Category: Beliefs

The Hope Which Springs Eternal Within the Human Breast

The title for this posting was stolen (like in baseball) from a classic poem I memorized in grammar school, Casey at the Bat [LINK] by Ernest Lawrence Thayer. He in turn stole (like in plagiarism) the line from an essay On Man by Alexander . Just in case you can’t remember the poem, or sadly never heard of , here is a brief summary. The baseball fans of Mudville, who were watching their team lose that day, were divided into two groups, the “struggling few (who) got up to go leaving there the rest” and the loyal fans who stayed because of their belief in the “hope that springs eternal within the human breast”; and they were counting on to whack out a homerun and win the day for the Mudville Nine. If you want to know the outcome of the game, click on the link above.

It seems to me that in some ways, many of us are waiting for “a like” person or movement to fulfill the hope that Vatican II inspired for s in the church. If we’re one of those, I think we need to listen to the wise sage Pogo, who said in a 1971 cartoon, “We have met the enemy and it is US![LINK]  Pogo’s statement has become a universal truth that applies to most organizations, including the church. Like many others, I believe that the laity is the key to change.  Having aired our grievances, and recognized that we are part of the problem, we need to keep hope alive. We all need to become change agents and not just “leave it up to George”. This commentary will focus on those who believe that “hope springs eternal…”, and are willing and able to follow Pogo’s challenge to be part of the solution. In my next blog I will focus on sources of hopelessness.

SOURCES of HOPE

“Every area of trouble gives out a ray of hope; and the one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is certain or unchangeable.” John Fitzgerald Kennedy

I don’t intend to use “hope” in the biblical or theological sense, as in Faith, and Charity, but in a more everyday way, as in “ is the belief in what is possible and the expectation of things to come.”  Or as St. Augustine of Hippo described it, “ has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”  Or if we think of hope as a movement, the Chinese author and Guru Lin Yutang described it as, is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.

I realize that these “bumper sticker” type quotations might seem Pollyannaish, especially when we apply them to the Vatican. So, I’d first like to suggest a prototype of person who as a cardinal, had all the characteristic and values for providing a vision for leading the church forward, while at the same time would not throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.

In my last commentary in , [LINK]I included several references to Cardinal Carlo Martini’s death in which the articles mentioned examples of his progressive observations and  convictions that the cardinal had about what the church needed to do to  become relevant in the 21st century.  The September 8, issue of The Tablet: The International Catholic Weekly had several post mortem articles under the overall title Cardinal Carlo Martini Remembered. The lead article on page 2, for Our Times [LINK]  acknowledges some of the many contributions Cardinal Martini made to the church, and suggests how different the church might be now if he had succeeded John Paul II.

The article also serves as an introduction to his last interview two weeks before he died, entitled, The and Bishops Should Find 12 Unconventional People to Take on Leadership Roles (notice the title specifies people not clerics).That interview describes “…a papacy that never was, but might have been.”  The interview is on pages 8 and 9 on the link immediately above. Additionally, in an article entitled Never Afraid on pages 6 and 7 under the same link, Cardinal Martini is remembered as “…the torch-bearer of liberal Catholicism”. I particularly appreciated the author’s describing Martini’s primary role as bishop being “a pastor of souls” rather than being limited “to that of ecclesiastical authority”We are getting closer to a conclave to elect a new pope. fully the next pope to sit in the chair of Peter will be someone like Cardinal Martini. If that were to happen, I think the hopes we had for Vatican II, and even beyond, could become a reality not just a dream.

Another source of hope for me was the celebration of the 50ieth Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s opening session. I’ve been encouraged by the many positive reactions to the celebration of that historical event.  There have been a number of article that I’ve read in the past several months that I found ,without ignoringwhat remains to be done, nor hesitating to point out how much of what we hoped for and thought would be accomplished had been sabotaged by the Vatican Curia, John Paul II, and his handpicked successor. For me the articles brought back some of the same excitement and hope that I had as a newly ordained priest when I first heard about John XXIII’s plans for the Council. In the words of the renowned philosopher, Yogi Berra, “It’s like déjà-vu all over again”.

One concept that was reinforced by several of the anniversary articles was collegiality, the fact that we are stakeholders in the church.You know that, and I know that, but the people in charge still don’t seem to “get it”.  We’re all familiar with the sensus fidelium (the mind of the people). The term stakeholder is perhaps more in touch with current corporate lingo.  It wasn’t around when sensus fidelium was first used by the early fathers of the church, but it’sexactly what collegiality is in current corporate lingo. As members of the People of God, we are stakeholders, and this is one of the issues that remain to be resolved in accord with the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium, promulgated by Paul VI, November21, 1964.

