Monday, December 24, 2012

What Would Jesus Say to the NRA?

By Shane Claiborne

Note: This commentary was first published December 24 at HuffPost Religion.

What does the birth of the baby Jesus 2,000 years ago have to offer the violent, troubled world we live in? Or what would Jesus say to the NRA?

I want to suggest: a lot. A whole lot.

Jesus entered the world from a posture of absolute vulnerability – as an unarmed, innocent child during a time of tremendous violence. The Bible speaks of a terrible massacre as Jesus was born, an unspeakable act of violence as King Herod slaughters children throughout the land hoping to kill Jesus (which the church remembers annually as the massacre of the Holy Innocents).

Perhaps the original Christmas was marked more with agony and grief like that in Connecticut than with the glitz and glamour of the shopping malls and Christmas parades. For just as Mary and Joseph celebrated their newborn baby, there were plenty of other moms and dads in utter agony because their kids had just been killed.

From his birth in the manger as a homeless refugee until his brutal execution on the Roman cross, Jesus was very familiar with violence. Emmanuel means "God with us." Jesus' coming to earth is all about a God who leaves the comfort of heaven to join the suffering on earth. The fact that Christians throughout the world regularly identify with a victim of violence – and a nonviolent, grace-filled, forgiving victim – is perhaps one of the most fundamentally life-altering and world-changing assumptions of the Christian faith. Or it should be.

So what does that have to do with the NRA? Underneath the rhetoric of the gun-control debate this Christmas is a nagging question: Are more guns the solution to our gun problem?

Everything in Jesus' world, just as in ours, contends that we must use violence to protect the innocent from violence, which is the very thing Jesus came to help us un-learn through his nonviolent life and death on the cross. Surely, we think, if God were to come to earth, he should at least come with a bodyguard – if not an entire entourage of armed soldiers and secret service folk. But Jesus comes unarmed. Surely, we think, if God were about to be killed he would bust out a can of butt-kicking wrath; but Jesus looks into the eyes of those about to kill him and says, "Father forgive them." The Bible goes so far to say that the wisdom of God makes no sense to the logic of this world, in fact it may even seem like "foolishness" (or at least utopian idealism).

When soldiers come to arrest and execute Jesus, one of his closest friends defensively picks up a sword to protect him. Jesus' response is stunning: He scolds his own disciple and heals the wounded persecutor. It was a tough and very counter-intuitive lesson: "The one who picks up the sword dies by the sword ... there is another way."

That lesson that Jesus taught his disciple is as relevant to us, and the NRA, as it was the early movement of Christians in the first century. Violence will not rid the world of violence. You do not use swords to get rid of swords or guns to get rid of guns. There is another way.

Many Christians have begun to speak of Jesus as an interruption to the "myth of redemptive violence," the assumption that we can use violence to get rid of violence or that we can destroy a life to save a life. The myth of redemptive violence has many ugly faces. It teaches us that we can kill those who kill to show that killing is wrong. It teaches us to live by the law of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" a law that Jesus firmly spun on its head, saying, "You've heard it said 'an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth ... but I tell you..." There is another way. Killing to show that killing is wrong is like trying to teach holiness by fornication. The cure is as bad as the disease.

At one point Jesus even weeps over the violent world he lived in, lamenting that "they did not know the things that would lead to peace." The fact that Jesus carried a cross rather than a sword has something relevant and redemptive to offer our violent-possessed world. After all, the Bible has a lot to say about loving enemies, and "Thou shalt not kill," but doesn't even mention the right to bear arms.

So let's imagine. What would Jesus say to our nation, where these are things are true:

• 10,000 people die from gun-related homicides each year, that's one Sandy Hook massacre a day, every day

• There are nearly 90 guns for every 100 people

• There are more than 51,000 licensed gunshops (and 30,000 supermarkets)

• Guns that can shoot 100 rounds a minute, and are only designed to kill, are still legal

• Other than auto accidents, gun violence is the leading cause of death of young people (under 20)

• $20,000 a second is spent on war

There is a reason we talk about "Peace on Earth" so much around Christmas. There is a reason why we talk about Jesus as the "Prince of Peace." He consistently taught that we can disarm violence without mirroring it, and that we can rid the world of evil without becoming the evil we abhor. So let us recommit ourselves to Peace this Christmas season and new year – in honor of Jesus, and in honor of the holy innocents.

Shane Claiborne is a justice and peace activist and the author of The Irresistible Revolution.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Many Voices, One Church

Note: Continuing with our series that recognizes and celebrates the contribution of lay preachers within the local church of St. Paul-Minneapolis, the editorial team of the PCV in honored to share the following homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent by Gretchen Hovan of the Spirit of St. Stephen's Catholic Community.

For an introduction to this series, click here.


Gospel Reading: Luke 1:39-56.

I’m Gretchen Hovan, and Scot and I have been worshiping with this community for almost seven years. When I was first contacted about breaking open the Word today, I was a little worried that I was chosen because I am like Elizabeth: the medical community is fond of reminding me, too, of my advanced maternal age.

Reading about these two women, and babies stirring in wombs, while my own baby is growing inside me was a different experience. There is much to wonder about in this story, and much has been written about the symbolism of the two women and their pregnancies—of Elizabeth as fulfillment of the old covenant, of Mary as the promise of the new covenant.

As I read, I was haunted by memories of learning about Mary. Like many Catholic girls, I wanted to be like Mary, the woman who was so central to our faith. I wanted to say yes to God like she did. When I got older, I saw that what many in the Church valued was Mary as empty vessel, as conduit, as pure instrument of God. And it seemed like Mary’s ever-virgin status was the most important part of her. Mary was set up for me both as a model and as something I could never be. More disturbing, she was often portrayed to me as someone who had no will, no say in her life. Any reading that didn’t fit the image of obedient Mary, like the Wedding at Cana, when Mary directs Jesus to help, and Jesus follows her, was glossed over by my childhood priests.

I was pretty frustrated by this image of Mary and angry at what it was saying about women and our role and worth in the Church. I was ready to disregard her, and any message her life and actions may have for me, when I had the good fortune to attend a university run by Marianists. They helped me to see Mary and her life in a new way. There were two lines of the Gospel often present on our campus, in prayers, statues and writings: one from the Wedding at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you,” and one from the gospel of Luke, after Jesus was born: “she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” This stuck with me—Mary was a thinking person, someone who was actively taking part in constructing the meaning of her life.

Our gospel today is about Mary and Elizabeth, two women of faith, who were together in their pregnancies—both of them unusual situations, both of them finding solace in the other. It is easy to get lost in wondering why Mary went to Elizabeth, why she left before the birth of John, who she traveled with, what it was like. But the part of the gospel I want to focus on is the part that kept jumping out at me: Elizabeth’s words. “Blessed is she who trusts that the promise of God will be fulfilled.”

I wasn’t sure what those words meant, or why they were the ones I kept thinking about. Is the promise of God the promise that the prophets, like Micah, spoke of? Is it the promise of a Messiah? Is Mary blessed just for fulfilling that promise by giving birth to the Savior?

I don’t think so. That phrase, “the promise of God,” seems to me to be broader than that. It’s the promise that we will have a kin-dom like the one described in the Magnificat. And Mary shows us how we will get there.

Mary acts because she believes that the kin-dom of God will be in our midst, and because she acts, we have Emmanuel, God-with-us.

I have a friend who’s mother is notorious for serving old food, freezer-burnt food, questionable food. Too many times, her children and their spouses have said yes to food that they regretted, so now the refrain in their house, when the mother offers food, is “Let me see it first.”

I think that’s how I too often am—let me see God’s kin-dom first, let me see evidence of the goodness of God first—and then I will act.

When we are faced with the brutality of the world—when children in the US are killed in schools, when children in other countries are killed in daily bombings and acts of terror, when we see people who are starving, who are not safe in their homes, when we see politicians bickering about small difference—it is easy to lose hope, to be cynical, to wait and say, “Let me see it first.”

But that isn’t how it works, and Mary and Elizabeth are a call to me, to us, to act even if it seems hopeless. Each of them had plenty to fear and plenty to worry about. Yet Mary rushed to be with Elizabeth, and Elizabeth recognizes the joy in what was happening: “Blessed is she who trusts that the promise of God will be fulfilled.”

It is through our acting that we have the metanoia, the change of heart that fulfills God’s promise. Dorothy Day wrote about this: “The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us? When we begin to take the lowest place, to wash the feet of others, to love our brothers with that burning love, that passion, which led to the Cross, then we truly say, "Now I have begun.”

