Pope Francis: House Rules for Our Common Home

Check out the reader’s guide to Pope Francis’ letter on the environment. (Thank you, Tom Reese!) This is a great way to introduce Pope Francis’ groundbreaking treatise to youth groups, Wednesday night bible study and prayer groups, adult Sunday school classes, justice organizations, local book studies, etc.

If you are a human being living on planet earth, then I urge you to gain a working knowledge of this document. It will lead you to ask essential questions about human nature, character, the community of life, sharing, kindness, awe, daily moral reasoning, and love.

Berger: New Cardinals Look More Like Jesus, Less Like Rome

Cardinal Quevedo helps paint turbines in rural Philippines.
Cardinal Quevedo helps paint turbines in rural Philippines.
“The origin of the church is poverty,” said newly minted Philippine Cardinal Orlando Quevedo at a press briefing in Rome last week. “And the journey of Jesus Christ was the journey with poor people. Today, the church has riches, institutions. But I would like to think that the only way the church can redeem these resources as well as its institutions would be to place them at the service of justice and of the poor for the sake of the kingdom of God.”

Cardinal Orlando Quevedo has been a lead architect in the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, a body representing more than 100 million Catholics that has courageously pushed forward the values of Vatican II amid traditionalist backlash. According to an article yesterday in the National Catholic Reporter, Quevedo spoke of an Asian vision of church built on basic ecclesial communities with a collaborative leadership style. (Read more on Quevedo and the Pope’s new cardinals here).

What might that look like? According to Tom Kyle who has researched Asian Catholicism and in particular the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, there are certain identifiable characteristics in Asian Catholicism that should mark everything the local church does.

Read the rest here.

Theologian Hans Kung on Long Delayed Catholic Reforms

PopeFrancis cartoonExcellent article in the National Catholic Reporter by Catholic theologian Hans Kung on Pope Francis’ opportunity to take action on long delayed reforms, including inviting divorced Catholics or women who have had an abortion, use birth control, or have had artificial insemination back into the sacraments, and voluntary celibacy for the priesthood. Read Kung’s full essay:

“Pope Francis shows courage: not only in his brave appearance in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, but also by entering into an open dialogue with critical nonbelievers. He has written an open letter to leading Italian intellectual Eugenio Scalfari, founder and longtime editor in chief of the major liberal Roman daily newspaper La Repubblica. These are not papal instructions, but a friendly exchange of arguments on equal levels.

Among the 12 questions from Scalfari printed in La Repubblica Sept. 11, the fourth seems to me of particular importance for a church leadership ready for reforms: Jesus perceived his kingdom not to be of this world — “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” — but the Catholic church especially, writes Scalfari, all too often submits to the temptations of worldly power and represses the spiritual dimension of the church in favor of worldliness. Scalfari’s question: “Does Pope Francis represent after all the priority of a poor and pastoral church over an institutional and worldly church? …”

Read The Real Test of Francis’ Reform: Touching the Spiritually Poor

Catholics Discuss Ordination of Women: Do I Call Her ‘Father’?

In December, the National Catholic Reporter wrote an editorial calling for discussion on women’s ordination in the Catholic Church. (The Vatican has forbidden this discussion to be had by anyone in the institutional church or on any church-owned properties. This means no priest can talk about it and no discussion can be had in Catholic schools, universities, or church basements.)

As any teen counselor can tell you, the best way to ensure a conversation spreads like wildfire is to drive it underground.

The National Catholic Reporter (part of the Catholic faithful, not a Vatican-affiliated institution) had such a huge response from readers to their December editorial that NCR followed it with a series of articles on the history of church authority, roles of women, and theology of ordination. (The links to the articles are below.)

I extend an invitation to non-Catholics Christians (pardon the generalization) to read these articles, as well as to Catholics. Much of the content focuses on our common Christian heritage (eg before the Reformation).

Protestants, evangelicals, and Anabaptist tend to cede history before the 1500s to Catholics. Please, don’t do that.

Contemporary Catholics need our Protestant kinfolk to fully claim the early church and the first 1500 years of our common history. (And I dare say, with the rise of “complementarianism,” not a few Protestants need to reclaim their history of women in leadership.)

