Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Not Products of Divine Revelation But of Human Invention "

Tom Doyle on clericalism and its trappings.

Catholic priest Tom Doyle recently shared his thoughts on the history and dysfunctional nature of clericalism, i.e., "the belief that clerics (deacons, priests and bishops) are superior to lay persons and are rightfully entitled to deference, unquestioned respect and exemption from many of the obligations born by most lay people." His comments were first published on the website of Richard Sipe. Following are excerpts.


The Church is a visible institution. The Church teaches as official dogma that the Church as we know it, that is, a hierarchical structure that is totally run by celibate male clerics (mostly bishops), was instituted by Jesus Himself. The Church teaches that the pope is the representative (Vicar) of Christ on earth. It teaches that Christ founded His church and left it in the control of the twelve apostles and explicitly willed that these apostles pass this power down to their successors. Consequently the official teaching is that the visible church is run by men who have been explicitly chosen by the Supreme Being. Furthermore the Church teaches that priests are fundamentally different than other humans. They are, in the words of John Paul II, uniquely configured to Christ. Catholics are taught to believe that priests are special. They represent Jesus Christ. They have very special spiritual powers. Their intercession is essential for anyone who wishes to make it to heaven in the next life.

This teaching is the foundation for the clerical culture that runs the Church. Clericalism is the belief that clerics (deacons, priests and bishops) are superior to lay persons and are rightfully entitled to deference, unquestioned respect and exemption from many of the obligations born by most lay people. This clerical world is the home of the men who make up the Church power structure. The Church teaches that this structure is the church. To be a Catholic, one must believe totally in the teachings about the nature of the church strictures and the sacredness of the Church’s clerical ministers.

If all of these teachings were true, would there be a need for all of the secrecy? If these teachings were true, especially about the “Christ-like” nature of priests and bishops, would there be such widespread corruption, dishonesty and abuse found among clerics at every level?

If all of these things were true! The problem is that there is no authentic historical evidence that any of it is true. The various titles, roles and offices attributed to popes, bishops and priests are not products of divine revelation but of human invention, often as a response and reaction to serious external threats to the power and wealth of the clerical aristocracy. For example, and it’s a good example, Papal Infallibility was literally invented by Pope Pius IX and forced through the First Vatican Council . . . for political reasons. The pope’s kingdom, the Papal States, was threatened with dissolution by the Italian social upheaval at the time. Likewise the title “Vicar of Christ” was part of a conscious program of a medieval pope to fortify papal power. This title has had a long and complex and by no means consistent history. It was not applied to the Papacy until the 13th century when Pope Innocent III took it to enhance his overall program of actively concentrating just about all power in the Church in the papacy.

Consequently this massive institution seeks above all to preserve itself. Sexual abuse of children or anyone by members of the sacred elite is potentially disastrous for the image, credibility and hence the power of the Church. The bishops really believe that they are essential to the existence of the Church. Therefore protecting the hierarchy is essential and believed to be God’s will. The popes and the bishops did not have to conspire to keep sexual abuse by clergy buried as deeply as possible. The secretive response is in the blood of the bishops. It is rooted in the fundamental urge to survive. Disruption and disintegration of the monarchical structures of the Church means the end of the system of power and control as we know it. This poses an unthinkable threat to the clergy and to the clerical world. The threat is personal because this world, this monarchical institution, this magical theological support system is the past, present and future of the bishops. It is their source of identity. To change or destroy it is a threat to the very being of the clerics who feed off of it.

To read Thomas Doyle's commentary in its entirety, click here.

Friday, July 30, 2010

No More Time to Waste

By Kathy Coffey

Editor's Note: This commentary was first published July 19, 2010 on the Patheos website.

Where would I like to see the Catholic church move next? In a radical direction, meaning "back to its roots."

Over time, any institution becomes self-protective, guarding itself. Anyone who doubts this should remember the transition from being childless to becoming a parent. For most people, the drinking tapers off, the parties end earlier, and the driving becomes more cautious. While this may also be due to growing older, it's clearly motivated by the small, vulnerable person who's now in our care.

Extrapolate that to a large, international institution like the Catholic Church, and it becomes clear how customs can become entrenched. For efficient operation, rules are necessary -- but they aren't all that we're about.

Unfortunately, many now know Catholics only by what they oppose: same-sex marriage, women's ordination, abortion, etc. In the future, let's be known by what we advocate. Let's focus on the positive. At the very beginning gushed forth a wellspring of compassionate life so dramatic that centuries haven't quenched it. Let's hear that call of Jesus again -- to love the "other," to do justice for the weakest members of our society, to savor the beauties of this world, to serve God magnanimously. Jesus was so wildly inclusive he dined with Judas at his last supper, and according to everything we're taught, must love the serial killer as much as Francis of Assisi.

Let's return to the gospels, first and foremost, for the template of the people we should become. Then let's look more deeply at the mystics, a treasure too long neglected. Writings from Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Siena, Mechtild of Magdeburg, Hildegard of Bingen, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Henri Nouwen, and many other rich sources could nurture spirituality for a lifetime. And this just skims the surface. For more on these life-giving figures, see Enduring Grace by Carol Lee Flinders or my Women of Mercy.

Our spiritual heritage from these great ones teaches us the inner peace that no external force can destroy. It enables us to share a vision worthy of our founder, our long tradition, and ourselves. Colossians 1:19 says of Jesus: "in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell." We share in that fullness: if we believe that, it should put an end to our bickering, greed, and warfare. As Henri Nouwen says, it doesn't really matter how much you do or how many people you know. What matters is that you are internally at peace. That peace becomes our gift to our families, colleagues, friends, and eventually the world.

Given the challenges the human race will face in the next century, Christians can't waste time judging, carping, and condemning. Let's get on with the task of being Christ to a hungry, hurting world.

