Happy Easter Friends!

After my Easter vacation I will return to Another Voice with some important reconfigurations: technical and professional……

People keep asking me what I think about the new bishop of Rome.
Time will tell……..
My thoughts right now:

(1) Style and packaging are important but I want to see how he deals with structural reform
(2) Very significant will be whom he selects as Secretary of State
(3) There is a very real risk of his creating a new cult of the papacy…very bad news
(4) Kissing babies and washing young men and women’s feet looks good in the evening news but can also be a strong sign of the old clerical paternalism.
(5) The papacy remains an authoritarian monarchy; and I don’t see that resonating very well with the style and spirit of Jesus.
(6) Francs as a lot work to do if he will truly “rebuilt the church.”


Francis Inspires. We Change……

A very short reflection on this Saturday before Palm Sunday 2013.  My wife and I are getting ready to escape from our computers for a few days. I will pick up my electronic pen again in early April.

The new Bishop of Rome continues to amaze and inspire. I look forward to Holy Week and the coming weeks. There is a danger of course that people will simply look at Francis but not really move. A danger that dressing down becomes the focus. Yes the packaging is important, but content is the core issue. Structural change is still what we need. I hope Francis will do his part in transforming the old institution.

Regardless what Francis does, we need to act now, ever more energetically, to change the church.

Let us resolve to work energetically as transsubstantial change agents. It is a great old Catholic word. We need to make substantial structural change in the church. And it starts with the local church.

How do we pave the way within our families, among friends, in our neighborhoods, in our parishes, schools for:

Greater involvement of women in church ministry……How many women will be around the altar in your parish this Holy Week? Sorry to say I saw only one women, a reader, taking an active role in the papal inauguration liturgy. For the rest it was still an old boys club ritual.

How do we support young women who have a vocation to ordained ministry? I had one in a seminar last week. She is about ready to switch to a woman-friendly Episcopalian diocese. Well that is one kind of transsubstantial but I wish she could stay in the church of her birth. Right now she is a university student and doesn’t have to immediately transubstantiate…..But she feels increasingly estranged in a university parish situation in which the women hand-out hymnals and care for the babies in the back of the church and the men dress up and run the show up front.

I have many friends who are gay. What about when those friends get fired from a Catholic institution when their lifestyle “comes out”? I am getting to be an old man (seventy this week) and an angry old man. I know more than a few bishops who condemn homosexuality and same-sex relationships with great fury but secretly enjoy and flourish in relationships and escapades with their own same-sex buddies.

Divorced and married again. Not just married again but happy and healthy and holy in new marriages. Can we make structural changes for them? Communion as normal people? Sunday liturgy? Parish council members? Eucharistic ministers?

A young “single parent” mother, a teacher in one of our Catholic schools, shows up in her classroom one day very obviously pregnant. Her colleagues congratulate her. The principal and pastor fire her, and the local bishop denounces her for her “bad and immoral” example. How strange for church leaders in a church that honors and celebrates Mary who once showed up pregnant and without a husband. “But, but….” you may say. And I can respond “yes but, but……”

Well friends you make your own list…….I need to work on mine. We need a lot of structural transubstantiation in our old church if we want that church to welcome and nourish the young and not just comfort the old with nostalgic symbol and ritual.

I am delighted by what I see in Francis the new Bishop of Rome. Today he visited his “brother” the “emeritus Bishop of Rome.”

Hopeful images that call for active transubstantiation……..STRUCTURAL CHANGE at every level!

Very kind regards and every good wish for the Easter season!





A papal-based reflection for Passion Sunday

Minutes after the election result was declared in the Sistine Chapel, a Vatican official called the Master of Ceremonies offered to Pope Francis the traditional papal red cape trimmed with ermine that his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI gladly wore on ceremonial occasions.

“No thank you, Monsignore,” Francis is reported to have replied. “You put it on instead. Carnival time is over!”

It was just one small sign out of many this week that as Massimo Franco, one of Italy’s shrewdest political editorial writers, commented in the Corriere Della Sera, “the era of the Pope-King and of the Vatican court is over”.

In any event, it appears indeed that with Francis the papal carnival time is over…..I hope and pray this is true……… J W Greenleaf



On Wednesday, after the white smoke cleared, Pope Francis, dressed in simple white, told the people in Rome, and those of us watching across the globe, that we were embarking with him on “a journey of fraternity, of love, and of trust.”

“Let us always pray for one another,” he said. “Let us pray for the whole world, that there may be a great spirit of fraternity.”

