Saturday, April 30, 2016

Going Into The Windup With The First Stone

Fr. Daniel Coughlin
Chaplain, US House
of Representatives
Let’s all take a walk down Memory Lane to late 1999 when then newly-elected Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, (an “Evangelical Christian”) appointed a bi-partisan committee of Members of the House to nominate a new chaplain.  Technically, the appointment of a Chaplain to the House is a prerogative of the Speaker, but as the Chaplain is available to all members of the Chamber for Spiritual Guidance, Hastert believed that a search committee would be a good idea.  There were over 50 applicants for the job; heading the list of three finalists submitted to Speaker Hastert was Father Timothy O’Brien, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, nominated for the post by Representative Gerald Kleczka (Wisconsin, Democrat). Never before in its 210 year history had the House had a Catholic Chaplain.  It almost didn’t then. 
O’Brien holds a doctorate and is a professor of Political Science at Marquette University.   His undergraduate degree is in Pastoral Ministry; his specialized studies include Counseling and Addictive Personality; he has been Consultant to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Department of Social Ministry since 1984; he served as Chaplain at Walter Reed Medical Center; he has worked in youth ministries most of his life; and for three decades he has counseled soldiers—male and female, single and married—as a Colonel in the Army Reserve. In other words, O’Brien was a man of remarkable qualification for the job.  Speaker Hastert, supported by Texas Representative and House Majority Leader, Dick Armey, (Presbyterian) passed over Father O’Brien and Episcopalian Reverend Robert Dvorak to choose Presbyterian Charles Nathan Wright.  Immediately there were cries of “foul” and “anti-Catholicism” as it was revealed that while the committee had overwhelming recommended O’Brien as first choice, there were House members who had pass questionable remarks.  Representative Steve Largent (Republican Okla.; “Born Again Christian”) passed the derogatory remark about O’Brien’s clerical collar: “Tell me about that thing you’re wearing.”  Others publically wondered how a man who was himself unmarried could be resourceful to married counselees.  One went so far as to question whether an unmarried clergyman could be of sound moral character.  There were unfounded rumors of financial improprieties.  The whole thing became quite unsavory.  Hastert and his Evangelical supporters, being very blunt that they wanted a Protestant chaplain, dug in their heels and insisted on Wright.  House Whip, Tom DeLay (Republican, TX, and a Baptist) asserted that O’Brien would never serve as Chaplain.  But mainline Republicans, especially from beyond he Bible Belt, began to feel pressure from their constituents.   When even conservative Catholics began to complain about Republican Presidential candidate George W. Bush opening his campaign at notoriously anti-Catholic Bob Jones University, the credibility of the Republican Party in regard to respect for its Catholic members made Hastert find the quickest way to undo to the damage.  
In the end Reverend Wright withdrew his acceptance of the post.  This time Hastert skipped all the niceties of a search committee and contacted Chicago Archbishop Francis George for a suggestion of a priest that could fit the bill.   The Archbishop suggested Father Daniel Coughlin of Chicago.  Congress was out of session when Hastert made the appointment but elected Coughlin as House Chaplain on January 2, 2001 when the 107th congress convened.  Father Coughlin did remarkable work as a chaplain until his retirement in 2001.  As a testimony to the success of his ministry, his successor is another Catholic priest, the Jesuit Father Patrick Conroy. 
Now of course Mr. Hastert finds himself in troubles of his own.  Surprisingly many of his “Evangelical” colleagues, including Mr. DeLay and other former members of the House have written letters praising his contribution to American Political Life and recommending leniency in his sentencing.  This is an American cultural problem: the sin is not in the act it is in the getting caught. While the issues are essentially different, the same flaw of public righteousness concealing private sin underlies the Michael Voris situation.  Again, many of the neo-trads are rallying to him, calling him “brave,” and “an example for us all.” Can you imagine how the American public would have reacted to Hastert's abuse of young men in the days when he wielded such power from the Speaker’s Chair?  This was the time of Karl Rove and his cynical exploitation of religious conservatives.  They hypocrisy of so many of those same voices has gradually come to light and done tremendous damage to any and all religious credibility.  The same is true of Michael Voris.  I will give him credit for having “abandoned his sinful ways” but in his embracing a gospel of contempt and disdain for those in whose company he once found himself, he has only reinforced a negative view of Catholicism. 