Kathy Coffey is a national speaker, retreat leader, and the author of numerous articles in Catholic periodicals, including America, U.S. Catholic, St. Anthony Messenger, and Catechumenate. She has written many award-winning books on women, sacraments, and Catholic spirituality; her most recent book is Mary, a volume in Orbis Books' Catholic Spirituality for Adults series.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Creating a Liberating Church (Part 3)

By Rosemary Radford Ruether

Editor’s Note: Following is the third and final installment of the transcript of the talk delivered by theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether at Lake Elmo Park Reserve, MN on July 6, 2010. This text is reprinted with permission. To start at Part 1, click here.

Once we have sketched something of our vision of authentic Christian community, the key question is how do we get there from here? What are the ways of moving toward that vision, given a present church polity and ideology which mostly institutionalizes and sanctifies the opposite? I would like to talk about four ways we can begin to change ourselves and some ways of building organizational bases to support such alternatives.

First, we need to grow up. I say this with no intention of demeaning an audience of mainly middle aged and older adults, including myself, who regard ourselves as already pretty grown up. Rather I am pointing out the great difficulty we have really liberating ourselves from the residue of a spirituality of infantilism which was deeply bred into our psyches in our traditional Catholic socialization.

Catholicism, like all patriarchal hierarchical institutions, recreates relationships of domination and submission, modeled on a fusion of male over female with parent over child relations. We learn to dominate those below us and submit to those above us, but not how to be equals in mutually affirming relationships. We are not encouraged to become genuinely autonomous adults, but rather to remain always the dependent child under some kind of higher authority. These patterns of relationship are central to clerical patriarchal culture.

This socialization into paternalistic dependency fixates us between rebellion and submission, ever reverting back to forms of submission as a way of assuaging feelings of guilt for rebellion, but not really being freed to be a responsible adult. By responsible adult, I mean someone who has a confidence in one’s own autonomous mind and agency, without either self-inflation or self-negation, and who is able to take responsibility for helping to develop the future of a community, without needing either to assuage guilt or assert power relations through such service. This is the kind of maturity required for real ministry, but it is difficult to develop in a paternalistic system.

Secondly, we need to be people of prayer. This also means we need to overcome of the kind of split between social action and spirituality which has been endemic in our culture. Real ability to stay the course of reform and service for the long haul is only possible if we have a deep grounding in the disciplines of daily prayer, meditation and cultivation of the presence of God in our lives. This means resisting the demands for workaholism and endless achievement to find time for this kind of quiet meditation on a regular basis, and from these disciplines to then begin to cultivate a sense of this presence of God even in the midst of activity.

Third, we need have critical knowledge about church history and theology, able to sort out with adequate tools of historical and theological reflection what Christian themes are really meaningful and what truth claims need to be questioned as assertions of power that is not conducive to spiritual health. As theologically trained people who have been in ministry, it may seem beside the point to say that we need to be better educated in theology and church history. But one of the things I learned from a dialogue which the women’s Ordination Conference conducted with the Catholic bishops of the Bishop’s committee on women some thirty years ago was that their seminary education was woefully inadequate.

The bishops did not have a critical education in the Bible or Church history, which enabled them to sort out the questions being put by feminist theology vis a vis the assertions of the Papacy that topics like women’s ordination were against church tradition and so could not be discussed. In fact their general tendency was simply to say this could not be discussed because church authority had said so, without even being able to conceive of independent investigation of this claim from Scripture and church history.

Fourthly, we need to be socially committed. Like taking time for prayer, this calls for some rearrangement of our lives, and sometimes the way we make a living, to find ways to connect at least part of our wealth and energy to solidarity with those less fortunate and living more sustainably with the earth. Preferential option for the poor and an ecological life style cannot just be a rhetorical slogan. It has to relate to the way we live our lives.

It has to be part of an organized effort to create an alternative society against the present global (dis)order being imposed by the World Bank and the powerful nations. We need a global uprising against the triumphalism of the rich and powerful who wish to make it appear as if there is no other alternative possible to the neo-liberalism economic system which is impoverishing the earth and the majority of people of the earth.

We need to take ecological impoverishment as seriously as the poverty of humans. We need to recognize that these are not separate topics, but part of one and the same picture. This means bringing the ecological question home to our daily lives; it means examining how the way we live everyday is part of the problem of global impoverishment of the earth and all its inhabitants. Obviously ecological sustainability cannot be accomplished solely by changes in private life style. It is basically a macrosystem of production, consumption and waste. But we need to cultivate a certain awareness of how we participate in this system by examining and making some adjustments in how we transport ourselves, consume food and goods, use energy, discard wastes.

We need to find ways to build some of these shifts into our households, schools, offices and other local institutions, including churches, over which we may have some influence. From this base in consciousness and concrete struggles for ecological sustainability, we may then be able to build larger networks to change the patterns of earth-destruction that is diminishing the life of regions and the globe on a macro-level.

These four projects of maturity, prayer, knowledge and social and ecological commitment need to be fleshed out in our social relations and, most particularly, how we live as church. It seems to me there are two levels of living as church in a way that cultivates mature and liberating spirituality and social commitment to which we have access and power, regardless of what the official church institution is allowing or not allowing. These are base communities and parallel organizations.

Base Communities: Whether or not we have reasonable parish communities where we feel nourished in weekly worship, it seems to me that base communities in which a small groups of 10-15 people covenant together for regular prayer, study, worship, discussion, and mutual support are an important base for Christian life. Such base communities was an integral part of the vision of the church created by liberation theology in the last two decades. But in my experience many of these base communities remained too clerical, too dependent on bishops and failed to really address many of the real issues of daily life, particularly issues of women and of sexual and domestic abuse. We need to recommit ourselves to developing these communities in a way that will be deeper and more long lasting.