Chapter 3 of Lumen Gentium is where collegiality is spelled out. [LINK] In an article by John Wilkins in Commonweal, p.16 in its October 2012 edition, the author describes the “fierce and protracted” debate between the minority of the conservative bishops, and their progressive opponents had over collegiality. Basically, the conservatives were concerned that if they budged an inch on collegiality, the church’s teaching on infallibility, defined by Vatican I in 1870 would be in jeopardy. The argument was between those who saw collegiality as community and those who saw it as a pyramid, with the “…pope at the apex.” In Roman Law a college (like in the College of Cardinals)  is an association of equals, a concept that the traditionalists could not reconcile with a monarchial papacy.” [1] Although the progressives won in the end, in reality the “community” structure, as envisioned by Lumen Gentium was never operationalized, thanks to the long reigns of John Paul II and the present pope’s obsession with tradition.(See Jeff Mirus’ article Benedict’s Hermeneutic of Continuity).[LINK]I believe that the concept of collegiality is a priority for change and needs to be implemented according to the original promulgation of Vatican II.

As stakeholders there are a number of change organizations that are available for us to join if we want to participate in taking our church back and beyond Vatican II. I suspect that most of you are familiar with the major lay organization in your own countries and around the world, so I’ll put their websites along with additional articles, at the end of this posting, so you can refresh your memories if you think it’s necessary. What all the lay organizations need is more of us stakeholders to join them in their missions.

A NEW GOVERNANCE MODEL

Besides the older lay organizations’ contributions, I see a source of hope in a lay group that was established in 2005, the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Governance (NLRCG). If you check their website [LINK] you’ll see a completely different type of organization with strong ties to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), with a membership that includes key lay leaders from organizations across the country. The “Target membership is approximately 225 individuals who are top leaders and key experts from the worlds of business, civic , professional associations, foundations, universities, healthcare systems, vibrant parishes, and other organizations.” The board of directors is made up of seven lay women, seven laymen, and three clergymen. The Executive Director is a lay woman. I was very impressed with the credentials the members have and what they’ve accomplished in a short time. If you check their website, their annual reports for the last few years, along with their mission, strategic plans etc. are available.

One of their guiding principles of NLRCG is to provide:

“…an avenue for greater incorporation of the expertise of all the faithful, especially in the areas of church management, finance, and human resource development. By virtue of baptism, lay people have not only the right but also the duty to offer their gifts and talents in service of the church. See: Christifideles Laici – John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation on The Vocation and The Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World, 1988, 29 and Code of Canon Law, Canon 222.1, 1983.

NLRCG’s goal is to build “… a Church that is stronger in areas of management, finance and human resources and more fully utilizes the talents and skills of the laity.” Their recommendations are presented to the USCCB and, as stated in an article in America, they become a, Blue Print for Change [LINK], “…a roadmap for strengthening the organizational, financial, and managerial structures of the church at three levels: national, diocesan, and parish.”

Given the fact that, “…the Catholic Church in the United States, with its more than one million employees and operating budget of nearly $100 billion, is comparable in size and scope to some of the nation’s largest corporations…” having management experts guide the bishops seems like an excellent idea. Especially, since most bishops do not have any professional credentials or experience in managing what is essentially a position for a CEO of a large “corporation”.  At the very least it should promote a new transparency in the church, and strengthens the role of the laity in at least the governance of the church, and give them a foot in the door for being included in decisions on the church’s teachings.  I believe that the clergy sexual abuse of children, would never have reached the proportions it did if the “managers”, i.e. bishops, were not able to cover up for the perpetrators. In the words of James Muller, “With lay people involved in the decision making, certainly no priest who had abused a child would have been transferred to another parish…parents would never have permitted it.”

To me, the fact that there is such an organization as NLRCGis encouraging. I often wondered how we could expect men with degrees in theology, canon law orscripture to have the knowledge that’s required to be a “CEO” in a “corporation” as large as a diocese.

SELECTING OUR BISHOPS

Here’s a major issue that NLRCG has already recommended to the bishops, “… improvements in the process by which bishops are selected. While recognizing the primacy of the Holy See, it suggested the process for choosing bishops be supplemented with help of human resource professionals…” The election of bishops is one of the goals that most of the lay groups have been advocating for years. Here’s an interesting paradox: despite the fact that the hierarchy usually invokes tradition and teachings of the fathers of the church as their rationale for their doctrinal positions, yet when it comes to the selection of bishops, the fact that bishops were chosen in the early centuries of the church by the laity, doesn’t register with them.

