Beware : The Tyranny of Gender

The Bishop of Rome is condemning the tyranny of capitalism and the idolatry of money. The bishops of Poland are condemning the tyranny of gender theory.

Over the Christmas holidays, a strongly-worded pastoral letter, issued by the bishops of Poland, was read in parishes across their country. The bishops have branded gender theory a mortal danger to families, child sexual orientation, and humanity. Inspired by Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks in late 2012 about the “falseness” of gender theory, the Polish bishops are campaigning about a host of contemporary evils created by and falling under the umbrella of gender theory: homosexuality, pedophilia, feminism, marital breakdown, and sex ed programs for children and youth that promote masturbation, pornography, eroticism, birth control, and abortion.

Posters have appeared in Polish schools proclaiming: “Protect Your Child Against Gender.”

The Polish bishops cite Marxism, feminist movements, and the sexual revolution as having inspired the theory, which they say is “contrary to the traditional view of man.” That means against natural law.

Last summer one of Poland’s best-known bishops, Tadeusz Pieronek, gave an indication of Polish episcopal thought when he argued during a cultural festival on the Baltic coast that “the ideology of gender presents a threat worse than Nazism and Communism combined.” He is really heated up about this.

Perhaps the bishops and others in the church need a refresher course and some updating about natural law. They will have to study and scratch their heads because it obviously doesn’t come to them naturally.

When thinking about natural law, I suspect many people would say that is a God-given body of unchanging moral principles regarded as a basis for all human conduct. As a general perspective it is helpful and makes sense. Good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided. The issue becomes more complex, however, when we get down to concrete specifics.

If, for instance, the natural purpose of sex is procreation, any use of or enjoyment of sex that is not procreative is unnatural. All those things problematic for the Polish bishops are unnatural: masturbation, birth control, and homosexuality. But what if procreation is not the primary purpose of sex? What if human sexuality is also about intimacy, affection, bonding and pleasure?

What then is natural or unnatural?

Thomas Aquinas (1224 – 1274 CE) was convinced that a pyramid social structure was the natural order for human societies: on top emperors, kings, and the pope, then dukes and bishops, then knights, priests, and religious men and women. Down at the bottom: the serfs. If every person would respect and adhere to his or her natural rung in society, there would be peace and tranquility. In varying degrees I suspect many churchmen and some church women still believe that. Although, with the current pope they have to put some of their colorful threads and golden trinkets back in the closet.

Aquinas also taught that women are, by nature, incomplete human beings and inferior to men. For Thomas it was a matter of natural law and natural “heat” or, as far as women were concerned, insufficient male heat.

A fetus Thomas asserted, develops its full potential (meaning its maleness) if it collects sufficient “heat” or “vital spirit” in the early stages of development. Femaleness results from insufficient heat being absorbed by the fetus. Thomas himself says: “A female is deficient and unintentionally caused. For the active power of the semen always seeks to produce a thing completely like itself, something male. So if a female is produced, this must be because the semen is weak or because the material [provided by the mother] is unsuitable, or because of the action of some external factor such as the winds from the south which make the atmosphere humid.” Thomas saw a woman’s deficiency confirmed by her inferior intellectual powers; and therefore a woman could not fully be an image of God. Only males could do that.

Thomas believed, therefore, that a woman could not represent Christ because women are incomplete males. He therefore was convinced women could never be priests, because the priest in the Eucharist is a sign of Christ: “Since it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, it follows that she cannot receive the sacrament of Holy Orders.”

Shades of the old Thomistic viewpoint still cloud the minds of more than a few higher-placed ecclesiastics. Many, like the Bishop of Rome, are fine and pastoral people but still theologically time-bound in an old anthropology.

Any understanding of natural law must take into account the fact that we are all progressing and evolving: in who we are and in our understanding of who we are.

Truth is not relative, but our truth statements and doctrines cannot be forever chiseled in stone. Maybe on an iPad with a continually updating screen….


