Friday, April 30, 2010

It's Critical That Catholics Find Their Voice

By Ken Trainor

Editor's Note: The following commentary was first published on March 27 at

Last week, I praised parishioners at Ascension for putting on a show and singing "with one voice." This week, I'm challenging all Catholics to find their voice - their prophetic voice.

As horrible as the priest abuse scandal is, the institutional cover-up is an even greater moral outrage, yet I rarely hear ordinary Catholics express their feelings about it.

Catholics, as a rule, are a quiet bunch. Loyal and obedient, they don't rock the boat. And the "boat" definitely resists being rocked. The Catholic Church actively intimidates and/or punishes the outspoken few. Critics are branded "enemies" of the Church.

Loyal Catholics disagree with many of the Church's official positions, but we suffer from a kind of learned helplessness. We compartmentalize, drawing sharp distinctions between parish and Rome, the faith vs. the institution, Church as the people vs. Church as bureaucrats - the bottom-up world of the Catholic Church as it's lived vs. the top-down autocracy that seems so distant, arrogant and out of touch.

Most of us make a private accommodation. What good would it do to speak out? The Church doesn't listen. Life's too short to beat your head against a brick wall.

But at what point does our silence make us complicit? In the film A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More uses silence as a defense. He opposes his king on the great moral issue of the day but won't say anything, publicly or privately. "Silence gives consent," he tells his accusers. "If you must construe something from my silence, you must construe consent."

We are a Church filled with Thomas Mores. "That's not real Catholicism," we explain to those who challenge us. "That's just the institution" - as if that lets us off the hook. But the distinction doesn't cut it anymore. The hierarchy undermined the Church's moral authority when they chose to protect the institution instead of its people. We are active members of an organization that has committed immoral acts in our name. If we don't speak out, are we not enablers?

Years ago, I interviewed Rev. Martin Marty, a distinguished Lutheran theologian and University of Chicago Divinity School emeritus, who advised sticking with our faith community because it grounds the individual and keeps us honest. At the same time, he said, the individual needs to keep that faith community honest by holding it accountable.

Of course, he comes from a Reformation tradition that began when its founder hammered 95 theses to the front door of the nearest Catholic Church. Ninety-five! They couldn't all be wrong. As it has been through much of its history, the Church was indeed corrupt and badly in need of reform. Instead of betraying his Church, Martin Luther was fulfilling his obligation as a Prophetic Catholic.

Luther wasn't wrong, and neither are we. It's time for rank-and-file Catholics to speak truth to power. It won't be easy. There will be pushback, especially from reactionary Catholics, who are not at all afraid to speak out.

Though I don't have 95 theses to hammer home, I do believe my Church is wrong on a number of important issues:

The role of women: Refusing to ordain women is not only foolish (ignoring an enormous talent pool) and unethical (blatantly discriminatory), it is also shoddy theology. Jesus respected women and had female disciples. Women should be on equal footing with men.

Birth control: Using responsible contraception puts us in mature partnership with, not opposition to, our God when it comes to procreation. Suggesting that responsible birth control demonstrates disrespect for life is also bad theology. The Church should make a clear moral distinction between proactive and reactive birth control (i.e. abortion). The Vatican's inability to condone condom use in Africa, meanwhile, has contributed to widespread loss of life from the AIDS epidemic.

Celibacy: Mandatory celibacy has produced an unhealthy culture that contributes to the abuse crisis. Celibacy is a "gift," as the Church maintains, only if priests can freely choose it. The priest shortage suggests many men instead choose not to be priests. Celibacy should be optional.

Homosexuality: If Jesus could break bread with tax collectors (St. Matthew), prostitutes (St. Mary Magdalene - she is a saint, right?) and his own betrayer (Judas Iscariot), we can certainly break bread with gays and lesbians. Christian communion was never intended to be selective. Why do we allow conservatives to redefine Catholicism as an exclusive club?

What Would Jesus Do? He'd say his Church is on the wrong track. Contemporary Catholics need to say so, too.

We need Catholics who love the Church enough to criticize it. This patriarchal, overly centralized institution cannot thrive until it starts to share authority, moving outward from the center to the periphery, as theologian John O'Malley puts it in his excellent book, What Happened at Vatican II. That was the overwhelming consensus of the council almost 50 years ago.

Catholics are leaving in droves - on principle - because they think Catholicism is becoming less and less Christian. Any institution that cannot tolerate dissent is, by definition, dysfunctional. Healthy organizations find a way to change with the times without betraying core truths. We can hope for another John XXIII to come along and throw open the windows, but this Church is not likely to change until ordinary Catholics find their voice.

It won't be easy, but the days of silent accommodation and compartmentalization need to end.

Silence, after all, gives consent.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Let Our Voices Be Heard!

By Mary Beth Stein

A couple weeks ago, sixteen Catholics gave up a chance to linger outdoors in the spring-warmed air and instead gathered to talk about our Church. This grassroots listening session, which is part of a nationwide effort by the American Catholic Council, made space for all of us to describe our relationships with the Roman Catholic Church as well as voice our areas of concern. Although we came from different faith communities and backgrounds, we raised many similar issues. We want to be heard and claim our place in the Church!

Beyond having the opportunity to voice our concerns, many of us expressed relief and excitement about two aspects of this listening session. First, we realized that we are thoughtful and faithful Catholics who are not alone in our discontent with the present Church structure. Secondly, by uniting our voices we create hope for bringing about meaningful Church reform.

Part of our conversation explored what reforms we would discuss with the bishop if we could talk to him. This immediately elicited the desire to have bishops visit parishes and deeply listen to the faithful in their diocese. They should join in creative conversation rather than rigidly pass judgment on orthodoxy or denounce those who dare to question. Some of the main issues we want to discuss with the bishop are the following:

• Include everyone at the Eucharistic table: LGBT, divorced & remarried, etc.

• The role of women, particularly ordination and leadership positions within the hierarchy.

• Include lay people as preachers, in decision-making, and in leadership at all levels.

• Cherish parish diversity of culture rather than enforcing uniformity.

