The more I read and researched the faith community’s involvement as advocates for saving our planet, the more I was impressed, and encouraged by how much impact their commitment has had locally, nationally and internationally. It became apparent to me that scientists cannot make changes in global warming alone. They supply the empirical data that we base our judgments on as to whether or not our earth is in peril, and if we are responsible for its condition. The faith based leaders provide the theological underpinning based on a belief that we all are “stewards of creation”.
Another surprise for me was that despite the diverse traditions and beliefs the major religious communities have, they are able to work together on their common concern for creation. Abortion, gay marriages etc. seemed to pale in comparison to their mutual concern for our responsibility for the future of mother earth. In this commentary, I will focus on the contributions of Popes John Paul and Benedict, and the catholic bishops in confronting the dangers of Global climate change. In a future commentary I’ll provide an ecumenical view of how the various faith communities are working together to preserve planet earth for future generations.
STEWARDS OF OUR PLANET
The Stewardship movement is a shared sense of moral purpose; with roots that are in the beliefs of major faiths’ communities. All of our faith traditions call on us to serve the poor and vulnerable. In the case of global warming, the poor will be the ones who will suffer the most. In the Christian tradition, Jesus emphasized two great commandments, to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. Most of us have the loving ourselves part down pretty well. It’s the love for God and his Creation and our neighbors that we need to work on. The catch is, our values aren’t our values unless we act on them.
The religious leaders provide the theological underpinning in their interpretation of our responsibility for maintaining God’s Creation. I chose to first focus in this commentary on the Catholic theology of stewardship and sustainability of all creation, not because it’s my faith tradition, but mainly because when we think of the life that God has created, and the Catholic Church, we usually think of about things they are against, like abortion or same sex marriages. We don’t immediately associate the Catholic Hierarchy with promoting God’s love for the earth that he created. I believe that if the earth is to survive, it needs all faith traditions to prioritize sustainability as the sine qua non for mother earth’s continued existence.
STANDING IN SOLIDARITY
“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – St. Francis Assisi
It seemed appropriate to include a prayer from St. Francis of Assisi, who in recent times has been declared The Patron Saint of the Environmental Movement because his life and teachings were models of living in harmony with nature and being at peace with the earth and all living creatures. The prayer, like St. Francis’ life is simple and direct. Also, many of us hope that the fact that the new pope chose Francis as his name, is a sign he was sending a message of how he intends to model his papacy on St. Francis’ life. At this early point Francis has made several positive statements about his position on our responsibility for the environment. His first homily as a pope at his inauguration on the feast of St. Joseph is a good example. In several paragraphs he makes an analogy of St. Joseph’s role as protector of the holy family to our role of protectors of God’s creation. Pope Francis reminds us that “…whenever we fail to care for creation, and for our brothers and sisters, the way is open to destruction and hearts are hardened….and later he continues…To protect creation, to protect every man and every women, to look upon them with the tenderness and love, is to open up the horizon of hope…” [LINK] It seems obvious, that if we are not protectors of mother earth, what else will there remain to protect. To paraphrase the Sermon on the Mount, Blessed are those who protect Mother Earth for they shall be the eternal children of God.
Up to this point, Pope Francis has continued to emphasize our role as protectors of the ecology. In an Audience he had with representatives of the Churches and Ecclesial communities of different religions, [LINK] He reminded the ecumenical group that, “The Church is likewise conscious of the responsibility which all of us have for our world, for the whole of creation, which we must love and protect.” In another part of his talk he pointed out that, “…men and woman, who although not identifying themselves as followers of any religious tradition, …are our valued allies in the commitment to defending human dignity, in building a peaceful coexistence between peoples, and in safeguarding and caring for creation.” Hopefully he will continue to prioritize in a ecumenical way the importance of supporting climate change and acknowledging the impact that our failure to act will have on future generations.
