This interview between Rose Marie Berger and James W. Douglass was conducted at Joe Rush Retreat Center in Middleton, AL, on Dec. 10, 2017 as part of the Mary’s House Advent Retreat. The theme of the weekend was the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative (https://nonviolencejustpeace.net/). Thomas Merton died on Dec. 10, 1968. This was a unplanned part of the retreat and we are grateful it was captured on tape.
After nearly eight years since being named to the chair of Peter, Pope Benedict XVI announced this morning that he is resigning at the end of February.
If you live in the post-Modern, post-Christendom uber-hip world, you might not understand the full weight of this morning’s announcement.
A pope hasn’t “resigned” in 600 years.
“…in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”
As a cradle Catholic who loves the church enough to fight with her when she fails to live up to her gospel call, the words “the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant” are words that strike a dark loneliness in my stomach and soul.
In 2010, Dom Erwin Kräutler, Catholic bishop of Xingu, Brazil, received the Right Livelihood Award for his work for the human and environmental rights of indigenous peoples and his efforts to save the Amazon forest. He has been a leading opponent of the controversial Belo Monte dam in his diocese — and warns of the connection between unchecked “development” and global warming. This excerpt is part of a series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council in US Catholic magazine.
When Pope Paul VI in his 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio surprised the world with his slogan “Development is the new name for peace,” he wasn’t thinking of the kind of economic growth at all cost that allows a few oligarchies and business people to get filthy rich while intentionally excluding most people and plunging many into poverty. Pope Paul called on all the people of the world to promote development that is based on justice and solidarity.
The definition of development is key. When the free market is seen as the engine of progress and the measure of all things, earth, water, air, and fire will be commodified and subordinated to the rules and powers of the market, multinational companies, and international trade.
But when life in human dignity is the goal and meaning of all development, then development will be geared toward the survival and well-being of all people, including the generations that are coming after us.
The unrelenting pursuit of increasing exports, trade surpluses, and economic growth that exploits the human family and its environment has become a dangerous dead end.
A change in the direction of our thinking and actions is urgent. What is needed is development that is oriented toward the protection and promotion of life and human capacities; toward education, health, security, housing in dignity; and toward environmentally responsible agriculture, stewardship of our water resources, and careful protection of biodiversity.
Averting climate change and saving our planet will require both a change in consciousness and concrete measures that hold all people and countries of the world accountable.–Dom Erwin Kräutler, Catholic bishop of Xingu, Brazil
Read Dom Erwin Kräutler’s whole article here.
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.
“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.
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 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.”
These tensions between Catholic church hierarchy and prophetic witness and ministry are nothing new in the history of the church, but when they bubble up it’s important to show up and be visible on behalf of those who exemplify the gospel; in this case the Catholic sisters.
“You shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). When I look at the fruits of the bishops and the fruits of the sisters, my answer as to where to stand is clear. I’m posting below the letter we will deliver:
Most Holy Father:
On this Tuesday after Pentecost, we write to you in prayer and in fervent hope that you will create gracious space for the Spirit’s action by withdrawing the mandate of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) that was issued on April 18 to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).
On May 18, you highlighted “the urgent need in our own time for credible and attractive witnesses to the redemptive and transformative power of the Gospel.” In the United States, no Gospel witnesses are more effective, credible, and attractive than Catholic Sisters. U.S. Sisters shine as beacons of God’s love in schools, hospitals, among immigrants, among the poor and powerless. With the leadership and support of LCWR, they forge paths of faith, hope, and charity, sacrificing their own comfort and even their lives. The witness of the Sisters’ daily work and prayer signifies far more than the CDF’s concerns with particular words or the absence of words in LCWR materials.
We gather today in solidarity with the LCWR as Catholics and others whose lives have been profoundly touched by Catholic Sisters. We ask the Holy Spirit to guide LCWR and CDF, and to give them courage, strength, and wisdom to discern their journey in Christ. To clear the path, we ask Your Holiness to cast aside the stumbling block of the CDF mandate. And we pray that all will find the humility required for radical openness to the Holy Spirit.
In content and process, the CDF mandate is not consistent with the respect, collegiality, and mutuality that characterize relationships among people of mature faith. St. Paul reminds us that to live in Christ’s Easter peace means to “live in a manner worthy of the call… with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-4).
