Wednesday, August 18, 2021

God Gives Us Science Too


I am genuinely sorry that as of this writing, Cardinal Raymond Burke has succumbed to COVID-19 and breathes via a ventilator.  I wish him well.


I learned of his illness via an email from Catholic Healthcare International (CHI), an organization embraced by Cardinal Burke which wants to build within my diocese a “peaceful pilgrimage site” devoted to Padre Pio.  This pilgrimage site hopes to be a veritable piety amusement park wherein one can partake of numerous pious activities all in one convenient location:

1.     Gaze upon a life size statue of a saint (Padre Pio)

2.     Visit a replica chapel of Rome’s Padre Pio chapel  

3.     Enjoy an outdoor grotto with a mural portraying this same chapel

4.     Pray the stations of the cross outdoors

5.     Walk and meditate along three scenic walking trails


The organization says it hopes the pilgrimage site inspires needed prayers so that they can ultimately build an entire healthcare related campus there including:

1.     A “Home for the Relief of Suffering” hospital

2.     A “truly Catholic medical school that will be fully faithful to the Magisterium of the Church”

3.     A public policy center related to healthcare

4.     A Terry Schiavo Home for the Brain Injured

Based upon the substantial capital needed to build these structures, I suspect a very serious objective of the pilgrimage site is also to generate funding to build their broader campus.  Thus, I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to buy copious amounts of religious souvenirs or just plunk down a wad of cash for the cause.  They might even take a personal check or credit card donation.


I cannot let the irony escape mention that Ray Burke, a man who has a history of spouting premium-grade scientifically void bullshit about the important healthcare topic of COVID-19, wants to jump headfirst into healthcare by building a hospital and starting a medical school.  It’s a safe assumption that his influential position amongst the uber-pious means his trumpeting COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, such as that it “implants microchips in people” so they “can be controlled by the state,” has deterred more than a few people from becoming vaccinated.  I can imagine this has had an impact on the resurgence of the virus and virus-related deaths. I don’t know about y’all but that’s a “hard pass” for me on wanting to be treated at a healthcare facility or by any professional taking medical guidance from someone whose utterances repeatedly belie a rejection of science while embracing and propagating false medical information. 


Gosh, can we hope that the proposed medical school would regress to teaching old-timey favorites like Aristotelian biology and the four humors?  I know how much the hierarchy depends upon Aristotelian biology to marginalize and discriminate against women.  Only problem is that key facets of Aristotelian biology have also been proven incomplete or false.  That’s the thing about science and medicine.  They keep seeking truth by making adjustments based upon new findings and understandings.  However, when you put on a pointy hat, plant your crosier in the ground and declare infallibly and immutably such and such is a “truth,” it doesn’t actually allow room for the truth.  It creates a fear of the truth.  That’s likely why Ray and his groupies fear science and medicine and spread misinformation about it.   


Side note to Ray and his fan club: the commandment against bearing false witness remains in full effect and Ray’s propagating false information falls squarely within that realm.  Furthermore, spreading false information that leads to anyone else's demise probably also violates the commandment against killing people.


I must confess that CHI’s endeavors have indeed already inspired my prayers because I pray to God that no one educated in medicine who must first bow and kiss rings and possibly the asses of prelates espousing medical advice from the “University of Kooky Conservative Social Media Memes” is ever permitted to practice medicine on anyone anywhere in the universe.  I also pray that my bishop stops lending his endorsement and support to such a project.  (Don’t make me regret the nice things I said about you last year, early on in the COVID pandemic.) 


I didn’t think that huffing too much incense caused brain damage, but I’m starting to wonder….


In all seriousness, my bishop is a smart, educated man, having earned a PhD in Church History.  But my daughter and son-in-law also are smart, educated doctors and, thus far, they have not yet – not even once - needed to refer to Eusebius’ “History of the Church” to treat a patient.  Just like you don’t want my daughter or son-in-law (especially not my daughter because – you know – girl cooties) to write homilies or Canon Law because it’s outside of their area of training and expertise, please dear bishops, dispense with the hubris of practicing medicine without a medical license or worse yet, of trying to gain legitimate medical credentials for people who practice medicine only according to how you think science should work. 


