Tuesday, December 28, 2010

On Their Way Out

In an America magazine article “On Their Way Out”, William Byron, S.J picks up on a suggestion that their should be a exit-interview for Catholics leaving the Church behind. The rationale is that Church leaders should be concerned enough to learn why large numbers of “Cradle Catholics” no longer find a spiritual home in the Catholic Church. The irony is that bishops don’t care what people think. They think they are the sole founts on truth, and anyone who doesn’t think so can just “go to Hell.” You can find the article at http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=12642

I found the following reader’s response well written and worth sharing…

I am a 51 year old "Cradle Catholic," one of 5 kids raised in a family that went to church every Sunday with parents who made sure we received our sacraments growing up. I am the only one that still attends Mass regularly. I've been active in my church, in music ministry and teaching CCD. And yet I'm on the cusp of leaving as well, for a variety of reasons.

I find Church teaching on gays and women to be immoral, and do not want my son taught that a loving God considers only unmarried, straight men worthy of invoking His presence at Mass. I find the Church response to the pedophile scandal immoral as well - first moving, rather than removing priests, and later insisting that it is all a media-driven conspiracy to undermine Church authority.

In particular I find the politicization of the Church totally unacceptable. I never thought I would see the American bishops oppose providing health care for all - the most shameful homily I've ever heard a Catholic priest give came in the fall of 2009, when he incited parishioners to contact legislators urging them to vote "no" on health care. In opposing health care reform, the bishops have, in my view, forfeited their moral leadership.

Year after year I've listened to the local bishop and priests tell Catholics that abortion is the most important moral issue facing the country and that it must be the primary factor in deciding how to cast our votes in elections. Yet in the 13 years I attended Mass at the local Cathedral, there was not a single special collection devoted to crisis pregnancy centers - not a diaper or jar of baby food was collected. This supposed "priority" also merited no mention in the yearly pleas for contributions to the bishop's Lenten appeal. Moreover, when our bishop decided to undertake a special fundraising effort, it was not to support crisis pregnancy services, but to build himself a fancy mansion to live in next to the Cathedral. What was that moral priority again? These bishops will throw women out of the church for saving a mother's life (Bishop Olmstead), threaten to withhold communion from pro-choice politicians, and make a show of praying the rosary outside of abortion clinics, they will not lift a finger to help women and babies in need, even urging legislators to deny them access to health care. The hypocrisy is nauseating.

The growing emphasis on the Church as institution, rather than the Church as a teacher of Christ, is also a problem. I find that the Church is more closed and inward looking, teaching a faith that can exist only within the church walls, rather than in the wider world - Christ's message was to "go and make disciples of all nations," not, "build walls between yourself and the world."

I also find the growing emphasis on grandeur and finery among the Church hierarchy - ermine cloaks, crowns, lace vestments - a complete contradiction of the Christ who dressed in the simplicity of a Galilean peasant and who was only dressed in fine robes and a "crown" by his tormentors to mock him.

And, given all of the legitimate issues facing the Church in the world, Rome decides that monkeying with the English translation of the Mass is the most important thing it has to do. Is God any less present in the Mass as it is now? Will this new translation improve the "pipeline" to the Divine? Then why bother, if not simply to assert Roman authority? Latin was used in the early centuries of the Church not because it had any special divine significance, but because it was the spoken language of the believers in Rome (assuming they translated the scriptures correctly from the Greek and Hebrew to begin with). This insistence on strict translation of the Latin suggests that the Mass is little more than a magical incantation (see Harry Potter) - say it "correctly," and poof, Jesus appears; say it "incorrectly," and He withholds His presence.

My family and I do still attend Mass regularly, for now, but only because there is a nearby Jesuit parish that emphasizes the Gospel teachings of Christ, rather than the institutional Church. We will see what the future brings.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A reading from the book of WikiLeaks

Even the Vatican didn't go unscathed in the recent WikiLeak revelations. Blogger Justin Sengstock offered up some well-written and insightful reflections on the subject...

A reading from the book of WikiLeaks
Posted by Justin Sengstock on December 16, 2010

When WikiLeaks made its great data-dump of secret diplomatic cables the other week, revealing just how raw the game of international politics can be behind its closed bathroom door, one particular sovereign state flew under the radar for a while. But the inevitable finally happened. Vatican City got WikiLeaked, too.

John L. Allen, Jr., senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, wrote on December 11: “Secret diplomatic cables revealed this morning as part of the WikiLeaks releases confirm that while the Vatican was appalled by revelations of clerical sexual abuse in Ireland in 2009 and 2010, it was also offended by demands that the papal ambassador participate in a government-sponsored probe, seeing it as an insult to the Vatican’s sovereign immunity under international law.”

Therefore the Vatican ruled that the probe be unctuously deferential: “any requests for information should come through proper diplomatic channels.” And this the Irish people resented, as U.S. diplomat Julieta Valls Noyes noted: “Much of the Irish public views the Vatican protests as pettily procedural and failing to confront the real issue of horrific abuse and cover-up by Church officials.”

So it goes. The Vatican would like to be caring. But the institution has become an end goal in itself, and the aura surrounding it must remain inviolate. It is a great power among the great powers. God and the statecraft of Otto von Bismarck are one.

We often criticize institutionalism on practical grounds, for it often hardens the arteries through which noble ideas and efforts might otherwise pass. But it poses a special risk whenever God is involved, as journalist and former divinity student Chris Hedges suggests in his meditation on the Ten Commandments, Losing Moses on the Freeway.

Hedges argues that when people or institutions “sanctify their own power,” promising us that the mystery of God “can not only be known but also manipulated,” they “lead us away from the worship of God into the corrosive idolatry of self-worship.” Our churches, although ostensibly preaching against idols, can become them. “We believe these idols will protect us, never realizing that idols are always willing to sacrifice their own, to ensure their own preservation.”
So the Irish victims discovered when the Vatican insisted on being “pettily procedural.” So victims of abuse everywhere discovered when the successors of the apostles summoned their lawyers, shut their doors, and lowered their shades. Behind those doors and shades they determined whom to sacrifice, to ensure their own preservation—unlike Jesus, who sacrificed himself for our preservation.

I acknowledge that a total indictment of the Church simply because it is an institution would be naïve and hypocritical. I was initiated into sacramental life by a parish in the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois, and I learned my faith at a high school run by Dominican sisters and the Archdiocese of Chicago. I acquired what radicalism I have, and any theory that backs it up, at a Jesuit university. When I speak as I do about the Church as institution, I inevitably draw on resources that the Church as institution has given me.

Yet, as a believer in synchronicity, I must read John Allen’s December 11 reportage alongside Matthew 21:23-27, the Gospel for the Monday of the Third Week of Advent (December 13 this year). Jesus is teaching the crowd when the chief priests and elders approach him, demanding to know by what authority he works. Jesus insists they answer him first: was John the Baptist’s ministry of divine or human origin?

So the officials begin to debate not the answer, but how whatever answer they give will affect them. If they admit John was sent by God, they will look faithless, but if they say John was not, there might be a riot. Thus the priests and elders say they just don’t know, and Jesus refuses to cite any authority.

