James Alison: Love in a Changing Catholic Climate

jamesalisonJames Alison, priest and theologian, has written a great analysis of the final documents from the Synod on the Family vis a vis gay, lesbian, and transgendered Catholics. Alison takes the bishops’ lack of commenting as a good sign, because they clearly thought about the issue a lot during the synod.

One telling example of that his conversation was occuring was when New Ways Ministry director Francis DeBernardo asked Ghana’s Archbishop Palmer-Buckle whether the African bishops, or any bishops, would support a statement from the synod condemning the criminalization of lesbian and gay people. Palmer-Buckle’s answer included, “We know that all are sons and daughters of God and have dignity. We are doing what we can. It takes time for individual voices like that to be heard, when you are dealing especially with something that is culturally difficult for people to understand.”

In addition, Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp said, “It is better that the synod said nothing on this issue than if they said something harmful.”

So I commend to you James Alison’s generous analysis in The Tablet. Here’s an excerpt below:

There were two weak-minded “ways out” of the current hierarchical impasse in the Church on matters gay – the first, a bombastic reaffirmation of current teaching as obviously right, the solution of the deluded pure; the second, that the teaching is right, but that there is a problem with the language in which it is communicated – the solution of the cowardly cosmeticians. I’m delighted to say we got neither. The low-key reaffirmations of loyalty to current positions in the final document have “pro tem” written all over them; and the general dropping from view of matters LGBT towards the end of the synod suggests that something much more interesting may have happened.
Continue reading “James Alison: Love in a Changing Catholic Climate”

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.

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 … .”

Francis of Assisi: Obama’s Saint?

tablet-orig1The Franciscan Catholic religious order is celebrating its 800th birthday this year. I grew up around the fantastic women and men who are members of the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity and the Order of Friars Minor on the West Coast.

The spirits of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare have had a profound influence on my faith, ministry, and vision of and for the world.

Check out the current issue of The Tablet, a U.K.-based Catholic magazine, which has a great article by literary critic Philip Hoare examines the influence of Francis on arts and culture–not to mention, President Obama. Here’s an excerpt:

Francis’ message of poverty was a potent antidote to an age obsessed with material advancement at the cost of both human lives and earthly resources. This was nowhere more noticeable than in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “The Wreck of the Deutschland”, published a year after Ruskin’s visit to Assisi. It dwelt upon the fate of five German Franciscan nuns fleeing anti-Catholic laws and who drowned together as their ship sank in a storm off Harwich, the sisters holding hands as their leader called out, “O Christ, come quickly!” In his exquisite verse, Hopkins elided the nuns’ fate with their founder’s, “With the gnarls of the nails in thee, niche of the lance/his/ Lovescape crucified.” In Hopkins’ words, St Francis’ stigmatic body became a landscape of Christ’s love.

Throughout the twentieth century, Francis remained an inspiration to artists and dramatists. In 1922, Laurence Housman, brother of A.E. Housman and a socialist and pacifist, wrote a series of playlets based on the life of St Francis. In 1950, Roberto Rossellini directed the beautifully shot Francesco, giullare di Dio (Francis, God’s Jester). By the 1960s, Francis was recast as a radical, the Che Guevara of the faith. Franco Zeffirelli portrayed him in his 1972 film Brother Sun, Sister Moon, as a proto-hippie in soft focus – complete with a poster displaying the naked saint and a soundtrack by Donovan. In 1989, a tougher Francis was played by the New York-born Catholic Mickey Rourke, in Francesco, a film by Liliana Cavani based on a novel by Hermann Hesse.

Yet even as a new generation embraced Francis’ proto-ecological message, welcoming his recognition as patron saint of the environment, Francis’ words were being invoked to herald an era of materialism. When Margaret Thatcher entered Downing Street on 4 May 1979, she intoned the saint’s prayer: “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.” Recently, critics of Barack Obama’s tax plans have also quoted Francis at the president: “It is not lawful to take the things of others to give to the poor.” More optimistically, Francis’ embrace of change may be seen in the ambitions of the new leader – who, as a boy, attended the St Francis of Assisi school in Jakarta.

Read the whole article here.

The Sin of the Male CEO

tina-beatieThe March 7 issue of the British Catholic newspaper The Tablet has an intriguing article by Tina Beatie, Deadlier Sin of the Male, that I recommend reading. Beatie is a professor in Catholic studies at Roehampton University in Bristol.

