Monday, February 28, 2011

Should "fathers" be financially dependent upon their “children”?

Church leaders instruct the laity to call ordained clergy, “father”, and to see them as the “head of household”.  The “head of household” concept puzzles me for this reason.  Financially supporting dependents typically constitutes a major part of being the “head of household”.  However, the current relationship between providers and dependents is inverted in the church.  Church “fathers” depend completely upon their “children” for financial support rather than the reverse.  Is it fitting for clergy to call themselves “fathers” when they are financially dependent upon their “children”?

I don’t know that this was always the case.  According to the Acts of the Apostles, the early Christian community held all possessions in common.  “No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32).  The apostles re-distributed wealth according to need to ensure that “There was no needy person among them” (Acts 4:34)  This passage indicates how this was possible, “…for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles and they were distributed to each according to need ” (Acts 4:34-35). 

The early apostles seemed to follow Jesus’ instruction contained in MT 10:21 quite literally, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."  Thus, it appears that the early apostles sold their possessions to support the community’s needy and set an example for the other disciples to do likewise. 

Though today’s church does provide some financial assistance to the needy, looking at parish and diocesan budgets, it seems to be a minor emphasis.  For example, my diocese has over $17 Million in property assets, including two bishop mansions.  How does this align with the gospels’ instructions about selling property to feed the poor?  This is especially puzzling given that my diocese is situated in one of the worst economically impacted areas in the United States.  Given the number of needy people, can we as a church justify holding this much property that is not used to house the homeless?

Furthermore, my diocese has over $26 Million in an investment pool run by a Catholic political lobbyist organization that also manages church employee benefits.  The lobbyist organization’s financial accounting information was not readily available so it is unclear how much of the diocese’s holdings fund employee benefits versus lobbyist activities.  However, diocesan employees, lay and ordained, do receive benefits including health insurance.  This puts them on better financial footing than much of the population they serve.  Yet, this same political action organization that holds $26 Million in diocesan funds lobbied vigorously against healthcare reform that might extend health insurance to the poor. 

In the last fiscal year, my diocese received over $2 Million in interest income from investments and over $4 Million from the annual laity-funded Diocesan Services Appeal.  In this same fiscal year, diocesan assets increased by $1.9 Million.  Yet, my diocese spent just a little over $1 Million on Catholic Charities.  Since net assets increased, it would seem that proceeds laid at the apostles’ feet in my diocese accumulate rather than get re-distributed to the poor.

The holdings of my parish and diocese pale in comparison to those of the Vatican.

Jesus instructed his followers to sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor, not to him.  The original apostles acted as clearinghouses re-distributing wealth to the needy.  How did apostolic communities morph from ones that sold possessions and distributed the proceeds to the poor into ones that accumulate financial holdings and re-distribute to the poor only a proportionally small amount?

How did we as a church allow our church “fathers” to depart so far from these teachings and practices?  If the apostles resumed the role of re-distributing goods, are we prepared to follow suit?  Or, is it easier to not challenge church leaders’ accumulation of “stuff” lest someone challenge us in ours?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Should church leaders reconsider their zero tolerance policy for pedophile priests?

Thomas Guarino’s January 4, 2011 essay entitled, “The Priesthood and Justice” argues against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s (USCCB’s) zero tolerance policy on pedophile priests.  In his essay Gaurino, a priest and theologian, presents several points:

1.  He questions holding priests accountable who aren’t caught until decades after they violated children.  He wonders if holding such men accountable under the zero tolerance policy conflicts with the gospel’s instruction to forgive them “seven times seventy” times. 
2.  He asks about the zero tolerance policy’s theological foundation and suggests the policy contradicts gospel themes of reconciliation and grace.  Furthermore, he believes laicizing a pedophile priest violates the grace received in holy orders.  He implies that no sin, i.e., departure from grace, justifies revoking or nullifying graces received through holy orders.  More simply stated, he thinks a pedophile priest’s “holy calling” entitles him to special treatment when he sins.
3.  He suggests that priests need pay increases because if dismissed under “zero tolerance” most priests lack marketable skills to get a job.
4.  He complains that bishops are supposed to be like fathers or brothers to priests but that priests don’t feel it’s very fatherly or brotherly when bishops hold them accountable. He says that such threats of accountability have, “the disastrous effect of eroding Catholic doctrine”.  He continues stating, “Bishops must protect young people—and they have, undoubtedly, put their hands firmly to that plow—but they should not risk doing so at the cost of undermining or trivializing the sacrament of Holy Orders.”

