Sunday, April 24, 2016

What Is With the U.S. Bishops and Religious Liberty?

By Paula Ruddy

Are the bishops worried about religious liberty or about women using contraceptives? Being honest about this is tremendously important. The bishops’ moral authority is at stake as well as Catholic respect as citizens for the U.S. legal system. A nation’s legal system is only as strong as the people’s respect for it. We cannot afford the U.S. bishops’ tearing down the rule of law.

The case of Catholic non-profits before the Supreme Court illustrates the problem. Catholic bishops teach that the use of contraceptives is morally wrong. The U.S government leaves the decision about personal morality to individuals. It wants insurance companies who provide health care insurance through employers to make it free and easy to get contraceptives for those women employees who want them because reproduction is a factor in women’s health care.

Churches are exempt and don’t have to cover contraception for their employees. But Catholic non-profits – hospitals, social welfare agencies, and nursing homes – employ lots of women, Catholic and not Catholic, and they want to be exempt from offering coverage too. The government offered an accommodation. Their employees would still get coverage but the religious non-profits would not have to pay, arrange for, or implement. All they would have to do is notify the government or the insurer of opt-out.

The U.S. bishops have opposed the government all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court has to decide whether the free exercise of religion of the Catholics who run the non-profits is “substantially burdened” by the government’s requirement to notify them in accepting the accommodation.

Although the insurance coverage doesn’t require any woman to use contraceptives, it does make it free and easy for them to use them if they want. I think that is the point of the U.S. bishops’ opposition. They do not want to make it free and easy for women, Catholic or not, to use contraceptives. So it isn’t about the government forcing Catholics to do something against their religion, it is about preventing women from the free and easy use of contraceptives.

If the bishops valued liberty, they would honor the free consciences of women on the issue of their family planning. Instead they are interested in coercive prevention and getting the U.S. government to do the job. Positioning themselves as victims of religious intolerance is not honest. The dishonesty of it it destroys the moral authority of the bishops in the eyes of Catholics and all our fellow citizens. The Catholic bishops should pull the plug on the religious liberty campaign immediately.

But why do the bishops care so much about contraceptives that they are willing to do so much harm to prevent women from using them? I think they are dismayed by the sexual freedoms the U.S. government has recognized in the last 50 years and they are worried about the Catholic family. From the use of contraception in the 1960’s to gay marriage in 2015, one after another laws controlling sexual practices, reproduction, and marriage have been overturned in the U.S. The bishops may believe that people’s attitudes toward family is affected by the use of contraceptives. They may believe it is harder for Catholic families to raise their children within the boundaries of Catholic sexual morality in the sexually permissive contemporary culture.

If the Catholic family is the bishops’ concern, instead of tearing down respect for the U.S. legal system, they should ask three hard questions:

• How can we strengthen the Catholic family to internalize moral standards so they do not need the coercion of law? Legality is not a sufficient standard for morality.

• How shall we re-think our moral teaching on sexual practice so that it makes sense to Catholic families to live by? This is not accommodation to secularism. It is about being responsible.

• How do we partner with our fellow citizens, religious and secular, to build a mainstream culture of responsibility and healthy family living? This would require Catholic bishops to learn from the rest of society how to relate productively with people who think differently from them.

There is no time to lose in stopping the religious liberty campaign and asking the right questions.

Related Off-site Link:
Nondiscrimination Laws Merit Church Support – Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler (National Catholic Reporter, April 19, 2016).

See also the previous PCV posts:
What is This Furor About Religious Liberty?
Fortnight of Freedom: Hypocrisy of the U.S. Bishops
Your Fist – My Nose
Quote of the Day – June 4, 2012

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Historic Vatican Peace Conference

By John Dear

Note: This article was first published April 15, 2016 by HuffPost Religion.

This week, an historic gathering of 80 leading Catholic peace leaders from 20 different nations met at the Vatican to call for an end to the so-called just war theory and for a recommitment to the nonviolence of Jesus.

