29 May, 2010

UGANDA and Anti-homosexuality! Update # 4

Background. (See resources at end of this post):
The Anti-homosexuality bill introduced in the Ugandan Congress in October 2009 and which was roundly criticized by Western Nations in December, received a positive boost this month but this does not mean that all provisions set forth in the bill will be eliminated.

In mid January 2010, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni began to withdraw his support for the bill and appointed a cabinet committee to review and the bill.

Very recent events.
In Mid May, the committee  recommended that the bill be withdrawn !!!

It seems that the two  most odious and hate-filled sections will be eliminated: 1) the death penalty for homosexuals under a variety of circumstances,  and 2) that parents, teachers, clergy persons, etc. report to law enforcement any homosexuals they know about. This move is good. They are also the provisions that the Vatican and other religious groups, human rights groups and western governments strongly opposed.

However, the committee also recommended that other provisions in the bill be kept and inserted into existing sexuality laws. In fact, it specifically recommended that Clause 13 of the bill "was worthy of consideration." If Clause 13 is retained, it will forbid the "promotion of homosexuality." Even if revised, this clause might include negative sanctions against Sex education and AIDS awareness programs, advertising AIDS treatment programs, Condom and free needle distribution and other very important health-related programs, as well as discussions of homosexuality in newspapers and on TV and publicity or  advertisements by Gay clubs and other Gay-related entertainment or social and artistic events.

Possibilities for the near future.
All this means that the worst of the bill almost certainly will be eliminated and many other provisions of the bill are already in existing sexuality laws. The single most problematic issue is that related to "promoting homosexuality." There are still strong elements in the government who will fight to keep that provision. I suspect they could gather enough votes to keep clause 13 with the support of very larger numbers of Ugandans who are anti-homosexual. One admittedly unlikely but potential source of support might come from major religious groups who provide AIDS health care and other services to AIDS victims or sex education to youth an adults. I admit this is a slim hope.

The Future.
In a few weeks or months parliament will vote to kill the bill as it is and consider what to do with the remaining provisions. Of course an underlying difficulty for those who accept homosexual equality and freedom, are the extremely conservative attitudes and cultural norms in Uganda and much of Africa regarding patriarchy, family, and sex. The Roman Catholic Church and most "mainline' Protestant denominations will be caught in the middle, while Evangelical Christians and Muslims will support the conservative population.

See the following articles on the recent events in Uganda:
"Uganda's Ugly Anti-Homosexuality Bill is Almost Dead"
"Is Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill Dead?"

See also my previous posts about Uganda:
UGANDA: Homosexuality and the Church
UGANDA UPDATE: Homosexuality and the Church
UGANDA UPDATE #3: Good news, sort of...

NOTE: The photograph in this post is a picture of Mahmud Asgari, 16, and Ayaz Marhoni, 18, who were sentenced to public execution for being homosexuals in Iran. 18 July 2005. What happen to these young men may be avoided in Uganda.

23 May, 2010

LOST? Lost is ending. Did Lost Help you find anything??

Today on TV all we hear about is the final episode of Lost that will be broadcast tomorrow evening. I must admit that I have never seen Lost except for a clip shown in an article I read today. My two young sons (25 and 29) and their wives and friends have been almost fanatic viewers of Lost. Awhile back when I asked what the program was about, my younger son said, "No dad, ya gotta watch it from the beginning." I said maybe we'd (my wife and I) would get it on Netflicks and watch the series. He said, "Well, I think you'd really get into it. But I'm afraid mom wouldn't watch it. So I haven't seen it yet.

The article tried to show that there is a link between the storyline and characters in Lost and religious / spiritual / ethical issues. That reminded me of a hypothesis I've had for sometime: That young people are exposed to and grapple with the perennial religious, spiritual and ethical issues better through contemporary films than through most religious education programs and Sunday Schools. In fact the films are probably the only source from which they learn to grapple with controversial issues.

I once was making a presentation to a diocesan meeting of 300 lay, religious, and clergy as well as the bishop. My purpose at that point was to illustrate the role of popular culture in all of life but particularly in religion and pastoral / educational ministry. I asked the participants about some standard religious education resources. It was an expected question with expected responses.

Then I asked them, "What about choosing the red pill or the blue pill?" All of a sudden hands were popping up all over as if we were in a first grade class. I then asked, How many of you or your kids have seen The Matrix (the original)? At least 75% of the audience, including the bishop, raised their hands. Of course, having the opportunity to choose the red or blue pill, was an opportunity to make a moral decision, and one with consequences. We proceeded to talk about "Neo," the "One" whether he was really the Christ figure and what we could learn if we compared Jesus to Neo. Then we moved on to discuss the other "religious" themes in the film.