Mr. Guarino’s points greatly disturb me.  I purposely call this priest “Mr.” rather than “Fr.” because a true father who has children likely would be sickened by his arguments.  Mr. Guarino’s perspectives on parent/child relationships remind me of my daughter shouting to me, “You’re not my friend” after I reprimanded her once when she was three years old.  Most mature people realize sometimes good parenting requires temporarily suspending friendly interactions in the interest of undertaking loving parental ones.

A father, a real one, a good one, forgives and holds his children accountable, even when they don’t like it.  For example, a father, who insists his son financially support a child conceived out of wedlock, can both forgive the son and hold him accountable.    

A father also has a holy and sacramental calling as a parent.  In his vocation as a father, he sacrifices of himself for the sake of his children.  Mr. Guarino suggests that ecclesial “fathers” should care for children but not at the expense of sacrificing priestly vocations.  Caring for children is a true father’s vocation not something that might compete with it.

Mr. Guarino advises the church to consult scripture and dogma for guidance in dealing with accused priests.  He also suggests that priests receive pay raises because most priests don’t have employable skills to obtain secular employment if they are laicized due to the zero tolerance policy.  Yet, scripture indicates the early apostles were employed in occupations such as fishermen, tax collectors and tent makers.  St. Paul even continued to work as a tent maker during his apostleship so that he was not a financial burden to others. Indeed Jesus explicitly told the original twelve apostles to preach without cost (MT 10:8-9).  

Why do so many of today’s apostles lack marketable skills?  Do they actually lack marketable skills or do they fear entering secular employment where accountability regularly occurs?  Should we more deeply reflect upon Jesus asking gainfully employed people to become apostles rather than employing as apostles the otherwise unemployable?  Is there value in insisting priesthood candidates have life experiences such as working secular jobs before entering the seminary?

Theology and dogma also teach that reconciliation involves more than extending forgiveness.  Reconciliation requires admission of wrong-doing, expression of sorrow, willingness to do penance, restitution for wrongs, and a commitment to change behavior.  Mr. Guarino seems to suggest that all reconciliation steps be skipped except forgiveness when it comes to pedophile priests.  Wouldn’t that violate the church’s rich teachings about reconciliation?

Mr. Guarino also calls the zero tolerance policy into question because he doesn’t want any priests to suffer from false accusations.  How many priests actually have been accused falsely and how does that number compare to the number of guilty ones who operated with impunity? 

Furthermore, referring to dogma as Mr. Guarino suggests we see that a priest acts in the person of Christ.   Scripture says Christ submitted himself to a false accusation and died as a result.    Why would priests who act in persona Christi fear the risk of false accusations? 

Clergy not only operate in persona Christi, they also are apostles.  Jesus told his apostles and disciples that they would suffer false accusations and persecutions (MT 5:10-11, MT 10:17-23), to “turn the other cheek” (MT 5:39) and not worry about one’s defense when brought before authorities (LK 12:11-12, MT 10:19).  Do we think Jesus was joking?

Obviously, I do not advocate people suffering false accusations.  But I think real parents err on the side of protecting their children not themselves.   Priests are the bishops’ “children” but so are literal children.   Mr. Guarino seems to suggest bishops favor protecting their priestly children over protecting their literal ones.   Or do bishops mostly favor protecting church image and financial assets rather than priestly or literal children?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why didn't someone tell me deacons got a demotion in 2009?

Why didn’t somebody tell me that deacons got a demotion in 2009?  On October 26, 2009 Pope Benedict XVI issued a motu proprio (one of his papal decree options) that demoted deacons to being mere mortals like the rest of laity. 

