Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Calling all supporters of marriage equality . . .

The Time for Action is Now!

Yesterday, Republicans in the Minnesota Senate introduced three bills that aim to put a constitutional amendment before voters in 2012 defining marriage in Minnesota as only between a man and a woman, thus banning marriage for same-sex couples.

If passed by a simple majority of those voting in the 2012 election, this amendment would write discrimination into the Minnesota Constitution, and perpetuate such laws as the following five current Minnesota Statues – along with 510 other statues – that deny same-sex persons in long-term committed relationships those rights automatically guaranteed by state law to married heterosexual couples.

· The same-sex partner of a patient in a hospital is not included at all on the list of people who may provide consent for treatment if the patient were unable to give his or her own consent. In some cases, same-sex partners might not even be allowed to visit a partner in the hospital, even with legal paperwork describing the couple's wishes. (Minn. Statutes, Section 253B.03)

· Important events in the family of the same-sex partner of a child's parent, such as family emergencies or the death or serious illness or funeral of an immediate family member, might not qualify as a legitimate exemption from school absence. (Section 120A.22)

· A surviving same-sex partner cannot inherit any of the deceased partner's estate if his or her partner dies without a will. (Section 524.2-102)

· The coroner is not allowed to release to a same-sex partner personal items – such as clothes and other personal property of limited value – routinely given to the spouse or any blood relative of the person who has died. (Section 525.393)

· A long-term same-sex partner is not allowed to receive workers' compensation benefits if their spouse is killed at work. (Section 176.111)
– Source: Project 515

Positive public opinion about LGBT persons and their civil marriage rights is rapidly increasing, but enshrining this discriminatory approach to marriage in the state constitution would make future legislation guaranteeing the legal equality of same-sex couples very difficult, if not impossible. Further, if this amendment becomes part of the Minnesota Constitution, future challenges in the courts would be very difficult.

Since this bill is a ballot initiative, Gov. Mark Dayton will be unable to veto it should it pass both chambers of the Legislature, which appears highly probable since both are controlled by Republicans.

The proposed constitutional amendment will get quick consideration during the final month of the session. The House and Senate authors said they expect initial committee hearings later this week. Floor votes could come anytime before the scheduled adjournment of May 23.

As evidenced last year by their multi-million dollar anti-gay marriage campaign, the Minnesota Catholic bishops are powerful and influential players in the efforts to deny civil marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Now is the time for action!

Join us on
Monday, May 2, 2011
for an educational and organizing event

A Catholic Case in Support of
Marriage for Same-Sex Couples

Murzyn Hall
530 Mill Street NE,
Columbia Heights, MN
(For directions & link to map, click here)

Soup Supper
6:00-6:30 p.m.
($5 suggested offering)

Presentation and Organizing
6:30-9:00 p.m.

Join us as we hear three speakers discuss the legal, psycho-social, and theological meaning and implications of same-sex marriage, and the reasons for opposing the proposed "marriage amendment."

Inspired by the experiences and insights shared by these speakers, we'll discuss, strategize and launch a Catholic Campaign for Marriage Equality!

This campaign aims to:

1) Oppose (in a respectful and informed way) the proposed constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples.
2) Advocate for marriage equality for all, regardless of sexual orientation.
3) Challenge the bishops' anti-gay marriage efforts and let Minnesota legislators and voters know that the bishops do not speak for the majority of Catholics on this issue.

Work on this campaign has already begun, but we need your presence and participation on May 2 and your commitment to ongoing action beyond May 2, to make this campaign a success.

Featured Speakers

Candace Mainville, MA

Candace has worked as a Hennepin County social worker for 15 years. For the last 13 years, she has licensed and trained foster and adoptive parents. Candace has a passion for creating safe and supportive parenting for gay, lesbian and transgender identified youth.

She will speak from her professional experience and with references from psycho-social scientific studies about the qualifications and competencies of same-sex couples raising children as compared with opposite-sex couples. She will also share her professional perceptions of, and knowledge of social science research about, the psycho-social adjustment of children raised by gay and lesbian parents in comparison with those raised by opposite-sex parents.

Phil Duran, JD

Phil has served as OutFront Minnesota's Legal Director since 2000. His prior experience includes work with the Minnesota AIDS Project, and the Chicago office of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. Phil holds his law degree from the University of Minnesota and his undergraduate degree from Michigan State University.

Phil has also served on the board of the Minnesota Lavender Bar Association, and the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission. He is currently the Secretary of the Minnesota State Bar Association. He received a Community Service Award in 1997 from the Human Rights Campaign for his work in his native Michigan.

Phil will share the legal implications and potential impact on LGBT families of any constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and, potentially, all legal equivalents.

Michael Bayly, MA

Michael has served as Executive Coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) since 2003. He is also currently co-chair of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, co-convener of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, and editor-in-chief of The Progressive Catholic Voice.

His 2007 book Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective has been described as a "courageous document," a "valiant effort," and a "useful, essential, and comprehensive manual." The Vatican chose to denounce it, however, for its questioning of church teaching on homosexuality.

Michael holds a Masters of Arts in Theology from St. Catherine University (1996) and a Masters of Arts in Theology and the Arts from United Theological Seminary (2003).

