Tag: Catholic Church

Obedience To Authority And Loyal Dissent

My last blog, My Calling to the Clerical Culture, described and analyzed my experiences as a , when I was being indoctrinated into the and as a priest when I became part of that culture. The anecdotes I related were not intended to represent all clerics, but to provide readers with one man’s perspective, with the hope that they would be able to see how it was possible for a sincere, but naïve and psychosexually immature individual to actually become part of the .

In this blog, I intend to concentrate on the abuse of the virtue of obedience, which I believe is the crucial characteristic, the underlying problem, of the that gives the hierarchy power over the “lowerarchy”. As Lord Acton (1834–1902), the historian and moralist reminded Mandell Creighton in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This same reference also suggests that monarchial governments are more prone to corruption. But more about that later! 

The Perils of Obedience to Authorities

One of the first scholars I thought of when I decided to write this commentary on obedience was Stanley Milgram, PhD, a social psychologist whose website is linked here. Although his untimely death in 1984 ended a life of scientific inventiveness, his research and writing continues to influence contemporary culture and thought. When I was taking classes in research and statistics at Columbia University we studied his ground breaking work on obedience to authority as a model of an empirical study. At that time my focus was not on obedience to authority, but on Milgram’s methodology as a researcher. After recently re-reading his experiments, it became abundantly clear how his findings could apply to the chain of command in the Church, and it confirms the need for change in its archaic application of obedience to authority.

I’m just going to give a brief synopsis of his research on obedience, but if your interested, here is a paper he wrote that explains his methodology and findings: Perils of Obedience

As described on his website, between 1961 and 1962 he set up an experiment at Yale University to determine how conditioned humans were to obey persons in authority. He found, surprisingly, that 65% of his subjects, ordinary residents of New Haven, were willing to give what they thought were harmful electric shocks-up to 450 volts—to protesting “victims”, simply because a scientific authority instructed  them to, and in spite of the fact that the “victim” did not do anything to deserve such punishment. The ‘victim” was, in reality, a good actor who did not actually receive shocks. This fact was revealed to the subjects at the end of the experiment. But, during the experiment itself, the experience was as powerfully real and gripping one for most participants. His experiment illustrated the power that authority has over most humans. In Milgram’s Perils of Obedience above, he concluded that the road to disobedience “… is a difficult path, which only a minority of subjects is able to pursue to its conclusion…” For those of us who are , the bottom line is, since many of us are so strongly conditioned from early childhood to obey the injunctions that the Church authorizes as the unchangeable word of God, it’s important for us to question these orders and challenge unreasonable mandates of obedience to authorities.

Is Obedience a Virtue or Vice?

I believe the answer to the question above is—it depends. However,if you follow the official position of the Church verbatim, the correct answer would be that obedience is—always a virtue! This is clear in the Catechism of the Church (CCC)Check Chapter Three, Man’s Response to God , and scroll down to Article 1, I Believe, # 144 I. The Obedience of Faith and you will find this statement: 

To obey (from the Latin ob-audire, to “hear or listen to”) in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard, because its truth is guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself. Abraham is the model of such obedience offered us by Sacred Scripture. The Virgin Mary is its most perfect embodiment.

If we agree with the CCC, we always must obey the pope and bishops, “because the Bible tells us so”, as does the Church’s magisterial authority on faith and morals, that dates back to the apostles and the writings of the early Church Fathers. According to these sources, the hierarchy of the Roman Church speaks for God, and to defy or disobey Church authorities, is to defy and disobey God herself.

Marie Louise Uhr in an article published in 1998 entitled  Obedience, a Questionable Virtue , arrived at a different conclusion than the CCC.  I agree with her position that although in some cases obedience may be evil, (e.g. soldiers obeying orders to kill innocent civilians) at the very least, obedience is—a questionable virtue. She provides the historical background of how the Christology of obedience became so central in the church’s hierarchical structure. She puts the questionable virtue of obedience in the context of the Old and New Testament, as well as its theological and psychological background..

The whole article is available on the link above, and is well worth reading. Here are some highlights of her thinking, which hopefully will encourage you to read her article. In the introduction she first makes a strong case for the devastating results that the present Christology of obedience has produced.

