Sunday, January 26, 2014

Correcting the "theology of women" that currently exists...

Rumors are circulating that Pope Francis might visit the U.S. next year.  He is most cordially welcome to visit my home and even stay here – no charge.  In addition to walking side-by-side with him and the economically challenged in my area, I’d like to discuss this “theology of women” concept with him.  Maybe I’ll send him a letter extending a sincere invitation.  But, just in case he doesn’t accept my offer, let me discuss some things here. 

1.  We’re not going to get anywhere with a “theology of women” if the hierarchy’s emotional abuse of women continues.   So all this stereotyping of women as fluffy, delicate, glowing, wispy, cookie-baking, child-bearing, child-rearing, walking uteri needs to stop.  For instance Francis needs to stop saying stuff like this about women:

  • “The gifts of delicacy, of a special sensibility and tenderness, which are a richness of the feminine spirit, represent only a genuine force for the life of the family, for the irradiation of a clime of serenity and harmony, but a reality without which the human vocation would be unrealizable.”
  • “How is it possible to grow the effective presence [of women] in so many ambits of public life, in the world of work and in the venues where the most important decisions are adopted, and at the same time maintain a presence and a preferential attention, which is extremely special, in and for the family?”

Francis, as the song says, “I can bring home the bacon; fry it up in a pan and never, never, never let you forget you’re a man…’cause I’m a woman…w-o-m-a-n.”  Heck I’ll probably even wind up washing the darn dirty pan.  That’s some of my “special sensibility and tenderness.”  And, you do realize you just said that the most important decisions occur outside the home.  That's not a ringing endorsement for the value of families.

2.  “Theology of women” can’t merely consist of a bunch of unmarried men telling women what it means to be female.  Hierarchy members are lesser authorities on what it means to be a woman than pretty much any female on the planet.  As the character Gracie Hart says in the movie “Miss Congeniality”, “I can’t talk girl talk with a guy in my head.”  So, Francis also needs to stop saying stuff like this about women’s roles, “In this process, the discernment of the Magisterium of the popes has been, and is, important.”  No, really, on this one, it’s not important.  Actually, what is important is making the extensive corrections needed to previous popes’ flawed writings about women. 

3.  Stop telling me I’m supposed to imitate the Virgin Mary just because we’re both female.  She said “yes” to God.  That’s great for men and women to imitate.  But there isn’t anything about Mary’s female life that resonates with me.  She got pregnant without having sex.  She remained “free from the stain of sin” because she remained a virgin.  She was born perfect and raised a son who is sinless and God.  I share no common experiences in that string.  I have to believe raising one perfect son whilst one is perfect themselves is considerably easier than being born imperfect and raising multiple imperfect children.  Mary’s motherhood was purposely abnormal, so I have no desire to emulate it. 

4. Stop telling me my primary purpose is to be a mother.  On average women have about 15 years of peak fertility.  Against a 74 year average life expectancy for women globally, that’s only about 20% of their lives.  Even if a woman had children in the first and last of her 15 peak fertility years that would mean about 33 of her 74 years involve raising children – less than half her lifespan.  Why disregard more than 50% of women’s lives? 

Similarly, stop this hypocrisy wherein “good” fathers should work outside the home but “good” mothers need to prayerfully consider it like they are contemplating entering the bowels of an operating nuclear reactor.  Women and men should work outside the home as called by God.  Good parents will be good parents regardless of if they stay home or not provided they align with God’s will.  That goes for mothers and fathers. 

5.  It is dehumanizing to reduce femininity to a mere metaphor, especially when it is used to mask male hegemony.  The “church’s anthropology” asserts that Jesus, a male, marries the church, a female.  Priests celebrating Mass in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) are supposed to continue this marriage celebration of Jesus to the church. Since the church is “female”, the hierarchy teaches that priests must be males lest they provide a same-sex marriage example. 