I am sorry that Mr. Hastert and Mr. Voris had ever been trapped in their particular questionable lifestyles but I wish that they had learned understanding rather than judgment from their experiences.  A healthy recovery from sin reminds us to stand with the publican and pray “Have mercy on me for I am a sinner,” rather than with the Pharisee reminding God of our alleged righteousness.  Maybe the rest of us, whether or not we have mud caked on our hands, can learn not to throw stones but to ask God for the gift of a listening heart.  (cf 1 Kings 3:9)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Let's Not Play In The Mud

Michael Voris
Just as I was posting the last entry on Father James Martin and his “ten takeaways” from Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, there was a not so startling public confession from self-proclaimed Catholic media apologist Michael Voris that he had, prior to his “reversion” to our Catholic faith “lived a life of live-in relationships with homosexual men.” 
What prompted Mr. Voris to emerge from the closets of his former lovers is that apparently the Archdiocese of New York has been going to considerable lengths to investigate Voris who is an outspoken critic of the Cardinal-Archbishop of New York and many other American bishops.  The Archdiocese—and its Cardinal Archbishop—apparently see a need to discredit Mr. Voris and are willing to get down into the mud to do it. 
I am not surprised at Mr. Voris’ admission.  I am a bit off-put by his avoidance of a deeper self-honesty, attributing his choices to being “confused about my own sexuality” and his claim that “From the outside, I lived the lifestyle and contributed to scandal in addition to the sexual sins. On the inside, I was deeply conflicted about all of it.”  The implication is that others took advantage of “the deep pains of my youth.”   It would not be fair to say that Mr. Voris should acknowledge his homosexuality because it seems from his statements that that he has yet to connect the dots of his past relationships to create an accurate self-portrait.  I think he has been as honest, as remarkably honest, with his audience as he is with himself; the need is for him to do more homework on himself and come to understand better his own psycho-sexual identity.    
I must admit that I am not surprised at Mr. Voris’ admission of having led a gay lifestyle for so long.  His opposition to same-sex issues—gay priests and seminarians, same-sex marriage, a supportive policy of pastoral care of those with same-sex attraction, parishes such as Saint Francis Xavier in NYC that are “gay friendly”—has been so disproportionate to other issues as to identify homosexuality as one of Mr Voris’ obsessions, and an unhealthy obsession at that.  Happy, well-adjusted heterosexual men don’t usually have the passion to wage homophobic campaigns that Mr. Voris had demonstrated. 
I only wish that the wild and wooly sexual experiences of Mr. Voris’s past life  had taught him compassion rather than had confirmed him in black and white judgment.  By this I don’t mean that he should validate the LGBT socio-political agenda but rather that it is sad that he cannot look at the LGBT socio-political agenda and see not a niche for a cultural warrior to make a name for himself  but to see the individual men and women who have all the challenges and confusions and “deep pains” of their youths that comprise the struggles of human lives, gay or straight.  We all need to look beyond the categories into which we pigeonhole people and see each individual in his or her particular struggle to find the inner energy to love God and to love one’s neighbor.  Life is just not lived in the black and white. 
What is the scandal in this story is not Mr. Voris’ past life.  Every one of us has a past.  What is the scandal is that the New York Archdiocese decided to snoop in various closets in order to discredit a detractor.   I will be the first to say that the American hierarchy should have long ago sidelined Voris—along with the late Mother Angelica, Judy Brown, Michael Hichborn, Matt Abbott and others who set themselves up as an alternative magisterium, but do it without slinging mud and digging into individuals’ personal lives.  Mud does not become Holy Mother Church; we have given our enemies enough mud to sling at us, we don’t need to play in it ourselves.  

