Thinking about all the Americans without jobs this Labor Day week end, it seems to me that neither major political party is really tuned in to what is happening in our American society. (The same can be said about our US Catholic bishops, but I will not comment much about them this week end…)

We are living in a time of deep and rapid socioeconomic change.  It seems to me that our politicians on both sides are still offering solutions to last century’s economic challenges. (Somewhat like our bishops still fighting yesterday’s issues and regressing to an overly-idealized 1950-styled church.) 

Indeed, our economy today is less predictable and less secure. Many factors contribute to this situation: the technology revolution, globalization, the nature of work, the distribution of the rewards from working. Thanks to rapidly expanding and ever smarter machines and global trade, the well-paying, middle-class jobs that were once the backbone of our American society (not just America of course!) are vanishing quickly. Driving around and through Detroit recently these realities really hit home for me…

I am a theologian not an economist; but there is something seriously wrong, when our economy’s growth engines are enriching the few and squeezing out the many. Glenn Hubbard, economic advisor to presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said recently that we simply need to allow the economic system to heal itself: “If an economist is honest with you, the best he or she say is what we need to do is allow those opportunities to happen, and they will.”

Hubbard uses the example of the successes of the Industrial Revolution, which indeed ended up greatly improving the economic welfare of millions of Americans, creating a more comfortable and stable middle class. I guess that’s why people since WWII have said on the first Monday of September:  “Happy Labor Day!”

What Hubbard and his followers forget of course is that industrialization worked  thanks to an elaborate system of new social, economic, and political institutions, along with trade unions, universal public education, and a social welfare safety net.

Today’s society and today’s people-needs are different. We can’t rely on steam-engines  (or analogically Latin liturgies in the church) to put people back to work, families back into their mortgaged homes, and to give young people a future worthy of their dreams. 

My favorite poet, T.S. Eliot, said it very well: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.”

We need new political and social institutions to conduct us safely through today’s and tomorrow’s global and virtual communities. Inventing those new institutions will be hard work and thinking and talking about them can be frightening. 

Frankly we have no alternative. Regressing to yesterday’s program will not work, because we no longer live in yesterday’s world. I wish the makers of contemporary political rhetoric in both parties could understand this…….

In any event, friends, HAPPY LABOR DAY! I hope you can spend good time this week end with family and friends.


You’re aware of injustices in the Church….

In All Things – Hope!


You’re aware of injustices in the Church.

You know action must be taken to stand against it until it is brought into the light.

You’re not alone!

The Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC) invites you to a time of reflection and empowerment – moving from identifying issues, to taking effective action in response.

These workshops will empower you to identify issues of injustice, then determine in community with others how to respond in a way that is both non-violent and effective. Together we will follow the example of Jesus of Nazareth, who eschewed violence while insisting on living faithfully his relationship with the Father.

As the workshop progresses, we will become aware of the following:

  • All hierarchical systems of government are dependent on the obedience and cooperation of the governed and their social institutions.
  • The governed have the ability to limit or retain their contributions and obedience to the system.
  • If the governed retain their contributions and obedience to the system in large enough numbers and for a long enough time, the system will have to negotiate or collapse.

By the end of the workshop, you will be equipped, with tools and a community, to take action against injustice in a way that is non-violent while fully consistent with who you are before God.


 Philadelphia   AREA    IN  OCTOBER

October 26 & 27, 2012 (Friday 6-9 p.m, Saturday 9-5 p.m.)

Collenbrook United Church, 5290 Township Line Rd.,

Drexel Hill PA 1902

You can also promote the workshops, either by sharing information with your friends, or working with ARCC to organize a workshop in your area.

To REGISTER for the October workshop and for more information:          or call 1-877-700-2722.

Cardinal Dolan Will Bless Republican convention

The Associated Press reports that the Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of New York and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Timothy Dolan, will give the benediction at the Republican National Convention on the night Mitt Romney accepts the presidential nomination.

Joseph Zwilling, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of New York, said Cardinal Dolan’s agreement to participate in the Republican National Convention should not be seen as partisan nor an endorsement of Mr. Romney.

