When Bishops Don’t Speak Out

As we begin Holy Week 2012, a reflection from Bill Press, writing (29 March) in the Chicago Tribune:

“No doubt about it. On abortion, Catholic bishops are against it. On homosexuality, Catholic bishops are against it. On same-sex marriage, Catholic bishops are against it. On contraception, Catholic bishops are against it. And they actively lobby Congress to pass laws supporting their position. Recently, the Conference of Bishops even identified their top priority for 2012 as persuading Congress to overturn President Obama’s mandatory coverage of birth control in all health plans. Two years ago, they opposed passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act….

“But still, as a Catholic, what I want to know is: Why are the bishops so quick and eager to speak out about issues involving sex — yet remain totally silent on so many other established teachings of the Church?

“The Catholic Church, for example, officially opposes the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment. But when is the last time you heard the bishops decry application of the death penalty? According to the Death Penalty Information Center, as of October 2011 there were 3,199 persons on death row in the United States. Shouldn’t that also be one of the bishops’ top priorities? Yet, to my knowledge, the bishops have never denied communion to any politician who voted in support of the death penalty, though they did deny the sacraments to Geraldine Ferraro, John Kerry, Joe Biden, and other pro-choice Catholics.

“Same with the war in Iraq. Pope John Paul II was outspoken in his opposition to the Gulf War in 1991 and the war in Iraq in 2003. “War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations,” declared the pope in January 2003, two months before the invasion of Iraq. But, again: American bishops never pressured Congress to vote against the war and never criticized Catholic members of Congress who eagerly voted for it.

“And what about working families? No institution has spoken out more strongly on behalf of economic justice than the Catholic Church. In his great encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891), Pope Leo XIII recognized the rights of workers to form unions, to engage in collective bargaining, and to earn a fair salary: enough to support the worker, his wife and family, with a little savings left over. But when’s the last time you heard a Catholic bishop talk about the “living wage”?

“….How shameful, then, that bishops maintain total silence about the House Republican budget authored by Paul Ryan. This year’s Ryan budget, like last year’s, is just the opposite of what the Church teaches. It would drastically cut social programs that aid the poor, including medical care provided to the poor through Medicaid. It would also threaten health care for seniors by ending Medicare as we know it — while preserving tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans.

“The Ryan plan, in other words, is not preferential treatment for the poor. It’s preferential treatment for the rich. But what have Catholic bishops said about it? Absolutely nothing. Not a word. Zip. Nada.”



On March 24, 1980, Bishop Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated while celebrating Eucharist in a small hospital chapel. He was my hero.

On March 27, 2004, Bishop Ken Untener, Bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, died of leukemia. He was my hero and also my good friend. (And his death on March 27th at age 66 coincided with my 61st birthday.)

Oscar Romero and Ken Untener : great men and prophetic bishops.

Ken’s prayer, below, continues to inspire and motivate all who would walk in the footsteps of Romero, Untener, and the Man whose Death and Resurrection we will soon commemorate in Easter faith and hope.

It helps, now and then, to step back
and take the long view.
The kingdom [of God] is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of
the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realising that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.


The prayer was composed by Ken Untener. He wrote it for a homily by Cardinal John Dearden in November 1979. Later, as a reflection on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop Oscar Romero (24 March 1980), he included it in a reflection titled “The mystery of the Romero Prayer.”

John William Greenleaf


The Odor of Papal Sanctity

For St. Patrick’s Day 2012 it is not green beer that makes Vatican news but Pope Benedict’s new perfume — rather, I should say — his eau de cologne!

Pope Benedict XVI, the UK’s GUARDIAN reports, has commissioned a special eau de cologne:

He is picky about his robes and his red shoes are tailor-made, but Pope Benedict has taken the meaning of bespoke to a whole new level by ordering a custom-blended eau de cologne just for him.

The fragrance, which mixes hints of lime tree, verbena and grass, was concocted by the Italian boutique perfume maker Silvana Casoli, who has previously created scents for customers including Madonna, Sting and King Juan Carlos of Spain.

