Thursday, January 31, 2013

Let's Hear It For Those Swiss Abbots

Mariastein Abbey
A few weeks ago (see entry for January 15, 2013) I published an entry about Martin Werlen, the Abbot of the famous abbey of our Lady of Einsiedeln in Switzerland and his call for radical reform in the Church—echoing the same call of the late Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini shortly before his death last year (cf blog entries for September 2, 3, 4, and 12, 2012).  A reader sent me a link to an article about another Swiss Abbot, Peter von Sury, Abbot of Mariastein , a Benedictine community in Solothurn Canton.
Like Abbot Martin, Abbot Peter pulls no punches in his estimation of what the Church needs today.  Abbot Peter is trained in the canon law and he sees the problem is that the structures of authority in the Church are broken.  He calls for consistency and transparency in the way decisions are made in the Church.  He thinks that politics have replaced the action of the Holy Spirit in Church administration (ya think?) and that there is a need to return to the ancient system of choosing bishops by involving the local faithful and clergy along with the regional bishops.  The present system is nothing more than turning the local dioceses into “papal fiefs.” 
An article by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt in the National Catholic Reporter quotes the abbot:
Asked why episcopal nominations are so important, he replied: "The bishop has a pivotal position in the church. He is a 'pontifex,' that is, a bridge-builder, and must have a personality that integrates. Unfortunately, we have again and again experienced the opposite, as, for instance, at the moment in the diocese of Chur. There the bishop is obviously not a bridge-builder, but someone who sows discord, and that is disastrous.
"In my opinion, a bishop who sows discord is morally obliged to step down. The same applies to an abbot or a parish priest. If they sow discord, they destroy a part of the church. It is not a case of blame. There are simply situations when people sow discord -- perhaps even without meaning to do so, and then they must step down."
"Church institutions, including the papacy, should have an opposite number as it were. In economics or politics we speak of checks and balances," von Sury said. Parishes have parish councils, dioceses have priests' councils, which the bishops are supposed to listen to. "But for the bishops' conference level and the world church level there is nothing similar. This is a great mistake," he said.

Boy, this guy should visit the Church in the United States and see the damage that prelates such as Bishop Robert Finn (Kansas City), Bishop Robert Morlino (Madison WS), Bishop Thomas Olmsted, (Phoenix)  and Archbishop William Lori (Baltimore, formerly Bridgeport) have wreaked  in their climbs up the ecclesiastical caterpillar pillar.  On the other hand, Rome did get Cardinal Law and then-Archbishop (now Cardinal) Raymond Burke out of Boston and St. Louis respectively before they totally trashed those dioceses with the discord they had caused.    
The Bishops of Switzerland, with the exception of the aforementioned Bishop of Chur, Vitus Huonder, have shown themselves very willing to listen to the faithful in their dioceses and the move for more dialogue in the Church. 
My correspondent wondered what sort of water these Swiss Abbots are drinking and if we can bottle it.  O Please God, let such waters flow in your Church today. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Post Inaugural Reflections

Sorry that it has taken me almost a week to get to this, but I do have a life beyond the blog. And it has been an interesting week with several other things that have captured my dyslexic imagination
I didn’t get to see the Inauguration on television as I was driving out of state to a work commitment but I was listening to it on the radio.  I wasn’t overly impressed at Myrlie Evers-Williams invocation; it sounded like the usual over-decorated wedding cake of a civic “prayer” until she did what no clergyman would dare do—to pray “through Jesus Christ Our Lord.”  Now I am not saying she should have done that; we have long had an entente-cordial in this country to keep religion out of public view and reduce our faith—whatever it may be—to the least common denominatorism of bland abstract Deism.  But I know that I have long had little respect for Christian Clergy who get up and invoke not the God to Whom they are committed but Jefferson and Franklin’s cosmic watchmaker.  So Myrlie, you-go-girl; thanks for praying and not just spouting cascades of sparkly verbiage like some champagne fountain gone out of control in a Vegas hotel.
Then there was Justice Scalia’s hat.  Loved it.  How can the man possibly rule against gay rights after appearing in a fourteenth-century chapeau that made him look like Cardinal Wolsey with acid reflux?  Mockery aside, he was probably the most correctly dressed person at the ceremony—and I am not surprised.  I don’t often like what he has to say, but he is the brightest bulb in that very bright chandelier of the Roberts’ Court.    (I do think, however, that the Thomas bulb burned out long ago, even before President George H.W. Bush screwed him into the chandelier. Notice the verb, “screw.”  I choose my words with thought.)  But Scalia’s hat is the traditional style worn with judicial robes by Judges and Doctors of Law in medieval England.  Of course, we aren’t in medieval England, but don’t tell Mr. Justice Scalia that.  It will always be the Middle Ages for Scalia.  And as a historian myself, I appreciate that.       
I was appalled—and I mean appalled—to see poor Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America get a very rude brush-off from Senator Schumer as the prelate tried to thank Schumer for the invitation to give the blessing at the end of the inaugural luncheon.  By that time I had arrived at my destination and settled in comfortably in front of a television, and while everyone else noticed the First Lady’s eye-roll at Mr. Speaker Boehner’s unregistered remark, I saw the Senator’s unnecessary brusqueness towards an old man who simply wanted to say thank you.    Senator Schumer typifies everything about why I hate New York.  Rude. Rude. Full of himself. And Rude. 
Finally—what a great poem by Richard Blanco.  President Obama made it clear in several ways that the gay agenda will fare better in his second term than in his first.  I know that will drive the krazies even krazier but you know, I am tired of people being broken down into black or white, gay or straight, male or female, liberal or conservative.  (Open-minded or stupid, I am willing to keep.)   People are just Mark or Steve or Carol or Diane or Ray or you or me.  Let’s get over pushing them into categories and make sure everyone has an even shot at life. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Disappointed Dreams