Next I asked them if they or their kids had seen ET, Star Wars, and other "sci fi" films. Most of the audience raised their hands. Today I could ask them if they had seen Donnie Darko, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Avitar. Each of these films deals with the problem of God, good and evil and "salvation" in one sense or another.

Whether the theme is "Christian" or not, each film can be understood as grappling with a theme or "issue" that is relevant to those who profess a religious world view. Young people actually view these films and they discuss and debate the meaning of them. The films may not define the problem or present solutions as "Christian." Often it helps if they don't appear "too religious" or "too Catholic." For example, the Vatican criticized  Avatar because it seemed "to get bogged down by a spiritualism linked to the worship of nature." So what?  The point is, for parents, religious educators or pastors to engage teens, young adults, and, increasingly, other adults in religious and ethical issues where the teens, young adults, and adults in terms of "where they are."

Taking seriously the films and programs my son views and being open to him on his turf, and listening first, opened new doors of communication between us that led to what "professionals" call philosophical and theological dialogue. I have already missed such an opportunity with the ending of Lost. Can I watch the whole six years on DVDs and recapture that opportunity. I'm not sure. But you can bet I'll ask him what he's "really into" these days.

Have you been watching Lost? Do you find any "religious" or ethical issues worth discussing? Why not leave a contact?

17 May, 2010

Denver, Boston and Lesbian Mothers:- Diversity in the Church

On March 18th I reported under the heading of "Denver Mess,"what I re-cap below and I updated that post on 3/23/10, but just published it  today.

Denver Recap

In Denver, a pastor of a parish Catholic school refused admission next fall to two small girls because their mom's were lesbians. Both moms were physicians, have grown up Catholic, participated in the parish, had spoken to the school administrators about their situation and been given the go-ahead to enroll the older girl in the school last fall. The action of the pastor brought up a major controversy about what was the moral / ethical thing to do.

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput intervened in the situation and supported the pastor's decision. Among the things I posted in my original post were two questions: 1) Where was compassion shown to the children? and 2) Could not a more equitable solution without publicity be arranged between the archdiocese, the parish pastor and the parents of the two little girls. Apparently no other arrangements have been made to settle this issue with more equity and compassion.

Enter Boston

The NCR reported today that things happened very differently in the Archdiocese of Boston. The incidents appear to be similar in that a parish pastor, Fr. James Rafferty ,at St Paul School in Hingham, MA reportedly denied admission to an eight-year-old Catholic boy because his parent was a lesbian.

However, the response from the Boston archdiocese, has been quite different than that in Denver. Mary Grass O'Neill, an offical of the Boston  Archdiocese said,
We believe that every parent who wishes to send their child to a Catholic school should have the opportunity to pursue that dream..... The archdiocese does not prohibit children of same sex parents from attending Catholic schools." .... We will work in the coming weeks to develop a policy to eliminate any misunderstandings in the future.

The superintendent of schools,  Mary Grass O'Neill, met with the pastor and school principal and the boy's parent. Arrangements were made that the Archdiocese would help arrange for her son to be enrolled in another Catholic school in the Archdiocese. According to O'Neill, the boy's parent. "...indicated that she would look forward to considering some other Catholic schools that would welcome her child for the next academic year."

The differing responses to these similar events does show that there  is some diversity between dioceses. I am sure that both bishops accept the basic teachings of the Church about same-sex unions [we cannot add "and behavior," because we don't know what does or does not happen in the the bedrooms of these parents]. And we must remember that each bishop governs and pastors by virtue of his own ordination and not merely as a delegate of the Holy Father.

The approach in Boston appears to be a wise pastoral decision. There seems to be a focus on the whole situation and attention to the people invloved in it. Perhaps something has been learned from the sex-abuse scandals in the diocese or from the leadership of Cardinal Sean O'Malley. But for whatever reason there is room for compassion and a public witness value to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Cynics, may say that the response in Boston was merely to avoid being in the lime-light for another controversy. But I say, present the evidence before you make that judgment.

The approach in Denver, at least to my way of thinking, appears to be a legal/theological decision; in other words upholding of the Law based on a particular understanding of theology. In this manualist understanding it is taken-for-granted that there are clear, uniform positions held by the Church [even those which are in no way defined as infallible] that are in every way and everywhere objectively true and universal. From this perspective there is little room for emphasis on "person" and "relationship" [with God, others and self] as a significant element in moral judgment. Thus it is more difficult in this theology to focus on victims [whether of sex abuse or of innocent children suffering for what their parents may have done].

The Church and the world are always changing. However, as Alvin Toffler so aptly put it in 1971 human beings no longer deal only with "culture shock," but now also with "future shock." In the midst of all this change, John XXII, Vatican Council II and Paul VI tried to ready the Church to modify its stance in many areas and to enter into dialogue with the contemporary world as well as to challenge it to hear the Gospel message spoken in words and theologies that they could understand.