Parallel organizations: In addition to the small covenant group, parallel organizations are important for projects of both church reform and social action. North American Roman Catholicism, with its tradition of volunteerism, is particularly rich in parallel organizations, which work to extend the boundaries of Roman Catholic activity in a way that is not dependent on hierarchical approval. Call to Action, Peace and Justice Centers such as the Quixote Center in Washington D.C., the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church, the Women-Church network, CORPUS and Pax Christi, including the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform of Minnesota, are parallel organizations which are increasingly bonding together in national and international networks.

Parallel organizations are also developing all over the world among Catholics, the Catholic Women’s Network in Britain, the Eighth of May movement in Holland, feminist theology networks in India and other Asian countries, Catolicas por el Direcho a Decidir in Latin America, among others. Such parallel organizations might be seen as the Catholic expression of the creation of civil society. Such parallel organizations of Catholics operate within the Catholic community, but not under the juridical power of the hierarchy. They are vital expressions of democratization in the church.

Why call such groups Catholic? Basically such groups see themselves as Catholic both because the membership is rooted in people of Catholic roots and also because they see themselves as addressing reform issues in the Catholic Church, as well as doing the direct work of ministry which is understood as inspired by Catholic Christian faith and life. In short those in such groups see themselves as being the church. Their Catholic Christian identity is self-chosen out of a sense of taking responsibility for both being the church and calling the institution to open itself to such concerns, while at the same time being free of the sort of institutional control that could close them down or dismiss their leaders.

Ultimately we are engaged in a process the future of which cannot be predicted. It may be that Catholics concerned with such reforms will grow tired of institutional intransigence and go elsewhere, or it may be that at least parts of the official institution will open itself to more acceptance of such movements. We hope that we are engaged in a process that will lead to eventual transformation of the official institution sufficiently to allow legitimacy to the broader range of thought and life. But meanwhile we can and must carry on living ways of being Christian community that satisfy our vision of what is authentic and truthful; in short we need to insist on being the church today and not just waiting for it to be allowed to do so tomorrow.

For Part 1 of Rosemary Radford Ruether's "Creating a Liberating Church," click here.

For Part 2, click

Above: Approximately 300 people gather July 6 at Lake Elmo Park Reserve to hear theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether speak. The event served as a fundraiser for the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR).

Above: Mary Vaughn (center) with CCCR organizers Jane Collova (left) and Eileen Rodel.

Above: CCCR co-chair Michael Bayly stands besides a banner highlighting the coalition's upcoming Synod of the Baptized: "Claiming Our Place at the Table."

Above: Rosemary Radford Ruether converses with an attendee of CCCR's July 6 event.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Creating a Liberating Church (Part 2)

By Rosemary Radford Ruether

Editor’s Note: Following is the second of three installments comprising the text of the talk delivered by theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether at Lake Elmo Park Reserve, MN on July 6, 2010. This text is reprinted with permission. (To start at Part 1, click here.)

My vision of the future church is shaped by the effort to respond to the Kairos of this period in human history, a time when the hopes released by the end of the Cold War have been betrayed by a new American imperialist militarism, a time when we must stand in horror at the increasing gaps between wealth and poverty in the world as a whole, and at the increasing devastation of the earth caused by profligate and unjust materialism, as well as our sense of both urgency and helplessness before these challenges. In this moment is it unclear whether the Obama administration can make a significant dent in this direction. It is also shaped by what I believe to be the perennial meaning of the gospel, rooted in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ, ever new and yet ever one in a wisdom beyond passing historical changes in society and thought.

To me that liberating vision is summed up by the word ‘grace’; the grace that is the authentic being of God made present to us in creation renewed in Christ, which both liberates us from all the deformations of our power and security grabbing, and returns us to our deeper and authentic self and calling as God’s good creation. To me being the Church, the body of Christ, is basically about being the community who lives in and through that life of grace.

In discussing some of the characteristics of such a church – the church we need now, the church we have always needed, the church we were called to be from the beginning, both as local churches and as world church – I would like to explore briefly five elements.

1. Multiculturalism: We are called today to be authentically Catholic, not hegemonic white male EuroAmericans who confuse white male Western European culture with normative human and Christian culture to be imposed on Indigenous peoples, on Africans, Asians, Arabs, Polynesians and women of all groups. This means really exploring, claiming and celebrating the actual cultural diversity of our Catholic people in the world. This also means paying particular attention to the peoples who are the descendents of those subjugated by brutal colonization and enslavements imposed by European conquests over the centuries; the Indigenous peoples of the Americas, the Pacific and elsewhere, and the African peoples brought in chains to the Americas and the Caribbean.

Globally, Catholics are a people increasingly Hispanic, African and Asian, even as the old heartland of European Catholicism in Italy, France, and Spain grew apathetic and their offspring in North America are following suit. Yet we are a people till wedded to cultural patterns shaped in the European Middle Ages, and a church polity shaped by fourth century Roman imperialism and eighteenth century absolute monarchy seeking to live on as ecclesiastical fossils after the political substance has died. We need to acknowledge the relativity and even demonic character of these hegemonic cultural and political forms of the past and, at the same time, embrace a rich dialogue between the many cultures that make up the Catholic people, for the transformation and mutual enrichment of our whole cultural and social life.

2. Commitment to the Poor and the Oppressed: Since the birth of liberation theologies in Latin America, Africa and Asia, brothers and sisters from these regions have been calling the church to renew itself in the preferential option for the poor. The Christian church is authentically the body of Christ by living in solidarity with those of our community who are treated most injustly, who are most marginalized, despised and destitute in the existing system of power and wealth. The foundational call of Christ to repentance, ministry and service was and remains “good news to the poor, the liberation of the captive, the setting at liberty of those who are oppressed.” Only by living that good news do we live the gospel.

