Sunday, December 27, 2015

Living a myth...

I vividly remember “the talk” with my mom.  You know, “the talk…”   My older sister, tired of defending my unwavering belief in Santa, bullied me into asking the big question, “Is Santa real?”  My mom’s gentle explanation combined with my fervent desire to believe initially produced the opposite effect my sister intended.  Words are weak instruments to describe her reaction when I returned from that little chat triumphantly proclaiming, “I knew it!  Santa is real!”  However, I do remember her reaction did include grabbing my hand and dragging me back to our mom protesting, “Mom!  What did you tell her?!  She still believes!” 

My mom had taken me to a mirror and said, “Yes, Santa is real but he is not a fat, jolly guy in a red suit.  He can look just like the girl in the mirror when she gives a gift at the giving tree.”  I so much wanted to believe in the entirety of the Santa myth that I filtered out all words except “Santa is real.”  I’m happy to report that we did achieve mutual clarity within the span of about 15 minutes.  I was 8 years old and it was time to live with a different understanding of the myth.   My sister felt for her and my own physical and mental well-being, it was well past time but that’s a debate for another day.

I find myself reflecting upon that fervent desire to believe in a myth after watching the movie “Spotlight.”  This movie chronicles the Boston Globe’s investigative journalism that led to its January 6, 2002 bombshell story about the Catholic Church knowingly leaving numerous pedophile priests in active ministry for decades.  Though individual sex abuse stories had been published throughout previous decades, this story altered the conversation because it demonstrated that a sick, systemic culture involving hierarchy and laypeople enabled and helped perpetuate widespread abuse.  It revealed a culture pretending each abuse case was simply an individual, isolated, “whoopsie there” incident so as to perpetuate the myth of a perfect church.  People turned their heads for a myriad of reasons all stemming from scandal avoidance desires: “priests are good guys”, “just doing my job”, “the church does such good work in other places”, “my fellow parishioners bully whistle-blowers”, “Cardinal/bishop so-and-so says it is the best thing for the church”, etc… 

Why did the church hierarchy obsess on avoiding scandal?  Because it feared scandal would shake people’s faith and possibly inspire them to leave the church.  Yet, Holy Mother Church’s fervent desire to avoid scandal became a monumental, self-destructive scandal in itself.  Instead of Holy Mother Church, it’s more like Our Lady of Macbeth - externally presenting the mythical image of perfect hostess while plotting and scheming to manipulate and neutralize people seen as interfering with this burning ambition…eventually resulting in the opposite effect from the ambition. 

The church so desperately wanted to perpetuate a scandal-free myth that it caused huge, unimaginable scandal.  The movie’s ending flashing four multi-columned pages naming over a hundred Catholic dioceses where major clergy abuse scandals  and their even more scandalous cover-ups have been exposed to-date punctuates the scandal-based damage that arises when an entire system prioritizes myth perpetuation over truth and people’s lives.  With over 100 dioceses, over 100,000 abuse victims, and about 75% of Catholics leaving the church, it is well past time for the church to live with a different understanding of the myth.  Our mental and physical well-being requires it.

I believe the exodus occurred because too many still want so desperately to believe in the myth that they only begrudgingly implement superficial changes to address the issue and bully those who wish to live with a more mature understanding of the myth that includes real systemic change.  For example, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in anticipation of the movie’s release, prepared dioceses with talking points aimed at portraying the topic as a thing of the past – as if it’s all different now.  Yet, even the reports about filming the movie illuminate that it’s not all different now.  The New York Yankees declined being filmed for a scene at Fenway Park because they felt it wasn’t a topic with which the team should be associated and believed that the Red Sox shouldn’t be either.  Why would a sports organization that profits from attracting fans, many of whom are children, think it inappropriate to be associated with a movie about protecting children?  Do we smell New York Roman Catholic Cardinal Dolan’s breath in that statement?  The same old pattern certainly is there.

Yes, some things have changed since the Globe story broke yet much remains the same.  Because thousands of priests raped children, I had to be finger-printed and watch movies about protecting children.  It is as Mitchell Garabedian says in the movie, “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.”  Therefore, we must educate the village.  However, one constant is the existence of lay and ordained staunch defenders of the church who treat truthful criticism as an attack to which they must wage a counter-assault.  This attitude contributed to creating a penalty-free environment for abusive clergy and irresponsible bishops.  Until that fear-induced arrogant rejection of constructive criticism is replaced by humble sincere truth-seeking, there is no marked difference in the culture.   One need look no further than the sheep-like unquestioning obedience to Mass language changes to see that those in the pews largely still operate with a “Father knows best” deference to men wearing Roman collars.

Unfortunately, the staunch defenders actually have changed in that they have doubled-down on irrational defense of the church’s indefensible.  They have doubled-down on squeezing their eyes shut and stuffing their ears with earplugs to shut out reality.  They want the myth of a perfect church and will stop at nothing to retain living in their myth.  They are happy to chase away anyone who tries to bring them to a more mature understanding of the myth.