Church Reform : Will, Skill, and Political Organization

Church reform is hard work, but not impossible.

David J. O’Brien, Catholic Church historian, writing in AMERICA last week and in recent lectures, offers a check-list for implementing genuine and lasting church reform. It is not enough to just want reform, he stresses. Reform requires skill and organization.

In what follows, my summary and adaptation of some main points…….

1. We need to help our people to ask in the Church the political questions they would ask in any other pubic forum. Who is in charge and how did they get there? What is the relationship between power and authority? Are we depending on the good will of an individual bishop or pastor or are we building systems that express shared values and common objectives?

2. We need to encourage people to say yes to all invitations to genuine shared responsibility and reach out to those who do so. Get to know the people serving on parish councils and diocesan boards and committees, for example. Catholics do need to work together.

3. We need to say yes as well to independent associations like the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church, Call to Action, Future Church, Voice of the Faithful, etc. Structures of shared responsibility will work better if there are independent associations asking hard questions. And we need to dream up new forms of organization among ourselves, ways of drawing people into public action on behalf of our Church.

4. We need to talk to organizers. We need to learn from people who know how to organize to get things done.

5. To steal a phrase from Catholic social teaching, we need to make a preferential, but not exclusive, option for the laity. Think lay. Ask what each decision, proposal, interpretation means from the point of view of ordinary lay men and women. Pastoral care in our kind of society requires dialogue, communication, relationships of mutual trust and understanding. It will come when we learn to read our daily experience in light of our faith, and our faith in light of our daily experience. It won’t come by simply yelling in the bishop’s ear. So think lay.

6. Finally, we must not forget: it’s all about people. This Church is a voluntary organization. It works best through persuasion, not coercion. Persuasion has its own discipline, not least of which is a liking people. No one persuades people one does not respect or like. Many of our problems in the past have come about because we did not trust each other. Restoring or preserving trust begins with simple encounters.

As Detroit’s Cardinal John Dearden said some years ago: The church is a community of faith and friendship. Changing the church begins here: getting to know each other well enough to work together to make us, as church, the presence of Christ.

Next time…..some more thoughts about getting organized.


Contemporary Catholic Voices

Now that the London Olympics are over, we can focus again on the Vatican games. Three LCWR comments from this past week still echo in my head…the voices of Burke, Campbell, and Appleby.

“How in the world can these consecrated religious who have professed to follow Christ more closely . . . be opposed to what the Vicar of Christ is asking? This is a contradiction,” Cardinal Raymond Burke, leader of the Vatican’s Supreme Court, told Catholic TV station EWTN. “If it can’t be reformed, then it doesn’t have a right to continue.”


Cardinal Burke

“They’re saying it’s only about doctrine. But for us, the dialogue is about reflecting on our lives out of Gospel. Theology in our view is about exploration and discovery. They think that’s wrong. It’s like cutting the heart out of who we are,” said Sister Simone Campbell, a lawyer and lobbyist in Washington who this summer led nuns on a well-publicized tour called “Nuns on the Bus.”


Sister Campbell

“Both sides in the standoff speak of ‘dialogue,’ but they seem to mean different things,” said R. Scott Appleby, a historian at Notre Dame. Leading bishops “understand dialogue as a conversation about how best to implement the pope’s vision of religious life and witness. The sisters mean an open-ended give-and-take that is more of a mutual discernment of where the Spirit is leading the Church at a given moment in history.”


Professor Appleby


And a Greenleaf reflection about the term “Vicar of Christ.” The term has a long and problematic history. In the third century, in the epistles of Tertullian the term meant the Holy Spirit. Later it meant pastors of parishes. When the papacy became a powerful monarchy in the later Middle Ages, it was adopted by popes as a self-descriptive term for their authoritative power. Currently the
Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that all bishops are vicars of Christ……..

Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 asked that the term be used to describe him. The 2012 edition of the Annuario Pontificio (the official Vatican directory of the world’s bishops) gives “Vicar of Jesus Christ” as the second official title of the Pope, the first being “Bishop of Rome.”

Jesus of course never knew the term. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus says:
“I am the vine. You are the branches. Those who live in me while I live in them will produce a lot of fruit. But you can’t produce anything without me.”

