Saturday, July 28, 2012

Quote of the Day

. . . What is in essence a power struggle between the nuns and the church’s hierarchy had been building for decades, church scholars say. At issue are questions of obedience and autonomy, what it means to be a faithful Catholic and different understandings of the Second Vatican Council.

Sister Pat Farrell, the president of the Leadership Conference, said in an interview that the Vatican seems to regard questioning as defiance, while the sisters see it as a form of faithfulness.

“We have a differing perspective on obedience,” Sister Farrell said. “Our understanding is that we need to continue to respond to the signs of the times, and the new questions and issues that arise in the complexities of modern life are not something we see as a threat.”

These same conflicts are gripping the Catholic Church at large. Nearly 50 years after the start of Vatican II, which was intended to open the church to the modern world and respond to the “signs of the times,” the church is gravely polarized between a progressive wing still eager for change and reform and a traditionalist flank focused on returning to what it sees as doctrinal fundamentals.

The sisters have been caught in the riptide. . . .

– Laurie Goodstein
"U.S. Nuns Weigh How to Respond to Vatican’s Scathing Rebuke"
The New York Times
July 28, 2012

See also the previous PCV posts:
Redefining Radical: Catholic Nuns Vs. the Vatican
An Open Letter from CCCR to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious
What the Nuns' Story is Really About

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Minnesota's Seven Catholic Womenpriests Are Here to Stay

By Anne Hamre

Note: This article was first published July 26, 2012 by the Minnesota Women's Press.

Some of the differences are subtle: The congregation says "kindom," not "kingdom," of God.

Others decidedly are not. The priest at the front of the bright, cheerful sanctuary – the person who, among other things, transforms the bread into the body of Christ – is a woman. And that makes this small gathering, in the eyes of the Vatican, subversive and dangerous.

Unbroken line

On an early summer Sunday, Linda Wilcox's homily counsels patience, using a gardening metaphor. "We may have to wait a long time for the blooms," she said, "but we will see them."

Wilcox and Monique Venne [pictured at right] are Catholic priests, ordained in 2009 and 2011 respectively, who co-pastor Compassion of Christ Catholic Community. They belong to Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP), an international movement. RCWP-USA's mission is "to spiritually prepare, ordain in Apostolic Succession, and support women who are called by the Holy Spirit and their communities to a renewed priestly ministry rooted in justice and faithfulness to the Gospel," according to its website.

Typically, 15 to 20 congregants attend Compassion of Christ services, held at a Methodist church. Nearly all are women, most in their 50s or older. A small group, but it's just one congregation-and as Venne noted, the movement began 10 years ago with only seven women.

The "Danube Seven" – women from Germany, Austria and the United States – were ordained as priests by an Argentine bishop on a Danube River cruise ship in June 2002. The Roman Catholic Church quickly excommunicated them.

Venne, Wilcox and others believe the women's ordinations – and their own-are valid (but not legal), because they were ordained in apostolic succession within the Roman Catholic Church (an unbroken line of succession beginning with the apostles and perpetuated through bishops for 2,000 years). The identity of a male priest who ordains a woman will be kept secret until his death, if he wants to remain active within the Catholic Church.

Wilcox, after a career as a librarian, earned an M.A. degree in theology at St. Catherine University. She grew interested in ordination through a Call to Action gathering (an organization of Catholics working for justice and equality in the church).

"When I saw a woman presiding at the altar, I could not get it out of my mind. That image haunted me," she said. "It was a niggling that would not go away."

Venne worked for years as a meteorologist while serving as a lay volunteer at a suburban Catholic church. After a job layoff, she entered United Theological Seminary, graduating in 2004.

Fear went away

"I thought about [ordination], but I was very scared of the excommunication thing," Venne said. "That is a very existential threat to a Catholic."

In mid-2007, Venne reached a crossroads, fired from a liturgy assistant job by a local parish pastor ("He didn't like me, probably because I knew more than he did"). Around that time, she attended a female friend's priesthood ordination – the first such event in Minnesota.

"Someone asked me if I was in the [priesthood] program, and my answer came out, 'Not yet,'" Venne recalled. "Somewhere during that ordination, the fear went away."

