26 March, 2010

On Social Justice: Could Glen Beck be the next pope??

With all the attention given to the sex-abuse scandals, there has been little attention to the Church's long-standing teaching on social justice. However, the bishops' position on the immigration issue seems to have made it a "new" source of attack on the Church.

Recently FOX network commentator Glen Beck has attacked all those who use terms like "social justice" and "economic justice" as un-American; even accusing them of being, or being like, "socialists," "communists" or "fascists." More astounding yet, he aims his comments at Christens and specifically at the Catholic Church.

On 25 March Stephen Colbert used his cutting humor to seriously respond to Beck. You can see and hear Colbert's response on the Colbert Report. This segment is extremely funny, partly because Colbert is a Catholic and knows whereof he speaks. At the end of the show Stephen interviews Fr. James Martin, SJ who also has been attacked by Glen Beck.

At the end of the program, Colbert asks Fr. Martin if, in the unfortunate and most unlikely case, that Pope Benedict had to resign and Glen Beck were elected pope, what would he do. With a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face Fr. Martin said, "I'd leave the Church just as Beck recommends."

At bottom, Glen Back is ignorant of, yet still opposed to  the Catholic understanding of the the Gospel message as currently and steadily proclaimed for the last 120 years by the popes. Anyone who wishes to get to the core of the "social justice" doctrine and ethic of the Catholic Church can begin with the following papal encyclicals:

See also the Vatican II documents (passim) especially:
    The above links will take you to the Vatican website (English versions). There are "brief versions" on the Vatican website as well as a few commentaries. Commentaries from other sources vary in their interpretation of the documents. Be careful. And know well the source of who makes the postings!!

    For the serious person (Catholic or non-Catholic) who wishes to understand the common themes of social justice in the Catholic tradition, it is important to be familiar with the entire social justice teaching of the Church. Glen Beck is most certainly not one of them.

    21 March, 2010

    Reactions to Benedict's Letter to the Irish People

    Before all else, people owe it to themselves to read the Pope's full letter.

    There was never a question but that the Holy Father:'s  the letter would please some and anger others. In his letter:
    • He shows his personal sorrow over the sex abuse charges.
    • He speaks directly to those abused with words of comfort.
    • He chastises the abusers and the bishops of Ireland.
    • He asks for forgiveness for the abuse in the name of the Church.
    • He says that he is currently setting up a "Visitation" (investigation) of the dioceses and Catholic institutions in Ireland.
    • He directs the clergy and bishops to cooperate with civil authorities in bringing abusers to justice.
    • He directs that "spiritual practices" be carried out in penance and petition for healing; he specifically mentions Eucharistic Adoration in every diocese, a mission for all the clergy, and year long petition and penance by all the Irish people.
    No one who is fair-minded can deny that this is a positive step in the right direction. John Allen gives a number of instances in which, for a number of years, as Cardinal Ratzinger and as pope, Benedict has taken other positive steps to stop child sex abuse.

    Today however, many remain critical of the pope and his letter to the Irish. The most salient criticisms seem to be the following:
    • He placed all the real "blame" on the accused priests and local bishops alone.
    • He did not discuss, what many believe is the crux of the problem: the systemic nature of Clerical power and actions or inaction of the higher clergy in hiding or covering up abuse.
    • He did not address the increasing international sex abuse scandal, currently being investigated in Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Italy and Brazil.
    • He, himself, didn't announce specific Vatican actions and programs for a "zero tolerance" policy similar to the program approved for the U.S.
    • He didn't accept personal responsibility for the system nor say anything about his own role in these cases while he was archbishop of Munich.
    Most of the dailies (Washington Post, New York Times, National Post) reported on the letter with a mixture of fact and subtle interpretation none of which was particularly positive. That may be  because of the outrage over such hideous crimes. The "comments" by readers of the various articles were all disappointed or angry that the pope did not take a stronger stand. The comments made in  the three British dailies (The Guardian, The Times, and the Daily Telegraph) I follow expressed extreme anger over the sex abuse and how the Church has handled it. These comments were often vicious attacks on the Catholic Church itself.

    Personally, I agree that the Church must discover and implement a process that is much more transparent and honest; a process that places the victims of abuse and the People of God above the "protection" of the institutional church's current manner of dealing with new issues.

    Yes the abusing priests committed unspeakable crimes. Yes, the bishops made terrible "mistakes" as the Holy Father said in his letter. These men must accept the responsibility for what happened. On the other hand, the Vatican has fostered or allowed practices of secrecy, even directing all involved: Bishops, clergy, abusers, and very often the victims themselves to remain silent under the pain of sin or excommunication. Why?

