Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Pope John XXIV (Please)

I find myself daring to hope that a progressive will be elected in the conclave which begins on Tuesday.  Mind you, I'm not assuming that a progressive stands a great chance of winning.  But you never know.  And we are called to pray for good outcomes even when they seem unlikely -- aren't we?

John XXIII (Angelo Roncalli) was a surprise when elected in 1958.  He was supposed to be a mere "caretaker" pope, one whose reign would be much shorter than the nearly twenty year papacy of Pius XII, his immediate predecessor.  And although John XXIII only lasted five years (not quite that), his good influence on the church -- by way of the Second Vatican Council, which he called into existence -- was vast.

The surest and quickest sign of a progressive pontiff's intentions, no doubt, would be if he were to choose John XXIV as his name.  Of course, he could choose a different name entirely and end up being even more progressive than Roncalli.  But if we hear that he has chosen the name of John -- how many hearts will happily skip!  Mine will surely be one of them.

Whatever his name, I am holding out a vague hope that the next pope will be a good listener.  I'm hoping he will stand up strongly against sexism, including the sexism that exists currently (and for so long) in this church.  I'm hoping the next pope will understand deep in his marrow the need for transparency and humility in how the church deals with its wrongs and shortcomings, particularly when it comes to the great, acidic blot that is the sexual abuse crisis.  I'm hoping the next pope will place a higher value on the voices and lived experiences of married people than on the bad rhetoric that fuels church-sponsored campaigns against marriage equality in civil law.

I'm fascinated by the rich tradition and culture found in the international, universal church that calls itself Catholic, and I'm a political junkie as well.  Like so many others of my ilk (ambivalent Catholics as well as whole-hearted Catholics who have no reservations about this church), I'll be watching the television screen and blogs and Twitter for the first electronically communicated wisps of white smoke -- in a few days, or as long as a week or two from now.  Then, if they step on to that balcony and the dean of the College of Cardinals announces that the new pope has chosen to be called John . . . well, am I fool to set my hopes that high?  Fine.  For a few days or a week, I will gladly be a fool.  I'm excited about this thing, even though there's some trepidation too.  Waiting for John XXIV.  As unlikely as that name may seem.

Angelo Roncalli, Good Pope John: pray for this church which you loved so well and so creatively.

Friday, December 14, 2012

An Immoral Society: The National Rifle Association

wSome ultra-conservative bishops have attempted to ban lay Catholics from participating in various social action groups.  For instance, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, the soon-to-be retired leader of the diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, announced more than a decade ago that he was excommunicating Catholics who joined Voice of the Faithful or Planned Parenthood.  He said that membership in such groups was incompatible with Catholic life and values.

The National Rifle Association has, in recent decades, demonstrated that it is a dues-collecting lobbying group on behalf of the gun industry.  It no longer takes on celebration of hunting and outdoor life as its chief concern; instead, it seeks to ensure that as many people as possible can buy lethal weapons that may, in some instances, lead to mass destruction.

Unfortunately, the NRA is likely to come out in the next few days and rattle off that maxim, "Guns Don't Kill People, People Kill People" -- completely ignoring the fact that this organization has sought to make Congress cower and avoid any reasonable gun control measure, with the end result of people such as the killer of schoolchildren in Newton, Connecticut being able to get their hands on too many guns, and too much ammunition.  The NRA makes mass killings possible, if not likely.

This is the time for the U.S. bishops to take a firm stand and announce that Catholics should not participate as members in a death-dealing organization such as the NRA.  The bishops should also call on Congress to reject campaign funds from those lobbying groups that greedily protect the small arms industry at the expense of Americans' safety.  Yes, guns are a moral issue:  you cannot support a right to unlimited gun ownership, by any nut or rageaholic anywhere and everywhere, and claim to be a moral person.  Christianity is profoundly incompatible with gun-pushing and the worship of firearms.

The church is supposed to be counter-cultural.  Our culture embraces guns.  The NRA is at the center of gun-worship.  Why are the bishops not willing to openly denounce the NRA?

