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      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. The post Wormwood and Gall a Midwest Book Award Finalist first appeared on S […]
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      Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone magazine has written a heartfelt and insightful appreciation of the life and music of Christine McVie, who died last Wednesday, November 30.Following, with added images and links, are excerpts from Sheffield’s tribute that particularly caught my attention.Christine McVie always came on like the grown-up in the room, which admit […]
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      My friend Iggy is dedicated to facilitating mind and body transformation – within his own life and the lives of others who are similarly interested in holistic personal growth and change. To this end, Iggy’s professional/vocational life involves providing a range of services, including mindset mentoring, naprapathic massage, and personal training in boxing, […]
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“Catholics for Equality”: Are US Bishops Undermining Pope Benedict’s Message?

During the build-up to Pope Benedict’s UK visit, several of our conservatice rule-book bloggers expressed dismay at what they saw as the wayward line of Archbishop Vincent Nichols as head of the English Church, and as ordinary for the diocese of Westminster, in allowing the continuation of the LGBT-oriented  Soho Masses. They saw this as in contravention of church teaching, claimed that it was “undermining” Pope Benedict on gay marriage, and expressed a fervent hope and prayer that the Archbishop would be “put right” by the pope. This certainly did not happen in public, and I would be most surprised if it happened in private. As I showed in an extended post yesterday, a close examination of the texts of all the pope’s public addresses during the visit shows remarkable agreement between Benedict and Nichols on the priorities facing the English church. By extension, most of these are probably also the priorities he sees for the church in other parts of the world, and especially the richer countries.

"Justice between the Archangels Michael and Gabriel"(JACOBELLO DEL FIORE)

A major event of the visit for the intersection of religion and public life was the address to the country’s most prominent leaders in Westminster Hall.  As I reflected on the concerns expressed by Pope Benedict during his UK tour, and especially on this thoughtful and important address, I was simultaneously aware of the activities of some US and Mexican bishops. Comparing their words with Benedict, I came to this conclusion: Archbishop Nichols is clearly not undermining the Pope’s views on anything – but the American and Mexican bishops, with their intemperate direct interference in the political process, patently are. Continue reading

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Catholic Priorities & The English Church

At Bilgrimage,  Bill Lindsay has a depressing (but accurate) assessment of the ten “essential articles of creed”, as espoused by card-carrying Catholics. (“Who Knew? What Reading Newman Did Not Prepare Me for When I Became Catholic“)

In summary, these are concerned with a staunch defence of the Church, the Pope and the Vatican against all criticism; an obsession with sexual teaching, and in particular its stress on heterosexual intercourse which is open to conception; attempts by political engagement to force this view of sexuality into law; the inherent superiority of the male over the female in all Church decision taking and eucharistic celebration; and a complete disregard for the  rest of Church teaching, especially that on the importance of social justice and inclusion of all.

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“Out of the Shadows, Into the Light”:Blessed John Henry Newman, Soho “Gay” Masses

Last Sunday I went up to London for one of the regular LGBT – oriented “Soho Masses”. Earlier in the day, Pope Benedict had conducted the beatification service for Cardinal John Henry Newman. Cardinal Newman is now officially Blessed John Henry – and so the liturgy used our Mass was, quite appropriately, the newly minted liturgy for his festal day.

Portrait of Cardinal Newman by John Millais

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James Alison Book Launch: "Broken Hearts and New Creation"

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the launch of theologian James Alison’s new book “Broken Hearts and New Creation”. I have known James since I first starting attending the London Soho gay Masses, where he was then a regular, and have read and admired all his his previous books, which have significantly influenced my own thinking, so I looked forward to this with anticipation. I was not disappointed – the evening even exceeded my expectations.

For those unfamiliar with his work, I offer some brief background. James is a priest, who was formerly a Dominican and teacher of theology until he left the order some years ago in difficult circumstances and as a matter of conscience  following his insistence on speaking honestly about homosexuality, and since then has forged a new career as an independent theologian, writing, lecturing and leading workshops around the world. He is openly gay, but refuses to identify as a “gay theologian” – rather, he says he is a theologian who writes from a gay perspective. This shows, as his work is admired not only by gay Catholics, but also in the wider theological fraternity. (He was introduced at the launch as “every theologian’s second favourite theologian – after themselves”.)

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The Inquisitor Pope As the Agent of Apostasy

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Pope Benedict XVI has since 1968 transformed from being a proponent of Vatican II modernization of the Church to an historic leader of an inquisitional war in pursuit of his view of traditional doctrinal orthodoxy. His targets have been the perceived threats of moral relativism and nihilism both within and outside the Church.

But in so doing, he has allowed the pursuit of the so-called culture wars in alliance with U.S. and international elements of the Religious Right, to distract him from a far more profound threat to the Church – the cover-up of a decades-long pedophilia crisis; one that may now entangle the pontiff himself.

Pope Benedict XVI has several monikers. His more orthodox admirers sometimes call him “God’s Rottweiler” due to his ferocious attacks on liberal Catholic dissenters from his campaign to restore and buttress traditionalist dogmas.

As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or CDF for short, (previously, and often infamously, known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition) from 1981 until his ascension to the papacy in 2005), Benedict sought to root out progressive dissent. He severely disciplined proponents of Liberation Theology Anthony de Mello and Leonardo Boff.

