Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Church is the People of God...

July 19, 2011 Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Philadelphia’s Cardinal Rigali and named Charles Chaput as its new Archbishop in the wake of recent rampant clergy sex abuse issues there.  Chaput has a reputation for zero-tolerance of clergy sexual impropriety yet vigorously lobbies against extending the statue of limitations for criminally prosecuting those who sexually abuse minors.  (He thinks this unfairly targets clergy, though it applies to anyone who sexually molests a minor.)  He has a reputation for judgmental conservatism stemming from his actions such as barring the child of a lesbian couple from attending Catholic school in his diocese, and enthusiastically supporting the use of Holy Communion as a weapon to influence people’s political votes.

Recent opinions about Chaputs appointment published in the Philadelphia Inquirer gave me pause for reflection.  Christine Flowers applauds Chaput’s appointment and accuses people, especially Catholics, of “anti-Catholicism”, who don’t support him and his agenda.  She writes, “Catholicism is, for them, a dirty word. Because it judges. Because it has rules and beliefs they just don't buy. And Charles Chaput, like New York's Timothy Dolan, isn't going to let them get away with it anymore.”    She vilifies “Voice of the Faithful”, an organization that advocates for abuse victims because they seek to identify and address the root causes of the church’s systemic abuse and accountability issues.  She mocks people who properly quote church doctrine that the church is “the people of God” not an institution.  For her, the church is the institution with its rules and hierarchical governing bodies to keep people in line. 

Let’s address that last point first.  Though presenting herself as an authority, Ms. Flowers’s statement directly opposes church teaching.  Here is an excerpt from the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Paragraph 2. The Church - People of God, Body of Christ, Temple of the Holy Spirit

Please note the Catechism states the church is the people of God, not the institution or its hierarchy.  Furthermore, this section of the Catechism includes such teachings as:
804 One enters into the People of God by faith and Baptism. "All men are called to belong to the new People of God" (LG 13), so that, in Christ, "men may form one family and one People of God" (AG 1).

805 The Church is the Body of Christ. Through the Spirit and his action in the sacraments, above all the Eucharist, Christ, who once was dead and is now risen, establishes the community of believers as his own Body.

806 In the unity of this Body, there is a diversity of members and functions. All members are linked to one another, especially to those who are suffering, to the poor and persecuted.

807 The Church is this Body of which Christ is the head: she lives from him, in him, and for him; he lives with her and in her.

809 The Church is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the soul, as it were, of the Mystical Body, the source of its life, of its unity in diversity, and of the riches of its gifts and charisms.

810 "Hence the universal Church is seen to be 'a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit'" (LG 4 citing St. Cyprian, De Dom. orat 23: PL 4, 553).

A  July 25, 2011 letter to the editor by Mr. Daniel Dufner echoes Ms. Flowers’ opinions on what defines Catholicism.  Mr. Duffner writes, “Archbishop Charles Chaput is just the person we need to ensure the message is delivered to the entire archdiocese that you cannot sit back and claim to be a Catholic and not embrace church teachings, values, and fundamental beliefs. No gay marriage. No abortion. No just going to Mass when you feel like it. No euthanasia. No tolerating child abuse.”  Mr. Dufner and Ms. Flowers seem to define the church as a hierarchical institution opposed to “bad” things and Catholics as a homogenous group of unquestioning followers.    

However, the catechism teaches that the church is the people of God, a diverse people, unified by their faith and baptism in the Triune God.  Actually, rather than primarily being an institution “against” things, the church is the people of God who are “for” what Christ is “for” with particular concern for the suffering, poor and persecuted.  This reflects what we see Jesus practice in the gospels: radical inclusion, radical forgiveness, radical detachedness from material goods, radical concern for the poor, and radical healing of the suffering. 

As an aside, Jesus also said to leave judging to God at the end of time.  This has been the focus of the last two weekends’ gospel readings (MT 13).  Why would someone think the church’s job is to judge people on a daily basis? 

