Sunday, August 17, 2014

Teaching credentials...

 Food for thought:
  • Imagine your English teacher demonstrating mastery of the language by regularly uttering statements like this, “We seen them deer when we was up north!” 
  • Imagine your mathematics teacher regularly adding numbers incorrectly. 
  • Imagine your social studies teacher talking about visiting “Toledo, the capital of the U.S.” 
  • Imagine your music teacher with an inability to count rhythms correctly or carry a tune.  

Now try to imagine yourself valuing these teachers’ lessons.  In each case, regardless of the theory expressed, actions belied their true subject-matter expertise to the point you probably justifiably questioned their credibility…a lot…  Their actions told you, “I am not qualified to teach about this.”


  • Imagine your Catholic faith teacher, who professes to know more than you about truth, being exposed as a liar. 
  • Imagine your faith teacher confusing the commandment about adultery with those about murder or stealing.
  • Imagine your faith teacher enabling and covering up clergy’s sexual abuse of minors but writing the Church’s norms to protect children.

Such is the case with the Catholic hierarchy and sexual abuse.  The bishops declare themselves the ultimate teaching authorities on faith yet, on a weekly basis we read of bishops being caught telling lies or enabling abusers.  We live with the appalling reality that bishops equate raping children to an adulterous affair, though rape is about forcefully taking that which is not given and destroying the child’s physical, emotional and spiritual life in the process.  Perhaps lesser known, the primary authors of the US bishops’ charter to protect children, themselves harbored sexually abusive priests even after the charter was signed.  What is most puzzling of all is that a) the bishops think anyone should take them seriously as moral authorities and b) that anyone does.

Here are just a smattering of proof points:

1.  Archbishop John Nienstedt of Minneapolis said in an April, 2014 sworn legal deposition that he didn’t know until March, 2014 that Ken LaVan, a priest with multiple credible sexual abuse accusations, was still in active ministry.  However, this past week revealed that ole John was actually getting annual updates about Ken’s ministry activities. 

Psst….John, this is called “lying” and violates the 8th Commandment: “Thou shall not bear false witness.”  John, I gotta tell ya, this really kills your street creds in the truth department.  Plus, when you lie under oath in this country, it is also called a “crime” further crumbling your “truthiness” credibility.  Much like Dr. Seuss’ book calling for another liar to depart public leadership, “Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!”, I think it’s beyond time we say, “John C. Nienstedt Will You Please Go Now!”

2.  Moving on to Canon Law, we see the hierarchy actually classifies priests’ sexual misconduct with minors under the 6th Commandment, “Thou shall not commit adultery.”  Yes, appalling as that seems, the hierarchy officially equates trusted religious leaders’ sexual assault of innocent minors with extra-marital sexual activity between two consenting adults.  You read that right: the clergy categorize destroying children’s lives and souls against their will equally with two adults consensually caving to hormones in a tryst.  

Don’t believe me?  Canon 1395 states, “A cleric who in another way has committed an offense against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, if the delict was committed by force or threats or publicly or with a minor below the age of sixteen years, is to be punished with just penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants.”  This is the one sentence in Canon Law that is meant to deter clergy sexual abuse.  Why are you not trembling in awe? 

As an aside, please notice that unlike ordination of women which incurs automatic excommunication, clergy raping children, according to Canon Law, is not grounds for excommunication.  It merely calls for possible removal from office…ya know, “if the case warrants” it.  It would seem that the Vatican should have inserted an emoticon of a face winking next to that statement…it is so fierce and followed.

Call me nutty but I think that when a priest sexually assaults a kid, they kill a soul, they steal…thus, they break the 5th and 7th commandments against killing and stealing…not the 6th pertaining to marital fidelity.  This Canon Law classification reveals much about the hierarchy’s understanding or lack thereof with regards to the commandments, rape, children, marriage, sexuality, human life, etc…  In turn, it directly impacts the hierarchy’s credibility on all these topics.

