Category: Controversy

Sustainable Solutions for Global Warming

“Are you a global warming skeptic? There are plenty of good reasons why you might be.” Richard Muller, a physicist and ex-card carrying contrarian got my attention with that  opening line in an article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal, entitled The Case Against Skepticism: There Were Good Reasons for Doubt, Until Now. [LINK] He goes on to list a number of reasons why he wouldn’t be surprised if you answered yes to his question and even suggests that “…global warming skepticism seems sensible.”  He spends the rest of the article providing reasons to convince the deniers (a fancy word for disbelievers) that his two year study at the Berkeley Surface Temperature Project proves that is real, and that humans are the major contributors. He hopes that the results of his research will “…cool this portion of the climate debate.” 

In this commentary I plan to: give my opinion of why the dangers of global warming seems to be such a hard sell to the “person on the street”;  provide resources that I found helpful in coming to the conclusion that global warming is real and that we have to take responsibility for our part in taking our environment for granted;  how we can be part of the solution by being more accountable for how we buy and dispose products as consumers; and how we can participate with organizations that are already “fighting the good fight” to save Mother .



I’ve been wondering lately why global warming and climate change are not at the top of the list of our legacy to future generations. As a scientist Richard Muller arrived at his decision to “jump ship” based on his own research. For us “lay folks”, we need to make our decisions based on the scientific that we believe makes the most sense to us. I believe the shouldn’t have to be “proof beyond reasonable doubt” as in a criminal case. Since we are dealing with the future of our children and grandchildren it should be a “preponderance of the , the standard used in a civil trial. Or as someone suggested, we could think of our effort to reduce carbon emissions as if we were buying a fire insurance policy on our home. We don’t buy insurance because we’re certain our house will burn down, we buy it because if our house does burn down and we were not insured, our family’s financial future would be devastated. So, let’s not take chances with planet earth.

As I researched this more it became apparent that there are three major factors that contribute to the ambivalence of the public’s getting involved in saving our planet. The first two are the legitimate division between scientists who often are referred to as, the climate change campaigners, those who tend to be more convinced of the eminent danger of climate change, and often use provocative language to get people’s attention, and the contrarians or skeptics, who suggest that climate change is a hoax. The fact that they don’t agree with each other can be confusing to many of us non-scientists.

Here is an article, by Mike Hulme, Professor of al Sciences at the University of East Anglia and director of the Tyndall Centre for Research entitled the Chaotic World of Truth. [LINK]  Hulme agrees that climate change is a reality, and that “…science confirms that human activities are heavily implicated in the change.” His major quibble with the climate change campaigners is what he believes is a misuse by scientists of non-scientific words to describe climate change. Words like catastrophic, chaos, tipping point. I must admit that in my fervor to get peoples’ attention, I’ve used some of those same incendiary words. Mea culpa!

The third factor is the corporations that became persons by the decision of the United States Supreme Court in their ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The irony of Dr. Muller changing sides in the debate between the two sides mentioned above is that part of his research was funded by a grant from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. The same Charles G. Koch who is one of the prominent multi-billionaires, who with his brother David owns refineries, oil pipelines, fertilizer facilities, coal and cement transportation systems and other industrial operations. For more detailed information and references see this article published in Scientific American, entitled Who Funds Contrariness on ? [LINK] Or if you’d rather watch a YouTube video entitled, e, click here, [LINK]  And if that isn’t enough—coming to a movie theater near you on March 8, 2013 is a documentary on the Brothers Koch entitled Greedy Lying Bastards. The documentary examines “…the harsh reality of climate change, as well as the perpetrators responsible for financing a complex misinformation campaign of purchased deniers.” The Guardian and the New Yorker both examined the issue of how highly funded think tanks influence American politicians.” The documentary investigates the money trail behind these groups and focus on the Koch Brothers. The review is entitled The Koch Brothers’ War on Truth. [LINK]  

Even more significant is a recent report by the Center for American Progress (CAP) that claims, “The Kock brothers make their money from an oil-and-gas conglomerate that emits pollutants that contribute to climate change. It should not be surprising, then, that the Koch brothers are also major contributors to organizations denying the effects of climate change.”[LINK] Given that background and the obvious vested interest the Koch brothers have in presenting climate changes as a hoax, the same report points out what I believe is a reasonable strategy for fighting against organized money, i.e. to effectively organize people, and inform them of the major issues of concern for our environment. Concerned people need to be informed people, especially when they are involved in a David and Goliath like struggle.