How did he do this?  He changed the wording of Canon Law.  Previously Canon 1008 said that anyone ordained to Holy Orders operated in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. Furthermore, “according to his grade” of orders, all the ordained used to be called to fulfill “the functions of teaching, sanctifying, and governing”.  The pope removed this verbiage from Canon 1008.

Instead, Benedict XVI added a paragraph to Canon 1009 that says only bishops and priests act in persona Christi.  Deacons “are empowered to serve the People of God in the ministries of the liturgy, the word and charity”.  They no longer are called to “teaching, sanctifying and governing” functions.  They no longer act in persona Christi.

This is interesting on many fronts:
1.  The pope said he changed Canon Law after reviewing thoughts of the Congregation for the Doctrine Faith (CDF) written during Pope John Paul II’s papacy.  Who led the CDF under John Paul II?  That was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now pope Benedict XVI.  So, essentially, the pope said he is certain after consulting himself that he’s right.  Mrs. Slocombe from the old British sitcom “Are You Being Served” used to have a catchphrase when she employed a similar thought process, “...and I am unanimous in this”.

2.  The pope consulted himself but did he consult church history?  Prior to the Lateran Synod of 769, many popes were only ordained deacons before becoming pope including St. Leo the Great (Pope Leo I).   Were deacons less Christ-like then, possibly calling into question the validity of early popes?  If the old deacons were Christ-like enough to be elected pope, why are deacons less Christ-like now?  The pope strongly criticizes “relativism” yet he seems to be employing it here.  Why?

3.  Does this open the possibility for ordaining women as deacons?  Scripture clearly indicates female deacons, such as Phoebe.  But church leaders refuse to ordain women deacons now because of the in persona Christi aspect of holy orders.  Church leaders argue that since Jesus was a male, a person must be a male to act in the person of Christ.  Jesus’ gender is the only aspect of him that church leaders insist as a requirement for acting in his person.  As mentioned in my last blog posting, many church leaders do not actually imitate Jesus’ actions such as owning almost nothing, making himself powerless, dissenting, defending dissenters, promoting unity and forgiveness, caring for the poor, etc....  According to Canon Law, those aspects of Jesus’ person are immaterial but his sexual organs are of paramount importance for people to recall Christ’s person. However, now deacons are no longer bound to the in persona Christi requirement which church leaders believe only males can meet.

By the way, I hate to burst church leaders’ bubble, but men who live in bishop mansions do not remind me of Christ.  Men preoccupied with protecting church financial assets and power structures do not remind me of Christ.  Men who marginalize, excommunicate and censure do not remind me of Christ.  Men who rape children do not remind me of Christ.  Men who moved child rapists do not remind me of Christ.  Men who continue to dodge accountability for their brotherhood’s past actions aiding and abetting felonious pedophiles do not remind me of Christ.  And when these men stand on the altar to offer the Mass, I don’t magically find it easy to see the person of Christ in them.  I must remind myself that they too are fallible humans and pray that they, who call aspects of themselves infallible and consider themselves more Christ-like than others, come to realize their human fallibility.

I contrast this with the examples I’ve seen by many deacons, working directly with the poor and humbly serving in many capacities.  In my years on this earth, all but about 10 days of which have been as a baptized Catholic, I have encountered dozens of deacons who readily remind me of Christ.  Why am I supposed to see them as less Christ-like now?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What happened to "being imitators of Christ"?

St. Paul instructs all faithful to "be imitators of Christ". However, by their own declaration, priests and church leaders especially are supposed to remind people of Jesus, a man the gospels indicate:
  • Healed and fed people
  • Cared for the poor
  • Owned almost nothing
  • Humbly served others
  • Humbled the self-important, the self-aggrandized and especially religious leaders
  • Rendered dignity to the outcast and power to the powerless
  • Advocated for acceptance, peace and unity
  • Radically included and welcomed even the most despised and rejected in society
  • Ostracized no one
  • Sent men and women to do his work
  • Exhorted people to:
    • "Stop judging” so they wouldn’t be judged
    • “Stop condemning” so they wouldn’t be condemned.
    • “Forgive” so they could be forgiven
  • Willingly emptied himself of all power to the point of being killed
Though abortion and homosexuality existed in his time, the gospels do not indicate Jesus ever mentioned them.  He gave advice about many things and did not mince words when issuing directives.  Yet, not only did he not fixate on these topics, he didn’t mention them or apostolic gender requirements at all.