• Admit mistakes. The hierarchy must admit its role in covering up the sex abuse scandal and open itself to transparency and accountability.

• Update sexual teachings concerning LGBT, clerical celibacy, and contraception.

Considering our discontent with so many disturbing and unjust practices of our Church, we had to ask why we remain Catholic. Why not switch to another church?

Overwhelmingly the response came back, “This is our Church too!” We treasure its tradition of sacraments, liturgy, and ritual. Moreover, Catholic Social Teaching sets the standard on justice issues that many of us hold dear. We also embrace our long Catholic intellectual tradition with values that pre-date the current, rigid climate of the Church. We value both faith and reason as a means toward truth. We value the sacramental worldview that sees goodness in all God’s creation – including the marginalized ones: LGBT, women, the poor and outcast. We value the Church’s teaching on subsidiarity whereby governance and control reside primarily at the local level. We value our history which includes a plurality of thought yet remains united in our belief in Jesus.

Over coffee with friends or at the dinner table, many of us Catholics grumble and complain about Church practices. The exciting part about this listening session is that it moved us beyond helpless hand wringing and complaining. We found that we are not alone. Other thoughtful Catholics also hold this tension of loving our Church while rejecting so many of its practices. By coming together for thoughtful, constructive conversation, we found hope rising, hope that our Church truly can be reformed to better reflect the Gospel. We created a list of specific actions that we can take right now.

• Speak up - in our parishes and with other Catholics. Talk about the issues.

• Write to the Archbishop frequently.

• Write letters to the editor.

• Host listening sessions to give more Catholics a chance to use their voices.

• Use our dollars to support change.

• Pray for the bishops and everyone in Church leadership.

• Organize and unite ourselves!

Recognizing the need for a community to strengthen our voices, we especially look forward to the upcoming “Synod of the Baptized: Claiming Our Place at the Table” on September 18, 2010 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This Synod, sponsored by the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, will gather us, educate and inspire us, and listen to our ideas. Together we will formulate recommendations and a clear action plan to bring about the reform of our Church. (For information, go to

As the listening session came to a close and each of us stepped forth into the spring night air, we brought with us a sense of excitement and anticipation. We are not powerless. We are not alone. Together we can take action, speak up, and let our voices be heard!

For more information on hosting a listening session, e-mail

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hans Küng's Letter to the Bishops

In an open letter to the Roman Catholic bishops of the world, priest and theologian Hans Küng writes that Pope Benedict has made worse just about everything that is wrong with the Roman Catholic Church and is directly responsible for engineering the global cover-up of child rape perpetrated by priests.


Venerable Bishops,

Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, and I were the youngest theologians at the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965. Now we are the oldest and the only ones still fully active. I have always understood my theological work as a service to the Roman Catholic Church. For this reason, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the election of Pope Benedict XVI, I am making this appeal to you in an open letter. In doing so, I am motivated by my profound concern for our church, which now finds itself in the worst credibility crisis since the Reformation. Please excuse the form of an open letter; unfortunately, I have no other way of reaching you.

I deeply appreciated that the pope invited me, his outspoken critic, to meet for a friendly, four-hour-long conversation shortly after he took office. This awakened in me the hope that my former colleague at Tubingen University might find his way to promote an ongoing renewal of the church and an ecumenical rapprochement in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

Unfortunately, my hopes and those of so many engaged Catholic men and women have not been fulfilled. And in my subsequent correspondence with the pope, I have pointed this out to him many times. Without a doubt, he conscientiously performs his everyday duties as pope, and he has given us three helpful encyclicals on faith, hope and charity. But when it comes to facing the major challenges of our times, his pontificate has increasingly passed up more opportunities than it has taken:

Missed is the opportunity for rapprochement with the Protestant churches: Instead, they have been denied the status of churches in the proper sense of the term and, for that reason, their ministries are not recognized and intercommunion is not possible.

Missed is the opportunity for the long-term reconciliation with the Jews: Instead the pope has reintroduced into the liturgy a preconciliar prayer for the enlightenment of the Jews, he has taken notoriously anti-Semitic and schismatic bishops back into communion with the church, and he is actively promoting the beatification of Pope Pius XII, who has been accused of not offering sufficient protections to Jews in Nazi Germany.

The fact is, Benedict sees in Judaism only the historic root of Christianity; he does not take it seriously as an ongoing religious community offering its own path to salvation. The recent comparison of the current criticism faced by the pope with anti-Semitic hate campaigns – made by Rev Raniero Cantalamessa during an official Good Friday service at the Vatican – has stirred up a storm of indignation among Jews around the world.

Missed is the opportunity for a dialogue with Muslims in an atmosphere of mutual trust: Instead, in his ill-advised but symptomatic 2006 Regensburg lecture, Benedict caricatured Islam as a religion of violence and inhumanity and thus evoked enduring Muslim mistrust.

Missed is the opportunity for reconciliation with the colonised indigenous peoples of Latin America: Instead, the pope asserted in all seriousness that they had been "longing" for the religion of their European conquerors.

Missed is the opportunity to help the people of Africa by allowing the use of birth control to fight overpopulation and condoms to fight the spread of HIV.

Missed is the opportunity to make peace with modern science by clearly affirming the theory of evolution and accepting stem-cell research.

Missed is the opportunity to make the spirit of the Second Vatican Council the compass for the whole Catholic Church, including the Vatican itself, and thus to promote the needed reforms in the church.

This last point, respected bishops, is the most serious of all. Time and again, this pope has added qualifications to the conciliar texts and interpreted them against the spirit of the council fathers. Time and again, he has taken an express stand against the Ecumenical Council, which according to canon law represents the highest authority in the Catholic Church:

He has taken the bishops of the traditionalist Pius X Society back into the church without any preconditions – bishops who were illegally consecrated outside the Catholic Church and who reject central points of the Second Vatican Council (including liturgical reform, freedom of religion and the rapprochement with Judaism).

He promotes the medieval Tridentine Mass by all possible means and occasionally celebrates the Eucharist in Latin with his back to the congregation.