Mary, Elizabeth and Dorothy’s lives remind us that we can’t wait to see it first. We can’t wait for someone else to make the kin-dom happen for us. We are the ones who will each do this—for ourselves and for each other. How are we going to act, as they did, to bring hope, to bring the kin-dom of God alive today?

“Blessed is she who trusts that the promise of God will be fulfilled.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What If Children Mattered No Matter Where They Lived – and Died?

By Peter Hart

Note: This commentary was first published December 17, 2012 on the blog site of FAIR – Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.

We do not live in a world that treats all life equally. Not even close. Human beings inevitably feel certain tragedies more deeply, based on proximity to the victims, national identity, the circumstances of death and so on.

It is not surprising that there has been so much media attention paid to the horrible massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. The thought of small children being gunned down in a classroom is shocking and tragic. And the usual suggestions to avoid "politicizing" a tragedy by talking about public policy decisions that might prevent future tragedies seem to have less resonance this time around.

When we draw comparisons between a particular event and other similar tragedies, it is not to say that they all matter equally, but to remind ourselves that we're conditioned to feel that some matter quite a bit more than others.

When I heard the news about Newtown, I thought of previous mass shootings in this country. That is perhaps a natural reaction.

But then I also thought about the case of Sgt. Robert Bales. He is accused of massacring 16 Afghan civilians earlier this year, nine of them children. It is not the only atrocity of the Afghan War, but the accounts of the attack are particularly horrifying. Bales allegedly left his base and entered the villages of Balandi and Alkozai, near Kandahar. He proceeded to kill the victims as they slept, and then burned some of their bodies.

It is not that U.S. media failed to cover the atrocity. But the tone of the coverage placed considerable weight on the damage these deaths would do to the war effort (FAIR Media Advisory, 3/12/12). Questions were posed like, "Could this reignite a new anti-American backlash in the unstable region?" One headline stated, "Killings Threaten Afghan Mission." USA Today actually had on its front page, "Patriot Now Stands Accused in Massacre."

Seeing the atrocity this way prioritizes issues like national security – and obscures the fact that children were killed in their sleep, and that the person alleged to have killed them was a member of our military. This particular incident is, in some ways, just a more horrifying version of many other U.S. attacks that killed children in Afghanistan, or the drone attacks that have killed hundreds in Pakistan.

It is understandable, on some level, that these deaths will not affect most Americans the same way as the deaths in Newtown. They are deaths in a poor, violent country most of us will never see.

But that should not prevent us from asking ourselves – and our media – why that is, and wondering what our politics and our culture might look like if media decision-makers felt that that stories like this deserved more attention.

One has to imagine that our world would be different if we treated every tragic death as if it mattered. U.S. media shy away from imagery that could be considered too explicit or graphic – especially when it calls attention to suffering caused or endured by U.S. forces. As journalist Amy Goodman has said on countless occasions, if our media showed the brutal consequences of U.S. war-making, those policies would change.

Sometimes these discussions can be quite explicit. Time's Joe Klein's comment that four-year-olds in Pakistan might have to die from drone attacks so that four-year-old Americans do not die in terrorist attacks was a reminder that, for some people, some lives are practically expendable.

So what would a healthier media look like? It wouldn't tell us not to grieve over Newtown. It would tell us that violence against children is deplorable no matter where it happens, or who inflicts it – and that there are things we can do to stop it, both close to home and many miles away.

© 2012 Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

Peter Hart is the activism director at FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting). He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra, and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003).

12/19/12 Update: Army Seeks Death Penalty in Afghan Massacre Case – Gene Johnson (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, December 19, 2012).

Opening image: An Afghan boy prays earlier this year over the grave of one of the victims of a shooting massacre carried out by U.S. soldier Robert Bales. (Allauddin Kan/AP)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Shooting of Children and "God's Plan"

By Edward J. Blum

Note: This commentary was first published December 14, 2012 by HuffPost Religion.

Children die. Sometimes peacefully at home, as my eight-month-old son did about a year ago. Sometimes when bombs blow up churches, as was the case in 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, when four little girls died. And sometimes they are slaughtered, as in several biblical tales and during the shootings in Connecticut. These are horrific moments that leave us wondering, "where is God?"

We are not the first, and sadly, we will not be the last, to wonder about the place of the sacred amid the deaths of innocents. That theodical problem is with us – theologically unsolved and socially unresolved. But history and personal experience have taught me one thing: silence can be powerful.

"God has a plan for this," a woman explained to me as she prattled on just before the memorial service for my son Elijah. She meant the words to be comforting, but I swallowed them as if lumps of clay. They have sat in my stomach ever since, and try as I may I have been unable to vomit them out spiritually. Providential interpretations of everyday life sometimes feel satisfying – like when bad traffic slows me or down or when a friend has a cold. The deaths of children are quite another.

This chatty woman was Elijah's very evangelical grandmother. She meant well; she loved and loves Elijah, but to her, everything was in the hands of a big, all-seeing, all-powerful Father. For me, the thought that God had a plan for my son to be unable to eat, that God intended for my son to fail to breath, or that God was instrumental in my son dying in my arms was disgusting. To me, that God could only be an awful and wicked monster.

And the thought, today, that God perhaps has a plan amid the Connecticut shooting sickens me as well.

As a historian, I knew that I was neither the first, nor the last to lose a child. Millions have lost their children or experienced those losses from afar, and sometimes in devastating and highly public circumstances. In 1963, white terrorists killed four young girls when they bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Anne Moody (who became a civil rights activist and then wrote one of the most famous memoirs of the movement) did not know them, but she heard the news on the radio with her family in Mississippi. It sent shockwaves through them. "I looked at George; he sat with his face buried in the palms of his hands. Dave sat motionless with tears in his eyes. Mattie looked at Dave as if she had been grounded by an electric shock. I put my hand up to my face. Tears were pouring out of my eyes, and I hadn't even known I was crying." She could not remain in the house. Moody fled into the streets and then, lost and confused, she found herself in a graveyard.

She wanted to find God and some meaning in it all. "I sat there looking up through the trees, trying to communicate with God." She prayed, "Now talk to me, God. Come on down and talk to me." God did not come down, so Moody decided to shout up. "Mama used to tell us that you would forgive us seventy-seven times a day, and I believed in you. I bet you those girls in Sunday school were being taught the same as I was when I was their age. It that teaching wrong? Are you going to forgive their killers?" Moody was at a loss for how to deal with the deaths and with the killers.

On that day, Moody's pacifism died. She would no longer stand back as others used violence to get their way. If God refused to help, then she even threatened violence at his throne. If she found out that God was "black," then, "I'll try my best to kill you when I get to heaven."

For Anne Moody, traditional Christian teachings offered her very little, if anything. Turning the other cheek would only allow the violent to continue. Arguments that "God has a plan" would never bring back those four little girls (as they will not bring back the lost in Connecticut or my little son). She wanted change and change now – from heaven and from politicians.

But perhaps God was there as Moody prayed – in the silence. Perhaps God did not say anything, because God knows that words at times like that were meaningless. Perhaps God is more like the whisper in the wind that the biblical Eljiah experienced or like the Jesus who knelt silently when the "adulterous woman" was brought before him. Perhaps he knew, as my friend Jonathan Walton – now the pastor at Harvard University's Memorial Chapel – knew that one can mourn with another without telling them how to interpret the events. Reverend Walton's text message to me after my son's death is the only one I have kept: it reads simply, "sigh." He knew as a father and as a brother that this was not the time to counsel.

So as we mourn the many losses; as we hug our children; as we have our debates over gun control; and as we wonder where God is, perhaps we can think about what we say and what we do not. Perhaps in this moment "sigh" is better than childish theology; perhaps to remain attentively quiet is what God would ask of us – because that is what God seems to do too.

Edward J. Blum is an associate professor of history at San Diego State University and the author of several books on race and religion in American history. His latest book is The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America.

Related Off-site Links:
A Call for Compassion – Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, December 15, 2012).
Praying a Deep Sigh – Rev. Jacqueline J. Lewis (HuffPost Religion, December 15, 2012).
Where Were You, God? – A Prayer for Newtown – James Martin, S.J. (HuffPost Religion, December 15, 2012).
Something to Think AboutThe Wild Reed (December 14, 2012).
Pope "Deeply Saddened" by Senseless Attack in U.S. – Associated Press (December 16, 2012).
Slaughter Exposes Social Crisis Deeper Than Gun-Control Laws – Paula Simons (Edmonton Journal, December 15, 2012).

