Thursday, April 26, 2012

LCWR: Why Are We Not Surprised?

By Robert McClory

NOTE: This commentary was first published April 25, 2012, by the National Catholic Reporter.

The attitude toward women that prompted the Vatican crackdown on the LCWR was there in the beginning and it's never been exorcised from Catholicism. It even got into the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians, for example, where the writer declares that women "should keep silence in the churches for they are not permitted to speak but should be subordinate. ... If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husband."

Today, we are assured by every credible Scripture scholar that this was inserted by some scribe after Paul's death; it totally contradicts his attitude toward women and his acceptance of women as co-workers. In Romans, he commends an entire list of women, including Junia, whom he calls "prominent among the apostles." Nevertheless, several putdowns of women got placed in the texts and have remained as stumbling blocks for the unwary.

The paintings in the catacombs from the first centuries give witness that women, portrayed in the garments of priests and deacons, even presiding at the Eucharist, shared in the radical equality of the Gospel. But soon the declarations of bishops and synods warn that women should not be ordained and the practice is to be snuffed out wherever it has taken root. The hierarchy alone, they reminded the people (just as they told LCWR), are the deciders.

Mysogony put down even deeper roots, as the teachings of the fathers and doctors of the church reveal. St. Augustine was no exception, nor was the "Angelic Doctor," Thomas Aquinas, who regarded women as "defective and misbegotten" males. This perspective continued as the norm throughout the Middle Ages and even led on occasion to the violent persecution of women as witches; they were, after all, the tools of the devil. With the Enlightenment and the dawn of modernity, old assumptions and superstitions were challenged and began to disappear, but women's role as second-class humans was not so easily put aside. Only in the 20th century was women's right to vote accepted in the Western world.

From the earliest times, of course, Catholic women found a way to follow the Gospel and contribute to church and world through religious orders. Those achievements are astounding by any measure, but the "good sisters" always knew who they were and where they stood in relation to patriarchy, hierarchy and clericalism. Since Vatican II, religious women have risen to new levels of achievement in many professions once essentially reserved to males, and they are taking a critical voice on issues of society, church and even theology, once essentially the realm of males.

The hierarchical mind does not understand this, believing corrections must be made under the watchful eye of men, just as corrections are now under way in the drift that Vatican II reforms have taken -- also with men in charge. The majority of Catholics does understand this, I believe. They recognize the stubborn persistence of the old misogyny and sexism when they see it.

Last Sunday at our church, St. Nicholas in Evanston, Ill., the retired pastor, Bob Oldershaw, praised in his homily women religious for creating in the U.S. "the most successful realization of Catholicism in history." No sooner had he uttered the words than the entire congregation rose spontaneously as one and began applauding and applauding and applauding. It continued for almost two minutes. It's true we are a clapping-prone parish, but this was unprecedented. When it finally died down, Fr. Oldershaw looked upward and said, "I hope they heard it upstairs." It wasn't clear whether he meant the Vatican, heaven or both.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Vatican's Latest Target in the War on Women: Nuns

By Norman Birnbaum

NOTE: This commentary was first published April 24, 2012, by The Nation.

No organization survives for two millennia by marching, upright, in a straight line. The history of the Roman Catholic Church is one of a constant struggle to adapt to changes that threatened its authority. In the modern age, it has had to deal with Protestantism and the Enlightenment. It has had to deal politically with democracy and fascism, imperialism and nationalism. Industrial capitalism made its vision of solidarity obsolete. Indifference, secularism and cultural pluralism deprived it of the unquestioning obedience of Catholics themselves.

In this twisted and often tormented tale, two things have been remarkably constant. One is Rome’s claim to ultimate decision in matters spiritual and worldly. The other has been unyielding insistence on the rule of men—in church and by implication in society. Many American Catholics have learned to live in spiritual chiaroscuro by discreetly ignoring church doctrine, as with the practice of contraception. Rick Santorum’s Disney World image of the City of God did not enthuse them. Now the Vatican’s theological bureaucrats, many of whom have never ventured beyond its walls, have confronted American Catholics with a crisis which will render many exceedingly uncomfortable, and drive others to one or another form of defiance.

More than 80 percent of the 57,000 Catholic nuns in the United States are represented by an active and outspoken group called the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The nuns are not only teachers in the lower grades of Catholic schools, or locked away in perpetual prayer. They are administrators and leaders in social activism, staff Catholic hospitals, teach in colleges and theological schools. Without their presence, much of Catholic institutional life in the United States would be emptied of energy and, pardon the expression, manpower. Factually, they exercise a great deal of women’s power. Legally, however, they are second-class citizens or (poorly) paid servants of the church, obliged to accept the commands of bishops and priests. Extending our non-discrimination laws to the church would revolutionize it—which is why, as in the healthcare debate, the church is at great pains to demand “religious freedom” for itself. The Leadership Conference has been trying, step by step, to loosen the male grip on power in the church. That has brought it into conflict with a significant number of bishops.