Yet to live that good news after twenty centuries of Catholic Christianity is also to live by repentance, to live in deep mourning and contrite struggle to change what has overwhelmingly been and still is a primarily contrary reality; the institutionalization of ecclesiastical power and privilege rooted in preferential option for the rich and powerful. Since at least the Constantinian establishment of the early fourth century, if not before, Catholic Christianity has grown in wealth and power by blessing the power of aristocracies, of emperors and kings, of merchants and capitalist corporations, and their economic, political and military might. It has mostly advised the poor and the oppressed to win favor with God by obeying their masters. If Christ calls us to be faithful by solidarity with the poor then Christ calls us to be a repentant counter-sign to much of what we have been in history.

3. A Church liberated from Sexism: To contemplate a future church liberated from sexism, a church that truly lives as a community of equals, of mutuality of women and men, that is liberated from sexual pathology into healthy, loving sexuality, that is liberated from homophobia to acknowledge diversity of sexual orientations, this indeed is to be deeply repentant and transformed from much of what we have been through our history.

At a time when sexism and sexual pathology seems more than ever rampant in church leaders; when the past and present Popes cling to a misguided concept of unchanging truth by insisting on a male celibate priesthood against any possibility of married priests, women priests, or acknowledging the existence of gay priests, while actual male celibate priests are increasingly discredited by charges of sexual abuse of youth, male and female; at a time when these same Popes regard rejection of contraception and the ordination of women as if these were the first articles of faith; there does not seem to be much hope for repentance of the church's historical sins of sexism.

Yet it is precisely at such a time when we need to deepen our new recognition that Christian community means a community of equals, a community in which the distinctions of male and female, slave and free have been indeed overcome in the new Humanity, where we can celebrate that women as much as men are images of God and representatives of Christ. We need to affirm women as both preachers, as sacramental ministers and as theologians, bringing women's gifts of ministry fully into the church for the first time. We also need to affirm that being in Christ restores us to, and does not alienate us from, the fullness of our embodied selves and the ability of our whole body to give love and pleasure to one another, without fear, and also without irresponsibility or exploitation.

4. A Democratic Church: Here too we seem to be on the horns of a contradiction, seeking a participatory and egalitarian church polity which has been the opposite of the historic church polity that patterned itself after patriarchy, aristocracy and monarchy from the late first century to its incorporation into the system of the Roman empire in the late fourth century and on through the medieval and early modern periods.

When Bishops thunder that the “church is not a democracy,” they do not intend merely to speak about historical and social facts, but about divine intentions. In their mind Christ founded the Church to be a centralized feudal monarchy, of Pope over bishops, bishops over priests, priests over laity, men over women and children. They believe that this is what Christ intended.

That this whole pattern of hierarchy might have been historically accidental, modeled on existing political systems, and even worse, a betrayal of a deeper vision of the church as a community of equals better expressed in patterns of life where all members have a voice and a share in ministry, this is unthinkable to such bishops. But it is precisely this unthinkableness of the historically accidental and non-normative nature of such a monarchical hierarchical structure which not only must be thought today, but is in a real sense obvious once one has a minimal acquaintance with the New Testament and Church history.

5. A Church which acknowledges its Fallibility: A church which believes itself infallible in the pronouncements of its monarchical ruler is a church which has encapsulated itself in its own apostasy and made that apostasy irredeemable. In my view every other sin is forgivable except the sin of infallibility, for this is the sin against the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that we cannot repent of the mistaken claim of papal infallibility, imposed at a particularly bad moment in late l9th century Italian Catholic history. Rather it means that we cannot repent of this or any other mistake that we have ever made, or are making, unless we acknowledge that we indeed can err, not simply as individuals, but as a institution acting in its formal and public institutional capacity. We need to clearly analyze and critique in detail these many mistakes, for examples in teachings about birth control, about the non-ordainability of women, about the spiritual superiority of celibacy, about the divinity of patriarchal hierarchy, and finally the doctrine of infallibility itself, specifically, and not just in vague and abstract terms that leave in doubt what it being said.

To repent of the error of infallibility that fixates all other errors is also to liberate ourselves to be human, knowing ourselves to be finite, fallible, seeing in part and not totally, absolutely or with final certainty. It is also to liberate ourselves to be Christian, to live by faith, repentance and the grace of transformation without which we cannot be in authentic continuity with the new life in Christ. For new life in Christ can only be born and continually reborn through death to our idolatries and resurrection of a life that we hold only by not holding it, by being upheld by the one in whom alone we have ultimate trust. This ultimate trust excludes not only formulaic certainties of doctrines and teaching authorities, whether of Pope or Bible, but also liberates us from infantile needs for such certainties. It liberates us to search intelligently for the perspectival truths that we can construct, without needing to cling to them absolutely and literally as the basis of our life.

All this is to say once again that the church we seek, in which alone we can have life, is the church that lives by grace, not in the sense of a grace that excludes knowledge, experience, historical change, but a grace that upholds us and supports us in and through both our searches for meaning and justice and our freedom to repent, liberating ourselves from misplaced ideas and systems and renewed in the miracle of life that wells up anew every day.

Next: Part 3 – How Do We Get There from Here?

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Many Voices, One Church

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 homily for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, which this year fell on July 4.

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.


Readings: Isaiah 66:10-14, Galatians 6:14-18, and Luke 10:1-12, 17-20.

The Scripture readings today are full of images of peace and hope. Isaiah reminding Judah that "It shall be known that God's hand is with God's servants." Paul sending peace and mercy on the Israel of God. Jesus reminding the disciples that their first message must be `Peace to this house."

On this 4th of July, perhaps it is good to remind ourselves that peace and hope are still signs of our discipleship AND our citizenship as well. Can you imagine how different our state and federal legislative sessions would be if their first words upon entering the House and Senate were "Peace to this house".