3.  This brings us to the ace team of bishops who were principle authors of the US bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” written in 2002: Archbishop Wilton Gregory, Archbishop Harry Flynn, Cardinal Roger Mahoney, and Cardinal Francis George.  With the exception of Wilton Gregory, all of them harbored sexually abusive priests … some even after the charter was written, signed and promulgated.  In the case of Cardinal George, it included harboring a known sexual predator in his very own episcopal mansion (2003).

Actually, Cardinal George’s rap sheet of enabling and covering up sexually abusive priests after the charter is so long I will just provide a link that enumerates some cases between 2003 and 2006 rather than turn this into a painfully long blog article.  Harry Flynn kept the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer in ministry despite Wehmeyer's sexual addiction and sexual misconduct.  He also failed to report a priest in possession of child pornography.  All of this after the charter was in place. 

Of the group, Mahony seemed to be the one who at least tried to reform his diocese’s practices but there always seemed to be a struggle between loyalty honoring the brotherhood’s clerical institution versus honoring truth and justice.

These aren’t the only bishops failing to follow the charter.  For example, we do have our friend and convicted criminal for failure to report child abuse, Bishop Bob Finn, still at the helm of the Kansas City Diocese.  I just thought since they wrote the charter, that maybe they would have been role models for doing the right thing.  Silly me.

So, as I see it, the bishops seem to have authored the charter as a PR stunt rather than as a step towards profound institutional reform.  Furthermore, looking at the whole situation, I think the bishops collectively demonstrate that they:
a) Do not understand the 5th, 6th, or 7th commandments, and
b) Do not obey the 8th commandment

I wonder if they have enough self-awareness to realize that many of the faithful see them as also violating the 1st commandment against having false gods based upon their willingness to forfeit several commandments in favor of protecting their brotherhood’s clerical institution.  When a team who believes they are the guardians of the commandments demonstrates poor mastery of half of them, what are they really guarding?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The language of faith

Some readers have enquired as to my long lapse in publishing a blog article.  I have been globetrotting, including spending three weeks in Africa running a technology camp for girls. Thus, I’ve had limited time and internet connectivity to write.  Thanks for your concern and interest.

I returned to the United States coincidental with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) convening their annual assembly.  This year’s assembly carries a smattering of drama due to the Vatican’s recent finger-wagging exercises at the sisters.  The LCWR’s honoree this year is Sr. Elizabeth Johnson.  Her selection increased the hierarchy’s vigor tsk-tsking the sisters because the hierarchy doesn’t like one of Elizabeth’s books.  I’d characterize the hierarchy’s objections to her book as resulting from a willful inability to understand her…to speak or understand her language.

While in Africa, I experienced a certain amount of language confusion as well.  I worked in Rwanda where the country is shifting the official language for educational instruction from French to English.  Despite laws that instruction must occur in English, a fair amount of the camp was translated for campers…not into French, but into Kinyarwanda – the campers’ native tongue.  There are pros and cons to doing this but the camp staff preferred to err on the side of understanding and being understood.

Rattling around in my head all the while has been this proud moment in my family’s history when my grandfather and his brother were officially excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church for about a year during the 1920s.  Their sin?  My great-uncle was part of the leadership team for a Franco-American journal called “La Sentinelle” and my grandfather was part of the Sentinellist movement.  The Sentinellists’ sin involved language.  They emigrated from Quebec to the U.S. and spoke French.  They had this crazy idea that their church and school environments should accommodate their language requirements because they wanted to understand and be understood.  They were called extreme radicals for this.

As some background, William Hickey, the Irish-American bishop of Providence, RI thought American Catholics needed to be more “American.".  He thought English language uniformity would increase unity and reduce the amount of anti-Catholic sentiment which arose largely from Irish opposition to involvement in World War I.  Though the Franco-Americans strongly supported America’s participation in the war by offering over 100,000 soldiers, the Irish-Americans tended to support the Irish’s stance.  Since the Irish-American Catholics and especially Irish-American Catholic clergy vastly outnumbered the anything-else-American Catholics, Catholics in America were seen as being downright “un-American.” 