Worried about their power and standing within institutional Judaism, the priests and elders were on a different planet from Jesus. He simply had to leave them there and move on, because the Gospel is unintelligible to those who cover their behinds.

I do not advocate throwing away Church structures, but I do advocate poking and pushing those who run them, making them constantly attentive to the possibility that Jesus will leave them there and move on. If WikiLeaks happens to help us poke and push this time, so be it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Secret Lives of Priests

Gene Kennedy recentlyoffered a tribute to the parish priest in a NCR column. Often caught between the conflicting expectations and agendas of the Bishops above and the Church below, parish priests generally show a grace under fire. We would like to share the op-ed piece.


After a decade of revelations about sexual and financial scandals among priests, you would think that there is nothing more to learn about these men who were once revered in the Catholic culture and respected in the culture at large.

While it is undeniable that we know more than we care to about the once hidden lives of some priests, there is a far larger and deeper territory that might as well be the cave next to Bin Laden’s even though it can be entered at any time in the rectory just down the street.

This is the largely unexplored setting of the secret lives of the good priests all around us. Sated with lurid reports about fallen priests few people and no reporters have much interest, much less curiosity, about how faithful priests are living, what they are doing, or how they are feeling.

Goodness never gets into the newspapers. Check the headlines on any day’s paper for the common denominator of a negative word – fraud, investigation, death, fire, failure – and we understand why priests who have kept their promises and stayed at their posts are literally too good for words.

Despite the withering fire of the sex abuse wars, they have not deserted and they don’t complain much either. The reason for that may be that their people have troubles enough of their own and they don’t want to hear any of Father’s. No matter what they have been through, we want our priests to be the same as they have always been, on duty, on time, and on the ball.

I experienced a revelation about their secret lives in a letter from one of the finest priests I know. He wrote that “My soul has turned into a cinder, hard dry and burned out. I’d been running on empty for quite awhile, and I prayed but there was no warmth or juice in the communication from the the Great Generous Comedian…. My job means I (work) with people whose jobs occur in a very intense arena of good vs. evil, life and death….I felt saturated with exposure to human evil, suffering and degradation. In two weeks I was exposed to human sex trafficking of children, a newborn infant thrown in the trash by the mother, an unclaimed body of a policeman who died in a nursing home estranged from his family, and ministering to 5 terminally ill people. I’m not complaining, I’m simply saying that I was running on fumes for a long time. The phone would ring and I’d get irritated instantly, ‘What do they want from me now?’

“I love my job, I love my people, and my work is meaningful to my soul but even though I pray I get worn out ….all the exposure to human degradation, accumulates and goes unresolved….I have not set limits to protect myself from absorbing the pain…we are taught just the opposite: Feel it, roll in it, absorb it…

“It’s an astonishing sea change among priests of my generation that we cannot wait to retire. We’re fed up with apologizing for the Church and trying to explain the profound unending nuttiness (e.g., a seminar on exorcism) that just never stops…. We agree that something of God is rumbling among the people of the Church, the Holy Spirit of God seems to be at work, and it will not stop or be defeated.”

The secret lives of our best priests are not dissimilar but it is hard to get to their stories, if they are printed at all, when the front page still streams with variations on clergy sex abuse from all corners of the world.

This priest’s letter made me think that we really don’t know much about the secret, that is, inner life of Jesus either. From what we read in the gospels, Jesus would understand from his own experience what today’s hardworking priests are enduring.

Jesus preached in an era of institutional religious hypocrisy and was followed by crowds of people who had been struck by His words. Each of them wanted something from him, a cleansing of their leprosy, a cure of their illness, the raising to life of a beloved daughter or friend. Like today’s priests, Jesus emptied himself in order to fill those around Him. He went into the desert, as good priests now do “to rest awhile,” but Jesus returned to the city of man, to respond less to sin than to human suffering. And, reflecting the way many priests now feel stranded, the Lord said that the Son of Man had no place to lay his head.

What did Jesus feel and was it really any different from what our best priests do? What did He mean by that mysterious phrase, “Power went out of me,” if not that, as the suffering touched His garments, He experienced the same drain on His energy that our priests feel every day when wounded people crowd around our priests seeking relief for their sorrows. Power goes out of them as the human price for emptying themselves for the sake of others. We discover the inner life of the Lord in the inner lives of our hardworking priests.

There is no secret about this. It is just, as with Jesus, we do not read between the lines of the scriptures to see that Jesus’s mission was to identify with our suffering more than to condemn our sins. That is the essence of the overlooked lives of our good priests, the ones who never get their names in the paper but who are emptying themselves on our behalf every day.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ring Kissing....

There used to be a time when you were only expected to kiss a bishop’s ring. Now, with renewed emphasis on “obedience” above and beyond all else, one wonders….

Several years back, in implementing Pope John Paul II’s document “Ex Corde”, many US bishops championed the idea of a “mandatum” for theology professors in Catholic Universities. It was seen as a chance for the local bishop to control the teachings, if not the thoughts, of theologians in Catholic institutions. Not all universities toed the line on this one, though apparently it has been accepted by most. This promise of fidelity starts with the Nicene Creed (traditional enough) and then is followed by three statements.

With firm faith I also believe everything contained in the word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.

I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.

Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.

Locally, Cardinal George has been a stickler about obedience from his clergy. Dick Westley, a Chicago area theologian, recently asked:

“Would it surprise you to know that currently in the Archdiocese of Chicago at the installation of new pastors, the new pastor recites the Creed at the proper place at the Mass, and then standing at the altar in front of the whole congregation is required to profess the final three paragraphs - and then sign the “Profession of Faith” right there at the altar?

In the past, such things were done in the privacy of the rectory before the installation.

Would it surprise you to know that in the Joliet Diocese ALL THE PASTORS were recently required to sign the Profession of Faith anew?

To be consistent, soon they will be requiring ALL THE PRIESTS (be they pastors or not) to profess anew. I suppose that eventually, on the Sunday each year when the laity renew their baptismal vow, they will be asked to employ the new ‘Profession of Faith’.”

Now you might ask, why stop there? Perhaps the promises of fealty will soon be required of Sunday school catechists, lectors, choir members, sacristans and altar servers… maybe even parishioners at large to prove they are worthy Catholics? Maybe they should oaths of obedience to their pastors?

To think that at one time we only had to kiss a bishop’s ring…..

Monday, November 22, 2010

WEORC Gala Dinner Re-Cap

On October 17th, 165 guests, including well over 70 former priests and religious, together with their families, friends, and even a half-dozen canonical priests, celebrated at a gala banquet on the Northside of Chicago. The occasion was the 40th Anniversary of the founding of WEORC. The tone of the evening was festive… like a reunion of old friends, classmates and comrades who had not gotten together for too long a period of time.

WEORC essentially started as an out-placement group for priests and religious men and women. It currently maintains a network of some 2,200 members covering every state in the US and several countries around the world.

WEORC traces its roots to the 1960’s and 70’s when great numbers of men and women were leaving full-time ministry in the Catholic Church for a myriad of reasons – celibacy, authority, lack of change, too much change, etc. Transitioning to a new independence and secular life, meant that they needed basic help in writing resumes, preparing for interviews, and networking with potential employers. About 1970, Monsignor Jack Egan, then president of the Association of Chicago Priests, asked Marty Hegarty (Class of ‘54) to talk to the ACP board about how they could assist priests in transition. An initial workshop was followed by a “Career Day for Priests”. Eighty people paid to attend the conference. There was $225 left after the bills were paid. It became the seed money for the formal organization called WEORC (old English for “work”).

