Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Jesuit School Theologian Proposes "Civil Same-Sex Marriage: A Catholic Affirmation"

Lisa Fullam.Photo.5

Lisa Fullam, Th.D. (Harvard Divinity School), has been Associate Professor of Moral Theology at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley since August 2003.

Last April she wrote an academic treatise entitled "Civil Same-Sex Marriage:  A Catholic Affirmation."  It was published approvingly in Bondings 2.0, the blog of New Ways Ministry, whose mission is "Building Bridges Between the LGBT Community and the Catholic Church."

Professor Fullam's analysis is significant because it argues -- in my view, successfully -- that the Catholic moral tradition on civil law should prompt Catholics and church leaders to affirm civil same-sex marriage, even though what is normative for marriage within the Catholic church may not change.

Given that "there has been considerable development in authoritative sexual teaching over the centuries," Professor Fullam at one point questions if "sexual teaching as we have it now has reached perfection."  And she is particularly adept at documenting how official teaching on the ends of marriage changed dramatically from what the bishops gathered at Vatican II said in Gaudium et Spes (1965) to what Pope John Paul II said in a series of weekly lectures from 1979 to 1984.  Her analysis shows that John Paul II's position was a step backward in the development of church teaching on human sexuality and on marriage.  Yet it has dominated all official teaching since.

But her primary interest is to show that the Catholic church has never insisted that civil law incorporate every position of official Catholic moral theology -- and that forcing civil law to reflect official Catholic teaching on same-sex marriage does real violence to human beings and to the common good which civil law exists to promote.

When I first read this strategy, I had reservations.  My personal preference is to attack deficient theology head on and try to show how it can be corrected.  But the genius of Fullam's approach is that it uses very traditional Catholic positions on civil law to show why it is counter-productive -- and destructive -- to insist on enshrining the official Catholic teaching on same-sex marriage there.  Outlawing same-sex marriage within Catholicism has one set of consequences.  But trying to outlaw it in civil society as a whole escalates those consequences in a manner that imperils individuals and the common good.

It would not surprise me if Professor Fullam was influenced to adopt this strategy by her contacts with Rev. Charles E. Curran, with whom she co-edited the two most recent books in the Paulist Press "Readings in Moral Theology" series (volume #s 16 and 17).  It is, at any rate, the practical kind of tactic Curran would pursue when he saw an opening:  we may not be able to change what is being taught within the church, but when those teachings have negative impacts on human welfare and human society, we are responsible for reversing those impacts.

Fullam begins with the traditional Catholic concept of the natural law, "best understood as the use of human reason in line with first principles, aimed at the common good... To see how the natural law guides us in a given situation is to think deeply about how the question before us is best resolved for the flourishing of ourselves and our societies."

Civil law, she says, is a narrower category.  It cannot contradict the natural law, but "civil law does not prohibit all vices or prescribe all acts of virtue.  The end of civil law is to uphold the common good, either directly or indirectly.  She quotes Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologiae:

"[H]uman laws do not forbid all vices...but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained:  thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like."

Pausing her analysis of civil law, Fullam then addresses why same-sex marriage is disallowed in official Catholic teaching.  She traces the current specific prohibition first to the Theology of the Body articulated by Pope John Paul II in the early 1980s and and second to its application to same-sex marriage 19 years later by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Fullam argues that the prohibition would not have been so absolute had official teaching stuck with the ends of marriage as described in 1965 by the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes.  That document "eliminated the long-held idea that procreation was seen as the primary end of marriage while the union of the partners was deemed secondary or instrumental to that primary end."  Significantly, the council refused to make either end of marriage primary.

It is important to note that the bishops had prior official teaching on which to base their stance.  In his encyclical Casti Cannubii in 1930, Pope Pius IX had written:  "This mutual molding of [spouses,] this determined effort to perfect each other, can in a very real sense, as the Roman Catechism teaches, be said to be the chief reason and purpose of matrimony, provided matrimony be looked at not in the restricted sense as instituted for the proper conception and education of the child, but more widely as the blending of life as a whole and the mutual interchange and sharing thereof."

