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.