Monday, June 28, 2010


Five years ago experts ranked the 120 franchises of major leagues sports (baseball, football, basketball and hockey.) The Chicago Blackhawks came in dead last. Their team was dull and inept. The stadium was half-full. The games were seldom televised. The whole enterprise was in disarray. Then the owner died, and his son turned everything around. This year they won the Stanley cup, and the entire city erupted in joy. How did things change so rapidly? And what lessons, if any, can the Blackhawks teach our faltering Catholic Church which has been rocked by the ongoing sex abuse scandal, inept and obtuse leadership, a diminishing clergy, and disenchanted and disappearing membership?

The Blackhawks took five decisive steps.

First, they analyzed their situation with ruthless honesty. There were no sacred cows or denials or subterfuges. Based on that analysis, they established priorities, clear goals and a plan of action. And the Church? It is caught in a web where too many truths are unspoken, while too many distortions and evasions are embraced in the name of tradition. The Church needs some supremely competent historians, scripture scholars and theologians to sort out the wheat from the chaff in the story of how we got where we are today. What is founded on the solid rock of Jesus and the Gospels? What are the barnacles which need to be scraped away and discarded?

Second, the Blackhawks selected competent new leadership, and discarded those who had proven to be inept. Death took the former owner, who was stubborn, arrogant and closed minded. He was not a bad man. He simply had grown out of touch, and the world passed him by. The new leadership was not only in touch with contemporary realities, they could, like expert chess players, see six moves ahead. Thus, this year, having won the championship, they aren’t resting on their laurels, but are making new moves to improve their team. And what of the Church? Leadership is old, tired, entrenched, unimaginative, defensive and impervious to change. The Curia seems intent on protecting its own turf. New bishops are selected because they are clones of their elders. Priests are either capable and greatly overworked, or problematic. The Holy Spirit has provided a wealth of talent for the Church, but the best and the brightest may be either married or female or both.

Third, the Hawks opened things up, embraced transparency and good communication. They started to televise their games once again. The old owner had argued that, if fans could see the games for free on TV, they wouldn’t buy tickets and come to the stadium. However, the law of unintended consequences dictated just the opposite. Fans lost interest. Kids (the future fans) didn’t even know the Blackhawks existed, and the stadium attendance diminished drastically. His equation was self-defeating. And the Church? The hierarchy is backward looking, attempting to recreate a dead past and ignoring the signs of the times. Secrecy reigns. Initiative is stifled. Rigor mortis has set in.

Fourth, the Blackhawks welcomed home the exiles. The stars of the last Stanley cup team in 1961 had been shabbily treated in the past. Hall of Fame giants such as Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita were brought back into the fold as “ambassadors” for the team, and as exemplars for current players. Their enthusiasm was contagious. Grandparents who had been fans in those golden days not only returned to the stadium, but also shared their happy memories with their kids and grandchildren. It transformed a vicious circle of hurt and dismay into a tsunami of enthusiasm and success. And the Church? We have a treasure which has been locked up in a dusty closet for many years. It’s called Vatican II. It contains a ready made action plan which has been systematically sabotaged by our leaders who have declared a need to reform the reform. One wonders where the Church would be today, if Vatican II had been allowed to flourish.

Like the Blackhawks, the Catholic Church doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. It already has a template to follow. What would that look like? The dominant image would be the People of God on pilgrimage, not a hierarchical pyramid trying to keep all the reins under its control. It would embrace the ideal of subsidiarity with decentralized decisions which incorporated the input of all segments of the community. The Pope as bishop of Rome would lead the Church, but the Curia would serve the needs of the entire Church and not dictate to everyone else. Bishops’ conferences would have the kind of leadership exhibited in the famous U.S. peace pastoral on nuclear weapons, before it was squelched. And the quinquennial Episcopal Synods in Rome would be authoritative partners with the Pope instead of powerless rubber stamps. If this dynamic vision had been in place for all of these years, issues like pedophilia, secularism, birth control, the role of women, the priest shortage and so many other issues might have been handled in a much more effective way.

Finally, the Blackhawks invested in youth and created a new chemistry. By astute trades, draft choices and pursuit of free agents, they assembled a superb team in an amazingly short time. They scouted well, developed players wisely, and hired excellent coaches. But sometimes a franchise has a group of stars who don’t play well together. The whole is less than the sum of its parts. The Blackhawks found a chemistry which enabled the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts. And that’s what is so desperately needed in the Catholic Church today. The spirit is sour. There is enormous fragmentation. It does not look hopeful. But, of course, five years ago that worst franchise of that list of 120 looked hopeless. And look what happened.

We can’t just wait for a new Pope or a new Bishop to make this happen. In our own lives, our own families, our own parish communities, our own workplaces and neighborhoods, we can try to be the agents of change. Perhaps we can make the miracle of the 2010 Blackhawks happen locally, while we pray for the Holy Spirit to light a fire under the Church.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Catholic News Agency Accused of Fabricating Report

Now the Secretary of Communications for the USCCB, Helen Osman, denies published quotes from their meeting that Cardinal George complained about the Catholic Health Association (CHA). On the one hand, it may be Osman’s issue, on the other hand, it wouldn’t be the first time Cardinal George said something to one select group, not considering that it would quoted in other circles. One example would be his criticism to a conservative group last year of Obama giving a commencement address at Notre Dame, then having to spin his comments in another direction when they became public.

Friday, June 18, 2010

George Blames CHA and Sr. Carol for Catholic disunity...

