Thursday, March 16, 2017

Without cost have you received; without cost shall you give (MT 10:8)

I must offer a deep respectful bow in the direction of Opus Dei Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne, archbishop of Lima, Peru.  The best I can tell, he unabashedly stands for what the Roman Catholic hierarchy is all about…money.

Last week I visited Lima and tried unsuccessfully to visit its cathedral.  Here’s a recap of my effort.

Cashier: (As I tried to just walk in the church door.)  Excuse me, you must buy a ticket.
Me: A ticket?  For a church?  I’ve visited many of the greatest cathedrals in the world and never paid. 
Cashier: You have to pay to visit the Religious Art Museum.
Me: We don’t want to visit the Religious Art Museum.  We want to visit the Cathedral.
Cashier: The cathedral is only a church when there are services.   The rest of the time it is a museum.  It’s free only when there are services.
Me: (Thinking any cathedral I’ve visited has oodles of services) Well, when is the next service?
Cashier: Saturday (This was Monday, by the way.)
 Me: Saturday?  When does the cathedral have services?
Cashier:  Saturday and Sunday mornings only. 

Canon 1221 states, “Entry to a church at the hours of sacred functions is to be open and free of charge.”  This leaves the option to charge for things like sacred music concerts offered in a church.  One probably assumes a cathedral for an active bishop has many hours of sacred function.  But Cardinal Cipriani has whittled his cathedral’s sacred function times down to 2 Masses: Saturday at 9 a.m. and Sunday at 11 a.m. He even schedules confessions to occur during Sunday Mass, conveniently minimizing those pesky hours of sacred function which interfere with making money.

To put this in perspective, in all my travels visiting Cathedrals and famous Catholic Churches throughout the world, the only times I have ever paid an entrance fee to visit a functioning Catholic Church were my visits to the Vatican museum which included stops at the Pope’s private Sistine Chapel.  St. Peter’s Basilica, St. John Lateran, St Peter in Chains, St Paul, St Mary Major, St. Paul in Rome?  Free, free, free, free, free and free.  Holy Cross, Santa Maria del Fiore, and Holy Spirit in Florence?  Free, free, and free.  Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur in Paris?  Free and free.  St. Patrick in New York?  Free. 

Perhaps I have successfully visited all these other Catholic Churches without price because, primarily functioning as churches, they all frequently offer Masses and other services every day.  However, at 2 Masses per week, each of which at a generous estimate might account for 4 hours, it seems Cipriani’s cathedral functions as a church, at most, 8 out of the 168 hours in a week.  That’s less than 2% of the time.  I suspect he takes advantage of tax breaks given to churches 100% of the time, though.

Who knew that when reading about the Cathedral and the Religious Art Museum, I was actually reading about the exact same building which miraculously varies identity and function relative to day and time.  Through some never previously revealed building transubstantiation process, it seems his cathedral can agilely flip its functional character back and forth.  As much as Cardinal Cipriani blusters against moral relativity, he seems to support building function relativity enthusiastically.   

Though Cipriani supports building functional relativity, I’m not sure Canon Law does.  According to Book IV, Title I, Caput I of Canon Law, cathedrals must be dedicated as sacred spaces and undergo an even more elaborate process to turn them from sacred spaces to ones for profane usages like that of a museum.  Yet, somehow the Cardinal manages to do this on a weekly if not daily basis with his cathedral.  Maybe the cathedral’s two Masses begin with a dedication service and end with a decommissioning one? 

Does that mean that since his chair of authority (cathedra) spends most of its time in a museum it is an historical artifact versus a functioning cathedra?  Does he speak and teach with authority only during the two Masses per week in which the building housing his cathedra actually functions as a church, 2% of the week?  Does that make him a cardinal only 2% of the time and a museum piece 98% of the time?

Cipriani’s focus on money does not stop with turning his cathedral into a revenue-generating museum.  He holds personal and diocesan shares in Yanacocha, a controversial mining company with a gold mine in the poorest province of Peru that poisoned about 900 people in 2000 via a mercury spill and introduced high levels of cyanide into the local water supply amongst a population mostly lacking funds to purchase bottled water.  Cardinal, by any chance, do you wear a “WWJP” bracelet?  “Who would Jesus Poison?”

