Joan Chittister: ‘The Eucharist Dilemma’


The major problem of eucharistic theology in our century is not that people do not understand and value the meaning of Eucharist. The problem is that they do.

The Eucharist, every child learns young, is the sign of Christian community, the very heart of it, in fact. And who would deny the bond, the depth, the electrical force that welds us together in it? Here, we know, is the linkage between us and the Christ, between us and the Gospel, between us and the Tradition that links us to Jesus himself and to the world around us. No, what the Eucharist is meant to be is not what’s in doubt.

What’s in doubt is that the Eucharist is really being allowed to do what it purports to do—to connect us, to unify us, to make us One. The truth is that as much as Eucharist is a sign of community it is also a sign of division. For the sake of some kind of ecclesiastical political fiascos centuries ago between the East and West, we close the table between Orthodox and Uniate—though the faith is the same and the commitments are the same and the vision of life and death are the same.

What’s in doubt, too, is that the division between baptized men and baptized women can possibly witness to what we say is the faith: that men and women are equal; that women are fully human beings; that God’s grace is indivisible; that discipleship is incumbent on us all; that we are all called to follow Christ.

At the end of one presentation after another, women make it a point to continue the discussion with me. “I used to be Catholic,” they begin. “I was a Catholic once,” they say. “I’m a recovering Catholic now,” they announce. It’s a sad litany of disillusionment and abandonment by a Church they once thought promised them fullness of life and then let them know it is their very persons that deny them that.

Call it “holy” communion if you want, they tell me, but it’s not. Not like that. Not under those conditions.

So they go away to where Jesus waits for them, arms open, in someone else’s Christian church. There’s something about it that simply defies the lesson of Mary Magdalene or the Woman at the Well or Mary of Bethany or Mary of Nazareth. They go where every minister of the altar, every bishop, every lawgiver, every homilist, every member of every Synod on the planet is not male. They go where they can see “the image of God” in themselves in another woman. They go where eucharistic theology, which we’re told makes us one, is palpable.–Joan Chittister

From “Eucharist” by Joan Chittister, Spirituality magazine (Volume 18, March-April 2012, No 101. Dominican Publications: Republic of Ireland)

St. Patrick’s Day: ‘There’s No One as Irish as Barack O’Bama’

I wrote earlier about The Photo Not Taken as I sped through Moneygall, Ireland, birthplace of Barack Obama’s great-great-great grandfather a few days before the historic 2008 U.S. elections.

What do you know? Canon Stephen Neill, Anglican priest in the diocese of Limerick, Killaloe who blogs at Paddy Anglican, sent me the photo that I missed!

Sign outside Moneygall, Ireland. Thanks Stephen!
Sign outside Moneygall, Ireland. Thanks Stephen!

Epiphany in Connemara

“And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.”–Matthew 2:12

By Annie Deppe (January 6, 2014) Renvle, Connemara, West Coast of Ireland.
By Annie Deppe (January 6, 2014) Renvyle, Connemara, West Coast of Ireland.

Poet Annie Deppe sent this Epiphany Day photo taken from her living room window on the Connemara coast of Western Ireland. (Their Christmas was punctuated by severe storms and hurricane-force winds.) Like her writing (Sitting In The Sky, Wren Cantata), her photo provides a lovely visual reminder that sometimes we are called by dreams to “return home by a different way” (Matthew 2:12).


Joseph Ross: ‘Earth, Receive an Honored Guest’ – Seamus Heaney

JRossPoet and literature teacher Joseph Ross (Gospel of Dust and Meeting Bone Man) has written a lovely, graceful tribute to Seamus Heaney. He holds before us the broken bread of a broken heart in a world in which the word is breaking. But, as Heaney would remind, from which the phoenix rises.

Joseph Ross writes:

It is hard to know what to write today. Yesterday morning, at school, getting ready to discuss two of Anne Bradstreet’s poems with my American Literature students, I learned that Seamus Heaney had died. What I know today is this: my poetry heart is breaking.

And I am not alone. Irish Prime Minister, their Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, said: “For us, Seamus Heaney was the keeper of language, our codes, our essence as a people.” His death brings “…a great sorrow to Ireland.” Indeed. And not just to Ireland but to people who love poetry everywhere. Seamus Heaney was widely regarded as one of the finest poets of our time. No question. He was also considered a most humble and decent man. He was married, a father and a grandfather. His personal life was stable and not flashy.

