So…..What Kind of Church Do I Want?

Just before Thanksgiving, I had an email exchange with an old friend, who is now a member of the episcopal hierarchy… He asked me, with a small dose of annoyance, just what I wanted from the church.

I told him I could think of ten points……..

(1) I want a church that affirms the worth, the dignity, and the autonomy of every woman and man, compatible with the rights of others: a church that supports democracy and human rights and aims at the fullest possible development of every human being.

(2) I want a church that affirms the equality of men and women: that all persons regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation deserve respect and the freedom to live and love in peace.

(3) I want a church that stresses that personal liberty must be combined with social responsibility: that a fair society is based on reason and compassion, in which every person plays his or her part.

(4) I want a church that stresses and practices tolerance and freedom of expression: a church that realizes that all doctrines evolve and that all official teachers (Magisterium) must also be humble learners. We don’t have all the truth. We pursue the truth….

(5) I want a church that rejects intimidation and holds that conflicts must be resolved through patient and humble dialogue.

(6) I want a church that upholds freedom of inquiry in every sphere of human life: the unexamined faith is a childish faith. Adult believers question and probe as they believe.

(7) I want a church that upholds artistic freedom, the value of human creativity, and recognizes the transforming power of art: a church that is not afraid of contemporary art.

(8) I want a church in which the ordained leaders dress and act like healthy contemporary leadership people not museum-piece Renaissance princes.

(9) I want a church in which humility and openness to the signs of the times are the key virtues rather than an arrogant condemnation of all that is contemporary.

(10) I want a church that realizes that the face of Christ is best seen and honored in the face of the woman or man sitting next to me on the bus as I go to work each day.


Rome Speaks and Roy is Out

As Joshua J. McElwee (NCR) has reported, Roy Bourgeois, a longtime peace activist and priest who had come under scrutiny for his support of women’s ordination, has been dismissed from Maryknoll, which he served for 45 years. He didn’t abuse any children. Unlike some bishops, he did not protect and cover up sexual abusers….He simply said it is time to acknowledge women priests.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made the dismissal in October, according to a news release issued a few days ago by Maryknoll. There was no consultation with Bourgeois. Rome does not consult. Rome speaks and Rome expels.

Tom Doyle, a canon lawyer acting on Bourgeois’ behalf, told reporters he was not aware of the move. Doyle said he and Bourgeois met with Maryknoll’s superior general, Edward Dougherty, in June, and the issue of dismissal had not been discussed.

“The idea then was that things would continue and they would not dismiss Roy and they would continue to dialogue,” Doyle said. “And then this just happened, unilaterally. [Bourgeois] had no idea.”

Rome doesn’t like dialogue, and the old boys club is intimidated by women, who minster with self-assurance, dignity, and grace.

I am still a Catholic; but my mind and heart are anchored in Jesus of Nazareth…not in the increasingly strange Jesus of Rome.

May God bess and protect Father Bourgeois.


Cardinal Sean O’Malley announced a new pastoral plan for the Archdiocese of Boston on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012.

O’Malley’s plan aims to stabilize the Boston Archdiocese’s declining finances by combining its 288 parishes into 135 clusters that share staffing and resources.

The plan tries to keep parishes somewhat alive as the church deals with diminishing attendance, a looming priest shortage, and decaying parish finances that have left 4 out of 10 parishes unable to pay their bills.

O’Malley said he sees the reorganization as key to a spiritual revival, and his message to parishes was simple: “They must refocus on outreach and evangelization. … We can’t use all of our resources and time, just to serve the active Catholics in the community.”

…….Just 16 percent of Boston Catholics attend church today……Boston was not so long ago a Catholic stronghold.

……..The Boson archdiocese is also facing a major priest shortage. About a fifth of the 420 active priests are 65 or older; and the number of active priests will fall under 200 in a decade.

……..Thomas Groome, Boston College theology professor, said he doubted the archdiocesan reorganization could alleviate the coming priest shortage. He said it might just postpone an honest reckoning of it, which Groome believes includes accepting that married men should be allowed to serve as priests. “To the people of God, the solutions are obvious,” he said.

Meanwhile, the November meeting of the USCCB is over. High points of the meeting:

(1) Our bishops approved an exhortation encouraging greater use of confession.

(2) They approved the hiring of a director of public affairs to reorganize the conference’s Communications Department. (good idea…but what do they have to communicate?)

(3) Our bishops approved a 2013 budget of $220.4 million and agreed to add a national collection for the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services.

(4) On a voice vote, our bishops endorsed the sainthood cause of Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, neglecting of course what she had said: “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”

(5) The USCCB proposed economic message failed. (Probably a good thing!.) Opponents were amazed at the shortsightedness of the document and said more consultation was needed!

(6) The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a new document on preaching: “Preaching the Mystery of Faith: The Sunday Homily.”


(7) Just a year after U.S. Catholics began using the new English translation of the Roman Missal at Masses, the bishops agreed November 13th to have work begin on a revision of the Liturgy of the Hours. Our bishops approved beginning work on updates to hymns, psalms, various canticles, psalm prayers, some antiphons, biblical readings and other components of the liturgical prayers used at various parts of the day.

Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans, in presenting the request for a vote to the bishops, said the aim of retranslation would be to more accurately reflect the original Latin texts.

There were short discussions of the issue when the formal vote was taken. Among points raised by some bishops were Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley’s comment about “how pleased I am that the committee wants to revisit the Glory Be,” because laypeople tend to use an older version than the bishops do.




The USCCB is meeting in Baltimore this week (12-15 November) for its annual Fall General Assembly. The bishops won’t be singing alleluias in their hotel corridors.

Despite strong attacks on him, by highly politicized bishops, President Obama has been reelected.

Despite urgent appeals to voters, and threats of mortal sin and refusing Communion to those who disagreed with them, the bishops lost on state referendums on same-sex marriage in Maine, Minnesota, Maryland, and Washington State.

To the bishops great dismay, a majority of American Catholics voted for Barack Obama and gay activists won every referendum.

In Missouri and Indiana, though expected to win, those Republican senatorial candidates, who took the strongest positions on abortion, were also defeated.

This week our bishops will hear addresses by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of USCCB, and Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, apostolic nuncio to the United States. They will vote on several action items, including their strategic plan and documents on preaching, the Sacrament of Penance, and challenges to the teaching ministry of a bishop.

So what now? It is not whether a person is a Republican or a Democrat. Certainly a bishop, like any citizen, has the freedom and the right to hold and express a political position. Bishops have the right — the responsibility — to speak out about contemporary moral issues.

These things being said, there are some fundamental Catholic issues that our bishops must open their eyes, minds, and hearts to. Simply condemning those who disagree with them is not only counterproductive; but it is wrong.

I am 100% pro-life: across the board. Nevertheless I think we must talk about abortion, and about the best way to diminish and eliminate abortion. And as an older historical theologian I know as well that despite the attempts of the Vatican and our bishops to silence open discussion of the morality of abortion, questions persist about precisely when human life begins and our Catholic tradition has been far from univocal on this point. The question is not yet settled. Serious reflection and dialogue are the appropriate Catholic response.

I had a friendly discussion with a bishop, not so long ago, who worries about Islamic fundamentalists imposing their values on civil society. That could be a danger, I said, but then suggested that many of our bishops are trying to do exactly the same thing. He was not amused……..

This week our bishops want to reassert their teaching authority. Good teachers must also and always be good learners. Our bishops seem to overlook, however, that strong currents in the Catholic tradition of moral thinking have always emphasized that moral and civil law are not and should not be synonymous. This teaching goes way back to Thomas Aquinas. A religious community can hold moral positions that it regards as strong and even absolute, without seeking to force a multicultural, pluralistic society to adopt its religiously-based moral judgments.

Note for example…..Catholic moral tradition has long held things like adultery or prostitution to be intrinsically evil, but it has not advocated forcing civil society to change or adopt laws to enshrine in civil law the Catholic understanding of these practices. The attempt to make abortion the exception to all rules of prudential judgment–to make it the fundamental moral issue trumping all other moral issues–flies in the face of Catholic tradition itself.

Same-sex marriage? A majority of Americans and American Catholics now support it. It is a civil reality; and I don’t hear many people saying it should become the eighth sacrament.

Artificial birth control? That issue was resolved fifty years ago. Let’s move on.

Women’s ordination? The number of women bishops and priests continues to grow. The whole scale ignorance of our bishops about the history of Catholic women exercising ordained ministry in the Catholic Church is appalling. They would flunk my introduction to Catholic theology class.

Yes indeed……our American Catholic Church continues its pilgrimage along the tracks of Catholic life. Right now, however, our bishops are more the antiquated caboose than the engine.


Post November 6th: Conservative Catholic Beatitudes

The term Beatitude comes from the Latin adjective beatus which means happy, fortunate, or blissful. During the 2012 presidential campaign, I endured a barrage of conservative Catholic rhetoric, much of it emanating from episcopal lips. Today, in thanksgiving for the events of November 6th, I offer my conservative Catholic friends some words of encouragement as we all continue the journey forward. I have eleven beatitudes to memorialize the eleventh month of this year when our country and our church entered a new era.

Blissful are those who do not think, for they shall be known as orthodox.

Fortunate are the laity who don’t speak out, for they shall be known as obedient sheep.

Happy are the laity who do speak out, for they shall be known as trouble-makers.

Happy are bishops who don’t speak out, for they shall be known as sons of the Church.

Happy are the bishops who do speak out, for they shall be known as quickly retired.

Fortunate are the clerics who don’t speak out, for they shall be known as survivors.

Happy are the clerics who do speak out, for they shall be known as laity.

Happy are the nuns with a public voice, for they shall be known as radical feminists.

Fortunate are the meek bishops, for they shall be known as rare.

Happy are progressive Catholics, for they shall be known as dreaming reformers.

Blissful are “reformers of the reform,” their’s is a lasting place in fundamentalist fantasy.