He will speak on how we can support same-sex marriage from an alternative philosophical/theological perspective to that promulgated by the Minnesota Catholic Conference of Bishops.

For more information, call 612-201-4534

Monday, April 25, 2011

MN Catholic Legislator Scott Dibble on the "Ill-Timed Attack on Planned Parenthood"

"My Catholic commitment to social justice sounded an alarm."

Editor's Note: The following op-ed by Scott Dibble was first published Friday, April 22, by the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Just two weeks ago, our nation was on the brink of a federal shutdown because of congressional conservatives' fanatical focus on demonizing and delegitimatizing Planned Parenthood.

The organization receives funding from Title X of the Public Health Services Act, an act designed to allow low-income women access to the tools they need to live a life of dignity and self-determination and to freely exercise their own decisions as moral agents.

My Catholic commitment to social justice sounded an alarm.

Now those conservatives have set their sights on Minnesota, introducing a bill to deny funds to Planned Parenthood.

Even though the vast majority of family-planning clinics' funding is for essential health services (any abortions performed are funded separately), conservative legislators are trying to put family planning, low-cost contraception, STD testing and treatment, and cervical cancer screenings out of reach for low-income women by dismantling Planned Parenthood's long established statewide network of clinics.

The recession greatly added to the number of uninsured – nearly 59 million Americans had no health insurance coverage for at least part of 2010, up from 44 million a few years earlier. Sixty-one percent of women served by Title X-funded clinics like Planned Parenthood's are uninsured, filling in the gaps for women who fall through the holes of our social safety net.

In 2008, Title X-funded contraceptive services prevented an estimated 973,000 unintended pregnancies.

Clinics and health centers that receive Title X funds often stay open for those whose lives don't run on a 9-to-5 schedule with paid time off – such as women who work in retail or the health care industry; in-home child care workers; those lacking private transportation; the homeless, and the nearly 3.7 million women who work more than one job.

These family-planning clinics provide services for one in three women of reproductive age seeking an HIV test. For every HIV infection that is prevented, an estimated $355,000 is saved in the cost of providing lifetime HIV treatment. The human impact is priceless.

As Catholics, we are called to weigh moral decisions using the scale of our individual conscience, and to respect other people's right to do the same.

The recession has brought home the reality that any one of us can lose what we have and, like "the least among us," could come to rely on the goodwill of our community.

Are we also going to take away the right of some to make their own decisions about health care and family planning according to their conscience?

Good Friday is a time of somber reflection, a time to consider our call as Catholics to greater social justice and a reminder that the moral test of our state and country comes in how we treat our poor.

Ensuring family-planning services remain accessible to all fulfills the dictates of our faith.

Sen. Scott Dibble is a DFL state legislator from Minneapolis.

Above: Rep. Scott Dibble stands with a number of other MN legislators supportive of LGBT equality at OutFront MN's April 14 Lobby Day. From left: Scott Dibble (at podium), Linda Berglin, Larry Pogemiller, John Marty, Tony Lourey, and Dick Cohen. (Photo: Michael J. Bayly)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sunday: Resurrection

By Angie O'Gorman

Editor's Note: The following reflection is from Coming to Consciousness: Reflections for Lent 2011 by Angie O'Gorman. A publication of Pax Christi USA, Coming to Consciousness can be ordered here.

Because of Easter I know that evil and sin do not have the last word. It doesn’t matter to me anymore if Jesus rose bodily or spiritually or somewhere in between. His followers experienced him as present and in that experience knew they had encountered God. Empowered, they would not let his murder silence his message. Here, I believe, is the fundamental answer to evil: God brings life from death. The infinite heals the finite. Evil and sin do not have the last word, and we participate in that divine evolution.

This does not diminish or deny the suffering caused by the death-dealing horrors around us, horrors in which we freely participate at times. I am simply suggesting that these result from finitude. Evil is a result of the finite in and around us. It says nothing about the infinite. That is the whole point of the resurrection. The infinite draws out life from death, goodness from evil, restoration from devastation. In that fundamental reality is our hope. This is not religious hyperbole. You have experienced it.

Angie O’Gorman’s essays have been published in America magazine, National Catholic Reporter, and Commonweal. She has been involved in human rights work and nonviolent conflict resolution in the United States, Central America, and the West Bank. Her novel, The Book of Sins, was published in January 2010.

See also the previous PCV post:
"You Will See Him" – April 12, 2009.

Image: “Jesus Rises” (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Crucifixion Helps Make Meaning of Pain in Church and World

By Jamie L Manson

Editor's Note: This commentary was first published April 20 by the National Catholic Reporter.

I’ve had more than one Catholic who grew up either before or on the cusp of Vatican II tell me horror stories of how they were taught that Jesus died because of their sins.

This was a particularly heavy-handed way for priests and nuns to lay an even thicker coat of guilt on impressionable Catholic school children. Because they were sinners, Jesus had to suffer and die to redeem them. It was one rendering of the traditional theological interpretations of the crucifixion – that Jesus had to die to fulfill the Scriptures and that his death atoned for the sins of the world.

I know that countless people throughout the centuries have found profound, life-changing and even comforting meaning in this understanding of the Cross. But I’ve often felt that if we immerse ourselves in the accounts of Jesus’ arrest, passion, and death as told by the four Gospels, these texts can broaden and deepen our understanding of the crucifixion. It can help us make meaning of so much of the anguish that we witness in our world and in our church.