THE GREEN POPE
Francis I is not the first pope who addressed the issue of climate change straight on. Although many of us will remember Pope Benedict XVI for his deep-rooted conservatism and, on many levels his efforts to keep the Church from embracing the 21st Century; others will blame him for how the church’s child abuse scandal was mishandled, and how his views on contraception have contributed to the spread of AIDS, but I suspect that relatively few know that he was named the Green Pope. Whether or not Benedict should be given the title of Green Pope is debatable and not all that important. As far as his position on the environment is concerned, I believe there is little doubt that the stance he took was a progressive one. Given the alternatives of either denying the dangers of global warming or taking a neutral position, he chose to be a prophet for God’s creation.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
What Father Mc Donald doesn’t take into account in his article is the impact the writings and actions of both popes have had on the response of the People of God from the bishops on down, or perhaps from the faithful on up. I’d like to think of it as a shared interest. Since, I’m most familiar with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC), I’ll just focus on a very few of the many initiatives that were stimulated by John Paul II 1990 message referenced above. Here’s one from Australia—the website for the Catholic Earthcare Australia. It was established by ACBC in 2002 as an agency of the Catholic Bishops Commission for Justice and Development. It’s a good example of how John Paul II’s call to “stimulate and sustain the ecological conversion” was heard and responded to in Australia. If you haven’t already, check their website [LINK] it has dozens of projects where folks can become agents of social change for the planet.
Here’s one project that ACBC is currently piloting; an initiative for schools, parishes, church organizations, and congregations to achieve ecological sustainability. It’s called ASSISI, an acronym for, A Strategic Systems-based Integrated Sustainable Initiative. Click here to find out more about ASSISI or here to check resources, references, and other projects. I have dozens of references but here’s one more from the 2002 Australian Catholic Bishops Statement on the Environment entitled What Can We Do? [LINK] It has a number of suggestions that you and I can take as shareholders of planet earth.
This posting on the website of the USCCBs is a good example of the type of advocacy the Bishops in the United States have taken. It’s under the title of U.S. Bishops Call for Moral Focus on Global Climate Change.[LINK] It includes a letter from the Chair of the Bishops Committee, Thomas Wenski to the members of the United States Congress. The letter refers back to 2001 when the bishops’ statement Global Climate Change A Plea for Dialogue Prudence and the Common Good, [LINK] which I believe is a classic statement that served as a basis for taking personal action. It’s a comprehensive resource for parishes, with information that catholics can use to better understand the connection between faith and the environment, and the urgency of dealing with “…the moral and human dimensions of climate change.” Then there is the Faithful Stewards of God’s Creation a book that the USCCBs developed which is also a resource for distribution to parishes, religious organizations, and schools that includes much of the information in the documents above, along with a DVD.
A section on USCCB’s website, A Catholic Resource for Environmental Justice and Climate Change [LINK] provides dozens of resources. Just click on one of the sub-titles on the left hand side of the page. For example, What are Catholics Doing provides description of programs in eight states and one region which received grants from the USCCBs. Now that’s faith in action! Another sub-title What We Can Do has four topics: A Personal Reflection, Taking Action in My State; Taking Action Nationally; and Taking Action Globally. You can also join their mail list for up-dates.
This is a short story about St. Patrick’s Grammar School in Chatham, New Jersey and their Environment Club, whose president was fifth-grader, William Brockman. To make a long story short, I just wanted to quote President Brockman’s wise words,
“There’s so much we can do to save the planet. At St. Patrick’s, we are learning as much as possible. We are environmentally aware. We need to conserve energy and our non-renewable resources. God has gifted us with the earth. We must do something to protect it.”
Out of the mouths of children… If you’re interested in the whole story, here it is [LINK]
Until the next time when the topic will be on the interfaith environment initiatives. I’d like to leave you with The St. Francis’ Environmental Pledge, from the Catholic Climate Covenant, [LINK] with the hope it might motivate you to get involved with environmental movement.
I/We Pledge to:
- PRAY and reflect on the duty to care for God’s Creation and protect the poor and vulnerable.
- LEARN about and educate others on the causes and moral dimensions of climate change.
- ASSESS how we-as individuals and in our families, parishes and other affiliations-contribute to climate change by our own energy use, consumption, waste, etc.
- ACT to change our choices and behaviors to reduce the ways we contribute to climate change.
- ADVOCATE for Catholic principles and priorities in climate change discussions and decisions, especially as they impact those who are poor and vulnerable
I remember reading an article in the Catholic Worker written by Dorothy Day sometime in the early 1950ies. In her inimitable style she paraphrased Luke 2:1 “…a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that a census be taken of all who inhabited earth.” Her version was “… a decree went out from Macy’s, and Wal-Mart and Sears, that the whole world should do their Christmas shopping.” I substituted Wal-Mart and Sears because the other two department stores she mentioned are no longer in business.
