School Kids Pepper Pope With Questions

pope-francis5You gotta love a Pope who sets aside his speech and lets students just ask him unscripted questions. Wow! I promise to lighten up on the pope-stuff. I retain my hermeneutic of suspicion. But it’s just such a breath of fresh air to have a real pastor of a global church serving as Bishop of Rome.

Friday morning the Pope met with students from Jesuit-run schools in Italy and Albania. He said, “I’ve prepared a text but it’s five pages and that’s a little long. Let’s do this: I’ll give it to the Provincial Father and Fr. Federico Lombardi [director of the Holy See Press Office] so that you all can have it written and then some of you will ask me questions and I’ll answer them. That way we can talk.”

One student asked about the doubts regarding belief in God that he sometimes has and what he could do to grow in faith. Francis answered:

“Journeying is an art because, if we’re always in a hurry, we get tired and don’t arrive at our journey’s goal. If we stop, if we don’t go forward and we also miss the goal. Journeying is precisely the art of looking toward the horizon, thinking where I want to go but also enduring the fatigue of the journey, which is sometimes difficult … There are dark days, even days when we fail, even days when we fall. [Sometimes] one falls but always think of this: don’t be afraid of failures. Don’t be afraid of falling. What matters in the art of journeying isn’t not falling but not staying down. Get up right away and continue going forward. This is what’s beautiful: this is working every day, this is journeying as humans. But also, it’s bad walking alone: it’s bad and boring. Walking in community, with friends, with those who love us, that helps us. It helps us to arrive precisely at that goal, that ‘there where’ we’re supposed to arrive.”

Continue reading “School Kids Pepper Pope With Questions”

Colm O’Gorman: ‘Wilful Blindness Creates Monsters’

Colm O’Gorman, founder and former director of One in Four, a non-governmental organisation that supports women and men who have experienced sexual abuse, wrote a strong essay in the UK’s The Tablet this week on the Jimmy Savile pedophilia case.

Savile was a popular media personality in the UK for more than 30 years. He was both knighted by the Queen and given a papal knighthood from the Vatican. Savile run and contributed to a number of charities and is estimated to have raised £40 million for charity. After his death a year ago, police began investigating long-standing allegations of child sexual abuse.

The police now describe him as a “predatory sex offender” and are pursuing over 400 separate lines of inquiry based on the testimony of 300 potential victims via fourteen police forces across the UK.

O’Gorman asks why it took so long when everyone knew that Savile was “into little girls.” With powerful people and in powerful institutions it is easy to look the other way when something “unseemly” arises, but people of faith need to keep our fires of righteous anger stoked so we are ready to confront directly those predatory forces that stalk the vulnerable.

Here’s an excerpt from Colm O’Gorman commentary “Silence is Sin”:

“… [P]owerful institutions rarely cast an objectively critical eye inwards. Power rarely subjects itself to honest and open scrutiny, and when it either discovers serious wrongdoing within its own ranks, or indeed is itself guilty of wrongdoing, it often acts to cover up such corruption in an effort to protect its reputation and its authority.

Such wilful blindness creates monsters. The crimes of child abusers … are only possible within a culture of silence and denial. It has often been said that those who sexually abuse children rely upon secrecy, that sexual abuse is possible because it is a secret crime and that its victims are silent and voiceless. Surely, we need to question that view. What the abuse scandals in the Church, and now with Jimmy Savile, reveal is that secrecy is not the enabler of such crimes but rather silence is; the silence of those who shared rumour and gossip but who failed to act to protect desperately vulnerable children and young people.”–Colm O’Gorman, Silence is Sin (The Tablet)

Leslie Fields: Obama Honors Cesar Chavez

Obama-at-Chavez-dedication
Official White House photo by Pete Souza

By Leslie Fields, Sierra Club

On October 8, on a gorgeous early autumn day in the oak-dappled foothills of California’s Tehachapi Mountains, President Obama formally designated the César E. Chávez National Monument. The designation is the fourth of Obama’s presidency, but the first-ever national monument dedicated to a Latino.

Below, the president with Helen Chávez at her late husband’s gravesite at Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz (Our Lady Queen of Peace), or La Paz, in the town of Keene, California, site of the new national monument.

Obama-with-Helen-Chavez
Official White House photo by Pete Souza

“César Chávez was a true labor and environmental champion whose work helped result in the passage of landmark laws that protect our air, water, land, and—most important—people,” said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. “His work helped link people’s health and the environment, and his fight for environmental justice is one that the Sierra Club remains committed to today.” …

Read the rest of  Monument to a National Treasure by Leslie Fields.