Had Cardinal Burke only had access to healthcare based upon scientific advances throughout history which aligned to his uninformed views of medicine and science, it’s unlikely that he’d have the ventilator which is currently keeping him alive.  (And my hope is that by the time this is published and read by folks, he’s still alive.)  When are the uber-pious hierarchy members and their followers going to accept that God gave us science too? 


I’m not even going to get into the hypocrisy of Cardinal Burke having access to expensive healthcare services while he fervently supports political candidates who think healthcare is not a universal right and instead should be meted out according to people’s ability to pay.  Nor shall I delve into a similar hypocrisy of the Cardinal railing against wealthy people donating money to fund certain healthcare programs while he is able to pay for his expensive healthcare due to socialistic pooling of money which is redirected to him via the Church.  Of course, the hierarchy happily redirects money from the wealthy or the poor towards themselves, so at least in this regard, they do not discriminate against the poor.


Currently the property where CHI hopes to build this pious amusement park and University of Memes Medical School is zoned for agriculture and country estates.  Therefore, establishing a place of worship on that property requires granting a special use permit.  Please note the word “special” which implies, they are not entitled to this permit.  Rightly so, local residents are concerned about potential increased traffic and noise that would arise from a pilgrimage site.  Therefore, the township board has rejected CHI’s zoning use exception for even just the pilgrimage site.  I’m not sure if CHI has been upfront about the full medical complex they hope to create there.  However, that definitely would increase traffic and noise.  And, if CHI wasn't forthright about their full set of plans for the site, again, that's violating the commandment against bearing false witness. 


Predictably, CHI has filed suit against the township board claiming violation of their religious liberty.  As is currently common amongst the uber pious in this country, they believe not getting their way equates to persecution.  My children when they were toddlers felt the same way.  However, just like my kids were not persecuted when they didn’t always get their way, CHI isn’t being persecuted either.


I pray that the special use permit continues to be denied and that the courts uphold this decision.  Look at that – another fervent prayer inspired by this whole project!


Again, in all seriousness, I am disturbed that rather than invest in the existing outstanding Catholic medical schools and hospitals which embrace and advance science and medicine such as Georgetown University, University of Notre Dame, Boston College, and about 50 other Catholic universities with medical schools, in addition to Ascension, St. Joseph, Trinity and dozens of other Catholic healthcare systems, the Cardinal and CHI wish to create a parallel system for medical training and healthcare practice.  My guess is they eventually hope to side-step the credentialing requirements of the American Medical Association (AMA) for those doctors trained by them wishing to practice in their hospitals and thus, operate outside of the mainstream governing bodies for medicine and healthcare.   


I hypothesize about CHI eventually hoping to sidestep credentialing governance because currently to become a licensed doctor, one must be able to perform an abortion.  Common medical situations such as a miscarriage (medically referred to as a spontaneous abortion) require this procedure and about 20% of pregnancies result in miscarriage by week 20 of gestation.  The AMA thinks any doctor should be able to competently address this common occurrence.  There are numerous other situations involving women’s health and end-of-life care about which people like Cardinal Burke make uninformed pronouncements based upon a lot of emotionally charged catch phrases.   I think it is a tragic day for women’s health the day that CHI gets to operate their medical school.


Is this inspiring you to pray too?


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Sunday, April 11, 2021

"...And there was no needy person among them"

I thought about going to Mass today because I’ve recently completed my COVID vaccination series but decided against it due to living in the worst outbreak hotspot currently in my country…something about not wanting to inadvertently act as a plague vector though not being able to attend Mass in over a year.  Side note: Unlike many folks, I actually enjoy attending Mass and before COVID was among the Catholic minority attending weekly Mass and the even smaller minority attending daily Mass.  I opted to write a blog article instead.  Hopefully I chose wisely.