Although she was just applying consumerism to Christmas, I believe she was a prophet of the creeping culture of consumerism that has in recent years taken over our society. This commentary will consider consumerism and its underlying philosophy as it’s grown beyond the season of Christmas. I believe consumerism is a symptom of our value system. In a future commentary I will suggest ways of moving from a society based on consumerism to what has been called a Society of Sustainability. If we can’t change the world—at least we can change ourselves!
THE RISE OF CONSUMERISM
Consumerism is not a new phenomenon. Nor does its epitome, the American Dream, have the corner of the market. Wherever I mention the American Dream, you can just insert your own country. The dream is a matter of degree. According to Professor Peter N. Stearns in his book Consumerism in Word History, it has been around for centuries in different societies. Stearns’ book provides a comprehensive, academic review of its development and impact on societies.
To go back even farther in history, the sacred book of China, Tao Te Ching, which literally means the way, “…was written in China around the 6th century BCE presumably by Lao Tsu, approximately the same time as Buddha lived in India.” [LINK] The English translation is The I Ching or the Book of Changes. It’s made up of 81 brief chapters or verses. Verse 46 seems to describe a forewarning from the 6th century about the moral values that underlie contemporary consumerism. I think Lao Tsu nailed it; here are several lines from that verse:
There is no greater loss than losing the Tao (the Way), no greater curse than covetousness, no greater tragedy than discontentment; the worst of faults is wanting more—always. Contentment alone is enough. Indeed, the bliss of eternity can be found in contentment.
For the purpose of this commentary I want to focus on consumerism as it today in most of the developed societies, particularly the United States, which is perhaps an extreme example of consumerism at its worst. We all know that most of us buy things we don’t need; that advertisers exploit consumers through promoting campaigns that encourage us to buy stuff we don’t need because they know that we think more stuff will make us happier, smarter or more loved as we pursue the American Dream that’s built on the mentality that more stuff or newer stuff is better. The American Dream has become the American Nightmare. But before discussing any scholarly explanations of consumerism’s impact on society, here’s how the word stuff became so popular when talking about compulsive consumerism.
I believe the philosopher/comedian, a later day Lao Tzu, George Carlin, was way ahead of his time whenhe choose the word stuff to characterize consumerism in the early 1980ies in a routine he called A Place for My Stuff. The word stuff has become the symbol for all those things that we buy, but could do without. With his unique gift to see humor in situations that most of us would fail to notice, he philosophized that “…all we need in life is just a place for our stuff…all your house is, is a place for your stuff…as a matter of fact, a house is just a pile of stuff with a cover over it…and if we didn’t have stuff we wouldn’t need a house.” He goes on at length to point out how ludicrous the emphasis that we give to acquiring stuff is. Here’s the video of him performing that routine. You might want to watch it at your leisure if you’re not offended by some of his vulgarities. [LINK]
Remember that Carlin’s routine was performed before there was a Black Friday or a Cyber Monday. Now we even extend these margin days up to Christmas Eve. It’s basicallya national campaign, in which big business lowers prices and quantities to increase demand, and as a result—profits for them—all in the name of holiday shopping, when spending becomes as addictive as any drug. As you may know, there are actually 12 Step Programs for Shopaholics. “Hi, my name is Don and I’m a Shopaholic, Hi Don!”[LINK] Here’s a website that indicates, [LINK]compulsive shopping, also known as a spending addiction, can be as debilitating as gambling or alcohol addiction. Psychologists believe that the person who is a compulsive shopper uses shopping to soothe him/herself rather than dealing with life’s challenges head on. Obsessive shopping ultimately leads to worse problems than the ones from which the person is seeking relief. In many incidents the compulsive shopper’s behavior puts his/her family’s welfare in grave jeopardy, which often leads to divorce. Caveat Emptor!
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
In the words of Lao Tsu, whom I mentioned above, “She who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.” Here’s another quote, this time by an “unknown author, “When having more leaves you empty, you’ll discover true happiness lies in enough!” Or how about this one from Gandhi, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” Or as we used to say in the Bronx, “enough already”!