Jesus also didn’t label people as “dissenters” and then drive them away.  In fact, he defended rather than ostracized "dissenters" when his disciples broke fast laws (MK 2:18-19) and harvested on the Sabbath (MK 2:23-27, LK 6:1-5).  In MT 12:1-7 Jesus not only defended dissenters, he declared them as being outright innocent, “If you knew what this meant, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned these innocent men.”

Jesus also rebukes the apostles for trying to prevent people they consider “dissenters” from casting out demons in his name (LK 9:49-50).  He seemed very much against the apostles declaring franchise rights upon his name and deciding who could or couldn’t use it. 

It is no wonder that Jesus defends "dissenters" because he himself was a dissenter who violated religious law curing on the Sabbath (MT 12:10-13, LK 6:6-10).  Because he dissented, religious leaders actually accused him, the Son of God, as being an agent of the devil (MT 12).

Contrast Jesus’ behavior with what I see in many church leaders:
  • Locking churches to keep out the homeless and protect church possessions
  • Living in bishop mansions  
  • Fearing and either avoiding or carefully controlling interactions with the poor
  • Maniacally focusing on abortion and homosexuality
  • Judging and condemning via ignoring, censuring and excommunicating people
  • Publicly or secretly labeling, dismissing and demonizing people as “dissenters”
  • Justifying lies, half-truths or manipulation in the name of avoiding scandal or doing God’s work
  • Avoiding accountability for moving and hiding their brothers who abused children
  • Declaring inclusion of sending women apostles (like Jesus did) as a criminal behavior
  • Criminally aiding and abetting felons and obstructing justice to preserve image and financial assets
  • Fixating on "Catholic Identity" as some kind of franchise to protect
  • Honoring unity with their lips while dividing people
  • Preserving their power and prestige
If, most especially, I should see priests and church leaders as imitators of Christ, why do I see so few who behave like Jesus did?  Why does so much of their behavior remind me more of the Pharisees than Jesus?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Would Pope Benedict XVI have excommunicated himself?

Last week the German newspaper, Die Sueddeutsche, reported on a letter sent to German bishops in 1970 that encouraged permitting Catholic priests to marry.  Several German priests signed the letter, including a few future cardinals and a 43 year-old man named, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger.  Yes, that would be the same Joseph Ratzinger who is now Pope Benedict XVI.

Also last week, numerous Roman Catholic German politicians encouraged the church to permit married clergy.  Additionally, yesterday 144 Roman Catholic theologians in Germany issued an appeal for church reform.  Specifically they suggest the church permit:
  • Married priests
  • Women priests
  • A return to laity selecting church leaders
  • An improved acceptance of same-sex couples
This is a curious set of circumstances.  Under Pope Benedict XVI’s reign, people like Fr. Roy Bourgeois are excommunicated for “dissenting” from church teaching, and theologians such as Hans Küng (a peer of Joseph Ratzinger) continue to endure censure.  I dare say that under Pope Benedict XVI’s reign, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger would be excommunicated or at least censured from teaching.   Fr. Joseph Ratzinger certainly could not get a job or volunteer in my diocese where one, “must not teach, advocate, model, or in any way encourage beliefs or behaviors that are contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church” (Catholic Diocese of Lansing Employee Handbook p.5).

As pope, Joseph Ratzinger leads the church’s Magisterial teaching office.  Given that Pope Benedict XVI would have excommunicated or censured himself for his "dissent" had he been the pope when he signed that letter, should he recuse himself from the papacy now?   Had he been handled “properly” as a young priest according to his own beliefs as pope, he would have been silenced when he was a priest teaching at university, never ordained a bishop, named a cardinal or elected pope.  I can’t imagine a man such as Pope Benedict XVI, who harshly detests “relativism”, would want rules relatively dismissed or applied to him just because he’s pope. 