Had Casti Cannubii and Gaudium et Spes not been amended by later official pronouncements, clearly there was an opening to argue that the unitive end of marriage could be open even to partners of the same sex.

But Pope John Paul II took a gigantic step backward and essentially obliterated the unitive end of marriage.

In his Theology of the Body lectures (1979-1984), the pope subsumed the unitive end of marriage into the procreative end, by insisting (as Fullam summarizes his thought) that "a sexual partner MUST be reproductively complementary, or we misunderstand the meaning of sexuality itself.  Because of this, there can be no truly human union except in heterosexual pairs."  Thus for John Paul II, it is decreed biologically and ontologically that only heterosexuals are capable of participating in the unitive end of marriage (so re-defined).

In 2003, as demands for same-sex marriage became more widespread in Europe and the Americas, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith weighed in with "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons."

As Fullam summarizes it:  "This document follows John Paul's schema, conflating the two criteria of reproductive capacity and complementarity into reproductive capacity, asserting that 'genuine' complementarity is impossible for same-sex couples."

Then  -- and this is what gives Fullam the opening to pursue her strategy -- the CDF applied this teaching to civil law.  The argument:  (1) reproduction is essential to marriage, same-sex unions cannot contribute to procreation "in a proper way;" (2) same-sex pairs lack the intrinsic masculine and feminine traits that characterize a real marriage; (3) same-sex couples cannot produce or rear children as nature intends, in a union with masculine and feminine traits; (4) homosexual unions merit no institutional recognition because they cannot exercise reproductive capacity for the common good.

But is it productive, or even valid, to impose John Paul's schema on civil law?

Fullam counters with a discussion of same-sex marriage "in light of the common good... Even a cursory glance at the history of marriage reveals that the institution has a broad range of social purposes and effects."  Among them she notes "the orderly inheritance of property, the establishment of stable and legally-recognized partnerships for raising children, the merging of clans, the forging of dynasties, and St. Paul's acknowledgement that 'it is better to marry than to burn' with sexual desire."

Other purposes of marriage include public health, financial stability, a secure environment for dependent children, a partnership of life and love, and a societal marker of adult intimacy, responsibility and commitment.

She also distinguishes whether reproductive capacity is a good or a necessary good.  For example, even the church does not require that "all marriages be potentially reproductive.  For example, post-menopausal women may marry in the Church."

Moreover, "Civil marriage is available to the fertile, the infertile, the post-fertile, the sexually uninterested and the impotent alike."

And so Fullam asks, "Why would Catholics deny to same-sex couples the goods of marriage we recognize in infertile marriages within our own flock?"  Or again, "Why would we deny to same-sex couples the advantage we implicitly affirm by tolerating heterosexual civil marriages that would not pass magisterial muster inside the Church?"

Consideration must also be given to the value of adoptive parents who have not been able to produce children of their own:  "Those who raise children not biologically their own are reaching beyond a reproductive imperative to a spiritually-resonant act of profound devotion.  They make a great contribution to the common good.  To base the social value of marriage on the potential for biological procreation would be to ignore the generosity of adoptive parents and to render their families somehow unnatural or second-class."

Preventing same-sex couples from adopting children demeans the single-sex religious communities who have run orphanages throughout church history, as well as the children of people who are widowed or abandoned by their spouses.

Denying legal civil status to same-sex marriages makes the children raised by them "vulnerable to potential instability," putting the kids "at unnecessary risk."

Such outcomes suggest that "the idea that ontological complementarity is revealed only in heterogenital relationships seems to argue from gender stereotypes."  In the words of theologians Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler, "the magisterium's account...entails an incomplete, if not distorted, vision of gender and neglects an adequate consideration of the experiential and relational dimensions of human sexuality."

Attempting to graft this understanding onto civil law also seems to violate an important principle upheld by Pope Paul VI in his encyclical Populorum Progressio:  "government is to see to it that equality of citizens before the law, which is itself an element of the common good, is never violated, whether openly or covertly, for religious reasons."

