Monday, December 26, 2011

The Divine is Greater Than Our Dogmas

By Angie O'Gorman

Editor's Note: This commentary was first published December 22 by the National Catholic Reporter.

A few years ago during a Sunday homily, a Catholic priest in Australia preached to his congregation that the most dangerous place on Earth was a woman’s womb. I know what he was trying to get at, however poor his attempt, however misplaced his intentions, however misogynist his worldview. A terrible sadness rose in me when I heard about this, and a great anger. But why does this come to my mind now as I begin to reflect on the coming Christmas Mass at dawn?

The other image that comes is Bethlehem as it exists today in occupied Palestine, a war zone.

In between these two images I sit immobilized by what we have done to the Incarnation, by the total denial of God among us that now defines how we live with each other and the creation from within which we come.

Did it matter at all, that birth under the stars, that birth in an animal stall when a woman’s womb was good enough for Jesus? Are we so mythologized to the uniqueness of the scene that we miss the message? Do we think that Jesus was the only baby born that night to poor parents sheltering in a barn? Do we think Mary and Joseph were unique in their mixture of joy and pain and worry at the birth of their son? None of it was unique. It was normal. That’s the point. The Divine in our life is normal. It is normative. It is how things are. That is what matters, God is here, participating. What we celebrate at Christmas merely gives us eyes to see it. Words to describe it.

In Jesus’ native Aramaic the concept we know as heaven has an imminent quality. According to scholar Neil Douglas-Klotz, the Aramaic carries the image of “light and sound shining through all creation.” There is not a sense of above and beyond as in the English word heaven. But we already know this. Generations of Catholics learned that God is everywhere, omnipotent and omnipresent; then we stuck the Divine up in heaven and that was that.

Christmas can help us readjust, help us see the Divine more transparently in life, in places where we would least expect. A barn, for example, a baby. The Incarnation we celebrate at Christmas is a call, our belief in it a commitment, to seek awareness of the Divine free of the impediments of culture, class or even catechism. That process calls for a degree of openness most of us rarely embrace or even know as possible. Yet I have a feeling the Divine is so imminent, so within the essence of things, that it is only a matter of learned blindness that keeps us from seeing. It is not something natural to us to be so dense. We can do better. We can break through.

May the incarnation dawn in us this Christmas . . . May we awaken into a broader and deeper awareness of God present, especially in those on whom we project our own partial truths and worst fears. May we remember the Divine is greater than our comfortable categories and dogmas, is greater, dare we admit it, than ourselves. And in that light, may we remember that our enemies are not God’s enemies, and welcome the grace to stop inflaming the conflicts we decry and disowning the victims we create.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Quote of the Day

Christmas marks the birth of the world's greatest peacemaker and nonviolent resister. His coming is told in political language. We hear of a kingdom that will have no end, of his lordship, of glory to God and peace on earth.

Notice, for example, that the angels do not sing, "Glory to Rome! Glory to America! Glory to empire! War on earth to all those not in the empire's good favor!" Sometimes, the culture of war would have us believe that's the Christmas message.

But no. The angels speak of glory to God, the reign of a peaceful child, the coming of peace on Earth. To celebrate Christmas is to take sides against war, poverty and empire. If we adopt the politics of Christmas, we will welcome that peaceful child and his gift of peace, which means we will join his ongoing campaign of nonviolent resistance to war and empire, his ongoing holy occupy movement.

With the nonviolent Jesus, we are saved from war, empire and death. We have been given a way out of the world's violence through his creative nonviolence, steadfast resistance, active peacemaking and universal love. And we have been taught how to live in love, grace and prayer.

As we relearn the politics of Christmas, may we recommit ourselves to his work for peace so that we can do our part in the upcoming year to help end war, poverty and injustice. Then maybe we will be able to join the heavenly multitude and sing with angelic harmony, "Glory to the God of peace!"

– John Dear
"Christmas and the End of the War in Iraq"
National Catholic Reporter
December 20, 2011

NOTE: John Dear's new book, Lazarus, Come Forth!, has just been published by Orbis Books. It explores Jesus as the God of life, calling humanity (in the symbol of the dead Lazarus) out of the tombs of the culture of war and death. This book and other recent books, including Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings; Put Down Your Sword and A Persistent Peace, are available from For more information, go to John Dear's website.

The PCV wishes all its readers
a joyful and peaceful Christmas!

See also the previous PCV posts:
Finding Christ at Christmas
Is Christmas Christian?

Image: Simon Dewey.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Quote of the Day

In an effort to promote passage of the marriage amendment to the state's Constitution, Archbishop John Nienstedt wants area Catholics to recite a special prayer during mass.

Just last week, a priest in our archdiocese was convicted of criminal sexual misconduct. Despite having the same information as the jury that convicted him, the archbishop assigned him to a parish 40 miles away from his supervision.

In addition, the archbishop responded to the courageous victim's concerns over the placement, according to the trial testimony, with the hurtful words, "trust your shepherds." Mass always begins with a penitential rite.

I would propose a prayer at the start of archdiocesan masses asking forgiveness for these failings.

– The Rev. Michael Tegeder
Letter to the Editor
Star Tribune
December 18, 2011

Recommended Off-site Link:
A Prayer for Archbishop NienstedtSensus Fidelium (December 17, 2011).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Pastor Mike Tegeder Challenges Archbishop Nienstedt's "Bullying Behavior"
One Courageous Parish Priest
Local Catholic Priest Speaks Out on the MN Bishops' Anti-Gay DVD Controversy

Pope Benedict's Peace Message Calls for Wealth Redistribution

By Francis X. Rocca

Editor's Note: This article was first published December 16, 2011, by Religion News Service.

VATICAN CITY (RNS) – Noting a "rising sense of frustration" at the worldwide economic recession, Pope Benedict XVI said that a more just and peaceful world requires "adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth."

The pope's words appeared in his message for the World Day of Peace, released on Friday (Dec. 16) at the Vatican.

The message laments that "some currents of modern culture, built upon rationalist and individualist economic principles, have cut off the concept of justice from its transcendent roots, detaching it from charity and solidarity."

Authentic education, Benedict writes, teaches the proper use of freedom with "respect for oneself and others, including those whose way of being and living differs greatly from one's own."

Peace-making requires education not only in the values of compassion and solidarity, but in the importance of wealth redistribution, the "promotion of growth, cooperation for development and conflict resolution," Benedict writes.

The pope also calls on political leaders to "ensure that no one is ever denied access to education."

The message was presented on Friday by officials of the Vatican's Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace. The same body published a controversial document in October blaming the world's economic and financial crisis on an "economic liberalism that spurns rules and controls," and calling for global regulation of the financial industry and the international money supply.

See also the previous PCV posts:
From Jesus' Socialism to Capitalistic Christianity
Occupy Advent and the Vatican: A Revolution of Hope

Recommended Off-site Links:
Church Teaching, Occupy Wall Street Agree, Vatican Officials Say – Cindy Wooden (National Catholic Reporter, October 24, 2011).
New Vatican Document: Good News for Poor, Bad News for Tea Party – Daniel C. Maguire (Religion Dispatches, October 25, 2011).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Female Priests Push Catholic Boundaries

By Rose French

Editor's Note: This article was first published December 10, 2011, by the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

Dressed in a priestly white robe and green stole, Monique Venne lifted communion bread before an altar – defying centuries of Catholic Church law.

Despite promises of excommunication from the Vatican, she and six other women in Minnesota say they are legitimate, ordained Catholic priests, fit to celebrate the mass. They trace their status through a line of ordained women bishops back to anonymous male bishops in Europe.