However, doctrine also asserts that priests act both in persona Christi and in persona ecclesiae (in the person of the “female” church).  Thus you rightly could claim that every time clergy alone celebrate Mass they actually do perform a symbolic same-sex marriage, but the hierarchy will quickly tell you that the metaphorical “female” church is there.  You see, the hierarchy feels the male role is so important that it must be played by an actual human man.  However the female part is so inconsequential in this marriage that it can be reduced to a metaphor played by anybody – male or female.   That teaching really accentuates the hierarchy’s devaluation of women.

The document, Inter Insigniores, outright admits the hierarchy’s long history of devaluing women, “It is true that in the writings of the Fathers, one will find the undeniable influence of prejudices unfavorable to woman..."  However, that document goes on to explain that these “unfavorable prejudices” did not impair the hierarchy when conjuring up dogma about women.  I think that is an impossible thing to do.

6.  If you balanced the Vatican Library on a fulcrum and then moved all the dogmatic writings by women in it to one side and those by men to the other side, the library will topple to one side.  Women’s writings drown in a sea of men’s voices.  Yet dogmatic writings and the male hierarchy form the “female” church’s official voice.  How can a “female” church have such a decidedly masculine voice?

It’s not that women have been mute.  It’s that they have been largely ignored unless they parrot what the male hierarchy says.  This systematic suppression of the “female” church’s actual female voices and replacement of them with male voices also makes a very strong case that the hierarchy’s marriage example is of a male-male same-sex union with the “female” church being played by male “queens.”

This suppression and exclusion of the female voice deprives the church of truth by denying the Spirit’s work through women.  This cannot be tolerated.  Indeed, with the increasing exodus of women from the church, it’s not being tolerated.  Until this is fixed, no “theology of women” will be taken seriously by the majority of women in the church.

7.  The current “theology of women” rests upon flawed biology and is basically a protracted, hyperbolic romantic fantasy based upon that flawed biology, written by men with limited, healthy intimate relationships with women.  The hierarchy must step away from the arrogance and flawed logic of “but we always thought this…” Clinging to teachings based upon flawed premises and institutionalized sexism unacceptably sacrifices truth in favor of protecting the status quo.

Before we can define a “theology of women” we must purge ourselves of these rampant inaccuracies.  Women are best qualified to analyze existing teachings about women, highlighting and correcting the many errors.  To not permit women to do this is like saying, “Italians are not credible experts on life in Italy.  We better have some Americans write about it instead.”

Once we correct what a “theology of women” isn’t, we can begin to expand upon what it actually is.

What is our role correcting the flawed “theology of women?” 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Pope Francis, priests and monsters...

Stop the presses!  What is this I hear Pope Francis said?  Did he really say that some priests behave like “little monsters?”  Why, yes, yes he did say that and even more!  He said this monster-esque behavior emerges from “clericalism”, something he called “one of the worst evils” and something he attributes to poor seminary formation.  “We must form their hearts. Otherwise we are creating little monsters.  And then these little monsters mold the people of God. This really gives me goose bumps.”  - Pope Francis

Hey, those are pretty stiff accusations against clerics there, Mr. Chief Clerical Officer of the Roman Catholic Church.  Are they warranted or substantiated?

The definition of a monster is “a powerful person or thing that cannot be controlled and that causes many problems.”  Let’s also review the definition of “clericalism”: “a policy of supporting the influence and power of the clergy.” 

Well, let’s rummage through the mountain of church writings to see if we can find any evidence of clericalism and/or monster-making… Ah, yes, here we go.  Found something! 

