Monday, November 29, 2010

"...and upon this rock I will build my church..."

Church leaders base papal authority largely upon the statement in MT 16:18, “…you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church…”   The original Greek text of Matthew’s gospel actually uses two forms of the word “rock”, one masculine (petros) and one feminine (petra).  Re-inserting just the Greek words used for “rock”, the statement would read something like, “…you are Petros and upon this petra I will build my church…”

In Greek, the masculine and feminine forms of this word vary somewhat in meaning.  “Petros” means a rock as in a stone whereas “petra” means a rock that is a massive foundational formation.  Some biblical scholars debate over the shift in gender and meaning, mostly to question papal authority.  These scholars suggest that this verse means that Peter is a small fragment of the foundational rock or perhaps that the verse doesn’t refer directly to Peter at all.

Church leaders refute such arguments by explaining that Jesus would have spoken Aramaic, not Greek.  The Aramaic word of "kephas" has no gender and is the same word for stone, rock or foundational slab.  So if we insert Aramaic for “rock”, it would be, “…you are Kephas, and upon this kephas I will build my church…” In Aramaic, the rock's magnitude is either irrelevant or inferred.  

Though the Aramaic word doesn't really distinguish magnitude, the author chose the Greek word referring to a massive foundational structure for the word's second appearance.  Church leaders explain that proper speech would not permit using a feminine noun as a man’s name in the first instance.  Thus, it would have been improper speech to say, “…you are Petra, and upon this petra I will build my church…”

Church leaders explain why the Greek author didn’t use the all feminine Petra/petra combination.  The mixed gender Petros/petra combination is one alternative and the one that was used.  However, why didn’t the author of Matthew write it as, “…you are Petros, and upon this petros I will build my church…”?  This would have preserved the general meaning and maintained consistent masculine gender usage, “….you are a male rock, and upon this male rock I will build my church…”

Instead the author chose to change genders, “…you are a male rock, and upon this female rock I will build my church…”  I just wonder if there is any significance to referring to Peter as a female rock upon which to build the church.  In my research, I’ve not found anyone who explores this question.  Since church leaders give tremendous attention to gender in other passages about apostles, I just wonder why it has not been explored here.  It would seem to me that if the preservation of an all-male leadership team were important to early church leaders, they would have preferred using the masculine petros/petros combination rather than what the gospel author chose, the mixed gender "petros/petra" combination.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Is the error of structural violence over the interpretation of scripture occurring again?

The Catholic Church teaches that people are not bound to any particular scripture interpretation.  God speaks to people individually through scripture.  This is expressed in documents such as Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943 Pius XII) and Dei Verbum (1965 Second Vatican Council).  Thus, Catholics are not required to interpret everything in the Bible literally.

However, Dei Verbum also asserts that, “the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church”.  This teaching office of the church is called the Magisterium. 

These two somewhat divergent concepts coexist by the Magisterium reserving the right to definitively interpret parts of scripture but rarely doing so.  Even when sparsely applied, does this exclusive authority for scripture interpretation enable structural violence?  The church says, “No” because it believes it always interprets God’s intentions correctly.  However, what has history shown?

Galileo Galilei, through scientific study believed in heliocentrism, the theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun rather than the Sun circling Earth.  Galileo was correct.

Despite being correct, Galileo was called before the Magisterium’s Inquisition twice.  Psalm 93:1, Psalm 96:10, Psalm 104:5, Ecclesiastes 1:5 and 1 Chronicles 16:30 contain verbiage about the Earth being immovable or the Sun rising and setting about the Earth.  Literally interpreting those passages, the Magisterium felt Galileo contradicted scriptural truths.  Galileo felt he didn’t, citing 4th century bishop St. Augustine’s theological writings pertaining to non-literal scripture interpretation.  However, the Magisterium’s power outranked Galileo, a layman.

Defending his thoughts, Galileo experienced both physical and emotional violence at the hands of the Catholic Church.  In 1616, the Inquisition cleared him of all charges but condemned his theory as “false and contrary to Scripture”.  He was told to stop promoting the idea.  He initially promised to do this, likely to avoid further physical violence.   Regardless, the emotional violence of asking him to turn off his God-given brain must have been extremely painful and likely inhibited achieving his potential.   