In his book, Electing Our Bishops: How the Catholic Church Should Choose It’s Leaders, Joseph F. O’Callaghan, points out that “The terrible moral failure of the American Bishops in handling the crisis of priestly sexual abuse has focused intense attention on the office of the bishop.” [2] He believes that bishops are often perceived as branch managers or subordinates to the pope in their own dioceses, with administrative responsibilities over subdivisions of multinational corporations with their headquarters in Rome. This goes back to our conversation on collegiality.

I also recommend Robert Mc Clory’s book, As it Was in the Beginning: The Coming Democratization of the Catholic Church. As the title suggests, the author goes back to the beginning of the early church, which obviously not like the present church, and shows what needs to reclaimed and rejuvenated. He makes a good case for laypeople: having a sanctioned place at the table, along with the clergy; provides many historical examples of laity playing significant roles in assisting the institutional church in adapting to the 20ieth and 21st centuries. His answer to the question “is anyone listening?“, often asked about the hierarchies’ negative responses to the “…energy expended by all these Catholic groups…”,  is very positive. He lists a number of achievements that he sees as signs, and in his final chapter “The Vision Presses on to Fulfillment”, he provides a number of scenarios for the Coming Democratization of the Catholic Church.

WHERE SELDOM IS HEARD A DISCOURAING WORD…

As an octogenarian and card carrying member of several catholic organizations whose foci are on in the church, I obviously don’t have the same energy that I had fifty years ago, and my involvements with these groups ain’t what it used to be: no more driving at night to meetings, no more taking leadership positions, no more demonstrations, no more lectures, but thanks to the modern technology I can still actively participate on-line. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get a half a dozen petitions to sign, or “change causes” to support. Thankfully, I am still able to take advantage of connecting with the virtual world out there in cyberspace with my computer. To paraphrase Descartes, “Scripto ergo sum” (I write therefore I am).  What I’m suggesting is we don’t have to sit on the sidelines if we still have a glimmer of hope.

In my next blog, I will consider the other side of hope, the hopelessness that the hierarchy “will never get it” despite all our efforts to the church.

END NOTES

1) Wilkins, J. (2012) “Bishops or Branch Managers?” Commonweal, October 12, p.18.

2) O’Callaghan, J.F., (2007). Electing our Bishops: How the Catholic Church Should Choose Its Leaders. New York: Sheedp. 3.

ADDITIONAL REFERENCES

The Second Vatican Council has Already Made Us FreeArticle by Robert Blair Kaiser, National Catholic Reporter,  August 7, 2012.

Opening the Church to the World Op-ed, New York Times, by John W. O’Malley, S.,J., October 10, 2012,

The Promise of Vatican II to the People of God National Catholic Reporter, Editorial, October 11, 2012

The Bigest Meeting in History Feature Article on Vatican II, The Tablet, October 6, 2012, by Hilmar Pabel.

Map for the Journey of Faith From the Editor’s Desk, The Tablet, October 6, 2012.

Catholicism at the Cross RoadsReview of Paul Lakeland’s book, by Frank Dechant, Future Church.

LINKS AND RESOURCES

The Hierarchy and the Lowerarchy

In Obedience to Authority and Loyal Dissent I indicated that in my next posting, I would share my viewpoint on how the governing structure of the Church has been dysfunctional and how that affects the People of God.  Briefly, my fundamental belief is that the majority of the problems the Church has experienced both pre and post, II, are rooted in its ancient and absolute monarchial governance.  As a first step, the very least the hierarchy needs to consider is a bona fide agreement  to acknowledge and operationalize the sensus fidelium’s (the sense or mind of the faithful) lawful right to participate in decisions on faith and morals. This needs to be a sine qua non, otherwise there will be little chance for reform or renewal, accept as the sensus fidelium is defined by the .

In this commentary I will provide background information on the legitimacy of the sensus fidelium;  and of how the hierarchy has consistently ignored the mind of the people; and how an egalitarian dialogue is an essential component for change. I will also provide information on a promising document approved by the ’s International Theological Commission, which supports the role of the faithful; plus statements by high ranking members of the hierarchy who don’t go along with the party line.

EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN

Long before the Arab Spring and movements were launched, faithful layfolks had established a number of reform organizations whose s were to assist in changing controversial and divisive positions of the . Their efforts have been met with varying degrees of success, which I will expand on later. But for the most part, although these reform groups have clear goals and appropriate plans of action, they have been stonewalled by the hierarchy when it comes to the Church even considering a change in its structure of governance; or even seriously accepting the input of the lowerarchy.

Over the years there have been various interpretations of sensus fidelium.. They range from the degrading declaration that Pius X made in his encyclical Vehementer Nos in 1906, in which he stated “The duty of the laity is to allow themselves to be led, and like a docile flock to follow their pastors.” (Every time I read that quotation, I think, and he was infallible?) Contrast Pius X’s prose with the more magnanimous message of Saint John Henry Newman in his article On in Matters of Doctrine:

“Consulting the people is not to be regarded as just a friendly gesture on the part of the pope or bishops. Consultation is something the laity has a right to expect. Their view may serve at times as a needed witness of the truth of a revealed doctrine.”

More recently,  Lumen Gentium, Chapter II, On the People of God one of II’s most important affirmative documents, declared that the charisma, of the Holy Spirit are available to all the faithful “of every rank”.  To put this in economic language, “the hierarchy doesn’t have the corner on the market on doctrine.” Referring to Jesus, , sections 40, 41 states:

“He does this not only through the hierarchy who teach in His name and with His authority, but also through the laity whom He made His witnesses and to whom He gave understanding of the faith [sensus fidei] and an attractiveness in speech so that the power of the Gospel might shine forth in their daily social and family .”

An even more contemporary study is one approved  by the ’s International Theological Commission and was reviewed in America Magazine’s April 2, 2012 issue entitled Commission Text Holds Surprises on the Role of the Faithful. The title of the Commission’s study is : Perspective, Principles, and Criteria. America describes the study as, representing “…a forward looking consensus view, in this case it’s about the role of theology in the of the Church.”

The study declares, “Attention to the sensus fidelium is a criterion for theology. Theology should strive to discover and articulate accurately what the faithful actually believe.” The sense of the faithful is a conviction “…deeply rooted in the people of God, who receive, understand, and live the Word of God in the Church.” The study goes on to describe how the body of the faithful, especially the laity and lay theologians are part of “…the interface between the Gospel and everyday and have a role to play in the ’s interpretation of the signs of the times.”  For those who are interested in learning more about the report, here is a complete copy of Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria  approved by the whole Commission on November 2011 and released with the approval of Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

I believe the Commission has chartered a vision of the Church of the 3rd Millennium.  Whether it will be embraced is questionable. As the America article points out, despite the fact, that Benedict XVI strongly emphasizes the eternalness of the Apostolic Tradition, “…the affirmation (in ) of historicity is a daring move.” It goes on to assert that the Commission boldly asserts, “The council’s uses of the expression ‘signs of the times’ shows that it fully recognizes not only the historicity of the world but also of the Church.”

At the risk of over-dramatizing the Commission’s position, I believe it echoes President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which I would like to paraphrase:

…and that this Church, under God, shall have a new birth of freedomand that governance of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Perhaps I seem a little too optimistic about the power of the Commission’s report! But I do have my doubts. Even as I was writing this section, I began to wonder if the rest of the and the bishops had even read , and if they had read it, did they just file it in their “circular file”? What made me wonder are some of the recent responses to the faithful,  by the bishops. They still seemed dismissive of the sensus fidelium.

The bishops’ responses to suggestions for an adult dialogue, is not a new position. It seems their mind-set remains, “Let us sit down and discuss this issue together, but in the end, we’ll do it our way.” Even though the old “my way or the highway” approach, doesn’t work, they refuse to change their tune. It’s analogous to the definition of insanity that’s attributed to Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”    It’s their position of tradition!  They remind me of Tevye and Golde, in the musical Fiddler on the Roof,singing the opening song “Tradition”, when they bemoan the reality that their daughters aren’t going to submit to the age old tradition of husbands being chosen by a Matchmaker. Like Tevye and Golde, the bishops are living in a world that no longer exists; a world where almost everyone thought that the earth was the center of the universe and, was created in six days. They don’t seem to have the same vision of the sensus fidelium that the Commission expressed. Underlying the mind-set of the bishops is their belief that they, and they alone as successors to the apostles make the rules and everyone else should sheepishly follow their shepherds.  Or, as I’ve heard repeatedly in reference to the hierarchy, especially in the case of the sexual abuse of children by priests, “They just don’t get it!”

