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    • To my Republican Friends July 6, 2020
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    • Interiors January 15, 2022
      See also the previous Wild Reed posts:• Interiors – 12/18/21• Interiors – 8/4/21• Interiors – 6/15/21• Autumn . . . Within and Beyond (2021)• Spring . . . Within and Beyond (2021)• Celebrating Black Panther – Then and NowImages: Michael J. Bayly.
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    • Ruth Krall, A Bilgrimage Bibliography April 2, 2021
       A Bilgrimage BiographyRuth Elizabeth Krall, MSN, PhDNote: Since 2015 my friend William D. Lindsey (Bill) has published my work on his blog Bilgrimage. At this time, the blog is inactive, so I have decided to pull together my various posts so that future researchers and academics can find them in one place.  I have arranged this bibliography so that more rec […]
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    • A saint for the millenials: Carlo Acutis beatified today in Assisi. October 10, 2020
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It Must Be Exhausting to Be Bill Donohue

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

William Donohue

The 2013 film “Philomena” tells the moving story of an Irish woman who had an out of wedlock son in the early 1950s.  The nuns with whom she was sent to live sent her son to America for adoption. The film is at once the story of Philomena Lee’s search for her child – and a lesson in Christ-like forgiveness as well as of enduring Catholic faith.

So, who would find such a story to be anti-Catholic? Why Bill Donohue, of course!

(Spoiler alert below.)

Before we get to Bill Donohue, let’s say a bit more about the film.

Recently my wife and I saw Philomena a film inspired by the heartfelt story of the real life Philomena Lee, who was a single Irish teenage girl who got pregnant in the early 1950s, and as was too often the case at that time, banished by her family to live a very stern existence in a convent. She worked seven days a week in the now notorious Magdalena laundry (which was viewed as “penance”).

Philomena gave birth to a son, Anthony, while living at the convent. Working grueling hours, she was only allowed to see Anthony one hour a day. Young Anthony was soon adopted and taken to live in the United States. She wasn’t even given an opportunity to say goodbye to her child, leaving her devastated.

Most of the story is seen through flashback. Fifty years later Philomena – who remained a deeply religious Catholic — wants to know became of her son. After a couple glasses of wine one night she finally tells her daughter about her older half-brother. Through her, Philomena convinces a former BBC reporter, Martin Sixsmith — a very lapsed Catholic turned atheist — to write a book about her experience and help her find her son. Their journey takes them back to the convent where it all began. There, the nuns tell her that they cannot help her – which is, as the film later shows, a complete mendacity.

The film’s next segment is a trip to America (not based on actual events) where the two learn that her son grew up in Chicago, became a successful attorney and went on to work in the White House of George H. W. Bush.  She also learns that her son was gay and died of AIDS in 1995.

But his death is not only unsettling news. Contrary to what Lee and Sixsmith were told when they first visited the convent, Philomena’s son not only also came there looking for his birth mother but was actually buried on its premises.

Throughout the film there is a tension about faith and forgiveness. Sixsmith has become increasingly bitter towards the church (when Philomena is looking for a church where she could go to confession, he tells her, “The Catholic Church should go to confession, not you!”). The title character, however, takes a different path. She is able to separate the hierarchy from the body of the Church – the rank and file engaging in belief.

Which brings us to Bill Donohue who cannot help but attack the film in ways that range from petty to vicious.

In a press release, for example, the Catholic League president labeled the film “bunk” and “propaganda.” In an op-ed he attempted to paint the entire project as a giant falsehood by noting, “The film and the book also maintain that Philomena went to the United States to find her son, but this is patently untrue: she never set foot in America looking for him.” But even as Donohue is well aware, the film never claims to be a non-fiction account. Indeed, the film prominently acknowledges that the story was “inspired by actual events.”

During the Oscar season he issued a further attack on the film. In it, he commented on how Philomena revealed her secret over a few drinks on Christmas 2004. He then falsely suggests that she had sworn herself to secrecy and that excessive amounts of alcohol was the real culprit.

This is not to say there was no secrecy. However, it was Philomena, not the nuns, who were tight lipped: she swore herself to secrecy, never telling her children what happened when she was a teenager. Alcohol changed that.

He then tries to blame it all on atheism:

[Martin] Sixsmith does not say whether Philomena was also bombed when they met,  though he said it was at a New Year’s party that same year. Lucky for her, she found an atheist willing to buy her tale.

Donohue goes on to raise other issues – many of them (such as disputing how the young women were treated in the laundries) – are easily refuted including by the Irish government. But he avoids the film’s main criticism: the convent’s false pleas of ignorance in response to a dying son and a searching mother looking for each other. Bill’s angry bluster over how both the hierarchy and the Church as an institution are portrayed almost seem to be an intended distraction from the film’s central question: what justifies separating a mother and child from each other? That is a question Donohue will not even attempt to answer.