Wilcox calls herself a latecomer to questioning authority. "But once I started thinking for myself," she said, "I realized I was sick and tired of asking for permission."

The two women have been excommunicated from the Catholic Church, albeit informally, based on a Vatican-issued statement saying "any person who participates in the ordination of a woman (bishop or candidate) will automatically excommunicate herself," Wilcox said.

The two priests are often asked: Why not leave the Catholic faith? After all, there are many traditions that ordain women. Venne acknowledged that when she started seminary, "I was ready to leave [Catholicism]." But during her studies, she found new appreciation for it, and "I discovered I couldn't not be Catholic."

Wilcox agrees. "It's a dysfunctional family," she said. "But it's still my family."

Times are tough for progressive Catholics. Witness the Vatican's recent rebuke of U.S. nuns for emphasizing support for social/economic justice rather than opposition to abortion. Yet in apparent setbacks, the two priests find hope that change is afoot, and that they are helping it along.

"The church hierarchy is becoming more and more hysterical," Venne said. "They're losing their grip." She noted that the Vatican ranks the "crime" of ordaining a woman priest as of equal gravity with clergy sexually abusing children.


Minnesota is something of a womenpriest hotbed. The movement has four active regions; the Midwest is second largest, after the West. California claims the most womenpriests-but Minnesota has the most per capita, with seven. Venne suspects the politically progressive roots of the state and region provide fertile soil for the womenpriest movement. Currently, a handful of Minnesota women are exploring priesthood.

Most womenpriests are midlife or retired. "You can't feed yourself on this-there is no income associated with it," Wilcox said.

"It's troubling to us," Venne added. "We know there are women out there who are constrained by lack of financial resources."

Both priests count their husbands among their staunchest supporters. "It would be impossible with an unsupportive spouse," Wilcox said.

It's also challenging with an unsupportive church hierarchy-but for women who don't ask permission, it's not impossible. The seeds are planted; the blooms are on the way.

See also the previous PCV posts:
Female Priests Push Catholic Boundaries
Ordination of Women in Minneapolis Reflects Emerging Renewal of Priesthood and Church
Fr. Roy Bourgeois: "The Exclusion of Women from the Priesthood is a Grave Injustice"
Roman Catholic Womenpriests: 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).

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Would a Message from God Pass These Catholic Rules on Revelation?

By Julian Baggini

Note: The following article was first published May 28, 2012 by The Guardian.

It seems God's will is subservient
to the church's – a revelation or apparition contradicting
accepted dogma would be rejected

The latest publication of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the body once known as the Inquisition) seems designed to provide cheap entertainment for atheists. "Norms Regarding the Manner of Proceeding in the Discernment of Presumed Apparitions or Revelations" contains guidelines for deciding whether to validate "apparitions and the revelations often connected with them." While the infidels giggle, those among the theological intelligentsia who insist on the unimportance of superstition for religion and the primacy of practice over doctrines can only despair.

There's little point in rehearsing the reasons why many laugh this off as evidently absurd. In this case, many of the criteria applied to apparitions are perfectly sensible, in so far as the whole enterprise can be seen as sensible. You have to check whether the witnesses display "honesty", "sincerity" and "rectitude of moral life"; that they are free from "psychological disorder or psychopathic tendencies"; that there is no "evidence of a search for profit or gain"; and that the sighting is inspiring "healthy devotion and abundant and constant spiritual fruit."

What's more interesting are the subtler paradoxes of faith that are found in those key tests which maintain the authority of the church to determine truth and doctrine, paradoxes thoughtful believers are well aware of. Sound witnesses are those who show "habitual docility towards ecclesiastical authority." Any revelations offered by apparitions must be of "true theological and spiritual doctrine and immune from error". It is negative evidence against a sighting if any revelations offered in it contain "doctrinal errors attributed to God himself, or to the blessed virgin Mary, or to some saint in their manifestations."

Herein contains what we might call the paradox of revelation, which is confronted by any organized religion that is based on revelation, in whole or part. As its meaning makes clear, you can't have a "revelation" that tells everyone what they already know. The supposed revelations of God to humanity through Christ, or the word of God to Mohammed through the angel Gabriel, had the power they did because they indicated new truths, new directions for followers.