Image: A woman comforts a young girl during a vigil service for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Friday, December 14, 2012, at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Newtown, Conn. (Andrew Gombert/AP)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

American Catholicism: Not "Some Monolithic, Unchanging Thing"

The following excerpt from Jerome Baggett's 2008 book, Sense of the Faithful: How American Catholics Live Their Faith, was recently shared by Jayden Cameron on his blog Gay Mystics: A Place of Inspiration.


Ending and Beginning

“The thing about American Catholicism is that it both exists and doesn’t exist!” Bill McNamara blurts out these words but then seems surprised by them, as if he had happened unexpectedly upon someone from his past. He tarries a bit, reflecting.

“What do I mean by that?” he asks, now seemingly reacquainted and rightly confident that he has anticipated my next question. “I mean it exists in the sense that it’s an it, something you and I can talk about, and we can identify elements of it and so forth. But it doesn’t exist as some monolithic, unchanging thing. It’s not as if any one person understands it and lives it out the same way all the time or in quite the same way as anyone else.”

Even though Bill was among the very first people I interviewed for this book, I permitted myself an early conclusion: He knows what he is talking about. After many cups of tea and through constant interruptions by Rusty, his seal-point Siamese — whose name, like those of all of the respondents in this book, is a pseudonym — Bill’s account of his life and faith demolished the idea that American Catholicism could be “some monolithic, unchanging thing.”

Born into a working-class family in the early 1930s, Bill grew up in an almost entirely Irish section of Philadelphia. His upbringing was typical of the “urban villagers” about whom sociologist Herbert Gans once wrote so compellingly. The ethnically defined neighborhood, the modest economic means, the large family that included Bill and five younger siblings, the clearly prescribed gender roles to which his contractor father and stay-at-home mother purportedly strictly conformed, the traditional — and, in this case, traditionally Catholic — mores: Bill can recall it all in vivid, if not wistful, detail. The particulars of his religious upbringing are especially memorable to him. He attended nearby parochial schools until he was swayed by an unexpectedly generous financial aid package to enroll in a large public university, where he majored in accounting. He went to church each week without fail, and, unless serving as an altar boy for an unpopular (read: inordinately early) Mass, he was typically accompanied by his entire immediate family. This instilled in him an enduring love for the beauty of the Mass and especially its music, which he still compares favorably to the “cacophonous crap” one hears at other, mercifully unnamed parishes. One of the younger parish priests served as a “friend and kind of mentor” for Bill who could talk to him about nearly anything, including at one point his own — admittedly short-lived — thoughts of entering the seminary. And, of course, there are the stories that seem to be standard fare among Catholics of Bill’s generation. From the accounts of his mentor’s many kindnesses to the somewhat overwrought “ruler-wielding nun” tales, from now-humorous accounts of first confession trepidation (“Hell, it was scary in that little booth!”) to feelings of intense piety while accompanying Jesus along the Stations of the Cross each Friday afternoon during Lent, Bill’s world was Catholic through and through.

However, once he entered his twenties, that world came to an end. “I never had any animosity like a lot of gay Catholics who had bad experiences in school or things like that,” he confides. “I wasn’t against it, but I didn’t feel that comfortable with it anymore.” Always attracted to men, Bill first became sexually active at the age of twenty-six. Then, rather than concealing from others what he considers his “honest, true self,” he moved to San Francisco, where he got a well-paying job with an insurance company and eventually began his new life as an openly gay man.

He closed the door on his Catholicism slowly at first, then finally slammed it shut. This age-old tradition seemed incongruous with his new city and job, new friends, and, after ten years or so, a relationship and then a newfound level of intimacy with Daniel, his partner for eighteen years. Daniel attended weekly Mass at Most Holy Redeemer church in the city’s burgeoning gay enclave, the Castro District. But he went a bit less often when he and Bill bought a house together across the bay in the Oakland Hills. Bill, on the other hand, preferred to sleep late most Sundays.

Everything changed when Daniel contracted AIDS, and Bill became his primary care provider. This tragedy brought Bill agonizing stress and heartache, but it also introduced him to a face of Catholicism that he had not previously known.

The AIDS Support Group at Most Holy Redeemer sent volunteers to help tend to Daniel’s health and personal needs, which, toward the end of his life, required daily visits. Even in his grief, Bill was impressed by these people’s witness to their — and once his — faith. This was not the intolerably dogmatic “Churchianity” that had come to seem ossified and irrelevant to him. Nor, of course, was this the vicious “God hates fags” message he had heard while doing some church shopping before moving from Philadelphia. He found this open-hearted and open-minded incarnation of the faith to be very alluring. So much so, in fact, that Bill began attending Mass at Most Holy Redeemer not long after Daniel’s death and soon became an active member of first the AIDS Support Group and then the parish itself.

Bill’s story might appear to fit the familiar “lapsed Catholic returns to Mother Church” mold, but Bill has not returned to anything; he has begun something new.

On the one hand, he is quite the unabashed Catholic: “I love the traditions, and I love the mystery; I think it’s a very, very, very rich religion.” On the other hand, though, he is adamant about his freedom, even obligation, to mine those riches on his own terms and in accordance with his own needs. He has chosen to be a member of Most Holy Redeemer across the San Francisco Bay rather than of his own neighborhood parish, which he considers less “open and affirming” to gay Catholics. He respects priests enormously (although he is less generous in his assessment of bishops), but he is also a strong advocate for the laity’s role in both pastoral ministry and parish governance.

He is a “greeter” at the main (10 a.m.) Mass on Sundays and has sponsored several Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) candidates. At the same time, he bristles at the thought of being presumptuous enough to even talk to others about faith in a way that might be perceived as inappropriately pushy. He calls himself a “very strong Catholic” but, without hint of apology, eagerly embraces the pejoratively intended moniker “cafeteria Catholic” as a testament to his own religious agency and capacity for discernment. In short, Bill has begun something new as a Catholic in response to developments in his personal life and because he has lived through a period in which the American church itself has witnessed important social and cultural changes. As a result, it has also begun something quite innovative.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"Perfect" Priests and Their "Sacrificial Lambs"

A review by John C Seitz of Marie Keenan's Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church: Gender, Power, and Organizational Culture (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Note: This review was first published November 21, 2012 by the National Catholic Reporter.

If we want to understand sexual violence, we have to get to know its perpetrators and the worlds in which they were formed. In the particular context in which Marie Keenan is interested – clerical sexual abuse and its cover-up in the U.S. and Ireland since the middle of the 20th century – such an adage goes from truism to nonstarter. Pressure not to get to know clerical abusers and the institutional, educational and social worlds of their formation comes from many angles of varying validity.

A posture of attentiveness to abusers may strike some abuse victims and their advocates as excusing the abuse and losing sight of the harm it may have inflicted. For their part, media outlets have helped uncover abuse, but they have also contributed to the vilification of clerical offenders, fixating on the category of pedophilia (at the expense of other abusive scenarios), and fomenting moral panic.

Church officials, on the other hand, want to isolate abusers and officials complicit in cover-up. They would have us pay attention to abusers only as aberrant pathological individuals. The theological or institutional context for their production as clergy is more or less off-limits.

Keenan, a researcher and lecturer in applied social science at University College Dublin and a registered psychotherapist, plunges into these taboo waters, taking her readers into the theological, moral and institutional contexts for abuse and cover-up. Working with the ever-present caution that to “understand all is never to forgive it all,” Keenan makes this journey in part through analysis of extensive conversations with nine Catholic men – all retired or laicized Irish priests and brothers – who admitted to having sexually abused minors in the past.

The premise for such a move is simple: Vilification of abusers prohibits thick understandings of their lives. Content to turn “them” into monsters, we avoid their (and our) implication in wider contexts that helped produce the abuse. Humanizing abusers offers significant new angles on the problem. Listening to these men’s stories allows Keenan to see that they “were not in themselves ‘bad’ men, rather, they were trying to be ‘perfect’ priests.” Description of what it meant to be “perfect” – to practice the priesthood in the officially celebrated manner – goes a long way toward explaining how these men could “rationalize” their behavior and the secrecy that surrounded it.

Keenan does not rush into a presentation of the perpetrators’ stories, as if they alone were enough. Instead, the first half of the book includes a review of the existing literature on clerical sexual abuse, the culture of seminaries, and psychologies of abusive behavior. This first half of the book also includes an insightful reading of the complexities of “power” as theorized by contemporary scholars of gender. She interprets these sources clearly and cautiously. These chapters alone make Keenan’s work immensely useful. But the book’s real contribution comes from its exploration of the stories of nine abusive clergymen in Ireland.

