Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas - 2012

Merry 2nd Day of Christmas! 

At Christmastime the pope traditionally speaks several times and 2012 was no exception.  On Christmas Day, he gave his semi-annual “Urbi et Orbi address, “to the city and to the world”.  His remarks centered on Psalm 85, “Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss”, as he called upon several nations to embrace justice and peace.  

During his Midnight Mass homily the pope drew an analogy between the innkeeper’s and our inhospitable attitudes towards Jesus.  He warned that, “We are so ‘full’ of ourselves that there is no room left for God.  And that means there is no room for others either, for children, for the poor, for the stranger.”  He called for a renewal of mind and an “opening up of our intellect, of the whole way we view the world and ourselves” emphasizing that, “The conversion that we need must truly reach into the depths of our relationship with reality.” 

In this same homily he acknowledged the reality that at times people have corrupted religion, using it as “a pretext for intolerance and violence.”  He said this occurs, “when people think they have to take God’s cause into their own hands, making God into their private property.”  He advised, “We must be on the lookout for these distortions of the sacred.”

He also spoke of the shepherds’ “holy curiosity” resulting in “holy joy” that “impelled them to see this child in a manger…”  The Latin text for the scripture uses the word “trans-eamus” which means to “go across”.  Therefore the pope called people to imitate the shepherds, “daring to step beyond, to make the “transition” by which we step outside our habits of thought and habits of life.”

These are all good food for thought.

The pope also gave two other Christmas related addresses: his annual peace message and his annual speech to the Vatican bureaucracy.  In the first he said that gay marriage was a threat to world peace.  In the second he also lobbied strongly against homosexuality saying that, "People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given to them by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being."   He continued. "They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves."  Furthermore he stated, "The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man's fundamental choice where he himself is concerned," 

I have a daughter who is currently in medical school.  She has viewed the physical differences such as occurs in various brain sections between hetero- and homosexual people.  Due to the marked physical differences, medical students are emphatically taught homosexuality is not human-made nor a choice. 

Similarly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church cedes that homosexuality’s “psychological genesis remains largely unexplained (CCC 2357).”  It also states homosexuals, “… do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial (CCC 2358).” 

Thus, it seems science and church teachings agree that homosexual individuals do not opt to become as such.

The pope speaks of kindness and truth meeting.  His statements portraying homosexuality as selfish personal choices are both unkind and untrue whether measured against science or church teachings.  Therefore, he needs to retract them. 

Furthermore, there is no evidence to support his claim that homosexuality threatens world peace.  Indeed, if God creates homosexuals which seems true according to Church teaching (they, “do not choose their homosexual condition”), why accuse it of threatening world peace?

Because the church acknowledges homosexuality is not self-determined, the Catechism teaches homosexuals, “… must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.  Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” 

Yet, the pope and hierarchy wage a crusade to deny secular civil rights to homosexuals.  In its most extreme variations such as in Uganda, Catholic bishops support death-penalty legislation for committing homosexual acts.  Perhaps instead of accusing homosexuals for threatening peace, should we consider societal injustices against them as potential culprits?  When the church follows the pope’s advice and lays aside being “so full of itself”, will justice and peace be able to kiss more easily? 

Homosexuals are not the only casualties from the hierarchy’s sustained state of “being full of itself.”  Theologians, clergy, and laypeople in their “holy curiosity” and “holy joy” are impelled to seek the Christ child.  But whenever this journey leads them to question church teachings or practices such as pertaining to justice for homosexuals, embracing scientific truths about human sexuality, or relinquishing gender-based stereotypes, the church undertakes swift, severe and systematic efforts to marginalize and discredit them.  Is this truth, kindness or justice?  Is it no wonder the church lacks peace?  It would seem that the more full the hierarchy are of themselves, the less full the pews are.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church also teaches, “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered (2357).”   On one hand the church says to offer compassion and sensitivity but on the other hand it clearly dehumanizes and even worse, demonizes homosexuals by calling their God-given inclinations “intrinsically disordered.” 

I do not suppose to know what it’s like to be homosexual since I was not born as such.  But, I do have many friends and family members who are.  It is difficult to watch their angst as they realize and accept who they were made to be.  I trust the process is magnitudes more difficult to live. 

I also do not suppose to know what it’s like to be God.  I just try to discern moment-by-moment what God asks of me, knowing that I will not always get it right.  And, I am thankful for a forgiving God who sent a redeeming savior incarnate via a small impoverished child to compensate for when I don’t get it right. 

However, as the pope mentioned in his Midnight Mass homily, intolerance and violence occur, “when people think they have to take God’s cause into their own hands, making God into their private property.”  As the pope advised, “We must be on the lookout for these distortions of the sacred” to guard against physical and structural violence. 