Today, I want to explore a bit about discipleship and how that also applies to citizenship.

In the Gospel, when the seventy-two return, full of jubilation at the power that they have had – "even the demons are subject to us", Jesus says, "Do not rejoice so much in the fact that the demons are subject to you as that your names are inscribed in heaven." One commentary I read suggested that this is Jesus' reminder to the disciples not to get bogged down with ego, to remember from whom their power comes. This is a message for me to remember when I get into my "super-nun" mode and think that I alone am responsible to save the world. But, on the other hand, it's also a reminder not to depend entirely on God.

Two brief stories to illustrate the point, stories you've probably heard before: A man prayed to God: "O God, I need to win the lottery. I want to provide affordable housing and health care for the poor. If you let me win the lottery, I will give a large portion of that money to that cause."

The lottery drawing was done and the man didn't win.

Again, he prayed to God: "God, you know that my motives are true, that my heart goes out to the poor and that I want to help them. Please help me win the lottery."

Next drawing, he didn't win.

Again he prayed, "God, do you not hear my prayer? You know my heart. You know my good intentions. Please, help me win the lottery."

A booming voice comes out of the clouds, "Why don't you help me? If you want to win the lottery, the least you could do is buy a lottery ticket."

Or, you might remember the Pontius Puddle cartoons which used to be in The Catholic Spirit. In one particular cartoon, Pontius says, "God, you are all powerful; you can do all things. Why don't you do something about all of the hatred and violence and suffering in the world?" God's answer: "I did do something. I created you."

While I do not in any way negate the power of prayer or the power of God, I think that God gave us intelligence, a free will and a conscience for a purpose. We have made a mess of many things in our world and we have the power to fix many of the messes, if we choose to do so. I don't think we can simply expect God to fix everything for us. And I don't think we have a right to just dump all the world's troubles into God's lap unless we have done our best to deal with them ourselves first. That's one reason I love the gesture of holding the community's prayers in our outstretched hand, bringing them to our heart - to that place of deep care and love, and then inviting the blessing of the Divine on our efforts to respond.

Looking at discipleship and citizenship from this perspective, I go back to that quote from the Gospel where Jesus tells the disciples that the main reason to rejoice, other than the demons being subject to them, is "that your names are inscribed in heaven." I've always wondered a bit about what that means.

Is there some divine record keeper tallying up my good deeds for accounting at the final judgment? Do I need to spend my life making sure that I score enough points to get past the pearly gates? Should my motive for doing good be mainly to earn a heavenly reward? Or can the very acts of goodness themselves be my reward? Can I do good simply because I believe it is the right thing to do, regardless of reward? If I did not believe in a heavenly hereafter, or if there actually were no heavenly reward promised, would I still act that way?

From the Gospel reading today we can hear the message that, as Christians in today's world, we are called not only to greet people with words of peace but to be peacemakers in the fullest sense of the word. We can cast out demons that possess our world today in many ways – demons of poverty and oppression, demons of hatred and violence, demons of apathy and ignorance, if we choose to do so.

May this 4th of July be a reminder to us of the challenge and responsibility of our discipleship and our citizenship. May the outward fireworks we witness be a symbol of the rekindling of the inner fire which fuels that discipleship and citizenship, willing to build the common good and the kindom of God. And, as Paul says to the Israelites and to us, "May the fervor of our Savior Jesus Christ be with your spirit."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Creating a Liberating Church (Part 1)

By Rosemary Radford Ruether

Editor's Note: On July 6, 2010, approximately 300 people gathered to hear theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether speak at a special "evening in the park" fundraiser for the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform at Lake Elmo Park Reserve, MN. Following is the first of three installments comprising the text of Rosemary's talk. It is reprinted with permission.

My theme for this talk is “creating a liberating church.” This is given at a crucial time in the history of the Roman Catholic church. Let me begin by saying something of my context and intellectual history in relation to the Catholic Church. I come from an ecumenical family: a Catholic mother, an Anglican father, a Jewish uncle, a Russian Orthodox great-aunt and Quaker relatives. There was never any doubt about what religious identity was strongest in this mix, namely that of my mother’s Catholicism which was at the same time strongly committed and yet intellectually sophisticated. But it was also clear that the other family religious traditions were to be respected. This combination of being both catholic and ecumenical is one which I have cherished, which I have expanded, rather than rejected.

There was only one serious moment when I considered leaving the Catholic Church. This was about forty years ago when I realized that I did not believe in the doctrine of papal infallibility. It was not simply that I doubted this idea, but rather that it became clear to me that this was a serious ecclesiological error, theologically. I explored joining my father’s Anglican church with which I was familiar having occasionally accompanied him to church as a child. In this process I became clear that I was simply uninterested in becoming an Anglican, much as I appreciated many aspects of this church. The only church that interested me, that held and still holds my concern, is Roman Catholicism.

My recommitment to Roman Catholicism is not based on the idea that it is the only true church or even the best church, but simply that it is a very important expression of historical Christianity in the west and that its reform and renewal is vital to Christian and human betterment. It is not that I expect that it is totally reformable according to my own vision of what the church should be, but rather than the reform vision of Catholicism that has been birthed in the last forty-five years needs to be defended as a vital option within world Catholicism. I see this as my particular commitment to keep this reform option alive and to support that wing of Catholicism which expresses this vision, even while recognizing that other options will remain within it and seek to contest and even drive out this option. Today I would locate myself as an ecumenical Catholic Christian, who also acknowledges the truth of other world religions, while at the same time being committed to this particular church as my immediate church context.

