s say that we acknowledged the rights of personhood and citizenship to a fetus. The state is now faced with the obligation to protect the rights of both the woman and the fetus. When one citizen is inside the other, totally dependent for life sustenance on the other, and the other is unwilling to bear that burden, which citizen should the state side with? Can the state protect the rights of one of the citizens without violating the rights of the other?

Or because she conceived, does the woman forfeit her right to protection from the state on this issue? In that view she can be forced by law to bear the child because the child is innocent and the woman was negligent in conceiving. The only guarantee for not conceiving is for women of child-bearing age and capacity who do not want to become pregnant to stop having sex. There is such a thing as criminal negligence recognized by states. To defend against criminal negligence, the woman might have to prove she used anti-conception methods. If she can’t, she will be forced to bear the unwanted child. Is that a social arrangement for the well-being and human development of all?

Short of working for re-criminalization of abortion, the U.S. Catholic bishops are concentrating on convincing lawmakers to make abortion difficult and expensive to obtain. That might cut down on the number of abortions among low income women, but is it a strategy to develop the capacity for moral reasoning and compassion in our society? Does it demonstrate moral reasoning and compassion on the part of the bishops?

I suggest we take a lesson from King Solomon. There are some human situations that the law is inadequate to solve. We have to develop a new strategy to tackle the problem from another angle. We have to start reasoning compassionately together about moral issues and we have to call upon the bishops to lead the way.

Can we talk about this? Let us know what you think by commenting below.

Trying to Sort Out What is Going On With Abortion and Health Care

By Paula Ruddy

The U.S. Senate is on the verge of a vote, maybe today, Tuesday, December 8, on the use of federal funds to pay for abortion procedures under the proposed insurance provisions of the health reform package on the table

Federal funds have not been permitted to be used for abortion procedures since 1976. What is the question now? Archbishop John C. Nienstedt is quoted by MPR news reporters Tom Crann and Madeleine Baran on December 3 as saying that, “The question is, What kind of health care do we want as a nation? And any health care program that would include the killing of the unborn is unacceptable.”

Does Archbishop Nienstedt mean that there should be no health care reform at all so long as abortion is legal within the health care system?

To make abortion illegal, Roe v.Wade would have to be overturned and states would have to enact criminal laws prohibiting it. Is that what the Archbishop is advocating?

He should be more explicit; general talk about “killing the unborn” is not helpful.

Some may not know, or have forgotten, the legal history. After Roe v. Wade (1973) held it unconstitutional for a state to criminalize abortion or to restrict it unless some conditions are met, the question arose whether federal funds could be used for programs that provided abortion. In 1976, Senator Henry Hyde, a Republican from Illinois, sponsored a bill that prohibited the use of federal funds, Congress passed it, and it has been in effect with various amendments ever since. Private insurance companies can cover abortion and states can use their own funds to cover Medicaid recipients’ abortion, but federal funds cannot be used. In 1980, the Supreme Court held restriction of funds to be constitutional in Harris v. McRae. Women are free to have abortions but they are not constitutionally entitled to funding for them. The current law makes exceptions for abortions following rape and incest, as well as in life-endangering circumstances.

Now come the health care reform bills. The House version was passed on November 7 by a vote of 240 to 194 with an amendment by Bart Stupak, Democrat from Michigan, and Joe Pitts, Republican from Pennsylvania, essentially including the Hyde amendment restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortion in the provisions for insurance coverage. Federal funds may not be used except for procedures following rape, incest, and life endangerment to the mother. People with insurance from their employers are not affected. One area that is in question is whether “affordability credits,” federal subsidies offered under the bill to help income qualified people buy coverag,, could be used to cover abortions. The Stupak-Pitts language prohibits that. If people want abortion coverage, they will have to purchase with their own money a “rider” to the insurance offered in the insurance exchange. The Senate version of the bill is being debated now. Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat from Nebraska, has introduced an amendment with Stupak/Pitts language, and that is the vote we are waiting for now.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has said the Stupak-Pitts amendment in the House version of the bill “is a modest and reasonable measure.” In their fact sheet accompanying their letter to the Senate asking for comparable language in the Senate bill, the bishops ask: “Is the Stupak amendment broader than the Hyde Amendment that has prevented federal funding of abortion for decades?” They answer No. The upshot is that if the US Catholic Bishops are telling the truth, the situation with regard to abortion services provided in the health care system will be exactly as it is now.

Opponents of the Stupak-Pitts amendment argue that it will have more restrictive effects on abortion than the current version of the Hyde Amendment. They argue that insurance riders will be expensive for the very people who need the “affordability credits” and that insurance companies will find it cost ineffective to offer riders.

