Friday, May 21, 2010

Janine Denomme

Janine died this week at the age of 45, a victim of cancer. She was an activist for Gay Rights and the ordination of women. She herself was ordained in a clandestine service, termed a "simulation" by the Catholic Church. Therefore she is being denied a Catholic funeral at her local parish.

In the good ol' days, Church authorities could arrest, torture and burn such dissenters at the stake. They can still excommunicate, ostracize, and deny the sacraments to the living and dead, and so they sometimes do. There are lots of "mortal sins", and many of then can get you excommunicated (most have to do with sex), but evidently the biggest sins are those of uppity women who think they can be called to priesthood like men. So even a "simulation" of ordination is a crime reserved to the Holy See.

Here is a link to both the news story and the video as carried on CBS in Chicago. One of the things I find remarkable about the coverage is the tenor of the report by Jay Levine. Usually Jay is very deferential to all things Catholic, even being invited on junkets by the Cardinal. Here he sounds angry. The Canon Lawyer apologist for the diocese only offered that the Church is discriminating against this woman because that's "our theology."

There are some WEORC members who belong to Janine's parish, and we hope to have their personal perspectives after the funeral being held in a Methodist church.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Stephen Colbert. Defender of the Faith.

In this vintage segment, Colbert discusses with the proponent of the bill to put the 10 Commandments in the House of Representatives and the Senate .

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


A prominent Vatican Cardinal has gone from the limelight to the dog house because of a letter he once sent, praising a bishop for shielding a pedophile priest from prosecution for his crime. Moreover, he claimed that the letter was endorsed by Pope John Paul and by the then Cardinal Ratzinger. The offending prelate, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, was scheduled to celebrate a super solemn high Tridentine Mass at Washington’s national shrine of the Immaculate Conception. However, after learning about the infamous letter, the event’s sponsors told the Cardinal to stay in Rome, and they’d find someone else.

Too bad. It would have been quite a thrill for His Eminence to enter a vast basilica, attired in red watered silk and ermine garments, wearing a scarlet biretta and golden pectoral cross encrusted with jewels, and trailing a 14 foot train. Sometimes participants in these exotic liturgies seem to be like people who spend their weekends re-enacting Civil War battles, dressing in period uniforms, bearing old rifles, shooting blanks which smoke, and shedding artificial blood. Traditionalist Catholics seem to have a similar need to recapture past glories. Perhaps some are also neo-monarchists seeking to revive the Bourbons, the Romanovs and the Council of Trent.

Sixty years ago, as high school seminarians, some of us were involved in the real thing when we were assigned to sing Gregorian chant at pontifical Masses at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral. A long procession led Cardinal Samuel Stritch down the main aisle to the strains of “Ecce Sacerdos Magnus” (behold the great high priest.) We weren’t sure if those words referred to Jesus or to the Cardinal, and that ambiguity has caused much mischief in the Church over the centuries. But that’s getting ahead of the story. Let’s talk about the grand entrance procession, which reflected the hierarchical pecking order of those times.

First came a cross-bearer and a phalanx of servers. Next, an array of laymen in intriguing costumes, sort of ersatz nobility. In descending order of importance were the assorted Knights -- of Malta, the Holy Sepulcher, Columbus and Peter Claver. This last group was composed of negro Catholics who, in former days, had been excluded from the Knights of Columbus. There were no women. Next came three varieties of priests – religious order men, diocesan priests and monsignors, who were subdivided into three categories: papal chamberlains, domestic prelates and proto-notaries apostolic. (I kid you not. That’s how it was in those days.) Finally, there were the bishops in ascending order of rank --auxiliaries, ordinaries, archbishops and cardinals. The cardinals also had their own subdivisions, but we won’t get into that.

When Cardinal Stritch finally reached the sanctuary area, he went not to the altar, but to his elaborate throne, where he spent another half hour changing clothes. Surrounded by scurrying servers, he removed his “street clothes” (the red robes, ermine, jewels and 14 foot long train) and was ceremoniously garbed in many layers of golden colored vestments for Mass. We seminarians were so bored by that time that we rolled our eyes and offered it up for the souls in Purgatory. Coordinating all of this was Monsignor Jim Hardiman with the aplomb of a master choreographer at the grand opera. He had a gleam in his eye, which seemed to say to us, “Boys, focus on the Eucharist. The rest of this is only frosting.” Indeed, eventually the Gospel was proclaimed (in Latin with abundant incense), a sermon delivered by a visiting prelate (with numerous oratorical flourishes), bread and wine consecrated (accompanied by bells, chimes and more incense) and Communion served (but only for those who had fasted since midnight.) Somehow, in all of this, God was praised and Jesus celebrated not as the humble carpenter of Nazareth, but as the king of endless glory.

These triumphalistic (Vatican II’s term) liturgies were replicated throughout the Church on a smaller scale whenever bishops administered Confirmation, monsignors presided at First Communions, and newly ordained priests celebrated their First Masses. Also when Knights were buried, or their daughters married. Generally, the people in the pews were merely faces in the crowd, virtually invisible. And that brings us to the connection with the Church’s current sex abuse crisis.

Although the molestation of children by clergy was first publicized only two decades ago in Louisiana, historians report that it’s been going on for centuries. The efficiency of modern media and aggressive lawyers has breached the ancient ecclesiastical wall of silence and secrecy. Unfortunately, the scandal will likely continue to surface throughout the world until the Church faces two of the many root causes – privilege and invisibility.