Marty and Jim Wilbur (‘56) became the backbone of the network that has endured to this day. Jim’s particular gift was an aptitude for lists, and he compiled long lists of resigned priests, sisters, and brothers. For those who were interested in participating, directories were published to assist in networking and mutual support. The final printed directory contained the names, addresses, and occupations of over 1,850 individuals. A free periodic newsletter, “The Word From WEORC”, kept members informed and in touch.

As the Hebrews were poised to cross the Jordan River into the land of Israel after 40 years in the wilderness, Moses passed the burden of leadership to Joshua and a new generation. Like Moses, Marty and Jim passed on the burden of leadership in 2001. In this case, Joshua’s name was John Horan (’81), and he pulled together a steering committee of “young” members. Then in the past year the point-person designation for the steering group went to Bob Motycka (’79).

In the program following the fabulous dinner, all four had a chance to speak to the history of WEORC, as well as to its present and future.

Currently not as many priests and religious are leaving ministry, though there is still a steady stream. This isn’t surprising since there aren’t that many young men going into the priesthood anymore. Also, the total number of priests in Chicago (for example) is down a third since 1980, and many of those who remain are now retired (about 27% of Chicago priests). While remaining true to its charter to help those in transition, WEORC continues to offer a forum for discussion and information for the hundreds that had made the transition years ago. Besides the traditional newsletter, WEORC maintains an online blog (http://www.weorc.blogspot.com/) as well as a Facebook page.

WEORC’s focus has grown to include support for brothers and sisters of integrity who remain in active ministry, and who face the burdens of the ongoing pedophilia scandal, the growing shortage of priests, the dismantling of the reforms initiated by Vatican II, and the culture wars within the institutional Church. We have sent some pastoral letters to all the clergy in the Chicago Archdiocese. While some resented our input, others have been truly appreciative. One wrote back – “Continue speaking the truth. We hear very little truth from the Diocese these days.”

WEORC continues our support for women religious who have been badly treated by the hierarchy, and to support them when they run into conflict with the powers that be. We support a more inclusive priesthood.

WEORC will continue to celebrate the many ways in which resigned priests and religious men and women have brought the spirit of the Gospels into their parishes, their workplaces, and into the quest for social justice both within the Church, and in the wider society.

Finally, WEORC continues to be deeply concerned about this Catholic Church, which we love despite its flaws and frustrations. Recently, a Vatican official was dismissive to the representative of an Irish group, saying “you are a nobody leading a bunch of nobodies.” We may also be “nobodies”, but we can connect with other groups of “nobodies” to create a climate in which the Holy Spirit might initiate a surprise for the Church. It happened when Nelson Mandela emerged from prison to end apartheid in South Africa. It happened in the old Soviet Union when Michail Gorbachev emerged to bring down the Iron Curtain. And it happened when John XXIII was elected Pope and threw open the windows of a moribund church. We hope that WEORC can be a small, but significant part of that effort to heal our dysfunctional church.

The evening concluded with awards of appreciation for Marty and Jim, and a rousing chorus of “Ad multos annos”.

You can check WEORC out on-line, or drop us an email at weorc@comcast.net .

Friday, November 19, 2010

Evangelization, or Catholic Jingoism???

Jingoism is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as "extreme patriotism in the form of aggressive foreign policy". In practice, it refers to the advocation of the use of threats or actual force against others in order to safeguard what they perceive as their own country’s interests, and colloquially to excessive bias in judging one's own country as superior to others – an extreme type of nationalism. It is captured in phrases like “My country, right or wrong” and “Might makes right.”

Replace the political references with “Catholic”, and you virtually have the definition of the “new” Evangelization in the JPII worldview, or Catholic Jingoism. Fr. Pat Brennan recently wrote a reflection on a similar point….

This past spring, one of the books I used in teaching at the Institute of Pastoral Studies, was The Future Church: How Ten Trends Are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church by John Allen. John Allen mentions influences in the 21st century that are going to have an impact on the future of the Catholic Church… One trend that I was eager to read about was a chapter entitled Evangelical Catholicism.

Based on my background in evangelization work, I was enthused that Allen was seeing in the church a renewed interest in evangelization as called for by Paul VI in 1975. As I understand it, evangelization has to do with calling people to a personal and communal relationship with Jesus Christ, conversion, and a growing experience of life in the Reign of God.

I was disappointed when I read Allen's description of the church's renewed interest in evangelization. The new Catholic evangelization is one that is promoting the institution of the church, Catholic culture, Catholic norms, and Catholic expectations. It is more a restoration movement than it is refounding the church according to the mission and vision of Jesus. This new Catholic evangelization sets black and white standards of what it means to be Catholic. If you do not meet the standards, you are not needed or wanted. Some Catholic leaders have said perhaps we are in a purification process and that what we need are fewer Catholics who abide more rigorously to Catholic norms and expectations.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Purging the Priesthood II

The Vatican’s “clarification” this summer that pedophilia and women desirous of becoming priests were “delicta graviora” amused some, angered others, was ignored by many more. However, it drew a response from the Pastor of Ascension Parish in Oak Park (near Chicago) and over 600 parishioners that signed a letter about the Church’s apparent callousness in dealing with women in general, and then making the incredulous comparison between the "sin" of women priests and pedophilia. The petition took aim at that notion, saying "we take great offense that good faith struggles for gender equality could be misunderstood as a sacrilege and placed on a par with the sexual abuse of children."

The Pastor, Rev. Larry McNally, brought the petition personally to Cardinal George while the Cardinal was preparing for another trip to Rome. The Cardinal graciously invited McNally into the Cardinal residence for lunch and said he would bring the petition to Rome. George only took McNally to task for his complaints about Cardinal Law getting off easy in the Abuse Scandal - being “punished” with a plum Vatican assignment.

Of course, a month or so after the dust-up, the other shoe has now fallen. Cardinal George, seeking to distance himself from the issue personally, delegated Auxiliary Bishop John Manz to crackdown on Father McNally. McNally was ordered to apologize to his congregation for causing “confusion” about Church doctrine and had to read sections of the Catholic Catechism to his congregation from the pulpit. The alternative was to resign.

More details are available at: http://www.chicagocatholicnews.com/2010/11/suburban-priest-muzzled-over-remarks-on.html and http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/11-02-2010/Ascension_walks_afoul_of_Catholic_establishment

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Purging the Priesthood

A few weeks ago the Chicago Archdiocese announced that having asked inactive priests to seek laicization voluntarily last year, it is going ahead to start laicizing hundreds of inactive priests forcibly. This activity caught the attention of the secular press with an article in Today’s Tribune.

The article tries to make some sense of the nonsensical situation, and sometimes gets caught up in the confusion of talking about pedophiles and married priests (two distinct, unrelated issues) in almost the same breath. You would think that the institution is intentially trying to link unrelated issues – like elsewhere, the “delicta graviora” of pedophiles and (gasp) women priests.