So in fact we are all branches…..or all vicars. Hmmmmm ….

Then Cardinal Burke would have to say: “Sister Campbell is vicar of Christ on earth.”


Many months ago, when I launched ANOTHER VOICE, I decided that I would not take sides with any US political party. I am an historical theologian not a political campaigner.

I am also a strongly committed Roman Catholic who, even with so much current Vatican-inspired nonsense, says proudly “hell no I won’t go!”

Being Catholic for me means belonging to the Catholic wisdom tradition. It means appreciating all human striving for personal meaning, integrity and justice. And it means looking at the world from a Jesus perspective. It means adopting an outlook that encourages personal growth and social transformation. It means building community and learning from history. It means not being afraid to ask questions about faith, about the Church, or about the world in which we live.

Now that the Mormon Mr Romney has picked the Roman Catholic Mr Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate, I have some serious questions. I see a new Catholic political dilemma; and I have serious questions about what it means to be “pro-life.”

I clearly remember this past April, when our USCCB sent a blistering message to the House Ways and Means Committee. Our US bishops insisted that any federal budget must be judged by the way it protects the “least of these.” I remember the words of Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., the chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice, Peace and Human Development, when he stressed that “The House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.”

The architect of the federal budget that our Catholic Bishops deemed immoral was of course Rep. Paul Ryan, a Catholic, who has now joined Mitt Romney as his running mate on the GOP ticket.

Catholic voters will now have a choice in the November 2012 presidential election that highlights contemporary Catholic tensions and ethical priorities.

Tensions and ethical priorities are of course an essential part of our Catholic life.

LCWR, as of last Friday, August 11th, has formally rejected the Vatican takeover of its  organization. The sisters have been accused of emphasizing work with the poor and not focusing enough on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. It is a question, once again, about our broad-based catholic (meaning universal) CATHOLIC perspective on human life.

LCWR Sister Simone Campbell, who participated in “Nuns On A Bus” tour during which she and other sisters traveled to nine states protesting the budget proposal of Rep. Paul Ryan, has continually reiterated that Ryan’s budget “rejects church teaching about solidarity, inequality, the choice for the poor, and the common good. That’s wrong.”

At the end of April 2012, Representative Ryan was invited to speak at the Jesuit affiliated Georgetown University. Before he arrived, Ryan was sent a letter signed by more than ninety members of the Georgetown faculty. In that letter, the vice presidential candidate was again taken to task. “Your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” the letter emphasized. “Her call to selfishness and her antagonism toward religion are antithetical to the Gospel values of compassion and love.”

So now we have much food for Catholic thought over the next three months. And…..ironically or not…..both the current vice-president and the recent vice-presidential addition to the Republican ticket are Catholics from heavily Catholic states.

I close with remarks from Michael Sean Winters, writing in the National Catholic Reporter on August 11th:

“Mr. Ryan has taken to invoking Catholic Social Teaching, and especially the concept of subsidiarity, to defend his budgetary schemes. Alas, he could not tell the difference between subsidiarity and sausage…. Mr. Ryan has put forward no strategy for assisting the poor, protecting the vulnerable, guaranteeing health care to all. He simply wants to roll back the role of government to pre-FDR days. And, to be clear, to achieve his goal, he is willing to engage in explicit dissent from years and years of explicit magisterial teaching. Dissent may not bother non-Catholics. It may not, in this instance, bother some Catholics. But, I look at our socio-cultural landscape and think Catholic Social Teaching is the only thing that can save our ideologically confused, socially centrifugal culture from itself. Ryan’s willingness to dissent from it – and for what? for Rand ? – is not only bothersome. It is dangerous.”




Civil Discourse in an Era of Catholic Polarization

In our Catholic tradition, there has long been a variety of theologies. From the earliest years of the church in fact, we had a Petrine theology, a Pauline theology, and the four theologies of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Occasionally, however, polarization sets in. Civil discourse breaks down, Christian charity disappears, and church people seem better at fighting each other than celebrating and living their common bonds of faith, hope, and charity.