Furthermore, how can one reconcile the church’s teachings with leaders who judge and persecute rather than forgive and free from persecution?  How can the faithful rejoice in the prospect of excluding members of its body through rejecting the diversity of its parts and suppression of individual charsims?  More importantly, why are there so many Catholics who believe they are superior protectors and defenders of the Catholic faith when many of their actions and beliefs directly oppose church teachings and Jesus’ examples? 

I actually think I can answer that last question.  Beginning in 1978 with Pope John Paul II’s papacy during which Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) led the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, there has been a systematic and concerted effort to narrow the Catholic faith to a few teachings (Berry “Vows of Silence” and Reese “A Flock of Shepherds”).  Rather than gather all to Christ, they wish to “purify” the church and make it smaller by excluding and driving out people who differ with them on select teachings. 

The questionnaire for potential new bishops reflects this attitude.  It asks church leaders for the bishop candidate’s stand on, “the priestly ordination of women, on the Sacrament of Matrimony, on sexual ethics, and on…loyalty and docility to the Holy Father, the Apostolic See and the Hierarchy; esteem for and acceptance of priestly celibacy.”  This focus, in effect, has narrowed the definition of Catholicism to anti-female clergy, anti-gay civil unions, anti-birth control, anti-abortion, anti-married clergy and pro-unquestioned hierarchical power. 

Every bishop appointed over the last 33 years by John Paul II and Benedict XVI must be in lock-step with their beliefs on these aspects of doctrine, effectively elevating them to pre-eminent importance over all other church teachings.  This mantra is reinforced as bishops ultimately control who teaches within the institutional church, and censure and persecute believers who question this narrow definition of Catholicism.   

The question I can’t answer is why the real church, the people of God, settles for this cheapened, narrow definition of Catholicism and does not reclaim the church.  

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What is childlike faith?

A few days ago the priest at morning Mass elaborated upon Jesus’ directive to have “childlike” faith.  He said that being childlike involved not asking questions of Holy Mother Church because children don’t ask questions; they just listen and obey.  I don’t know what children he has met but that has not been my experience with children; they sustain an almost inexhaustible, unrelenting barrage of “whys”.

Some formal definitions I found for “childlike” include “having good qualities associated with a child”, or “like or befitting a child as in innocence, trustfulness or candor”.

After 24 years of parenting three children, I think “childlike” means having an innate sense of right and wrong accompanied by a well-tuned “b.s. detector”.  Many children see through lame excuses and self-serving manipulation packaged as “I’m doing this for you.”  Being “childlike” means having a genuine inquisitiveness.  Kids ask a million questions, listen and ask one or two million more.  Children value truth and think people want to hear it.  Thus they speak it prophetically.  The combination of their “b.s. detector” and value for truth inspires them to write-off and ignore people who lie to them.

Why would this priest equate “childlike” with blind and unquestioning obedience?  I think some parents hope their child will stop asking questions but good parents encourage questions.  Sometimes answering them is exhausting but a good parent knows how to lovingly deal with childlike persistence.  Sometimes parents don’t know the answers but good parents learn researching the answers.  Good parents are secure enough to say, “I don’t know” when they don’t know and "I was wrong" when they learn they were wrong.  Good parents revel in their child’s inquisitiveness and see it as a source motivating growth for them and their child. 

Ineffective parents make up answers and tell their children to stop asking questions.  This stems from a mistaken belief that parents must always appear to "know" things.  Some parents punish their children for asking questions, conditioning them to not ask.  Thus, some children learn to not ask, but the questions still naturally form in their minds.  They are just suppressed by the abusive environment in which the child resides.  In mildest form, the abusive environment just suppresses questions but sometimes it is the accomplice to greater abuses like physical, sexual or substance abuses.  What role does suppression of questions play in enabling abuses in the church?   