There has literally never been a gathering like this before in the history of the Vatican. It was sponsored by the Pontifical Office of Justice and Peace and Pax Christi International, the official global Catholic peace movement. Cardinal Turkson, head of the Pontifical Office and the leader behind Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, opened the conference by reading a long letter from Pope Francis to the participants. Cardinal Turkson participated in the conference, and approved the closing statement, which was then presented to the Pope.

For the first time, the Catholic Church is discussing abandoning the just war theory and officially returning to Jesus’ way of nonviolence to resolve conflict. The just war theory has been advocated for over 1700 years to justified many wars and killings. Every one of us who participated in the conference left Rome feeling hopeful that Pope Francis will help lead the Catholic church and the world to a new breakthrough toward peace and nonviolence.

Here below is the official statement from the conference, submitted to Pope Francis on April 13, 2016.


An Appeal to the Catholic Church to Re-Commit to the Centrality of Gospel Nonviolence

As Christians committed to a more just and peaceful world we are called to take a clear stand for creative and active nonviolence and against all forms of violence. With this conviction, and in recognition of the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, people from many countries gathered at the Nonviolence and Just Peace Conference sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and Pax Christi International on April 11-13, 2016 in Rome.

Our assembly, people of God from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Oceania included lay people, theologians, members of religious congregations, priests, and bishops. Many of us live in communities experiencing violence and oppression. All of us are practitioners of justice and peace. We are grateful for the message to our conference from Pope Francis: “your thoughts on revitalizing the tools of nonviolence, and of active nonviolence in particular, will be a needed and positive contribution.”

Looking at our world today

We live in a time of tremendous suffering, widespread trauma and fear linked to militarization, economic injustice, climate change, and a myriad of other specific forms of violence. In this context of normalized and systemic violence, those of us who stand in the Christian tradition are called to recognize the centrality of active nonviolence to the vision and message of Jesus; to the life and practice of the Catholic Church; and to our long-term vocation of healing and reconciling both people and the planet.

We rejoice in the rich concrete experiences of people engaged in work for peace around the world, many of whose stories we heard during this conference. Participants shared their experiences of courageous negotiations with armed actors in Uganda and Colombia; working to protect the Article 9, the peace clause in the Japanese Constitution; accompaniment in Palestine; and countrywide peace education in the Philippines. They illuminate the creativity and power of nonviolent practices in many different situations of potential or actual violent conflict. Recent academic research, in fact, has confirmed that nonviolent resistance strategies are twice as effective as violent ones.

The time has come for our Church to be a living witness and to invest far greater human and financial resources in promoting a spirituality and practice of active nonviolence and in forming and training our Catholic communities in effective nonviolent practices. In all of this, Jesus is our inspiration and model.

Jesus and nonviolence

In his own times, rife with structural violence, Jesus proclaimed a new, nonviolent order rooted in the unconditional love of God. Jesus called his disciples to love their enemies (Matthew 5: 44), which includes respecting the image of God in all persons; to offer no violent resistance to one who does evil (Matthew 5: 39); to become peacemakers; to forgive and repent; and to be abundantly merciful (Matthew 5-7). Jesus embodied nonviolence by actively resisting systemic dehumanization, as when he defied the Sabbath laws to heal the man with the withered hand (Mark 3: 1-6); when he confronted the powerful at the Temple and purified it (John 2: 13-22); when he peacefully but determinedly challenged the men accusing a woman of adultery (John 8: 1-11); when on the night before he died he asked Peter to put down his sword (Matthew 26: 52).
Neither passive nor weak, Jesus’ nonviolence was the power of love in action. In vision and deed, he is the revelation and embodiment of the Nonviolent God, a truth especially illuminated in the Cross and Resurrection. He calls us to develop the virtue of nonviolent peacemaking.

Clearly, the Word of God, the witness of Jesus, should never be used to justify violence, injustice or war. We confess that the people of God have betrayed this central message of the Gospel many times, participating in wars, persecution, oppression, exploitation, and discrimination.