However, having established a religion on those revelations, the teachings revealed through them become non-negotiable, and the ecclesiastical authorities become the arbiters of their interpretation. And so that means no further revelation is admissible if it contradicts what is already believed. Revelation of radical new truths, if accepted as real, thus makes future revelation of radical new truths impossible. To put it another way, what was absolutely valid for the establishing of a religion becomes by necessity invalid once it already exists.

This isn't trivial. Although the Catholic church exists to further God's will on earth, the criteria set out by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith make it impossible for the church to accept God's will as being anything other than what they already believe. So while in theory entirely subservient to God's will, God's will actually turns out to be subservient to that of the church.

The Sacred Congregation comes so close to seeing what is wrong with this. It says that we must, in assessing the veracity of an apparition, take into account "the possibility that the subject might have added, even unconsciously, purely human elements or some error of the natural order to an authentic supernatural revelation." All it needs to do is take into the account that the church might indeed be such a subject and it would realise it is too fallible to judge the truth of revelation by comparison with what it already believes.

A religion that has a place for revelation therefore must not be dogmatic, sure that it knows God's will. Organized religion, however, is not very good at achieving this required level of open-mindedness, perhaps because it requires a severe restriction of ecclesiastical authority. This runs counter to the baroque institutional hierarchy of the church, which in this case gives different levels of authority to ordinaries, the regional or national Conference of Bishops, the Apostolic See and the universal jurisdiction of the supreme pontiff can intervene. Divine revelation has become the property of a very human collection of committees and experts. The irony is that if God agrees, the rules humans have made for validating his revelations mean that he would not be believed even if he told us.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Can Christianity Be Saved? A Response to Ross Douthat

By Diana Butler Bass

Note: This commentary was first published July 15, 2012 at Huff Post Religion.

In recent days, conservatives have attacked the Episcopal Church. The reason? The church has just concluded its once every three-year national meeting, and in this gathering the denomination affirmed a liturgy to bless same-sex unions. Conservatives assert that the Episcopal Church's ever-increasing social and political progressivism has led to a precipitous membership decline and ruined the denomination.

Many of the criticisms were mean-spirited or partisan, continuing a decade-long internal debate about the Episcopal Church's future. However, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat broadened the discussion, moving beyond inside-baseball ecclesial politics to ask a larger question: "Can Liberal Christianity be Saved?"

The question is a good one, for the liberal Christian tradition is an important part of American culture, from dazzling literary and intellectual achievements to great social reform movements. Mr. Douthat recognizes these contributions and rightly praises this aspect of liberal Christianity as "an immensely positive force in our national life."

Despite this history, however, Mr. Douthat insists that any denomination committed to contemporary liberalism will ultimately collapse. According to him, the Episcopal Church and its allegedly trendy faith, a faith that varies from a more worthy form of classical liberalism, is facing imminent death.

His argument, however, is neither particularly original nor true. It follows a thesis first set out in a 1972 book, Why Conservative Churches Are Growing by Dean Kelley. Drawing on Kelley's argument, Douthat believes that in the 1960s liberal Christianity overly accommodated to the culture and loosened its ties to tradition. This rendered the church irrelevant and led to a membership hemorrhage. Over the years, critics of liberal churches used numerical decline not only as a sign of churchgoer dissatisfaction but of divine displeasure. To those who subscribe to Kelley's analysis, liberal Christianity long ago lost its soul--and the state of Protestant denominations is a theological morality tale confirmed by dwindling attendance.

That was 1972. Forty years later, in 2012, liberal churches are not the only ones declining. It is true that progressive religious bodies started to decline in the 1960s. However, conservative denominations are now experiencing the same. For example, the Southern Baptist Convention, one of America's most conservative churches, has for a dozen years struggled with membership loss and overall erosion in programming, staffing, and budgets. Many smaller conservative denominations, such as the Missouri Synod Lutherans, are under pressure by loss. The Roman Catholic Church, a body that has moved in markedly conservative directions and of which Mr. Douthat is a member, is straining as members leave in droves. By 2008, one in ten Americans considered him- or herself a former Roman Catholic. On the surface, Catholic membership numbers seem steady. But this is a function of Catholic immigration from Latin America. If one factors out immigrants, American Catholicism matches the membership decline of any liberal Protestant denomination. Decline is not exclusive to the Episcopal Church, nor to liberal denominations – it is a reality facing the whole of American Christianity.

