Saturday, June 30, 2012

Semper Reformanda

Sorry for the hiatus –I have been travelling a bit and on retreat a bit and have had deadlines to meet and—well, excuses are just that, excuses—but I am sorry.  I realize every time I don’t do an entry for more than two days, the readership begins to drop off and I have to get back to work.  And while my readership is relatively small (a couple thousand hits a month) I know from your responses that it is helping a number of you think more clearly not so much about the past as what we can learn from the past for the crisis the Church is in today.  And it is in a crisis.          One of the themes I explore when I teach—and I have been exploring in this blog as well—is the  periodic  need of the Church for Reform.  There is a precept Ecclesia semper reformans, semper reformanda (the Church, always reforming and always in need of reform).  The current mess in Rome with butlers and bankers out of jobs and into court is only one sign of needed reform.  The clear signs that there is a power struggle going on behind the scenes—indeed that Pope Benedict is more a pawn of warring factions than able to give direction himself—is very troublesome.  Even more troubling is the lack of authority the faithful are willing to invest in the hierarchy.  This is clear from the immense support being given the LCWR by the average Catholic-in-the-streets whether it is comic commentator Stephen Colbert or my 92 year old grand-aunt.  The staged and trumped-up charges against the American nuns by prelates whose own integrity has been shown to be not even questionable but voided (Cardinal Law),  prelates who are known for being supercilious rather than  judicious (Cardinal Burke), prelates whose reputation has shown them to be ruthlessly ambitious climbers (Archbishop Lori) and prominent laity who are base influence peddlers with  ties to the extreme right wing of American politics (Carl Anderson) is a clear indication that there is an every-opening chasm between the hierarchy and the faithful and this is a dangerous situation.
       When we look at the history of Church Reform we see several models.  At times, such as in the Reforms of the Emperor Charlemagne and again in the Reforms of his heirs—the Ottonian Emperors of the 10th century, the reforms were imposed on the Church by political force.  In the Gregorian Reform of the 11th century and Innocentian Reform of the 13th, reform was initiated by the papacy itself under the leadership of convinced and evangelical  popes who threw the traditions of patronage and favoritism to the winds and did not hesitate to clean up the rats’ nests into which much of the hierarchical Church had devolved.  Tragically, in the 16th century when the political power was impotent to reform the Church and the vested interests in the hierarchy were too strong for effective renewal, reform came from within but ended up splitting the Church and, to be honest, throwing out too many babies and not enough bathwater.  I have to say that in my judgment the Protestant Reformations of the 16th and 17th centuries were not only tragedies, they were ineffectual.
       Well, not entirely ineffectual.  Human nature is human nature.  Time has shown that while liturgy and catechesis changed in the reformed Churches, human nature most often did not.  Issues of ambition, abuse of power, intellectual rigidity, greed, jealousy all carried over into the new religious groups.  Granted some of the changes were good and should have happened sooner and with sponsorship of the Catholic hierarchy—scriptures and worship in the common tongue, restoration of the Chalice in communion, etc.  (I use etc. when I can’t think of anything else but know there must be something.)
        The Reformers also triggered the papacy finally into action and led to the Council of Trent which is the most successful reform Council in the history of the Church.  Much good came from Trent, but that is not where I want to go in this entry.
       As a historian I have come to see that as much a failure as the papacy so often has been—and I believe currently is—it is it gives a continuity to the Church with which we cannot dispense.  I am terrified of a new reformation that will cause people to walk away in disgust from the papacy.  On the one hand I see the Roman Curia and many of our bishops being the very force that is undermining the papacy by creating this injurious gulf between the institutional church and the faithful.  We need leadership with credibility not with arrogant self-importance.
       It is said that once a priest becomes a bishop “he has had his last bad meal and will never hear the truth again.”  Much of the leadership of the Church is out of touch with the Catholic in the pews.  When you are out of touch you cannot effectively preach the gospel—you become a buffoon like Chaucer’s pardoner.  This is not a time for blind obedience—only God merits blind obedience and I am not sure that he desires it—it is a time for wise and strong leadership that calls us by credible example to put our faith in Christ and in his Gospel.     

