Sunday, January 30, 2011

What burdens do church leaders place upon their own shoulders?

In Matthew 23 Jesus denounces behaviors of the scribes and Pharisees.  The chapter describes seven “woes” when religious leaders hypocritically do not practice what they preach, create rules from which they exempt themselves or try to “appear” rather than “be” holy. 

The Biblical commentary on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website explains that Matthew saw these same behaviors in his own church.  Thus he also warns Christian leaders to not adopt these attitudes or practices.  Almost 2000 years later, how well do church leaders avoid the “woes” of MT 23?

When I hear of excommunications or threats of them justified by infallibility doctrine, I can’t help but think of MT 23:13, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.”  What are church leaders doing to throw open the gates of heaven?  Have they learned the meaning of, “I desire mercy not sacrifice?” (MT 9:13, MT 12:7)

When I see formation programs focused on indoctrinating people to become dogmatists rather than humble servants, I can’t help but think of MT 23:15, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves.”  Do church leaders set converts a stronger example of forgiveness or judging, of serving or being served, of holding others accountable or themselves?

When I hear of bishops such as those in the dioceses of Davenport, Iowa; Fairbanks, Alaska; Portland, Ore.; San Diego, CA; Spokane, Wash.; Tucson, Ariz.; Wilmington, Del. and most recently (1/4/11) Milwaukee, WI filing for diocesan bankruptcy to protect church financial assets rather than testify to the truth about pedophiles and cover-ups, I cannot help but recall MT 23:17, “Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred?”  Should we follow bishops’ examples sacrificing the church’s integrity to protect its fortunes?

When I hear of people being excluded from ministry due to trivial matters while thousands of sexually abusive priests and the bishops, cardinals and popes who enabled them retain their ministerial ranks, I cannot help but think of MT 23:24, “Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!”  Why is a pope, who enabled pedophiles, beatifying another pope who enabled pedophiles while condemning as ecclesial criminals those who equally see Christ in male or female priests?

When people judge and market themselves as superior Christians for promoting certain causes yet maintain a chokehold on their personal wealth and independence rather than fund things like healthcare for the poor, I can’t help but think of MT 23:25,"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside are full of plunder and self-indulgence.”  Why do church leaders praise people who champion causes that mostly impact other’s autonomy but who snarl at causes that will impact their own financial autonomy?

When I see church officials defend secrecy, evade accountability, demonize cries for reform, or sacrifice truth to appear free from scandal, I cannot help but hear Jesus cry, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men's bones and every kind of filth.”  (MT 23:27)  Is it more scandalous to air scandals and address them or pretend they don’t exist and perpetuate them?

When I hear of Pope Benedict praising Joan of Arc (1/26/11), a woman the church killed for heresy, while he creates a culture that censures, sanctions and excommunicates today’s prophetic voices, I can’t help but recall MT 23:29-31, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the memorials of the righteous, and you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets' blood.’”  Do today’s Princes of the Church heed or treat prophets any better than the ancient Kings of Israel and Judah did?

When I hear of clergy imposing restrictions upon life situations they will never experience, I can’t help but hear the words of MT 23:4, “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.”  What burdens do church leaders place upon their own shoulders? 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Are church leaders "emptying the cross of its meaning"?

Today’s second reading is from St. Paul to the Corinthians.  In it, Paul speaks about church unity by chastising artificial divisions based upon zealous devotion to factions.  Specifically Paul says, “For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you.  I mean that each of you is saying, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas (Peter),’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor 1:11-13) 

Paul went so far as to say that fanatic allegiance to a faction, including the one he led, must be stopped, “so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning” (1 Cor 1:17). 

Fast forward almost 2,000 years and what do we see?  Some say, “I belong to the pope.”  Others say, “I follow the four united Patriarchs of Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople and Alexandria.”  Others say, “I follow Luther”.   Others say, “I follow the Archbishop of Canterbury”.  Some say, “I follow John Wesley.”  Others say, “I follow Calvin”.  Yet others say, “I follow my conscience.”  Sadly, the difference between today’s leaders and St. Paul is that today’s church leaders encourage rather than chastise division based upon factional devotion.  Are they not emptying the cross of its meaning in doing so?