Maybe in comparison to his gold mining stock, the $10 USD admission to enter his church seems like kittens’ play.  However, with a $118 USD average weekly Peruvian wage, $10 USD is not a small amount. 

Cipriani, a critic of moral relativity while exhibiting morally questionable behavior, regularly writes and says sexist things, has been barred from contributing to certain periodicals after he was caught plagiarizing two popes’ writings, has his hands dirty in not properly addressing clergy sex abuse, and denounces homosexuality, social movements and environmental activists.  So, maybe he falls short in most clergy requirement areas like advocacy for the poor, compassion, decency, honesty, protecting children, etc… But, baby, he is rock solid in the profiteering category!  He gets an A+ there, for sure.

As much as we suspect so many hierarchy members are all about money, they at least give a good show of effort by having things like daily Masses. That might fool some people into thinking they actually care about God’s people.  Not this guy!  He lays it right out there.  “Show me the money!” 

In fairness, the guy has his positive points.  It costs money to erect and illuminate the huge Jesus statue and cross, both of which can be seen for miles around Lima, especially at night.  Also, for $10 USD, you can get a combo ticket and tour his palace as well as the cathedral…such a bargain! Maybe, deep down, he really is sensitive to people’s economic concerns.

At this point the Pope Francis fans might be wondering, “Yes, but what does Pope Francis think of all this profiteering at the expense of the environment and poor people’s health?  What does he think about a guy who operates a 2% cathedral/98% museum?”  In 2014 Pope Francis appointed Cipriani to his newly formed Papal Council on Economic Affairs.  Evidently, Pope Francis thinks this guy is just a little bit of alright…actually someone to lead the way on how to handle money in the church.

So, hats off to Cipriani for openly operating as a money grabbing cleric.  His honesty demonstrating the primal importance of money amongst the hierarchy is refreshing…albeit contrary to the gospel and in no way reminiscent of Christ.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

School and Speaking

Sometimes a blatant but elusive reality just smacks you in the face.  That happened to me in the past few weeks.

I had the honor of working with a Catholic school in Africa as it opened its school year in January.  I knew that many countries with developing economies lacked enough seats to accommodate all primary level students in secondary schools.  I also knew that placement in secondary schools is often based upon scoring well on the primary school leaving examination.  In some countries that score determines not only if you can attend secondary school but which secondary school.  The better you score, the better the school into which you are placed.  I also knew that more boys attend secondary school than girls due to many families opting to send sons rather than daughters to school if they can only afford school fees for one child.  All of that, I knew.

Here’s what hit me in the face last week.

The Catholic Church still has many minor seminaries in Africa.  These are secondary schools which offer extremely strong academic programs, often among the strongest in a country.  Though students who attend are not committed or required to attend major seminary where students actually pursue the priesthood, only boys are permitted to attend minor seminary.  Thus, intrinsically, there are fewer secondary school seats available to girls at the outset of the placement process. 

As the process works, high scoring male students get placed into all-male minor seminaries.  This leaves the non-seminary secondary schools as options for high scoring girls and boys.  However, if a boy who places into a minor seminary opts to not attend, he is usually given a seat in a top secondary school and his seat at the minor seminary goes to a lower scoring male.  Thus, the reduced number of secondary school seats available to girls is reduced even further. 

The Catholic hierarchy swears it does not discriminate against women and even goes so far as to believe it promotes women’s equality.  I, therefore, would like to issue this challenge to every bishop who has a minor seminary: Admit girls into your minor seminary.  If the minor seminary offers the strongest secondary education, that should not be exclusive to males.  If attendance at minor seminary carries no requirement to attend major seminary in pursuit of ordination, then there is no reason other than blatant sexism to bar girls from attending the top secondary schools in a diocese and developing country.

Research shows that the poverty or prosperity of a nation, community or family follows the poverty or prosperity of its women*.  Thus, if you want to end poverty, educate your female children.  Pope Francis, if you truly advocate for the poor, please mandate that minor seminaries be open to both boys and girls so as to afford girls the same educational opportunities as boys.