I give this talk for the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform with painful awareness that in the last thirty years in the pontificate of the previous Pope and his present successor, it seems unlikely that institutional Catholicism can move in any direction except backwards, not back to the gospels, but back to Vatican I, back to the defensive posture of an infallibilist papal monarchy seeking to impose its will upon the world church and even upon the world outside the Catholic church. Opus Dei members have been placed by the Vatican in episcopal positions in country after country and also in delegations to the United Nations and the European Union, in a bid to control world affairs in a reactionary way. This has meant not only an effort to place reactionary Catholic leaders in places of influence around the world, but also to dismantle those institutions and programs that have been developed to promote a Christian liberative vision of justice. In Los Angeles the present archbishop is about to be replaced by an Opus Dei Mexican.

Many former Catholics that I know see any effort to stay committed to reform such a church as increasingly futile, perhaps even masochistic, certainly a waste of energy better spent doing other more productive things. I think we need to look the negative character of this reactionary drive of the hierarchical church government full in the face without minimalizing its seriousness, but also without confusing it with the ultimate ground of our faith, hope and love in and for the church. It is a firm rooting of ourselves in this ultimate ground that we most need, if we are to be able to stay the course as prophetic reformers in the Catholic Church at this time.

NEXT: Part 2 - Five Characteristics of the Church We Need Now.

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Join Us this Evening for . . .

The Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities'
Annual Community Meeting


Janet Bystrom
Director of RECLAIM

7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010

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

RECLAIM works to increase access to mental health support for LGBT youth so they may reclaim their lives from the impact of oppression in all its forms.

Janet Bystrom is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker with a Master’s Degree from St. Mary’s University in Counseling and Psychological Services and a second Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Minnesota. Since 1992, she has been working with adolescents, young adults and their families.

On July 13, Janet will talk about her work with RECLAIM and the particular issues being faced by LGBT teens – including those from a Catholic background. She’ll also discuss how LGBT and allied Catholic adults can best help LGBT youth.

Light refreshments will be served and a free-will offering requested. CPCSM’s two annual awards – the Henry F. LeMay Pastoral Ministry Award and the Bishop Thomas Gumbleton Peace and Justice Award will also be presented.

FFI about Janet Bystrom and RECLAIM, click here.

FFI about CPCSM and this event, visit

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"Nobody Gets to Tell Me That I'm Not a Catholic"

Editor's Note: Following are excerpts from Charles P. Pierce’s July 11 Boston Globe article, “What I Believe.”


Asking me why I am still a Catholic is rather like asking me why I’m still an American. After all, it can be argued that, over the past decade or so, with acts like waterboarding, the country has abandoned a lot of what made it unique in history and suffered a profound loss of faith in its founding ideals. (I’ve argued that myself.) I am still an American because, as Herman Melville put it, the Declaration of Independence makes a difference. I remain a Catholic because the Gospels make a difference. In both cases, ideals are set out, pathways delineated, and through them, our shortcomings can be measured as precisely as possible. In the former case, the torturers and their bureaucratic masters cannot contradict the verdict of that measuring, and in the latter, the crimes against conscience perpetrated by the institutional hierarchy of the Church cannot stop the slow, painful evolution from moving forward. I can stay a Catholic because of what I’ve learned about being an American. I am, in my own way, a Madisonian Catholic. To borrow a line from Thomas Jefferson, my church neither picks anyone’s pocket nor breaks anyone’s leg. Most important of all, it is mine – a personal church, if not a personal Savior.

. . . [N] obody gets to tell me that I’m not a Catholic.

Those of my fellow Catholics who remain loyal to the institutional structure of the Church don’t get to do so. People who talk glibly of “cafeteria Catholicism” don’t get to do so. People who seek to coin Catholic doctrine into political advantage – be they left or right – don’t get to do so. No priest gets to do so, and no bishop, either, and that especially means the bishop of Rome himself. No pope can tell me I’m not a Catholic.

Things went awfully bad when, in the fourth century, the Emperor Constantine backed the right horse, adopted Christianity as the religion of the Roman empire, and set the institutional church on a course wherein it became a royal European court with the pope as its king. This shrewd political move by an emperor came to be seen as a very bad thing for both religion and the state. In developing a system to disentangle religion and government here in the United States, Madison cited the example of Constantine and Christianity as something to be avoided. In fits and starts, both institutionally and, more important, one conscience at a time, the Church has progressed only on those occasions when it operates contrary to this bad ancient bargain.

Garry Wills regularly points out how Vatican II – the mid-’60s council that put the church on the path of liberalism and ecumenism – defined the church as the entire “people of God.” That being the case, one can find a way to remain a Catholic while not only distancing oneself from the hierarchy of the institutional church but also subverting it, in a kind of internal Reformation. After all, as Wills pointed out in a recent issue of The New Republic, “The pope is a freak of history – specifically, of medieval history. . . . Peter was not a pope, or a bishop, or a priest – offices that did not exist in his lifetime. There are no priests in the New Testament.” Wills further explains that “the democracy that would be denounced by Pius IX had been practiced in the early church, where priests and bishops were elected by the people.” For some time, at some instinctive level, in the depths of their informed consciences, Catholics knew this. And it was 45 years ago when they first put those feelings into action.

In 1869, desperate to cling to the spiritual power of his office as a secular revolution in Italy eroded his temporal power, Pope Pius IX called the First Vatican Council and rammed through the doctrine of papal infallibility, by which the pope is incapable of error while speaking on matters of faith and morals ex cathedra, from the Chair of Peter. Bureaucratic thinking being what it is, the Vatican became shrewd at draping almost every pronouncement with the trappings of infallibility, and the doctrine became a millstone on the consciences of millions of Catholics. It slipped loose in 1968, when Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, his encyclical condemning artificial birth control. The encyclical seemed so shabbily derived from Scripture, and so giddily divorced from the realities of daily life, that the informal infallibility with which it was sold seemed an unconvincing burlesque. Catholics discovered that they could ignore the pope in good conscience and remain Catholics, no matter how many people told them they couldn’t.