He refuses to put into effect the rapprochement with the Anglican Church, which was laid out in official ecumenical documents by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, and has attempted instead to lure married Anglican clergy into the Roman Catholic Church by freeing them from the very rule of celibacy that has forced tens of thousands of Roman Catholic priests out of office.

He has actively reinforced the anti-conciliar forces in the church by appointing reactionary officials to key offices in the Curia (including the secretariat of state, and positions in the liturgical commission) while appointing reactionary bishops around the world.

Pope Benedict XVI seems to be increasingly cut off from the vast majority of church members who pay less and less heed to Rome and, at best, identify themselves only with their local parish and bishop.

I know that many of you are pained by this situation. In his anti-conciliar policy, the pope receives the full support of the Roman Curia. The Curia does its best to stifle criticism in the episcopate and in the church as a whole and to discredit critics with all the means at its disposal. With a return to pomp and spectacle catching the attention of the media, the reactionary forces in Rome have attempted to present us with a strong church fronted by an absolutistic "Vicar of Christ" who combines the church's legislative, executive and judicial powers in his hands alone. But Benedict's policy of restoration has failed. All of his spectacular appearances, demonstrative journeys and public statements have failed to influence the opinions of most Catholics on controversial issues. This is especially true regarding matters of sexual morality. Even the papal youth meetings, attended above all by conservative- charismatic groups, have failed to hold back the steady drain of those leaving the church or to attract more vocations to the priesthood.

You in particular, as bishops, have reason for deep sorrow: Tens of thousands of priests have resigned their office since the Second Vatican Council, for the most part because of the celibacy rule. Vocations to the priesthood, but also to religious orders, sisterhoods and lay brotherhoods are down – not just quantitatively but qualitatively. Resignation and frustration are spreading rapidly among both the clergy and the active laity. Many feel that they have been left in the lurch with their personal needs, and many are in deep distress over the state of the church. In many of your dioceses, it is the same story: increasingly empty churches, empty seminaries and empty rectories. In many countries, due to the lack of priests, more and more parishes are being merged, often against the will of their members, into ever larger “pastoral units," in which the few surviving pastors are completely overtaxed. This is church reform in pretense rather than fact!

And now, on top of these many crises comes a scandal crying out to heaven – the revelation of the clerical abuse of thousands of children and adolescents, first in the United States, then in Ireland and now in Germany and other countries. And to make matters worse, the handling of these cases has given rise to an unprecedented leadership crisis and a collapse of trust in church leadership.

There is no denying the fact that the worldwide system of covering up cases of sexual crimes committed by clerics was engineered by the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Ratzinger (1981-2005). During the reign of Pope John Paul II, that congregation had already taken charge of all such cases under oath of strictest silence. Ratzinger himself, on May 18th, 2001, sent a solemn document to all the bishops dealing with severe crimes ( "epistula de delictis gravioribus" ), in which cases of abuse were sealed under the "secretum pontificium" , the violation of which could entail grave ecclesiastical penalties. With good reason, therefore, many people have expected a personal mea culpa on the part of the former prefect and current pope. Instead, the pope passed up the opportunity afforded by Holy Week: On Easter Sunday, he had his innocence proclaimed "urbi et orbi" by the dean of the College of Cardinals.

The consequences of all these scandals for the reputation of the Catholic Church are disastrous. Important church leaders have already admitted this. Numerous innocent and committed pastors and educators are suffering under the stigma of suspicion now blanketing the church. You, reverend bishops, must face up to the question: What will happen to our church and to your diocese in the future? It is not my intention to sketch out a new program of church reform. That I have done often enough both before and after the council. Instead, I want only to lay before you six proposals that I am convinced are supported by millions of Catholics who have no voice in the current situation.

1. Do not keep silent: By keeping silent in the face of so many serious grievances, you taint yourselves with guilt. When you feel that certain laws, directives and measures are counterproductive, you should say this in public. Send Rome not professions of your devotion, but rather calls for reform!

2. Set about reform: Too many in the church and in the episcopate complain about Rome, but do nothing themselves. When people no longer attend church in a diocese, when the ministry bears little fruit, when the public is kept in ignorance about the needs of the world, when ecumenical co-operation is reduced to a minimum, then the blame cannot simply be shoved off on Rome. Whether bishop, priest, layman or laywoman – everyone can do something for the renewal of the church within his own sphere of influence, be it large or small. Many of the great achievements that have occurred in the individual parishes and in the church at large owe their origin to the initiative of an individual or a small group. As bishops, you should support such initiatives and, especially given the present situation, you should respond to the just complaints of the faithful.

3. Act in a collegial way: After heated debate and against the persistent opposition of the Curia, the Second Vatican Council decreed the collegiality of the pope and the bishops. It did so in the sense of the Acts of the Apostles, in which Peter did not act alone without the college of the apostles. In the post-conciliar era, however, the pope and the Curia have ignored this decree. Just two years after the council, Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical defending the controversial celibacy law without the slightest consultation of the bishops. Since then, papal politics and the papal magisterium have continued to act in the old, uncollegial fashion. Even in liturgical matters, the pope rules as an autocrat over and against the bishops. He is happy to surround himself with them as long as they are nothing more than stage extras with neither voices nor voting rights. This is why, venerable bishops, you should not act for yourselves alone, but rather in the community of the other bishops, of the priests and of the men and women who make up the church.

4. Unconditional obedience is owed to God alone: Although at your episcopal consecration you had to take an oath of unconditional obedience to the pope, you know that unconditional obedience can never be paid to any human authority; it is due to God alone. For this reason, you should not feel impeded by your oath to speak the truth about the current crisis facing the church, your diocese and your country. Your model should be the apostle Paul, who dared to oppose Peter "to his face since he was manifestly in the wrong"! ( Galatians 2:11 ). Pressuring the Roman authorities in the spirit of Christian fraternity can be permissible and even necessary when they fail to live up to the spirit of the Gospel and its mission. The use of the vernacular in the liturgy, the changes in the regulations governing mixed marriages, the affirmation of tolerance, democracy and human rights, the opening up of an ecumenical approach, and the many other reforms of Vatican II were only achieved because of tenacious pressure from below.

