Saturday, February 18, 2012

The U.S. Bishops' response to the contraceptive coverage mandate.

U.S. Catholic clergy perhaps could wallpaper Vatican City with their voluminous protests against the recent U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) contraceptive coverage mandate.  Not being a U.S. constitutional law expert, I won’t enter the constitutionality debate.  However, as a practicing Catholic with a master degree in theology, I will offer reflections from a faith perspective.

The clergy and especially the bishops claim a direct linkage to the original twelve Apostles, and say they protect apostolic teachings.  They also claim they are the closest thing to Jesus walking the Earth these days.  As I reflect upon Jesus’ examples and read the earliest apostles’ teachings, and then compare those with the bishops’ behavior responding to the HHS mandate and other issues, I wonder if there are more similarities or dissimilarities.  

Let’s start with Jesus, the guy the bishops think they better imitate than any non-ordained human.  Though Scripture never mentions Jesus’ sex life, bishops fixate on imitating it – continuing to insist upon mandatory clerical celibacy.  However, Scripture does mention Jesus habitually, knowingly and willingly becoming vulnerable, even to the point of enduring crucifixion by a secular government based on false charges.  The Church believes Jesus saved the world through that act of vulnerability.  Do the bishops place more emphasis on imitating this salvific aspect of Jesus’ life or imitating his sexual activity?

Imitating Jesus’ vulnerability would require bishops to submit to secular governments and refrain from waging political warfare.  Yet, they seem to embroil themselves in numerous secular political battles and cry “unfair” on topics ranging from clergy sexual abuse accountability to complying with various governmental mandates.  However, if the bishops did imitate Jesus’ vulnerability more than his sex life, might they improve their credibility inside and outside the church?  Might they recapture much of the flock they have helped scatter?

Now let’s consider the bishops’ adherence to earliest apostolic teachings.  The first written apostolic instructions appear in a 1st century A.D. document called the “Didache.”  Written before the four gospels, it was a training manual for Christians.  Its directives were alarmingly counter-culture, instructing the faithful to exercise profound levels of forgiveness and vulnerability, following Jesus’ example.  Here are some excerpts from its first and second rules:

  • Speak well of the ones speaking badly of you, and pray for your enemies, fast for the ones persecuting you
  • If anyone should strike you on the right cheek, turn also the other, and you will be perfect
  • If anyone should press you into service for one mile, go two
  • If anyone should take away your cloak, give also your tunic
  • If anyone should take from you what is yours do not ask for it back
  • To everyone asking you for anything, give it
  • You will not swear falsely, you will not bear false witness, you will not speak badly of anyone, you will not hold grudges
  • You will not be covetous, and not greedy, and not a hypocrite, and not bad-mannered, and not arrogant.

Regardless of if the HHS ruling is just or unjust, constitutional or unconstitutional, from reading the Didache’s apostolic instructions, I would expect the bishops to respond by exceeding government requirements, praying for the Spirit’s healing touch, and fasting, while willingly giving their employees requested healthcare coverage.  I certainly wouldn’t expect them to lead a widespread campaign in every diocese and parish disparaging the U.S. President, his administration and his policies.  Yet, which is their response?   

Many clergy seem to bear unyielding grudges against certain politicians, including President Obama.  Is there anything President Obama has done that has evoked their praise?  Or are they determined to dislike him – which surpasses grudge-bearing and leans towards harboring determined prejudices – both violating early apostolic teachings.

Do the bishops imitate Jesus’ and the early Christians’ habitual vulnerability when they rail at secular governments, lobby against politicians with whom they disagree, hide assets to avoid paying sexual abuse restitution payments, lobby against extending child molestation statute of limitations, and take liberties with truth in those efforts? 

Early Christians did seem to follow the Didache’s instructions because in the 3rd century A.D. the historian Tertullian wrote that the non-Christians observed of the Christians, “See how much they love each other.”  Unfortunately the Church does not evoke this sentiment today.  Instead it is often seen as intolerant, homophobic, sexist, truth-impaired, hypocritical, arrogant, complaining, totalitarian and unyielding.

Ironically, the bishops hail the U.S. Bill of Rights for containing moral truths while leading an organization that extends no such rights to its members.  They demand freedoms of religion and conscience yet increasingly deny these freedoms within the church.  Might this qualify as hypocrisy?  

Are the bishops actually providing superior examples imitating Jesus?  Are they actually protecting and following apostolic teachings? 

As an aside and point to ponder, the Didache calls apostles who deviate from its teachings, “false prophets.”  Are the bishops acting in true or false apostleship?  If they are false apostles, what should the faithful do?   