Father Martin, Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia--Takeaway II

Well to stir up the hornet’s nest, let’s return to Father Martin and his “ten takeaways” from Pope Francis and Amoris Laetitia.  The issue today is the sovereignty of conscience.  In forming our conscience we must pay serious attention to the teaching of the Church—but the teaching of the Church cannot take the place of conscience nor can we be expected to give blind obedience to the teaching of the Church as that would be equivalent to resigning our personal responsibility for making moral decisions.  We need personally and seriously to consider the choices that face us in life.  The Church provides guidance, but it must be our interior adherence to the Holy Spirit that sets our course.   
2. The role of conscience is paramount in moral decision making. “Individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the church’s practice in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage” (303). That is, the traditional belief that individual conscience is the final arbiter of the moral life has been forgotten here. The church has been “called to form consciences, not to replace them” (37). Yes, it is true, the Pope says, that a conscience needs to be formed by church teaching. But conscience does more than to judge what does or does not agree with church teaching. Conscience can also recognize with “a certain moral security” what God is asking (303). Pastors, therefore, need to help people not simply follow rules, but to practice “discernment,” a word that implies prayerful decision making (304).
Where I think a lot of people go wrong in the process is that they take the teaching of the Church as one opinion among many and do not honestly wrestle with its authoritative angel.  But it is important to acknowledge that at the end of the dark night of struggle, God does ot always grant the victory to the magisterial angel.  
Franz Jäggerstätter was a farmer from Sankt Radegund in Austria.  He was born illegitimate though he was adopted by his mother’s husband after her marriage in 1917 and took his family name.  Jäggerstätter was not a religious, much less devout, youth and in addition to a life of general rowdiness, he himself fathered a daughter out of wedlock.  However in 1936 he married Franziska Schwaninger, a very devout Catholic and himself underwent a personal conversion.  He joined the Third Order of Saint Francis and undertook the duties as Sacristan in his local parish.  He was the only citizen of Sankt Radegund to vote against the Anschluss (the union of Austria to the Third Reich) in 1938 and although he was conscripted into the Army in 1940, his work as a farmer gave him a deferment from service.
As the war progressed Jäggerstätter began to question its morality.  He even had several interviews with his bishop whom he, Jäggerstätter, felt was avoiding the moral issues surrounding the War.  When called up for active service he felt that he could not in conscious serve despite the assurances of both his bishop and parish priest that it was his responsibility to his family and his duty as a citizen.  He was arrested and imprisoned and tried in a military court for the “undermining military morale” by his objections to the legitimacy of the War.   He was executed by guillotine on August 9, 1943.
Even in death he was excoriated by the Church for his conscientious objection.  Remember that in Jäggerstätter’s time the Catholic Church had established no criterion to justify conscientious objection.  His parish priest told him that by putting himself in the position where he would be executed he would be neglecting his duty towards his wife and children.  He died in disgrace and without the support of the Church.  It was only in the 1960’s through the efforts of Gordon Zahn and Thomas Merton that his story became known and he was perceived as a hero of conscience.  He was beatified in 2007 and his feast day is May 21. 
I think today there is no Christian who would disagree with Jäggerstätter that the Nazi cause was sinful and unjust but that is not how it was seen at the time.  To the contrary—the German and Austrian bishops and clergy supported the War and even the Pope was deliberately (and scandalously) vague, if not silent, about the atrocities of the Third Reich.  Jäggerstätter determined his conscience contrary to what he was being told were Catholic principles. 

