21 November, 2010

Condoms May Be Used to Prevent AIDS, Pope Says

A press release by Reuters News yesterday at 1:10 PM EST announced that in a new book-length interview of Benedict XVI by Peter Seewald, that the Pontiff has approved the use of Condoms to prevent AIDS in special circumstances. The full interview will be published as, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times.
The book is to be published Tuesday 22 November and will be available on Amazon on 24 November, 2010
The Pope does not say that the use of condoms is moral, but that their use is able to be justified in limited circumstances, for example use by prostitutes to prevent AIDS, “as a first step toward moralization” but that they are, “not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection.” The Holy Father says that a focus on condoms is in danger of becoming, “… a sort of a drug that people administer to themselves” and loss of attention to sexuality as an expression of love.
I have not read the full text of the interview or even the entire section on condom use, but the official Vatican newspaper has already published significant excepts of the interview and given direct quotes from the Pope himself. What does all this mean? Why is the Pope’s statement making such a stir? It seems to me that:
  1. The announcement itself signals a development in papal teaching about condom use. Previously the popes have taught that condom use could never, ever be justified. In that teaching, the assumption was made that condom use was essentially a method of “artificial birth control.” The development here relates to the realization that condoms can help prevent AIDS, a fatal disease.
  2. It is interesting that the example of condom use was by prostitutes. (edit: Further investigation shows that the Pope was speaking of male prostitutes, contrary to what I posted yesterday). No mention was made of the use of condoms by a heterosexual married couple where one partner already has AIDS. This may well have been to avoid a facing off of procreative intercourse against against the fact that even when used to prevent AIDS, condoms are considered artificial birth control when used by a married couple.
  3. we can rest assured that confessors and spiritual directors will seek “pastoral solutions” for a wide variety of cases. Although it has nothing to do with sex or disease, Once communion under two forms was allowed only in very limited cases, the custom has grown and is now tolerated or accepted as something to be available at all Masses with a congregation. The gay community that is still plagued by AIDS will believe and realize that it could be possible that the regular use condoms during gay sex might be moral, at least where there is a permanent, monogamous relationship.
  4. It certainly will increase debate over the “new” allowance for use of condoms in special cases to prevent AIDS. There have been years of debate among Catholic moral theologians over whether the justification for the use of condoms can be based on the “principal of double-effect..” This argument never won the day with Church leaders. There was solid teaching, that all use of condoms was always immoral. The late Cardinal O’Connor said that suggesting condoms as a preventative of AIDS was “The Big Lie.” The Holy Father himself, on his trip to Africa said that condom use might help spread AIDS rather than prevent it.
  5. The Popes “new” position can be seen as an instance in which Church leaders are actually taking into account the “historical circumstances” when dealing with personal moral issues. A historicist and personalist approach approach to moral decision-making has grown and been accepted in the area of “Social Ethics.” This may well be another step toward its application in individual / personal ethics (as was recently discussed at a worldwide meeting of 600 theologians in Trent Italy).
  6. Some conservative / traditional / traditionalist theologians and similar-minded laity will be concerned that, “the Church is changing (not developing a deeper understanding); and in a way that appears to damage or destroy the assurance that the Church is always correct in its teachings. There might be a fear that this is just a hole in the dike leading to more secularism. On the other hand liberals or progressives, will be encouraged to press for continued developments in seeking to discern, “the signs of the times” and the search for greater insight into Truth through open dialog with other groups, not the least of whom will be gays, women, and immigrants.
It is no wonder that this apparently simple statement by the Holy Father may, in fact, be a blockbuster statement that will cause ripples through the whole Church and the whole world. But all depends on how this moral declaration is understood and implemented. Personally, I wonder if the the Vatican bureaucracy will desire or attempt to block this meaningful development and implementation of the Holy Fathers insight.
Please note that this post is subject to revision and/or editing once the entire text is available.
The interview / book is published by a conservative press and has been praised by Fr. Fessio, a very well-known conservative priest. Although much of the book will seem conservative to many, I urge all thinking Catholics to read and ponder what is in these pages. I can’t wait to read the entire book.

I encourage you, dear reader, to comment, raise questions, make suggestions or initiate a dialogue over the acceptability or unacceptability of the Pope’s position on condom use and the implications it raises for Church understanding of it’s relationship to this increasingly post-modern world.

11 October, 2010

Same-Sex Marriage and Religion: Support Increases (Corrected 10-20-10)

On 6 October 2010, the Pew Research Center released a new report on the amount of support for “Gay Marriage” in the United States. Data presented include current (Collected July21-August 5 2010) statistics and comparisons back to 1996 for some characteristics. This post will speak about support or opposition among religious categories in the nation. Looking at the nation as a whole, 42% of Americans support gay marriage and 48% oppose gay marriage.  Support  for same-sex marriage rose from 27% in 1996 to the current 42%. and opposition fell from 65% in 1994 to the current 48%.  Greater detail on the population as a whole will be discussed in a later post. (NOTE: The only correction is in the first paragraph. The original data reported for the nation as a whole was for support (60%) / opposition (30%) for gays serving in the military. The data for "gay marriage" above is now correct)

Religion and Same-Sex Marriage 
I will present data on All Protestants, including three sub categories: White Evangelicals, White Mainline, and Black Protestants. There are Data for Catholics, including: White Catholics and Hispanics. Some information on religious Jews is presented. The final category includes All the Unaffiliated. The data for all religious categories are based on self-identification of “member” status.
When data are available for frequency of attendance (Attend Weekly or Attend Less [than weekly]) they are presented. Frequency of attendance is just about the best predictor of religious beliefs, behavior and position on many issues.

ALL Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and the Unaffiliated.
+ Among all Protestants, 31% support gay marriage, an increase of 4% over 2008-09.
+ Among all Catholics, 46%  support gay marriage, an increase of 4% over 2008-09.
+ Among all Jews, 75% support gay marriage,  an increase of 1% over 2008-09.
+ Among all Unaffiliated, 62% support gay marriage, a decrease of 1% over 2008-08.
It is clear that the greatest support for gay marriage is by the Jews and the Unaffiliated. What is more interesting in light of the Catholic hierarchy’s very strong opposition to same-sex marriage is that 46% of the Catholic people support gay marriage and this is 15% higher than among Protestants. Of course when we look within each category we will find great variation. Finally, the greatest growth over the past year in support for gay marriage is among Catholics and Protestants, at 4% for each.
The variation within Protestants is well indicated by the fact that that three-quarters (74%) of White Evangelicals oppose  gay marriage as well as 62% of the members of predominantly Black Protestant churches. Half (49%) of Mainline Protestants support gay marriage. This shows a real chasm between types of Protestants.
The data on Catholics are presented for White Catholics and Hispanic Catholics, who are thought to be more “conservative” or “traditional.” The gap between White (49%) and Hispanic (42%) support for gay marriage is much smaller than within Protestantism. More White Catholics than Hispanic Catholics support same-sex marriage, by 9 percentage points. It is quite noteworthy that nearly half of both Mainline Protestants (49%) and White Catholics (49%) support gay marriage. Among the “traditional” Christian groups, then, White Catholics and Mainline Protestants are the most supportive same-sex marriage.
Jews and the Unaffiliated.
Jews are more supportive of gay marriage than any other religious group. In fact, 76% of religious Jews support, and only 18% oppose, marriage for Gays. The data for Jews does not permit any further analysis.
The Unaffiliated may or may not be “religious” or “spiritual” but none of them claim membership in one of the “standard” religious groups like Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, etc.  Among all the unaffiliated, 62% support gay marriage. Looking only at those who say they are agnostic or atheistic, 80% support gay marriage. Based on “religious beliefs” this category is more supportive of gay marriage than any other category or sub-category studied here. Among those who say they are “Nothing Particular,” (some of whom are generically Christian without claiming membership in a particular church or denomination) support gay marriage (57%).