In an ideal world the best way to look for solutions to the dangers of global warming would be to ask the right questions and discuss both sides of the questions without the pressure of outside vested money interests. Here’s an article entitled The Productive Way to Address . [LINK]  It acknowledges the uncertainties on both sides and focuses on the risks, and the best sources for the most reliable and unbiased information. “Certainly not politicians, attack-dog journalists and shock jocks…certainly not those with vested interest to deny any human-caused global warming.” It asks questions like, “How sure should we before we act? … What if we do nothing, or not enough? … “

Although we’re not living in an ideal world where we can dialogue on the same level with those who don’t agree with us on global warming, we can still keep the right questions in mind and take advantage of the opportunities we have to make a difference. There are things that we can do for the common good as individuals or as part of a small group, as well as strategies  that are more effective as members of large organizations. There are dozens of websites that provide opportunities for us to put our values into actions. Here’s an article on a website that deals with recycling, and answers the question, Why is it Important to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle? [LINK] To boil the article down to a quote, “Theoretically recycling is important because it will reduce the amount of resources we have to use to create products. Whatever we don’t recycle has to be buried into the ground. We are running out of places to bury things.”

Here are a few personal examples of working as individuals or with small groups. My wife Jane and I live on the Beatitudes Campus in Phoenix Arizona, a retirement home with over six hundred elders. We both are on a recycling committee. The goal of the committee is to raise residents’ awareness of the importance of recycling and assist and advise the administration in their efforts to make our little space here on earth, as environmentally friendly as possible.

Another example, this morning I opened my email and there were a half a dozen postings from organizations asking me to sign petitions supporting their position on global warming issues. One of them was a request to sign a letter to President Obama from the Sierra Club, an organization which was founded by John Muir in 1892. [LINK] After thanking the president for the bold steps he took for the environment in his Inaugural Address and State of the Union speech to congress, the letter went on to ask his backing of one of their many campaigns to protect the planet.  I felt that signing the letter to the president had as much impact as marching in the 1960ies. Although I can’t get out and march for good causes as I used to, I feel that my voice can be heard just as well through the technology of the internet

At another level there are well established organizations that are already involved in projects that promote environmental justice that we can be part of. Whether the organization is secular or religious based, they often have similar ethical rationales for their interest in saving our environment.

Having lived in the in Arizona for almost 45 years, I’ve developed a respect for the beliefs and practices of the Native American Indians. From the very beginning of my days at Arizona State University one of my colleagues, John Redhorse and my Native American students taught me more about their traditions and spirituality than I could have learned from any text book. My time on the reservations, participating in Sweat Lodges and Talking Circles, and listening to the words of shamans, strengthened my own faith tradition. I was particularly impressed with their love and respect for mother earth.  Here are two references to Native American website that center on our relationship with our planet.  The first one is, Honor the . [LINK] Their programs are built on their belief that a sustainable world is predicated on transforming economics, social and political relationships that are based on systems of conquest towards systems anchored in relationships with one another, and with the natural world. Their mission is “…we are committed to restoring a paradigm that recognizes our collective humanity and our joint dependence on the .” That fits well with my values.

The second website is, Native Americans and the , [LINK]  The website has three goals:

  • To educate the public on environmental problems in Native American Communities.
  • To explore the values and historical experiences Native Americans bring to bear on environmental issues.
  • To promote conservation measures that respect Native American land and resource rights.

Again, it’s interesting that Native Americans from different parts of the US not only share common values with many of us, but because of the unjust ways they have been treated over the years, have a better understanding and stronger relationship with mother earth than we do. I suspect that Indigenous peoples all over the world share similar values and are equally more sensitive to their environment than most of us.

Here is a typical prayer a shaman might say at the end of a Sweat Lodge:

Great Spirit, Sacred One!

Put our feet on the holy path that

leads us to you, and give us the strength and will

to lead ourselves and our children

past the darkness we have entered.

Teach us to heal ourselves, to heal others, and heal the world.

I mentioned the Sierra Club above and its request for signatures, here is an example of one of their projects called the Beyond Coal Campaign, [LINK]a nationwide grassroots effort to “…eliminate coal’s contribution to global warming no later than 2020 and replace the existing coal infrastructure with a clean energy economy fueled by wind, solar, and geothermal.” The campaign is working to stop the construction of new coal-fired power plants, retire and replace the existing fleet of coal plants. If you check out their web page above, you’ll see that they are involved with a number of other campaigns at the same time. Take your choice!

