Freedom — A Meandering Meditation


I’ve been on the road for a couple weeks with family and friends, visiting Normandy, France and various D-Day sites. I have been there before; but this time was particularly special for me.

At the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer (above Omaha Beach) I visited the grave of my grandmother’s nephew. I am the first person in my family to ever be here and stand at his grave. He was a farm boy from the Midwest, with a grade school education. He was drafted, three days before Christmas, in 1942.

Marion, my distant cousin, was one of the first American soldiers to wade ashore at daybreak on Tuesday, June 6th 1944. Omaha Beach. He was one of the first to die there, as well: Private First Class, U.S. Army. Twenty-two years old. Now, almost seventy years later, we gathered around the white cross at his grave. “He must have been a brave young man,” our cemetery guide told us as he conducted a brief memorial service, “because he had been given a Silver Star as well as a Purple Heart.” No dry eyes that day, as we stood there at cousin Marion’s grave, with nine thousand other graves around us. “They gave us our freedom,” our young guide said. I kept thinking, as we walked back to our car: fearful and brave soldiers…. and so very, very young.


The evening after my visit to Colleville, I got an email from a friend in Michigan, giving me the latest Catholic news from the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey.

Archbishop John J. Myers, the spiritual leader of 1.3 million Catholics in the Archdiocese of Newark, has issued a pastoral letter saying that the legalization of gay marriage threatens religious freedom and that Catholics, who don’t accept the hierarchy’s teachings on the subject should refrain from receiving Communion.

More thoughts about freedom. Whose freedom? And who’s being threatened here? What is freedom. John Myers sees gay marriage as a threat to freedom….. Or does gay freedom threaten him? Thoughts….

With a bit of a chuckle I remempbered a comment from my old fellow-professor friend (and a rather conservative Catholic) a couple years ago. We were talking about people being gay and about gay unions. He was a sexologist and I the theologian; and I had asked him what he thought about “gayness.” Our local archbishop had just issued a statement that gay people are innately disordered and all gay sexual activity was a grave sin. “Well,” he said, “some people are very other-sex oriented. Some people are very same-sex oriented; and most of us are somewhere in the middle.” “So?” I asked. “Well,” he said, “if that’s the way God made people I guess God won’t mind at all if people are true to themselves….”

I re-read Archbishop Myer’s statement and I thought about the twenty-two years old fellow in my introduction to theology class last summer. In his university parish he is Eucharistic minister, a member of the parish council; and he is helping with the organization of shelter for battered women. And he is gay. And he would like to “marry” his companion. Does he have freedom? Should he have freedom? Can one be free to be oneself and is that a sin? And I thought about his parents, whom I met at a reception. They asked me about church teaching and their son’s lifestyle….they couldn’t believe their son was living in mortal sin, as their local parish priest had said.

Another email from my Michigan friend, with Seton Hall University student reactions to Archbishop Myers’ letter. (Seton Hall is New Jersey’s largest Catholic College.) One student captured the sentiments of many of her classmates, when learning about the Archbishop’s statement: “I think it’s outrageous….Our generation is more accepting. I think it’s going to make people quit….They might not want to go back to church, because they won’t feel accepted.”

Being an old researcher, I turned to the Pew Research Center to examine the most recent data about American Catholic views on same sex-marriage. Archbishop Myers would not be happy with what I found. A majority of lay Catholics — 53 percent — now support gay marriage; and the number of gay-marriage supporters rises to 72 percent among Catholics between the ages of 18 and 34.

Yes…..what is freedom? Whose freedom should we enable? What does it mean to be free? How do we as church promote and honor freedom?


But now I close……and my meandering thoughts return to my young cousin and the 425,000 other Allied and German soldiers who were killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Normandy.

As I load photos into my computer, I look at one of my friends standing on the spot where President Reagan stood in 1984, on the fortieth anniversary of D-Day, and I recall his words then: “We stand today at a place of battle, one that 40 years ago saw and felt the worst of war. Men bled and died here for a few feet of – or inches of – sand, as bullets and shellfire cut through their ranks. About them, General Omar Bradley later said, ‘Every man who set foot on Omaha Beach that day was a hero.’”

