During her early adventures in Wonderland, Alice cried out that things were becoming “curiouser and curiouser.” Her statement could be applied as well to the contemporary Roman Catholic Church, which is becoming a complex cacophony of ecclesiastical sounds. Three observations:
Stern Warnings for Americans
Tuesday, May 17th, was the twelfth annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC. About a thousand prominent Roman Catholic clergy and lay people gathered at 7:00 am in the Marriott Marquis hotel and conference center to pray, have breakfast, and listen to Cardinal Robert Sarah, U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and Sister Constance Veit, from the Little Sisters of the Poor.
This week, as you recall, the United States Supreme Court “vacated” all of the lower court cases and required them to reconsider the claims, brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor, that regulations promulgated by Obamacare violate their freedom of religious exercise, in light of the government’s admission that it could indeed provide contraceptive coverage, without the Little Sisters’ collaboration.
In his address, Paul Ryan, echoed the position and concerns of the Sister Constance and her community, stressing that “religious liberty is under assault” in the United States and that the Obama administration “has shown a total misunderstanding of faith.”
Cardinal Sarah, however, was the keynote speaker; and he was strongly condemnatory of a contemporary American culture disfigured by gender ideology and relativism. Cardinal Sarah was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments by Pope Francis in 2014. Is he also part of the “Francis effect”?
In his address, the Cardinal said: “Sadly the advent of artificial reproductive technologies, surrogacy, so-called homosexual marriage, and other evils of gender idolatry will inflict even more wounds in the midst of the generation we live with.” The Cardinal warned the Prayer Breakfast group about signs of “the Evil One” in the United States: “The legalization of same-sex marriage, your beginning to accept contraception within healthcare programs, and even bathroom bills that allow men to use the women’s restroom and locker rooms.” His comments about “bathroom bills” drew applause and chuckles from his audience.
According to a report, this week, from Religion News Service, over a period of several years, superiors of seminaries around France sent seminary students to Monsignor Tony Anatrella, a prominent French priest and therapist, to counsel them about their struggles with homosexuality. (Anatrella, as I mentioned in an early blog, was also the Vatican appointed speaker at a conference for new bishops. There he told the new bishops that they did not have to report clerical sexual abuse to civil authorities.)
Monsignor Anatrella has long condemned homosexuality and argued that gay men cannot be ordained as priests. In 2005 he helped the Vatican, then under Pope Benedict XVI, to draft guidelines aimed at keeping gay men out of the priesthood. Around that same time, he wrote an article for L’Osservatore Romano, stating that homosexuality demonstrated “an incompleteness and a profound immaturity of human sexuality.”
Today, Monsignor Anatrella’s former seminarian clients are coming forward with accusations that the highly-respected-at-the-Vatican monsignor therapist tried to cure their “pseudo-homosexuality” by engaging in sex acts with them. One former client, again a former seminarian, said he was counseled by Anatrella for 14 years, from 1997 to 2011. After the first few years, the client said, Anatrella began “special sessions” with him that included episodes of mutual masturbation. Curiously, in February 2016, Monsignor Anatrella was the chief organizer of a major conference on priestly celibacy, held at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
Women and Women Deacons in the Church
As Jamie Manson wrote in the National Reporter this week, “(Pope) Francis’ theological imagination makes it impossible for women to achieve equal decision-making power and sacramental authority in this church. And its time we faced it.”
Last week Pope Francis agreed to launch a commission to study the role of women deacons in the early church. Immediate press reactions greeted this with hopeful observations that the Catholic Church would soon be welcoming women to diaconate ordination. The Vatican quickly dispelled such expectations.
What journalists failed to observe was that, in his remarks about women deacons in the early church, Pope Francis reasserted all of the old Roman Catholic theological arguments that prevent women from any kind of ordination in the Catholic Church.
“There is no problem for a woman — religious or lay — to preach in a Liturgy of the Word…” Pope Francis said, “But at the Eucharistic Celebration there is a liturgical-dogmatic problem, because it is one celebration: the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharistic Liturgy. There is unity between them; and he who presides is Jesus Christ. The priest or bishop who presides does so in the person of Jesus Christ. It is a theological-liturgical reality. In that situation, since women are not ordained, they cannot preside.” As Manson observes, there is still a phallic problem in the Catholic Church. Women do not have the same kind of genitalia that Jesus had.
Curiouser and curiouser for sure. Reflections this week are neither anti-Catholic nor anti-Francis. They are simply expressions of serious concern. We are united in one faith, one Lord, and one baptism. I am not convinced however that everything coming from Rome these days is truly holy, catholic, and apostolic. Seriously hypocritical behavior has no place in church leadership; and everyone in church leadership, even the pope, seriously needs broad-range biblical and historical theological updating.
Thoughtful Catholics need to think through the contemporary Catholic cacophony. They need to chart a new course for the Catholic Church. They can do that. They can speak out. They can change the conversation. They can continue to transform the venerable institution. If they fail, the eclipse of the Roman Catholic Church is sure to succeed.
[With this week’s reflection I am shutting down my computer for a few weeks, to once again do some vacation research about Christianity in post-communist Eastern Europe. I hope to return in early July.]