Monday, June 25, 2012

Guest artist: Joseph F. O'Callaghan's "A Fortnight of Freedom"

 I received this from my theologian network and post it here with permission. 


Catholic Heroes of Religious Liberty
Joseph F. O’Callaghan

The American Catholic bishops, charging that religious liberty is under attack, have proposed that the two-week period from June 21 to July 4 be dedicated to a “Fortnight of Freedom,” emphasizing prayer, education and public action.

Their summons seems hypocritical, however, when it is evident that they ignore the “sensus fidei” or “sense of the faith” professed by the People of God (Lumen Gentium 35) and trample on the rights of conscience of those who disagree with them. When they speak of religious liberty one may well ask: “Religious liberty for whom? The bishops? Or all the Catholic people?

In observance of the “Fortnight of Freedom” Catholics may wish to dedicate each day to those Catholic theologians and leaders who have been bullied, threatened, silenced, or wrongfully excommunicated by the pope, the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith (CDF), and the bishops. The following are worthy of being so honored:

1. Yves Congar, O.P., leading theologian at Vatican II. Forbidden to teach or publish in 1956 by the Holy Office (the successor of the Inquisition) for his writings on ecumenism. He explained: “What put me wrong [in their eyes] is not having said false things, but having said things they do not like to have said.’’

2. John Courtney Murray, S.J., principal author of Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Liberty. Silenced by the Holy Office and forbidden to publish because of his writings.

3. Hans Küng, theological expert at Vatican II. Deprived of official status as a Catholic theologian at the University of Tübingen by Pope John Paul II, because of his book “Infallible? An Inquiry.”

4. Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., another major voice at Vatican II. His books on ministry drew hostile attention from the Vatican and mistrust and suspicion from the Dutch bishops.

5. Leonardo Boff, O.F.M., proponent of liberation theology. Silenced in 1985 by the CDF because of his criticism of church leadership. Charged Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, with “religious terrorism.”

6. Charles Curran, moral theologian. Ousted from Catholic University in 1967 because of his teaching on contraception. Reinstated after a strike by faculty and students. Coordinated a dissent by 600 theologians from Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae. Under pressure from John Paul II, ousted again in 1986.

7. Joan Chittister, O.S.B., spiritual writer. In 2001 the Vatican Congregation on Consecrated Life forbade her to address a conference on the Ordination of Women in Dublin. Backed by her community, she ignored that admonition.

8. Roger Haight, S.J., author of “Jesus, Symbol of God.” Prohibited by the CDF in 2009 from writing and teaching.

9. Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J. The Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2011, without consulting her, charged that her “Quest for the Living God” "differs from authentic Catholic teaching on essential points." She rejected that as a misinterpretation and misrepresentation of her views.

10. Louise Lears, S.C, removed from ministry in 2008 by Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, and Louise Akers, S.C., removed from teaching in 2009 by Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, for supporting women’s ordination. Sister Akers stated that to deny women’s right to ordination would violate her conscience.

11. Margaret McBride, R.S.M., excommunicated in 2009 by Bishop Thomas Olmstead of Phoenix, because she voted, as a member of the Ethics Committee at St. Joseph’s Hospital, to save the life of a mother rather than that of a fetus.

12. Geoffrey Robinson, retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney. The Vatican Congregation for Bishops, prompted by American bishops, asked him to cancel his American tour in 2008 because he called for a review of Church teaching on sexuality.

13. Margaret Farley, R.S.M., author of the book, “Just Love,” which the CDF declared is not a valid expression of Catholic teaching. She explained that it was not intended to do so, but rather to help people think through questions of human sexuality.

14. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, accused by the CDF of expressing “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” and daring to “challenge positions taken by the Bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.”

Nearly four hundred years ago, the astronomer, Galileo, was condemned by the Inquisition because he asserted that the earth moves around the sun. In 2000 John Paul II issued an apology. Let us hope that four hundred years will not elapse before the Church acknowledges these modern heroes of religious liberty, who dared to say “things [the bishops] do not like to have said.’’

Joseph F. O’Callaghan is Professor Emeritus of Medieval History at Fordham University and former Chair and current Board Member of Voice of the Faithful in the Diocese of Bridgeport

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Reflections on the U.S. bishops' "Fortnight for Freedom"

Today is the first day in the U.S. bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign that they have been planning for months.  At Mass this morning people were asked to pray for, “the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.”  I exercised my freedom of conscience by declining to pray their propaganda-in-prayer’s-clothing message.   Instead I prayed for people to follow Jesus’ example, serving the poor, walking with the suffering and marginalized, and speaking out against religious leaders’ corruption.