Friday, November 09, 2012

Why the Bishops Should Call Upon Biship Finn to Resign

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will soon be meeting in Baltimore. As the P-D and other venues explain, the bishops are not at all inclined to deal openly with the conviction that Bishop Robert Finn incurred on a charge of failing to report suspected sexual abuse of a child. (See this previous blog entry on Bishop Finn's trial and guilty verdict.)

Photo from library site at University of St. Thomas 
Here are a few simple reasons his fellow bishops should sponsor, and then pass, a resolution calling for Bishop Finn to resign:

  • The bishops want and need to demonstrate that they stand behind their Dallas Charter from 2002, which created a zero tolerance policy for child abusers in the priesthood. That same policy should be applied to members of the hierarchy who cover up child abuse.
  • The bishops know they will never be taken seriously on child abuse--by those outside of the church or those within--if they allow Bishop Finn to remain in their ranks.
  • The bishops should be personally disgusted by the fact that Bishop Finn personally handed over to the  abuser's family a computer on which the abuser had child pornography--content that Bishop Finn was well aware of at the time he gave them this evidence. The family took the computer home and destroyed it. No doubt that's exactly what Bishop Finn expected when he handed it to them.
  • The bishops need to stop whining about how no one (the White House, the media, etc.) pays any attention to their complaints on the HHS mandate, discrimination against undocumented workers, etc. If the bishops cannot call upon one of their own to resign after that man has been convicted of child endangerment, why should anyone take them seriously when they speak in the public sphere? Their credibility is on the line here in a very fundamental way.
Please note that I'm not calling on the bishops to send Finn to a dungeon or to kick out of membership in the church, nor am I suggesting that only those without sin should serve as bishops, archbishops, or cardinals. But they have to set the standard higher than the behavior Finn engaged in.  In fact, if the bishops call upon Finn to resign and he fails to do so, they should approach the Vatican and ask that the Holy Father request Finn's resignation.

Yes, I would like to believe that my church  takes child abuse that seriously--finally, after all these years, after all those decades of criminal negligence.  But I guess we'll all see whether that's the case or not.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Bishop Paprocki Rocks the Vote

Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, who is in charge of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, has written an editorial in this week's diocesan newspaper in which he sends not-so-subliminal messages about which presidential ticket he wants Catholics to vote for.

Photo from the Seattle Star

Of course, Paprocki does say, "My job is not to tell you for whom you should vote."  Nice of him to add that line. Need to make sure the Church's tax exemption does not get yanked, of course.  (He's a lawyer on the side.) Plus, you know, he wouldn't want Catholics to feel like their democratic rights were being trampled.  Or their intelligence insulted.

Later, he adds:  "Again, I am not telling you which party or which candidates to vote for or against..."  But of course he is--without saying so flat-out. He tears apart the Democratic Party and says that Republicans' neglect of the poor is, well, just a matter of "prudential judgment."  He wants you to vote for the Republicans and against the Democrats.  He just doesn't want to cost the diocese its tax-exempt status.  Any bishop who messes up that one probably won't get promoted.

No doubt some Catholics--conservative Catholics especially, and far-right Republican Catholics in particular--will defend Bishop Paprocki's decision to walk right up to the line of telling Catholics for whom they must vote.  Yet the bishop knows that Raymond Burke (formerly of St. Louis) took just such a stance in 2004 and guess what?  Burke now heads up the Vatican's equivalent of the Supreme Court.  Burke also was elevated from archbishop to cardinal--which means, yes, that he has a chance of becoming the next pope.

Politics outside of the Church--Obama and Biden and Romney and Ryan.  Politics inside the Church as well.  And sometimes the two dramas intersect.  Yes, the bishop certainly does want your vote: vote for the candidates he favors, or you are supporting evil. Take down the flag, throw the Constitution in the trash; let the bishop walk into the voting booth, essentially, several thousand times on your behalf. Give him the opportunity to determine your vote. What a shepherd. What a clever man. A guy with a real career ahead of him in the church. Lovely, just lovely.

