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    • Gonna Stick My Sword in the Golden Sand September 15, 2014
      Gonna Stick My Sword in the Golden Sand: A Vietnam Soldier's Story has just been released. The title comes from a stanza of the gospel traditional, Down by the Riverside, with its refrain--"Ain't gonna study war no more." Golden Sand is a bold, dark, and intense retelling of the Vietnam experience through the eyes of an army scout that is […]
      Obie Holmen
    • Gay Games Symposium July 21, 2014
      I am pleased and honored that the UCC has asked me to moderate a symposium during the games entitled Queer Christians: Celebrating the Past, Shaping the Future. [[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]
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    • Hiatus August 30, 2018
      I'm currently in the last week of my chaplain residency at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. Next Tuesday I take up the position of Palliative Care Chaplain at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids. There are also some other changes in my life that are in process, so it's a rather momentous time for me.Accordingly, I'll be taking a break fr […]
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    • Now Is the Time August 15, 2018
      Now is the time to knowthat all that you dois sacred.Now, why not considera lasting truce with yourselfand God.Now is the time to understandthat all your ideas of right and wrongwere just a child's training wheelsto be laid asidewhen you can finally livewith veracity and love.My love, please tell me,why do you stillthrow sticks at your heartand God?What […]
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      My current blog is called the way ahead.
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    • Mystical Czech artist, Marie Brozova February 22, 2018
      About Life, Universe and All…The luminous Czech artist, Marie Brozova, creator of the wonderful 'Forest Shaman' painting featured on my blog, lives with her husband and seven cats deep in a Czech forest - without electricity or running water. No computers, no cell phones, no TV. Only the silence and the sounds of nature and the spirits. Artist Mari […]
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    • SPICING UP THE CHURCH: February 14, 2018
      Here is the website of the wonderful meeting group for gay Christians in the Czech republic, Logos. And below is their position statement. Check them out. Logos – Gay Christians in the Czech RepublicWe are an ecumenical fellowship of gay and lesbian Christians and their friends, in which we share our faith in all its diverse manifestations, and try to suppor […]
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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 […]
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      Women have been tweeting from their own personal experience about why victims of sexual assault either do not report at all or report only years later. You can read the tweets at #WhyIDidntReport. This is a situation similar to what happens with child sex abuse - victims often don't report what happened or don't report for many years. I told my mom […]
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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!

Reform Movement Widens Even More: German Priests’ Group Makes Statement of Support for Theologians’ Reform Petition

As a continuation of Terry Weldon’s excellent series of postings on the recent petition for reform issued by a significant number of Catholic theologians in Germany, I’d like to offer a summary of an article that appeared several days ago in the Badische Zeitung newspaper.  The article, by Jens Schmitz, notes that a group of priests in the diocese of Freiburg, Germany, are calling for open dialogue in the German Catholic church following the theologians’ reform petition, which they welcome as a valuable initiative.  As the Facebook page of the group Kirche Braucht Veränderung notes yesterday, the endorsement of the theologians’ reform petition by a group of German Catholic priests is yet another sign that the reform movement represented by the reform petition is widening. Continue reading

The Newman Wars: Papal Visit to England and Battle over Newman’s Legacy

As Benedict’s visit to England nears, it’s fascinating to watch the drawing of battle lines among Catholic commentators on the visit, re: the legacy of John Henry Newman. Better thinkers and more astute bloggers than I am are already commenting on this topic, including James Martin at America‘s “In All Things” blog, John Cornwell in London’s Financial Times, Colleen Baker at Enlightened Catholicism, Michael Bayly at Wild Reed, and Andrew Sullivan at his Daily Dish site. And then there are Ann Widdecombe at the Telegraph and Michael Sean Winters at National Catholic Reporter. Continue reading

A Signpost to the Future: Bishop Kevin Dowling on Need for Servant Leadership in Catholic Church

Bishop Kevin Dowling

At Bilgrimage, I just posted about the serious problems confronting the Catholic church today, as it tries to pursue its most fundamental mission of all—being a sacramental sign of God’s salvific love in the world.  And so where do we find signposts to a future different than the dismal one to which the dismal pastoral leadership of the church at present seems to point us?

I find hope in an address Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, South Africa, gave to a lay group on 1 June.  Though Bishop Dowling addressed the group, which had asked him to comment on the “current state of the church,” off the record, a reporter was present and information about Dowling’s theological analysis hit the news. Continue reading

John Allen on Affirmative Orthodoxy and Jim Martin on Price of Restorationism: Two Faces of Benedict

I find it instructive to read Fr. Jim Martin’s fine statement about Pope Benedict’s recent remark to reporters that the abuse of children by Catholic clerics is “truly terrifying,” side by side with John Allen’s declaration that Benedict’s address at the Cultural Center of Belém in Lisbon was a “tour de force” for what Allen calls “affirmative orthodoxy.”

Allen finds Benedict seeking to strike an “optimistic” note about the church’s encounter with contemporary culture.  He notes that Benedict’s address stresses the need for dialogue between the church and secularism; the need to move towards positive appraisal of various cultures and worldviews with the recognition that they can enrich the church; and the need to retrieve Vatican II’s positive appraisal of the Enlightenment and the Reformation. Continue reading

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!