The most blatant example of the difference between the ’s document and the hierarchy, was Paul VI’s so called contraception encyclical Humanae Vitae, when the pope trumped the decision of his Commission, and banned “artificial”  contraception. For details see my commentary in a,Humanae Vitae: The Turning Point for the Catholic Church, which traces the history of birth control and raises the question of whether the encyclical was about, sex and contraception, or Papal authority and the inability of the hierarchy to admit the teaching in Pius XI’s encyclical Casti Connubiion Christian Marriage, needed to be revised. The decision that was made definitely doesn’t fit with the Commission in Today’s Theology’s”signs of the times”. Nor does it agree with the sensus fidelium.  As we know, thousands of people left the or if they remained, they continued to practice some type of artificial contraception. But Paul VI was the decider!  Ipse dixit!  Literal translation “he himself has said it” or, the definition from Webster-Merriam, “something alleged: something asserted dogmatically and without proof”.

Here’s a voice with much more authority than I have, who disagrees with Paul VI’s decision.  It’s an article entitled Cardinal Martini’s Jesus Would Never Have Written  “Humanae Vitae” by Sandro Magister that speaks for itself. I also think that Cardinal Martini’s assessment is in harmony with .

There are many other examples since then that illustrate the difference between the spirit of Today’s Theology and how the hierarchy responds to the faithful when they try to exercise their legitimate role as part of the sensus fidelium, but I’ll mention just one recent example.

THE NUNS AND the HIERARHY, DIALOGUE WITH THE DEAD?

One of the most publicized examples is the current conflict between the Nuns and the hierarchy over the rights of the “lowerarchy” to a bona fide dialogue as faithful members of the People of God. Many of the Nuns’ backers believe that the focus is the manner in which the and the bishops are mismanaging the current conflict with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).  Here are several situations that I believe are typical of the way that the bishops’ idea of dialogue does not conform with the sense of “signs of the times” as expressed in the ’s own document, .

To give the hierarchy the benefit of the doubt, perhaps the problem is that both sides have different understanding or misunderstanding of the word dialogue.  To me dialogue and compromise suggest that both parties are on an equal level. One definition of an egalitarian dialogue is one “… in which contributions are considered according to the validity of their reasoning, instead of according to the status or position of power of those who make them.”  As I read John L. Allen Jr’s interview with Cardinal Levada on his view of the LCWR, it became crystal clear to me that his Eminence’s view of dialogue was not the same as the Nuns’ or mine.  I guess if you’re His Eminence, it’s not possible to imagine the Sisters to be at your same echelon. It certainly didn’t sound that way in the interview. The Cardinal’s responses made me think of Martin Buber’s classic book, I and Thou.  Buber basically contrasted I and Thou with I and It. His Eminence does not believe that the Nuns are worth of an I and Thou relationship because that “…is a relationship of mutuality and reciprocity.” The Nuns only merit an I and It relationship because it is “… a relationship of separateness and detachment.” Here is a YouTube Presentation of Martin Buber’s “I and Thou. So much for the benefit of the doubt! Nevertheless, it might be helpful for all of us to keep Buber’s words in mind if we expect to have productive dialogues with one another.

Jamie Manson’s article LCWR’s Annual Meeting: Some Reflections and a Little Back Stop in the National Reporter,points out that many of the reform groups that have tried to transform the ’s  structures, can’t dialogue or negotiate with the hierarchy because “… the climate has become so uncompromising…”.  She quotes Sister Pat Farrell, when she was president of LCWR as saying, what the Nuns want at some point in the process is to “…be recognized and understood as equals in the , that our form of religious can be respected and affirmed…it might sound like just asking for dialogue is vague, but I think ultimately, one of our deepest goals is to create that kind of climate in the not just for ourselves, but for the throughout the world.”

In an article by Joshua J. Mc Elwee, Overseeing Bishop: LCWR ‘Not in Accordance with Church he makes it clear what Sister Pat Farrell was reacting to in Bishop Leonard Blair interview on the radio program, Fresh Air.  Blair is the Bishop of the diocese of Toledo, Ohio, one of three bishops appointed by the to oversee the LCWR.  Farrell asked the question on the same program a week earlier, “Can you be and have a questioning mind?” When the bishop was asked whether he or the other two bishops who are involved with the LCWR’s revision were open to dialogue, Blair replied, “…that would depend on the sisters’ definition of dialogue.”  He went on with his definition of dialogue that was not close to being an I and Thou dialogue as described by Martin Buber. It was a very legalistic response that would suggest that if your idea of dialogue is not the same as his, there’s no point in having a dialogue. You can read his response in the title of the article at the beginning of this paragraph and decide for yourself.

