The Audacity of Reform

It takes courage to be a church reformer

It takes Know-How as well!

Shortly before his death in 1972, the highly effective community organizer, SAUL  ALINSKY, published his Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals.

In the first chapter’s opening paragraph, he wrote:

“What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.”

Outlining his strategy for organizing, Alinsky continued:

“There’s another reason for working inside the system. Dostoevski said that taking a new step is what people fear most. Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people. They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and change the future.”

Roman Catholics TODAY need to examine their consciences.





For Saul Alinsky, organizing was the process of highlighting whatever he believed to be wrong and convincing people they can actually do, something about it. The two are linked. If people feel they don’t have the power to change a situation, they stop thinking about it. And this is exactly where many Catholics are today.

According to Alinsky, the organizer — the reformer — must:

(1)    First overcome suspicion and establish credibility.

(2)   Next begin the task of agitating to get people to participate.

(3)   Reformers have to attack apathy and patterns of complacency.

(4)   By combining hope with a clear and practical strategy for reform, the reformer gathers individuals and groups into a body of reformers.

It does work. And Catholic history — and American history — proves it!


Concluding reflections:

It takes courage to be a reformer.

Reformers cannot do it alone.

Reformers are “dissidents” in some people’s eyes. In fact, reformers are authentically loyal to the best of our tradition.

Some of our greatest Catholics were reform organizers: Francis of Assisi, Dominic, Ignatius of Loyola, Catherine of Sienna. And let us not forget Cardinal Joseph Bernardin and his “common ground” project. Joseph Bernardin was correct but he had to face being denounced by his brothers: Cardinals Bernard Law, James Hickey, Anthony Bevilaqua and Adam Maida! History will smile on Joseph and shrug its shoulders at the others as simply old  names on library cards…..

Put your arm around one friend today and start your local reform.

Reform can be contageous……

Our Church Administration is Critically Infected

The Pathology of Catholic Authoritarianism

Something sinister is happening in the contemporary Roman Catholic Church. It is not just that Pope Benedict XVI (like his predecessor Pope John Paul II) is theologically and institutionally old-fashioned. What is happening under Pope Benedict’s rule is the implementation of a pathological regression into a degenerative and destructive Roman Catholic authoritarianism.

Pope Benedict, and bishops around the world who have obediently succumbed to his authoritarian virus, are destroying a contemporary Catholic Church that, thanks to the theological impulse of the Second Vatican Council, had begun to value dialogue, service, critical thinking, and an openness to new human experiences and contemporary realities.

The hallmarks of today’s Catholic Church are now becoming: arrogant episcopal power plays, an exaggerated medieval-style clericalism, institutional self-justification and hypocrisy, and a deceptive re-writing of Catholic belief and praxis that marches triumphantly beneath the banner of “the reform of the reform.”

For those who still really care to see a different kind of Catholic life, I invite you to reflect on the seven forms of pathological authoritarian behavior.

The pathological behavior of authoritarian leaders and followers:

1.Illogical Thinking : The lack of independent, critical thinking.

2. Highly Compartmentalized Minds : Authoritarians’ ideas are poorly integrated with one another.

3. Double Standards : When your ideas live independent lives from one another it is pretty easy to use double standards in your judgments. You simply call up the idea that will justify (afterwards) what you’ve decided to do.

4. Hypocrisy : The leaders of authoritarian movements sometimes accuse their opponents of being anti-democratic and anti-free speech when the latter protest
against various books, movies, speakers, teachers and so on.

5. Blindness To Themselves : self-righteousness.

6. A Profound Ethnocentrism : Ethnocentrism means dividing the world up into in-groups and out-groups…….in-groups are holy and good…out-groups are evil and Satanic.

7. Dogmatism: the Authoritarian’s Last Ditch Defense : By dogmatism I mean relatively unchangeable, unjustified certainty. Loyal followers obey without questions…..

 If we collaborate….we can change the system by refusing to acknowledge

authoritarianism in every form…..

(This week’s in-the-news photo reflection, with commentary, is below.)

“Give me my robe, put on my crown. I have Immortal longings in me.”

William Shakespeare

At today’s (25 May 2011)  weekly general audience Pope Benedict received a golden tiara commissioned by Dieter Philippi (, a German Catholic businessman. It was created in Sofia, Bulgaria by Orthodox Christians of the Liturgix studio ( A small delegation of Roman Catholics and Bulgarian Orthodox presented the tiara to the him after the audience. (Images from l’Osservatore Romano).

Papal Fantasy: Romancing the Past

Gloriously Afloat in a Little Sea of  Catholic Fundamentalism

While the Rest of Humanity Confronts Real Issues

Dominus Vobiscum: A new Vatican instruction, issued 13 May 2011,  calls on local bishops and pastors to respond generously to Catholics who seek celebration of the Mass according to the 1962 Roman Missal, commonly known as the Tridentine rite. The instruction, issued May 13, said pastors should approve such Masses for groups of faithful, even when such groups are small or are formed of people from different parishes or dioceses. These faithful cannot, however, contest the validity of the modern Mass or the authority of the pope. The instruction said that bishops should make sure seminarians are trained in celebrating the Tridentine rite, or “extraordinary form” of the Mass.