"We love the church, but we see this great wrong," said Venne, 54, who co-founded Compassion of Christ Church, a Minneapolis congregation that just celebrated its first anniversary. "Not allowing women to be at the altar is a denigration of their dignity. We want the church to be the best it can be. If one leaves, one cannot effect change. So we're pushing boundaries."

Minnesota has emerged as a hotbed for the growing movement to ordain women as priests, with the highest per-capita number of female Catholic priests in the nation, according to the organization Roman Catholic Womenpriests. Women priests are working in the Twin Cities, Red Wing, Winona, Clear Lake and soon St. Cloud. The group claims about 70 women priests in the United States and more than 100 worldwide.

Several Protestant denominations have allowed women to be ordained ministers for decades. But the [Roman] Catholic Church views an all-male priesthood as unchangeable, "based on the example of Jesus, who, even though he had revered relationships with women who were his disciples, chose only men to be his apostles," said Dennis McGrath, spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

"Women who claim to have been ordained Catholic priests in fact have no relationship to the [Roman] Catholic Church because their ordination is not valid," he said.

Dozens of congregations

An increasing number of Catholics disagree with the church on this. In a poll last year by the New York Times and CBS, 59 percent of U.S. Catholics favored letting women become priests, with 33 percent opposed.

That's encouraging news for Roman Catholic Womenpriests, founded nearly nine years ago in Europe. It began after seven women were ordained aboard a ship on the Danube River by three male bishops. The group claims their ordinations are valid because they conform within the bounds of "apostolic succession."

"I do believe we are connecting through the original church, which started with the apostles," said Regina Nicolosi, 69, of Red Wing, who became bishop for Womenpriests' Midwest region in 2009.

Dozens of U.S. congregations are being led by women priests, a movement many Catholics view as a means to solving the church's problem of declining numbers of male priests. Roman Catholic Womenpriests is the first group to claim "apostolic succession," said Marian Ronan, associate professor at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif.

The church sees that as a threat to its authority, Ronan said.

The Vatican issued a pronouncement in 2008 that women who sought ordination and bishops who ordained them would be excommunicated. Last year, the Vatican also labeled female ordination a delictum gravius, or grave crime.

Venne says women who work on church staffs also face the likelihood of getting fired for becoming priests. Male priests who support them can't do so publicly because they risk their retirement pensions if they are excommunicated.

Proponents of female ordination argue, however, the New Testament and early Christian art show women as priests and in other leadership roles.

'I feel like it's a nationality'

Asked why they insist on remaining Catholic when they could be welcomed as ministers in other denominations, the women say, in so many words, it's their religion, too.

"I'm as much Catholic, – I feel like it's a nationality, – as I am English, German and Polish," said Linda Wilcox, 64, who felt called to become a priest after working in the St. Paul library system for nearly 35 years. She is one of four women priests at Compassion of Christ.

Women priests in Minnesota come from a variety of backgrounds: chaplain, librarian, even meteorologist. A significant number are married and have children, another forbidden activity by the church, which calls for its priests to be celibate.

Like many women who've joined the ranks of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, Nicolosi has a master's degree in theology.

Venne and other women at Compassion of Christ recall "playing mass" when they were children and pretending to be priests. As young girls, they felt rejected that they could not be altar servers, let alone priests.

"At the core of my being I knew that couldn't be," said Judith McKloskey, 65, of Eden Prairie. "Jesus included everybody." For years at her parish church, Pax Christi, she served as a lay preacher and ran a national association for lay ministry. She was ordained in 2007.

Venne, of Burnsville, the former meteorologist, was in a Bible study group with McKloskey and decided to pursue the priesthood after participating in her ordination. Venne was ordained in June.

"I felt as though I was fulfilling what God wanted me to do," she said. "It was something I'd been called to since I was in fourth grade and because the way the Catholic Church was structured, I wasn't able to recognize it until years later. I couldn't even be an altar server in those days."

Nicolosi was helping her husband train to become a deacon in 1980 when she realized she "had a call, too. I experienced the injustice of doing the entire training and being totally qualified but not being able to be ordained."

Answer to priest shortage?

Compassion of Christ is a small congregation, with only about 15 to 20 people attending regularly. One is Pauline Cahalan, 66, a lifelong Catholic who started going a year ago.

"Basically there's just something missing with the fact that there's this philosophy or rules that say the Holy Spirit only inspires men to be priests," Cahalan said. "And that if a woman gets that calling ... they're supposed to ignore it and deny it. That just doesn't make sense to me.

"We have such a shortage of priests. To me this is one of the answers ... that we would recognize the vocations when the Holy Spirit calls women and let them become priests."

In Minnesota, the movement is expanding. One of the four priests leading Compassion of Christ, Mary Smith, will leave at the end of the year to become the full-time pastor at a new congregation in St. Cloud.

The four women say a significant reason why they buck Catholic Church convention is because they were inspired by seeing other women celebrating mass. Now they're paying it forward.

"I hope the women priests can help fire the imagination of young women in the church today, that this is a possibility," Wilcox said. "We are equal."

See also the previous PCV posts:
Ordination of Women in Minneapolis Reflects Emerging Renewal of Priesthood and Church
Roy Bourgeois: "The Exclusion of Women from the Priesthood is a Grave Injustice"
Roman Catholic Women Priests: Differing Perspectives
Ministry, Not Maleness, is the Theological Starting Point for the Priest

Recommended Off-site Links:
“We Are All the Rock”: An Interview with Roman Catholic Womanpriest Judith McKloskey – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, August 4, 2008).
A Woman Priest Reflects on Her 10-year Anniversary – Jamie L. Manson (National Catholic Reporter, December 7, 2011).

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Out of Step With the Flock: Bishops Far Behind on Birth Control Issues

By Kathleen Kennedy Townsend

Editor's Note: This commentary was first published December 9, 2011, by The Atlantic.

Even though 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women
use birth control during their reproductive years,
the U.S. bishops are fighting it.

Last month, the Vatican issued a clarion call to all people of conscience. It wasn't about contraception or masturbation or gay marriage or any of the other aspects of peoples' love lives have drawn religious ire through the ages. Instead, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace stepped forward to question the morality of a global economic system that relentlessly enriches a privileged few while the rest of humanity struggles to keep their heads above water.

The council reaffirmed the notion highlighted in Pope Benedict XVI's 2009 encyclical on the economy, arguing that open markets – usually the engines of prosperity – can foster poverty and inequality when unscrupulously exploited for selfish ends. As a counterbalance, the council called for international standards and safeguards to stem the world's worsening inequities in the concentration of wealth.

With millions of Americans looking for jobs and struggling in this economy, you might expect the nation's Catholic bishops to join the Vatican's quest to level the economic playing field. However, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have other priorities. They are consumed just now with the subject of birth control. The bishops' leadership is unhappy about a new national policy that includes birth control under preventive health care: a designation that requires new health plans to cover it in full, without the co-payments and deductibles that keep many women from using it effectively. This policy, which was adopted last summer and goes into effect next August, is both laudable and common-sense.

With yesterday, the 8th day of December, marking the Feast of the Immaculate Conception – which refers to Mary's being conceived free of original sin, not the conception of Jesus – it would be wise of the bishops to realize that the conception of Mary by her human parents, Saint Joachim and Saint Anne, is a reminder that woman are people of conscience and can decide for themselves when it is best to conceive. In fact, birth control use is universal, even among Catholic women: 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women use birth control during their reproductive years.

Yet the more conservative bishops don't approve. So they're working with congressional Republicans to undermine this new benefit. If they succeed, millions of women – Catholic and non-Catholic alike – will miss out on the promise of the new health care law.

At issue is the health insurance that religiously-aligned employers sponsor for their workers. When health officials adopted the new birth control policy, they made an exception for "religious employers," giving them an exemption from this benefit. That concession, granted over the objection of health advocates, recognizes a narrowly defined refusal provision.