I wish to suggest that Christian theology which preaches an obedient Christ and upholds obedience to authority as a major virtue has led to authoritarianism, hierarchical church structures, which have encouraged church members to uphold obedience, rather than conscientious discernment, as the primary response to orders from both church and civil authorities. And this has had disastrous consequences for large segments of society. Hence I want to consider the theology, and in particular the Christology of obedience; some of the social and theological problems that I think come from this Christology; scriptural foundations for dissent and disobedience , and the possibility of a more Spirited, democratic church…

Consequences of Considering Obedience as a Virtue

To mention just one of Ms. Uhr’s “disastrous consequences” of considering obedience as virtue, she describes the fact that for hundreds of years women have lived under “divine authority” to obey their husbands in all things. It was even part of the wedding service thanks to Saint Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, and Pope Pius XI’s 1931 encyclical Casti Connubii, until rather recently when it became politically incorrect, thanks mainly to the women in the feminist movement. 

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.  Ephesians 5:21

Had Ms. Uhr lived into the beginning of the 21st century, I’m sure she would have addressed what many think is the most scandalous consequence of obedience in the history of the Church—the   sexual abuse of children by the pedophile predator priests and the bishops who covered-up for them, instead of protecting the victims. Without trying to go through hundreds of cases over the last twenty years, I believe the recent trial of Monsignor William Lynn, of the Archdiocese of the Philadelphia, his conviction of a felony, and his sentence of three to six years in prison, for the key role he had in covering-up for the clergy who abused children, should send a message to the hierarchy that they need to get their act together. They are no longer able to hide behind their prestigious positions in the church, their expensive lawyers, and public relations people.

A recent article in the Irish Times, entitled The Church in the Dock, highlighted the Lynn trial and sentencing, pointing out the impact Lynn’s conviction will have internationally.  The author specifically mentions cases in Ireland and London as well as Lynn case. He ends the article by saying in a typical Irish poetic and polite writing style, “All three cases raise uncomfortable issues for the church in addressing how, quite properly, its priest/employees, will be held to account legally. These and other cases all involve uphill battles in which the church used all legal means at its disposal…to fend off accountability. That is its right, but, particularly to victims, appears a strange form of contrition.” He’s got that right! It’s tantamount to the church giving itself absolution by saying an act of contrition, and for its penance saying three Hail Maries and three Our Fathers.  The time for the church to be apologetic is over; it’s time for them to be accountable!

Back to Philadelphia! Rather than my going over the details of the months-long landmark clergy-abuse trial of Monsignor, Lynn, and his sentencing, if you’re interested in a thorough and professional coverage of the trial, I’d suggest reading the archives from the website of Catholics4Change, based in Philadelphia. The website’s primary concerns are:

  • The Priest Pedophile Scandal
  • Church Accountability to Laity
  • Empty Pews
  • Lack of Moral Leadership

All of these concerns are in one way or another, connected with the abuse of obedience by authority.

Our Right to

Ms. Uhr’s articlealso deals with dissent. She reminds us that “Jesus is the great dissenting prophet”, and that there is a need for “dissent or disobedience from the ‘obedient laity’ to become a Spirit-filled People of God, if we are going to have a healthy church.”

Dissent has a long history in the Church. Robert Mc Clory’s book Dissenters provides stories of men and women, who loved and changed the church by taking contrary opinions on one or more of the Church’s teachings, and are models of loyal dissent. Most of the subjects of the eighteen stories in his book are well known names including: Galileo, St. John Henry Newman, soon to be declared a saint, the mystic Hildegard of Bingen, St. Catherine of Siena, theologians Yves Congar and John Courtney Murray, S.J. to mention a few. Mc Clory identifies how all of their stories have several things in common: each story was inspirational and can encourage us to stay the course, and most of all to be fearless in the face of extreme controversy. All the dissenters suffered emotional abuse for their dissent, for example John Courtney Murray was publically disgraced when he was silenced by Pope Pius XII because of his writings; they all remained in the church through thick and thin; they did not reject the concept of church authority, but just how authority was applied to particular teachings; the issues they questioned eventually were resolved, and more often than not, had ramifications that benefited the whole church and; the resolutions of their issues established principles that could be applied to other doctrinal disputes. These dissenters have been called by their admirers “the original cafeteria s”, who dared to contradict and criticize the Church.