In an effort to make Catholics appear more American, Hickey embarked on a multi-phase campaign to reroute monies pouring into Franco-American French-speaking parish schools.  He imposed a “subscription” to build English-speaking diocesan high schools.  The subscription was basically a tax upon parishes.  Each parish was apportioned part of the cost to build Hickey’s schools and if donations did not meet the allotted cost, then he just took the outstanding balance from the parish coffers.  This is much like how Diocesan Services campaigns work in U.S. dioceses.  The bishop gets what he asks for because he simply takes it if it isn’t freely given.

The Sentinellists were rightly concerned that losing their language would dilute the ranks of the faithful.  History showed that in the late 1800s, failure by the hierarchy to support Catholics’ language requirements resulted in a 10 million person exodus from the Catholic Church in the U.S.  The Sentinellists were extremely devout Catholics and did not want this to happen to their families and neighbors. 

The Sentellists were also working people who didn’t have a lot of money.  They knew that they could not support their children’s needs and the bishop’s demands.   Therefore, they erred on the side of their children and boycotted paying their “pew fees” (money paid to reserve a pew for your family at church) and the “subscription” in order to build a French-speaking Catholic high school rather than an English-speaking one.   This seemed to be their ultimate sin winning them excommunication…they hit the bishop in the most sacred part of his faith life…his wallet.

I’m a fan of assimilation but I’m also practical.  Assimilation occurs at a pace balancing the culture into which one is trying to assimilate against the practical realities of the ones trying to assimilate.  Third party meddling trying to force a faster assimilation pace can have severe unintended consequences. 

We see that with the profound diminishment of Franco-American Catholics after the aggressive assimilation efforts in the early 1900s.  French-heritage Catholics in the U.S., though some of the most abundant early establishers of Catholicism in North America, are now rare.  Their language was suppressed and they left the church in droves.

I wonder if the same is occurring with women’s language and the church.  Elizabeth Johnson speaks the language of women.  Despite recent lip-service given to developing a “theology of women,” those who speak the theological language of women are sanctioned and censured.  Is the hierarchy again making the error of mistaking “uniformity” as “unity?”  I would say that we can wait to see the possible unintended consequences of suppressing women’s language in the church except we are already seeing it.  Women are leaving the church and taking their children with them.

However, there is a bigger question here and that is whether or not assimilation should occur at all.  In the case of French Canadian emigrants, they chose to move to a land where English was the primary language.  There is a certain responsibility on their part to assimilate to the culture that they chose to join,  In the case of the Rwandans, the French-speaking Belgians imposed themselves on their culture.  By the fact the Rwandans opt for Kinyarwanda rather than French during this time of language transition, we see that the Rwandans didn’t necessarily feel compelled to assimilate to the culture of people who inserted themselves upon the Rwandan culture.

But, what about women?  On the one hand the hierarchy screams about how very ontologically different women are from men.  Yet, on the other hand, the hierarchy seems to want women to assimilate to men’s culture by abandoning their own language and experiences to adopt those of the men.  Is this right or even possible? 

If women ontologically differ from men, then trying to force male voices and thoughts upon women commits one of these pesky “sins against nature” that the hierarchy abhors.  If women do not differ ontologically from men, then excluding women from the priesthood is unfounded. 

Either women are different and hierarchical leaders owe the LCWR and Elizabeth Johnson not only an apology, they owe them their deep appreciation for letting these differences shine forth via their language of women…or women are not different and hierarchical leaders owe a deep apology and expression of gratitude as well as need to reinstate all the excommunicated female priests because they simply denuded a myth about men’s and women’s ontological differences. 

There is a third scenario where the hierarchy both reinstates female priests and apologizes to the LCWR and Elizabeth Johnson which should occur if men’s and women’s differences serve to complement rather than impede clerical ministry.  But right now, the hierarchy’s stance seems to just further undermine its credibility.  Johnson succinctly expresses the real issue at hand, “In my judgment, and this is difficult to say, but I do believe such carelessness with the truth is unworthy of the teaching office of bishop.”

Monday, June 30, 2014

The results are in...