We believe that there is no “just war.” Too often the “just war theory” has been used to endorse rather than prevent or limit war. Suggesting that a “just war” is possible also undermines the moral imperative to develop tools and capacities for nonviolent transformation of conflict.

We need a new framework that is consistent with Gospel nonviolence. A different path is clearly unfolding in recent Catholic social teaching. Pope John XXIII wrote that war is not a suitable way to restore rights; Pope Paul VI linked peace and development, and told the UN “no more war”; Pope John Paul II said that “war belongs to the tragic past, to history”; Pope Benedict XVI said that “loving the enemy is the nucleus of the Christian revolution”; and Pope Francis said “the true strength of the Christian is the power of truth and love, which leads to the renunciation of all violence. Faith and violence are incompatible.” He has also urged the “abolition of war.”

We propose that the Catholic Church develop and consider shifting to a Just Peace approach based on Gospel nonviolence. A Just Peace approach offers a vision and an ethic to build peace as well as to prevent, defuse, and to heal the damage of violent conflict. This ethic includes a commitment to human dignity and thriving relationships, with specific criteria, virtues, and practices to guide our actions. We recognize that peace requires justice and justice requires peacemaking.

Living Gospel Nonviolence and Just Peace

In that spirit we commit ourselves to furthering Catholic understanding and practice of active nonviolence on the road to just peace. As would-be disciples of Jesus, challenged and inspired by stories of hope and courage in these days, we call on the Church we love to:

• continue developing Catholic social teaching on nonviolence. In particular, we call on Pope Francis to share with the world an encyclical on nonviolence and Just Peace;

• integrate Gospel nonviolence explicitly into the life, including the sacramental life, and work of the Church through dioceses, parishes, agencies, schools, universities, seminaries, religious orders, voluntary associations, and others;

• promote nonviolent practices and strategies (e.g., nonviolent resistance, restorative justice, trauma healing, unarmed civilian protection, conflict transformation, and peacebuilding strategies);

• initiate a global conversation on nonviolence within the Church, with people of other faiths, and with the larger world to respond to the monumental crises of our time with the vision and strategies of nonviolence and Just Peace;

• no longer use or teach “just war theory”; continue advocating for the abolition of war and nuclear weapons;

• lift up the prophetic voice of the church to challenge unjust world powers and to support and defend those nonviolent activists whose work for peace and justice put their lives at risk.

In every age, the Holy Spirit graces the Church with the wisdom to respond to the challenges of its time. In response to what is a global epidemic of violence, which Pope Francis has labeled a “world war in installments,” we are being called to invoke, pray over, teach and take decisive action. With our communities and organizations, we look forward to continue collaborating with the Holy See and the global Church to advance Gospel nonviolence.

John Dear is an internationally known voice for peace and nonviolence. A priest, peacemaker, organizer, lecturer, and retreat leader, he is the author/editor of 30 books, including his autobiography, “A Persistent Peace.” In 2008, John was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and in 2015 by Sen. Barbara Mikulski. He has two masters degrees in theology from the Graduate Theological Union in California. John's website is

Related Off-site Link:
Landmark Vatican Conference Rejects Just War Theory, Asks for Encyclical on Nonviolence – Joshua J. McElwee (National Catholic Reporter, April 14, 2016).

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Pope Francis’ "The Joy of Love" Falls Short

By Gina Messina-Dysert

Note: This commentary was first published April 12, 2016 by Feminism and Religion.

It seems that Pope Francis has finally read Margaret Farley’s Just Love; and while he is taking steps in a positive direction, he still needs to spend time processing Farley’s words. With his new statement, Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love"), Francis has called for us to begin to change our attitudes towards “the other” but is still unwilling to change the man made rules of the Vatican. He refuses to acknowledge that LGBTQ relationships are in fact just and maintains the idea of complementarity rejecting women’s roles and capabilities outside of the home.

