21 December, 2009

Snow, Snow, Snow !!!


We got over 10" of snow here and lost power (including lights, heat, water and internet) Friday afternoon.  We were rescued by our son-in-law in his 4 X 4. I'll be back online as soon as possible. Posted this from Starbucks. HaHa

16 December, 2009


A new NCR article, "Why Catholics Aren't Speaking Up in Uganda about Anti-Gay Bill," by John Allen provides and interesting take on the role of Ugandan Catholics in relation to the anti-homosexual bill before the legislator there.

He shows that the Vatican indirectly criticized the bill, especially the death penalty sanction. He also mentions that at least some U.S. bishops, too, want to oppose the bill, at least in part.

Then why doesn't the hierarchy speak directly, clearly and unambiguously against the bill? Allen says that all "outsiders" from the North (highly industrialized nations and religious groups, NGOs, etc.) who speak against the bill will be accused of  "colonialism" and only lead to increased local support for the bill in Uganda.

In fact, Allen quotes a leading Catholic lawyer in Uganda who agrees with his interpretation, but to my way of thinking, this leader, himself, understands homosexuality as an aberration. 

I suspect there is much truth to Allen's analysis, but the Ugandan hierarchy must gain courage, and influence the 40% of Ugandans and the government to eliminate as much of this unjust law as possible, if not the entire bill..

I recommend that you read it, and comment if you wish.

15 December, 2009

Christian New Agers? What the....?

Have you ever, "felt you were in touch with someone who has already died?" Well, 29% of all Americans have! Do you believe "in reincarnation, that people will be reborn in this world again and again?" One-quarter (24%) of Americans believe in reincarnation!

What is quite significant is that as many Christians (29%) as non-Christians (29%) believe they have been in contact with the dead. Also nearly one-quarter of both non-Christians (24%) and Christians (22%) believe in reincarnation.What Christians think or believe about reincarnation is of particular interest, since "traditional orthodoxy" holds to a linear view of history and that the "history of salvation;" began with creation, proceeded through the death and resurrection of Jesus and will continue to the Second Coming at the end of time. The apparent contradiction between a linear and a cyclical understanding of life and history raises all kinds of real questions. Are people "mixing Faiths?" Or are they finding a deeper coherence at the foundations of religious and spiritual experience?

Whatever the case, last week The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life issued a short report titled, Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths: Eastern, New Age Beliefs, Widespread. The report itself is very descriptive of what is going on and who is doing what. Analysis is left to the reader, and here, or in a later post, I will take this up. But now we can look at some of the findings.

Spiritual or Religious Experiences
All respondents were asked, "Would you say that you have ever had a 'religious or mystical experience'-- that is a moment of  sudden religious insight or awakening?" In 2009, half (49%) of all Americans answered "Yes." Just as interesting is the fact that the percentage of Americans having had a "spiritual experience" has risen steadily since 1962, from 22% then  to 49% now; this is almost a thirty percent increase in just under half a century. Just what are these beliefs?

Percentage of those have:                % Total            % Xians
In touch with the dead                           29                     29                     
A ghostly experience                             18                     17
Consulted a psychic                              15                     14

Percentage who believe in:              % Total             % Xians
Spiritual energy in material things           26                       23
Astrology                                             25                       23
Reincarnation                                       24                       22
Yoga as a spiritual experience               23                      21
the "Evil eye," ( E.g. casting curses)       16                      17

From 15-29 % of All Americans and 17-29 % of all Christians hold these "unorthodox" beliefs and / or engage in these practices. In fact, there is no meaningful difference between the two groups. However, survey data are unable to record the exact meanings of these terms in the minds of respondents; nor how they might be combined into worldviews. Whether this is some kind of "cafeteria religion" or growing "syncratism" is unclear. Those who hold to a "strict" view of orthodoxy will be unhappy, defensive and angry about these findings. Those, however, who are open to a serious dialogue of faith with those who appear to differ from themselves, may grow and develop in their understanding of  "ultimate reality," however defined. One example of this kind of examination is found in the mutual influence  of Eastern and Western Christianity with Hinduism and Buddhism in the area of meditation and contemplation; what many Catholics and other Western Christians call "Centering Prayer" or contemplation in the sense used by Thomas Merton and Basil Pennington and as exemplified in the life of Bede Griffith, the British Benedictine who lived for so long in an ashram in India.

The demographics of New Age / Eastern Beliefs.
About one quarter of Americans believe in the Eastern notions of reincarnation (24%) and Yoga (23%). Belief in New age ideas are similarly accepted by about a quarter of the U.S. adult population: A spiritual force or energy present in physical forms (26%), Astrology (25%),and the "Evil Eye," or casting of curses (16%).

Females are  slightly more accepting of these ideas than are males. Blacks and Hispanics are noticeably more accepting of  Eastern / New age beliefs, as are those with some college education or less, Independents and Democrats rather than Republicans, and liberals and moderates more than conservatives.