Given considerable sympathy amongst the Catholic laity for the nuns, the bishops sought backing in Rome. Since 2008 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (known in simpler and perhaps more honest days as the Inquisition) has been investigating the conference. Now, without notice to the nuns, it has been placed in receivership. The archbishop of Seattle, seconded by two other bishops, has been given a mandate to reorganize it. The nuns have been charged with sympathy for “radical feminism”—and with taking positions on matters like healthcare legislation different from those of the bishops. One of the organizations specifically cited by the Vatican is Network, which is in the vanguard of Catholic activism for equality and justice. Canon lawyers consulted by the Catholic press have said that there is no appeal provided for in the laws of the church.

The leaders of the conference have imposed silence on themselves until they meet to consider their next steps. The Vatican’s decision was communicated to them by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops while they, the nuns, were in Rome consulting with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Vatican’s lack of straightforwardness is striking. Perhaps a couple of the inquisitors have doubts, and so resorted to administrative brutality to still their own inner dissent.

Some Catholic women have not felt the need to be silent. The Washington Post quotes the Fordham University theologian Jeannine Fletcher on a paradox. “Women can’t be bishops, so there’s a very strange question of whether we can ever voice a response that challenges,” Fletcher says. “If women religious can’t, no women can.” The Post also cites Sister Julie Vieira of the Michigan-based order Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who said that “our vow of obedience applies to God…. it doesn’t reside in a bishop, a body of bishops or even the pope. For us, that sense of obedience has to do with listening deeply to the call of the spirit.” Is this 2012 or 1517?

Meanwhile, to make the situation more complex, the US Catholic Bishops Conference has disconcerted two prominent Catholics, Representatives John Boehner and Paul Ryan. The conference has strenuously criticized the Ryan budget as deeply unfair to the poor. That is a reversion, welcomed by many Catholics, to the church’s emphasizing issues of social justice and solidarity—and not just obsessing about abortion, contraception, homosexuality. We can remind ourselves that the church is heir to a deep and pervasive tradition of social teaching that was a major element in the New Deal, the American trade union movement, and much that we are proud of in our recent national history.

One of the unintended consequences of the Vatican’s heavy-handedness could be to reinforce the tendency, already quite strong, of American Catholics to think for themselves. Many are indeed deeply distressed that their church should be associated predominantly with catriarchal repressiveness. At the beginning of this week, I attended a symposium at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University on religion in the presidential election. Woodstock is a distinguished institution and its events are attended by Catholic men and women deeply embedded in our national political life. It was my impression that many were in favor of returning their church to the concerns voiced in the criticism of the Ryan budget. They are likely to be repelled by the treatment of their nuns. In no case are they going to accept uncritically their bishops’ interpretation of their civic duty.

Recommended Off-site Link:
The Vatican and the LCWR – Phyllis Zagano (National Catholic Reporter, April 25, 2012).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Catholics Told They Cannot Pray Out Loud at Cathedral

PCV Editorial Team

Thirty Catholics participated in the first weekly “pray-in” at the St. Paul Cathedral on Tuesday, April 17. The weekly gathering is designed as “an expression of support for the inherent dignity of all God’s people and the promotion of the spiritual well-being of every family.”

Shortly after the individuals arrived to begin their prayer session they were met by the Pastor of the Cathedral, Fr. Joseph Johnson, who acknowledged the group’s right to stay and pray silently but prohibited them from praying out loud as a group.

Fr. Johnson stated that “public prayer” had to be approved in advance by his office. Fr. Johnson was clearly aware of the purpose of the gathering which he deemed to “contradict” the Church’s positions. When asked if the group could whisper the Rosary together, Fr. Johnson said no.

The group chose to stay and pray the Rosary silently, standing as a sign of respectful support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons and their families.

Vigil spokesperson, Barbara Frey, stated, “Through our presence we seek to emulate the expansive and inclusive love of Jesus, who always stood up for the most vulnerable.”

According to Frey, many Catholics are disturbed by the Archdiocese’s choice to expend funds to promote discrimination rather than to address the most urgent needs of the community.

The vigils will continue being held weekly at 6 pm in the Cathedral. All are welcome.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Conflicted Catholics: Consciences Wrestle with Church Actions on Marriage Amendment – Beth Hawkins (MinnPost, April 18, 2012).
"This is the Living Word"Sensus Fidelium (March 28, 2012).
Church Officials Fail Us, But a Local Priest and Parish Shine – Jim Smith (Sensus Fidelium, April 11, 2012).

