My prayers and thoughts are with everyone affected by the hurricane.

I appreciate as well the words of Father James Martin, Jesuit priest at America

“If any religious leaders say tomorrow that the hurricane is God’s punishment against some group they’re idiots. God’s ways are not our ways.”

Like Job of old we cannot explain why terrible things happen to people. Throughout his own sufferings, Job did not abandon God because deep down he knew that God had not abandoned him. And so we all continue our journeys though life.

I still believe the opening words of Gaudium et Spes:

“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men and women of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of women and men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for everyone. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with humankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.”

My next reflection, most likely, will be after the presidential election………

Secularization and Secularism: Convenient Scapegoats?

Surveying the spectrum of hierarchical rhetoric, on both sides of the Atlantic, we hear and read that “secularization” and “secularism” are now the source of all that is evil, have led to a collapse of Christian values, and are the driving force behind a new wave of anti-Catholicism in the West.

Pope Benedict XVI and his Facilitator for the Synod on the New Evangelization, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, strongly hope the New Evangelization will halt the spread of secularism and relativism in the church, re-fill nearly-empty churches with loyal and obedient laypeople, and disarm a number of other malignant “isms” (like feminism) that threaten contemporary Catholic life.

A few days away from the 2012 presidential election, the crusade against secularism and secularization, is particularly strong in our United States.

At the moment, I am in Philadelphia where his friends and supporters are energetically promoting Archbishop Charles Chaput’s book A Heart on Fire: Catholic Witness and the Next America. In his e-book, Archbishop Chaput outlines the dangers of secularism in the United States and deplores what he sees as a growing American hostility toward religion in general and Roman Catholicism in particular.

A couple days ago, over in Chicago, Cardinal George remarked that strong anti-religious sentiments have emerged during this year’s presidential campaign. He warns of an aggressive anti-religious and strongly anti-Catholic secularism in our American society.

Speaking with a flash of archiepiscopal drama, George acknowledged he had been quoted accurately when predicting: “I expected to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.”

Cardinal George said he had made such a dramatic reference to the prospect of martyrdom to underline the urgency of the problems created by aggressive anti-religious secularism. “Communism imposed a total way of life based upon the belief that God does not exist,” Cardinal George said and added: “Secularism is communism’s better-scrubbed bedfellow.”

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairperson for the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, reiterated in his National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception homily on October 14th: “For some time now, both life and liberty have been under assault by an overarching, Godless secularism, replete with power and money, but sadly lacking in wisdom, both human and divine: a secularism that relentlessly seeks to marginalize the place of faith in our society.”

Over in Peoria, the outspokenly ultra-orthodox Bishop Daniel Jenky is still complaining about President Obama’s “extreme secularist” policies and compares them to those of Germany’s “Iron Chancellor” Otto von Bismarck, to Adolf Hitler and to Josef Stalin.

The conservative Catholic crusade is gathering some local parish steam as well in election battleground states like Ohio. Faithful America reports that last week, the “Nuns on the Bus” went to Ohio, visiting local social service agencies and speaking out about how major federal budget cuts could endanger the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. When the sisters arrived in Marietta, Ohio, they were met by a crowd of angry right-wing protesters who called them “fake nuns” and waved signs labeling their “Nuns on the Bus” tour the “highway to hell” and “bums on the bus.”

Many of these Ohio protesters were recruited from a local Catholic parish, where the pastor invited right-wing activists to distribute their propaganda accusing the sisters of “espousing radical ideology.”

So what is this crusade against secularization and secularism all about?

My first and immediate reaction is to quickly respond that far too many ultra-orthodox bishops and their sympathizers are scapegoating and calling attention to the speck of sawdust in their neighbors’ eyes and paying no attention to the planks in their own. But it is of course more complex.

These days “secularism” is more a principle and “secularization” more a process; but they often overlap of course in contemporary conversation.

Secularism is an outlook, and sometimes an ideology, that maintains that there should be a sphere of knowledge, values, and action that is independent of religious authority. In other words that religious leaders should not run the entire human show.

In American history we see secularism in our principle of the separation of church and state. Secularism can but does not necessarily exclude religion from having any role in political and social affairs. It simply asserts that religious leaders should not control and run political affairs. They can and should, as members of society, enter into constructive dialogue. Separation of church and state actually safeguards the church, as it also safeguards the state.