But that wasn't enough for the bishops' conference and their congressional allies. They now want the exemption expanded to cover not only "religious employers" but also the thousands of hospitals, schools, universities, and service organizations that are affiliated with religious organizations. The USCCB's demands are undermined by the fact that many of these Catholic entities currently offer birth control coverage through the health plans they offer employees. This larger exception would do nothing to protect religious freedom. But it would deny a benefit to a whole class of workers – including hundreds of thousands of non-Catholics – who want it, need it, and are legally entitled to it.

The bishops' ploy is yet another indication of how out of step they are with their flock. In the mid-1960s, Pope Paul VI authorized a commission to make recommendations about the use of birth control. The laypeople on the commission voted 60-4 for change, while the clerics voted 9 to 6. Despite the majority of both clerics and laypeople in favor of change, Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, argued that this change would undermine Church authority, because it would look like the Church could not discern eternal truths.

Well, Catholic theologians, priests, and laity did discern truths, and it is the Church's authority that was undermined. Wojtyle wrote, "To change our position would mean that we should concede frankly that the Holy Spirit had been on the side of the Protestant Churches." Why, more than 40 years later, do bishops need to lobby Congress to get us Catholics to do what they want? Shouldn't they be able to persuade us on their own? The fact that they can't is a tribute to their own impotence.

As a woman and a lifelong Catholic, I sometimes marvel that faith can flourish despite the hierarchy's not infrequent disdain for the faithful – particularly the women faithful. Over the past century, birth control has improved women's health, enhanced children's prospects, and helped lift millions of families out of poverty. It would be difficult to find any other single issue that most Catholic women could agree on, much less the 98 percent who have thoughtfully concluded that they must do what they can to prevent unintended pregnancies.

The head bishops not only don't respect that judgment by members of the opposite sex, they have chosen to engage in supreme doublespeak by choosing to cite "freedom of conscience" as a justification for denying women their own freedom of conscience in resolving this intensely personal issue for themselves.

Considering how the Church has treated women throughout history, I would have hoped that today's bishops would make a special effort to listen to our concerns. After all, St Augustine, one of the great doctors of the Church, argued that women were not made in the image of God, and another renowned theologian, Thomas Aquinas, defined women as "misbegotten males." Pope John Paul II, in an effort to apologize for our history, wrote that women have two vocations: virgin and mother. He forgot president, prime minister, or priest.

Church-affiliated institutions employ millions of non-Catholics who signed on to earn a paycheck. Their choice of employer shouldn't determine whether they can plan their families. The new federal policy doesn't require anyone to use birth control, nor does it force any employer to dispense contraceptives. It's part of a larger effort to reform health care and ensure that cost doesn't deprive people of basic health services. Under the new national policy, the one percent of American women who never use birth control will be just as free as they are today to avoid it. The other 99 percent will gain access to a service that far too many still lack. By any reasonable definition, the policy benefits everyone.

Besides being ethically dubious, the USCCB's demands lack any legal justification. In exempting religiously affiliated employers from the mandate to cover contraceptives, the federal government adopted the same standard that many states already use. By that standard, a "religious employer" is one with a religious mission, a religious workforce, and a religious clientele. If the bishops' conference succeeds in rewriting that definition, millions of non-Catholic workers will lose a vital health service for themselves and their dependents.

It would also flout the will of the people. Americans want health insurance that guarantees basic care for all, and they agree overwhelmingly that birth control is part of basic care. In a Hart Research survey, 71 percent of voters agreed that health plans should cover birth control at no cost. Among Catholic women, the margin of support was 77 percent.

The most ideological of the U.S. bishops would do well to heed not only their more clear-sighted Vatican superiors but also the wisdom of so many women. That is, they could redirect the energy they waste obsessing about sex toward helping defeat the corrosive effects on tens of millions of Americans and their children of poverty, lack of health insurance, and unemployment.

Funny how the right often calls us "cafeteria Catholics," and yet here, rather than choosing to deal with the whole body of Catholic teaching, they are themselves obsessed with what we could call "pelvic politics" – and in the process shrinking the broad teaching of the Church to a few, narrow concerns.

From 1995 to 2003, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend served as Maryland's first woman lieutenant governor. She now works in finance in Washington.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"Your Heart Will Be Deeply Moved by What You Hear"

In an open letter published in today's Star Tribune, Retired Lutheran Bishop Herbert W. Chilstrom tells the Roman Catholic Bishops of Minnesota that they are making a "significant mistake" in backing the so-called marriage protection amendment. He also challenges them to take the time to meet with and listen to gay and lesbian persons.

"Hear as they tell you what it means to be a child of God and a faithful member of your church, persons who happen to be gay or lesbian through no choice of their own," Chilstrom writes. "I can promise you, based on my experience, that your heart will be deeply moved by what you hear."

Bishop Chilstrom's letter is reprinted in its entirety below.


To My Brothers – The Catholic Bishops of Minnesota:

In 1976 I was elected a Lutheran bishop in Minnesota – one of seven such Lutheran leaders in the state. Over the next years one of the highlights of my time in office was the annual noon-to-noon retreat with our eight Catholic counterparts in the state.

The bond that developed between us was deep and respectful. We shared our differences; we celebrated our likenesses. My friendship with Archbishop John Roach and Bishop Raymond Lucker, in particular, is a blessing I will treasure as long as I live.

May I share a word with all of you who now lead the Roman Catholic community of faith in Minnesota?

First, I would go to the wall to defend your right to work for the adoption of the so-called marriage protection amendment. Having said that, I must tell you that I believe you are making a significant mistake.

Over my 35 years as an active and retired bishop I have come to know hundreds of gay and lesbian persons. I have yet to meet even one who is opposed to the marriage of one man and one woman. After all, they are the daughters and sons of such unions.

What they cannot understand is why church leaders would oppose their fundamental desire and right to be in partnership with someone they love and respect who happens to be of the same gender and sexual orientation. They don't understand why they should not enjoy all the rights and privileges their straight counterparts take for granted.

More than a half century ago Father Francis Gilligan spoke out for equality for African American citizens of Minnesota. Though many argued on the basis of the Bible that these neighbors were inferior to others, Gilligan fought tirelessly for justice for these brothers and sisters.

In our generation homosexual persons are subject to the same discrimination. Their detractors often use the Bible and tradition as weapons of choice.

Is it not time for religious leaders, walking in the footsteps of Father Gilligan, to do the same for another minority, neighbors who are as responsible as our African American sisters and brothers?

I also suggest that you ask yourselves an important question: If the amendment is passed, will it make one particle of difference in our common culture in Minnesota? I don't think so.

Responsible lesbian and gay persons will continue to seek companionship with those they love. This law will only work to drive many of them deeper into closets of anonymity.

Instead, why not welcome them into our communities of faith where they can work side by side with us as equal partners?

Let me put out a challenge to each of you brothers. Invite 15 gay and lesbian persons from your respective areas, one at a time, to spend two hours with you.

Thirty hours are a pittance compared to the time you are investing to promote adoption of the marriage amendment. Use the time, not for confession, but to listen to them describe what it is like to live in our culture in Minnesota.

Hear as they tell you what it means to be a child of God and a faithful member of your church, persons who happen to be gay or lesbian through no choice of their own. I can promise you, based on my experience, that your heart will be deeply moved by what you hear.

When you have finished your time with these sisters and brothers in Christ, spend a quiet hour reflecting on a single question: "As I understand the heart of my Savior Jesus, how would he treat these sons and daughters of my church?"