Many laypeople, theologians, clergy and nuns who imitate Jesus in this way have had their freedom of conscience violated by the bishops, suffering heavy punishments at the hands of the very people who now advocate for freedom of conscience.   Do the bishops only wish freedom of conscience for people who agree with them?   That’s not freedom of conscience.  How are the bishops protecting freedom of conscience within their realm of control – within the church?

On June 8th as a prelude to the “Fortnight” a local bishop spoke at a “Religious Liberty” rally outside my state’s capitol building.  The crowd was estimated to be around 350 people.  Ten days after that but only three days after two female legislators were barred from speaking on an abortion-related bill, more than ten times that many people rallied at the same location.

For days I pondered in wonderment as to why the bishops could only muster a meager gathering after months of extensive visibility on their topic while two legislators could draw a huge crowd almost at the drop of a hat.  Friday’s landmark verdict convicting Msgr. William Lynn provoked some thoughts that might offer insight.

Msgr. Lynn, like so many other Vicars of Clergy around the world, followed systemic church practices shuffling known sexually abusive priests to unsuspecting parishes, giving such priests fresh children to victimize.  A secular jury rejected Lynn’s plea that he should be found innocent because he was just following orders.  The jurors actually expected him to follow his conscience, not his superior’s orders.

Through this verdict, the secular government demonstrated it is protecting children - from the bishops.  Pundits are speculating how many other Vicars of Clergy and bishops will face similar charges and convictions as Msgr. Lynn.  The clergy and their superiors will be held accountable by secular governments.  Centuries’ old church practices that endangered children will not be tolerated.  This is quite possibly infuriating to a group of men who prior to this answered to absolutely no one in this country.

The church originated the concept of propaganda.   To fortify their Teflon cocoon that deflects accountability, the bishops seem to feel an urgent need to use their propaganda machine turning popular opinion against the government that will hold them accountable – and thus they create this “Religious Liberty” campaign painting the government as immoral.  As a living testament to Samuel Johnson’s statement, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel", the bishops have enveloped themselves in the nearly fail-proof “patriotism” shroud to gain mindshare.   The mullahs of Iran would be proud.  So why the comparatively meager turnout for their rallies?

Some people sincerely agree with the bishops but I believe they are the minority.  Others, like Msgr. Lynn, who prioritize obedience to bishops higher than obedience to their consciences, might forfeit their individual God-given consciences replacing them with whatever the bishops tell them their consciences should say.    

However, many others, perhaps instinctively, see that the government is actually protecting men’s and women’s freedom of conscience – not the bishops.  They hope the government will protect their consciences from the bishops’ attempts to commandeer and violate their consciences.  Similarly, they see the government protect their children – not the bishops.  In some cases, the government protects their children from the bishops whose actions placed their children in danger. And, if the government doesn’t do so, they can vote into office new leaders.  Not so, with their Catholic bishops.

Have people maybe sensed that the bishops’ fixation on correcting “moral poverty” does not address the basic human needs arising from their material poverty?  Do the poor see the government – not the bishops - as at least trying to help address their basic human needs?  Does marginalizing gays feed anyone?  Does denying civil rights create jobs?  Does demonizing responsible family planning make it easier to feed people?  Does dehumanizing discrimination against women strengthen society?       

Whether you live in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world, I hope you do dedicate prayer and actions to religious liberty.  I hope you recommend the bishops practice what they preach by insisting that they reinstate anyone whom they excommunicated or censured merely for following their well-formed consciences.  I must post this now so that I can send a note to my bishop encouraging him to re-instate some priests whose freedom of conscience he has violated.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

How well do we identify with the poor?

On June 13th and 14th the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) held their Spring General Assembly in Atlanta, GA.  The conference provided streaming video coverage of the meeting so I watched some of the footage.  During the meeting the bishops discussed drafting a document called, “On Work, Poverty and a Broken Economy.”  The video for this particular discussion begins roughly 2.5 hours into the first session.

My bishop, Earl Boyea, was the first to comment on the topic.  He said he was “reluctant to support” the bishops drafting such a document and expressed concern that the bishops lacked sufficient “humility not to stray into areas where we lack competence and where we need to let the laity take the lead.”  He said, “We need to learn far more than we need to teach in this area; we need to listen more than we need to speak.”  His remarks stemmed from a concern that it would appear a partisan effort against Republican Representative Paul Ryan and his proposed federal budget that guts funding for many social programs aimed at caring for the poor.  My bishop worried about the bishops causing polarity in a deeply divided country.

I applaud his acknowledgement of the bishops' collective ignorance and his desired restraint from advising on a topic from which they are so distantly removed.  However, I wonder why they feel experts enough to offer voluminous advice on women, women's roles, women's health, human sexuality, marriage, family living, psychology, and biology.  I find their brotherhood supremely unqualified to speak about these topics too.  Why does ignorance in economics give pause to learn more than teach but ignorance on so many other topics does not?