As we look at the major branches of Christianity, they arose because church leaders expelled people with whom they disagreed.  Luther was excommunicated for raising 95 issues, more than half of which the church agreed with.  Henry VIII was excommunicated because he was seen as a sinner not following the pope.  The split between East and West occurred due to church leaders’ failure to resolve differences on a point of minutia and power. 

More recently in the Roman Catholic Church we see people being excommunicated usually due to abortion, “disobedience” (i.e., failure to bow to power) or female ordinations.  For example, Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho in Brazil, excommunicated an impregnated nine year old girl's mother and doctors for terminating her pregnancy due to her underdeveloped body's inability to deliver a child and due to the pregnancy arising from being raped by her step-father.  As an aside, the father who raped the girl endured no ecclesial punishment, much like the thousands of priests who raped children suffered no ecclesial punishment. 

Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix excommunicates almost as a hobby having excommunicated:
  • Rev. Vernon Meyer for participation in the ordination of Elaine Groppenbacher
  • Rev. Dale Fushek and Rev. Mark Dippre for operating "an opposing ecclesial community" seen as disobedience to orders to refrain from public ministry
  • Sr.  Margaret McBride for allowing an abortion that Roman Catholic moral theologians ruled was morally just because it was medically necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman.
  • Rev. Chris Carpenter for affiliating with the “Reformed Catholic Church”

This brings me to my questions for today.  Why has Christianity taken on a country club mentality?  “Here are our rules.  If you don’t like them, you are out.  If we don’t like you, you are out.  If we don’t think you’re of the proper ilk, you are out.  If you ask questions we don’t like, you are out.   If your sins are in one of our ‘pet peeve’ areas, you are out.”  Why do church leaders kick people out and think this promotes unity?  Why do church leaders lop off parts of the Body of Christ and think they are preserving it?

How does this compare to Jesus’ example preferring the company of tax collectors, adulterers, prostitutes and sinners over that of the self-righteous religious leaders of his day?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

What is the impact of removing married people from church leadership and leadership selection processes?

My last blog posting reflected upon the genesis of the 1054 A.D. church schism where Roman and Eastern Orthodox Catholic leaders divorced ecclesiastically.  For almost 1,000 years power and stubbornness have prevented reconciliation.  I asked if this ecclesial disunity offered laity a good example for humbly setting aside entrenched positions to maintain marital unity. 

Tying the East/West Schism to marriage might seem strange.  However, Roman church leaders’ views on church power and marriage coincidentally experienced a major shift around the same time as the East/West Schism. 

Until 1059 A.D. the laity participated in selecting the pope.  In 1059, just 5 years after the schism, the Roman Catholic Church’s College of Cardinals rather than the faithful began electing popes.  When the Cardinals first assumed this power, the laity still had to ratify the Cardinals’ choice.  However, by 1139, the Cardinals restricted papal elections to just their college, completely marginalizing laity from the process.

Not only did Roman Catholic Church leaders marginalize laity from the pope selection process; in the same timeframe clergy celibacy became a requirement.  Therefore beginning around the time of the East/West Schism, the pope selection process no longer included lay or married people’s perspectives.  Thus, coincidental with purging its ranks of people who lived in marital unity, church leaders skills for forging spiritual unity seemed to plummet. 

What is the impact of removing married people from church leadership and leadership selection processes?

Today, Roman Catholic Church leaders believe themselves “married” to the church yet they have no experience to know what it means to be married.  Successful marriage requires mutual deference to the other party.  However, in their “marriage”, church leaders insist all humble deferring be done by laity.  Such a power imbalance would be considered disastrously unhealthy in a real marriage, even perhaps abusive. 

Again, I must ask, do church leaders and their governing model set a good example for marital unity?

As an aside, here are a few fun facts to educate those unaware of the Catholic Church’s rich history of married clergy.