Philomena and Sixsmith confront Sister Hildegarde near the end of the film (A juncture where the film takes license order to inject Philomena’s final judgment of her actions; the actual nun in question passed away in 1995). She is unrepentant for having given away Philomena’s son fifty years before — arguing that Philomena and the other mothers’ penance for their sins was the loss of their children. When Philomena nevertheless forgives the bitter old nun — an incredulous Sixsmith protests.  “But I don’t wanna hate people,” Philomena explains. “I don’t wanna be like you. Look at you.”  And when he responds by saying that he’s angry, she mutters. “Must be exhausting.”

Catholic means “universal” or “all encompassing.” But the priorities and interests of Donohue’s “Catholic League” are far from universal. As I’ve written time and time again, Donohue and friends seek to advance a specific cultural and political agenda. Culturally, he speaks for the highly conservative portion of the hierarchy that has no use for flexibility, transparency and accountability. The body of the Catholic Church is not just the hierarchy or a certain group of nuns; it is the entire church mostly made up of people such as Philomena Lee.

Politically, Donohue is a “top-down” person. He has deep ties to movement conservatism – including being an adjunct scholar with the Heritage Foundation. The Catholic League’s Board of Advisers reads as a neoconservative Who’s Who list). More often than not, Donohue’s Catholicism dovetails nicely with secular political considerations of the Right (this was recently on full display when Donohue recently described Pope Francis’s economics as a form of Marxism).

Bill Donohue will angrily scowl, brow-beat and even resort to hateful language in pursuit of his goals. His method is on vivid display in his war on Philomena.

It must be exhausting to be Bill Donohue.

The Continuing Spectacle of Bishop Robert Finn

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri has so far survived calls for his resignation or removal by Pope Francis. Finn is a convict who not only failed to report suspected child abuse by a parish priest under his charge: He has become the symbol of ongoing institutional intransigence in addressing the problem of child sex abuse in the Church.

Many Catholics in Finn’s diocese — including priests and nuns — have had more than enough of him. As the National Catholic Reporter recently reported they have formally appealed to the Vatican “to conduct a canonical review of Bishop Robert Finn say the church’s lack of response to his misdemeanor conviction has caused further spiritual harm to the diocese.”

One would think that Pope Francis would be inclined to act decisively. Prior to his election as Pope he had recognized the practice of placing the image of the Church before the well being of children had contributed to the problem. He declared: “I do not believe in taking positions that uphold a certain corporative spirit in order to avoid damaging the image of the institution.”

It has been that “certain corporative spirit” that has caused pain to many inside and outside of the Church. Indeed, the Church isolates itself and undermines its credibility by seeking to hold itself above and beyond the law.

The success of the Church generally, and this papacy in particular, may depend on how it finally addresses the sex abuse scandals. For example, Francis is going to need all the credibility he can muster in order to really be heard when he calls for reform of the shortcomings and abuses of laissez-faire capitalism.

If anyone has enjoyed the protection of corporative spirit, it has been Bishop Finn. A member of Opus Dei, he is well connected to the neoconservative Catholic Right. Indeed, Bill Donohue’s Catholic League (apparently with Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s blessing) has been running interference for the beleaguered bishop to keep him in power.

It is worth recalling that the beneficiary of the cover-up was Fr. Shawn Ratigan who was prosecuted for his crimes. He has since pleaded guilty in Federal Court to four counts of producing child pornography and one count of attempted production of child pornography.

As I reported here and here, Bishop Finn had constructive knowledge of Ratigan’s improper touching of young girls and possession of child pornography. I wrote here that Bishop Finn must go.

The Kansas City Catholics written about by National Catholic Reporter clearly agree.

“Civil law has done what civil law can do. The church has done nothing in terms of calling Bishop Finn to accountability. He continues as bishop as if nothing really ever happened,” said Mercy Sr. Jeanne Christensen, a former victims’ advocate for the diocese co-heading the appeal. She spoke at a press conference Monday outside the diocesan offices.

The article continued:

“This lack of action by the Catholic Church to do justice and to repair scandal contributes to the ongoing scandal among the faithful that is a result of the Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis,” wrote Fr. James Connell in the formal appeal.

Connell, a retired Milwaukee priest and member of the Catholic Whistleblowers victims’ advocacy group, acted as the catalyst to the appeal and contends that Finn’s actions — or inactions — violate ecclesiastical law and thus requires some form of church response. However, he refrained from suggesting an action to the pope, instead limiting his request that an investigation begin.

In the petition, Connell argues that Finn’s failures in the Ratigan case to protect children create a poor example others could follow, and in addition, “could lead other people to alter their faith life and their religious practices.”

The Vatican has confirmed receipt of the petition to investigate.

Writing recently, also in the National Catholic Reporter, retired priest and victims’ advocate Tom Doyle succinctly summed up Pope Francis efforts to date:

A year has passed and Pope Francis’ moves have been minimal. He made sex abuse a crime in the Vatican City State, a move so meaningless it is almost comical. He has not made a major or even a minor pronouncement about the problem and he has done little about bishops who have enabled perpetrators.

