Climate-Change in the Church: Some Midsummer Night’s Reflections

 The US Senate did not pass climate-change legislation.



We who work for climate change in the church can learn from that failure.




Climate-change legislation did not get through the US Senate. We can thank those politicians who surrendered to apathy and sold their souls to conformist thought and the lies and scapegoating of big energy self-protective rhetoric.

Those celebrating the defeat of climate-change legislation point to the failed “scare tactics” of doomsday alarmists and global-warming heretics.

The big energy companies, particularly coal and oil industries, can now celebrate, with summer drinks and barbecues, the wisdom of environmental inaction. And they can compliment themselves on the success of their disinformation campaigns and anti-environmental organizations. (But it will be a temporary success……..)

Reform-minded Catholics can learn from the short-term failures of the climate-change people.

(1) Apathy about church reform  and renewal is a constant problem.

(2) Courage needs the support and stimulation of courageous friends and colleagues.

(3) Spreading false information and scapegoating are techniques used by all self-protective and threatened organizations.

(4) There is no virtue in ignorance; and the truth always comes out: often with a big bang.

(5) I can understand– as I hear from friends and associates —  that Catholics are getting tired of hearing about abuse in the church. A lot of very bad news has come our way. More will come for sure. It is tiring and depressing…..but  it has to come out.

(6) Honesty and tranparency must replace institutional avoidance, cover-ups and secrecy.


But there is also a time for stepping back and reflecting about the days and work ahead.

The Pope has gone to Castel Gandolfo for a bit of R&R. The Curia will not swing back into action again until mid-September. Chanceries are growing quiet.

We too should take advantage of the remaining days of summer to reflect and re-energize ourselves for the struggles that lie ahead.

John Greenleaf is doing that as well: going offline until after Labor Day.

In the next few weeks I will be working on a book and doing research and travel in Eastern Europe. I am intrigued by the resurgence of a triumphalist Church after years of Communist oppression. And I want to listen to young people.

ANOTHER VOICE will be back in September: with a voice that is clear and stronger than  ever!

A very sincere thank you to all who have taken time to read and share their thoughts.

John W. Greenleaf


Who are American Catholics today and what do they think and believe?

US Roman Catholics

Perhaps more American Catholic than Roman Catholic


In emails and a few face-to-face discussions recently, I hear a variety of conflicting reports about American Catholics. One member of the hierarchy warned me that U.S. Catholics are now solidly Republican conservatives and are fed-up with my kind of “quasi-heretical liberalism.”

So what are the current facts about Roman Catholics in the United States of America?



How many American Catholics these days?

American Catholics now make up about 23% of the US population. (The USCCB’s Kennedy Directory says we now make up 22%). Although we remain the largest single denomination, our numbers are decreasing. There is a very significant drop in Catholic membership throughout New England.

18% of American Catholics are in the 18 to 29 age group, 41% in the 30 to 49 age group, 24 % the 50 to 64 group and 16% are 65+.

Weekly church attendance:

33% of us attend church at least once a week. The US national average for weekly religious service attendance is now 24%. The only religious group with a higher weekly attendance rate is the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints: 44%.

Racial and ethnic composition:

American Catholics are: 65% white, 2% black, 2% Asian and 29% Hispanic

Literal Interpretation of Scripture among Catholics

American Catholics are not biblical fundamentalists. While 23% say the Bible contains the Word of God and is literally true word for word,  39% say the Bible offers the Word of God, but is not literally true word for word; and 27% of say the Bible is simply a religious book and is not the Word of God.


Interpretation of Religious Teachings Among Catholics

American Catholics are not rigidly doctrinaire. Some see this as a sign of US secularization. Others see it is a sign of religious maturity. In any event, 77% of American Catholics agree that there is more than one true way to interpret official Catholic Church teachings, and 79% believe that many religions can lead to eternal life


When we look at American Catholics and ethical issues, we see quite a mix.