Law laid down on lapsed clergy

Under new norms 'indirectly' triggered by sex abuse scandal, Chicago Archdiocese moves to defrock priests with inactive ministries

By Manya A. Brachear, Tribune reporterNovember 8, 2010

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago has begun to implement new norms that for the first time allow the church to start permanently removing men from the priesthood without their consent in certain cases.

Church officials say they aren't sure they will use their new powers granted by the Vatican to permanently oust all of the men removed from public ministry for substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor. Doing so would mean removing the church's oversight of at least 11 of the men, freeing them to live on their own.

But without delay, church officials are seeking to permanently remove 240 men — priests and deacons — who have walked away from ministry in the last 40 years. In many situations, the men left to marry or pursue other careers but never sealed the deal with Rome. In others, the men have been absent for at least five years.

In still other cases, church officials say some men purport to be Catholic ministers, potentially misleading faithful couples who seek a priest to officiate at weddings, a sacrament that is not recognized by the church if conducted by a cleric no longer in active ministry.

"We see this as a matter of justice for everyone," said Dan Welter, a deacon charged with processing their termination papers.

Welter clarified that spiritually speaking, once a priest, always a priest. "Priesthood is … a sacrament that is there forever. What we're doing is regularizing their relationship with the church in terms of active ministry," he said.

Historically, the church has never forcibly laicized, or defrocked (as it's commonly called), priests or deacons. They have been expected to make the request for laicization themselves. The 240 cases represent men who never petitioned Rome. The pope must sign off on each case.

Welter said many men have not responded to the letters informing them of the involuntary laicization. Some have protested, saying they support a married priesthood."

Others feel a great sadness because it seems to be ending something they didn't necessarily want to end at that point in time," Welter said.

Bob Motycka said he never requested the formal process when he left in 1997 because it contradicted his dual calling to both vocations of marriage and priesthood.

"If you apply for the process, you have to say, 'I made a mistake and please forgive me,'" said Motycka, the former associate pastor of St. Michael Catholic Church in Orland Park, adding that his 1979 ordination was no mistake."

I think they could be putting efforts toward other things besides circling the wagons," Motycka said.

Welter said the new norms were triggered indirectly by the sex abuse scandal. They were crafted in order for the church to sever ties with former priests and ensure they don't commit crimes under the auspices of the church.

"We want to clarify their status within the church because all deacons and priests are assigned a bishop," he said. "There is a concern on the part of everyone out there about vicarious liability … the bishop maintains that responsibility until it ends."

Motycka said many men have remained under the radar to avoid the embarrassment and restrictions that often accompany laicization. Despite intense theological training, a laicized priest is forbidden to teach theology or to serve any role on a parish altar.

In the cases of the 13 priests linked to sexual misconduct who have not resigned but were removed from public ministry, a move to defrock would evict six from the Stritch Retreat House in Mundelein, where they are closely monitored. It also would remove the monitors assigned to three priests now living in private homes. Two of the 13 must await the conclusions of canonical trials.

In addition to room and board, health benefits aside from Medicare also would cease. Laicization would not affect pensions, church officials said.

In Milwaukee, Archbishop Jerome Listecki, originally from Chicago, has moved to laicize nine men removed from ministry, saving $90,000 a year. The Chicago Archdiocese declined to say how much it costs to support the men still under the church's watch


Friday, October 29, 2010

Being a Christian is like being a pumpkin.

A little seasonal reflection...

Being a Christian is like being a pumpkin. God lifts you up, takes you in, and washes all the dirt off of you. He opens you up, touches you deep inside and scoops out all the yucky stuff-- including the seeds of doubt, hate, greed, etc. Then He carves you a new smiling face and puts His light inside you to shine for all the world to see. This was passed on to me from another pumpkin. Now, it is your turn to pass it to a pumpkin. I liked this enough to send it to all the pumpkins in my patch.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Suggestion for the USCCB November Agenda

The annual Fall General Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will be in Baltimore mid-November. In his inimitable style, Peter Steinfels suggests that they address (one of) the elephants in the living-room – the decline in Church membership over the past few decades. Peter cites the Pew Forum survey that reports that one in every three people raised Catholic have left the Church. Thomas Reese, SJ, former editor of America, recently described this loss of on-third “a disaster”. He added, “You wonder if the bishops have noticed.”

Peter continues that at the coming bishops conference many things will be covered, “but not these devastating losses.” These numbers are not just numbers. “They are our siblings, our cousins, nieces and nephews, our friends, neighbors, classmates, and students, our children and grandchildren, even in some cases, our parents.”

But rather than face the problems, bishops and their “official” media and diocesan newspapers become cheerleaders for some bright spots.

I doubt whether any diocese is without some energetic, sensitive, and creative initiatives to improve pastoral practice, liturgy, catechetics, preaching, faith formation, financial support, social witness, and all the other things that could reverse the current decline. I continue to hear of successful programs, learn of valuable research, meet inspiring individuals, and see ads for attractive guides and educational materials for clergy and lay leaders alike. Yet somehow all these initiatives seem too scattered, too underfunded, too dependent on an always limited number of exceptional talents to coalesce into a force equal to the forces of dissolution.
Do we expect the issue to be solved quickly and easily? No, but...
What matters is merely some kind of acknowledgement from the hierarchy, or even
leading individuals within the hierarchy, of the seriousness of the situation. What matters is a sign of determination to address these losses honestly and openly, to absorb the existing data, to gather more if necessary, and to entertain and evaluate a wide range of views about causes and remedies. Is it possible some bishop might mention this at their November meeting?
The full text of Steinfels’ Commonweal article can be found at http://commonwealmagazine.org/further-adrift

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

“A rigid, authoritarian body” does not represent Catholic thinking"

The Editorial Group / New Catholic Times
Note: After 30 years of embodying the vision of an independent Canadian Catholic voice focused on the link between faith and social justice in both church and society, Catholic New Times will cease publication with the present issue.

The facts are that John Paul I lived only thirty-three days as Pope and that John Paul II, elected at the relatively young age of 58, served as Bishop of Rome for 26 ½ years. During that time, John Paul II pursued a conscious plan to transform the hierarchy into a rigid, authoritarian body, utterly dependent on the Vatican for rewards and punishments of every kind.

With few exceptions, that plan has succeeded.

So begins Richard McBrien's column in the latest National Catholic Reporter.
One must respect the analysis of the Crowley-O'Brien professor of theology at Notre Dame. For decades the much admired theologian, arguably the finest ecclesiologist in the Catholic firmament, has placed his abundant talents at the service of the faithful. For decades he has taught in summer schools and written weekly columns on the church. As those years have gone by and as the nature of the American hierarchy (and most others) changed, McBrien has seen many dioceses under the direction of these conservative bishops deep six his column. These institutional "leaders", imposed on dioceses with no input from the baptized and paling in theological expertese to theologians like McBrien, saw fit to protect the lay citizens of the Church from the latter's "wild" opinions.