This latter section of the book develops several themes relevant to the rise of abuse in Roman Catholic settings. Her focus is on seminary culture and education (in the period before the 1990s) and the kind of living it enabled and disabled. In these spaces priests learned to fear sexuality, disavow their bodies and emotions, bury non-priestly components of themselves, and adapt to emotionally isolated and lonely lives.

Two additional themes enhance her critique of clerical formation. The first is a paradox of clerical life, a condition she describes as simultaneously powerful and powerless. Valorized as special beings with unique ritual powers and heightened virtue, priests and brothers were also demeaned and devalued by expectations of humility and deference to their clerical superiors. Often unsupported and unsupervised and yet conditioned toward obedience to those above, many clerics experienced frustration in a church that demanded so much of them.

These conditions, along with sexual immaturity fostered by lifelong silence surrounding sexuality, helped produce priests who had an “emotional congruence” with children. Keenan sees perpetrators of abuse tragically seeking to navigate their emotional tempests in the presence and with the bodies of young people, whom abusers saw as equal, if easily silenced, partners.

The other most compelling theme concerns moral education. The church, Keenan argues, has offered poor tools for making judgments. Instead of judging out of a context of relationships with particular others and dynamic processes of introspection and empathy, seminarians were instructed in the technical and intellectual application of fixed, universal and external rules. Impersonal and abstract, this moral theology enabled abusers to treat their behavior as a matter of sin against God and purity and not as a matter of harm for others. Moreover, the confessional, with its seal of secrecy, further enabled the abuse by providing a context for expiation of this sin. Regular confession helped convince the priests that they were at least trying to meet God’s standards. All of the nine priests confessed their abuse in confession – according to their reports, only once did a confessor alert the abuser to the criminal nature of the offense. The system advanced a purity ethic at the expense of a relational ethic.

If all or most priests and brothers were trained amid these conditions until very recently, why did some abuse while others did not? Keenan argues that abusers were more likely to be those inclined to be rule followers rather than rule breakers. Many clergy had the ability or cunning to know which rules they needed to bend or break in order to make seminary and clerical life humane. Others, those aspiring to the most strict and idealized version of the priesthood (what Keenan calls “Perfect Celibate Clerical Masculinity”) were essentially harmed by the church in the process. Buying into the impossible standards of this idealized clerical identity stifled opportunity for these men to openly explore their humanity and sexuality, develop intimate and satisfying adult relationships, account morally for their impact on others, and see themselves outside their duties to powerful superiors.

The stunning conclusion of this work is that for those who embraced the idealized model of perfect celibate clerical masculinity, seminary and priestly life were in themselves abusive contexts. Overly credulous or unsavvy, they accepted standards that led to “soul death.” Eventually, children were the “sacrificial lambs” on the altar of this image of clerical perfection. Until recently, victims’ silence allowed Catholics to ignore their complicity in the institutional secrecy and hypocrisy that helped these sacrifices continue.

For Keenan, it remains a question whether these voices speaking up will result in real change. Vilification or dismissal of abusers won’t contribute to the solution. Apologies, shame and even strict “zero tolerance” policies will not constitute the kind of structural reform that will begin to solve the problem in the Roman Catholic church. Only a “new model of the church” will do. Keenan’s hard-nosed and sophisticated book is a step in that direction.

John C. Seitz, Fordham University associate professor of theology, published No Closure: Catholic Practice and Boston’s Parish Shutdowns in 2011.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Quote of the Day

The galling truth is that many American Catholics—perhaps a majority—do not fully share the bishops’ view of what constitutes the fulfillment of human nature. They do not believe [for instance] that same-sex intercourse and the use of contraceptives are “unnatural,” and therefore do not see gay marriage or contraceptive coverage as threats to religious liberty.

Of course many laity are dissenting from the magisterium, and doing so in part because the bishops’ credibility has been so drastically diminished. We all know why; there’s no need to belabor the sexual-abuse scandal with its record of episcopal obfuscation and self-pity, or before that the damage done by Humanae vitae. Although [Archbishop] Dolan acknowledges the disenchantment in the pews, he’s clearly impatient with the subject. Bishops, he tells John L. Allen Jr., have to "get over this sense of being gun-shy" in the wake of all the revelations. Conceding that he and his colleagues must speak with "graciousness, and a sense of contrition," he adds that "we have to mean it." But do they really mean it? The impression of many attentive Catholics is that they’d rather pound the crosier on the floor. Dolan himself insists on "the uniquely normative value of the magisterium of the bishops," as though that "value" remains self-evident.

There are excellent reasons to find the bishops’ recent dudgeon unconvincing. Over the past decade, we’ve witnessed plenty of outrages to human dignity in this country: the official legitimation of torture and assassination; the prosecution of a war condemned by not one but two popes; the growing attacks on governmental support and compassion for the destitute, often under cover of ‘subsidiarity.’ The bishops’ responses to these outrages have been muted at best. Why so little prophetic ardor to battle these iniquities? Why no ‘fortnights for dignity’ to rally the faithful against state-sponsored violence abroad? Or haven’t the bishops noticed that the United States has been at war for the better part of the past twenty years?

Eugene McCarraher
Excerpted frpm "Morbid Symptoms:
The Catholic Right’s False Nostalgia
November 23, 2012

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Many Voices, One Church

Note: Continuing with our series that recognizes and celebrates the contribution of lay preachers within the local church of St. Paul-Minneapolis, the editorial team of the PCV in honored to share the following homily for the 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

For an introduction to this series, click here. Also, please note that to avoid possible negative consequences, names of preachers and/or parishes are not always disclosed in this series.


Readings: Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26; Matthew 25:31-46.

Today’s gospel and the whole sense of the “end times” intrigue me on many levels. Matthew says that when the Promised One comes, all the nations will be assembled below the royal throne for judgment. Although no actual demographic data is available for 99% of the span of human stay on Earth, and there is no common agreement on when “human” life (as distinct from humanoid life) actually started, estimates put the total number of humans having lived on Earth at somewhere between 90-108 billion people. That would mean that, if the “final judgment” were to come soon (next month according to the Mayan calendar!), according to those estimates, there would be somewhere between 90-108 billion people in that grand final assembly before the royal throne. It’s going to take a while to separate all those sheep and goats!

And, another point of intrigue for me - if the judgment doesn’t come until the “end times” when the good “will inherit the riches prepared for them” and the evil ones “condemned into the everlasting fire”, where have all of those 95 billion or so folks, good or bad, who have died up to this point in time been hanging out for the last several hundred thousand years while waiting for this end times reward or punishment?

So much for that overly literal interpretation! On to another theme in today’s readings, that of the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. Ezekiel speaks of the tender care which God, as the shepherd, gives to the sheep, a relationship with which many of that day could identify as they cared for their own sheep. But Ezekiel uses that understanding of a loving, caring relationship as a challenge to the leaders of the day who do not model that relationship. God says “I shall judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.” This warning of Ezekiel might well be relevant not only to the kings in Ezekiel’s time but also to our own time. In fact, according to Monika Hellwig’s commentary on the readings, “the interdependence between rulers and ruled, between popular values and expectations and government actions, is even more evident in our democratic situation.”

Which brings me to the main idea I want to address today, the difference between sheep and goats. I’ve often wondered why the goats get the bad rap in this Gospel reading. So I did a little research on sheep and goats. Sheep are very docile, gather in flocks, follow the shepherd, and are easily led.

Think about that for a moment. Think of those characteristics in humans. Very docile, gather in flocks, follow the shepherd, easily led! Let’s put that in the context of this recent election and leadership in the church and nation today. Let’s assume that, just as Ezekiel recognized the kings of his day as the shepherds, we recognize the church and government leaders of our day as shepherds. (I said, let’s assume, not take that for granted!) In that context of the church and government leaders of our day as our shepherds, consider the sheep-like characteristics of the flock – very docile, follow the shepherd, easily led. Not the best relationship in that case!

Goats, on the other hand, are aggressive, very independent, wander off from the flock deliberately at times and cannot be led. When the shepherd calls the sheep, they respond immediately. When he calls the goats, they come when and if they want to. Sheep like to graze in pastures and fields. Goats like to explore and browse along the edges. Goats sometimes rear and butt horns to establish dominance or their point of view.

Again, in the context of this recent election, and in the context of leadership in the church and nation today, I believe that we need some goats, some good goats, to be – perhaps not aggressive but more assertive. We need good goats to challenge the hierarchical dictate to “pray, pay and obey”. We need good goats who are not easily led, who do wander off from the flock deliberately at times to explore and browse among soul-enriching alternatives. We need good goats who are not afraid to rear up and butt horns at times against the establishment when they perceive that that that leadership fails to be good shepherds. I believe that Roy Bourgeois is a good goat as are the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and those who support them, the “nuns on the bus”, those who opposed the constitutional amendments.