Despite the Catholic Church’s strong opposition to abortion, a slim majority (51%) of Catholics believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while 44% oppose abortion in most or all cases. This breakdown is nearly identical to the views of the public as a whole. However, white Catholics who attend church at least once a week (60%) and Latino Catholics (53%) are more likely than Catholics as a whole to oppose legalized abortion in most or all circumstances.

Catholics are slightly more supportive of gay marriage than is the public as a whole and when asked about homosexuality, 58% said homosexuality should be accepted by society. When it comes to the use of torture against suspected terrorists, however, 25% of the US population says it can never be justified and 20% of Roman Catholics. On the issue of the death penalty, a majority of Catholics express views that are in tension with the Catholic Church’s teachings against capital punishment. In the August 2007 Pew survey, six-in-ten Catholics expressed support for the death penalty, while only about one-third (35%) opposed it


Political party engagement

Some US bishops will not like this, but 33% of US Catholics are Democrats with another 16% leaning that way. And 23% are Republican with another 10% leaning that way. 10% are independents.



We CAN Change the Church

How Change in the Church Really Happens



Historically more from the Bottom Up and in Four Stages

(In fact, just like our own 1776 American Revolution!)



Change in the Church (well I am a church historian) follows a four-stage process. Depending on time and place, the stages can overlap until the change reactions reach critical mass.

(1)   The critical prophets:

The critical prophet, and the critical prophets, are those people who see the need for reform and have the courage to speak out. They are the courageous concerned Catholics. They are usually condemned by the institutional leaders and called “dissidents,” “trouble-makers,” or simply “heretics.” Institutional leaders really try to crucify them.

(2)   Networks of the courageous concerned:

When the courageous concerned prophets survive (usually a sign that they are speaking the needed truth), networks of like-minded people start connecting and expanding. Through networking the courageous concerned share common concerns, common dreams and support one another.  Networking is absolutely essential for effective change. Institutional leaders cannot destroy networks; and when they try, they simply energize people and promote further networking.

(3)   Councils and assemblies of the courageous concerned:

Sharing concerns and dreams is not enough. Delegates and representatives of reform organizations (like, for instance, ARCC: The Association for the Rights of Catholics in the church, COR: Catholic Organizations for Renewal and VOTF: Voice of the Faithful) must gather in well-organized assemblies (like, for instance, the American Catholic Council planned for Pentecost 2011 in Detroit). In assemblies of the concerned, concrete strategies and structures for Church reform are planned and set in motion.

(4)   Implementation of institutional reform strategies and structures:

This is the critical stage: Reform is in motion and it can take two possible directions.

          A.     Institutional leaders acknowledge the need; and they collaborate on strategies and structures for reform.  The institution experiences rebirth and recaptures the spirit of the founder. Or………

          B.     Institutional leaders dig-in their heels and reject the rationale for reform and reject the strategies and structures for institutional Church reform. When this happens, the prophets and courageous concerned — for better or for worse — launch their own institution.




One thing is very certain these days:

the institution is unwell and needs reform and renewal.



Reactions to Levada Letter

Reactions about my letter to Cardinal Levada have been strong and generally positive.


No reaction yet from the addressee….


I did get one very angry letter from a fellow who sent an email with very large letters: “JUST WHAT DO YOU WANT THE CHURCH TO DO?!!!”

My answer is two things:

(1)    I want Church leadership to clean up its act in the way it handles sex abuse in the Church, and

(2)    I want Church leadership to begin to listen to and address the faith concerns of contemporary people. And I have two examples of what I mean:

First example:

This week the New York Times reported about groups of young people in Moscow called “roofers.” I would like the Church to pay attention to people, young and old, like the roofers. The Moscow roofers are young people, more than a couple thousand now, who climb to the tops of high buildings in search of privacy and solitude away from the crowds. Oleg Muravlyov, 17 years old, explained what roofers are all about: “It is too bad that people are mixing us up with vandals. We aren’t doing any harm to buildings. Our goal is not destruction. We are driven by a wish to think about what’s really important in our lives, outside the hustle of business. It’s a delusion that today’s youth are cynical. We have the same spiritual values as previous generations.”