When I read the passion narratives of the Gospels, I don’t hear simply that Jesus suffered and died for our sins. Rather, I hear the four evangelists very clearly say that Jesus’ suffering and death was the will of those who conspired against him -- those whose political systems he had undermined, those whose religious convictions he had offended.

Jesus’ passion and death is a result of deeply-human intolerance, jealousy, resentment, hatred, and, most of all, fear.

Jesus’ death may have been the will of God, but it was also the will of both powerful people and ordinary people who preferred unquestioning loyalty to rigid, oppressive political and religious regimes to the profound challenges of God incarnate.

That is, after all, who Jesus is – the betrayed, suffering incarnation of God.

Jesus was the embodiment of all those things we should equate with God: love and justice, care and compassion, creation and creativity, transformation and wholeness.

Jesus was the embodiment of all good and healing things that we experience in this life on this earth, and Jesus taught us the ways to experience this fullness God’s presence more and more abundantly: by healing afflictions, by offering community to those banished by religions and societies, by inviting us to his table when no one else seemed to know we existed.

Unfortunately, Jesus’ convictions about the ways to bring God’s presence more fully into the world shattered traditional religious practices and cultural conventions.

Though some thought having the fullness of life meant having socio-economic power, Jesus – God-incarnate – said it meant sitting at the table with the dregs of society. Though some thought experiencing holiness meant being acceptable in the eyes of religious authorities, Jesus said it meant being constantly judged and ostracized by those in religious power. Though many were told that experiencing God meant obeying laws and practicing empty rituals, Jesus told them that encountering God happens when we feed those who hunger, welcome the estranged, shelter the vulnerable, and visit the lonely.

Because that is who God is: love, justice, integrity, comfort, peace. Any time we experience these things, we experience God. And, therefore, any time these God-experiences are violated or snuffed out, we experience a death of God – a microcosmic manifestation of the crucifixion in our time.

The crucifixion tells on a grand scale the smaller-scale deaths of God that occur every minute of every day throughout the world. In the Gospel stories, God, in the person of Jesus, is being wounded, abused, neglected, and killed. And this idea, I believe, couldn’t be more relevant and more meaningful to us today in a world ruptured by violence, poverty, and greed, and in a church beleaguered by self-alienation, intolerance, and excommunications.

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us that when we fail to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the sick or the imprisoned, we fail to do these things to God.

It follows, then, that whenever God’s creation – whether it be human lives or the ecosystems of the earth – is unjustly harmed, God is harmed.

Whenever we harm ourselves or deny our own goodness, we wound God. Whenever we allow religious institutions to rob us of our dignity as unconditionally beloved children of God, God is put into a prison and degraded. Whenever we deny love or compassion to someone in need, or allow injustice to prosper, we deny God.

Whenever a creation of God suffers at the hands of greed, or the abuse of power, or hatred or fear, God is abused. Whenever a creation is killed, whether through our continued ravaging of the earth or through atrocities like genocide and war, God is crucified.

For a brief time, God had a body on this earth in the person of Jesus. But that doesn’t mean that God’s body does not continue to work on this earth, seeking and yearning to bring God’s presence – love, justice, and compassion – more fully alive in all of creation in order to stop the crucifixions, the on-going and never-ending deaths of God.

That is what Jesus tried to do. This is our truest calling.

Centuries ago, St. Teresa of Avila, the great teacher and great reformer of the Church, was ecstatically aware of God’s presence all around us. She wrote a poem, in which she explained that though Christ had no physical body on earth now, Christ does still have ours bodies to work with. She writes:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours
No hands, no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks with
compassion on this world
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Holy Week helps us become more aware of the many on-going crucifixions in our own bodies, in our communities, in our church, and in our world.

And it reminds us that while our bodies are on earth, we are called to bring more abundant life, whether in the form of healing, community-building, or justice-seeking, to the places in our world, our church, and ourselves – wherever we see the Light and Life of God at risk of dying.

Jamie L. Manson received her Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School where she studied Catholic theology and sexual ethics. Her columns for NCR earned her a first prize Catholic Press Association award for Best Column/Regular Commentary in 2010.

Image: A scene from Martin Scorsese's 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Hidden Exodus: Catholics Becoming Protestants

By Thomas Reese

Editor's Note: This commentary was first published April 18, 2011 by the National Catholic Reporter.

The number of people who have left the Catholic church is huge.

We all have heard stories about why people leave. Parents share stories about their children. Academics talk about their students. Everyone has a friend who has left.

While personal experience can be helpful, social science research forces us to look beyond our circle of acquaintances to see what is going on in the whole church.

The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life has put hard numbers on the anecdotal evidence: One out of every 10 Americans is an ex-Catholic. If they were a separate denomination, they would be the third-largest denomination in the United States, after Catholics and Baptists. One of three people who were raised Catholic no longer identifies as Catholic.

Any other institution that lost one-third of its members would want to know why. But the U.S. bishops have never devoted any time at their national meetings to discussing the exodus. Nor have they spent a dime trying to find out why it is happening.

Thankfully, although the U.S. bishops have not supported research on people who have left the church, the Pew Center has.