I believe “now is the time for all good people of God” to ratchet up its level of dissent, and to follow these great role models. As the Irish Times article suggested above, I believe that Monsignor Lynn’s conviction and sentencing as a felon, should sound an alarm to the , from the hierarchy on down, to the point where they will be more open to make positive changes in their style of governance. And perhaps, just perhaps Lynn’s jail sentence will put the fear of the Lord or the fear of the civil justice system in them, if for no other reason to avoid Jesus’ uncharacteristic harsh admonitionBut whoever shall offend one of these little ones who believes in me, it would be better for him that a millstone were hanged around his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” Matthew 18:6. And perhaps, just perhaps, the USCCBs will have the integrity, the fortitude to follow the example of Penn State. The dyke built to protect abusers at Penn State finally broke and though overdo, the president, the vice president, the athletic director, and the icon of college football Coach Joe Paterno were fired. (See my blog Say it Ain’t So Joe—Penn State and the Catholic Church, 12/3/11). Not only was Paterno fired, but they removed the halo that encircling his head in a group painting, that canonized him as Saint Joe. They also impounded the famous eight foot bronze statue of him that stood outside of Penn State’s Beaver Stadium. There must be a message somewhere in there for the bishops. For a more in depth opinion of this issue, read Spong’s essay, The Penn State Tragedy Highlights the Catholic Church’s Failure.

On further reflection, I don’t think that the United States Conference of s (USCCB) as it is currently structured will make significant changes without “the power of the people of God” mounting a persuasive crusade to claim their rights and needs. Here is an interesting article that appeared recently on the website,  Questions from EWE, entitled On Sheep and Shepherds.,that adds more light on our shepherds and our right to dissent. The authors of the website preface the article with a statement that appears on everyone of its blogs: “Test everything: retain what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). They then remind us of our canonical right to dissent: “Please remember that Canon Law says it is not only a right but a duty to question the church. Also, Canon Law provides an over-riding power to the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful). By this, Canon Law says that if the collective of the faithful rejects a law, it is not valid.” (How about contraception! The last I heard, close to 90% of the faithful did not agree with Pope Paul VI’s so called contraception encyclical, Humanae Vitae.)  

The article uses its interpretation of scripture to point out that the faithful want Shepherds not clerical politicians to lead the church, and they use Jeremiah’s prophecy as a warning to shepherds (aka bishops), ‘’Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture declares the Lord!” (23:1) Apparently Jeremiah foresaw what was to happen under the reigns of Benedict XVI and John Paul II as they systematically rescinded parts of the most progressive documents of Vatican II. For example, Gaudium et Spes, The Church in the Modern World, Apostolicam Actuositatem, The Apostolate of the Laity, and , The Constitution on the Church.

MISSION OF DISSENT

The good news is there are already dozens of active groups within the church that are already actively exercising their right to dissent and their obligation to be responsible as baptized Christian s. From the American Catholic Council to the Voice of the Faithful virtually from A to V, and in between, there are thousands of fellow travelers already involved in carrying out their mission of dissent. Every day I’m collecting more Links and Resources  for my website, so you might want to check there.

For my next commentary, I plan to address the issue of democratizing the church, starting with how we choose our bishops, and how we can help change its monarchial structure.  In the meantime, I am writing a letter to the bishop of Phoenix and several bishops I know personally. I’m basing it on the great letter that Anthony T. Massimini wrote on his website  The 21st Century American Catholic under the section, CURRENT DISCUSSIONS, dated July 24, 2012.

He starts his letter to the Archbishop of Philadelphia by stating that Msgr. Lynn is not the only one that is sentenced for being an obedient servant but “…the Church’s authority structure has also been convicted, and must be “sentenced”. He goes on in a very straight forward style to remind the bishop of his responsibilities to the “true People of God”; and challenges him to do more than apologize and has a number of good suggestions how the archbishop can do that.  I hope you will consider joining in this letter writing campaign.

Finally, I end this commentary with a phrase that was used to close letters in the 19th century, the time of Pius IX, the father of infallibility. It seems appropriate for the topic of obedience to authority.

Sincerely, your humble and obedient servant,

Don Fausel

My Calling to the Clerical Culture

I’d like to share some anecdotal information that I personally experienced both as a and , who became part of the culture. There certainly were “benefits” but there was also a price to pay for being put on a pedestal by parishioners as well as people outside the Church, who had some unrealistic images of anyone who wore a Roman collar. I’m not suggesting that my experiences represent the majority of those who were ordained in pre-Vatican II, but I think my experiences can resonate with others who were ordained during that period of time, and for those who are interested, they can vicariously identify with the dynamics of becoming part of the culture.

In my next commentary, I will move from my personal experiences as a former “cleric”, and consider the concept of the culture from an institutional, sociological, and psychological perspective. I will first examine the abuse of—and—and addiction to power in the Church, from the Vatican on down. Second, how the perpetuation of culture has contributed to the sexual abuse of children. Finally, I will propose how I believe that we, the people of God can begin to change this elitist culture of ism.

