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    • To my Republican Friends July 6, 2020
      You voted for Trump even though you didn't like him. Doubted his character. Questioned his fitness for the job. Yet, your aversion to Hillary was even greater [[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]
      Obie Holmen
    • Wormwood and Gall a Midwest Book Award Finalist May 4, 2020
      The Midwest Independent Publishers Association (MIPA) recently named Wormwood and Gall as one of three finalists for a Midwest Book Award in the Religion/Philosophy category. The awards program, which is organized by MIPA, recognizes quality in independent publishing in the Midwest. [[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other co […]
      Obie Holmen
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    • Mysticism and Revolution September 21, 2020
      Jesus was a revolutionary, who did not become an extremist, since he did not offer an ideology, but Himself. He was also a mystic, who did not use his intimate relationship with God to avoid the social evils of his time, but shocked his milieu to the point of being executed as a rebel. . . . Every real revolutionary is challenged to be a mystic at heart, and […]
      noreply@blogger.com (Michael J. Bayly)
    • From the Palliative/Spiritual Care Shelf September 20, 2020
      I continue today my series that highlights the wisdom found on my bookshelf at work. As most reading this would know, my “work,” since September 2018, is that of a palliative care interfaith chaplain at a hospital just north of the Twin Cities.In this sixth installment I share an excerpt from Richard F. Groves and Henriette Anne Klauser’s book, The American […]
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    • the way ahead March 23, 2013
      My current blog is called the way ahead.
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    • Ronan Park and Jack Vidgen: The Travails of Gay Pop Stars October 28, 2019
      (Jack Vidgen)Quite by accident, through a comment from a performance arts colleague of mine, I stumbled across the recent bios of two boy teen singing sensations, both of whom made a big splash worldwide 8 years ago. The first, Jack Vidgen, won Australia's Got Talent Contest in 2011 at the age of 14, primarily for his powerful renditions of Whitney Hust […]
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    • In The Closet of the Vatican: New Investigative Study February 22, 2019
      In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy - just published today, February 22nd, 2019.Thanks to Kittredge Cheery of the wonderful gay Christian blog,  QSpirit Blog, for the heads up about the publication of this major new investigative study into the secret homosexual double lives of many priests (and bishops and cardinals) in the vatican […]
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    • Another World is Neccessary: Anarchism, Christianity and the Race from the White House July 30, 2008
      I’ll be presenting at the upcoming Jesus Radicals conference in Columbus, Ohio. My session (on the relationship between Church and State) will be on Friday afternoon. If you’re in the area, drop by. I’d love to meet some of the folks who frequent this site. Here’s the info: August 15-16, 2008 St. John’s Episcopal 1003 W Town Columbus, OH [...]ShareThis […]
      Mark Van Steenwyk
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    • The handmaid September 22, 2020
      Trump has a short list for the slot in the Supreme Court left by RBG's death ... two women are at the top: Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa. These are nakedly political choices. Trump is choosing a woman to get the votes of those suburban housewives he's so obsessed with. He is choosing Barret to get the conservative Catholic vote, and Trump get […]
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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!

Call to Action: progressive Catholics hold a convention

Along with a couple thousand others, I spent the weekend in Milwaukee attending the annual convention of Call to Action (CTA), a beleaguered group of progressive Roman Catholics.  The conservative retrenchment of the Vatican and the American bishops marches on, and one wonders what the future holds for Catholic progressives.  I met hundreds of interesting persons with fascinating stories: former priests and nuns who are now married, many gays or parents of gays, and numerous women who have recently been ordained to the priesthood or who are anticipating ordination in the near future.

“What,” you ask, “women ordained as Catholic priests?”

Roman Catholic Womenpriests is a movement less than a decade old that began with the 2002 ordination of seven women (six Europeans and one American).  Since then, the movement is growing rapidly (despite excommunications), and I can attest to a sense of vibrancy at the Womenpriests’ booth that attracted an earnest crowd.  One of the priests at the exhibit told me that their booth at the 2008 CTA Convention attracted a few curiosity seekers, but overall the mood was “don’t get too close to these excommunicated dissidents”.  Last year, at the 2009 CTA convention, she reported that the fear of contagion had dissipated and the curiosity level had increased dramatically.  This year, the Womenpriests booth was filled with visitors who had moved beyond curiosity to genuine interest.  Their US map with red and green dots signifying locations of ordained womenpriests and pending ordinations was a hit with many asking for more specifics so they could attend a nearby Eucharist celebrated by female clergy.