An ancient writing dating from all the way back to 2009 – a report issued after a Vatican visitation of American seminaries - might help substantiate Francis’ assertion.  Here’s some contextual background on the report.  It resulted from a Vatican visitation (read that “investigation”) into the role seminaries might have played in the sex abuse scandal.  When the visitation occurred, the Vatican was still trying to portray sex abuse as an American-only phenomenon.  As an aside, since that visitation, sexual abuse scandals rivaling the U.S.’s magnitude or worse have erupted in over a dozen countries so I guess that whole “made in America” thing wasn’t accurate.  Anyway, the report was generally favorable towards U.S. seminaries but highlighted a few negative findings in need of correction that they thought contributed to the sexual abuse issue.  Here’s one:

“The students have an idea of priestly service, but teachings such as on the character impressed by the Sacrament of Orders, on the nature of sacra potestas (sacred powers), on the tria munera (three offices), etc., are not so well known.”   In other words, the Vatican felt it was problematic for seminaries to focus too much on priests doing service … you know that crazy stuff that Jesus did…and not enough on the “sacred powers” of the three-fold office, namely the teaching (munus docendi), sanctifying (munus sanctificandi) and ruling (munus regendi) offices.  One might simplify that message from the Vatican as telling priests to ease-up on helping people and focus more on controlling them.  Let’s see…”institutionalized clericalism with foundations in seminary?”  Check!  …as per Vatican directives.

Here’s another one from that same report:
“In a few seminaries, the clear distinction between the common priesthood and the ministerial, hierarchical priesthood needs to be emphasized more. “  This statement reveals Vatican officials believe the hierarchical superiority of clericalism needs to increase not decrease.  Again, I think we can safely place a checkmark in the “institutionalized clericalism” column for seminaries.

So there you have it. Along with blaming homosexuals, criticizing seminarians’ behavior outside of the seminary walls and faulting dioceses for not exalting seminarians and seminaries enough, the Vatican as of 2009 felt that the sex abuse scandal resulted from priests not being hierarchical enough, not exerting their “sacred powers” enough and offering too much service.  I will pause a moment for you to stop banging your head against a hard, flat surface and also to finish your primal scream therapy.

Done?  Ready to continue now?  O.K. back to our topic. 

I guess I must cede Francis his “clericalism” point about clergy power fascinations, but “monster?”  Isn’t that a bit severe?  I mean a monster is a powerful person that cannot be controlled and that causes many problems.  And yeah, the Vatican report on clergy formation said to focus more on clerical powers… but does that really create priests who “cannot be controlled?” 

Again I dive into the steaming mountain of church writings and dig all the way down to the 1983 section to find the latest revision of Canon Law.  Rather than quote lengthy sections from it, let me summarize its power governance laws using this analogy.  Think “dogs peeing on trees to mark territory.”  The church truly has evolved little further than that in some aspects of church governance.  The world is divided into geographical territories over which a bishop presides and the bishop subdivides his territory into parishes over which a pastor presides.  Only one alpha dog is permitted per marked territory.   

“But doesn’t the bishop reign over all the parish pastors?” you might ask.

Here the plot thickens a bit.  A parish pastor, once appointed by the bishop, can only be removed under a few very obtusely defined circumstances.  As long as the pastor avoids those issues, he can do whatever he darn well pleases and the bishop has no, zip, nada, the null-set, recourse. 

Even if the pastor violates one of the lawful reasons for removal, the complex legal processes under Canon Law tilt toward protecting him and often eventually require approval from the Vatican Curia - an organization reputed for corruption, inefficiency and sloth-paced movement in addition to siding with pastors over their bishops.  Therefore, most bishops only bother pursuing priest situations that involve “slam-dunk” transgressions in the eyes of the Vatican Curia – really treacherous things like pastors who want to talk about female ordinations.  And, no, a pastor raping a child is NOT a slam-dunk with the Vatican Curia.  Thus, many bishops avoid the confrontation, expense and hassle, and just let pastors do pretty much whatever they want.  Oooooh, so that whole “cannot be controlled” thing is for-real!

I’m sure Francis knows that clericalism is written into Canon Law and further enabled by bishops unwilling to navigate the legislative processes that most likely would conclude with the Vatican Curia affirming the “little monster” anyway.  Therefore, I don’t totally agree with Francis.  He asserts these clericalism-generated “little monsters” are the fault of poor seminary training.  I think that is only part of it.  Seminaries plant the seeds of clericalism but Canon Law feeds and waters it by bestowing minimally governed, nearly unchecked powers to pastors (and popes).  Furthermore, bishops and the Curia further cultivate clericalism every time they permissively turn their heads for those few powers that Canon Law does try to hold in check.