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fortnight for Romney

I was amused and surprised the other evening when a friend of mine referred to the “Fortnight for Freedom” as the “Fortnight for Romney.”  Amused because he said what any number of us have been thinking; surprised because he is a committed and pretty main-line Catholic.  But then I think a lot of main line Catholics are wondering in what direction our leadership is going. 
     Another friend, a convert and very devout, called me today and brought up the subject of the Fortnight for Freedom and then the LCWR.  He too was uncomfortable with the message as it is coming from the pulpit in his parish and sensed that the “party line” is somehow out of step with the values of the Gospel.
       And I have been uncomfortable all along with what has been going on under the current “leadership” of our bishops.  To begin with, I never understood the opposition to Health Care.  Ok, Ok, I get the part about abortion and concern about health care covering abortions, but ever since the 2008 campaign the bishops were opposed to the idea of health care itself.  They weren’t just saying that we need to make sure that the package doesn’t promote abortion or euthanasia; they were going after the very idea that our society should provide health coverage for every individual.  You know, I went through eight years of Catholic Grade School, four years of Catholic (ok, Jesuit) High School, a BA from a Catholic (ok, Jesuit) university, and a Master’s degree in Theology—I always thought that it was one of the goals of our Catholic faith to make sure that everyone had access to good health care—as well as education, shelter, and food.  I mean, I read Mater et Magistra, Gaudium et Spes, Popolorum Progressio and a bunch of other magisterial documents about the kind of world that is consistent with our Catholic Faith.  Duh, what was the problem with health care?  I never got that back in 2008.  The goals, if not all the particulars, of Obamacare seemed consistent with our Catholic values—at least more consistent than leaving people without access to health care.  I am still confused on this.  Somewhere the “Church” took a turn in the road that I must have missed.  I mean the Obama project was flawed—but not essentially.  It seemed to me that it was a goal we could have worked with. 
         And I understand that regardless of the provisions of Affordable Care Act, the Church cannot in conscience provide contraception and sterilization to its employees.  And it doesn’t have to.  I am not happy, as I have written elsewhere, that President Obama got into this morass with the Church, but I think his solution solves the problem.  The Church does not have to provide objectionable services.  Period. And while I agree the Church should not have to provide the services, if the bishops don’t want people to have access to these services no-how, no-way, well, that is not reasonable.  Yes we Catholics believe that these procedures contradict the moral law—but there is no moral consensus in our society about contraception and we have no right to impose our view on others, especially when we are a minority.  (Though I do not believe that, other than in egregious circumstances, even a majority has a right to impose a doctrine or moral precept on society until the society comes to a consensus on the matter.  For example, I do not want to the Christian minority in Egypt or Iraq subject to sharia law even though the majority of citizenry in those societies hold to sharia law.)  So when we Catholics scream that our “freedoms” are threatened because we cannot block access to health-care covered contraceptives for employees in our institutions, I say: “get over it.”     
        Let’s be honest, for once, your Excellencies—the bottom line of this “Fortnight for Freedom” is nothing less than a rally against the Black Guy in the White House.  It is the leadership of the Church in the United States allying itself with the worst right-wing elements of our society in a Tea Party Frenzy to make the face of America look more…more…more…well, like “us.”  I know that sounds harsh, but our bishops went merrily down Karl Rove’s road of manipulating conservative religious groups to defeat John Kerry in 2004.  In the hopes of making headway against abortion, many of the bishops discarded any other moral concern.  And it was no better four years ago.  And this is just another reason why the leadership has lost its ability to genuinely lead.  There was a day when the Catholic Bishops were heard on moral issues.  Reagan s*** in his drawers when the Bishops published their 1983 pastoral letter condemning the Arms Race and the 1986 letter on economic justice required a change of under-clothing as well.  People listened to the bishops then but their moral voice has since been squandered due to the sex abuse and financial scandals as well as their pandering to the political right.  Maybe it is just as well that the Bishops are speaking up against social justice; it might actually help the cause.  But meanwhile, the voice of the Church today, at least the voice we are listening to, are the “nuns on the bus.”    Here I am fifty-some years later and once again I am say: “Yes, Sister.”

Friday, June 22, 2012

Here Is Where the Need of a Fortnight For Freedom Is Real

The Mar Elias Monastery in
Bethlehem--Christians in the
Near East are in great peril
I want to post these selections from a United Press article by Bassem Maroue that was posted several days ago to make us more aware of the pressing concern for the safety of Syria’s Christian minority.  By and large the “Arab Spring” has been a disaster for the Christians of the Near East and American foreign policy is not helping them—to the contrary the suffering of Christians in Iraq is directly traceable to the policies of the Bush administration and the support of the Obama Administration for the “pro-Democracy” movement in Egypt is destabilizing the situation of the Coptic Christians there.  (For more information on Christians in Islamic countries see entries for December 24, 26 2011,  March 20, 21, 23, and June 7, 2012.) 

Christians, who make up about 10 per cent of Syria's population, say they are particularly vulnerable to the violence sweeping the country of 22 million people. They are fearful that Syria will become another Iraq, with Christians caught in the crossfire between rival Islamic groups.

"What is happening in these neighbourhoods pains our hearts," said Maximos al-Jamal, a Greek Orthodox priest who is still in Homs. He says about 90 of the civilians in two besieged Homs neighbourhoods are Christians, down from thousands who lived in the area before the uprising began.

"Before we were staying here to guard our homes but now the situation is unbearable," one Homs resident told The Associated Press by telephone, asking that his name not be used for fear of reprisals by both sides of the conflict.

He said he feared the rebels want to keep the Christians trapped in the city as a bargaining chip while the army's bombardment and ground attacks on the city intensify. Syrian Christians have largely stuck by President Bashar Assad, fearing the strength of Muslim hard-liners in the uprising against his rule.

Several mediators have made an urgent appeal to evacuate the Christians who they fear could be targeted for their religion. Syrian Christians don't have to look far for an example of brutal treatment. Hundreds of thousands of Christians fled Iraq after their community and others were repeatedly targeted by extremist militants in the chaotic years after Saddam Hussein's 2003 ouster.

The Christians, who are trapped in Homs' Hamidiyeh and Bustan Diwan neighbourhoods, include four children under the age of 10. There is barely any electricity or running water, telephone lines are unreliable and they are forced to hide in shelters during daily shelling. 

Al-Jamal said that many Christians from Homs are coming to his office in the city to get marriage or birth certificates to apply for visas to leave the country.

"If Syrian Christians get visas from other countries, I say more than 70 per cent of them will leave," he said.

 For what you can do to help, contact the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. (Paste this into your browser: )

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What Price Freedom?