On a separate note, I wanted to let readers know that I’ll be speaking at two events this February.  Some kind readers in California have invited me to visit and I have accepted their offers.  Below are the details.  You are most welcome to attend either event.  In both cases there is no charge but both groups accept free will donations.   I will be discussing my spiritual journey into this ministry of writing a questioning blog as well as how I approach putting my spirituality into action as a part of the church.  Hopefully it will be a time of spiritual reflection and growth for everyone involved.  However, as a caveat, I will be flying from Tokyo the night before the first session, so please offer allowances if I seem a bit jet-lagged.

Saturday, February 18, 2017 from 10:00 a.m. to noon – Palo Alto, CA
Location: Mitchell Park Community Center
3700 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, California 94303
Sponsored by the Thomas Merton Center of Palo Alto,

Sunday, February 19, 2017 from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. - Sacramento, CA
Location:  St. Mark’s Methodist Church
2391 St. Mark’s Way, Sacramento, CA 95864
In the neighborhood behind Country Club Plaza.  We will meet in the Fireside Room.
Sponsored by Sacramento Call to Action 

I look forward to meeting some folks who invest time and thought into reading this blog.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

More realistic Christmas Carols

Merry Christmas!  I hope everyone is enjoying this joyous season.   

One aspect I love about the holiday season is the singing.  However, I have to admit that it bothers me how unrealistic Christmas carols are.  They paint some romanticized picture of Jesus’ birth wherein Mary does not break stride or even a sweat to deliver her baby.  They conjure images that are absent the various bodily fluids or physical sensations of human childbirth.  Yet, many Christmas homilies will emphasize the very important theological facet of Jesus being fully human.  Why then do we sing songs that omit the human realities of birth and go so far as to paint a false picture of what it was like for Jesus to be born a human child?

The lyrics to Silent Night were written by Josephus Mohr, an Austrian priest.  Let us pause for a moment to estimate how many priests throughout history have witnessed human childbirth from labor to delivery.  Let us also estimate how many current Catholic hierarchy members have ever seen the inside of a delivery room.  Were we counting on our fingers, we wouldn't need to use both hands, possibly not even all five fingers of one hand.  Suddenly, the propagation of unrealistic, romanticized, sanitized lyrics of Christmas carols becomes clear.

Let’s also pause a moment to offer some contextual information regarding childbirth since some folks reading this might also be unfamiliar with the realities of childbirth.

  • Bloody bodily fluids flow abundantly … to the point that many a modern day father who attends their child’s delivery must sit lest they faint from the shocking sight.
  • Contractions produce varying amounts of discomfort from mildly intense pain to what is called “back labor” where the child’s head is turned where its skull scrapes along the mother’s backbone with every contraction.
  • When the mother begins pushing for the ultimate delivery of the child’s head, it is called “bearing down.”  This carries similar involuntary intensity as having an urgent yet constipated bowel movement only it lasts much longer.  It is of small wonder that during this process, some mothers have a bowel movement which covers the child as it is being delivered.
  • Most women delivering their first child will experience vaginal tearing; their flesh will rip open, sometimes all the way to the anal wall.  In modern times and medical facilities, this can easily be repaired with numerous stitches that will make sitting and performing excretory functions extremely uncomfortable for several days but prevent the mother from bleeding to death.  However, in Jesus’ time, this along with other common complications are what made childbirth a leading killer of women.
  • The baby emerges covered in blood and a waxy substance
  • Nursing a child for the first time is very painful for most women.  Though the little darling you just delivered is toothless, he/she has very hard gums and chomps down on the mother’s nipples with gusto.  Many mothers will bruise on their nipples, something they likely never knew was possible.
  • Though now some of the pains associated with childbirth can be dulled, Mary did not have the benefit of these pharmaceutical marvels.

Instead of portraying these realities of the mess, pain and danger of childbirth, Christmas carols draw imagery of Mary without her veil or possibly dress ever moving out of place.  They also fail to acknowledge the physical danger into which God placed Mary by impregnating her whilst being betrothed.  In her times, betrothals occurred often when girls were quite young followed by fully consummated marriage around age of 14 or so.  Betrothal was a strong commitment as sort of a non-consummated marriage and a woman found to be pregnant by someone other than her betrothed was considered guilty of committing adultery, an offense punishable by stoning. 