He also set his sites on more modest dissenters. In 1986 he had the theologian Rev. Charles E. Curran removed from his faculty position at the Catholic University of America for questioning Church teachings birth control, homosexuality, and the ordination of women. During his tenure at CDF he contributed articles on moral relativism to conservative journals. Through surrogates such as Archbisop Charles Chaput and Archbishop Raymond Burke he attempted to tacitly influence the 2004 U.S. Presidential and Congressional Elections. He did this by denying Holy Communion to pro-choice (and predominantly Democratic) candidates.

Upon his ascension to the papacy, he not only continued to suppress deviation from his views of orthodoxy, but sought to shore up support among traditionalists. In one major and controversial moves, he reached out to the The Priestly Society of Saint Pius X, (also known by the acronym, SSPX) known not only for their fondness of the Latin rite, but also for the French Far Right and for featuring in its leadership Holocaust denier Bishop Richard Williamson.

As we consider Benedict’s career, a picture emerges of a hierarch so consumed with theology that everything else paled in significance, even the pedophilia scandal that is now consuming the Church. The New York Times recently observed::

As archbishop, Benedict expended more energy pursuing theological dissidents than sexual predators. Already in the early 1980s, one could catch a glimpse of a future pope preoccupied with combating any movement away from church tradition. Vatican experts say there is little evidence that Benedict spent much time investigating more than 200 cases of “problem priests” in the diocese, with issues including alcohol abuse, adultery and, now under the microscope, pedophilia.

“His natural habitat was the faculty lounge, and he hadn’t even been a faculty chair,” said John L. Allen Jr. of The National Catholic Reporter. “He would be the first to concede he was much more interested in the life of the mind than the nuts and bolts of administrative work.”

Catholicism has paid a high price for this pontiff’s obsessive lifelong interest in “the life of the mind,” while two recent news stories suggest that at best, he neglected the problem of pedophilic priests: one while serving as the Archbishop of Munich and the other while, as Perfect of the CDF, not properly addressing the matter of Father Lawrence C. Murphy, a Wisconsin priest who molested over 200 deaf boys over a twenty-five year period.

The pope’s failures are even acknowledged by the socially conservative Catholic op-ed writer, Ross Douthat. Writing in the March 29, 2010 edition of The New York Times Douthat began by prefacing his more candid observations by first misplacing some of the blame for the clergy’s pedophilia scandals on the sexual revolution of the 1960s an 1970s:

This hasn’t prevented both sides in the Catholic culture war from claiming that the scandal vindicates their respective vision of the church. Liberal Catholics, echoed by the secular press, insist that the whole problem can be traced to clerical celibacy. Conservatives blame the moral relativism that swept the church in the upheavals of the 1970s, when the worst abuses and cover-ups took place.

In reality, the scandal implicates left and right alike. The permissive sexual culture that prevailed everywhere, seminaries included, during the silly season of the ’70s deserves a share of the blame, as does that era’s overemphasis on therapy. (Again and again, bishops relied on psychiatrists rather than common sense in deciding how to handle abusive clerics.)

This is just conservative window-dressing. As the recent Ryan Report on the sexual abuse of minors in Ireland, this has been a problem that has been hushed-up since the 1920s. But then acknowledged:

But it was the church’s conservative instincts – the insistence on institutional loyalty, obedience and the absolute authority of clerics – that allowed the abuse to spread unpunished.

What’s more, it was a conservative hierarchy’s bunker mentality that prevented the Vatican from reckoning with the scandal. In a characteristic moment in 2002, a prominent cardinal told a Spanish audience that “I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign … to discredit the church.”

And as in 2002 the hierarchy and its defenders have resorted to a bunker mentality. New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan bemoaned that the pope is “now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus.” Current CDF Prefect Cardinal William Levada attacked the messenger, complaining, the New York Times‘s coverage of he story was, “deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness.”

Catholic League President Bill Donohue distinguished himself by descending to what may be a new low: He blamed the victims — alleging that the crisis was not about pedophilia but homosexuality because “…most of the victims were post pubescent.”

Donohue conveniently glosses over the key component of any incident of sexual abuse: the leveraging of the abuser’s power over the victim. Donohue has a record of siding with the abuser over the victim. For example, when he defended fellow conservative Catholic activist Deal Hudson, a heterosexual with a predator past for which he lost his teaching post at Fordham University. (Donohue’s premise will be the subject of my next post.)

This sad episode in Catholicism underscores the need for greater transparency and accountability from the hierarchy. Power always seems to come before the personal well-being of the congregants. Accountability is avoided. In its place, members of the Church hierarchy brazenly seek to be exempted from the rules that apply to everyone else.

Astonishingly, in this dark hour for Catholicism, the hierarchy is actively opposing legislation now pending in the New York State assembly the Child Victims Act. The bill would temporarily lift the statute of limitations for lawsuits alleging the sexual abuse of children. (No wonder why many on the Catholic Right rail at the notion of separation of church and state!)

But beyond the political aspects of this crisis is another question.

An uncle of mine asked what about the potential fallout from the Vatican’s intransigency on the abuse issue. I told him that that many rank-and-file Catholics would become estranged from the Church. These Catholics will either join other Christian denominations or perhaps, give up on faith all together. In either outcome, the pope who made a career in fighting apostasy by seeking to quell progressive dissent will have turned out to be the agent of apostasy itself.