Monday, February 13, 2012

My letter to Pope Benedict XVI

On January 17, 2012 I met with my bishop, Earl Boyea, for over an hour.  I requested the meeting to discuss concerns before his ad limina visit with the pope.  We had a very friendly and respectful discussion, and agreed on some items while disagreeing on others.  The net outcome was his expressing agreement to the reinstatement of ordaining female deacons and his willingness to discuss this with Pope Benedict during his visit.  Also, I asked him to hand-deliver a letter from me to the pope.  He said he would read the letter and let me know one way or the other if he delivered it to the pope.  As of this writing, though my bishop’s ad limina visit ended over a week ago, I do not know the disposition of my letter nor if he spoke to the pope about reinstating the church’s tradition of female deacons.  However, many people aware of this letter have asked me to publish it.  Thus, rather than writing a blog article, I offer the text of that letter here.  I apologize for its length.

*** Update: On February 15th, 2012 I received notification from Bishop Boyea that during his ad limina visit, the pope's aides collected things intended for the pope.  Bishop Boyea gave one of the aides my letter and asked for an acknowledgement.  I will update this article if and when I receive such an acknowledgement.

*** Update: On February 20th, 2012, I received an email from Bishop Boyea that he did discuss the topic of female deacons with Pope Benedict.  Based upon the pope's reaction, he felt that the issue was not going anywhere right now.  


                                                                                                January 18, 2012
Dear Pope Benedict,

During your September 9, 2010 address, you asked that God send the church “holy and courageous women” in the spirit of Hildegard of Bingen.  I believe God has been sending the church such women for decades if not centuries.  Please listen to them. 

I write in the spirit of Hildegard, who spoke with sharp candor to church leaders including popes Eugenius III and Anastasius IV.  I send this letter via my bishop, Earl Boyea, hoping that he will be courageous enough to deliver it even if he does not agree with its contents.  Please do not shoot my messenger.

As a brief introduction, I am a 47 year-old Caucasian, North American, cradle-Catholic woman, public school educated until my ministerial master degree program from Loyola University.  I am the single mother of 3 adult children (ages 24, 23 and 20), who all are practicing Catholics attending weekly if not daily Mass, and are actively involved in ad intra and ad extra ministries.  

I am also an executive-level consultant, leading a worldwide executive consulting practice for a very large international technology company.  As such, I analyze institutions and provide strategic direction to C-level executives (CIO, COO, CEO, CFO, etc…) of large enterprises around the world.  I instinctively apply those same analytical and critical reflection gifts when observing the dearest institution to which I belong, the church.  I am deeply troubled about the state of our church because the church has a serious credibility issue.  I believe some of the greatest root causes fall into two areas with sub-issues under each.  Specifically:

1.  “Moral relativism” causes credibility issues.  If hierarchical leaders wish to address moral relativism effectively, they must first remove this plank from their own eyes.  Specifically, as a group they seem to demonstrate an unsettling and unacceptable laxity respecting the 8th Commandment.  Time and again on many topics they willingly sacrifice dimensions of truth to "protect" church institutions or traditions.  It is an “end justifies means” mentality.  This has been especially egregious as pertains to abusive clergy (sexual, substance, or power), human sexuality, and women’s roles in the church but sometimes occurs merely to secure compliance with their will.  Laxity on this Commandment is particularly damaging to credibility because the hierarchy say they are ultimate guardians of truth on a macro-level yet struggle expressing it time and again on a micro-level.

Our Lord provides great guidance as to the acceptability of these practices.  He instructs, “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones (Luke 16:10).”  He also says, "And why do you break the Commandment of God for the sake of your Tradition (MT 15:3)?”    These points are not lost upon Catholics or the secular world.

2.  Tertullian said the non-Christians used to comment about Christians in the 3rd century, "See how much they love one another."  Sadly, I don’t think we are seen by the world or even church members as espousing such an environment right now.  There is much injustice within the church, and we are viewed as lacking compassion with many groups inside and outside of the church.  I believe some contributing factors to us no longer inspiring that observation include:

- We have Deuteronomist-style leadership at a time when the world needs 8th c. B.C. prophets.  Leaders emphasize piety and “proper thought” in a world crying from gross economic imbalance and injustice, war, illness, abuse and neglect.  Beginning when you led the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith there has been systematic and systemic censuring of ordained and lay people based upon a few dogmatic issues but tolerance for gross moral violations of others.  The result is an odd pedigree of “approved” ministers and teachers.  People who directly violate the 8th commandment remain in good graces as do clergy who abused children (directly violating the 6th) and their enablers (violating the 6th and 8th), but others are summarily dismissed for “threatening” tradition.   Priests who dehumanize women and children viewing pornography (violating the 6th commandment) remain in ministry while priests who support dialogue rendering women dignity via equality in the church are dismissed.   In the U.S. the bishops align with secular politicians who are pro-birth but neglect life the moment it emerges from the womb.  This is not what our Lord taught!  He walked shamelessly with sinners and attracted converts by rendering human dignity to the marginalized. 

Furthermore, upon re-translating the Mass from Latin to English myself, I realized we ask God in the preface to the Sign of Peace to grant the church peace and unity - only as according to God's will.  It seems in our prayers we acknowledge that disharmony might be what God desires within the church.  However, church leaders seem to insist upon "uniformity" and mistake that for "unity”.  This is harming the church.