Doyle added, in a broadcast interview with PBS Frontline:

“I think what he has to do there is take some very decisive, concrete steps. The bishops that are the foremost ones, who have covered up, who continue to cover up, he has to publicly dismiss them.”

And as many Kansas City Catholics will tell you, Bishop Finn should be the first to go.

A Renewed Opportunity of Hope and Reconciliation

File photo of Pope Benedict XVI leaving at the end of his weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the VaticanIn times of disappointment or frustration, my mother has always supplied a poignant saying that has helped me to make sense of challenging situations, “If you continue using the same method, expect the same outcome. If you want to see a different result, try something new.” Keeping this in mind, I can begin taking the necessary steps to move forward from whatever the given quandary may be.

The news of Pope Benedict XVI’s (now referred to as the “Pope Emeritus”) resignation has left the church, as well as unaffiliated observers around the world, reeling in shock and confusion. For the first time in 600 years, a pope has renounced the Petrine ministry. The prospects of an uncertain ecclesiastical future have now given cause for many to hold their breath, in anticipation of what could be expected from the next Bishop of Rome.

Undeniably, anyone, regardless of their beliefs, or lack thereof, can acknowledge that today the Catholic Church is enduring a systemic crisis of epic proportions. In the West, particularly throughout Europe, the volume of individuals who identify themselves as practicing Catholics decreases year after year. Any sense of credibility or spiritual integrity that the prelates of the church possessed in the past has been eroded in the wake of the worldwide sexual-abuse scandal. The lack of a definitive response to this moral pandemic has convinced many that the members of the hierarchy are not serious about solving this pervasive affliction. The fact that numerous men in positions of ecclesial prestige have merely offered empty apologies, and the window-dressing of vague guidelines aimed at preventing abuse, cements this sentiment among the general public. How can a dilemma of this magnitude ever truly be repaired if justice and accountability have not been the guiding catalysts in confronting this crisis?

Conventional wisdom has sought to designate the southern hemisphere as being the future of global Catholicism. There, an intense, vibrant expression of the faith is said to be a guaranteed key in winning further adherents to the church. Yet, a mistake is made when rigidly applying this analysis. It is commonly assumed that the scourge of pedophilic abuse is not an issue in countries of the global south. A prominent cardinal of the Roman Curia, hailing from Ghana, recently declared as much to the media, stating that this phenomenon is so rampant in the Western world because of cultural variations between the northern and southern hemispheres. He further implied that this sociological barrier existed as a result of the tolerance of homosexuality throughout most of the northern hemisphere, compared to its condemnation in countries of the southern hemisphere. Although it is not as pronounced or notable, cases of minors being sexually abused by clerics have, indeed, been documented in this region of the world.

In fact, in many countries, there is a sexual crisis of another sort. In this occasion the problem is not necessarily one of abuse. Throughout the African continent, where the numbers of entrees to seminaries constantly abounds, the vow of celibacy taken by those entering the priesthood is not always observed to the letter of the law. The custom of consciously disregarding this oath has been established by countless priests. It is not unusual for mistresses, and in numerous cases, even entire families (including multiple female partners and children) to clandestinely live with the pastor of a parish. Failing to give open acknowledgement to such arrangements does not erase their existence from the minds of most parishioners, many of whom privately condone the practice.  In the context of the African church, the notion of priestly celibacy is regarded as an irritating European aberration. In the prevailing culture, a man is expected to fall in love with a woman, to marry, and to have children — not doing so is viewed as abnormal. These conditions have become the norm throughout large portions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Thus, on all geographical frontiers, questions of sexuality threaten to deteriorate the binding tapestry of faith and tradition that has composed the Catholic Church for centuries.

It seems that the former pontiff may have realized the implications all of these realities held for the church in the twenty-first century. Noticing subliminal hints of this line of reasoning in Benedict’s statement of resignation could prove helpful in establishing the criteria by which the future pope will be elected. Upon renouncing the papacy, the pope stated, “My strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry…in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”

This was seen as an expression on the part of the Pope Emeritus that not only were the effects of his age physically impacting his daily routine, but also, that his escalating frailty prevented him from responding comprehensively, and genuinely, to the pressing questions of the times we now live in. Longtime observers of Joseph Ratzinger’s theological temperament could very well have predicted this outcome from the first day of his election as pope. Although in his youth he did attend the Second Vatican Council, and was fairly progressive-minded in its wake, Ratzinger would eventually succumb to a crippling attitude of fear. As innovations following the historic assembly were implemented on a fairly rapid scale, Ratzinger began to view these changes as being rash and excessive. Criticizing new trends of liturgical practice and theological nuance, he began to complain that the Council’s message had been interpreted far too liberally. Soon, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger would become the institutional church’s chief proponent for nostalgically looking to a bygone era of the past. In this world, the notions of hierarchy, doctrine, and obedience formed the basis of the Catholic faith, instead of the values of episcopal collegiality, primacy of the individual conscience, and theological objectivity that Vatican II would espouse.