Age is a very important "predictor" of many things related to culture (values, beliefs, norms), attitudes and behavior in just about all areas of life. This holds true here also. Those aged 18-29 are clearly more accepting of Eastern / New Age beliefs than are those aged 30-49 and 50-64. Those least accepting of these "unorthodox" beliefs are those sixty-five and older. It should be noted that whenever researchers or others speak of  the uniqueness of the younger generation, a common response is, "Well when they settle down, get married, turn thirty, and have kids, they'll be pretty much like the rest us (mature adults. Haha!). However, there is some pretty convincing evidence, that this may no longer be true of the, so-called, Digital Natives born after 1985 (More on this in a later post).

Influence of type of religious community and church attendance (as a measure of "religiosity).
Of more immediate interest here is the complex interconnection between the different responses about these beliefs by denomination and religious participation. It is almost a truism when studying Christian groups in industrialized nations, that level of church attendance is the best single predictor or religious behavior and behavior in many other areas of life.

The Pew Study reported the following regular church attendance figures for Americans (not counting attending just for weddings, funerals or "special occasions"):

38 %  attend religious services weekly or more often
34 %  attend once or twice a month or a few times a year
27 %  seldom or never attend  religious services

About one-fifth of all  Protestants and one-third of all Catholics accept these Eastern / New Age beliefs. However, there are some major differences within each tradition based on frequency of attendance at religious services (and racial/ethnic background).

Evangelical Protestants who attend church weekly or more often, are least likely (5-11 %) of all categories to accept New Age or Eastern beliefs. Mainline Protestants accept New Age / Eastern  beliefs at about the same rate (10-27%) as the total population. Those attending less than weekly are more accepting of these beliefs  than "all Protestants" and the total population. Mainline Protestants who attend at least weekly, are the least likely Mainliners to accept New Age / Eastern beliefs but they are still about twice as likely to accept them as their Evangelical peers. Black Protestants are very similar to the "less attending" white Mainline Protestants.

Over all, Catholics are the most likely to accept New Age / Eastern beliefs with "Spiritual Energy" and "Astrology"each  at (29%), followed by "reincarnation" (28%), "Yoga" (27%) belief in the "Evil Eye" and curses at (17%). These percentages are very much influenced by Hispanic Catholic acceptance  (E.g. belief in the Evil Eye) and White Catholics who seldom attend services. The "most religious" Catholics (weekly or more attendance), are noticeably more likely than weekly attending Mainline Protestants or Evangelical Protestants to accept New age / Eastern beliefs.

Summary Comparison of Catholics (RC), Mainline Protestants (ML) and Evangelical Protestants (Evangel).

RC    ML   Evangel

21%  12%    5%        believe in reincarnation
19%  15%   12%       believe in Yoga as a spiritual practice
22%  14%   10%       believe spiritual energy's in trees,crystals, etc.
16%  15%     8%       believe in Astrology
11%    8%   11%       belive in efficacy of the "Evil Eye," curses, etc.

The Unaffiliated.

Finally, the Unaffiliated are the most likely to accept New Age / Eastern beliefs. They are only slightly more likely than "all Catholics" (White-non-Hispanic + Hispanics) to accept New Age / Eastern beliefs.

So what can we conclude from all these statistics?

First, it is not only the "Goddless" Unafiliated who believe in New Age / Eastern beliefs.
Second, Christians from all the major traditions accept some or all  these beliefs.
Third, generally the more strict the religious category, the less likely is there acceptance of these beliefs.
Forth, Those who are most frequent church attenders are least likely to accept these beliefs
Fifth, whether this "mixing of Faiths is a sign of growing "secularization" remains an open question.
Sixth, whether we are in an age of increasing "syncratism" as conservative contend is an open question.
Seventh, it is possible that this is an opening to global religious / philosophical understanding and experience.
Eight, these "mixed" experiences may provide a foundation for a global ethic fostering universal  human rights.
Ninth, those who are open to dialogue with "the other" may find truth also exists in "the other."
Tenth, those who are "seekers after certainty" may exert power to prevent a search for deeper truth.

Like so many other things in life, openness to new ideas and ways might be risky but also an opportunity rather than a danger or a problem. I wonder how courageous each of us, and the whole human community will be to accept this the adventure. Just as we Christians must be open to dialogue and experience with diverse others, so too must secular humanists, agnostics and atheists, followers of other religions and philosophies have the courage to dialogue for the benefit of our common humanity.

UGANDA UPDATE: Anti-homosexuality! and the Church

An article in the London Guardian has reported that the proposed Ugandan Anti-Homosexual law is moving  through the legislature and could easily be in force by the middle of February, 2010.

Besides a life and death issue for LGBT persons  --especially gay males,who seem to be the primary targets of the law-- the whole issue has become a major debate on "human rights" and the question of "interference" with other cultures.

Generally speaking, Westerners stand for non-interference in the cultures of other peoples. In the U.S. today we may argue and debate the issue of immigrants maintaining cultural practices and the language of their homelands, but by and large, the government in the U.S. and the majority of our citizens accept "cultural diversity" in principle if not always in practice.