Unfortunately, despite the stunning ignorance the bishops have on marriage, family living and the economy, Archbishop Vigneron of Detroit in his comments stated, “Our wisdom about healthy family life is essential for a healthy economy.”  I hate to burst his bubble but many people question that unmarried childless men have much wisdom about “healthy family life” and believe they lack the humility to “listen more than speak” in this area.  Despite their self-acknowledged ignorance in economics, he and other bishops asserted that the cure for the economy rests in implementing the bishops’ views about strengthening families, an unacknowledged area of their ignorance.

I could scarcely suppress laughter at the bishop’s concern regarding partisanship.  The U.S. bishops have managed to transform RCC to mean “Republican Catholic Church” rather than Roman Catholic Church.  Their overt partisanship against initiatives by the Democratic president but concern for not appearing partisan against a Republican budget that clearly conflicts with gospel teachings illuminated how deeply enmeshed the bishops are with the Republican party in this country. 

On the other hand, I was unsuccessful suppressing laughter at expressed concerns over dividing an already deeply divided nation.  What is the bishops’ ill-founded "religious liberty" campaign but a giant wedge with the episcopal brotherhood hammering away on the wedge to drive it deeper into the nation, dividing it more pronouncedly?  Furthermore, the wedge around "religious liberty" is based upon Aristotle's understanding of human biology.  Rather than humbly listen and learn rather than speak and teach about areas in which they are ignorant, the bishops cling to flawed understandings of human biology and sexuality from a 4th century B.C. philosopher.  It seems odd that the bishops are concerned about new understandings in economics since the 1980s when they wrote their previous document on this topic yet are unconcerned with 25 centuries' increase in understanding about human medicine, biology, and psychology.  It is even more perplexing that the bishops would fashion a huge societal wedge based upon those 25 centuries-old flawed understandings and feign concern about dividing society.  

However, I think the most illuminating part of the discussion was a statement made by the USCCB’s president, Cardinal Dolan, and the brotherhood’s subsequent reaction.  It belied their disposition.  After introducing this topic about poverty, he said he had to limit discussion to “14 minutes or the pasta will not be al dente” and the brothers responded with laughter.  Perhaps most painful in this discussion was the bishops’ lack of humility regarding their ignorance on poverty. 

This country has tens of millions of hungry people – many of them children.  Yet, Dolan - who looks like he has never involuntarily skipped a single meal - limits discussion about the poor to just a few minutes lest it impact his lunch.  The poor are so important that the bishops can mock them by trivializing discussion about the hungry so that these very well-fed bishops won't experience a delay or impediment to their meal's quality? 

I do hope the pasta was al dente perfect because the discussion about poverty didn’t even take the 14 minutes and it focused very little on the poor.  Instead, comments centered much more around economics, a topic about which they are supposedly ignorant.   It was apparent that they had intimate interactions with academic economists and were well-versed in their concerns.  However, it was not apparent that they had intimate knowledge of the realities of the impoverished.  Did they invite any of Atlanta’s hungry to dine with them?  Did they visit with any of Atlanta’s impoverished?  Did they send the leftover al dente pasta to the hungry in imitation of Christ’s preference for the poor? 

Multiple bishops spoke of the need to turn to economists to understand caring for the poor.  None of them mentioned walking with the poor to understand caring for the poor.  And yet Bishop Blaire had the audacity to say, “We identify with what you are going through” with regards to unemployment, poverty and fear of falling into poverty.  How?  How do they identify with what people are going through?  When have they suffered unemployment?  It is almost unheard of that a bishop or any priest loses his source of income despite stomach-churning atrocities committed.  How do they identify with a fear of slipping into poverty?  They levy parish taxes and take what finances they need or want from local parish communities.  How many of them are homeless?  My bishop has not one but two bishop mansions because we have a retired bishop and heaven forbid that two bishops share a single mansion.  What is the evidence to support a claim that they identify with the poor because the evidence I see points to the contrary.

I believe this exchange between Dolan and "the brothers" offered tremendous insight into why the bishops are widely seen as patsies for the Republican Party as well as callous, indifferent, arrogant, elitist, irresponsible, misogynist males who have lost more than 50% of the flock entrusted to them.  It is difficult to call men “good shepherds” who have managed to drive away the majority of their sheep.

Take heart.  Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd” and that he would be with us till the end of time.  As the bishops absorb themselves with self-affirmation, self-congratulation and self-admiration, bandying around with the wealthy and academic elitists, we can still be imitators of Christ.  Just because the bishops do not walk with the poor and at times mock the poor, it is no excuse for us to do likewise.  How much intimate interaction do you have with the impoverished?  How much do you legitimately identify with their condition?  What do you do to alleviate human suffering in the micro-cosm of your world?