5. Work for regional solutions: The Vatican has frequently turned a deaf ear to the well-founded demands of the episcopate, the priests and the laity. This is all the more reason for seeking wise regional solutions. As you are well aware, the rule of celibacy, which was inherited from the Middle Ages, represents a particularly delicate problem. In the context of today's clerical abuse scandal, the practice has been increasingly called into question. Against the expressed will of Rome, a change would appear hardly possible; yet this is no reason for passive resignation. When a priest, after mature consideration, wishes to marry, there is no reason why he must automatically resign his office when his bishop and his parish choose to stand behind him. Individual episcopal conferences could take the lead with regional solutions. It would be better, however, to seek a solution for the whole church, therefore:

6. Call for a council: Just as the achievement of liturgical reform, religious freedom, ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue required an ecumenical council, so now a council is needed to solve the dramatically escalating problems calling for reform. In the century before the Reformation, the Council of Constance decreed that councils should be held every five years. Yet the Roman Curia successfully managed to circumvent this ruling. There is no question that the Curia, fearing a limitation of its power, would do everything in its power to prevent a council coming together in the present situation. Thus it is up to you to push through the calling of a council or at least a representative assembly of bishops.

With the church in deep crisis, this is my appeal to you, venerable bishops: Put to use the episcopal authority that was reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council. In this urgent situation, the eyes of the world turn to you. Innumerable people have lost their trust in the Catholic Church. Only by openly and honestly reckoning with these problems and resolutely carrying out needed reforms can their trust be regained. With all due respect, I beg you to do your part – together with your fellow bishops as far as possible, but also alone if necessary – in apostolic "fearlessness" ( Acts 4:29, 31 ). Give your faithful signs of hope and encouragement and give our church a perspective for the future.

With warm greetings in the community of the Christian faith,

Yours, Hans Küng

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Church Mary Can Love

By Nicholas D. Kristof

Editor’s Note: This op-ed was first published in the April 17, 2010 issue of The New York Times.

I heard a joke the other day about a pious soul who dies, goes to heaven, and gains an audience with the Virgin Mary. The visitor asks Mary why, for all her blessings, she always appears in paintings as a bit sad, a bit wistful: Is everything O.K.?

Mary reassures her visitor: “Oh, everything’s great. No problems. It’s just ... it’s just that we had always wanted a daughter.”

That story comes to mind as the Vatican wrestles with the consequences of a patriarchal pre-modern mind-set: scandal, cover-up and the clumsiest self-defense since Watergate.

It wasn’t inevitable that the Catholic Church would grow so addicted to male domination, celibacy and rigid hierarchies. Jesus himself focused on the needy rather than dogma, and went out of his way to engage women and treat them with respect.

The first-century church was inclusive and democratic, even including a proto-feminist wing and texts. The Gospel of Philip, a Gnostic text from the third century, declares of Mary Magdalene: “She is the one the Savior loved more than all the disciples.” Likewise, the Gospel of Mary (from the early second century) suggests that Jesus entrusted Mary Magdalene to instruct the disciples on his religious teachings.

St. Paul refers in Romans 16 to a first-century woman named Junia as prominent among the early apostles, and to a woman named Phoebe who served as a deacon. The Apostle Junia became a Christian before St. Paul did (chauvinist translators have sometimes rendered her name masculine, with no scholarly basis).

Yet over the ensuing centuries, the church reverted to strong patriarchal attitudes, while also becoming increasingly uncomfortable with sexuality. The shift may have come with the move from house churches, where women were naturally accepted, to more public gatherings.

The upshot is that proto-feminist texts were not included when the Bible was compiled (and were mostly lost until modern times). Tertullian, an early Christian leader, denounced women as “the gateway to the devil,” while a contemporary account reports that the great Origen of Alexandria took his piety a step further and castrated himself.

The Catholic Church still seems stuck today in that patriarchal rut. The same faith that was so pioneering that it had Junia as a female apostle way back in the first century can’t even have a woman as the lowliest parish priest. Female deacons, permitted for centuries, are banned today.

That old boys’ club in the Vatican became as self-absorbed as other old boys’ clubs, like Lehman Brothers, with similar results.

But there’s more to the picture than that. In my travels around the world, I encounter two Catholic Churches. One is the rigid all-male Vatican hierarchy that seems out of touch when it bans condoms even among married couples where one partner is H.I.V.-positive. To me at least, this church — obsessed with dogma and rules and distracted from social justice — is a modern echo of the Pharisees whom Jesus criticized.

Yet there’s another Catholic Church as well, one I admire intensely. This is the grass-roots Catholic Church that does far more good in the world than it ever gets credit for. This is the church that supports extraordinary aid organizations like Catholic Relief Services and Caritas, saving lives every day, and that operates superb schools that provide needy children an escalator out of poverty.

This is the church of the nuns and priests in Congo, toiling in obscurity to feed and educate children. This is the church of the Brazilian priest fighting AIDS who told me that if he were pope, he would build a condom factory in the Vatican to save lives.

This is the church of the Maryknoll Sisters in Central America and the Cabrini Sisters in Africa. There’s a stereotype of nuns as stodgy Victorian traditionalists. I learned otherwise while hanging on for my life in a passenger seat as an American nun with a lead foot drove her jeep over ruts and through a creek in Swaziland to visit AIDS orphans. After a number of encounters like that, I’ve come to believe that the very coolest people in the world today may be nuns.

So when you read about the scandals, remember that the Vatican is not the same as the Catholic Church. Ordinary lepers, prostitutes and slum-dwellers may never see a cardinal, but they daily encounter a truly noble Catholic Church in the form of priests, nuns and lay workers toiling to make a difference.

It’s high time for the Vatican to take inspiration from that sublime — even divine — side of the Catholic Church, from those church workers whose magnificence lies not in their vestments, but in their selflessness. They’re enough to make the Virgin Mary smile.

- Nicholas D. Kristof
The New York Times
April 17, 2010

Patriarchy and Pushback: Nicholas Kristof Hits a Nerve - William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, April 19, 2010).

