RIP William R. Callahan: Champion of Social Justice

Rev. William R. Callahan, an international leader in movements for social justice, peace, and reform of the Roman Catholic Church,

died on Monday, July 5th in Washington, DC

In 1976, together with Dolly Pomerleau and Jesuit Bill Michelman, he founded the Quixote Center, where – as he put it – “people could dream impossible dreams of justice and make them come true.”

In 1980, Bill was silenced by the Jesuits on the issue of women’s ordination, but resumed his public stance a year later. 

In the late 1980s, he founded Catholics Speak Out, a project of the Quixote Center that encouraged lay Catholics to take adult responsibility for the direction of their church.

In 1989, the New England Province of the Jesuits, at the direction of the Vatican, threatened Bill with dismissal unless he severed his ties with the Quixote Center, Priests for Equality, and Catholics Speak Out, and returned to Boston.

He was dismissed from the Society of Jesus in the early 1990’s. 

Over the years, Bill guided many projects that the Quixote Center initiated.  These include: New Ways Ministry, a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian and gay Catholics, the successful Karen Silkwood case on nuclear safety issues (completed by the Christic Institute), and Equal Justice/USA – a project opposing the death penalty.

Bill, far better than many Catholic leaders, understood the tension between laws and justice. Laws vary from time to time and place to place. Justice is unconditional. Laws are real but justice is a spirit that haunts laws and those who make and enforce laws.

People with enough power and influence often violate the demands of justice under the protection of the law and persecute the just.

The George W. Bush administration did it every day by unjustly making the poor poorer, by shrinking the size of the middle class, and by  filling the pockets of the rich with perfectly legal tax breaks.

The Christian Right — among whom are far too many prominent Roman Catholics — calls for law and order but makes hardly any mention of the biblical demands for social justice: justice for people forced to move to a foreign land to squeeze out a meager living. Justice for people caught in the poverty of inner-city life. Justice for people forced to work for below-subsistence wages and with no health care.

The God of forgiveness, mercy, compassion, and JUSTICE shines like a bright spotlight on the hypocrisy of those who, under the cover of God and in the name of Jesus, oppress the most defenseless people in our society.

In the Gospels the only time we see an angry Jesus is when he shows his anger at the hypocrisy of religious authorities who made a living denouncing sin while thriving in and concealing their own corruption. And they did it all, like those bishops today who cover-up sexual abuse of children, in the name of God.

A prophet is not someone who sees the future but a man or woman who warns about the consequences in the future of a present evil.

A prophet hears the call of justice as a human cry for help and the beating of a human heart.

Let us thank God for prophets like William R. Callahan and may we be inspired and encouraged by his example and memory.


What Rome Never Understood: From Power and Control to the Reign of God

The Roman crucifixion of Jesus is the iconic and ironic symbol of today’s deeply troubled Church.


A brief meditation about Sacred irony


With cruel mockery, the Romans labeled Jesus “King of the Jews.” The crucified Jesus proclaimed for all time the essence of genuine Christian belief: the Reign of God — the Way of Jesus —  is not about the strong-arm rule of power and control.

In the Reign of God the weak are strong. God’s Reign —  rule of Jesus —  invites and extolls  self-giving, patient listenting, tolerance, understanding, and forgiveness.

Some Christians just never seem to hear or understand what authentic belief is all about.

Christianity is about the powerless power of the Reign of God. And that powerless power reigns wherever the questioning, the least and the most undesirable are favored while the most orthodox and the most powerful are put on the defensive.

When the institutional Church degenerates into the nineteenth century Catholic ethos, it regresses into a sinister and deeply un-Chritsian lifestyle.

No. It is not just a question of a diffent theology or a different ecclesiology. It is a matter of poor theology and bad ecclesiology.

The Rule of Rome is not the Way of Jesus.

Without a change of heart, our old instituition risks the loss of of its immortal soul…..


Pope Benedict’s Love Affair

Pope Benedict Has His Eyes on the Past 

Historians will label this papacy as the Ratzinger push to return the Church to a nineteenth century Catholic ethos anchored in authority, sin and priestly ritual.


