I Heard the Voice of Catholic Fundamentalism


Listening to Bishop Leonard P. Blair of Toledo, Ohio, on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” program on July 25th, I heard the voce of Catholic fundamentalism. It is a dangerously arrogant voice; and we hear it ever more frequently in episcopal rhetoric.

Bishop Blair believes firmly that the bishops have the truth and the LCWR sisters need to conform and adhere to it. No one in fact has all the truth; and we should all be in respectful dialogue. But dialogue for Bishop Blair is not genuine dialogue. For him it appears to be more like a monologue demanding loyal submission of intellect and will.

On the dialogue that the LCWR would like to have with the Vatican, Bishop Blair said in the NPR interview: “If by dialogue, they mean that the doctrines of the church are negotiable, and that the bishops represent one position and the LCWR represents another position and somehow we find a middle ground about basic church teaching on faith and morals, then no, I don’t think that’s the dialogue the Holy See would envision. But if it’s a dialogue about how to have the LCWR really educate and help the sisters appreciate and accept church teaching and to implement it in their discussions, and try to heal some of the questions or concerns they have about these issues, that would be the dialogue.”

When the subject of women’s ordination came up, the Toledo bishop made statements that are simply wrong. I will explain in a minute what I mean. First Bishop Blair’s statement: “The church doesn’t say that the ordination of women is not possible because somehow women are unfit to carry out functions of the priest, but because on the level of sacramental signs, it’s not the choice that our Lord made when it comes to those who act in his very person, as the church’s bridegroom. And you can say that sounds like a lot of poetry or you know, how do we know that’s true, but if you’re a Catholic, this is part of our sacraments and practice for two millennia, and it’s not just an arbitrary decision of male oppression over women.”

Now why the bishop is dead wrong.

(1) Jesus did not ordain ANYONE! In the church’s first century, ordination, as we know it, did not exist.

(2) There is now ample and clear historic evidence that demonstrates beyond a doubt that women did in fact preside at Eucharist in early Christian communities; and women were called “apostles” by St. Paul and other early church leaders.

(3) And (as I indicated in an earlier post) there is also solid historic evidence that women were ORDAINED and functioned as deacons and priests even into the Middle Ages.

Yes…..Fundamentalism is hardly confined to just Islamic religion and is found in all societies and religions, including Roman Catholic Christianity; and the virus of Roman Catholic fundamentalism is pernicious, self-righteous, and devilishly destructive….

Increasingly, Roman Catholic fundamentalism (one need only reflect on many a red-faced outburst from the Cardinal Archbishop of New York) is a form of organized anger in reaction to social and religious change.

Fundamentalists find change emotionally disturbing and dangerous. Cultural, personal, and institutional religious “certitudes” are shaken. Today’s Catholic fundamentalists, like Cardinal Raymond Burke wrapped in his medieval cappa magna (picture below) pushing to bring back the Latin liturgy of the Council of Trent, yearn to return to a utopian past or a golden age, purified of “dangerous” contemporary ideas and practices.

Todays Catholic fundamentalists, like supporters of Pope Benedict’s New Evangelization, have aggressively banded together in order to put things right again – according to “orthodox” principles. They want to get things back to “normal”….Or as Bishop Blair said: dialogue is “about how to have the LCWR really educate and help the sisters appreciate and accept church teaching.”

Today’s Catholic fundamentalists are still troubled by: (1) the cultural revolution of the 1960s that questioned all institutions and brought profound social, economic and political consequences that continue to this day; and (2) the impact and immense cultural changes generated by the much-needed reforms of Second Vatican Council.

Catholic fundamentalism is becoming a powerful movement in the church to restore uncritically pre-Vatican II structures and attitudes.

Here are some clear signs of contemporary Catholic fundamentalism:

(1) Nostalgia for a pre-Vatican II Golden Age, when it is assumed that the church never changed, was then a powerful force in the world, undivided by the post 1960s misguided devotees of the Vatican II values. In fact, we know for certain that the church and its teachings have often changed. Some church statements have been shown to be wrong and were repealed or allowed to lapse.

(2) A highly selective approach to what fundamentalists think pertains to church teaching and belief. Statements about sexual ethics, for instance, are obsessively affirmed. At the same time, papal, conciliar, or episcopal pronouncements on social justice are ignored or considered simply matters for debate.