Here is the NCR series:

“In April 1976 the Pontifical Biblical Commission concluded unanimously: “It does not seem that the New Testament by itself alone will permit us to settle in a clear way and once and for all the problem of the possible accession of women to the presbyterate.” In further deliberation, the commission voted 12-5 in favor of the view that Scripture alone does not exclude the ordination of women, and 12-5 in favor of the view that the church could ordain women to the priesthood without going against Christ’s original intentions.”–Editorial: Ordination of women would correct an injustice (12/3/12)

“The account in Acts of the Apostles 6:1-6 of the apostles choosing seven men to take care of table service is usually considered the origin of the office of deacon, yet no one in the story is called diakonos and the apostles appoint them for the diakonia of the table so that the apostles can devote themselves to the diakonos of prayer and the word. All perform diakonos of different kinds.”–Early women leaders: from heads of house churches to presbyters (NCR, 1/18/13)

“The Council of Paris in 829 made it extremely clear that it was the bishops who were allowing women to minister at the altar. Women certainly did distribute Communion in the 10th, 11th and perhaps the 12th centuries. Texts for these services exist in two manuscripts of this period. All of this changed over roughly a hundred-year period between the end of the 11th century and the beginning of the 13th. For many different cultural reasons, women were gradually excluded from ordination. First, many roles in the church ceased to be considered as ordained — most importantly, abbots and abbesses. Powerful women in religious orders went from being ordained to laity. Second, canon lawyers and then theologians began to debate whether women could be ordained to the priesthood or diaconate.”–The meaning of ordination and how women were gradually excluded by Gary Macy (NCR, 1/16/12)

“The exercise of doctrinal authority throughout much of the first millennium presupposed several basic convictions. First, the doctrine that the bishops taught pertained to public revelation. There was no sense that bishops received some secret knowledge available only to them. Indeed such a view, known as Gnosticism, had been roundly condemned. Second, what the bishops taught was not foreign to the faith of the whole church. In apostolic service to their communities, the bishops received, verified and proclaimed the apostolic faith that all the baptized in their churches prayed and enacted. The apostolic faith consciousness of the whole people of God would eventually be referred to as the sensus fidelium.”–Richard Gaillardetz, Putting the church’s shifts in spheres of authority in historical perspective (NCR, 2/4/13)

Catholics, Elections, and the Specter of ‘Intrinsic Evil’

Often during election season, the phrase “intrinsically evil” gets bandied about to infer that Catholics who don’t vote a right-wing political agenda are somehow going against the teachings of the Church.

A recent NCR editorial takes on these alternative Catholics’ argument; arguments not in line with the teaching of the Church. Here’s an excerpt:

” “Intrinsically evil” — that perennial election year canard that is meant to tell us Catholics how to vote and whom to avoid — has gotten much play this cycle. But it is truly a deception. So-called Catholic voter’s guides that use intrinsic evil as the measuring stick to choose among a half-dozen issues as “nonnegotiables” are partisan distractions and should be ignored.

Catholics who bring with them a conservative political agenda — and who have garnered the support of not a few bishops and other Catholic opinion leaders — generally select these as nonnegotiable issues: abortion, embryonic stem cell research, cloning, gay marriage, and euthanasia. While this makes a tidy list, convenient for pamphlets stuck under car windshield wipers in church parking lots, we will dispute that they are “nonnegotiables,” because they are in fact cherry-picked from long lists of actions that are intrinsically evil by church teaching.

Let’s borrow a list from Pope John Paul II. Quoting Gaudium et Spes, he says that intrinsically evil acts are “any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat laborers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace … and they are a negation of the honor due to the Creator” (Veritatis Splendor, 80).

We might even add climate change to the list. After all, if the right to life is the most basic human right, then human-caused global warming threatening the entire life of the planet must be the ultimate evil.

“Wait, wait,” the perpetrators of the intrinsically-evil canard will protest. “These are evil, but they can’t be treated as all the same. For some of these we must exercise prudential judgment.” Therein lies the deception, because dealing with any evil — and especially determining the best solutions in a plural democracy — will always require prudential judgment. Further complicating matters is that we must make these judgments within the context of specific electoral and legislative processes. …”

Read the whole article.