Many of the earliest popes and apostles were believed to be married.  Scripture indicates that they did not put their wives aside but traveled with them as is evidenced in 1 Cor 9:5.  Furthermore, there is historical evidence that the following popes were married and fathers, or children of priests themselves. 
  • St. Peter
  • Anastasius I (399 A.D.) was also father of Pope Innocent I
  • Felix III (483 A.D.) was also the son of a priest
  • Homisdas (514 A.D.) was also father of St. Silverius (also a pope)
  • St. Silverius (536 A.D.)
  • Adrian (or Hadrian) II (867 A.D.)
  • John XVII (1003 A.D.)
  • Clement IV
  • Sergius II (904 A.D.) is believed to have fathered Pope John XI
  • Sixtus I (116 A.D.) was son of a priest
  • Damasus I (366 A.D.) was son of a priest
  • Innocent I (401 A.D.) was the son of a pope
  • Boniface I (418 A.D.) was son of a priest
  • St. Silverius (536 A.D.) was the son of a pope
Amended on 1/30/2011
Yesterday a very noted Catholic theologian advised me that I ended my list too early and thus omitted Pope Alexander VI (1492).  Though he was not married, he fathered four children with his mistress, Vanozza Catanei, including "Caesare, who was the darling of Machiavelli’s The Prince" and "Alex’s thrice-wed daughter Lucretia, a femme fatale par excellence!"

    Saturday, January 15, 2011

    Do church leaders promote unity or division?

    One of the U.S. Bishops’ stated priorities is strengthening marriages, helping married couples remain united.  Since children learn by parental example, let’s look at the example church fathers offer their children.  How do they demonstrate an enduring unity through differences?  How do they demonstrate patiently, lovingly and steadfastly abiding with others?  At any point do they justify divorcing themselves from others?

    The early church benefited from plurality as each apostolic community stressed what resonated with the community.  The amalgam of these diverse views strengthened not weakened the church. Relating Jesus’ messages in a manner comprehensible to various demographic groups did not evoke cries of “relativism” or “dissension”.

    The communities had differences needing resolution such as whether or not to require gentiles to follow Mosaic Law.  The Apostle James as bishop of Jerusalem, not Peter (bishop of Rome), led the 1st century Council of Jerusalem to resolve that conflict.  Somehow, the early church existed with a great deal of plurality, collegiality and equality working things out between the various apostolic communities.

    Then how did Christ’s one Body, the Church, splinter into so many divorced factions?

    The first major division occurred in 1054 A.D. when Eastern and Roman churches split.  Prior to 1054, the five Patriarchal centers of Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, Jerusalem and Constantinople, each with leadership connected to the original Apostles, enjoyed equality and communion despite differences. 

    Why did the men leading these five religious communities decide upon ecclesial divorce rather than unity?  Two things:  1) Rome’s insistence on papal supremacy over peer bishops and 2) Rome’s addition of the Filioque to the Nicene Creed.  The latter is a theological difference; the former is a power and hierarchal structure difference.

    I would imagine most Roman and Orthodox Catholics have no idea what the Filioque is.  For the record, “filioque” means “and the son” in Latin.  The Roman Catholic hierarchy added the word “filioque” (“and the son”) to this phrase in the Nicene Creed, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father”. 

    The Holy Trinity is called a “mystery”.  Furthermore Roman and Eastern Orthodox Church leaders agree upon the order, role, nature and relationship of the Trinity’s three persons.  The only thing upon which they differ is who sent the Spirit. Evidently that part of the Trinitarian mystery cannot remain a mystery.   

    Maybe you are like me and find yourself asking “Does it matter that I know which parts of the Trinity sent the Holy Spirit?”    

    Church leaders are beginning to ask the same question.  Theological writings such as a 2003 joint statement issued by Roman and Orthodox Church leaders entitled, “The Filioque: A Church-Dividing Issue?” start to admit that this might be a petty issue.  Basically, both camps admit that they agree on key theological points but just express it with different words.  Furthermore they agree that neither camp can authoritatively speak on God’s inner workings…hence the mystery of the Trinity is, in fact, a mystery.  