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Another Modest Proposal (Modeled on Jonathan Swift)

By Susan Zeni

Given the heat that’s been generated on both sides of the upcoming amendment on gay marriage, it’s time to apply some common sense to the discussion. I, myself, have no personal interest in the outcome of this amendment, truly. I attend Sunday mass, confess my sins, and give to the poor. I am not perfect, but I am a good Catholic, as most of you are, wanting to do the right thing, yet feeling unsure about what the right thing actually is. I have wearied myself with years of thinking on the subject and now offer my humble thoughts, which are not wholly original, but provide solid and real answers to a lingering concern. My sixteen years of Catholic education also qualify and, indeed, obligate me as a speaker on this issue. According to church instruction, I am capable of performing the first three spiritual works of mercy as I have proper tact, knowledge, and training to do so.

Here is a plain and straightforward list of new, but substantially traditional, ideas to break the current impasse:

1. First of all, each parish, with the bishop’s approval and foresight for allocating resources, could erect six pillories in the sacristy, directly behind the communion railing. I advocate this placement so that the faithful will have no difficulty moving to the communion rail during mass and will not be troubled by inadvertent contact with those who are being pilloried. We must draw a clear line between those who are saved and those who are still on their way to perfect conduct and ought to be shamed for their offenses.

2. Secondly, the chosen six who will serve as models for us all – in forgiving offenses willingly and bearing wrongs patiently – ought to be gay. Each parish would, of course, have the power to decide whose heads and arms would bear the honor of confinement – whether, in the name of equal representation, three women and three men will be installed or if six men might be honored first since they are primary in the natural order of things and ought to assume their customary position in the hierarchy of being. Of course, six lesbians with their heads shaved could also be locked into place since they might evoke images of Joan of Arc and inspire the laity to rouse themselves, as they have in the past, to extraordinary acts of courage, to speaking up for friends who are in need of support against those who would misuse power.

3.Third of all, there is an absolute beauty in this scheme, a win-win situation for all. The names of the pilloried could be written on their foreheads as is their absolute due, but the details of the real crimes that have been committed could be displayed on placards hung around their necks. And as is customary, the real offenders need not be named but only referred to as Father X, or Bishop Y, or Cardinal Z with a careful tabulation of each one’s offenses on the suspended placards. Will this not prove a perfect surrogacy, letting those who are being pilloried serve as substitutes, as deflectors of blame, so that those who must continue the work among the faithful can carry on without stain of character? It is true that blame, like energy and matter, is never destroyed. It is merely transformed. So if blame there is, let’s discharge it in the least harmful and most efficient way. Two sinners--one stone, is this not a tidy way to seek atonement?

4. And we will demonstrate mercy for those who are pilloried. Do remember that in the past, those who were accused were set out in the public square in all kinds of weather. The rabble tossed rotten vegetables and other gross materials, which present delicacy does not permit our naming. By housing the pilloried in a warm and civil place, we will demonstrate the progress which has been made since those barbaric times.

5. And certainly, I think everyone agrees that this will be more cost-effective in the long run. How much can six wooden structures, such as these, cost? Yes, of course, if each local parish were to demand six or more structures, or round it up to an apostolic twelve, there might be a real budget problem. But surely, surely, these wooden structures are much cheaper in the long run than the millions that might be spent on lobbying for the new amendment. We might, as well, provide employment for the honest, out of work carpenters among us since Jesus, himself, might be out of work in today’s marketplace. Then, too, the visceral disgust some people feel about the sins of the accused could be so much more openly and honestly expressed. One could truly hate the sin but love the sinner as he or she would be present in full view in all his or her humanity.

6. And if there are savings to be had, perhaps that money could be distributed to the faithful in North Minneapolis who have not yet recovered from last summer’s tornado or to those who are hitting the soup kitchens hoping for something to sustain them through this economic downturn. Mary Jo Copland of Sharing and Caring Hands has been carrying on for years in the name of Jesus, and she could use a few more dozen toenail clippers and foot-washing basins as she ministers to the poor soles on our downtown streets.

7. And might this not foster more true ecumenism with sister churches throughout the area? Other followers of Jesus, who believe in compassion and brotherly love, could be invited in to common viewings of the pilloried and save themselves the extra time and energy it would take to conduct such campaigns on their own. And again there would be one-on-one contact with those in the stocks and perhaps some distorted images of the pilloried would be dispelled. Certainly, most compassionate people know gays and lesbians who deserve to be treated with respect. And will not talking to immobilized gays and lesbians create an aura of security for those who might be afraid of such persons, having perhaps never really talked to any? Pinning down the offenders will provide a good venue for a fruitful exchange of ideas.