As the decades of the John Paul ll pontificate went by theologians and indeed virtually most theological professional societies grew weary of the thinly disguised attempts to rewrite the Second Vatican Council. Theologian after theologian was turfed from Catholic theologates by John Paul ll and his enforcer Josef Ratzinger, the latter being particularly cruel as he wielded his ecclesial axe.
Both could have taken their cues from a much loved deceased Canadian bishop who allowed a thousand flowers to bloom in his diocese and said often that he had no right to impose his opinion on the Catholic people. He trusted the "sensus fidelium" and in the case of the last two pontificates, peer review could have admirably separated the authentic wheat from the ephemeral chaff.

As McBrien points out, quoting Charles Curran, moral theology in particular has paid a stiff price here. Creative Catholic moralists bailed from Catholic seminaries and plied their trade elsewhere resulting in a standstill in this field. The only lens acceptable for moralists was that of John Paul ll.

Now as McBrien suggests these bishops have been put in place as "a rigid authoritarian body". As the theologian has quipped elsewhere "they answer to a constituency of one: Rome."

One of the huge ironies here is the beatification recently of Cardinal Newman over which Pope Benedict presided---the same Newman who reminded us that the Spirit is given to the entire Church not a rump of celibate men in Rome or elsewhere. And the "rigid authoritarian bodies" are having a most difficult time getting their mitred heads around this fact. Few if any have any interest in listening to the wisdom of their baptized co-religionists. This is debilitating for the Church at large, its growth and evolution.

While McBrien is undoubtedly right in his observation, the salient fact is that this has not made the Church any more credible. The reality as Charles Curran says is "that many people have left the church not because of disagreements with basic areas of faith and Catholic eucharistic celebration, but often because of issues mentioned above (feminist and liberation theologies), as well as the pedophilia crisis."

Curran continues:

Our church today is in serious trouble, and not just in Europe and the United States, although the problems there are great and need to be recognized as such and addressed.

Indeed, the second largest religious denomination in the United States today consists of Catholics who are no longer active in the church. The sense of alienation from the church is especially acute among women.

In his encyclical Populorum Progressio Pope Paul Vl reminded us that "Evangelization must touch life."

That life it must be said is not in repeating dicta from Rome. It lies in the ignored but still burning embers of the Catholic faithful.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

FAQs About the new English Missal.

A couple months ago Cardinal George of Chicago and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), announced the Vatican’s approval of a new English-language translation of the Roman Missal. It is scheduled to begin use in U.S. dioceses on Nov. 27, 2011.

“From that date forward, no other edition of the Roman Missal may be used in the dioceses of the United States of America” he proclaimed.

He probably didn’t mean to ban other Missals in Latin, Spanish, French, etc. Nor is it clear that George has any real power outside his own diocese. Nonetheless, the official indoctrination of the new liturgy has begun with priests and liturgists across the country. To help the faithful laity (pray, pay and obey types), an anonymous author offered some Frequently Asked Questions about the new missal.

What principles lie behind the translation of the new missal?
Primarily, the principle of personalities triumphing over policies; secondarily, the principle of centralism triumphing over collegiality.

What, then, is the primary reason for accepting the new missal?
Obedience to authority apart from narrow considerations of competence or rationality.

What can one expect to gain by accepting the new missal?
The obedience proposed above is a rich source of grace. It is precisely in this sense that the new missal will contribute to the sanctification of clergy and lay ministers.

What role did concern for the People of God play in the creation of the new missal?
The who?

What role did the teachings of the Second Vatican Council play in the creation of the new missal?
The what?

How will the new missal serve to restore a sense of mystery to the sacred liturgy?
Complicated sentence structure will make it a mystery what a pronoun might refer to, or which noun might go with the verb.

Does the new translation faithfully follow the Roman instruction on translation Liturgiam authenticam?
Yes, except when it doesn’t.

Does the new translation faithfully translate the Latin of the Missale Romanum?
Yes, except when it doesn’t.

Does the inclusion in the new translation of elements of the current translation suggest inconsistency on the part of Roman authorities?
No; it suggests, rather, the passage from truth to greater truth.

Is there a discernible pattern to the inclusion of elements of the current translation in the new translation?
The pattern of inclusion of the current translation, like the triune nature of the Godhead, lies beyond the powers of human reason but is not contrary to human reason.

What is the Holy See offering to the English-speaking churches with this new translation?
A strong apologetic for the rejected 1997/1998 sacramentary.

What attitude on the part of clergy and lay ministers will be most helpful in the implementation of the new missal?
A desire to serve the People of God by making the best of things, no matter what.

Is that last answer intended ironically?
No; it is, rather, the most serious response here given.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Does the Pope dress funny…

... or is he just a Fashionisto? As Vatican II thinking and theology takes a backseat in Rome, and by imposition, in dioceses throughout the world, fashions are also going retro. With a new raft of monsignors in Chicago, the demand for fancy cassocks is going up. Once again young clerics can treasure red-plumed birettas in their “hope chests”. Mothballed fiddleback vestments are again seeing the light of day with the revived Tridentine Masses which takes laity off the altar and puts them back in the pews.

To keep the laity informed of Papal sartorial trends, the Chicago Catholic New World recently did a lengthy article on the inside cover. It tried to explain the intricacies of papal couture. One must admit that B16 is a sharp dresser and makes a fashion statement wherever he goes.

Of course there are some critics (including Justice Ann Burke) who feel that rather than regal garb and Prada slippers, simpler papal clothing would show greater humility– but obviously those critics simply aren’t Catholic enough to understand. http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/07/31/sex-abuse-critic-to-pope-swap-white-cassock-for-black-lose-the/

Monday, September 13, 2010


During the past half-century renewal weekends have been one of the church’s most effective tools for deepening and enriching the faith of thousands of adults and teens. Cursillos, CHRP (Christ Renews His Parish), Kairos, TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) and similar programs have powerfully impacted individuals, families and entire communities. So also have more specialized efforts such as Pre-Cana and Marriage Encounter. However, the growing shortage of priests, coupled with a rise in clericalism, threatens to diminish these activities.

In the old days, traditional religious retreats were conducted by a spiritual director, most often a priest, who gave a series of talks to devout Catholics who were expected to maintain silence, examine their consciences, make a good confession, and compile a list of resolutions for future improvement. It was all done with a minimum of interaction with the other retreatants. By contrast, renewal weekends were presented by a team of lay men or women who, with a priest, deacon, nun or pastoral associate, worked together to present a series of “witness talks” based on Scriptural themes illuminated by their own personal experiences of God in the ups and downs of daily life. Following each talk was a table discussion in which participants shared their reflections and experiences. Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation offered opportunities to integrate all of this in a sacramental context.

The weekend was only one part of the total experience. The presenting team met weekly for two months beforehand to prepare and test their talks, recruit participants, and work out practical details. At the end of the weekend, the newcomers were invited to volunteer to form a new team to present the next weekend. The old team often continued to meet periodically to continue their own spiritual development. In some cases, these groups have continued for decades. As a result of these experiences, many participants have become much more actively involved in other parish or civic activities.

Renewal weekends have had an especially powerful effect on teens, especially high school Seniors, for whom it has provided an opportunity to sort out their lives and values as they prepare to enter college. Many young people, who had been turned off by institutional religion, have rediscovered new dimensions of faith and spirituality. In some cases, there has been a strong impact on their fellow students, especially in public schools, and on their families. Some participants have even initiated renewal weekends at their colleges and universities. And, not surprisingly, a number of marriages resulted from contacts made on these weekends.