The Hagia Sophia--once a church, later
a mosque, now secularized and a museum
I recently was in Turkey.  I had been to Istanbul before but only briefly and was anxious to return and see it again and in more depth.  I didn’t think anything about this at the time, but while I saw women in a variety of dress from western fashions to the hijab to the burqa I never saw either an imam or a Christian (Catholic or Orthodox) priest.   When I returned home, a friend of mine who has ties to the Greek Orthodox patriarchate in Istanbul explained to me that other than the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, the Armenian Patriarch, and the Grand Mufti of Istanbul, all clerics of any religion may not wear ecclesial garb off the premises of their religious institutions.  Even archbishops and monastic abbots, while in public, must wear secular dress.   The Turks have no plans for a Fortnight for Freedom to protest this limitation on their religious freedom and it is far more restrictive than our alleged limitation in the United States to practice our Catholic faith fully and openly.        I told my friend that I saw this restriction on clerical apparel as an infringement of religious freedom, a persecution of the Church but he assured me that it was only part of the rigid secularization of Turkish society which is actually designed to protect religious minorities.  When the Ottoman Empire was dissolved after World War I, the new Turkish leader, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was insistent on secularization of the State.   Secularization in Turkey is extremely restrictive of religion in the public sphere.  Religions, whether Christian or Muslim, cannot run schools or universities other than those to train clergy.  Education is totally secular.  There are no religious emblems permitted in public.  While Islamic practice is on the rise in Turkey, so far this secularization policy has prevented the sort of disputes—often violent—that has set one Islamic sect against another.  It also has served to protect the Christian and Jewish minorities from persecution by the Muslim majority.
      Perhaps one of the strongest symbols of secularization in Turkey is the status of the Hagia Sophia.  Built as a Christian basilica by the Emperor Justinian in 562 (the third church of the name on the site), it was converted to a Mosque within days of the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453. (Constantinople fell Sunday, May 29th and Mehmed II ordered the building to be readied for Friday Prayers by June 3rd.)   The building remained a mosque until 1931 when it was closed and then reopened as a museum—which it is today—in 1935.  Muslims want it to be returned to Muslim worship; Orthodox Christians want it returned to status as the patriarchal Church of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchs.  Its secular status pleases no one but tourists yet it is a symbol in an intolerant world of tolerance, albeit imposed tolerance. 
      I would hate to see religious tolerance imposed on our society by such rigid secularization, but religious groups, if they value their freedoms, need to remember that they cannot dictate policies that restrict the liberties of others.  Our society does not have an accord on such volatile subjects as abortion, same-sex unions, gay adoption, embryonic stem-cell research, artificial insemination, surrogate parenting, voluntary sterilization, end-of-life choices.  These are difficult choices and while religions have the right to educate those of the public who are willing to be educated, they should not expect to have their moral positions imposed—even by a political majority—upon those whose doctrinal and  moral beliefs are different.  If the citizenry cannot discipline themselves sufficiently to allow a moral consensus that transcends religious particularity to evolve then we may find ourselves in a situation like Turkey where restrictions will be placed on the public role of religion to protect the harmony of the larger society.   I would hate to see that; it would be disappointing to those of our national founders who ideally thought that such processes would work in rational and democratic ways without the necessity of banishing religion to the private sphere, but it is our choice.  Freedom does not come without responsibilities.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Holy Father, It Ain't No Mystery!

Quinn Abbey, Co. Clare; not only
the Irish Church is in ruins--it is
time for a new Reformation and
the faithful must demand change. 
Yesterday I mentioned Father Martin’s blog about DeLaSalle Brother Louis DeThomasis and his book Flying in the Face of Tradition: Listening to the Lived Experience of the Faithful.  There was a day, and it was a day exalted by Newman, in which the consensus fidelium—the lived experience of the faithful—played a role in the development of doctrine and the governance of the Church.  Brother DeThomasis says in his book, according to Father Martin,
“Sexual abuse, corruption, authoritarianism, lack of transparency, and cover-ups have all been collapsing into and on top of the institutional church….The 'tipping point' has been reached, and the moral authority, honor and respect that the institutional church once elicited from most peoples and secular institutions around the globe no longer exists.”
Now, according to press reports, the Pope, addressing the Catholics of Ireland during the Fiftieth International Eucharistic Congress being hosted in Dublin, said on Sunday that  it is a mystery why priests and other church officials abused children entrusted in their care, undermining faith in the church "in an appalling way."  I don’t mean to challenge the Holy Father’s infallibility but the sex-abuse crisis is no mystery—in Ireland, here, or elsewhere.   It is the lack of transparency, the authoritarianism that leads people like the former Cardinal Archbishop of Boston to think they are above the law, the corruption that comes from influence pedaling and raw ambition in the Church (Archbishop Lori and Carl Anderson, take note), and the hypocrisy that thinks that all one must do is sweep the dirt under the rug and it’s gone that has led to the alienation from the Church of millions. 
As a historian, I sincerely doubt that the institutional Church is capable of reforming itself.  The faithful need to exercise their responsibility in holding the leadership of the Church accountable and with their feet to the fire of reform.  I haven’t read Brother DeThomasis’ book and am not sure if I will have time to, but it seems to me that, at least in the passage quoted, he is saying no more than that.   The boys in the red dresses had better wake up and smell the coffee that “the moral authority, honor and respect that the institutional church once elicited from most peoples and secular institutions around the globe no longer exists.”