Church Attendance.
In the sociological literature “church attendance” at Sunday worship and other services (E.g. Wednesday Prayer Services, Daily Mass) is considered one of the best predictors of religious beliefs, values, norms and of behavior itself (E.g. support or opposition to abortion). Many conservative Christians define “true Christians” by their attendance or not at religious services. For example there is debate in the Roman Catholic Church over who are “good Catholics” or “practicing Catholics.”  More conservative Catholics tend to believe that “good” Catholics are only those who go to Mass every Sunday, strictly follow all the teachings of the Pope, and support the hierarchy’s positions on “hot-button” issues like birth control, abortion, homosexuality and gay marriage.
These data are presented only as “Church attendance” and do not include references to beliefs or other behaviors. For the nation as a whole:
24% of those who attend church one a week or more frequently support gay marriage. (Opposed: 68%).
49% of those who attend church “monthly to yearly” support gay marriage. (Opposed: 40%).
59% of those who “seldom or never” attend church services support gay marriage. (Opposed: 29%).
Denominational Church Attendance,
When the sample sizes allow it, data are presented for the larger religious categories, including:
+ White Evangelicals Weekly+ 14% support.  Less often 31% support (Opposed: 81% and 61%).
+ White Mainliners Weekly+ 35% support. Less often  53% support  (Opposed: 57% and 33%).
+ Black Protestants Weekly+ 22% support. Less often 37% support  (Opposed: 69% and 53%).  
+ White Catholics Weekly+ 34% support. Less often  59% support  (Opposed: 55% and 31%).
It is clear that over one-third of Mainline Protestants (35%) and Catholics (34%), who regularly attend church the most, support gay marriage in 2010. In each religious category, those who attend church the most frequently are less supportive of gay marriage than those who attend less frequently. In rank ordering opposition to gay marriage, Evangelicals (81%) are most likely to be in opposition and Roman Catholics (55%) are least likely to oppose gay marriage whether or not they are regular attenders. It is clear that the majority of those who attend church are significantly more opposed to gay marriage  than is the general population (48%). But to me it is important to note that as many churches as do, support gay marriage, from 14% for Evangelicals to 59% among Catholics (even in light of the persistent opposition to gay marriage from the Pope, Vatican Congregations, national hierarchies and individual bishops).

Generational support for gay marriage.
Age is an important factor in explaining attitude toward same-sex marriage. Between 1996 and 2010, if we look at the entire US population aged 18 and over, we can note that support for gay marriage has increased for each generation as shown below:
Millennials: born 1981 - 
51% support to 53% support gay marriage.
Gen-Xers: born 1965-1980 
40% to 48% support gay marriage.
Baby Boomers: 1946-1964 
26% to 38% support gay marriage.
Silent Generation: 1928-1945  
20% to 29% support gay marriage.
Greatest Generation: Born before 1928
16% to 15% support gay marriage.
Every generation (except the “Greatest Generation”) has become more supportive of gay marriage. For each generation born between 1928 and 1980, the increase in support for same-sex marriage has been approximately ten percentage points. Those born before 1928, and who are well into their 80s, are the least supportive of gay marriage. Of greater interest are the Millennials. Between 2003 (when they began to turn 18) and 2010  their support for gay marriage increased by “just 2%”, in a relatively short time span; it will be very interesting to see what the percentage change will be in the next 10-15 years.

Religious “Younger Generations” and Support for Gay Marriage.
In the general population, among those 18-29 we find over half (53%) support gay marriage in 2010. This is a one percent increase over 2008-2009. Among those 30-49, not quite half (46%) support gay marriage (This is an astounding 7% increase in one year). Because of sample sizes the break down of age categories makes it impossible to speak of these two categories separately. Thus, the data by religious categories will be presented from the most accepting of gay marriage to the least accepting for those 18-49 years old:
66% of the unaffiliated favor gay marriage. This is 10 points higher than those 50+
58% of Catholics favor gay marriage. This is 19 points higher than those 50+
54% of Mainliners favor gay marriage. This is 10 points higher than those 50+
26% of Evangelicals favor gay marriage. This is 11 points higher than those 50+
Clearly the younger generations of the Unaffiliated are the most in favor of gay marriage. Noticeably well over one-half of Catholics (58%) and Mainline Protestants (54%) support gay marriage. On the other hand only about one-quarter (26%) of Evangelicals support same-sex marriages. Among all groups, except Catholics, the increase in acceptance in one year was about 10%. The increased acceptance of gay marriage by Catholics over a one ear period was almost double (19%) that of the other three categories. Understanding those in the 18-29 age group, and those soon to became 18, is critical. The questions is: Which religious groups actually are meeting the needs of these young persons? How are they doing it? What are the messages and programs that meet young people in terms of their own concrete lives?

A Summary and an interpretation, of Sorts.
The descriptive statistics presented here suggest a number of questions to ponder.
To what extent do religious groups face the actual lived reality of gay people in their congregations / parishes, local communities and the nation? It seems especially, that Black Protestants, Evangelicals, and Catholic leaders have great difficulty understanding the real lives of their LGBT adherents.
White Evangelicals have yet to see an extreme gap between the leadership and their people regarding gay marriage. But the gap between what is officially taught by Catholic leaders and the attitudes of the bulk of Catholics is quite severe. As mentioned, even one-third of “good Catholics” who attend Mass weekly or more often support gay marriage. A question is, can this gap be reduced? Catholic leaders often say, “Catholic doctrine and moral issues are not determined by ‘opinion polls’.” I agree with this statement. But I argue that public opinion polls do tell us “where the people are” and that where the people are must be taken into account as one of the sources which help determine the development and application of moral decision making in concrete situations.
How do each of the different religious groups meet the immediate needs of LGBT persons? How much compassion is shown to gay persons in general and where are programs or ministries at the congregation or parish level that receive LGBT persons with acceptance and love for the human beings they are?
Whether or not homosexual behavior is perceived as due to “secularism,” the “Devil” or as a grace from God, religious groups must come to understand that gays are human beings born gay and that an attitude of tolerance and acceptance is growing over the years. Why do so many churches, synagogues and other religious institutions neglect to speak about and to gays with compassion?  Why do they only preach how homosexuality is evil and/or homosexual behaviors or gay marriage are evil, rather than face up to the reality that gays and gay behavior is human and exists? Can’t religious groups at least listen, really listen to LGBT persons and admit dialogue about gay life in the context of justice and love?
How can and will religious institutions deal with the youth of today, especially those 15 or 16 to 20 or 22, who increasingly take for granted that there simply are gay people, that gay people are just like themselves except in sexual orientation and sexual behavior, that many of their good friends are gay, and they just do not understand why gays are not left alone to become who they are meant to be.
On the other hand, how can and will religious institutions deal with those (and not just teenagers) who are harassed, bullied, subject to violence and even death from ignorant, misguided or fearful individuals who attack LGBT persons?  And if religious leaders could admit and accept the reality of GLBT life, they might do better forming their own members to be more accepting of gays rather let them, perhaps, fall into the hatred of a Fred Phelps and  Westboro Baptist Church.
Gay marriage is but one facet of how we live together with each other in justice, peace and love. But the data from this study indicate at least one thing, support for gay marriage is increasing and neither “this issue” nor other “gay-related issues” are going to just “go away.”

See this significant article: Gay Bullying and Death: Are Believers the Problem of the Solution?

 See also: What is a Catholic Response to Gay Suicide?

See also:  Are We Complicit?
I encourage any one who wishes to leave a comment, pro or con, or questions!!!!

16 September, 2010

Interfaith Leaders Denounce Bigotry Against Muslims.

FLASH- UPDATE Benedict speaking in the UK about freedom of worship, and strongly supports the call to ecumenical dialogue and for respect for other religions and faith communities. 0-17-10.

After nine years, the 9-11 memorial in New York remains unfinished. Apart from any technical difficulties, there have been many kinds of disagreements, squabbles, even fights over the memorial. All of these differences and disagreements pale in light of the polarization that characterizes this nation today over plans by Muslims to build a Muslim Center (which will contain a Mosque and prayer space for those of other religions).
It is very understandable that some, perhaps very many, of the survivors, their families, and close friends would carry resentment, even hatred, toward the terrorists and by extension Muslims or Islam. All of us are human after all.
The question is, why have so many other Americans become so upset and angry over building the Center; even to the point of willingness to abrogate key portions of the US Constitution?
It seems to me that the “causes” are many and complex. Some of the things that have affected this outpouring of opposition and even hatred include:
  1. A general frightening feeling that “America,” has or is loosing it’s preeminent status as the “world power.”
  2. Confusion and frustration over two “wars” that have produced partial military solutions but without viable political solutions even after the deaths of thousands of people and spending millions and millions of dollars prosecuting these “wars.”
  3. The tremendous US and international economic collapse we are suffering, with loss of jobs, many of which will never return, the inadequacy of healthcare reform, and gridlock resulting in a lack of faith in the recovery and re-attainment of secure jobs.
  4. The seeming exploitation of the economic “recovery” by politicians and media for their own political gain or increased ratings.
  5. Woefully inadequate knowledge of the history of the Middle East and even a more abysmal lack of understanding of Islam.
  6. and perhaps most of all the development and use of extreme “Christian” anti-Islamic attitudes and actions against Islam. Think of “burning Korans” or marches with nasty signs in Murfreesboro, TN. 