Herbert W. Chilstrom is former presiding bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Related Off-site Links:
Mary Bednarowski on the Power of Our StoriesThe Wild Reed (April 19, 2007).
A Head and Heart Response to the Catholic Hierarchy's Opposition to Marriage Equality – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, November 23, 2011).
In the Struggle for Marriage Equality, MN Catholics are Making a Difference by Changing Hearts and Minds – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, May 26, 2011).
The Minneapolis (and Online) Premiere of Catholics for Marriage Equality – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, October 17, 2011).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Occupy Advent and the Vatican: A Revolution of Hope

By Alex Mikulich

Editor's Note: This commentary was first published December 6 by The National Catholic Reporter.

We live in a moment of economic, social, moral and spiritual impasse. Wondrous technological achievements fail to assuage our possessive individualism, fail to end extreme poverty, fail to cultivate life-giving connections between the rich and poor peoples of the earth, and fail to nurture our universal rootedness in the earth's ecosystems.

Scandals in almost every major societal institution erode public trust and any sense of our shared responsibility for each other. Technological prowess advanced through wars and multiple capitalist practices fail to care for the most vulnerable among us as they wreak ecological devastation and threaten the very existence of our planet.

Left to our own idolatry, the result is more of the same – insatiable consumer desire, increasing cynicism, politics and economics driven by the self-interest of the powerful against the common good, and the "presumptive" resort to violence as the solution to conflict.

In this time of global and national decline, economically, socially and morally, how do we take up the spiritual task of waiting this Advent? For what or whom do we hope in this season of longing?

As I prepare for Advent in this time of impasse, I suggest reflection upon the unlikely congruence of two divergent resources: the Occupy movement and the Vatican's recent statement on global financial reform, "Toward Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority."

In the words of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the authoritative office within the Vatican with the highest responsibility for Catholic social teaching, "the gap between ethical training and technical preparation needs to be filled by highlighting in a particular way the perpetual synergy between the two levels of practical doing (praxis) and of boundless human striving (poiesis)."

That is a theologically sophisticated way of emphasizing the need both to integrate spirituality and ethics, individually and collectively, and restore the primacy of spirituality and ethics over capitalism and finance.

How do we begin this work in Advent?

The Occupy movement practices a way of waiting and listening I find instructive for this Advent in this moment of societal breakdown. Each word and phrase spoken by every speaker is repeated, chorus-like, by the group. It is a way Occupiers slow down the pace of conversation to attend and listen to each other's voices. It is also a way that Occupiers give priority to voices of those previously unheard or marginalized. As they listen to each other, Occupiers seek to hear the voices of those who have not spoken or have not been heard.

I am struck by the wisdom of this Occupy practice for Advent in the way that it calls us to wait and listen, wait and attend, wait and be with one another in the midst of societal breakdown. It is a way of attending to what the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace calls the depths of "human striving" for enduring goods of love, peace and justice.

In the Occupy movement, if we listen and attend to the voices of the people, we hear diverse voices crying out for a different way of living, a different way of being in the world that values every voice, liberates every voice and joins every voice in the common work of mutual uplift, healing and new life.

Both the Occupy movement through this practice and the Vatican through its recent statement on global financial reform compel us to reflect on the need for a contemplative orientation that listens and embodies the cries of the oppressed, and their cries for freedom, for work, for liberation and for new life in God.

Advent calls us to the spiritual labor of waiting and listening to each other, to those who are in any way oppressed and to our deepest longings for love, connection, new life and God.

Yet such waiting as reorientation to the truly good is no easy task, for it demands "anguish and suffering," as the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace puts it, as we struggle for love and justice in the midst of societal sinfulness and decline.

This spiritual labor of waiting and listening, I suggest, invites people of faith to open ourselves to our shared vulnerability with all people and to our loss of meaning and empty imagination in the midst of societal moral and spiritual decline.

Precisely at this seeming "deadendness," abandonment and emptiness, I wonder if God might be calling us to experience transformed desire, personally and collectively, for new vision, love, courage and hope that renews life across the face of the earth. Might there be a miracle of transformation in the midst of emptiness and poverty?

As the contemplative Constance FitzGerald suggests, the miracle is that contemplative cries from people and the earth are "no longer silent and invisible, but rather prophetic and revolutionary."

This is where the Occupy movement and the Vatican most closely converge. Both call us to wait and listen. If we attend and listen to the groans within ourselves, from peoples everywhere and from the earth, we may yet hear the cry of new life and a new creation. When will we groan with all peoples and the earth for God? In waiting and listening to these groans, may we find the Spirit yearning within us for the manger where the revolution of hope and love is born.

Alex Mikulich is research fellow at the Jesuit Social Research Institute, Loyola University New Orleans. He is co-author of The Scandal of White Complicity in U.S. Hyper-Incarceration: A Nonviolent Spirituality of White Resistance (Forthcoming from Palgrave MacMillan in 2012).

Friday, December 2, 2011

Belgium Catholics Issue Reform Manifesto

By John A. Dick

Editor's Note: This article was first published December 2, 2011, by The National Catholic Reporter.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – The week before the start of Advent, four Flemish priests issued a church reform manifesto that called for allowing the appointment of laypeople as parish pastors, liturgical leaders and preachers, and for the ordination of married men and women as priests.

By the week's end more than 4,000 of publicly active Catholics had signed on to the "Believers Speak Out" manifesto. By Dec. 1, the number of signers had reached 6,000.

Among the supporters are hundreds of priests, educators, academics and professional Catholics. Two prominent supporters are former rectors of the Catholic University of Leuven, Roger Dillemans and Marc Vervenne.

"These are not 'protest people.' They are people of faith. They are raising their voices. They hope their bishops are listening," said Fr. John Dekimpe, one of four priests who launched the manifesto.

"Some people are fearful about approaching church leadership," said the priest, who lives in Kortrijk. "Is this being a dissident? I don't think so. The Belgian church is a disaster. If we don't do something, the exodus of those leaving the church will just never stop. ... I really want the bishops to reflect deeply about the growing discontent of so many believers."

Among the manifesto's demands, made "in solidarity with fellow believers in Austria, Ireland and many other countries," are that:

• Parish leadership be entrusted to trained laypeople;

• Communion services be held even if no priest is available;

• Laypeople be allowed to preach;

• Divorced people be allowed to receive Communion;

• As quickly as possible, both married men and women be admitted to the priesthood.

So far there has been no official reaction from Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, the Catholic primate of Belgium, any of the other Belgium bishops, or the Vatican. Privately, and off the record, one Belgian bishop has applauded the manifesto.

Jürgen Mettepenningen, a Leuven theologian and former press officer for Léonard, told the Belgian newspaper De Morgen that he hopes the manifesto can lead to a well-thought-out church reform. "When I reflect on what I have written and said over the past years, I can only say that the spirit of the manifesto is the very same spirit in which I have been trying to work to make the church more credible: true to the faith."

Last year, after reports of abuse rocked the Belgian church, an independent commission discovered sexual abuse in most Catholic dioceses and all church-run boarding schools and religious orders. The commission said 475 cases of abuse had been reported to it between January and June this year.

In one of the more prominent cases, Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe was forced to resign after admitting to years of abusing his nephew. In April of this year, he told Belgian television that he had molested another nephew and that it had all started "as a game."

The full text of the manifesto, "Believers Speak Out":

Parishes without a priest, Eucharist at inappropriate hours, worship without Communion: that really should not be! What is delaying the needed church reform? We, Flemish believers, ask our bishops to the break the impasse in which we are locked. We do this in solidarity with fellow believers in Austria, Ireland and many other countries, with all who insist on vital church reform.

We simply do not understand why the leadership in our local communities (e.g., parishes) is not entrusted to men or women, married or unmarried, professionals or volunteers, who already have the necessary training. We need dedicated pastors!