      The 19th century church felt threatened by Napoleon, Garibaldi, Bismarck, modern science and technology.

      Pope Pius IX (“Pio Nono”) reacted by proclaiming himself infallible.

      The monarchical papacy becomes the “traditional” norm.

      Obedience to Rome becomes the sign of authentic and orthodox  Catholicism.

      Pope Pius X launched a CIA-type and well-organized campaign against “modernism.”

      Pius X  proclaimed that “the church is essentially an  unequal society…comprising two categories: the Pastors and the flock.”

      The Church exercised iron rod authority through church laws, rules and regulations.

      The church endeavored to control information and even personal thoughts.

      Catholicism became a religion of authority and control.

      The good Catholic was docile and obedient and submissive


      Strongly anchored in an exaggerated Augustinian theology, the church saw the world as a place of sin.

      Laws and regulations are established to keep people from near occasions of sin and to discipline and strengthen Catholics.

      Civil society is secular and a wicked world of sin and temptation.

      Regular confession is important and the big sins are ones of sexual impurity.

      The view that civil society (“the City of Man”) is evil is reinforced by anti-Catholicism.

      Protestants became the embodiments of heresy, infidelity, and evil.


      Priests are ontologically superior to lay people.

      For Catholics the way to the sacred was through priestly ritual and blessings.

      Through ritual and ritual objects, like scapulars and holy medals, one entered into the “City of God.”

      Ritual devotions (often highly sentimental) to the Virgin Mary and the saints become popular.

      God is the hard and demanding task master. The saints are soft and comforting.

      Since the leaders of ritual are also church authorities, ritual reinforces authority.

      Ironically — in a church fearful about sexuality, Catholic rituals and ritual people are feminized in a queer way.

      Jesus is portrayed as a type of effeminate androgynous male. Priests and altar boys are dressed in lace.


For informed and contemporary-minded Catholics,  Vatican II was a welcomed relief from the negativity, clericalism and triumphalism of the nineteenth century.


  • Priority on Incarnation — we meet God in the daily events of  human life

  • Ecumenism: dialogue + integrity of traditions

  • Humility: church always needs reform, responsible criticism

  • Social justice: human rights and justice essential to mission

  • Religious freedom: all people have right to own religious expression

  • Liturgy: Eucharist central, vernacular, importance of Scripture, communal

  • The priest is not the focus but the one who presides at community prayer

  • Participation: bishops in collegiality & lay involvement in decision-making

  • Church is community of equals: brothers and sisters….the People of God

  • Church ministry is an exercise of servant leadership.



Brussels Calling

A note sent from an observer located in Belgium……..


Reflections about the Storm Over Belgium

As objectively as I can I will sketch my personal reflections about the article by Alexandra Colen about the Catholic Church in Belgium published in her husband’s the “Brussels Journal.” I offer as well some personal reflections, as a practicing Roman Catholic theologian, and an American,  who has lived and worked in Belgium for more than thirty years.

(1)  Alexandra Maria Catherine Colen (born on July 9, 1955 in Dublin, Ireland) is a Belgian politician. She is member of the Belgian Federal Parliament for the Vlaams Belang party since May 21, 1995. She holds a PhD in linguistics, and is known for her advocacy of strict Catholic ethics. She is married to Paul Belien, the editor of the conservative blog the “Brussels Journal”. Within the radical-far-right party Vlaams Belang, Colen is seen as leading the religious conservative wing of the party.

(2)  I find that her article shows her far to the right bias and at times is just plain wrong in what it asserts and what it insinuates.

      a.      She describes Cardinal Gotfried Danneels as “close friend and collaborator” with the pedophile bishop Roger Vangheluwe. Belgium is a small country. Gotfried and Roger went to school together. They are both Belgian bishops. They are both (like most of the Belgian bishops) graduates of the Catholic University of Leuven. Roger Vangheluwe is a pedophile. Gotfried Danneels is not.

      b.     Colen labels Danneels as “the liberal Cardinal.” In fact people who know him (I am among those people) would find him much more centrist in his theology but open-minded. (Personally I am much more liberal than Gotfried but we have mutual respect as theologians because we both really try to be open-minded.) A couple months ago I translated a lecture for him that he later gave in Ireland. The lecture was on priesthood today and I was a bit flabbergasted that it was so “conservative”….. I respect his right to hold a different theology about priesthood than I do…and that respect goes both ways.