Of course there are well-known exceptions, in which we feel that certain cultural practices are serious violations of human rights and that they  must be discontinued;  for example Western opposition to forced  female circumcision / mutilation because it is a violation of human rights. In other parts of the world, people may agree that no one should interfere in other cultures. They might also agree that some laws or  behavior in another culture violate human rights. But...

Right now many public officials, citizens of note, and the general public in Uganda believe that homosexuality is evil and that to engage in same-sex behavior is, itself, a violation of human rights. They cry out that opposition to the anti-gay  law shows lack of respect for Ugandan culture and social practices. Proponents of the law also claim that pressure from Western nations and groups is inappropriate interference in Uganda and will lead to greater support for the law within Uganda. The extent to which this is true is unknown, but it seems to cause Western leaders to take pause.

Religion may play a central role in how the vote turns out. Uganda is 85% Christian  (40% are Catholic and 35% are Anglicans). Most of the rest are either Muslim or members of tribal religions.

Worldwide the institutional Catholic church is unalterably opposed to any form of same-sex behavior. However it understands gay orientation as a given and not merely "learned." It also claims to oppose any discriminatory behavior against LGBT individuals. Regarding penalties in the proposed law, the popes and the Vatican have strongly condemned torture and capital punishment.

To my knowledge the Vatican has issued no official statement on the Ugandan law. We will discover "where the Church stands" when we hear from or see what actions the Ugandan bishops take. Their commitment to Catholic social justice (which is clear and strong) might lead them, at least, to influence the legislators to mitigate the harsh penalties. On the other hand, as is true with many, many Africans, the African bishops seem to oppose homosexuality on cultural grounds as much as on religious grounds. Whether or how the Vatican or the Ugandan bishops will enter the conflict and what they will do remains open. If they do intervene, they will have influence. I wonder what you think!!

With thirty-five percent of the Christian population in Uganda, one might expect the Anglican church to play a major role here. Unfortunately, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has been very quiet. He and the Anglican Communion are nearly a shambles  regarding GLBT issues. The majority of institutional Anglicanism in the UK, U.S., Canada, and Australia, accept gays, welcome them into the church, and usually support same-sex unions as well as gay priests and bishops. In fact, there are two openly gay Episcopal bishops in the U.S. However in the U.S., UK. and large, westernized commonwealth countries, there is a conservative and growing minority who oppose gays in ordained priestly ministry, especially as bishops, same-sex marriages or unions blessed by the Church and there even remains  opposition to women  priests.

The Anglican bishops in Uganda, and much of Africa oppose the same things that the conservative minorities do in places  like the U.S. (This is one reason why many conservative Episcopal groups in the U.S. are seeking union with African dioceses). The Ugandan bishops attempt to justify their position on the basis of protecting traditional culture and a theology fitted to agrarian life. Unless churches in Canada, Australia and the UK can bring pressure on the Anglican bishops in Uganda, there is little hope that they will influence oppositions to the bill. One fear remains, that this "outside" pressure could turn the local bishops toward greater support for the law.

With the exception of a few individuals, one  can expect almost the entire Muslim community to support the law. In fact a number of Muslim and conservative Anglican and Catholic bishops have entertained the idea of cooperating in support of opposition to homosexuality, if not the entire bill.

As reported in another article in the Guardian,.a very significant event took place. Conservative anti-gay Christian leaders from the U.S.met with Bahati, just weeks before he authored the anti-gay bill. The well-known anti-gay leaders at the meeting included: Scott Lively, Don Schmierer, and Caleb Lee Brundige. At this conference, "...they pledged to 'wipe out' homosexuality." This being the case, why is it that these visitors are not considered "interfering outsiders?"

The next two months will be critical. Learn more about what is happening in Uganda and its implications the the world. Figure out how you can influence the outcome. If you have any specific ideas or actions, put them in a comment.  "If you want peace, work for justice."

09 December, 2009

Manna in a Modern Desert?

On their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, God fed the Israelites with manna in the desert to sustain them. Beginning with John Paul II, and continuing with Benedict XVI, we are experiencing the appointment of a host of "conservative" bishops and the rise among them, some theologians and many lay people of what is becoming known as "Evangelical. Catholicism." What are Vatican II Progressive Catholics to do and how will they be sustained during the modern desert experience that is descending upon us?

In my second Post here I mentioned a few of the events that signal the revisionist attitude, theology and liturgical practices that characterizes this retreat from Vatican II. As the institutional church moves evermore in this direction, well into the twenty-first century, it will become difficult for Progressive Catholics to be sustained. Below I suggest some things which we can do to  maintain and enhance the vision of  Vatican II and further our mission to help bring about the Reign of God.:

Be Mindful of and Act from a Conviction that "Jesus is Lord."

Hans Kung reminds us that our most fundamental and basic creed can be stated simply: "Jesus is Lord."That is, faith and confidence in the Jesus of the four Gospels is what counts. It is in Jesus that everything should take on meaning. Otherwise we will remain, at best, some kind of "Anonymous Christian."  The Nicene Creed, the Apostle's Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and other Christian creeds are to be honored and treasured, but what is absolutely primary is commitment to the person and mission of Jesus.