John XXIII convoking the Second
Vatican Council, Basilica of Saint
Paul outside the Walls, January 25,
55 years ago today Pope John XXIII made the surprise announcement that he was convoking the Second Vatican Council.  People had long presumed that with the declaration of papal infallibility in 1870’s, councils were redundant—there was no need for a Council when the pope “could do it all.”  But John had other things in mind—a veritable revolution in Catholicism that would throw off four centuries of fossilized and moribund stagnation that had locked Catholicism into an anachronistic curiosity that was no longer a credible witness of the Gospel with which its Master had entrusted it to proclaim. 
I wonder what Good Pope John would think today as he looks from heaven on the wreckage of his Council.  While John certainly had no idea—or intention—that the Council would make such radical changes as it did to the liturgy, he had great hopes for how it would alter its relationship to the world around it—and in particular how it would work to restore the unity of Christendom to that there might be one flock and one Shepherd.  (Notice the capital “S” in the word shepherd—denoting that Christ is that one shepherd.)   After such a good beginning at the Council and for sometime afterward, we have allowed the ecumenical movement to become a train wreck. 
Some are inclined to blame this fiasco on the decision of various Reformed and Evangelical Churches to ordain women.  (Notice, I am using the term “Churches,” something the Vatican eschews in favor of the insulting “ecclesial communities.”)   Others do not see how we can maintain an open dialogue with Christian Churches that do not share our views on abortion or on same-sex relationships.  But we Catholics have taken disagreement and chosen to make it disagreeable.  We have all but retrenched into the “unconditional surrender” approach to ecumenism of Pius XI and Mortalium Animos which the Council had so dramatically overturned.
On this feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul let us ask Christ to send the Holy Spirit to bend our stubborn hearts and will, to melt the frozen, and warm the chill that the work of this Council may revive and that the Church may be given shepherds who never lose sight that the flock is Christ’s and not theirs. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Catholic Political Conscience

Who would have thougt that a saint would write this: 

“Therefore I must say that, as I hope for mercy, I can have no other notion of all the other governments that I see or know, than that they are a conspiracy of the rich, who, on pretence of managing the public, only pursue their private ends, and devise all the ways and arts they can find out; first, that they may, without danger, preserve all that they have so ill-acquired, and then, that they may engage the poor to toil and labour for them at as low rates as possible, and oppress them as much as they please; and if they can but prevail to get these contrivances established by the show of public authority, which is considered as the representative of the whole people, then they are accounted laws…”

Do you see why Catholics didn't follow their bishops into the Romney/Ryan camp?  Saint Thomas More would have a few things to say today about certain political philosophies. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Inaugural Weekend IV

Cardinal Law, champion
of Common Ground
Well, the inauguration is over and it is time for the President and his administration to move forward—a point I think he well made in his inaugural address.  And he received an important inaugural gift from the Pope last week when the Vatican came out strongly behind his efforts to impose some rationality over access to fire arms.  Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the “papal press secretary,” editorialized in both print and radio supporting the President’s desire to ban assault weapons and “to limit firearms that are making society pay an unacceptable price in terms of massacres and senseless deaths.” 
Of course Father Lombardi, while a Jesuit and may think he is infallible, is not the Pope and does not share magisterial authority.  But then one must understand how the Vatican uses different spokespersons at various levels.  When the Pope speaks it is a matter of teaching to be received.  When a curial official such as a Cardinal or Archbishop who heads one of the Vatican dicasteries speaks, it is a rule—at least if the prelate is speaking in the area where his dicsastery has authority. (Cardinal Law has no such office and Cardinal Burke tends to run at the mouth about any subject that pecks its ways across his somewhat limited intellectual capacity.)  So when the Pope wants to give an opinion on a current matter without binding the faithful, it falls to Father Lombardi.  In other words, he is speaking for the Pope but in a way that does not bind the faithful.  Would that he spoke more often permitting others, including Benedict, to stand in holy silence.  I think we would all do well if we were more often given things to think about and less often directives to follow, but then I foolishly think that most of us can make morally responsible choices.          
In any event, Father Lombardi went on to say that it would be rash to think that the elimination of firearms alone would prevent tragedies such as the Newtown Connecticut massacre, but at the same time he insisted that while such massacres are carried out by people who are deranged by hatred or anger, in the final analysis the victims are killed by guns.  So yes, while people kill people one can also say that guns kill people.  That does make sense to me. 
This call to limit access to guns fits into the long-time policy of the Vatican for disarmament and for bans on the “production, commerce, and contraband of all types of arms;” and the accusation that the weapons industry is fueled by “enormous economic and power interests.”  Ya think?
So here is some common ground between the Catholic Church and the Obama administration.  Of course going back to the days when those giants of moral integrity, Cardinals Law and Hickey, savaged the eminent Cardinal Bernardin, the Katholic Krazies have had no use for common ground.  Hopefully Father Lombardi’s endorsement will prod some of our more audacious prelates to speak up in support of strong gun control laws but they will face the wrath of those who always agree with the Vatican as long as the Vatican agrees with them. 
Tomorrow marks 40 years of Roe v Wade.  Because of the inaugural services being delayed a day, the annual March for Life has been delayed until Friday, January 25th.  I hope the March is a strong witness for Life in a culture that is fast devolving into the “culture of death.”  But I think Father Lombardi’s editorials seal the deal, that to be pro-life you must also be in favor of some measure of gun- control. It is not enough to be anti-abortion to be pro-life.  There must be a consistency in the ethic of life for one to truly embrace the Catholic commitment to a culture of life. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Inauguration Weekend III