8. And finally, there will be ample opportunities to perform corporal works of mercy, especially for those miscreant priests, gay and otherwise, who have taken to speaking up. Such priests can be re-assigned long shifts in which they are obligated to take care of the scapegoats in the stocks. They will not have time to mislead the faithful and might not even require overt silencing. They can be worked mercilessly, without anyone’s even knowing it, can take on the duties for which they were originally ordained: to visit the captive, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the distressed. The church, too, would benefit from the good PR these priests would generate – good shepherds tending to their flocks, rather than to the things of Caesar. Of course, this might actually provide the straying priests with a true means of salvation, but as saved people ourselves, we have to hope for the best for all, to always love the sinner, not the sin.

I can think of no objections that will be raised against this proposal. The advantages are so obvious and so many. What was hidden will now be made clear. Voters can focus on the real issues of the day, rather than be manipulated by those who would abuse power. Worthy surrogates will shoulder the blame for the nameless among us. Money that lined the pockets of politicos and lobbyists will be distributed among the poor. Good carpenters will be provided honest employment. And good priests will continue to speak up, whatever the cost, for truth and justice.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

An Open Letter to Prof. Josef Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI

Dear Joe,

Some years back when you were still the head of the Holy Office (“of the Sacred Inquisition” is, as you know, stilled chiseled in stone over its dark building immediately next to St. Peter’s square), I wrote you an open letter concerning the role of women in the Catholic Church. At that time I addressed you with a familiar “Dear Joe,” relying on our relationship from the late 60s/early 70s when I was frequently a Visiting Professor at the Catholic Theology Faculty of the University of Tübingen, and you were Professor Ordinarius there. I did so in the thought that this form of address would tell you that I seriously hoped you might open your mind and heart to hear what I wanted to say to you. I have no way of knowing what success I may have had, if any, in that regard. However, relying on our former “collegiality,” I am approaching you once again in this fraternal fashion.

I am disturbed that especially of late you have been giving signals that are in opposition to the words and spirit of Vatican Council II, during which you as a leading young theologian helped to move our beloved Catholic Church out of the Middle Ages into Modernity. Further, while a professor at our Alma Mater University of Tübingen, you, along with the rest of your colleagues of the Catholic Theology faculty, publicly advocated 1) the election of bishops by their constituents, and 2) limited term of office of bishops (see the book Democratic Bishops for the Roman Catholic Church).

Now you are publicly rebuking loyal Catholic priests for doing precisely what you earlier had so nobly advocated. They, and many, many others across the universal Catholic Church, are following your youthful example, trying desperately to move our beloved Mother Church further into Modernity. I deliberately use the word “desperately,” for in your own homeland, Germany, and elsewhere in Europe, the churches are empty, and also are so many Catholic hearts when they hear the chilling words coming from Rome and the “radically obedient” (read: “yes-men”) bishops. In my own homeland, America, the birthplace of modern freedom, human rights, and democracy, we have lost — in this generation alone! — one third of our Catholic population, 30,000,000, because the Vatican II promises of its five-fold Copernican Turn (the turn toward 1. freedom, 2. this world, 3. a sense of history, 4. internal reform, and above all, 5. dialogue) have all been so deliberately dashed by your predecessor, and now increasingly by you.

Joe, you were known as one of the Vatican II theologians who promoted Pope St. John XXIII’s call for aggiornamento (bringing up to date) by the reforming spirit of returning to the energizing original sources (resourcement!) of Christianity (ad fontes!—to the fountains!). Those democratic, freedom-loving sources of the Early Church were exactly the renewing “sources,” the “fountains,” of renewal that were spelled out in detail by you and your Tübingen colleagues.

I am urging you to return to that early reforming spirit of your youth. I am reminded of that spirit now in preparation for the 50th anniversary celebration of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies (JES), which my beloved wife Arlene and I launched in 1964. There in the very first issue of JES are articles by your friend and fellow Vatican II theologian Hans Küng, and yourself (!), looking to bridge over the isolating Counter-Reformation gulf that divided the Catholic Church from the rest of Christianity, and indeed the rest of the modern world.

Joe, in that spirit, I urge you to return to your reforming fountains: Return ad fontes!



Leonard Swidler, Ph.D., S.T.L.
Professor of Catholic Thought and Interreligious Dialogue, Temple University
Co-Founder, Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church

See also the previous PCV posts:
Hans Küng's Letter to the Bishops
Belgium Catholics Issue Reform Manifesto
American Catholic Council Issues "Declaration for Reform and Renewal"
Council of the Baptized Launched in Minneapolis-St. Paul
Hans Küng Says Only Radical Reforms Can Save the Catholic Church
Urgent Tasks for for Church Renewal
The Call of the Baptized: Be the Church, Live the Mission
Gerald Arbuckle on the "Critical Role of Dissent"
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 1)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 2)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 3)