Secularism is often associated with the Age of Enlightenment and has played a major role in the history of Western society. Church leaders have, from time to time, had difficulties with the Enlightenment. Too much thinking, beyond church control……..We know of course, from our overall Catholic tradition, there really should be no conflict between faith and reason.

These days……most major religions accept the legal structures of secular, democratic societies; and a great many Christians support the secular state, seeing it affirmed, for example, in the teachings of Jesus in the Gospel According to Luke: “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Some fundamentalists, however,fiercely oppose secularism, often asserting that there is a “radical secularist” ideology being adopted or imposed on people these days. They see secularism as a threat to “freedom” and to “traditional values.”

The most significant representatives of this kind of religious fundamentalism in our contemporary world are Fundamentalist Christianity and Fundamentalist Islam.


The discussion about secularization is, I think much more complex. I often say in my adult education and adult faith sharing sessions that Jesus of Nazareth was THE great secularizer: He understood, taught and witnessed to the truth that God is met and experienced in secular life. Incarnational theology once again…… Jesus regularly poked fun at or simply denounced those overly religious people who were good at religious practices but in fact far from God. But this is just a part of the secularization discussion.

Secularization is a process of taking-seriously our day-today secular life. I would contend that the theologians and bishops at Vatican II REALLY understood secularization. They understood it as an invitation to dialogue, to discern, and to reflect on the “signs of the times.”

Many of our contemporary Catholic bishops blame secularization for their lost credibility, the decline of their religious authority, and their inability to influence society. Frankly, I think their Vatican II episopal brothers would say: “stop shaking your fingers at the outside world and get your own house in order.” Blessed Pope John would say: Open the windows! We need fresh air! We need new and fresh thinking! And we have made some colossal mistakes!

I can understand that some people are uncomfortable about secularization when it involves state control over spheres formerly controlled by religious institutions. This can affect education, social welfare, law, the media, etc. Loss of power and control can be very discomfiting….. Secularization, however, becomes absolutely essential in our contemporary world with its increasingly ethnic-cultural-religious pluralistic societies.

Good values will be learned and taught and passed on in a society in which all share in values clarification and formation.

And faith will be experienced, will thrive, and be passed on in communities where the teacher-leaders (the magisterium in Catholic talk) realize that they are also and always learners as well……..

Scapegoats are convenient, but they keep people from looking deeply into their own hearts and souls……

The Catholic Ministry of Misinformation

The Second Vatican Council — in various jubilee commemorations – is now the official scapegoat for traditionalist Catholic frustrations. 

Our current traditionalist-in-chief, Pope Benedict XVI, is working overtime these days to re-write the history of Vatican II, to misinterpret its significance, and to undo its accomplishments.

On October 11th, the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published Pope Benedict’s recollections of Vatican II. His remarks are a clear-cut example of Catholic Newspeak: the current medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of pre-Vatican II church theology and practice. “The council fathers neither could nor wished to create a new or different church,” the Pope said. “They had neither the authority nor the mandate to do so. That is why a hermeneutic of rupture is so absurd and is contrary to the spirit and the will of the council fathers.”

Hermeneutics is a process of interpretation. It is nothing new of course. People of every age, if their eyes and ears are open to the world around them, necessarily interpret and express their faith experience in the thought patterns of their own language and culture.

Pope John XXIII, when he announced there would be an ecumenical council, said the church needed a lot of hermeneutics….in his words a lot of aggiornamento: updating! He said the church should not be afraid to open its windows to the world.

Contrary to what we hear and read in Vatican Newspeak, Vatican II did change the church; and thanks to Vatican II the church did change its official teachings.

Vatican II brought good news.

A nineteenth century Catholic, for instance, would be amazed at the transformation of the papacy. Pope Pius IX, who denounced democracy and progress, would have been surprised at the thought of a Pope traveling around the world and upholding human rights and justice.

Our self-understanding as church has changed from that of a clergy-controlled monolithic institution to the church as the People of God…….what a tremendous change. We have shifted from a vertical legalistic model — where bishops are managers — to a horizontal community of faith model, where we are all brothers and sisters. We are still working out an effective collegial way of doing things; but we know we must now do it together.

What was once a triumphalist “fortress church” (fighting against “non-Catholics” and “unbelievers”) is now, thanks to Vatican II, a listening community. We acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers; and we must be engaged in dialogue with non-Christian religions as well as with other Christian churches.