Although all of these quotations are though provoking, they don’t provide a black and white answer to the question, what’s enough under every situation. We need to determine whether we’re concerned about how much stuff we need versus how much stuff we want, or whether we need to buy a new car because our car is just obsolete and doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of a new model versus because it’s dying on us. I believe we don’t need a bureaucrat to figure it out for us; but sometimes we need help to motivate us in making the right choice, in answering the question; What is Enough for Me?
Here’s a story that helped me revaluate how much stuff I needed. It’s a book by Bob Perks, entitled I Wish You Enough. [LINK]I was very moved by his story. Youmight recognize the story because “…those words have been read at graduations, weddings, funerals, award ceremonies, and even engraved on stone.” Bob wrote the story after watching a father and daughter saying goodbye at an airport. If you’ve never read this heartwarming story, or even if you have, you can reread it on the link above. Pay special attention to the Seven Wishes that father shared at the end of the story, they are antidotes for our tendencies to accumulate more stuff then we need, and to keep us conscious of the effect too much stuff has on the environment.
The more I thought about Bob’s story, the more I could imagine that, I Wish You Enough being one of Jesus’ parables that was meant for our times; the Seven Wishes could be His 21st century Sermon on the Mount; and if we put the words to music, it could well be the national anthem for an anti-consumerism, sustainable society.
“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” ~ Edward Abbey
The good news is that there are a number of change organizations and programs and must read books that are already fighting the cancer of consumerism. Thebad news is that consumerism has metastasized to the point that if we continue to have the attitude to let George do it, our legacy for the next generation could be disastrous. So, to paraphrase an old call to action, “Now is the time for all good people to come to the aid of their galaxy.”
With that in mind, I’m going to focus on just one icon of our generation, who has a theological and scientific background, who devoted his personal, religious, and professional life, among other things, answering the key question, what’s enough! He taught us not only by what he wrote, but by being a model of how to live the New Story, or as some refer to it as, the Great Story of the universe, and our place in it, without jettisoning the entire Old Story.
If there were a Hall of Fame for individuals who have made significant contributions to our sense of responsibility to one another, our sense of the divinity of the universe and our place in it, how we can make a difference in our environment; how we can see beyond the myopic
views of our planet earth that many of have, the late Fr. Thomas Berry, would be a shoo-in for induction. He was a pioneer in the field of spirituality and ecology; some called him a monk, a cultural historian, an author, a teacher, and a mystic. He wrote or co-authored twenty books, but for this commentary, I’d just like to consider several of his most popular ones.
His book The Dream of the Earth, which was published in 1988, has had an impact on historians/ecologists/ecotheologians, as well as spiritual seekers. The president of the Northern America Conference of Religion and Ecology praise his book as being “…quite possibly one of the ten most important books of the century.” The book suggests that the ecclesiastical establishment, along with empires, corporations, and nation states, have controlled western nations in their becoming progressively more destructive of the earth.
I’m sure he aggravated the Vatican when he wrote, “…the primary ‘pro-life’ act is to support planet earth, which sustains all the life we know.” He was not a pro-abortion advocate, but he was in a subtle way, trying to awaken the hierarchy to their need to get their priorities straight. He believed that the Church needed to be more proactive about preserving the environment. Think about it, rather than spending their time and our money on pushing an agenda of contraception and abortion, our planet might be facing more than the loss of unborn children if they don’t put more energy into fighting for the survival of mother earth.
In Berry’s own words in the Dream of the Earth:
“We have a new story of the universe. Our own presence to the universe depends on our human identity with the entire cosmic process. In its human expression, the universe and the entire range of earthly and heavenly phenomena celebrate themselves and the ultimate mystery of their existence in a special exaltation. Science has given us a new revelatory experience. It is now giving us a new intimacy with the Earth.”
Equally powerful was another book that he co-authored with Brian Swimme, a renowned physicist/cosmologist, The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era—A Celebration of the Cosmos. This book’s major focus is on interrelatedness of the whole universe and our place in it. They point out that for most of the 14 billion years of creative evolution, we humans were not around until the Ecozoic Era, the era when our ancestors realized that they were the result of a long story, and they needed to understand that they could be overseers of the earth with all its wonders. I think Connie Barlow captured their reverence for our planet when she wrote on her website The Great Story, [LINK]“The more we learn about Earth and life process, the more we are in awe and the deeper the urge to revere the evolutionary forces that give time a direction and the ecological forces that sustain our planetary home.”