ADDENDUM, REQUIESCAT IN PACE

This is an article from ROME (Reuters), September 2, 2012 In Final Interview, Liberal Cardinal Says Church is 200 Years Out of Date. It reports the death of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former Archbishop of Milan. He was 85. As you’ll recall I quoted him above from an earlier article where Cardinal Martini questioned Paul VI’s decision on Humanae Vitae. This current article quotes him from and interview two weeks before his death, as saying, “The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change.”  Wow! I’ll drink to that! What adds weight to his opinion is the fact that he was papal candidate, once favored by progressives to succeed Blessed John Paul II of happy memory.  Here are two other quotes by the Cardinal that give his vision of the future of the .

“Our is aged, our es are big and empty and the bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and cassocks are pompous. “

The Cardinal’s final message to Benedict before he died was “…to begin a shake-up of the without delay.”

For me, Cardinal Martini offers hope for change in the . Like John XXIII, they were both harbingers of the future. Even though they were part of the hierarchy, they understood and took into consideration the hopes of the people of God, and were willing to take a stand outside of the rigid box of tradition. They were willing to acknowledge the need for urgent change. My hope is that there are many more members of the hierarchy who are willing to take courageous positions as they did. Their spirit gives new meaning to the prayer I haven’t thought of in years:

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.”

I will continue, in my next commentary to provide more specifics for how we, the People of God, can become part of the efforts to “renew the face of the earth and the .”

Onward, Christian Soldiers, Marching As To War…

My contemporary fantasy of Christian soldiers marching onward as to war, is a combination of the hierarchy in their medieval regalia, led by Cardinal Dolan, and whatever of his flock he can gather, hand-in-hand with their political partners the .

Unfortunately that army of Christian soldiers is growing and becoming more vociferous. What I wish to question in this commentary is the increasing militaristic tone of the United States Conference of s (USCCB) and the unsuitable lines of attack, which I believe cross over the boundary of conveying their beliefs, and are tantamount to telling their constituents who they should vote for. If I’m correct, their conduct could backfire and put their tax exemption status in jeopardy.

A New Campaign

In my commentary of March 8, 2012 in the Australian website Catholica, I expressed my concern for how the (USCCB) had been abusing its power of the political pulpit to defeat Obama’s re-election in November.  But since then the bishops have ratcheted-up the tenor of their attacks, and have initiated a new campaign to convince their constituency to get out there and prove their power at the ballot box.

In order to put the bishops’ strategy for change in perspective, I will go back to the mid-sixties, when I was director of Charities in Schenectady, New York. One of my assignments was to be a member of The New York State Catholic Conference, which was and is, “The Official Voice of the Church in the Empire State.” The purpose of the Conference as stated:

The New York State Conference represents the s of the state in working with government to shape laws and policies that pursue social justice, respect for and the common good. We provide a unified voice for the eight dioceses of the state to speak on such issues as education, marriage, health care, poverty, abortion, euthanasia, social services, criminal justice and the environment. We apply the principles of social teaching to critical issues of the day and encourage citizen involvement in the legislative process.

During the time the state legislature was in session, we met on a regular basis to discuss any proposed legislation under the categories listed above. Each of the eight New York dioceses was represented by their bishops or assistant bishops, and the directors of Charities from each diocese. There were no women members of the conference, and the only lay person was a lawyer, hiredas a strategist/lobbyist to represent us with the legislators. It never occurred to me that I was part of the “good old boys club”

Our policy was to dialogue with legislators rather than use other approaches such as putting pressure on them by demonstrating or mounting campaigns to mobilize parish members, or other more aggressive methods. It wasn’t because we didn’t believe in ; remember this was the 1960ies. I was a member of several groups that demonstrated against the war in Vietnam. To put it in perspective, here is a speech that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave in 1967 to one of the groups I was active in, the Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam; his speech was entitled Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. Dr. King supported our goals, and shared his own views on the war in Vietnam. I also had the privilege to demonstrate with Fathers Dan and Philip Berrigan; marched with the local civil rights groups; was a card carrying member of the NAACP; became involved with the abortive War on Poverty and was active in the Schenectady Community Action Program (SCAP) etc. My participation was as a person who happened to be a priest. I did not use the power of the political pulpit to tell parishioners whom to vote for or whom not to vote for.