Today there has been a return to a more defensive stance by much of the hierarchy, some theologians, ever larger numbers of the faithful [some of my earlier posts speak to some of these trends]. What does this have to do with Denver and lesbian mothers as well as those in Boston and all over the country?
For lesbians and other LGBT persons, progressive Catholics, many orders of sisters, those of our clergy formed in the spirit of Vatican II, and many others it may mean 40 years in the desert. Archbishop Chaput is one of the most articulate leaders of the "new" defensive Catholicism and it's use of apologetics as the primary initial approach to preaching the Truth of Catholicism. There is no doubt that there are moments and on some issues that the Church must defend itself. But a generalized defensive, apologetic vision and practice will only lead to "more Denvers."

Denver Mess: brief Update


School parents speak up. One couple gave an interview to Tom Fox of NCR about the dismissal from a Catholic of the daughters of a lesbian couple.

The interview just published is the first of a series. No one knows yet what the overall impact and attitude of  parents will be. Seldom is the "voice of the laity" considered very important in situations like this.

One thing is sure, the fragility of the parish and the catholic parish school may continue for some time. Most likely the archbishop and pastor will not "change" or modify their position. There will be some (a minority) parishioners who will leave the parish. So too, a larger number, but still a minority could withdraw their children. A simmering controversy could last for a long time (a generation?) and weaken parish life. Which, if any, of these things will happen is unknown. My suggestion is that this "single incident" could have long-term effects.

More immediate, and adding to the controversy and pain, is what seems to be happening already. Many parents whose children attend the school, are in a quandary as to the future for their children. Andy and Anna Bush are in this situation.

Anna is Catholic. Andy is non-Catholic. They were not married in the Church. The difficulty is that Andy and Anna and their three children have been accepted as members of the parish and their children have been accepted in the Catholic School. Andy has been very active in leadership roles in the administration of the school.

The question in their minds is what has changed. Will they become outcasts. Why, in practical terms, were they acceptable when their children  started school. Will it be different now? It seems that the bishop should clarify how he will enforce the Church positions and laws.

One thing the bishop could do is really clarify, state publicly and enforce the idea that only Baptized and Confirmed Catholics can have any leadership role in the parishes and institutions in the diocese.

He could really do the same and state that any "irregular" couple (Unmarried young couples, gay couples, those re-married after a divorce without an annulment, and married couples practicing "artificial birth control" [except that that is less public and harder for outsiders to know about]), could not enroll their children in a Catholic School, out-of-school religious education or any program that dealt with sacramental life. The Problem with this alternative that most Catholic parishes and Catholic Schools would lose hefty prpotions of their leadership and students.

Perhaps we will learn more at a later date!!

09 May, 2010

U.S. Catholics Speak Out on Pope's Resignation : YES or NO ???

The Pope can't be kicked out of the Catholic Church. Nor is there any way to force him to resign. It's not even clear that he could resign, since no one  has the authority to accept his resignation.

Yet many have pondered and some have "demanded" that Benedict XVI resign his office for mishandling the Church's response to the "sex abuse" or "pedophilia" issue and scandal that is nearly worldwide now. The question is, how do ordinary Catholic people feel about all this?

On May 5th, the National Catholic Reporter released results on a few key issues found in a Zogby Poll which was to be released May 6th. The NCR reported on results based on the following three questions:

Do you approve or disapprove of the overall job that (a) Pope Benedict XVI, (b)  that the American Catholic Bishops are doing?   [emphasis added].

Over half (56%) of the American Catholic adult population expresses confidence in the overall job the Pope is doing. Only about 3 in 10 (32%) disagree that the Holy Father is doing and adequate job. However, when asked about the American bishops' "job rating," the split is basically 50-50. forty-five percent said the Bishops are doing a good job, while 44% are not happy with the overall job the bishops are doing.

Perhaps the full report will give further details and other comparisons. As it stands now, whether the Pope or the bishops are doing a "good job"overall may well be influenced by specific issues. for example with the American bishops, some could be very "pro-life" with the bishops but against them on immigration. Some people support the Pope's efforts on getting rid of sex abuse but oppose his efforts to stave off global warming. There is a more specific question.

Overall how would you rate (a) Benedict's, (b) the American Catholic bishops' efforts to address the sexual abuse situation within the Catholic Church?

Regarding Pope Benedict, 38% say he is doing an "Excellent" or Good" job handling the sex abuse crisis. But more than half of all adult Catholics (56%), express negative feelings about Benedict's efforts to address the sexual abuse problem in the Church.

The American Bishops fare even worse than the pope. Only one-fifth of American Catholics (20%) are positive about the Bishop's efforts to solve the crisis. On the other hand, three-quarters of  American Catholics are negative about the bishops' efforts to solve the sex abuse crisis.