Today, at noon, President Obama was sworn in for a second term in the Blue Room of the White House. Tomorrow there will be a public ceremony on the steps of the Capitol.  Today is Sunday and there is a tradition going back to 1821 that when Inauguration Day falls on a Sunday, the public festivities are delayed until Monday.  The last time this happened was with the second inauguration of Ronald Reagan in 1984.  The origins of  this, of course, are to respect the Christian Sabbath although President Monroe, whose inauguration it was in 1821, was only nominally a Christian, being—like Jefferson, Madison, and probably Washington—a Deist, something more akin to today’s Unitarian.     
As far as I could tell there was no prayer in today’s official swearing-in.  Tomorrow there will be both an invocation and a benediction.   The invocation, or opening prayer, will be given not by a member of the clergy but by Myrlie Evers-Williams who was the widow of Medgar Evers, the civil-rights leader whose 1963 murder in Jackson Mississippi became part of the plot to the popular novel, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.  The Benediction will be given by the Reverend Luis Leon, Rector of the Episcopal Church of Saint John, Lafayette Square—the so-called “Church of the Presidents” just across Lafayette Square from the White House. The Obamas are not regular Church attenders as were the Clintons and the Carters though they do attend more often than the Reagans or even the Bushes.  Saint John’s tends to be the default Church more often chosen than other houses of worship.  Other than a funeral the President has not opted to worship in a Catholic Church since becoming President but then, since he would not be welcome at Holy Communion, I can understand why. 
Supposedly the President wanted the opening prayer to be led by someone other than a member of the clergy and thus Mrs. Evers-Williams was invited.  Good choice by the way. Initially the Reverend Louie Giglio, pastor of Atlanta’s Passion City Church had been invited to give the closing prayer, but when some anti-gay remarks were discovered in a twenty-year old sermon, Dr. Leon was named to replace him.  Now, both Luis Leon and Louie Giglio should be Catholic names—that is a topic for some future blogs but right now we will let it pass.  
All this indicates, I believe, that despite their occasional episodes of public worship, President Obama and his family represent the casual approach towards Christian fellowship that is becoming more and more common in our culture.  This is not a criticism, just an observation.  The First Family does not currently have a church membership.  Worship seems to be something that they do “when they need it” and somewhat like the modern hybrid cars who make less frequent trips to the gas station than our old traditional gas-guzzlers, modern Americans—like the Obamas—“fill ‘er up” somewhat infrequently, having other sources of energy.  Of course this contemporary piety (or lack thereof) is based on the idea that worship is something we do for spiritual energy rather than a duty we have towards our Creator.  It is all part of the radical subjectivism that is pac-manning our “culture.” On the other hand, Vice-President Biden and his wife are, I understand, faithful Mass-goers to the annoyance of the Pharisee party in the Catholic Church and the bewilderment of most fellow-liberals who don’t quite know what to make of believing Catholics.  But then Jefferson and Franklin admired the Carrolls but were bewildered by their attachment to our anti-Enlightenment faith.    
Where do we go with this?  Nowhere in particular.  Just read the signs of the times.  Protestant clergy with name like Luis Leon and Louie Giglio; Catholic Chief-Justices swearing in thoroughly secularized Presidents; Liberal Democrats attending Mass without qualms of conscience; laity replacing clergy in leading prayer; public prayer being reduced to the inoffensive and politically correct; and what else might I be missing?  It is a new world and we have no choice but to adapt to it and devise a thoroughly new strategy of evangelizing in this post-Christian culture.  Don’t waste your time crying over spilt holy water—the time for that is past.  This is the time to ask the Holy Spirit’s Guidance on how to bring the Gospel alive in this brave new but vapid world. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Inaugural Weekend II

So we owe gay marriage to Martin
Luther?  Well, in a certain sense, in
the world of unintended consequences,
This weekend the Liturgy of the Roman Rite presents us with the Gospel of the Wedding Feast at Cana.  And there will be many parishes, tragically, that will use the occasion to “defend Marriage” by attacking their fellow citizens whose understanding of what constitutes a marriage is different than our Catholic understanding.  And a fortuitous coincidence of Gospel and calendar will provide an opportunity, while they are at it, to knock the President as he begins a second term of service.  Incidentally, I don’t understand how attacking same-sex marriage, “defends” or upholds the commitment of those in traditional marriages.  I think we need to do everything we can to support those who have committed themselves to Christian marriage, but attacking others doesn’t seem to really add anything positive.   
What we probably should note, though not necessarily in the homily, is that we are at one of those rare historical moments where the tectonic plates of culture are shifting.  The era of Christendom—that period in which a large segment of culture (in this case, “Western” or Euro-American culture) was fashioned by Christian faith and doctrine—is over.   It has been imploding for some time; certainly from 1789 and the end of the ancien regime with its alliance of throne and altar.  The roots of this secularization go back further through the Enlightenment to the Protestant Reformations of the sixteenth century.  (Martin Luther would die to think that he is in some way responsible for gay marriage, but then as he is dead anyway—what difference would it make?)    
Instead of crying about the spilt milk of the Church’s loss of influence (or should we say power?) over society and its norms, we need to ask ourselves what we must do to live as Christians in a post-Christian world.   The game has changed; indeed I think it is becoming more interesting.  This isn’t about Barack Obama and it isn’t about gay marriage: it is about Christians making a choice to follow Jesus Christ in a world that, very much like the world of Jesus and his disciples, challenges rather than supports Gospel Values.   It is time to put on our big boy (or big girl) pants and take responsibility for making Christian choices in a world that demands discipleship be  a decision and not a default. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Inauguration Weekend I