God and the Super Bowl

As we gear up for the 2014 Super Bowl on Sunday February 2nd., a new survey reveals that 50% of American sports fans see supernatural forces at play in the games. According to the January 2014 Religion and Politics Tracking Survey, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, contemporary Americans either pray for God to help their favorite team, believe their team has been cursed, or believe God plays a role in determining the outcome of major sporting events.

The Super Bowl has become an American civil religion ritual. According to sociologist Robert Bellah (who died last year), Americans embrace a common “civil religion” with certain fundamental values, holidays, and rituals, parallel to, but independent of, their chosen traditional religion. They believe the nation is under God’s benevolent protection; and the nation provides semi-religious honors to its martyrs and athletic and political heroes. We are a nation of Halls of Fame and Super Bowl football is the liturgy that captures it all.

Former President Richard Nixon (who was very fond of football as well as tape-recording Oval Office conversations) expressed it perfectly, when commenting about the Super Bowl: “What does this mean, this common interest in football of Presidents, of leaders, of people generally? It means a competitive spirit. It means, also, to me, the ability and the determination to be able to lose and then come back and try again, to sit on the bench and then come back• It means basically the character, the drive, the pride, the teamwork, the feeling of being in a cause bigger than yourself. All of these great factors are essential if a nation is to maintain character and greatness for that nation.”

Supernatural involvement in major sporting events, is an old tradition of course. In ancient Greece, for example, the Olympics were just one set of athletic contests which were performed in honor of the gods. Among the Mayans in Central America, the stadium was attached to an important temple; and the stands were adorned with images of the gods and sacred animals.

Contemporary Americans also believe that being-a-believer greatly enhances an athlete’s performance on the field. Close to 65% of U.S. Protestants believe that God rewards athletes who have faith with good health and athletic success. Catholics are a bit less credulous. Only 50% believe that God rewards athletes who have faith. Perhaps they have forgotten the “Hail Mary Pass:” a very long forward pass in American football, made in desperation with only a small chance of success. The expression originated in the 1930s at Notre Dame; but its use became more widespread, after Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach (a Roman Catholic) said about his game-winning touchdown pass in a December 28, 1975 playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings: “I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary.”

That American sports is a religion and professional football its leading ritual expression is not a new notion, but one that has achieved growing currency among American scholars and cultural observers. Sports have become the sacramental expression for the American way of life at a time when “traditional” religion is waning.

Over the past ten years, research surveys show a gradual decline in traditional religious commitment in the U.S. public as a whole. The number of Americans who do not identify with any organized religion has also grown significantly. One-fifth of the overall public — and one third of adults under age 30 – are religiously unaffiliated. A third of U.S. adults say they do not consider themselves a “religious person.” Two-thirds of Americans – affiliated and unaffiliated alike – say organized religion is losing its influence in Americans’ lives. The Super Bowl Sunday observance, however, is more popular than ever.

While about 12% of Americans think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, more importantly on a personal level, more Americans admit that they are wrestling with how to navigate a culture increasingly comfortable with violence. Here of course one must see the Super Bowl as sacred violence in controlled and acceptable form: as heads clash, bodies collide, tendons rip, and bones break.

In any event, when the Denver Broncos meet the Seattle Seahawks on Super Bowl Sunday, we know God will smile on and reward the better team. After-all: In God We Trust.


MLK Day Reflections: African American Catholics

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has become a national hero for racial equality and justice. Since 1986, three years after President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law, Americans have celebrated Dr. King’s legacy as a federal holiday, on the third Monday of January.

A survey conducted last year, however, revealed that civil rights in the United States still has a ways to go…. Fewer than half (45%) of all Americans surveyed said they believe the United States  has made substantial progress toward racial equality since 1963, when Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Roughly half of Americans (49%) said “a lot more” needs to be done to achieve racial equality. Broken down by race, a higher share of blacks (79%) than Hispanics (48%) and whites (44%) felt that way, according to a Pew Research Center report.

Thinking about the civil rights movement (I participated in one of the great Detroit civil rights marches in the 1960s) I started wondering about black American Catholics.