Image: Leonardo Hidalgo.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Save the Date!

. . . for an "Evening in the Park" Fundraiser with

Rosemary Radford Ruether

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Time: 7:00 p.m.

Place: Park Pavilion at the Lake Elmo Park Reserve (South Shelter),
Washington County Parks, MN.

For map and directions, see below.

Dr. Rosemary Radford Ruether is one of the most widely read feminist theologian in North America and is among the leading Catholics of her generation. Her most recent book is Catholic Does Not Equal the Vatican: A Vision for Progressive Catholicism. (For a review, click here.) She lives in Claremont, California.

The Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) is sponsoring this event as a major fundraiser for its Synod of the Baptized (“Claiming Our Place at the Table”), scheduled for September 18, 2010.

If you are unable to attend but would like to make a tax-deductible donation, make your check payable to CCCR and mail to:

CCCR, 2080 Edgcumbe Road, St. Paul, MN 55116

Please Note: Refreshments will be served. Seating is at picnic tables. Feel free to bring a lawn chair if that would be more comfortable. This site has been reserved for the day, so feel free to arrive early and enjoy the park. There is no car fee for entering the park.

You may reserve seats on a bus that will leave from South Minneapolis for the evening. Call Paula at 612-379-1043 for reservations and more information.

Map and Directions

1515 Keats Ave. N.
Lake Elmo, MN 55042

Located 1 mile north of Interstate 94 and 2.5 miles east of Interstate 694 at the intersection of County Road 19(Keats Avenue North) and County Road 10 (10th Street North) in the City of Lake Elmo, Minnesota.


From Interstate 94, take exit 151 or County Road 19. Follow County Road 19 to the north for one mile to County Road 10. Cross County Road 10 and proceed into the park.

From Interstate 694, take exit 57 or County Road 10 (10th Street North). Follow County Road 10 east for 2.6 miles. Turn left (north) into the park.

From State Highway 5 in downtown Lake Elmo, follow County Road 17 south for 2.5 miles to County Road 10 (10th Street North). Turn right (west) on County Road 10 for one mile. Turn right (north) into the park.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Many Voices, One Church

Editor's Note: Continuing with our series that recognizes and celebrates the contribution of lay preachers within the local church of St. Paul-Minneapolis, the editorial team of the PCV in honored to share the following Easter Vigil homily.

(For an introduction to this series, click here. Also, please note that to avoid possible negative consequences, names of preachers and parishes will not be disclosed in this series.)


The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.

These are the words of 19th century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Since the very first time I read them, I have seen and felt that explosion of light, an almost electric vision of sunlight on mirrors or the blaze of tin foil unrolled, and have known the moment that the very nerves of the earth were charged with God’s presence. These two lines seem an appropriate physical representation of the drama we’ve experienced through history and will re-experience tonight, travelling from the darkness of crucifixion and death to the radiance of light, Baptism, empty tombs, memory and promises kept.

An empty tomb at dawn – that feeling of loss, grief, and abandonment the women in Luke’s gospel must have felt. To lose a human being you’ve loved not just once on the cross, but twice, with the physical body vanished. Imagine feeling abandoned at our most vulnerable, pain-filled time. We’ve all felt this at our darkest moments – living with cancer or a recent diagnosis; living with recovery after stroke; hanging on by our nails during depression and other mental illness; losing a job; losing a life-partner, or child – the Where-Is-God feeling. Thomas Merton has a quote on this subject that resonates with me: “Prayer is learned in the hour when prayer has become impossible and the heart has turned to stone.”

Then the dazzling messengers appear, asking the women to remember Jesus’ words and all that was foreordained, and then “with this reminder, the words of Jesus came back to them.” We know these women to be Mary Magdelene, Mary the mother of James, and another. So did these women in their terror run away after the messengers’ words to them? No, they ran toward – toward the apostles to give the good news.

Despite the fact that it was the women who discovered the empty tomb, endured the initial fear of the messengers’ words and then remember Jesus’ words, the apostles didn’t believe the women. Why? Was it because they were women? ( I hate to say it, but that’s a rhetorical question…) Or was it because the apostles hadn’t yet entered into the process of remembering, seeing, and believing for themselves? Or was it simply shock, the body’s inability to meld physical, emotional and intellectual truth into any comprehensible logic?

This resurrection we learn glimpses of in Luke’s gospel is intimately related to Baptism. Baptism is change, transcendence, transformation into a different thing. Tonight, we as a community experience resurrection because [one of our members], as an adult, is choosing us. Its both [her] resurrection and ours, as a faith community.

There is something in adult Baptism that awes me, and I guess it’s the deliberate element of choice, something infants don’t possess when their parents choose Baptism for them. In my own case as a Mom, I wasn’t ready to commit to the Catholic Church when my boys were infants or toddlers. It took me until they were 8 and 9 years old for me to have them baptized, because I was that unsure of the strength of my faith. I still struggle with the meaning and obligation of Baptism – who doesn’t? But I’m glad to have those boys here with me tonight. They’re not products of Catholic schools, as I was from childhood through my first year of college, so there is a lot of history that’s different for my family. Still, I hope and believe the values have rubbed off, and aren’t our values the most important thing we can hand our children?

What I most take away from our readings this evening [Romans 6:3–5, 8 and Luke 24:1–12] is that when we stand before the empty tomb in bewilderment or sorrow, God is still and always with us. In the file-clerk and the truck driver, in the professor and the hotel cleaner, in the nurse or in the nun, God is with us. Turn around and look at each other. Literally, please, do this for a moment, and you will see the face of God.

And remember also that Death is not God’s final word. This is the day on which we celebrate the fact that Jesus was willing to die for us, but was not willing to stay dead. Jesus left the tomb to live with us in our ordinary, unspectacular lives. He is in our lives every day we invite the stranger in, forgive a co-worker, act in small or large ways on our convictions, pull kindness from empty hats and swirl it in torrents on others with whom we most disagree. This is resurrection, the graceful essence of life. And remember always that “The world is charged with the grandeur of God / It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.” Happy Easter, and Happy Baptism to all!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Minnesotans Plan Protest of Prop 8 Organizers

By Andy Birkey

Editor’s Note: This article was first published on March 8 at

A coalition of Minnesota groups are planning a protest against Maggie Gallagher and Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, two high profile members of the Prop 8 campaign to take marriage rights away from same-sex couples in California, who will be appearing at the University of St. Thomas on April 17.