An Interfaith Response.
On September 7, 2010 representatives of Mainline Protestant (Eg. Methodists and Episcopalians, the Orthodox) Christians, Roman Catholic Christians, Evangelical Christians, Jewish, and Muslim religious leaders met to present a very strong and positive message, calling all religious people witness to their one God of Love, justice, and mercy.
The statement begins with these strong words:
As religious leaders in this great country, we have come together in our nation’s capital to denounce categorically the derision, misinformation and outright bigotry being directed against America’s Muslim community. We bear a sacred responsibility… to promote a culture of mutual respect and the assurance of religious freedom for all… we announce a new era of interfaith cooperation. (Emphasis in original).

The statement continues to make several points:
  1. There is support for the Constitutional and traditional Freedom of Religion. They claim the right to, “give witness to our own moral convictions in the public square as well as individual, “freedom to worship in congregations of our own choosing.
  2. That rather than give in to, “the anti-Muslim frenzy that has been generated over the plans to build an Islamic center and mosque… near Ground Zero,” the Interfaith group proposes that we, “…not… debate the the Park 51 project [center and mosque] anew, but rather respond to the atmosphere of fear and contempt for fellow Americans of the Muslim faith that the controversy has generated.
  3. That as Americans and people of faith, “We stand by the principle that to attack any religion in the United States is to do violence to the religious freedom of all Americans.”
  4. Realizing that in a globalizing world religious differences must not “…lead to hostility or division between communities… that no religion should be judged on the words or actions of those who seek to pervert it through acts of violence… that bearing false witness against our neighbor – something condemned by all three of our religious traditions – must be counteracted by truly seeking to understand “the Other” and building on our common belief in a God of love, justice and mercy.
  5. That, “Leaders of local congregations have a special responsibility to teach with accuracy, fairness and respect about other faith traditions” and to discover ways to extend interfaith collaboration into common action through interfaith, “education, inter-congregational visitations, and service programs that redress social ills…”
  6. That as the diligent work of our scholars has shown, “Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all see an intimate link between faithfulness to God and love of neighbor; a neighbor who in many instances is the stranger in our midst.” It is by beginning at the point we all can agree on –love of God and neighbor- that we can live in harmony in a diverse, global world.

A few observations.

This document was signed by 35 religious leaders (See last 3 pages of the statement) by a goodly number of Jewish and Muslim leaders and Evangelical, Orthodox, Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders (including Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, DC; Fr. James Massa representing the USCCB; and Mr. Nicholas Richardson, Communications Director of the Archdiocese of New York).
In light of this charged situation, these leaders spoke as prophets arising out of the best of their traditions.
They made the very wise decision to condemn violence and hatred. They went on to emphasize that the beginning of dialogue and action must arise from what we hold in common –Love of God and neighbor- and not from our differences (only a few of which are very serious and difficult to deal with).
Pope Paul VI, in Evangelii Nuntiandi, asked why do we send out missionaries? His answer effectively said not to “convert” others but to live the joy of the Gospel in such a way that some others would be attracted to the Faith by the action of God in their hearts. We might ask, “Why care about the Muslims? Isn’t our Christian task to proselytize them and convert them to Christianity? I would say, at this moment, we Christians ought to live our Gospel and love our Muslim Neighbor. We can leave the “converting” to God.

These leaders correctly, in my judgment, linked their religious message to the legal and Constitutional rights that Americans possess: the freedom of religion and freedom of speech. I have seen time and again pleas or demands by conservative Evangelical Leaders and the recent popes that their missionaries and religious communities be allowed to live, worship and otherwise practice the Christian faith in other more closed societies (E.g. Saudi Arabia, Iran). But it behooves us to practice what we preach and what we desire from other countries, not only because it is the morally right thing to do, but because it will help Christians who want access to other countries.

Finally, the Leaders who signed this document were, again, wise to emphasize the need for dialogue and action at the level of the local congregation or parish. The bi-lateral and multi-lateral high level dialogues at the national and international level between and among denominations (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Southern Baptists [with Catholics terminated by a decision of the SBC], has borne much fruit, although there remain many tensions within and between some groups.

However, “the rubber [really] hits the road,” so to speak, when actual people, people who live in the same or nearby communities, come together face-to-face and begin to listen to and learn from each other; when people of different religious traditions actually interact with each other, come to understand each others’ ways, act together, and, perhaps, come to trust each other, healing may occur to all, so that we become more faithful, Jews, Christians, and Muslims (and those of other faith traditions also).

Please feel free to comment on this or any other of my blog posts.

11 September, 2010

The Ninth Anniversary of the 9/11 Tragedy

Yes, it is most appropriate to remember all those who died nine years ago today. Those who died included ordinary people who had gone to work in the Twin Towers or the Pentagon, people who were flying in the plane over Pennsylvania and innocent by-standers. Then there were all of our public servants (Fire Fighters, Police Officers, health personnel, and others) and scores of volunteers, even a gay Catholic priest. And yes, even some Muslims. We must pray for all whom we have lost. Finally, as difficult as it may be, we are called to remember and pray for the terrorists because, as evil as their acts were, they are children of Allah, the same God as the the God of Christians and Jews.

Today also we must remember the families and friends of all those who have died in this tragedy. They, too, carry a burden of pain at the loss of their loved ones, whether one of the original victims or a responder. Too often those who remain behind feel abandoned, frustrated, angry, helpless, or hate-filled, Or they may feel guilty that it wasn’t they rather than the loved one who died. We must honor and support the now single parent who must raise a child alone, the mother whose son or daughter was her sole support, all the children who lost a parent, a brother or sister and must make a life without their support.

There are new victims whom we must remember and for whom we must pray, including those family members who can no longer go on with life and fall into the abyss themselves, those workers and public service men and women who today learn what it means to suffer cancer and other debilities from long-term exposure around this tragic site.

Finally, we must meditate and pray over the distrust and even hatred for the “other.” Both Islam and Christianity are being torn apart because of this tragedy. We must get beyond the distrust or hatred of a whole people, of the nations themselves, of different religions. There was a song during the 1960s, Give Peace a Chance.” We are called as believers and as Americans to work diligently to foster a world of justice with mercy and peace.

There are two phrases in the Catholic Liturgy that speak to me at this time, and I especially like to hear them in Latin:  Vita mutatur non tollitur (Life is changed, not taken away) and Pax vobis (Peace to all).

Catholic Bishops React to Judge Walker’s Decision on Prop8. Part Two: Cardinal Mahony.

In Part One of this series of two, I spoke about the official reaction of the Catholic Bishops to Judge Walker’s decision that Prop8 in California is unconstitutional. On August 4th, the very day of the decision, Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angles wrote a strong post in opposition to Judge Walker’s decision.

In his blog, the Cardinal presented a different perspective on the issue of gay marriage and the Court’s ruling. Early in his post, the Cardinal says, “There is only one issue… Is Marriage of Divine or of Human Origin?”  Mahony mentions and defends “traditional” (one man-one woman) marriage referring to it as of Divine origin, “instituted by God,” to carry out “God’s Plan,”  God’s “revelation,” etc.

He continues and implies that knowledge of the “fact” that marriage between one woman and one man is per se nota. Here is what he says,

Every single religious faith community in our known history has held this belief [that marriage is only between one man and one woman] since recorded history began. Every indigenous group discovered through history also understood this belief about marriage, and carried out cultural practices to sustain that belief. Marriage is of Divine origin, and that belief is embedded deeply into the heart and spirit of human beings—also described as the natural law for the human family.

In this article Cardinal Mahony makes a very clear Faith Statement. He believes, as many, many other Catholics do, that marriage is of Divine Origin (although that may mean different things to different people). He believes that God just puts this understanding, “into the hearts and spirits of human beings.” He says that this belief resides in us “… as the natural law of the human family.” This statement implies, if not outright claims, that the “Divine Plan,”" “God’s will” is identical to the natural law. To demonstrate, outside of a faith context, that God’s Will and natural law are identical would be an extremely difficult task, if it is possible at all. There are others who use the term “natural law,” but in no way believe that it is identical to “God’s Plan.”

The Cardinal contrasts his understanding of the “objective truth” of his position with what he believes to be the limited and subjectivist position of Judge Walker; Cardinal Mahony says,

Judge Walker , “focused solely upon individual testimony on how Prop 8 affected them personally….[He] pays no attention to this fundamental issue, and relies solely upon how Prop 8 made certain members of society “feel” about themselves…. [He] chose to listen to anguished voices about their perception of marriage, rather than plumb the depths of the origin of this divinely inspired institution. Judge Walker assumes that the institution of marriage is of human and civil origin, and therefore that “marriage” can mean anything any person wishes to ascribe to the institution. 

My observations on Cardinal Mahony’s  blog.