Naïve and Immature

I have a section in my memoir entitled My Calling. It describes a casual conversation I had with Harry Hinds. He was the director of the Youth Program (CYO) for the diocese of Albany, NY. I worked in his office as his assistant during my last year in high school. One day while we were working on the spring baseball schedule, he asked me what I was going to do after I graduated. I told him I was thinking of going to Siena College to study social work. He asked if I ever thought about becoming a . I told him I thought about it, but I didn’t think I had a calling. The next thing I knew, he was on the phone talking to the Chancellor of the Diocese telling him he had a young man in his office who was thinking about a vocation to the hood. By the end of his phone call, he had made an appointment for me to talk to Monsignor Rooney about my vocation. I was a little surprised to say the least, but part of me was flattered that he thought I was worthy enough to join their club. I was also more than a little and . To make a long story short, the next September, I was off to St. Thomas’ a minor Seminary in Connecticut to become part of the culture. My parents never questioned or pushed my decision, but being “good s”, I sensed that they were pleased with my “choice”.

Seminary Days

I took to the seminary like the proverbial “duck to water”. The sports, the camaraderie,  the feeling that I would have a purpose in that would not only bring me closer to God, but would give me an opportunity to help others to know and serve God. In my puerile mind, I imagined myself as being like Bing Crosby in the two movies Going My Way, and The Bells of St. Mary’s, where he played Chuck O’Malley. For me, being a was like being a member of a Fraternity. We even had our own song, Ecce quam Bonum, the first line from Psalm 133, “Behold how good and how joyful it is for brethren to dwell together in unity”.  That was also our chosen class song at the major seminary, St. Mary’s Seminary and Pontifical University.

The Hot House

During the eight years I was in the seminary, we were required to spend eight weeks of our summer “vacation” at Camp Gibbons, the diocesan camp for s on Schroon Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. The schedule was much more relaxed than the seminary’s. In the morning they bussed in children from parishes in several towns near the camp for religious instructions. It was a chance for us to teach catechism.  The rest of the day was time for swimming, playing tennis, sun bathing, and living a of luxury. Our colleague from other dioceses accused us of being put in a “hot house” for the summer to maintain our chastity by not being open to the temptations of the outside world. Looking back, I suspect that they were right. Especially, since we were under the watchful eye of our bishop, who spent his summer with us in what he called “his Villa”.  At the time I thought it was just another opportunity to bond with your brother s, after all they would be my major support group after ordination.

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When I was getting close to ordination, one of our neighbors, a non-catholic woman wrote a poem that she dedicated to me. The title was, He Walks with the Hand of God. I just remember the first line or two, a little corny but it was her perception. “Not long ago a boy I met, who my kind of did not covet, for he walked with the hand of God. His air was so proud, and he so perfect, for he walked with the hand of God.” You see what I mean about it being a little corny? Thinking about it now, it’s a little scary—me, perfect?—years later I used to do a workshop entitled Be Ye Perfect: Mission Impossible! I must have intuitively known before my ordination that was not achievable, at least for me.

Here’s another example of the perfection that was expected of me. One of the meditations that I often used in the seminary was written by a Dominican , Jean Baptist-Lacordaire, who lived in the nineteenth century:

Thou Art a Priest Forever

To live in the midst of the world with no desire for its pleasure; to be a member of  every family, yet not belong to none; to share all sufferings; to penetrate all secrets, to heal all wounds; to go daily from men to God to offer Him their homage and petitions; to return from God to men to bring them His pardon and hope; to have a fire for charity and a heart of bronze for chastity; to bless and be blessed forever. O God, what a and it is yours, O Priest of Jesus Christ!

At the time it seemed like a very quixotic role to play. But even then, I used to wonder, why me? There were so many guys in my high school class who were: smarter than I, holier than I, more popular than I, why was I the chosen one? Looking back, Lacordarie’s description of the role and responsibilities of a was indeed a “mission impossible”. The expectations seem overwhelming.  When I expressed my doubts to my seminary confessor, he told me they were just goals and that no one could meet them all the time, and that no one is perfect, we just do the best we can. When I told him about my concern about having “a heart of bronze for chastity”, andthat I was struggling with impure thoughts and temptations, he reassured me that once I was ordained, God would give me the grace that I needed to overcome those temptations.
It was not until I read A.W.Richard Sipe’s book, A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy, published in 1990, I realized just how many other s were struggling and often losing their battle to have a “heart of bronze for chastity.”  Sipe is a former , and now is a psychotherapist, who has been engaged in research on the institution of the church and ly celibacy for over thirty years. The research for this book presented empirical of sexual activity by almost 50% of the Roman s. I wonderedif my seminary confessor knew that there were that many s who were ordained and did not ipso facto receive the grace of celibacy. And if he did, would he have given me different advice.