“Teachers should be armed!”  Kooks and Krazies from Rand Paul to the NRA are claiming that the answer to gun violence is to arm teachers.  Well, I am a teacher and I don’t want to be armed.   It is against everything I believe in as a Christian, as a Catholic, as one who is committed to the culture of life. 
From the earliest days of the faith Christians espoused a theology of non-violent resistance to the predominant culture of the day that stressed the very sort of moral decadence that right-wing extremists—including many who claim to be Christians and Catholics—are pushing on America today.  The radical individualism that denies that we are part of a social organism and have a common responsibility for each other’s welfare, the enchantments of material fortune that let us fantasize of wealth without responsibility for those who have not, and now a culture besotted by violence and bloodlust were the very evils of the ancient world condemned by the Church Fathers as incompatible with Christian discipleship.  Today’s religious right focuses its criticisms all but exclusively on sexual issues as if there were no moral issues other than those proceeding from human weakness.  Like the Pharisee in Luke’s Gospel they proclaim where all can hear them: Lord—I thank you that I am not like the rest of men—like those gay people, for example, or those women’s libbers or like that person over there who voted for Obama; I go to church, I condemn abortion…. And like the Pharisee they are justified in no one’s sight but their own. 
The moral failures of our culture are not summed up by women who can find no alternative to their distress but abortion, nor by people who want their love to be recognized and validated in the same way that the passion and commitment their neighbors have.  The moral failures of our culture run far deeper into the sinfulness of the human heart and each of us needs to examine our hearts for the roots of the violence, the rage, the hardness that poisons our relationships with our neighbors.  I am not saying that everyone should do as what pleases them and that there are no moral boundaries—far from it.  But it is far more than moral naiveté to say that we can bring an end to our satanic marriage with violence by giving kindergarten teachers sidearms.  Christians need to look to see how we can build a culture of reconciliation, mutual respect, harmony, and unity to replace the fractious and evil web of anger into which we have devolved.       

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Vatican II--And the Dreams of a Swiss Abbot II

Yesterday I published an entry about Abbot Martin Werlen, Abbot of the famous Swiss pilgrimage shrine, the Abbey of Einsiedeln, and a sermon he preached to the Swiss bishops on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.  Abbot Martin is himself a member of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference  by virtue of the fact that while he is not an ordained bishop he is the Ordinary of a See—the Abbey of Our Lady of Einsiedeln being an Abbey Nullius.  An Abbey Nullius is a quasi-diocese and its Abbot is the Ordinary of the jurisdiction administered by the Abbey.  An Abbey Nullius would have parishes, schools, convents, monasteries, clergy, and laity—just as would a typical diocese.  The Abbey would have its own tribunal, grant annulments, hear ecclesiastical trials, write dimissorial letters for ordinations, grant required dispensations and give faculties to priests and deacons to preach and administer the sacraments—just like a diocese.  In fact, it is a diocese but headed by the Abbot rather than a bishop.  The Abbot would normally be required to bring in a bishop to do the ordinations of priests and deacons, though he could install clerics in the minor ministries of lector and acolyte and he can confirm the faithful.  It is an unusual situation.  Belmont Abbey was the only Abbey in the United States to have this status but renounced its status in 1977 in favor of the Diocese of Charlotte, North Carolina. 
The Abbey of Our Lady of Einsiedeln dates back to the tenth century when Saint Meinrad, a hermit from the Hohenzollern family—the same family from whom the German Kaisers would come nine centuries later (and who says this isn’t a small world)—established a shrine to the Madonna on the Etzel Pass.  Meinrad was murdered by two thieves—traditionally named Richard and Peter—who were trying to rob the gifts left at the shrine by pilgrims.  Other hermits came to take his place, however, and the monk Eberhard, established a monastery and church on the site in the mid tenth-century.  The Abbots were traditionally princes of the Empire until Napoleon suppressed the Holy Roman Empire in the early nineteenth century.  They also were given the ecclesiastical jurisdiction—as mentioned previously—exempt from the authority of any bishops save the Holy See.   This sort of exemption was quite common in the Middle Ages and is one of the ways that the papacy employed in strengthening its own authority at the cost of that of the local bishops.
At the time of the Protestant Reformation Ulrich Zwingli, the Swiss Reformer, came to Einsiedeln and preached against the cult of the Virgin there.  However, the locals knew that their bread was generously buttered by the Blessed Virgin and the Protestant Reformation made little headway in the surrounding region.  The level of monastic observance was relatively strict and the monks have been long admired for their holiness and their scholarship.  The abbey has a very good reputation today and certainly the insightful talk of Abbot Martin only adds to its credit. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Vatican II--And the Dreams of a Swiss Abbot