  1. I don’t know, but I hope the Cardinal was just very upset and “shot from the hip” when he wrote this post.
  2. The Cardinal insists on making the fundamental issue revolve around whether or not the origin of marriage is Divine or human. Raising the issue this way might be theologically acceptable, but it certainly isn’t an argument that can be raised in a civil court procedure. One can use religious beliefs to explain the motivation of a person to act, but it can’t be used to declare a law or court ruling to be true or false.
  3. Mahony claims that “every single society in recorded history understood that marriage has always been a man-woman affair.” That statement, just isn’t true! The universality of his statement, “every single society…” can be his religious conviction, or a deductively generated statement, but history and social science not only can’t confirm that principle, it can demonstrate that empirically it is not true.  
  4. Cardinal Mahony and other bishops and right-wing Christians, hardly ever define “traditional family.” Often times their leaders define the “family” as a heterosexual couple who make a public statement and life-time commitment through a public ritual to live together and usually to bear children. Often people imagine a married couple with two kids living in a single-family home from which daddy goes to work as the breadwinner, and mom keeps house, cooks and takes care of the children. If it ever existed in real life it’s time frame was from the just after World War II until the middle 1960s. In fact, today the 2000 Census Table 2 reported that only 23.5% of households contained a heterosexual married couple with children living at home. What is needed today, rather than an overly universalized, abstract definition of a particular family type, is a nuanced and historically accurate understanding of “Marriage” and family as they actually existed and changed.
  5. Cardinal Mahony seems to assume that Judge Walker based his judgment primarily on his own emotional and subjective understanding of the the issue, as when he says the Judge, “…relies solely upon how Prop 8 made certain members of society “feel” about themselves” or “…chose to listen to anguished voices about their perception of marriage…” Does the transcript of the trial bear out the Cardinal’s line of argument? I do not know, but the Appeals Court proceedings may well clear up this issue. I hope and trust that Cardinal Mahony, has not knowingly or unknowingly played off the universalist, objectivist understanding of life against the particularistic, relational view.  Some of the best moral theology today has clearly demonstrated that the human experience of individuals and communities must taken into account as constitutive of the moral decision-making process.

In summary, I  can reiterate that my main point is not to call into question the substance of the idea of gay marriage. My purpose has been to show that the Bishops’ approach to defending their legal position on gay marriage is unhelpful at best and, at worst, will only deepen the chasm between the the institutional Church and those who are characterized by a “modern” or “post-modern worldview". Thomas Aquinas discovered how to express the Faith in ways which his contemporaries could understand it. Today, we do not need “a” new Thomas Aquinas. Rather we need to listen to our best theologians, pastors, and ordinary people who are actually living out these “issues” in their lives.

09 September, 2010

Catholic Bishops React to Judge Walker’s Decision on Prop8. Part One: Cardinal George and USCCB.

By now just about everyone knows that Judge Walker of the 9th Circuit ruled that Prop8 in California is unconstitutional and that his order to implement the ruling and allow Gay Marriages in California by 18 August was stayed indefinitely by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Catholic hierarchy, through Cardinal George, issued a statement of disappointment and total opposition to Walker’s decision. Cardinal Mahoney issued his own statement as did other bishops. See Part Two in a separate post).

For quite some time the bishops have publicly argued against gay marriage primarily of the basis of damage to and destruction of the family unit. This was a form of explanation and an argument that many conservatives intuitively accepted. This allowed a coalition of Prop8 supporters to form a religious-political group to proceed at Law. However, Judge Walker ruled that no credible evidence had been presented by the supporters of Prop8 that gay marriage would, in fact, endanger “Traditional” marriage and family life.

I have no intention here of arguing the “facts” or details of the trial or court decision. I’m more interested in what appears in the bishops’ statement that gives some insight into a change in the focus of the bishops’ argument and the evidence they present.

Cardinal Frances George,
President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)

Immediately after Judge Walker’s August 4th decision declaring Prop8 unconstitutional, Cardinal George issued the Bishops’ official reaction to the court’s decision in these words, 

Marriage between a man and a woman is the bedrock of any society. The misuse of law to change the nature of marriage undermines the common good. It is tragic that a federal judge would overturn the clear and expressed will of the people in their support for the institution of marriage. No court of civil law has the authority to reach into areas of human experience that nature itself has defined.

The first thing to note in this statement is that there is no longer any direct mention of the preservation of the family and caring for children. The emphasis is now on marriage itself rather than on the family and children. Second, the emphasis is on nature and natural law and there is no mention of God. Third, the Cardinal claims that marriage between a man and woman is the bedrock of society.

Archbishop Kurtz, Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage issued a statement in tandem with Cardinal George’s statement. Both statements appear in the same press release issued by the USCCB. The Archbishop says,

Citizens of this nation have uniformly voted to uphold the understanding of marriage as a union of one man and one woman in every jurisdiction where the issue has been on the ballot. This understanding is neither irrational nor unlawful… Marriage is more fundamental and essential to the well being of society than perhaps any other institution. It is simply unimaginable that the court could now claim a conflict between marriage and the Constitution.

This statement also focuses on marriage and at best only indirectly on family. It also focuses on a philosophical argument by using the phrase, “… neither irrational nor unlawful.” The statement apparently defends the Catholic understanding of marriage by appealing to the majority votes supporting “traditional” marriage in civil ballots. Finally, the claim is made that marriage is more basic than (“perhaps”) and other institution; that it is the “bedrock of any society.”

I suggest that the Bishops reevaluate the strength of their arguments to find ways to frame our religious beliefs in a manner that contemporary people (including a majority of US Catholics) can at least understand enough to actually deal with them through discourse in the public square or in the courtroom. I would also suggest that the bishops give the findings of social science their just due and refrain from gross, oversimplified, general statements that social science cannot defend because they are oversimplifications of the findings of science or just wrong because they have no empirical support. 

One can make such a philosophical argument but it flies in the face of all empirical social science. Social anthropologists and sociologists will agree that kinship and marriage were, in fact, the only organizing principle for Hunter Gather societies and that some form of “marriage” was present. As societies grew larger and underwent major technological and other changes, the role of kinship-marriage-family decreased over time.

A Few Observations on these Statements.

  1. These statements on not based on nor is there any reference to Sacred Scripture. This is no doubt due to the realization that arguments in civil courts can not be posed as arising from particular religious belief systems and because the Catholic Church has always been uncomfortable arguing marriage and other sexual norms from the Bible.
  2. These statements do begin to frame the debate in philosophical terms by appealing to “nature,” and “natural Law.” The Church’s preference to argue from the perspective of philosophy goes all the way back to the Stoics through Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas to the “manuals” of theology used in seminaries well into the first half of the Twentieth Century; all of which focused on a particular concept of “natural law.'” One of the difficulties is that the bulk of contemporary adults haven’t any idea of what Thomas Aquinas Aquinas met by the terms “nature” and “natural law.” In fact, among those outside the Church who still use the terms there are various definitions and perspectives. This is also true within Catholic Theology.
  3. The Church uses an historically conscious perspective that reaches out to adequately understand the historical and cultural settings within which the real experience of people occurs. And it willingly uses information from sociology, anthropology, and other social sciences to form its principles and norms for action in the area of social ethics. However, the Church uses an entirely different, classist ethical system of doing ethics to make judgments about personal and sexual ethics (including marriage, family, birth control and homosexuality). Because most reasonably educated people today understand the world in historically conscious terms, it seems incumbent on the Church to open a dialogue in this area and realize that those who see marriage and family in this “new” way are not stupid or are badly misinformed. For example just about any professional social anthropologist or macro-level sociologist will say that although the first mention of a male-female “marriage” was present in Ancient Greece, that throughout history and across cultures marriage has meant many things and served many purposes. Today Kinship-marriage-family form just one of a number of institutions competing for our loyalty.

All I am asking is that Church Leaders realize that the understanding they have from past “tradition” is incomplete and needs to be developed in light of what has happened through the years and centuries, and make honest attempts to understand marriage and sexual ethics, in general, in this way . We in the Church gain nothing from refusing to hear “the other.” An interesting point of discussion is that well into the 1200s, the northern European Catholic Church maintained the legitimate practice and rite of “betrothal” distinct from the actual “wedding.” During the in between period, sexual intercourse was not encouraged but was permitted. How might this idea be reevaluated and reformed in light of the very high percentage of young people who have sex before marriage these days? This is not a recommendation, but a suggestion to think over potential ways to keep to tradition and still speak to contemporaries. Remember, at the end of World War II, Cardinal Suhard even argued that some form of “trial marriage” be allowed by the Church.

