Not Afraid to Comment

February 20, 2019

This is an early post because Catholic bishops and leaders from around the world will be in Rome, February 21 to 25, for a summit on preventing sexual abuse in the church.

Someone asked me if I am afraid to comment about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. No. Not at all. Off and on I have already written about it; but I will quickly summarize my concerns, because they are part of the current third millennial reformation. I don’t want to bore my readers however with a long post……

Acknowledge the Reality: The reality is serious and world-wide. Catholic priests, bishops, and religious have sexually abused children, adolescents, women and men. Some women religious, “sisters,” have become pregnant and some have been forced by churchmen to have abortions. The primary concern of too many in church leadership has been to cover up, deny, or ignore what is happening to “protect the good name of the church.”

Accountability of bishops: Pope Francis has disciplined the 88 years old former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. He is now “Mr. McCarrick.” I can think of some other bishops who should be disciplined. The organization Bishop Accountability makes a strong case for the laicization of Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minnesota; Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron of Agaña, Guam; Bishop Aldo di Cillo Pagotto of Paraiba, Brazil; Bishop Roger Joseph Vangheluwe of Bruges, Belgium; and Bishop Joseph Hart of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Yes they should be disciplined. Frankly I have difficulties with the term “laicization.” Many still call it “a reduction to the lay state.” As a “lay” Catholic I find this derogatory, as if being lay is a lesser state in the church.

Clericalism is an old boys club problem: Catholic ordained ministers (priests) must always keep in mind that their mission is to serve others and not claim superiority over the people entrusted to their care, Pope Francis said last year in November when meeting with a group of Catholic seminarians. “Clericalism,” Francis said “is our ugliest perversion. The Lord wants you to be shepherds; shepherds of the people, not clerics of the state.” I agree of course but the problem will not be solved with just pious exhortations. There must be STRUCTURAL changes: dropping the celibacy requirement, having married Catholic ordained ministers; and having women ordained ministers and women bishops. Yes. It has to happen!

Power and authority in the church: We need a thorough examination of the understanding and exercise of power and authority in church ministry. Sexual abuse is about power over people. We need to remove structures and understandings more reminiscent of the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages but incompatible with the message and witness of Jesus of Nazareth. Ordained ministers can not be understood as authoritarian power-bosses. Through compassionate service they should empower people to take responsibility for the welfare of children, men, and women in the community of faith. Jesus is the model for church authority: his ministry was about compassionate understanding, healing, forgiveness, and calling to growth.

Human sexuality: Once again I would stress that the Catholic Church needs an updated understanding and appreciation of human sexuality that must CHANGE Catholic hierarchical attitudes and behavior, Catholic “official teaching,” and Catholic education at all levels.

Homosexuality Vatican style: A new exposé on homosexuality in the Vatican is coming out very soon: In The Closet of the Vatican, by the French journalist Frédéric Martel. No doubt you have read about it. The author asserts that most of the higher-ups in the Catholic Church are gay, making the Vatican one of the world’s largest homosexual communities. That assertion needs to be critically appraised but I have no doubts that there are gays in the Vatican. Let’s be clear and honest: there is nothing wrong per se with being gay, whether in our outside the Vatican. AND to suggest, as many readers of this book will conclude, that sexual abuse is a gay problem is absolute nonsense. Such an assertion avoids the issue. Sexual abuse is an abuse of power over people. Sick people (many very “straight”) use and abuse people for their own satisfaction.

The victims of sexual abuse: Too many reports about sexual abuse still focus too much on the abusers and ignore the abused. How does on repair the damage done? How does one compensate? Here we really need to be a church which is a community of faith, characterized by understanding, compassion, support, respect, and love.

Other victims of sexual abuse: There are also other victims of the sexual abuse issue: the healthy and good ordained ministers (priests) and bishops. As a caring community of faith we need to acknowledge them and support them as well with compassion, support, respect, and love. AND we need to encourage them to be active and effective change agents in the church.

Next week something else…….. Jack

Your God, My God, and God

February 15, 2019

The most important element in the Third Millennial Reformation is something I have not yet touched on: a contemporary spirituality. As a good friend said recently: “we need a reform in the direction of contemplative consciousness/living/being: Teaching people not just prayers but an experience of prayer.” Without this, whatever we do will end up superficial.

This week-end therefore, a reflection about God, from a spiritual master whom I greatly respect: Richard Rohr, Franciscan friar in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He posted this on his website in July 2014.

It takes a long time for us to allow God to be who God really is.

Our natural egocentricity wants to make God into who we want or need God to be. It’s the role of the prophet to keep people free for God. But at the same time it’s the responsibility of the prophet to keep God free for people. This is also the role of good theology, and why we still need good theology even though it sometimes gets heady.