Pope John XXIII opened up
all sorts of possibilities for
Church when he convoked
Vatican II 50 years ago
Shortly before Christmas, an article by journalist Christa Pongratz-Lippitt about an outspoken Swiss Abbot caught my attention.  Martin Werlen is the abbot of the thousand-year old abbey in Switzerland and he gave a remarkable sermon to the Swiss Bishops in mid-December.  In his sermon Abbot Martin echoed the radical critique given by the late Cardinal Carlo Martini of Milan shortly before his death last year.  The Abbot called for the Church (in this case, the hierarchy) to reexamine several issues: the sacramental status of divorced and remarried Catholics, more democratic structures of leadership,  clerical celibacy.  Perhaps the most dramatic suggestion is that the Church bring laity—both men and women—into the College of Cardinals who elect the Pope and serve as his senate.  Let me post part of the Pongratz-Lippitt’s article:  
 Fifty-year-old Abbot Martin Werlen, leader of the Abbey of Einsiedeln and himself a member of the Swiss bishops’ conference, first voiced his appeal in a sermon on the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council in October. The sermon was later published in a 39-page brochure that sold out within three days and is now in its third edition.
Titled “Discovering the Embers Under the Ashes,” it echoes remarks by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini in his last interview before his death Aug. 31. Referring to the state of the church today, Martini spoke of his sense of powerlessness and how Catholicism’s “embers” were “hidden under the ashes.”
Werlen said he is alarmed by the present state of the church. “The situation of the church is dramatic, not only in the German-speaking countries,” he said. “It is dramatic not only because of the rapidly decreasing number of priests and religious or because of plummeting church attendance. The real problem is not a problem of numbers. What is missing is the fire! We must face the situation and find out what is behind it.”
He said there is leeway for reform and discussed possible reforms at length.
For example, he said, the church could learn from the way the Orthodox church deals with remarried divorced people, who are not barred from Communion. The Catholic church has never condemned the Orthodox approach, Werlen emphasized.
Local churches should also have more say in episcopal nominations, he said, recalling that religious orders have always elected their superiors democratically over the centuries.
On priestly celibacy, he quoted the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1990. The code says that clerical celibacy “is to be greatly esteemed everywhere,” but adds that “likewise, the hallowed practice of married clerics in the primitive Church and in the tradition of the Eastern Churches throughout the ages is to be held in honor.”
There is also a lot of leeway as far as cardinals are concerned, Werlen pointed out. Women and men from all over the world, both young and old, could be elected to the cardinalate for a period of five years and could meet with the pope every three months in Rome. “Such meetings could bring a new dynamism into church leadership,” Werlen suggested.
The church could also “rediscover” synodal processes. “If bishops’ synods are so influentially prepared and accompanied by the Roman Curia that nothing new can emerge, is that a witness of faith?” he asked. As at Vatican II, “bishops should realize their responsibilities and with the help of theologians, and together with the pope, face changes in full faith — and let paper remain paper!”
… “The problems are known. Pope Benedict on occasion refers to them. But nothing concrete is done to solve them,” Werlen said.
Sweeping problems under the table or forbidding discussion of certain issues undermines the church’s credibility, he warned.
…But polarization between conservatives and progressives in the church, which he said has now reached a “frightening” level, has a deadening effect, he cautioned.
“I myself together with the Einsiedeln community would like to take another path, namely that of seeking the embers in the ashes,” he said. He pointed out that Einsiedeln is in dialogue with both the Lefebvrist Society of St. Pius X and the progressive Catholic theologian Fr. Hans Küng.
…After reading the brochure, Bishop Markus Büchel of Sankt Gallen, newly elected president of the Swiss bishops’ conference, released the following statement: “Abbot Werlen has taken up urgent questions the faithful are asking; he has outlined the problems very clearly and has put forward possible solutions. This is an impetus for very necessary discussions in the church that are also a great concern of mine. That is why I am most thankful to him.”


Monday, January 14, 2013

Faith Lost, Faith To Be Regained

Quinn Abbey, County Clare
I have been in Ireland this past week.  I came for meetings—I come often and know the country well.  I have quite a few contacts here, both professional and personal.  And Friday evening where I was “down in the country”—meaning in the west of Ireland—with people I have known for some forty years we had a fascinating discussion regarding the challenges facing the Church here.  Now this small group of seven or eight are all still practicing Catholics—which, I must admit, surprised me somewhat.  As I said I have known them for decades and heard their gripes and complaints about the Church—gripes and complaints that I would say are quite justified in the particular situations that they had described—but here they are still going to Mass regularly and friends with their various parish priests (the term for pastor both here in Ireland and in canon law).  But they had some very insightful comments nonetheless.
Even a generation ago Ireland was strongly Catholic.  Two generations ago vocations were not only plentiful but now empty seminaries and convents were then swarming.  Was it the economic boom that killed the faith—I asked—the Celtic Tigre?  Well, they opined, that did play a role in it; the current recession has seen a slight rise in Mass attendance.  But they offered several other suggestions.  One is that while the practices of the faith: Mass attendance, meatless Fridays, family rosary, etc. were well defined, there was never good catechesis.  People knew what to do but they never understood what it was about. Even in the glory days of Catholic Ireland it was cultural but not deeply rooted.  They talked about going to Mass as youngsters.  The men, they said, would stand outside smoking until the Sanctus bell and duck inside the back until the priest’s communion and then were back outside lighted up.  The women would say their rosaries with rapid speed—making three and four tours around the beads in the course of a single Mass—but pay no attention at all to the Mass itself.  Priests were praised for the speed with which they could say Mass.  And after Mass on the way home the discussion was “Did you see that one?  And how does she have the nerve to come to Mass with her being out all night with her man from Doolin?   And him—and he was going to communion after he was in the pub last night and carrying on as if he weren’t a married man?”  It was a remarkably frank conversation about how shallow the faith sometimes was even where it was supposedly healthy.
One of my academic colleagues is from Krakow and he happens to be a priest. Now I have often been to Poland as well, though not as often as to Ireland, and remarked to him how strong the faith is in Poland.  He is quite cynical about the Polish situation and believes that for most it is only a cultural attachment.  He claims that while Church attendance is still strong, when it comes to issues from abortion to alcohol abuse to domestic violence the Catholic faith makes little impact on the church-going Pole.  “There is a ‘wall of separation’ between religion and daily life.  We are Catholics because we are Poles and aren’t like the Evangelical Germans or the Orthodox Russians—but if it weren’t that our historic enemies were either Lutherans or Russians, we would have no idea what it means to be Catholic.”
I think this points to the need for us to look long and hard at catechetics and the most effective ways to catechize the youth we still have.  I still believe the most effective catechetical tool we have is the liturgy itself.  This doesn’t mean that the priest should use the homily at mass to “teach.”  There is a world of difference between teaching and preaching and for my money there is nothing more deadly than an academic homily.  A homily is meant to relate the scriptures read at Mass to daily Christian living.  But I think if the liturgy were celebrated with great thought being given to the music selected, to the petitions being written, and to clear and honest ritual without the distracting fuss and bother so many priests overlay it with these days, the basic elements of our faith would be imprinted on our mind week after week.  Neither the happy-clappy liturgies of the left nor the ceremonial rigid pomposity of the right wing clergy does this but what we need is a good, prayerful, focus on the key truth of our faith: that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son that whoever believes him may not perish but may have eternal life for God did not send his son to condemn the world but rather so that the world may be saved through him.        

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Pope! A Democrat After All?