Still, a question begs to be asked: How can the problems of the 21st Century be solved with 18th Century solutions?

In a candid conversation with my parish priest, I once asked him his thoughts on what he felt Jesus of Nazareth would have to say if He were living and breathing in the flesh, in today’s world. His reply was to quote one of Jesus’ most comforting and repeated exhortations in the Gospels, “Be not afraid!” (Matthew 14:27) This summons to courage was utilized so often by the late, Blessed John Paul II that it is often described as the unofficial motto of his pontificate.

This same hopeful premise was also the underlying theme in most of the documents of the Second Vatican Council. When it was finally completed, the entire trajectory and driving purpose of this monumental gathering was intended to impel the Catholic Church to have a greater, more intense dialogue with the modern world. Rather than seeing the church as diametrically opposed to all of the implications that modernity had to offer, Vatican II painted the church as an entity that was in the world, and not removed from it. In the words of Blessed John XXIII, who convened the Council, but would not live to see its completion, “We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand. In the present order of things, Divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations which, by men’s own efforts and even beyond their very expectations, are directed toward the fulfillment of God’s superior and inscrutable designs. And everything, even human differences, leads to the greater good of the Church.”

Undoubtedly, the failure on the part of the hierarchy to confront the global, human questions that the “signs of the times” have engendered is the biggest mistake the institutional church has made in the fifty years that have passed since the conclusion of Vatican II.

Earlier today, the College of Cardinals entered, and were subsequently locked within, the Sistine Chapel to elect Benedict XVI’s successor. This year, the events leading up to, and taking place during the Conclave have all occurred under the auspices of the liturgical season of Lent — traditionally observed as a time of conversion and repentance. Conventionally, repentance is usually understood as being contrite and remorseful for one’s sins. However, the biblical calls , to “repent” or “convert”, as Jesus of Nazareth and John the Baptist urged their followers to do, mean not to simply be sorry for one’s failings, but also, to turn towards God, and to adopt a new mode of being. This should make it all the more clear to the cardinals gathered in Rome that the Conclave of 2013 should not be business as usual.

My mother’s always-appropriate expression happens to paraphrase a similar message that can be found echoing from the mouth of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, “Neither is new wine, put into old wineskins, otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17) In today’s paradigm, the wine described can symbolically be identified with the Catholic faith. The enlightening truth of the Gospel, (namely, God’s self-communication of love to us in the person of Christ) and the enduring traditions of the church must always be maintained. But new approaches (new “wineskins”) and insights must be used in transmitting the faith, allowing it to stay fresh and relevant for coming generations.

May we all pray that the College of Cardinals elects a pope who does not simply preserve the theological and bureaucratic status quo, that has been the norm in the Vatican for centuries, but instead realizes that whoever the next pope will be, he will have as his mission the task of emulating and personifying the Christ of the Gospels — engaging all members of the human family in a spirit of love, justice, and peace.

Now, more than ever, the Spirit of God must prevail, instead of the finite whims of fallible men. The credibility of the Roman Catholic Church has been universally placed under scrutiny. The church’s future hangs in the balance. Will it continue to remain a viable spiritual path, or is it destined to gradually be reduced to a reactionary cult?

Veni Creator Spiritus!

Women’s Ordination: A Way forward?

The recent disappointment over the failure of the Church of England Synod finally to approve the ordination of woman bishops has brought the matter under a political spotlight, with suggestions that parliament should remove the exemption of the CoE from the provisions of equality legislation, the removal of the existing (all male) bishops from the House of Lords, or both. Any such removal of the equality exemption would have implications for ordination as Anglican bishops not only for women, but also for gay men and transgender priests. There could also be implications for the Catholic Church: in a posting at the UK Call to Action website, one contributor has described how she has written to her MP on the subject:

 It is very interesting that my excellent MP, Frank Field, has introduced a Bill to Parliament seeking to remove the temporary exclusion granted to the Anglican Church regarding sexual equality. Frank sees to remove that so that the Church cannot exclude women priests from becoming bishops. I wrote to ask if he could extend the removal of the exclusion also to the Catholic Church. It would be interesting to know what effect this could have in the UK.

Phoebe – the only deacon named in the NT!

Continue reading

“Theologians’ Revolt” – International Edition

The Catholic Spring has gone global, with the publication of a notable “Jubilee Declaration on Church Authority”, sponsored by a range of top Catholic theologians, from countries on all continents.