Fullam argues:  "John Paul's Theology of the Body is a fundamentally religious doctrine, and so to impose its reading of human nature on others in society would seem to violate Paul VI's insistence on equal treatment of all before the law."

She adds that Populorum Progressio speaks of marriage as an inalienable right, that, when violated, violates human dignity:  "...denying marriage to people who cannot form deep affective, personal and sexual ties with people of the opposite sex would seem, according to Pope Paul VI, to violate their human dignity.

Doing this, she says, "denies their equal human dignity in life and love, making them outcast from the social institution that defines maturity and celebrates intimacy.  It makes them second-class citizens, a situation that should be intolerable to any person of good will."

On the contrary, same-sex couples actually want to reaffirm the importance of marriage, in a world where nearly half of all heterosexual marriages fail.  Faced with this widespread trivialization of marriage, the church needs all the allies it can find who treasure the institution.

And finally there is the matter of reducing violence directed against gay people simply because of who they are.  "Advocating for the civil recognition of same-sex marriages, even if the Church rejects such couples at its own altars, reaffirms the Church's demand that all people in our society be treated with equal respect... But as it is, the denial of same-sex civil marriage gives the appearance of unreasonable bias, which is too often translated into personal abuse and toleration of systematic harassment, which the Church rejects."

Fullam's analysis gives church leaders a way out of the morass they create when they try to impose John Paul II's Theology of the Body on civil law.  Would that the Synod of Bishops would realize that affirming same-sex civil marriage gives society a path forward on this vexing controversy -- a path that would free up civil law to serve the common good.

Yes, following this path could ultimately undermine the official teaching on human sexuality -- by enabling same-sex couples to show in practice that John Paul II's Theology of the Body only works within limits, and that his specific conclusions exceeded them.  But if John Paul was right, church leaders have nothing to fear.

If, on the other hand, John Paul II was wrong, shouldn't his magisterial successors get on with the business of correcting him?

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

You Must Remember This: A Kiss Is Just a Kiss, Unless It's the Kiss of Peace

National Catholic Reporter Senior Analyst Rev. Thomas Reese, S.J., comments on the recent decision by the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) to leave the contentious Kiss of Peace where it is in the Eucharistic Liturgy.

If the CDW would read Reese's piece, they would learn that their refusal to follow the request of the 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist -- to move the Kiss of Peace to the end of the Liturgy of the Word -- further corrupts what the kiss meant in the most ancient of Christian liturgical texts that liturgical scholars have found.

Not only are Reese's comments educational; they are also very entertaining.  And for my purposes, the history of the Kiss of Peace is another great example of how the creativity of church teaching sometimes moves forward only after church leaders turn into cul-de-sacs.  More on that in a moment.

Reece's wry comments include:

"Only in the Catholic church is a kiss never just a kiss."

And, the CDW's letter "shows why liturgical scholars have been praying for a new prefect of the congregation."

And, "Kissing at the conclusion of prayers appears to have been a common Christian custom."

And finally, "The Catholic community, no matter what the Vatican may want, has made the kiss of peace in its current place a joyous symbol, and no amount of catechesis will change that."

What is less entertaining -- and more ironic, really -- is that on one of those rare occasions when the Synod of Bishops actually got something right, the Vatican's response is to ignore them, and the very decent theology that Reece finds their request at least implied (whether or not they fully appreciated it).

Reece documents that in the most ancient text known to liturgical scholars, the first Apology of Saint Justin in the mid-second century, "the kiss occurred immediately after the prayers that concluded the liturgy of the Word.  Today this would mean placing the kiss of peace after the prayer of the faithful."

It is mistaken, Reece says, to see the Kiss of Peace as "a preparation for the Eucharistic sacrifice..."  Rather, he says, "The kiss at the end of the Liturgy of the Word symbolizes the community acceptance of the message they have just heard.  They are 'shaking on a deal.'  They are agreeing to a covenant."