Within the Catholic Church, as well, there have been significant changes:  We have a new code of canon law. New instruments of episcopal collegiality and subsidiarity have been put into place. The church today is not a democracy BUT it is not an authoritarian monarchy either! It is a communion, which should be governed by mutual respect, charity, and openness to the world around us.

The vernacular has been introduced into our Eucharistic liturgy and the other sacraments; and I know very few people who would wish to return to the old Latin liturgy.

Vatican II stressed the dignity of the human person…….Human life (life in this world) is neither evil nor a threat to Christian belief. Vatican II stressed an incarnational theology: “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us…” Vatican II saw our daily human life as the place where we meet the living God. That’s why in our liturgy the presider now faces the congregation and not the back wall.

Vatican II changed the image of the church from a medieval authoritarian monarchy to a community of brothers and sisters where “collegiality” should be the practice for governance and decision-making. We see the face of Christ in the eyes of our neighbors.

A new and critical attitude towards the Bible was affirmed at Vatican II. This was a big step and a tremendous change in our Catholic biblical understanding. The Roman Catholic Church, at Vatican II, rejected a literalist understanding of biblical texts and stressed a historical critical understanding. The bishops at Vatican I (1870), for example, insisted that Moses was the author of the first five books of the Old Testament. The bishops at Vatican II understood that such a belief was totally impossible, if not absolutely foolish.

The pre-Vatican II church saw the church and the world at variance with one another and, to some degree, as enemies. Vatican II said that we need to listen to the signs of the times, because it is in this world that we meet and live with God.

Vatican II said as well that human sexuality is not tinged with sin but good. It changed the Catholic understanding of the “ends of marriage” and stressed and that the primary goal of married love is not just generating children but growth in mutual love, support, and joy. Sexual intimacy is grace-filled.

Yes. Vatican II brought good news….. In the church’s relationship with the not Catholic world, it changed Catholic teaching in very significant ways. I mention two big changes in official Catholic teaching: first in its affirmation of God’s ongoing covenant with the Jewish people (see Lumen Gentium and Nostra Aetate), and second, in its affirmation of religious freedom, which previous popes had explicitly condemned. These two reversals in church teaching (a hermeneutic of discontinuity?) contravened at least 1,500 years of church teaching and practice.

Newspeak traditionalists insist that the bishops at Vatican II never really intended to change the church or its theology or its liturgy. It has all been one big terrible mistake. Vatican-inspired revisionists are working feverishly to reverse the Catholic clock.

Many people now suspect the “New Evangelization” is a Vatican PR stunt to bring back a 19th century Catholic ethos and insist that the post Vatican II changes never should have happened. Certainly our American Cardinal from Washington DC sees it that way.

“This current situation is rooted in the upheavals of the 1970s and 80s, decades in which there was manifest poor catechesis or miscatechesis at so many levels of education,” Cardinal Wuerl said a few days ago in Rome, and he further stressed: “We faced the hermeneutic of discontinuity that permeated so much of the milieu of centers of higher education and was also reflected in aberrational liturgical practice. Entire generations have become disassociated from the support systems that facilitated the transmission of faith.” More fundamentalist Catholic Newspeak.

Nevertheless……Clocks break when you turn them back. And some things cannot be turned back.

Vatican II stressed the place and roles of lay women and men. Whether some people like it or not……our Roman Catholic Church, more and more, is going to be directed by lay people, especially in parishes, schools, and pastoral ministry. Vatican II’s “universal call to holiness” has motivated lay women and men to take very seriously their baptismal call to ministry in the church and mission in the world. They are educated, competent, and have long since supplanted clergy as religious educators, theologians, chaplains, and other kinds of pastoral ministers.

The old clerical stronghold on ministry and holiness has been irreparably ruptured. There’s no going back. And right now, there’s no telling where it will lead. But we believe we are not alone. We are not orphans; and God’s spirit is with us.

Catholic Newspeak, however, continues to draw media attention. Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles is in Rome for the Synod on the New Evangelization. Before hurrying off to lunch, a couple days ago, he told reporters: “the teachings of the Catholic Church have not changed, society has changed.”

More ministry of misinformation…….With all due respect to the LA archbishop, he is not just whistling in the Vatican wind. He is wrong. Archbishop Gomez, Cardinal Wuerl, and Pope Benedict are neither evil nor wicked men; but they are manipulating facts to support their own revisionist and regressive agenda.