Sorry for the gap in entries.  I have been on the road a bit and also puzzled as how to post pictures on the blog because the posting mechanism has been changed.  I have a huge archive of photos—both my own and others’—and can’t seem to post from that archive any longer.  I am sure I will figure out a strategy but until then will have to depend on photos already used or available through the web. 
But as for content: In his New Year Day’s speech Pope Benedict deplored the increasing gap between rich and poor in our world.  He was speaking not only of rich nations and poor nations but also rich and poor within societies in the developed world.  This is a very pertinent issue considering the arguing about fiscal reforms in the United States and in particular about varying tax rates for rich and the middle class.  I can see the growing divide in the American economy as the middle class slowly slides downwards into (relative) poverty. 
The Holy Father deplored: "the increasing differences between those few who grow ever richer and the many who grow hopelessly poorer." The financial crisis took root, he said, "because profit was all too often made absolute, to the detriment of labor, and because of unrestrained ventures in the financial areas of the economy, rather than attending to the real economy." He urged people to resist the temptations for "short-term interests" at the expense of the common good.  Are you listening, Paul Ryan?  And you bishops who supported Ryan?  Damn! Who would have thought Benedict was a Democrat!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Today's Rebellious Catholics

 You want more about rebellious Catholics?  Look at this video about those damn trouble making nuns that keep poor Archbishop Lori and feather-headed Knights of Columbus Grand Poobah Carl Anderson and Cardinals Burke and Law from getting restful nights’ sleep.  Fortunately with the new prefect, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the “problem” has gone to a Vatican back burner, but I think this trailer makes it clear that the only problem with the nuns is that they take the Gospel seriously.  Hmmm—maybe we do need to think about turning over Church leadership to women.     