... and Bishop Lynch to the rescue?

At a meeting in Florida Cardinal George is quoted saying, "Sister Carol and her colleagues are to blame." He said that it was the Catholic Health Association's endorsement of the bill that persuaded wavering congressmen to vote in favor of the Obama-backed Health Care legislation. "As such it has resulted in confusion and a wound to Catholic unity,"

Making his own voice heard, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida and board member to the CHA, questioned whether George didn't have an over-inflated sense of authority.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

“Independent Catholic News?

Not if Cardinal George had his way about it. On several occasions, including a speech at the USCCB meeting this past year, George stated that “insistence on complete independence from the bishop renders a person or institution sectarian, less than fully Catholic.” He would argue the independent online “Chicago Catholic News” should call itself Catholic unless he controls it. (Bishop Dewane of Venice Florida goes so far as to insist every weekly parish bulletin be cleared by the chancery before it is published.)

In the meantime, Robert Hergurth, editor-in-chief of, tries to maintain an indepent source of information, balancing progressive and traditional Catholic newsources for the millions of Catholics who live in the Chicagoland area. The referenced editorial is by Robert McClory, a former Chicago priest and journalism professor from Northwestern Univeristy. Draw your own conclusions about Chicago Catholic News…..

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


5/28/10. Eugene Kennedy is regular contributor to the National Catholic Reporter. His blogs there may be found at

You need not be Hercule Poirot to understand that murder is about to be committed on the Disoriented Express. Having taken on coal at the mossy Vatican I station, it is now thundering toward its final destination at Trent, the Grand Central gathering place for “Reformers of the Reform.”

The assassins plan is to kill off Vatican II but they are really murdering religious Mystery itself, that defining core of religious experience that sings in the Church’s sacramental symbolism and in the mytho-poetic language of its scriptures and prayer life.

Ordinary believers are the innocent victims of the New Translation’s manslaughter of Mystery and of numerous terrorist attacks on the vision and theology of Vatican II. Like ancient crusaders, the present legions believe that as the true believers only they have a right to ransom the True Cross.

Like all terrorists, these campaigners believe that Heavenly mansions await them for the earthly damage they do in restoring religion to the slavery to obsessive masters from whom Jesus liberated it. Not for them the Church that respects conscience and other religions, that understands and waits for all us limping humans to catch up with it, that celebrates life and embraces and forgives sinners.

Vatican II makes faith too easy, in their judgment; they reject a faith that elevates people for spiritual growth and propose a regime that puts them down to keep them in their place. Espousing a “tough” religion doesn’t do much for anybody else but it certainly makes them feel good about themselves.

Everything, including the New Translation, squeezes the spirit out of familiar liturgical readings and replaces it with hot air. These efforts flow from the sweeping campaign initiated by Pope John Paul II (Calling him Pope John the Great is part of their program too) to restore the hierarchical Church.

The hierarchical Church’s outdated structure, whose origins were secular rather than sacred, was not a victim of Vatican II but of history itself and the best thing to do is stand clear as it settles into clouds of dust. With his combination of Teutonic rigor and a shopkeeper’s smile, Pope Benedict XVI now charges the bishops, as if they didn’t have enough trouble, with refurbishing the split-level palace that places the Pope alone on top, monsignors and assorted officials on the skybox level, and, like high school kids holding up a wobbling pyramid of their pals on their backs, lay men and women on the bottom.

The failure to understand that Vatican II restored the authentic tradition of collegiality to the Church has led to a record level of canonizations on the principle that the more saints the better to buttress the multi-level ecclesiastical dormitory. The little murders of these reformers of the reform of Vatican II include the comedy of telling priests who don’t know the language that they can say Mass in Latin and the tragedy of making nice with the LeFebvre heretics who are the Confederate money in the Church’s collection plate.

The New Translation is a big murder, however, because it represents an assault on the language that bears the Mystery of belief. The translation now in use reveals the purity of theologically based phrases. The New Translation now slays that graceful Mystery by throwing out the baby with the baptismal water.

For example, the familiar penitential phrase, “I have sinned through my own fault” is buried in the debris of the antiquated “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” The Gloria has been touched up with so much 19th century gilt paint that it resembles an aging countess camouflaging herself for amours that will never be. When the priest says “The Lord be with you” the clean clear response, “And also with you” is replaced with the literal “And with your spirit.” The same Proustian longing for a vanished past is found at the Agnus Dei. Catholics must now replace “…but only say the word and I shall be healed” with ”I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

This can only lead to further literalization and deadening of the Word of God that, as in the parables of Jesus, is metaphorical. In a metaphor, the connotation is the significant element, that cloud of witnesses to its fuller meaning that hovers around it that are scattered when somebody insists on using the denotation, that flat utilitarian meaning, such as STOP on a traffic sign.

Choosing denotation rather than connotation in religious language has led to bloody consequences. Those who accepted the literal meaning of Holy Land have been making war over its boundary lines for centuries. Jesus speaks directly to us in Holy Land as a metaphor for a spiritual place we can enter at any time.

As this Disoriented Express rocks along toward the rockslide of Trent, these zealots look mystified when Poirot asks them if they know who the murderer is. They look mystified because they don’t have a clue about the nature of religious Mystery and of how its supple metaphorical language must be respected and, indeed, guarded. Ordinary people do understand religious Mystery in their depths and that is why, without being able to explain it rationally, they are reluctant to drink of the cup of the New Translation that is now being forced on them.