Compelled by pursuit of truth, he later wrote his most famous work, “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems” (1632) that defended his theory.  In his second trial by the Inquisition, he was found, “vehemently suspect of heresy”, required to recant his theory and placed under house arrest the remainder of his life.  Thus, he endured physical violence of imprisonment in addition to emotional violence of invalidating his thoughts and opinions for the last six years of his life.

Because reading books written by a heretic or on heretical topics are grounds for excommunication, the church imposed structural violence upon all humanity threatening them with excommunication if they read Galileo’s works or works on heliocentrism.  In its attempt to control truth, the church violated truth.

The church lifted its ban on books discussing heliocentrism in 1835, almost 200 years after Galileo’s death.  In 1939 Pope Pius XII, who authored Divino Afflante Spiritu, called Galileo one of the "most audacious heroes of research ... not afraid of the stumbling blocks and the risks on the way…”  In 1992 the church finally admitted it erred in dealing with Galileo and his thoughts. 

Could Galileo and other intimidated scientists have contributed more to the world if they had not experienced structural violence?  We will never know the extent of damage caused by the church because of the impossibility measuring unrealized potential, hidden or buried by fear.

Could the Magisterium again be misinterpreting scripture?    The church insists upon a literal interpretation of Jesus selecting twelve men for the original apostles and infers Jesus’ intention that this dictates clergy gender for all eternity.  The Magisterium insists upon an interpretation that denies Jesus also sent Mary Magdalene as an apostle.  It threatens excommunication to anyone pursuing or enabling female ordinations. Is the error of structural violence over the interpretation of scripture occurring again?  Should we act with the same courage as Galileo in pursuing truth regardless of Magisterial threats?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Does the church need to remove the wooden beam of structural violence from its own eye?

Johan Galtung coined the term “structural violence” in his 1969 journal article on peace and violence.  This article became a cornerstone in modern peace and justice work.  The article describes structural versus personal violence and their correlation.  It also differentiates between physical and emotional violence.  Social justice is the work to eliminate structural and personal violence whether physical or emotional.

Previously I mentioned that structural violence occurs when the institution threatens a broad set of people to control behavior.  The threat can be for physical or emotional violence but the threat itself is emotionally violent.  Threats of excommunication’s eternal damnation might be an example of this.

Another characteristic of structural violence is power imbalance.  An elite ruling class holds institutional power and decides who gets to enter the power circle.  The ruling elite determine the distribution of resources and opportunities, or determine who determines their distribution.  Because the ruling elite benefit from maintaining the status quo and also control institutional policy, structurally violent systems are characterized by very high degrees of stability as well. 

The Catholic Church has a strong history supporting social justice.  Twenty papal encyclicals beginning with Rerum Novarum, written in 1891, outline many aspects of human rights.  Dozens of documents written by popes, councils and bishops dating from as long ago as 1226 supplement the encyclicals.  For the full anthology, click here.   Catholic social justice teachings include statements such as:

1.  “…the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person”. (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops)
2.  “a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected” (USCCB)
3.  “…if you want peace, work for justice.” (Pope Paul VI)

The church primarily focuses on social justice in secular institutions.  However, since Jesus tells religious leaders to first remove the wooden beam from their own eye before trying to remove a splinter from another’s eye (MT 7:5, LK 6:41), it is fitting to question if structural violence exists within the church.

Let’s look at the church’s governing model first.  The power circle in the church excludes laymen and all women.  Somewhere Jesus’ directive for the apostles to heal and preach morphed into them becoming an exclusive class of governors.  Only those in the power circle of ordained men choose who may enter the power circle as well as hierarchical appointments within the power circle.  Women daring to consider entering the power circle are threatened with the structural violence of ex-communication’s eternal damnation. 

The ruling elite attribute their choices selecting power circle members to the Holy Spirit but only as it works through them.  Church rulers dismiss and disregard the Spirit’s work within women and laymen on this matter.  Rulers say women and laymen should not feel this violates their human dignity despite many laity expressing they feel it does. Invalidating another person’s opinions or emotions, in itself, violates human dignity.