But if you really want to get to know Thomas Berry, as both a man and scholar, I found that Carolyn W. Toben’s memoir, Recovering a Sense of the Sacred: Conversations with Thomas Berry, published in 2012, offers an intimate sense of Berry beyond his books and essays.
For ten years Ms. Toben spent hours with Berry in deep discussions about his fundamental thinking. She makes it clear that for Thomas the relationship that we humans have with the earth, is the primary experience of the divine, and the pain that Berry had for the destruction of our eco-system. But despite that pain, the conversations give us more than a little hope; it gives us a workable path to the future.
You may want to check out my website for more information about the Fr. Berry and the Great Story under the title Creationism and Evolution and scroll down to # 16, [LINK] In addition to videos of the Cosmic All Stars singing their songs, We are the Cosmos and The Cosmos Blues, there is a wealth of information from experts on the new cosmology and the New Story. To mention a few: Michael Dowd, author of Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World, # 4; Brian Swimme’s, website, The Center of the Universe, # 5; Teilhard de Chardin’s position on suffering from a cosmic perspective #14; Connie Barlow, the creator of the website the Great Story, # 15; Matthew Fox and his story of the Original Blessing, #17; and many more.
I must confess that I am a recovering “shopping sinner”. It wasn’t until my early sixties that I changed my shopping habits and became a more conscious consumer and more concerned about the damage we were doing to planet earth. I grew up at a time when a new car cost between $1,200 and $1,600. So it seemed natural to me to trade my “old” car for a new one every other year, whether I needed a new car or not. I had a fixation for buying wrist watches. How many wrist watches did I need? Certainly not a half a dozen! And then there was just stuff! Stuff that I didn’t need; stuff that ended up in a closet for years; sweaters that were taking up space in drawers. I’d clean out my closets and drawers, just to make space for more stuff. I never told the priest in confession that I was guilty of buying too much stuff: “Bless me father for I have sinned, I just bought a new watch and sweater that I didn’t need.” At that time, I didn’t think that I was an evil person or that the Lords of Consumption, the corporations, who were profiting from my purchases, or the hucksters who were promoting hyper-commercialism were evil. It was just the way things were.
I suppose most of us had, or has at least a touch of the shopping sinner’s syndrome. So, now’s a good time for us to reflect on how we can change our wicked ways, and as the eighth step in the 12 step programs say, make amends. My “aha moment” was when I first was exposed to the Great Story of the Universe. From there it seemed an obvious next step to become involved with the Green Movement [LINK] . The movement“… advocates the sustainable management of resources and stewardship of the environment through changes in public policies and individual behavior.” The movement is centered on ecology, health and human rights.
In my next commentary, I will focus on specific ways we all can become involved both personally by changing our consumer habits, and through change organizations by advocating for sustainable social policies for saving mother earth us and for future generations.
I wish you all enough for 2013!
I’m not sure why, but as I was thinking about a title for this commentary, one of my childhood nursery rhymes Humpty Dumpty popped into my head. It was almost as if I were having a mystical experience. But why Humpty Dumpty I thought? What does he have to do with despair or hopelessness for reform in the Church? Then I remembered as kindergartener I could never figure out why Humpty fell off the wall in the first place. Did someone push him or was it his own fault that he fell, and why couldn’t they ever put him together again?
Then in my adult mind it dawned on me, perhaps Humpty Dumpty is an analogy for the situation the Catholic Church is in. There are many who believe the church is at a breaking point or already has “had a great fall” and can’t be put together again. An increasing number of us no longer have the energy to “fight the good fight”, and are ready to admit defeat, and move on. The question is, can Humpty Dumpty be put together again? This commentary will consider whether the hopefulness for renewal in the Church that I covered in my last commentary, makes me a Cockeyed Optimist, like the song in the Broadway musical, by Rodgers and Hammerstein, South Pacific. Or is it time to join the increasing numbers of what Tom Roberts calls ‘had it’ Catholics? [LINK].
SOURCES OF HOPELESSNESS
I believe that many of the reasons for our hopelessness for reform can be traced to actions or inactions of the hierarchy. Since there are so many examples of our leaders stonewalling adult dialogue, and examples of their own misbehaviors, I decided to limit the sources of hopelessness to a few fairly recent sources.