Our Lord offered instruction on this too: “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt.  But it shall not be so among you (Mark 10:42-43 and MT 20:25-26).”  Yet, sadly it is “so” among today’s apostles.

- Closely related to the previous concern is a preference given to groups focused on orthodoxy but who do not have ortho-praxis.  By this I mean groups such as Opus Dei and Legionairies for Christ are given a great deal of free reign because they espouse “proper thought” yet they are generally regarded as destructive bullying forces amongst the regular folk in the pews.  They preach but do not practice.  They drive away people.  I have witnessed this at my own parish.  Rather than be fishers of humans, they drive the fish away and throw back any fish they feel is not perfect enough.  This all supports an effort amongst the ultra-orthodox to create a smaller, purer church.  But, this directly violates Jesus’ examples and instructions. 

- We have an artificial shortage of ministers (lay and ordained).  We could reinstate female deacons.  We could reinstate optional celibacy.  There are over 100,000 married priests who have left the clergy.  Many lay and ordained leaders offer their ministerial services but are turned down due to the afore-mentioned issue of zero-tolerance on thought deviation.  As a result, people go without ministerial care.  That is a shame. 

Your 10/26/2009 motu proprio removed the "in persona" aspect from deacons which should open the door for re-instating a female deaconate.  Plus, women used to serve in the church as deacons and saying otherwise violates the 8th Commandment.  That part of our tradition needs to be restored.

Our history includes married clergy and most rites under your jurisdiction allow married clergy.  I do not understand the Roman Rite’s preoccupation with having clergy imitate Jesus’ sex life - which scripture does not mention – while deviating from aspects of his life clearly outlined in scripture.  Specifically, Jesus willingly made himself vulnerable and walked in solidarity with the ill, impoverished and marginalized.  Bishops sit in locked buildings with restricted access.  It is difficult enough for the faithful to reach them, much less the unwashed with whom Jesus associated.  The last time I visited Vatican City, I had to pass through a metal detector and have my purse searched.  Why and what do you fear?  Jesus did not fear, not even when it meant his death.  No amount of sexual abstinence overcomes blatant divergences from Jesus’ lifestyle of purposely choosing to be vulnerable and poor.   

- We poorly deliver services – inefficiently, ineffectively and inconsistently. 

The way to request services and the way they are delivered varies greatly from parish to parish and diocese to diocese.  Yet we are a ubiquitous society that crosses territorial boundaries daily.  For example, I traveled overseas 11 times in 2011 and probably attended Mass outside my diocese as much as I did inside it.

We under-utilize technology to help us offer more consistent service quality levels across the globe - and better accommodate the reality of a ubiquitous society.  We need to improve consistency in service quality and to explore common, centralized, shared services candidates, as well as ways to leverage technology better.  Based upon my work with corporate enterprises, the secular realm is starting to eclipse the church in understanding what it means to provide services.

There is also a governance dimension to this.  The church has a medieval governance structure super-imposed over a society that does not identify with territorial boundaries anymore.  We must challenge ourselves to evolve or become as extinct as the feudal system that we try to perpetuate.  Jesus did not institute a feudal system of governance.  We evolved into it and we need to evolve beyond it.

- The church supports equal rights to unborn and born children.  However, I wonder if perhaps we have given more rights to the unborn than to the born.  In instances where the mother and child cannot both be saved, it would seem that we should at least save the mother.  I had one high risk pregnancy which nearly resulted in me having to make a life or death decision for me and my child.  Once that daughter reached adulthood I shared with her the circumstances surrounding my pregnancy with her.  She felt if she could not have been saved that at least her two sisters should have grown up with their mother.  I think that is worthy of pondering.

 - The U.S. bishops’ “defense of marriage” agenda defining secular marriage as being between "one man and one woman" seems to conflict with their "religious freedom" agenda.  According to what they wish with "religious freedom", they should support Islam and Mormonism having multiple wives.  Regardless, “defending” marriage by bashing homosexuals seems illogical and lacking compassion if not outright absurd.  I have been single and my marriage annulled for about 15 years.  I remain open to the possibility of marriage but I do not consider a homosexual union an option.  Why?  Because I was not born with homosexual attractions.  My marriage dissolved.  Why?  Because of tragic problems not because either of us had the possibility of a homosexual union.  I believe the church leaders need to gain better understanding of human sexuality apace with current psychological, biological and sociological understandings.

I prayerfully write this and ask that you prayerfully consider it.  I look forward to the favor of a reply.

Please do not hold my messenger accountable for my thoughts.  It is sad that this is even a concern since you should welcome the opportunity to know your sheep and hear their concerns.  However, your reputation for dismissing people has created an environment of fear. 

May you walk in the peace of Christ, guided by the wisdom, understanding, courage and compassion of the Spirit, rendering and receiving God’s love.