We do not understand why these our fellow believers cannot preside at Sunday liturgical celebrations. In every active community we need liturgical ministers!

We do not understand why, in communities where no priest is available, a Word service cannot also include a Communion service.

We do not understand why skilled laypeople and well-formed religious educators cannot preach. We need the word of God!

We do not understand why those believers who, with very good will, have remarried after a divorce must be denied Communion. They should be welcomed as worthy believers. Fortunately, there are some places where this is happening.

We also demand that, as quickly as possible, both married men and women be admitted to the priesthood. We, people of faith, desperately need them now!

John A. Dick, an American historical theologian, has lived in Belgium for 30 years. He is currently visiting professor of Religion in American Society at the University of Ghent. This report includes some information from Catholic News Service.

See also the previous PCV posts:
Council of the Baptized Launched in Minneapolis-St. Paul
American Catholic Council Issues "Declaration for Reform and Renewal"
Hans Küng Says Only Radical Reforms Can Save the Catholic Church
Hans Küng on Church Reform: "The Base Must Gather Its Strength and Make Itself Heard"
It's Critical That Catholics Find Their Voice
Let Our Voices Be Heard!
Austrian Cardinal Roils the Vatican
A Church in Flux
Urgent Tasks for Church Renewal
The Call of the Baptized: Be the Church, Live the Mission
The Independent Spirit and "Divisible Unity" of the Modern Church
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 1)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 2)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 3)
Colleen Kochivar-Baker on "Why We Stay"

Image: Bruges, Belgium (2005) – Michael Bayly.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Quote of the Day

. . . I happen to find the Latin mass beautiful, and at first I seemed to object less to the new changes than most Catholics I know. I attend Spanish language mass from time to time. In that liturgy, we already use phrasing similar to that the New Old Missal introduces. The Vatican is not nearly so interested, however, in the accuracy of the translation of the mass as it is in dragging today's vernacular mass back in time. They want the 1962 mass with all the trimmings. This new translation business is a tasty treat for the lockstep sheep and papist throwbacks.

Though I seem to be alone in it, I don't mind having to use (the new) "consubstantial" in the Nicene Creed. "Consubstantial" – it's so, so Latin, I almost like it. There is, however, good reason not to like this kind of change. Daunting Latinate terms like "consubstantial" are tools in the grift. When the boys in the Vatican want our money, they remind us that all are welcome – no theology knowledge needed. But when people in the pews challenge man-made doctrine, the men in miters are all too quick to remind us that our lack of advanced degrees from the Pontifical Gregorian University might leave us less than qualified to challenge the Holy See on any Catholic matter.

The average Catholic is too busy living a life to familiarize him or herself with the specifics of each papal encyclical, each tenet of dogma and the many voluminous, seminal Roman Catholic theological texts – and the Magisterium likes it that way. Ecclesiastical jargon makes the bishops look like they have the inside line on God. Hence the current pope's fervor for evangelization in the developing world: Hungry, illiterate people make good converts.

The New Old Missal matter works well as a diversionary tactic. Its well-timed fanfare shifts attention away from a pontificate mired in perversion. It is easier to sit at the long table in a gown parsing the Filioque than it is to sit at that same table and discuss the ordination of women, the Vatican's culpability in spreading HIV and AIDS in the developing world, and its own spiritual cancer in the form of bishop-facilitated child rape. . . .

– Michele Somerville
"The Truth Behind the Godawful New (Old) Roman Catholic Missal"
The Huffington Post
November 29, 2011

Related Off-site Link:
The Best Priestly Review of the New Translation – Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, November 29, 2011).

See also the previous PCV post:
Yesterday's Language: The New Words of the Catholic Mass

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Yesterday's Language: The New Words of the Catholic Mass

By Gail Ramshaw

Editor's Note: This article was first published August 22, 2011 by The Christian Century.

Because I affirm the unity of the body of Christ, I consider that the health of one arm affects the entire body. Thus I am either strengthened or weakened by the worship style of other Christians. For decades I've worked as a lay Lutheran toward making the words of Christian worship communally approved, biblically inspired, theologically alive and masterfully crafted. Given these convictions, I say with sadness that the new English translation of the Roman Catholic Order of Mass, mandated by the Vatican to be inaugurated this Advent, wounds not only many of my Catholic friends but also me.

Let me apply these four goals not only to the forthcoming Roman Catholic rite but also to texts used by many Protestant churches.

Words communally approved: Communal approval, as I see it, is achieved by means of a decadelong process involving open questionnaires, diverse committees, scholarly input, theological scrutiny, trial rites, genuine review, prudent revision, a concluding convention vote and denominationally supported education. Yet the new Roman Order of Mass has been smashed down upon the heads of dozens of eminent and skilled wordsmiths who since 1966 have labored to translate the Latin rite into English. The promised communal process was replaced by hierarchical control. Nobody claims that the words of the newly authorized translation are communally approved.

In countless Protestant churches also one finds that the staff or a single minister will compose texts for Sunday. Worshipers are expected to speak with their whole heart words that they have never laid eyes on.

Any new worship text embodies some reform agenda. Was the agenda communally approved? The 2001 Vatican document "Liturgiam Authenticam" describes some of the Roman agenda—and far from being communally affirmed, the Vatican's literalist theory of translation has been criticized by many linguists. Furthermore, much of the Vatican agenda is an unspoken conservative rejection of some recent theological and liturgical developments, a counterreform that recalls the Council of Trent.

And then I wonder: have those ministers who construct their own liturgies clearly articulated their several agendas, and do at least their congregations approve these directions?

How wide is the envisioned Christian community? Much 20th-century liturgical renewal resulted from ecumenical cooperation in which different traditions learned from each other and collaborated on common projects. I am particularly saddened that the new Roman translation reflects a recent Vatican decision to heighten its denominational distinctiveness by rejecting use of ecumenical translations of shared texts such as the Lord's Prayer and the creeds.

Yet all Christians should be concerned when their narrow denominational identity or preferred personal piety outshouts an emerging ecumenical consensus. I think, for example, of those Protestants who, tediously repeating what the 16th-­century Reformers said about the medieval Roman canon, refuse to pray a biblically rich Great Thanksgiving at the eucharistic table, even though a century of ecumenical scholarship concurs that eucharistia, the "thanksgiving," is best served by a substantial prayer in which God is praised for the Earth, for centuries of the beloved stories of salvation, for the meal of Christ's body and for the continuous infusion of the Holy Spirit.

Words biblically inspired: That Christians assemble around the word of God as found in a perpetually retranslated Bible raises many issues. Which biblical terminology is necessary for the proclamation of the mystery of Christ? In each language, which words and images best express that biblical vocabulary? How much biblical literacy ought we expect of worshipers? When is a biblical reference inaccessible and thus merely mystifying?

The new Roman translation of the prayer before communion, "Lord, I am not worthy," now adds "that you should enter under my roof." The text assumes that worshipers know the story of the centurion in Luke 7. The intent is noble, the educational task enormous.

In the new Roman rite, the second option for the eucharistic prayer asks the Spirit to be sent down "like the dewfall." In the Hebrew scriptures, I count more than a dozen instances of dew as a metaphor for divine blessings (e.g., Hosea 14:5). Yet I doubt that most of the students I taught at a Catholic university know what "dewfall" is or, since their terrain does not rely on dew for fertility, would find it a powerful image of divine transformation.

And how do all of us cast, for example, the New Testament imagery of becoming slaves of Christ, beyond softening the noun to servants? And have we enriched our liturgy with the countless images for God and the sacraments that we can borrow from the Psalms?