Friday, January 4, 2013

Rebellious Catholics VI

Elizabeth I, target of Papal Plots
Imagine for a moment: You have a foreign religious leader sending foreign-trained clerics into a Christian country with orders to kill the leaders of government and replace them with their own coreligionists who will impose their religion on the native population.  No I am not speaking of Radical Islamic Terrorists infiltrating the United States; I am speaking of sixteenth century Roman Catholics Terrorists infiltrating England.  You have a Pope who has declared the Monarch to be a “servant of crime” and deposed for her religious views.  The Pope further declared her Catholic subjects freed of any allegiance to her and in the name of their religion forbade them to obey her in any matter, civil or religious.  Priests trained in the dominions of her enemies, the Kings of Spain and France, were sent into the country encouraging plots for the Queen’s overthrow and murder in  hopes of replacing her with a Catholic monarch who would suppress English constitutional freedoms and imposed the Catholic faith on the realm.  Who thinks of a sainted pope as an Ayatollah; Jesuits as radical clerics (ok, I’ll give you that one), and devout Catholics as religious terrorists, but there you have it.  For us the Papal Ayatollah is a canonized saint; the terrorist plotters canonized or beatified martyrs; and the cause, Catholicism.  How often are our moral judgments no more than matters of perspective?     
Well, back to the unfolding story of Mary, Queen of Scots—a pawn in this drama—the would be Catholic replacement for Protestant Elizabeth.  When we left our saga, Mary had been deposed from the Scottish throne by her Protestant barons, ostensibly for having married the Earl of Bothwell, the man suspect in the death of her previous husband, Lord Darnley.   Of course, the reasons were far more complex than that and the religious tensions of Scotland in the 1560’s and ‘70’s played a major part in the dissatisfaction of the Protestant barons and populace with the Catholic Queen. Even more to the core of the issue, however, was Mary’s failure to know how to rule and the consequent civil unrest.  In any event, in May the deposed Queen fled south across the border to England.
Mary’s hope was that Elizabeth of England would help her regain her Scottish throne.  They were, after all, both anointed monarchs and it served neither that the idea should spread that an anointed Sovereign should be forced to abdicate by the nobility of the realm.  Elizabeth was sympathetic to the argument but was caught in a difficult position herself.  Mary was her nearest relative and consequently the heir apparent to her own throne.  It did not serve Protestant Elizabeth’s welfare to have her heir, a Catholic, in England where Mary could be a rallying point for rebels against Elizabeth.  And of course, a letter to English Catholics from the Pope—Saint Pius V (notice the “Saint” part) and the Bull, Regnans in Excelsis—commanding English Catholics to withhold their loyalty to Elizabeth did not make Mary any the more welcome to Elizabeth.    It would be much better for Elizabeth if Mary were back in her own kingdom and busy with her own problems there.  On the other hand, Elizabeth’s Council—all Protestant—didn’t favor England helping a Catholic Queen regain control over and against the Protestant rulers of a neighboring country.  Moreover, Elizabeth was troubled by rumors of Mary’s involvement in Darnley’s murder.   So Elizabeth convened an inquest to investigate Mary’s role in the murder.  
The Earl of Moray, regent for the infant James VI and thus chief opponent of Mary’s return to Scotland, produced a silver jewel-box with the monogram of Francis II of France, Mary’s first husband, containing love letters and poems from Mary to Darnley’s suspected killer, the Earl of Bothwell.   If the letters were genuine they could be construed as proof of a plot between Mary and Bothwell to do away with Darnley and marry his murderer.  Historians even today are undecided if the letter were genuine.  As the original letters were destroyed by Mary’s son, James VI, in 1584, they cannot be examined for evidence.  Most contemporary historians believe they were forgeries but while their authenticity might indicate their conspiracy, their being forgeries proves nothing either way.  Mary may or may not have been party to Darnley’s murder, but she certainly was a more than willing partner to marriage with his alleged (and probable) murderer.  Elizabeth’s inquest ended, as Elizabeth had planned, with no verdict.  Mary was kept in England, far from the Scots border lest her allies rescue and rally around her and yet distant enough from London to be no threat to Elizabeth. 
Well, one can’t say no-threat to Elizabeth as Mary became the focus of several plots by English Catholic nobles and gentry to do away with Elizabeth and put Mary on the throne.  Elizabeth’s council became increasingly anxious to be rid of Mary and wanted her executed but Elizabeth saw that it would not set a good precedent to executed an anointed monarch.      
Mary’s imprisonment was far from severe.  She maintained her own household with usually about twenty retainers including Catholic chaplains.  She was permitted Catholic worship in her chapel.  She had her own cooks and ate as befits a Queen.  She received visitors seated on a chair of state under a royal canopy. Her possessions filled over 30 wagons.  She never let those responsible for her oversight forget that she was a Queen.  She would spend nineteen years in captivity. 
Elizabeth’s advisors wanted to be rid of Mary and while Elizabeth herself was reluctant to move against a fellow Queen, members of her Council began to actively seek reasons to do away with the Catholic threat to the Crown—and threat to their influence over that Crown.  In 1584, after several Catholic plots against Elizabeth in Mary’s favor, Mary’s imprisonment became more restrictive under the oversight of Sir Amias Paulet, a rabid anti-Catholic Calvinist.  Yet Mary still maintained her own household and chaplains and compromised not at all about her style and rank as a Queen.  In response to the Ridolfi plot and the Throckmorton plot—both Catholic led plots to overthrow Elizabeth and replace her with Mary—Parliament passed ever more severe laws against those who might plot against Elizabeth to put Mary on the throne.  Mary herself would eventually be caught in the web of those laws.      
The occasion to use those laws to get rid of Mary came with the 1586 Babington Plot, named for a twenty-five year old Catholic Nobleman, Sir Anthony Babington, who conspired with agents of Philip II of Spain and members of Mary’s household to assassinate Elizabeth and, with the aid of an invasion army from Spain, put Mary on the English throne and restore Catholicism.  Philip II was motivated in this by the 1570 Bull of Pius V, Regnans in Excelsis, which declared Elizabeth an usurper and admonished Catholics not to recognize her as Monarch.  Philip had declared his willingness to work with English rebels who would put the “rightful” monarch—Mary—on the throne.  Now Philip was a devout, indeed fanatical, Catholic but his purposes were not to implement a Papal Bull but rather to use that bull as the occasion to exercise Spanish influence over England.  Spain was the greatest power of the day with its vast American colonies and the titanic amount of gold those colonies were producing, but England was the up and coming power that would soon challenge Spain and which, indeed, by the late 17th century replace Spain as the greatest naval power and expand its Empire way beyond that of Spain.  In other words, Philip wanted to crush the English serpent while it was still in the egg and before it could be a threat to his empire.  Putting Mary on the throne of England would make England a client-state of Spain rather than a potential rival.  If it advanced the Catholic faith—all the better, but that was a benefit not a motivation. 
The Babington Plot failed miserably.  It had been infiltrated by Elizabeth’s security system under Sir Francis Walsingham.  Moreover, despite Pius’ injunctions in Regnans in Excelsis, the majority of English Catholics among the nobility and gentry were loyal subjects of Elizabeth and Babington found nowhere near the support he needed. The end result was that Babington and thirteen coconspirators were executed for treason.  More seriously, Mary herself was accused of treason and brought to trial.  She was convicted on October 25, 1586 and sentenced to death for treason.   
Even then, Elizabeth was slow to act.  Parliament and Council insisted Mary be put to death.  Elizabeth didn’t like the idea.  Kill one queen, you can kill any queen and Elizabeth did want to show that Monarchs were liable to execution.  She had a point.  Her execution of Mary would be used as a precedent when Parliament executed Mary’s grandson Charles I in 1649.  Charles’ execution in turn would be the precedent for the execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette of France in 1793.  Their execution would set the model for the murder of the Russian Imperial family in 1918.  You see how these ideas spread? 
Under pressure Elizabeth reluctantly signed a death warrant but she entrusted it to her secretary William Davison, a privy-councilor, with instructions not to part with it—in other words, to make sure it was not used.  Now it wasn’t that Elizabeth didn’t want to see Mary dead, she just didn’t want a public execution.  Elizabeth tried to use her influence to have Mary secretly poisoned—as if that wouldn’t be suspicious under the circumstances.   No assassins could be found, however—Sir Amias Palet, Mary’s gaoler (jailer) being a rabid evangelical was one who refused to do such a dastardly deed.  Elizabeth kept dragging her feet about allowing the execution.  William Cecil, Lord Burleigh—Elizabeth’s first councillor—convened a meeting of the Privy Council without Elizabeth’s knowledge and mandated the execution.
Mary was beheaded on the morning of February 8th   1587 at Fotheringhay Castle.  Executions of this sort were state occasions and done amidst elaborated ritual.  It was, after all, a death and so black was the color of the day.  The Hall was draped in black, the scaffold erected in the middle of the room was draped in black, and all present wore black.  Three stools, all draped and cushioned in black were provided—one for the victim until such time in the ceremony she was to kneel at the chopping block, and two for the Earls of Shrewsbury and Kent, the official witnesses of the Queen.   
Mary was a Queen and she determined to control the scene—which she did.  She had been informed the night before that she was to be executed in the morning and after writing her will and a letter to her brother-in-law Henri III of France, spent the night in prayer in the castle chapel.  She emerged in the morning into the Hall of the Castle carrying her rosaries, tall, strong, and with determination.  She was dressed, as was the protocol, from head to foot in black. The axemen knelt and asked her pardon, which she graciously and with a smile granted.  Before kneeling at the block she had to disrobe of her veil and gown to give the headsman a clear chop, and as her dress fell to the ground the crowd gasped as she was left in her under-bodice and petticoats which were of scarlet red—the color of martyrs.  The point was lost neither on her executioners nor on historians. Her maids blindfolded the Queen with a gold-embroidered kerchief and she knelt and the block, extending her arms like the crucified.  Her last words were “in manuas tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum” (into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit).  
Mary’s most dramatic moment and the one in which she trumped her executioners came after the beheading.   As the executioner held  up her head by its auburn tresses and cried out the traditional “Behold, the head of a traitor; God Save the Queen,” Mary’s bald head fell free of what had been but a wig and rolled to the edge of the stage, leaving the headsman holding but a wig and the audience shaken by the display.  
Mary’s remains were conveyed to nearby Peterborough cathedral where they were interred after a Protestant service.  When her son James VI of Scotland acceded to the English Throne as James I of England, he had his mother’s body moved to Westminster Abbey and entombed in the chapel of Henry VII, across the aisle from the tomb of Elizabeth.  Just as a historical note, her original gravesite in Peterborough Cathedral was directly across the Quire from the resting place of Katherine of Aragon, first wife to Henry VIII, the remote and indirect perpetrator of so much of this misfortune.  A Saint—no.  A marty, no.  A politician and an actress—Mary Queen of Scots was among the best.       