This priest echoed a sentiment I’m hearing more and more, especially from priests emerging from seminaries in the last 15 – 20 years.  His inaccurate understanding of children and what it means to be childlike aligns with a statement Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) made during a homily given December 31, 1979.  “The Christian believer is a simple person: bishops should protect the faith of these little people against the power of intellectuals.”  Ratzinger equates theologians with intellectuals.  Thus his statement was directed at theologians.  Why does Ratzinger think people are simplistic?  Why does he think theologians, with their childlike inquisitiveness and prophetic expressions are something from which people need protection?  Why does he want to stifle people’s spiritual growth? 

Between his roles as pope and prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (formerly called the Office of the Inquisition), Ratzinger has censured over ninety theologians for the simple reason that they ask questions…are childlike.  He has created an environment conditioning clergy, theologians and the faithful to suppress their childlike questions.  But, the childlike questions still remain.

What is the impact of suppressing childlike inquisitiveness to individuals, the church and society?  How should we respond to leaders that suppress childlike questioning?  How should we cultivate our childlike questioning and prophetic expressions of truth?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why do the bishops of Ohio oppose the Susan G. Komen foundation and its "Race for the Cure"?

Many contemporary Catholic hierarchs have a rabid fixation upon literally interpreting gospel passages in which Jesus appoints male apostles to the point that in 2010 the Vatican declared ordaining women to be the most serious of all sins.  Rather than consider any of their own misogynistic or male hegemonic beliefs as possible motivations, they blame Jesus for this policy marginalizing women.   

In Matthew 10, Mark 3, and Luke 6 Jesus names twelve male apostles.  However, the Matthew rendition also includes Jesus instructing those men to “cure the sick”.  In Mark 6 and Luke 9 Jesus also explicitly instructs the apostles to “cure the sick.”  Thus, each gospel that says Jesus selected male apostles also indicates Jesus explicitly told those men to “cure the sick.”

Why then would the Ohio bishops (apostles), oppose the Susan G. Komen Foundation and its “Race for the Cure” since the foundation is one of the strongest forces in curing breast cancer, the most prevalent cancer afflicting women?  The end of this blog entry includes Bishop Blair’s letter sent to Catholics in the Toledo, OH Diocese indicating the Ohio bishops’ decision and rationale. Here is a link to an article regarding this topic as well.

The Susan G. Komen website states, “As the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists, we’re working together to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures.”   It is the world’s largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to fighting breast cancer.  Why do the Ohio bishops oppose curing the sick?

The Toledo bishop’s letter below states that though Susan G. Komen has not and does not fund any stem cell research, maybe it could someday because it doesn’t explicitly say that it won’t.  Why do the bishops attack this charity based upon what it might do but has never done?  Do they violate the commandment against bearing false witness by accusing the group of something it never committed? 

Also, why do the bishops attack just this charity rather than opposing the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, etc….?  None of these organizations explicitly state they will never conduct stem cell research.  However, all diseases targeted by those other organizations afflict male bishops as well as women but the bishops attack only the charity that focuses primarily on women’s health.  Why?   Are there underlying misogynistic issues?

Susan G. Komen provides funding to Planned Parenthood specifically for its extensive breast cancer screening programs.  The news article indicates that the foundation conducts audits to ensure its funds are used only for breast cancer related programs versus for any other Planned Parenthood services.  Herein is a sore point for bishops who demonize all of Planned Parenthood due to its role as an abortion provider.  The bishops refuse to see any good from the numerous other services provided by Planned Parenthood.  Thus, they demonize Susan G. Komen for its support of Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screening services, even though this service aligns with the gospel, curing the sick.

It is odd that the bishops who enable, recycle, cover-up and lie about sex offenders within their own ranks want people to see only the good in church leaders, overlooking their own atrocious sins and misuse of funds associated with that.  They use donations from the faithful to pay legal costs defending bishops whose sins enabled predatory priests and obstructed justice (estimated at a half million per case).  They use millions upon millions of dollars in donations from the faithful to pay public relations firms to help repair their image.   They use donations from the faithful to pay restitution for sexually abusive priests’ sins either via direct payments to abuse victims (over $3 billion and growing), selling church properties or paying liability insurance premiums (increases of which from abuse claims cost additional hundreds of millions) (Reference “Sex Priests and Secret Codes” by Thomas Doyle).  Yet, bishops expect the faithful to keep donating to them.  Why do the bishops treat others differently than they wish to be treated?  Why do Catholic religious leaders hold secular organization leaders to higher standards than they hold for themselves? 

