Sunday, May 27, 2012

How about the truth?

This week Msgr. Lynn’s criminal trial for child endangerment revealed great insight into what passes for church hierarchy’s “logic.”   Aware that Fr. Stanley Gana also slept with women, abused alcohol and embezzled church funds, Msgr. Lynn and his bosses left this serial child rapist in active ministry with access to children reasoning that his other egregious behaviors disqualified him from being a “pure pedophile.”   

I think it’s safe to assume all pedophiles are “impure” rather than “pure.”    Despite Lynn’s inglorious explanation, the question remains: Pure or impure pedophile, why was Fr. Gana left in ministry?

Similarly inverted “logic” was used this week to arrest a whistleblower for his part in exposing corruptions in the Vatican and Vatican bank rather than arresting the parties actually responsible for the corruptions, i.e. the pope and several ordained Vatican officials.  The pope called the exposure of his and his leadership team’s corruptions, “criminal”, not the corrupt behaviors themselves.  

Perhaps since they committed other egregious behaviors like re-instating a holocaust denying bishop, enabling pedophile clergy, unjustly sanctioning theologians, launching a war on women, unceremoniously removing clergy who disagree with them, forcing an inaccurate and unwanted English liturgy translation, and giving preferential treatment to orthodox bullying organizations, they do not consider themselves “purely corrupt.”

I think it’s safe to assume that all collaborators in corruption are “impure.”  The question again remains: Pure or impure in their corruptions, why do the pope and his accessories in corruption imprison the whistleblower while they walk with impunity?  Being the supreme dictator of one’s own country and religion has its perks, I guess.

Both situations involve “logic” based on this flawed axiom: if something protects the institutional brotherhood of the Roman Catholic clergy, then it is “good” but if it in any way threatens the brotherhood, it is “bad.”   The hierarchy seems to place higher value on this axiom than on principles set forth in the Ten Commandments, like truth.  With increasing exposures of corruption and enablement of abuses, the truth increasingly is seen as an enemy to those who claim to defend and proclaim it.  How can they defend and preach that which they do not recognize or practice?

Rather than stand for truth as Jesus relentlessly did, they become spin doctors and turn seminaries into residency programs refining spin doctoring techniques.  Pastoral training has gone on hiatus because truly pastoral people also threaten the sordid brotherhood that has usurped control of the church.

During cross-examination on Thursday, Msgr. Lynn replied to Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington, “I don’t know how you want me to answer questions…”  Blessington’s response was simple, “How about the truth?”  It was a brilliantly simple response to a person who by the nature of his position should know implicitly to answer in honesty. 

I think many Catholics tire of hearing about clergy scandals.  They wish clergy would stop committing the offenses, the guilty clergy would be removed and punished, and people would stop talking about scandals so they don’t have to defend remaining in a corruptly led organization, or alter their routines.  

St. Thomas More once wrote, “For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them.”   As Catholics weather wave after wave of scandals, I think it is important to reflect upon this thought. 

Have we suffered our clergy to be ill-educated and their manners corrupted from the infancy of their vocations by enabling them to live privileged, detached and aloof lifestyles?  If we permit them to live as invincible, infallible beings above the law, should we be surprised that they behave like they are above the law and truth?  If we turn a deaf ear and blind eye when they err, lie, manipulate or distort, do we have a right to be scandalized when they continue such behaviors?   Must we look in the mirror when we ask, “What is wrong with the church?”  Whether we leave the church or remain, if we do so in silence, are we accessories to the clergy’s crimes?  Will corruption leave the church only when we insist that it does?

In the case of the Vatican scandals, the person arrested was the Pope’s butler.  Think about that for just a minute, the pope’s butler… just like Jesus had?  The butler is one of the Pope’s personal staff comprised of four women who tend his apartment and some personal secretaries – yes that is a plural - secretaries.  Why aren’t people scandalized that the self-acclaimed Vicar of Christ (a homeless, itinerant, staffless preacher) has a staff of servants, including a guy who holds his umbrella over him in the rain?  If we permit church leaders to live like royalty and distort truth while committing atrocities, then do we have anyone to blame but ourselves for the church being in its current shameful state?

The U.S. Bishops are encouraging a “fortnight of freedom”.   From June 21st to July 4th they are asking Catholics to stand up for religious freedom.  Their hope is people will protest the U.S. government.  Should we protest secular or ecclesial government?  Which should we hold to a higher standard?

Perhaps instead of rallying at some secular government building with other Catholics, we should rally outside of diocesan chanceries, demanding religious freedom within our church, demanding truth and transparency, demanding justice for religious sisters, for women, for gays, for immigrants, for abuse victims, for lay people.  Perhaps instead of writing secular officials we write bishops and other clergy expressing our outrage at their corrupt brotherhood.