The ruling elite set their policy based upon interpreting scripture but they also decreed that they alone decide if they interpret correctly.  They disregard any working of the Holy Spirit through laymen or women on this matter as well.  Again, they tell women and laymen they should not feel dehumanized.

They believe so strongly in their correctness that they declare their practices as “sacred tradition” and their policies on certain matters as “infallible”.  Furthermore, they believe so strongly in their infallibility that they created a policy preventing the overturn of “infallible” policies.  These policies and “sacred traditions” create an excruciatingly stable governing structure that maintains an exclusive ruling class of ordained men while dehumanizing women and laymen.

Does the church need to remove the wooden beam of structural violence from its own eye?  In a large part, this was the effort undertaken by the Second Vatican Council.  Are recent attempts to reverse and redirect Vatican II efforts examples of the ruling elite shaping policy to maintain their power and power circle?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Is it time for Holy Mother Church to update her parenting skills?

As a parent, Holy Mother Church’s parenting technique of excommunication greatly confuses me.  My confusion stems from my experiences as an actual versus mystical mother: watching what does or doesn’t work in correcting real children’s behavior, what is or isn’t a socially acceptable technique, what harms or hurts a child.  Perhaps a real parent’s reflections have a valid place guiding and informing the pope and his entourage of other single childless fathers who determine Holy Mother Church’s parenting techniques?

Excommunication is supposed to correct inappropriate behavior and thought.  It involves withholding the Eucharist from and social isolation of the transgressor.  Sometimes it is dispensed using public shaming tactics as well.

A mother, who withholds food from her child until she approves of the child’s behavior, at best, would be considered a poor parent.  Sociologists would consider the mother committing an act of personal physical violence against the child by denying it sustenance based upon behavior (Galtung).  Likely, the mother would be arrested, prosecuted and convicted of child abuse for negligence and cruelty.  Not only would secular courts denounce such behavior, the church would consider it sinful. 

The church teaches that the Eucharist is the “bread of life”, nourishment required for eternal life.  Furthermore, it teaches that the faithful should be more concerned with eternal life than life on earth.  Thus the Eucharist becomes more important than normal food to believers because it sustains eternal versus mortal life.  However the church withholds or threatens to withhold this essential food from people unless their beliefs and behaviors align with Mother Church’s.  Noted sociologist Johan Galtung speaks of “structural violence” occurring when something is used to “threaten people into subordination”.  Is it then reasonable to infer that real and threatened excommunications are acts of structural violence?

Perhaps some consider excommunication an externally imposed fast that leads to spiritual growth.  How does indefinitely withholding food encourage growth in a child?  Starving children in impoverished parts of the world eat dirt to fill their stomachs with something.  Why would the church expect starving her children would inspire different responses?  For every child reformed through excommunication, how many instead find something else to countermand their gnawing hunger?

Some parents reward appropriate behavior with edible treats.  “If you behave at school, I’ll give you a cookie after school” is an example of this technique.  For various reasons, parents do not agree universally that this is a healthy, effective parenting technique.   Nonetheless this parenting tactic is at least not considered violently abusive. 

Regardless, I have difficulty drawing an analogy between excommunication and the “reward” oriented parenting technique because I cannot denigrate the Eucharist to being analogously similar to a candy bar or cookie.   It’s not a treat; it is the bread of life.  Therefore, it would be sacrilegious for someone to try justifying excommunication as analogous to reward-based parenting tactics.

Another parenting tactic that came into fashion over the last 20-30 years is a “timeout” wherein the misbehaving child is socially excluded for a period of time.  The guide is one minute of “timeout” per year of the child’s age.  Anything beyond that is considered abusive.   The idea is to give the child a moment to step outside the situation and re-collect and then re-enter the social setting with another chance.  This parenting tactic is accepted pretty much universally as non-abusive and fairly to highly effective.