I’ve been reading Brian Lennon S.J.’s book published in 2012; Can I Stay in the Catholic Church?, with the hope that it would provide new information for how we decide our standing in the Catholic Church. Here’s a website, Building a Church without Walls, [LINK] with information about his book and links to other articles that he’s written, as well as links to articles by the website’s editor. Lennon clearly identifies the most logical reasons for leaving the church, and seems to be incensed by the behaviors of our church leaders. He asks the question, “So why do I choose to remain in the church?” I don’t mean to spoil the suspense but, his final decision is to remain in the church. I respect his decision, but I was surprised in the way he arrived at it. Lennon replays all the scandals over the centuries, from slavery which was “…imposed in the Third Lateran Council of 1179 on those helping the Saracens.” [LINK] to the crusades in the 11th and 12th centuries, to the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century, up to the scandals of present time. When you come right down to it, I believe that he uses all the past scandals to confirm his thesis that eventually, the Holy Spirit will intervene and the church will bounces back magically from the current discontent, as it has in the past, but that change might take decades or more.
To me, it reminds me of playing baseball in grammar school, before we came up to bat we’d pray, “Hail Mary full of grace, let me get to second base” and expected divine intervention. I don’t mean to dismiss the Holy Spirit or prayer, but Lennon is basically making the argument, that because other incidents of malfeasance by our leaders have eventually been resolved, or faded from our memories, that’s the way the Holy Spirit works. It just doesn’t fit with my understanding of outside intervention by the Holy Spirit.
Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong wrote an essay recently that I believe is an example of why the majority of the catholic laity doesn’t buy the church’s position on same sex marriage. The title of the essay is, You Are Profoundly Wrong: A Response to the Archbishop of Newark and Others.[LINK] Bishop Spong answers a lengthy article by Archbishop John J. Meyers, When Two Become One: A Pastoral Teaching on the Definition, Purpose and Sanctity of Marriage. [LINK]
He starts his essay in a very civil fashion by acknowledging that he has no reason to believe that Meyers is not a good and sincere person but, he advises the Archbishop that “…one has a responsibility to be well-informed on the issues about which one speaks.” He suggests that it is not acceptable to just quote the authority of the magisterium of one’s church to support ideas or “…to quote traditional religious conclusions, as if they are viable or still acceptable in academic and intellectual circles.”
If you look at the references at the end of Meyers’ article you’ll see that most of them are quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church or what popes or early fathers of the church had to say. It’s like me quoting something from an article I wrote years ago, to prove a point on a current issue. This doesn’t make any sense, unless you’re in the type of denial [LINK] that can make an otherwise intelligent individual behave in an unintelligent manner, because they are too threatened by the Truth, and are unable to process what is perfectly apparent to most people. Spong goes on to “…try to unravel this maze of incoherent conclusions.” The article is well worth reading if for no other reason, to see how a contemporary scholar responds to a clergyman stuck in the past, whose mission is to impose the teaching of the church on the consciences of others, in this case sane sex marriages. Thus, denying us the primacy of our conscience.
THE BISHOPS’ POLITICAL CAMPAIGN
This reference is hot off the press. It’s a response from Americans United for the Separation of Church and Stateto President Obama’s re-election on November 6, 2012. The title of the article, Election Outcome is Bitter Defeat for Catholic Bishops and Religious Right [LINK] is essentially a response to the Catholic Bishops and their religious fundamentalist allies’ attempt
to control the outcome of the election. Many of us believed that the bishops’ casuistic strategies in their campaign to defeat the Obama administration, was an abuse of the power of the political pulpit. Attacks by some bishops and other clerics were blatant assaults on the President (like comparing him and his administration to the Nazis and worse). When the bishops were criticized publically, they tempered their rhetoric. They prefaced their statement by assuring their readers that they weren’t telling the faithful whom to vote for, but if you vote for a politian who supports legislation in favor of contraception or abortion etc., you are putting your immortal soul in jeopardy of eternal damnation. I questioned their approach in several commentaries on the Catholica website, one was entitled Obama vs. Dolan, [LINK] challenges the way the bishops abused the church’s tax exempt status to surreptitiously promote the election of political candidates who didn’t agree with their positions.
HANS KUNG HAS HAD IT!