This Sunday, the first after Easter, always features the “doubting Thomas” gospel.  I’ve written twice before in 2011 and  in 2013 about how countless clergy over the centuries spin this narrative towards painting  the fearful herd sitting in a locked room, avoiding the dreaded “other” (in this case the Jews) as being more virtuous than Thomas, who was out actually imitating Christ without fear of his fellow humans.  My experience is today’s clergy’s behavior increasingly parallels that of the petrified pious pack featured in today’s gospel reading.  So perhaps clergy’s message spinning is their self-exoneration reflex for the power they wield, largely due to fanning flames of fear - of God’s created world and humans.


However, rather than exclusively comment on the gospel reading, let's also look at the second reading, Acts 4:32-35 which reads thusly:


The community of believers was of one heart and mind,

and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own,

but they had everything in common.

With great power the apostles bore witness

to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,

and great favor was accorded them all.

There was no needy person among them,

for those who owned property or houses would sell them,

bring the proceeds of the sale,

and put them at the feet of the apostles,

and they were distributed to each according to need.


This passage counts among those that most influence my daily lived faith.  I sometimes quote from it without offering the citation.  Specifically, I’ll say something like, “…they had everything in common…there was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them…and the proceeds were distributed to each according to need.”  The more pious the Catholic and/or the more Republican the hearer, the more likely the other person incorrectly guesses Karl Marx rather than St. Luke as the quote’s source.


Let's look at the gospel and Acts passages together now.  By painting the nervous, judgmental and withdrawn crowd as the most virtuous, and having the present-day apostles subsequently imitate that isolation and apprehension, it makes for an en masse perversion of living that passage from Acts.  Church leaders’ power is derived from fearmongering rather than from fearlessly bearing witness to the resurrected Christ via care for the needs of all people.  They mostly fear for their self-preservation.



Lots of folks donate to their church as their way of living this passage from Acts, believing the clergy will funnel their donations to help other humans.  A group called Charity Navigator rates the health and transparency of charitable organizations.  They do not rate churches, but we can look at their assessment criteria to help us evaluate churches as effective charities, as perhaps, effectively living Acts chapter 4. 


Based upon Acts 4, the gospels, and also by reputation, we should be able to categorize churches as human services charities.  According to Charity Navigator’s rating table on finances, human services charities getting the highest rating direct 92% or more towards human services programs and spend only 0-3% of income on administrative overhead.  


But what do church leaders, fearful about self-preservation, actually do with that donated money?  In many parishes, most if not all of that donated money goes to the church institution itself – self-preservation: salaries, buildings, schools, etc…  Though the parish may have something like a St. Vincent de Paul society offering food, clothing or financial support, those organizations are not funded by the parish.   For example, a few years ago, I was an officer of a local St. Vincent de Paul chapter and people approaching the local parish seeking financial assistance were invariably sent to us.  However, exactly $0 in funding was sent to us from the parish coffers. 


My current parish does actually give to charity, towards “distributing to each according to need.”  Based on my experience being a Catholic for more than half a century, this parish is in the minority.  But, since it is an example, let’s examine their annual report.  It spends 2.2% not on overhead but on human services.  It spends the vast majority on itself, its administration, its buildings, etc… Were churches rated by Charity Navigator as human services organizations, they might find themselves as the topic of an advisory bulletin issued by the organization, warning people that their money does not get used as assumed.


This is not unique to Catholic parishes.  Look at the skew of monies your congregation spends on the organization itself versus on caring for other humans, regardless of your faith tradition or denomination.  If monies are primarily spent perpetuating the organization itself, then people’s donations are funding a spiritual country club, designed for members to feel better about themselves rather than to see that “there was no needy person among them.”


Donating to a church offers a lazy outlet to pat oneself on the back while claiming imitation of Christ, when in fact, it pretty much moves money from a person’s left pocket to their right pocket.  It’s all about benefiting the donor through institutional self-preservation. 


Worshiping Jesus by attending church or praise services is much easier than imitating Jesus because Jesus wasn’t about self-preservation.  Imitation involves completely letting go of one’s money to feed, house, clothe and provide dignity to people regardless of how they came to be in their financial situation.  It requires examining and fixing systems that consistently produce disparate outcomes based upon skin color, religious affiliation or gender.  How are you imitating Jesus to ensure there is no needy person in your midst?


What do you think?  Should I have foregone writing today and made myself a possible plague vector or did I choose ok?