We need to listen to the parable which Jesus shares in Matthew’s gospel in which he repeats four times the actions which God requires of the just - to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to welcome the stranger, to clothe the naked, and to visit the ill and imprisoned. I think that we, as Spirit of St. Stephen’s Catholic Community, are good sheep in that regard. But I also believe that we are, and continue to be challenged to be, good goats just as I believe Jesus was.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Swiss Benedictine Abbot Speaks of Church Reform

By Anthony Ruff, OSB

Note: The following was first published November 13, 2012 at Pray Tell.

The Benedictine abbot of Einsiedeln in Switzerland, Abbot Martin Werlen [left], penned a brochure which has caused a bit of uproar: “Discover Together the Embers under the Ashes.” The abbot of Einsiedeln is a member of the Swiss Catholic bishops’ conference.

All the baptized and confirmed of a diocese, he suggests, should be involved appropriately in the naming of their bishop. Maybe cardinals could have term limits – “For example, people from the whole world, women and men, young and not so young, could be called for five years into the college of cardinals,” wrote the abbot. Further: “If, for example, these people could meet every three months with the Pope, it could bring a new dynamism into the leadership of the Church.”

The abbot isn’t making demands; he intends rather to offer some starting points for a broad discussion within the Church. He said, “Fire is missing. We have to face the situation and see what’s behind it.” And this: “The problems are known. But little is happening by way of solution for the problems.”

The title of the brochure hearkens to Cardinal Martini’s last interview in which he said, “I see in the Church today so many ashes above the embers that I’m often assailed by a sense of powerlessness.”

The abbot speaks of “disasters of our own making” (selbstverschuldete Schlamassel) in the Catholic Church today. Some church officials complain that the same problems keep being brought up since 40 years, to which the abbot remarks, “When problems are not taken up, or one is not permitted to speak about them, such behavior puts at risk the credibility of the church and even the very content of the faith.” Playing off the “Appeal to Disobedience” (Pfarrer-Initiative) of the rebel Austrian priests, the abbot states that it is an “act of disobedience” when people and realities are not taken seriously.” (The word “obedience” has as its stem the Latin word for “listening.”) “Because officials do not do their duty and thus are disobedient, initiatives are begun as emergency measures and cries for help. This is understandable, but can also lead to schism and abandoning the institution.” Although he has understanding for such initiatives, he wishes to go down another path: together, discovering embers in the ashes.

European media are reporting great interest in the abbot’s provocative statement. The brochure sold out in the abbey gift shop on the third day and is now in its second printing.

See also the previous PCV posts:

A Call to Leadership
Belgium Catholics Issue Reform Manifesto
Austrian Cardinal Roils the Vatican
In Ireland, One Thousand People Attend Conference on Future of Catholic Church
An Open Letter to Prof. Josef Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI
The Divine is Bigger Than Our Dogmas
Urgent Tasks for Church Renewal
A Church in Flux
The Call of the Baptized: Be the Church, Live the Mission
The Independent Spirit and "Divisible Unity" of the Modern Church
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 1)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 2)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 3)
Colleen Kochivar-Baker on "Why We Stay"

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"A Bloodless Yet Painful Martyrdom"

The following statement was released November 21, 2012 by Roman Catholic Womenpriests-USA (RCWP).

RCWP Condemns Dismissal and Excommunication
of Fr. Roy Bourgeois

Roman Catholic Womenpriests-USA (RCWP) stands in solidarity with Fr. Roy Bourgeois, who was dismissed from Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers after 45 years of service, fired as a priest and excommunicated as a Catholic on Monday, November 19. We view this as a bloodless yet painful martyrdom suffered on our behalf, because he has been a vocal and visible champion for women's ordination as essential for a just Church. Bourgeois was dismissed from the priesthood and his order by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) for refusing to recant his advocacy for full equality of women in the Roman Catholic Church. RCWP publicly expresses respect, support and concern for Fr. Roy. RCWP decries this injustice and calls on all Roman Catholics to express their own dismay, anger, disgust and rejection of the CDF's action.

Fr. Roy told an RCWP member that his dark night of the soul has ended in a moment of grace when he understood that this sense of dismissal is what women feel.

Rev. Monique Venne, co-pastor of Compassion of Christ Catholic Community in Minneapolis and a Roman Catholic Womanpriest said, "I am distressed and angry that the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith (CDF) has done an end-around the Maryknoll order by kicking Fr. Roy Bourgeois from Maryknoll and forcibly laicizing him because of his public support for women's ordination. Having talked with Fr. Roy several times, most recently this summer, he has been nothing but kind and gracious under the enormous pressure he has suffered for the last four years."

This dismissal and excommunication warrant solidarity by all Catholics outraged by this action. RCWP calls on sympathetic Catholics to protest against the dry rot of sexism in the Roman Catholic Church by participating in the campaign Boycott the Basket. We request that financial support to parishes and Catholic organizations and charities be redirected to Progressive Catholic reform organizations, such as RCWP, School of the Americas Watch, Call To Action-USA, Voice of the Faithful, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or a local RCWP worship community. We encourage people to:

• Write op-ed letters to your local newspapers.

• Read My Journey from Silence to Solidarity by Roy Bourgeois, available here.

Purchase and view the DVD Pink Smoke Over the Vatican, featuring Fr. Roy.

• Send letters of support to Fr. Roy at: Women's Ordination Conference, P.O. Box 15057, Washington, DC 20003, Attention: Fr. Roy Bourgeois.

The unjust action against Fr. Roy continues the CDF bullying against those who advocate for an inclusive and just Church. No predator priests or their protective bishops have been excommunicated for their crimes against the innocent. The few dismissals of pedophile priests by the CDF did not occur with the speed or severity as did this reaction to a priest who has refused to recant his stand for women's equality in the Roman Catholic Church.

Fr. Roy said, "The Vatican and Maryknoll can dismiss me, but they cannot dismiss the issue of gender equality in the Catholic Church." We agree.

Contact person: Rev. Monique Venne, RCWP, 952-894-9639,

Related Off-site Link:
Roy Bourgeois: They Finally Got Him – Tom Roberts (National Catholic Reporter, November 20, 2012).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Roy Bourgeois' Statement on His Dismissal from Maryknoll
Roy Bourgeois: "The Exclusion of Women from the Priesthood is a Grave Injustice"
Christian Sacrifice and the Unholy Crusade to Defrock Roy Bourgeois
Fr. Roy Bourgeois: Ordination of Women Inevitable

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Roy Bourgeois' Statement on His Dismissal from Maryknoll

I have been a Catholic priest in the Maryknoll community for 40 years. As a young man I joined Maryknoll because of its work for justice and equality in the world. To be expelled from Maryknoll and the priesthood for believing that women are also called to be priests is very difficult and painful.

The Vatican and Maryknoll can dismiss me, but they cannot dismiss the issue of gender equality in the Catholic Church. The demand for gender equality is rooted in justice and dignity and will not go away.

As Catholics, we profess that God created men and women of equal worth and dignity. As priests, we profess that the call to the priesthood comes from God, only God. Who are we, as men, to say that our call from God is authentic, but God's call to women is not? The exclusion of women from the priesthood is a grave injustice against women, our Church and our loving God who calls both men and women to be priests.

When there is an injustice, silence is the voice of complicity. My conscience compelled me to break my silence and address the sin of sexism in my Church. My only regret is that it took me so long to confront the issue of male power and domination in the Catholic Church.

I have explained my position on the ordination of women, and how I came to it, in my booklet, My Journey from Silence to Solidarity. Please go to:

In Solidarity,


Related Off-site Link:
Former Maryknoll Head Decries Vatican Interference in Bourgeois Case – Joshua J. McElwee (National Catholic Reporter, November 20, 2012).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Roy Bourgeois: "The Exclusion of Women from the Priesthood is a Grave Injustice"
Christian Sacrifice and the Unholy Crusade to Defrock Roy Bourgeois
Fr. Roy Bourgeois: Ordination of Women Inevitable

Monday, November 19, 2012

Catholic Group Wants Answers on Archdiocese Spending

By Rupa Shenoy

NOTE: This article was first published November 16, 2012 by Minnesota Public Radio.

EAGAN, Minn. — A group of nearly 100 Catholics is calling for accountability and transparency in the church's finances.

At a meeting in the Twin Cities suburb of Eagan Thursday night, Martha Turner of Catholic Coalition for Church Reform said she hopes to start a conversation with the Archdiocese for St. Paul and Minneapolis.