That’s far from what is happening today. I mentioned in my first commentary in this series that, I was shocked when I read in our parish bulletin that the pastor actually compared the Obama administration to the Nazi regime under Hitler. Who is going to vote for a Nazi?  Well, I’m still shocked! In our parish bulletin for May 6, the pastor’s usual letter to the parishioners (often promoting such issues as the Tridentine Latin Mass that goes back to the Council of Trent in 1507 or Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, that also dates back to the fifteenth century) was replaced by the USCCB Nationwide Bulletin Insert for April-May, 2012.  After giving a little history of their version of separation of and state, which I believe is debatable, the bulletin goes on to claim, “It is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by government to provide coverage for contraception and sterilization, even when it violates our religious beliefs.” As Frank Brennan points out in his article in the Australian website Eureka Street on-line, US Bishops’ Toxic Tussle with Obamacare,

There is a risk that the US bishops are escalating a campaign of civil disobedience in the name of conscience when they are not willing to allow members of their own to act according to a rightly formed conscience on matters relating to their own faith and  morals but to civil entitlements of others in a pluralistic democratic society.  

He goes on to suggest that calling upon conscience against Obama, while enforcing an unyielding Vatican will on all organizations raises questions, not just with secularist public square. Fr. Brennan also expresses his gratitude that none of the bishops in Australia has had cause to sound as shrill as the bishops in the United States.  

 At the bottom of the Insert the bishops asked, “What can you do to ensure the protection of religious freedom?” The question is rhetorical, since they answered their own question. which they expect the faithful to follow in , “…send your message to HHS and congress telling them to stand up for religious liberty and conscience rights…”

This nationwide Insert for all parish bulletins is just one of the devices designed to defeat the democrats in November. On April 12, 2012 the USCCB issued a statement, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.  The bishops’ statement starts with their reminding us that, “We are s. We are Americans. We are proud to be both…” It’s as if they were trying to convince everyone that s are just as patriotic as any other religious organization. It reminded me of the lyrics of the satirical song Motherhood from the Broadway musical Hello Dolly when Dolly and the cast sang, “I stand for motherhood, America, and a hot lunch for orphans, take off your hat boys while your country’s flag is passing …” Listening to that song again, I was almost inspired to stand up and sing, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, which I thought of using as a marching song when I wrote a letter to the editors of our local newspaper to tell them I was planning to start the Apple Pie Party to challenge the Tea Party. They never published it. Sorry, I digress!

After sharing their little history lession about catholic patriotism, the bishops list a number of examples of what they believe are threats to religious freedom, to convince and other fellow travelers to join their campaign of political and legal resistance. An Editorial in Commonweal Magazine on-line,Religious Freedom & the U.S. Catholic Bishops doesn’t agree. It states that,

The USCCB’s statement vastly exaggerates the extent to which American freedoms of all sorts and of religious freedom in particular are threatened. Church-state relations are complicated, requiring the careful weighing of competing moral claims. The USCCB’s statement fails to acknowledge that fact. Worse, strangely absent from the list of examples provided by the bishops is the best-documented case of growing hostility to religious presence in the United States: hostility to Islam.

The article goes on to point out that the bishops can’t have it both ways. If they don’t correct the oversight of the animosity against Muslims, their campaign for religious freedom will be seen as being a “political tailored” event. The editorial’s position is that, “This silence is especially striking in view of the parallels between anti-Muslim sentiment today and the prejudice encountered by immigrants in the nineteenth century.”

I find the editorial’s line of reasoning very persuasive, mainly because I believe the bishops are so intransitive in their positions (my way or the highway!) that in their efforts to protect their religious freedoms, they would impose their beliefs on peoples of other religions or no-religions that don’t hold the same beliefs, eg. contraception. This is not surprising, since the bishops get their marching orders from the Vatican, whose monarchial government still follows the Latin dictum, Roma locuta est-causa finita est! (Rome has spoken-the case is closed!) That doesn’t work in a pluralistic society.

Another line of attack the bishops have planned is what they call a Fortnight for Freedom (FFF). I suspect they’ve hired some super-expensive Public Relation firm to come up with that catchy title. If it wasn’t for my grandfather using the word fortnight, when he would tell us that he and my grandmother were “going on a fortnight vacation”, (two weeks), I would have had to look it up in a dictionary. The section on the FFF in their Religious Freedom document, starts by the USCCB urging that, “…we focus all the energies the community can muster…” in supporting the FFF’s agenda. It will basically be an opportunity for urging s and others to participate in fourteen days of study, prayer and resistance against the alleged efforts of the government to curtail the free expression of religion, leading up to the Fourth of July holiday.  If you want to learn more about the FFF, you can scroll down to the section on the webpage above, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.