He wrote of the Irish people who worked the land, the Irish people who suffered British oppression. He did this in such a way that honored the people, the land, and at times shamed the British. But he did not fall into a polemic. He refused to glorify the Irish Republican Army. He might have supported their goals but he opposed many of their methods. He resisted labeling sides as simply good vs. evil. He knew more complexity than that.

Read Joe Ross’ full essay.

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) in the ‘Republic of Conscience’

The Beautiful Irish Woman, 1866, by Gustave Courbet
The Beautiful Irish Woman, 1866, by Gustave Courbet

Seamus Heaney,74,  one of the greatest living poets writing in the “English” language, died today at a clinic in Ireland.

Robert Lowell called Heaney “the most important Irish poet since Yeats.” Lowell didn’t live to see the full grandeur of Heaney’s accomplishments.

I’m in a bit of shock at the news.

The night I heard Seamus Heaney read his poetry at the Kennedy Center was one of the highlights of my literary life.

Most memorably he read from his own translation of Brian Merriman’s “The Midnight Court,” in which the women of Ireland put the men on trial:

‘Get up,’ she said, ‘and on your feet!’
What do you think gives you the right
To shun the crowds and the sitting court?
A court of justice, truly founded,
And not the usual, rigged charade,
But a fair and clement court of women
of the gentlest stock and regimen.
The Irish race should be grateful always
For such a bench, agreed and wise,
In session now two days and a night,
In the spacious fort on Graney Heights …

… Blame arrogant kings, blame emigration,
But it’s you and your spunkless generation–
Your a source blocked off that won’t refill.
You have failed your women, one and all.

I’ve taught Heaney’s poem “Station Island” as part of prayer and poetry retreats. I’ve written essays comparing “Station Island” with Neruda’s “The Heights of Macchu Piccu.” I’ve listened to audio of Heaney reading and lecturing simply to luxuriate in his language.

How can that singular voice be stilled? Who will answer now when I call out in the “republic of conscience”? There will be quite a céilí tonight in the celestial courts!

From The Irish Times:

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said the death of Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney today has brought a “great sorrow to Ireland” and only the poet himself could describe the depth of his loss to the nation.

Mr Kenny said: “For us, Seamus Heaney was the keeper of language, our codes, our essence as a people”.
Heaney died this morning at the Blackrock Clinic aged 74 after a short illness.

He was admitted to the clinic for a procedure but died prior to the operation.

President Michael D Higgins said Heaney’s contribution “to the republics of letters, conscience, and humanity was immense”.

“As tributes flow in from around the world, as people recall the extraordinary occasions of the readings and the lectures, we in Ireland will once again get a sense of the depth and range of the contribution of Seamus Heaney to our contemporary world, but what those of us who have had the privilege of his friendship and presence will miss is the extraordinary depth and warmth of his personality,” he said.

Mr Higgins, himself a published poet, described Heaney as warm, humourous, caring and courteous.
“A courtesy that enabled him to carry with such wry Northern Irish dignity so many well-deserved honours from all over the world,” he said.

“Generations of Irish people will have been familiar with Seamus’ poems. Scholars all over the world will have gained from the depth of the critical essays, and so many rights organisations will want to thank him for all the solidarity he gave to the struggles within the republic of conscience.” …

Read the rest here.

Poet Theo Dorgan, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Ireland at a poetry workshop several years ago, said:

Seamus Heaney would react in “half embarrassment” at being compared to the great Irish writers such as W.B Yeats, James Joyce and Oscar Wilde, but “he deserved it. He is there.” He was also a very loved poet and people “just beamed” in his presence. He had, more than any other poet he met, “genuine humility. He knew his gift was just that, a gift”. He was a supportive writer who offered “solidarity and companionship” to others aspiring to be poets, Dorgan said.

More on Seamus Heaney:

Obituary: Heaney ‘the most important Irish poet since Yeats’

Seamus Heaney, poet, dies aged 74

Bishops and Cardinal Gather in Ireland: Specific intention to ‘Seek Forgiveness’

Thousands of pilgrims have travelled to Dublin for the International Eucharistic Congress, which comes at a time when public trust in the Catholic Church has been deeply damaged by the clerical sexual abuse scandal and the criminal conspiracy to cover it up. The tone of many of the addresses was subdued – no false rhetoric like we are hearing here in the U.S. – just an acknowledgement that the Church’s journey to renewal will be a long one and the male institutional hierarchy of the Catholic Church must, with great humility, ask forgiveness of those it let down.