Perhaps we begin our fight for religious freedom in our own parishes, reverting to the Mass language that fits our culture.  Perhaps we send our charitable donations to a food pantry instead of the collection basket.  Perhaps we boycott ministerial involvement leaving the clergy to perform all the tasks themselves.  If we do not in dramatic ways insist upon honesty and religious freedom within our church, can we ever expect an end to the parade of scandals?

Thanks to my friends Jack and Caridad whose correspondence gave me the idea for this article.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

What is "radical feminism" and is it "bad"?

The Vatican has accused U.S. religious sisters of “radical feminism”.  The term might conjure images fit for a reality T.V. show, “Nuns Gone Wild”, where after delivering a university lecture for her “Dismantling Family Values 101” class, Sr. Mary She-Ra firebombs Fr. Pete O’File’s residence on her way home before enjoying a celebratory meal with fellow sisters, dancing naked around a statue of their patroness, “St. Lorena Bobbitt”.   I’m not sure if that’s the image the Vatican intended by using that term, but I’m not sure it wasn’t either.  Regardless, it’s not an accurate image of “radical feminism.” 

So, what is “radical feminism” really?  The word “radical” means “at the root”.  “Feminism” advocates for women's rights based upon the belief that women should have political, social, and economic equality to men.   Since the church teaches that sexism is a sin, one would expect the church to support something that tries to understand gender inequality’s roots.   

Why then is the Vatican seemingly strongly against “radical feminism”?  “Radical feminism” developed a theory that asserts patriarchal social structures are a root of gender inequality.  Therefore, to have true gender equality, one must work to dismantle patriarchal structures which unequally divide power and money based on gender. 

Irrespective of “radical feminist” theory's accuracy, based upon church teachings regarding sexism alone, if the church’s patriarchal governance structure causes sinful sexist oppression of women, then church governance must change to eradicate the sin of sexism.  Herein lies the rub.  Evidently though church doctrine supports gender equality on paper, if that support actually requires tampering with the all-male hierarchy’s patriarchal system of power, then those patriarchal leaders quickly revert to George Orwell’s Animal Farm definition of equality.  "ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL, BUT SOME ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.”

Is it valid to say that the church’s patriarchal system oppresses women, thus justifying radical feminism in the church?

According to Webster’s dictionary, “oppression” is “unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power.”   Cruelty is in the eye of the beholder provided it passes a test of reasonableness.  Therefore, to some extent individual females decide whether or not they experience cruelty at the hands of the all-male church leaders.  However, only men in the church decide the institutional rules, and those rules bar women from one sacrament and certain activities as well as completely eliminate them from decision-making bodies to establish those rules.  Only the all-male leadership decides what constitutes “just” or “unjust” behavior towards women.  Such a system that excludes female voices from defining justice and setting rules in an organization to which they belong seems inherently unjust towards them. 

Furthermore, church leaders strip away females’ right to their own feelings by telling women how they should feel.  For example, church leaders say a girl, who is denied (based upon gender alone) the opportunity to be an altar server, has an "equal" opportunity to serve the church by cleaning - much as the clown shoveling horse excrement has an “equal” opportunity as the horse and its rider in a parade.   Because church leaders say the opportunities are equal, they say a girl should not feel offended when rejected from one and relegated to another, no matter how strongly she senses a calling to do one versus the other.  Church leaders tell her she is selfish and prideful to not be content with what they have determined is her calling.  Such rape of mind by forcibly thrusting one’s feelings into another person is cruel beyond expression.  It is dehumanizing.

This rape of mind is very present in the Vatican’s document censuring the nuns and actually becomes a rape of their souls too.  The Vatican invalidates the sisters’ Spirit-inspired prophetic voices bestowed upon them in their baptisms and renewed in their confirmations and religious vows, by saying that their prophetic voices are only valid if the all-male church leaders say so.  Church leaders forcibly thrust their experience of the Spirit into these women’s souls trying to conquer the Spirit’s presence in a domain that is beyond their knowledge and control.    

Even worse, in the case of women sensing a call to ordination, church leaders insert their words and opinions into Jesus’ mouth and mind, and then say that Jesus is the person raping women’s minds and souls, not them.  At best their stance is, “We raped your mind and soul because Jesus made us do it.”  Should we be surprised that men, who continue to side-step accountability for their enabling role in the rape of countless children’s bodies, minds and souls, have no compunction raping the minds and souls of women, or blaming their actions on Jesus?  

Why is this group of unmarried men pre-occupied with controlling women’s sensations of the Spirit and doing so based upon anatomical body parts?  Why are they pre-occupied with controlling women’s bodies?  Why do they think “radical feminism” is “bad?”  Since sexism is a sin, aren’t we all called to be “radical feminists” trying to purge this sin from our institution?

I think one could assemble a plausible argument that Jesus, who repeatedly ignored social and religious gender-based norms, was a “radical feminist”.  But, he too committed the same error in the eyes of the church hierarchy as the sisters by focusing on corporal works of mercy rather than teaching about an all-male priesthood or homosexuality.  Would Cardinal Levada and Pope Benedict XVI censure Jesus as well?   

