Why I Remain Catholic

Last week, a friend asked why I put up with the Catholic Church.

On my seventieth birthday, I did a lot of re-thinking about my life and public posture and positions. I would like to be around for a few more years. My health is rather good for a corpulent old man; and longevity is characteristic in my paternal and maternal families. Nevertheless I know the clock is ticking for Jack and now I more carefully state my positions and beliefs.

I am indeed a follower of Jesus Christ. I am far from perfect; but my life is anchored in his life and teachings and spirit. I am also a member of the Roman Catholic Church. That church educated me, opened me to contemporary life, and sill sustains me. It is not a perfect institution; but then no institution is perfect. Indeed I can write horror stories about the Roman Catholic bastards — bishops, priests — who over the years cheated and screwed me. Pious bastards! No other words can better describe them. Despicable human beings.

On the other hand, I have known and have been nourished and supported by some remarkable Roman Catholic lay people, women religious, ordained ministers, bishops, and cardinals. One cardinal saved my skin when another cardinal tried to screw me and get me thrown out of the church and fired. Another cardinal and an archbishop became my spiritual fathers and gave me human support and encouragement in particularly dark moments of my life. No small things. Great men! Great Catholics!

I went to Roman Catholic grade school, high school, college, and university. My education was excellent and my formation left me an informed and critical thinking believer. Not afraid to ask questions.

As a contemporary Catholic I remain particularly critical. The papal administrations of JPII and Benedict XVI were not healthy moments in the history of our church. What will happen under the most recently elected Bishop of Rome remains to be seen. Time will tell. Nevertheless I am not much of a papal person. (And I am an American anchored in the values expressed in the Declaration of Independence.) The age of absolute monarchs is over and gone. I am more a follower of Jesus of Nazareth than the Jesus of Rome.

I must also say I am very disappointed in and about the current group of US Roman Catholic Bishops. If some of them were in my theology classes, I think I would have to flunk them. Their knowledge of church history and their understanding of biblical exegesis is pathetic. Far too many of these men proclaim their ignorance with an offensive and demeaning arrogance that has no place in the community of faith.

But the Catholic Church remains my home. It is where I live and work. There are bastards in the church but they don’t guide my life. There are also giants and wonderful women and men. Truly saints! I respect, appreciate, and admire them. And in the Catholic Church I have experienced more saints than bastards.

A number of my friends have left the Church of Rome. I understand what they have done and why. They have taken steps I chose not to take. They remain my good friends and sisters and brothers in the faith. One Lord, one Faith, One Baptism, one God who is Father (Mother) of all! Together we pursue the Truth. Together in respectful dialogue and fellowship.

And so we move on…in our pilgrimage.



Joan Chittister writing in NCR (24 April 2013):

“The BBC just called, an incident that in itself may well be a measure of the larger import of the situation. It’s a strange moment in history: Suddenly everyone in the world, it seems, wants to know what is happening to the nuns and what they can do next. “Next,” of course, means what they can do now that the Vatican is back to questioning both their intelligence and their faith.

“In fact, what self-respecting journalist could possibly skip the story? After thousands of years of life-giving service to the church at poverty level — building its schools, its orphanages, its hospitals, its missionary outposts, its soup kitchens, its homes for the indigent, its catechetical centers — the nuns are told the problem with their work is that it has been “tainted by radical feminism”? And that by a group of men whose chance of knowing what the term “radical feminism” even means is obviously close to zero.

“So what is going on? Especially at what seems to be a moment of the great change in the church of the autocrats and monarchs to the church of the Jesus who walked among the people and loved them?

“Well, for one thing, what’s going on is the same thing that’s been going on for more than 1,500 years: Nuns everywhere are working with the people, hearing their stories, attempting to meet their needs, having a presence in their lives, simply intent on being the caring face of a merciful church — their ministers in the midst of confusion. Not their dogmatizers, not their judges, only witnesses to the Gospel of unconditional love.

“At another level, what is going on now is a mysterious work in progress. This so-called “evaluation” of the life of women religious and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the United States is a process begun long before this papacy and so, perhaps, difficult to stop midstream.”

I remember what Gloria Steinem said some years ago: “This is no simple reform. It really is a revolution. Sex and race because they are easy and visible differences have been the primary ways of organizing human beings into superior and inferior groups and into the cheap labour in which this system still depends. We are talking about a society in which there will be no roles other than those chosen or those earned. We are really talking about humanism.”

And so we move forward. Regardless what some church authorities say, there really is no turning back. And no need to turn back………and I am convinced that the Holy Spirit leads the movement. Obviously because SHE knows better.