OutFront Minnesota, All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church, the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, Dignity Twin Cities, and the Institute for Welcoming Resources have joined together to voice their opposition to anti-LGBT discrimination.

The group has put together a Facebook event about the protest and here’s the information from OutFront Minnesota.

[Archbishop John C. Nienstedt and the Office for Marriage, Family and Life] is inviting Maggie Gallagher, President of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM), and Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, one of the creators of California’s Proposition 8, to its campus to bring their campaign of discrimination against gays and lesbians to Minnesota.

Join OutFront Minnesota, All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church, the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, and the Institute for Welcoming Resources (a program of The Task Force) in protesting Proposition 8 and the discrimination NOM has been fighting for across the country!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

All Are Welcome

By Bishop Regina Nicolosi

Roman Catholic Womanbishop Regina Nicolosi recalls her experiences growing up Catholic, her call to the priesthood, and the recent backlash she experienced after word spread in her local parish of her ordination as bishop.

My husband Charles and I have been members of St. Joseph’s parish in Red Wing since 1973. He was ordained a deacon 1978 and served the parish for 10 years in this ministry. I became involved as a religious education teacher, member of the Social Concerns Committee, and Parish Council. I was the chair of the council for a few years in the eighties. Until very recently I was a member of the Social Concerns and Justice Commission and the Parish Council. Our children were baptized at St. Joe’s, received their first communion and were confirmed as well in this spacious, round, modern church. We have seen many priests come and go, and adjusted more or less to their various theological understandings of church and their different leadership styles.

Charlie’s and my experience of parish life were very different. He was formed by parishes and schools based on the Baltimore Catechism in New York City. I grew up in a small town in the Rhineland, Germany. I was blessed with a searching, open-minded mother, a liberal pastor, and highly progressive teachers in high school and university. Both of us, however, were moved by Vatican II which encouraged us to stay actively involved in the local parish as the core unit of Church and by Liberation Theology with its stress on the preferential option for the poor and the liberation of all who are oppressed: people of color, women, GLBT people and many other groups.

It was during Charlie’s preparation for the diaconate that I started to experience a call to ministry, initially to the diaconate and eventually to the priesthood. Studies in Pastoral Theology, Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), as well as work as chaplain in a juvenile correction facility, in senior housing and in a nursing home deepened my awareness of this call. When I heard about a group of women in Europe who had been ordained to the priesthood in 2002 during an illicit, but valid ceremony on the Danube, I saw a possibility to answer this call. The group became known as the Danube Seven. In 2004, I joined the movement which had taken the name Roman Catholic Womenpriests – RCWP. My ordination to the Diaconate took place in Canada in 2005. My priestly ordination occurred on Lake Constance on international waters between Switzerland, Austria and Germany in 2006.

During my time of preparation and during my ministry itself, I have experienced the support, love and prayers of many people. Many of them were Catholics. There were members of Call To Action, Dignity, and the St. Joan’s Alliance. But there was also great support from people in other Christian denominations and in the public sphere. I received an award from AAUW and a Human Rights award from the City of Red Wing. A heartfelt “Thank you” to all who have supported our movement!

I also would like to thank the Parish Community of St. Joseph for the love and support that was extended to me. The “official” Catholic Church, however, acted differently. I received a letter, which informed me that I had excommunicated myself (sic) through my actions.

In April 2009 I was ordained a Bishop to serve the Midwest region of RCWP. The ordination took place in California because there were several of us ordained who came from different areas and the ordaining bishops were unable to travel to each destination. It was important for us to celebrate the Episcopal ordination with the ordained women of the Midwest region and all the people of God who believe that “in Christ there is neither male nor female”. We planned a Mass of Thanksgiving to take place at the end of August 2009 at Christ Episcopal Church in Red Wing. Call To Action, MN graciously helped with the invitations. I placed an advertisement in the local paper which invited the community to celebrate my installation as a Catholic Womanbishop.

At that point, some conservative members of the parish contacted the parish priest and complained about the ad and questioned my positions on the Parish Council and the Social Concerns and Justice Commission. Considering the difficult atmosphere in the diocese, the priest did not see any alternative and asked me to step down. That was a very sad day for me and for many of those in the parish who support a woman’s right to represent Jesus and to stand next to the altar.

I have three daughters, one of them a lesbian. It has become more and more difficult to justify staying in a church which not only fails to acknowledge my rights as a women but also seems to claim that my baptism is inferior because I am a woman.

The hierarchical leadership of our church has been accused of being out of touch with the people of God in many areas too numerous to count. Women’s ordination is one of them. There have been times when I was ready to leave this church and join one that is more open and inclusive.

But: This is my church and, to put it succinctly, We Are the Church. I do not remember ever having “excommunicated myself” and I do not think that a coterie in the Vatican can decide who is in and who is out. Vatican II is not dead and there are enough of us to keep it alive.

Let us remember the promises we have received in baptism and let us claim our birthright as children of God and as brother’s and sisters of Jesus. May Sophia open the hearts of all of us in the Catholic Church to true dialogue and to the love that Jesus asked us to share, so others would recognize us as his disciples.

See also:
Ordination of Women in Minneapolis Reflects an Emerging Renewal of Priesthood and Church - Michael Bayly (The Progressive Catholic Voice, August 19, 2009).
“We Are All the Rock”: An Interview with Roman Catholic Womanpriest Judith McKloskey - Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, August 4, 2008).

Saturday, April 3, 2010

One Overwhelming Fire of Love

Writes Andrew Harvey in Son of Man: The Mystical Path to Christ:

I believe Jesus willingly and consciously precipitated the events that led to his capture, trial, and crucifixion. Whether or not he knew, in any human sense of “knowing,” that his descent into the ultimate depths of humiliation and torment would utterly remake his being and the whole future of humanity we can never be sure; the account of the Gospels of the crucifixion and resurrection were written after the fact, and with certain clarities projected backwards.