The document was developed based on information gathered from the “Synod of the Family” and addresses married life, family life, singleness, the education of children and procreation. What is significant about Amoris Laetitia is the acknowledgement that “the church has proposed a far too abstract and artificial theological idea of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families.”

In Section 305, the document discusses “irregular family situations” that conflict with Catholic teaching such as divorce, civil marriage or remarriage. These “irregular family situations” exclude Catholics from receiving communion and is an incredible source of pain – a branding with a scarlet letter.

Parish priests are offered a solution in to this section in Footnote #351. It states, “the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” With this, the priest may grant communion at his discretion in an effort to help those sinners “grow in the faith and life of the church.”

As a child of divorce – a very painful event because of the Church’s stance – I appreciate that Pope Francis is taking a more pastoral approach in recognizing the many ways family is possible. However, it is critical that the Vatican move away from language such as “tolerance” for the “weak” and instead focus on a message that encompasses love and compassion without judgement.

While many are praising Amoris Laetitia, and it may be a baby step in the right direction, it has continued the idea that those who make choices to be in healthy relationships or leave those that are not are sinners, not fully human. Likewise, it continues a highly negative tone for the LGBTQ community and does not acknowledge women’s value outside of marriage.

Pope Francis is working hard to walk the line between conservative and liberal Catholics. Perhaps instead of trying to please everyone, he should find courage to continue to consider his own blindspots, spend more time with Farley’s words, and recognize that the true message of the Gospels is not about tolerance, but about liberation for every person. “Jesus was all about opening the door to possibility — for everyone — in the name of good news — for everyone.”

Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Religion and Gender Studies at Ursuline College and Co-founder of Feminism and Religion. She writes for The Huffington Post, has authored multiple publications and is the co-editor of the highly acclaimed Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay. Messina-Dysert is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences and on national platforms including appearances on MSNBC, Tavis Smiley, NPR and the TEDx stage. She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives women around the world. Messina-Dysert is active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for spiritual healing. Connect with her on Twitter@FemTheologian, Facebook, and her website

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Remembering Terry Dosh, 1930-2016

It is with great sadness that the PCV editorial team shares news of the death of local theologian and church historian Terry Dosh.

Terry died earlier today, Thursday, April 7, 2016, after a long struggle with Parkinson's Disease.

A married priest and a well-respected church historian and theologian, Terry was a dedicated advocate for church reform for close to half-a-century.

Inspired by the vision of church launched by Vatican II, Terry began research on mandatory celibacy in 1962.

This led him to significant involvement over the next four decades with numerous church reform organizations, including CORPUS, the International Federation of Married Priests, Call to Action Minnesota, and various other Catholic organizations for renewal. He also helped found the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC) in 1980, serving on its board for 24 years.

From 1975 until just a few years ago, Terry edited and published four church reform newsletters, the last being Bread Rising. He also taught church history, scripture, and justice and peace topics extensively in parishes and other forums throughout the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

Terry will be greatly missed by all who knew him, and our thoughts are especially with his wife Millie and their family.

Rest in Peace, Terry . . . And thank you for your scholarly and prophetic voice, one that has inspired countless people within the local church of St. Paul-Minneapolis and beyond.


NOTE: In 2010, Terry was a recipient of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform's inaugural Adsum Award, presented at the Synod of the Baptized, "Claiming Our Place at the Table." For commentary and images, click here.

Also, to read Terry's April 2008 review of Karl Rahner's three-epoch theory of Christian history, click here.

In closing, here is Peter Shea's 1999 interview with Terry Dosh.

Related Off-site Links:
Terry Dosh, Married Priest Activist, Dies at Age 85National Catholic Reporter (April 11. 2016).
Terry Dosh, Who Led Movement for Married Priests, Dies at 85 – Maura Lerner (Star Tribune, April 11. 2016).
Voice Nearly Gone, His Life Still Speaks – Todd Svanoe (Everyday Heroes, 2012).

Images 1 and 3: Michael Bayly (2010).
Image 2: Courtesy of the Dosh family.