That is where we are today. LCWR’s difficulties with Rome make an excellent case study. Another good case study is the way many a high placed American ecclesiastic demonizes Barack Obama and his policies. History will judge whether Obama is or was a good president. But it is cruel and immoral to demonize him and either his supporters or his opponents.

The same goes for the Pope. Another excellent contemporary case study. He is not my favorite Pope. I find his theology narrow-focused and archaic in a disturbingly unhealthy way. Nevertheless he has a a right to hold and express his theology. Others in the church have an equal right (responsibility) to hold and express a different and more contemporary theology. Disagreement with papal theology does not make one a Catholic heretic.

Nevertheless: Polarization in today’s church is an ecclesiastical infirmity of major proportions. People hide behind their favorite stereotypes and arrogantly condemn and assail their enemies. Like medieval knights fighting dragons. In the process they demean the other. In the process they demean themselves.

Such heated exchanges are painful for the actors. They are painful for the observers as well. I still remember an exchange, that got out of hand, between my friend, Joe, a somewhat rigid and very macho Catholic businessman and my friend, Ellen, a rather assertive sociology instructor who belonged to a community of progressive women religious. Both were participants in a seminar I had organized on “women in the church today.” It started out fine. There were keen observations, expressions of concern, and occasional laughter.

It became tense when someone in the group asked why women could not be Catholic priests. Joe, well-known and influential in the diocese, bristled and said the Lord did not want women to be priests. Ellen bristled and said she was certain the Lord did want women priests and had called her to ordained ministry. The fight was on.

At one point red-faced Joe yelled at Ellen: “why don’t you just jump on your broom and fly back to your feminist convent?” She locked her jaw and hissed: “well isn’t this nice….just what we need… another arrogant, narrow-minded talking penis!” I stood up and as calmly as I could (well I do have Quaker roots) announced it was time for a coffee break and took the two “friends” for a long walk in the backyard…..

Most of us do have strong viewpoints. When our buttons get pushed, it is not always easy to come up with something other than a polarizing response.

Nevertheless, as I scan the contemporary church scene, it is obvious we are well beyond the eleventh hour in the Catholic Church. Red danger lights are flashing. We have to move beyond the liberal/conservative — preVatican II/postVatican II — pro-life/pro-choice –feminist/sexist polarizations that demean and destroy all of us.

We need to develop the habit and the skills for critical and respectful dialogue.

I have been following the work of a young American theologian who, I believe, understands exactly what we need: Charles C. Camosy, assistant professor of Christian ethics at Fordham University in New York City and author of an insightful book about polarization: Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization.

Charles proposes five practices for moving beyond the polarization which currently dominates so much of contemporary church (and contemporary political) discourse:

(1) Humility. We are finite, flawed beings and are prone to making serious mistakes. We need to enter into discussions and arguments with this at the very front of our minds — not only in being comfortable with someone challenging our point of view, but also reserving the right to change our mind when our argument is shown to be problematic.

(2) Solidarity with our conversation partner. This involves active listening, presuming that one has something to learn, and (if possible) getting to know the other personally beyond an abstraction. Never reduce the other to what you suspect are “secret personal motivations.” Instead, give your partner the courtesy of carefully responding to the actual idea or argument that he or she is offering for your consideration.

(3) Avoiding binary thinking. The issues that are seriously debated in our public sphere are almost always too complex to fit into simplistic categories like liberal/conservative, religious/secular, open/close-minded, pro-life/pro-choice, etc. Furthermore, it sets up a framework in which taking one side automatically defines one against “the other side” — thus further limiting serious and open engagement.

(4) Avoiding fence-building and dismissive words and phrases. It might feel good to score these rhetorical points, but doing so is one of the major contributors to our polarized discourse. Let us simply stop using words and phrases like: radical feminist, war on women, neocon, limousine liberal, prude, heretic, tree-hugger, anti-science, anti-life, and so on. Instead, use language that engages and draws the other into a fruitful engage of ideas.

(5) Leading with what you are for. Not only is this the best way to make a convincing case for the view you currently hold, but this practice often reveals that we are actually after very similar things and simply need to be able to talk in an open and coherent way about the best plan for getting there.

Charles C. Camosy can be reached at