    You might think, “Wow, this is so easy to resolve.”  Since both sides agree they mean the same thing, one side just needs to humbly yield to use the other side’s wording or just say “it doesn’t matter; use the words that resonate with your community”. 

    However, the Roman Church’s infallibility doctrine complicates things.  Because Roman Church leaders hold fast to their infallibility rule they believe reconciliation requires the Orthodox to say, “It’s the same thing so let’s say it the Roman way.”  The Roman leaders’ rules don’t permit themselves the humility to say, “It’s the same thing so let’s say it the Orthodox way.”  The result of this pettiness is almost 1,000 years of division.

    With church leaders clinging to petty differences rather than acting in humility to preserve unity, should they be surprised that many marriages end over superficial differences?  With excommunications and a focus on insisting other people humbly yield to them versus leaders humbly serving others, do church leaders promote unity or division?

    Saturday, January 8, 2011

    Does seminary formation develop skills aligned with those needed for priestly ministry?

    A few years ago I earned a master degree in theology, specifically a Master of Pastoral Studies degree (MPS).  At the graduation ceremony a priest also graduating from the program turned to me and said, “This program should be mandatory for priests.  It really opened my eyes.  My God, I was arrogant!” 

    His statement surprised me.  I assumed the MPS program duplicated much of his seminary training.  He confirmed that the program's theological dimension overlapped topics covered in the seminary.  However, though a priest for 20 years, this program was the first effective pastoral formation he’d received.   

    Because we were organizing for the commencement procession, he elaborated only briefly.   However, our conversation seeded questions about seminary curriculum and priestly formation.  What skills do priests need?  What skills do seminaries develop?

    A priest’s pastoral ministry includes leading, counseling and teaching.

    In the seminary, priests earn a Master of Divinity degree (MDiv) versus an MPS.  Unlike an MPS’ requirement to synthesize each course’s theological concepts into practical interpersonal ministerial activities, an MDiv provides academic theological information.  Seminaries hope seminarians develop connections between theology, people and ministry during summer parish internships.

    Internships’ success forging theology with interpersonal ministerial skills varies significantly.  For example, the last seminarian interning at my parish did parish landscaping and building maintenance projects.  Such activities give me confidence to have him mow my lawn but not seek his advice on personal or spiritual matters.

    Priests lead and counsel, yet most seminary programs include zero courses on leadership or organizational development, and just one course in pastoral counseling.  How does this level of training impact individual people and the church, given the volume of leading and counseling priests do?

    Priests’ duties include teaching, yet the seminary includes zero teaching methods courses.  Seminarians develop teaching skills by teaching religious education supervised by another priest, who likely lacks formal training in teaching methods also.  Contrast this with secular teachers’ requirements of 21 teaching methods credits for a bachelor degree and 30 additional credits for a master degree.  Also, to retain certification teachers must earn professional development credits throughout their career.

    On a micro level, priests’ individual teaching skills impact the church as they operate in their parishes and communities.  Due to the important Magisterial "teaching office" of the church, priests’ collective teaching skills impact church culture at a macro level too.  The church's teaching office is comprised of ordained men, most of whom lack formal education in teaching methods.  Why does membership in the church’s authoritative teaching body not require teaching skills?

    Perhaps this explains the Magisterium’s current tone that seems to equate “teaching” with pouring “proper” thoughts into people’s brains while penalizing people who explore unauthorized ones.  However, the word “educate” comes from two Latin words meaning “to draw out” not “to pour in”.  Thus, as a great educator once said regarding her teaching vocation, “I don’t want to mold them into acceptable students – I don’t want to mold them into anything.  I want to help them uncork their brains.”  How does the Magisterium encourage uncorking versus molding people’s brains or, more importantly, their relationship with God?

    If priests are supposed to lead, teach and counsel within a theological context, why is their formation almost void of these topics?  If pastoral ministry requires synthesizing theology with the human condition, why do they learn academic theology isolated in seminaries, removed from humanity?

    How does the Magisterium's current approach to teaching color their lived interpretation of Jesus' directive to, “…Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'…?” (MT 9:13, Micah 6:6)