Friday, September 07, 2012

A Bishop Gets Probation: Just a Start, That's All

Bishop Robert Finn, head of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, was convicted this week of a misdemeanor charge of failing to report a child-abusing priest to the authorities.  (Details of the abuse from which this charge arises can be found in this previous post.)

The bishop was given probation.  That's what you would expect, I guess.  It's only a misdemeanor charge, right?  I'm being ironic, obviously.  Knowing that the priest was abusing children--multiple children, it looks like--and failing to report it was not enough to earn the bishop anything worse than probation.

Here's an idea.  Why doesn't the bishop model true repentance by resigning?  This was not the first case of child abuse to which the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese turned a blind eye.  After previous cases of abuse were publicized by the media (not the diocese), Bishop Finn promised that the diocese would shape up.  However, when the new case arose, Finn failed to notify police as well as the diocesan review board, the agency that was created in the wake of the earlier scandal:  the agency charged with unearthing accusations of abuse and forwarding those accusations in an expeditious manner to the police and prosecutors.  Now, of course, in September 2012, Bishop Finn no doubt intends to reassure his flock that he will...well...um...do next time that which he was supposed to do this time and which he in fact failed to do.

Here's a bishop who has an opportunity to show the faithful what true repentance looks like.  He can resign.  He can make of himself an example to which other bishops would have to pay attention.  He has the power to do that...even if the judge said that nothing more than probation was warranted.  The Church has got to have higher standards than that--right?  Especially when kids' welfare is at stake.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Lessons That Should Not be Learned

A group of three bishops -- Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle, along with his task force deputies Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo and Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield -- is about to get busy investigating and "reforming" the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.  The bishops are doing this, at the behest of the the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which wants the nuns involved with the LCWR to be reigned in.

It might be worthwhile to consider some of the implications of this crack-down by American bishops on the LCWR.  This is, I suspect, a long-term deal -- a chance to put both theological dissent and fiesty women (they're not so sure that Jesus was as afraid of women as the male hierarchy is!) -- on the ropes.  Evidently the CDF thinks this is a good way to impress American Catholics.

Among the lessons that American Catholics will learn from this episode: 

1.  The LCWR will likely have to "earn" its way out of prolonged supervision by going silent on major theological and cultural controversies.  Like a child placed in time-out, they will end up getting supervised longer if they dissent in public (or in private?) from the official papal line on matters such as women priests and the pastoral care the Church extends to people who are LGBTQ.  Those are two of the main issues, evidently, that caused the CDF to send in the bishop-overseers.  Lesson #1:  The members of the LCWR are about to be put in their place and told to quiet down.

"Voices Carry" by Til Tuesday (live in NYC, 1985)

2.  Religious orders beyond the LCWR -- the Jesuits, perhaps -- will be sent an implicit message as they watch the crack-down on the LCWR:  do not dissent, do not encourage the laity to think for itself, do not create new ministries that don't have the papal stamp of approval -- no matter what you believe Christ is calling you to do.  The Vatican gets to call the shots -- even though it has fumbled badly with financial scandals (Vatican bank) back in the 1980s and as recently as the last few months, and even though the Vatican was indifferent at best or dishonest at worst in dealing with a widespread (not just American) sexual abuse scandal.  Lesson #2:  Defer to the Vatican or you'll have bishops looking in at you.

3.  Fulfilling the tasks of the CDF -- an agency powerful enough to have been the launching pad for Josef Ratzinger's rise to the papacy -- is a good career move for any bishop who willingly takes on the task.  Conversely, getting under the hood and deciding, essentially, that the engine is working fine, there's no need for a recall, is not likely to earn those bishops many points.  Lesson #3:  Bishops who want a good career path can build it on the backs of nuns.