Are progressive Catholics coming to the realization that their future lies outside the patriarchal hierarchy and beyond the control of the Vatican?  If so, where?  If not, how can progressive Catholics effect reform within the existing conservative power structures?

Enter the American Catholic Council.  The Council also had an energetic presence at the CTA conference, passing out brochures inviting all to a Pentecost gathering next June.  CTA is one of the member organizations of the Council, which also includes other Catholic reform organizations.

American Catholic Council is a movement bringing together a network of individuals, organizations, and communities to consider the state and future of our Church. We believe our Church is at a turning point in its history. We recall the promise of the Second Vatican Council for a renaissance of the roles and responsibilities of all the Baptized through a radically inclusive and engaged relationship between the Church and the World.  We respond to the Spirit of Vatican II by summoning the Baptized together to demonstrate our re-commitment. We seek personal conversion to renew our Church to conform to the authentic Gospel message, the teachings of our Church, and our lived context in the United States. Our reading of the “signs of the times”, as we experience them in the US, our plan and our agenda are set out in our Declaration.  We educate; we listen; we facilitate discussions and encounters; and, we build toward an American Catholic Council  that will convene in Detroit over Pentecost weekend in June of 2011.  At this Council we hope to proclaim our belief in the Rights and Responsibilities of US Catholics.

June 10, 2011.  Mark the date.

Authentic Catholicism

I don’t suppose the news story below (from Ghana ) will have made any headlines in the US or in Europe, but in Africa, it is of sufficient importance to have made a national news agency, and from there to my Google News service for the Catholic Church. This is entirely appropriate, because this story and what it represents, neatly illustrates an important part of what authentic Catholicism is all about:

Catholic Church provides boreholes for

deprived communities in Upper East

The Navrongo-Bolgatanga Diocesan Development Office (NABOCADO) of the Catholic Church has drilled 13 boreholes valued at GH¢ 176,198 for 13 communities in its jurisdiction.

The beneficiary communities are Saboro/ Kawenia in Nakong, Kayoro-Wumbeo, Nayagnia, Mirigu-Nabango-Nyanga, Kandiga-Lemizongo all in the Kassena-Nankana West District, in Upper East Region.

The rest are Jimbale, Soghaam, Kufuk, Gingbane, Tambok and Kinkangu also in Bunkpurugu-Yunyoo District, in the Northern Region.

Commissioning the facility at the weekend at Nakong, in the Kassena-Nankana District, the Administrator of the Navrongo-Bolgatanga Diocese, Monsignor Thomas Anamooh, said the Catholic Church was following the foot steps of Jesus Christ by attending to the social needs of the people.

According to him, people could not assimilate the word of God on empty stomachs and so the Church could only effectively win more souls for the Church when it gave critical attention to the needs of the people, especially the poor.

Msgr. Anamooh indicated that, it was based on this conviction that the Church decided to provide the boreholes to the communities to provide potable water for them because it was one of their pressing needs.

Full report at Ghana News Agency.

In the Western world, we use water carelessly, without a thought. We shower or bath daily, sometimes more often. We use it freely in our dishwashers and washing machines. We wash our cars, and in drier or hotter climates we water our gardens and fill our swimming pools. Water definitely makes our lives more comfortable and pleasant, yet we hardly give it a thought. In rural Africa, water is not about comfort – it’s a daily grind for survival.

Continue reading

Minnesota Progressive Catholics

Catholic Coalition for Church Reform

Australian born Michael Bayly is a leading spokesman for the local (Minnesota) gay Christian community.  He serves as the executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), the editor of The Progressive Catholic Voice, and co-chair of the Minnesota-based Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR).  Earlier this year when an international group of progressive Catholic bloggers decided to collaborate on a new blog called Open Tabernacle, a pair of Minnesotans, Michael and I, were invited to participate.

From the CCCR website:

We are the Church. In our understanding of Church, all the baptized are one big community of smaller communities, we are all equal, we all participate in different ministries (lay, clergy, bishop), we communicate with one another, and we share a vision and a self-critique. The five words we have been using to summarize this model of Church are community, equality, participation, dialogue, and prophecy. It is a model arising out of Vatican II and seems to us most in line with the Gospel message. It has been promulgated by the Asian bishops and it also fits well with the positive values of our U.S. culture.

Dignity Twin Cities

Formed in 1969, the same year that the gay rights movement was born in the Stonewall riots of Greenwich Village, Dignity USA continues as the leading LGBT advocacy group within American Roman Catholicism.  Here is their vision statement:

DignityUSA envisions and works for a time when Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Catholics are affirmed and experience dignity through the integration of their spirituality with their sexuality, and as beloved persons of God participate fully in all aspects of life within the Church and Society.