Keep in mind that Susan G. Komen has not funded stem cell research nor paid for a single abortion.  Their “sin” seems to be interacting with those whom the bishops consider sinners.  I seem to recall stories in the gospel about some guy, the son of a carpenter, who hung out with sinners and was chastised by the religious leaders of his day….  Who was that guy, anyway? 

Jesus also explicitly instructed the apostles to carry no possessions or money.  Yet, the apostles (bishops) in Ohio tell Catholics to re-direct their Susan G. Komen donations to the bishops via giving to Mercy Cancer Center, a Catholic healthcare organization located in the Cleveland, Ohio diocese under that bishop’s control.  Why do the bishops deviate from what Jesus explicitly instructed regarding money?

Of particular concern is Bishop Richard Lennon of Cleveland.  When he was in the Boston Archdiocese he orchestrated the sale of countless parish properties, including several dozen from solvent parishes, to pay for apostles’ sexual assault related sins and legal costs defending complicit church leaders.  Upon becoming the bishop of Cleveland he began doing the same thing (reference: “Render Unto Rome” by Jason Berry).   However, the faithful of Cleveland and Boston concerned that their sacred worship spaces were being sold for profane uses, appealed to the Vatican.  As a result, the Vatican has slowed bishops from selling property by requiring their adherence to Canon Law as pertains to relegating a church to profane use.    Thus, one must wonder if Bishop Lennon wants funds diverted from Susan G. Komen foundation to Mercy Cancer Center under his control as an alternative funding source.   By the way, the Vatican has called for an apostolic visitation to review Bishop Lennon’s leadership practices.

Since the apostles of Ohio deviate from Jesus’ explicit instructions, should the faithful follow their directives?  Do the faithful have a prophetic duty to question them?  If the faithful follow the bishops’ directive and cease funding Susan G. Komen because it might fund sinful behavior in the future, shouldn’t they first stop giving to the bishops who already have funded billions of dollars for clergy’s sinful behavior?

Text of the Bishop Blair’s letter:
TOLEDO, OHIO 43604-5360

July 5, 2011 

Dear Friends in Christ,

Few of us remain untouched by the scourge of breast cancer. Whether among our families, friends or neighbors, there are a great many women in our country who confront this disease every day with tremendous faith and courage.

Researchers, physicians and medical personnel, using their God-given intelligence and skill, work very hard not only to provide healing of those who are afflicted, but also to find a cure. We are all familiar with the mobilization of effort in our country on behalf of this worthy goal.

One of the most widely known initiatives is that of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Many people participate in efforts to raise funds for this cause, including some of our Catholic institutions and schools.

While we want to do everything possible to support the search for a cure, sadly the landscape of medical research today is sometimes marred by the erroneous belief that research is not bound by moral norms rooted in faith and reason, as reflected in the teaching of the Church. That teaching holds, for example, that it is not morally acceptable to destroy one human life, even in its embryonic stage, in order to save another human life.

For some time, moral questions have been raised from various quarters about the research funded by the Komen Foundation. The Bishops of Ohio have discussed this and have looked into the matter. As best we can determine, at present the Komen Foundation does not fund cancer research that employs embryonic stem cells. However, their policy does not exclude that possibility. They are open to embryonic stem cell research, and may very well fund such research in the future. They are also contributors to Planned Parenthood, which, though it may claim to provide needed medical services to poor women, is also the largest provider of abortions in our country.

In order to avoid even the possibility of cooperation in morally unacceptable activities, the other Bishops and I believe that it would be wise to find alternatives to Komen for Catholic fundraising efforts.