I cannot liken excommunication to a “timeout”, though, for a couple of reasons: its duration, its tie to exclusion from other activities and organizations within the church’s social setting including the Eucharist, and its being dispensed with humiliation sometimes.  A prolonged, indefinite “timeout” would be considered child abuse.  A prolonged, indefinite “timeout” that included indefinitely withholding food would be considered extremely abusive.  An indefinite “timeout” that indefinitely withheld food and was dispensed using public humiliation would be considered abhorrent.

Maybe excommunication is supposed to parallel the very rare situation when a mother expels her child from the home.  That tactic is only used on adult children because a parent would not expel children incapable of providing for themselves.  Since Mother Church's children are not capable of obtaining the life sustaining Eucharist for themselves outside the church is it ever valid for her to kick her kids out of the house?  Occasionally differences between adult children and parents become so strained that children exclude themselves from family.  If excommunication is supposed to parallel those situations, then shouldn't the person rather than Mother Church get to say when the person severs ties?

I just wonder what the logic is behind Holy Mother Church using excommunication as a parenting technique.  What sociological and theological evidence suggests it produces more good than harm?  Is it time for Holy Mother Church to update her parenting skills?  Is it time for some real parents to help Holy Mother Church discern effective discipline approaches?

(Thanks to Nita and Aimee for the posting idea!)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Does the church decry bullying or use it as a tool of choice for controlling behavior?

Recently a Catholic priest preached against bullying at a children’s Mass I attended.  He said this particular parish would say “no” to bullies and reassured students that bullies would be told to leave.  That was a great message for the kids to hear. 

I applaud him for addressing the topic especially against the U.S. bishops’ backdrop of thunderous silence.  Despite numerous bullied youth recently committing suicide, the bishops remain mute on the topic.  Their silence caused me to wonder, “What does the institutional church think about bullying?"

To explore this question, I needed a definition of “bullying”.  Here are a few I found:
  1. The act of intimidating a weaker person to make them do something.
  2. Repeated acts over time that involve a real or perceived imbalance of power with the more powerful individual or group abusing those who are less powerful.
  3. Behaviors and actions that are verbal, physical and/or anti-social, such as exclusion, gossip and non-verbal body language.
Direct bullying involves physical aggression like hitting, shoving, choking, punching and kicking.  Indirect bullying involves social isolation, the “silent treatment” and manipulation.  Bullies use tactics like gossip, rejection, bullying people who support the victim, and criticizing core social identities (like race, gender, sexuality, appearance or religious convictions).  Using combinations of these tactics bullies talk behind the victim’s back often spreading discord and ruining reputations while they shun the victim.  In essence they “charge”, “try”, “judge” and “reject” victims without victims knowing the ”charges”, seeing the “evidence” or having the opportunity to defend themselves.

My parents taught me “actions speak louder than words”.  So, I thought I’d look at the institutional church’s actions to understand the church’s views on bullying.

Isn’t excommunication a form of social isolation and rejection?  Isn’t the threat of this isolation an intimidation tactic, especially since the institution says eternal salvation ties to a Catholic’s reception of the Eucharist?  The hierarchy feels it has a right to exclude people "for medicinal purposes" but is it bullying?

In the U.S. more and more clergy tell Catholic voters they commit grievous sins if they cast votes divergent from the bishops’ wishes or if they vote for public servants who vote divergent from the bishops’ wishes.  The bishops spend millions of dollars in education campaigns to persuade Catholic voters to reject legislation they dislike.  This rhetoric also sets cultural tone in the faith community often causing social isolation and ridicule in addition to intimidation surrounding eternal damnation.  Again, the hierarchy feels justified but is it bullying?

This past weekend thousands of Catholics attended a social justice conference.  Many attendees were experiencing some form of exclusion or censure by the church.  Several had been rejected from teaching ministries, music ministries, liturgical ministries, pastoral ministries, and parish councils without explanation or due process.  Many also were targets of gossip with priests and parish staff often originating the gossip.  Many suffered the “silent treatment” from parish staff, clergy and bishops while learning they were discussed at meetings they were not permitted to attend.  Are these classic bullying tactics?