Douthat points out that the Episcopal Church has declined 23% in the last decade, identifying the loss as a sign of its theological infidelity. In the last decade, however, as conservative denominations lost members, their leaders have not equated the loss with unfaithfulness. Instead, they refer to declines as demographic "blips," waning evangelism, or the impact of secular culture. Membership decline has no inherent theological meaning for either liberals or conservatives. Decline only means, as Gallup pointed out in a just-released survey, that Americans have lost confidence in all forms of institutional religion.

The real question is not "Can liberal Christianity be saved?" The real question is: Can Christianity be saved?

Liberal Christians experienced this decline sooner than their conservative kin, thus giving them a longer, more sustained opportunity to explore what faith might mean to twenty-first century people. Introspective liberal churchgoers returned to the core of the Christian vision: Jesus' command to "Love God and love your neighbor as yourself." As a result, a sort of neo-liberal Christianity has quietly taken root across the old Protestant denominations – a form of faith that cares for one's neighbor, the common good, and fosters equality, but is, at the same time, a transformative personal faith that is warm, experiential, generous, and thoughtful. This new expression of Christianity maintains the historic liberal passion for serving others but embraces Jesus' injunction that a vibrant love for God is the basis for a meaningful life. These Christians link spirituality with social justice as a path of peace and biblical faith.

Unexpectedly, liberal Christianity is – in some congregations at least – undergoing renewal. A grass-roots affair to be sure, sputtering along in local churches, prompted by good pastors doing hard work and theologians mostly unknown to the larger culture. Some local congregations are growing, having seriously re-engaged practices of theological reflection, hospitality, prayer, worship, doing justice, and Christian formation. A recent study from Hartford Institute for Religion Research discovered that liberal congregations actually display higher levels of spiritual vitality than do conservative ones, noting that these findings were "counter-intuitive" to the usual narrative of American church life.

There is more than a little historical irony in this. A quiet renewal is occurring, but the denominational structures have yet to adjust their institutions to the recovery of practical wisdom that is remaking local congregations. And the media continues to fixate on big pastors and big churches with conservative followings as the center-point of American religion, ignoring the passion and goodness of the old liberal tradition that is once again finding its heart. Yet, the accepted story of conservative growth and liberal decline is a twentieth century tale, at odds with what the surveys, data, and best research says what is happening now. Indeed, I think that the better story of contemporary Christianity is that of an awakening of a more open, more inclusive, more spiritually vital faith is roiling and I argue for that in my recent book, Christianity After Religion.

So, Mr. Douthat asks, "Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?" But I wonder: Can Liberal Churches Save Christianity? The twenty-first century has yet to answer that, but I think we may be surprised.

Diana Butler Bass is the author of Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening.

Related Off-site Links:
What About Non-Liberal Christianity, Ross? – Mark Silk (Religion News Service, July 16, 2012).
For Douthat, Church Either Uncompromising or a Secular Den of Promiscuity and Irrelevance – Sarah Morice-Brubaker (Religion Dispatches, July 16, 2012).

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Quote of the Day

. . . [In his book Hidden, Richard Giannone writes]: "Community is the heart of Christianity." And in true community, there's no room for unquestioning obedience to censorious powers. There must be, instead, room for doubt and forgiveness, for the freedom to share our fears, our hopes and especially our uncertainties.

The Catholic church seems more open to all of that today than it was prior to Vatican II. But something has almost extinguished the spirit of that liberating time of reform, and the church once more is manning (the male reference is intended) the barricades against modernity, postmodernity and anything that may follow.

The church has great truths and traditions to defend, for sure, but I'm guessing it's on the verge of forfeiting any opportunity it might still have to provide a safe and welcoming place to people who cannot abide the church's mortifying history of defending superstitions against what science and their own experience tell them.

Once it was that Galileo was a heretic for proposing that the earth revolves around the sun. Now it is that men and women born with homosexual orientations are "objectively disordered."