Understand and Act from a Well-Formed Conscience.
Our personal responsibility for what we do does not come merely from what opinion polls,  our peers or authorities dictate, but from what our conscience guides us to do. Bishop Geoffrey Robinson reminds us that there are only two sources that are available to us in reaching decisions: Sacred Scripture (the Word of God)  and the world around and within us (creation). The "world around us" includes the Great Tradition of the Faith, the teachings of the hierarchy, science, history,. and all the other human disciplines. The "world within us" includes, most especially, our own experience and the experiences we share with others. One thing, Robinson warns us against, is falling prey to "creeping infallibility," that is, the tendency of the hierarchy to claim directly or by insinuation  that all important decisions they make must be obeyed exclusively or primarily on the basis of their authority.

With the spread of Evangelical Catholicism and the authoritarian attitude that accompanies it, it will become increasingly important that Vatican II Progressive Catholics form strong Catholic / Christian consciences. This will strengthen and support their resolve and innoculate them from creeping infallibility.

Form Communities and Support Groups.
There are many who existentially experience separateness, loneliness and alienation from others. Many others believe and attempt to live a type of "rugged," expressive  individualism in the belief that they can create or construct themselves and "their" world without the need for or influence others. But "no man [sic] is an island" and as ancient sages and modern science explain, human beings are constituted as "social animals."  Here, the point is that everyone needs support especially in difficult times when they and what they think, feel, and do is dis-valued.

Seeing the direction in which the institutional Church is moving, Vatican II Progressives are liable to find less and less support in parishes, dioceses and other standard church groups. There may well be fewer Church  resources available to them. Vatican II Catholics will need to support and join other forward-looking groups like Call to Action, Voice of the Faithful,  Dignity, and other existing progressive groups. Progressive Catholics will need to support each other in finding priests and parishes (or informal gatherings) where they can celebrate the Eucharist. Finally, it will be very important for us Catholics to form small faith and action groups

Own that Our Ministry and Mission is "ad extra."

From the 1920s to the 1950s there was a great emphasis on "Catholic Action." Oldsters may recall the YCS, YCW, CFM, the Jesuit sponsored Sodality of the Blessed Virgin, and even remember singing, "An army of Youth flying the standards of truth...We are fighting for Christ the Lord..." Catholic Action was a very important movement in the American and European Church. It was very successful in training, motivating, and guiding thousands of Catholics to take the Gospel to the world around them through their "Think, Judge, Act" discernment process (which incidently in a secular form has been adopted by the U.S. Military).

The difficulty with Catholic Action was that  it's foundation rested on the ministry of the priest who alone had the right and responsibility to engage in ministry. In other words the laity could only assist the priest in his ministry if and when he allowed it. This, in turn, was based on a theology which held that ordination constituted the priest as "ontologically" different from the lay person; the priest alone participated in the priestly, prophetic, and governing mission of Christ. Also, there was was no provision at all for any ministry (E.g. Lector) within the Church. The role of the laity remained "pray, pay, and obey" unless invited to assist the Church its ministry.

With Vatican II, the Council Fathers re-emphasized the role of Baptism in Christian life. The laity were now understood to participate, in their own way, in the three-fold ministry of Christ by virtue of their Baptism. Rather than being mere helpers or instruments, they were now seen as cooperators with the clergy. This provided a deeper understanding of both the Church, as the People of God, and the seriousness and value of lay ministry. This more sacramental understanding of the laity opened new avenues for liturgical, catechetical, and administrative ministry within the Church.  Immediately after Vatican II, and until recently, all forms of lay ministry expanded; people knew that they were now a real part of the Church and not merely "customers" or "objects" of the priests' ministry.

Although it is not noticeable yet, there is a definite return to a pre-Vatican II theology of priesthood as exemplified in new liturgical regulations about how "ministers of Communion" are to participate in the Eucharist, who can purify sacred vessels, and the return to cassocks and other distinctive garb that separates the priest from the people. Rome and the U.S. Bishops have begun to curtail the activities of "liberal" or "leftest" groups thought to be "unorthodox," while welcoming back into the fold very right-wing religious orders and disgruntled conservative Anglicans. New restrictions are being placed on the use of or ability to speak in church-owned buildings. These moves seem to be motivated as much by the need to control as to protect the Church from heresy or schism.

Progressive Vatican II Catholics must work with theologians and receptive pastoral clergy to explain, defend and minister on the basis of their Baptism; hopefully, they can do this with the support, or at least the toleration of the institutional Church. If the Church cannot find a place and role for progressive thought and action, then we must work, not against the Church, but beyond the institution to fulfill our privileged responsibility as Baptized Catholics  to help bring about the Reign of God in the world.

This also means that  we should not get overly involved in or upset about internal debates within the Church about internal "reform." We have been defined out of that role today. We have the very important role of living the Gospel "in the world" working with the poor, abused, and neglected; with environmental issues like global warming; with other globalization issues, with immigration and peace concerns "where the rubber hits the road."