(3) An exaggerated concern for accidentals, not for the substance of issues, e.g., the Cardinal Burkes stress Latin for the Eucharist, failing to see that this does not pertain at all to the church’s authentic tradition.

(4) Vehemence and intolerance in attacking people like LCWR who are striving to relate the Gospel to the world around them according to the insights and teachings of Vatican II.

(5) An elitist assumption that Catholic fundamentalists have a kind of supernatural authority and the right to pursue and condemn Catholics who disagree with them, especially “radical feminists” and theologians.

(6) A spirituality which overlooks the humanity, compassion, and mercy of Christ and stresses in its place an unbending and punishing taskmaster God.

Remember: Membership in Catholic fundamentalist groups is not a question of logic, but an often sincere, but misguided, search for meaning and belonging.

If we react to Catholic fundamentalists with heated expressions of anger we will only confirm them about the rightness of their beliefs.

Our best witness to the truths of our Catholic beliefs, as they continue to be explored and developed, is our own inner peace built on faith, charity, and concern for justice, especially among the most marginalized.

And a closing biblical refection:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28; cf. Mark 10:42-45 and Luke 22:25-27)

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Frightening Climate Change


Pondering the US heatwave 2012, a good friend in Michigan just sent me a frightening article about climate change, written by Mark Bittman, an opinion columnist for the New York Times.

“The climate has changed,” Bittman writes, “and the only remaining questions may well be: a) how bad will things get, and b) how long will it be before we wake up to it.”

While thinking about people “waking up to how bad things really are,” another email popped on my screen. This one about Sister Pat Farrell, President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Vice President of the Sisters of St. Francis in Dubuque, Iowa. Sister Pat had been interviewed by Terry Gross on her NPR program “Fresh Air.”

A few months ago, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as you recall, said Sister Pat’s LCWR was undermining Roman Catholic teachings on homosexuality and birth control and promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” It also reprimanded the sisters for hosting speakers who “often contradict or ignore” church teachings and for making public statements that “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.”

In April, the Vatican announced that three American bishops (one archbishop and two bishops) would be sent to oversee the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (now representing 80 percent of Catholic sisters in the United States) to get the sisters to shape up and conform. Or else…

Climate change in the Catholic Church. How bad will things have to get before people wake up?

Sister Pat: “The question is, ‘Can you be Catholic and have a questioning mind?’ That’s what we’re asking. … I think one of our deepest hopes is that in the way we manage the balancing beam in the position we’re in, if we can make any headways in helping to create a safe and respectful environment where church leaders along with rank-and-file members can raise questions openly and search for truth freely, with very complex and swiftly changing issues in our day, that would be our hope. But the climate is not there. And this mandate coming from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith putting us in a position of being under the control of certain bishops, that is not a dialogue. If anything, it appears to be shutting down dialogue.”

Doing my own version of multi-tasking, I jumped back to Mark Bittman’s article while listening to Sister Pat.

Mark Bittman: “Some people respond well to ‘Big trouble is coming and we must do something immediately,’ but others are overwhelmed and just turn off….But feelings of helplessness are practically un-American: we have the opportunity to demand principled and independent leadership, if we will only try.”

Then I heard Sister Pat ever more clearly…

“As I read that document, the concern is the issues we tend to be more silent about, when the bishops are speaking out very clearly about some things. There are issues about which we think there’s a need for a genuine dialogue, and there doesn’t seem to be a climate of that in the church right now.”

And she continues, with observations about sexuality: “We have been, in good faith, raising concerns about some of the church’s teachings on sexuality. The problem being that the teaching and interpretation of the faith can’t remain static and really needs to be reformulated, rethought in light of the world we live in.

“And new questions and new realities [need to be addressed] as they arise. And if those issues become points of conflict, it’s because Women Religious stand in very close proximity to people at the margins, to people with very painful, difficult situations in their lives. That is our gift to the church. Our gift to the church is to be with those who have been made poorer, with those on the margins. Questions there are much less black and white because human realities are much less black and white. That’s where we spend our days.”