In 1998 when, he became Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio became known for personal humility and a commitment to social justice. A simple lifestyle contributed to his reputation. He lived in a small apartment, rather than the palatial bishop’s residence; and he gave up his chauffeured limousine in favor of public transportation.

Today when he went to pray at St. Mary Major, he used a simple car, declining to use the papal one. He entered by a side door, without pontifical pomp. And, on the way “home,” he stopped at the casa where he had been staying to pick up his bag and pay his bill!

My good friend Doug in New York asks: “Jack, dare we hope?”

I am delighted to hope and to pray.

May this new Francis, in the twenty-first century, respond courageously and effectively to the Lord’s same call, addressed to his namesake Francis of Assisi in the twelfth century: “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin!”


Last Sunday without a Pope: A Meditation on POWER and AUTHORITY


The red hats move behind locked doors on Tuesday, March 12th, certainly by the Ides of March we will have a new pope.

My Sunday meditation on power and authority in the church: A reflection for popes, red hat cardinals, and lowly human being People-of-God types.


There are two different ways in which power and authority can be exercised in the church. The difference is between domination and service:

  • between wanting to be served and wanting to serve
  • between using power as an oppressor and using power as a liberator

We know the Spirit of God is moving in the church when church structures – that means of course church people – become more and more people and structures of real service and ministry, rather than structures of domination and control.

The temptation to dominate and control – often in God’s name – is an occupational hazard for church leaders.

Nevertheless, service, ministry, and liberation are God’s values. They are the values revealed in the life and ministry of Jesus. They must be papal values, episcopal values and People-of-God values.


No more comments from me until the new bishop of Rome is in place. I’m kind of poped-out for now…….

For International Women’s Day: Pope Joan’s Story

It’s an old story and probably just an old fantasy. Joan — other versions call her Johanna — was a bright, vocal, and well educated lady. She so impressed the Curia Romana that when the old male pope died, she was enthusiastically elected pope. A needed reformer we would say today. Two years into Pope Joan’s papacy she became pregnant. The papal butler said her lover was a famous cardinal.

The earliest historical mention of this female pope appears in the Chronica Universalis Mettensis, written in the early 13th century by a Domincan priest, Jean de Mailly. He describes the events this way:

“Concerning a certain pope or rather a female pope, who is not set down in the list of popes or Bishops of Rome, because she was a woman who disguised herself as a man and became, by her character and talents, a curial secretary, then a cardinal and finally pope…..One day, while mounting a horse, she gave birth to a child.”

Another thirteenth century Dominican, Martin of Opava, recorded the story as well. He writes:

“It is claimed that this Pope John was actually a woman, who as a girl had been led to Athens dressed in the clothes of a man by a certain lover of hers. There she became proficient in a diversity of branches of knowledge, until she had no equal, and, afterward in Rome, she taught the liberal arts and had great masters among her students. A high opinion of her life and learning arose in the city; and she was chosen for pope. While pope, however, she became pregnant by her companion. Through ignorance of the exact time when the birth was expected, she was delivered of a child while in procession from St. Peter’s to the Lateran.”

Today of course a pregnant pope would have the modern comforts and convenience of a popemobile. No awkward or uncomfortable child-birth, while greeting pilgrims in St Peter’s Square.

Well of course, I am a responsible old historical theologian. I must therefore declare that most modern scholars dismiss Pope Joan as a medieval legend.


If we COULD elect a woman pope, my vote would go to an American Benedictine: Sister Joan Chittister. I loved her March 6th column in NCR where she points out that the Vatican could learn a thing or two about renewal from women religious. Joan sees it clearly and says it with her own eloquence.

“Women religious may have something to teach the church about the process of conversion and development at this very important moment.

“Religious life, too, had been encased in another world. Women religious lived separately from the world around them, they dressed in clothes that had been designed centuries before, they gave up a sense of personal or individual identity. As a result, they got further away from the people they served by the day, further away from their needs, further away from their feelings….Renewal, they discovered, was a matter of demystification, integration and relevance.

“Religious life had its own kind of monarchies to be deconstructed before anything creative could possibly happen or the gifts of its members be released for the sake of the world at large.

“The first step was to take the Second Vatican Council’s direction about collegiality and subsidiarity, the concepts of shared responsibility and personal decision-making. That meant that the kind of absolute authority that had built up around religious superiors had to be relinquished. Major decisions began to be shared with the community at large. Personal decisions began to be entrusted to the sisters themselves, all adult and educated women who had been deprived of the minutest decision-making: for example, the hour at which they would go to bed; the right to make a doctor’s appointment; the structure of their lives between prayer times. Major superiors began to be expected — and allowed — to be Jesus-figures in the community, spiritual leaders not lawgivers, not monitors, not queen bees.