 Prayer and Meditation 

One of the most effective lay ministers "in the world" in the pre-Vatican II Church was Dorothy Day. She lived with and ministered to the most destitute people in New York City. She was a prophet for peace and justice; she was a pacifist and marched against war. She and Peter Maurin formed a local community which gave them support as they served the poor. They also founded the Catholic Worker Movement, a still-existing Christian "community-of-communities." Dorothy was open to dialogue with everyone. Although she may not have used these terms, she was a marvelous example of  "ministry ad extra" to help establish "the Reign of God." Dorothy had her difficulties with the Archbishops of New York and some other bishops, but without compromising her ministry, she was always able to work out a modus vivendi with the institutional Church.

Dorothy Day was also a woman of deep reflection, prayer, and meditation. She attended Mass and went to Holy Communion almost every day. She prayed the Rosary and expressed her faith in other devotions of her time. The point here is not that others should necessarily engage in prayer, meditation and Mass attendance in the particular ways that Dorothy did. What is important and absolutely necessary is that an inner life of prayer characterize us, especially Vatican II Progressive Catholics, who may not have frequent access to a supportive community. It is not my role to suggest that Catholics need a rigid schedule of "prayers" that must be said or a   particular form of meditation. Each person must sense the type of dialogue to which God calls her/him. Each must be aware of those in his/her community or support group to discern what is best for the group and be open to the connection between one's interior life and one's active ministry. 

The above "recommendations" can not be taken in  hand in a mechanistic fashion as five easy steps to success. Rather they might be taken as five pointers that could help individuals, communities and groups discern better how to be sustained in this contemporary desert. 

06 December, 2009

NOW and THEN: Kennedy, Califano and Conscience

NOW !!!

 Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) is a supporter of a just society. Recently he criticized of the outspokenness of the nation's Catholic bishops in opposing any new health care reform that included Federal funding for abortion. On October 21st, Mr. Kennedy said, "...how the Catholic Church could be against the biggest social justice issue of our time [health care reform], adding that that the bishop's position was fanning, "...flames of dissent and discord."

Kennedy and the hierarchy have tangled before on a woman's right to choose an abortion or not based on her conscience; and because she has this right to choose, it is appropriate that publice funds be available so that women, especially poor women, can exercise choice.

Beginning during the pontificate of John Paul II and very evident in the views and actions of Benedict XVI, and now evident in the actions of the American bishops, there is what John Allen has identified as an Evangelical Catholicism. Among the characteristics of this orientation are:1) a strong opposition to "secularism" and much of Western culture (the "culture of death") 2) a need to reclaim a "Catholic Identity" based on clear markers which differentiate being "Catholic" from other religions, 3 ) a defensive posture as exhibited in a new emphasis on apologetics and of episcopal authority and power over the laity and in the public square, and 4) a change from inter-religious dialogue to "inter-cultural" dialogue.

The tension between Mr. Kennedy and his bishop, Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, can be understood best in light of this changing church.

Ostensibly because of Kennedy's stance on abortion, Bishop Tobin sent Mr. Kennedy a private letter on February 27, 2007 in which he said, "In light of the Church's clear teaching, and your consistent actions, I believe it is inappropriate for you to be receiving holy communion and I now respectfully ask you to refrain from doing so." Because of Kennedy's continued stand on abortion, especially his concern that the bishops' lobbying might kill the entire health-care bill, the issue has become public once again and Bishop Tobin has taken a stronger position.

"...Bishop Tobin has accused Mr. Kennedy  of 'false advertising' for describing himself as a Catholic."  He also said, "If you freely choose to be a Catholic, it means you believe certain things, you do certain things." And, "If you cannot do all that in good conscience, then you should perhaps feel free to go somewhere else."

Most recently the bishop said, I will absolutely respond publically whenever he attacks the Catholic Church, misrepresents the teachings of the Church or issues inaccurate statements about my pastoral ministry."


Joseph Califano is a Catholic layman who served as chief domestic advisor to President Lyndon Johnson and as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare for President Jimmy Carter. Under Johnson, Califano was responsible for enforcing Johnson's aggressive policy to promote family planning in the United States and internationally. Johnson ordered that contraceptives be made available to the poor and Califano was to enforce the policy.

Johnson's policy was attacked by the Catholic bishops as "coercing the poor to practice birth control;" Johnson told Califano to "work something out" with the bishops so as not to lose their support for his anti-poverty and civil rights legislation and programs. Califano met with Archbishop (later Cardinal) John F. Dearden (Detroit), leader of the American Bishops, and members of the Bishops' staff. They worked out differences by rephrasing words (E.g. from "contraceptive" to "population control") and re-writing the policy to include the, Church approved, rythm method of family planning. With this the bishops toned down their stinging criticism.

Both Jimmy Carter and Califano personally opposed abortion. However, Congress approved funds for abortion if the life of the mother was in danger (which the bishops tolerated) and, in addition, in the cases of rape and incest (which the bishops opposed) which were "promptly reported." Califano was tasked with the responsibility to define "promply." He defined this as "sixty days." The American Bishops were livid and went on the attack, but it was never suggested that Califano be denied the Eucharist.