A local chapter, Dignity Twin Cities, was formed in 1974.  Initially accepted by the local Catholic hierarchy, the organization was eventually booted out of Catholic property and now holds its liturgies and meetings at Prospect Park United Methodist Church.  The Rainbow Sash movement is associated with Dignity.  The current president of Dignity Twin Cities is Brian McNeill.

Womenpriests

The Roman Catholic Womenpriest movement is small but energized, and I have blogged previously about the women who challenge the patriarchal Catholic hierarchy at the cost of excommunication (here and here). 

Roman Catholic Womenpriests reject the penalty of excommunication issued by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith on May 29, 2008 stating that the women priests and the bishops who ordain them would be excommunicated latae sententiae.” Roman Catholic Womenpriests are loyal members of the church who stand in the prophetic tradition of holy obedience to the Spirit’s call to change an unjust law that discriminates against women. Our movement is receiving enthusiastic responses on the local, national and international level.  We will continue to serve our beloved church in a renewed priestly ministry that welcomes all to celebrate the sacraments in inclusive, Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered communities wherever we are called.

Bishop Regina Nicolosi Bishop Regina Nicolosi of Red Wing, Minnesota is a leader of the national Womenpriest movement.

Regina Nicolosi, MA, was born in a small town on the Rhine River. She was a teacher in Germany. 1969 she came to the USA to marry the love of her life, Charles, a radiologist and deacon. Together they raised four children, one of them from Colombia and one from Korea. Regina participated fully in Charles’ preparation to the diaconate. She earned her Masters Degree in Pastoral Studies. Regina has worked as a housing manager for seniors, as a chaplain in a correctional facility for boys, in a drug and alcohol recovery unit and in a nursing home. She is retired now. She helps prepare women for ordination and celebrates Eucharist with Dignity and other small faith-communities.

On Thursday, June 24th, I met Michael, Brian, Bishop Regina and other leaders of the progressive Catholic movement in Minnesota at a gay pride mass held in south Minneapolis. Following the liturgy, I was honored to be the guest speaker at this gathering of committed, Catholic, Christians.  Michael’s personal blog reports on the events of the evening in his post entitled LGBT Catholics Celebrate Being “Wonderfully Made”.  Click on the link to Michael’s blog for many pictures and Michael’s excellent reporting of this event.gay pride mass foursome

From left to right: Art Stroebl (event coordinator), Obie Holmen, Brian McNeill, Michael Bayly.

Cross posted at Spirit of a Liberal blog.

Could genuine reform in the future be coming from the most unexpected of places?

As I was surfing the net yesterday, I—along with everyone else who saw the headline—was completely floored when I glimpsed this headline on the National Catholic Reporter’s blog, “Schönborn attacks Sodano, urges reform”

Of course to anyone who is a close follower of internal Catholic affairs it should be no surprise that—on initial inspection—the reputation of Cardinal Schönborn and the radical concept of ecclesial reform seem to be practically mutually exclusive.

Yet, once the article–obtained from the UK’s Catholic Tablet weekly is inspected one can see what all the hubub has been about.

In it, Cardinal Schönborn delivered a scathing criticism of the current dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano (who on Easter Sunday notably dismissed the ever gathering storm of the clergy sexual-abuse scandal overtaking Europe as “petty gossip”). He further rebuked him by saying that his comments had “deeply wronged” the victims of sexual-abuse committed at the hand of clerics and that the Church was “urgently in need of reform.”  Throughout the fallout of this most recent crisis which has plagued the Catholic Church, Cardinal Schönborn has been one of the foremost heralds among its prelates in denouncing these heinous acts and thereby demanding true and genuine reform of the Church. During Holy Week he even made it a point to publicly celebrate a Mass of Penance for all those victimized by depraved clerics and once more used the opportunity to denounce both the system and the environment that gave rise to these horrible acts.

 However, the comments that caught the most media attention were found later on in the piece. In response to a question probing the Church’s stance on homosexual individuals the Cardinal stated that,

“We should give more consideration to the quality of homosexual relationships…A stable relationship is certainly better than if someone chooses to be promiscuous.”

And thus, the shockwave of curiosity and bewilderment was ignited throughout the blogosphere and the world at large.

But what exactly do the Cardinal’s comments mean? He didn’t necessarily condone homosexuality or homosexual relationships nor did he condemn them.