Let’s quickly review the power path.  Popes have the right to appoint every single Curia leadership position.  They also appoint every single bishop.  Bishops appoint every single seminary rector and together they determine seminary curriculum.  Bishops ordain every single priest and then appoint every single pastor.    

Once the pastor is appointed, if he is a monster or monster-in-the-making, it is too late.  Unfortunately with the reduced number of clergy, more and more bishops are appointing less and less experienced men as pastors and their immaturity and inexperience seem to be creating more “little monsters.” 

My dear brother Francis, let’s face it.  Much of the power to correct clericalism lies in your hands as pope via your Curia appointments, bishops you choose and indeed even the Canon Laws you do or do not enact. 

Keep in mind what’s required to alter Canon Law.  The pope can just decree something into Canon Law using something called a “motu propio” (literally means “own motion”).  And the beauty of the pope's absolute monarchy is that all of his motions carry.  Yes, current church governance has strayed so far from the laypeople-elected bishops of the early church that it has devolved into placing the power in the pope’s hand to just decree things…no lobbying required by the pope to gain mindshare from a single other elected official because there are none.

Francis has made some new Curia leadership appointments including in the Congregation for Clergy and the Congregation for Bishops.  However, he has left in place Pope Benedict’s head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith – a key office in the bureaucracy of governing priests.  Also, I am unaware of him issuing any motu proprios to adapt the bishop and pastor selection processes, their sweeping powers, or clergy governance processes. 

Things the pope controls could affect existing clergy immediately.  But, starting with seminary reform instead means effects will not be felt until the people wait for the bureaucracy of curriculum reform to occur (or not…), and then for the 4+ years of formation for seedling seminarians after the reforms take place, and then another 2 or so years before those priests become pastors. 

Though I appreciate Francis might be trying to minimize his own clericalism, the result is years if not decades more of suffering by the people.  And regardless, all the “formation of heart” in the world will not properly govern human priests acting like humans and especially human priests when they act inhuman.

How do we contribute to the “worst of evils” called “clericalism?”  What is our responsibility to eliminate this evil from our church?  Is it possible to eliminate clericalism ("the worst of evils") without eliminating the absolute monarchy of the pope? 

As background, here are Canon Law’s published reasons for removing a parish pastor:

  • "A manner of acting which causes grave harm or disturbance to ecclesiastical communion"
  • "Ineptitude or permanent illness of mind or body, which makes the parish priest unequal to the task of fulfilling his duties satisfactorily"
  • "The loss of the parish priest’s good name among upright and serious-minded parishioners or aversion to him, when it can be foreseen that these factors will not quickly come to an end"
  • "Grave neglect or violation of parochial duties which persists after a warning"
  • "Bad administration of temporal good s with grave harm to the church when no other remedy can be found to eliminate this harm"

Here’s a quick summary of the removal process:

  • Bishop must become aware of the inappropriate behavior
  • Bishop must agree that the behavior is inappropriate.  These two steps alone can take years and many valid issues never even reach this point.  But if they do:
  • The bishop conducts an investigation
  • If concerns are founded, then the bishop discusses the matter with two other priests
  • If they believe there is cause to proceed, then the bishop communicates the reasons to the priest and tries to persuade him to resign within 15 days
  • If the pastor doesn’t reply within 15 days, the bishop renews his invitation to resign
  • If the pastor doesn’t reply to the second notice then the bishop issues a decree
  • If the priest opposes the case, the bishop invites him to review the case against him and provide his objections in writing
  • This might need to be reviewed with the same two priests from the previous step
  • If they decide the removal is still substantiated then there is another decree issued
  • The priest can be removed from the parish at this point but the new pastor cannot be assigned until the matter is resolved with the Vatican Curia and in the meantime the priest must be provided financial support
  • By this time, the bishop may have moved to his next job or died, the priest may have retired or died, but, most likely, more people will have left the church.