That the institutional Catholic Church is in a state of crisis is surely an understatement. It has been widely castigated and scorned for the disclosures of sexual abuse and its grossly inadequate response, including cover-ups and protection of perpetrators. More recently, Vatileaks has uncovered extensive evidence of widespread corruption and financial shenanigans, alongside evidence of political in-fighting in the Vatican bureaucracy. The Catechism rules on sexual ethics, most notably on contraception, but also on masturbation, sex before marriage or after divorce, and on homosexuality are widely ignored – to such an extent that it can reasonable be asked whether they can truly be said to have been received by the faithful, whether they have the sensus fidelium (and if not, they do not have legitimate status as authentic Church teaching). Attempts by the Vatican and national bishops’ conferences to suppress important books by Catholic theologians (“The Sexual Person“, “Just Love” on sexual ethics), or “Jesus: an Historical Approximation” and “Quest for the Living God” on Christology and the nature of God) have had as their most notable result soaring sales. A common thread running through all of this is an unacceptable abuse of power and lack of accountability, by many of the bishops and Vatican officials, in complete contravention of the decisions and declarations at Vatican II in favour of a collegial church, and a Church of all the people.

The spirit of rebellion is most visible in the public resistance to the bishops’ opposition to gay marriage. It is notable that of the countries that currently recognize same – sex marriage, almost all are either substantially Catholic (Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Canada, Argentina, Brazil), or the Lutheran countries of Scandinavia (Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark). In the US, parish priests who have refused to disseminate bishops’ letters in opposition, or who have spoken up in favour, have received standing ovations from their congregations, Catholic politicians have been prominent in passing state laws for marriage equality, and opinion polls show overwhelming Catholic support for some form of legal recognition, either as full marriage, or as civil unions. Even in Italy, in at least one parish, same – sex couples take their place alongside others in marriage preparation classes.

Over the past two years, organized rebellion has been spreading. There was the theologians’ revolt in German – speaking countries, when several hundred professional theologians, representing a significant proportion of the total number, signed a public declaration of the need for fundamental reform – of sexual doctrines, on rules for ordination, and of the pervasive culture of clericalism. That was followed in Austria by a much more radical Catholic priests’ initiative, for a “Call for disobedience”, later repeated in Belgium. In Ireland, the critical Association of Catholic Priests has attracted wide support from the laity, and has since extended its activities to include all Catholics. Here in England, the Call to Action process initiated by a small group of priests and continuing to develop, is not as confrontational as the Austrian initiative, but springs from the same impulse.

But what I see as possibly the most significant development of all, a public declaration on church authority by top level theologians, has had relatively little publicity. All the other initiatives have included the need for a reform of church rules and culture in their list of concerns – but this declaration sees this as so fundamental that it is the only issue they address.  They are right to do so: unless the pervasive abuse of authority is addressed, unless we see proper accountability, all other attempts at reform, are likely to be stillborn.

The second notable feature of this declaration is the stature and impressive credentials of the signatories. Their numbers are relatively low (but constantly increasing), but these are men and women of great seniority and stature: almost all have professorial rank, or even heads of schools of theology, from a wide range of countries on all continents.

The third feature (as one would expect from people of such great scholarship) is how well substantiated is their case. Their website contains a both a clear statement of the problem, and an outline of the necessary steps for improvement, along with resource pages and much more.

Here’s the core of the declaration:

On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, we call on all other members of the People of God to assess the situation in our church.

Many of the key insights of Vatican II have not at all, or only partially, been implemented. This has been due to resistance in some quarters, but also to a measure of ambiguity that remained unresolved in certain Council documents.

A principal source of present-day stagnation lies in misunderstanding and abuse affecting the exercise of authority in our Church. Specifically, the following issues require urgent redress:

  • The role of the papacy needs to be clearly re-defined in line with Christ’s intentions. As supreme pastor, unifier and prime witness to faith, the pope contributes substantially to the health of the universal church. However, his authority may never obscure, diminish or suppress the authentic authority directly given by Christ to all members of the people of God.
  • Bishops are vicars of Christ, not vicars of the pope. They carry immediate responsibility for people in their dioceses, and joint responsibility, with other bishops and the pope, for the world-wide community of faith.
  • The central synod of bishops should assume a more decisive role in planning and guiding the maintenance and growth of faith within our complex world. To execute its task, the synod of bishops needs to be given appropriate structures.
  • The Second Vatican Council prescribed collegiality and co-responsibility on all levels. This has not been realised. Priestly senates and pastoral councils, as envisaged by the Council, should involve the faithful more directly in decision making concerning the formulation of doctrine, the running of the pastoral ministry and evangelization in secular society.
  • The abuse of choosing for leadership offices in the church only candidates of a particular mindset, should be eradicated. Instead, new norms should be laid down and supervised to ensure that elections to such offices are conducted in a fair, transparent and, to the extent possible, democratic fashion.
  • The Roman curia requires a more radical reform, in line with the instructions and vision of Vatican II. The curia should be retained for its useful administrative and executive roles.
  • The congregation for the doctrine of the faith should be assisted by international commissions of experts who have been independently chosen for their professional competence.

