To all of my Another Voice friends and readers:

My best wishes for Christmas and the New Year!

I will be back with more reflections after Epiphany.

In 1926 Thomas Stearns Eliot converted to Anglo-Catholicism and his poetry took on a more obviously religious character. Here T. S. Eliot retells the story of the Magi who travelled to Palestine to visit the newborn Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew. It is told from the point of view of one of the Magi. It has a contemporary feel to it with themes of alienation and powerlessness in a world that has greatly changed. I call it to your attention as I did last Christmas.

magi (2)



“A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The was deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.”

And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.


Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.


All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we lead all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,

We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

Queer Catholic Irony

(An early reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Advent 2013.)

Focusing on Pope Francis’ statement: “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?” the gay rights magazine The Advocate has now proclaimed Francis its person of the year.

The Bishop of Rome is getting enthusiastic press coverage at the end of 2013: on the cover of Time, the cover of The New Yorker, and now The Advocate.

When it comes to the local church scene, however, American Catholic leaders don’t seem to resonate well with the media’s gay-friendly perspective on Pope Francis.

At year’s end we can review some disturbing un-gay-friendly Catholic actions that raise serious questions about where the institutional church is really headed.

Francis may be trying to open doors. Many local church leaders, however, are still slamming them shut.

In suburban Philadelphia, a highly respected teacher has been fired from a Catholic high school because he informed the school administration that he intended to take advantage of New Jersey’s legalization of same-sex marriage.

Michael Griffin worked at the Holy Ghost Preparatory School for 12 years teaching French and Italian. He said that although administrators, including the principal, knew he was gay, he never had any major conflict with the Catholic administrators until announcing his marriage plans.

Griffin said he was fired after he had emailed administrators to tell them he was going to file for a marriage license. For many years it was no secret and no problem the teacher was gay. He and his partner were well-known among teachers, students, and parents. His Catholic supervisors, unlike the pope, decided they are to judge and have now terminated his 12-year employment.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, the Sisters of Mercy aren’t very merciful these days either….. Tippi McCullough has been fired after 14 years as an English teacher at a high school affiliated with the Sisters of Mercy. Her crime, as well, was to officially formalize a relationship that her Catholic co-workers had long known about. She and her longtime partner had even been overnight guests on the school principal’s houseboat. When school officials learned, however, that the couple had just been legally married they told her they had to let her go.

In August a Southern California man, who had taught at a Catholic high school for 17 years was fired days after he married his partner. Ken Bencomo was one of the most respected and well-liked teachers at St. Lucy’s Priory High School, an all-girls school in Glendora, California. He and his partner were one of the first couples to line up on July 1, 2013 at the San Bernardino County Assessor-Recorder’s Office to get married after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional.

There have been, of course, more such gay dismissals of teachers in Catholic schools, musicians in Catholic parishes, and educators in Catholic religious education programs.

Yet….the Roman Catholic Bishop-of-Rome-person-of-the-year says: “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?” Unless this is just so much empty rhetoric, American Catholic leaders in local churches need to do some serious soul-searching.

I note with interest….54% of U.S. Catholics now support gay marriage and support is growing. The more bishops protest, the more lay and ordained Catholic support increases. Future projections? Today 70% of U.S. Millennials support gay marriage. I mentioned this in my university master’s class this morning and my students all replied: “Of course…what’s the problem?”

Gay marriage is a civil reality, beyond the church’s area of responsibility. Over the centuries in fact there have been many forms of marriage. For much of the church’s history, no specific ritual was prescribed for celebrating a marriage. Marriage vows did not have to be exchanged in a church, nor was a priest’s presence required. A couple could exchange consent anywhere, anytime. The Roman Catholic Church only began to understand and control marriage as a sacrament in the twelfth century…..The first official declaration that marriage is a sacrament was made at the 1184 Council of Verona.

Love of course endures. And we know from the scriptures: “God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in that person.” 1 John 4:16

Love, personal commitment, and mutual support, whether gay or straight, remain Christian values and Christian virtues to be encouraged and supported by all in the church: in Philadelphia, in Little Rock, in Glendora, and all points East and West…..

O Come, O come Emanuel
O come, Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by your advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night



I have great expectations for and from Francis, Bishop of Rome, and the Time Person of the year.

From Pope Francis, and the Vatican administration which he supervises, I expect a more humane – well a more Christian – style of leadership. My expectations are not limited just to Francis and his Vatican, however.  