      c.      Colen wants to create dissonance and polarization in the Belgian Catholic Church with Danneels as the bad guy and his successor Leonard as the good guy. I understand why she does this: her political party thrives on creating dissonance and polarization in Belgium, with it’s anti-foreigner, anti-French rhetoric and politics. BUT, I don’t buy it in either situation.

      d.     Colen says that Roger Vangheluwe was “the supervising bishop for the University of Leuven.” This is untrue and absolute nonsense. As Archbishop of Malines-Brussels, Cardinal Danneels was the “grand chancellor” of our university. Cardinal Suenens held that position before him. Archbishop André Leonard holds it today.

      e.      Colen spends a lot of time complaining about the sex-ed textbook, ROEACH, that was used in some Belgian Catholic schools. I have not seen it. I do know one of the authors who is a rather level-headed theologian. The only people I have heard objecting to the book are from the radical right. I suspect (but cannot say because I have not seen it) that some people have misinterpreted and overreacted to some images in the book. This is an ongoing problem with any sex-ed. text. The text appeared more than ten years ago. I am quite up on Belgian church developments and the Belgian press….. I never heard much objection to the text. But I have had a lot of experience with sex-ed. materials. Many years ago, when in the USA, I was on a diocesan committee to evaluate religious education and catechetical materials. One year our committee had to evaluate an excellent sex-ed. text. Content and focus were excellent. Ethical perspective was excellent. BUT there were images of a penis slipping into a vagina and images of penises and vaginas disconnected from bodies. I objected that a man is not a penis and a woman is not a vagina. Show, I said, a man with a penis and a woman with a vagina. In the end we prepared a study guide that pointed out the danger (as shown in the pictures), of disconnecting genitalia from human beings…and the danger of disconnecting sexual relations from love, commitment, etc., etc. The text was used very effectively in Catholic schools for some years.

I also remember that Pope John Paul II at the very last minute wanted to cancel the appointment of Kenneth Untner as bishop because some far-to-the-right Michigan Catholics had sent the pope images copied from a  sex ed. program Untner used when he was rector at St. John’s Major Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. Cardinal John Dearden and Archbishop Jean Jadot flew to Rome and had to defend Ken for what was actually a very good sex information program and had to explain that the images had been taken out of context. I suspect Colen and company are doing the same thing here…..taking things out of context and misinterpreting. Of course, it is also possible that there were a couple stupid images in the book Colen criticizes. (We all can point to good books marred by stupid or idiotic illustrations…) But it is water under the bridge and I will lose no sleep about this. I know a lot….a lot….. of parents of young Belgian children who go to Belgian Catholic schools (my own son went to Belgian Catholic grade school, Catholic middle school, Catholic high school, when these terrible things were supposedly going on) and I have NEVER heard the kind of objections and things that Colen speaks about…..

Did Cardinal Danneels refuse to speak with Alexandra and her “concerned parents”? Maybe. Is this bad? Maybe. Maybe not! Again, years ago when I was head of the religious education department at a Catholic high school, I refused to meet with a right-to-life delegation that appeared in front of the school one afternoon. They were crazy and idiotic rabble-rousers and I wanted nothing to do with them. (That became quite an issue and the diocesan superintendent of schools had to defend me…which he did.) I am and have always been solidly “right to life “but I will not tolerate being used – and abused — by irrational and hysterical agitators….. This is not the way to promote Catholic values in our society.

MY FINAL COMMENT is about Cardinal Gotfried Danneels. People who know me,  know that I hold him in high regard. We have known each other for many years….That being said, if Cardinal Danneels is shown to be guilty of cover-ups and inappropriate behavior as archbishop, he deserves appropriate civil and ecclesiastical sanctions. No one of us is perfect. He deserves what his actions warrant…..If, after serious examination, he is found guilty, I will support that judgment; but I will support that decision with a couple sad tears for an old friend.

We have a lot of work to do in this old church……and we need to do it with faith, open-minds and friendly and honest collaboration.