Contemporary Catholic Comedy

Comedian Stephen Colbert and Comedian Timothy Dolan interacted onstage Friday night, September 14th, before 3,000 cheering students at New York’s Fordham University.

As Laurie Goodstein reports, the evening was publicized as an opportunity for two Catholic celebrities to discuss how joy and humor permeate their spiritual lives. “They both delivered, with surprises and zingers that began the moment the two walked onstage,” Goodstein reports. “Mr. Colbert went to shake Cardinal Dolan’s hand, but the Cardinal took Mr. Colbert’s hand and kissed it — a disarming role reversal for a big prelate with a big job and a big ring.” Apparently it was all great fun.

I like comedy but recall the line from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

Comedy, of course, can be a temporary or a long-term distraction. Comedy Catholics, with all due respect to comedians Colbert & Dolan, would love to distract us, hoping we will not think too long or too much about the leadership problem in today’s church…..

When the laughing stops, here are some no-joke contemporary American Catholic realities:

  • Cardinal Dolan, of course, creatively navigated his way through the Republican and Democratic national conventions. Let us not forget that, when commenting on President Obama’s health care mandate, the Comedy Cardinal suggested that if contraception is available, perhaps prostitution services should be made available for men with erectile dysfunction. The Big Apple Big Archbishop compared homosexuality to incest. Perhaps that is better than Cardinal Francis George of Chicago who compared gay and lesbian advocates to the Klu Klux Klan. Dolan reminded American Catholics that “we bishops are pastors, not politicians.” What great pastoral leadership. Dolan of course still proclaims his friendship and admiration for Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, saying he “wants to see him in action.”
  •  Over in Denver, Archbishop Samuel Aquila says he admires Paul Ryan’s fiscal prudence and suggests thinking people should not ignore Ryan’s message just “because the consequences seem compassionless.” In Ryan’s home state, Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison continues to praise the vice-presidential candidate’s “accomplishments as a native son and brother in the faith;” and Morlino reassuringly asserts that native son’s budget proposals involve “choices where intrinsic evil is not involved.” Morlino forgets to mention that the Ryan budget would do great harm to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. But I guess one can denigrate and oppress the poor without slipping into intrinsic evil.
  •  We should remember Baltimore, as well.  There, Archbishop William Lori, the top USCCB man for their religious liberty campaign, issued a bitter and sarcastic response to America magazine’s editorial highlighting the flaws of the US bishops’ position. Lori refused, as well, (more intrinsic evil or just incest???)  to participate in a Catholic University of America discussion about homosexuality and Catholicism. He was afraid such a discussion “might weaken Church teaching.”

 A few more comic anecdotes from my contemporary Catholic humor file…..

  • Philadelphia’s Cardinal Justin Rigali, responded last year to a grand jury report that documented 37 priests still in active ministry despite serious allegations of sex abuse against them. Rigali reassuringly asserted there were no such priests in active ministry. One month later, of course, the archdiocese suspended 21 priests. And at the end of July, Rigali’s clergy helper, Msgr William J. Lynn, was sent to jail. For failing to protect children from a known predator priest, Lynn will spend three to six years in prison. Philadelphia Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, addressing the former secretary of clergy for the Philadelphia Archdiocese on July 24: “You knew full well what was right, Msgr. Lynn, but you chose wrong.” The judge also told Lynn, he had “enabled monsters in clerical garb … to destroy the souls of children.”
  •  And then of course we have some great episcopal one-liners: Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill., compared Obama to Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin…..Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh told his people that the Obama administration is saying “to hell with you.” …..Current Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said “contempt for religious faith has been growing.”

The issue is pastoral leadership,

not contempt for our Catholic Faith!

So what do we do?

My friends at ARCC, Association for the Rights of Catholics, have re-focused their October program, in response to participant needs. I like what they say: IN ALL THINGS HOPE.

 In All Things – Hope

This workshop 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.

ARCC website has complete info:

Shredded Credibility — Scrambled Theology

R. Daniel Conlon is the Roman Catholic Bishop of Joliet, Illinois. He is also chairperson of the USCCB’s Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.