If God is always mystery, then God is always on some level the unfamiliar, beyond what we’re used to, beyond our comfort zone, beyond what we can explain or understand.

In the fourth century, St. Augustine said, “If you comprehend it, it’s not God.” Would you respect a God you could comprehend? And yet very often that’s what we want—a God who reflects our culture, our biases, our economic, political, and military systems.

The First Commandment says that we’re not supposed to make any images of God or to worship them. At first glance, we may think this deals only with handmade likenesses of God. But it mostly refers to images of God that we hold in our heads. God created human beings in God’s own image, and we’ve returned the compliment, so to speak, creating God in our image. In the end we produced what was typically a tribal God. In America, God looks like Uncle Sam or Santa Claus, or in any case a white Anglo-Saxon male, even though it states in Genesis 1:27 that “God created humankind in God’s own image; male and female God created them.” That clearly states that God cannot be strictly or merely masculine.

Normally we find it very difficult to let God be a God who is greater than our culture, our immediate needs, and our projections.

The human ego wants to keep things firmly in its grasp; and so we’ve created a God who fits into our small systems and our understanding of God. Thus, we’ve required a God who likes to play war just as much as we do, and a domineering God because we like to dominate.

We’ve almost completely forgotten and ignored what Jesus revealed about the nature of the God he knew. If Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) then God is nothing like we expected. Jesus is in no sense a potentate or a patriarch, but the very opposite, one whom John the Baptist calls “a lamb of a God” (John 1:29).

Our History

February 8, 2019

I begin with an observation from the American historian, Eric Alterman. Writing this week in the New Yorker about “The Decline of Historical Thinking” he says: “Last year, Benjamin M. Schmidt, a professor of history at Northeastern University, published a study demonstrating that, for the past decade, history has been declining more rapidly than any other major, even as more and more students attend college.”

I am not surprised about this development because, for many Americans, historical awareness and sensitivity have long been secondary issues. Many would resonate with Henry Ford (1863 – 1947) the founder of the Ford Motor Company, the father of the assembly line and of mass-production: “History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history that we make today” (Chicago Tribune, 1916).

The current White House occupant, so well-known for his lies, falsehoods, and ahistorical assertions is an example of the ahistorical person gone wild. Historical ignorance, whether willful or not, distorts reality and misleads people.

Historical ignorance and ahistorcal assertions impact religious beliefs as well. That is my focus today.

As the Third Millennial Reformation continues to unfold, historical knowledge is becoming the big change agent. History clarifies, questions, and challenges.

Today I offer historical reflections about some key ecclesiastical issues: bishops as successors of the apostles, women in ministry, seven sacraments, the first pope and church structure, and sexuality and sexual abuse.

Bishops as successors of the apostles: I remember a friendly chat with an American archbishop. He attended one of my lectures in which I stressed that all who are sent out to proclaim the Gospel are truly successors of the apostles. He reprimanded me (privately) and reminded me that at the Last Supper Jesus went around the group and ordained the apostles as the first bishops. I asked him, with a chuckle, if Jesus also gave each of them a pectoral cross, ornate episcopal ring, and a pointed-hat miter. He was not amused.

Early Christian history is quite clear. Jesus did not ordain anyone. There were male and female disciples of Jesus and male and female apostles. An apostle is one sent out to proclaim the Gospel.

Women in ministry: Pope Francis, and his papal predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI, have been emphatic: “women cannot be ordained as priests.” With all due respect, popes too need remedial and ongoing education. History in fact says judgments against women’s ordination are wrong and based on a mistaken view of history. In the early church, heads of households presided at Eucharist. We know that women as well were heads of households. We know that several women were key leaders in the early church. Fortunately today we have women historians and women scripture scholars who help us see beyond male prejudices and narrow stereotypes. And, most importantly today we have a growing number of ordained women! To assert today that women cannot be ordained is like standing in a departure hall at O’Hare Airport and saying “women can never fly.” I recommend two books about women in ministry: Crispina and Her Sisters, Women and Authority in early Christianity by

Christine Schenk, and The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West by Gary Macy.

Seven sacraments: After the sixteenth century Reformation, the Council of Trent (held between 1545 and 1563) proclaimed that the historical Jesus instituted seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, eucharist, confession, marriage, holy orders, and extreme unction (anointing of the sick). Historically there is no foundation for this dogmatic assertion. As Joseph Martos points out in his excellent book, Deconstructing Sacramental Theology and Reconstructing Catholic Ritual, the New Testament makes reference to rituals such as baptism, the Lord’s supper, and the laying on of hands, but it never calls them sacraments. The scriptures also talk about forgiveness, about healing, and about ministry, but they speak only indirectly about rituals that may have been connected with them. Sacramental rituals were created by the Christian community, not as something one received but rather as ritual moments in the Christian life and ministry. History tells us we can and we should be freely creative in our ritual celebrations of Christ’s presence in the community. It also tells Catholics to be a bit more understanding of “Protestant sacraments.”