Is the Bible rendered so as to support denominational preferences? Maintaining a traditional translation can inhibit responsibly attending to biblical meaning. That the Catholic Church continues to cast the words of institution in the future tense—"which will be given up for you," "which will be poured out for you"—exemplifies this tendency.

For a Protestant example of this resistance, consider that seminaries have long taught that the Lord's Prayer is a plea for the coming of God's kingdom, and thus the translation "lead us not into temptation" misrepresents the eschatological intention of Matthew's and Luke's reference to the "time of trial" (NRSV), the "final test" (NAB). So why have so few Protestants adopted the more biblically faithful 1988 English Language Liturgical Consultation translation of the Lord's Prayer, which pleads "save us from the time of trial"?

Words theologically alive: In the new Roman text, the theology expressed in the original Latin is the approved belief, and its hierarchical depiction of the church and the Earth is maintained. In a reactionary move, the rubric "the sign of communion is more complete when given under both kinds" is to become "if any are present who are to receive Holy Communion under both kinds. . . ." The response to "the Lord be with you" is now to be rendered "and with your spirit," a change that has been defended as appropriately referring to a higher "spirit" conferred on the clergy at ordination. But is it theologically helpful to be reminded of ecclesiastical status at the time when we greet one another in the Risen Christ?

All of us must inquire which century governs our worship. Have the theological gains of the 20th century entered our Sunday speech? Why do preachers who in a postmodern time accept scholarly proposals about the origin of the New Testament preach as if the Gospels are audiotapes of Jesus' ministry?

Words masterfully crafted: Most worship includes various levels of language: elevated, colloquial and somewhere between. With my national church, I maintain that each of these levels of contemporary speech can be shaped to convey the gospel. But in the new Roman translation, the rhetorical style of complex Latinate sentences suggests that masterful English cannot carry the mystery. Perhaps those who craft liturgical texts are often tempted to resurrect the archaic: I recall that the translators of the King James Version of the Bible decided to continue use of thou-thine-thee, even though it was passing out of colloquial use, because they judged that words which sounded laden with piety would lull users into acceptance.

The new Roman Order of Mass is a compendium of the antiquated. Important nouns (e.g., Priest, Order of Bishops, Martyrs) are capitalized, while unimportant nouns (e.g., deacon, people) are not. Common titles (e.g., opening prayer, censer) are re­placed with traditional sacral terms (e.g., collect prayer, thurible). The church is a she. The word soul shows up repeatedly. (I enjoyed asking my students whether they had a soul—most said yes—and if they had one, what it was—big blank.) Does not the choice of archaisms suggest that God is essentially old-fashioned? In the 21st century, what do we mean when we speak about "souls"? The incarnation says to me that our daily speech can carry the presence of God, but perhaps we prefer hiding in our grandmother's attic chest.

For me, the linguistic nadir in the Roman rite is the wording at the cup: Jesus "took this precious chalice in his holy and venerable hands." Of this, I ask, what is the referent? Of precious, I think of Gollum, or worse yet, Precious Mo­ments. Of chalice, I say that although it is a possible translation of the Latin calix, even Indiana Jones could distinguish the cup from a chalice. Of venerable, the dictionary agrees with me that the English word connotes age. I cannot fathom how this phrasing could have been proposed, let alone approved and required.

This lamentable new rite does not represent liturgical language that is communally acceptable, biblically accurate, theologically helpful or linguistically masterful, and it has impelled some Catholic liturgical scholars to conclude that, well, actually, words don't really matter all that much. This strikes me as a counsel of despair, the sad cry of faithful worshipers who feel themselves helpless. I hope that this sense of resignation is not contagious but that all of us, in our varied Christian assemblies, will tirelessly address these issues, toward the continuously renewed vibrancy of our liturgical language.

Gail Ramshaw has written widely on liturgical language. Her book Treasures Old and New discusses images in the lectionary readings.

Related Off-site Links:
Catholics Facing Changes in Liturgy – Rose French (Star Tribune, November 22, 2011).
Making Do With a Faulty TranslationNational Catholic Reporter (November 23, 2011).
Latin Whiz, 16, Finds New Liturgy Language Lacking – Robert McClory (National Catholic Reporter, November 2, 2011).
The New Translation Makes a Mess of the Trinity – Joseph S. O'Leary (June 16, 2011).
Those Horrible New Translations Proceed on Their Merry Way – Joseph S. O'Leary (June 12, 2011)
The Coming American Schism – Phyllis Zagano (National Catholic Reporter, July 20, 2011).
Why Let Bishops Drive Us From the Church We Love? – Brian Cahill (National Catholic Reporter, May 2, 2011).
Irish Priests Want New Missal Postponed – Sarah MacDonald (National Catholic Reporter, February 4, 2011).
Liturgist Says He Has Had Enough – Thomas C. Fox (National Catholic Reporter, February 4, 2011).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

When Is Dissent Not Just Dissent?

By Robert McClory

Editor's Note: The following article was first published November 17, 2011 by the National Catholic Reporter.

The recent, very thorough survey of American Catholics, whose results were featured in the Oct. 28-Nov. 10 NCR, revealed no overwhelming shifts in belief and practice since the first such survey in 1987. The latest figures reinforce the fact that a substantial number of Catholics are convinced they can be in good standing with the church without adhering to church teachings on various issues, including weekly Mass attendance and remarriage after divorce. More than half the respondents in the survey consider "not very important" Catholic positions opposing abortion, same-sex marriage and requiring a celibate male clergy.

Bishops, priests and other church leaders have been viewing similar results for years now without throwing up their arms and declaring panic. Their easy and obvious response is that the surveys are polluted by the number of lax Catholics, half-Catholics, and pseudo-Catholics affected by the winds of secularism, relativism and individualism howling through American culture. Obviously, they say, this is dissent, this is disobedience.

There can be some truth there, but I would like to suggest that we may be dealing with something else -- something you are not likely to hear mentioned by your bishop or your parish priest. It is the "non-reception" of certain church teachings. And that is not just a less blunt term for dissent. Non-reception holds a respectable place in Catholic teaching among theologians (and very likely among many bishops if they were not so fearful of saying what they think).

According to Jesuit Fr. Ladislas Orsy, writing in the Encyclopedia of Catholicism, church law, like ordinary human law, has two stages. First, it is formulated by the lawgiver and promulgated or brought to the attention of the subjects. In the second stage, those who become aware of the law must try to understand it as they "encounter it in their concrete, particular and personal situations." They must then "form a critical judgment about the law either by affirming it through steady obedience or by bringing to the legislator's notice the difficulties the law may generate."

But what if the subjects, having presented their difficulties, are rebuffed by the legislator or are simply ignored? In that case, the second stage is incomplete and the law has no real effect. It's a little like the tree falling in the forest when there is no one around to see it or hear it fall.

Discussing Vatican II, Benedictine Bishop B.C. Butler acknowledged that if a teaching "failed in the end to enjoy reception on the part of the church, this would prove it had not met the requirements" for enforcement. And in 1969, the theologian Joseph Ratzinger (currently Pope Benedict VI) spoke about even infallibly proposed teachings: "Where there is neither consensus on the part of the universal church nor clear testimony in the sources, no binding decision is possible. If such a decision were formally made, it would lack the necessary conditions and the question of the decision's legitimacy would have to be examined." What Butler and Benedict are getting at is the very real possibility of legitimate non-reception.

Is that what these surveys are telling us over and over again? It would be out of the question, I think, to attribute all non-reception to the presence of irresponsible pseudo-Catholics in the survey responses. The latest American Catholic survey is helpful here, since it carefully distinguishes in some areas the responses of highly committed, moderately committed and low-committed Catholics. The highly committed are described as far more likely than other groups to affirm the importance of the sacraments, the core beliefs of the church, the church's apostolic tradition and its social justice teachings. They also tend to rely heavily on Vatican teaching authority and to emphasize church teaching regarding sexual behavior. Simply put, these are "cream-of-the crop" Catholics.