Indeed, society has changed; but the church has changed as well. It must change. Change is a fact of life. Only museum pieces are static.

More and more, I fear, our grand old church looks more like a museum than a spiritual home for human habitation.

We need to open those windows again……..


Bishops Morphing: Becoming Political Pundits

The British author, Ernest Benn once remarked: “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy.”

He could have been writing of course

about some outspoken members of today’s

American Catholic hierarchy.

New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan has released his pre-election letter, since he will be in Rome on November 6th. He wants American Catholics to understand the real issues in the upcoming presidential election. Some of his salient observations: “…as I leave for Rome, I want to share with you some of the concerns that I will bring with me to the tombs of the apostles, SS. Peter and Paul, and to Assisi, the town of St. Francis. I am concerned about a culture that has become increasingly callous about the radical abortion license, and a legal system that affords more protection to endangered species of plants and animals than to unborn babies; that considers pregnancy a disease; that interprets ‘comprehensive health care’ in such a way that it may be used to threaten the life of the baby in the womb (and, it should be noted, to exclude the undocumented immigrant as well). I am concerned as well for the infirm and elderly who are nearing the end of life, that they will not be treated with the respect, dignity and compassion that is their due, but instead be encouraged to seek a hasty death before they can become, according to some, ‘a burden to society.’”





Over in Illinois, Bishop Daniel Jenky has now completely morphed into a not-so-kind political propagandist. Jenky, remember, made headlines in April when he said that President Obama was today’s Hitler. “Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments,” Jenky said during a  Sunday homily in his St. Mary’s Cathedral, “would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services and health care.” Then the Peoria bishop continued, “In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama – with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda – now seems intent on following a similar path.”





Now, Bishop Jenky is warning American Catholics that a vote for Obama is gravely sinful. A friend has forwarded excerpts from a pastoral letter to be read aloud at EVERY weekend liturgy on November 3rd and 4th.  It’s extreme, to say the least. Bishop Jenky’s letter begins stating there has never “been at time more threatening to our religious liberty than the present.” It states that the Affordable Healthcare Act will “require all Catholic institutions, exempting only our church buildings, to fund abortion, sterilization, and artificial contraception.” It overtly implies that any Democrat politician supporting the Affordable Healthcare Act and anyone voting for a Democrat “rejects Jesus as their Lord” and are “objectively guilty of grave sin” and show no “hope for salvation.”

How misleading. How strange. How disconcerting.

An American religious leader is now instructing Catholic American voters how they should vote, directly or indirectly, and with menacing threats of damnation if the voter does not vote as instructed by her or his bishop.

Today’s American-Catholic-bishop politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy.

I think our first American Catholic Bishop

Archbishop John Carroll

must be spinning in his grave in Baltimore!

Vatican II: Getting the Facts Straight : Beware of Hierarchical Attempts at Rewriting Catholic History


May you live long in our theology and church life!

Pope John XXIII gave notice of his intention to convene the Second Vatican Council on 25 January 1959, less than three months after his election in October 1958. Members of the Curia Romana began to fear that John was up to no good! In discussions before the Council, Pope John often said that it was time to open the windows of the Church to let in some fresh air. He said the old church needed updating. Aggiornamento was the word he used. And John invited Christians outside of the Catholic Church to send observers to the Council.

Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council on 11 October 1962 in a public session and read the declaration Gaudet Mater Ecclesia before the Council Fathers. In this opening address, he rejected the thoughts of “prophets of doom who are always forecasting disaster” in the world and in the future of the Church.

The Pope stressed a pastoral, not a doctrinal, focus for the Council: The Church did not need to repeat or reformulate existing doctrines and dogmas; but rather it had to teach Christ’s message in the light of the modern world’s ever-changing trends. In other words, Pope John said the church need not fear the secular world, because it is in the secular world that we encounter the living God.

John exhorted the Council Fathers “to use the medicine of mercy rather than the weapons of severity” in the documents they would produce.

And today………..Fifty years after the Second Vatican Council revolutionized life inside our Roman Catholic Church, nearly three hundred bishops from around the world are gathered in Rome to remember the Council and to confront what they see as an external threat to the church and Christian Faith: secularization.

The Synod of Bishops on the “New Evangelization” brings together 262 church leaders for a three-week summit at the Vatican, joined by lay experts and representatives of other Christian groups.