Remember that brief 39 essay question survey the Vatican issued a few months back? You know… the one soliciting opinions about the church’s teachings on human sexuality and marriage to act as input to this October’s Synod on the Family.  Well, the Vatican has compiled and released its preliminary findings from the survey in a document called an instrumentum laboris.  Literally translated from Latin as…and we know the Vatican is all about literal Latin translations… granting us, O Lord, we pray, to hear about impoverished Jesus having an oblation in a gallant chalice held by his holy and venerable hands on a regular basis…  But, I digress.  Literally translated, instrumentum laboris means “instrument of labor”, basically a tool.

If you don’t want me to spoil your pleasure reading the 85 page report yourself, then stop reading now.  However, if you don’t want to invest numerous irretrievable hours of your life reading a report that could have been written without surveying a single person, you might prefer reading this summary instead.

When it was first issued, I wrote this about the survey in a November 2, 2013 blog article, “…do not place too much hope that the Vatican seeking your opinion means the Vatican will actually heed your advice.  It might again just inspire the Vatican to write another really long document in Latin explaining why you are wrong.”

It turns out that statement was prescient other than the Vatican crowd did disappoint by writing the original report in Italian rather than Latin.  Don’t despair.  We can still hope that some dreadfully long academic admonition in Latin emerges from the Synod itself.

To be fair, amidst the 85 pages of “We are right so how do we get these stubborn, misguided idiots to follow us…”, there were 2 entire sentences acknowledging the hierarchy’s lack of credibility as a moral authority since its culture enables criminal sexual abuse of children (paragraph 75).  And there was a half sentence which came dangerously close to acknowledging cultural sexism, “In some places characterized by a somewhat sexist cultural tradition, there exists a certain lack of respect towards women…”  (paragraph 55)

Don’t fret though.  The guys in Rome were not speaking of their own overt institutional sexist culture but the “somewhat” sexist secular culture in certain geographical regions only.  Vatican-originated sexism seems to be getting brasher as the idolized pope Francis recently boldly evaded Italian journalist Franca Giansoldati’s compelling questions about women by making sexist jokes.  For example, Giansoldati was trying to get Francis to be specific about these greater church roles for women he often touts by asking if Frank might appoint women to lead any Vatican departments.  Francis felt that serious question merited this response, “Well, priests often end up under the sway of their housekeepers.” 

Help me understand, Francis.  What message were you trying to convey about women and why did you think evoking the image of a stereotype rooted in both sexism and clericalism would convey it?

Anyway, here’s a summary of the report.  Brace yourself for the insightful void of insight:

  1. Unmarried, childless, clerical men, often lacking healthy intimate relationships, who like to parade in bejeweled gowns, know more about relationships, marriage, and child rearing than people who are actually married or have children.
  2. Said men are right, were right and will always be right.
  3. If you disagree with the hierarchy, you must be ignorant, stubborn or misguided and will be labeled “lost” even if you have a better grasp of the gospel messages than hierarchical leaders and consider them lost.  Please see item (2).
  4. Any information you provided through the survey was just to help them help you by “enlightening” you about your sinful ignorance in more “loving” and effective ways.  See item (2).
  5. If people have difficulty accepting what the hierarchy teaches, it must either be a problem of how the hierarchy expresses its teachings or how you receive it because the teachings themselves are, did I mention this yet….”right.”  See item (2).
  6. Gender studies that unmask the hierarchy’s sexism and misogyny are evil due to them inspiring people to question item (2).
  7. Information and facts are your enemy unless they are filtered through Vatican approved spin-doctors.  They cause you to realize when the hierarchy is wrong and again, please see item (2).
  8. If anything inspires you to question item (2), it is evil.
  9. By studying science and nature, people have figured out that the hierarchy’s invented “natural law” notion is, much like this term, qui fabricati (fabricated..made up).  Since this is confounding the hierarchy’s ability to confound nature, rather than correct themselves…because please see item (2) above…they might need to consider inventing a new slogan.
  10. Life situations that do not align with the hierarchy’s romanticized, academic, theological musings must be miserable because if they aren’t, it might lead to contradicting the immovable premises set forth in item (2) above.
  11. Model your marriage after the Holy Family….you know, the family that procreated without having sex.
  12. If the hierarchy feels you are unworthy to receive communion because of your marital and/or sexual practices, you need to just accept that they do this for your own good and overlook the hypocrisy of the sexual escapades and/or crimes of the men consecrating the hosts and ordaining the men who consecrate the hosts.
  13. Despite the gospel indicating Jesus came for the sinner, the hierarchy perpetuates the notion that communion is only for the worthy, and hierarchical leaders will, of course, define who is worthy…please see item (2). 