Yet according to the survey results this year, almost half of these loyal believers say you can be a good Catholic without adhering to church law on divorce and remarriage, on living together without a valid marriage, on attending Mass weekly. And 60 percent of this highly committed flock says you can be a good Catholic without following church teaching on contraception. It would seem then that many dedicated Catholics are trying to develop an informed conscience and have concluded they may disagree with official teaching in good faith in some cases. At least implicitly, they recognize that the two-stage characteristic of authentic teaching means a law not received by the greater church lacks the force of obligation. Call it dissent, if you will, or call it non-reception. It is what's quietly happening in today's American church.

See also the previous PCV posts:
Gerald Arbuckle on the "Critical Role of Dissent"
Dissent: Lessons from Slavery
Nicholas Lash on Dissent and Disagreement
Richard Gaillardetz on the Need to "Wrestle with the Tradition"
Civil Discourse. In Church?

Recommended Off-site Links:
Robert McClory on a Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 1) – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, June 10, 2008).
Robert McClory on a Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 2) – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, July 8, 2008).

Image: Michael Bayly.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Both Sides Expect Obama to Side with Bishops on Contraception Coverage

By Sarah Posner

Editor's Note: This article was first published November 22, 2011 by

Democrats for Life, which lost most of the members of its caucus in the Blue Dog wipeout of the 2010 midterms, is out with a statement about the Obama Administration's impending decision on whether to expand the exemption from birth control coverage for employer-sponsored insurance plans. If the Administration does the Bishops' bidding, employers could choose to exclude from insurance coverage the free contraception, mandated by HHS guidelines issued under the Affordable Care Act, based on "religious conscience," even if the employer isn't a church.

DFL executive director Kristen Day issued a statement predicting that the administration would indeed decide to expand the exemption, so that even nominally religious employers could refuse to cover contraceptives. Note the confidence, from her statement:

The Administration has no intention of forcing Catholic institutions to provide insurance coverage for services that are directly in opposition to their moral beliefs. It does not make any sense from a public policy perspective and it certainly is not smart politically to alienate Catholic voters.

Remarkably, DFL offers not one sitting member of Congress for comment on this issue. Instead, it offers former Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper (who was defeated in 2010) and former Congressman Bart Stupak, author of the notorious Stupak amendment, who chose not to run again in 2010. Presumably these two are offered to testify to what they believed they were voting for in the ACA ("conscience" protections), but it certainly is telling that there isn't an actual sitting member of Congress offered to comment on DFL's behalf.

But pro-choice advocates worry that Day's confidence (however out of step her views are with rank-and-file Catholics) is well-placed. They say they expect imminent action from the Obama Administration to broaden the exemption beyond churches and other houses of worship. That action could come as early as tomorrow.

David Nolan, a spokesperson for Catholics for Choice, told me today, "Obama's definitely listening to the bishops. The bishops seem to have significant sway over the administration, which can be seen by the fact Archbishop Dolan met with [Obama] last week and came out alleging that he felt much more at ease with what was going on after the meeting. Which seems to suggest that Obama made lots of conciliatory noises to the archbishop." The archbishop, Nolan emphasized, does not represent American Catholics, but rather is "the leader of 271 active bishops, and that's who he represents."

Catholics for Choice has launched a campaign urging its supporters to call the White House and express that "Catholics overwhelmingly reject the bishops’ views on contraception" and that it "is discriminatory to deny these women and men access to this important provision simply because the institution where they work or the school they attend is religiously affiliated." The ACLU has launched a similar campaign, arguing that religious freedom "does not mean that we get to impose those beliefs on others."

"There is absolutely no reason to expand this exception," said Sarah Lipton-Lubet, policy counsel for the ACLU. "There's certainly no legal reason for it to be changed. The current rule doesn’t infringe on anyone’s religious liberty as a matter of law."

As with the fight over the Stupak amendment, the Bishops' concerns took precedence over those of rank-and-file Catholics, and certainly over those of non-Catholics. Stupak insisted, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the law was insufficient to prevent federal tax dollars from funding abortions. (The Hyde Amendment already does so.) As a result, he and the Bishops fought for an amendment that would result in restricting abortion coverage in the private insurance market, in their quest to restrict non-existent taxpayer funding of abortion coverage. After what they insisted was an inadequate restriction on abortion coverage eventually passed in the final bill, anti-choice groups vowed to redouble their efforts. The opposition to birth control coverage is just one of their targets.

The Bishops are attempting to box Obama into a corner by making this an issue of "religious conscience," a strategy in line with their new campaign to frame others' rights as an infringement of their religious liberty. If they don't prevail, it will be just one more reason, in their minds, that their religion is being "neutered" — the term Dolan used just last week.

But if Obama does allow them to declare victory, it will set a dangerous precedent for the "religious liberty" claims of certain religious figures to stand in the way of people who do not share their religion, and in this case, even their co-religionists who challenge the leadership's orthodoxy. Like Catholic women over the age of 18 who are just as likely to have used contraception as the general population. All 98% of them.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Quote of the Day

John Allen is very good at squeezing some lemonade out of lemons. Unfortunately even he cannot hide the fact that the current Vatican regime as articulated by Pope Benedict is really asking us to meekly accept their total control while calling it liberation. The Vatican defines what it means by individual conversion, and has no problems exerting it's authority when Catholics don't convert in the exact Vatican way. This Vatican will also talk endlessly about clergy staying out of politics until it finds a clergyman who is willing to rule a country in the way the Vatican wants a country ruled. Then it's OK for a clergyman to be overtly political.

Benedict's Vatican will talk about a preferential option for the poor, but his hierarchy is perfectly willing to leave that preferential option up to the vagaries of individual conversion and conscience. This is one of the few places we Catholics are free to exercise individual conscience. Of course this kind of exercising does keep the Calvinistic wealthy Catholic fully in the fold and donating to a given Bishop's latest cathedral building project. Sometimes the preferential option for the poor means building a massive church in which the poor can vicariously feel the riches in heaven which await them in exchange for their temporal suffering. This kind of thing is precisely why Allen writes that Benedict insists the supernatural realm is the deepest and most 'real' level of existence. Not to mention it's also the one for which we have no 'real' evidence and is there for ripe for authority to define for us – and keep external to us, when Jesus repeatedly said that realm was inside us.

That 'inside us' thing sure does seem to be the one concept Jesus taught that our leadership likes to ignore. Of course if the kingdom is inside us, we don't have much use for the external kingdom that calls for Vatican elucidation or clerical mediation. Can't be havin' that. . . .

– Colleen Kochivar-Baker
"John Allen On Pope Benedict's Lonely Liberation Theology"
Enlightened Catholicism
November 20, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Catholic Bishops Assault Health and Common Sense

By Scott Dibble

Editor's Note: This op-ed was first published November 15 in the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

A new, forceful campaign from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, pushing an extremist ideological agenda against literally every single form of birth control, family planning services and women's health care, has come to light in Congress.

During a hearing of the Subcommittee on Health, Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., made clear that he will push to overturn a recent decision by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that ensures that health plans cover birth control.

At the behest of the bishops, Pitts ignores the fact that millions of women and families would greatly benefit from better access to affordable birth control, in keeping with the widely agreed need for crucial preventative services across the board -- key to better public health and to reining in costs.

This is just the latest in a broad campaign by the bishops to impose their narrow religious views onto the laws of our country (and to enrich themselves with taxpayer dollars for the programs and institutions they run at the same time).

They very nearly brought down health care reform in its entirety over a contrived abortion controversy. More recently, they were the prime movers behind a bill that permits hospitals to refuse emergency care to women in need of life-saving reproductive health services.