“That was the last straw,” Richard McBrien says. “Paul VI, by comparison, was a pretty good pope. He was frightened into reaffirming that teaching. That was the turning point. It wasn’t Vatican II that made Catholics freethinking people. It was that birth-control encyclical, when they realized that the pope didn’t know what he was talking about.”

When the sex-abuse scandal exploded, the church hierarchy discovered itself with a laity that was already armed with a towering skepticism as to the ability of the hierarchy to confront honestly the depths of the crimes that had been committed. There was no credibility left in the tactics of deflecting blame; for a long time, the Vatican seemed to be arguing that this had been a uniquely American problem. To borrow a phrase from the Watergate scandal, that argument has been rendered inoperative by the events of this year. People determined that they would defeat the sullied authority of the hierarchy by ignoring it. The latest Reformation is taking place in people’s minds. The papacy, as an institution, can recognize that, or it can wither away over time, and its authority with it, until there’s nothing left but one more museum piece, a pointless man on an empty throne, all lost save ceremony.

To read Charles Pierce’s article in its entirety, click here.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Remembering Bill Callahan

Editor's Note: The following was released by the Quixote Center.

Rev. William R. Callahan
Champion of Social Justice, Peace, and Catholic Church Reform

Rev. William R. Callahan, an international leader in movements for social justice, peace, and reform of the Roman Catholic Church, died on Monday, July 5th at Community Hospice Hospital in Washington, DC due to complications from Parkinson's disease. He was 78. He was a resident of Brentwood, MD in suburban Washington, DC.

Rev. Callahan, a Jesuit until the early 1990's, was dedicated to the justice call of the reformist Second Vatican Council [1962-1965] in the Roman Catholic Church. He was best known for his leadership for peace and justice in Central America, especially in Nicaragua, and for his advocacy of gender equality in the Catholic Church, including women's ordination.

In the 1970s, he became a nationally known speaker on social justice and the spirituality of justice. In 1982, he published Noisy Contemplation: Deep Prayer for Busy People, which is a classic in contemporary spirituality. Deep prayer does not require the silence of a monastery, he said. Ordinary people can pray in the midst of noise and activism. "We are blessed with a merry God; indeed, we are the entertainment," he said in the book - with a flash of the humor for which he was famous.

His activism began after he entered the New England Province of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in 1948. He pushed his community to take a strong stand for civil rights. In 1971, he helped found the Center of Concern in Washington, DC, a progressive Catholic think-tank dealing with global justice issues. In 1975, he launched Priests for Equality, calling for the equality of women and men in all walks of life, including ordination to the Roman Catholic priesthood. In 1976, together with Dolly Pomerleau and Jesuit Bill Michelman, he founded the Quixote Center, where - as he put it - "people could dream impossible dreams of justice and make them come true."

In the tradition of Cervantes' Quixote, Bill believed in "tilting at windmills" even when the world thought it foolish, reaching for stars that seem too distant to be touched. He often said that the work of justice should be done with laughter and merriment and creativity.

He turned his dreams into action, summoning thousands of people to join struggles for justice. He challenged his church on gender equality as a plenary speaker at the first Women's Ordination Conference in 1975. He launched the inclusive language project of the Quixote Center, which eventually published both the Inclusive Language Lectionaries for Mass and The Inclusive Bible, a non-racist, non-homophobic, non-sexist translation for common use.

In 1978, he began several years of ministry with Good Shepherd Catholics for Shared Responsibility, a lay group that had been disenfranchised by Bishop Thomas Welsh, in the then newly created Diocese of Arlington, VA. Welsh's policies had drifted away from the teachings and spirit of the Second Vatican Council, and these laypeople had been accustomed to active participation in their parish.

In 1980, Bill was silenced by the Jesuits on the issue of women's ordination, but resumed his public stance a year later. In the late 1980s, he founded Catholics Speak Out, a project of the Quixote Center that encouraged lay Catholics to take adult responsibility for the direction of their church.

In the late 1970s, he embraced the struggles of the poor in Central America, especially Nicaragua and El Salvador, becoming an outspoken opponent of the Reagan war policies in the 1980s. Together with Dolly Pomerleau, he directed the Quest for Peace, a multi-million dollar program of humanitarian aid and development funding for the people of Nicaragua who were victims of the "contra war" waged by the Reagan Administration. Three times, the Quest for Peace set out to match Congressional appropriations of "contra aid" with humanitarian aid for the victims of that war. Bill and Dolly mobilized grassroots activists across the country, and U.S. citizens matched a total of $227 million in war funding with the same value in humanitarian aid. For Bill, "development funding" was not "charity;" it was a means to challenge injustice and change structures that keep people poor and oppressed.

Bill traveled to Nicaragua time and again, working with the Institute of John XXIII at the Jesuit University in Managua to channel the aid most effectively. He was an eloquent public spokesperson against the contra war, a stance which led him to testify in Congress against the economic embargo levied against Nicaragua.

In 1989, the New England Province of the Jesuits, at the direction of the Vatican, threatened Bill with dismissal unless he severed his ties with the Quixote Center, Priests for Equality, and Catholics Speak Out, and returned to Boston. He refused to abandon his work with Nicaragua, or for reform of the church. Consequently, he was dismissed from the Society of Jesus in the early 1990's, a move he strenuously resisted. It is not clear to this day what specific issue(s) motivated his final dismissal from the New England Jesuits.

In 1991, Bill became involved in the struggles of Haiti, calling for the re-instatement of the elected but ousted Jean Bertrand Aristide as President. He helped the Quixote Center launch a program called Haiti Reborn, providing aid for the poor of Haiti, especially in the area of reforestation.

Over the years, Bill guided many projects that the Center initiated, some of which spun off to become independent. These include: New Ways Ministry, a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian and gay Catholics, the successful Karen Silkwood case on nuclear safety issues (completed by the Christic Institute), and Equal Justice/USA - a project opposing the death penalty.