"We would like to hear your stories," Turner said. "We want to hear from you, we want to hear your experiences and your concerns about how the money is used that you donate to your parishes and that some of which ends up in the archdiocese."

The archdiocese spent $650,000 in a failed attempt to pass a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Michael Anderson, one of the leaders of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, asked the audience if the archdiocese's spending was improper.

"How would we feel if the archdiocese had invested a million dollars saying 'vote no' in opposition to the marriage amendment?" Anderson asked. "Would we be complaining about that? I don't know. I think it's an honest question."

Several people at the event said the church's stance made them feel like they had to choose between going to Mass and supporting gay friends and family. They said they wanted to have more of a say in the way the church spends its money. A few said they had reduced their donations or stopped going to church.

The coalition plans to send comments to the archdiocese. The archdiocese didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.


The archdiocese sent the following in an email Friday afternoon.

The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis is aware that the group calling itself the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR), recently held a meeting questioning the archdiocese's financial transparency and accountability. The CCCR is not supported or endorsed by this archdiocese, the universal Roman Catholic Church, or any entity or organization affiliated with either this archdiocese or the Church.

The archdiocese has a long-standing commitment to sound management practices and to act prudently regarding the resources entrusted to us by the faithful. Decisions regarding the sources and uses of funds, including assessments, are made in consultation with the archbishop's staff and monthly reviews by the Archdiocesan Finance Committee. In addition, financial statements are prepared by internal staff and outside auditors, and all finances of the archdiocese are reviewed by the Archdiocesan Finance Committee, by the Audit Committee and by the Archdiocesan Corporate Board. These groups include lay members who are highly experienced in finance and accounting matters.

"Early each year, the archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Spirit, publishes an Annual Report pertaining to the most recent fiscal year. This report, which is also available on the archdiocesan website, reflects the financial statements of the archdiocese that have been audited by independent certified public accountants who rendered unqualified opinions on the financial statements.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Archbishop’s Statement on His Marriage Amendment Defeat

By Paula Ruddy

The Archbishop has issued a statement in the wake of the defeat of his relentless campaign to make sure gay and lesbian citizens of Minnesota will never get equal protection of the civil marriage laws. He says “It has never been the aim of the Catholic Church to alienate anyone.”

Let me try to understand this: He wants to deprive some people of any possibility of living a socially accepted, legally sanctioned, married life, and they are not supposed to take that personally?

He initiated an eight year attack, pitting a heterosexual majority against a homosexual minority to prevent the democratic process from working in the minority’s favor. This attempt to limit marriage by constitutional definition ultimately failed on November 6, 2012. Resisting it took a tremendous expenditure of time, energy, and money. The moral cost may never be recovered. And he never meant to alienate anyone?

Look at the history: There has been a law in Minnesota specifically prohibiting same-sex marriage since 1997. Did John Nienstedt need to do anything to prevent gay marriage? No, he didn’t, but he decided a preemptive move was necessary to prevent any future “activists, politicians, and state court judges” from changing the status quo. So he mounted his campaign to amend the Minnesota constitution with a letter signed by all the Minnesota bishops in 2004. The letter defined marriage as a union of one man and one woman “with no legal equivalents.” No legal rights at all for the homosexual minority.

In 2006, the DFL controlled the senate judiciary committee, and they kept (then) state senator Michelle Bachman’s amendment bill from a floor vote. So it did not get on the ballot. A legislator’s oath to uphold the constitution prevents him/her from putting basic human rights of a minority on the ballot for a majority to vote on. The 14th amendment of the U.S. constitution provides that the state shall not deny any person equal protection of the law. If heterosexual people have the legal right to marry, there must be good reasons to deny homosexual people that same right. Whether there are good reasons is a question for the legislators themselves to answer. It is not for a majority of voters to decide whether a minority can have equal protection of the law. I remember Senators John Marty and Dean Johnson holding that moral line in the senate judiciary committee in 2006. The Archbishop does not seem to understand this basic principle of equality in a democratic constitutional republic, or he pretends not to. I find that alienating.

With a Republican majority in the state houses in 2011, the amendment was the Minnesota Catholic Conference's top legislative priority. The Archbishop sent priests to hearings to testify for the amendment and paid lobbyists to talk to legislators. Despite their oath to uphold the constitution, the legislators put the bill on the ballot for 2012. The phrase “with no legal equivalents” had been dropped. When the Archbishop framed same-sex marriage as a threat to straight marriage and the common good, the majority was set up against the minority to assure the passage of the amendment.

During all these years and especially during 2012, the minority had to defend against this attack on a right it didn’t even have but might possibly gain in the future. It was a strenuous, expensive, and sometimes demoralizing effort. It caused anxiety, anger, and grief in both the No voters and the Yes voters. Even in the little phoning I did to ask people to vote NO, I felt rage that justice depended on people who seemed to have no awareness of the effects of their vote on other people’s lives. For them a YES vote, easily done, would have no consequences.

Some Catholics suffered conflict between their consciences and what their church was telling them to do. Family ties were strained. Priests were told to be silent on the issue. Parish staff who didn’t agree had to “stay under the radar.” Some people could not bear to pray the Archbishop’s mandatory prayer or hear their pastor’s political instruction at Sunday Mass. Catholics had to hear the leadership of their church ridiculed in the public forum. Some people left the Roman Catholic Church for good.

The moral cost, the cost in human dignity, of this campaign was enormous—and alienating.

Yes, there were also enormous joys in the gay community and its allies working together. The spirit among the people of faith community was inspiring. And thanks to the good sense and fairness of Minnesota voter, straight and gay, the Archbishop’s campaign was defeated.

But isn’t it outrageous now for the Archbishop to say in his statement that this was a normal give and take in the democratic process? He sees himself as a good citizen who has done his best in a fair and honorable contest for the common good. I think it is instead like a man who has brutally tried to cripple and rob you, coming to shake hands after he has finally failed, congratulating himself on his attempt on your life. He even says he isn’t finished with you yet. But try not to be alienated.

Is there any way to call Archbishop John C. Nienstedt to account for the damage he has done? Would we be justified in trying to do so? What is the common ground he speaks of? Many of us begged him repeatedly to reconsider his strategy to “strengthen marriage,” but with absolute power and Rome’s approval, he has no incentive to hear any other point of view.

Or is this just another occasion to shrug off the banality of evil and put up with all the cynical comments about bishops? Anyone?

Related Off-site Links:
A Call for Healing in Minnesota – Eric Fought (, November 12, 2012).
Chastened Catholic Bishops Told They Have to Reform Themselves – David Gibson (The Washington Post, November 12, 2012).
Bishops Stay Course on Gay Marriage Fight – Rachel Zoll (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, November 12, 2012).

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Quote of the Day

As a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, I would ask our archbishop, John Nienstedt, to prayerfully consider stepping down from his office. It would be healing for our state and our church and would show some magnanimity on his part. His misguided crusade to change our Constitution, spending more than a million dollars and, more importantly, much goodwill, has been rejected. Elections have consequences.

– Rev. Michael Tegeder
Letter to the Editor of the Star Tribune
November 8, 2012

To read the PVC's series of open letters to Archbishop Nienstedt from Catholics of the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese, click here.

Related Off-site Links:
Both 'Marriage Amendment' AND 'Voter Photo ID Amendment' Rejected by Minnesota Voters – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, November 7, 2012).
Election 2012 Shows A Social Sea Change on Gay Marriage – Lauren Markoe (Religion News Service via HuffPost Gay Voices, November 8, 2012).
Same-Sex Marriage: 'Minnesota, in Particular . . . is Proof That Tide Has Turned' – Beth Hawkins (MinnPost, November 8, 2012).
Minnesota Bishops Lament Defeat of 'Marriage Amendment' – Rose French (Star Tribune, November 8, 2012)

Monday, November 5, 2012

All the Archbishop’s Men: Silent on Voter Restriction

By Javier Morillo

NOTE: This commentary was first published November 2, 2012 on Javier Morillo's blogsite, Thug in Pastels.

I attended last night’s MPR debate about Minnesota’s upcoming vote on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, which featured two national figures on each side of the issue as well as two local leaders. Representing the No Side: Bishop Gene Robinson, Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire and Sarah Walker, a leader in restorative criminal justice and Board Member of Minnesotans United for All Families. Representing the Yes side were Brian Brown, President of the National Organization for Marriage and the Reverend Jerry McAfee of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis.