Should the pope and hierarchy follow the pope’s suggestion to seek an opening up of their intellect, of the whole way they view the world and themselves.  Does the hierarchy dare to, as the pope advises, “… step outside our habits of thought and habits of life.”  Can the church accept the reality of truths God reveals through science or will it continue to cling to its security blanket of “sacred traditions” even when woven of inaccuracies or untruths?  
My previous blog article pertained to genocide, the systematic elimination of people based upon their ethnic or religious beliefs.  In my research for that article I learned the stages of genocide and summarize them in the following table.  This is based upon Gregory H. Stanton’s work, originally presented as a briefing paper at the US State Department in 1996. Mr. Stanton is the President of Genocide Watch.

In each stage physical and/or structural violence occurs.  If we want kindness and truth to meet, as well as justice and peace to kiss, perhaps it is good to reflect upon how our individual and collective actions might plant seeds and fertilize soil for cultivating the next genocide.  Even if full-blown genocide does not evolve, there is real damage to the Body of Christ in every stage.

Description and Examples
1. Classification
People are divided into "us and them" with “them” becoming a pariah group.  “We” are the “good”, “righteous”, “believing” group.  “They” are “evil”, “ungodly” “non-believers.” 
2. Symbolization
Symbols and labels are forced upon members of pariah groups... such as labeling others as “dissenters” - “we” are “Catholic” but “they” are “not ‘true’ Catholics.”  In the Nazi era, yellow stars were forced upon Jews.
3. Dehumanization
The group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects, diseases, or even ascribed sub-human and diabolical attributes.  “We” are “normal” but “they” are “disordered.”  Or, “we” are “called to holiness” but “they” are embarking in “evil” activities.  Excommunication might be considered a dehumanization tactic.  “Dissenters” are excommunicated and vilified in an attempt to neutralize their voices.
4. Organization
Massive destruction requires organization with strong central governance and/or insistence upon unquestioned obedience.  This is increasingly the case with the church.  Though there is not as much physical destruction at the church’s hand as has occurred during other historical periods, the church is perhaps experiencing one of the greatest self-inflicted self-destructive phases of its existence. 

Many Catholics desire to “purge” the church of “infidels.”  Through Joseph Ratzinger’s efforts over the last few decades as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith and now as pope, there has been a very organized, systematic effort to silence “dissenters”, expel those who question, and “purify” the ranks.  Joseph Ratzinger is aided by zealous organizations that foster extreme unquestioned obedience such as Legion of Christ, Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation and Neocatechumenal Way.  Some of these groups own media outlets.  Members of these groups also hold influential positions in many dimensions of society: legislature, judicial, entertainment, writing and journalism, academia, medicine, and business.   
5. Polarization
The destructive groups broadcast polarizing propaganda with consistency, repetition and abundance.  The term “propaganda” was invented by the Church associated with spreading its ideology.  However in polarization, rather than spread messages of love and tolerance, destructive groups broadcast messages of fear, hate and/or intolerance. 

Examples would be the demonization of people with even the remotest affiliation to abortion, contraception, homosexual rights, support for female ordinations, etc…   The zealous groups previously mentioned play a key role in repeating and amplifying the propaganda coming from the central controlling authority.

The centrally orchestrated “New Evangelization” provides structure for polarization.  Whether or not it does polarize will depend upon the messages conveyed.  My exposure to date indicates the “New Evangelization” is just a nice name for spreading the church’s most intolerant teachings in a very organized and systematic way.
6. Preparation
Victims are identified and separated out because of their identity.  Historically when church and state intermingled, excommunication played a bigger role in this stage.  In most countries excommunication does not carry the level of social isolation it once did.  “Religious Liberty” efforts seem to try to re-establish the entanglement of church and state.  If successful, then that increases the power of excommunication by carrying more extensive isolation.
7. Extermination
Killers do not believe their victims are fully human so they believe they can exterminate these creatures as one would exterminate vermin.  This has happened in the past with the church targeting gypsies, Jews and American indigenous people.  Though full extermination of homosexuals is not openly discussed, it is concerning that the Ugandan bishops support death penalty legislation for homosexuals.  As the pope suggested, we should be very much on guard that religion is used as the pretext for intolerance and violence.
8. Denial
Perpetrators not only deny wrong-doing, they believe their actions are holy and justified.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Many Catholics use the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Advent because forgiveness and healing help prepare for Jesus’ coming.  A few weeks ago at Mass in Singapore, a priest gave a protracted analogy comparing this Sacrament to regular bowel movements.  However, having just arrived in Singapore from Rwanda, I thought post-genocide Rwanda offered a more profound example of reconciliation, forgiveness and healing. 

What can we learn from Rwanda?

As historical background, during a 100-day period in 1994, Rwandan people slaughtered about 1 million of their fellow citizens.  To put this in perspective, that is about twice as intense an extermination rate to that of the World War II genocide when 6 million Jews were killed over 4 years.  Thank God the Rwandan genocide was of shorter duration.

Hutu tribe members used machetes, clubs and grenades to destroy Tutsi tribe members and their Hutu sympathizers.  These massacres were not just conducted by government officials or soldiers.  Ordinary people participated, killing friends, family or neighbors. 

The people I met in Rwanda seemed gentle, soft-spoken, kind and calm.  I could not envision them committing atrocities associated with genocide.  So I struggled understanding how the genocide ever occurred. 