Setting the tone for the bishops’ discussion, Washington DC’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl called on Christians to “overcome the syndrome of embarrassment” about their faith with a more assertive offense against the “tsunami of secular influence” that is sweeping away “marriage, family, the concept of the common good and objective right and wrong.”

Donald Wuerl has been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to be the “Relator General” of the Synod, with the key task of summing up the main points of the bishops’ discussions. What I find so remarkable about Wuerl is his nearly total distortion of the message and impact of Vatican II. While Vatican II marked a moment of renewal and enthusiasm for the church, Wuerl said, it was followed by decades of poor teaching and substandard worship — “aberrational liturgical practice,” he called it — that made “entire generations” of Catholics incapable of transmitting the faith to their children and to society at large, ushering in today’s secularized society.

So now we know what happened. All contemporary church and societal problems are the fault of the Second Council! ……

Wuerl of course is wrong. He can speak of a “tsunami of secular influence;” but he is blind and deaf to the sounds and sights of the credibility earthquake that he and other contemporary church leaders have inflicted on the church.

So, as we celebrate this special Vatican II anniversary year, let’s look at a few basic facts (not the whirlwind of Wuerl’s rhetoric)…….facts that enable us to evaluate the various interpretations, reinterpretations, misinterpretations, and misrepresentations that will be promulgated by regressive church authorities in the coming year.

(1) Vatican II was an ecumenical council, the latest of only twenty-one in the two-millennia history of the Church. It was not a sinister group of subversives out to destroy the church. As such, it was and is to be respected as a specially authoritative voice of the church.

(2) There are those of course, like Don Wuerl and sadly a number of other U.S. bishops, who try to make Vatican II something it wasn’t and who claim today that it has been grossly misinterpreted. Strangely, many of today’s negative “interpreters” are bishops who were there and voted on the documents that came out of the council. They oversaw the implementation of  the council.

(3) When the bishops arrived for the Council, they found that members of the Curia (the Vatican bureaucrats who had rattled crosiers when Pope John announced the Council) had already tried to take control of the conciliar process. Note well: the majority of the Council fathers took control. They strongly defeated attempts by conservative Roman cardinals to steer Council deliberations and decisions in a conservative direction.

Pope Benedict has proclaimed a “Year of Faith” to remember Vatican II. So my friends, during this holy year, if you hear complaints about Vatican II and its stress on the church as the People of God, complaints about collegiality, warnings about a confident encounter with the “joys and hopes, the griefs and the anxieties” of people today, about respectful encounters with other religions, about public prayer marked by “full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations,” about reminders that “the revision of liturgical books should allow for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions and peoples”……. Yes, if you hear such complaints or grumbling about these things, remember that you know the facts; and since you know the facts, give the complainers the attention they deserve. None whatsoever.

Beware of Hierarchical Attempts at Rewriting Catholic History



Catholic Eclipse in Austria

The lights are going out in Vienna.

The Tablet reports (27 September) that The Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn has announced that the 660 parishes in the Archdiocese of Vienna are to be drastically reduced over the next 10 years to just 150.

The Archbishop made the announcement to a startled audience of journalists at the annual media reception at the archbishops’ palace on 20 September. The main factors behind the restructuring are the declining number of churchgoing Catholics and the shortage of priests. Parishes in the archdiocese will in future be much larger, with three to five priests in charge, one of whom will be responsible to the archbishop. Each of these large parishes will be run jointly by priests and lay Catholics. Cardinal Schönborn described the move as “probably the greatest structural reorganization of the Vienna archdiocese for 200 years.”

The Roman Catholic decline around the globe is accelerating and the old gentlemen in Rome seem to be taking it all in stride. Maybe they feel a smaller church is more easily controlled. Or maybe our church leaders are simply unable to acknowledge their own shortcomings. In any event, Catholics are jumping ship and Peter’s Bark is taking on water.

As theologian, Charles Curran told a Detroit, church reform group recently: “One would expect in any other organization – if your organization, your business, your group, whatever – it was lost one-third of its members, wouldn’t you try to do something about it? The American Catholic Church has barely mentioned the problem, let alone done anything about it. Amazing! Simply amazing! If a business lost a third of its members, they’d be doing everything possible. They’d be going out of business, or saying, ‘We gotta do something about this.’ We have done nothing about it in the American scene specifically….”

In any event. I haven’t grabbed my lifejacket yet.

Next week : a birthday party for Vatican II!