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Bishop Robert Finn Resigns Leadership of St. Joseph-Kansas City Diocese.

Originally posted at Talk to Action

Bishop Robert W. Finn, the Opus Dei Bishop who was convicted by a Missouri court for failing to report suspected child abuse by a parish priest under his charge, has resigned his leadership of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri.

On April 21, 2015 Vatican Radio issued the following statement:

The Holy Father has accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert W. Finn from the pastoral governance of the Diocese of Kansas City – St Joseph (USA), in conformity with canon 401, paragraph 2 of the Code of Canon Law.

The quoted section of Canon Law calls for the resignation of a diocesan bishop “… who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office.”

Finn had been under Vatican investigation to determine if he should be forced to step down. He had also been on there much local pressure to resign. As the National Catholic Reporter observed, “ Local Catholics began calling for Finn’s resignation in May 2011. An online petition asking for the Vatican to remove Finn was opened in 2012 and gathered more than 260,000 signatures. ”

A replacement has not yet been named.

Archbishop Chaput Wins the 2014 Coughlin Award!

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

 photo franksgraphic_zpsbe286320.jpgIt’s time again for the presentation of the annual Coughlin Award. This year’s award goes to the cultural warrior’s cultural warrior, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia.

The Coughlin Award — affectionately known as “The Coughie” — recognizes the person who has best exemplified an exclusionary, strident interpretation of the Catholic faith in the preceding year. The award is named for Father Charles Coughlin, the notorious radio priest of the 1930s who is the role model for today’s Religious Right radio and television evangelists, and other conservative media personalities.

Best known for his diatribes against FDR, Judaism and open sympathy with the racist policies of Adolph Hitler, Coughlin’s advocacy was clearly antithetical to the very definition of the word “catholic,” which, according to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary means:

Catholic Cath”o*lic\ (k[a^]th”[-o]*[i^]k), a. [L. catholicus, Gr. kaqoliko`s, universal, general; kata` down, wholly + “o`los whole, probably akin to E. solid: cf. F. catholique.]

1. Universal or general; as, the catholic faith.

Men of other countries [came] to bear their part in so great and catholic a war. –Southey.

Note: This epithet, which is applicable to the whole Christian church, or its faith, is claimed by Roman Catholics to belong especially to their church, and in popular usage is so limited.

*Not narrow-minded, partial, or bigoted; liberal; as, catholic tastes.

*Of or pertaining to, or affecting the Roman Catholics; as, the Catholic emancipation act.

In order to win a Coughie, a candidate must complete three qualifying tasks: 1) Make the faith decisively less inclusive 2) Engage in incendiary behavior and 3) Ultimately embarrass the Church. This year’s winner — as usual — has risen to the challenge.

Chaput did not earn the 2014 “Coughie” because of any one specific action; instead, he earned his award through the sheer cumulative force his divisive career in the Church and in movement conservative politics. He is a role model for contemporary Coughlinesque Church leaders.

Archbishop Chaput has not only met requirements — he epitomizes them. So much so, that he is often able to meet more than one of the criteria in a single episode, and this year’s Coughie is in many ways a lifetime achievement award.

First; His career has been marked by stern pronouncements that meet the first Award requirement of making Catholicism less inclusive. From his time as the Archbishop of Denver when he uttered a harsh declaration of support for a Boulder, Colorado Catholic school’s denying re-enrollment of a lesbian couple’s two children; to his call for denying pro-choice Catholics Holy Communion; and finally to his open displeasure with Pope Francis’s most recent overtures to divorced and gay Catholics, Archbishop Chaput has made it clear that in his vision of the Church there is no room for greater tolerance, understanding, and dialog.

Second; Over the years he has engaged in incendiary behavior. For example, during the 2004 presidential election Archbishop Chaput declared that it was a sin for American Catholics to vote for the Democratic Party nominee John Kerry (Kerry is pro-choice and supports embryonic stem cell research). While serving as the archbishop of Denver, Colorado he opposed legislation that would expand the statute of limitations for prosecuting child abusers. He gives the appearance of one who is more interested in preserving the financial assets of the Church as an institution, and the privileges of an old boys club, than in securing the safety of the children in his care and holding to account people who abused their position to exploit the vulnerable.

Last Fall, he said: “I was very disturbed by what happened” at a Vatican sponsored Synod on the Family, where some 190 cardinals and bishops discussed such matters as how to treat LGBT people and divorced Catholics. “I think confusion is of the devil,” he declared, “and I think the public image that came across was one of confusion.”

To suggest that a conversation convened by the Pope is ultimately “of the devil” is about as incendiary as it gets in Catholicism. But Chaput was not finished. He went so far as to suggest that in the wake of the court decisions legalizing same-sex marriage in most states, Catholic bishops might consider engaging in what he called “principled resistance” by opting out of certifying civil marriages.

Archbishop Chaput will be the host of the long planned World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next September. Pope Francis will be the featured speaker (replacing Pope Benedict who retired before he could make his planned appearance.) The Vatican Synod on the Family, which Chaput found to be “of the devil”, was a forerunner event to the World Meeting. So if past is prologue, Philadelphia may be shaping up as a showdown between the two leaders.