Testing the Church of Accidents


“A church that does not go out of itself, sooner or later, sickens from the stale air of closed rooms,” Pope Francis wrote a few days ago in a letter to the bishops of Argentina. He had delivered the same message to the cardinal electors before the conclave.
Francis acknowledged that in “going out” the church always risks running into “accidents;” but added: “I prefer a thousand times over a church of accidents than a sick church.”
A church of accidents rather than a sick church? I guess that means a church that sticks its neck out. 
On April 14th, in an official communique,  the Austrian bishops stipulated that the only permitted translation of the Latin words “pro multis” in the Eucharistic Prayer is “for all,” despite Pope Benedict XVI’s one year ago informing the German-speaking bishops that their new translation of the Missal would have to translate the phrase “for many.” Bravo for the Austrians.
On April 15th Sister Florence Deacon, OSF, LCWR president; Sister Carol Zinn, SSJ, LCWR president-elect; and Sister Janet Mock, CSJ, LCWR executive director; met with Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF); Archbishop Luis Ladaria, secretary of CDF; and other members of the CDF dicastery. Archbishop J. Peter Sartain was also present. The LCWR officers reviewed the activities of this past year since receiving the highly critical report of CDF’s doctrinal assessment of LCWR in April 2012. In his opening remarks, Archbishop Müller informed the group that he had met with Pope Francis who “reaffirmed the findings of the assessment and the program of reform for this Conference of Major Superiors.” 
So what’s going on here? It looks to me, to use the pope’s words, like the old sick church of “stale air” in “closed rooms.” LCWR women religious have been pastorally and courageously sticking their necks out; but now, I fear, the old clerical boys club has picked of Vatican axes and Archbishop Müller, with Papal baking (?) is saying it’s time to start chopping. Is there no group of US bishops willing to “go out” and take risks on behalf of LCWR? 
The National Catholic Reporter, in its April 19th editorial “LCWR approaching critical crossroads” stresses: “A church of accidents … a church willing to take risks on the edges … a church dedicated to service of the most needy … a church working on behalf of mercy, peace and justice…This sounds a lot like the church U.S. Catholic sisters have been building in recent decades. Not only U.S. women religious, but also women religious around the world have been at this work. It is the women who have lived closest to the marginalized; it is the women who have worked on the ‘peripheries;’ it is the women who have gone precisely where Francis is encouraging others to go.”
NCR warns: “Even more fundamentally, then, the Vatican/LCWR issue is really about whether the current male clerical decision-making system can sustain church life in the 21st century. Huge numbers have concluded it cannot….At issue is not obedience. It is rather the dignity of every person and the rights of every person in the church, stemming from his or her baptism.
“We are coming perilously close to a point of rupture. Some, of course, would relish such a break. However, their satisfaction would be short lived. For such a break would send out a loud signal, one that would echo through history, that the most significant U.S. women religious body had concluded fidelity to conscience and fidelity to the values of the Gospels required separation. It would be a stunning blow to all Catholics.”
Yes indeed, as Pope Francis said: ““A church that does not go out of itself, sooner or later, sickens from the stale air of closed rooms.”

Catholic bishop to gay marriage supporters: Keep communing

Apr 11, 2013 7:37 p.m.

The Detroit archbishop’s recent comments about communion and support for same sex marriage is still sparking debate among Catholics. Now a local priest is speaking out publicly against the archbishop’s approach.

“Don’t stop going to communion. You’re okay,” said Retired Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit Thomas Gumbleton.

Long a progressive voice in Detroit’s Catholic community, Gumbleton is breaking with Archbishop Allen Vigneron days after Vigneron declared that supporters of same-sex marriage should refrain from receiving Holy Communion, comparing it to perjury.

“If you look at it from a pastoral point of view where you’re trying to reach out to people, trying to draw them in, then the last thing you want to do is impose a penalty or make them feel like they have to impose a penalty upon themselves,” Gumbleton said.

The bishop says the church’s approach should be pastoral not punitive. Just this week, he counseled a couple with a gay son.

“Husband, wife, raised seven children, Catholics all their lives, they’re in their eighties now, and the mother says to me, you know I can’t go to communion anymore,” said Gumbleton. “They’re hurt and she’s crying because we can’t go communion and that means so much to them.”

Gumbleton says it’s a matter of conscience, which is deeply personal.

“Not everybody’s going to come to the same conclusion at the same time, so we have to keep on working with people and trusting people that they’re trying to do the right thing,” he remarked.

Gumbleton read from a pastoral letter penned years ago at a bishop’s conference called “Always Our Children.”

“Judging the sinfulness of any particular act is a matter ultimately between God and the individual person.”