Maureen Fiedler: How 12 Religious Traditions View Gay and Lesbian People

Sr. Maureen Fiedler offers an excellent overview of where faith traditions are on the question of homosexuality in her article Radio Program Explore Homosexuality in Different Faith Communities. Well worth the read, and tuning in to her 12-part radio series. These radio interviews could offer a great opportunity for small group conversations within your community.

Here’s an excerpt of Maureen’s article:

Public opinion about homosexuality is changing rapidly, and civil law is not far behind. Gays and lesbians are increasingly open about their relationships and accepted. In some states, they now can marry legally and adopt children.

But among those who are people of faith — with a few exceptions — gay men and lesbians wrestle with how to be faithful to their religious traditions while living fully the human reality in which they discover themselves.

That’s why it seemed just the right moment for “Interfaith Voices” (the public radio show I host) to broadcast a series titled “Gay in the Eyes of God: How 12 Traditions View Gay and Lesbian People.” It began this summer and will stretch into the fall. It was made possible by a grant from the Arcus Foundation.

This series offers much more than scriptural or theological conversations, although those are included. We hear the often poignant stories of gay and lesbian people struggling with who they are as they try to stay faithful to their respective traditions. …

Read the whole article.
Find out more about this series and Interfaith Voices.

LCWR Has 300 More Guests Than Expected at Annual Gathering

When the Leadership Conference of Women Religious gather for their annual meeting, they are usually about 600. This year, under threat of hostile takeover from the Vatican, more than 900 gathered.

Among those guests are a number of representatives of national and international Catholic institutes, including a number of heads of international federations of religious orders, a representative from the Latin American Confederation of Religious, head of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, and more.

On Sunday, after the official ending of the assembly, LCWR’s national board will meet privately. Part of that session, according to LCWR president Pat Farrell, will include a meeting with Archbishop Peter Sartain, one of the “guides” assigned to LCWR, “for the very first conversation that really he’s had with us in any official way” so that “we can communicate with him something of a direction that comes from this group,” said Farrell. Here’s an excerpt from a recent National Catholic Reporter article by Joshua J. McElwee.

The much-anticipated gathering of 900 U.S. Catholic sisters who make up the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) opened here Tuesday night with song, prayer, and references big, small, and in-between to the Vatican’s attempted take-over of the group.

References to the Vatican’s critique of the group, which came in an April 18 announcement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, came early in the two-hour event, with LCWR president Franciscan Sr. Pat Farrell telling the assembled that “we don’t have to remind you that our gathering this week is an historic time in the life of this organization.”

The opening of the annual assembly of LCWR, which represents some 80 percent of U.S. women religious, also included a welcome by St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson and details about how the group’s members would discern steps forward during the gathering, which continues through Friday night. … — Joshua J. McElwee, National Catholic Reporter

Protestant Women Theologians, Pastors, Scripture Scholars Send Open Letter to Catholic Women Religious

Dr. Frances Taylor Gench

On May 29, Frances Taylor Gench, scripture scholar from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA, read an open letter to Catholic women religious at a prayer vigil held outside the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C. The letter was signed by 34 organizations representing Protestant women from New York to Austin, Texas.

Cynthia Rigby, one supporter who helped gather signatures, said it was meant not as a petition, but as a theological letter. “It was so important to us that this reflect a collective voice,” said Rigby, a theology professor at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, “because, theologically, we believe that communities of Christian believers, in this case communities of sisters in Christ, stand together.”

Dr. Gench, a noted biblical scholar, is an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Gench was on the faculty of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg from 1986 to 1999. She served as a member of the PC (USA) General Assembly’s Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church. Recent publications include Back to the Well: Women’s Encounters with Jesus in the Gospels and Encounters with Jesus: Studies in the Gospel of John.

This letter, along with Sr. Sandra Schneiders’ excellent analysis of the Vatican’s investigation of U.S. orders of women religious, begins to form a cogent analysis of two very different definitions and exercises of power and mission.

An Open Letter to Catholic Religious Women
May 1, 2012
Dear Sisters,

We write to you as sisters in faith who may not express our vocation in the same particular community of faith, but who share much in common—as believers, as advocates, and as peacemakers. We write in a spirit of solidarity and as witnesses to the authenticity of your ministries, particularly the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, in a time when the integrity of your witness has been questioned by Catholic leadership.