    The easy answer is "pure power" and maintenance of the the status quo. There is some truth to that argument. However there are other elements to consider. Most of the Cardinals and senior bishops come from a time and a culture in which alcoholism and sexual deviance were understood only as moral problems. In that culture it was sufficient to confess, do penance and renew one's prayer life. Such moral deviance was the province of the Church to cure or punish. It was never understood as something that related to secular authorties.

    This view easily led to the idea of "protecting the Church" from "scandal." Although not right, it is understandable as part of the early defenses of the Church after the Reformation. The exercise of near absolute power by the hierarchy became "standard operating procedure."

    But as 20th century theologians, liturgists and Scripture scholars began to understand and appreciate the situation of a Medieval Church facing the modern world, they suggested ways to speak to this new world. Pope John the XXIII was inspired to call Vatican II with its many changes. However, many old inadequate procedures continued. For some reason fundamental changes never came about.

    Fortunately or unfortunately, the sex abuse scandals are forcing the Church to reassess its internal and external processes and methods of operation. The Church hierarchy are called to enact more transparent and collegial ways to lead the People of God; more compassionate ways that include justice tempered by mercy.

      18 March, 2010

      Denver Mess: Breslin, Chaput, two small children and gay moms

      The issue that has emerged here has to do with the meaning of love. Is love heavy on compassion and light on judgment? Or does Christian love require vigilance and hard choices, separating eternal truths from passing fancies and misguided desires?  [Tom Fox, Editor, NCR]

      Summary of the Mess in Denver.
      The controversy over the dismissal of a young child from a parochial in Denver  because her parents were lesbians, should have been dealt with at the local level between the pastor and the girl's moms. As in the past there were a number of acceptable options for a wise, Solomon-like solution. Whether or not it was the "right thing to do," someone leaked to the press the decision to expel the girl from school.. The pastoral leaders ( Fr. Breslin and Archbishop Chaput) have "stood their ground" and "defended Church Doctrine," the parish is split over the issue and, in the meantime, the moms and children have been pushed pretty much out of the picture.

      The moms agreed to an interview by the NCR. They detailed much about their lives and Catholic beliefs and practices.They described the whole procedure they went through to ensure there was common understanding between themselves and the school / parish regarding their daughters' school attendance. Even in his most recent statement, Fr. Breslin repeated the "official position" of the Church and implied that the underlying issue had to do with homosexuality. Although unstated, there was an assumption, without evidence, that the two women were sexually active. Nothing in Breslin's statement gave any indication of his having read any of the women's words. It seems to me that at least the pastor on the scene would have shown  at least some pastoral concern to hear and express understanding to the children and directly to the moms along with what they were saying.

      The Larger Picture.
      It is very unfortunate that this particular situation has occurred at this time, when the Church leadership is returning to a very defensive posture because it feels so under attack by raging "secularism, " "materialism." and  "internal opposition" to Papal direction. This movement toward "apologetics" began under Pope John Paul II and has been championed by Pope Benedict XVI. One of the staunchest and most articulate spokespersons for this point of view in the U.S. Church is Archbishop Chaput of Denver.

      So many of the "Catholic Culture Wars" today (E.g. the "reform of the reform" in Liturgy, making the old Latin Mass equal in legitimacy to the Mass of Paul the VI, control by the Vatican of the English translation of the Mass, the refusal  to even discuss clerical celibacy, homosexuality, or married priests [except Anglican priests and some Protestant ministers who "convert"], or women priests) derive from the Holy Father's and many bishops' fear of the modern and post-modern world; excessive fear of secularism, materialism, expressive individualism and perceived opposition on the part of the laity and some priests.

      The actions of both the pastor and the archbishop seem so bound into an almost post-reformation worldview that they cannot even entertain the idea that "progressive" change is possible and necessary, and quite possibly from the Holy Spirit. At least for now the faith and hope of Pope John XXIII and Vatican Council II for a Church in dialogue with a beautiful, if wounded modern world, has not been lost, but stymied for awhile.

      We need fewer "Proclaimers of Certainties" like Archbishop Chaput, and more Seekers after Truth like these two moms.

      14 March, 2010


      The Parable of the Prodigal Son was the Gospel reading at Mass this weekend 3/13-14. For those who have not read it see; Luke 15:11-31.

      After the younger son has traversed the world beyond his home and spent all of his inheritance, he decides to return home and seek the forgiveness of his father.
      While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him , and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. (Verse 20b).
      In recent posts I have spoken, with some degree of sadness and anger about what I perceive to be a lack of compassionate pastoral response from many Church leaders.

      There was the case of incompassionate response to the plight of a nine year old girl who had been raped and whose mother had her twins aborted.

      There was the case of the Mexican Cardinal, who spoke out so publicly and harshly about LGBT people.