A simpler example, though far less dramatic, is the one found in the Gospel of Luke (also found in Matthew and Mark) where the Disciples pick grain on the Sabbath to satisfy their hunger.  They were in violation of the Law.  Jesus could see, however, how the Law did not apply in their instance and reprimanded the Pharisees and scribes who criticize them.  This is only one of many examples in the Gospels where Jesus himself sanctions—and even practices—a violation of the Law of Moses because the particular situation is complicated by extraneous factors that require a moral response distinct from strict literal obedience to the Law of God.    

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Foundations of the Anglican Church CXXIX

George Cornelius Gorham
Well, back to the Anglicans for a posting or two.  I had mentioned that the Oxford Movement did not begin about liturgical practices but about a return to patristic theology and doctrinal orthodoxy as opposed to the influences of 19th century skepticism and liberalism which were threatening the Church.  Gregory XVI and Pius IX were able to control these threats by decree (and vindictive punishment) in the Catholic Church, but the Church of England had only the Sovereign (and, for practical purposes, that meant Parliament, a religiously heterogeneous assortment of miscreants at best) to preserve its doctrinal integrity.  The voices of Oxford were an internal “from the grass-roots up” reform of the Church and it was, overall, quite successful when you consider the odds it was facing.  As a result of the Oxford push for a High Church polity that went far beyond where Laud would have ever dared, the Church of England polarized a bit between the High Church patristic theologians and the Low Church Evangelical theologians, but liberalism (the nasty sort represented by the Earl of Shaftsbury and the rationalists) was effectively purged from the Church for almost a century and a half. 
An interesting occurrence in the Church of England at this time gives us a glimpse of the theological liberalism from which the Oxford Movement was able to preserve the Church of England. 
George Cornelius Gorham was a priest of the Church of England.  He had graduated from Queen’s College, Cambridge, with honors in Mathematics in 1805 and was ordained priest for the Church of England in 1811 despite the Bishop’s (Thomas Dampier of Ely) concern for his orthodoxy.  In particular Gorham denied the doctrine of Baptismal regeneration—that the newly baptized, by virtue of the Sacrament, was “reborn” and incorporated into the Body of Christ, the Church.  Gorham’s objections were based on a curious mixture of Calvinism and rationalism.  The theological implication of his view is that sacraments are only what we make of them and are not God’s promise and deliverance of grace.  This is the problem with the ambiguities of the Anglican tradition—the pacific avoidance of clear doctrinal stands leaves open the possibilities of un-orthodox interpretations.  Gorham didn’t have a particularly successful career in the Church, he was almost 60 years old when he was finally given a parish of his own, St. Just in Penwith and that was in Cornwall.  Bishop of Exeter, Henry Phillpotts (of whom we heard in the surplice riots) seemed to have no reason to refuse him a pulpit despite his liberal theology.  However, only a year later when Gorham was presented for the living of Saint Peter’s Church, Bramford Speke, Phillpotts refused to institute him parish on account of Gorham’s theological stance.  Gorham appealed to an ecclesiastical court which upheld Bishop Phillpott’s decision. Gorham then appealed over the Church to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.  This was a dramatic move because it took a matter of doctrine from the jurisdiction of the Church and appealed to a governmental body for a decision.  Gorham was vindicated by the Privy Council but almost a score of prominent Anglicans left the Church of England—mostly for the Catholic Church—as a result, rejecting the idea that the temporal power had authority in matters spiritual.  Bishop Phillpott was so incensed that he threated to excommunicate any bishop—including the Archbishop of Canterbury—who might come to institute Gorham in his new living.  Instituted or not Gorham took up the living and remained there the remaining nine years or so of his life.  He carried out considerable restoration work in the Church, a project for which “no hard feelings” Phillpott contributed. 
The Gorham case gives us insight into various issues that troubled—and some which continue to trouble—the Church of England.  As a State Church the Government has immense influence over the Church—appointing bishops and, at least in the past, needing to approve changes in the Liturgy.  Given that all members of the Cabinet, much less Parliament, are not required to be Anglicans this becomes rather bizarre.