It is impossible for the vast majority of humans to consider the Catholic Church the penultimate “truth team” when its Canon Law and culture consider fact-based criticism to be “the enemy.”  Thus, it’s no surprise that active Catholics represent merely 4% of the world population.  (7 billion people, 1.2 billion Catholics, of whom only about 25% are active.)

If people truly love the church, they must welcome criticism of the organization.  Since sports form an informal pillar of the Catholic faith, I’ll try a sports analogy to describe the detrimental impact of ignoring institutional shortcomings.  It’s like a basketball team which commits many turnovers declaring this statistic as anti-them and refusing to work on turnovers.  It’s like the team and fans bullying anyone who mentions the statistic and asking them to leave the game and never come to another one.  It’s like a team with the highest turnover rate blaming the ball for its stubborn unwillingness to remain with the team.   

The turnover metaphor only speaks to the abuse scandal’s collateral damage - people's mass exodus from the church.  The most profound damage occurred to the 100,000s of people molested by priests.  I can only think of a parenting analogy for this.  It’s like a parent entrusting their children to a known pedophile as babysitter, and then when the child reports the abuse, recommending the pedophile babysitter to friends and neighbors.  Would you trust such a parent?  No, I wouldn’t either.  Not even after they said they were sorry or enacted a Dallas Charter creating great bureaucracy to guide them since they demonstrated a collective lack of common sense to do the decent thing.   Such a parent would be declared unfit.  The same is true for all bishops who shuffled abusive priests.

Is it time to behave like my unrelenting older sister, grasping hands of staunch believers in the myth and insisting they adopt a more mature understanding of the myth?  Don’t we owe the survivors at least this much?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Saudi Arabia 20, Vatican 0

Dear Pope Francis,

This will be short and sweet.  Saudi Arabia just elected 20 women, which is 20 more than ever in the Catholic Church.  So, I find myself in a position asking you and your brotherhood to consider learning something from the Saudis on sharing power with women.

Hope you are having a transformative Advent. 

Love and prayers as always,

The Ewe

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Which lives are you "pro?"

Truly, when I publish a blog article, I think it is my last one...until...something in the church cries out for commentary that does not seem to be getting expressed.

First, my last blog article about sexually active priests quickly catapulted to one of my most read articles.  I am always humbled that people invest their time reading my blog.  

But, I neglected to highlight one extremely important point in that article so I will do so now before delving into some recent comments Pope Francis made.  The one African priest discussing priests' sexual activity with me blurted out, almost as a defense for priests not honoring the implied chastity of their celibacy, that such sexually active priests do so in "secret."  What he saw as insignificantly dismissible, making priests' sexual activity permissible, to me exposes significant moral disconnect and systemic foundational rot in the church.

Over 125,000 priests have fallen in love and done the honorable and healthy thing for themselves, their lovers and their relationships...they married.  And as a reward for their honest, healthy relationships, these men were expelled from the priesthood.  

Instead, we are left with the cowardly, selfish priests who engage in sexual relationships that they hide as though their lovers are some sort of embarrassing sin whom they publicly pretend do not exist so that they may continue in their prestigious role, deluding themselves that they serve some higher purpose as a priest, and therefore it's ok to stuff their lovers in closets...for the greater good of humanity.  These insidious men, who number 50% of the priesthood, are the ones we are stuck with...playing some perverted charade that they, who are fundamentally dishonest about their relationships and sexuality, provide the most astute moral guidance to lay people about human relationships and sexuality.  Is my mind the only one numbed by the painful realities this demonstrates about the clergy's moral fiber and the resulting systemic societal impact of revering categorically dishonest men as ultimate guardians of truth?

Continuing in the category of mind numbing moral pain inflicted by clergy, let us turn our attention to Pope Francis' recent statements about condom usage to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.  A reporter posed this moral question to him and the pope replied that he did not need to consider that question until African food and water security issues were solved.  He rather dismissed HIV/AIDS as some obscure insignificant threat to life.  Yet, if we read reports from the World Health Organization, we see this disease as a front-runner astride malaria as a leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa.  

Francis, what gives?  Truly, that ranks among the most callous statements dismissing human lives that you've ever said.

Even if it were true to portray sub-Saharan Africa's 60% hold on all HIV/AIDS cases worldwide as insignificant...and it is not say we should not concern ourselves with easily, I repeat, EASILY saving those lives until other concerns are addressed is like saying we should not treat prostate cancer to prevent the annual 27,540 deaths attributable to it until we first eliminate lung, breast, colon, and pancreatic cancer because they all account for WAY more deaths.  "Sorry guys with prostate cancer, but we can't be morally concerned about preventing your deaths until we eliminate the cool kids' types of cancer?"