Casoli said she had a “pact of secrecy” with her most illustrious client to date, and refused to release the full list of ingredients that had gone into his scent – but she did reveal that she had created a delicate smelling eau de cologne “based on his love of nature”.

Casoli’s scents first came to the attention of Vatican elders when she was commissioned to create fragrances for Catholic pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The two she supplied, Water of Faith and Water of Hope, were liked so much by local priests that they presented samples to the Pope, the Italian daily Il Messaggero reported. Alerted to Casoli’s talents, Benedict put in a request for his own stock of scent. The Vatican has previously played down reports that the 84-year-old pontiff is a snappy dresser, arguing that his unusual hats, including a red panama, reflect his respect for papal tradition rather than an eye for fashion.

And anyone keen to smell like the pope will be disappointed. “I would not ever repeat the same perfume for another customer,” Casoli told the Guardian.

She describes her ready-to-wear perfumes, which are accessible to all, as “made with noble and rare essences which leave an unforgettable olfactory message for him and her”.

The line, which features “sensually elegant” men’s fragrances, also contains a scent named Perfume of Italy, which sums up the smell of Italy’s “seas, mountains and countryside”, and a perfume called Cannabis, which is described as hypnotic.

One that bishops and cardinals might wish to avoid is Nude, a scent inspired “by the smell that only a woman’s skin emanates in a state of ecstasy”.


A Clash of Catholic “Civilizations”

Understanding why the Church seems to be drifting far out at sea……

I was awakened by a vivid dream last night….A wrinkled old dinosaur, clutching a mighty crosier and crowned with a golden miter, sat perched on an iceberg drifting in the ocean. The more he roared and shook his crosier, the more the iceberg cracked and sank deeper into the icy water.

Roman Catholic leadership seems more and more like a club of old dinosaurs, caught in a clash of civilizations.

Just as we have seven sacraments, I see seven forces clashing and exploding in a dramatic confrontation that is really just beginning.

A sketch of what I see:

(1) Ongoing international sexual abuse: pedophilia, sexual use and abuse of women (often women religious) by members of the clergy, clandestine and widespread hypocritical homosexual activity by bishops and priests (even in higher Vatican circles), increased sexual repression and arrested sexual development in Pope Benedict’s reform-of-the-reform seminary programs of priestly formation.

(2) A Vatican imposed institutional regression to a nineteenth century Catholic ethos that stresses: an arrogant triumphalist church glorying in its own grandeur, a church structure in which ordained are superior to the non-ordained, an approach to liturgy which stresses symbol and ritualistic rigorism as more important than the liturgical assembly, an anthropology that once again tends toward male exclusiveness, an approach to human sexuality that is more genital oriented than human person oriented, an approach to Christian morality that is narrow-mindedly and often pathologically preoccupied with sexual behavior and is blind to a broad range of other ethical concerns and issues.

(3) Increasingly around the world and particularly in Europe and North America Catholic laypeople moving away from being duty-bound Catholics to being men and women engaged (or not engaged) in the Church and Church activities because they do (or do not) find them meaningful. They have no interest in faulty products.

(4) In the minds of increasing large numbers of Catholics there is a realization that the Roman Catholic church-experience is simply one legitimate form of the Church of Christ but not the only legitimate expression of the Church of Christ.

(5) It is just about impossible to justify today the high Renaissance clothing, pompous ritual and ecclesiastical nobility in which members of the hierarchy parade, pontificate, and operate. (Kissing bishops’ rings and calling them “eminence” or “excellency” is not just oldfashioned. It is wrong.

(6) After the American and French Revolutions, the rationality of the Enlightenment, and an enhanced understanding of the nature of the Church based on the Christian Scriptures, the monarchical papacy is not only nonsensical but offensive and an obstruction to genuine Christian community….the Body of Christ.

(7) The Church can no longer control the flow of information, cannot control how people seek to discover the truth nor what they discover to be the truth, nor can the Church any longer control human thought. We are indeed free at last…….

Let’s put the dinosaurs in a museum. Or as Jesus said: Let the dead bury the dead. Let’s recommit ourselves to being contemporary followers of the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

The Church is not dead. It just needs extensive rehabilitation…..