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. 


  1. Holy Cow, Ewe, how can we get YOUR clear statements out there? You have articulated the truth in this scorching letter. Tell us how we can help. RS

  2. Absolutely 'right on'. How can we turn the ship (the establishment) around?
    What's the key that will turn the lock? Oh, that the blind may see and the deaf may hear!!

  3. This is quite a letter this time. Go for it Girl!