I find myself wondering how often the pope listens to what he says or reflects upon what he said and thinks, "Yowsers!  Jet lag struck again!  Senior moment!  Stupid, callous thing to say!"  But, words are a little like toothpaste squeezed out of the tube...difficult and messy to undo.

But both topics leave me wondering, "which lives are you 'pro'?"  Evidently not lives whose acknowledgement would require humble honesty about clergy sexuality and relationships, nor ones which saving would require humble reclassification of a tool as "good" that they have invested years demonizing due to their twisted understanding about what it means to have healthy sexual relationships open to life.  

Maybe it is time to right the barque of Peter and resume allowing clergy to have honest sexual relationships...reinstating the honest clergy who married their partners, re-permitting clergy to marry, and at the same time, ridding church leadership of the 50% of clergy with dishonest sexual relationships.  

Pope Francis, you could do much for the church's and your personal credibility if you did two things: 1) re-instate a married clergy and 2) publicly correct your callous statement dismissing the lives of 36.1 million people with HIV/AIDS.  Really, truly, those 36.1 million lives matter and it is immoral to not prevent the preventable to save them. Absolutely, infallibly, immoral.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Having the wrong discussion...

Before and now during the much heralded Synod on the Family, I have heard and continue to hear a great hullabaloo about whether or not to allow communion for divorcees who remarry without first having their previous marriages annulled.  I find this fixation odd because I think it represents misplaced focus, reeking of hypocrisy.

At the risk of expressing myself in an inefficient manner, allow me to share some recent inter-personal exchanges with you.

Last week I was in Africa for a large diocesan event.  Consequently I found myself in the company of many African priests.  Our conversations often turned to the Synod.  While in the company of four African priests I mentioned that some American media outlets reported that the African bishops were trying to block certain discussions.  One of the four replied that he thought he knew which topics African bishops would try to block and then proceeded to speculate they were LGBT issues and communion for "'separated' and remarried Catholics...because there is no such thing as 'divorce' in the eyes of God."

We had a spirited dialogue following his comment that went something like this:

Me: Why are you focusing on lay Catholics rather than the priests who break the same commandment?

Him: (deer in headlights look....)

Me: I've seen statistics that about 50% of Catholic priests are sexually active.  There are 4 priests here now.  Statistically speaking, that means 2 of you are probably sexually active.  According to moral theology, you two break the same commandment as divorced and remarried people.  However, not only do you get to receive communion, you get to consecrate the hosts!

Him: But such priests do this in secret!!!!

Me: Which is more reprehensible!  Secrecy gave us the abuse scandal, didn't it?  Besides, it's not a secret.  People tend to know.

Him: (a more frightened deer in headlights look...)

Me:  Tell me truthfully, do you know multiple priests who are currently sexually active?

Him: (stunned look)

Me: So, you'd be lying if you told me "no" wouldn't you?  And, thus, it's not a secret is it?

Him: (chuckling in a very sheepish rather than shepherd-ish way) Welllllllll......

Me: Well nothing.  They're sexually active... they break the same commandment as divorcees.  Commandment number 6 covers all sex-related sins.  Same commandment.  Same sin.  But nobody is talking about refusing communion to all these sexually active priests.

Him: But married people take a vow; their marriage is a sacrament - a sacramental promise.  Or don't you consider marriage sacramental?  Do you just want to dismiss it as something trivial?

Me: (With look of disbelief at his seeming disconnect from his own priestly sacramental situation...) And......wasn't your ordination a sacrament?  Didn't your sacramental promises include celibacy with implied chastity?  Or don't you consider your ordination as a sacrament?  Was it just something trivial?  By the way, you know what my bishop calls sexually active priests?  He says they have "celibacy lapses"...  Lapses!  Like it's as insignificant as forgetting to take out the trash.  Maybe that's all divorced and remarried people are having too..."lapses."

Him: But....

Me: But, don't you think we should hold church leaders to a higher standard than the laity?

Him: Ummmmm.....

Me:  Isn't this a special category of hypocrisy where the clerics fuss and sputter about the splinter in others' eyes rather than worrying about the big, huge, honking log in their own eyes?

Him:  Ummmmmmmmmm......

Me:  Yes, "um."  We will be attending a diocesan Mass this weekend and there will be at least 100 clergy present; so likely 50 of them will be sexually active, breaking their sacramental promises, violating the 6th commandment.  But they will all get to receive communion without question and even con-celebrate consecrating the hosts.

Him:  But should the church not have any laws or rules?

Me: Well, I think we should stop using communion as a doggie treat to reward good behavior and instead use it as a balm to heal the wounded.  Did or did not Jesus give communion to Judas?

Him: Um, yeah he did.

Me: I'm o.k. with laws but I think they should hold leaders to higher standards.  So, how about this law?  No communion for sexually active priests. And definitely no consecrating the Eucharist for them.