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Rebellious Catholics V

James Hepburn, 4th Earl
of Bothwell

We have been looking at the Saga of Mary, Queen of Scots—a figure whom Catholic mythology has converted into a saintly woman and a martyr for the faith when in fact she was a woman of somewhat compromised morals and ambition for the death of the Queen of England in hopes of stealing her throne.  If you check the previous two posts, you will find that Mary inherited the throne of Scotland as a six-day-old infant, but was raised in France to be Queen there.  She was widowed while still in her teens and returned to Scotland where she was caught between the Protestant and Catholic parties attempting to dominate Scots politics.  She was freed from the trap of a second and unhappy marriage to a rather slimy and ambitious rake by the assassination of her husband—to which she may (or may not) have been party.  And now, as we pick up the story, she is about to be married a third time—to the prime suspect in her husband’s murder.  But first he has to be rid of his new wife so he can abduct, rape, and marry the Queen.  Yes rape.  Or maybe not quite.  And so back to our story. 
About a year after her marriage to Bothwell, Lady Jean Godorn began divorce proceedings against him, alleging his adultery with one of her servants, a Bessie Crawford.  Bothwell’s friends, not his enemies, were urging her to divorce him and providing the evidence she needed to prosecute her case. Bothwell himself wanted out of the marriage—for reasons we shall soon see—and Lady Jean seems to have been happy to be rid of him.  The Protestant Court Consistory—the equivalent of a Catholic Tribunal—granted the divorce.  A Catholic annulment was also obtained from Archbishop Hamilton of St. Andrews on the grounds that the proper dispensations needed because Bothwell and Lady Jean were related had not been obtained.  What is strange in this decree is that Archbishop Hamilton himself had issued the dispensations before the marriage.  (An annulment was necessary because at the time the marriage of a Catholic [Lady Jean in this instance] before a Protestant minister was not automatically invalid as it would be today.)  What is strange about this divorce and subsequent annulment is that it all seems “arranged” in such a way as to leave Bothwell free to marry someone else.  Hmm, I wonder who.  Lady Jean for her part seemed content to be done with the marriage and, in fact, it was her brother George who supervised the process of freeing Bothwell from the entanglement. 
Of course there was still the matter of Bothwell’s being suspect in the death of Darnley.  He was brought to trial in April 1567.  He made a public show of his arrival at court with an entourage of his retainers along with leading peers of the realm and after a process of only seven hours was acquitted of the murder.   Several days later, an assembly of Lords Spiritual (bishops) and Lords Temporal (Peers of the Realm) presented a petition to Bothwell to hand to the Queen beseeching her to marry a Scotsman and not a foreign husband.     Hmmm, I wonder whom they all had in mind?  
On April 24th Bothwell, with an armed escort of 800 followers, kidnapped Mary (who seems willingly to have accompanied him) and took her to his castle at Dunbar where he raped her.  (I told you this guy was slime, but before you make a judgment about him, read on.)  Rape required that he marry the Queen—who many argue was a willing “victim” so as to provide reasons to justify the marriage.  (Bizarre as it is to us, among the genteel classes of the time, marriage to the perpetrator was the way to restore a woman’s “honor” after rape, providing that the rapist was a “gentleman” and not a commoner.  Arranged rapes were often used to require marriages that otherwise would have been difficult to justify.)   Two weeks later, Mary named Bothwell Duke of Orkney and married him on May 15, 1567 in a Protestant ceremony in Holyroodhouse Palace. This marriage took place twelve days after his divorce from Lady Jean Gordon was granted—an indication that the whole affair was being orchestrated to allow for the Mary/Bothwell match.   Many of the Scots who were convinced that Bothwell had been Darnley’s murderer were outraged at the Queen’s marriage to him and rose in rebellion.  At Carberry Hill, Mary’s army dwindled away and Mary was arrested by the rebels; Bothwell fled.  Mary was confined at Loch Leven castle where she was forced to abdicate in favor of her son James  (who then became James VI of Scotland and would eventually succeed Elizabeth as James I of England).  Mary’s half-brother, the Earl of Moray, was named Regent for the child-king.
Bothwell, for his part, fled to Denmark but instead of finding refuge was arrested by the Trondson family for having abandoned his wife, Anna Trondson. Remember her?  He was held in captivity until he would return her dowry.  His ship was confiscated in place of the debt but the King of Denmark kept him in prison to please Elizabeth of England who held him guilty for the murder of her cousin, Lord Darnley.  O what tangled webs we weave.  He died insane in 1578.  
Mary, for her part, was able to escape her confinement at Lock Leven.  She rallied an army but was defeated at Langside on Mayr 13, 1568 and fled south to England hoping—against all reason—to enlist Elizabeth’s help in regaining her throne.   Once across the border she was taken into protective custody at Carlisle. And here we will break the story once more, but you can see already that Mary was no saint.