There are today 78.2 million self-identified Roman Catholic Americans and only 3% of them are black. We have 270 active bishops and 184 retired; and among them are 10 active black bishops and 5 retired.

An unprecedented national survey of African American Catholics, conducted from July 7 to August 1, 2011 and sponsored by the National Black Catholic Congress and the University of Notre Dame, revealed that black American Catholics have generally positive feelings about being Catholic but are not completely satisfied with the scope of racial inclusiveness in the American Catholic Church:

About one in four African American Catholics experience racism in their parishes. A total of 31.5 percent say they are uncomfortable because they are the only people of color in their parishes: 25.9 percent saying that other Catholics avoid them because of their race, 23.6 percent say that other parishioners reluctantly shake their hands; and 24.9 percent say they have experienced racial insensitivity toward African Americans from their priests.

African American Catholics, therefore, see much room for race-relations growth in their church. Maybe the next U.S. cardinal should be a black American…..

An historic note: Augustus Tolton (April 1, 1854 – July 9, 1897), was the first Roman Catholic black priest in the United States. A former slave, who was baptized and raised Catholic, Tolton studied formally in Rome and was ordained there in St. John Lateran on Easter Sunday 1886. Assigned to the Diocese of Alton (now the Diocese of Springfield), Tolton first ministered in his home parish in Quincy, Illinois. Later when assigned to Chicago, Fr. Tolton led the development and construction of St. Monica’s Catholic Church as a black “national parish church” and completed in 1893 on Chicago’s South Side.

In 1990, Adrian Dominican Sister Jamie T. Phelps, from the Catholic Theological Union, launched the Augustus Tolton Pastoral Ministry Program, in consultation with CTU President Fr. Don Senior, to prepare, educate, and form black Catholic laity for ministerial leadership in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

On the 2nd March 2010 Cardinal George of Chicago announced that he was beginning an official investigation into Tolton’s life and virtues with a view to opening the cause for his canonization. This cause for sainthood is also being promoted by the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, where Tolton first served as priest, as well as the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri, where Tolton’s family was enslaved.

Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George is now two years over the usual retirement age for bishops. Maybe it is time for Francis in Rome to appoint a black cardinal to replace him.


Father Tolton

The Church of Rome: The Shake-up Continues

Pope Francis has announced that nineteen new cardinals will get their red hats on February 22, 2014. As John Allen pointed out in NCR, several new cardinals from the “periphery” are a break from the past.

Bishop Chibly Langlois will become the first cardinal from poverty-bound Haiti. Pope Francis has ignored the old Vatican tradition that if the Caribbean was to have a cardinal, the red hat would go to one of the region’s three Catholic powerhouses — Cuba, Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic. More noteworthy: Langlois’ diocese of Les Cayes Haiti is NOT one of the two archdioceses in Haiti. Langlois represents an option for the periphery even within his own country.

In the pope’s letter to the new cardinals, we see a new focus as well. The days of red-packaged old men processing around grandly in Renaissance splendor are on the way out:

“The cardinalship does not imply promotion; it is neither an honor nor a decoration; it is simply a service that requires you to broaden your gaze and open your hearts. And, although this may appear paradoxical, the ability to look further and to love more universally with greater intensity may be acquired only by following the same path of the Lord: the path of self-effacement and humility, taking on the role of a servant. Therefore I ask you, please, to receive this designation with a simple and humble heart. And, while you must do so with pleasure and joy, ensure that this sentiment is far from any expression of worldliness or from any form of celebration contrary to the evangelical spirit of austerity, sobriety and poverty.”

In Seattle, Washington, Catholic high school students protesting the firing of a popular gay teacher have already made their Catholic reform imprint as well.

Students at Eastside Catholic High School have led protests recently over the departure of vice principal and swimming coach Mark Zmuda. The school and Zmuda have disputed the details about his departure. Zmuda said he was fired. The school says he resigned after acknowledging that his same-sex marriage violated Catholic teaching and therefore the terms of his contract.