Apparently the “Pope’s personal theologian” recently endorsed a theory that “men and women sin differently.”

“When you look at vices from the point of view of the difficulties they create,”  Msgr Wojciech Giertych, theologian to the papal household, wrote in L’Osservatore Romano, “you find that men experiment in a different way from women.”

Beatie reminds us that this approach has been explored by feminist theologians for at least 50 years since Valerie Saiving published her groundbreaking essay titled The Human Situation: A Feminine View.

Beatie does an excellent job of separating the reality of “gendered sin” from the hierarchy of sin. As you might imagine, the Pope’s theologian not only thinks men and women have different temptations but also that women’s are more dangerous than men’s. (The gall of that guy!)

And as an added twist, Beatie examines the male sin of greed in light of the economic collapse and the fact that “among the leading bankers that have brought the British economy to its knees there are no women.” This is mirrored in the U.S. situation.

Check out Tina Beatie’s article below:

In a recent article in L’Osservatore Romano, the Pope’s personal theologian, Mgr Wojciech Giertych, endorsed a theory by a 95-year-old Jesuit, Fr Roberto Busa, that men and women sin differently. Based on the Seven Deadly Sins, the list of men’s sins includes lust at the top and greed at the bottom, while women’s sins have pride at the top and sloth at the bottom. As usual when the Vatican says anything mildly controversial about sex, the news was greeted with a flurry of media interest. But in fact, it’s not news at all, since feminist theologians have been writing about the gendering of sin for nearly 50 years.

In 1961, Valerie Saiving published an essay in which she appeals for greater awareness of the ways in which concepts of masculinity and femininity shape the ways in which we experience sin. Her article has had a formative influence on much feminist theology, and her theories have been developed and refined by two generations of female scholars. At first glance, Saiving’s theory appears to contradict that of the Vatican. She writes that sins associated with femininity “have a quality which can never be encompassed by such terms as ‘pride’ and ‘will-to-power’.” Rather, women are likely to be guilty of “triviality, distractibility, and diffuseness”; of “inability to respect the boundaries of privacy; sentimentality, gossipy sociability, and mistrust of reason – in short, underdevelopment or negation of the self”. Yet perhaps this is what Mgr Giertych means when he refers to “pride”, since he cites as evidence the example of women Religious in convents, who “are often envious of each other over little things, but when the church bell rings, everyone goes to the chapel to sing vespers.” Monks, on the other hand “aren’t often interested in each other and, therefore, aren’t jealous, but when the church bell rings, few take part in common prayer.” Whatever else these anecdotes reveal, the behaviour of those nuns might suggest envy (which is second on the list of women’s sins), but they seem far more to do with triviality and “gossipy sociability” than with pride.

Continue reading “The Sin of the Male CEO”

Catholics and Obama

The Tablet, the leading Catholic newspaper in the U.K., ran an interesting bit of analysis by David Gibson on Obama’s election:

Obama’s election is another important step towards what the Founding Fathers – all white men, many of them slaveowners – called “a more perfect union”. As Obama said in his speech on election day, “This victory alone is not the change we seek; it is only the chance for us to make that change.”

And that is where the path once again grows steep. Now the prophetic rhetoric gives way to the cold reality of a country that cannot afford a New Deal or a Great Society. But the challenges facing America are, historians say, every bit as grave as those that faced Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Depression, and the desire for fundamental change – Obama’s campaign mantra – as strong as that which coursed through America in the 1960s.

Additionally, the Pew Forum on Religion and Politics report How the Faithful Voted (5 Nov. 2008) said this about the Catholic vote:

Catholics, too, moved noticeably in a Democratic direction in 2008; overall, Catholics supported Obama over McCain by a nine-point margin (54% vs. 45%). By contrast, four years ago, Catholics favored Republican incumbent George W. Bush over Kerry by a five-point margin (52% to 47%).

Though precise figures are not available, early exit poll data suggests that Obama performed particularly well among Latino Catholics. Overall, the national exit poll shows that two-thirds of Latinos voted for Obama over McCain, a 13-point Democratic gain over estimates from the 2004 national exit poll. Meanwhile, Obama’s four-point gain among white Catholics (compared with their vote for Kerry) is smaller than the gain seen among Catholics overall. In fact, as in 2004, white Catholics once again favored the Republican candidate, though by a much smaller margin (13-point Republican advantage in 2004 vs. five-point advantage in 2008).

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