Him: But....but.....but

Me:  Why not?  Same commandment; same infraction; you guys should be up for at least the same consequences...  If you were credible leaders, you'd want more severe punishments for yourselves than for the laity.

Different priest:  But, I'm a man 24x7 and I have the feelings of a man all day every day.  I have needs and urges.

Me: (Thinking to myself, "Methinks before me is one of those sexually active priests...")  And divorced laypeople do not have these same needs and urges?  And did you or did you not get ordained with full awareness of the celibate state and its....

Same different priest: (finishing my sentence and sounding a bit dejected that the light-bulb in his brain turned on) Its implied chastity...

Me: Bingo!

I continue to be amazed at grown men whose reasoning powers yield logic akin to when my kids were little and they thought I could not see them if they covered their eyes with a blanket.  I tell such priests as I would tell my kids, "I seeeeeee you..."

But I am utterly disgusted that the hierarchy continues to reward people who operate in secrecy, delusionally thinking no one sees their shortcomings...while punishing people who live their lives honestly in the open.  You are not credible guardians of truth if you cannot tell it or live it.

So, my dear church hierarchy, I don't want to hear any more about trying to justify withholding communion from divorced and remarried Catholics until after sexually active clergy are wholesale banned from receiving and consecrating the Eucharist.  Plain and simple: until you are willing to treat sexually active clergy the same as divorced and remarried laypeople, this is a non-issue.  Communion for everyone!  Full stop.

How about you concentrate on substantive issues like including women as voting members of your gathering, empowering women since they are 70% of people in poverty, or re-instating married clergy and the ordination of women as deacons? 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

With whom the pope meets...

The soap opera around, "Did he? Didn't he? Did she? Didn't she" seems to be fading as the Vatican claims Pope Francis' meeting with Kim Davis did not endorse her behavior refusing to issue same sex couples marriage licenses.  And now his meeting with an openly gay man and that man's longtime partner are paraded before us as evidence to refute any political intentions on Francis' part by meeting with Kim.

Whatever....  I think the pope can meet with whomever he wants.  Jesus met with all sorts of people: saints, sinners and social pariahs all the time.  I applaud anyone willing to receive any human being with Christ-like, humble, non-judgmental hospitality.  That we could all have genuine warmth towards all people...

That being said, I do question why, despite requests, he did not meet with Catholic women ordained as priests.  Why didn't he meet with any of the plethora of sanctioned and excommunicated people in this country - enduring marginalization due to their support of women priests?  Just curious....

I also question Francis' dismissive and patronizing statements about women made during his homeward flight press conference.  On one hand he calls for and lauds conscientious objection while in the same press conference he repeats his unwillingness to engage in his signature "dialogue" activities regarding women's ordination...with some of those pesky conscientious objectors to unjust hierarchical edicts.  Irony...or perhaps hypocrisy.

He repeated his call for a "theology of women" and joked about not having done a darn thing about it like actually reviewing the compendium of female theologians' works that already begin to describe such a theology.  He found time to meet Kim but not meet with any one of the many outstanding female theologians living in the U.S. who could help him make his wish about a "theology of women" a reality.  Elizabeth Johnson, Joan Chittister, Mary Hunt, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and Elisabeth Scussler Fiorenza are a few who come to mind.  Many live in the very geographic localities Francis visited.

Perhaps he prefers talking to regular folk versus professional theologians.  I did extend multiple invitations to meet and discuss this very topic beginning with a request in my Christmas card last year...which I know arrived because I got a nice impersonal acknowledgment of its arrival.  Yet, his schedule evidently was too packed to spend time with such women though he claims they are more important than men in the important that he could not squeeze in one meeting on the topic...  

There is a saying that people show their true priorities by voting with their time...  Women and their theology are so important that Francis admits to spending zero hours working on it in the two or so years since he said it was so gosh darned important.  Oh....ok, I see very clearly now how important it is.  Thanks.

It makes me wonder if his encounter with Kim went something like this, "Little daughter, be glad you live in America rather than my country.  I expel conscientious objectors and refuse them the bread of life.  Here you only get a few days in prison, some press, and many wealthy right-wing friends...look, you even get a meeting with me, Mr. Papal Popularity!  Trust me, I do not meet with people who conscientiously object to laws of my organization.  Look at my schedule...not a one on the list."

"But, do not worry; in my country you would not be allowed such a position of authority anyway.  We only let men dressed in medieval gowns, many of whom are gay and have longtime homosexual lovers but pretend to renounce sex, living emprisoned by centuries of flawed understanding about human sexuality, make such important decisions.  You would not be troubled by having to make such big decisions in my organization.  Maybe you want to lessen your stress and move to the Vatican where the biggest decision you will have to make is what brush to use to scrub our toilets, or what broom to use to sweep our floors.  One or two ply toilet tissue? Percale or jersey sheets for the beds?  Coffee or tea?  Snacks or no snacks for the meeting?  See how easy it is?"