He also says that an individual person must choose whether or not to receive communion.

“Their conscience is the ultimate voice they have to follow,” Gumbleton explained. “A person coming up to communion has a right to make their own decision about am I in a state of grace?… Am I ready to receive? Well, that’s for the person to decide not for the minister or not for any bishop.”

….………as reported in FOX 2 NEWS in Detroit


ANOTHER VOICE is now on Twitter…….following papal example 🙂


Sex and Theology and Horse & Buggy Bishops

A March 20–24 CBS News Poll showed that 53% of Americans support same-sex marriage, 39% oppose it, and 8% are undecided. The same poll also indicated that 33% of those Americans, who now think same-sex couples should be allowed to legally marry, say they once held the opposite view and have changed their opinion.

Already in November 2012, election exit polls showed that 83% of American voters believed that same-sex marriage would be legal throughout the country within five to ten years.

American Roman Catholic bishops, however, see things differently.

New York’s Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said on two morning talk shows on Easter Sunday that the Roman Catholic Church should be more welcoming toward gays and lesbians despite its opposition to same-sex marriage. That was the headline story. The fine-print story, however, was the same old refrain: “But we also know,” stressed Dolan, “that God has told us that the way to happiness, that — especially when it comes to sexual love — that is intended only for a man and woman in marriage, where children can come about naturally.”

Joe Murray, Executive Director of the Rainbow Sash Movement dismissed the Cardinal’s comments as delusional and out of touch with reality.

Edward Peters, a legal advisor to the Vatican and a professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, claims: “Catholics who promote same-sex marriage act contrary to Catholic law.” These aberrant Catholics, Peters stressed in his blog: “should not approach for holy Communion.” Allen Vigneron, Archbishop of Detroit, agrees wholeheartedly: “This sort of behavior,” Archbishop Vigneron asserted, “would result in publicly renouncing one’s integrity and logically bring shame for a double-dealing that is not unlike perjury.” Perjury? How strange……There must be some kind of mind-distorting virus in the clouds above Motown.

Back to New York…… Nicholas Coppola, a 47-year-old retired construction worker, and his husband David have been effectively kicked out of the St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church in Oceanside, NY, where Coppola had been serving as a religious education instructor, lecturer, and visitation minister for homebound members of his church. He also served as a member of the Consolation Ministry and St. Vincent de Paul. Parishioners had known for years that Nicholas was gay; and they never found it problematic.

After Nicholas and David got married on October 27th in 2012, a concerned Catholic sent an anonymous letter to the local bishop, informing him about Coppola’s involvement.

On April 4th, 2013, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Coppola attended a special liturgy at St. Anthony’s. Afterwards, he was summoned into the office of his pastor, Father Nicholas Lombardi, where he was told that the anonymous letter complaining about his sexuality had been sent to Bishop William Murphy of the Rockville Centre Diocese, which includes St. Anthony’s Parish. Lombardi then informed Coppola that, on Bishop Murphy’s orders, Coppola would be banned from all of his parish duties because he had entered into a civil same-sex marriage in violation of church doctrine.

Sometimes I think far too many of our bishops keep trotting down the super highway of contemporary life, in horse drawn theological buggies. Their understanding of human sexuality and theological ethics is rooted in a static nineteenth century outlook that rejects human change and development as aberrant behavior. These horse and buggy bishops really ought to know better. Or perhaps they flunked their Vatican II final exams. They certainly need remedial sexual and theological education. They need to understand and speak from a credible and informed Catholic sexual ethic.

Since the Second Vatican Council, Catholic theology has shifted from a primary static worldview to an historically conscious worldview that recognizes human reality as particular, dynamic, evolving, and changing.

I really don’t have unkind thoughts about our bishops. As the old saying goes, some of my best friends are bishops. I went to school with a number of bishops; and a number of my former students are bishops today. (And a few other very good friends, like Ken Untner, from Saginaw, Michigan, are now bishops RIP.) Nevertheless, I am amazed and dismayed at the theological ignorance and archaic understanding of human sexuality displayed by some of our episcopal leaders. They have smart phones and iPads but operate within a closed-world Morse code mentality. An historical critical understanding of our Scriptures and Tradition totally escapes them. Change, growth, and development in our understanding of what it means to be a woman or a man of Faith today seems like something alien and unspeakable.

As required reading for every bishop, and a good number of church lawyers as well, I strongly recommend two books: Sexual Ethics: A Theological Introduction
by Creighton University’s Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler and Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics by Margaret Farley, who taught at Yale.