In the last 20 years, although not a Jesuit, he remained a priest and ministered in several intentional Eucharistic communities in the Washington, DC area.

He was an organic gardener, known in his neighborhood for a plot that was somewhat jungle-like, yet highly productive. He lived a simple lifestyle. His bed was often a mat on the floor (next to the winter squash he had just harvested), his clothes were bargain basement specials or Nicaraguan shirts, and he was content to eat just about anything that wasn't moving.

He was also a dedicated runner. Even when his disease was slowing his ability to walk, he ran the Army 10-mile race (wearing a peace t-shirt, naturally). He called himself the "Parkinson Turtle" and finished the course.

Bill Callahan received a Ph.D. in Physics from John Hopkins University in 1962, and was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1965. While studying for his doctorate, he worked for NASA and Goddard Space Center on weather satellites.

He is survived by Dolly Pomerleau, his partner in ministry for 40 years, and by several brothers and sisters: Larry Callahan, Polly Alonso, John Callahan, Bob Callahan, Helen Demers, and Christine DeVelis. He is also survived by Isabelle Griffin, a cousin with whom he was raised by his grandmother.

Bill donated his body to Georgetown University Medical School. In lieu of flowers, those who want to pay tribute to Bill may make donations to: "Quixote Center/Bill Callahan Memorial Fund," P.O. Box 5206, Hyattsville, MD 20782.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Roy Bourgeois: "The Exclusion of Women from the Priesthood is a Grave Injustice"

On August 9, 2008, Maryknoll priest of 38 years, Roy Bourgeois (pictured at right), participated in the ordination of Janice Sevre-Duszynska as a Roman Catholic Womanpriest. Soon after, he was told by the Vatican to recant his support of women priests, which he refused to do. Instead, Roy, as founder of the School of the Americas Watch, continues to speak out for justice for the poor and marginalized in Latin America -- as well as for women priests. In November 2009, Roy and the School of the Americas Watch were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He asks that the following message far and wide.


Fr. Roy Bourgeois' Letter to Maryknoll Community
May 24, 2010

To My Maryknoll Brothers,

You have been my community, my family, for 44 years. Because of my love and respect for you and for Maryknoll, I want to explain, as best I can, why I believe women should be ordained in our Church. As a young man in the military, I felt God was calling me to be a priest. After much discernment, I entered Maryknoll and was ordained in 1972. I am grateful to have found the hope, meaning, and joy I was seeking in life.

In my ministry over the years, I have met many devout women in our Church who feel called by God to the priesthood, just as we do as men. And why shouldn't they be called? As Catholics, we profess that our all-loving God created men and women of equal worth and dignity. As priests, we all say that the call to the priesthood is a gift and comes from God. My brothers, who are we to reject God's call of women to the priesthood? Who are we, as men, to say that our call from God is valid, but their call, as women, is not? I believe that our all-powerful God, Creator of the universe, is certainly capable of calling women to be priests.

Our Church leaders tells us that women cannot be priests because Jesus chose only male apostles. With all due respect, this is not accurate. As Christians, we know the importance of the resurrection. It is at the core of our faith. Jesus chose a woman, Mary Magdalene, to be the first witness to His resurrection. She was also chosen to bring "the good news" to the male apostles and became known as "the apostle to the apostles." Galatians 3:28 is very clear: "There is neither male nor female. In Christ Jesus you are one." Furthermore, a 1976 report by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, the Vatican's top scripture scholars, concluded that there is no justification in the New Testament for excluding women from the priesthood.

Reflecting on the scriptures, the love of God, and the many stories I have heard from women over the years about their being called by God, I believe that excluding women from ordination is rooted in sexism. Sexism, like racism, is a sin. And no matter how hard we may try to justify discrimination, in the end, it is always wrong.

For the past 20 years I have been speaking out against the injustice of the School of the Americas and U.S. foreign policy in Latin America. In conscience, I cannot be silent about an injustice I see much closer to home - an injustice in my Church. The exclusion of women from the priesthood is a grave injustice against women, against our Church, and against our God who is calling women to serve our Church as priests.

Fundamentally, the ordination of women is a matter of justice. At the same time, there are practical benefits to having women priests. As we know, our Church is in a serious crisis. Hundreds of churches are closing because of a shortage of priests. When I entered Maryknoll, we had over 300 seminarians preparing for the priesthood. Today we have eight.

If we are to have a vibrant and healthy Church rooted in the teachings of Jesus, we need the wisdom, compassion, courage, and gifts of women in the priesthood. Like the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, and the right of women to vote, the ordination of women is inevitable because it is just.

Let us be on the right side of history. Our Maryknoll community is well known and respected for its work for justice and the oppressed. My brothers, I respectfully ask that you break your silence and stand in solidarity with the many women in our Church who, like you and me, are called by God to the priesthood.

Your brother in Christ,

Roy Bourgeois, M.M.
P.O. Box 3330/Columbus, GA 31903


Remembering CCCR's “An Evening in the Park”
with Roy Bourgeois

Lake Elmo Park Reserve, MN

August 13, 2009

On the evening of Thursday, August 13, 2009, over 200 people gathered at Lake Elmo Reserve’s Park Pavilion to hear Fr. Roy share his perspective on the social injustices within Roman Catholicism, and offer a clear and hopeful vision of what has been termed the “emerging church” – a growing grassroots expression of church that is participatory, collaborative, and valuing of dialogue and diversity.

“An Evening in the Park with Roy Bourgeois” served as a major fundraiser for the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform’s September 2010 Synod of the Baptized, “Claiming Our Place at the Table.”

NOTE: CCCR is hosting another fundraiser this coming Tuesday, July 6, featuring renowned Catholic feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether. For more information about this event, click here.