Certain elements in the church's leadership may continue insisting that the church is just defending truth with a capital T, but increasingly, they are voices that embarrass, voices that stand out the way wing-nut snake-handlers stand out. . . .

– Bill Tammeus
"Will the Catholic Church Still Be Standing in a Few Generations?"
National Catholic Reporter
July 11, 2012

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Call to Leadership

By Joan Chittister, OSB

Note: Following is the prepared text of Sister Joan Chittister's Baccalaureate address at Stanford University, May 2012.

Bertolt Brecht, German dramatist and poet wrote: "There are many elements to a campaign. Leadership is number one. Everything else is number two."

And Walter Lippmann said: "The final test of a leader is someone who leaves behind themselves – in others – the conviction and the will to carry on."

But how do we know what it means to really be a leader and how do we know who should do it?

There are some clues to those answers in folk literature, I think. The first story is about two boats that meet head on in a shipping channel at night.

As boats are wont to do in the dark, boat number 1 flashed boat number 2: "We are on a collision course. Turn your boat 10 degrees north."

Boat 2 signaled back: "Yes, we are on a collision course. Turn your boat 10 degrees south."

Boat 1 signaled again: "I am an admiral in her majesty's navy; I am telling you to turn your boat 10 degrees north."

Boat 2 flashed back immediately: "And I am a seaman 2nd class. And I am telling you to turn your boat 10 degrees south."

By this time, the admiral was furious. He flashed back: "I repeat! I am an admiral in her majesty's navy and I am commanding you to turn your boat 10 degrees north. I am in a battleship!"

And the second boat returned a signal that said: "And I am commanding you to turn your boat 10 degrees south. I am in a lighthouse."

Point: Rank, titles and positions are no substitute for leadership.

You are all graduating from this great university this weekend because someone has seen leadership potential in you at a time of grinding poverty and gross inequality. At a time when we have never needed leadership more, someone saw in you the possibility to be a powerful presence in the public arenas of our own time. The question is, then, what will you inspire in this world now?

The motto under which you have been educated here – the "the wind of freedom blows" – is exactly what a world struggling between the challenges of the present and the ideals of the past requires.

It requires the freedom to question and the freedom to rethink absolutes.

It requires the freedom to confront what does not work and to rebel against rigidities that mask as unassailable traditions.

It requires you to re-energize the kind of courageous initiative that opened the frontier in one century and reached the moon in the next.

It requires the vision that freed slaves and empowered women, that preserved the spiritual but honored the secular, as well.

What the world needs now are those who will commit themselves to free that kind of energy everywhere and lead others to do the same.

First, though, you must realize that the world did not send you here simply to get itself another engineer or business manager or computer science programmer. No, your world sent you here to be its leaders.

But note well: The world you have been given to lead is both glorious and grim. One right step and the whole world can become new again. One more wrong step and the globe itself is in irreversible danger.

Indeed, we need a new direction; we need another point of view. We need a more complete human agenda. And it is yours now to lead.

No, the world does not really need the skills you learned here. Today's skills will all change in the next five years and change your life with them.

The world does not need answers either. Answers are easy to come by: You Google them.

No, what the world really needs from you now is the courage to ask the right questions without apology, without fear, and without end.

It needs those who will lead from the vantage point of new questions, not old answers. From the point of view of enduring values, not denominational politics; from the perspective of global needs, not parochial interests.

Two-thirds of the hungry of the world are women. Two-thirds of the illiterate of the world are women. Two-thirds of the poor of the world are women.

That can't be an accident; that has to be a policy.

Where are the leaders who will change these things?

The ozone layer, the placenta of the earth, has been ruptured. The polar ice cap is melting and raising the water levels of the world. And, at the same time, the lands of the poor are turning to dust and stone while the industrialized world goes on choosing short-term profits over long-term global warming treaties.

Nuclear weaponry threatens the very existence of the planet and they have the effrontery to call it "defense."

The question is, then, how shall you lead this next generation, so that the errors of this present generation do not simply become even more death dealing in the future than they are now?

If you really want to be a leader who leads your city, your country, your world down a different path, there are three stories you should know, I think. They may say more about the kind of leadership needed for our time than anything any MBA leadership manual can begin to explain to you:

The first is from the western fabulist Hans Christian Andersen, which you may have learned as a child but which is, in fact, about a very adult problem.