“A bishop, for instance, can’t be on the street working with the homeless. He has other tasks. But we can be. So if there is a climate of open and trusting and adequate dialogue among us, we can bring together some of those conversations, and that’s what I hope we can help develop in a deeper way.”

Catholic Climate change and heated issues?

Sister Pat on right-to-life: “I think the criticism of what we’re not talking about seems to me to be unfair. Because [Women] Religious have clearly given our lives to supporting life, to supporting the dignity of human persons. Our works are very much pro-life. We would question, however, any policy that is more pro-fetus than actually pro-life. If the rights of the unborn trump all of the rights of all of those who are already born, that is a distortion, too — if there’s such an emphasis on that. However, we have sisters who work in right-to-life issues. We also have many, many ministries that support life….

And the Vatican concern about LCWR’s “radical feminism”?

Sister Pat Farrell again: “Sincerely, what I hear in the phrasing … is fear — a fear of women’s positions in the church. Now, that’s just my interpretation. I have no idea what was in the mind of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, when they wrote that.

“But women theologians around the world have been seriously looking at the question of: How have the church’s interpretations of how we talk about God, interpret Scripture, organize life in the church — how have they been tainted by a culture that minimizes the value and the place of women?”

In his article, Mark Bittman warns: “We may look back upon this year as the one in which climate change began to wreak serious havoc, yet we hear almost no conversation about changing policy or behavior.”

John Greenleaf commented: “All serious conversation — and action — about changing
policy and behavior begins with you and me!”

………..

And here is a picture of Sister Pat, whom the CDF so greatly fears……..

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John Chuchman


Thanks to a journalist friend, who noticed the error, the author of the poem in today’s post is John CHUCHMAN……….not Churchman.

And here is more information followed by a photo:

John Chuchman, a graduate of John Carroll University has been a Hospice volunteer since 1990. He has received Pastoral Bereavement Counselor certification and a Certificate in Spirituality. In 2000, he was awarded a Master of Arts degree in Pastoral Ministries from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. In July, 2010, John was ordained by the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit. John shares his story, his experiences, his wisdom-discoveries in a series of workshops, seminars, and weekend retreats with his Sacred Quest Team, more and more centered on Spiritual Growth. John has spoken at a number of state, national, and international conferences and has written a number of books (13) on his life experiences, grief and caregiving, spiritual discoveries, and frustrations with institutional church. He has been published in Spirituality magazine and his article Forgiveness: A Key to Grief Healing has been published in Healing Ministry magazine. His books can be ordered directly from John or Amazon.com. His website, Sacred Quest, is http://www.torchlake.com/poetman.

Some of John’s writings can be viewed on http://apoetman.blogspot.com

His books are available on KINDLE.

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Struggling to Stay Catholic


Up to now I have decided to stay. It is an important part of my identity. I do understand the concerns and frustrations. Nearly everyone in my close family has now left the Catholic Church. The American Catholic exodus is gathering momentum. Dioceses are closing parishes across the country. “A necessary purification,” one of my […]

Fourth of July for the Catholic Church


ANOTHER VOICE is back. I have been on vacation but also on a pilgrimage. Visiting a number of cities in Turkey, like Ephesus and Pergamon, I heard again the courageous, creative, and critical voice of Paul.

Paul understood the importance of “another voice” to announce, to the world beyond Jerusalem, the message of Christ. To speak to a different culture, to adjust to a new language, to lay foundations for tomorrow. He understood what Jesus meant when he said new wine requires new wineskins.

The focus of ANOTHER VOICE is that we must think and speak creatively about our belief, if Christian Faith is going to make sense to believers today and to the men and women of tomorrow.

Father Richard Rohr wrote recently: “Lenin is supposed to have said, shortly before he died, that if he had to do his Russian revolution over again, he would have asked for ten Francises of Assisi rather than more Bolsheviks. He realized that something imposed by domination and violence from above only creates the same mirrored response from below.” Yes. And that is part of the growing problem in our church. That is why we need another voice. Why we need our own Catholic Fourth of July….to speak out against and declare our independence from domination and violence from above.

Happy Fourth of July!

John W. Greenleaf

A BIBLICAL REFECTION:

Jesus said, “The rulers of the Gentiles [the Romans] lord it over those who are under them, exercising authority over them.” Jesus was speaking of top-down authority….of hierarchical leadership.