Monday, June 18, 2012

Thank You Ignatius Loyola For the Loyal Service of Two Sons

I am a great admirer of the Society of Jesus.  I owe a lot to them for the education they gave me—especially teaching me my Latin which in turn has given me a necessary tool to be a historian.  Two Jesuits I particularly admire are the late Cardinal Avery Dulles and the very much alive Father James Martin.
     One of my colleagues who is a theologian, or at least a professor theology—I really don’t think he does the original work that would qualify him a a theologian though, like most academics, he has sufficient ego to claim a designation he hasn’t earned—dismisses Dulles as a “conservative” or even “reactionary.”  I think the gentleman is simply jealous of Dulles’ record of publications as well as his being honored by a red hat late in life.  I was always surprised that Dulles was so honored as I find his ecclesiology nothing less than subversive of the current Church order.  That, by the way, is to me a positive thing. While his book Models of the Church is his classic work—and I think prophetic for calling us to move beyond the institutional model to see the Church in its fullness—it is his book, Catholicity of the Church, that I have really enjoyed.  In Catholicity of the Church Dulles tells us that the predominant characteristic of the papacy’s first millennium was witness; the second millennium was characterized by power; the third millennium will be a time of service.  As a historian I think Dulles is spot on but while he speaks of the papacy, I think this is true of the Church at large.  The first millennium with the great evangelization of the then-known world was a time of witness to the Gospel.  In its second millennium the Church became entangled in the web of earthly power as it joined throne and altar to extend its authority into law.  And we are now entering a time when some—those prophetic souls who chart the course—see that we must give ourselves to service of humankind. 
      I think it is this shift of the Church’s tectonic plates that is at the source of so much of the tension in the church today.  It is very hard for many people to walk away from the power model.  Power is addictive.  Many people cannot imagine a Church that is not based on power—heavenly or earthly.  Ironically Jesus instructed his disciples to eschew power—“you know how it is among the Gentiles; how their great ones made their power felt over them; it must not be that way with you.”  The gospels tell us that Jesus “spoke with authority” but they do not ascribe power to him. Indeed, while he said that he could call upon legions of angels to come to his aid, he never did.  It is the conversion of the heart, not compulsion or a conversion by force, which characterizes the teachings of Jesus.
      In the Church’s second millennium power proved to be too tempting for churchmen (and notice, I mean churchmen)  to avoid.  Some—like Peter Damian or Gregory VII or Innocent III—for the most part used power well.  Others like the Medici Popes Leo X and Clement VII or Cardinal Wolsey, abused their trust. 
       When I see nuns—whether habited ones like the Little Sisters of the Poor or out-of-habit ones like the Daughters of Charity and Sisters of Mercy—running nursing homes or day-care centers or infant-homes or shelters for women and children, I see the sort of service to which we are all called as Christians.  I see some prelates who fall in that category too.  I knew—only slightly—Cardinal Dulles in his final years and found him a humble man, more professor than prelate, devoted to getting his students to think both critically and profoundly.  I remember the late Bishop Bernard Topel of Spokane.  I never knew, except by reputation, Dom Helder Camara of Recife, Brazil.  His famous quote is: When I feed the poor,  you call me a saint; why I question why they are poor, you call me a communist.  I see Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston who moved out of the mansion and is normally seen in his simple Capuchin robes and who, at least used to, work in soup-kitchens.  Bishop Hubbard of Albany has a good reputation for not taking himself too seriously and keeping his feet on the ground and his heart with his people.  I have had the privilege of sitting down with Bishop Tom Gumbleton—a man who has suffered terribly at the hands of other prelates for his witness to the Gospel.  But for the Cardinals Burke and Law, for Bishops like William Lori and Thomas Olmsted, for Grand Poobah Knight of Columbus Carl Anderson and laity like George Weigel or Russell Shaw the model of power is just too hard to walk away from.  Che peccato as we say in Rome—what a pity! (Literally, “what a sin” which might be more accurate.)  The future lies in the models of service, not of power.   When we say we are afraid of losing our religious liberties, what we really mean is that we are afraid of losing out ability to dictate to the larger society how people should live and reproduce and express love.  We think that we should be able to dictate to the world what we perceive to be God’s law.  Jesus never told us to do that.  He told us to win people’s hearts not control their lives.  Win their hearts and their behaviors will follow but simply try to force your ways on them and they will never surrender their hearts.  Service is the way to win hearts for Christ   
      And then there is Father James Martin—a Jesuit and associate editor at America Magazine.  Boy does he get the religious crazies upset and why—well, most of all because he makes a rational case for rational Christianity.  Father Martin is not some way-out radical—though their fields  (journalism and theology) are different and so a direct comparison is impossible, I find him more reserved in his opinions than the late Cardinal Dulles.  Father Martin only writes (or says) what most thinking Catholics are saying at their dinner tables, their book-clubs, their faith-sharing groups, their Adult Ed classes etc.  He has come out solidly behind the American nuns and now he has written an interesting article about DeLaSalle Christian brother Louis DeThomasis, president of Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota, which is a thoughtful critique of Catholic faith and practice in our contemporary world.  Of course Father Martin is in a long tradition of America editors who speak up in a Church culture where the leadership wants you to pay, pray, and obey.  But the reason that the boys in red don’t want you to think for yourself and ask the tough questions is that, frankly, they don’t have answers nearly as rational as your questions.  When reason fails, they appeal to “Tradition.”  There is nothing wrong with Tradition, of course, but Aquinas would be the first to say that when reason and tradition diverge, reason trumps the commonly held perceptions of the Faith.  This is not to say that appeals to Tradition can be discarded when irrational but rather that the understanding of the Tradition, when it is against reason, is a distortion of the authentic deposit of faith.  In other words, a religious doctrine which deviates from reason, does not correctly apprehend the Tradition handed down from the Apostles.  There are many such “doctrines” circulating today that would require a Catholic to reject scientific knowledge and reason if he or she were to hold them.  It is time that such “doctrines” were seriously studied and redefined for our current age.  Faith, of course, transcends intellect but it does not repudiate intellect as some would have it.   God blesses simple hearts, but not stupidity. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Blessed Are You When Men Persecute You...