Pew’s data shows that those leaving the church are not homogenous. They can be divided into two major groups: those who become unaffiliated and those who become Protestant. Almost half of those leaving the church become unaffiliated and almost half become Protestant. Only about 10 percent of ex-Catholics join non-Christian religions. This article will focus on Catholics who have become Protestant. I am not saying that those who become unaffiliated are not important; I am leaving that discussion to another time.

Why do people leave the Catholic church to become Protestant? Liberal Catholics will tell you that Catholics are leaving because they disagree with the church’s teaching on birth control, women priests, divorce, the bishops’ interference in American politics, etc. Conservatives blame Vatican II, liberal priests and nuns, a permissive culture and the church’s social justice agenda.

One of the reasons there is such disagreement is that we tend to think that everyone leaves for the same reason our friends, relatives and acquaintances have left. We fail to recognize that different people leave for different reasons. People who leave to join Protestant churches do so for different reasons than those who become unaffiliated. People who become evangelicals are different from Catholics who become members of mainline churches.

Spiritual needs

The principal reasons given by people who leave the church to become Protestant are that their “spiritual needs were not being met” in the Catholic church (71 percent) and they “found a religion they like more” (70 percent). Eighty-one percent of respondents say they joined their new church because they enjoy the religious service and style of worship of their new faith.

In other words, the Catholic church has failed to deliver what people consider fundamental products of religion: spiritual sustenance and a good worship service. And before conservatives blame the new liturgy, only 11 percent of those leaving complained that Catholicism had drifted too far from traditional practices such as the Latin Mass.

Dissatisfaction with how the church deals with spiritual needs and worship services dwarfs any disagreements over specific doctrines. While half of those who became Protestants say they left because they stopped believing in Catholic teaching, specific questions get much lower responses. Only 23 percent said they left because of the church’s teaching on abortion and homosexuality; only 23 percent because of the church’s teaching on divorce; only 21 percent because of the rule that priests cannot marry; only 16 percent because of the church’s teaching on birth control; only 16 percent because of the way the church treats women; only 11 percent because they were unhappy with the teachings on poverty, war and the death penalty.

The data shows that disagreement over specific doctrines is not the main reason Catholics become Protestants. We also have lots of survey data showing that many Catholics who stay disagree with specific church teachings. Despite what theologians and bishops think, doctrine is not that important either to those who become Protestant or to those who stay Catholic.

People are not becoming Protestants because they disagree with specific Catholic teachings; people are leaving because the church does not meet their spiritual needs and they find Protestant worship service better.

Nor are the people becoming Protestants lazy or lax Christians. In fact, they attend worship services at a higher rate than those who remain Catholic. While 42 percent of Catholics who stay attend services weekly, 63 percent of Catholics who become Protestants go to church every week. That is a 21 percentage-point difference.

Catholics who became Protestant also claim to have a stronger faith now than when they were children or teenagers. Seventy-one percent say their faith is “very strong,” while only 35 percent and 22 percent reported that their faith was very strong when they were children and teenagers, respectively. On the other hand, only 46 percent of those who are still Catholic report their faith as “very strong” today as an adult.

Thus, both as believers and as worshipers, Catholics who become Protestants are statistically better Christians than those who stay Catholic. We are losing the best, not the worst.

Some of the common explanations of why people leave do not pan out in the data. For example, only 21 percent of those becoming Protestant mention the sex abuse scandal as a reason for leaving. Only 3 percent say they left because they became separated or divorced.

Becoming Protestant

If you believed liberals, most Catholics who leave the church would be joining mainline churches, like the Episcopal church. In fact, almost two-thirds of former Catholics who join a Protestant church join an evangelical church. Catholics who become evangelicals and Catholics who join mainline churches are two very distinct groups. We need to take a closer look at why each leaves the church.

Fifty-four percent of both groups say that they just gradually drifted away from Catholicism. Both groups also had almost equal numbers (82 percent evangelicals, 80 percent mainline) saying they joined their new church because they enjoyed the worship service. But compared to those who became mainline Protestants, a higher percentage of those becoming evangelicals said they left because their spiritual needs were not being met (78 percent versus 57 percent) and that they had stopped believing in Catholic teaching (62 percent versus 20 percent). They also cited the church’s teaching on the Bible (55 percent versus 16 percent) more frequently as a reason for leaving. Forty-six percent of these new evangelicals felt the Catholic church did not view the Bible literally enough. Thus, for those leaving to become evangelicals, spiritual sustenance, worship services and the Bible were key. Only 11 percent were unhappy with the church’s teachings on poverty, war, and the death penalty, the same percentage as said they were unhappy with the church’s treatment of women. Contrary to what conservatives say, ex-Catholics are not flocking to the evangelicals because they think the Catholic church is politically too liberal. They are leaving to get spiritual nourishment from worship services and the Bible.

Looking at the responses of those who join mainline churches also provides some surprising results. For example, few (20 percent) say they left because they stopped believing in Catholic teachings. However, when specific issues were mentioned in the questionnaire, more of those joining mainline churches agreed that these issues influenced their decision to leave the Catholic church. Thirty-one percent cited unhappiness with the church’s teaching on abortion and homosexuality, women, and divorce and remarriage, and 26 percent mentioned birth control as a reason for leaving. Although these numbers are higher than for Catholics who become evangelicals, they are still dwarfed by the number (57 percent) who said their spiritual needs were not met in the Catholic church.