These are by no means all the changes that may be required. We also realise that the implementation of such structural revisions will need to be worked out in detail according to the possibilities and limitations of present and future circumstances. However, we stress that the seven reforms outlined above are urgent and their implementation should be started immediately.

The exercise of authority in our church should emulate the standards of openness, accountability and democracy achieved in modern society. Leadership should be seen to be honest and credible; inspired by humility and service; breathing concern for people rather than preoccupation with rules and discipline; radiating a Christ who makes us free; and listening to Christ’s Spirit who speaks and acts through each and every person.

– CHURCHAUTHORITY.org

When the Tablet reported on this some time ago, in just a few lines tagged on to another report, they referred to 37 signatories, and a further 115 co-signatories. When I first came across it, the number of primary signatories had gone up to 50. By last night, it was at 60 (UPDATE:  By Nov 21st, it’s at 66). See the full listing, and their impressive credentials, here (A – H) and here (I – K) and here (L -P) and here (Q – Z). Meanwhile, the co-signatories had gone up to 1303 (with myself at that 1128). Add your signature here.

(Originally published on November 5th, at Queering the Church)

Books:

Margaret Farley: Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics

Elizabeth Johnson: Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God

Jose Pagola: Jesus, an Historical Approximation 

Todd Salzmann and Michael Lawler: The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology 

Gender, Power, Privilege: Unavoidable Impolite Questions about the Catholic Conversation in the Public Square

In a posting I made earlier this morning about the compromise the Obama administration has offered the U.S. Catholic bishops re: contraceptive coverage, I ended by noting Joan Walsh’s outstanding analysis of what has taken place in the intra-Catholic debate lately. I noted that Joan Walsh sees a new maturity in what has been a tribalistic American Catholicism whose public voice has been almost exclusively dominated by men.  She notes that, in recent debates about the contraceptive guidelines, the voices of women–Catholic women included–are beginning to be heard with new force.   Continue reading

Occupy Wall Street and the Movement to Occupy Faith Communities: Reflections

A number of days ago, theologian Tom Beaudoin posted commentary at the “In All Things” blog site of America magazine asking whether the Occupy Wall Street movement might be a moment for Catholics to consider occupying our own church.  Needless to say, Beaudoin’s question provoked lively commentary at this site, where a group of ultra-right wing Catholics have for some years now dogged the steps of the Jesuit editors of the journal, trying to force them to toe the religious and political line of the American right.  The Jesuits are a particular target of the American Catholic right, after one of their previous Superior Generals, Pedro Arrupe, made the preferential option for the poor a priority for this religious community. Continue reading

John Allen on Vatican Critics as Sharks Out for Blood: That’s One Way of Looking at It

Followers of Vaticanologist (and, increasingly, Vatican head cheerleader) John Allen at National Catholic Reporter will find his latest screed at that site interesting, I think.  It compares critics of the Vatican to–get this–sharks.  Sharks circling in the water, who are now revved up by the blood they sense leaking out of the poor old Vatican as it encounters one hard knock after another in recent weeks. Continue reading

Tongues of Fire Burning the Building Down

(Mother of the New Pentecost:: taken from the wonderful site St. Andrei Rublov Icons)

I’ve been reflecting today on the wonderful interview given by Matthew Fox, regarding the publication of his new book, The Pope’s War. Fox is also one of the keynote speakers at the ongoing American Catholic Conference in Detroit. Thanks to Colleen Kochivar-Baker of Enlightened Catholicism for alerting us to this interview and for her own insightful comments, and thanks to Betty Clermont’s posting below, with her provocative question about possible reform, which prompted these reflections: I am waiting for anyone to suggest a path to reform of the Roman Catholic Church which would be more effective than Catholics staying away. )

I’ve chosen several passages from Matthew Fox’s interview which particularly struck me as very prescient of the future of Christianity, and have followed them with my own reflections:

As a theologian I am trying to ponder how the recent events of Catholic history can be seen through the eyes of the Holy Spirit. Is there some good that come out of so much anguish, so much betrayal, so much disappointment with the false direction the church has taken under Pope John Paul II and Ratzinger? And I come to a clear conclusion that Yes, the Holy Spirit is still at work in the events of deconstruction and reconstruction that are at hand. It is time to restart the church. Let many of its forms go; let them die as they are doing.