The Lay Hermits on Mount Carmel--
forerunners of today's Carmelites--
by 15th century artist, fra Lippo Lippi
Innocent III harnessed the power of the laity for Reform in the Church at the beginning of the 13th century.  There were many groups of lay hermits in Italy, up through France and the Rhineland, and elsewhere in the Catholic world.  These were independent groups of men who had renounced the materialistic culture of the urban expansion that characterized the 12th century.  Due to various circumstances such as huge population growth, a revival of trade, more efficient agricultural techniques, an implosion of the feudal-agrarian system, the cities of Western Europe grew rapidly after the year 1100.  And with the rise of the cities, there was a revival of manufacturing and of trade that initiated a period of rapid economic expansion in Europe.  There were many positive features to this expansion with the building of the medieval cathedrals, the rise first of the urban cathedral schools and later the universities, advances in philosophy, theology, the arts, mathematics, medicine and the sciences, engineering, and other disciplines.  Many industrious families rose in just two or three generations from rural peasants who had come to the cities looking for opportunity to being rich merchant families.   But, at the same time, there were those among the new middle class who found the materialism of the new civic cultures repugnant and turned from their families’ wealth to lead simple lives of Christian prayer, pious works, and evangelical poverty.  Wanting to imitate Christ and his disciples they gathered into small communities that strove to live off their own manual labor and whatever alms they could collect to assist them in their work of tending to the sick, the elderly, widows, orphans, the handicapped, and the poor.  
There were those in the Church who saw danger in these hermits.  First, while there might occasionally be a converted priest among their numbers, they were almost entirely laymen without formal education in theology or bible.  Secondly, they exalted the poverty of Christ which made the bishops and many of the priests of their day look flawed for their wealth and comfortable ways.  Furthermore, they concentrated their efforts not on the movers and shakers of the day, but on those whom society had left behind, helpless in their poverty and consequently they were held in great esteem not only by the poor but by many of the middle classes who admired their humble service.  Some bishops and prelates feared that these radicals would become like the Waldensians or the Cathars and offer religious alternatives to the faithful, alternatives that would leave them—the prelates—with fewer sheep to fleece.  Other prelates just felt that these lay hermits made them, the bishops, look bad for their neglect of the poor and for the extravagance of their own lifestyles.  Defenders of the Status Quo accused these poor men of Gnosticism and other heresies when in fact they were only faithful to the Gospel.  Perhaps the reader can see the subtext here and how this period of history speaks to the current situation and the harassment of the American nuns by certain prelates in our time and place, but lest you think that I am making this up, let me suggest a book that treats well of the religious reforms of the 12th and 13th centuries in their social context.  Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy in Medieval Europe, was written by Smith College Professor of European History, Lester Little, in 1983—long before the current group of prelatial ne’er-do-wells  began hatching their plots against the good ladies. 
      Up until the accession of Innocent III to the papal throne in 1198 many voices for genuine reform in the Church were having difficulty but Innocent wasn’t afraid of the Gospel and the impact it had on peoples’ lives.  He recognized the integrity of many people who were trying to lead Christ-like lives in the midst of a society—political and ecclesial—that was obsessed with power and wealth.  Innocent himself, despite his great power as Pope, was a man of frugal, even austere, life and habits.  He had great personal integrity and was amazingly open to correction even from the most humble of his subjects.  He took the gospel seriously and he recognized that these voices for reform needed to be heard.  Even though most of these hermits were not priests, he encouraged their street-corner preaching and calls to repentance. 
     The most important of these lay hermits during Innocents’ reign as pope was a humble man from Assisi, a town about a three days walk north of Rome.  Francis—his father’s nickname for him (his actual name was John but his father—a wealthy cloth merchant—had always referred to him as his “Frenchie”)—came from a nouveau-riche merchant family, but had broken with his father and walked away from the family’s wealth for a life of prayer and voluntary poverty in imitation of Christ.  There is a spiritual axiom going back to Saint Jerome—“Naked Follow the Naked Christ”—and Francis valued the poverty of Christ who had emptied himself of all his divine power for our sake. 
      Innocent greatly admired the poor man from Assisi and empowered him and his brotherhood to preach the gospel.  The impact was huge.  Francis’ brotherhood grew and expanded across the Christian world in just a few years’ time and in his own short lifetime thousands of men chose to follow Francis following Christ.  A corresponding sisterhood was established by a disciple, Clare, who like Francis came from a well to do family but left behind the wealth to establish the Order of Poor Ladies (usually called Poor Clares in English-speaking countries.). 
      Other hermit groups of the time developed into the Servite, Augustinian, and Carmelite Orders.  A society of preaching priests, the Order of Preachers or Dominicans, while not having begun as lay hermits, adopted this model of mendicant friars as well. 
      I have to admit that when I see these School Sisters of Notre Dame and Sisters of Saint Francis, and Sisters of Mercy, and Sisters of Saint Joseph, and Daughters of Charity today wearing what clothes that are given them or they can buy cheaply, and living in apartments or simple homes, and reaching out to the elderly, to the poor, to abused women and children, I am impressed by their generous service and humble witness.  I am old enough to remember the Ladies of Loretto and the Madames of the Sacred Heart and Sisters of the Holy Cross of yesteryear with their starched habits and elegant manners and I appreciate the work they did educating women for leadership but am even more impressed by these same women who have in their senior years left behind the trappings of gentility for service of the poor.  Archbishop Lori lives comfortably in his Baltimore mansion looking forward to his red hat, and Cardinal Burke drags around wherever he goes a nine-yard train of scarlet silk, and Cardinal Law—well we all know what he has done—these are the persecutors of these good women of the gospel.  I can see why these prelates are afraid of the nuns.  I would be afraid of the nuns too if I were in their buskins.  Sinners always try to hide from the light of saints.  These women are showing the way for the reform the Church needs today.  Now we need a pope like Innocent III who can see that.         

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Follow the Ladies' Lead, Gentlemen