While the two men of the cloth disagreed a lot over scripture, I’d like to focus this post instead on one of the political arguments made by Reverend Jerry McAfee of Minneapolis, one he has made in public before – that the progressive political infrastructure has been singularly focused on marriage, to the detriment of the campaign to defeat the Voter Restriction Amendment. McAfee has received a lot of press attention by MPR and other press outlets for his complaint that the DFL was not doing enough to defeat the Voter Restriction Amendment, a top priority for the African American community.

I have been in meetings with Reverend McAfee where I heard –and agreed with–his frustration with the relative lack of attention that was being paid to the Voter Restriction Amendment. I disagreed with his analysis of the why, but I could relate to the frustration many of us felt earlier this year that there was a collective failure on the part of the progressive left to take the Voter Restriction Amendment seriously. While the Reverend sought to blame “the DFL,” I thought the problem was broader. While the progressive infrastructure had, in the past two years, mobilized to keep “Right to Work” and other budget amendments from getting on the ballot, polls showing big support for Voter ID in concept were met with a collective shrug of “we can’t win that.”

That has changed. Polls show the more Minnesotans learn about the Voter Restriction Amendment, the less they like it. And the resources have finally begun to flow. We are outspending proponents in the final week and have a broad coalition of faith, labor and community groups educating voters about this Amendment and flipping people in droves to the position that, however you feel about Voter ID, we can agree that this particular legislation was poorly written and will be expensive, and therefore we need to Send It Back to the legislature. DFL sample ballots include the Vote No on Voter Restriction position printed on it, and the party’s field operation, together with the work of TakeAction and the faith-based coalition ISAIAH, has had tens of thousands of conversations with voters. These have been at the core of the shifting poll numbers.

Although at the MPR debate last night the Reverend noted the same complaint about the relative lack of attention to Voter Restriction, it’s not his failure to note that progress has been made that I found frustrating. The change that stood out to me was that, since those first stories the Reverend McAfee has, as he was last night, become a prominent voice for the Vote Yes on the Marriage Amendment campaign.

How can the same person who blasted the DFL for its supposed indifference to Voter ID now stand with Archbishop Nienstedt of the Catholic Church, probably the single largest institution in the state of Minnesota that is actively silent on the Voter Restriction Amendment? And I don’t mean “stand with” figuratively. The Reverend has a featured speaker along with the Archbishop when Nienstedt rallied religious leaders in mid-September to Vote Yes.

And yet, under the iron fist of an Archbishop pathologically obsessed with same-sex marriage, the Catholic Church has changed its position on Voter ID from opposed to neutral – neutral on this issue of extreme importance to communities of color.

All the Archbishop’s Men: Singularly Focused on Marriage

Before engaging the Catholic Church’s sleight of hand when it comes to the Voter Restriction Amendment, let us recall that not all of the faithful are silent on an amendment that will keep many poor and elderly citizens from voting. In mid-October, the Minnesota Council of Churches announced its opposition to the Voter Restriction Amendment:

In a written statement, the Council’s President, St. Paul Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Bishop Peter Rogness said “the fundamental issue that brings us here is our concern for those for whom this step – which seems easy for most in the mainstream – becomes a barrier to participating in the shaping of our public life together.”

It was an issue of “defending the right of the last, lost and least to vote and therefore oppose the amendment,” he added.

On the day of the Council of Churches announcement, Our Vote Our Future, the campaign to defeat the Voter Restriction Amendment, sent out a press release listing among the faith groups opposing the Amendment the the Minnesota Catholic Conference. They then sent a corrected press release stating, “In fact, the Minnesota Catholic Conference changed its position a year after originally opposing it. They are no longer taking any position on this amendment.”

Wait, what? Changed its position? Back when Voter ID legislation was being debated at the Capitol, The Catholic Spirit reported it opposition:

Opponents, including the Minnesota Catholic Conference, say the requirement would disenfranchise the elderly, college students and minorities.

Katie Conlin, interim social concerns director for MCC, told The Catholic Spirit: “The reality is that a lot of people don’t have photo identification. And while these bills would create a free government-issued ID for people . . . that doesn’t address the difficulty in getting that ID for some folks.

“You would still have to have some sort of supporting documentation in order to get the ID,” Conlin explained. “Let’s say you’re a woman who got married and had a name change. Then you would have to have your birth certificate, your marriage license and proof of your current residence.

“Then you’d have to get to wherever it is that the ID is going to be issued,” she added. “It would affect anyone with limited access to transportation.”

(See State Catholic Conference Opposes Voter ID Bills, The Catholic Spirit)

So, what happened? Sources tell me the Catholic Conference position changed after a meeting they had with Dan McGrath, the one-man-show at Minnesota Majority running the effort to pass the Voter Restriction Amendment. I asked Our Vote Our Future if they had been invited to address the Catholic Conference as well. Communications Director Eric Fought had this to say:

There was a sudden shift in the position of the Minnesota Catholic Conference earlier this year, as they moved from being opposed to the Voter Restriction Amendment to ‘neutral.’ Recently, Mr. Adkins told a reporter covering the race that he offered a meeting with the bishops to a representative of our campaign in September.

No such offer was received. We most certainly would have welcomed the opportunity to address the bishops about the many costs and consequences of the Voter Restriction Amendment. There is no doubt, Minnesota Catholics will be greatly affected by this poorly written amendment.

Where is the Outrage?

Can we imagine what it might be like if, from every Catholic pulpit, priests were giving sermons against the Voter Restriction Amendment, they way they are being instructed to speak for the Marriage Amendment? Might the polls showing an evenly split electorate on Voter Restriction tip in the direction of a No Vote?

That is a good question for Reverend McAfee. As I said, I agreed with his frustration about the lack of resources going to the effort to defeat Voter Restriction even as I disagreed with this analysis of why it was happening. For him, this was about the DFL privileging a wealthier gay (and white) constituency. To me, there were some benign reasons and some deeply problematic. First, marriage was put on the ballot two years before the election, giving the campaign time to mount an enormous effort, and the broad, multi-partisan coalition to defeat that amendment required that campaign–early on and when no other amendment was on the ballot – to decide to be singularly focused on the marriage amendment.

More problematic, however, there was also a collective failure of the progressive (not just party) infrastructure to take on the Voter Restriction fight early on. With a few exceptions, for example, unions were very slow to take on this fight. After Tuesday, when I believe we will edge out a narrow victory and defeat the amendment, we should look at the representation of organizations representing people of color at the tables that make decisions about what fights to take on and which to sit out.

But, I must ask again the Reverend McAfee — how can someone so upset about the perceived singular focus of the left on marriage now stand with the Vote Yes campaign? If there is a Vote Yes GOTV operation out of New Salem Baptist Church, it is presumably funded by the “Minnesotans for Marriage” campaign. That campaign, as has been widely reported, is being funded almost single-handedly by Archbishop Nienstedt and the Catholic Church, the single most powerful institution in the state of Minnesota that is doing what Reverend McAfee accused the DFL of doing — being singularly focused on marriage, to the detriment of the efforts to defeat Voter Restriction.

Will the Reverend, before Tuesday, denounce the Archdiocese silence on Voter Restriction?

People of Faith Call to Action

If you are a Catholic, you might want to call the Archdiocese and ask the Church why it is silent on a ballot question that, if passed, will restrict the representation of the poor and dispossessed in the electorate. Even better, volunteer with other people of faith to phone bank this weekend. You can do so through ISAIAH.

If you belong to a Church that is turning you out to Vote Yes on Marriage and No on Voter ID, ask your Pastor – why are we standing with the Catholic Church, which is hurting our effort to defeat Voter Restriction? Then, VOLUNTEER.


I just heard from a Catholic friend, parishioner at St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis, who called the Archdiocese to ask why the Church was only speaking out on one Amendment. The person who answered the phone first claimed the Catholic Conference had spoken out against the Voter ID Amendment [they had, then changed their minds]. After my friend pointed out that the Catholic Conference’s website is filled with marriage amendment missives alone, this person told my friend that “there is no evidence” that communities of color will be disenfranchised if the Amendment passes. Sounds like this “neutral” person has some talking points from Minnesota Majority.

In reality, according to the League of Women Voters:

Approximately 11% of the voting population does not carry a photo ID that meets these rigid requirements. The percentage is higher among certain groups: the elderly (18%), younger adults (18%), minorities (25% of African-Americans) and people who are low-income (15%).

Looks the Archdiocese needs to update its talking points.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Is Pope Leading a New "Children's Crusade" to Help Romney Win?

By Gerald T. Slevin

Note: This commentary was first cross-posted November 3, 2012 at Bilgrimge and The Open Tabernacle.