Did the Butler Do It? VatiLeaks

Paolo Gabriele, the butler/fall guy in the most recent Vatican scandal, was sentenced to 18 months of house arrest on Saturday–and will likely receive a “papal pardon.”

In what plays like an episode of “Zen,” the trial turned up accomplices and other high-ranking Vatican officials who were likely part of the conspiracy, but who were never investigated or called to court.

One interesting tidbit revealed during the trial was that one stolen document was “a letter to the Pope in German, written by Aldegonde Brenninkmeijer, a Dutch Catholic philanthropist who accused the Roman Curia of betraying the legacy of the Second Vatican Council.”

A summary of her letter in Il Chiesa said:

The content of the letter is clear nonetheless. It is a tough act of accusation against the Vatican curia and the Catholic hierarchy in general. The rich Brenninkmeijers denounce the fact that money should play a central role in various offices of the curia, in some European dioceses, and in the patriarchate of Jerusalem. They accuse the pontifical council for the family of using gullible and acritical collaborators instead of employing personages who can and want to act in the sense of “aggiornamento” of Vatican II. They insinuate that in the most restricted circle around the pope, a considerable amount of power has been accumulated in a visible and tangible way, adding that they possess written proof in support of their charges.

The Brenninkmeijers do not accuse anyone by name, except in one case. After maintaining that in Europe there are growing numbers of informed believers who are separating themselves from the hierarchical Church without, according to them, abandoning their faith, and after lamenting the lack of “non-fundamentalist” pastors able to guide the flock according to modern criteria, the two spouses manifest to the pope not only their own discouragement, but that of many laypeople, priests, religious, and bishops over the appointment of the new archbishop of Utrecht, Jacobus Eijk.–Il Chiesa

Robert Micken wrote a great “roundup” essay in The Tablet (excerpt below) outlining the VatiLeaks scandal thus far:

The security breach was considered one of the most serious in modern Vatican history. The papal butler, an Italian layman named Paolo Gabriele, was caught red-handed with thousands of sensitive documents that he either photocopied or stole in original form from Pope Benedict XVI’s apartment and then leaked to an Italian journalist. The reporter, Gianluigi Nuzzi, selected dozens of those stolen papers – many showing instances of financial corruption, mismanagement, factional fighting and careerism involving the priests and bishops that run the Roman Curia – and published them in a best-selling book called Sua Santità (“His Holiness”). …

On 13 August, the dead of summer when all of Italy was beginning the week-long Ferragosto holiday, the Vatican’s chief prosecutor, Nicola Picardi, published the indictment against the former butler. And, lo and behold, for the very first time the Vatican admitted that Gabriele had not acted alone. On the second page of Picardi’s 35-page dossier, which was distributed by the Holy See press office to the handful of journalists still in Rome, it was announced that Claudio Sciarpelletti, a computer technician at the Secretariat of State, had also been arrested. He was imprisoned on 25 May (a day after the butler) and released less than 24 hours later. The indictment said that he, too, would be put on trial for aiding and abetting Mr Gabriele.

This was a dramatic and damning revelation. It has made it difficult to believe that anything the Vatican has claimed about the leaks, the former butler or his trial has been, as the famous phrases goes, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. …–Robert Mickens, from “Lifting the Lid on Dark Secrets” (The Tablet, 13 Oct 2012)

As we recognize the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, there is a fight for the heart and soul of that Council going on across Catholicism. The VatiLeaks trial, and what the documents reveal, is just one part of a much larger struggle to defend Vatican II.

5 Things to Read for Thinking Catholics

“It is not that the Gospel has changed, it is that we have begun to understand it better … the moment has come to discern the signs of the times, to seize the opportunity to look far ahead.”Pope John XXIII

On Oct. 11, 1962, Pope John XXIII (“Good Pope John”) opened the Second Vatican Council. As American Catholics look at where we’ve been and where we want Vatican II to take us in the future, I offer this reading list below.

We are at a time ripe with conversion and energy around new ways to be Catholic that are vital for our world today. While current Vatican leadership is practicing “Curial conservatism,” fleeing backwards into the dimming halls of time, the laity continue to lean forward into “aggiornamento,” as Pope John XXIII put it, updating the modes of our faith to match the desperate needs in our world. We are taking up the Resurrection banner and carrying it forward into a world in need of the sacramental life Catholicism has to offer.