Read key speeches from the Dublin Congress:

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin: the Church’s journey to renewal will be long: “The 50 years since the Second Vatican Council have brought many graces to the Church in Ireland. The message and teaching of the Council still constitute the blueprint for our renewal. But those 50 years have also been marked with a darker side, of sinful and criminal abuse and neglect of those weakest in our society: children, who should have been the object of the greatest care and support and Christ-like love. We recall all those who suffered abuse and who still today bear the mark of that abuse and may well carry it with them for the rest of their lives. In a spirit of repentance, let us remember each of them in the silence of our hearts.”

The Primate of the Philippines Archbishop Lius Tagle speaks on Clergy Sexual Misconduct: reflections from Asia

The Pope’s representative, Cardinal Ouellet, apologizes to abuse victims on behalf of the Church: “I come here with the specific intention of seeking forgiveness, from God and from the victims, for the grave sin of sexual abuse of children by clerics. We have learned over the last decades how much harm and despair such abuse has caused to thousands of victims. We learned too that the response of some Church authorities to these crimes was often inadequate and inefficient in stopping the crimes, in spite of clear indications in the code of Canon Law. In the name of the Church, I apologize once again to the victims … ”

Cardinal Sean Brady apologises for the Church’s failure to safeguard children and young people: “There is a much larger stone that sits in a place of honour here before this altar. It will serve as a reminder of those children and young people who were hurt by a Church that first betrayed their trust and then failed to respond adequately to their pain. The words of the Gospel echo in my mind: “It is not the will of your Father that any of these little ones should be lost”. May God forgive us for the times when we as individuals and as a Church failed to seek out and care for those little ones who were frightened, alone and in pain because someone was abusing them. That we did not always respond to your cries with the concern of the Good Shepherd is a matter of deep shame. We lament the burdens of the painful memories you carry. We pray for healing and peace for those whose suffering continues. I want to take this opportunity of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress to apologise for the times when some of us were blind to your fear, deaf to your cries and silent in response to your pain. My prayer is that one day this stone might become a symbol of conversion, healing and hope.”

Irish Priest: We Will No Longer Be the ‘Silent People of God’

The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) in Ireland is holding an gathering this week in Dublin entitled “Towards an Assembly of the Irish Catholic Church” aimed at restoring the Spirit of Vatican II.

More than a thousand showed up for conference that took place in the weeks following the Vatican censure of several progressive Irish priests, in what appears to be a blatant attempt to deflect the spotlight away from the Vatican’s failure to protect and defend Irish Catholics against predatory priests within the hierarchy. The ACP hopes to move toward a national dialogue on the Irish Catholic Church. Other countries are looking at similar gatherings.

Fr. Desmond Wilson, a priest who has served in West Belfast since the mid-1960s, wrote this thoughtful letter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith out of his experience of the Irish context. It sheds light on the American situation of the Vatican’s harassment of Catholic sisters:

Dear Friends in The  Congregation for the Doctrine of theFaith,

You may be aware that we  in Ireland have a special reverence for  our Saint Columbanus. He was one of our saints who disagreed with a Pope and said so. You may be more acquainted with Saint Catherine of Siena who did the same, although she had the disadvantage of having  to disagree with three possible popes at one time.

Some of us view with dismay then, but no great alarm, your decision to censor some of our fellow citizens and fellow members of the Catholic Church who have done nothing at all so serious.

We are puzzled – naturally and supernaturally –  by the fact that you and we preach the presence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit and then you tell us, so inspired, to stop talking –   as if we had nothing important to say. This is not a matter of doctrine, it is one of logic and we in Ireland are inclined to judge these things by logic as well as doctrine  and not too often  by emotion. We remember  the Gamaliel principle – you remember it too, when forced to make a decision, he told his colleagues, If this be of God it’s useless to oppose it,  if it be of human planning it will fade away in any case, so we should not take extraordinary measures for ordinary happenings.

Continue reading “Irish Priest: We Will No Longer Be the ‘Silent People of God’”

On Three Continents, Catholic Priests Challenge Vatican on Women’s Ordination

Fr. Roy Bourgeois, MM

More than 150 Roman Catholic priests in the United States have signed a statement in support of a fellow cleric Roy Bourgeois, who faces dismissal for participating in a ceremony ordaining a woman as a Catholic priest, in defiance of church teaching.