Ordination

At my first mass there was a line of over 200 people waiting to receive my blessing. I realized that it was not Don Fausel they were waiting for, but Fausel—but it was still a rather spine-tingling feeling to have everyone from my long lost relatives to Erastus Corning II, the mayor of Albany kneeling at my feet as I pronounced in Latin, “May the blessing of Almighty God, Son and Holy Spirit, descend upon you and remain forever.”

After I finished blessing everyone, my boyhood friend, Muggsy McGraw, pulled me aside, and brought me down to earth in his own inimical way, “Look Fausel, you got your butt in a tub of butter, three squares a day and no heavy lifting, don’t screw it up! You got instant status, instant security, and a job for . Yesterday you were nobody and today you’re Fausel. Ya get my drift? ” How right he was!

But I was elevated again when I got to my first parish. Like most parishes in those days, there was an older lady that acted as cook and housekeeper for the s. We ate at a formal table with a white table cloth, the pastor sitting at the head carving the roast; solid silver eating utensils, expensive China dinnerware, and a little bell to summon the cook for dessert or coffee. I’d come a long way from the kitchen table where my family ate our meals and where I thought my mother ate the neck and wings of the chicken because she liked them.

I remember one morning I went into the kitchen after Mass to let the housekeeper know I was ready for breakfast.  I noticed a note scotch taped to the wall that said, Fausel, turned over easy.” My immediate thought was someone had been monitoring my sleeping habits, until she told me the note was a reminder of how I wanted my eggs. Sitting at that table alone for breakfast, I always felt like the “poor little rich boy.”

Then there was Mamma Leone’s Italian restaurant on West 48th Street off Eighth Avenue, one of the most popular eating places in New York City. When I was a student at Columbia, occasionally several of us cleric types would go there for dinner dressed in our clothes.  We’d be standing outside in a long line, when a Maitre D’ would spot us and rush out to say loud enough so others could hear him, s your reservations are ready”, and then usher us into the restaurant, leaving dozens of dinners waiting behind . Of course we didn’t have reservations. As I became more accustomed to similar privileged treatment, it was easy to assume it was an entitlement.

In my memoir I recalled an incident about the pastor of the church I was assigned to in the Schenectady, NY. It was in the early sixties, I was on duty at the rectory, when I received a phone call from the captain of a police precinct in New York City. He introduced himself and asked if we had a Mac (factious name) stationed at our parish. He went on to tell me that they picked him up at a local hotel down near the Bowery and he was “drunk as a skunk” and didn’t have money to pay for the hotel room. He told me they wouldn’t press charges, and asked if we could pick him up. I told him I’d be down the next day and thanked him.  Before hanging up he sheepishly gave me some advice, “Look , this poor guy needs some professional help. Our records show that this ain’t the first time we picked him up. You know what I mean?”  The next day I was off to NYC to pick up our pastor. It was a sad one hundred and fifty mile drive back to Schenectady. Mac was either apologizing profusely or crying, or both.

This episode demonstrates several things about the culture: the deference the police captain had for hood, and the willingness he had to cover up for a drunken . Plus my congenital condition of being an enabler and coming to Fr. Mac’s rescue, so he wouldn’t be embarrassed for having been charged with a crime and the parishioners wouldn’t be scandalized by his behavior. The good news is that the other associate pastor in the parish and I arranged a quasi-intervention to persuade Mac to get professional help. Which he did!

Priests Need Priests

There were number of us relatively newly minted s stationed in Schenectady. A few of us decided we’d like to get together on a regular basis to go out for lunch. The group grew to about eight or ten. We would meet at different restaurant each week, have lunch and chat mostly about what was going on in our parishes, complain about our pastors, gossip about who might be made a pastor, etc. Some of us would play golf together, maybe go to an occasional movie, or go to NYC for a Broadway musical, and several of us when to Cape Cod for a week’s vacation. Our mantra was Priests need Priests. There’s certainly no question about that, who else were we going to relax with or enjoy our free time with? It only occurred to me recently, even though we might talk occasionally about theological issues or the up-coming Vatican Council, it was always on an intellectual level. Even if we discussed mandatory celibacy it was not about our getting married if they changed the rules, it was as if we depersonalized it. As I remember we never talked about feeling or personal problems that we might be struggling with. At least that I was struggling with. Being able to share feelings should have been one of the major reasons the Priests need Priests group were meeting for.