Therefore, should we see Pope Benedict XVI as a moral authority since he would have censured himself decades before he became pope?   How should Pope Benedict XVI handle the “dissenters” in Germany today who express themselves much like he did when he was a "dissenting" middle-aged priest, 19 years into his priesthood?  Might he risk depriving the world of a future pope if he dismisses any in this group of "dissenters"?  Will Pope Benedict XVI recall the parable in MT 18:23-33?  

Most puzzling though, why do bishops and cardinals censure people who "dissent" but follow a pope who was a "dissenter"?  Isn't this an example of moral relativism?

Amended 7 February, 2011
Thanks to "AW" for inspiring the following additional excellent questions.
What caused Joseph Ratzinger's movement from a position aligned with Jesus, who selected married men as apostles, to his current stance as Pope Benedict XVI?  What might today's church leaders learn from the pope's pre-pope days of Christ-like inclusiveness?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What is a “Catholic Identity”?

Currently some Catholics chant the slogan, “Catholic Identity”.  This is a non-descript term but some Church leaders like Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix use it to declare certain people or institutions unqualified to bear the moniker “Catholic”.  Much like a marketing executive suing to protect a brand image, they declare something or someone “non-Catholic” who fails to meet their standards for “Catholic Identity”.   Some Catholic laity, emboldened by church leaders like Bishop Olmsted, also spout vitriolic pronouncements declaring who is or isn’t “Catholic”.  The result is a sickening disharmony and disunity.

Chanters of “Catholic Identity” and supporters of declaring people and things “non-Catholic” seem to be church history buffs who believe church history began in 1545 A.D. at the Council of Trent.  They derisively label as “liberal” people who remember the church’s rich history dating all the way back to shortly after Jesus’ time when there were no Catholic schools, Catholic universities, Catholic hospitals, Catholic Catechisms, papal encyclicals, or infallibility doctrines.  But there were Catholics and a Catholic Church. 

The earliest recorded use of the term “Catholic Church” was by St. Ignatius of Antioch in 106 A.D.   Ignatius wrote, “Wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church”.  Thus, if we embrace the earliest history of “Catholic Identity”, it’s a pretty simple definition: the presence of Jesus Christ.

In this same document, St. Ignatius instructed Catholics to follow the bishops, “as Jesus Christ does the Father”.  This is a powerful statement aligning the laity with Jesus Christ.  Thus, according to St. Ignatius, where there are laypeople, there is Jesus, and there is the Catholic Church. 

By the way, his instruction to follow the bishops spoke to the bishops’ authority to decide who could baptize and lead the “love-feast” (the Eucharistic celebration).  He wrote about one heresy: believing Jesus’ crucifixion was only an illusion.  He indicated people holding such a belief had excluded themselves from the Eucharist because they did not want it; the Body of Christ taken in Eucharist was meaningless to people who believed Christ’s Passion was simply a mirage.  He instructed Catholics to pray for these people and explicitly declined mentioning their names…a far cry from today’s political abuse of the term “Catholic” as some sort of endorsement or denouncement of public figures and issues.    

By the way, Jesus didn’t kick anyone out of his group, not even Judas who profited by handing him over to be killed.  The closest he came to ostracizing anyone was when he told Peter (the first pope), “Get behind me Satan” (MT 16:23).  But he did not kick Peter out of the “club”. 

Maybe that’s because Jesus repeatedly, untiringly preached and offered forgiveness.  He focused on holding one’s self accountable more than one’s peers.  In doing so, we realize our many flaws needing forgiveness and hopefully are inspired to undertake radical measures extending forgiveness to others.

So what is a “Catholic Identity” other than belief in Jesus Christ?  If we return to Ignatius’ definition of “Catholic Church”, isn’t every baptized Christian a member?    If Jesus never kicked anyone out of the group, why should we now?  Why have church leaders seen fit to complicate “Catholic Identity” and use these complications to divide the one church?  Does forgiveness or condemnation better embody the presence of Christ, the earliest “Catholic Identity”?