In summary, all I am asking for is that when the official Church takes its position on gay marriage that it, first, seriously take into account ways of speaking about contemporary issues to contemporary people, including civil courts, in ways that dialogue and common understanding can be reached, second, that it see the value and fruitfulness of applying to personal and sexual morality, the same principles it uses in speaking about social morality, and, third, that Leaders of the Church realize that in US civil courts, religious beliefs cannot be used to defend or oppose governmental laws or policies.


See: Catholic Bishops React to Judge Walker’s Decision on Prop8. Part Two: Cardinal Mahoney.

04 September, 2010

A Cafeteria Catholic—Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia !

The Setting.
Conservative Catholics are very quick to accuse more “liberal” Catholics of picking and choosing to accept some, but not all, of Catholic teachings. Whether it is use of “artificial” birth control or not “attending” Mass every Sunday or questioning the Church’s position on same-sex behavior, liberals are dismissed as “cafeteria Catholics” choosing only those beliefs,  norms and behaviors that they want to.
Well, conservative Catholics are also cafeteria Catholics; they just select other beliefs and norms to reject. Look at the large number of conservative Catholics today who resist the Vatican and American Bishops teachings on foreign policy,  immigration and capital punishment! A very clear example of the latter is Supreme Court Justice Scalia’s clear-cut rejection of the Catholic teaching on Capital Punishment.
In an earlier post I remarked that the Church has always taught that the community / society has the right to defend itself against violent behavior that endangers individuals and the larger civic community, even the use of capital punishment under some extreme conditions,. Certainly since the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the “Church” has reaffirmed tradition, and with new insight into our contemporary situation, teaches that there is never justification for use of capital punishment in modern industrial and post-industrial societies. Why? The popes respond that there are other “less extreme” measures that accomplish the same goal: the protection of individuals and communities as a whole. One such measure is the penalty of Life in Prison Without Parole. This is what the Catechism says”
Today, in fact as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense of doing harm –-without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are extremely rare, if practically non-existent.”  The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1997 edition. # 2267 par 3. See also Pope John Paul, II: Evangelim Vitae  Par. 56).

Justice Antonin Scalia’s rejection of the Papal teaching on Capital Punishment.
Justice Scalia publicly rejected  Papal teaching on Capital Punishment in Chicago on 25 January 2002, and again in February 2002 during an open forum at Georgetown University as reported by the Pew Research Center in Scalia Calls Death Penalty Constitutional, Not Immoral (See also: “Scalia questions Catholic stance on death penalty” USA Today 02/04/2002 [no longer online]).
At the Chicago meeting, Justice Scalia said a number of things that showed his opposition to Church teaching. Speaking as a strict constitutionalist, Scalia said. “the constitutionality of the death penalty is not a difficult soul-wrenching question.
In response to a question asking whether current practice violates the Eighth Amendment, Justice Scalia responded, “Does it [the death penalty] constitute cruel and unusual punishment? The answer is No.”
As a Roman Catholic, Scalia disagrees with the recent teaching of the Catholic catechism and Evangelium Vitae “that the death penalty can only be imposed to protect rather than avenge,” and is therefore almost always wrong……. In fact Justice Scalia reacted to this statement by saying, This view [Canon 2267] is not a “position that Christianity has always maintained…There have Christian opponents of the death penalty just as there have been Christian pacifists, but neither of those positions has ever been  predominant in the church.
The Justice also said, “No authority that I know of denies the 2000-year-old tradition of the church approving capital punishment…I don’t see why there’s been a change.”
Especially in this response Justice Scalia tries to justify his rejection of the Pope’s teaching on the grounds that it is not old or traditional enough. Scalia is out of touch with the idea of the development [not wholesale change] of doctrine and that the Church has used an historically conscious method of doing social ethics at least since the late 1890s.
When asked whether or how his religious views came into play, Scalia, replied,
“I try mightily to prevent my religious views… from affecting my interpretation of the laws…. He continued, “The only one of my religious views that has anything to do  with my job as a judge is the seventh commandment –thou shalt not lie.

My observations on Justice Scalia as a “Cafeteria” Catholic.
I do not at all question the sincerity of Antonin Scalia’s Faith. He attended Georgetown University and later taught there as a visiting professor. He is the father of nine children. He is a “strict constructionist” and one of the most conservative justices on the Court. He is 73 years old.
I have no quarrel with Justice Scalia as a man. I do feel, however, that he is an excellent example of a conservative Cafeteria Catholic. At least two characteristics help account for this situation. First, he does not believe that the US Constitution is a “living document” but rather it is an “enduring” document that must be read and interpreted just as it was written, sort of like inerrantist fundamentalist Christians understand the Bible. Second, whether he uses the word or not, he has a “classist” understanding of Law and his faith. A classist understands the world as unchanging, with universal norms both in principle and application. This view tends to be very static. It sees change as a negative thing and, therefore, is very hesitant to take into account specific contemporary sociocultural realities or ongoing human experience as relevant to moral decision making. That is why he doesn’t like to see the “change” in the Church’s understanding  of the applicability of the practice of capital punishment.
My real point here is that conservative Catholics are  very often “Cafeteria Catholics.” The major difference between a liberal and a conservative “Cafeteria Catholic” is the particular part(s) of Catholic teaching they choose to ignore or reject.

Another Cafeteria Catholic I know
For example, I blogged, emailed and IMed a Catholic young man for months and months. He was the first person to ever comment on one of my blog posts. He is very intelligent, funny, and deep down he is very tender. He loves his family unconditionally. He loves the Catholic Church as he understands it. Unfortunately right now he is very angry and presents himself as very close-minded. He seldom heard anything I ever said (because it was too complicated) and once he began to call me a “heretic,” a “pretend Catholic” and things like that, I was miffed and felt like he really couldn’t / wouldn’t be a dialogue partner any longer. I must admit I broke off what began as a good friendship with sadness and hurt feelings.
But this man, who so defends  the “Church” in some areas, is a Cafeteria Catholic. In a previous blog he operated, he showed by what he wrote that he was unable to accept the Vatican and American Bishops’ positions on immigration and health care, or foreign policy.
So in the end, continually voicing, and screaming by Conservative Catholics that Vatican II,  liberal or progressive Catholics are unfaithful to the Church is to say the least, not helpful and will be one more thing to drive people out of the Church.
Comments are welcome here!!!

30 August, 2010

Obama a Muslim? New Survey Results

On August 18, 2010, The PEW  Research Center released a new poll: Growing Number of Americans Say Obama is a Muslim subtitled “Religion, Politics and the Presidents.” Here are selected findings from that study.
These data were collected between 21 July and 5 August, 2010
(Before the great controversy over building the Muslim Center near the 9/11 site)

Obama and Religion: Total Population Findings.
Looking at the entire US population there has been a decline in the Percentage of Americans who believe that President Obama is a Christian. The major decline came between March 2009 and August 2010. Just since March, 2009 the percentage who believe that Obama is a Christian has dropped by 14 percentage points from 47% to 34%. On the other hand, the percentage of the American population who believe that Obama is a Muslim has increased  by 7 points from 11% to 18%. Finally, The percentage of all Americans who “Don’t Know” what Obama’s religion is stands at43%, a 9 point increase. As of August, 2010 a plurality of Americans say they don’t know what Obama’s religion is.
Compared to George W. Bush (in 2004), Obama is felt to rely less (“Not very much  +15%) on his religious beliefs when making policy than Bush. In 2004, 24% of Americans thought that Bush mentioned his religious beliefs and prayer too much, while today only 10% feel that Obama mention his beliefs and prayer too much. However, when observing all the responses to these questions, it appears that, “…the public generally [48%] says that Obama relies on his religious beliefs the right amount when making policy decisions.
The approval or not of President Obama’s job performance is related to a person’s opinion of whether or not he is a Christian or Muslim. It seems much more likely that attitudes about job performance depends more on beliefs about his religion than the reverse. Fully 62% of those who believe that Obama is a Christian approve of his job performance, 67% of those who believe he is a Muslim disapprove of how the president is handling his job. This is a very strong correlation.
Which Sub-Groups are more likely to believe that the President is a Muslim?