The church hierarchy seems to love secrecy, enshrouding pedophile cases in secrecy, conducting secret meetings, even having an “occult” form of excommunication wherein the excommunication is not made known; the person is just ostracized.  Some members of the hierarchy believe secrecy is a respectful way to treat people. Most laity find it very disrespectful.  Is secrecy respectful or a form of bullying?

The hierarchy believes it is justified talking about people behind their backs, using intimidation, isolating and rejecting people.    However, all these practices are considered extremely destructive to organizational dynamics.  Laity when operating in the secular realm are protected from such tactics and culturally reject them as unhealthy.  Yet, they are subject to these tactics by the institutional church often with no recourse for escalation to a higher power.

All this causes me to wonder, "Does the church decry bullying or use it as a tool of choice for controlling behavior?"  

Is this what Jesus meant when he said he desired “mercy not sacrifice?”

Monday, November 8, 2010

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find out what it means to me...

A newly published survey by Trinity College Dublin indicated that 74% of Irish Catholic women feel the church does not treat them with a lot of respect.  Though the report was just recently published, the surveys were conducted from 2002 to 2006, before the recent clergy abuse scandals surfaced in Ireland and before the Vatican declared ordaining women to be the gravest of sins.  Thus, I wonder if even 26% of Irish Catholic women now would respond they feel respected by the church.

My first question is, “Does anyone in the church hierarchy care about that statistic?”  Earlier this year Archbishop Wuerl stated that women perform 80% of lay ministry work.  As a business person, I would be very concerned if a) 74% of a demographic group within my labor force felt under-appreciated and b) that demographic group performed 80% of the work.  I’d be worried about how to avert an organized labor walk-out.

My second question is, “Would you like to know why women feel disrespected?”  In case anyone in the hierarchy does want to know, I thought I’d offer some insight.  I won’t even touch the obvious topic of female ordinations because there are so many additional inequalities that significantly contribute to a sense of disrespect.

  1. I am insulted that ordaining women is placed in a more severe sin category than murder or rape.  I am insulted that the grave delict against ordaining women carries a more severe penalty than priests raping children.  The measure of disrespect for women shown in those relative comparisons is nauseating. 
  2. Women lack an official voice in institution-wide governing bodies.  Currently the voice of the “female” church emerges from only male mouths.  Shouldn’t the “female” church’s voice have at least a sprinkling of estrogen in it?  I cannot help but feel disrespected when my entire gender is excluded from the institutional decision-making team, especially since we do 80% of the work. 
  3. My identity is not tied to my womb or other reproductive organs.  I had a hysterectomy and I do not feel any loss of identity due to loss of those organs.  I do feel a loss of pain and physical problems.  However, I do not feel one bit less feminine nor one bit less myself.  This data point refutes any hypothesis that my identity is 100% tied to my uterus.  Do you have any idea how insulting and demeaning it is to have decisions made about you based upon your reproductive organs especially by people who do not have these organs?
  4. Furthermore, John Paul II refers to women as a “mystery”.  Inter Insigniores admits that: “…in the writings of the Fathers, one will find the undeniable influence of prejudices unfavorable to woman…”  Thus, in multiple dogmatic documents, male church leaders admit not only that they don’t understand women but that they carried prejudices against us.  Isn’t it time to learn about us and repair damages caused by those prejudices?  (As an aside, let women decide if you injured us versus Inter Insigniores’ bold statement that says church leaders’ prejudices didn’t hurt women.  How would church leaders know?  Women are a “mystery” to them.)
  5. My daughters first experienced gender-based discrimination when they were not permitted to serve weekend Masses because they are female.  Not only does the church lack governance processes to prevent bishops and pastors from implementing such discriminating practices against females, doctrine actually gives them a license to do so.  Gender inequalities exist in dogma pertaining to altar servers, permanent lectors and acolytes, and the order of choosing lay ministers wherein women are listed as the last resort.  Since the church deems women equal to men, why are there any gender based distinctions in doctrine?  If the remaining differences are insignificant as some leaders assert, then it should be no bother to change the wording.
  6. Aside from doctrinal gender distinctions, there is an imbalance in spending on men versus women.  For example, gender-exclusive men’s conferences and diocesan staff devoted to men’s ministry are common funding recipients without an equivalent investment for women’s formation.   Let me highlight that women do 80% of the work but receive less than 80% of the formation funding.
  7. Many parishes and dioceses espouse gender-based “separate but equal” formation practices.  “Separate but equal” does not foster equality for race and it doesn’t do so for gender either.
Isn’t it time to catch up with 20th and 21st century insights into gender relations especially for an institution whose leaders admit to not knowing women and holding prejudices against them?  Or are you waiting for women to become so frustrated from lack of respect that they organize and go on strike?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Reflections from the "Call to Action" Conference