“In the second place, religious had to learn to integrate themselves into the society they were attempting to serve. That did not necessarily mean eliminating a kind of symbolic dress, but it did mean updating it in a way designed to simplify rather than to separate. Most women religious chose, like Jesus, to set out to be the sign rather than do it the easy way and wear the sign.”


Facts and Fantasy About the Papacy

I thought I would take advantage of “sede vacante”……there NOT being a pope……to reflect on facts and fantasies about the papacy.

Concerned about the Catholic Church and the survival of the papacy, one of my pen-pals has been sending emails, reminding people that “Our Blessed Lord picked Saint Peter to be the first pope and he will surely take care of the church today by selecting a new one.”

An American archbishop wrote in his diocesan paper a few days ago that “Our Lord selected St. Peter to be the first pope, making him the rock on which the Catholic Church would be solidly built.”

There are facts, for sure. There are a lot of fantasies as well.

Let’s start from the very beginning……..

Peter was a young married man, probably around twenty years old. Most likely he had children but we don’t know for certain. He must have been strong-willed and maybe even a bit stubborn. His nickname was “Rocky.” So in the scriptures Jesus says “You are Rocky and on this rock I will build the community of my followers.” Jesus and his early disciples had no understanding of “church” as we know it today. Jesus picked Peter to be the leader of his group of followers in Jerusalem. Not a pope. No popes existed back then. (Later biblical translators translated the word for community into “church,” something unknown in Jesus’ days.)

The next person to be the leader of the disciples in Jerusalem was James. Again no pope, simply the leader of the group. (James the New Testament says was “brother of Jesus” but that is a subject for another day…….)

Peter went off to Rome, where, later, he would be executed. In Rome he was not the bishop. The Christian community in Rome at that time did not have a single bishop as leader. Interestingly the Roman community was under the guidance of a group of leaders: a “council of elders.” Peter was probably a member of this council of elders but was never “bishop of Rome” and certainly not pope. About this historians are in agreement.

After 70 AD the leadership center for the Christian community shifted to Rome. But not under Peter and not under a pope. No pope. And there were no popes in Rome at this time. The council of elders was the Roman leadership team. First century “collegiality”!

What’s in a name………..

Our word pope comes from a Greek word meaning papa: father. By the three hundreds and four hundreds AD the term pope was used for bishops in general and then later used more for special bishops. So we see in the historic literature references to the “Pope of Constantinople,” the “Pope of Rome,” etc. the understanding was that all the “papas” should work together.

The “papa” in Rome had an honorary position but was not the supreme decision-maker. The papa in Rome was “first among equals.”

Each “papa” took care of the church in his region. This all changed when the Roman Empire collapsed.

Papa Leo I did it: when in Rome do as the Romans did…..

When Rome collapsed, the bishops of Rome assumed more control over civil and ecclesiastical life. Pope Leo I (who died in 461) said “Peter speaks to the whole church through the Bishop of Rome.” And here we have the beginning of the papacy!

Since there was no Roman emperor, the bishop of Rome took over the ritual, the dress and the pageantry and power structures of the Roman emperor. Ancient Rome was resuscitated and baptized into papal Rome. Not even MGM could have reproduced Imperial Rome and its emperor with the precision and detail adopted by the bishops of Rome ……

Since then we have had a long parade of papas….some were kind and benevolent. Others were ruthless and immoral depots.

They all rather enjoyed having papal power……

Periodically over the centuries, various powerful bishops of Rome reaffirmed and strengthened their authoritarian power, turning the pope (for a while) into the number one monarch on our planet. Pope Pius IX of course tried to recapture that supreme earthy authority when he had himself proclaimed infallible.

And the papal story goes on and on……..

But now one asks: Was Peter the “First Pope”?

He was certainly the first leader of the early Christian community. Only with a highly symbolic imagination can one say he was the First Pope. But we Catholics are known for our creative imaginations….. 🙂

How refreshing it would be if the next pope would confine to a museum or sell to theatrical costume shops all the old Roman imperial dress and ritual regalia; and adopt a more contemporary way of dressing and walking on this earth and implement a shared-decision-making leadership style. That indeed would be in the Petrine tradition!

That’s the kind of papa I could vote for!