"Anyway, we in the Catholic hierarchy are masters at professing one thing and doing the opposite.  Here, let me get you the names of some clergymen; they can give you some nice lessons and tips on how to live in duplicity.  But, seriously give it some thought to move to my country."

I look forward to the day Francis engages in meaningful dialogue with conscientious objectors to Canon Law.  I would happily rearrange my calendar for such a discussion.  

As a side note, I work for one of the top companies for women and this week, one of my daughters' employers was also named as one of the top places for women to work.  Maybe Francis could consult with award winning secular business leaders for advice on treating women...

Second side note before the die-hard Francis fans complain, acknowledging his short-comings around women does not negate his good works with the poor.  However, his good works around the poor do not negate his flaws dealing with women either.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Reflections on the Pope's visit to the U.S.

My last night in China, I stayed up well past bedtime to watch Pope Francis address the U.S. Congress.  I noted both what he said and what he didn’t say.  He explicitly called for a global end to the death penalty and arms sales.  He explicitly called for welcoming immigrants, tending the environment and caring for the poor.  He explicitly spoke of the perils of child abuse.  He never uttered the words, “abortion,” “birth control,” “Obamacare,” “Planned Parenthood,” or “gay marriage.” 

I had to settle for reading the transcript of his homily to U.S. bishops in D.C. in which he congratulated and thanked the bishops for their actions around the clergy sex abuse scandals without offering any encouragement to abuse survivors.  Yet, most abuse survivors and many lay people find the bishops’ individual and collective actions on this topic to span between cowardly and dastardly…not even close to the “courageous” description ascribed by Francis.

It seemed the connection between Francis’ child abuse comments to Congress and the lifelong wounds arising from clergy-inflicted child sexual abuse eluded Francis.  In declaring the bishops’ response “courageous” and speaking of the issue as though concluded while so many abuse survivors still constantly battle abuse ramifications, Francis displayed appalling insensitivity.  He evaded institutional responsibility to walk in healing restitution with survivors every day, every step of their lives.

While reading that homily I was also struck by Francis’ seeming assumption that the bishops and clergy are penultimate experts on and purveyors of gospel messages – and that they just tirelessly need to be gentle until the (clueless, sad, miserable) sheep finally catch on to their wonderful messages.  This, would bring about healing in the church, he seemed to say.  That and the clergy abuse comments made me wonder about Francis’ institutional self-awareness. 

Lots of laypeople have a stronger understanding of gospel messages than the bishops, and better and more joyfully imitate Jesus than them.  Many very faith-filled people cannot bring themselves to follow the bishops because they find the bishops worshipping a god too weak to call women to priesthood, too weak to allow re-examination of human sexuality teachings based upon millennia-old flawed science, too weak to require admission and correction of the church’s collective institutional sins, and in general too weak to allow rethinking anything about which the hierarchy have declared themselves to be “absolutely correct.”  Actually, it seems sometimes they mistake themselves for God and worship themselves and their utterances – and this many people mightily and rightly reject.  Consequently, many people do not follow the bishops – not because these people reject the gospel - but because they think the bishops do.  

A very powerful example rests in this week's gospel reading (Mark 9:38-40), which denudes the bishops' Canon Law demonizing women priests.  "John said to him, 'Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.' Jesus replied, 'Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.'"  That gospel passage makes it impossible to denounce people of either gender who work to spread God's love.  If the bishops do, they merely repeat the apostles' mistakes from centuries ago.

The combination of my international travel during Francis’ U.S. visit, just generally not allowing the pope to occupy idol status in my life, and his remarks starting to sound highly repetitious account for me oscillating between watching or listening live and relying upon catching clips or reading transcripts of his remarks and homilies.  Therefore, I know I’ve not heard every word he’s said.

However, what I did read was him telling the bishops to dialogue and not fear dialogue.  He repeated this theme when speaking to Congress.  I also heard him say at Independence Hall, “…it is imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others.”  

Therefore, Francis, following your instructions I must join the many voices – those of the majority of Catholics, many of whom could only reconcile their consciences by leaving the flock – calling for the end to Catholic church injustices. 

In the name of ending church injustices against clergy abuse survivors, I call for removal of every bishop who harbored abusive priests.  I call for Canon Law to classify such bishops as committing a grave delict.  I call for your regular dialogue with abuse survivors - towards curing insensitivity.  I insist monies hidden to avoid paying restitution be recovered and distributed to survivors to aid in their healing process.

In the name of ending church injustices against women, I call for the de-classification of women’s ordination as a grave delict.  I insist you actively dialogue on women’s ordination, birth control, and all church human sexuality teachings that are based upon false science.  I call for cessation of the church grooming girls to fill gender stereotyped roles.   

