Sunday, December 5, 2010

What newspapers are church leaders reading?

Jesus, “the Word made flesh” arrived amidst the geo-political and daily personal strife of ordinary people.  He was born into poverty in a nation enduring military occupation rather than into privilege or as the child of religious or political leaders. 

God sent Jesus to regular parents to dwell amongst ordinary folk for a reason.  God met God’s creation where they were, experienced what they experienced, and brought them love and mercy amidst their reality.  As Jesus dwelled amongst common folk he cured people, rendered dignity to outcasts, cared for the poor, chastised religious leaders for hypocrisy, and brought God’s love and mercy to people amidst persecutions imposed by their religious and political leaders.  For this reason, theologian Karl Barth used to suggest clergy preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. 

How do today’s religious leaders walk with and experience regular folks’ struggles and deliver them love and mercy?  The answer to that varies based upon individuals but I thought the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ published priorities might offer insight into the group’s general mindset and approach.

The USCCB’s website lists the following priorities for 2011 with supporting goals or focus areas:
1.  “Strengthening marriage” with goals to have Catholics see marriage as a “natural institution founded by God” and to work for laws and public policies that define marriage as one man and one woman.
2.  “Faith formation focused on sacramental practice” with goals focused on Sunday Eucharist and introducing the new English translation of the Roman Missal.
3.  “Priestly and religious vocations” with goals to get more people into these vocations and to get lay people to encourage people to enter these vocations.
4.  “Life and dignity of the human person” focused on mobilizing Catholics to influence elections and public policy regarding abortion.
5.  Recognition of cultural diversity with an emphasis on Hispanic ministry.

In lay person’s terms, I summarized their priorities as:
1.  Return to dated gender stereotypes and lobby for legislation that marginalizes homosexuals and their children.
2. Pray Mass using English more resembling that spoken during the 16th century Council of Trent.
3.  Get more priests.
4.  Elect the bishops’ favored politicians using abortion as the litmus test for candidate suitability.
5.  Celebrate diversity as long as it doesn’t include gay people or women in certain roles.

Financial activities also tend to indicate priorities.  So, I looked at my diocese’s annual report.  It has $108Million in net assets, with the largest asset holdings in property ($17.7 Million), investments ($25.2 Million) and loans to parishes, typically for parish building projects ($58.8 Million). 

My diocese projects $14 Million in annual operating expenses, $6.7 Million of which will go towards “central services ministries”.  Of that, approximately $1.3 Million actually goes to Catholic Charities to work with the poor and marginalized.  The other central services ministries listed in the order of their funding allotments include:

$1.5 Million for Diocesan Financial and Administrative activities
$1.2 Million for Formation mostly focused on ordaining men
$1.1 Million for Education and Catechesis
$1.0 Million for the Chancery (the Bishop’s immediate office and staff)
$0.5 Million for Communications
$0.2 Million for Pastoral Planning

I then looked at the newspapers and saw what people face on a daily basis: poverty, foreclosures, joblessness caused by a weak economy, loss of jobless benefits, war, drugs, drug wars, and consumerism. Of its millions of dollars, my diocese will use just barely over $1 Million to help people in their actual daily struggles.  

Therefore, I’m struggling to see how fostering more June Cleavers, marginalizing homosexuals, praying the Mass using out-of-date English idioms, or electing pro-birth politicians who ignore the needs of the poor are going to help people feed their families, keep their homes and deal with the world’s violence.  If the USCCB’s priorities represent clergy’s understanding of the human condition, I also struggle to see how having more clergy will help.

Additionally, Catholics struggle with the pain of betrayal by religious leaders having been wounded by clergy abuse and bishops’ lack of accountability.  Yet the bishops do not list reconciliation, atonement, or reestablishing credibility with the people of God as a priority.

What newspapers are church leaders reading?

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