As an aside, I find myself contemplating possible connections between birth control and abortion, and fixations on the Annunciation story where an angel tells the Virgin Mary she’s going to be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit which will impregnate her.  The story is often preached as Mary saying “yes” but if you read the actual scriptural text, there is no question presented to Mary.  The angel says, “this is gonna happen.”  Mary agrees but that does not seem to matter.  Her body is going to be exploited for reproduction regardless of her consent.  Herein seems to lie a foundational element of theology objectifying women by viewing them primarily as passive receptive vessels for bearing children.

Pope Francis’ annual Vatican Curia Christmas excoriation this year included his wishes for increased respect for women.  That needs to include revisiting and correcting centuries old theology which objectifies women as mere tools of reproduction.  It also needs to include stopping the dehumanizing propagation of unrealistic understandings of women’s key experiences such as childbirth.  Therefore, I decided it was a timely moment to write more realistic lyrics for a few songs associated with Advent and Christmas.  I hope you enjoy them.

Immaculate Mary II (to the tune of “Immaculate Mary”) – a song sung during Advent, especially for the Feasts of Our Lady of Gaudalupe and the Immaculate Conception
Immaculate Mary, your praises we sing
But they want women docile so turned you into a wimpy thing
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria. Ave Ave Maria

You got impregnated while you were betrothed
Though you knew you’d be stone if ever exposed
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria. Ave, Ave Maria

But you’ve been reduced to a dainty little vessel
Despite being tough as a mortar and pestel
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria. Ave, Ave Maria

“Stressful Long Night” (to the tune of “Silent Night”)
Stressful long night, holy night
Push baby out with all of your might
Vaginal tearing to thy anal wall
Lots of pain with no Demerol
Pleas for this pain to cease; Pleas for this pain to cease

Stressful long night, holy night
Shepherds quake at the sight
Blood just streams as if hacked with an axe
Holy Infant covered in blood and wax
Christ the Savior is born; Christ the Savior is born.

Stressful long night, holy night
Son of God nurses with a bite
Radiant pain from chest to bottom
Shooting pains you previously did not fathom
Jesus Lord at thy birth; Jesus Lord at thy birth

“Away in a Stable” (to the tune of “Away in a Manger”)
Away in a stable, no hospital bed
Mary labors ‘mongst critters instead
The stars in the sky are the only light
By which to deliver her baby that night

The cattle are lowing and wafting their smells
But who really notices as Mary yells
She squats and bears down and out comes some dung
Along with the baby from her which is sprung

Be near her Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay
To re-humanize her and aptly portray
Your mom as a person of strong grittiness
And not a docile vessel who simply said “yes.”

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A day that will live in irony...

75 years ago yesterday, Franklin Roosevelt said it was a “date which will live in infamy.”  However, yesterday in Catholic hierarchy land was a day which will live in irony.  Here are a few highlights:

Since it first emerged in the 15th and 16th centuries, the Vatican never had an organization for female employees – a group currently numbering around 750 or 20% of the Vatican population.  I’ve not found many details on the new organization’s activities but I suspect they do not include grooming women for executive positions in the Vatican.  In general, women are not groomed for anything in the church other than obedience and servitude.

However, boys and men willing to consider the priesthood merit volumes of guidelines, programs and efforts to support their development.  The latest in the lot was published yesterday. 

Reading the updated priest formation guidelines kind of reinforces my sneaking suspicion about the Vatican’s women’s organization lacking executive leadership development.  The document is a masterpiece of self-admiration for clergy calling themselves “diamonds” and emphasizing how grateful we all should be that priests are better than other humans.  It is a truly bizarre document feigning humility whilst reeking of hierarchical arrogance.  It scorns clericalism but is so very clerical itself.  It says priests should be shepherds that smell like sheep but then extols priests hanging out with other priests.  It says priests should learn how to interact with women but then suggests myriads of clerical figures to help, etc.... 

Meanwhile, Pope Francis, who leads an organization which sometimes makes stuff up and declares it “truth,” appeals to media outlets not to spread misinformation or disinformation.  He thinks the media shouldn’t just make things up and pass them off as factual news. 

Though I agree that spreading disinformation is reprehensible, I found the pope’s plea rather ironic.  I can provide a litany of examples where hierarchy members spread disinformation…from various hierarchy members’ lies covering up for abusive priests, to rejecting scientific understandings about human physiology and psychology, to pretending women were never ordained as deacons though they were for centuries, to made-up “facts” about women and their roles, to a September, 2015 US bishops’ smear campaign which propagated false news that a US social service organization sold aborted baby parts. 