Of course, the message the community has just heard in one way or another always involves reconciliation with one another and communion with each other.  So as the conclusion of the Liturgy of the Word, that process is a sine qua non for the communion with the Risen Lord brought about in the actions of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Reece says "Liturgical historians believe that the kiss moved to its current location when the Lord's Prayer was moved from the end of the prayer of the faithful to its current location prior to Communion."  An unintended consequence of moving the kiss with the Lord's Prayer was that the meaning of the kiss became confused.  And it has remained open to confusion for centuries since.

The history of the Kiss of Peace is another excellent instance of how the creativity of church teaching -- the subject of my doctoral dissertation -- works over time.  New developments in theology are not often straight-forward, upward progressions in the quest for accuracy and truth.  Sometimes progress is erratic and messy.  Sometimes the church must take a wrong turn, discover after a time (sometimes a very long time) that it has lost its way, then go back to earlier practice to learn where the wrong turn was made and what better alternative was possible.

In this case, liturgical scholarship has identified the wrong turn and, at least in 2005, convinced the Synod of Bishops to call for a correction.  (Of course, the bishops may have been more concerned with the community's serenity leading up to Communion than with the actual history of the Kiss of Peace.  But their request in fact would restore a better appreciation for the kiss than current practice allows.)  Because their request is theologically sound and makes good sense, it will likely be adopted before much longer -- perhaps even in some of our lifetimes.

Meanwhile, we can be disappointed that Pope Francis, Reece's fellow Jesuit and generally on top of things that are authentic and make good sense, signed off on this CDW pronouncement.  And we can join the prayers for a new prefect for the CDW -- one who pays attention to good liturgical scholarship and local liturgical instincts, and uses them to improve global liturgical practice.  And we can try to educate Catholics about what the Kiss of Peace is supposed to signify and how it will make more sense when it is eventually restored to its original place in the liturgy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mary "Monster Monstrance" Posting from 2008 Gets Its Eighth Comment in Six Years

This blog has been silent for the last three months, waiting to see if Pope Francis will actually deliver on his promising start as Bishop of Rome.  His revival of a liberation-theology approach to Catholic evangelization remains strong.  But for me the ultimate test is whether the upcoming Synod on the Family will actually produce much needed changes to official teaching on human sexuality, same-sex marriage, birth control, divorce and remarriage, and the church's stance on the civil treatment of these issues.  Or will the synod focus solely on the tactic that the teachings are sound but mercy should be shown to those who are incapable of living them?

The global invitation for people to comment on the issues raised the hope that the lived experience of real human beings might finally be taken seriously -- and respectfully.  However, the bland discussion document generated by Vatican officials to summarize that vast input was disappointing:  rather than considering that any of those teachings could be improved or updated, the officials dug in their heels and suggested that the problem was not deficient doctrines but inadequate communication of teachings that were not only sound but unsurpassable.  Once the bishops assemble for the synod, they may dismiss the document as the poppycock it is and actually debate the real issues -- as the bishops did at the Second Vatican Council when they were offered other reactionary drivel as discussion starting points.  But until the synod starts, it's impossible to know if that will happen, unless Francis plays some other card(s) in the intervening months.

Meanwhile, since life goes on in the months before the synod, my concrete discussion of specific church teachings probably needs to resume.  Among the first postings will be one on an academic paper by a theologian at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley (one of my almae matres) about the church's position on civil same-sex marriage.  The paper offers a way that the church could accept civil same-sex marriage without changing how it treats marriage internally.

But the immediate occasion for today's posting is a new development on a previous one from June 12, 2008, Mary Quite Contrary:  Monster Monstrance Promotes Mariolatry and Wafer Madness.  That posting commented on the public unveiling, with huge fanfare, of a 700-pound, nine-foot monstrance in the shape of the Virgin Mary at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Chicago.  More or less in the area of the statue's uterus was a 12-inch consecrated host.  The point of my comments was two-fold:  the monster monstrance was bad theology of Mary and bad theology of the eucharist.