Heretofore, the Archbishop of Vienna has always been characterized in glowing terms (especially among more conservative-minded members of the Church) as having long been Joseph Ratzinger’s most astute protegé during his tenure at Regensburg University in Germany. He has been championed in many circles as the Catholic Church’s best hope to continue the late Pope John Paul II’s legacy of “evangelical Catholicism” (as John Allen would describe it) of positively promoting all of the Church’s teachings—even controversial ones—not so much as prohibitions on humanity, but rather as conscious assents to the will of God and the alleged dictates of the Gospels.

Usually he has been consistent with this approach, but there are a few notable exceptions that might give a bit more insightful perspective into the Cardinal’s most recent comments that have sparked so much astonishment—and even enthusiasm—among many.

In 2005 Cardinal Schönborn wrote an article for the New York Times in which he stated,

“Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense – an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection – is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science.”

This comment sparked criticism because the Cardinal seemed to be undermining the foundational premise of Darwin’s theory of evolution. However, he would continue to insist in the following months that he was not at all discounting the theory, but instead emphasizing that God did in fact have an active role to play in the process. In effect, he was promoting a middle of the road approach to the vigorous debate between Creationists and proponents of evolution—basically saying that scientifically, evolution is certainly legitimate as a theory for explaining the origin of the human species in the natural world, and yet, the role of God ultimately guiding the process cannot be forgotten either. It must be remembered that this has always been the Church’s official position regarding the legitimacy of the theory of evolution in explaining the origin of mankind on the planet Earth.

Some time later in 2006 the Cathedral of St. Stephen in Vienna, Austria decided to plan a Valentine’s Day blessing for all couples who were in love. Shortfly following the ceremonies it was reported that homosexual couples had even presented themselves to be blessed and no difficulties were encountered. In a manner vaguely similar to today’s most recent headlines concerning the Cardinal, it was widely reported that Cardinal Schönborn never barred such couples from coming forward to participate in the blessings. Later, a “clarification” was issued which stated that even “non-married” persons who felt so strongly in love—even though they may not have been engaged or in a relational status officially recognized by the Church—were able to take part in the blessing in an “individual” manner but not together as a couple.

The available facts don’t seem to be numerous enough to be able to verify whether this was indeed the case or whether homosexual individuals in committed, loving relationships did present themselves for the blessing and if anything was done to prohibit them from doing so. Neither has Cardinal Schönborn himself ever spoken concretely on this topic to date to put to doubt any of these speculations.

If observed carefully, one can almost sense a pattern in the approach that the Archbishop of Vienna has consistently taken on these various issues. Despite being mentored and honed in numerous ways by the present Pope, Christoph Schönborn seems to be quite a different man from Joseph Ratzinger.

Throughout his academic and theological career—at least following his change from liberal to conservative on the theological spectrum in the wake of changes implemented following the Second Vatican Council—Joseph Ratzinger has always responded the same way when confronted with controversial issues. He simply issues the Catholic Church’s official Magisterial proclamations and ends discussion of the topic. A notable example of this was when during his 2009 visit to Africa he was asked a question about the Catholic Church’s stance on the status of couples where one partner has been infected with the HIV/AIDS virus. Much debate has been made about this issue because of the traditional prohibition against birth control by the Magisterium because it “eliminates the possibility of new life”, and some thought that the HIV phenomenon might provide an exception to re-examine this teaching in light of new theological and scientific innovations. Yet, Pope Benedict XVI was unwavering on this matter saying that condoms only contributed to the problem. We only need to examine history to see what kind of reaction that declaration was met with.

Whether it has been divorced or re-married couples, the question of abortion, the morality and dignity of homosexual persons and their relationships, or the status and salvific significance of other religions in relation to Christianity; Joseph Ratzinger has really never shown any instances of being theologically objective or sociologically receptive for the sake of beginning dialogue and discussion on any of these pressing issues. Instead, it seems that he has taken the opposite direction in some cases and reversed barriers that were eliminated during the papacy of the late John Paul II (most notably, extending an invitation to disenfranchised Anglicans who were upset with the body’s stance on homosexuality and the ordination of women to join the Catholic Church and essentially form their own “rite” within Catholicism).

Cardinal Schönborn by contrast seems to always deal with issues in a theologically grounded yet pragmatic manner. Instead of simply condemning the phenomenon of homosexuality or urging all homosexuals to a life of celibacy—as is the current Magisterial position of the Church—he leaves the question open and up to the individual. The most important thing to him is the quality of the relationship. Granted, he hasn’t endorsed homosexual relationships outright, but he does talk about the possibility of there being a positive aspect present within them—which is something we usually never here from the prelates of the Church these days.