Here are 5 articles and books that are important reading for today’s Vatican II Catholics:

1. Survival Guide for Thinking Catholics by Tom Reese, SJ
Not all Catholics agree with the Church all the time, and Tom Reese, S.J., will tell you there is no point in denying it. Questioning is not, however, something most Catholics undertake lightly. These disagreements are often born out of conscience, of genuinely believing in the faith while believing equally something that is at odds with the accepted teachings of the Church. Reese, the former editor of the Jesuit weekly magazine America, delivered this lecture in 2006 at Santa Clara University, outlining his strategies for Catholics who think, question, doubt, debate, and disagree. I hear he’s working on turning it into a book.

2. The final interview with Jesuit Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, who died in August 2012. Corriere della Sera published the original interview on Sept. 1 and Commonweal offered this translation. Martini says that the Catholic Church is 200 years behind the times and called for it to recognize its mistakes and embark on a radical journey of change. He says the wealthy Church in Europe and America is worn-out. “Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous.” He calls for the sacraments to be a channel for healing, “not a tool for discipline.” Cardinal Martini’s short reflections remind us that there is a prophetic tradition in the church that still functions at the highest levels, even when it is obscured.

3. Navigating the Shifts by Sr. Pat Farrell, osf. This is Sr. Pat’s address to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious assembly in 2012. She cogently outlines where some of the fault lines are in contemporary Catholicism, what is the American genius that we offer to the universal church, and how to move forward with disciplined wisdom. I think these are the nonviolent “marching orders” for the American Catholic liberation movement.

4. Consider Jesus: Waves of Renewal in Christology by Elizabeth A. Johnson, CSJ. On the rare occasions when I meet up with leading Catholic writers and thinkers, I always try to ask one question: Who is doing the most important biblical or theological work right now? More often than not they give me one name: Elizabeth Johnson. A member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, New York, Beth Johnson is Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University. Consider Jesus is a short, very accessible introduction to the critical theological questions of our time and why some theological questions are important to engage for our spiritual maturity.

5. Prophets In Their Own Country: Women Religious Bearing Witness to the Gospel in a Troubled Church by Sandra Schneiders, IHM. Based on her brilliant series of articles published in The National Catholic Reporter, these reflections on religious life were inspired by the Vatican’s announcement of an “Apostolic Visitation” of U.S. women religious from 2009-2011. Schneiders articulates anew the meaning of religious life, the biblical theology underlying it, the reasons for the renewal undertaken after Vatican II, and the forms of apostolic religious life that have developed since. While this book addresses an issue for Catholic women’s communities in the U.S., it is addressed to all Vatican II Catholics. She begins to frame a new form of ministry within the Catholic church–one not based on “monastic/apostolic mission” but instead on “prophetic ministry.”

What else would you add?
*Pacem in Terris, Pope John’s masterpiece encyclical
*The Good Pope by Greg Tobin — easy-to-read history of John XXIII and his work to call and open the second Vatican Council before his death from stomach cancer.

NYT Runs Obit for Catholic Theologian Isasi-Díaz

Finally (!)  The New York Times has run an obituary for Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz. My memorial for Ada will run in the July issue of Sojourners (at the printer now). Here’s a portion of Paul Vitello’s NYT article:

In part, Dr. Isasi-Díaz conceived of Mujerista, or “womanist” theology (from the Spanish word mujer, for woman), to distinguish her ideas from those of feminism — a term “rejected by many in the Hispanic community,” she wrote in 1989, “because they consider feminism a preoccupation of white, Anglo women.” She hoped that “Mujerism,” which she considered a spiritual branch of the reform movement known as liberation theology, would help delineate the special community of need and identity shared by poor, Hispanic, Catholic women.

“Hispanic women widely agree that, though we make up the vast majority of those who participate in the work of the churches, we do not participate in deciding what work is to be done,” she wrote in a 1989 article in Christian Century, titled “Mujeristas: A Name of Our Own!”

“We do the praying, but our understanding of the God to whom we pray is ignored.” Dr. Isasi-Díaz argued that poor women, by the nature of their roles in their families and communities, “exercised their moral agency in the world” more profoundly than any other group of the faithful. They did that in the small daily choices they made, she said: between bus fare and a 40-block walk to work, for instance; or between breakfast for oneself or one’s child. Those choices embodied immense moral power, and deserved to be honored in the form of greater roles for those women in their church.

Read the whole article.

Does the Catholic Church Need a Sexual Revolution?

Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson in 2008 (by Amy Elliott).
At the Seventh National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality held in Baltimore on Friday, retired Australian Roman Catholic Bishop Geoffrey Robinson called for “a new study of everything to do with sexuality” — a kind of study that he predicted “would have a profound influence on church teaching concerning all sexual relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual.”

The National Catholic Reporter covered the event, quoting Bishop Robinson as saying, “If [church] teaching on homosexual acts is ever to change, the basic teaching governing all sexual acts must change.”