Thus, those becoming evangelicals were more generically unhappy than specifically unhappy with church teaching, while those who became mainline Protestant tended to be more specifically unhappy than generically unhappy with church teaching. The unhappiness with the church’s teaching on poverty, war and the death penalty was equally low for both groups (11 percent for evangelicals; 10 percent for mainline).

What stands out in the data on Catholics who join mainline churches is that they tend to cite personal or familiar reasons for leaving more frequently than do those who become evangelicals. Forty-four percent of the Catholics who join mainline churches say that they married someone of the faith they joined, a number that trumps all doctrinal issues. Only 22 percent of those who join the evangelicals cite this reason.

Perhaps after marrying a mainline Christian and attending his or her church’s services, the Catholic found the mainline services more fulfilling than the Catholic service. And even if they were equally attractive, perhaps the exclusion of the Protestant spouse from Catholic Communion makes the more welcoming mainline church attractive to an ecumenical couple.

Those joining mainline communities also were more likely to cite dissatisfaction of the Catholic clergy (39 percent) than were those who became evangelical (23 percent). Those who join mainline churches are looking for a less clerically dominated church.

Lessons from the data

There are many lessons that we can learn from the Pew data, but I will focus on only three.

First, those who are leaving the church for Protestant churches are more interested in spiritual nourishment than doctrinal issues. Tinkering with the wording of the creed at Mass is not going to help. No one except the Vatican and the bishops cares whether Jesus is “one in being” with the Father or “consubstantial” with the Father. That the hierarchy thinks this is important shows how out of it they are.

While the hierarchy worries about literal translations of the Latin text, people are longing for liturgies that touch the heart and emotions. More creativity with the liturgy is needed, and that means more flexibility must be allowed. If you build it, they will come; if you do not, they will find it elsewhere. The changes that will go into effect this Advent will make matters worse, not better.

Second, thanks to Pope Pius XII, Catholic scripture scholars have had decades to produce the best thinking on scripture in the world. That Catholics are leaving to join evangelical churches because of the church teaching on the Bible is a disgrace. Too few homilists explain the scriptures to their people. Few Catholics read the Bible.

The church needs a massive Bible education program. The church needs to acknowledge that understanding the Bible is more important than memorizing the catechism. If we could get Catholics to read the Sunday scripture readings each week before they come to Mass, it would be revolutionary. If you do not read and pray the scriptures, you are not an adult Christian. Catholics who become evangelicals understand this.

Finally, the Pew data shows that two-thirds of Catholics who become Protestants do so before they reach the age of 24. The church must make a preferential option for teenagers and young adults or it will continue to bleed. Programs and liturgies that cater to their needs must take precedence over the complaints of fuddy-duddies and rubrical purists.

Current religious education programs and teen groups appear to have little effect on keeping these folks Catholic, according to the Pew data, although those who attend a Catholic high school do appear to stay at a higher rate. More research is needed to find out what works and what does not.

The Catholic church is hemorrhaging members. It needs to acknowledge this and do more to understand why. Only if we acknowledge the exodus and understand it will we be in a position to do something about it.

Jesuit Fr. Thomas J. Reese, former editor in chief of America, is a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University in Washington. He is working on a new book: Survival Guide for Thinking Catholics.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Acclaimed Church Historian Marvin O'Connell to Discuss Cardinal Newman

Fr. Marvin O'Connell, Professor emeritus of history at the University of Notre Dame, will deliver the Archbishop Ireland Memorial Lecture at the O'Shaughnessy Educational Center Auditorium, University of St. Thomas at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, April 18, 2011.

Regular readers of The Progressive Catholic Voice may recall that we recently shared one of O'Connell's Catholic Bulletin columns from 1969. This particular column highlighted the belief held by John Henry Newman (1801-1890) that the consensus of the faithful is the voice of the infallible Church. Last fall, Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed Newman’s beatification, a milestone on the path to sainthood.

On April 18 O'Connell will discuss the “drama surrounding Newman's elevation to the College of Cardinals” in a lecture entitled “A Red Hat For Newman.” This lecture is free and open to all, and is part of the biannual Archbishop Ireland Memorial Lecture Series sponsored by the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity of the University of St. Thomas.

Following is more of what O'Connell wrote in the pages of the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis about the need to consider the views of the faithful on serious issue. This particular excerpt is from his September 26, 1969 column in The Catholic Bulletin (now known as The Catholic Spirit).

. . . It was Newman's contention that if the teaching church saw it as a necessity to take account of the faithful's consensus even in a dogmatic definition, all the more should authority "really desire to know the opinion of the laity on subjects in which the laity are especially concerned." It does not seem to me that it stretches Newman's principle in the least to apply it to the birth control controversy.

Crucial to Newman's argument is the idea that the "consultation" process is designed to uncover a fact: what in fact do the people believe about this or that matter at it relates to their faith? This does not mean a vote in the sense of expressing a preference; it means rather a serious procedure aimed toward finding out what in fact the consensus of the faithful is. In Newman's words, a "definition is not made without reference to what the faithful will think of it and say of it."