Second example:

Crispian Wilson, a young man from England, wrote this week in a letter to The Tablet: “Conventional wisdom has it that young people are leaving the Church because they are more interested in consumerism than faith. While that may be true for some, as a young Catholic, I do not recognize that in my peers, Catholic or otherwise. Many care passionately about such issues of global justice as human rights, climate change and poverty reduction. However, they do not believe that the Church cares about these issues; indeed they often feel that it is an illiberal force working against them. In particular, they see hypocrisy in a Church that calls you to ‘love your neighbor’ while ignoring women, victimizing and stigmatizing homosexuals and hushing-up serious sexual-abuse scandals….If the Church wants to re-evangelize, then it will need to appeal to these people: intelligent, active people who want to do good in the world and be part of something that matters….True re-evangelization requires us to listen to the immensely complex world and re-examine our own judgments on the true meaning of the Gospels.”

“Perhaps if we do that honestly,” Crispian concludes, “we may find that we are able to find solutions that will bring new energy, vigor and life to the Church.”

 Amen indeed!

John Greenleaf

A Fraternal Letter to the CDF Prefect: Cardinal William Levada

Brother in Christ, we need to work together. But I really cannot emphasize enough how seriously lost at sea the church seems to be.

(Letter sent by email on July 19th 2010.)

Cardinal William J. Levada

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Vatican City State



Dear Cardinal Levada, Brother in Christ:

Although you and I have met face to face on a couple occasions, I would not say we really know each other. We do however have some important things in common.

We are both old men, with fewer years ahead of us than behind. Time for us is important if we are still to accomplish a few important things. We are both Roman Catholic men, both historical theologians (both defended our doctoral dissertations magna cum laude). We are both Americans; and we greatly value, I trust, the American virtues of equality, freedom of expression and transparency. And I have no doubts that we both share a deep commitment to Jesus Christ, to the Gospel and to the Church.

All of the above, of course, is by way of introduction. Now to my letter: This, as you may suspect, is about the latest instruction from your Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The sexual abuse and rape of children and teenagers by Roman Catholic priests is indeed a grave offense. Jesus was very clear as well: “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)

Frankly, Cardinal Levada, many actively-engaged Roman Catholics are deeply disappointed and distressed  by this latest instruction. This most recent Vatican response to sexual abuse in the global Church is a total and complete disaster. To be blunt about it, it is outrageous. Not just a major public relations failure but a colossal leadership failure. The Vatican – and very particularly your office – has lost just about all credibility, thanks to a widely-publicized document that equates ordained men raping children with women being ordained.

Why is the Church so afraid of women in ordained ministry? Why are Church leaders still so ignorant — yes ignorant —  about the ministerial history of women in the Church? This latest instruction from your Congregation that condemns women’s ordination as a “grave crime”  is not just an unfortunate development. It is a sign of institutional ignorance and stupidity. Somehow you and your Congregation have to repair the damage done by this foolish statement.

I am pleased that the Church wants to speed up its disciplining of criminal priests. What I miss in the latest instruction, however, is any disciplining of criminal bishops. You know, as well as I, there are bishops, right now, guilty of their own sex crimes; but also more than a few bishops who have covered-up for and allowed – and still allow – abusive priests to remain sexual predators on young people. These bishops must be brought to trial; and some of them, quite frankly, belong behind bars. One very famous American Cardinal, who many observers believe should indeed be brought to trial in the United States, is now gloriously installed in Rome as Archpriest of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major.

Cardinal Levada, as one old concerned Catholic, to another, the church has a lot of repair work to do. The institutional church’s credibility is at an all-time low. Seriously — at an-all time low. Many of us, for whom the Church was once a ray of light and source of hope, are very capable and very willing to help reform and rebuild the Church. We want to collaborate not compete.

Brother in Christ, we need to work together. But I really cannot emphasize enough how seriously lost at sea the church seems to be. Lost at sea with neither a map nor a compass.