Third; All of this is an embarrassment to the Catholic Church.

So, for all that and so much more, Archbishop Chaput come on down and claim your 2014 Coughlin Award!.

Note to Bookmakers: It sure looks like Chaput is positioning himself to be an early front runner for the 2015 Coughie.

And Yet Finn Remains Bishop

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

It has been well over two years since Bishop Robert Finn and was convicted by a Missouri criminal court for failing to report child abuse by Fr. Shawn Ratigan, one of his parish priests. Within that same period of time Ratigan pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography and is now serving a 50-year sentence in prison. Finn was warned about Ratigan’s behavior but inexplicably waited six months before notifying authorities.

Enter Pope Francis. On a myriad of issues the new pontiff has been a breath of fresh air. But when it comes to removing Bishop Finn as head of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph Missouri the air has gotten quite stale. Finn has yet to be removed.

Just last month Cardinal Sean O’Malley was interviewed by the CBS program 60 Minutes. O’Malley is not just any Cardinal but named by his close friend Pope Francis to lead the Vatican’s new sexual abuse commission aimed at strengthening rules to protect children. When the conversation turned to Bishop Finn, Cardinal O’Malley did not mince his words:

Norah O’Donnell: I want to ask you about Robert Finn, who is the bishop of Kansas City/St. Joseph and, as you know, he pleaded guilty to a criminal misdemeanor for not reporting one of his priests to authorities. Bishop Finn wouldn’t be able to teach Sunday school in Boston.
Cardinal Seán O’Malley: That’s right.
Norah O’Donnell: How is that zero tolerance…
Cardinal Seán O’Malley: Well…
Norah O’Donnell: …that he’s still in place? What does it say to Catholics?
Cardinal Seán O’Malley: Well, it’s a question that the Holy See needs to address urgently.
Norah O’Donnell: And there’s a recognition?
Cardinal Seán O’Malley: There’s a recognition of that.
Norah O’Donnell: From Pope Francis?
Cardinal Seán O’Malley: From Pope Francis.
If anything sounded as if Bishop Finn I was on his way out the door, it was that exchange. The 60 Minutes statement struck me as two minute warning that Finn would be sacked within the week. But it was not to be.

It has now been more than a month since that interview. Bishop Finn still remains in charge of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. Why is he still there?

Bishop Robert Finn is very antithesis Pope Francis. Where the Pontiff is tolerate and more open-minded, Finn is a shrill cultural warrior. More importantly, Finn – a member of Opus Dei – apparently sees the Catholic Church in terms of being an institution whereas Pope Francis – a Jesuit – often talks about the Church and its relationship with helping the marginalized, such as the poor. The differences in styles and agendas could fill the Grand Canyon. This only makes the Pope’s inaction even more puzzling.

But more than anything else, inaction in this matter only hurts Pope Francis. It undermines his credibility by casting him as a leader who says the right thing but does nothing. As long as Finn remains a bishop in control of a diocese there is a black stain on this papacy.

In stating the obvious, it is time to remove this stain in Missouri.

The Author of Loathing Lincoln Explains Why Some on the Christian Right Loathe Lincoln

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

 photo loathinglincoln.jpgOne under-reported result of the 2014 elections was the rise of Neo-Confederate politics in the U.S. This included the election of unabashed apologist for the Confederacy Michael Peroutka, who was elected to Maryland’s Anne Arundel County Council; and Joni Ernst, a proponent of nullification and secession, who was elected to the United States Senate from Iowa. It has also resulted in divisions on the Christian Right as well as in the wider Republican Party.

Thus is seems like a good time to ask John McKee Barr, the author of one of this year’s most informative books, Loathing Lincoln: An American Tradition from the Civil War to the Present for some insight into what is going on. As Barr told me before our interview, it is within the Neo-Confederate movement where the hatred of Abraham Lincoln and all he stood for meets the Religious Right.  

John Barr is currently a professor of history at Lone Star College-Kingwood [Texas], having joined their faculty in 2008. There he teaches a variety of courses including the survey of U.S. History, “Political Novels”, “The Emancipators: Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, and the Making of the Modern World,” and “Revolution and Counterrevolution.” His website can be found right here.

Loathing Lincoln is his first book and an important first effort. The tome not only provides the reader with excellent insight into the to peculiar tradition of Lincoln hatred, but by extension, a more complete understanding of many of the beliefs that underlie the current nullification and secession movements.

I began our conversation by asking Barr to explain Lincoln’s religious philosophy. Was it unchanging or did it evolve over time?