Also, in the name of ending injustices against women caused by extreme religious fundamentalism, I call for the U.S. bishops to stop blocking female Catholic institution employees’ access to menstrual cycle regulating medications.  These tools which have helped countless women conceive, which have helped countless women avoid chronic excruciating pain, which have prevented countless hysterectomies; which have saved countless women’s lives must not be demonized nor should those who use them.

Still in the name of ending injustices against women, I insist that the U.S. bishops stop this bullying tactic towards controlling women’s bodies – the one braying this nonsensical “religious liberty” slogan.  The bishops must stop portraying themselves as persecuted American Christians - because they just aren’t.  One-third of this country’s federal legislators are Catholic; the Secretary of State is Catholic; multiple Speakers of the House have been Catholic; the vice-president is Catholic; two-thirds of the Supreme Court is Catholic, and the worldwide leader of the Catholic Church addressed the U.S. Congress!  Furthermore, the worldwide Catholic leader is enjoying celebrity status, meeting with the President, having parades thrown in his honor, costing taxpayers millions of dollars to host, and receiving almost non-stop and overwhelmingly positive press coverage!  What does “religious tolerance” look like if not this?  Must the bishops have full tyrannical control before they stop claiming “religious persecution?”

Well, I again find myself staying up past my bedtime but this time partially inspired by the pope’s visit and partially attributable to jetlag.  I hope Pope Francis has enjoyed visiting my country – very free from any persecution.  I thank him for consistently repeating messages advocating for the environment, peace, immigrants and the poor.  And, I hope he recovers faster from his jetlag than I am from mine.

However, I anxiously await him following his own advice to end religion-based injustices, especially against clergy abuse survivors and women.  He can begin by having regular dialogues with abuse survivors and women.  He can reinstate people excommunicated for supporting women’s ordination and redistribute hidden funds to abuse survivors.  He can re-establish the ordination of women as deacons and discuss ordaining women priests.  He can drop the absolute ban on birth control.  He can announce a concerted effort re-working Catholic teachings on human sexuality that rest upon foundations of false science.  Finally, he can remove bishops who harbored abusive clergy and in their places appoint bishops who show true courage engaging in sincere, meaningful dialogue versus sanctioning those with whom they disagree. 

The Church’s glaring, painful wounds, which in turn contribute to global ills, will not heal without fostering dialogue and recognizing rights within the organization.  Loving people requires knowing them.  Knowing them requires talking to them.  Knowing and loving them precludes denying them rights. None of these can occur from a rigid hierarchical perch but can only emerge from a position of humility and equality. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Francis, poor women need your help

I don't write for many weeks and then I have articles on back to back days.  The timing of today's article is inspired by an email I received this morning from the Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC), the lobbying organization for the Catholic bishops of Michigan.  

As background to readers from outside the U.S., there is an effort afoot to end US federal funding for a group called Planned Parenthood.  This organization is one of the primary women's healthcare providers for poor women in the U.S.   3% of their services are abortion and by law they cannot use federal funds for abortions.  The majority of their services are related to women's reproductive care and the New England Journal of Medicine attributes the organization's family planning services with actually reducing the number of abortions.

However, there are extremists who oppose abortion that undertook a smear campaign, falsifying videos and accusing the organization of trafficking aborted baby bodies.  Now they seek to defund the organization completely.

At the encouragement of my father, below is a response I emailed moments ago to my bishop and his communication director. For context I also include the note I received from the communication director encouraging me to contact my elected officials asking them to vote to defund this organization. Maybe people would like to contact their representative and express their own opinion on this issue.  The link to a response form is included in the note from the diocese.  However, it appears that if you use it, your message first goes to the MCC.  I think I will just directly communicate with my rep.

All I can say is, Francis, poor women need your help...

My Response:

Dear Mike and Bp Earl,

I send you warm greetings this beautiful day.  However, I do need to comment on this note I received from Mike.

The content of this note fanning flames around videos known to have fabricated and false evidence is unacceptable behavior from an organization that says it is not only a staunch defender of truth but the ultimate defender of truth.  You are not credible guardians of truth if you do not tell it. I expect more from you as leaders.  Please expect more from yourselves too.

If you cannot achieve your objectives via strict adherence to facts, then perhaps you drive your agenda vs God's?  

Here is a link for fact checking about Planned Parenthood. 

As you can see, federal funds cannot be used for an abortion at Planned Parenthood.  Thus, your argument seems empty.

Furthermore, abortion constitutes about 3% of Planned Parenthood services.  Why are you fixated on defunding Planned Parenthood completely?  Why do you wish to defund the primary source of female healthcare services for poor women?  What is your proposed alternative to offer them care?  Please do elaborate.  I am interested in your solutions advocating for poor women, especially on the cusp of a visit from Pope Francis who cares so deeply, passionately and tenderly for the poor.  In the absence of offering an alternative healthcare option for poor women, it is difficult to see this as anything other than a sexist, misogynist move veiled in moral concern.