According to Jesus, the Gentiles exercised authority from the top-down. They were lording it over people. They are dominating people. They are controlling people. This always happens with hierarchical structures of descending authority. It creates a culture of control and oppression.

But Jesus says, “Let it not be so among you!” Jesus came set people free. Not to lord it over them. Not to control them. But to set them free. That is what we as church ought to be about……. And that is the ministry of Jesus Christ.

A CONTEMPORARY PASTORAL REFLECTION
BLESSED TRINITY CATHOLIC PARISH, CLEVELAND OHIO

From the Desk of Fr. Doug, (pastor), Sun, May 27, 2012

What the Nuns’ Story is Really About

Many of you have asked me to comment on the recent investigation into the US nuns. Here goes. In short, the Vatican has asked for an investigation into the life of religious women in the United States. There is a concern about orthodoxy, feminism and pastoral practice. The problem with the Vatican approach is that it places the nuns squarely on the side of Jesus and the Vatican on the side of tired old men, making a last gasp to save a crumbling kingdom lost long ago for a variety of reasons.

One might say that this investigation is the direct result of the John Paul II papacy. He was suspicious of the power given to the laity after the Second Vatican Council. He disliked the American Catholic Church. Throughout his papacy he strove to wrest collegial power from Episcopal conferences and return it to Rome.

One of the results of the council was that the nuns became more educated, more integrated in the life of the people and more justice-oriented than the bishops and pope. They are doctors, lawyers, university professors, lobbyists, social workers, authors, theologians, etc. Their appeal was that they always went back to what Jesus said and did. Their value lay in the fact that their theology and their practice were integrated into the real world.

The Vatican sounded like the Pharisees of the New Testament—legalistic, paternalistic and orthodox— while “the good sisters” were the ones who were feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, educating the immigrant, and so on. Nuns also learned that Catholics are intuitively smart about their faith. They prefer dialogue over diatribe, freedom of thought over mind control, biblical study over fundamentalism, development of doctrine over isolated mandates.

Far from being radical feminists or supporters of far-out ideas, religious women realized that the philosophical underpinnings of Catholic teaching are no longer valid. Women are not subservient to men, the natural law is much broader than once thought, the OT is not as important as the NT, love is more powerful than fear. They realized that you can have a conversation with someone on your campus who thinks differently than the church without compromising what the church teaches. (For example, I could invite Newt Gingrich here to speak. You’d all still know what the church teaches about divorce in spite of him) Women religious have learned to live without fear (Srs. Dorothy Kazel, Maura Clark, Ita Ford) and with love (Mother Teresa). And the number of popes and bishops and cardinals following in their footsteps, Jesus’ footsteps, is_____?

This is what annoys American Catholics. The Vatican is hypocritical and duplicitous. Their belief is always that someone else needs to clean up their act; the divorced, the gays, the media, the US nuns, the Americans who were using the wrong words to pray, the seminaries, etc. It never occurs to the powers that be that the source of the problem is the structure itself. We can say that now with certainty as regards the sex abuse crisis. It was largely the structure of the church itself, the way men were trained and isolated, made loyal to the system at all costs and not to the person, that gave us the scandalous cover-up.

US nuns work side by side with the person on the street. They are involved in their everyday lives. Most cardinals spent less than five years in a parish, were never pastors, are frequently career diplomats.

Religious women in the US refuse to be controlled by abusive authority that seeks to control out of fear. They realize that Jesus taught no doctrines, but that the church, over time, developed what Jesus taught in a systematic way. Nuns have always tried to work within the system. This time their prophetic voices may take them out of the system. They may take a lot of Catholics and a lot of their hospitals, schools, colleges, orphanages, prison ministries, convents, women’s shelters, food pantries and, of course, the good will they have earned over the centuries with them.

This investigation is not about wayward US nuns. It is the last gasp for control by a dying breed, wrapped in its own self-importance. It is a struggle for the very nature of the church; who we are, how we pray, where we live, who belongs, why we believe. The early church endured a similar struggle. The old order died. The Holy Spirit won. Happy Pentecost Sunday!

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