The new development is that the 2008 posting has just received its eighth comment in six years.  When I made the comments, I did not expect them to garner more feedback than any other posting since I started the blog (in 2006).  The feedback has been positive and negative and often quite heartfelt.

In response to some of the more negative feedback, I have said more than once that I would do a more elaborate blog posting on the subject of eucharistic adoration.  But as I have re-read my original analysis and my responses to many of the comments, I don't think there is really too much to add.

The eucharistic theology I was taught in graduate school correctly emphasized that the Real Presence of the Risen Lord during the liturgy came about through actions (blessing, breaking, sharing, eating, drinking), and not through the kind of metaphysical change envisioned by theories such as transubstantiation.  I believe that Real Presence based on liturgical actions remains a sound theology, and that any theory that implies change to the bread and wine at an elemental (or even physical) level is a dead end.  Some who have read the original posting get that, and some deny that.  But saying more on the subject will probably convince no more readers than have been convinced already.

The theology of Mary and of the eucharist are not unimportant matters, and I am glad that my posting has caused readers to comment more and at greater length than on anything else that I have written.  However, I have done postings on many other church teachings that I think are more important than those embodied in the monster monstrance.  So I remain amazed that the monstrance post struck so many nerves, when issues that get my adrenaline pumping more have aroused nary a peep.

As W.H. Auden lamented on the eve of World War II, "All I have is a voice..."  I can wish that others will listen to it.  But whether they actually do, or provide feedback that tells me they are listening, ultimately is not for me to say.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Why John Paul II Does Not Deserve Symbiotic Sainthood with John XXIII

Religious and public media are abuzz with tomorrow's planned joint canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II in Rome -- a first in the history of the Catholic Church and also the first time the current pope will celebrate the ritual with his retired immediate predecessor among the concelebrants.

There is also much discussion of which pope is the real saint being recognized and which one is enjoying a sort of symbiotic sainthood.

The most popular coverage would have it that world-stage extrovert John Paul II, the first of the two to be fast-tracked heaven-ward, is the big fisherman in this tale, with Pope John XXIII as a jolly afterthought -- even though it was John XXIII who convoked the revolutionary Second Vatican Council, pushed it toward aggiornamento with the modern world, and (among other things) made a non-Italian pope a real possibility for the first time in centuries.

Count me part of a less visible but more vocal crowd who finds this thinking entirely backwards.  Not only is John XXIII the real saint, with Vatican II the only miracle anyone should need for proof.  More than that, John Paul II does not deserve to be called a saint at all -- and it is demeaning to the memory and accomplishments of John XXIII to attach John Paul II symbiotically to the real sanctity of Good Pope John.

The primary reason this symbiosis is so irrational and unjustified is that John Paul II dedicated his entire papacy to trying to undo what John XXIII and Vatican II accomplished.  Until the election of Pope Francis, I feared that John Paul II had largely succeeded.  Francis, fortunately, put the breaks on many of John Paul's reactionary moves, including neo-clericalism, neo-ritualism, and above all, the Vatican opposition to liberation theology.

It's nice of Francis to placate the John Paulistas with canonization, and to provide cover for John Paul's apostasy toward Vatican II by letting him bask in the long-deserved glorification of John XXIII.  But let's be clear:  it's John XXIII, whose style and substance Francis reflects so genuinely, who deserves to be called a saint -- not the pope who tried to scuttle John XXIII's reforms.

In the case of John Paul II, what should have been the straw that broke sainthood's back was his failure to stop the priestly pedophilia crisis, which he knew about as far back as 1984.  If trying to destroy Vatican II was not enough, surely punishing sex abuse victims and their families with disinformation campaigns and legal stonewalling should have been more than sufficient to derail his train to glory.

In this regard, Father Thomas Doyle has a commentary just posted by the National Catholic Reporter, in which he gives his own first-hand account of what John Paul II knew about the crisis and when he knew it.  Doyle, a canon lawyer who has represented priest abuse victims for thirty years, knows what he's talking about:  he was on the staff of the papal nuncio at that time and was the staffer who prepared briefings, incident reports and in-person orientations for the highest ranking Vatican officials.  John Paul II had direct knowledge of the scope of the problem and did nothing about it for years -- except to make the scope and the duration of the problem worse.