To consult the faithful, then, is a very important way to discover what the teaching of the church really is. That teaching is something given by Christ, not something invented. It is perfectly true that the truths of revelation do not emerge from the body of the faithful. But it is just as true that they are not concocted by authority. The genuine Cristian tradition expresses itself in many ways: through Scripture, the ordinary magisterium of popes and bishops, the decisions of ecumenical councils, the accumulated wisdom of theologians and last – but most assuredly not least – through the living faith of the Catholic people. For the Holy Spirit is with them too.

– Excerpted from "Consider Views of Faithful on Serious Matters"
by the Rev. Marvin R. O'Connell
The Catholic Bulletin
September 26, 1969

See also the previous PCV posts:
The Consensus of the Faithful as the Voice of the Infallible Church
The Call of the Baptized: Be the Church, Live the Mission
Richard Gaillardetz on the Need to “Wrestle with the Tradition”
Church Teaching and the Individual Conscience
St. Paul-Minneapolis Catholic Archdiocese Releases New Strategic Plan: Who Was Consulted?
Communicating with Leadership
Let Our Voices Be Heard!
It’s Critical That Catholics Find Their Voice
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 1)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 2)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 3)
Catholicism: A Changing Church – Despite Itself
A Return to the Spirit

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Reflections on an Ordination Golden Anniversary

By Eric Hodgens

Editor's Note: This article was first published December 2010 in the Australian publication The Swag.

We are the Gaudium et Spes priests. We went into the seminary at the highest rate in living memory. We were ordained between 1955 and 1975 – in double the numbers our parishes required. Most of us were from the Silent Generation with a few years of Baby Boomers at the end. We took Vatican II to heart. We changed from being priests called and consecrated by God to being presbyters called and ordained by the Church – the People of God.

Ecumenism became a normal way of thinking for us. Prepared for the challenge by Cardijn’s apostolate of like to like, we were successful at educating a newly vital and active laity. We worked with the people rather than for them. We realised that clericalism was an evil, not a good, and discarded it with its style and culture. We ran highly successful and active parishes. Though ageing now, many of us are still on the job. Our presbyteral and pastoral lives have been a source of that unusual experience – joy.

But not without grief. We have experienced the awakening 60s, the exciting 70s, the suspicious 80s, the depressing 90s and the imploding 00s. During the 1980s we became aware that a lot was going wrong. Ordinations suddenly dropped after 1975. We started to lose parishioners – first from Mass then from affiliation. Both of these changes had mixed social causes.

Worse! Discordant decisions were coming down from the pope. Priestly celibacy, despite being highly contentious, was reasserted by Paul VI in 1967 without discussion. In 1968 Humanae Vitae was a shocking disappointment. Most of us never accepted it. Paul VI began appointing bishops opposed to the council’s ethos. This was most notable in Holland which had become a trailblazer in implementing the council. Paul killed that initiative and we are all the worse off for that. The whole trend was demoralizing.

Then came John Paul II. Charismatic in front of the TV camera; brilliant at languages; but – out of touch in scripture and limited in theology, a bad listener and rock solid is his self-assessment as God’s chosen man of destiny. His whole life had been spent in the persecuted church of Poland with its fortress church mentality frozen in time.

The open dialogue of the Church with the new ideas and values arising out of new knowledge in scriptural criticism, theology, psychology, sociology, anthropology stopped. New scientific discoveries in genetics were treated with suspicion and their application usually condemned. Sexual mores were promoted to the top shelf of his panorama of sin – a bit of an obsession with him.

Power corrupts. The history of the papacy shows this pre-eminently. Unchecked potentates believe their own propaganda. Taken to the extreme, they claim infallibility. Pius IX bullied Vatican I into institutionalizing such a claim. Since then creeping infallibility has resulted in the pope and his theologically limited curia stealing the term “magisterium” from its real owners – the college of professional theologians. How can you conscientiously give assent of mind and heart to policies formed without theological debate, consultation, transparency or accountability? In contemporary government and business this would be judged unethical.

John Paul’s lust for power showed very early and was taken to monumental proportions. Accountable to nobody, John Paul moved against any opinion other than his own and removed many exponents of alternative opinions from teaching and publishing. His most powerful enforcer was the Ratzinger-led Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Other Roman dicasteries joined the campaign.

The CDF is the current euphemism for the Inquisition. True to its mediaeval roots, it assumes the pope to be entitled to enforce his views. It conducts its delations and proceedings in secret. In today’s secular world this is a violation of human rights.

Theological censorship justifies itself as the quest for the truth and poses as truth’s champion. In fact it is the enemy of the discovery of truth because discussion is forestalled. The contemporary secular world understands this and wisely enshrines freedom of speech and debate as a central value. The Church no less than any other enterprise is at least the poorer and at worst prone to error when it rejects this value.

All of us are abused by this process. The priest at the coal face is not consulted, yet is contemptuously expected to defend policies he and his people do not believe.

John Paul II also enforced much of his own devotional life on the church at large. Despite Vatican II he effectively stopped the third rite of Penance, reversed a burgeoning dynamic theology of Eucharist by reverting to and re-emphasising devotion to the static Real Presence, reinforced a distorted devotion to Mary based on fundamentalist theology and introduced peculiar devotions such as Sr. Faustina’s Divine Mercy Devotion which undercuts Easter – the climax of our liturgical year.