An organization that has only been around since 2007 but has become worldwide, is 350.0rg  [LINK] Its Mission is to build “…a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis. Our online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions are led from the bottom up by thousands of volunteer organizers in over 188 countries.” I particularly like their Fossil Free Global movement to challenge the fossil fuel industry in a fight for the planet and our future on it.  They have an activists’ guide that provides specific ideas, tactics and resources to help volunteers organize locally. Check it out above.

One final organization Thrive, that has one of the most inclusive and insightful websites I’ve seen. It has one section with 12 sectors ranging from [LINK]to Spirituality [LINK] . Not only does it deal with global warming and climate change, but it has a vision of what our and place is on the planet we’re trying to save. They believe that “Humans experience their spiritual nature as so interconnected with all species and with life itself, that war, deprivation and corruption become faint memories of a bygone era in the evolving consciousness of life on planet and beyond.”

Now if you are serious about learning more about the context in which the Thrive’s authors developed their world view, I’d suggest watching the video The Thrive Movie, narrated by their founder, Foster Gamble, whose family was part of the famous Proctor and Gamble international conglomerate. It’s an unconventional documentary that exposes how our world really is by “following the money”. It uncovers global consolidation of power in most parts of our lives. It weaves together advances in science, consciousness and activism, and offers real solutions, which empower us with unparalleled and bold strategies for recovering our lives and our future. If you don’t believe me, here is a review that appeared in Odyssey Magazine:

 “Thrive is more than a documentary relevant to the times. It is more than a well-researched and alarming insight into who really controls how the world works. It is a recipe and blueprint for how we can, each and every one of us, thrive in the way that the rest of nature does – easily, naturally and with expansive grace. For this last point alone, it is more than worth the time to see.”


I think I should mention that the movie is a little over two hours—but it’s free [LINK]



Every day since Benedict XVI became Emeritus, there have been over five thousand members of the media in the vying to come up with some insider information about the top candidates and the most important issues that the next occupant of the Chair of Peter will need to handle. This article, Abortion, Priest Celibacy among Hot-Button Issues Facing Next , [LINK] seems to have capsulated what most of the issues that other pundits have identified.  The hot-button issues it includes are: 1) Sex Abuse, 2) Money Laundering, 3)Homosexuality and Gay Marriage, 4) Curia Secrets and Intrigue, 5) Ordination of Women and Priest Celibacy, 6) Abortion. They don’t suggest that these are the only hot-button issues, but apparently they believe that these are the most important and urgent ones that the new pontiff will have to deal with.

I beg to differ! Not that these issues aren’t important, but as I said in a previous commentary, “it’s like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as the ship is sinking.”  If I were venting a cardinal for the job I would certainly want to know his position on . So, in my next commentary, I will review the positive steps the and the conferences the United States and Australia have taken to sustain our environment, and what the Church can do to insure a sustainable world.

A Delicate Balance

    Pollution of air and water threaten more and more the delicate balance of the biosphere on which present and future generations depend and makes us realize that we all share a common ecological environment.

The John Paul II in AmericaI (St. Paul: Wanderer Press, 1987), p. 130

The Coming Climate Catastrophe

I just flashed back to the 1940ies, when if a news story broke between the time the morning paper and evening paper were published, there would be a special addition of the paper. If you happened to be downtown, you’d see and hear paperboys in their corduroy knickers and wool caps, waiving papers with large headlines, like JAPANESE BOMB PEARL HARBOR. To get your attention that something important happened, they’d yell at the top of their voices, Extra! Extra! Read all about it!Well, Stop the Press, I’m breaking into the commentary I was writing, because I am concerned with several issues that aren’t actually new, but have irrupted to a new level recently and need to be addressed as breaking news, on climate change and global warming.My hope is that I can provide you with enough information to realize at an intellectual and emotional level, that we are not winning the climate change and global warming battle, and encourage you to put these issues of environmental justice on the same level for change, as we do social justice.

I believe that each of us has a responsibility to learn everything we can about climate change and global warming, so we can become part of the solution, not as scientists but as followers of Jesus. I believe Jesus would be leading the way to save Mother , if his earthly ministry were during the 21st Century. This commentary will provide basic scientific knowledge for us to be informed advocates for future generations.