Friday Abstinence: The bishops of England and Wales are re-establishing the practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays as a penance to identify with Christ on the cross. In the resolutions published from their spring plenary assembly, which concluded Thursday, 12 May 2011, the bishops announced the re-establishment of the practice, to go into effect September 16, 2011. The date for the re-establishment of meatless Fridays marks the anniversary of Benedict XVI’s visit to the United Kingdom on September 16th last year.

Progressive bishops are seen as more dangerous than those engaged in sex abuse: As has been reported, the Vatican has taken decisive action against an “errant” Australian bishop, showing that it has a zero tolerance policy towards deviants. Bishop William Morris, who was forced to resign (for wanting to discuss married priests, women priests and an ecumenical understanding of holy orders) was not guilty of sexual abuse. On the contrary, the Toowoomba, Australia bishop has been a noted supporter of abuse victims in his diocese, and widely admired as a sensitive pastoral leader. At the same time, the Vatican has fast-tracked the beatification of John Paul II, the pope who denied that pedophilia was a problem in the church and gave great support to sexual abusers like his friend Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer of Vienna who abused 2,000 boys over several decades.

Opus Dei liturgy: Auxiliary Bishop James Conley of Denver, Colorado, seems to have already succumbed to the liturgical virus spreading out from Rome. Speaking at the Midwest Theological Forum in Valparaiso, Indiana, on 25 April 2011: “One of his altar servers left us this description of how St. Josemaría Escrivá used to pray the Mass…..For [St. Josemaría], the liturgy was not a formal act but a transcendent one. Each word held a profound meaning and was uttered in a heartfelt tone of voice. He savored the concepts. Josemaría seemed detached from his human surrounding and, as it were, tied by invisible cords to the divine. This phenomenon peaked at the moment of consecration. Josemaría seemed to be disconnected from the physical things around him and to be catching sight of mysterious and remote heavenly horizons.”

Concluding thought for this week:

“There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality,

for life is maintained and nourished in us by our vital relation with realities outside and above us.

When our life feeds on unreality, it must starve.”

Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude.

Easter Reflection: Resurrection and Church Reform

Central to our Easter Faith is the understanding that resurrection is not resuscitation.

Resurrection is a progression into a fuller and richer life experience.

Resuscitation is bringing a corpse back to its earlier form of life and it is not a movement into eternal bliss.

The resurrection / resuscitation distinction is an important one. It lies at the very center of contemporary Roman Catholic movements and events.

Ideally church reform should be resurrection-focused: encouraging individuals, groups and institution to progress into an ever richer faith life…….

Unfortunately….what we see far too often today is an institution that pushes people backwards.

Contemporay Roman Catholic leadership is more focused on resuscitation: trying to pump life into the dead corpse of a medieval Catholicism.

In Rome this is called “the reform of the reform…”

Two recent events, by way of example……

TOOWOOMBA, Australia

A day after Bishop William Morris of the Australian Diocese of Toowoomba said he would retire early following an apostolic visitation,  Pope Benedict XVI removed him from office. The May 1st retirement announcement and May 2nd removal followed an apostolic visitation led by the American Archbishop of Denver, Charles Chaput. In a 2006 pastoral letter, Bishop Morris had expressed support for women’s ordination. Following his removal, Bishop Morris blasted the Vatican for conducting an “Inquisition.”

“I believe there is creeping centralism, a creeping authoritarianism and fallibility in the way the church operates and discusses issues,” he said. “It is not just Pope Benedict: it is the whole Curia, with Benedict as the leader.”  “It was like the Inquisition,” Bishop Morris added. “He [Pope Benedict] was immovable. There was no dialogue…..It has been my experience and the experience of others that Rome controls bishops by fear, and if you ask questions or speak openly on subjects that Rome declares closed, . . . you are censored very quickly, told your leadership is defective . . . and are threatened with dismissal,” Bishop Morris told the priests of his diocese.

MUNICH, Germany

The same day Bishop Morris was removed, Hans Kung addressed an audience in Munich. The Catholic Church is seriously, possibly terminally ill, he said and only an honest diagnosis and radical therapy will cure it. Kung argues that the malady of the church goes beyond recent sexual abuse scandals. According to him, the church’s resistance to reform, its secrecy, lack of transparency and misogyny are at the heart of the problem.

He said that the Catholic church in the United States has lost one-third of its membership. “The American Catholic church never asked why,” he said. “Any other institution that has lost a third of its members would want to know why.” He also said that eighty percent of German bishops would welcome reforms.

Pope Benedict has distanced himself from Vatican II and “failed in the face of the worldwide sexual abuse by clergy,” Kung said. Benedict is “in essence a person for medieval liturgy, theology and a medieval church constitution.”


And in conclusion……a visual Easter meditation.

Cardinal Raymond Burke in his Easter Bonnet

Ecclesiastical Resuscitation in Full Glory