      There was the case where a pastor, with the support of the bishop's later public statement, removed an elementary school child from a Catholic school because his caregivers were partnered lesbians.

      Why is there no indication that the little girl, gay people, and the little boy were shown compassion? It would seem that these victims who have been the first to be protected from public attention. It seems that the innocent victims would have been shown pastoral care, love and support.

      But we've been there not too long ago when the victims of pedophilia were paid little attention as traumatized human beings. Money was spent to "defend" the Church's reputation. A bunch of money was transferred to some victims for counseling and psychotherapy. But why were so many hierarchs unable or unwilling to meet one-on-one with victims and feel their hurt, fragility and justifiable anger at the Church with the compassion of God as proclaimed in this parable? It seems that the bishops (and many others) are more like the elder son who was "faithful" in following the Law, but jealous and incompassionate toward his younger  brother.

       I have deep faith in and hope for the Christian-Catholic community. However, particularly these days the  institutional bureaucracy of the Church is called to a continued repentance and to heed the Gospel call in the way it operates. There are those in the Church (both clergy and laity) who believe that the essence of the Church and Christian Life are to "follow the Law" as laid out in legal fashion as the means to spiritual growth and salvation. It is sufficient to know the rules and obey them. They have been called "Proclaimers of Certainty" because they believe they already know God's plan and can administer it. In many cases, those who believe this way are more comfortable with the words and images expressed in Deut: 21:18-21.

      There are others in the Church, who by no means reject the value of Law and rules. However they see these as ideals to be striven for, but maybe never reached, in the attempt to be true to the Gospel, to Jesus; to be compassionate. Take for example,  Archbishop Quinn when he was in San Francisco. He was able to work out arrangements for the availability of heath benefits for gays who worked for Catholic agencies and to honor and keep to the Church's teachings about homosexuality. Those who believe this way are more comfortable with Psalm 103, especially verses 4, 8, and 12-13

      What appears in some of my posts as anger, is really frustration and a call to take seriously the Gospel message and the teachings of Vatican II, rather than a view in which Law trumps compassion and Love.

      09 March, 2010

      Now it's not enough to be against gays themselves?

      Today CNN reported on a young grade school student who was "disenrolled" (I.e. kicked out) of a Catholic Parochial School. Why? Because the parents were partnered lesbians!

      Now a child will suffer for the "sins" of the parents. The pastor took the action, and was supported in a public statement by the Chancery (I.e the bishop) because the same-sex couple were violating the teaching of the Church forbidding same-sex sexual behavior.
      How did the pastor or bishop know that the couple were having sex?

      Regardless of their private behavior, was it appropriate to punish the child? And you better believe the child will be negatively affected.

      Where is the compassion of Christ in this situation? I am distant from the actual incident, but at least as reported, I see no reaching out with care, love and compassion to the child.There seems to be no compassion offered to  the couple either. Again as reported, for church leaders to say, adults should know the teaching and obey it or suffer the consequences, seems hardly Christlike  [I will certainly will correct distortion of facts, if they are brought to my attention].

      One has only to recall the Mexican Cardinal who uttered such hateful words about homosexuals. The Vatican had to remind the Cardinal that even the Catholic Catechism  requires respect for homosexuals. What about the often (usual?) formal, impersonal treatment or total neglect of sex abuse victims here in the U.S?

      The argument about the hurtful outcome for the child and other children in the school and the "scandal" caused to the laity" are those commonly dragged out. Some churchmen must begin to realize that the laity are hard to scandalize. The most recent case I can remember of the laity being scandalized is at the cover-up behavior of bishops who hid the crimes of pedophilia.

      Just think of what a Catholic/Christian response of love and compassion might look like. The clergy would plainly state there was a pastoral concern for the child and the couple. They could, personally and through others show deep understanding, support and love for the child. They could speak with (not to) the couple and at least appreciate their lives and love for each other.

      Thirteen years ago when Cardinal Laveda was archbishop of San Francisco, he was able to work with others to discover a way for same-sex couples to share health benefits and remain employed by Catholic agencies without violating Catholic teaching or principles. Can't at least this kind of solution be arrived at?

      We need to act with the love and compassion of Christ FIRST and then deal with the words we use to express the beliefs Catholics hold.

      Earlier in the day I had been commenting on a friend D's joy and happiness over being a godparent; the hope he has to support, nurture and love DA, and the big celebration the family had. I shared with him my joy in becoming Confirmation sponsor for my nephew who is 14.

      After hearing about the above "incident," I began to ponder what kind of Church these youngsters will grow up into: one showing greater compassion or one so bound to statements of "teachings" and "correctness" that love and compassion will wither. I do agree here with the Holy Father that what we need  is to maintain hope.