A more grievous abuse of power by John Paul II was his appointment of bishops. Appointees were to be clerical, compliant and in total agreement with his personal opinions. This has emasculated the leadership of the Church. The episcopal ranks are now low on creativity, leadership, education and even intelligence. Many are from the ranks of Opus Dei – reactionary, authoritarian and decidedly not creative. Many, often at the top of the hierarchical tree, are embarrassingly ignorant of any recent learning in scripture, theology and scientific disciplines. Many are classic company boys. Some of the more intelligent and better educated seem to have sold their souls for advancement. Can they really believe the line they channel? Ecclesiastical politics have trumped integrity. And when these men are appointed as the leaders of priests without any consultation they become a standing act of contempt.

Worse still, this happened over a period when the priesthood held its biggest proportion of intelligent, educated and competent leaders. It was those very qualities which blackballed them for appointment under the blinkered but powerful regime. Our best chance has been missed. Today the ranks of the priesthood are depleted due to low recruitment over the last forty years. The pool from which future bishops must be chosen is very shallow.

A newly critical laity questions policy but receives no answers. Why can’t women be leaders in the Church? Why do priests have to be celibate? What is wrong with contraception? Why alienate remarried divorcees? Why this salacious preoccupation with sexual mores? Why are scientific advances always suspected of being bad? Why can’t we recognise the reality of homosexual orientation – and the social consequences of that recognition? Have we learnt nothing from the Galileo case – or the treatment of Teilhard de Chardin? Can’t we escape the Syllabus of Errors mentality?

Benedict XVI has continued the reversal of Vatican II. He is imposing a new English translation of the Sacramentary on a resisting English speaking constituency. This may very well backfire because many priests are not going to implement it. Benedict has received back bishops from the schismatic Society of St Pius X. He has encouraged the Tridentine Mass in Latin. He has reintroduced kneeling for communion on the tongue at his public Masses – all deliberate key pointers to regression from the spirit of Vatican II. To the priests who embraced Vatican II they are iconic insults.

Then he has the nerve to decree a Year for Priests in 2009 with St John Vianney as patron. Like Fr. Donald Cozzens, many felt they were being played. The celebration of the importance of priests in the church is belied by the contempt with which they are treated. How can Rome call priests to repentance when it is so recalcitrant; so slow to admit any failing of its own? How can they be serious in stressing the importance of the priest as confessor when it is clear that confession has all but vanished from the life of the Church? How can they urge Holy Hours and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament when most priests have moved on from that static theology of Eucharist to a dynamic one – with Vatican II leading the way? How can they urge priests to more intense prayer when they show no evidence of a change of heart or attitude – the genuine indicator that prayer is working?

We took as normal the world and the church into which we were ordained. In reality, the religious affiliation of the period was abnormally high. Mass and sacramental participation and priestly vocations were at a high water mark. The reversal which began in the late 60s was always going to happen. But with Vatican II we had the tools to handle the new situation. A large group of the priests were ready to meet the challenge. They did not get the chance. The orders from above were to withdraw to the fortress and sing the old song. Instead of embracing the new they lost the opportunity and left us high and dry – and disappointed.

In the western world priests still always rate highly in job satisfaction surveys. They generally enjoy their job and do it well. That is because they are happy in their own patch. But they feel betrayed by the pope and the bishops. If you ask them what they think about the powers up top and where the official show is going you get a very different answer.

– Eric Hodgens

To read Cardinal George Pell's April 2011 response to Hodgens, click here.

To read Catholic blogger Colleen Kochivar-Baker's comments on both pieces, click here.

Related Off-site Links:
Website Censors Criticism of Pope – Barney Zwartz (The Age, December 24, 2010).
Church Needs to Answer Critics, Instead It Silences Them – Eric Hodgens (The Age, January 5, 2011)

Image: Simon O'Dwyer (The Age).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Christian Sacrifice and the Unholy Crusade to Defrock Roy Bourgeois

By Michele Somerville

Editor's Note: This article was first published April 5 at

An outspoken critic of human rights abuses, Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated 31 years ago while celebrating mass in his El Salvador church. Each year people throughout the world remember him on the anniversary of his death on March 24. I took part in a prayer service which was billed as a "Vigil of Prayer in memory of all those who gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel." This liturgy, conducted by members of the Community of Sant'Egidio was a commemoration of Christian martyrs – not so much the distant saints one sees viscerally rendered in Renaissance art, but contemporary "martyrs," whose lives are "sacrificed"in the course of working amid the violence that attends poverty and political oppression.

In the days following the vigil I thought a lot about the ways people "give" their lives, how one need not die in order to do so, how it is possible to enjoy earthly life and "give" it too. I read with heightened awareness of how people in Japan are "giving" their lives in order to save the lives of others. I read about President Obama's visit to the grave of Archbishop Romero, reminded anew of how brave a man must be to become the first black president. Barack Obama was a boy just old enough to understand why when Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Robert F. Kennedy were murdered. This seems a semblance of "giving one's life," a kind of holy action.

Whatever it is that impels a firefighter to rush into a combusting building is, as I see it, some strain of "gospel truth" at work, and is obviously an example of "holy action" in the extreme.

Sacrifice means "to make or do something holy." I infer from the word "sacrifice" that it's not so much "giving up" as "giving to." Catholics call the mass "a sacrifice" because it is holy action.