Although the amendment will make it harder for a woman with low income to obtain an abortion, the legislation is certainly not going to prevent a person who can pay for abortion or afford insurance for it from obtaining either. I don’t know how the U.S. bishops rationalize their intense campaign to make it harder for women of low income to get an abortion. How they could more effectively spend their time and money on reaching the hearts and minds of women who need help is a question for another day.

If anyone has a better handle on this situation, please chime in with additions and corrections.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Defense! Defense!

A report from the front lines of the culture wars

By Brian McNeill

“Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved.”

- Martin Luther King Jr.

On the evening of Tuesday, December 1, 2009, I attended a symposium sponsored by the Office for Marriage, Family, and Life of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The event was held in the undercroft of Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church in St. Paul, in the neighborhood where I lived as a child; home turf. The archdiocese titled the event: “Understanding the Cultural and Legal Battle.”

The speakers were Fr. Peter Laird (right), newly appointed Vicar-General of the Archdiocese and Moderator of the Curia, and Dr. Teresa Collett, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. The welcoming remarks by a young parishioner named Theresa oriented us to our current place in the culture wars, by citing the legal precedents that led to the Supreme Court decision of Roe vs. Wade. She promised that the evening would provide those present with the tools to “reclaim the culture of marriage and life with knowledge of the truth.”

A theoretical, academic discussion

Theresa’s choice of words proved to be important, because the overriding framework of the remarks of both speakers who followed was one of fighting the cultural tide to reclaim lost Truth. In other words, the Truth, as put forth by the Roman Catholic Church, was in some unspecified previous epoch the dominant force in the culture, but that position of predominance had been lost, (with Rove vs. Wade apparently) and now it was the duty of those present to return it to its rightful position. So, having been primed with pro-life rhetoric, Fr. Peter Laird, whose mother, by the way, runs the Office for Marriage, Family, and Life, (this is St. Paul after all) began a theoretical, academic discussion of the theology of the Sacrament of Matrimony.

Like good children, the 400 or so adults present listened quietly while the Vicar-General condescendingly explained to them “Why Marriage Matters.” Fr. Laird began by asserting the sound theological principle that there is no contradiction between faith and reason. He then raised the hoary specter of the scary 1960s when, he says, the culture embraced a direct opposition of faith to reason, and “the very nature of Truth became corrupted.” As proof he offered statistics on the rates of increase in divorce, cohabitation, and single parent households in the United States between 1960 and 2000. He continued for the remainder of his remarks giving theological reasons why a perfect marriage, marked by selflessness of the spouses for each other and their children, is part of God’s plan for all humans.

In his explanation of why the Church teaches that all sexual acts must be open to procreation, Fr. Laird told a little story from his law school days that perfectly captured his mindset. After celebrating the end of a difficult semester, he was driving a classmate home and as they arrived at her house she asked him, “Do you use protection?” Fr. Laird did not tell us how he answered that question, but, rather, went on to ask rhetorically, why, in intimate moments, anyone would want to be protected from their spouse/ lover? His point was that true love would always be completely open to the possibility of resulting children. He apparently, both then and now, missed what was more likely behind his classmate’s question: did he have any sexually transmitted diseases? Or, when he had sex, did he take precautions to prevent the transmission of STDs which he could be carrying? A condom would place “a point of separation between you and me” he protested while asserting his point about the importance of sex being barrier free, but I’m sure I was not the only one in the audience who was thinking silently, “…and that would be a bad thing?”

In response to the one question he took after his talk, Fr. Laird attempted an explanation of why same-sex marriage is not possible in the eyes of the Church. The relationship of two men or two women can result in some human goods, he stated, but it cannot share in the fruitfulness of Christ’s self-giving. The very nature of their relationship cannot participate in the model of Christ’s donation. In other words, because their sexual activity cannot produce a child they cannot be married. Of course, he did not offer an explanation of why heterosexual couples in the same situation for medical reasons can be married in the eyes of the Church. I guess that was beyond us.

No debating the Truth

Fr. Laird would not take my question while standing at the podium, but agreed to speak with me during the break after his talk. I took the opportunity to let him know that I had left a message with his mother at the Office for Marriage, Family, and Life, asking that she allow someone to present the LGBT side of same-sex marriage at this meeting. I then challenged him to a debate on same-sex marriage, saying that Dignity Twin Cities would sponsor it. He hedged. I asked twice more. He would not agree but countered by asking if I would meet him for coffee. I agreed. He evaded my fourth request to agree to a public debate. I said that agreeing to a debate would be a nod in the direction of the faith, reasonableness, and intelligence of his fellow Catholics. He was unmoved, and argued back that there is no debating the Truth. When I countered that for 35 years a long line of priests had come to Dignity Twin Cities with a different view of same-sex marriage the Vicar-General replied, “I can’t control what my priests do.”