Since the day that Hans Kung spent a pleasant four hours at Castel Gandolfo in 2005 with his former colleague, and newly minted Pope Benedict XVI, Kung has reassessed his optimism for Benedict’s papacy several times. I remember when Kung came to Phoenix for a lecture about two weeks after his meeting with the pope, and I had the pleasure of having an “intimate dinner” with him along with a group of 30 or 40 members of the Jesuit Alumni Association of Arizona. He told us “privately” that he had decided to talk about things that both he and the pope agreed on to avoid any awkwardness. His immediate response after their meeting was that they had a cordial reunion talking about old times and issues they agreed on, and he was “cautiously optimistic”.
Fast forward to 2009 when Kung called for a Third Vatican Council, and listed a number of issues that had not even been discussed at Vatican II. [LINK] At the same time he recognized that “…another global council would not happen because the Vatican was afraid…and was trying to restore the pre-Vatican II church…”
Kung’s next major announcement was a five page, single spaced letter addressed to all the Venerable Bishops. [LINK] He first apologized for the open letter format, and adds that “…unfortunately I have no other way of reaching you.” After expressing how his hopes for the pope’s papacy along with “… so many engaged catholic men and women have been unfulfilled…”, he spends over a page pointing out the missed opportunities for rapprochement with every religious group that Benedict has estranged. He particularly highlights the Jews, when he “… reintroduced into the liturgy a pre-conciliar prayer for the enlightenment of the Jews…and the Muslins in his 2006 Regensburg lecture…(when he) caricatured Islam as a religion of violence and inhumanity…”
Kung gives his assessment of what he thinks were serious faux pas on the pope’s part, like promoting the medieval Tridentine Mass, and reinforcing the anti-conciliar forces in the church by his curial appointments. He goes on to discuss some major crises that were poorly handled by the pope. At the top of his list “…comes a scandal crying out to heaven-the revelation of the clerical abuse of thousands of children and adolescents …and to make matters worse, the handling of these cases given rise to an unprecedented collapse of trust in church leadership.” He concluded the letter with six proposals for the bishops to consider.
I’m not sure if any of the Venerable Bishops personally responded to Kung’s letter but the Vatican responded on the front page of its official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, under the headline, Dear Hans, followed by a bit of tactless sarcasm from the author, Pier Giordano Cabra. [LINK] He told Kung that “…perhaps if your letter had breathed a bit more of the hymn to charity, it would have turned out to be a more elegantly evangelical gesture of congratulations” for Benedict’s 83rd birthday and fifth anniversary as pope, as well as “a more fruitful contribution to the church that is suffering for the weakness of her sons.” The weakness of her sons, indeed!
“Comes the revolution!” On October 5, 2012 an article appeared in The Guardian entitled, Catholic Theologian Preaches Revolution to end Church’s ‘Authoritarian Rule’. [LINK] Guess who the theologian was? You got that right! Apparently Fr. Kung’s letter to the bishops and all his previous strategies of reform, revival, or renewal didn’t have the effect on the Vatican that he hoped for, and he proposes a new strategy, revolution. He’s following an old social change dictum “If the strategy you’re using is working do more of it, if it’s not working, do something different.” This was not the first time Kung mentioned a more aggressive approach for change in the church, for example, the comprehensive transcript of an interview by Anthony Padovano presented at the meeting in Detroit of the American Catholic Council [LINK], and an article in Der Spiegel [LINK] entitled the Putinization of the Catholic Church, both in 2011. It’s apparent in reading these articles that Kung was getting more and more impatient with the hierarchy, not only for their digging their heals in, but if push comes to shove, they would take a laissez faire position and settle for a much smaller church.
THE SYNOD AND THE ‘NEW EVANGELIZIATION’, MORE DISAPPOINTMENTS!
The title of an article in the Catholic News Service on October 26, was Faith in Jesus Means Being Optimistic about the Future, Synod Message Says. [LINK] I’m sorry, I have faith in Jesus, but I don’t have the same faith in the 260 cardinals, bishops, and priests who attended the synod. Unlike the optimism that the documents of Vatican II inspired in many of us fifty years ago, I found the end results of the synod disappointing. Although the New Evangelization at times seems like talking points prepared by a Madison Ave. PR agency, there are some encouraging words. For example, an article entitled, Message of the Synod: Look with ‘Serene Courage’ to the Future of Evangelization, [LINK] is mostly positive. They point out issues of families, poverty, the importance of parishes, need for dialogue and how they “…want our communities to harness and not suppress, the power of their enthusiasm.” They talk about dialogue, dialogue, dialogue! [LINK] But given their recent history dialogues is not their best suit. We need actions not just words. The bishops know how to “talk the talk, but not how to walk the walk” as they say in the twelve step programs. I’d be more hopeful if they had added a sentence with a touch of humility, something like, “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, we realize we haven’t always been open to dialogue, nor have we been consistent in being transparent, but we promise to be more transparent and committed to dialogue in the future.”