Of the many stories generated by the medieval wars, or Crusades, against Islamic rulers that were frequently supported actively by various popes, few are more fascinating than the ones about the so-called 13th Century "Children's Crusade." The stories, which relate to the exploits of a large numbers of itinerants, including many docile and idealistic youth, suggest a uniquely organized effort to rescue the Holy Land. As with most wars, including the Crusades, what seems fairly clear is that children were frequently disproportionately among the casualties, directly or indirectly, including these youthful Crusaders. Then as now, the welfare of children seemed to be a low priority for a generally celibate clerical caste, notwithstanding Jesus' clear Gospel mandate to protect children.

As the U.S. elections soon arrive, the pope is desperately leading another crusade that disproportionately negatively affects children. The pope is flexing his U.S. election year muscles to rally and bring out conservative Catholic voters in critical swing districts by opposing contraception health insurance, as well as the other "hot" wedge issue, gay marriage, that the pope claims, without real evidence and without addressing contrary evidence, hurts families, including children.

The pope's longstanding worldwide effort against government support of effective and voluntary birth control family planning for the poor, in particular, has contributed clearly and unnecessarily to hundreds of millions of "unplanned" children worldwide, including many in the U.S., who are often consigned to lives of miserable poverty.

What is the pope's goal with this heartless anti-contraception crusade? Firstly, the pope's power is apparently thought to be directly related to his efforts to maximize the size of the Catholic population worldwide, especially when compared to the higher birth rates in many non-Catholic countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, as well as the increasing Islamic populations in Western countries. Reproducing more Catholics seems to be a clear papal objective, especially since in many countries, including in the West, the pope is also facing currently a growing Catholic exodus over major papal failures, including the pope's inability and/or unwillingness to adopt effective measures to curtail the worldwide epidemic of priest sexual abuse of innocent children.

After centuries of pursuing papal power politics by varying alliances with more powerful European absolute monarchs, the popes, following the loss in 1870 of the Papal States and a half century of self-imposed seclusion in the Vatican, emerged in the 1920's with a new power politics strategy aimed at the newly democratic and unstable European scene. The popes realized they could use their "mystical" influence over Catholic voters to cut deals, especially with budding dictators seeking a papal imprimatur for their less popular, fascist parties. In 1929 with Mussolini in Italy, in 1933 with Hitler in Germany and in the late 1930's with Franco in Spain, Pius XI, aided after 1929 by his Secretary of State and successor, Pius XII, concluded pacts that helped legitimize these fascist dictators in exchange, among other things, for financial subsidies and special privileges for the national Catholic Churches in those countries.

In the U.S., the popes did not significantly use their new-found electoral power to exchange papal influence over Catholic voters for governmental favors until the 1980's when Republican Ronald Reagan got electoral help from John Paul II in exchange for, among other things, extra U.S. support for Poland's Catholic dissident movement.

This pope and his U.S. bishops realized that an effective rallying cause for many conservative Catholic voters was the anti-abortion or so-called "right to life" movement, which already had considerable political momentum under its original lay founders and leaders. Since it cost the pope little to actively oppose abortion politically, especially since natural law arguments related to the right to life position coincided to a degree with a longstanding Catholic moral tradition, the pope and U.S. bishops made the anti-abortion issue their foremost election year wedge issue.

From the 1980's to the present, the pope and his U.S. bishops have used the anti-abortion issue as their principal "weapon" to induce conservative Catholic voters to vote Republican, although in the 2009 pact of the pope's U.S. hierarchy with Republican supporters available here, the anti-gay marriage "weapon" was also featured prominently.

The challenge apparently for the pope was to find a novel way to use these weapons against Obama, who had recently been showing signs of getting increasingly aggressive against the U.S. bishops for their ongoing cover-up of priest sexual predators. The new papal attack was launched against Obama's proposed rules requiring making available free contraceptive insurance for all employees of Church-controlled institutions, such as universities, but not for direct employees of the Church.

Since contraception generally negates the need for an abortion and, in that sense is "pro-life," the U.S. bishops and their Republican allies, including Paul Ryan, also pushed the definition of life back to begin at the moment of conception. By this extended approach, some issues could be raised, however disingenuously at times, by the anti-abortionists against Obama's health insurance rules.

Depending, it appears, on the day of the week and the particular audience he is addressing, Romney's "etch a sketch" position may or may not conform to the pope's position, but that does not appear to matter much to this politically pragmatic pope. What does clearly matter, however, is maintaining iron discipline among Catholics he controls for an unquestioned conformity to the pope's pure abortion wedge-issue position.

This was just made clear again by the disgraceful treatment of a U.K. theologian who was shabbily dumped at the last minute from a teaching position at the Catholic University of San Diego in California, as noted here.

The anti-gay marriage wedge issue appears to attract some additional conservative Catholic Republican voters, especially among some seniors, that adds to political clout the pope can offer the Republicans. In U.S. electoral politics, a shift in just a few votes in identified districts in a handful of so-called swing or battleground states can make critical difference in an election. This year with elaborate "computer data mining" of extensive voter information, the key locales can be identified with some precision. In some of these locales, the papal push against abortion and gay marriage, exploited by well-funded and non-stop campaign ads, could be the difference; hence, the potential value to Republicans of papal clout.

What is in it for the pope? In the almost half century since the pope condemned the birth control "pill" as a "mortal sin," the Catholic hierarchy, and especially parish priests, have said little effectively to American Catholics about birth control. Since American Catholics have overwhelmingly rejected the dogma, there was little to gain by hammering the issue. Nevertheless, there appear still to be "single-issue" conservative Catholic voters who are "pro-life", so the pope and U.S. bishops have resurrected this wedge issue with an anti-Obama twist, for what it may be worth the Republicans.

As with Pius XI's deals with Mussolini, Hitler and Franco, in the first instance the pope has an opportunity for financial gains if the Republicans are elected. American papal donors appear to be overwhelmingly Republican and, especially the top 0.01%, stand to save billions in U.S. taxes if Republicans gain the White House. It is reasonable for the pope to assume some of these tax savings will fund larger tax-deductible contributions to the pope and U.S. bishops, who are increasingly strapped due to billions spent on the priest sex abuse cover-up.

The power of the top 0.01%, in the U.S. and worldwide, is hard to over-estimate. As just brilliantly and boldly described by Reuters' top editor, Chrystia Freeland, in her book, Plutocrats, described here, increasingly the world's billionaires are dominating governmental policies worldwide. As she also notes, the richest man in history is Mexico's Carlos Slim.

The Catholic Church's most successful fundraiser for decades was Fr. Marcial Maciel, the disgraced sex-abusing head of the cult-like religious order, the Legion of Christ. Under Maciel, the Legion operated as a well-oiled cash machine that preyed on wealthy donors. As indicated in the recent book by Jason Berry, America's award winning investigative reporter on the Catholic Church's financial and child sex abuse scandals, Maciel had cultivated Carlos Slim as a financial source. As recently as 2004, as many of Maciel's perverse misdeeds were becoming more widely known, Slim was televised with Maciel at a NY Waldorf Astoria fundraiser for the Legion that was co-hosted by another plutocrat, Citigroup's then CEO, Sanford (Sandy) Weill. Berry's recent book is Render Unto Caesar: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church, described here.

Maciel reportedly funneled considerable funds to senior Vatican bureaucrats, including John Paul II's secretary. How much money plutocrats have already, or will soon be funnelling, to papal fronts or causes may never be known in this post-Citizens United world of anonymous donors.

A special feature in this election is the pope's clear efforts to protect his U.S. bishops from Federal prosecutors, especially given Obama's prosecutors' key role with respect to the recent first conviction, for a child endangerment crime related to one of his priest's sexual abuse, of a U.S. Catholic bishop, Finn, of Kansas City. Bishop Finn is an Opus Dei member and a protege of Philly's Cardinal Rigali. Rigali is a long time Vatican colleague of the current pope. Rigali just saw his former top Philly priest personnel aide, Monsignor Lynn, sentenced to up to six years in prison for child endangerment in connection with another priest's sexual assault of a young altar boy.

For an analysis of the importance of Romney to the pope's goal of protecting U.S. bishops from Federal criminal and bankruptcy courts, please read, "After Elections, Who Will Prosecute More Predatory Priests? Constitutional Lawyer Obama or the Three R's of Romney, Ryan & Ratzinger?", available here.

What the foregoing indicates clearly is that little has changed in some fundamental ways since the Middle Ages in papal efforts to use political power for the benefit principally of papal princes and their corrupt Vatican bureaucracy. This will end soon, as prosecutors from the International Criminal Court and elsewhere invade the Vatican armed with enforcible subpoenas directed initially at secret files on the worldwide abuse cover-up, as well likely on the Vatican financial scandals. Amen!