Barr: Lincoln’s religion has been a topic of unending fascination, both for his admirers and his critics. For me, the best book on this subject is Allen Guelzo’s Abraham Lincoln:Redeemer President. In broad terms, I think we can say that Lincoln grew up in a deeply religious world of Protestant Christianity. As Guelzo puts it, “Intellectually, he was stamped from his earliest days by the Calvinism of his parents.”  In addition, Lincoln certainly had what many have called a melancholic streak in his personality (Lincoln’s “melancholy dripped from him as he walked” his law partner William Herndon said), and that too, at least in my view, shaped his religious beliefs. One of his favorite poems was by William Knox, one entitled “Mortality.” A close look at that poem I think verifies the future president’s dark outlook. Still, Lincoln did go through a phase of being what Guelzo calls a “religious skeptic.” He never joined a church, and one political opponent, Peter Cartwright, accused Lincoln of what was called then “infidelity” in a congressional campaign. You can see Lincoln’s response to that charge here. Personally, it seems to me that Lincoln would just rather avoid the whole subject and he does not really answer the charge, thus lending some credence to the idea that Cartwright’s allegations were true.

Now, when Lincoln is campaigning against the extension of slavery into the territories in the 1850s he frequently attacks, or mocks, the idea that slavery is a divine institution and good for the slave (e.g. pro-slavery theology). I especially like the sentence in the preceding link where he says that “Certainly there is no contending against the Will of God; but still there is some difficulty in ascertaining, and applying it, to particular cases.” Thus, he condemns slavery’s defenders for using God to mask their own self-interest.

During the Civil War, I think Lincoln’s language becomes much more suffused, if you will, with religious imagery. In a sense, how could it be otherwise? Hundreds of thousands of Americans are dying (this would be millions, proportionally speaking, today) and he had to make sense of all this suffering and communicate it to the American public in religious language. The culmination of this is his Second Inaugural Address, which some historians believe is truly his greatest speech. Notice Lincoln’s sense that the war is God’s just punishment for the sin of American rather than southern slavery. It is a remarkable address, yet one without rancor and closing with perhaps the finest peroration in the English language.

Once the war concluded and Lincoln had been assassinated, then the issue of his religious beliefs became of profound importance for Americans. This is something that I explore in great detail in the second and fourth chapters of my book, Loathing Lincoln: An American Tradition from the Civil War to the Present. Lincoln’s opponents accused him of being an “infidel,” or unbeliever (this was true not only in the South, I might add), while some of his defenders claimed him as the quintessential Christian. Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon, tried to set the record straight in the aftermath of his friend’s death, but in claiming Lincoln was not a Christian he made many people quite angry. Nowadays Lincoln’s religious beliefs are interesting to Americans, of course, but I’m not sure they are as important to people (we are a much more religiously pluralistic country today, including those Americans who like Lincoln affiliate themselves with no church at all) as they were in the latter part of the nineteenth-century, or the early twentieth century. Still, I would agree with Christopher Hitchens that Lincoln cannot be enlisted in the atheist cause. He is instead a political figure who challenged those who claimed religious certitude, those who used religion to justify what was in their own self-interest, yet drew on religious tradition/language in attempt to ascertain the meaning of the Civil War for all Americans.

Cocozzelli: Why would conservative Christian libertarians despise Lincoln?

Barr: I think that it is because Lincoln and the Republicans used public power to intervene into a private arrangement – slavery. And, it seems to me anyway, that today many Christians are deeply suspicious of any government that might do something similar. Think gay marriage, for example. Also, I don’t know that all, or even most, Christian libertarians despise Lincoln. To be sure, some do and they are influential, but I don’t know if they are a majority.

Cocozzelli: What about Lincoln’s legacy teaches us how to effectively answer the Christian libertarian right?

Barr: Consider these words from Lincoln: “Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government, practically just so much. Public opinion, or [on] any subject, always has a “central idea,” from which all its minor thoughts radiate.”

Bishop Finn Under Vatican Investigation

Bishop Robert Finn, head of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri has long been a symbol of the ongoing institutional intransigence in addressing the problem of child sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. Finn who was convicted by a Missouri court for failing to report suspected child abuse by a parish priest under his charge, has so far resisted calls for his resignation.

It now appears that Pope Francis wants to remove that symbol.

The National Catholic Reporter reports:

A Canadian archbishop visited the Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., diocese last week on behalf of the Vatican to investigate the leadership of Bishop Robert Finn, the first Catholic prelate to be found criminally guilty of shielding a priest in the ongoing clergy sexual abuse crisis.

Ottawa, Ontario, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast visited the Midwestern diocese for several days last week, interviewing more than a dozen people about Finn’s leadership, several of those interviewed told NCR.

According to those who spoke with Prendergast, the main question he asked was: “Do you think [Finn] is fit to be a leader?”

While Bishop Finn has supporters, there are many in his diocese who have already given an unqualified “no” as their answer.

There is one particular element of this breaking story that bears watching: Archbishop Prendergast, the Vatican appointed investigator, is a Jesuit. And as I have previously pointed out, Bishop Finn is a member of Opus Dei. He is a culture warrior who is well connected in the neoconservative Catholic Right. While the Jesuits are well known for their open-mindedness and temperate outlook that clearly reflects the current Jesuit pope, Opus Dei members are equally known for their rigidity and role in the conservative movement inside and outside the Church.

The investigation of Bishop Finn could turn out to be a transformative moment in the history of the child sex abuse scandal, in the American culture wars and indeed, in the history of the Church.

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