I write from Milwaukee, WI where I’m attending my first “Call to Action” conference.  Though my first time in attendance, the conference began in 1978.  It’s hosted by an organization that’s tag line is “Catholics working together for justice and equality”.  

I didn’t know what to expect since I’ve attended fewer religious conferences than I have fingers on one hand.  I found people of all ages with deep convictions, passionately trying to align their actions with Jesus’ examples. They want to render human dignity.  They want to work for peace.  They want to include people.  They want to hold leaders accountable.  They want to feed hungry people, house homeless people, and heal broken people.  More than “want” to do these things, their passionate desire to imitate Christ leads them to action.

Simple acceptance by their faith community is the most they ask in return. They just want to be accepted as God authentically made them.  Yet due to their prophetic voices unsettling some church leaders many have experienced or are experiencing rejection by the church’s institutional hierarchy and/or orthodox laity.  Others feel church leaders and the ultra-orthodox will only “accept” them if they pretend to be someone other than who God made them to be.

Listening to their stories of injustice and rejection within the institutional church might lead one to expect a veil of bitterness and antipathy enshrouding the conference.  Instead, I found hopeful and hope-filled people.  I found joyful people.  I found peaceful, gentle, compassionate, humble, loving people who pray for those who persecute them and support fellow humans suffering persecution.  I found strong people who remain in the church despite pain to provide guiding voices.

Their collective rejections give them a sliver of insight into Jesus’ pain of rejection.  This increases their compassion.  More importantly, they identify with the leper, the tax collector, the sinner and the outcast to whom Jesus rendered human dignity.  They have no pretentions. 

I imagine this eclectic group of ecclesial outcasts and institutional fringe dwellers resembles the sort of people towards whom Jesus gravitated.  They identify with people like Mary Magdalene, ridiculed by religious leaders when their passionate response to Jesus’ call to follow him results in breaking cultural or religious norms.  However, their convictions and love of Jesus and God’s people are greater than the pain of enduring criticism or rejection by hierarchical figures or laity.

One speaker told a story about a rabbi and student.  In this story, the student told the rabbi, “I love you.”  The rabbi did not reply.  The student repeated, “Rabbi, I love you”.  Again the rabbi did not respond.  Finally, the student shouted, “Rabbi, I love you!”  The rabbi paused, looked at the student and said, “Do you know what hurts me?  Until you know my pain, you cannot love me.”

The people I’ve met at this conference listen to people’s pains so that they may love them.  To do this they err on the side of feeding people, including people and healing people rather than judging people.  

I just wonder how church hierarchical leaders learn people’s pains.  Do they love or demonize people like those attending this conference and those for whom the attendees advocate?  Do they include or exclude them?  Do they heal or hurt them?  Do they listen to them or tune them out?  Do they know them and their pains or dismiss them as caricatures?  Do they welcome them or fear them?  Why?

Friday, November 5, 2010

How do I excommunicate thee? Let me count the ways...

When I began my research for this posting, I thought I would write an article entitled, “101 Ways to be Excommunicated”.  Bad news.  There are well over 400 ways to be excommunicated.  Who knew?

As I researched all the ways to be ex-communicated a few things struck me.  Most of the offenses subject to excommunication have to do with teachings felt to be in conflict with the church’s teachings.  There seems to be a great pre-occupation with laity getting to know God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus the same way church leaders do, or at a minimum in a church leader approved fashion. 