More than 300 priests and deacons in Austria – representing 15% of Catholic clerics in that country – last month issued a “Call to Disobedience,” which stunned their bishops with a seven-point pledge that includes actively promoting priesthood for women and married men, and reciting a public prayer for “church reform” in every Mass.

And in Australia, the National Council of Priests recently released a ringing defense of William Morris, the bishop of Toowoomba, who had issued a pastoral letter saying that, facing a severe priest shortage, he would ordain women and married men “if Rome would allow it.”

In the 22 July 2011 New York Times, Laurie Goodstein writes:

While these disparate acts hardly amount to a clerical uprising and are unlikely to result in change, church scholars note that for the first time in years, groups of priests in several countries are standing with those who are challenging the church to rethink the all-male celibate priesthood.

The Vatican has declared that the issue of women’s ordination is not open for discussion. But priests are on the front line of the clergy shortage — stretched thin and serving multiple parishes — and in part, this is what is driving some of them to speak.

A press release from Call to Action spells the whole situation out more clearly. In an unprecedented move, 157 Catholic priests have signed on to a letter in support of their fellow embattled priest, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, who has been told to recant his support for women’s ordination or be removed from the priesthood. The letter that supports Roy’s priesthood and his right to conscience was delivered, Friday, July 22nd, to Fr. Edward Dougherty, Superior General of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in Maryknoll, NY.

“We can no longer remain silent while priests and even bishops are removed from their posts simply because they choose to speak their truth,” said Fr. Fred Daley, a spokesperson of the effort and a priest of the Syracuse Diocese. “Together, we are standing up for our brother priest, Roy, and for all clergy who have felt afraid to speak up on matters of conscience. “We hope that our support as ordained priests in good standing will help give Fr. Dougherty the support he needs to make a decision that is fair and just.”

This stance of priests from the United States follows a series of recent actions where priests collectively have taken a stand for justice in the Church.  Last year, priests in Ireland formed a union aimed at organizing the 6,500 priests there in response to the clergy abuse crisis.

Continue reading “On Three Continents, Catholic Priests Challenge Vatican on Women’s Ordination”

Vatican Undercut Irish Bishops’ Bold Child Abuse Policies, 1997 Letter Reveals

N. 808/97
Dublin, 31 January 1997
Strictly Confidential

Your Excellency,

The Congregation for the Clergy has attentively studied the complex question of sexual abuse of minors by clerics and the document entitled “Child Sexual Abuse : Framework for a Church Response”, published by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Advisory Committee.

The Congregation wishes to emphasize the need for this document to conform to the canonical norms presently in force.

The text, however, contains “procedures and dispositions which appear contrary to canonical discipline and which, if applied, could invalidate the acts of the same Bishops who are attempting to put a stop to these problems.  If such procedures were to be followed by the Bishops and there were cases of eventual hierarchical recourse lodged at the Holy See, the results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those same Diocesan authorities.

In particular, the situation of ‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature”.

Since the policies on sexual abuse in the English speaking world exhibit many of the same characteristics and procedures, the Congregation is involved in a global study of them.  At the appropriate time, with the collaboration of the interested Episcopal Conferences and in dialogue with them, the Congregation will not be remiss in establishing some concrete directives with regard to these Policies.

To: the Members of the Irish Episcopal Conference – their Dioceses.

For these reasons and because the above mentioned text is not an official document of the Episcopal Conference but merely a study document, I am directed to inform the individual Bishops of Ireland of the preoccupations of the Congregation in its regard, underlining that in the sad cases of accusations of sexual abuse by clerics, the procedures established by the Code of Canon Law must be meticulously followed under pain of invalidity of the acts involved if the priest so punished were to make hierarchical recourse against his Bishop.

Asking you to kindly let me know of the safe receipt of this letter and with the assurance of my cordial regard, I am [sic]

Yours sincerely in Christ,

+Luciano Storero
Apostolic Nuncio

Investigative journalist Mick Peelo, from the Irish TV show Would You Believe?, this week revealed a 1997 letter (see above) from the Vatican warning Ireland’s Catholic bishops not to report all suspected child-abuse cases to police. Apparently, Peelo received it from an Irish bishop.