No one I know is arguing that the Roman Catholic Church does not have a right to a pie-in-the-sky theology of the Sacrament of Marriage. Ideals are a fine thing, and where will you find them in this world if not in church? Selflessness, modeled on the example of Jesus’ suffering on the cross, is at the heart of the Christian faith. As a Catholic I find great strength and hope in the reality and the symbol of the cross. However, problems arise when the Roman Catholic Church takes its theology of the Sacrament of Matrimony and attempts to impose it on a political system or, worse, to deny civil rights to some of the citizens of the country. There is a word for imposing a cross on someone who does not want it: oppression. It is horrific to think that the right of tax paying LGBT citizens of the United States are threatened by Fr. Laird’s Thomistic sexual theology that ninety percent of married Catholics flout by practicing artificial birth control.

The government and marriage

Dr. Teresa S. Collette (left) is a lawyer for the conservative right. She was recently named by Pope Benedict XVI to serve as a consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Family. Her talk was titled, “Why is Government in the Marriage Business?” Her quick answer to the question is that the government is in the business of marriage to protect children. “Marriage is the way the government attempts to make sure that men fulfill the duties related to pregnancy.” Dr Collette did come up with the most interesting fact of the evening, which is that it is still illegal to commit adultery in the State of Minnesota, though the “crime” is a misdemeanor. Marriage laws are in place to make sure that parents provide for their children, she reported.

She decries the advent of artificial contraception. She approvingly quotes Pope Paul VI for warning that with the advent of artificial contraception, “Men would begin to treat woman as mere instruments for the satisfaction of their desires.” One expects more from a pope. Men would begin to treat women as the mere instruments for the satisfaction of their desires? One expects a lot more from a professional woman with some knowledge of history.

Without batting an eye, Dr. Collette went on to extol the virtues of modern methods of natural family planning. This listener couldn’t help but note that while Fr. Laird was emphasizing the indivisible procreative and unitive function of marital sexual intimacy, the lawyer was busy praising the clever ways Catholics couples could avoid procreation while still enjoying a sex life. Then again, most of the Catholics in the audience looked very married, and, we must assume, have been over this inconsistency so many times that it was way too late to be bothered by it now, here in the trenches of the culture wars.

Dr. Collette noted that we have gone far beyond the Rhythm Method. We now have the Billings Method, the Creighton Method, and the Sympto-Thermal Method. She states that couples using natural family planning have a divorce rate of only 2 percent, versus the 40-50 percent in the general population. She states this with an implied cause-and-effect phrasing: if you practice natural family planning, rather than take the pill, you vastly increase the chance of saving your marriage. Throughout her remarks she used this tactic of implying that something was true without providing facts to back it up. Who would use natural family planning in 2009 other than conservative Catholic couples who would, by virtue of their religion, be reluctant to get a divorce in the first place?

“Cultural erosion”

Coming to the heart of her arguments against same-sex marriage, Dr. Collette bewailed the traditional villains causing “cultural erosion” in the United States: “our attraction to sin,” the use of contraceptives, increased cohabitation, and out of wedlock births. Same-sex marriage looms large as part of this cultural erosion. In an attempt to dismiss the argument that LGBT citizens are victims of legal discrimination Dr. Collette states:

In fact it is often said, and accurately so, in legislative hearings and debates regarding this topic that there are 1,049 references in the Federal Code regarding marriage. Some people have gone so far as to suggest that is 1,049 benefits. That is an inaccurate statement. If you actually look at the GAO report, all that identifies is federal laws in which benefits, rights, and privileges are contingent upon marital status.

Got that? LGBT people are exaggerating the benefits, rights, and privileges the law denies them. But, Collette continues, “if we change the definition of marriage without changing another individual statue on the books we will be changing literally thousands of laws in this country.” In other words, her rhetoric dismisses as exaggerations legal bias against LGBT people, but then threatens disastrous consequences for heterosexuals if the legal exclusions are removed.

Consequences of same-sex civil marriage

Using examples of current legal cases, many still being litigated, Dr. Collette lists eight consequences for straight people if LGBT citizens gain the right to legal, civil marriage in this country.

1) Public resources will be used to promote the “moral equivalencies” of same-sex marriage.

2) Public officials will deny access to public facilities, funding, and programs to those who disagree. This point illustrated with several instances of the Church refusing to agree to observe laws protecting LGBT citizens and then losing public social service contracts as a result. How dare they do that to us?, Collette stormed?