Robinson, a priest since 1960 and auxiliary bishop of Sydney from 1984 until his retirement in 2004, told the conference participants, sponsored by New Ways Ministry, that “because sex is so vital a way of expressing love, sex is always serious.”

In Bishop Robinson’s address Sexual Relationships: Where Does Our Morality Come From? he puts forth a thesis in three parts:

1. There is no possibility whatsoever of a change in the teaching of the Catholic Church on the subject of homosexual acts unless and until there is first a change in its teaching on heterosexual acts;
2. There is a serious need for change in the Church’s teaching on heterosexual acts;
3. If and when this change occurs, it will inevitably have its effect on teaching on homosexual acts.

And on the topic of same-sex marriage, Catholic priest Ceirion Gilbert, diocesan youth director in south Wales, wrote recently in The Tablet:

“I sense that once again, as so often on issues of sexual morality, that there is a gulf between the diktats of the institution and the “sensus fidelium”, that concept that seems to have almost disappeared in recent years for some reason from the ecclesiastical vocabulary. …

I welcome the debate on the meaning of marriage and its role and purpose in a liberal diverse society. But growing ever stronger in my mind is the fear that while as a Church we worry about language and words – Welsh or English or Latin; rock or plainsong; marriage or civil partnership – the message and meaning that we are here to proclaim is passing us by … .”

Conscience, Power, and Obedience: A Conversation Among Catholics

Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association

A quick round-up of “some things Catholic.” First, the American Catholic Council‘s Janet Hauter has a short reflection (see below) on the American bishops and power that illustrates the deep theological divide at the foundation of of post-Vatican II Catholicism and the current issue between the US Catholic bishops and the Obama administration. Hauter highlights David DeCrosse’s excellent NCR article on the “Bishops’ Conscience Model.”

Next, the newly formed Association of U.S. Catholic Priests (self-described “Vatican II priests“) will have its inaugural convention in June. This is part of a world-wide movement of priests forming their own associations, not under control of the bishops’ conference, in order to discuss issues happening within their churches and speak with a unique voice. Continue reading “Conscience, Power, and Obedience: A Conversation Among Catholics”

Pope Benedict’s Homilies on Hildegard Von Bingen

It’s rumored that Pope Benedict may this year complete the canonization process for the great Rhineland mystic Hildegard von Bingen and also make her a “doctor of the church” to honor her tremendous contributions to the Christian faith. If you have never listened to Hildegard’s music, please treat yourself here.

Below are excerpts from Pope Benedict’s 2010 teachings on Hildegard who has long been regarded as a feminist icon for strong female leadership within the Church:

In 1988, on the occasion of the Marian Year, Venerable John Paul II wrote an Apostolic Letter entitled Mulieris Dignitatem on the precious role that women have played and play in the life of the Church. “The Church”, one reads in it, “gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine“genius’ which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms that the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness” (n. 31).

Various female figures stand out for the holiness of their lives and the wealth of their teaching even in those centuries of history that we usually call the Middle Ages. Today I would like to begin to present one of them to you: St Hildegard of Bingen, who lived in Germany in the 12th century. She was born in 1098, probably at Bermersheim, Rhineland, not far from Alzey, and died in 1179 at the age of 81, in spite of having always been in poor health. Hildegard belonged to a large noble family and her parents dedicated her to God from birth for his service. At the age of eight she was offered for the religious state (in accordance with the Rule of St Benedict, chapter 59), and, to ensure that she received an appropriate human and Christian formation, she was entrusted to the care of the consecrated widow Uda of Gölklheim and then to Jutta of Spanheim who had taken the veil at the Benedictine Monastery of St Disibodenberg. A small cloistered women’s monastery was developing there that followed the Rule of St Benedict. Hildegard was clothed by Bishop Otto of Bamberg and in 1136, upon the death of Mother Jutta who had become the community magistra (Prioress), the sisters chose Hildegard to succeed her. She fulfilled this office making the most of her gifts as a woman of culture and of lofty spirituality, capable of dealing competently with the organizational aspects of cloistered life. A few years later, partly because of the increasing number of young women who were knocking at the monastery door, Hildegard broke away from the dominating male monastery of St Disibodenburg with her community, taking it to Bingen, calling it after St Rupert and here she spent the rest of her days. Her manner of exercising the ministry of authority is an example for every religious community: she inspired holy emulation in the practice of good to such an extent that, as time was to tell, both the mother and her daughters competed in mutual esteem and in serving each other.

Continue reading “Pope Benedict’s Homilies on Hildegard Von Bingen”