Innocent III blessing Francis and his
first Friars
I recently mentioned the Reformation of Innocent III as a model for Church Reformation that preserves unity in the Church while addressing the need to eliminate areas of Church life that have become a scandal because they are at odds with the Gospel. 
     Innocent was born into a noble Italian family, the counts of Segni, in 1160 and was elected pope in 1198.  He died in 1216.  His family’s stronghold was only about forty miles south-east of Rome and over the centuries there were nine popes from this family, among them being Innocent, Gregory IX, and Alexander IV.  They were a remarkable family and Innocent is often considered to be the most powerful pope in the history of the Church.  Fortunately, for the most part, he used power well.   His nephew, Ugolino dei conti de Segni, who became Gregory IX, was a great friend and patron of Francis of Assisi and also served the Church well both as a Cardinal and later as Pope. 
       There is basis for criticizing Innocent for some of his decisions—the Crusade against the Cathars (Albigensians), the categorization of the Waldensians as heretics at Lateran IV and subsequent persecution, and the Fourth Crusade which ended up attacking and sacking  Constantinople.  We will look at these events in future posts, but these events, flawed as they are from our contemporary perspective, should not be allowed to overshadow a magnificent program of Church Reform which probably prevented a Luther-style Reformation for several centuries. 
        When Innocent ascended the papacy in 1198 he inherited a Church that was deeply fractured.  Personal hostility between the Kings of England and France had overflowed into Church life and led to a deterioration of the state of the Church in the two kingdoms as Church offices were bestowed by the kings on candidates for no reason better than the political needs of the respective monarchs.  Moreover, a centuries-long feud between the papacy and the empire similarly was sapping energy, especially where the Emperor could hand out religious benefices to his political allies to cement their loyalty.       
        The politicalization of the Church was not only filling major posts with many unsuitable candidates, but was leading to a divide between the ordinary faithful and the hierarchy.  The political alliances of the bishops weakened their authority over the faithful who were looking for good and honest guides for their spiritual growth and, not finding it among the pastors of the Church were turning elsewhere.
        In the Rhineland and in the French Languedoc and Pyrénées massive numbers of Christians were deserting the Church for the gnostic Cathar movement. The rigid and austere morality ascribed to the Cathar Perfecti or Holy Men gave them a credibility that the wealthy and powerful Catholic prelates lacked.  Catharism, while strongest in the Rhine and South-west France, was spreading even into Italy, undermining the Church.
       Cathars were Gnostics and their beliefs were, from a Christian perspective, bizarre, but more orthodox were the Waldensians.  Peter Waldo was a wealthy merchant of Lyons France who took the gospel injunction to “sell all that you have, give to the poor, and follow me” seriously.  Doing precisely that, he ran afoul of Church authorities for preaching while not ordained.  Waldo’s charismatic personality and dramatic conversion gave him a credibility that brought him many disciples in France and northern Italy.  A lay movement, the Waldensians soon found themselves decried as schismatics and indeed were broken off from the Catholic Church.  Nevertheless, they grew and even many faithful Catholics admired them for their pacific ways, simple lives, and generosity to the poor.
       Among Innocent III’s reforms, and perhaps the most important of them, was the encouragement of new religious orders that were strongly evangelical in their simple life and service of the poor.  Francis of Assisi was introduced to Innocent who admired him greatly and helped advance the Friars Minor—Francis’ brotherhood of poor preachers who went out and worked with lepers, the lame, the sick poor and others on the margins of society. 
        Another order that Innocent encouraged were a society of priests under the leadership of Dominic de Guzman, a Spanish priest working in the south of France to win people back from the Cathar heresy.  Like Francis’ friars, Dominic’s priests and their coadjutor brothers lived lives of model simplicity.  Dominic, unlike Francis, stressed the importance of education and many of his priests were both brilliant scholars and good preachers. 
       The first new order that Innocent encouraged with the Trinitarians—a community of priests and brothers who were dedicated to freeing captives captured in the Crusades and held by the Muslims.  They raised money with which to buy Muslim prisoners and then exchange them for Christian prisoners.  Their kindness to the Muslim prisoners gave them great credibility on both sides of the wars. 
        The emphasis of these new communities was living a life in imitation of Jesus and his apostles in prayer, fellowship, and simplicity of life.  Perhaps what we need most in the Church today are new—or renewed—religious orders of men and women who take the gospel seriously.  Men and women who will lead simple lives, give themselves to prayer, and dedicate themselves to the service of the poor.  In the years since Vatican II many of the Sisters’ communities have done just that.  Now maybe it is time for the men to follow their example.      

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Will It Take Another Luther?

St Francis, model
for inernal reform
of the Church
There is no doubt that the Church today stands in desperate need of a new Reformation.  When we speak of “Reformation” we usually think of Martin Luther, but his was only one of several Reformations in the history of the Church.  Luther’s Reformation had the unfortunate consequence of splitting the Church—as did the subsequent Reformation of John Calvin as well as the English, Scottish, and Scandinavian Reformations.  There were other Reformations that did not divide the Church.  Previous entries on this blog have spoken of the Carolingian and Ottonian Reformations of the 9th and 10th centuries respectively. (See entries for May 9, June 4, 5, 18, 20, 23, 28, 29,  July 1, 16, 18,  28, August 6, 7, 11, 26, 2011, Feb 21, 2012. )  These Reformations were imposed on the Church by the political authority of the Holy Roman Emperors.   Then there was the Gregorian Reform from within the Church, led by a series of Popes and assisted by various saints.  (See July 19, 28, August 6, 7, 25, 27, 28, 2011 and February 21, 2012.)  I hadn’t gotten to the Spanish Reformation of Ferdinand and Isabella or the Tridentine Reformation yet in my postings, but the former of these was, like the Carolingian and Ottonian, imposed by king-protectors of the Church; the latter was the internal Reform mandated by the Council of Trent.  My favorite Reformation is that of Innocent III at the beginning of the thirteenth century.  It was sheer grace.  A wise and good pope empowered a generation of saints—John of Matha, Francis of Assisi, Dominic, Clare, Albert of Vercelli, Jordan of Saxony, Philip Benizi, Anthony of Padua, Edmund Rich, Bonaventure and countless others who founded new and enthused religious orders, stirred up the laity to deeper faith, preached the gospel, called people to live a gospel life, provided good pastoral service to the faithful and gave new life to the Church.  All this was under the guidance of a Pope, Innocent III, who understood that the Institution of the Church was there to advance the Gospel and foster holiness in Church’s members. 
      That the Church today stands in need of a serious Reformation—in head and members—is very clear.  The reforms of Vatican II have been a disaster—not because they weren’t sound and good ideas, holy ideas, but because they have not been properly implemented.  The Council was no sooner over and the last busload of bishops had hardly left for the airport, when curial officials began dismantling the Council, giving it its “authentic interpretation” which steadily and surely has reconsolidated all power in the Roman Curia leaving the Roman bureaucracy unmanageable to the Pope and unaccountable to anyone.  The result is the chaos and scandal we now endure with the Holy See sheltering prelates from prosecution for protecting abusive priests, with money laundering being the business of the Vatican Bank, with cronyism being the chief criterion for the nomination of bishops, and with vicious infighting involving Cardinals and butlers in stabling one another in the back. 
        The monarchial and bureaucratic structure by which the Church is administered cannot be relied upon for honest and transparent leadership needed in a community that professes its mission is to spread the Gospel.  There is a need to change the basic constitution of the Church, not to do away with the papacy or the episcopal structure which we Catholics believe was instituted by Christ (though that needs some historical nuancing), but to integrate leadership into the Church rather than place it above the Church. By this I do not mean introducing democracy into the Church, but I do mean creating structures of accountability.  If the leadership of the Church does not realize that the faithful do already in fact hold them accountable and create structures of administration that “give some teeth” to that accountability, the faithful will continue to drift away from the leadership in ever greater numbers. Right now the choice—Luther or Innocent—can still be made, but if the Church leadership does not opt for an Innocentian Reform from within, then they will find themselves the victims of a Luther style Reform that will lead the faithful away from the leadership.  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Clean It Up or Pay the Consequences