Your priorities confuse me greatly and I know church leaders worry a great deal about not causing confusion.  Therefore I know you will want to consider this confusion you inspire.  The federal budget includes well over $500 Billion for military.  The Planned Parenthood federal funding is roughly around $500 Million.  It would seem to me, as Christians representing the Prince of Peace, you would exert 1,000 times more effort and outrage at 1,000 times more funding going to the military than towards healthcare services for poor women.

By the way, the New England Journal of Medicine attributes Planned Parenthood, not strident Catholic organizations working feverishly spreading misinformation, as a key reason abortion rates have dropped in the U.S.  This is due to their family planning services.  Please see the end of paragraph 2.

I wish you the peace of Christ, the wisdom of the Spirit and the love of God.

The original email from the MCC:

The Michigan Catholic Conference has just sent out the message below via the Bishops' Catholic Advocacy Network.  Please follow the link at the end of the message to contact your U.S. Representative.

Legislation is expected to come before the U.S. House of Representatives this week that would eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood of America and its affiliates. Planned Parenthood receives over half a billion taxpayer dollars a year and performs over a third of all abortions around the United States. Recently, a number of undercover videos show officials from the organization willing to participate in the trafficking of fetal organs and tissue, as well as to alter the abortion procedure to obtain more "intact" parts. Taxpayer dollars should not be supporting an organization with these practices.

In particular, House Resolution 3134 places a moratorium on funding for Planned Parenthood for one year and is on the agenda for the House Rules Committee this Wednesday evening. A vote of the full House is expected shortly thereafter.

Take a few minutes now to let your U.S. Representative know that H.R. 3134 and similar legislation such as H.R. 3301 should be adopted into law. Thank you in advance for your efforts on behalf of the unborn.

Michigan Catholic Conference

Click the link below to log in and send your message: 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Dear Pope Francis, regarding mercy and forgiveness...

Dear Pope Francis,

First, I have to rescind rescinding my offer for you to visit my home while in the U.S.  Turns out I’ll be here in the U.S. that Saturday and Sunday after all!   I can take you to a very special U.S. “religious” event – an American university football match on Saturday.  I have 2 extra tickets for that day’s game at my alma mater so you can even bring a friend.  Saturday doesn’t work?  How about Sunday dinner?  I’ll try my hand at making empanadas.  Travel an issue?  No place to park the “Shepherd One” aircraft or your pope-mobile in my humble town?  Say the word and I’ll fly to see you in Philly and even try practicing my Spanish so we don’t exclusively communicate in English.  I’m very sincere in all my offers.

Anyway, with that expression of hospitality done, allow me to comment on something.  Francis, forgiveness, true forgiveness, does not emerge from believing you are the “better” person but from realizing that you are “no better” person - likewise for extending true mercy.  To “forgive” or show “mercy” based upon a presumed position of superiority reflects condescension more than forgiveness or mercy.  Such “forgiveness” and “mercy” devolves even further when that sense of superiority invents the shortcomings being “forgiven” and the process for obtaining "forgiveness." 

Maybe this hypothetical example helps illustrate my point.  Let’s say I declare people must eat at my home or they suffer eternal damnation.  Let’s say I also declare that switching football team allegiances constitutes a grave sin, accuse you of committing this sin, and then forbid you from eating at my home because of it.  However, in my “benevolence and concern” I declare you are still welcome to visit my home but just not eat because starvation might inspire you to realize how wrong you are.  Small side note: Hypothetically let’s also say I myself have vowed to never become a fan of any football team.  I don’t even like the game of football.  Instead, I’m a cricket fan, am actually team captain…and have changed cricket teams numerous times.

Though I switch cricket teams more frequently than most people change smoke detector batteries, to receive my forgiveness for switching football team allegiances, I create rules that you must first submit a 13-page application for my forgiveness explaining why you were so misguided as to do this.  You must also pay me a $200 - $1,000 application processing fee, have four sworn witnesses submit corroborating justification for your limited mental faculties resulting in this behavior, and be interviewed by a panel of my friends who mostly also have vowed to never become football fans and are sworn cricket captains who have changed teams several times.  As a matter of fact, most members on my panel of judges have never participated in a football match in their entire lives and, like me, know almost nothing of the game. 

Once I receive all this paperwork, I will notify your former football team that you are filing for forgiveness and ask them to respond.  If they don’t respond, then … maybe we can proceed with your forgiveness application…it just depends….  If they respond and don’t support you seeking this forgiveness, then…well…it sucks to be you…because this could drag out for years and I might never forgive you.  If they respond and do support your application for forgiveness, then depending upon the ruling of my panel of mostly football ignorant judges, you might receive preliminary approval for forgiveness in 12-18 months.  Final approval depends upon a second panel of equally unqualified judges reviewing your entire application.  That could also take months.  Please be patient though. We are all praying for you!!