Hierarchical theology places the ordained on a pedestal. Priests are privileged people. Bishops are even more privileged. Cardinals are the most privileged. And the Pope is, of course, off the charts. The Church is like a giant pyramid. The Holy Spirit speaks to the Pope who speaks to the bishops who speak to the pastors who speak to the people, whose task it is to listen and obey and not talk back. Vatican II challenged this scenario with its theology of the Church as the pilgrim people of God, but the Traditionalists roared back to, as they say, reform the reform. Hence, things such as grandiose Tridentine Masses, and a letter of praise from an arrogant Vatican Cardinal for the enabler of a pedophile priest..

Privilege explains a lot. Why was John Paul II blind to the predations of his friend, Fr. Marcial Maciel? Why did the Vatican “punish” Cardinal Law with a cushy position in Rome? Why did Cardinal George resist removing Fr. Dan McCormack from his post, thereby enabling him to molest even more children? Why did the American bishops elect Cardinal George president of their national conference even after that awful mistake? Why did that French bishop shield the pedophile priest? Why did Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos write his infamous letter? And why has the hierarchy stumbled so badly and so often in dealing with the sex abuse crisis?

Thankfully, there are some signs that the walls of secrecy, denial and privilege are starting to erode, like the fabled walls of Jericho, but there’s a lot more to be done. We have to keep blowing those trumpets and circling the ramparts.


Initially, the abused children and their parents were invisible, an embarrassment to the Church, a cause of scandal, a problem to be dealt with. Then the families hired lawyers, who launched lawsuits. The bishops countered with their own teams of lawyers, instructing them to arrange out of court settlements with confidentiality clauses to maintain silence and invisibility to “protect the Church from scandal.” We all know how well that worked. The sense of privilege reasserted itself, and the bishops began to embroider the truth. This enraged some of the victims. The masks came off, and they began telling their stories in public, and organizing. They refuse to remain invisible.

However, the true conversion that’s needed to deal with the roots of the sex abuse crisis is not one in which the visibility of ordinary people ifs forced upon us against our will. It involves a fundamental change of attitude. We must move beyond the attitude of a suburban matron, who bemoaned the fact that people had dared to suggest that Cardinal George resign because of his mishandling of the McCormack case. She said, “Why are they harassing our poor Cardinal about some throw-away children in the inner-city?” Rather, we need to embrace the attitude of Jesus himself, who said, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do it to me.”


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

New Crack in the Walls of the Vatican Re-entrenchment?

The recent wave of Polish priests and seminarians that are being used to alleviate the American and European clergy shortage may be beginning to ebb. Currently 1 in 5 priests in Europe are Polish born, and many American Dioceses have also turned to Poland for clerical help. Anecdotally, a third of the seminarians ordained for Chicago this past decade were “off the boat”, and many of the externs and recently incardinated have been as well.

The word from Poland is that the number of seminarians is down 30% from 10 years ago. Vocational recruitment for religious women is down 50% for the same period.

Celibacy is also being questioned. A survey of 800 priests last year showed that 53 per cent would like to have a wife, while 12 per cent admitted that they were involved in a relationship. A further 30 per cent said that they had had a sexual relationship with a woman.

Monday, May 3, 2010


This guest submission reviews the Pontifical High Mass of April 24th. The celebrant was a last minute pinch-hitter for Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos who was caught up in the sex abuse controversy.
I recorded the EWTN special on April 24 of Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa, OK, saying Mass in the Extraordinary Rite, a Pontifical High Mass at the National Basilica. It was quite a sight! I must confess, I'd never actually seen someone wearing a "Cappa Magna". There's enough watered silk there for six of us, at least, to get a new cassock! The rubrics were followed to the letter. The music was well done. Bishop Slattery gave a decent sermon. Yet, when it was over, I felt like singing, "Is that all there is?"

I like Latin; got generally good grades in it for four years at Quigley. I have enjoyed attending and even celebrating a Latin Mass on occasion (novus ordo or Tridentine). I prefer many Latin chants over more modern music, on occasion. But the Mass as offered April 24th left me cold. As I reflect on it, I believe it was the DISCONNECT that bothered me. The Choir sings as the Bishop is vested off at a side chapel. The ministers pray at the foot of the altar while the Choir sings a Kyrie. The bishop goes back to the throne while the Gloria is sung. He starts the Eucharistic Prayer (Canon) while the choir sings the "Holy Holy", carefully making sure the choir is done by the Consecration. It seemed like the Bishop is doing one thing while the Choir is doing something else, and somehow as long as everyone ends at the same time its okay!

At the risk of pushing a metaphor too far, that Mass seemed to represent the Church today. The Pope and many bishops are looking back at the 1950's, wishing they could take us back to the future in liturgy and church life. Clergy and laity who remember the excitement of Vatican II are past graying, and still hopeful that we can fashion a "city of God." Younger clergy and some of their contemporaries in lay life are calling for John Paul II to be canonized. Victims and many others in the Church are calling for genuine reform to prevent the crisis that has eaten at the heart of church life for almost a generation now. Others insist this is just "rabble rousing" on the part of the press and some unhappy (that is "non-practicing") Catholics. There is a lot of talking, but little conversation. Therein lies the DISCONNECT.

Vatican I was called the Pope's Council. Vatican II was the Bishops' Council. Perhaps it is time for Vatican III, the People's Council, where a sensus fidelium can be fashioned by all of us, ordained, religious, laity, regular and irregular, all have a seat at the table. We'll argue, as families do. But we may just break the "disconnect" that currently causes so many of us to say, "They just don't get it!"

Peter Ignotus