3) The Church’s tax exempt status will be challenged, and may be revoked.

4) Public employees will be disciplined, demoted, and even terminated for their refusal to recognize same-sex unions.

5) Private businesses will be fined for violating laws that are based on marital status.

6) Private landlords, including religious colleges, will be required to treat same sex couples the same as married couples.

7) Students will be denied admission to professional schools, and professionals will be subject to professional discipline, or denied licenses. Dr. Collette provided the example of Julia Ward, a social work student in Michigan, expelled from a social work program after first refusing to provide marital counseling to a gay couple, and then refusing training on the needs of LGBT clients. Ms. Ward argued that her evangelical Christian faith prohibited her from providing such counseling. Dr. Collette failed to mention in her presentation that the National Association of Social Workers in 1996 stated as policy that “The social worker should not practice, condone, facilitate, or collaborate with any form of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.” Who is the victim when a social work student tells a gay couple that she cannot help them because her religion forbids her from working with gay couples?

8) Private universities and colleges may lose their accreditation.

The right to discriminate

Dr. Collette concluded her remarks by emphasizing that GLBT relationships cannot be recognized in the law as legal marriage because of the impossibility of biological procreativity. She offered us “reciprocal beneficiary” arrangements instead which would be available to any two adults who want to enter into a legal relationship. It is not premised on sexual union or cohabitation.

Dr. Collette is determined to see marriage reserved for heterosexual couples, and bases her position on the legal history of the laws regulating marriage. She argues that the history of the laws prohibits their being changed to include GLBT citizens. With respect to recent defeats of efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in California and Maine, she crows that when the vote is put to the people “natural marriage” wins every time. “The media would have you believe that we are fighting a losing battle. The truth is that we are winning and they don’t like it.”

In conclusion she, and then parishioner Theresa who followed her onto the podium, threw up Powerpoint slides quoting Martin Luther King Jr., (including the one at the top of this article) in an effort to rally the faithful to battle against same-sex marriage.

Never mind that Coretta Scott King said, quoting her husband, “I’ve always felt that homophobic attitudes and policies were unjust and unworthy of a free society and must be opposed by all Americans who believe in democracy.”

Dr. Collette insists that the rights of heterosexuals never be impinged upon in the area of legal, civil marriage. She is indignant that anyone would question the legal right of the Roman Catholic Church to discriminate against gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender people as an employer, teacher, or landlord. She is an articulate advocate for continued inequality in civil marriage laws. Get out of our way, she steams, we will discriminate whether you like it or not.


The most striking thing about both speakers, the parishioner-coordinator Theresa, and the mood in the room judging by when people laughed and applauded, was their sense of victimhood, of being on the defensive. Their self-talk appears to be about how oppressed they are by their surrounding culture, and how threatened they are by the movement for gay rights. That they are in fact oppressors, or supporting oppression, is not in their mindset at all. In this way they dismiss any thought that there has ever been any bigotry or discrimination against gay people.

At the risk of dating myself, they room evoked Nixon’s description of “the silent majority” whose fears of racial integration he manipulated so shrewdly. They show up en masse to be affirmed in their prejudices, and to vote them at the ballot box. The fact that this is all done in church, in the heart of one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the state, by all white people, in the name of Jesus, and blessed by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., makes one tremble for the safety of the democracy.

The archdiocese will be offering this program at least 10 more times in various parishes in 2010.

Brian McNeill is the president of Dignity Twin Cities and convener of the Rainbow Sash Alliance USA.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Church's View of Sex the Root of Its Troubles

By Maureen Gaffney

Editor’s Note: The following op-ed was first published in the December 2, 2009 issue of the Irish Times.

After the first wave of revelations over a decade ago, the sexual abuse of children by the clergy was explained away by the Roman Catholic Church by the bad apple theory – that these isolated “sexual acts” were transgressions by a minority of weak priests. In the wake of the Dublin diocesan report, that explanation has been amplified to include institutional failures of decision-making in dealing with offenders and victims, and a culture of secrecy and cover-up.

But tidying up corporate governance and instituting a more transparent culture is not going to resolve the scandal of clerical sexual abuse. That will require the church to face up to a much more profound problem – the church’s own teaching on sexuality.

Consider the list of issues the church has failed to deal with credibly since the 1960s: premarital and extramarital sex; remarriage; contraception; divorce; homosexuality; the role of women in ministry and women’s ordination; and the celibacy of the clergy. All have to do with sexuality.