I offer this as food for thought.  The morning my mom died I asked her what she wanted for breakfast and she responded, “I want…I want…oh, what is that thing called…I WANT THE CHILD THAT IS MEDICINE!!!  That woman could barely breathe or think clearly but she about blew my hair back barking with fierce certainty that she wanted the Eucharist…the child that is medicine.

Gentlemen of Rome, please take note from my dying mother.   Communion is medicine for the misbehaving (that is all of us) not a treat for the well-behaved.  Who then that desires communion should be denied it?

By the way, I’m not surprised by the report; I could have written it last November before the first response was submitted.  I would call it a vastate labore (wasted effort) rather than instrumentum laboris (instrument of labor).

As I mentioned in my previous blog article, the hierarchy thinks it is married to the church (the people of God).  With this example of the hierarchy’s unhealthy marital relationship “dialogue” practices…asking questions for the sole purpose of gaining ammunition to prove your spouse is wrong…should the hierarchy  perhaps gaze in the mirror or at theology and Canon Law more than at T.V.s, newspapers, the internet, gender studies, secular governments, science or smartphones when pondering the underlying causes of strained interpersonal relationships? 

Marriage isn’t about who is right and who is wrong.  It is not a True/False quiz.  It is about learning, sharing, bending and being together in love.  My dear brothers in the hierarchy, as long as you set yourself above and apart, how can you be credible examples of or proponents for marital love?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

US bishops staying the course...

What a curious week.  On one hand I read that the US bishops voted in their annual spring meeting to “stay the course.”  My initial reaction?  Oh goody!  We can look forward to yet another year of bishops trying to expand their theocracy’s marginalization of women and homosexuals further into secular government.  And, we’ll be treated to an encore performance hearing them intermittently and indignantly ejaculate “Religious liberty!” while they do it despite them trouncing on others’ religious liberties in the process. …Something about “self-awareness” keeps popping into my head.    

Wait a minute…I’m also getting a reading from my psychic barometer.  It predicts these ejaculations will increase in frequency and volume the closer we get to the US’s mid-term elections.  Yippee!  Can’t wait.

On the other hand, this week I also listened to one of my friends describe how his kids’ Catholic school enrollment has been cut almost in half after experiencing a raging alcoholic pastor followed by one who is a Protestant convert still enveloped in Protestant charismatic preaching styles.  Now, this is a new trend it seems…the iconic mega-church fundamentalist Protestant preacher in Catholic priest’s clothing.  Don’t say the old dogs can’t learn new tricks sometimes.  But, since this trend began before the bishops decided to “stay the course,” I think that means this new tactic is part of the course they will keep.  I can only guess that the objective is to cut Catholic school enrollments in half again. 

On yet another hand, this week I also read the deposition of Robert Carlson, a man some people call “archbishop” but for whom I cannot choke out that word since “bishop” means “overseer” and when I read his deposition he exhibits no behaviors associated with tending his flock like a caretaker.  His favorite three words in the deposition were “I don’t remember.”  It is so prevalent that I wonder if the man can remember what color pants he wears, though presumably it is standard clerical black … every … single … day. 

Here’s a selection of his responses from just the first ten substantive questions in the deposition.

  1. “I do not.” (In reference to if he recalled something.)
  2. “I don’t remember, but I really can’t say.”
  3. “I really can’t remember with any accuracy.”
  4. “I don’t remember.”
  5. “I don’t remember with any accuracy…”
  6. “I don’t remember…”
  7. “As I remember, no information came to me about him that I could say with any accuracy.”