John Paul II, he left
a sullied heritage and
a Church in need of
During the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI I heard an American priest commentator for RTÉ, the Irish National Broadcasting network, say that what was needed in a pope was “someone who would come in and clean out that rats’ nest of pezzi grossi monsignors, the Roman Curia.”  The commentator was in Rome with the Dome of Saint Peter’s in the background; sitting in the Dublin studio was Bishop John Magee where the show’s moderator asked Magee—former secretary to Popes Paul VI, John Paul I, and John Paul II—if he, Magee, were part of that rats’ nest.  Magee was not amused, but as time has gone on it has become clear that he indeed was one rat among the pack, and that he lost out to bigger rats.  When John Paul’s private secretary, (now Cardinal) Stanislaw Dziwisz wrote his 2007 memoirs of his 40 years of service to Wojtyla both as Archbishop of Krakow and as Pope, he never mentioned Magee, the only aide to John Paul Dziwisz hadn’t mentioned.  Given Magee’s role as secretary and then as Master of Ceremonies to John Paul this was a gratuitous slap to the Irishman and his service.  Dziwisz had been jealous of John Paul’s personal affection for Magee, the nicer and more gentlemanly of the two men.  Unfortunately, a gentleman though he may be, Magee’s bad judgment in the Diocese of Cloyne where John Paul named him bishop, led to one of the most serious breakdowns of justice in the whole Irish sex-abuse scandal and Magee eventually resigned his diocese in disgrace.  Dziwisz, for his part, has since been exposed as a self-serving bureaucrat who made a fortune from the “gratuities” people offered him in exchange for access to the Pope—in other words Dziwisz was selling access to the Pope.  He often dragged the frail and ailing Pope from his quarters to meet some wealthy visiting socialite or politician who wanted a picture with John Paul.  Moreover, in the Pope’s final years Dziwisz practically ran the Church by inserting himself as the only channel of communication between the Cardinals in charge of the various dicasteries and the increasingly incapacitated Pope.   With the election of Benedict, Dziwisz has gone home to Poland as Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow, but the rats’ nest of conspiracy and intrigue has continued.  The current Vatican Dr. Strangelove is Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, a member of the Salesian Order and the apparently the target of the current palace coup that involves the Pope’s butler having leaked confidential papers to an Italian journalist in an effort to expose Bertone’s consolidation of power in his (Bertone’s) office, the Secretariat of State.  (For more about Bertone, look at entries for June 7, 2011, and February 15 & 16, 2012.)  Bertone has nominated named a disproportionate number of his fellow Salesians to be bishops and seems to be engineering a return to an Italian papacy in the next conclave.
        Frankly, I have no idea of what is going on the Vatican other than what I read in the papers, but the idea of the Pope’s personal aide-de-camp stealing state papers and turning them over to journalists, the precipitous firing of the head of the Vatican Bank, the Bank’s failure to meet international standards on fiscal accountability and transparency, the opening of burial vaults looking for evidence in child-kidnapping (see entry for May 15, 2012), the struggles to impose more curial control over Caritas Internationalis and its fiscal power, are all signs that while it has been centuries since something has been rotten in the State of Denmark, much is rotten in the Vatican State. From a historical point of view, the Church is ripe for Reform.  Will it be a reform from within a la Innocent III or a reform from without, Luther style?  That all depends on how willing (and able) the Pope elected that day I heard the RTÉ commentator speak is to come in and clean out that rats’ nest of pezzi grossi monsignori. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Cry Wolf!

 What danger does the Patient Affordable Health Care Act of 2010 offer to the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution? 

  First—let’s look at the text. 
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Our concern here is the first two clauses.. There shall be no law respecting an establishing of religion.  There shall be no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.    
       As I understand it the Catholic Church and its institutions will neither have to provide nor pay for there to be provided to their employees and their dependents, any procedure such as sterilization, abortifacients, or  contraceptives that violate Catholic moral teaching.  On the other hand, their employees and their dependents will be given access to these services at the expense of the insurance companies.  While one might expect that the companies would pass the cost of such services along to those who pay the premiums, in fact the insurance companies want to provide these services as they will lower the cost to the companies since birth-prevention is cheaper than the cost of providing medical care for childbirth and subsequent infant-child care.  (That, at least, is the theory.  I am cynical enough to believe that while the insurance companies may in fact want to provide contraceptive and related services, they will still try to pass the (hidden) cost along in order to maximize their profit. That is the way business works ever since ethics courses became optional in American colleges and universities.)    Does making available to employees of religious institutions services that contradict the religious tenets of the employer-organization without any involvement by or cost to the employer-organization constitute an encroachment on free practice of religion? I think that is a bit of a stretch, but I am not a constitutional lawyer.  Of course neither are the bishops.  Most commentators believe that when this issue comes to the Supreme Court, if the Patient Affordable Care Act of 2010 is still standing despite other lawsuits, that the Court will side with the Church on this issue. They base this estimation on the January 2012 opinion delivered by the Court in the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School case v EEOC which, though dealing with remarkably different issues has the same principles (or so some think) at stake in terms of a religious body’s right to determine its administrative policies without government interference .     
      I do think we are going to have to determine sound boundaries both to protect religion and protect from religion in a secular society.  I also think there is a campaign in certain segments of our society to restrict the influence and even visibility of religion, but I honestly don’t think that is the Obama administration’s agenda.  And so I have fears that this “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign by the American Bishops is not a legitimate red flag to protect religious freedom but a thinly veiled political assault on the Obama administration to convince Catholics that they should support the Republican ticket in November.   A greater fear of mine than Obamacare being an assault on our religious freedoms is that when the wolf does come no one will take the bishops' cries for help seriously.    