For that reason, I am directing that in the fight against breast cancer, fundraising carried out under Catholic auspices, including our schools, should be channeled to our locally known Mercy Cancer Centers instead of Komen.

Through Mercy, we can help local women who are without financial means to receive specialized care which includes treatment, detection and support in their fight against breast cancer. We can be assured that at Mercy, these women will receive a high level of compassionate care that respects their human dignity.

More information will be coming to you from Mercy regarding this opportunity. I thank you for your cooperation and support. Together let us pray for all cancer sufferers, especially those in the greatest physical, spiritual and emotional need.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Leonard P. Blair
Bishop of Toledo

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Reflections on the Vatican's annual financial report...

This Sunday’s readings include the Prophet Zechariah’s statement, “See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass (Zec 9:9).”  This same weekend, the Vatican released its annual financial report which listed revenues of $356.1 million against expenses of $341.8 million, an annual profit of $14.3 million.  That much money can buy a lot of donkeys. 

The pope calls himself “Vicar of Christ”, Christ’s representative.  Jesus was homeless, reigned over a kingdom not of this world, traveled by donkey or foot, and owned almost nothing.  In contrast Pope Benedict XVI resides within Vatican City’s edifices, is the absolute monarch of his own country, travels in a custom Mercedes Benz “pope-mobile” and garners $14.3 million in annual profits.   Is someone a credible “Vicar of Christ” when his lifestyle differs from Jesus to the point of requiring $341.8 million in expenses each year to maintain his possessions and power structure?

In 1981, Pope John Paul II began publishing an annual financial report for the Vatican in hopes of dispelling notions that the Vatican held great wealth.  A financial report typically includes building and property valuations, forms of wealth.  Within its report, the Vatican declares each Vatican City building to be worth a very modest €1.  For example, the pope says St. Peter’s Basilica is worth €1.  Depending upon exchange rates, that’s typically some amount less than $1.50.  This seems grossly inaccurate.  I would hope the Sistine Chapel or St. Peter's Basilica could fetch more than $1.50 if placed on the real estate market.     

Regardless of Vatican properties’ declared values, the pope spends $100s millions annually to maintain them.  This makes a more profound value statement than the valuation claimed in the financial report.  Would the pope spend so much to protect and maintain things he truly found worthless?

As currently derived, the Vatican’s annual report does not reflect its complete wealth.  By the way, the Vatican is one of few entities whose annual report lists “gold” as an asset, an indicator of the quantity of its gold holdings.  Nonetheless, with what is reported, under-reported or not reported as assets, the report seems to reinforce the exact message Pope John Paul II hoped to refute. 

The Vatican indicated that their profits occurred despite a significant reduction in donations by the faithful.  The primary vehicle through which individuals donate is the annual Peter’s Pence.  Those donations declined 18% or $14.8 million, leaving the pope only $67.7 million from this collection.  Vatican officials did not comment on causes of individuals’ marked decreases in giving but rather cited increased stock prices as the reason for posting a profit despite reduced contributions.  So, in addition to owning enough gold to list it on their annual report, and owning properties, the Vatican owns enough stocks that their increased values can not only offset $14.8 million in reduced contributions but post $14.3 million in profit.  That implies the Vatican has a significant stock portfolio…just like Jesus had?

The separately administered Vatican City also posted a $30.6 million profit.  Vatican officials attribute this to the Vatican Museums’ booming sale of tickets, priced at about $22 each.  The Sistine Chapel is accessed via a Vatican Museum ticket.  Would Jesus turn holy places into for-profit tourist destinations?  Scripture lends some insight into this.  In the same passage where Jesus names the original twelve male apostles he tells them, “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give (MT 10:8).”  Should the faithful permit today’s apostles to charge for access to holy places?

With total profits nearing $44 million, the Vatican seems to have financial sources independent of individual church members.  Individual donations seem to be less and less relevant to church leaders, breaking communal interdependency.  What impact does this have upon their connection to and intimacy with the faithful?  What should the faithful do about this?