Is this emphasis peculiar when viewed next to Jesus chastising the disciples for forbidding someone to cast out demons in his name just because the man wasn’t their follower?  He told the disciples, “Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.” (Luke 9:49-50)

He also said, “He who is not with me is against me…” (Luke 11:23) (Mark 9:38-40)  He didn’t say, “He who is not with you is against me.”  Did church leaders infer the latter?

Furthermore, I thought Jesus said at our judgment we’ll be asked if we cared for the least of his people not which dogmatic rules we invoked (Mt 25:34-46). 

Should we envision someone arriving at the Pearly Gates and St. Peter saying:

“Alice, I see you gave food and drink to the hungry and clothed the naked, gave most of your money to the poor also…but, looks like you disagreed with Pope Benedict on this clergy gender thing. So, I’m sorry; you are the weakest link.  Please go to Hell; go directly to Hell; do not pass “Go”; do not collect $200.”

Here’s something else I found curious:
  1. Reading or possessing books written by publicly named heretics carries the penalty of ex-communication.
  2. Physically attacking property of and declaring war upon papal states are subject to excommunication.
  3. Laying violent hands on a clergyman, bishop, archbishop, cardinal or pope carries excommunication.
  4. A priest who marries gets excommunicated.
  5. A priest who violates the cloister of religious women gets excommunicated.
  6. A priest who commits simony, charging money for sacramental care, gets excommunicated.
  7. A priest who sells indulgences gets excommunicated.
  8. A priest who collects stipends for Mass and then profits from that by paying to have the Mass said somewhere else that has a lower stipend gets excommunicated.
  9. However, priests who commit the grave delict of molesting children are punished, “according to the gravity of the crime”.  Excommunication for such perpetrators is not a given.
Since the punishment is more severe, should we understand this to mean church leaders believe it is a worse offense to hit a bishop than to molest a child?  Can church leaders understand how such priorities would be incredibly confusing to the faithful?  On the one hand the clergy are supposed to be pinnacles of service and humility.  On the other hand, they are so humble that delivering them physical violence is worse than doing so to a lay person?  Is a youth who hits a priest in self-defense to avoid being molested subject to ex-communication?

Should we envision another scenario at the Pearly Gates?

“Joe, I see you molested ten children and one of them committed suicide.  However, I also see you completely towed the line when regurgitating the catechism.  So, come on in!  Hors d’oeuvres are on the Lido Deck at 5:00 and the cruise director will be here to brief you on the activities schedule at 8:00.”

As an aside, the punishment for female ordination or a bishop ordaining a woman is excommunication, period.  So, this does seem to be viewed as more serious of a crime than molesting children.

It also struck me that some of the offenses subject to excommunication reflect very dated concepts.  For instance you can still get excommunicated for participating in a duel.  Am I out of touch or are duels a thing of the past?  They’re so 18th and 19th century.

You can also get excommunicated for abducting a woman for the purpose of marriage.  Do Catholic weddings still have a problem with marriages involving abducted women?  I’ve heard of women being abducted into sex slavery or into marriage in non-Catholic settings.  However, the “abducted for marriage” thing in the Catholic realm aligns with the feudal times when women were viewed as property to acquire via marriage.  Does the church still see women as marital chattel?  If not, why not revise the norms?

Aside from all the curiosities mentioned, the most confusing thing for me about excommunication is that it’s supposed to be a “medicinal” penalty.  This means church leaders believe depriving errant people the Body of Christ heals them because they will hunger enough for Christ to heal themselves by repenting. 

I can’t help but recall:

While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples.  The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Mt 9:10-13)

Jesus seems pretty comfortable hanging around and dining with the most despised of sinners.  Isn’t Jesus saying he is the medicine to cure sinners not a doggie treat to reward righteous people’s good behavior?   The Eucharist is considered the most perfect presence of the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ.  As Catholics, we believe through the Eucharist we still dine with him.  Why would we withhold the Eucharist... Christ... the antidote that cures an ailing person?

Applying that kind of logic analogously to parenting, when my children had strep throat, I should have put the antibiotic on a shelf until they were cured and then administered it.  Not getting their medicine should have made them more hungry to be healed so they would be inspired to heal themselves.  Once they did that, they would be worthy of the medicine.

Is that what it means to deliver mercy, not sacrifice?