Those most likely to believe that Obama is a Muslim are his political opponents. One-third of Republicans (31%) and slightly more “Conservative Republicans” (34%) believe that the President is a Muslim. As stated in the Report, “The share of Republicans who said Obama is a Muslim has nearly doubled over the past year and a half – from 17% to 31%.” As mentioned above, 67% of those who disapprove of Obama’s job performance believe he is a Muslim.
Among Independents there has been an eight percentage point increase in those who believe that Obama is Muslim between 2009 (10%) and 2010 (18%). Among Democrats there has been virtually no change in the percentage between 2009 (7%) and 2010 (10%).
There is a significant racial gap in opinions about Obama’s religion. Among blacks there has been virtually no change in the number of blacks who believe that Obama is a Muslim between 2009 (6%) and 2010 (7%). However, the percentage of whites who now believe Obama is a Muslim has doubled between 2009 (11%) and 2010 (21%) Almost one-fifth of the white population now believes that the President is a Muslim. It is also true that the percentage of blacks and whites who believe that Obama is a Christian have decreased by 13% and 15% respectively.
The major change here in belief about Obama’s religion is among white Catholics and white mainline Protestants that  the President is a Muslim. The percentage change between 2009 and 2010 for white Catholics was +13% and for white mainline Protestants +12%. These changes were somewhat higher even than among Evangelical Protestants (+9%). Currently, the percentage saying that Obama is a Christian are: white mainline Protestants (36%), white Catholics (35%), white Evangelicals (27%).
Those unaffiliated with any denomination are the most likely to say Obama is a Christian (38%) and the least likely to say that he is a Muslim (13%).
What is most notable, however, is the increase for all religious groups in the percentage who don’t know what the President’s religion is . Currently, except for liberal democrats (31%), forty percent or more of every religious group say they now don’t know what Obama’s religion is. The 2009-2010 change for all Catholics and all Protestants was +10%, but among white Catholics it was an increase of 14%.

Summary and Opinion:
There is no doubt that opinions about President Obama’s religion have changed significantly between 2009 and 2010. In October 2008 just over half (51%) of the American population said Obama was a Christian and 12% thought he was a Muslim. Today (August, 2010, before all the debate over the Muslim Community Center near the 9/11 site), only one-third (34%) say Obama is a Christian and nearly one-fifth (18%) say he is Muslim. Among the groups who have changed in this direction the most are: Republicans, especially conservative  Republicans; those who disapprove of how the President is handling the responsibilities of his office, Mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. Evangelical Protestants couldn’t increase much because belief that Obama has always been high. In terms of race, whites are more likely than blacks to have moved to the idea the Obama is Muslim.
It is abundantly clear that the people’s opinions have changed in this short period of time. This says nothing, however, about whether the President is in fact a Christian or a Muslim. In the United States we usually accept a person’s claim to be a member of a particular faith. What real, demonstrative evidence is there that Obama is in deed  Muslim? Those who believe that he is Muslim should produce hard evidence showing he is Muslim.
However, as W. I. Thomas said long ago, “What people believe to be true is true in its consequences.” Thus, those who believe that Obama is a Muslim may very well oppose the President’s policy decisions and programs based on their fear or hatred of Muslims.
One explanation for such wide change in opinion in such a short time, notices that political and religious conservatives are the most likely to proclaim that Obama is a Muslim. These groups, as well as conservative media (Eg. FOX News) are thought to have been working to generate this unfounded opinion to influence political decisions (Eg. voting in the 2010 Congressional elections). The data here do not tell this story; it is a descriptive study. However, the data do make this a plausible argument. Another reason for change may exist in the fact that, for example, political and religious conservatives oppose abortion and gay marriage. Shifting attention to Obama’s religion may be an easier way to turn people against the President than broaching those issues where there is significant and vocal opposition.

The full report has additional sections on “Religion and Politics” and “Religion and the 2010 Elections.

10 August, 2010

Lutherans +/- Catholics +/- Anglicans Dialogue or Debate

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States (4.6 million members), just approved and welcomed into the clergy, actively gay ordained ministers who are in committed relationships.

Recently the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada (ACCC.   members) began the process of corporate union with the Roman Catholic Church as a “Personal Prelature.” 

Recently The Episcopal Church in the U.S. established a Committee to prepare  liturgical rites and resources to officially bless same-sex couples in an established relationship.

Because all three of these issues relate to homosexuality it would be appropriate to approach my commentary from that perspective. However, I have another interest for this post.

With Vatican II, the Catholic Church opened outward to engage in dialogue with other Churches and Christian “ecclesial communities.” For forty years theological discussions and cooperative activities grew and we saw ourselves as a growing mosaic of Christian communities in Christ. But I wonder how the different denominations will react to the kinds of events listed above, especially in light of recent moves in the Catholic Church to emphasize Catholic identity, increase boundary markers, and a theological focus on apologetics.

The Catholic Church is a central player in all of these issues. But there are serious internal stresses and strains within the Catholic Church and these other Christian communities.

As long as the current strong, centralized, even authoritarian, institutional structure of the Catholic Church maintains power, there is little likelihood that theological dialogue and advances will be made, for example in sexual ethics, women’s ordination  or the nature and suitability persons for ministry. In my state there are two Catholic and one ELCA dioceses. For a number of years the three bishops have publically affirmed a “Lutheran-Catholic Covenant” pledging continued dialogue and sharing (even facilities and some cooperative religious education programs). What is to happen now between the Church and the ELCA with approval of ordination and acceptance of active gays into the ministry? Will the “Covenant” be put on the back burner, shelved, or, less likely, become a key mechanism to maintain close fraternal relationships? It remains to be seen.

Perhaps the greatest hope  for continued ecumenical dialogue and cooperation rests on what happens at the congregational and parish level. Last evening the pastor of our parish and I attended a meeting called by the pastor of a Lutheran church (ELCA) in the city. Attending and participating were pastors and laity from the Episcopal, Methodist, Catholic, and, of course, the Lutheran churches. A Presbyterian pastor was not able to attend this meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to create a cooperative “College for Adults”  to develop, “…disciples through Christian educational opportunities that are: spiritually relevant, intellectually stimulating, and personally challenging”  and which assist Christian people to: understand their faith, live out their faith, and share their faith with others.

If the increasingly fragile fraternal relationships (I use this word because the power and leadership in these communities are dominated by males)  between the leadership of the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations / ecclesial communities  disintegrates there may be dire irreparable damage done well beyond the confines of these religious groups. Globalization of the world is increasing as a result of the rapid growth on new electronic, communication, and transportation systems. We used to say, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The whole world is rapidly becoming “the village.” Will there be any kind of “global ethic"?” Will the great religions of the world have any role in creating a world to assist in holding together the mosaic of cultures that will continue to exist? Or will the “ethic” be the crassest form of utilitarian ethics? God forbid, that we fall into a dog-eat-dog world or the “war of all against all.”

If Christians can realize they have more in common than the differences between them, they will be part of re-creating a renewed world. If Christians can reaffirm that those of “other faith traditions,” also seek to discover the Truth, there can be dialogue and cooperative action,especially regarding respect for each other and building a more peaceful world. We do have a common humanity and  a common search for the Ultimate.  All of us know only partially now;  and now only through many different perspectives or “faiths” in our search for Truth and purpose in life.  We have the opportunity, today, to live together in a more harmonious world. We no longer can allow differences to destroy the deeper realities of who we are together.

But for us here and now, we must maintain hope and openness to “the other” who can become our brothers and sisters, free to worship God by whatever name we give God and called to serve the world. So maybe in my case one beginning step to to help make this “College for Adults” a success. 

15 July, 2010

The Dalai Lama Gets It, Thomas Merton Got It, Will the Bishops Ever Get It?

Those who have read my blog posts will have noticed how frequently I have cried out for leaders in the Church to speak and act with compassion toward those who find themselves in difficult circumstances. No doubt some bishops are compassionate most or some of the time. But there have been too many public examples where leadership has not acted in a compassionate manner.

A recent reflection by the Dalai Lama reminds us of the centrality and importance of compassion.
He begins by recounting that as  youngster, “I felt that my own Buddhist religion must be the best--- and that other faiths were somehow inferior.” I too had a similar experience growing up in a predominantly Catholic town in a metropolitan area of over four million Catholics. We never fought with, or even said nasty things about “non-Catholics.” Because they were a minority we just lived as if they weren’t around. If, God forbid, we were invited to Sunday service, Bible school, or a wedding in a Protestant Church we proudly (or with eyes focused on the ground in embarrassment) replied, “I’m a Catholic, and we don’t (or can’t) go to other churches.

This highly defensive attitude began with the Council of Trent’s response to the Reformation and lasted until Vatican II attempted to renew our church by returning to our roots and engaging in a reality-based conversation with the modern world, including Protestants, the Orthodox Churches, and the major world religions.