I expect the rest of us in the church: lay men and women, ordained ministers, and bishops to ALSO implement a more caring and person-affirming leadership style.  If the entire community of faith – the entire church – doesn’t do this, the Person of the Year becomes just a pleasant and quickly-forgotten image.

The challenge for all of us then is to reject authoritarian management styles at all levels of our church life. We know of course that they do exist at all levels…….

(1)    The authoritarian manager controls and manipulates people. A pastoral leader, like Jesus, motivates and encourages people.

(2)    The authoritarian depends on power to get things done. The pastoral leader relies on collaboration and goodwill.

(3)    The authoritarian manager inspires and uses fear to control people. The pastoral leader understands that a genuine leader animates people and  generates enthusiasm.

(4)    Authoritarians always say “I.”  Real leaders say “we.”

(5)    Authoritarians have all the answers. Pastoral leaders may have good ideas; but they still realize they can learn from the people around them.

(6)    Authoritarians take credit. Pastoral leaders give credit.

(7)    Authoritarians see life issues in clearly delineated black and white. Pastoral leaders understand that human life is more often lived in shades of grey.

(8)    Authoritarians condemn without consultation. Pastoral leaders, like Jesus of Nazareth, acknowledge, forgive, and invite conversion.

(9)    Authoritarians rely on secretive manipulations. Pastoral leaders rely on open and frank conversation.

(10) Authoritarians basically distrust people. Pastoral leaders look at men and women and see the Face of Christ.


“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them. Their great men exercise authority over them. Let it not be this way among you.

Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.”

Matthew 20:25-26


Providence Does Not Smile On Mandela

Just a few days before Nelson Mandela’s funeral, Thomas Joseph Tobin, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, has displayed a bit of selective moral arrogance.

One can wonder where the Bishop of Providence picked up his pastoral ministerial sensitivity. I don’t see much resonance with the ministerial style of the historic man from Nazareth. But then I am not a bishop.

I am an historian and I find the Tobin Providence proclamation rather ironic. Providence was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams, a religious exile from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He named the area in honor of “God’s merciful Providence” which he believed was responsible for revealing such a haven for him and his followers.

Bishop Tobin of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, however, has issued a statement in which he harshly criticized Nelson Mandela’s liberalization of South Africa’s abortion laws. He ignores of course any discussion about civil law, moral law, and the ethics of abortion at various stages and in various contexts of a woman’s pregnancy.

“Many people around the world and in our own nation are mourning the loss of former South African President Nelson Mandela,” he wrote. “Indeed there is much to admire in Mandela’s long life and public service, particularly his personal courage and his stalwart defense of human rights.”

However, he continued, “…. part of President Mandela’s legacy is not at all praiseworthy, namely his shameful promotion of abortion in South Africa. In 1996, Mandela promoted and signed into law the ‘Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Bill’ that, according to the New York Times, ‘replaced one of the world’s toughest abortion laws with one of the most liberal.’”

“We can only regret,” he concludes, “that his noble defense of human dignity did not include the youngest members of our human family, unborn children.”

In September 2013, Bishop Tobin expressed disappointment that Pope Francis had not made banning abortion the signature agenda of his papacy. “I’m a little bit disappointed in Pope Francis that he hasn’t, at least that I’m aware of, said much about unborn children, about abortion, and many people have noticed that,” he told The Providence Journal.

“It’s one thing for him to reach out and embrace and kiss little children and infants as he has on many occasions,” he said. “It strikes me that it would also be wonderful if in a spiritual way he would reach out and embrace and kiss unborn children.”

Maybe the Bishop of Providence needs a good hug and a kiss…….


Nelson Mandela: Inspiration for Church Reformers

Nelson Mandela embodied the power of the human spirit. For those of us in the church reform movement, Mandela was living proof that institutions can be changed and the world can be transformed.

This week end, commemorating Nelson Mandela, who died on December 5th, I decided to post some Mandela quotations that I find particularly challenging and inspirational.

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

“I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

“I am not an optimist, but a great believer of hope.”

“Religion is one of the most important forces in the world. Whether you are a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew, or a Hindu, religion is a great force, and it can help one have command of one’s own morality, one’s own behavior, and one’s own attitude.”

“There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

“One of the most difficult things is not to change society – but to change yourself.” Read more