John Greenleaf



The Elephant in the Sanctuary

  Bishops must be held accountable as well…

Lacking in both the Dallas Norms governing the Catholic Church in the United States and in CDF’s  Cardinal Levada’s announcement of changes in the church’s universal laws is any mention of the fate of bishops who, by ignoring the reported sexual abuse of children by their priests, allow them to victimize yet more children.

This truly is the elephant in the sanctuary.


Nicholas P. Cafardi, former dean at Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh, writes pointedly in NCR:

The Dallas Norms effectively shifted the burden of the abuse crisis from the bishops who ignored the abuse to the priests who perpetrated it. The universal norms announced by Cardinal Levada ignore the problem entirely. And yet, we must come to terms with this part of the problem. Unlike in the American church, in Ireland, the bishops who re-assigned priest abusers, had the courage to resign their bishoprics. But even here, there is a problem. It should not be up to the bishop to dismiss himself. Something in the church’s law should make this happen.

 And there is something in the church’s law that does. Canon 1389, §2, says that “A person who through culpable negligence illegitimately places or omits an act of ecclesiastical power, ministry, or function with harm to another is to be punished with a just penalty.” Certainly bishops who have knowingly or negligently re-assigned a known priest child-abuser to yet another parish have performed an act of ecclesiastical power that has caused harm to another, i.e., the additional child victims.

In his announcement, Cardinal Levada re-affirms that “the right, as mandated by the Roman Pontiff to judge…bishops” belongs to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is time for some of those canonical trials of bishops who have re-assigned priests with a known history of child sexual abuse to start. Only then will we laity know that the church has a legal system that really works. It’s up to you, Cardinal Levada, to fill in this missing part of the church’s law.


 A good suggestion for Cardinal Levada indeed. You can email directly:

Cardinal William Joseph Levada

Prefect, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith


It is time for canonical trials of bishops who have re-assigned priests

with a known history of child sexual abuse.

Vatican Miscategorizes Women’s Rights Advocates with Child Abusers

Catholic organizations issue statement denouncing the oppression of women and
the inadequate response to child sex crimes

The Vatican issued a clarification of its canonical procedures for how dioceses should handle priests who sexually abuse children. As part of the statement, they have added that the “attempted ordination of a women” has now been added to the list of “delicta graviora,” or most serious crimes in church law, alongside the sexual abuse of minors.

Catholic leaders from across the country have issued the following joint statement in response:

We, the undersigned, express our solidarity with Catholics who continue to seek equality, including those who practice feminist ministries and those who are ordained. We know these women and men to be firm in their faith and courageous in their work as they seek an inclusive and accountable church, undeterred by threats of excommunication or other canonical penalties.

 In addition, we stand with our brother priests and bishops who are also being threatened by this new policy for their support of women’s equality in the church. Furthermore, we take great offense that good faith struggles for gender equality could be misunderstood as a sacrilege and placed on par with the sexual abuse of children. In 1976, the Vatican’s own Pontifical Biblical Commission concluded there is no valid scriptural reason for denying ordination to women. Therefore, we welcome such efforts to expand the scope and variety of ministry and we celebrate women’s faithfulness despite huge institutional obstacles.
We are gravely disappointed that the Vatican would largely repackage its sexual abuse policy norms from 2001 in today’s re-issued statement without adding many meaningful changes to canonical procedures on how to handle the sexual crimes of its religious leaders. We stand with survivors in calling for the release of the names of all credibly accused Catholic religious leaders and for the Vatican’s immediate adoption and implementation of global child protection policies. Nothing less is adequate to the crying needs of a community torn asunder by its own leaders’ crimes.

(Reposted with permission. For more information see:

Is the Roman Catholic Church Lost at Sea?

The Bark of Peter, it seems,  is drifting somewhere these days with neither map nor compass.

The Lord has not abandoned the People of God; but our institutional leaders have lost their bearings.