This particular approach of the Cardinal’s is notably similar to the venerable Fr. Charles Curran’s—who was one of the first theologians to attempt to genuinely tackle the issue of the question of homosexuality in a positive and reasoned context. Fr. Curran’s conclusion was that because of the presence of sin in the world certain subjective tendencies could not be avoided. Although they were objectively wrong they were not subjectively sinful. Thus meaning, although homosexual relationships were technically wrong because they were not open to “procreation” they may not necessarily be subjectively sinful for the individuals involved, taking into consideration the solidification of the person’s orientation and the quality of the relationship that they were in. Ultimately, even if it might technically be wrong, if the relationship was sufficiently supporting the two individuals in terms of moral and emotional stability and integrity, it could in fact end up being a very good thing morally.

I personally don’t necessarily agree with this approach. To me it doesn’t go far enough, and I agree much more with the distinguished Fr. John McNeill who sees a homosexual orientation as simply being a “gift” from God which is morally “neutral” or equivalent when compared to loving, heterosexual relationships. Yet, currently, the Church’s teaching on sexuality is mired in the archaic centrality of procreation as always being the ultimate goal and pinnacle of sexual intercourse. So, this limited understanding prevents the prelates from seeing homosexuality in any other context aside from its relation to procreation.

Still, much as Fr. Curran’s observations were a landmark in opening the door to the discussion of homosexuality in the context of theology, so it seems that Cardinal Schönborn’s comments could be in the wider public sphere of the Catholic Church. Although the approach of affirming homosexual relationships as “essentially imperfect” isn’t really desireable, it must be remembered that as has been said so often, the Catholic Church thinks in terms of centuries not years. Also, when has homosexuality ever been mentioned so positively by any prelate in recent memory since Cardinal Martini of Milan was considered a papbile?

If the Church must be reformed by baby steps I think Cardinal Schönborn might be the perfect candidate to carry out the job if it were the will of God that he someday be elected as the Bishop of Rome. As much as Pope Benedict makes of the importance of integrating faith and reason the Archbishop of Vienna really seems to actually but that integration into action. Only time will tell if God truly intends to use this compassionate conservative to help reform and renew His Church so that it might more fully reflect the love and compassion of the Christ of the Gospels. Whether Cardinal Schönborn’s vision is meant to be shaped into a tangible reality or not remains to be seen. Still, his approach, compassion, and understanding continue to be most welcome!

The Foundations of Catholic Faith Meet the Lived Reality of Catholicism: Benedict’s Continued Silence about Uganda

At my personal blogsite Bilgrimage, I’ve recently been posting about the role that remembrance plays in the Catholic tradition.  As I note, from a theological standpoint, Catholic liturgical practice is centrally constructed around the command to remember: to remember in an active way that puts the pieces of the past together, just as the worshiping community gathers the pieces of the broken bread of the Eucharist and re-members Christ through that ritual act of communing (of com-unio, of making the community one both with the Lord and with each other).  I’ve noted that the liturgy revolves around the command to re-member in not just a passive sense, by holding a memory in our hearts, but in an active sense, by reaching out and gathering in those who are scattered and broken, through acts of solidarity.

I’ve spoken in particular of the need to remember the victims of history, who are all too easily dis-membered in cultures whose fundamental outlook on life is dominated by a philosophy of pragmatic individualism that excuses (and forgets) the torture and eradication of entire groups of people in the past as a precondition to the building of the society in which we now live.  Continue reading

Spiritual Transformations: John McNeill

The theologian and former Jesuit, John McNeill, has a new blog up, “Spiritual Transformations“.  He has said that

The first several entries will deal with empowering women in the Catholic Church

This is an important topic indeed.  Here is the opening of one such post, on “The Role of Women in the Church

In his book, Passion of the Western Mind, Richard Tarnas decisively makes the point that the future of the whole human race depends on allowing women to be on totally equal basis with men on every level. Tarnas concludes his book with this statement:

“The restless inner development and incessantly innovative masculine ordering of the reality charcateristic of the Western mind has been gradually leading, in an immensly long dialectic movement toward reconciliation with the lost feminiine unity, toward a profound and many- leveled marriage of the masculine and feminine, a triumphant and healing reunion. Our time is struggling to bring forth something new in human history. We seem to be witnessing, suffering, the birth labor of a new reality, a new form of human existence, a “child” that would be the fruit of this great archetypal marriage,, and that would bear within itself all its antecedents in a new form.

“Each perspective, masculine and feminine, is both affirmed and transcended, recognized as part of a larger whole; for each polarity requires the other for its fulfillment. And their synthesis leads to something beyond itself: It brings an unexpected opening to a larger reality that cannot be grasped before it arrives, because this reality is itself a creative act.”

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