The Catholic bishops' efforts blatantly undermine religious freedom in our country. Official Catholic positions say that abortion is impermissible even in cases of rape and incest; that stem cell research to help cure and treat debilitating illnesses is unacceptable, and that all artificial contraception and sterilization methods, including birth-control pills, vasectomies and condoms, are a violation.

As a Catholic, I know that all of the recent attacks by the Catholic hierarchy on birth control and women's safety are completely out of step with most Americans' views on contraception, including Catholics'.

Birth-control use is nearly universal in the United States: Ninety-nine percent of sexually active women will have used birth control at some point in their lives, including 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women.

Seventy-one percent of American voters, including 77 percent of Catholic women voters and 72 percent of Republican women, support access to birth control without copays.

And as a lawmaker, I know the American people want their legislators to be focused on creating jobs and fixing our economy -- not on attacking women's access to basic health care.

In fact, ensuring that health plans will cover contraceptives with no copays is especially important in these economic times. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control found that more than half of women reported delaying or even forgoing health care entirely because of economic barriers.

Access to affordable birth control helps millions of women prevent unintended pregnancy every year. Numerous studies, including recommendations by the respected Institute of Medicine, demonstrate that birth-control use improves maternal health.

Our lawmakers should be focused on keeping people healthy, not on obstructing access to health care in service to powerful religious interests.

Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, is a member of the Minnesota Senate.


NOTE: Sen. Scott Dibble and his husband Richard feature in Catholics for Marriage Equality MN's recent video series in support of marriage equality.

To view all five "video vignettes" in the Catholics for Marriage Equality series, click here.

Monday, November 14, 2011


At the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' General Assembly today, Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis was elected chairman of the Committee on Doctrine in a 126-111 vote over Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts.

For more information, click here.

See also the previous PCV posts:
Just Say "Nien" to Nienstedt
"We, Together, Are the Church": A Response to Archbishop Nienstedt
"All Voices Must Be Heard": A Response to Archbishop Nienstedt
Talking About Disconnects: One Response to Archbishop Nienstedt’s Letter of July 18, 2011
The Consensus of the Faithful as the Voice of the Infallible Church

Sunday, November 13, 2011

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 PCV shares the following homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.

For an introduction to this series, click here. To avoid possible negative consequences, names of preachers and parishes are not disclosed in this series.


This Sunday’s Gospel offers a familiar parable, often called the Parable of the Talents. In this story, a householder goes on a long journey and entrusts his wealth to three servants. To the first servant, he gives five bags of gold, to the second two bags, and to the third servant he gives one bag of gold. It is important to realize that each bag of gold was tremendously valuable; each was worth approximately seventeen years of labor. We are talking BIG values!

The first two servants invested and doubled their money. When the householder returned, he was very happy and rewarded them both. The third servant, however, had been afraid. He buried the bag of gold to keep it safe. When this servant returned the single bag of gold, the household became very angry at the servant’s failure to increase his wealth. The householder threw the third servant out into the darkness where there was wailing and grinding of teeth.

This Gospel is problematic. First of all, it does not reflect the forgiveness or compassion that we would expect of Jesus. Secondly, this parable certainly does not reflect a model of economic justice that we have come to associate with Jesus. In this story the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Scholars do address these problems if you want to learn more.

The problem that I would like to focus on today deals with how I usually hear this parable interpreted. We often hear that the bags of gold, or sometimes called talents, symbolize our giftedness. The admonition is to use our giftedness well. If we do, God will be pleased with us, and we will have joy in heaven. This sets up a dynamic of reward and punishment. With this dynamic, we can, through our actions, earn God’s favor, or we can lose it. This presents a major problem. It portrays God’s love as very conditional! That is not the God of the Gospel that so many of us have come to know and experience.

With all the problems in this Gospel, one wonders where is the Good News? What’s our take-away for today? As we listen carefully to the Gospel, we might notice a refrain which is repeated by the householder. When he is pleased with the first servant, he says, “Come and share in my joy.” Again with the second servant, he says, “Come and share in my joy.” Perhaps this invitation is not pointing out how we can get to heaven. Perhaps this invitation is in the present tense. Perhaps we are being invited to invest our “bags of gold” right here and now, and that’s how we will know joy.

The first question to consider then is: what is our “bag of gold”? More than simply our talents or giftedness, I believe this refers to the fullness of who we are. Each of us has a divine spark at our core, the glory of God living within each of us. This invitation is to live from that glory. That is how we will share in God’s joy, right here and now.

Unfortunately, that isn’t easy. Most of us have been taught to contain ourselves. We are boxed in by expectations all around us from our families, schools, jobs, Church, society, and even from ourselves. And we’re quite comfortable inside our boxes. We are good people; we do good things. Moving outside of our boxes causes discomfort, even fear. Living as a Christian, however, and answering the call to discipleship cannot leave us safe within our boxes. We cannot remain unchanged. Today’s Gospel, which I do see as a call to discipleship, calls us past our comfort zone and beyond our fears.

But fear is a big stumbling block. The words of Marianne Williamson can help us put our fear into perspective:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world…. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. (From A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson)

What does this mean for us, this living the glory of God within us? The first thing it means is we must let go of fear. We cannot hold onto our divine spark by hiding it, by burying it inside. This glory shines when we live fully, take risks, and put ourselves out there. We cannot play small; we cannot stay neutral. For example, we may be called to step up and name injustices, just as Jesus did. We may be called to reach out and touch the “untouchables,” just as Jesus did. We may be called to let go of our resentments and forgive, just as Jesus did.

This may not sound like joy. If fact, it is hard work, it’s painful, and often it’s risky. Yet, isn’t it true that when we have lived like this, lived from that divine spark, we have known on some level that we are participating on God’s glory? We are experiencing it? There is our joy! To serve the world with the absolute fullness of who we are – BIG, like bags of gold!

Just as this invitation to share joy applies to us as individuals, it also applies to our Church community – at all levels: our parish, the Archdiocese, and the worldwide Church. Our Church community cannot minimize the divine sparks found in ALL of us. Let me give an example where the Church has failed at this.

The first reading today is from Proverbs. It is a twenty-two verse poem describing the ideal woman. The Church has cut out fourteen verses. This is not unusual; cutting is done routinely to make readings more manageable. What is telling, however, is which verses were kept and which are on the cutting room floor. The verses that Catholics will hear today describe the ideal woman in terms of her domestic abilities and by what value she brings to her husband. What the Church has left out is that she also takes part in business ventures, invests in real estate, and goes out into the world where she is successful. The Church has cut out verses that acclaim her strength, her wisdom, and her dignity.

The official version, which Catholics are hearing today, puts women in a box. We are encouraged to limit ourselves to this ideal. Aspects of women that don’t fit this ideal should be buried. This is not right! This is not what the Gospel calls us to do.

What if the Church community really answered the invitation of this Gospel? What if the Church community nurtured women – and men and children – into the fullness of who they are? What if the Church community embraced LGBT persons in the fullness of their humanity, which includes their sexuality? What if the Church community encouraged theologians, clergy, and all the faithful to dare ask the hard questions, to discuss and debate, to listen and engage, and to seek the truth together?

Wouldn’t our Church then more fully manifest the glory of God? And wouldn’t our Church share more deeply in God’s joy?

Today’s Gospel invites us to share in God’s joy. We must ask ourselves, both individually and communally, “Where are we playing it safe, playing small?” and “What must we do to live fully from our bags of gold, from our divine spark?” To the extent that we can live from the glory of God that is within us, the glory that is powerful beyond measure, then we can participate in God’s life right here and right now, and we can share in God’s joy. And that is Good News.