A quick summary of what’s been happening……

(1) Sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy and religious and the episcopal cover-up of  that rape and sodomy are now a systemic deformity in the global church. Put a pin in your globe for every country where Roman Catholic sexual abuse has been acknowledged and you have a sieve not a globe. Austria, the USA, Canada, Ireland, Germany, Belgium, Chile, Brazil, India, Italy – you can add a new country every day with your morning coffee and newspaper.

(2) And then we have the still-to-be-revealed other forms of sexual abuse. Certainly the Vatican knows about the practice in some parts of Africa where women religious are expected to help priests relieve their sexual tensions with special attentiveness: young “brides of Christ” turned into present day temple prostitutes, with a covert snicker from church authorities.

(3) And certainly the Vatican knows about those prominent bishops, archbishops and cardinals – often publicly homophobic – who have an inordinate fondness for androgynous young seminarians.

(4) Roman Catholic hierarchical credibility is at an all-time low. If one is a “successor of the Apostles,” the expectation is that the fellow (officially we have only fellows who are successors of the Apostles in the Church of Rome) carries on and lives the faith, ministry, and witness of the Apostles. Far too many members of our hierarchy today have the imposition of hands but their actions and attitudes seem terribly distant from those of the Carpenter from Nazareth and his band of faithful followers. The moral authority of the Roman Catholic Church’s leadership has never been weaker. The men dressed in purple and red have sold their souls to self-protective power, control, and arrogant privilege and prestige.

(5) The Dean of the College of Cardinals (and former Secretary of State under Pope John Paul II) Angelo Sodano complained on Easter Sunday that news reports about sexual abuse in the Church were petty gossip. That same old gentleman was long-time friend and supporter of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, Founder of the Legionaires of  Christ and a favorite of John Paul the Great.

Some fellow that Father Degollado: when he had abdominal cramps, invited seminarians to his room to masturbate him.  At   other times of physical and psychological malaise, Degollado penetrated and masturbated seminarians. Good at sexual multi-tasking, Father Marcial also fathered at least one child and (according to his son’s testimony) sexually abused his own son. But perhaps Cardinal Sodano would say this is just more petty gossip.

(6) According to Cardinal Darió Castrillón Hoyos, former prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, sexual abuse is just a fact of life; and lawyers and the media have unfairly focused on it. In 2001 he praised a French bishop for breaking the law and refusing to hand-over to civil authorities a priest engaged in the sexual abuse of minors.

(7) Increasingly our bishops and cardinals parade around and process down the central aisles of churches and cathedrals like princes in some medieval royal court. Twenty-feet-long red trains are now in vogue as episcopal haute couture. And Jesus only complained about tassels and phylacteries! 

            The signs of the times call for creative action and deep and serious planning for the future.

As an institution we seem to have all our engines running full-speed in reverse.

The Roman Catholic institutional regression began with the election of Pope John Paul II. And now under Cardinal Ratziner-become Pope Benedict XVI and his “reform of the reform” we are moving back to a nineteenth century Roman Catholic ethos that stresses power and control and demands unquestioning obedience to Rome.

 Pope John XXIII opened the church’s windows to the contemporary world; and the council he inaugurated stressed collegiality and shared decision-making at all levels in the Church. Pope Benedict XVI is nailing those windows tightly shut. All roads now go in one direction back to Rome.

Joseph Ratzinger’s institutional church is a centralized power structure which controls everything in the Catholic Church through a network of Vatican congregations controlled by a group of old men who demand strict compliance to what they deem orthodox. Censure and punishment await the disobedient. Control and command have replaced conversation and persuasion.

Most recently Pope Benedict has announced the creation of a new department at the Vatican: the Pontifical Council for New Evangelization. The Pope hopes his new office will clear up the problems created by secularism out there in Western Europe and the United States.

I think the Pope should focus first of all on the problems at home: in the very heart of his institutional superstructure.

Some readers have accussed me of being both anti-Catholic and anti-hierarchy.