At this time of increasingly assertive behavior on the part of the bishops, it would be wise to follow the words of Joseph Califano:

"As Catholics and as citizens, we have a right and obligation to assert our convictions on public issues clearly and vigorously -- to hope and work that they should prevail. To expect less from a public official would ask that he leave his conscience at home...."

"Where we cannot find unanimous answers, there is at least one point on which bishops and Catholic politicians can find common ground: insistence that those who search for the right answers are doing so with integrity and sincere conviction. That was what the church leaders I dealt with in the 1960s and '70s recognized, as their successors should today."

Do they? Will they?

03 December, 2009

UGANDA, Homosexuality and the Church

Yesterday I learned from Equality NC that Heath SHULER, my representative in the US House, belongs to the American branch of an international political group that SUPPORTS the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009 in the African nation of Uganda.

I have signed the petition urging Shuler to reverse his position. I will write and call him individually to express my outrage as a citizen for his interference in the life and politics of an independent nation that has suffered enough from colonialism. I urge my fellow Tar Heels to also take action. I hope that what I have to say here will help others resist such hateful legislation because it is unjust and inhumane.

If this bill becomes law it will criminalize the very fact of being homosexual and not just homosexual acts. Second, definitions in the bill are so vague that it will be easy for law enforcement and the courts to arbitrarily identify persons as “homosexual” even if they are not lesbian or gay. Even the threat of applying this law will terrify many. The harsh negative sanctions of capital punishment or seven, five, or three years imprisonment are inhumane and cruel punishment.

Most of the Western Democracies, led by the UK and Canada, have roundly condemned the bill as unjust and a violation of human rights. These countries know how homophobic many nations are, especially former British colonies, which continue to seriously abuse LGBT persons and violate key principles of the British Commonwealth. US opposition to the Ugandan anti-gay law has been quite muted. The office of the US embassy in Uganda offered only a vague call to "support human rights.” The Federal Government in the US, has made no official statement, even after being urged to do so by four US congresspersons
There is some truth to the idea that strong opposition to  “internal affairs”  in Uganda by the United States and former colonial powers is merely a new form of colonialism; that it will most likely reinforce and increase greater resistance to “outside interference,” as the following statements by, David Bahati, the author of the bill, indicate: “homosexuality is not a human right.”  and “The fact that the moral fabric of America and Europe has been put under siege by the supporters of this creeping evil of homosexuality should not suggest that we follow suit.” In addition, Uganda's minister for ethics and integrity, James Nsaba Buturo, said "… that Uganda has no intention of heeding the advice of foreigners on the issue of homosexuality.”

Might the Catholic bishops in Uganda be “insiders” who can make the difference? This is a difficult question to answer. Uganda is 40% Catholic (compared to the US which is 23% Catholic). Whatever the bishops say or suggest will be very influential. The increasingly conservative, even reactionary, stance of the Vatican and hierarchy will tend to make the Ugandan hierarchy support, or at least remain neutral on the issue. The institutional Church is substantially increasing its attacks on homosexuality (more on that in a future post) and it sees the future of the Church as being  in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Today the position of the Church on homosexuality is much closer to that in Africa than to that in Europe and the United States. As of this post the Ugandan bishop shave been low-key and have said little in public
On the other hand, as John Allen says in a recent article, “As time goes on, Catholic silence will be increasingly unsustainable, especially if the bill comes up for a vote." He continues, “At least two aspects of the proposal seem like no-brainers for Catholic opposition: the death penalty, and the threat of sending people to jail for failing to report homosexuals to the police. If enforced, the latter measure could have devastating implications for pastoral ministry with homosexual persons. A few leading Evangelical Christians in the States, including some who believe in “curing” homosexuality, have already expressed opposition on that basis.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered and that all homosexual acts are objectively gravely sinful (More on that in a future post). But the Catechism also states that homosexual persons “…must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity…; that every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” This position was recently reiterated by the Vatican in connection with an incident in Mexico.

As much as I personally would like the Ugandan bishops to speak strongly and publicly in opposition to this bill, perhaps the best we can hope for is that they will use their influence to induce President Yoweri Museveni to withdraw the bill or urge serious mitigation of sanctions based on  the Church's general opposition to capital punishment and the danger of driving AIDS underground.

So what are we as US Vatican II Progressive Catholics to do? First of all, as always, we can deepen our understanding of the issue and reaffirm tolerance and, especially,  love of our LGBT sisters and brothers. We can speak and act here in the US to highlight the evils of legislation like this. We can help each other realize that the role of Westerners in dealing with “North-South” or “Gap-Country” issues is ambiguous. We can work diligently to support and assist in developing ever greater openings to full participation by LGBT persons in our parishes, universities and other Catholic groups. We can re-orient our thinking from seeing gays as “victims” to seeing them as human beings “just like us.” To the degree that we can get our own house in order we can stand as a beacon of hope and enjoy more fully common humanness with everyone.