However, this treasure of the Post-Vatican II Church is vulnerable today. One wag observed that the title “Christ renews his parish” could be recast as “Christ destroys his priest” because all of this requires so much time and energy from the clergy or lay ministers. Even though the laity does most of the work, they need the cooperation and encouragement of a supportive pastor. Today’s clergy shortage compels even the most dedicated and creative priest to ration his time and energy. Likewise with other staff members. Moreover, the new clericalism of many so-called J.P.II priests focuses more on the hierarchical prerogatives of the ordained, and less on the value of the life experience of the laity. “Pray, pay and obey” appears to be the job description of lay folk in the current dispensation.

So, is there any way to save this wonderful treasure? Or is it destined to become a footnote in the history of the Catholic Church in the 21st century? As the old comedian Jimmy Durante was wont to say, “That would be a revoltin’ development, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are!”

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Taking on the Cardinal?

Years ago the Association of Chicago Priests (ACP) banded together to face the heavy-handedness of Cardinal Cody. The ACP found much more in common with Cardinal Bernadin and lost the confrontational edge. Now, it seems to be more of a lapdog for George... but that doesn't mean some individual priests aren't still able to state some dissent when necessary. Here's a blog from http://www.chicagocatholicnews.com/

Cardinal facing increasing unrest in Chicago-area parishes -- from those in pews and pulpits

(POSTED: 9/6/10) In a sign of increasing tensions within the Catholic Church locally, a west suburban pastor recently used his parish bulletin to rip Cardinal Francis George's decision to pursue the honorary title of "monsignor" for a number of Chicago-area priests -- calling the move "silly" and "shameful."

The Rev. Thomas McQuaid, pastor of St. Leonard Church in Berwyn, wrote a scathing column in the Aug. 15 bulletin that indicated there were more important things to be focusing on -- including the Church's response to sex abuse by clergy."Recently, the Cardinal has announced that he has recommended [to Pope Benedict XVI] that 40 among us be named monsignors," McQuaid wrote. "You might see all this, as I do -- as rather silly in light of far more important matters which remain unaddressed like the failure of the Cardinal, [Auxiliary] Bishop [George] Rassas and Fr. Ed Grace to have protected children from the abuse of Fr. Dan [McCormack] and the inestimable damage done to these young people and their families and the millions of dollars paid by the Archdiocese in settlements.""

Months ago, I asked the Cardinal not to move forward with this plan, calling it shameful in light of the economic situation we find ourselves in these days. You ask: 'Why is this an economic issue?' It is 'expected' that a 'gift' be offered to the Vatican for each title conferred. In the past, I think the 'expected gift' was around $5,000 each. I suspect that now it is probably $8,000-$10,000 each -- of course, we will never know.Again, it's your money!"

In response to a question from ChicagoCatholicNews.com about this, the archdiocese indicated the figure was substantially lower: $150 for each "scroll," which was covered by the cardinal. But the media office did not answer a follow-up question about whether that constituted the total offering.Neither the cardinal nor Rassas returned phone calls. Grace, the former vicar for priests, declined to comment.

McCormack was convicted of abusing a number of boys while he was at a West Side parish. Archdiocesan officials -- including the cardinal -- have been criticized for not heeding warnings, investigating allegations fully and acting quickly enough to protect children.

George also has been under fire for petitioning the pope to bestow "papal honors" on a number of priests. The recently announced honors carry the "monsignor" title, which dates back centuries but fell out of favor starting in the 1960s with Vatican II reforms.

The cardinal consulted with a number of local priests, who told him resurrecting the title wasn't a good idea, because it would effectively create a new caste of priests. But George went ahead anyway, explaining in an archdiocesan publication:"

Some will not want to be honored because of their humility; but sometimes humility means accepting an honor that is not just for the individual but for everyone else as well. A few in the archdiocese might object to anyone receiving papal honors because they want to distance this local church from the Holy See. But alienation is not a virtue."Twenty priests just received the title, although others may have been approached about it.

Either way, that's not the only thorny issue in the local Church these days. There are signs of rebellion elsewhere, rooted in part in a recent Vatican pronouncement that puts female ordination on the same level as priestly sex abuse. (Only men may be priests in the Roman Catholic tradition.)

In Oak Park, members of St. Giles Church launched a massive petition drive to advocate for better treatment of women in the Church.

And the pastor of Ascension Parish in Oak Park, the Rev. Larry McNally, recently apologized from the pulpit to the women of the congregation for the way they have been treated by the Church leadership.His own spiritual director, who is a woman, recently stopped attending mass because she was so "totally disgusted" with the Church, McNally said.

Over in Glenview at the massive Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, the Rev. Tom Hickey touched on various themes in his Aug. 15 bulletin."Increasingly I don’t think the ordinary people of the Church should have the burden of trying to understand the machinations of what seems like an old boy’s club," Hickey wrote. "The way I see it, it is the institutional Church that needs to work harder at understanding us, the faithful."

He also wrote: "What can we do? Well for one, we need to speak our truth with love to our Church leaders, including parish priests like myself. Keeping silent is being complicit. We need to encourage one another, let each other know that we together are the Church. Each of us has a part to play. And we need to hang in; it is our Church too. Recently I visited Siena where St. Catherine, an unschooled woman, took on Popes and Bishops to reform the Church she loved. Can we do any less?"

By ChicagoCatholicNews.comContact: info@chicagocatholicnews.com

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Fear-Based Church?

Over the past several years the Vatican has been very busy… suppressing “dissident” theologians, investigating American nuns, excommunicating women priests, using the Eucharist as a political weapon, shoring up mandatory celibacy while wooing married Anglican priests, closing parishes without recourse, proposing retro-English and Latin liturgies, demeaning homosexuals, etc.

While there has been a lot of grumbling (or quiet voting with their feet) about various actions in the Vatican, there haven’t been many loud vocal objections or significant protests. Jim Martin, the Jesuit editor of America magazine, suggests it’s because of a cloud of fear than hangs over the faithful. He should be wary considering “they” came down on his predecessor for supposed deviation from the party line.

A Fear-Based Church?: Why So Many Catholics Are Afraid to Speak Out
Rev. James Martin, S.J.

On June 1, Bishop Kevin Dowling, an outspoken Catholic bishop in South Africa, gave a surprisingly frank talk to a group of prominent Catholics in Cape Town. The other day a friend sent me a link to his address, posted on Independent Catholic News, parts of which I posted on our magazine's blog. Many read it, and other sites picked it up.

Then, somewhat mysteriously -- or so it seemed -- his candid talk was removed from ICN. Then it was posted again a few hours later. (This was due to a glitch involving some incorrectly deleted words, the website's editor explained in an email.) Subsequently, the National Catholic Reporter reported that the bishop had intended the talk to be off the record. "Given the fact that it would be a select group with no media present," he said, "I decided I would be open and honest in my views to initiate debate and discussion."

Now, I've done some off-the-record speaking myself. But after I read his superb talk I wondered: Why wouldn't a bishop want such a carefully crafted, well-thought-out address, which would clearly be of great help to so many, disseminated more widely? Why not be "open and honest" with everyone?