As a sociologist, I fully understand any group, denomination or religion placing emphasis on its identity, marks showing who they are, and establishing group boundaries. This process, however, can lead to conflict and, “…dangerous extremes of religious intolerance”  between groups as well as to its opposite, mutual dialogue, understanding, and often acceptance and positive cooperation. The latter was the intent of the Vatican II Fathers. The Dalai Lama goes on to say,
Though intolerance may be as old as religion itself, we still see vigorous signs of its virulence. In Europe, there are intense debates about newcomers wearing veils or wanting to erect minarets (There is a recent example of this in the US. also) and episodes of violence against Muslim immigrants. Radical atheists issue blanket condemnations of those who hold religious beliefs. In the Middle East, the flames of war are fanned by hatred of those who adhere to a different faith.
The Dalai Lama goes on to say,
Such tensions are likely to increase as the world becomes more interconnected and cultures, peoples, and religions become ever more entwined. The pressure this creates tests more than our tolerance--- it demands that we promote peaceful  coexistence and understanding across boundaries…. While preserving faith towards one’s own tradition, one can respect, admire and appreciate other traditions. [Emphasis added]
I know what the Dalai Lama means. After years teaching at a Baptist college, I was finally asked to give the devotional at the fall faculty workshop. Although I was familiar with and could do a passingly decent job “praying Baptist Style,” mine had to be a little more “Catholic.” I began, “I’m the Pope!!! One of the pope’s titles is ‘pontiff’ which means “bridge-builder.” I consider myself a bridge-builder. I’m a Yankee in the South, I’m a city boy in a pretty rural area, and a Catholic in a Baptist community.” I then explained this a little, quoted some Scripture (using my "New International" version of the Bible), bowed my head and led us in a spontaneous prayer. After the meeting a faculty member who was a preacher and very anti-Catholic came up and hugged me, saying, “Seb, I always knew you were a good Christian.” That day I had affirmed what I had been learning over the years: we can move from antagonism to tolerance and from tolerance to respect and acceptance. That preacher remained Baptist till his death and I’m still a Catholic, but we took steps toward respect and acceptance. We learned to have compassion on each other.

The Dalai Lama recounts his meeting with Thomas Merton, an American Trappist Monk in 1968, shortly before Merton’s death. The two holy men confessed to each other how much they had learned and grown from deep encounters with each others' religion. One of the things they learned and experienced together was the centrality of compassion in all the great religious traditions.

Whether within our own Catholic tradition, between Protestants and Catholics, or between Christians and the other great religious traditions, why can’t we begin with what we hold in common? It reminds me of political liberals and conservatives who sit down and tear each other apart fighting over “midnight basketball” versus building more prisons as the best solution to street crime. If they could really agree on the fact that both want to have safe streets, there might be cooperation and compromise that would lead to workable solutions that both sides could whole-heartedly support.

Just before the Dalai Lama gives a number of examples of compassion he says, “The focus on compassion that Merton and I observed in our two religions strikes me as a strong unifying thread among all the major faiths And these days we need to highlight what unifies us.”

It seems to me that within the Catholic Church also we need to reassert compassion for the other, whether it is between so-called ‘liberals / progressives’ and ‘conservatives’ or between the clergy and the abused. As I have mentioned in some earlier posts, in recent times most situations that clearly called out for compassion within the Church are related in one way or another to sexuality:
  • The early stone-walling by the bishops regarding the pedophilia crisis,
  • The lack of reaching out to victims with deep pastoral concern for the abused,
  • Neglecting the nine year old girl whose mother secured an abortion for her after she was raped by her step-father and was carrying twins (I speak at this moment not about the abortion itself, but the lack of compassion for the little girl),
  • Insufficient attention to the homosexuals who may be executed in Uganda if the Anti-homosexuality law is passed.
  • Lack of attention to the small girls who were expelled/not admitted to a Catholic school because they had “two moms" (The “Phoenix Case). But notice that in the Archdiocese in a similar case, diocesan Catholic School Administrators said they will accept all children).
Perhaps the hierarchy can learn how better to respond to these intra-church situations and to inter-religious affairs by reflecting on the words of the Dalai Lama on Compassion. Of course all of us must be more compassionate!

29 June, 2010

NYC PRIDE :- One Catholic's Reflections

Yesterday morning I saw a CNN Report showing a group of Catholics who are gay marching in the NYC Pride parade. Immediately startling was the fact that the banner those in the first line were carrying was completely blank.

Parishioners from St. Francis Xavier parish have marched in the Pride Day Celebration for years with the sign telling who they were. This year, however, the new Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan. "asked" the pastor to see to it that the Church's name not appear on the sign, lest it imply that the Catholic Church accepts promiscuous sex.

Everyone "in the know" understands how difficult it is for Catholics who are gay and  "out" to find a Catholic parish or other place to worship, meet socially and participate actively in ministries. As the parish pastor said, neither the parish nor the group of gay parishioners advocate or support promiscuous sex.

Although the official teaching of the Church is that same-sex sexual behavior of any kind is always gravely sinful because it is sex outside of marriage (NOTE: all sex outside marriage by anyone is always gravely sinful).This position is primarily based on philosophical analysis. Today there are a number of Catholic moral theologians who hold to a personalist-relational ethic, that allows for unmarried heterosexual and homosexual sex behavior in certain circumstances.  But serious, deep love (not infatuation) is always part of the equation for them. It might be interesting, apart from gay marriage as an "issue," to watch "Gary and Tony Have a Baby" and ponder whether the two men in the documentary love each other in a way that might justify sex between them.

The marchers said one reason for their march was a chance to let other gay Catholics know that there is a place in the Church where openly Gay people are welcomed and can find a place at the Table of the Lord. It's like a "Come Home" ministry. It seems to me that only "programs" that truly appreciate the feelings of alienation, anger, and hurt that many Gay Catholics have had or are experiencing now cannot be addressed, at least in the beginning, by "standard programs." Those best qualified to "welcome back" gays to the Church are Gay Catholics who have tread the same path earlier and who now live life in the context of an accepting community of Catholics.

Although I personally support the idea that gay love can be as deep and real as heterosexual love, that under the same circumstances as with heterosexuals, gays may share complete intimate love, and that gay marriage is a good and should be permitted by civil law and the Church, I will leave that discussion to a later time.

What concerns me today is the lack of understanding compassion toward "others" who are perceived (and most often mis- perceived) to be "different," and treated accordingly. A number instances where there has been no compassion shown by Church ministers have been recounted in some of my earlier posts.

It seems to me that in the Phoenix case there was an assumption that the two moms were having illegitimate sex, otherwise why such drastic action by the priest and Archbishop? I have never seen a priest refuse Communion to young teenage couple because they are presumed to be having sex regularly. Even though many gays, especially young  men, do engage in promiscuous  sex,  is it correct, honest and compassionate to assume that all gays live most of their lives in promiscuity? Any more than do heterosexuals?

I understand that the hierarchy as a general rule feels bound to state and support the official Church position as a principle. However there is no reason that the hierarchy  should avoid concrete pastoral approaches to gays, gay life and worship. For example, tacit approval and support for parish ministry to gays is very significant. acceptance and support of the presence of  DIGNITY USA and similar "programs" like them rather than COURAGE and other programs that seem to assume  that gay people can change and become heterosexual, which is out of step with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, (#s 357-2359).
And all this because of no "Catholic Sign" for Gay Catholics and supporters to carry in the NYC Gay PRIDE DAY march.

24 June, 2010

Culture Wars in Perspective.

As part of another article, John Allen provides a long quote from the February 21st "encyclical" of Bartholomew, the Patriarch of Constantinople. In the Patriarchal document there is a positive, but careful, view of the modern world. He speaks often about the need for Orthodoxy to encounter the "modern world" and dialogue with other religious communities and other forces existing at this time in the world.

In a sense, Bartholomew's view and words are similar to those of Pope John XXIII who wanted to open the windows of the Church to dialogue with the modern world for the benefit of the Church and the world. Although aware of the defects and, yes, evil in contemporary culture, the Holy Father looked upon culture, at the very least, as a "glass half-full." The Holy Father then called the Vatican II Council which, by-and-large, succeeded.

The election of Pope John Paul II signaled a change in papal views of the Church and the World and their interrelationship. Under John Paul II, modern culture was seen more negatively. He viewed modern culture as primarily antagonistic to the Church. The Holy Father, in fact, called modern culture a "culture of death." He did not apply that phrase only to abortion, but to all of culture, so to speak, seeing modern culture as a "glass half-empty." What began with John Paul, is being implemented by Pope Benedict. This can be seen in the current emphasis on "the reform of the reform" in Liturgy, the reassertion of papal authority/control, and the almost extreme emphasis on "Secularism" and need to "re-Christianize" Europe.

Another view of modernization and modernity.