(for those who will take the time to examine it)
The objective of the Bill is, "...to protect the traditional family by prohibiting (i) any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex; and (ii) the promotion or recognition of such sexual relations... inside or outside [Uganda]. The Bill claims, as a fact, that "same sex attraction is not an innate and immutable characteristic."

"A gay [is] a male person who engages in sexual intimacy with another person of the same sex;" A "homosexual [is] a person who engages or attempts to engage in same gender sexuality;" and "homosexuality means same gender or same sex sexual acts."     So what are sexual acts?
A "sexual act" includes-- (a)... the touching of another's breast, vagina, penis or anus..." [even if it doesn't] ...culminate in intercourse; (b) stimulation or penetration of a vagina or mouth or anus or any body part... of any person, however slight by a sexual organ; (c) the unlawful use of any object or organ by a person on an another person's sexual organ or anus or mouth."
"[Touching includes-- (a) with any part of the body; (b) with anything else; (c) through anything; and in particular... penetration of any sexual organ, anus or mouth."

Offenses and Penalties:
"A person commits the offense of homosexuality if... "(a) he penetrates the anus or mouth of another of the same sex with his penis or any other contraption; (b) he or she uses any object... to penetrate or stimulate the sexual organ of a person of the same sex; he or she touches another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality. A person who commits an offense under this section shall be liable... to imprisonment FOR LIFE.

"A person commits the offense of aggravated homosexuality where the---" (a) the {."victim"] .. is below...18...; (b ) the offender [has] AIDS; (c) the offender is a parent or guardian of [the "victim"]; (d) the [offender] is in authority over the [victim];(e) the victim is a person with disability;y; (f) the offender is a serial offender or (g) the offender applies... or causes to be used any drug... with the intent to... overpower him or her so as to... have unlawful carnal connection with any person of the same sex. A person who commits the offense of aggravated homosexuality... is liable to SUFFER DEATH.

A person who attempts to commit the offense of homosexuality...is liable to imprisonment for SEVEN YEARS. A person who attempts to commit the offense of aggravated homosexuality is liable to imprisonment FOR LIFE.

Aiding and abetting homosexuality and conspiracy to engage in homosexuality are each liable to SEVEN YEARS imprisonment.

Procuring homosexuality by threats or intimidation or under false pretenses with any person of the same sex, either in Uganda or elsewhere [[ something is missing]]. A person can not be convicted on the evidence of one witness only... 

A person who detains another with the intention to commit acts of homosexuality or a person who keeps a house (brothel) for the purposes of homosexuality upon conviction is liable to SEVEN YEARS imprisonment.

If "[a] person being the owner or occupier of premises..., induces or knowingly suffers any... [person] ...to be upon the premises for the purposes of being unlawfully and carnally known by [a person] of the same sex... is liable to imprisonment for FIVE YEARS.

"A person who purports to contract marriage with a person of the same sex commits the offense of homosexuality and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for LIFE.

Promotion of homosexuality. "A person who--- (a) participates in the production, marketing, [etc.] of pornographic materials for the purpose of promoting homosexuality; (b) funds or sponsors homosexuality or related activities; (c) offers premises and other...assets for the purposes of homosexuality or promoting homosexuality; (d) uses electronic devices... [includes internet, movies, cell phones] for the purposes of [or for promoting] homosexuality and; who acts as an accomplice...or in any way abets homosexuality and related practices; commits an offense and is liable to a fine of 5,000 currency points or imprisonment... of FIVE to TEN YEARS  or BOTH."

"A person in authority, who being aware of the commission of any offense under this Act, omits to report the offense within twenty-four hours... commits an offense.... and is liable to a FINE not exceeding two hundred and fifty currency points or imprisonment not exceeding THREE YEARS.

The remainder of the bill deals with jurisdiction of courts, Extradition, and Nullification  of inconsistent treaties, protocols, declarations and conventions.

30 November, 2009

Catholic Bishops and Gays I

About three years ago I received a call about 10:30 on a Sunday night. My forty-three year old nephew called me, all excited, to tell me that he'd just been to Sunday Mass. He went on to tell me what a wonderful experience it was for him. Why do I mention this? Well, my nephew is a police sergeant hadn't been to Mass in over twenty years because he was so alienated from the Church. He and his partner are gay. The Mass in which he participated with other LGBT friends was at the local DIGNITY USA community. He phoned me for the next three Sundays and today he is a member of the Dignity leadership group. Gays have not had an easy time in the Church.

In the recent past, the Vatican and U.S. Bishops have treaded lightly in this area. They upheld the official "tradition" in regard to homosexual identity and behavior, but informally allowed for pastoral care of gays; a number of dioceses permitted DIGNITY to function and priests to preside at the Eucharist. In the UK, the current Archbishop of Westminster seems to be the first bishop to officially and publically permit a Catholic parish in SOHO to minister to the LGBT community. In 1997 the U.S. Catholic Bishops wrote Always Our Children. This document  presented a humane approach to the personhood of homosexuals and emphasized a pastoral approach to gays and their families within the traditional norms.