In the first story, a village is preparing for a visit from its king. He will come regally dressed, his courtiers tell them. Never, they say, has a king been so finely outfitted as ours.

So, on the day of the king's arrival people cheer and cheer as the king strides by. "You, O King, are the finest king of all." Except for one small child. "No," the child shouts. "No! He is not splendid. He is not honest," he says. "In fact, the king has no clothes on at all." Then the crowd went silent. Then the farce was over. Then everyone snuck away ashamed of what they had allowed to go unchallenged. Only then did the dishonest emperor resign the throne.

Point: If you want to really be a leader, you must be a truth-teller.

If you want to save the age, the Irish poet Brendan Kennelly writes, "Betray it. Expose its conceits, its foibles, its phony moral certitudes."

Remember, there will be those among the powerful who try to make you say what you know is clearly not true because if everyone agrees to believe the lie, the lie can go on forever.

The lie that there is nothing we can do about discrimination, nothing we can do about world poverty, nothing we can do about fair trade, nothing we can do to end war, nothing we can do to provide education and health care, housing and food, maternity care and just wages for everyone in the world. Nothing we can do about women raped, beaten, trafficked, silenced yet, still, now, everywhere.

If you want to be a leader, you, too, must refuse to tell the old lies.

You must learn to say that those emperors have no clothes. You must see what you are looking at and say what you see.

The second story is about the Buddhist monk Tetsugen, who determined to translate the Buddhist scriptures into Japanese.

He spent years begging for the money it would take to have them printed. But just as he was about to begin the first printing, a great flood came and left thousands homeless. So Tetsugen took the money he'd raised to publish the scriptures and built houses for the homeless.

Then he began again to beg the money he needed to publish the scriptures. This time, years later, just as he finished collecting the funds he needed for the task, a great famine came. This time, Tetsugen took the money for the translation work and fed the starving thousands instead.

Then, when the hungry had been fed, he began another decade's work of collecting the money for the third time.

When the scriptures were finally printed in Japanese, they were enshrined for all to see. But they tell you to this day in Japan that when parents take their children to view the books, they tell them that the first two editions of those scriptures – the new houses and healthy people – were even more beautiful than the printed edition of the third.

The second lesson of leadership, then, is that no personal passion, no private agenda, no religious ritual must ever be allowed to come between you and the people you serve.

The third lesson of leadership comes from the Sufi master who taught disciples one thing only: "If you want to smell sweet, stay close to the seller of perfumes."

The heroes you make for yourselves, the people you idolize, will be the measure of your own character, your own ideals, your own legacy.

If you want to lead the world to compassion, you must surround yourself with the compassionate, rather than the uncaring.

If you want to lead the world to wholeness, you must follow the peacemakers, not the warmongers.

If you want to lead the world to the freedom you learned here, equality for everyone must mean more to you than domination by anyone.

Justice must mean more to you than money. People must mean more to you than fame. Ideals must mean more to you than power or politics or public approval.

If you really want to inspire those you leave behind with the conviction and the will to go on doing good, doing justice, doing right, like the child in the village, like the wise old monk Tetsugen, like the Sufi saint of perfume sellers, choose reality over image, choose people over personal profits and projects, choose your heroes wisely.

Speak up loud and clear to the powers of this world that use their power for themselves alone.

The great leaders of history are always those who refuse to bend to naked kings: Mahatma Gandhi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Nelson Mandela, Rigoberta Menchu, Aung San Suu Kyi, Dorothy Day, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman.

The great leaders of history have always been those who refused to barter their ideal for the sake of their personal interests and who rebelled against the lies of their times.

If you want to be a real leader, if you want to give a new kind of leadership, you cannot live to get the approval of a system, you must live to save the soul of it.

"As long as the world shall last, there will be wrongs," Clarence Darrow warned us. "And if no leaders object, and no leaders rebel, those wrongs will last forever."

If you really want to lead, you must rebel against forces of death that obstruct us from being fully human together.

"The purpose of life," the essayist Rosten writes, "is not to be happy. The purpose of life is to matter, to have it make a difference that you lived at all."