Fast Forward to 2002

On June 12, 2002, my friend John Rusnak and I boarded a plane to Dallas Texas to attend the meeting of the United States Conference of Bishops (USCCB). We were not invited quests of the bishops but where members of Call to Action (CTA). John was the president of the Arizona Chapter and I was a card carrying member. We had been reading the news papers accounts about the out- break of the scandal of pedophile s in the Boston Globe, and we were a tad cynical that the bishops would have the integrity to put the best interests of the victims and their families ahead of their history of secrecy of protecting the church. As we buckled ourselves into our seats and the cabin door slammed shut, I looked at John and said, “What the hell are we doing going to Dallas?” Neither of us had a rational answer, but our plane was taxing down the runway as we both shrugged our shoulders as if to say—beats me!

Well, here we are ten years later! Little did we think that the sexual abuse of minors would be worldwide.  In the United States most catholics are still not satisfied with the bishops’ negligible response to the sexual abuse debacle, or with the fact that the bishops refuse to acknowledge, and take responsibility for their part in covering up for the perpetrators.

So contrast those experiences I described above, when I was wearing a Roman collar to about forty some years later to the USCCB 2002 meeting in Dallas. In addition to attending some very stimulating workshops, one of the other activities our CTA group participated in was a protest march from a local parish to the luxurious Freemont Hotel where the bishops were holding their meetings. The closest we could get to their hotel was across the street, where we set up our signs of protest and peacefully demonstrated. At one point I had to go to the men’s room. When I tried to cross the yellow tape police markers, I was informed by a policeman, that I wasn’t allowed in the hotel unless I was a guest. When I explained my urgency, he accompanied me into the hotel, turned me over to another officer who told me I would have to give him my driver’s license before I could take care of business. The men’s room that I used was not even close to the room where the bishops were holding their meeting. I guess they weren’t taking any chances.  Since the media was out in full force, the thought briefly went through my mind to make a scene, but nature’s call prevailed.

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The few experiences I described about my as a and (I have a million of them) might seem rather trivial, but they’re typical of the unearned deference and distinction made between s and “ordinary folks” that underlies ism. It’s the same distance that the movement brought to our attention when they pointed out the disparity of the 1% of the top of the economy to the 99% at the bottom. As s we definitely were part of a privileged class, not just in those little acts of reverence we were given, but more significant was always right. After all, at that time s had more education than most of our parishioners. We had spent four years after college studying theology; we had the power to administer all the sacraments; we were always in a place of honor at any parish event. The only ones in the Church that were above us were the bishops and the pope.

Remember as s we were at the bottom rung of the latter.  Although there was often a gap between s and people, I don’t believe that gap was the same for every , or that most s had ambitions to climb up that latter. Nor do I believe that every bishop is equally addicted to the power that corrupts to the point that he loses sight of the children he is suppose to protect from predator s, or the disenfranchise in society, and puts his own or the church’s interest first. But given the structure of governance of the church, its current culture, its process of how clerics are groomed, and given the psychosocial up-bringing that many clerics bring to the table, major changes are essential for the future of the Church. Please join me on my next blog, where I will discuss solutions to these issues.

Onward, Christian Soldiers, Marching As To War…

My contemporary fantasy of Christian soldiers marching onward as to war, is a combination of the Catholic 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 Catholic 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 Catholic Church in the Empire State.” The of the Conference as stated:

The New York State Catholic 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 Catholic 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 Catholic 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 social action methods. It wasn’t because we didn’t believe in social action; 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 s 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 . 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 Catholics. We are Americans. We are proud to be both…” It’s as if they were trying to convince everyone that Catholics 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 Catholic 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 Catholic community can muster…” in supporting the FFF’s agenda. It will basically be an opportunity for urging Catholics 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 s? 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 Catholic 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 “ eater” in France, and Hitler and Stalin of unhappy memory. All geared to scare the hell out of the Catholic men of faith. And for a real clincher he reminds them,

This fall, every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic conscience, or by the following fall our Catholic schools, our Catholic hospitals, our Catholic 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 Catholic institutions.”  Not only that, but in Jenky’s homily “…he exhorted members of his flock not to vote for candidates who fail to uphold Catholic 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—Catholics across the nation will be put to the test…Catholics 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!