The first pope and church structure: I have touched on this in some detail in previous posts. History is quite clear about Peter the Apostle. He was never a bishop of Rome. It is only with a highly symbolic theological imagination that he can be described as “the first pope.” Church structure? Imperial Rome has had a great and long-lasting impact on the Roman Catholic Church. One of my friends yells at at me (an email yell) that “the church is not a democracy!” when I criticize the power-hungry and self-serving behavior of institutional church leaders. Ok. I agree. Nevertheless, it should not be an imperial and monarchical authoritarian organization either but a fellowship of believers in which compassion, collaboration, and shared decision-making prevail. There are still too many holdovers from ancient Rome in contemporary Catholic structures and behavior.

Sexuality and sexual abuse: Here history haunts us. Sexual abuse of children, young people and adult men and women has a long history. Priests and bishops have been perpetrators. Priests and bishops have known this history for a very long time and have closed their eyes, covered their ears, and closed their mouths about it. This history now haunts us and will continue to push people away from the institution. A big part of the Third Millennial Reformation has to be an enhanced understanding of human sexuality and a healthy living-out of human sexuality. There is indeed a problem with mandatory celibacy and a still unhealthy approach to sexuality within the church. Church language and teaching about sexuality has to be examined and changed. Too many innocent people have suffered because of the failure of those in authority to face up to this haunting historical issue.

Well my friends this is enough for today.

When history says: this is what happened in the past, it also asks the key question: what should be happening today?


Whose Religion and Whose Values

February 1, 2019

A brief reflection while thinking about family and friends under the polar vortex that grips the Midwest in a deep and dangerous freeze……

A few days ago one of my friends, during an adult discussion group, suggested that Muslims, as a growing religious group, are subverting and taking over the United States. I was dumbfounded by his remark and surprised that a few people in the group shook their heads in agreement. So to get some healthy data for my discussion group, I decided to check, via the Pew Research Center on Religion & Public Life, what is really happening religiously in the United States. There is much phony information floating around these days…..and too many people ready to believe it.

First some basic statistics and then some research observations about contemporary American (USA) values.

Statistics about USA Christians: 70.6% of the US adult population claims to be Christian. Members of the largest Christian group are Evangelical Protestants (25.4%). The second largest group are Catholics (20.8%) followed by Mainline Protestants (14.7%).

When it comes to USA non-Christians, 1.9% are Jewish, 0.9% Muslim, 0.7% Buddhist and 0.7% Hindu.

The largest, and fastest growing, non-Christian group are the Unaffiliated (the “nones”) with 22.8%.

When it comes to political ideology, 36% of adult Americans are conservative, 33% moderate, and 24% liberal. Looking at major religious groups again, 55% of Evangelical Protestants are conservative, 37% of Catholics and 37% of Mainline Protestants. Only 18% of the Unaffiliated are conservative.

When it comes to big values questions, 53% of adult Americans favor the legalization of abortion, 62% think homosexuality should be accepted, 53% favor same-sex marriage; and 57% believe the country needs stricter environmental laws and regulations.

When it comes to a belief in absolute standards for right and wrong, 64% of the adult population hold that there are no clear standards and that right or wrong depends upon the situation, with 45% saying one should just use “common sense.”

As a country the USA is a fascinating mix of religious and moral values. Perhaps it always has been. In any event, what does this mean for the 2020 presidential election? We have to ask, as well, how the US religious and moral perspective will change once the millennials and post-millennials makeup most of the American adult population? Perhaps a galactic change? (See my earlier posts about millennials and post-millennials.) Nearly half of the post-millennial group belongs to a racial or ethnic minority. The clock is ticking for white Christian American.

Regardless, Muslims are not about to take over the United States……and Americans have more important things to worry about. At the very top of that list is an unprecedented socio-cultural polarization, which fears change, glorifies ignorance, promotes fear and hatred, and galvanizes hostility: and the unthinkable becomes acceptable. Somehow we seem to have lost touch what I would call the genius of the American civic and political experience: how people with great differences and coming from a variety of backgrounds could effectively collaborate in the shared pursuit of life, liberty, and human happiness.

Yes America is going through a harsh winter; but there will be a new spring again…..

– Jack