My host explained that Rwandan culture trained people to be blindly obedient – to not question authority.  Beginning in 1959, schools, churches and the government consistently and systematically cultivated ethnic-based hatred and fear that reached fevered pitch after their president died in a 1994 plane crash.  The president’s death launched the 100 day killing spree where Hutus were urged to kill Tutsis and their sympathizers, lest the “enemy” kill them first.

The Roman Catholic Church played a significant role in the genocides.  Bishops, priests and nuns fueled the propaganda machine spreading messages of ethnic hatred and fear.  Sometimes religious leaders actually committed the murders.  For example, massacres at Catholic Churches such as in Nyamata, Ntarama, Nyarubuye, Cyahinda, Nyange, and Saint Famille occurred after clergy lured the people to the church under the pretense of offering safety, and proceeded to slaughter the people or deliver them into the slaughterers’ hands.  Tens of thousands of people died at Catholic Churches in such scenarios.

Abusing trust, these clergy committed even more heinous crimes than the unspeakably deplorable rapes of children by tens of thousands of clergy.  Several priests and nuns were tried, found guilty, and jailed, though the Vatican did nothing to support bringing these criminals to justice nor ever acknowledged the Church’s involvement in the genocides.  

So, Rwanda has a lot to forgive.  But people described how necessary it was to undertake the long, difficult journey to reconciliation.  And they have made tremendous, if not miraculous progress.  How has that occurred?

One person explained that it is easier for the innocent to forgive than for the guilty to accept forgiveness or forgive themselves.  “When you are innocent, your conscience is clear.”  This makes it easier to see how little divides the guilty and innocent, and how you might have been duped into following the manipulators given different circumstances.   You make a conscious effort to forgive because you can see yourself in the guilty one, and you would want to be forgiven were the tables turned. 

But, he explained, the guilty live with an unrelenting self-hatred.  Some people, who don’t know how to process their self-hatred, try to justify their actions.  Others are consumed by remorse and cannot accept the forgiveness their victims extend.  In either case, the result is a spiral of unforgiveness and self-hatred within the guilty.  Their self-hatred afflicts society.  That is why the innocent must strive towards reconciliation.

Rwanda teaches us many things.

1.  How do we prevent genocides or similar atrocities?  By seeing and avoiding the danger of unquestioned obedience to any human individual or organization.  Quite simply the obedience culture of the uber-orthodox in the church is not a virtue.  It is a danger not only to the church but to society because uber-orthodox groups which cultivate blind obedience can morph into destructive machines, intoxicated by the deadly cocktail of zeal and delusions masking hatred as virtues.  

Rwanda’s genocide was an example of this.  So were the serial rapes of children and seminarians by the Legion of Christ founder, Marcel Maciel, who was enabled by unquestioningly obedient Legion members. 

Perhaps this is why St. Paul and Canon law explain our duty to question even and especially our religious leaders.  However, currently there seems a perversion of the whole questioning responsibility.  Jesus didn’t question secular authorities.  He questioned religious leaders.  Today, religious leaders question secular leaders and instruct the faithful to question secular leaders as well but they are intolerant of questions directed at themselves.  Who and what in the Church need your questioning voice?     

2.  How can we forgive others?  By seeing ourselves not as the better person who condescendingly and magnanimously dribbles forgiveness to further demonstrate what superior people we are.  Rather, genuine forgiveness occurs when we see that we are no better than the perpetrator, given different circumstances.      

3.  How can we forgive ourselves?  By realizing how much others want us to feel forgiven.  But, sometimes, others are too broken to forgive us.  In these cases we must see our similar brokenness which might prevent us from forgiving others and not only forgive ourselves but forgive the person who cannot forgive us.

4.  When does reconciliation occur?  True reconciliation occurs when the desire to forgive and be forgiven meet.  It takes time. It takes work.

With the sexual abuse scandal in the church, reconciliation has not occurred because there is a great absence of both elements.  Many of the clergy and their groupies largely want to diminish the damage and pretend it was no big deal.  That is vastly different from thirsting to be forgiven.  Many laypeople, clergy, victims, their families and non-Catholics do not want to forgive – usually because of their sense that the hierarchy lacks thirst for forgiveness.

But the sexual abuse scandal is only one example of an unforgiving spirit in the church.  Vote for someone I think is unworthy and “off with your head – you are not Catholic enough.”  Espouse scientific understandings about human sexuality later than the medieval period and “off with your head – you are not Catholic enough.”  Advocate for dialogue or question a hierarchical leader and you get the same reaction. 

It seems ironic to me that many clergy who complain about being under-visited in the confessional where they advertise they stand ready to offer generous dollops of forgiveness often seem like some of the most unforgiving people I’ve met.    

Keep in mind, Jesus extended unconditional forgiveness to people.  After he forgave them, he sometimes asked them to sin no more.  But he extended his forgiveness without obtaining or demanding personal reform.  It seems like he thirsted to forgive.

Do you thirst to forgive and be forgiven?  Is your forgiveness motivated by a sense of superiority or a compassionate awareness of equality with the wrong-doer?