Does the church provide fodder for a reality T.V. show called "Nuns Gone Wild" or one called "Clergy Gone Wild" where Fr. Pete O'File is on trial for serially raping youths with Msgr. Teflon, Vicar of Clergy, who moved dozens of priests like Fr. Pete and thereby endangered the lives of thousands of kids, and whose only defense is, "It's not my fault; I just followed the orders of Cardinal N. Abler who just happened to die the night the courts said he would have to testify at my trial."  In this episode we see Catholic parishes and schools being closed and sold to pay monetary restitution to victims who are actually blamed for the scandal instead of the clergy. One need look no further than the criminal trial underway currently in Philadelphia to find footage. 

Is this censure of the sisters really about “radical feminism” or “radical chauvinism" and "radical clericalism?”  

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Who are good shepherds?

Another “Good Shepherd” Sunday has come and gone.  This past weekend’s readings included Jesus saying, “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me … (John 10:14)”   The church teaches that ordained clergy follow in Jesus’ footsteps as “shepherds.”  However, do recent events such as the Vatican reprimanding U.S. religious sisters and censuring Irish priests conjure images of shepherds tenderly caring for sheep or ones of Don Quixote attacking and slaughtering them?

In Miguel Cervantes’ book, "Don Quixote" (Chapter 18), the title character beat the crap out of two herds of sheep.  He did this because in his delusion of himself as a knight-errant, he assumed the dust raised by the approaching flocks was actually caused by two advancing enemy armies.  Quixote ignored the sound advice of his "squire", Sancho Panza, who explained that they were actually approached by sheep rather than enemies.  But, Quixote rejected plain, simple truth to cling to his delusion.  Based upon this imagined threat born of delusion, and his accompanying delusions of grandeur associated with his noble “quest”, he attacked the sheep and killed seven.

Are the “threats” of the American religious sisters and Irish priests real or imagined?  The “threat” created by the censured Irish priests seems to be their open criticism of continued global mishandling of the church’s sexual abuse crisis and their insistence on greater clergy accountability.  The “threat” created by the chastised American religious sisters seems to be their emulation of Jesus with emphasis on offering corporal works of mercy more than judgmental moral lectures.  Are truth, accountability, advocacy for children and emulating Jesus threats? Are church leaders acting as good shepherds or as Don Quixote?  If shepherds don’t know or recognize their sheep, are they “good”? If they attack and slay their sheep, are they “good”?  

Whether on a local level where clergy bully and dismiss those who question and expect accountability or on a global level where the pope censures Irish priests who advocate for clergy accountability and chastises nuns who emulate Jesus’ actions, are sheep being mistaken for "the enemy”?  Wouldn’t it be nice if the church’s Don Quixotes stopped beating the crap out of sheep they delude themselves into thinking are enemy forces? 

Many people are inspired by Don Quixote’s “quest” as expressed in the lyrics of the song “The Impossible Dream” by Joe Darion (included at the end of this article).  Heard in isolation, those are very stirring sentiments.  But Quixote’s noble quest cannot be detached from the absurdities and harm caused by his delusional pursuit of that quest.  Many people enjoy Don Quixote’s absurdities because they create situational humor as he misinterprets reality and blunders.  However, the physical harm resulting from these blunders is endured by fictional characters.  When it’s real people suffering from real people’s delusions about imagined enemies, real people get hurt.  That’s not funny or inspiring.

In Don Quixote, the real shepherds protected their sheep from Quixote’s delusion-inspired attacks.  As of this writing, over 28,000 faithful Catholics have signed a petition at defending sheep under attack, i.e., the American religious sisters.  In Ireland, hundreds of faithful Catholics protested at the Papal Nunciature (embassy) in Dublin, defending sheep under attack, i.e., the five censured Irish priests.  Who are the “good shepherds”?    

The Psalm this past weekend states, “The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone (Psalm 118).”  Are the religious women and censured priests, those rejected by the self-acclaimed church builders, the true cornerstones?

This past weekend’s Psalm also said, “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.”  Should we trust in those who emulate the Lord’s passion for the ill and impoverished or the princes of the church who chastise them?   Should we trust in those who emulate the Lord’s passion for truth and advocacy for children or the princes of the church who chastise them?  

“The Impossible Dream” music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion
To dream ... the impossible dream ...
To fight ... the unbeatable foe ...
To bear ... with unbearable sorrow ...
To run ... where the brave dare not go ...
To right ... the unrightable wrong ...
To love ... pure and chaste from afar ...
To try ... when your arms are too weary ...
To reach ... the unreachable star ...

This is my quest, to follow that star ...
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far ...
To fight for the right, without question or pause ...
To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause ...

And I know if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest,
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm,
when I'm laid to my rest ...
And the world will be better for this:
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach ... the unreachable star ...