Continue reading “Protestant Women Theologians, Pastors, Scripture Scholars Send Open Letter to Catholic Women Religious”

Vatican Embassy Opens Doors to Vigilers Praying for LCWR

Here’s a quick roundup by Sr. Maureen Fiedler about the prayer vigil I attended on May 30 at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C., in support of Catholic women religious and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Apparently, I left too early, because Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano not only invited a few representatives inside to talk, but then came outside and spoke with the whole group!

Here’s an excerpt from Maureen’s blog at the National Catholic Reporter:

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the papal nuncio to the United States, meets with people holding a rally in solidarity with U.S. women religious outside the apostolic nunciature in Washington, DC, May 30.

Who would believe it? When a group of protestors supporting the Leadership Conference of Women Religious showed up at the Vatican Embassy on Tuesday, the papal nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, welcomed some of the group into the embassy. Two people were actually invited to sit down and chat with him. He received their petition asking that the mandate against LCWR be withdrawn … without any expectation that would actually happen, of course.

In the course of the conversation, he made it known he had been at the beginning of the LCWR board meeting. Later, he invited about 20 people into the embassy to see the chapel and offer prayers.

I don’t have much hope that his welcome represents any new approach from the Vatican to LCWR (or anyone), but it is refreshing in Washington to see any protestors welcomed by any authority for a chat, at least.

Vigano was removed from a Vatican post after cleaning up the Vatican Bank, a process in which he surely made enemies. The recently leaked documents include a letter of his to the pope, asking not to be moved outside the Vatican because of the message it would send. He may have some sympathy for LCWR, given his own experience.

Click here to see great photos and an account of Tuesday’s Vatican Embassy action.

As a fun little feature, see the photo below:

Whose ‘Filthy, Rotten System’?

Feb. 18, 1970, edition of National Catholic Reporter (NCR photo/Toni-Ann Ortiz)
Brian Terrell has a great column in the National Catholic Reporter (April 16, 2012) tracing the origin of one of Dorothy Day’s most famous phrases: “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.” And he found a surprise! The Occupy Movement has taken up Dorothy’s phrase as one of their slogans to indict an unjust economic system. But for people of faith, we need to dig a little deeper into Dorothy’s original intent. Here’s an excerpt from Brian’s piece:

My efforts to find the origins of this quote were inconclusive. The archivist for the Catholic Worker papers at Marquette University, Phil Runkel, could find no reference to the quote earlier than the poster itself, which was published by WIN magazine in 1973.

One of Dorothy’s biographers, Jim Forest, did a search of the word rotten and found this in a column by Dorothy from 1956: “We need to change the system. We need to overthrow, not the government, as the authorities are always accusing the Communists of conspiring to teach to do, but this rotten, decadent, putrid industrial capitalist system which breeds such suffering in the whited sepulcher of New York.”

Tom Cornell, former managing editor of The Catholic Worker, offered a promising lead: “My clear recollection is that [Day] said these words in an interview in the offices of theNational Catholic Reporter in Kansas City, that she did not expect to be quoted, and that when she saw the words in print she was offended to be quoted using language which she considered vulgar and crude.”

By this time, though, I was tired of the whole matter and gave it up.

The ringing denunciation of the filthy, rotten system as the source of our problems could not be quieted, though, whatever its origins. In the intervening years, as if doubts cast on its authenticity breathed new life into it, scholars and Workers alike used the quote more than ever, attributing Dorothy’s authority to it without question. In the last few months, moreover, the analysis that “our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system” has found resonance in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Encouraged by images of hand-lettered placards attributing this scathing critique of the system to Dorothy Day popping up at Occupy encampments, I decided to renew my search of its genesis and forwarded Tom’s recollection to a friend on the staff of NCR, Joshua McElwee.

Joshua found the interview Tom remembered in NCR’s Feb. 18, 1970, issue, in which the editors interviewed Dorothy and writer Gary MacEoin and presented their conversation as a Lenten reflection under the headline “Money and the middle-class Christian.”

The editors put a large box in the body of this article with a subhead proclaiming in large, bold type: “Dorothy Day: Our problems stem from the acceptance of this lousy, rotten system.”

Here, I am convinced, is the “smoking gun”! …

Read Brian’s whole article.