The CDF has questions and concerns about the LCWR. If Jesus tells his disciples that they are his friends, not his servants (John 15:9-17), then surely that is the appropriate relationship between the CDF and the LCWR. A conversation among people of good will from both CDF and LCWR could bear rich fruit for the Church as a whole, if it occurs in love, respect, mutuality, even solidarity. In this dialogue, the CDF mandate is both unwarranted and out of place.
In celebrating Pentecost, we find hope and courage in the presence among us of the Holy Spirit, “the Advocate, whom I will send you from the Father” (John 15:26). Mindful of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council this fall, we take to heart the sacred responsibility recognized in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church to fulfill our obligation “to express [our] opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church” (Chapter 4, Sec. 37). The Church needs breathing room where all of us can pause in prayer and where the mighty breath of the Spirit can enable us to be receptive to the gifts of the Spirit so we may bear fruit in Christ’s name. For the good of the Church, we ask you to withdraw the CDF mandate.
Follow more of this story at Sisters Under Scrutiny.
Among recent examples of Catholic bishops acting very poorly indeed, here’s an example of bishops acting “good.” They joined representatives of various groups advocating nuclear arms reduction to present a petition with over 50,000 signatures to the White House.
On May 7, Stephen Colecchi, USCCB’s director of International Justice and Peace, representing the US bishops delivered the petition in a meeting with Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications and speechwriting. Leaders of arms control groups, including the Arms Control Association, the Council for a Livable World and Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, also participated in the meeting.
In response to the petition, Rhodes said: “The White House appreciates the engagement of citizens across our country who support efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and seek the peace and security of a world without them. This type of grassroots activism is critical to build awareness around the dangers of nuclear weapons, and to support common sense arms control policies.”
In a March 2 letter to National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon, Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, outlined some moral considerations to take into account during the study:
The current review of nuclear weapons policy by the Administration presents a once-in-a-decade opportunity to make significant strides towards a safer, more secure future for our nation and world. For decades, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Holy See have supported nuclear nonproliferation and verifiable efforts to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons.
As you advise the President, I urge you to recommend further reductions in U.S. nuclear forces. The horribly destructive capacity of nuclear arms makes them disproportionate and indiscriminate weapons that profoundly endanger human life.
At a time of fiscal restraints, tens of billions of dollars currently allocated to maintaining Cold War-based nuclear force structures could be redirected to other critical needs, especially to programs that serve poor and vulnerable people at home and abroad. As the Second Vatican Council taught, “[T]he arms race is an utterly treacherous trap for humanity, and one which ensnares the poor to an intolerable degree.”
Between 2012 and 2015, Catholic worldwide will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. (For a quick catch-up on Vatican II read Critical Mass by Karen Sue Smith (Sojourners magazine, Jan. 2012).
In a recent review in UK-based The Tablet, history professor Hilmar Pabel puts a challenge to all Catholics to read three Vatican II-related books over the next three years — and he lists his suggestions:
It’s a tricky assignment – but you’ve got three years! It’s a lovely bit of leadership for book groups or prayer groups or Catholic activists or JustFaith groups or anyone who wants to ground themselves in the invigorating vision of the Second Vatican Council and its profound effect around the world. Here’s a short excerpt from Hilmar Pabel’s review:
“I shall go beyond the reviewer’s usual brief of assessment by beginning with a challenge. You have celebrated the holy Triduum of salvation. Now embark on a solemn triennium in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the renaissance of faith instigated by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).
Celebrate the anniversary of what Blessed John Paul II called “a great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 57) with a triple reading assignment, but not necessarily in the order that I give. Take three years if you need them. First, read the 16 documents of the council. If you have already read them, read them again, reflecting on the way in which they affect you today. Secondly, read a history of the council. I recommend the fascinating account, now in paperback, by John O’Malley: What Happened at Vatican II. Thirdly, read about the reception of the council or, in other words, the ongoing and disputed history of the council after it formally closed. This is what Massimo Faggioli calls “what happened after Vatican II”. His book serves as a comprehensive and accessible guide through the complex debates about the meaning of the council that will whet your appetite for more. Use the bibliography to find what else you can read… –from Hilmar Pabel‘s review of Vatican II: The Battle for Meaning by Massimo Faggioli
Read Hilmar Pabel’s full review.
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”