To save this age, use your education, use your freedom, to make a difference.

Inspire in those who follow you the conviction and the will to denounce the lies, to reject the greed, to resist the heretics of inhumanity who peddle inequality, injustice and the torturers' instruments of oppression and social violence.

To be a real leader, by all means make a difference!

Rebel, rebel, rebel – for all our sakes, rebel!

For if the people will lead, eventually the leaders will follow.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

An Attack on Religious Freedom?

. . . or a demand for Roman Catholic Exceptionalism?

Recently over at her excellent blog Enlightened Catholicism, Colleen Kochivar-Baker highlighted the following by "AileenUSA." Aileen is a regular commenter at the National Catholic Reporter, and this particular comment is in response to the NCR' June 21 article on Archbishop Charles J. Chaput's contention that the "religious liberty" of the Roman Catholic Church is under attack in the U.S.

This [Roman Catholic Church] Tea Party tempest is so disingenuous. Chaput makes a mockery of those who really have experienced religious persecution around the world — those who have had their homes, churches, synagogues and mosques bombed; those who have been imprisoned or executed along with their families. No one is bothering Catholics in the U.S. or their individual private practice of their religion. But Catholics are NOT allowed to establish their religious beliefs as some sort of gold standard for everyone else. Chaput's prelate 'id' is showing big time.

1) The Catholic Church receives billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for its various businesses (hospitals, universities, charities) without which they could not afford to keep their doors open, but the Church doesn't want to play by the same rules that apply to everyone else at the government trough. Playing by the same rules is not persecution. It's fair. You take Caesar's money, you play by Caesar's rules. The RCC yearly haul of government funds has been greater under Obama than under Bush!

2) It's astonishing that Archbishop 'free market' Chaput wants to quibble over how contracts are awarded. Really? Exactly why should the RCC get special treatment to do as it pleases in making up its own rules for contract awards? You want the contract, then you comply with the rules of the entity awarding the contract. If you want to make up your own special rules, then cough up your own cash. Chaput's definition of RC freedom is actually RC exceptionalism.

3) The First Amendment guarantees an individual's freedom to practice their own religion in their own lives (if they believe contraception or sterilization are wrong, then don't use that insurance benefit in your own life — that's your freedom). But it prohibits any establishment of a particular religion that impinges on another individual's freedom of religion (RC freedom doesn't extend to financial coercion of employee compensation or insurance restriction of someone else's religious freedom of choice whether or not to use contraception or sterilization). One person's freedom of religion stops where another person's freedom of religion begins. The RCC has used its government subsidized businesses to establish its own brand of religion and capital-T truth in the lives of anyone it employs or with whom it does business — its massive regional footprint of hospitals being 'exhibit A'. Those who live within those massive regional healthcare systems (little Vatican colonies) are being forced to live in a healthcare theocracy under the control of a Catholic bishop. If anything, the RCC has been given way too much latitude in this venue, and should have its theocratic endeavors and monopolies curtailed.

It was Chaput himself who dismissed JFK's speech on separation of church and state. He believes that the RCC should be controlling government officials and government itself. His pleas of religious freedom and this entire Fortnight/insurrection nonsense is partisan and theocratic to its core. It's as bizarre as Santorum recently complaining that Egyptians had elected a Muslim version of himself.

Also see: "Most of Obama's 'Controversial' Birth Control Rule Was Law During Bush Years."

Recommended Off-site Links:
Fact Sheet: Catholics and New Battle Lines over Religious Liberty — Public Religion Research Institute (June 13, 2012).
Who's Funding the Catholic Bishops' Religious Freedom Campaign? — Jim Townsend (National Catholic Reporter, June 20, 2012).
Doug Mataconis on the Bishops, Religious Freedom, and Living in a Civil Society — Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, December 30, 2011).
"Render Unto Caesar, Bitches!" — Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, November 24, 2009).

See also the previous PCV posts:
A Fortnight of Freedom
Catholics Reject Bishops’ Attempts to Redefine Religious Freedom
Yesterday's "Religious Freedom" Rallies
Quote of the Day — June 4, 2012
Did the Catholic Organizations Have to Sue Over the Health Care Mandate?