Some time ago a sociologist, Peter Berger and his colleagues wrote,  Homeless Mind: Modernization and Consciousness (1974). Some points they made, I believe, are relevant to the apparent impasse we face today:

  1. Technological change and concomitant economic development are the primary (though not sole) engines that account for changes in other aspects of society. For example, it was the development of the factory system that brought about the existence and spread of modern cities and the modern nuclear family (While we focus on our values, technology creates the parameters which constrain and limit our choice of values).
  2. The secondary "carriers" of modernization and modern consciousness are the mass media and modern mass education (Not the family and the church)
  3. In modern societies there is no longer an over-arching "meaning system" (E.g. Religion) that acts as a "glue" to hold society together.  (Religion loses it's "sacred" character).
  4. The fundamental institutions of society (E.g. Economy, Politics, Religion, and Family) become separate and compete with each other; they create their own institutional "meaning systems and each competes for our loyalty."  We begin to wear "different hats;" We love our neighbor on Sunday. On Monday we follow the "dog eat dog" norms of business. At home we struggle to develop and maintain our "own" private family meaning systems.
  5. Increasingly, individuals are free to create private meaning systems in the spaces, or interstices, not dominated by one or another institution. This, becomes what we call the private sphere.
  6. All of these sociocultural changes create and foster "modern consciousness," an approach to understanding and acting in the world that sees reality as composed of inter-changeable parts among other things drawn from the economic system and human relationships based on the impersonal pigeon holes of political bureaucracy.
Modernization is an ambiguous process.

Modernization is a blessing because it has given humans greater freedom from the "vagaries" of nature. It has also give us "freedom" in the sense of greater options.

Modernization has been a curse because it has led to high levels of alienation ( a feeling of powerlessness and feeling separated from others and from the social fabric) and anomie (a sense of "normlessnes,"  loss of meaning, and aloneness, confusion and impermanence.

Most people have become disenchanted with modernity, if not with all of modernization. Creating the "private sphere" to deal with the ambiguities of the modern situation has not worked.

Berger, et. al. suggest that there have been three responses to this disenchantment:
  1. To work ever harder and harder to increase modernization and modernity, carrying it to its logical conclusion (the conservative approach).
  2. To actually accept that modernization and modernity are here to stay and to selectively accept, reject or modify those aspects of them that will prove most helpful to ensure continued existence of human social and cultural life with a greater development of peace, justice and community. (The moderate and liberal approach).
  3. To retreat from modernity as much as possible through new nationalisms, cult-like movements and communities, or, at the extreme, to sabotage and destroy existing social arrangements and material resources (The retreatist, nativest, approach).
Many observers and commentators  claim that we already exist in a "Post-Industrial," or "Post-Modern" world and society. I disagree. Certainly the creation of the computer, many new digital devices, sophisticated software and rapid and instantaneous communication, and the rapid transfer of goods and services across the globe are inevitably pushing us further and further in the direction of a post industrial / modern society, sometimes called the "Digital Society." But we are not there yet; we are still in the process of transitioning. We must continue to construct the Post-Modern society and culture, especially in a humane form. Personally, I hope that whatever form of society that we construct will be in harmony with Christian principles.

The culture wars that we constantly hear about in the Catholic community are a prime example of the transitional state of the world and the Church. How things will settle down if they ever do, is still open. So many of the currently discussed "conflicts" in the Church are symptoms of a much deeper divide among Catholics based on fundamentally different views of the world, society and the Church. Notice how many of these issues are cast into "us verses them" terms. Or "either-or" rather than "both-and" terms. All of the differences arise from the transition period within which we live. If we place what is happening in the Church within the context of the larger world, it should highlight the importance of the process and whether the "battles" can be resolved through common dialogue or if this is a zero-sum game.

So do you think modern culture is a glass half-full or a glass half-empty?

Do you think we are already in a post-modern society or still in transition?

If these ideas resonate with you, what's next?

17 June, 2010

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT: What does the Catholic Church Teach?

In 1966 less than half of the American Population supported capital punishment. Today, 75% of Americans support the death penalty. Controversy over whether or not capital punish is moral, should be legal or not, and if it is legal when it should be applied splits America. Unfortunately Catholics in the pew are also split on the issue.

The official teaching of the Church states that in theory, capital punishment is the ultimate legitimate sanction available to the state, but must be applied only under very strict guidelines and only for self-defense of society when no lesser sanctions will be effective.

Recent popes while affirming this traditional position, have said again and again that, "only for self-defense of society when no lesser sanctions will be effective," must be seen in view of modern society's ability to administer justice and protect society through "lesser means," as, for example, using, "life in prison without parole."

Those identified as moderate or liberal Catholics are strong supporters of the Church's position and the pope's teachings on Capital Punishment.

What about Conservative or Reactionary Catholics? One might expect them to be more supportive of capital punishment as political conservatives are.

One site claiming to be "truly Catholic" exemplifies the most extreme reactionary position I have seen on this issue. It tries to accept the brief, general statements in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. However,  this site, absolutely opposes the recent popes' teaching. They exaggerate a sound theological principle that there is a distinction between an infallible papal statement and other  papal statements that must be taken seriously by reducing the popes' statements on capital punishment to "just his opinion."

You, dear reader, owe it to yourself to read  the argument made on this site and form your own opinion.

No one will deny that Mother Angelica's Eternal Word Network represents a Conservative Catholic source of information and teaching. There is an article on this  "conservative" site that is very well written, logical, easy to understand, and it presents the teaching on capital punishment that any bishop or liberal catholic will find acceptable.  Read it. Compare it to the first statement.

If nothing else this post (especially the last link) should present the official teaching of the Catholic Church on Capital Punishment and show the diversity of thinking going on during these "culture wars."

06 June, 2010

Men and Catholics More Accepting of Gay/Lesbian Relationships

On May 25th the New York Times released a report on the moral acceptability of Gay/Lesbian Relations. Here are a few interesting results:

  1. For the first time in Gallop Polling history a very slight majority (52%) of adult (18+ years old) Americans  support the moral acceptability of Gay/Lesbian Relations.
  2. For the first time, the percentage of men (53%) who accept the idea that homosexual relations are moral is larger than the percentage of women (51%) who accept  the idea that homosexual relations are moral.
  3. The percentage of the American population who accept gay/lesbian relations acceptable varies in different segments of the population. Most startling here is the finding that the percentage increase in support of the acceptability of homosexual relations among Catholics (+16%) is second only to that among younger men (18-49).
I will make only a few comments here.  Sixty-two percent of American Catholic adults find homosexual relations acceptable. This is higher than the Protestant (42%) rate of acceptance. In fact, the Protestant acceptance rate in 2010 (42%) is actually lower than Catholic rate in 2006 (46%).

The willingness to accept Gay relations as morally okay is noticeably less for Protestants (42%)  and Catholics (62%) than for Non-Christians (84%) and those claiming no religion at all (85%).

But the real startling news is the amount of change between 2006 and 2010. There was a 16%  change (from 46% to 62% ) among Catholics. This 16% increase is second only to the change (+20%) for men 18-49 years old.

One might create a stereotyped summary with some truth as to who supports the idea that Gay relations are acceptable. The "typical" supporter might just well be: A younger male who is a Catholic or not Christian. He is most likely an Independent or Democrat in terms of political party affiliation and  moderate  or liberal in political philosophy. Those among whom the change toward acceptance has been greatest are: younger men (+20%), Catholics (16%), political moderates (+14%), and Independent voters (+11%). Thus, movement in the direction of greater acceptance of homosexual relations as moral, is coming from those in the middle not from either extreme.

One question rises immediately. Why are Catholics as supportive as they are  of the view that homosexual relations are morally acceptable? There are many possible answers. I do do not know which answer, which combination of answers, or which additional answers might be reasonable.

If one takes into account only those Catholics who go to Mass every Sunday, the support for the moral acceptability Gay/Lesbian relations would be significantly lower. However, the mix of those who go to Mass every Sunday and those who go less often has been the same during each year. That Catholics are generally less faithful to the Gospel and to the "Church," is an ideological statement that will not stand up to the evidence. True, the Catholic Church has a loss rate higher than any other major Christian in the U.S. but these are not primarily "liberal / progressive" members.

There is another intriguing possibility. The Catholic worldview has some essential characteristics. It believes that the spiritual is mediated to us through persons and natural elements. It also has a both-and view of things. Even when Catholics see sin like "sexual sins" there is an ability to see them as arising out of human weakness. Since Vatican II there has been an emphasis on a personal-relational emphasis in moral theology. Even when "ordinary" Catholics do not read contemporary theology, they pick up current ideas in the Church, relate them to the findings of science and their gut feelings about what is "right."

It seems incumbent upon the Magisterium  to squarely face and openly listen to contemporary moral theologians and what the experience of real people indicates about the fundamentals of human sexuality.

Comments, criticisms and suggestions are welcomed.