However, the pope’s disinformation concerns carry exceptionally exquisite irony due to his timing expressing them…the day before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception…a feast day honoring a doctrinal belief spun from pure myth yet one of the two beliefs the Catholic hierarchy declares absolutely infallible.  The Assumption of Mary, the other doctrine declared infallible, equally rests upon a mountain of myth. 

Maybe the pope would be more at ease if the various fake or shoddy news outlets declared themselves infallible?  Or maybe the pope doesn’t like news outlets competing with clergy for making shit up?  Perhaps the pope is ok with the hierarchy telling what my mother used to call “pious fairy tales” because he thinks they are happy and positive but fake news stories are downers?  Maybe he’s ok with clergy playing fast and loose with facts if it leads to reinforcing some happy myth the hierarchy wishes to promote?  I don’t know. 

Pope Francis also speaks about a sickness in the media feeding people’s desire for scandal.  I agree some media outlets feed some people’s attraction to scandal but some news organizations practice what is called “good investigative journalism.”  For example, Marty Baron, current editor of the Washington Post and former editor of the Boston Globe who guided that paper to investigate the extensive abuse scandal in the Boston Archdiocese, should be canonized as a living saint, not portrayed as a sinner feeding people’s fetish for scandal.  The Globe’s hundreds of stories shed much needed light on a very dark corner of the church.  Thank you. 

Francis also commented that some media sources seem to never let scandal die.  I agree with him that one should not indefinitely live under a shroud for past sins.  However, I also believe that if we do not remember and discuss candidly the facts surrounding unfortunate historical situations, we are destined to repeat them. 

Francis provided no specific examples regarding unrelenting fixation on scandalous stories.  Ironically, one of the shoddy news sites – a favorite amongst many US Catholic clergy – must have used its mind-reading abilities or just made shit up to say that Francis obviously referred to excavating stories about US President-elect Donald Trump.  However, Francis actually stated that scandals should be relinquished after penance and restitution.  I’m uncertain if penance or restitution have occurred for any of those scandals.  Alas, I digress.

It is ironic too that many Catholic hierarchy frequent some fake news sites though Francis condemns such sites.  It is ironic but not surprising.  There is a high degree of alcoholism amongst the clergy and alcoholics live dishonesty to a point they normalize it in their lives.  About 50% of priests are sexually active and thus live dishonest lives regarding sexuality and relationships…again normalizing dishonesty within their lives.  Many priests will teach things they do not believe but do so to remain in good standing with the church…again normalizing dishonesty within their lives.  Maybe this is why I personally have not found the clergy to be any more truthful than any other demographic group.   A few have actually turned out to rank amongst the most dishonest, unscrupulous people I’ve ever encountered.   

Yet, the clergy formation document tells us they are “diamonds.”  Well, the saying is “diamonds are a girl’s best friend” and the clergy formation document does say priests need to learn to be friendly with women because they are the majority within parishes…after 2,000 years they figured it out!  However, it kind of discusses women as though they are unique non-human creatures so it’s hard to see us becoming “besties.”  Reading the clergy formation guidelines’ description of women, I felt a little like a wild creature that Marlin Perkins of “Wild Kingdom” might have discussed…”here we see the female human operating in her natural habitat…notice how she….”  

Kudos for realizing most priests do not work well with women.  However, in the litany of human resources to teach future priests how to work with women, we mostly find richly diverse categories of priests…folks who ya just said don’t tend to work well with women.  Isn’t that like having an anti-Semite teach Jewish culture appreciation classes to other anti-Semites to help them be less anti-Semitic?

Anyway, from the three topics we see:   
1) Priests need to work better with women and thus should entrench themselves amongst clergy to learn how to do this.   
2) As part of the “we love women” campaign, women in the Vatican can have a club.   
3) Don’t make shit up and spread it around unless you are ordained.  
 4) If you are ordained, you’re a diamond and we all know diamonds don’t shit. 

Just a side thought…could they mean priests are diamonds as in hard, impenetrable entities that are expensive to keep and merely glittery ornaments?