In an August 13, 2012 address to the National Safe Environment and Victim Assistance Coordinators Leadership Conference in Omaha, Nebraska, Bishop Conlon acknowledged that the US hierarchy’s credibility on fixing the sexual abuse problem is “shredded” and that the situation is comparable to the Reformation, when “the episcopacy, the regular clergy, even the papacy were discredited.” Bishop Conlon’s Omaha address was published in the 30 August edition of Origins.

The Bishop of Joliet said he had always assumed that consistently implementing the bishops’ policies on child protection, “coupled with some decent publicity, would turn public opinion around.” With genuine frankness, he added: “I now know this was an illusion,” and acknowledged there is a widespread impression that the bishops “have failed to keep their commitments.”

Yes. Bishop Conlon is correct. Our bishops do have shredded credibility, but their lost credibility stretches far beyond sexual abuse issues. Our bishops dress like Renaissance princes and think and speak like nineteenth century ecclesiastical bureaucrats. Their’s is a scrambled theology….

The times have changed, but our contemporary Catholic bishops, starting with the Bishop of Rome, are feverishly tying to reverse all the church’s clocks.

Nineteenth century Catholicism — which lasted well into the 1950s when many of our bishops were pubescent little boys — was anchored in a static, unchanging, view of reality and a Catholic ethos that stressed: blind obedience to authority — sins as primarily of a sexual nature — the superiority of the ordained — the inferiority of women — and an absolute disdain for anyone who dared to think, ask a question, or challenge Church leadership.  

As Cardinal Martini said, the Church is 200 years behind the times. But most Catholics are not!

Our credibility is rooted in authentic and contemporary Christian witness. Our challenge is to challenge EVERYONE in the Church to make it happen.

SPECIAL NOTICE: RIP Cardinal Martini

Carlo Maria Martini, former Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, recently described the Roman Catholic Church as being “200 years behind the times.” At age 85, he died Friday, 31 August, in Milan, after serving there as Archbishop for twenty years. (He had retired in 2002, suffering from Parkinson’s Disease.)

Martini, a brilliant biblical scholar, was once seen as a future Pope. Many had hoped he would succeed John Paul II. He was also an outspoken critic of contemporary Catholic leadership and urged his fellow bishops to recognize the institutional church’s errors and launch a program of thoroughgoing structural reform and theological updating, starting with the papal office.

He was a courageous and wonderfully outspoken man. A contemporary Roman Catholic prophet. I met him once, briefly; but he was my hero for many years, especially when, accused of heresy, I tangled with church authorities. He reminded me and encouraged me with the conviction that a Catholic theologian can, and must be, a contemporary thinking believer.

Cardinal Martini gave his last interview to a fellow Jesuit, Fr. Georg Sporschill, at the beginning of August when he knew his death was near.

Martini criticized the way the church far too often addresses contemporary believers with negatives and prohibitions rather than words of encouragement.

Contemporary Catholics lack confidence in the church, he said in the recent interview, because: “Our culture has grown old. Our churches are big and empty. The church bureaucracy rises up, and our religious rites, and the vestments we wear, are pompous.”

Speaking about divorced Catholics, Martini stressed that the church must adopt “a more generous attitude towards divorced persons.” The question, he said, was not whether divorced couples can receive communion, but how the church can help complex family situations.

“The child sex scandals oblige us to undertake a journey of transformation,” Cardinal Martini said. And he stressed “a radical transformation, beginning with the Pope and his bishops.”

A courageous and pastoral bishop indeed. Cardinal Martini was not afraid to speak his mind on issues considered taboo at the Vatican, like priestly celibacy, expanding the role of women in the church, homosexuality, or advocating the use of condoms to combat Aids. In 2008 he criticized the official church’s prohibition of birth control.

Cardinal Martini was well-known and well-liked by Italians. Many got to know him by his frequent contributions to the leading daily newspaper Corriere della Sera, in which for three years he wrote a popular column ‘‘Letters to Cardinal Martini,’’ in which he responded to questions submitted by readers.

His funeral will be on Monday in Milan’s cathedral.


“Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

― T.S. Eliot