FILE - This Oct. 31, 2012 file photo shows the destroyed homes left in the wake of superstorm Sandy in Seaside Heights, N.J. Superstorm Sandy may have one more nasty surprise still to come: higher taxes. Unless shore towns from Rhode Island to New Jersey get a big influx of aid from the state and federal governments, which are themselves strapped for cash, they will have no choice but to raise taxes on homes and businesses that survived to make up for the loss.(AP Photo/Mike Groll, file)

FILE – This Oct. 31, 2012 file photo shows the destroyed homes left in the wake of superstorm Sandy in Seaside Heights, N.J. Superstorm Sandy may have one more nasty surprise still to come: higher taxes. Unless shore towns from Rhode Island to New Jersey get a big influx of aid from the state and federal governments, which are themselves strapped for cash, they will have no choice but to raise taxes on homes and businesses that survived to make up for the loss.(AP Photo/Mike Groll, file)


Just so we’re all on the same page, as they say, here are some brief definitions of some of the major terms that are often confusing. change and global warming are the terms that are commonly and often used interchangeably; however they are two different phenomena. They both are causing drastic changes to our planet. change is change in the climate of a region of the world, which occurs over a long period of time. Global warming is the rise in the average temperature of the atmosphere surrounding the . Most scientists agree that Global warming and change are a threat for every living thing on earth.

The Greenhouse effect is the change in the earth’s climate caused by accumulation of solar heat in the earth’s surface and atmosphere. Human activity contributes increasing amounts of the greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and chlorofluorocarbon, to the atmosphere. Some of the particles and gases in the atmosphere also allow more sunlight to filter through to the earth’s surface but reflects much of the radiant infrared energy that otherwise would escape through the atmosphere back into space. For more information here is a website article entitledThe Connection between Greenhouse Gases, Change, and ,[LINK]andanother, Greenhouse Gases and Why they are Increasing on the website ofUS Energy Information Administration(EIA) [LINK]


For several months the local, national, and international media has focused on the consequences of United States congress letting us go over the , and the likelihood that its lack of action would have on the global economy. As we all know now, after keeping us in suspense at the very brink of a likely disaster, they came up with a “stop gap solution” that kicked the proverbial can down the road. As irresponsible as the way congress handled that situation was, it pales in comparison with how the power elite in our global community refuses to acknowledge the scientific facts that we are getting dangerously close to the tipping point of going over the Cliff.

In early January of 2013, Moyers and Co. aired a TV program entitled, Ending the Silence on Change, hosted by Bill Moyers. In his introduction Moyers took what some might think is a provocative position of our going over the Cliff. He warned, “Meanwhile another reality beckons and there’s a menace more threatening than the . What should really be scaring the daylights out of us-the crisis which could makeall others irrelevant-is global warming. Get this one wrong and its over-not just for the USA, but for planet .” His interview with scientist Anthony Leiserowitz, director of theYale Project on Change Communication, and specialist in the psychology of risk perception, made his position on the Cliff more plausible. To paraphrase James Carville’s slogan that he coined for Bill Clinton’s election campaign, “It’s the climate change, stupid”!

In addition to providing important scientific information about global warming, Leiserowitz provides answers to the questions, “Why isn’t this planetary emergency on every politicians mind? Why are any of us still silent?” He also points out: the theme of social justice, that we have a responsibility to take care of the poor, the sick, the powerless both in our own country, and around the world; the argument that how can it be okay in good conscience for us to “…ignore a problem that’s going to push millions of people around the world into the exact same kinds of circumstances we’re trying to help them with”; the need to engage both the faith, secular and scientific communities and identifies six groups, all with different needs for information in order to become engaged with part of the solution. Additionally he provides a number of solutions, which as I said above I’ll cover in another commentary. Here is the video of Moyers’ interview. [LINK] It’s approximately fifty minutes, and right under the screen is a link to a full transcript of the interview.


In my last commentary in a, The Creeping Culture of [LINK], I discussed how we needed to become more conscious and conscientious consumers by reconsidering how we value and acquired stuff, and for the sake of the planet, how we dispose of stuff. Our appetite for accumulating more stuff than we need not only has an effect on us spiritually. How can we damage our environment by not disposing our stuff properly, and live a spiritual life at the same time?

I don’t presume to be an expert on climatology, but I have been researching what some of the most acknowledged scientist have concluded. Here is an eBook entitled, Storm Warnings: Change and Extreme . The book was published by the editors of Scientific American, which is the oldest continuously published magazine in the United States. You can go to “to look inside” and read sections including the Table of Contents, which lists 22 articles from different authors. After reading the book, I felt as if I completed a course in Climatology 101. The book is available for $3.00. [LINK]

Here’s a book with a provocative title, Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Change. I suspect that title was chosen to attract attention, because the author, Clive Hamilton, questions others who use environmental warnings that are apocalyptic, and his text is less seditious than his title. He is clearly concerned that the growth of global greenhouse gas emission which is now “…exceeding the worst case scenarios of a few years ago, and we will pass the tipping points that will trigger irreversible changes in climate…” However, instead of debating the science, he focuses on why people, including some scientists, deny climate change and oppose most steps offered to prevent it. Hamilton believes that the reason most politians don’t act on the findings of the majority of scientists, is because they are trumped by “… power, money, bureaucratic inertia, and our own innate desire to ignore what we don’t want to believe.” It’s clear that he believes that large corporations are the major offenders behind climate change resistance. So we’re not dealing with just the problem of climate change, but with the power elites, and our own tendency to ignore problems by denial. As they say in the 12 step programs, “denial is not a river in Egypt” it’s the elephant in the living room that everybody ignores.