They reflect on Vatican II as, “the great Council of the Church”, which proclaimed the need for the faith to be communicated anew to the modern world.” This doesn’t match their recent rhetoric and actions. They acknowledge Lumen Gentium, for setting “…the groundwork…by laying out the Church’s mission; Gaudium et Spes, in which the Church dedicated herself to “dialogue,…changes in the social order and shifts in attitudes to morality and religion….”; Ad Gentes tell us the how of evangelization…” etc.
Much of text in The New Evangelization’s document reminds me of a song that Frank Sinatra sang in the early 1940ies, I’ve Heard that Song Before. Some of you might remember, the first line: “It seems to me I’ve heard that song before, It’s from an old familiar score, I know it well, that melody.”Now don’t get me wrong, I love nostalgia and I believethat some of the content of the New Evangelization can be helpful, but not as it’s presented in the synod documents, where they don’t mention the faithful having any role in the governance of the church. They are clear that our role is to evangelize, to spread the faith, “not that there’s anything wrong with that”, but they apparently plan to continue to dictate to the faithful what they must believe, without listening to what the sensus fidelium has to contribute to their decisions.
DECISIONS, DECISIONS, DECISIONS
In the space available for this commentary and my last one in Catholica, Hope Springs Eternal …, [LINK] I’ve provided examples to help balance the pros and cons for whether to remain, leave, or take a sabbatical from the Roman Catholic Church. But, I don’t think it’s enough for us to just add up the pluses and minuses to make a decision. I wish it were as simple as it is for someone like Bill Donahue, “…the chronically peeved president of the Catholic League…” as Bill Keller referred to him in an article in the New York Times, The Rottweiler’s Rottweiler. [LINK] In Donohue’s new book Why Catholicism Matters, his characteristic response to someone who disagrees with the church’s teaching, on say gay marriages, would be, Shut up or go! Would that it were so unequivocal!
I think the major reason why it so difficult for many of us to buy into Donohue’s shut up or go philosophy, is that the decision to leave the church is not just a black and white cognitive decision. It involves emotions that we might have struggled with for years. Looking back on my life, there have been a number of occasions when I had to make a decision to stay or leave. I remember how I agonized about leaving the active ministry. It took me at least five years before I wrote Pope Paul VI a letter requesting a dispensation (It took him two years to answer me). Then there was the dilemma of my divorce. In some ways leaving the church is similar to getting a divorce. My personal experience of getting divorced, and my professional experience as a therapist, where I counseled couples and families through their divorces, and gave workshops on divorce recovery, supplied me with ample anecdotal and empirical information of just how heartrending it can be. Leaving the church, despite its many moral weaknesses, is not an event as much as it is a process. No matter how much reflection, how much support, how much praying we do, when push comes to shove, only the individual can make that decision, we are the deciders; not the pope, not our bishop, not our confessor, not our parents, only we can make that decision. But that’s a whole other commentary.
As I’ve said a number of times, I believe change in the institution of the church has to come from the bottom up. I don’t belong to the same Roman Catholic Church of my youth. I don’t kowtow to Rome or its minions. I follow the mantra of “Keep the Faith, but question the beliefs”, and have eliminated those beliefs that no longer make any sense to me. I intend to continue to be part of those lay movements that are working from inside the church for change, as I have for years. Will all the changes I’d like to see, happen in my lifetime? I doubt it! In the meantime unless they kick me out of the Catholic community, I don’t plan to change religions. Living in a retirement community, where the good Holy Cross fathers preside at the liturgy every Sunday, meets my need for a sense of being part of a spiritual community. But I am open to the sharing social change responsibilities for the disenfranchised with other spiritual and religious communities.
So, as a former professor of mine used to say, “We shall see what we shall see!”