Bear with me. For I've been thinking about his talk not so much to unravel the twisted skein of the on-again, off-again posting saga, but to meditate on what it might say about the Catholic church.

Bishop Dowling's blunt address was not only about what he called the "dismantling" of the Second Vatican Council, which reformed the church in the 1960s, but something else: the overwhelming "pressure to conform." Here's an irony: the one speaking out about speaking out apparently did not feel that he could speak out, at least not broadly, or at least not to everyone, or at least not publicly. His desire not to speak more publicly on the topic may have proved his point.

None of this is meant to be a slight against Bishop Dowling, whom I've greatly admired for some time. He is a terrific leader, a wonderful teacher and, in many ways, a real prophet. What a bishop should and could be.

But neither is this surprising. Today in the Catholic Church almost any disagreement to almost any degree with almost any church leader on almost any topic is seen as dissent. And I'm not speaking about the essentials of the faith -- those elements contained in the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed -- but about less essential topics. Even on those topics -- for example, the proper strategy for bishops to deal with Catholic politicians at odds with church teaching, the new translations of the Mass, the best way for priests to address complicated moral issues, and so on -- the slightest whiff of disagreement is confused with disloyalty.

Certainly disagreement with statements from Rome, even on non-dogmatic or non-doctrinal matters, is seen as close to heresy. As Bishop Dowling said:

What compounds this [frustration over the church's unwillingness to be critiqued], for me, is the mystique which has in increasing measure surrounded the person of the pope in the last 30 years, such that any hint of critique or questioning of his policies, his way of thinking, his exercise of authority etc. is equated with disloyalty. There is more than a perception, because of this mystique, that unquestioning obedience by the faithful to the pope is required and is a sign of the ethos and fidelity of a true Catholic. When the pope's authority is then intentionally extended to the Vatican curia, there exists a real possibility that unquestioning obedience to very human decisions about a whole range of issues by the curial departments and cardinals also becomes a mark of one's fidelity as a Catholic, and anything less is interpreted as being disloyal to the pope who is charged with steering the bark of Peter.

Even for bishops! Kevin Dowling is a bishop: Catholic theology considers him a successor to the apostles. For Christ's sake (and I mean that literally) he's not some lowly functionary. He's not simply a branch manager of the Vatican's main office. He is a teacher in his own right. And even he feels the "pressure to conform."

What does this engender? It engenders a fear-based church. It creates clergy and members of religious orders frightened of speaking out, terrified of reflecting on complicated questions, and nervous about proposing creative solutions to new problems. It leads to the laity, with boundless experience on almost every topic but who have a hard enough time getting their voice heard, giving up. It causes the diminution of a thoughtful theological community in Catholic colleges and universities. It muzzles what should be a vibrant, flourishing, provocative, innovative, challenging Catholic press. It empowers minuscule cadres of self-appointed watchdogs, whose malign voices are magnified by the blogosphere, and who, with little to no theological background, freely declare any sort of disagreement as tantamount to inciting schism -- and are listened to by those in authority. It creates fear.

Does this seem like what Jesus wanted to establish on earth? It doesn't to me. I thought he said "Fear not!" And I thought St. John said, "There is no fear in love." And "Perfect love casts out fear." But perfect fear casts out love.

Sometimes when I'm writing or speaking, even to small groups, I find myself thinking not "What would God want me to say?" but "Will this get me in trouble?" Again it's not surprising.
Occasionally, during talks I'll spy an unsmiling man or woman furiously taking notes. The other night it happened during a talk on a particularly controversial topic: joy. Ironically, I am probably one of the most theologically conservative Catholics you'll ever meet. Every Sunday, when I say the Creed during Mass, I believe every single word of it.

Bishop Dowling is right. There is a "pressure to conform." And it is intense, particularly within official church circles. Sadly, this is the last thing that the church needs right now. In the midst of perhaps one of the worst crises ever to face the Catholic Church -- the sexual abuse scandals -- what we need is not fear-bred silence, but a hope-filled willingness to listen to any and all voices. Because the Holy Spirit works through everyone.

What's the alternative? Well, for an answer I'd like to turn to Pope Benedict XVI. In preparation for some of my own writing, I've been rereading his book Jesus of Nazareth, which I'm enjoying very much. At the beginning of his book the pope says something quite surprising. Benedict writes that the book is "absolutely not" a work of doctrine, but the "expression of my own personal research." "Consequently," he writes, "everyone is free to contradict me. I only ask the readers that they read with sympathy, without which there will be no comprehension."
That seemed eminently sensible, completely humble and absolutely right. How much easier it is to listen to someone who invites, rather than commands.

How wonderful if everyone in the Catholic Church could be afforded that "sympathy." Then we could listen to the voices of all sorts of people who have much to offer the church, by way of their own "expressions" of their "personal research" -- that is, the experience of their lives as faith-filled Christians. The pope's approach in his book -- about Jesus, hardly an insignificant topic! -- is the way forward.

What is needed is sympathy to the experiences and voices of all in the church. Without this there will truly be, to quote the pope, "no comprehension."

James Martin, SJ, is culture editor of America magazine and author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. This essay is adapted from a post on "In All Things."


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Does the Church Really Need More Monsignors?

Just in time for Christmas... new "retro" , monsignor cassocks. Today's post comes from a reflection by Fr. Pat Brennan, a Chicago priest and the director of The National Center for Evangelization and Parish Renewal....

A reflection on the readings for August 29, 2010
Sir 3:17-18, 20, 28-29, Heb 12:18-19, 22-24a, Luke 14:1, 7-14

Does the Church Really Need More Monsignors?

The word on the street is that the Archdiocese of Chicago is about to announce a number of new monsignors among the priests of Chicago. The term monsignor is an honorary title that traditionally was given to priests because of some accomplishment in the Church or as a reward in the hierarchical system of the priesthood. Traditionally, there were two kinds of monsignors: Right Reverend Monsignors and Very Reverend Monsignors. I never quite understood the distinction, but it was apparent that the Very Reverend perhaps were not as reverend as the Right Reverend. Right Reverend wore red trim on their cassocks and were monsignors for a lifetime. Very Reverend wore purple trim on their cassocks and the title could be taken away at the end of a pontificate. Right Reverend Monsignors had roles like that of rectors of seminaries. The Very Reverend were involved in Archdiocesan offices or were pastors of cathedrals or basilicas. The custom of naming some priests monsignors fell to the wayside after the Second Vatican Council, but now it is making a comeback. The meaning of the word monsignor is "my lord".

In my first assignment as a deacon, I lived with two monsignors, the retired pastor and the pastor at the time. Sometimes the two monsignors would have too much to drink before dinner. The dinner could be an anxiety producing event for a twenty-five year old learning the ropes. The pastor of that parish liked being called monsignor. I, for one, called him monsignor; he was the boss. But there was an associate pastor there, a middle-aged priest, who one day said to the pastor, "Look, the title monsignor means 'my lord'. You are not my Lord. Jesus is my Lord. You are Don; and I will continue to call you Don." The priest calling monsignor "Don" made for some more nervous moments at dinner.