I believe that Jesus did not know; that he risked his entire being in a final terrible adventure whose end was not certain. This better explains, I believe, his fear and fragility in the Garden of Gethsemane and the moments of doubt on the cross. He did not “know”; he loved and trusted and surrendered and went on loving and trusting and surrendering, more and more deeply, more and more abandonedly, as the storms of suffering that buffeted him became more and more atrocious. Everything that he discovered and lived, every truth that he had taught, every passion for a new world that had awoken in him now had to coalesce into one overwhelming fire of love, which would rest death itself and beat against the doors of that law of nature that had up to then kept heaven and earth separate, the living and the dead in their different rooms.

In his life, Jesus had lived out the truths of the Kingdom on earth with extreme integrity; now in his dying he would subject that integrity to an even greater test – the test of annihilation. Had Jesus known that he would be reborn on the third day, some of the final work of that annihilation could not be done; the dying that led to the resurrection had to be a complete annihilation of everything, even of his belief in himself, in his mission, in his unfailing and infallible connection to God, perhaps even of his belief in the deathlessness of divine love itself. All certainties and forms of knowing and awareness had to be utterly annihilated in God for the new to be possible, the utterly unprecedented to be born.

No one, not even the greatest mystic, can know beforehand what such a stripping inevitably entails; its agony is too extreme for the mind to imagine and its torture reaches more deeply and finally into the ultimate recesses of being than any previous form of suffering. All that anyone who has come to this final place can do is what Jesus did – give up everything to the mystery of God, surrender totally. Such a surrender is a passing through zone after zone of loss, humiliation, and crushing, savage suffering; one of the many ways in which Jesus moves us to depths we hardly knew we possessed before we began to know him is that for him, too, such a surrender was dreadful and cost everything and had to be done in ever-more demanding stages of terror and weeping and deeper and deeper prayer. But a whole lifetime of the most passionate love and sacrifice had prepared Jesus to take this journey on behalf of the whole of humanity.

In his life and teaching, Jesus had shown the inner and outer truths of the Kingdom; he had been a living son of its fire. Now in his dying, he would bring the realization of the Kingdom on earth even closer by sacrificing everything for it in extreme and final trust, abandon, and love. Through such an extreme gift of himself he was not “simply” redeeming the sins of humanity; that is too small a description of so vast an enterprise. He wasn’t “just” redeeming the past of humanity but revealing the limitlessness of the powers entrusted by God to the human soul, and so revealing a wholly new possible future. By suffering horrible evil without hatred and in the spirit of forgiveness of the Kingdom, he put into ultimate practice his teaching of loving non-violence on the deepest possible level, and showed that such love could birth a soul-force capable of carrying him – and anyone who truly believed and trusted it – not only through death but into the dimension of the deathless, where the Kingdom’s dream of fusing matter and spirit in one glory permanently would be realized, as it was realized in him “on the third day.”

See also the previous PCV post:
“You Will See Him”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Priest's Call for a Catholic Reformation

By Henri Boulad, S.J.

Editor's Note: This open letter to Pope Benedict XVI was originally written in 2007. It remains, however, highly topical and relevant, and was recently republished in The Washington Post.

Holy Father,

I dare to speak directly to you for my heart bleeds upon seeing the abyss into which our Church is falling. Hopefully, you will forgive the filial frankness, inspired by the liberty of the children of God to which St. Paul invites us and for my impassioned love for the Church.

I will be pleased also that you forgive the alarmist tone of this letter for I know that little time remains and that the situation remains dire. Let me first tell you a little about myself. I am an Egyptian Lebanese Jesuit of the Melkiterite. I will soon turn 78. For the last 3 years, I have been the rector of the Jesuit school in Cairo. I have also carried out the following responsibilities: superior of the Jesuits in Alexandria, regional superior of the Jesuits in Egypt, professor of theology in El Cairo, director of Caritas-Egypt, and vice president of Caritas International for the Middle East and North Africa.

I am well acquainted with the Catholic hierarchy of Egypt having participated over many years in meetings as president of superiors of the religious orders of Egypt. I have very close relations with each one of them, some of whom are my former students. I also personally know Pope Chenouda III, whom I saw frequently. As far as the Catholic hierarchy of Europe goes, I had the opportunity to meet personally with some of its members such as Cardinal Koening, Cardinal Schonborn, Cardinal Daneels, Cardinal Martini, Archbishop Kothgasser, Bishops Kapellari and Kung, other Austrian bishops and bishops of other European countries. These encounters occurred during my annual trips to give conferences throughout Europe, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, France, Belgium, etc. During these visits, I spoke and engaged with diverse audiences and the media (newspapers, radio, television, etc.) I did the same in Egypt and the Near East.

I have visited 50 countries on 4 continents and have published some 30 books in 15 languages--mainly in French, Arabic, Hungarian, and German. Of the 13 books in German, perhaps you have read Sons and Daughters of God which was published by your friend, Fr. Erich Fink of Bavaria. I say this not to brag, but rather to tell you simply that my intentions are grounded in a realistic knowledge of the universal church and its current situation in 2009.

Returning to the reason for this letter, I will try to be as brief, clear, and objective as possible.

In the first place, there are several topics [the list is not exhaustive].

Number 1: Religious practice is in a constant decline. A continually shrinking number of seniors [who will soon disappear] are those who frequent the churches in Europe and Canada. The only remaining remedy will be to close these churches or change them into museums, mosques, clubs, or municipal libraries as is now being done. The thing that surprises me is that many of these churches are being completely renovated and modernized at great expense with the hope of attracting the faithful. But this will not stop the exodus.

Number 2: Seminaries and novitiates are emptying out at the same speed, and vocations are in sharp decline. The future is very somber and one has to ask who or what will bring relief. More and more African and Asian priests are in charge of European parishes.