Students held a second day of protests in the Seattle suburb just before Christmas and have launched an online campaign urging the Roman Catholic Church to retreat from its opposition to same-sex marriage. The growing Catholic student protest also received strong support from Seattle Mayor-elect Ed Murray, who is a practicing Catholic and long-partnered gay.  Murray married husband Michael Shiosaki at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral last summer.

Students from Eastside Catholic have now linked up with students from other Catholic secondary schools and have sent a message to the Archdiocese of Seattle: We are not going away, and we are taking our protest to a new level. Switching to social media in a big way, Eastside students plan to organize, nationwide, a  “Z-Day” on January 31st to protest the forced resignation of Mark Zmuda.

“We encourage students, at Catholic schools or otherwise, as well as any other impassioned individuals, to proudly wear the color orange [the Eastside school color, JAD] on that day. In so doing, we will be showing solidarity with Mark Zmuda, as well as expressing our hopes for an enlightened perspective on issues of sexuality in the Catholic Church….We firmly believe that the decision to marry, or not marry, should never preclude any otherwise qualified individual from working at the school,” said the students’ statement.  “When Pope Francis opines that the Church is big enough for homosexuals, one would hope Catholic institutions begin to reflect those sentiments…..The Gospel compels us to demonstrate compassion and love in all our actions, and Mark Zmuda has always done just that.”

And in Pope Benedict’s Germany, Roman Catholic theologians are calling for theological and institutional change as well.

Well known and highly respected German theologians have strongly outlined how contemporary Catholic Church teaching does not align with the concerns and lifestyles of most European Catholics, responding to a Vatican questionnaire on Catholic attitudes about issues like contraception and same-sex marriage. Current Roman Catholic Church teaching about human sexuality, say representatives from both the Association of German Moral Theologians and the Conference of German-speaking Pastoral Theologians, comes from an idealized reality and needs a fundamental and new evaluation.

“It becomes painfully obvious that Christian moral teaching that limits sexuality to the context of marriage cannot look closely enough at the many forms of sexuality outside of marriage,” say the 17 signers of the statement. The German theologians propose that the Catholic Church adopt an entirely new paradigm for its sexual teachings.

And finally………

The Diocese of Stockton, California intends to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this week in Sacramento Federal Court, after more than six months of discussing the possibility with its members. Bishop Stephen Blaire said two days ago that the diocese’s financial difficulties (due to sexual abuse legal settlements) can only be resolved by filing for bankruptcy protection.

And the NEW YEAR has just begun………:-)


The New Reformation: The Winds of Catholic Change


An Epiphany reflection to start the New Year……

Professor Eberhard Möbius of the University of New Hampshire has published a report that galactic “winds” that flow around the solar system have been changing direction over the past four decades. Comparing results from measurements obtained from eleven spacecraft since 1972, Möbius and colleagues have concluded that the direction the “winds” are coming from has shifted and our own movement through the solar system is producing great changes in a relatively short time.

Galactic winds in the church have shifted as well. There is no turning back now. Some call it the New Reformation. Erasmus, Luther, and Calvin could never have imagined what is happening today. (Some of our bishops can’t imagine it either; but that is a temporary problem.)


We are beginning to see the signs of a galactic change in our understanding of God and traditional Christian belief. Today I offer just a few signs of changing times.

(1)   GOD: According to the Pew Research people, a growing percentage of young people under 30, from the so-called “Millennial Generation,” are coming to doubt or question the existence of God as traditionally understood. Many older people, of course, resonate with them and are leaving organized religion in an increasing stream of “believers” who no longer feel at home with the doctrine and rituals of organized religion. 20%¨of Americans now belong to the spiritual but not religious group. A danger sign? I don’t think so. It is rather a challenge to re-think our experiences of God and church.

I remembered a discussion with an American archbishop at a November meeting of our USCCB in Baltimore. I remarked that God is just as much “mother” as “father.” Suddenly his face turned red and he angrily shouted at me that “God is Father and that is UNCHANGEABLE TRUTH!”