But there is unholy sacrifice too.

Just as the clerical perversion in Philadelphia began to slither off the front page as if on its own slime, a fresh clerical perversion story broke this week to newly astound and appall. The March 28 New York Times reports that former Jesuit priest Donald J. McGuire engaged in the sexual abuse of young victims for four decades under the noses of his superiors in Chicago with relative impunity. It seems the "charismatic teacher" (despite having received warnings) managed to remain active in ministry while traveling the world in the company of assorted adolescents he might have considered porn partners and masturbation buddies but who were, in truth, his rape victims.

Unholy sacrifice. Every priest in charge who looked the other way, failing to stop McGuire, sacrificed some poor kid, like some bizarro Abraham who sets Isaac on fire long after God has called out "Stop!"

I was just about to shut down my computer after reading this vile account when I retrieved an email linking to a National Catholic Reporter story relating to another letter of reprimand addressed to a priest.

The juxtaposition was walloping.

The letter is dated March 18, addressed to Father Roy Bourgeois [left] and signed by Edward Dougherty, the Superior General of the Maryknoll religious order. In it, Dougherty, whom the Vatican has likely pressured to issue this demand, declares the intention of the Maryknoll order to recommend laicization for Father Bourgeois unless the priest, who has been accused of "publicly rejecting the teaching of the Holy Father," cleans up his act.

What is Father Bourgeois' transgression? Did he travel the world with a pet altar boy in tow?

No. He committed a truly grave sin. One the Vatican deems intolerable: Bourgeois is an ardent advocate for women's ordination.

Father Bourgeois has been warned, forewarned, chastised and penalized ever since he preached at an ordination of a woman in 2008. The Superior General of his Order has ordered him to recant.

Father Bourgeois is not expected to recant. More likely he will sacrifice the vocation for "the sake" of "the Gospel."

A bizarre inverse poetic justice attends the timing of this missive; much of Bourgeois' work as a priest is consecrated to disrupting classes at the academy where Oscar Romero's executioners learned their trade. How ironic that the Maryknoll superior might have been spell-checking that letter (re: unholy sacrifice) to Bourgeois on the very anniversary of Romero's death.

Bourgeois is the founder of SOA Watch. SOA stands for School of the Americas but is currently known as WHINSEC (Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) and trains more than 1,000 soldiers from Latin America each year in torture and murder. The school has graduated more than 600 known human rights abusers and eleven dictators, including Manuel Noriega; many of Augusto Pinochet's generals; the leaders of the 2009 military coup in Honduras; and Roberto d'Aubuisson, the commander of El Salvador's notorious death squads, the same death squads who executed tens of thousands of Salvadoran civilians, including three nuns and a church worker whom they raped before murdering. (Two were friends of Bourgeois) The same year they murdered Archbishop Romero. Since 1990, SOA Watch has led a campaign to shut WHINSEC down and joins with other activists working in Latin America to challenge U.S. policy there.

Father Roy Bourgeois served four years the Navy, spent a year in Vietnam, was awarded a Purple Heart, was ordained into one of the Maryknoll orders in 1972, spent more than four years in U.S. federal prison for non-violent protest and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. He's giving his life – he's a fighter – but it won't be hard for the Vatican to strip him of his frock.

And it won't take them 40 years to get it done either.

When I pray the Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross), which I try to do once a week in Lent, I'll pause at the appropriate station, the tenth: "Jesus is stripped of His garments." There I will pray for Father Bourgeois.

And his Christlike ilk.

– Michele Somerville


If you want to express your support for Roy, here are some telephone numbers and addresses.

Call or email Rev. Edward M. Dougherty, Maryknoll Superior General at (914) 941-7590 and

Send a letter to Rev. Dougherty at PO Box 305 Maryknoll, NY 10545-0305.

Send a letter of support to Fr. Roy at PO Box 3330 Columbus, GA 31903.

You may also want to sign this petition on the Women’s Ordination website.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Quote of the Day

. . . Religious dogmatism is the scourge of the twenty-first century. The major religions of the book, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity not only seem incapable of effectively dealing with their dogmatic brethren, but in too many cases cater to them – as if they are terrified that the emotion behind all that dogmatism will be turned on them. Pope Benedict is in the process of catering once again to Catholic dogmatists. He is assuring them, that when the leaders of the world's religions meet in Assisi this summer, he will not be praying with those leaders as they all work for world peace. He will stick to Catholics for his praying, and only give a speech to the other religious and secular leaders – leaders the Vatican itself has invited to Assisi.

. . . Maybe it is a good idea that [the pope] keep his praying in the safe confines of St Peters and with his fellow Catholics. There's just something sadly right about this pope praying with true believers in fortress Catholicism before he goes out to encourage the rest of the world to engage in open dialogue and seek peace and fraternity. That's the hall mark of dogmatism, it is perfectly stellar at holding utterly contradictory notions via air tight intellectual compartmentalization. And so Benedict will not be praying with Muslims at the Basilica of St. Francis, a church dedicated to a saint who helped avoid a catastrophic war with the Islamic world by praying with Muslims. Go figure.

– Colleen Kochivar-Baker
"Religious Dogmatism is the Curse of the Twenty-First Century"
Enlightened Catholicism
April 5, 2011