Very few Catholics are looking to the church for moral guidelines in relation to any of these questions anymore. And why would they? After all, the church’s teaching on sexuality continues to insist that all intentionally sought sexual pleasure outside marriage is gravely sinful, and that every act of sexual intercourse within marriage must remain open to the transmission of life. The last pope, and most probably the present, took the view that intercourse, even in marriage, is not only “incomplete”, but even ceases to be an act of love, if contraception is used. Such pronouncements are so much at variance with the lived experience of most people as to undermine terminally the church’s credibility in the area of intimate relationships.

The sexual revolution, particularly the development of effective contraception, and the growth of the women’s and gay rights movements, has left the church stranded with an archaic psychology of sexuality. The world has moved decisively away from a view of sex as simply procreation. What preoccupies men and women in the modern world is trying to understand the psychological roots of their own sexuality: how it is formed; how central it is to their identity and sense of self; and probably most essentially, how it can make or break their relationships. Even the clergy cannot put up a credible defence for the insistence on priestly celibacy in the face of the almost complete collapse in vocations and the mounting evidence that many priests have ignored teachings on this matter.

Richard Sipe is a former priest and a recognised authority on celibacy. On the basis of his research in the US and other countries, he estimates between 45 and 50 per cent of Catholic clergy are sexually active. A study in Spain found that of those clergy who were sexually active, 53 per cent were having sex with an adult woman; 21 per cent with adult men; 14 per cent with minor boys and 12 per cent with minor girls. His own research showed 20 per cent of priests were involved in a more or less stable sexual relationship with a woman, or with sequential women in identifiable patterns. Another 10 per cent were in exploratory “dating” relationships that might include sexual contact.

Sipe estimates the proportion of gay men in the priesthood as between 30 per cent and 50 per cent, significantly greater than the proportion in the general population. About 10 per cent of clergy in the US were involved in homosexual activity. A further 12 per cent identified themselves as homosexual or as having serious questions about their sexual orientation, although not all were sexually active. These men find themselves in a church which views a homosexual orientation as “an objective disorder”, “a more or less strong tendency towards evil”. How can gay men and women in religious life, or those troubled by their orientation, work out their sexual identity in such an environment, let alone minister to their gay and lesbian flock?

All of those issues are institutionally denied or shrouded in secrecy. Hardly surprising, then, that paedophilia can flourish in such an environment. It is important to stress here that homosexuality and paedophilia are two quite separate phenomena. A 2004 study for the American bishops found the percentage of clergy accused of child sexual abuse was consistently between 3 and 6 per cent, and the overall average is 5 per cent.

As the institutional structures of the church have weakened in the wake of successive scandals, it is likely that the proportions of priests who are actively engaged in sexuality of one kind or another may have increased.

Yet, the church has remained unmoved in the face of the mounting evidence of defection from its sexual teachings by both laity and clergy, although in the case of the offending clergy, they seem entirely capable of keeping their doctrinal orthodoxy psychologically separate from their actual behaviour.

It is predictable what will now happen. The church’s “learning curve” will crank up temporarily and its corporate governance on child sexual abuse may improve. And then, it will be business as usual. But no amount of improved decision-making and transparency will enable senior clergy to respond effectively to the church’s crisis of sexuality.

To do that, they must confront the root cause of the problem – that the Catholic Church is a powerful homo-social institution, where men are submissive to a hierarchical authority and where women are incidental and dispensable. It’s the purest form of a male hierarchy, reflected in the striking fact that we all collectively refer it to as “the Hierarchy.”

It has all the characteristics of the worst kind of such an institution: rigid in social structure; preoccupied by power; ruthless in suppressing internal dissent; in thrall to status, titles, and insignia, with an accompanying culture of narcissism and entitlement; and at a great psychological distance from human intimacy and suffering.

Most strikingly, it is a culture which is fearful and disdainful of women. As theologian William M Shea observes, “fear of women, and perhaps hatred of them, may well be just what we have to work out of the Catholic system”. Until that institutional misogyny is confronted, the church will be unable to confront the unresolved issue of its teaching on sexuality and the sexuality of the clergy. Instead, celibacy will continue to be used as a prop to the dysfunctional homo-social hierarchy. The hierarchy will continue to project its fear of women on to an obsessive effort to exert control over their wombs, their fertility and their unruly sexual desires. That is the psychology of exclusion.

It is to be hoped that the Catholic Church in Ireland will resolve this issue. Not just because many of us don’t want to lose the reassuring moral presence of the church, nor because we cannot easily do without the intelligent altruism of devoted religious, but because the great joy and hope of the Christian message was never more badly needed.

Maureen Gaffney is a clinical psychologist. She is chairwoman of the National Economic and Social Forum, which advises the Government on economic and social issues, and is a member of the board of the HSE.