“Child-abuse activists in Ireland said the 1997 letter should demonstrate, once and for all, that the protection of pedophile priests from criminal investigation was not only sanctioned by Vatican leaders but ordered by them,” writes AP reporter Shawn Pogatchnik. “A key argument employed by the Vatican in defending dozens of lawsuits over clerical sex abuse in the United States is that it had no role in ordering local church authorities to suppress evidence of crimes.”

In 1996 the Irish bishops responded to the massive number of allegations regarding child sexual abuse by adopting very bold policies (see “Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response”) that, as Bishop Michael Smith put it, finally “put the child at the center.” In 1997, this new letter reveals, the Vatican immediately sought to undermine the approach taken by the Irish bishops.

“The letter is of huge international significance, because it shows that the Vatican’s intention is to prevent reporting of abuse to criminal authorities. And if that instruction applied here, it applied everywhere,” said Colm O’Gorman, director of the Irish chapter of human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

AP reporter Shawn Pogatchnik explains further the importance of the letter:

In the January 1997 letter seen Tuesday by the AP, the Vatican’s diplomat in Ireland at the time, Archbishop Luciano Storero, told the bishops that a senior church panel in Rome, the Congregation for the Clergy, had decided that the Irish church’s year-old policy of “mandatory” reporting of abuse claims conflicted with canon law.

Storero emphasized in the letter that the Irish church’s policy was not recognized by the Vatican and was “merely a study document.” He said canon law — which required abuse allegations to be handled within the church — “must be meticulously followed.”

Without elaborating Storero, who died in 2000, wrote that mandatory reporting of child-abuse claims to police “gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature.”

He warned that bishops who followed the Irish child-protection policy and reported a priest’s suspected crimes to police ran the risk of having their in-house punishments of the priest overturned by the Congregation for the Clergy.

Last March, when Pope Benedict wrote his “pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland” condemning pedophiles within the church, he blamed Irish bishops for failing to follow canon law, however he made no acknowledgment of the Vatican’s own role in secretly blocking the Irish bishop’s efforts to improve child protection and bring abuser priests to justice.

Would You Believe?’s 40-minute video “Unspeakable Crimes” is a fair and thorough examination of the culture of secrecy around sexual abuse cases that Pope Benedict is both trying to change and completely caught up in. Extensive interviews with members of Voice of the Faithful in Ireland, canon lawyers, bishops, priests, psychologists, and Vatican reporters.

The video is an excellent tool for Catholics who want to reflect together on the ongoing revelations around sexual abuse and how best to advance protection from abusive priests and the culture of clericalism that fosters secrecy and abuse.

The Irish church is currently in the midst of a “visitation” by Cardinal O’Malley regarding the sexual abuse scandal. But, as one person interviewed said, “It’s still not getting to the issue. This is a big problem that’s institutional. It’s bigger than the Irish church.”

Would You Believe? “Unspeakable Crimes” (January 17, 2011) VIDEO
Voice of the Faithful Ireland
Vatican warned Irish bishops not to report abuse By Shawn Pogatchnik, Associated Press (17 Jan 2011)
Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response (1996) adopted by the Irish Catholic church
Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland from Pope Benedict XVI (March 20, 2010)

St. Francis in Sacramento, Calif., on Sept. 26 Event

St. Francis, Sacramento

I’ve been hearing from Catholics in various quarters about how they called attention to and honored the contributions of women in the Catholic church on Sept. 26. Here’s a note that Penny at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Sacramento, CA, sent to her friends and parish staff who attend the noon Mass:

Dear Friends,

I will not be at noon mass this Sunday, 09/26/10. I am abstaining from mass in solidarity with other Catholic women-the women of Ireland, who are stunned by the pervasiveness of the abuse in Ireland; the women who minister in other parishes throughout the world who are not valued and respected as we are at St Francis; the sisters who are investigated because of their implementation of the gospels and loyalty to Christ above rules; and, the women who hear the call to priesthood and are vilified by the hierarchy and equated with sexual abusers.

I have spent significant time in prayer to discern whether i would participate in this symbolic action. My decision to join in solidarity with these women has nothing to do with my respect and appreciation of  … the staff at St Francis. I love each of them for who they are and the gifts they so generously share with us. It is because of the many ways they acknowledge the wisdom and sincerity of the feminine that I feel a strong need to stand strong and straight (because its impossible for me to stand tall) with the oppressed women of the Catholic church.

I will be praying with and for all of you on Sunday. Please remember me in your prayers, also.

Thanks, Penny. I look forward to hearing more reports from the field.