PS: I couldn’t help but wonder why the bishops didn’t muster all those energies to attack the problem of pedophile priests? And how about those bishops who covered up for the pedophiles?    

Skating on Thin Ice

Apparently there are some bishops and Public Relation folks who got a head start on the campaign. One such bishop, Daniel R. Jenky of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois appears to be on the very far right of most of his colleagues, at least I hope so. Here is the full April 12th text of Jenky’s “homily” (seems more like a call to battle than a homily) as it appears on the Diocese’s website. The title of his “homily” is A Call to Catholic Men of Faith.  He first challenges the men, (I’m not sure if there were any women in the congregation), by saying, “We must be a fearless army of men, ready to give everything we have to the Lord, who gave us our salvation.” Sounds like another Onward Christian Soldiers battle cry to me. He goes on to talk about Bismarck closing down catholic schools in Germany, Clemenceau the “priest eater” in France, and Hitler and Stalin of unhappy memory. All geared to scare the hell out of the men of faith. And for a real clincher he reminds them,

This fall, every practicing must vote, and must vote their conscience, or by the following fall our schools, our hospitals, our Newman Centers, all our public ministries—only excepting our buildings—could easily be shut down.

There’s much more fear mongering language in his homily, but towards the end he offers some solace, “We have nothing to fear,…St. Michael the Archangel, and  all the hosts of heaven, fight on our behalf.” I wondered if that’s the same St. Michael that the has been praying to for peace since I was in grammar school?

One thing that Jenky might need to fear is the charges in a letter that the Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) filed against him on April 19, 2012 with the director of the Exempt Organization Division of the IRS. The complete letter is available above and can be enlarged to a more readable size. The author of the letter Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the Executive Director of Americans United, and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, presents a clear case to the IRS of how the bishop has violated the IRS publication “Election Year Activities and the Prohibition on Political Campaign Intervention for Section 501(c)(3)Organizations” (FS-2006-17, February 2006), which reminds tax-exempt entities not to engage in any that “functions as political campaign intervention”. Rev. Lynn goes on to remind the readers that “Even if a statement does not expressly tell an audience to vote for or against a specific candidate…(they are) at risk of violating the political campaign intervention prohibition if there is any message favoring or opposing a candidate.”

Lynn closed by summing up his case to the IRS with a reminder that Jenky  “…compared Obama to Hitler and Stalin and accused Obama of pursuing policies that will close institutions.”  Not only that, but in Jenky’s homily “…he exhorted members of his flock not to vote for candidates who fail to uphold values.”  I’m sure the USCCB has gaggle of high priced lawyer who will try to punch holes in the Lynn’s arguments, but if you’re interested in supporting AU’s position against Jenky, there is a page on AU’s website where you can take actionIRS Should Investigate Catholic Diocese For Illegal Election Intervention .

Final Example of Abuse of Power

This example is one of the most provocative, offensive, seditious, political ads I’ve ever seen. It outdoes even the most obscene commercial that both political parties have been using during this election season, mainly because it appeals to catholic voters’ quilt and fear.

The commercial below was prepared by Creative-Lab. Among their other productions are:  1) Obama Admits He is a Muslim;  2) 53 Seconds that Should End a Presidency, which is a series of snippets of President Obama struggling with getting the right words out in a number of unrelated interviews; 3) Confirmed: Obama’s Birth Certificate Not Confirmed (2012). So, now that you have an idea of the type of the commercials they produce, here’s the commercial created for the USCCBs’ campaign, titled Test of Fire: Election 2012 (Catholic Version).  But before you view it let me give you a synopsis of the plot.

The setting is a blacksmith’s shop. The room is dark and dismal. The only light is from the flickering fire in the hearth that the smithy is using to forge metal letters, which eventually will become three key words: MARRIAGE—LIFE—FREEDOM! The whole scene and background music create a spooky setting.

As the screens scroll on, each scene has a different message. One of the first messages is:

“This November—s across the nation will be put to the test…s across the nation—will have an opportunity to share the future—for our generation and generations to come…”

Skipping to the end of the commercial. At this point the screen shows a women coming out of a voting booth, she looks rather downcast the text continues “…Your vote will affect the future and will recorded in eternity!” Recorded in eternity! Shades of fire and brimstones!  

I’m not a lawyer, ladies and gentlemen, but I rest my case!