(2)   TRUTH: I would not say that truth is relative. I do suggest that we often see the truth through highly contextualized and often foggy lenses. (Since my recent cataract operations, I keenly understand and appreciate these old and new kinds of vision.) Great numbers of Catholic believers today do have new visions and new perspectives on Christian belief, human understanding, and moral behavior. Perhaps they – we – see things better today. Better perhaps than many church leaders who still need Catholic cataract surgery.

(3)   ORDAINED WOMEN: I really don’t think we need a Vatican document about a “theology of women.” I get annoyed when I hear that because it smacks of antiquated clerical patriarchy. We simply need an up to date theology of the human person. More and more people today understand that women are not inferior to men and that women can be…..that women ARE……effective, competent, and wonderfully pastoral ordained ministers (priests) in today’s Christian communities. Some institutional religious leaders still fulminate that such ordinations are not possible. With all due respect, I would suggest that these negative antagonists are theologically ignorant and blind to contemporary realities.

(4)   CHURCH BIGGER THAN CATHOLIC CHURCH: When I was a young man, I firmly believed that Catholics were the real and only authentic Christians. My Dad was a Protestant. It bothered me greatly that (as a priest told my seventh grade religion class) he followed a “false religion.” Years later of course, the mist in my eyes cleared and I could see that the Church of Christ….the Body of Christ……is much greater and more dynamic than just the Church of Rome. Today, we are still working-out major the implications of this truth. More galactic change. The implications touch on sacramental life, Christian moral teaching, and of course the teaching authority of the church. It is time to drop the old Roman Catholic hegemony.

(5)   SEX AGAIN: As people begin to look through today’s lenses, they see that human sexuality is far richer, more wonderful, and much more complex than just connecting genitalia and producing babies. Human sexuality is the way we are as men and women, and the way we express ourselves……affectively, psychologically, physically, and socially. It is the way we relate to each-other, and the way we relate to the Divine. Hetero-Sexual marriage can be wonderful; but so can same-sex marriage. More than 60% of today’s U.S. Catholics support same-sex marriage. Despite episcopal attempts to stop it, support among Catholics continues to grow. The morality of all sexual relationships is based on respect for the other and respect for self. Jesus told us that is the golden rule.

(6) NATURAL LAW:   My old archbishop friend told me not so long ago that I no longer respect natural law. Indeed, what is natural law? Is it natural that men use and oppress women! Is it natural that rich people take advantage of and ignore the poor? Is it natural that straights denigrate gays? Is it natural that getting a girl pregnant is more important than preserving and maintaining her life? Perhaps human nature is evolving as well…..certainly our understanding of human nature is continually evolving. Natural law is not carved in stone it echoes with the beatings of  human hearts and the reflections of human minds. There God is very close indeed.

(7)   PUBLIC RESPONSIBILITY: We live today in societies that are culturally and religiously pluralistic. What then is the appropriate response of believers in such societies? Is it appropriate that the public morality mirror Christian or Muslim morality? Is it appropriate that U.S. Catholic bishops try to impose a narrow-minded Catholic morality on the entire population?

(8)   POLITICAL RESPONSIBILITY: And what about Catholic legislators? Is it appropriate and proper Catholic political leaders be banned from Eucharist, because they are trying to formulate a broad-based public morality, in a pluralistic society? Are we really so sure that the Catholic position is the ONLY legitimate position?

Well friends these are a few quick thoughts at the start of a new year.

The new reformation — a truly contemporary Catholic change is underway — and it is much greater than what I sketch here. We are believers and explorers in a time of galactic change. The issue is not dissent but discovery.

It is indeed a new age. We are indeed new explorers. Everything is not neatly worked out. The days are exciting but can be fearful as well. Nevertheless….we read in the Gospels that Christ is with us till the end of the world; and thanks to him, Christianity gives us the courage to live with integrity and hope in the sometimes radical insecurity of daily life.

Happy New Year!