Number 3: Many priests abandon the priesthood. The few who remain - whose median age often is beyond that of retirement - have to be in charge of many parishes in an expedient and administrative capacity. Many of these priests, in Europe, as well as in the Third World, live in concubinage in plain sight of the faithful who normally accept them; this occurs with the knowledge of the local bishop who is not able to accept this arrangement, but who needs to keep in mind the scarcity of priests.

Number 4: The language of the church is obsolete, out of date, boring, repetitive, moralizing and totally out of synch with our age. The message of the Gospel should be presented in all its starkness and challenges. It is necessary to move towards a "new evangelization" to which John Paul II invited us. But this, contrary to what many think or believe, does not mean repeating the old which no longer speaks to us, but rather innovating and inventing a new language which expresses the faith in a meaningful way for the people of today.

Number 5: This is not able to be done without a profound renewal of theology and catechesis which should be completely reformulated. A German religious priest whom I met recently was telling me that the word "mystic" was not even mentioned once in "The New Catechism." I could not believe it. We have to concede that our faith is very cerebral, abstract, dogmatic, and rarely directed to the heart and body.

Number 6: As a consequence, a great number of Christians are turning to the religions of Asia, the sects, "new-age," evangelical churches, occultism, etc. This is not unexpected. They go to other places to look for nourishment that they don't find in their own home. They have the impression that we give them stones as if it were bread. The Christian faith in another age gave a sense of life to people. It appears to be an enigma to them today, the remains of a forgotten past.

Number 7: In the moral and ethical areas, the teachings of the magisterium repeated " ad nausaeum," about marriage, contraception, abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, married priests, the divorced who remarry again, etc. etc., no longer affect anyone, and only produce weariness and indifference. All of these moral and pastoral problems deserve something more than categorical declarations. They need a pastoral, sociological, psychological and human treatment that is more evangelical.

Number 8: The Catholic Church, which has been the great teacher of Europe for many centuries, seems to forget that this same Europe has arrived at its maturity. Our adult Europe does not wish to be treated as a child. The paternalistic style of a church "mater et magistra" is completely out of touch and no longer works today. Christians have learned to think for themselves and are no longer inclined to swallow just anything that someone else proposes.

Number 9: The most Catholic nations of the past, for example, France, "the first-born daughter of the church," or ultra-Catholic French Canada, have made a hundred and eighty degree turn and have fallen into atheism, anti-clericalism, agnosticism, and indifference. Other European nations are proceeding down the same path. We are able to state that the more a nation was dominated and protected by the church in the past, the stronger is their reaction against it today.

Number 10: The dialogue with other churches and religions is in a worrisome decline today. The great progress made over the last half century is on hold at this time.

Facing this almost devastating situation, the church's leadership reacts in two ways:

1. They tend to minimize the seriousness of the situation and to console themselves by focusing on a resurgence of the most traditionalist factions and on growth in the Third World countries.

2. They appeal to their confidence in the Lord who has sustained the church for over 20 centuries and who is able to help them overcome this new crisis.

To this I respond: Neither relying on the past nor holding on to its crumbs will solve the problems of today and tomorrow. The apparent vitality of the churches in the Third World today is misleading. It appears very probable that these new churches eventually will pass through the same crises that the old European Christianity encountered.

Modernity is irreversible and having forgotten this is why the church today finds itself in such a crisis. Vatican II tried to reverse four centuries of stagnation, but there is an impression that the church is gradually closing the doors that it opened at that time. The church has tried to direct itself backwards towards the council of Trent and Vatican I rather than forward toward Vatican III. Let's remember a statement that John Paul II repeated many times, "There is no alternative to Vatican II."

How long will we continue playing the politics of the ostrich hiding our heads in the sand? How long will we avoid looking things in the face? How long will we continue turning our back and rejecting every criticism rather than seeing it as a chance for renewal? How long will we continue to postpone a reform that has been neglected for too long a time?

Only by looking forward and not backward will the church fulfill its mission to be the light of the world, salt of the earth, and leaven in the dough. Nevertheless, unfortunately what we find today is that the church is the caboose of our age after having been the locomotive for centuries.

I repeat again what I said at the beginning of this letter. Time is running out! History doesn't wait especially in our era when it its rhythm flows ever more rapidly.

Any business when confronting a deficit or dysfunction examines itself immediately, bringing together a group of experts, trying to revitalize itself, and mobilizing all its energies to overcoming the crisis. Why doesn't the church do something different? Why doesn't it mobilize all its living forces to have a radical aggiornamento? Why?

Because of laziness? Lethargy? Pride? Lack of imagination? Lack of creativity? Culpable passivity in the hope that the Lord will take care of things and because the church has weathered other crises in the past.

In the Gospels, Christ warns us that "the children of darkness manage their affairs better than the children of light."

So then, what needs to be done? The Church of today has an urgent and compelling need for a three-pronged reform.

1. A theological and catechetical reform to rethink our faith and reformulate it in a coherent way for our contemporaries. A faith that has no significance and gives no meaning to life is nothing more than an ornament, a useless superstructure that eventually implodes upon itself. This is the current situation.

2. A pastoral reformulation that re-thinks from head to toe the structures inherited from the past.

3. A spiritual renewal to revitalize the mystical and to rethink the sacraments with the view of giving them an existential dimension, one that connects with life.

I would have much more to say about this. Today's church is too formal, too formalistic. One has the impression that the institution suffocates its charisma, and in the end what one finds is purely external stability, a superficial honesty, a kind of facade. Don't we run the risk that Jesus will describe us as the "whitened sepulchres"?

In conclusion, I suggest convoking a general synod at the level of the universal church in which all Christians would participate-Catholics and others-to examine with openness and clarity the issues raised above and their ramifications.

Such a synod would last three years and would conclude with a general assembly-let's avoid the word council-which would synthesize the results of this exploration and draw its conclusions.

I end, Holy Father, by asking your pardon for my outspoken boldness and I ask for your paternal blessing. Let me also tell you that in these days I live in your company thanks to your extraordinary book, Jesus of Nazareth, which is the focus of my spiritual reading and daily meditation.

With the utmost affection in the Lord,

Henri Boulad, S.J.