With the death of Pope John Paul I in September 1978 [most likely by assassination], I felt that we were being given a sign by the Holy Spirit that we were not meant to have a ‘reformed Church’ along the lines proposed by Vatican II, as so many of us of the Vatican II generation were longing for. In a way my hope for meaningful ‘reform’ of the Church died along with the saintly, gentle, collegial and open-hearted Albino Luciani, who reined for only a short 33 days, and who died in such mysterious circumstances which have never been adequately explained to this day. If one ventures down into the crypt beneath St. Peters, which contains the remains of past Popes, John Paul I’s coffin has been placed on the side of the central aisle, the least significant location for any pontiff. Pilgrims rush past it, oblivious to this genuinely saintly martyr to reform of the Church, in their haste to get to the far more dramatic and spacious alcove which contains the remains of his successor, John Paul II, with the ‘eternal flame’ burning to the side and the permanent guard standing by. I always bring a bouquet when I visit Papa Luciani’s tomb, but I have never seen any other evidence of tokens of devotion and affection for this most ‘perfect’ of collegial minded Pontiffs. If the Spirit had intended us to have a reformed Church, without any radical reconstruction, John Paul I would have remained alive to have fulfilled that destiny. His death must be read as a sign of the Spirit that a much more radical purging of the Church was intended and that we were being asked to ‘let go’ of the forms of the old Church, to surrender our longing for renewal itself, even to cut the umbilical cord to Mother Church herself (in her present institutional structure) and to find the courage in the Spirit to venture out into the unknown, living in trust that the Maternal Spirit of Wisdom would find a way to preserve the lineage of Catholic Christianity outside the present, moribund institutional structure. However, I could not have imagined a more terrible or more profound purging and deconstruction than that enacted, albeit obliviously, by Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II. Such is the irony of history that the genuine saint is ignored and (taking my cue from Matthew Fox) the ‘schismatic’ Polish Pope in his spacious alcove down the aisle is honored beyond belief. Using the “S” word will be seen as contentious, but I am in agreement with Matthew Fox here when he says:

The “S” word rarely gets used these days but I think that Schism properly summarizes what the past two papacies have been about. They deliberately turned their back on a valid Ecumenical Council and in doing so are in schism. This means that its appointed cardinals and bishops are in schism. They do not represent the lineage of the church. This opens up whole new possibilities of seeing the church anew. All the Yes men and sycophants that have lined up at the papal trough for a piece of the power these recent decades are seen for what they are in their transparent reality.

An ecclesiastical system in schism? Is that too strong a word and does it not make us similar to those ultra conservative Catholic sects (St.Pius X), who consider Vatican II itself to be in schism and every pope elected after Pius XII? A contentious issue and a very strong word, but sometimes honesty, courage and directness in language are necessary instruments to pierce the boil that is infecting the Church. However, rather than hurl invective, I prefer to follow Fox’s inspiration and ask what the Holy Spirit is telling us through these powerful and painful ‘signs of the times.’ It is my own view that we cannot understand the present crisis in the Church without taking into account the overall shift in religious and spiritual outlook in the culture at large. Sincere spiritual searchers are no longer so dependent upon or so trustful of large religious institutions, but are finding alternative sources of nourishment in a variety of places and religious communities. The time for the great institutional structures has past, and what is to replace them remains a mystery and perhaps a cause of anxiety, as we fearfully contemplate fragmentation, splintering, chaos. But I feel such fears must be faced and overcome in the peaceful, interior conviction that the Spirit is leading us towards a radical reconstruction of the whole Catholic tradition and to forms of community which are at present beyond our imagining. Fox continues:

I have tried to sketch out some directions for new versions of Christianity that are needed today with of course the primary emphasis on lay leadership. We do not need another Council (after all the last one was totally stuffed); what we need is a rise and indeed a take over of the church by lay leaders. Jesus was not a clericalist. He never heard of the Vatican (or of cardinals) all of which developed centuries after his death. Time to start over. And with the courage and imagination and generosity that characterizes all authentic spirituality.

These words themselves need to be deconstructed and their implications laid bare. A “take-over” of the church by lay leaders ultimately must mean a take over of the sacramental system, and a refusal to be intimidated by the monopoly of control the hierarchy presently maintains over the sacraments through the myth of ‘apostolic succession.’ (Readers of Terrence Weldon’s blog, Queering the Church can find an abundance of documentation for exploring the justification for calling this doctrine a myth.) And here I am in complete agreement with another key note speaker at the Detroit conference, theologian Anthony Padovano, who is simply following the great Dutch theologian Edward Schillebeeckx by insisting that a ‘validly ordained’ minister is not an absolute requirement for a genuine celebration of the Eucharist. In the absence of ‘ordained priests,’ communities must find the courage within themselves, through the most profound and heartfelt prayer and discernment, to bless their own lay leaders and celebrate the sacraments independently of episcopal approval. This is a radical act that requires the utmost trust in the Spirit, because ‘the real presence’ is among the great treasures of the Catholic tradition. Such communities will find themselves under fire and will endure censure and ‘excommunication,’ but it is already happening in increasing numbers of breakaway communities. Until increasing numbers of communities are willing to take this painful step – in the absence of ‘officially ordained’ priests – no real revolution within the church is possible. Lay leaders must rise up and take back the church and that means listening to the interior movements of the Spirit, experiencing the peace and joy which are the signs of the Spirit, when and as they celebrate the Eucharist on their own. The Holy Spirit is already imbuing communities with the fire of Pentecost, the interior joy and consolation that bring with them the assurance of conscience that this step is the right one. We are already being blessed, we are already being assured, we are already being led into the new Church of the Holy Spirit. It simply requires more and more laypersons to listen to this interior call. This will not happen overnight. It is too radical, too frightening, it calls for too great a sacrifice, too painful a wrenching from the security of the Mother Womb, but in my opinion it is way the Spirit is leading increasing numbers of us. The official organizers of the American Catholic Conference in Detroit are ‘following the rules,’ but I would not be surprised to learn that informal Eucharists on the periphery of the conference are fulfilling Archbishop Allen Vigneron’s worst fears. To take such a step, however, requires the most prayerful discernment and this brings me to Matthew Fox’s final points.