I just want the Church to be what it should be:






The Lord has not abandoned the People of God; but our institutional leaders have lost their bearings. The Bark of Peter, it seems,  is drifting somewhere these days with neither map nor compass.


The Vatican Nightmare: WOMEN PRIESTS!

Something in Vatican DNA reacts negatively towards women.

But it was not always so……..


When it comes to the Vatican’s current attitude toward women in the church, I think of George Orwell’s famous line from Animal Farm that “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”. 

(1)   The Vatican is preparing to update the 2001 norms that deal with priestly sex abuse of minors, in effect codifying practices that have been in place for several years. At the same time, it will include the “attempted ordination of women” among the list of most serious crimes against church law, or “delicta graviora,” sources said.

(2)   Vatican opposition to women’s ordination is reprehensible and absolute theological nonsense.

(3)   The old men at the Vatican (well young men at the Vatican as well!)  need some serious in-service updating about women in Christian history.


What we know……………………..

Women in the ministry of Jesus: Jesus broke established religious and cultural taboes about women.

  • In stark contrast to the rabbis of his day, Jesus often used women as illustrations in his teaching.
  • He dared walk out to and speak to the Samaritan woman at the well in the heat of the day. He offered her living water. She talked to her neighbors and many of them believed in Jesus “because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:28-29, 39).
  • Most Jewish and Greek men had negative views of women, but Jesus treated women with dignity and respect.
  • He healed various women, cast demons out of them, and raised their children from the dead.
  • The rabbis said that women should not be taught Scripture, but Mary (criticized by older sister Martha) rejects the typically female role, becomes a disciple learning at the feet of Rabbi Jesus. His response:  “Mary has chosen what is better.”
  • He protected the woman about to be stoned to death.
  • Women were the first witnesses to the Resurrection.

Women in ministry in the early Christian community

  • Following the example set by Jesus, women were acknowledged and respected as leaders in early Christian communities.
  • Euodia and Syntyche are called Paul’s fellow-workers in proclaiming the Gospel.
  • Priscilla (Prisca), Junia, Julia, and Nereus’ sister are all key leaders in the Christian community.
  • Paul praises Junia (or Junias) as “prominent among the apostles.”
  • For Paul and the early church: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Ordination and Eucharist in the early church 

  • Ordination as we know it did not exist in the early Christian church.
  • The “Twelve” were not ordained by Jesus at the Last Supper.
  • (Parenthetical remark: I find it comical and sadly stupid the way even some “informed” people posit events at the Last Supper based on what they see in the 15th century mural painting in Milan created by Leonardo da Vinci.)
  • The person who presided at Eucharist in early Christian communities was the head of the household or the leader recognized by the community.
  • Even when important visitors, like Paul,  came to visit and address the community – an early form of “apostolic visitation” – the person who presided at Eucharist was the community leader.
  • We know of course that women were heads of households and the acknowledged leaders in early Christian communities.

Women and ordination in later church history

  • There is now abundant historic evidence that right up into the late Middle Ages women in the church were ordained to diaconal, presbyteral and episcopal ministry. (See for instance The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination by Gary Macy)
  • In a great number of Christian communities today women are ministering as ordained ministers.
  • And of course there is an ever-increasing number of Roman Catholic women who are now ministering very effectively as women priests.

There is no valid excuse


Vatican patriarchy, misogyny and opposition to women’s ordination in the Roman Catholic Church.

Vatican Rules: Ordaining Women Priests a Crime Like Sex Abuse of Children

As David Gibson and others have reported, new rules the Vatican is expected to issue soon on penalties for priests who sexually abuse children will also put the ordaining of women in the same category of the most serious crimes under church law.

So let me see…..the official institutional response to sexual abuse by male priests is to abuse and denigrate women who are priests and any male priests who support them.

Curiously MISSING in the new Vatican legislation is any ecclesiastical punishment for all those bishops who have condoned and covered-up sexual abuse: like for instance Cardinal Bernard Law, still living in grand style in Rome.