Friday, June 8, 2012

Catholic Heritage, Obamacare, and Mitered Dramaqueens

Catholicism has a long tradition of educational ministry going back to Cassiadorus’ monastery at Vivarium at the end of the sixth century and continuing up through the Middle Ages with the great Abbey Schools mandated by Charlemagne, the medieval Cathedral Schools, and the medieval universities.  One of the first undertakings of American Catholicism after our revolution was the establishment of Georgetown College (now University).  John Carroll not only established this educational facility for men but asked Elizabeth Seton to organize a religious sisterhood to educate girls as well as boys—something the public schools of the day were not doing.  In 1799 Father Leonard Neale, president of Georgetown College, persuaded a small group of women to takes vows as Visitation nuns and open a girls school which even today is one of the finest secondary academies in the United States.  Likewise health care has always been a priority for Catholics.  In 651 the bishop of Paris organized the Hotel Dieu—the oldest hospital in the city. It was the model for other institutions to care for the sick poor.  Religious communities such as the Brothers of Saint John of God and the Daughters of Charity were organized specifically for care of the sick.  One of the most distinguished of these Orders is the Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem.  The Hospital itself was established in Jerusalem under the Patronage of Pope Saint Gregory the Great around the year 600.  In 1023 Blessed Gerard Thom, a knight from Amalfi, organized a pious brotherhood of noblemen to care for pilgrims who came to visit the Holy Places.  These were knights but they were also solemnly vowed religious.  They continue today and are popularly known as the Knights of Malta or the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.  Most of the Knights and Dames of Malta are lay associates, but even today there is a core of solemnly vowed religious brothers (of noble blood) at the heart of the Order.  They are among the most unique, or even idiosyncratic, religious orders in the Church.  And the Lay Associates, usually well-to-do Catholic laity, undertake some very humble and direct ministries to the sick poor including those with AIDS/HIV.
In the United States, religious women were very quick to undertake ministry to the sick.  In an age (nineteenth century) where hospitals were almost invariably private clinics run by physicians and affordable only by the wealthier segments of society, the various congregations of the Sisters of Charity, the Irish immigrant Sisters of Mercy, and other groups of nuns opened hospitals that cared for all irrespective of their religious affiliation or ability to pay. 
We always have to be careful about speaking in generalities, but by and large the American Protestant view of the Church and its mission prioritizes worship.  The mission of the Church is seen as to build a sanctuary, hire a pastor to preach and lead worship, develop a music program to aid worship.  Sunday school, of course, is important but other than the Lutherans most American Protestants had never concentrated on building schools until the public schools were desegregated in the 1960’s. Catholics, on the other hand, realize that a school or a hospital or an adoption agency or a homeless shelter or a university or center for abused women or a counseling agency is as central to the mission of the Church as any cathedral, basilica, or parish church. 
I have been severely disappointed in the Obama administration’s decision to exempt from the contraceptive/sterilization/abortifacient requirement of the Patient Affordable Care Act of 2010 only those religious institutions directly involved with worship.  It may make sense from a Protestant perspective to define “Church institution” in this narrow way but it fails to respect the many ways in which our Catholic family continues to serve not only its own members but the larger community.  Actually, what I am disappointed in is the administration’s stupidity in picking a fight with the Catholic Church. It really wasn’t necessary.  It left a lot of Catholics who have been enthusiastic supporters of the President feeling betrayed.  It has sucked the enthusiasm out of a lot of us Catholics who continue to believe that the Democratic Party continues to offer a more moral vision of society than the opposition party.  Frankly, while many of us will still vote for the President in November it has taken motivation from some to give time, energy, or money to the effort.  It just didn’t need to be this way.
On the other hand, bishops, to start ringing a tin copy of the Liberty Bell saying that we are in danger of losing our First Amendment Rights of Free Exercise is not only a bit histrionic, it smacks of political alarmism.  But more about that in future posts.     

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Not All Bedfellows Are Strange

Russian Orthodox Patriarch
Kiril I, supporter of the regime
in Syria
Syria’s struggle for democracy has been very much in the news, particularly since the Houla Massacre where Syrian Army and Militia have been alleged to have execution-style massacred 108 civilians including 34 women and 49 children.  The massacre seems, in part, to reflect the Shia-Sunni antagonism that tears apart much of the Islamic world.  Syrians have been demanding an end to the regime of Bashar Hafez al-Assad.  Bashar al-Assad has been in power in Syria since the year 2000 when he succeeded his father  Hafez al-Assad who had ruled Syria for 29 years.  The party under which this father-son combination has served are the Ba’ath party—a party tied to the same party that ruled Iraq during the Sadam Hussein years. 
It would seem to most of us that this is another sinister regime that should be overthrown and replaced by a democracy and Americans are highly suspicious of Russia’s motivations for blocking any effective international cooperation in getting rid of the current regime.  Putin’s administration undoubtedly has a variety of reasons for wanting to shore up the al-Assad regime, but one of them is that the Russian Orthodox Church is supportive of al-Assad.  Putin, for a variety of political motives, has worked very closely with the Russian Church and the Moscow Patriarchate has always functioned as an agency of the State—even during the Communist era where the Church was very much subject to government control and used by the government for political ends.  Putin does not want to alienate the Church but finds support for his regime in collaboration with it.
Why would the Russian Church support the al-Assad regime?   Well, again, the situation is very complex and the motives are mixed.  The Moscow Patriarchate has always been anxious to be seen as the protector of Christian minorities in the Arab world as part of the Patriarchate's plan to achieve primacy in the Orthodox world.   But it is not all self-serving.  The plight of Christians in the Near East and North Africa has deteriorated terribly during the “Arab Spring.”  The Christian communities of Iraq and Egypt are undergoing particularity virulent persecutions.  (See blog entries for Dec 24, 26, 2011, March 20, 21, 23, 2012)  for more information on the plight of Christians in the Arab world, let me recommend to you the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (paste this into your browser: )