In the early chapters he describes gloomy probabilities for the environment’s destiny given the power of the contrarians. But later in the book he offers solutions. He calls for action-immediately and resolutely. But even if the future looks grim, Hamilton’s position is, “…action is the best cure for despair.”


Whether or not you have grandchildren, here’s a book for everyone who’s concerned about the safety and wellbeing of future generations: The Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Catastrophe, by James Hansen. It’s available as an eBook on for $3.00. Here is some more information about the author and his book. [LINK]

Rather than giving my version of his positions on the damage global warming is having on our environment, here is a twenty minute presentation he gave on the TED YouTube series. You’ll see a person, who is not only an eminent scholar and expert on global warming, but a grandfather who is deeply concerned about his grandchildren’s future on a planet that is moving towards disaster, and a social activist who is willing to go to jail for the sake of future generations. [LINK]

At the risk of overloading you, here’s a recent fifteen minute YouTube interview with James Hansen, entitled Human Fingerprints on Sandy, in which he connects climate change as one of the major causes of Hurricane Sandy as well as: storms, floods, wildfires, heat waves and droughts, that are increasing in scale, severity and frequency. [LINK] If you’re interested in an extended interview with Hansen click here [LINK] .


As a former professor of mine advised me over fifty years ago, “We need to keep our hands on the near things and our eyes on the far things.” He put it in more concrete language when he said, “As social workers we need to swat the mosquitoes and clean up the swamps at the same time.” It seemed to be wise advice at the time. It fit well with my religious values, and with the ethics of the profession of social work that I practiced and taught for well over thirty years. Social work practice focused for years on the Person in their (PIE). Until recently the environments that they dealt with, were limited to the family, small groups, communities, and large organizations, like corporations. However, in the last dozen years the social work profession has begun to realize how important it is to be committed to environmental issues, while at the same time not abandoning their responsibility to the Person in their . So the old adage of the mosquitoes and the swamp still applies. The difference is that our sense of environment extends to Mother .

My point is, that just as the profession of social work has adapted to the 21st century and is becoming more involved with the survival and sustainability of future generations, I believe that we all have to be equally involved in that mission. I intend to write a follow-up commentary on strategies we can use personally to be part of the solution in our everyday lives, and how we can work in solidarity with those who have been laboring in the vineyard of cosmic . I will pay special attention to the role the Church and other faith communities have taken in sounding the warning bell that the fate of our planet is our Common Responsibility. I am convinced that if we don’t make it a priority to become part of the solution of global warming, future generations will suffer. Personally, I’ve decided that however much time I have left, my mission is to do what I can to become involved and promote causes, whose focal point is sustaining our planet. At this point, anything else seems like “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”.

Let us pray for the environment!


Gracious God,
teach us to conserve, preserve, and use wisely
the blessed treasures of our wealth-stored .
Help us to share your bounty, not waste it,
or pervert it into peril for our children or our neighbors in other nations.
You who are life and energy and blessings,
teach us to revere and respect our tender world.

Education for Justice

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 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.


Long before the Arab Spring and movements were launched, faithful Catholic layfolks had established a number of organizations whose purposes were to assist in changing controversial and divisive positions of the church. Their efforts have been met with varying degrees of success, which I will expand on later. But for the most part, although these 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 Consulting the ful 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 life.”

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 Theology Today: 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 life of the Church.”

The study declares, “Attention to the sensus fidelium is a criterion for Catholic theology. Theology should strive to discover and articulate accurately what the Catholic 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 life and have a role to play in the church’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 .

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 Theology Today) 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 Theology Today, 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 Theology Today’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 ,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 church 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 Theology Today.

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.


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, Theology Today.

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 Catholic Reporter,points out that many of the groups that have tried to transform the church’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 church, that our form of religious life 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 churchnot just for ourselves, but for the Catholic church 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 Catholic 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.


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 church.

“Our culture is aged, our churches are big and empty and the church 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 Catholic church without delay.”

For me, Cardinal Martini offers hope for change in the church. 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 church.”