Yes, 7 of Bob’s responses to the first 10 questions were variations on “Bob Can’t Remember A Darn Thing.”  I haven’t tallied the responses for the deposition’s full 156 pages, but having read the entire document, I’d guess that the 70% forgetfulness rate is a pretty close estimate if not conservatively low.

I found myself puzzling over this.  If Bob struggles to remember things, how can he remember the teachings of the faith?  Bishops are entrusted with teaching the faith.  How can he teach what he doesn’t remember? 

How can he remember the subtleties associated with tenets of faith when he can’t remember major traumatic events like a priest sexually assaulting kids…repeatedly?  Wasn’t it important enough to carve out a storage location in his brain? Most compassionate people would have a seared permanent image from it, I suspect.  Maybe Bob once stored that info but has subsequently overwritten it with fascinating notions about “religious liberty.”  I don’t know.

Is Bob an incompetent bishop due to his memory issues?  Call me a skeptic, but I think Bob is not being 100% truthful.  I think he’s having selective court-induced memory problems (SCIMP).  If that’s the case, then he is even less competent to be a bishop than if he were suffering early-stage dementia symptoms because selective memory failure falls into the category of “bearing false witness,” one of those pesky Ten Commandments.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a big fan of letting humans be human, including bishop humans.  But, since bishops declare themselves to be THE penultimate guardians of truth, they force us into holding them to a zero-tolerance standard for their deviating from it.  Ergo, if Bob was playing selective memory-loss games with a severe case of SCIMP, he is truly not competent to serve as bishop.

But wait! There’s more!  In addition to forgetting just about everything except his name, Bob expressed during his recent deposition that some years back when handling abuse cases, he didn’t know that sexual assault of a minor was a crime!

Attorney Jeff Anderson: “Archbishop, you knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a kid?”
Bob Carlson (St. Louis’ current sitting archbishop): “I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not.”
Attorney Jeff Anderson: “In 1984, you are a Bishop in the – an Auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul / Minneapolis.  You knew it was a crime then, right?”
Bob Carlson: “I’m not sure if I did or didn’t.”
 (Pages 109 - 110 of the Deposition dated May, 2014)

Good news!  Bob did admit he now knows that raping kids is a crime.  He just doesn’t know when he came to this understanding.  I don’t know what device we have to thank for Bob’s enlightenment either but let’s give three cheers for him grasping this concept sometime before his upcoming 70th birthday. 

However, despite his eventual enlightenment, this exposes a certain appalling and unacceptable callousness that might justify finding him supremely unqualified to be a bishop.   Please do not suspend your activities awaiting his resignation or apology, though.  No, he is already implementing the brotherhood’s “Stay the course” strategy and issued a statement defending himself instead.  He joins the ranks of so many other bishops, archbishops, cardinals and popes in taking this evasive approach regarding sexual abuse, I’m sure he feels it’s a winning strategy.

As an aside, according to Bob’s statement, it seems he, who possesses the intellectual capacity to earn multiple advanced degrees, just didn’t understand the question despite one of those degrees being in … wait for it…. CANON LAW!  I guess Canon Law must be a lot easier to understand than secular law, at least maybe when one is imbued in the culture that produced it.  You saw how confusing the questions were…very tricky in that special, direct, straight-forward manner.  Maybe he’s so used to clerical obfuscations that clarity is just downright unclear for him.  We feel your pain, Bob.  You guys are making less and less sense to most of us faithful, too.  Right back at ya, buddy.

Tying all these strange things together, I realized that the Holy Spirit is working in her mysterious way.  The bishops “stay the course” not only on culture war matters but on accountability and truth-telling too, thus continuing to endanger children in their care.  Coincidentally, they forsake many Catholic traditions, theological teachings, and gospel messages in favor of attracting and ordaining mega-church iconic personalities.  This in turn inspires parents to protect their kids by yanking them from Catholic schools.  Perhaps eventually, the clergy’s sexual assault of children and its cover-up will end when there are no more children in their system?  Can't we please get rid of the incompetent bishops instead?