I realize, of course, that the bishops who have been appointed have stated that they are not going after nuns, but rather the leadership group that the nuns have elected.  Right.  The message there -- still mighty sexist even though the bishops are trying to use it as their "nice guy" card -- is that these poor little old nuns did not realize that their big bad organization was up to bad stuff; after all, you don't expect them to pay attention to such matters, do you?  That's pretty insulting.  It would be kind of like saying, "The bishops did not know what they were getting when they elected Archbishop (Cardinal) Dolan to head the USCCB; they did not realize that they were going to get someone who is using bombastic rhetoric to reject any compromise with the White House to help ensure that Americans who lack access to good health care get that access.  The bishops got fooled by Dolan and his buddies -- the poor guys."  Sorry, I don't buy that notion either.

The women religious who make up the LCWR will survive, and their faith and good deeds will outlive this political play by men in the Church who just can't manage to sit still while women are questioning their right to make all the important decisions in the Church.  Just like Mary Magdalene and the other women who were loyal to Christ Jesus even as the male apostles ran away in fear for their lives, the nuns who are being targeted for "reform" have plenty of credibility with the faithful in the pews.  In fact, if they want, the bishops will probably have a chance to learn how to do some of the nitty gritty, rubber-meets-the-road ministry to the poor and marginalized that nuns seem to be good at and which most of the male hierarchy of the church seem to side-step after a certain point in their careers.  (Bishop Paprocki is a bit of an exception in that he has played a vital role in the creation and evident success of a legal clinic for the poor in Chicago.)

No, I'm not afraid for the women religious of America -- they're strong folk.  But I do hope no one -- not the women religious, not the orders outside of the LCWR, not the laity who also are the Church -- will allow themselves to be silenced in the name of casting stones at "radical feminism" and that very scary yet always necessary concept, dissent.  (Without dissent, faith becomes fossilized, and then it is no longer alive; it becomes more of an artifact of a religious tradition instead of a living, breathing faith.)

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Priests Cannot Marry...Except for Those Who Can

Over at Greg Kandra's Deacon's Bench blog, I found an interesting story of an Australian priest who has been secretly married for a year.  I don't find much admirable in the priest's behavior, though I do understand how a human being could fall in love and consider following through on a new relationship, especially if he has faced years (perhaps decades) of loneliness.  (For the record:  I don't want to assume that every priest lives a life of loneliness or that he pines for a romantic relationship.  Priests, like the rest of the human race, are an incredibly diverse lot.  And there's no reason to pity them as a group.  I've known many healthy, happy priests over the course of the last thirty or forty years.)

Nevertheless, the deception that Fr. Kevin Lee practiced — marrying on the sly, ignoring (or setting aside) the vow of celibacy he took at ordination, is indeed disturbing. Lies generally do not result in good things. Having to live a life that is based so fundamentally on a lie is unhealthy, and it’s not a good witness to the faithful.

However, the issue of whether a person could be a good priest and also be a good spouse, and even a loving and involved parent, seems to have been settled. Under both JP2 and B16, we have married men — former pastors in the Anglican church — being ordained as Roman Catholic priests. I’m sure neither pope would have permitted this (much less encouraged it, as both popes–particularly Benedict–have done) if they thought this would result in bad priests, or mediocre priests, or poor examples for the faithful. Fr. Dwight Longenecker (whose blog recently moved to Patheos) is a good example of someone who manages to be a husband, a father, and a Father — and while I’m not much in agreement with him on political or cultural issues, I don’t doubt that he fulfills both vocations effectively. I’m confident that he (and his peers in similar circumstances) would not have sought ordination if they didn’t think they could do justice to all of his roles. In fact, Fr. Dwight has more or less celebrated Benedict’s creation of a more defined process for married Anglican priests to “cross the Tiber” and then seek ordination as Catholic priests.

Setting aside for the moment the particulars of this Australian priest’s deception and double life, we all know that the celibate priesthood is a matter of discipline, not doctrine. It COULD be lifted. In some cases (e.g., Fr. Dwight), it HAS been set aside. Yet the faithful are left to believe that cradle Catholics should never be ordained if they are already married or think they might wish to marry after ordination. We are told by the Vatican that combining priesthood and marriage works out okay only if the prospective priest is a convert. Nothing against converts — but I find this line of reasoning rather odd. Hollow, even.