Theologians Salzman and Lawler contend that there is a disconnect between nineteenth century absolute sexual norms and intellectual, theological, and ethical developments recognized and endorsed in our Catholic tradition, especially since the Second Vatican Council.

Not all bishops like the theological ethics of Salzman and Lawler. The USCCB Committee on Doctrine, chaired by Cardinal Donald Wuerl has strongly condemned their book for “applying a deficient theological methodology” which leads the authors to “reach erroneous conclusions on a whole range of issues, including the morality of pre-marital sex, contraception, and artificial insemination…..readers of the book could be confused or misled, especially since the book proposes ways of living a Christian life that do not accord with the teaching of the Church and the Christian tradition.”

Margaret Farley’s book proposes a framework for sexual ethics whereby justice is the criterion for all loving, including love that is related to sexual activity and relationships. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has denounced her book because it presents a theological rationale that could justify same-sex relationships, masturbation, and remarriage after divorce.

But I would remind all critics of Farley, Lawler and Salzman of what Cardinal Dolan so strongly asserted on ABC’s “This Week” on Easter Sunday 2013: “We try our darndest to make sure we’re not anti-anybody.”

So gentlemen do your theological homework and let GENUINE DIALOGUE really begin!


Apologia pro Vita Mea

A Brief Easter Week Reflection……..

For several years, I found it wise and expedient to express certain theological, religious, and political ideas under my pseudonym “John W. Greenleaf.” There is no need to go into details. At various times in a person’s life, one does what one considers most appropriate. Today it is water under the bridge. I am now over 70, mostly retired, and no longer fear the sanctions of ecclesiastical authority. In extreme situations, authorities can excommunicate and expel. I don’t think they can disconnect a person from the Living God. They can attempt; but years of historical study and life experience convince me that but God doesn’t work that way.

In any event….. Inspired by the humble transparency of Francis, the new Bishop of Rome, I have decided to come out of my theological closet. I am who I am and I guess it is time to just say so……..

A few years ago, I launched my blog “Another Voice” because I am deeply convinced we need a new theology for people living in advancing modernity. Who or what is God? A psycho-social creation to calm anxious and insecure people? A deeply personal and intimate Other who is closer to us than the air in our lungs? How and where does one really experience this Immanent Other? How do we interpret and speak about It? Him? Her?

Jesus of Nazareth was intimately connected with this Other. Jesus continues to animate and inspire me; but he too pushes me to ask more questions. Where do we see and experience the Jesus Spirit today? Who really speaks in his name? Who really acts in the name and spirit of Jesus. How do we distinguish genuine Christianity from the phony and deceptive…….and what symbols and rituals enable us to probe more deeply and celebrate more joyfully the Other who animated Jesus and his male and female disciples?

And what kind of behavior, what kind of moral action, what kind of ethic is genuine and appropriate for believers in this Intimate Other? It goes far, far beyond monotonous condemnations of birth control, abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage. In the end we come down to one fundamental life reality: a life-giving spirituality for contemporary believers. The big questions get answered there. A healthy and wholesome spirituality. Not cheap nor magical nor manipulative institutional grace. We need institutions, but they are a means not a goal.

After a short Easter vacation, I plan to return to my blog: Another Voice. I hope in fact to speak stronger and more clearly: not to tear apart nor destroy but to collaborate in speaking with a new voice and in a new language: about the great energizing Spirit that sustains all of us. A new language for contemporary believers.

I hope Another Voce will also stimulate more conversation and more collaborative reflection. The community of faith must also be a community of believers, seekers and, of course, discoverers. Please join me on the journey. The Other is there, I do believe. We simply need to tune in, open our ears, and clear our vision.

Our theological language does change and must change. A nineteenth century theological vision with an equally archaic ecclesiastical structure can be colorfully nostalgic; but does not help a believing man or woman to experience and pass on the Faith today. It is like trying to send an email, using a piece of chalk and a little square blackboard. Nostalgic and quaint but not very satisfactory.

I invite you to journey with me and to join the conversation.

I am an American who grew up in Michigan. I was educated in Detroit, Louvain /Leuven, and Nijmegen. I have a doctorate in religious studies and a doctorate in historical theology from the Catholic University of Leuven.. Once I thought about ordained ministry; but my life took a different road and my ministry has been in education and theology. I have been happily married for forty-three years, and I am a proud father.

I am a retired Roman Catholic historical theologian: an historical critical thinker, anchored in the theological tradition of the Catholic University of Leuven and Leuven has been my home for thirty-three years.

My friends call me Jack. My official name is John Alonzo Dick. So there. I am out of the pseudonym theological closet. My blog email address is: jadanothervoice@gmail.com