I believe, the most important direction that religion needs to go in its reconstruction—that is spirituality, the experiential dimension of religion. The mystical-prophetic tradition I have been recovering including the Cosmic Christ, Hildegard, Aquinas, Eckhart, Julian and others, together with today’s post-modern science, offers new and deeper expressions of healthy religion. They are among the treasure to take from the burning building.

Let us remember what Thomas Aquinas taught about religion. That it is, he felt, primarily a virtue, that is a habit that persons carry within them. Indeed, for Aquinas religion’s essence is Gratitude. Gratitude for existence. This means that institutions are NOT what religion is primarily about. What goes on in the heart and mind and gives birth to outer form is what is at the essence of religion. This means that social constructs like basilicas, cathedrals, churches, vaticans, popes, cardinals, bishops, canon laws, etc. are on the periphery of real religion. And they render themselves religiously irrelevant when their thrust at certain times of history is very far from the love and compassion and service that Jesus preached. They have more to do with accumulation of power and prestige and institutional and personal ego.

(All the more reason, then, for alternative communities to branch out of their own, while maintaining their ties to the larger community through prayerful discernment, counseling, advice, and listening to the authentic voices of wisdom within the community, born of contemplation and prayer. Nothing could be more important than the spiritual witness in peace and joy of lay led communities, celebrating the presence of the Resurrected Lord. The time for waiting upon ecclesiastical leaders for change has past. The ecclesiastical system must be bypassed, and only when increasing numbers of lay led communities are forced by circumstance to take this painful step, and discover within themselves the Pentecostal peace and joy assuring them that the Spirit is with them, will the real revolution of the Holy Spirit within the Church have begun. For this to happen, we need increasing numbers of genuine prophets and mystics who are attuned in the depths of their being to the life giving movements of the Spirit.

At the bottom, the crisis in Roman Catholicism is a crisis in spirituality or the lack thereof. Real people want spirituality. The church as we know it today is the last place they go looking. We are talking about the future of religion, the future of spirituality and very likely the sustainability or unsustainability of our species on this planet. This is why the issues at hand are of deep importance to us all, whether within or outside of organized religion.

I would like to close these reflections with these moving words from another contemplative teacher of the Catholic mystical tradition:

DIARMUID O’MURCHU: There’s certainly a part of me as a human being, a part entirely of being a Christian, that feels I don’t want to abandon any sister or brother on the journey of life and the journey of faith. But this is a very real question for me and for people who are like me who facilitated for renewal programs and chapters of religious congregations, because this one comes up often. What do you do with the people who don’t want to move, that want to keep things as they always were, and are so rigid and frightened and scared, and you can’t get them to move without badly damaging them, which I don’t feel I have any right to do or anybody else has a right to do. And so I think the delicate balance has to be something like this and for me Gerry Arbuckle is the person who has named this very, very clearly. Supposing you have this group…and let’s put this into percentages…and you have 50% that are totally rigid and stuck, if you like, and you have 50% that are yearning to go. Insofar as there are people that are committed primarily to life and to the evolution of life, the primary energy should move with the 50% that want to move. And then we keep a secondary energy to try and help and maintain the others in a meaningful way. So this principal is that you go primarily where the life is! I think the tendency, particularly in churches, is that we try to keep everything at the lowest common denominator to please those who want to keep things the way they are. That, in my opinion, is not what Jesus would do. That is not Christian gospel. I think we need to go where the life is, primarily, without abandoning the others. And we need to try and bring them with us, in so far as we can, in love, in charity, and also in challenge! And ok, if they choose to remain totally stuck, or totally where they are – let me not be too judgmental about it – ok, that is their freedom, that is their right if you like, but I think in the overall sense of things, whether at the human level, at the religious or spiritual level, I think this commitment to life always has to be honored. And so go where the life is primarily, put your energies primarily there. And then also spare some to try and maintain, in kindness and dignity, those that pretty much want to remain. And a corollary of that, of course, which is much more difficult and this requires a lot of skills, we do not allow this subgroup to dictate. And I think that’s where leadership has a huge responsibility. Leadership has to put it’s commitment with the new primarily.

Website for Fr. Diarmuid O’Murchu : http://www.diarmuid13.com