How might we explain these very negative ratings? Many have already tried to explain the "loss of faith" in Catholic leaders. Just a few of the reasons given include: moving priest abusers from parish to parish so they might abuse again, fearing more for the reputation of the institutional Church than the harm done to the abuse victims, the lack of compassion to the victims and their families (and we learn now, a lack of compassion toward those priests who have been exonerated by civil and religious authority). The list is nearly endless.

Certainly individual cardinals, bishops, priests, lay persons employed by the Church (E.g. lawyers, media spokespersons, etc), have made "mistakes" and even sins in the way cases of sex abuse have been handled.
Some Cardinals have praised bishops who refuse to cooperate with civil authorities. Some American bishops have been very slow to implement the procedures (E.g. "One-strike and you are out") to attend to sex abuse as agreed to by the Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican with the Pope's blessing. Many of these examples apply to mistaken judgments on the part of individual clerics, some of whom were  naive or misguided. In some other individual cases, I suspect that sinful motives of power, control and advancement were present, even dominant.

The American Catholic community, like the U.S. population in general can be very forgiving and compassionate as long as leaders accept responsibility and make amends, even if that involve resignation from office or imprisonment.

Until the very bureaucratic, secretive system that has grown, not only for legitimate governance, but also as a control mechanism, is thoroughly modified from top to bottom, with a very high level of transparency, trust will never be fully restored. The American people have suffered at the hand of misguide or criminal entrepreneurs, politicians, bankers, and Congresspersons. What they are upset and angry about is that the institutional Church has not held itself to a higher Christian code of ethics. Again, a more Christian, humane, transparent, justice with mercy  system must be established to restore the faith and confidence of American Catholics.

Some have called for the Pope to resign as a result of the sex abuse in the Catholic Church. Others believe he should not resign. Do you believe that Pope Benedict XVI should resign or do you believe he should continue?

There is clear evidence in this survey that the bulk of American Catholics do not believe that the Pope should resign. In fact, almost two-thirds (64%) say that Pope Benedict XVI should continue as pope. Only 16% say that he should resign. Finally, about 20% of American Catholics say they are "insure" or "Don't Know" if the pope should continue or resign. Assume for a moment that the entire group of "unsure" and "Don't know" Catholics make up their minds in favor of resignation. Even then, those in favor of the pope remaining in office would be double the number favoring resignation.

Those who seek resignation do so for a number of reasons. Most salient these days is dissatisfaction with  the handling of the pedophilia / abuse reality as indicated in the answer to the second question above.  Also there is a belief by some that the way the pope, Vatican Congregations and bishops conduct affairs to much too secretive and authoritarian; that in today's world the Church must be more "open" and "democratic".

Yes, there is much frustration and anger that so much has been covered up in the past and that vigorous reformation of  the procedures and processes in the Church are too slow and incomplete in light of the terrible seriousness of this situation. I too am frustrated and saddened over the current state of affairs!!

But should Pope Benedict XVII resign?????  NO !!! I have come to this conclusion on my own, but I was influenced by two recent articles in NCR  by John Allen. Allen praised and critiqued the Pope. He laid out things that the Pope could do and and "should do" to deal with the Sex Abuse issue and set the stage for appropriate procedures in the future.

Allen suggests that Pope Benedict XVI is the best available (only??) person to have at this time for response to this particular crisis. Benedict knows more about the history of sex abuse than just about any living person. Since being made responsible to handle all sex abuse cases in the 1980s as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he has the best overview of what has transpired recently.He has also made some very important changes. He was a key player in approving the American Bishops' "One strike and you're out" policy and telling bishops to cooperate with civil authorities. More recently he has shown some compassion toward the actual victims themselves.

Yes, in spite of the slowness of these moves and errors in judgment and action, The Holy Father is the most knowledgeable person and the one with the authority to set the record straight, require bishops to respond in appropriate ways and implement necessary changes to provide transparency in Church decisions, procedures.

If the Pope resigns can anyone not realize the confusion and vacuum that would delay any further progress in dealing with this issue? Can anyone not realize how long it would take a new pope to "get up to speed" on this issue? Although it has been much less than adequate, Benedict has the knowledge and experience to act. How many others, who have a chance to be elected pope, have this knowledge and experience? How many have realized that a new pope might be more conservative, even reactionary and undo what has been done. Anyone for a certain French bishop as pope?.

No, what we need now is relatively quick action to handle this issue now! The responsibility of the laity and much of the lower clergy is to address our frustration an/or anger to influence (pressure?) for changes we know must occur.

What do you think about resignation or continuation for the Pope?

Do you have any suggestions for me or others of ways to successfully influence the Pope (and the Vatican / bishops) to implement better ways of responding to this issue?

I would appreciate comments on this post :)

01 May, 2010

ANSWERS TO: Sex Abuse Questions: How would you answer them?

This can be very brief. Father answered all the questions "Yes." I answered all the questions "Yes."

How did or how will you answer the questions???