The Catholic hierarchical system is a curious entity. When Jesus preached the Reign of God, he called people to gentleness, mercy, service, self-sacrifice, justice, but early on in the church (especially when Constantine not only liberated the Christians from persecution, but made Christianity the state religion), the Church began to take on more and more trappings of Roman hierarchical power. The papacy, the role of bishops, monsignors, and in some cases priests, began to take on monarchical imagery. In fact, in terms of cardinals and archbishops, we actually began to speak of princes of the church. At liturgy, fine expensive vestments were worn that resembled the clothes of monarchs. "Shepherds", as bishops should be, walked around with staffs made of gold or which were gold-plated. They began to wear headgear that resembled crowns. The leaders of the Church began to dress and act in ways diametrically opposed to the lifestyle Jesus calls us to.

For full reflection, go to http://ncepr.com/2010/08/does-the-church-really-need-more-monsignors/

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


In the Bible, one of the most ancient names for God is El Shaddai. It occurs five times in Genesis, and once each in Exodus and Ezekiel. The most likely translation is “God of the mountain.” Apparently, when one’s home valley encompassed the entirety of life, the looming mountain seemed to be the dwelling place of divinity.

Over the centuries, the realm of God has expanded together with our human experience. We grew from the God of our nation, our civilization, our planet, our solar system, our galaxy to the God of this immense, complicated universe. Today, we even talk of a possible multi-verse, a collection of universes. We are increasingly aware that we live in three realms. The macrocosm of stars, galaxies, black holes, dark matter, with dimensions and powers that boggle our minds. If creation is so vast, how vast is our creator, the ground of all being. We also live in the microcosm of the infinitely small, of molecules, sub-atomic particles, quarks, quanta, neutrinos, bosons and the like. We may tend to dismiss them as too esoteric, but these intricate forces power our computers, lasers and nanotechnology. And finally we live in the realm of human interaction. Relationships, family, ethnicity, race, politics, religion. It is here that we discover the wonderful reality that the God of the galaxies, and the God of the molecules, is also the God who is Love. Wherever we encounter authentic love, we find a pathway to God.

That leads us back to El Shaddai, the God of the mountain.

Some mystics have compared the spiritual life to climbing the mountain of God. Like those seeking to ascend Everest, we may start from base camps located in totally different nations many miles apart, but as we climb we draw closer not only to God, but to other climbers who may have started on different faces of the mountain. Our commonality gradually trumps our diversity. However, some of our colleagues remain focused on their base camps far below: Muslim clerics preaching a Jihad of violence; Hindu extremists enmeshed in xenophobia; Protestant fundamentalists fixated on culture wars; Jewish rabbis fighting about who is or is not authentically Jewish; and Catholic hierarchs trapped in morass of pedophilia pettiness and partisan politics. Religion can lead us away from God as well as closer to God. Our base camp can imprison us at the bottom of the mountain, or fortify us with qualities of magnanimity, compassion, humility, generosity and a thirst for justice, all of which open us to El Shaddai, the ancient and ever new God who dwells not only on the heights, or in the vastness of space, but also deep within our hearts and in those of all other seekers.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Excommunicate me, please

The following is a Chicago Tribune editorial piece by Sheila O'Brien on August 4, 2010. She pours out her frustrations as contemporary conscientious Catholic…

Would someone in Rome formally excommunicate me, please? I want to be excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church because walking away will break my heart.

My grandparents left Ireland with nothing but their vibrant faith. They and my parents brought my siblings and me to a baptismal font and promised to guide us to Christ. And, they did that by word and deed. They taught us to love the Gospel and challenged us to live that Gospel at all costs. I love the Mass, Catholic social teaching, the scores of nuns who built the church around the world, the dedicated priests and people who love God with all their hearts and bring that love to the world. It is my life, the center of every experience, the filter for reality.

But, the headlines continue — more pedophilia, more stonewalling by the bishops, more "norms" from Rome protecting perpetrators. Now, it is a "crime" of the church to attempt to ordain people like Mother Teresa or St. Teresa of Avila — women. And, the hierarchy, who have arguably hidden crimes and criminals, who will not open the books so we can see where our money has gone and who always claim the moral high ground, have grouped ordaining women with pedophilia.

Our heads swirl. How can we stay in a church whose leaders protect pedophiles? Yet, how can we leave and relinquish our church to those very leaders?

We have a financial remedy — write "one time bequest" on your parish contribution check and all the money will stay in your parish; none will go downtown. Do it. That will stop the spigot of money to the hierarchy and may get their attention. But, it doesn't salve our consciences about how to live the Gospel in an institution off the rails.

We watch the bishops ignore recommendations from fellow Catholics who served on an abuse panel. We have waited for the civil authorities to empanel grand juries and bring indictments, but that has not happened. And, our long wait for a bishop or priest of courage, of conscience, to speak up and say "enough" has proven fruitless. The priests are scared of retribution from the bishops; they tell us so.

So, each person must decide: Stay and fight (cutting off the money but with little hope for change) or leave. Both options are spiritually and emotionally exhausting.

That's why, silly as it sounds, formal excommunication by the hierarchy would be a welcome relief. If they would just make the decision for me, give me a piece of paper that says, "you're out," it would free my conscience of all of this. Then someday, when I see the faces of my grandparents, I can assure them that I fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith that they gave me at that baptismal font long ago.

I just wish they were here to tell me what that means right now.

Come Holy Spirit.

Sheila O'Brien is a wife, mother, daughter, sister, a product of 22 years of Catholic education and active in her parish. She is a justice of the Illinois Appellate Court, Chicago.

Copyright © 2010, Chicago Tribune

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Conversation at the backyard barbeque ranged from family stories, to politics, to sports and weather. Then came a spirited discussion of the Catholic hierarchy who, in recent weeks, had expelled two kindergarteners whose parents were lesbians, refused burial to a woman priest, raged at nuns who had publicly disagreed with the bishops about health care legislation, been held under house arrest in Belgium while authorities investigated an alleged cover-up of pedophilia, declared that the results of their investigation of American nuns would be kept secret, excommunicated a nun in Phoenix who had allowed the termination of a pregnancy which would have killed both mother and baby, and finally published guidelines, not regulations, for handling of child abuse cases throughout the church. For some unknown reason the Vatican also coupled the crime of pedophilia with the apparently equally heinous crime of women’s ordination, declaring automatic excommunication for any and all involved.

As the litany of cases continued, the temperature of the group soared, until humor took over. One person suggested that we develop bumper stickers declaring, “Honk if you’re into Excommunication.” Another suggested a companion piece, “Honk twice if you prefer burning people at the stake.” Another proposed t-shirts proclaiming, “If women priests can be excommunicated…” on the front and, on the back, “…shouldn’t some clueless Catholic prelates be Ex-term-inated?” This launched, to escalating peals of laughter, a rapid- fire series of alternative mottos and strategies. The threat of excommunication used to be a really big deal, but at the corner of our lives where hierarchical ineptitude has intersected with a crescendo of episcopal arrogance, something profound has happened. Our hierarchy has become an object of ridicule.

Something similar happened in South Africa shortly before the end of Apartheid. And it also preceded the destruction of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe. There comes a moment when the governed withdraw their consent. That’s what seems to be happening, chuckle by chuckle, in thousands of Catholic backyards today.

Humor has power.