Now imagine that someone announces he is simplifying this process, making it more merciful.  Yet, all of the above must still occur with these noted exceptions:  Your application fee is reduced to cover only true processing costs, your forgiveness verdict does not need a second panel of judicial review, and final judgment for forgiveness comes from one judge who must have vowed to never be a football fan.  Are you feeling the mercy and seeing the simplicity yet?  Me neither…

Yet, what I just described greatly parallels your motu propio modifying the marriage annulment process.  Currently in the U.S., to receive an annulment the petitioner must complete a 13-page form, pay $200 - $1,000 depending on the diocese, secure witnesses and have them submit forms, be interviewed by church personnel, have their former spouse be contacted for response, and all this paperwork submitted to a tribunal of mostly clergy judges (men who have vowed never to marry yet who consider their vocation as a “marriage” with their parish…and subsequently change parishes several times in their career without needing to seek an annulment from previous parishes) who will provide the initial ruling regarding the nullity of the marriage.  That ruling is required to undergo review by a second tribunal of mostly clergy (more men who have vowed never to marry yet who have changed parishes to which they are “married” several times). 

Your edict removes the requirement for the second review and suggests lowering the fee to cover only true administrative costs.   However, it also states that judgment must now come from a single tribunal judge and this person must be a cleric, unless I misunderstand this statement: “The constitution of a single judge in the first instance, who shall always be a cleric, is placed under the responsibility of the Bishop, who, in the pastoral exercise of his own proper judicial power shall guarantee ...”   

That last change has been overlooked by most people perhaps because they assume all tribunal judges are already priests.  Yet, currently females can serve as tribunal judges. Why do you say you want more important roles for women but your actions here do the exact opposite?

I thought you despised clericalism and felt too many powers lie exclusively in the clergy’s hands already. Why add to the list?  Why insist that avowed unmarried people are the only qualified people to rule on marriages?  Here’s just one example giving cause to my concerns about placing all annulment powers in clergy hands.  Just two weeks ago, I sat through a homily by a clueless priest laughing, yes laughing, as he said he counseled people suffering in abusive marriages that they should consider the abuse a blessing because God was teaching them patience and charity.  How many women continue to suffer physical, sexual and emotional abuse because clueless priests like the one I just described make them feel too guilty to leave abusive marriages?  Issuing that misplaced guilt is beyond shameful; it is sinful.  Chastise the abuser not the abused seeking refuge, if you must chastise someone.  You seem to take a merciful stance with Syrian refugees who are being abused… 

I went through the annulment process almost two decades ago, receiving my annulment in what I’m told was record time (about 7 months).  Frankly, I’m underwhelmed by your changes.  I assume since I resemble your target market on this, you’d appreciate my feedback.  Therefore, here are some things that I would have found truly merciful simplifications. 

  1. Stop using communion as a treat for people you consider well-behaved…for any reason.
  2. Require divorced and remarried people to undergo the same process that priests require when they divorce one parish and remarry another…. Oh, that’s nothing?  O.K.  Sounds simple, merciful and equitable, to me.
  3. If you retain an annulment process, how about requiring married people to act as judges?  Better yet, how about requiring that the judges be people who have received an annulment themselves?
  4. Permit clergy to marry and then only married clergy can be marriage tribunal judges. (By the way, with women's increasing earning power, this might save the church a bundle.  Wife makes more than priest spouse...they are devout...priest doesn't take a salary from the church...doesn't need healthcare benefits...they can pay their own housing and food bills...priest car allowance not insurance paid by wife's income, etc....  The exact opposite situation for going to strict unmarried clergy now exists.  Originally the move occurred to protect church property from being divided amongst priests' heirs.  Now, women can actually relieve the church's material requirements for supporting priests.)
  5. How about shortening the application form to one page?  I’d even be happy with a reduction to 5 pages. How about putting the form online and allowing it to be submitted electronically with automated workflow and cognitive analytics that provide the recommended ruling?  Thus the judge only needs to review the recommended ruling and justification – tremendously expediting the process and introducing a high degree of ruling consistency.
  6. Fees?  Eliminate them completely, even the “administrative” ones.

Anyway, in the meantime while you consider my suggestions, please stop calling minor alterations to an invented process for an invented infraction penalty “merciful” or “simple.”  And please stop calling anything “merciful” when you act from a position of superiority versus equality.

Hope to hear from you while you’re in my country but if not, I wish you safe travels, an unvarnished view of my country, and the wisdom and courage to do and say what God desires.

Yours in Christ,

The “ewe”

As an aside to my blog readers: sorry for the long lapse in writing.  I've had an abnormally intense global travel schedule in the past few months.