Photo from Pavement Pieces blog:  http://pavementpieces.com/after-leaving-the-order-catholic-married-priests-continue-to-minister/

I have heard many priests argue that celibacy is a gift, and it's a gift that brings special graces into their lives.  I can respect that idea.  Still, it does not seem to be a gift for every priest who has ever been ordained.  In some cases, I'm sure, celibacy has led to deep, prolonged loneliness rather than a healthy, focused sense of vocation. 

Therefore:  Why in heck could celibacy not be made optional for Catholic priests in the Latin rite? And why is the Vatican so resistant to that for cradle Catholics?

[ Newest post:  Lessons That Should Not be Learned:  the bishops and the LCWR ]

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bishop Paprocki's Promising Career

There's an article today in the State Journal-Register about the appointment of Bishop Thomas John Paprocki (diocese of Springfield in Illinois, my diocese) to the small group of bishops that is charged with "reforming" (translated: reigning in) the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the the largest national group of women religious in the United States.

Near the end of the article, there's a link to Rocco Palmer's Whispers in the Loggia (great source for the inside scoop on Catholic hierarchy).  Rocco has speculated about Bishop Paprocki's promising career in the Church.  Uh-huh.  No big surprise.  Bishop Paprocki's first year in Springfield -- with his bashing of the governor on multiple occasions and his use of a Christmas Eve homily to strike out at Muslims (including Americans who are Muslim) as a group who deserve to be profiled -- had "aiming for the big leagues" written all over it.  He will be an archbishop someday; place your bets early.  When that happens, Springfield's loss will be someone else's pain.

Makes me wonder about that chatter that Timothy Cardinal Dolan is supposedly papabile.  If he is, and if Paprocki is in good with Dolan--hey, isn't that a good lead on a red hat for Mrs. Paprocki's son?  But no, even chess can't be plotted out too many moves in advance.  And let's not count Cardinal Dolan as such a rich candidate for that special pad in Rome.  There was much speculation back in the eighties about Joseph Cardinal Bernardin's odds of becoming the first American pope, and sadly, Bernardin died in 1996, nine years before the next conclave.  (Joseph Bernardin as pope -- wouldn't that have been nice?  A holy man and a down to earth man and a man who knew how to listen -- as well as speak with a prophetic voice.)  Here's hoping Cardinal Dolan has a long, happy life of service to the Church -- especially to "the least of these" -- the poor, the uninsured, the ill:  those who sometimes get overlooked when bishops decide what they should say, what they should do as conservative justices on the Supreme Court and the ultra right-wing of the Republican party contemplate ways to take down the Affordable Care Act.  And the same for Bishop Paprocki (who, to his credit, used his expertise as a lawyer to help found a legal clinic for the poor in Chicago) may he have a good, long career of serving God's people, especially the poor and the marginalized.

Am I being too catty here, talking about "careers" rather than vocations when discussing the hierarchy?  Oh, I still believe a bishop -- or a pope, for that matter -- has a vocation.  But let's be honest.  It's not only the Holy Spirit at work when a bishop gets appointed or gets promoted; even in the election of a pope, there is plenty of politics at work.  Let's not be naive.


Of course, none of that means the Holy Spirit cannot also be at work in the Church -- though this means that political leanings in the hierarchy, as well as institutional prejudice against women in leadership roles, can unfortunately also thwart the will of the Holy Spirit if people in the hierarchy are willing to let that happen.  Human cooperation with God's will -- or resistance to God's willthat's a very old story indeed.

The long and short of it:  I find myself wishing conservative prelates well.  But, at least in the case of Bishop Paprocki and Cardinal Dolan, I do finding myself hoping (hoping hard) that neither of their career ladders go straight to the top.  Let's stop short of Rome.  Way short.