As Bob Dylan sang, Times They are A-Changin, and today that is  most certainly true regarding the tenor of statements and, now, actions on the part of the American Bishops. On November 19th the bishops released Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan [Go to bottom of 2nd paragraph and select link] which expresses in very harsh words their position on homosexuality and homosexual behavior (as well as same-sex unions, heterosexual cohabitation and masturbation). And the language and sanctions presented in this final version, have been softened from an even harsher draft version!

A new element added to the bishops' "tool box" in this and other areas is clear and direct political action. In the past, the bishops as moral teachers enunciated moral principles and expected pastors and, especially, lay Catholics to prudentially apply them. This is no longer the case.

In 2008 the bishops of California supported the California Marriage Protection Act (Prop 8). Catholic dioceses and organizations outside of California also made contributions. In fact, the Knights of Columbus contributed $1,400,000 in support of Prop 8, making the K of C the largest single contributor to the "pro side." Of greater importance than the monetary contributions is the of exercise of active political influence and lobbying on the part of the Hierarchy in this controversial civil issue.

More recently,  the use of political power and threats to withdraw financial support and programs (E.g. Catholic Charities) by the Archdiocese of Washington over gay marriage legislation, is one more indication of a new assertive, increasingly aggressive action designed to forcet (or prevent) change in civil law by a religious organization.

The latest and clearest example of external Catholic attempts to interfere in the civil affairs of a state is the supportto provided by over 50 dioceses  to overturn legislation permitting gay marriages with a constitutional amendment restricting marriage to heterosexual couples. With most of the assistance coming from the outside (including $50,000 from the K of C), the Portland Diocese raised $550,000 to fight against gay marriage.

So what does this mean for LGBT persons and Vatican II Progressive Catholics?

First, it means that the Hierarchy is hardening its position and articulating a very conservative ethic, especially related to homosexuality and same-sex behavior. Second, it means that the institutional Church is entering into the concrete political fray to influence legislation policies rather than remain a moral teacher enunciating moral principles. Third, it means that professional church ministers will find it increasingly difficult to serve LGBT persons (as can be seen in other areas of Church life ). Fourth, it means that Vatican II Progressive Catholic laity themselves must assume leadership in developing a  humane, Christian understanding of the life and situation of GLBT persons, welcoming them into the Catholic-Christian community and stand in solidarity with them. Fifth, it means that Vatican II ("liberal") Catholics must do all they can in civil society to ensure humane, truly Christian, treatment of gays so that they will secure all the citizen rights that accrue to all citizens regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Sixth, we must study, ponder and apply a sexual ethic that makes just judgments and deals with contemporary issues from a Christian, personalist-relational foundation. Finally, there is a great need to attend to trends and changes in the globalizing world and our increasingly world-focused Church. Much of what happens in and influences the U.S. Church will be determined by the "Southern Church.

18 October, 2009

Retreat from Vatican II ?

Recent events in the Catholic Church seem to indicate that there is a retreat from the theology and practices of Vatican II. Some of these indications are:

1) The recent permission, gladly given, for the frequent celebration of the Liturgy in the Tredentine Rite.

2) Benedict XVI's minor revision of the invocation regarding the Jews in the Good Friday Liturgy for the Tredintine Rite.

3) The lifting of excommunication of 4 traditionalist bishops who reject a number of major teachings of Vatican II, one of whom is a Holocost Denier.

4) Liturgical changes in the Mass that reduce the roles of laypersons in liturgical ministries and re-ephasizes the separation of the priest-presider from the community.

5) A return to the Pre-Vatican II theology emphasizing that the priest is a different / higher level or kind of being than laypersons.

6) A retreat from emphasis on the Church as "the People of God" and the centrality of Baptism and a return to a model of the church as hierarchical institution.

Most of these changes seem innocuous in themselves and few people see larger implications in any one them , however together they pressage a return to a pre Vatican II Catholic Church of the 1950s or earlier.

Are there any others who have noticed these changes? Will the Church be better off as a result of this revision of Vatican II theology and practice?

15 October, 2009

What's the Church for?

It goes without saying that the Church is the People of God and its purpose is to help bring about the Reign of God.

Bringing about the Reign of God is the essential mission of the People of God; it is much more important than preserving any particular structure of the Institutional Church.  "Being church" for the nurture of the members is necessary but not sufficient. The Church really exists to "do Church" in this world, that is, to reach out to everyone and everything in the world. Its mission is to participate in establishing the Reign of God.

Except for its emphasis on the abortion issue, the Church, in recent years, has spent more time and effort on protecting and preserving current institutional structures and nurturing the People than on its essential mission to the world. Little attention has been given to traditional social justice issues like just wages or newer ecumenical approaches to protecting and nurturing the environment as a call to stewardship of creation.

I wonder if the paedophilia scandal has so disabled the bishops that they are afraid to speak out boldly on anything other than sexual issues. I wonder if concern to maintain existing power relations within the Church require so much attention to internal affairs that the clergy have no time or energy left to foster or support social action in the "world." What do you think?