Of John Paul II's canonization, Doyle has this to say:

"The past 30 years have led me to the opinion that his sainthood is a profound insult to the countless victims of sexual assault by Catholic clergy the world over. It is an insult to the decent, well-intentioned men and women who were persecuted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during his reign, and it is an insult to the memory of Pope John XXIII, who has the misfortune being a canonization classmate."
 
Father Doyle takes on "some of the bizarre statements John Paul's two main cheerleaders have been making..." -- referring to long-time John Paul American apologist George Weigel, who has slithered his way into the title of NBC News Senior Vatican Analyst, and to JoaquĆ­n Navarro-Valls, John Paul's press officer.

Anyone who values Vatican II and Pope John XXIII who called it should read in grim detail the evidence that Father Doyle hurls against the record of John Paul II and Doyle's forceful skewering of the cheerleaders' attempts to distract us from that evidence.

Doyle shows undeniably that making John Paul II an official saint is a colossal mistake.  Perhaps official Catholicism won't rectify it any time soon.  But history has already convicted John Paul II, and there is nothing in history to redeem the evil that he did.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sr. Joan Chittister Lambasts "Religious Freedom" Pretext for Shunning Gays

Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister writes a regular column for The National Catholic Reporter called "From Where I Stand."  In the latest column, New 'religious' group just as deadly as the ones that preceded it, she likens those who would deny services to gay people on the grounds of a bogus "religious freedom" to those who previously excluded -- and killed -- blacks, Jews and women.

She notes that the effort recently defeated in Arizona has also been proposed in several other states.

The column follows in full.

Here's the problem with religion. You never know which religion you're going to meet: the "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" kind or the "Get thee behind me, Satan" kind.

You have to be very careful not to confuse one with the other. Your very life could depend on it.

The golden-rule types take people into the center of the community; the get-out-of-my-sight kind keep people out of it. One kind of religion embraces those who are different from themselves; the other excludes those who are different, the ones who are not like them: blacks if they're white; Jews if they're Christian; women if they're men.

Some people have lived restricted lives and even died at the hands of those who sought to restrict them -- some for trying to eat at white lunch counters or sitting down on buses; some for having ancestors in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago; some for serving soup that was cold or not ironing the shirts right.

The important thing to remember is that it doesn't really matter how the transgressions were defined. What matters is that the arguments in defense of doing it were always the same: God didn't want mixed races, or God wanted women to obey men, or God wanted Jews punished because the Romans crucified Jesus. Go figure.

And we forswore them all and thought we had learned something.

Until, lo and behold, we now discover that we have a new group developing, just as deadly, just as "religious" as the ones that preceded it. This new group made its first great public move in Arizona last month, just after the country in a great sweeping gesture of goodwill voted against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Most disconcerting, perhaps, is the fact that this group's power grab was as bold and shocking as the exclusionists before them. It was done as if we never learned anything from all our previous attempts to exclude multiple other groups before this -- Native Americans, women, the Irish, Eastern Europeans, anyone who fell outside the pale in the past.

This time, they wanted to discriminate against people in the name of "religious freedom" -- read lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. They wanted public businesses that had been formed under the auspices of state law for the sake of public commerce to have the legal right to refuse to serve patrons who seek the services promised to the public under those same laws.

It was a matter of "religious freedom," they said. A business owner could refuse service to those whose lives offended his/her religious beliefs. It was a personal matter, they argued, a matter of private conscience.

But the argument is not all that simple.

The state that gives businesses tax breaks and public security protections and requires quality control of goods and services for the sake of the public good has the right to require that those services be available to the public. Or forget the tax breaks and the public police and fire protection and the legal recourse to protection of that business under the law.

After more than a century of segregation, people across the country stood up to refuse another century of shunnings in the name of God.

We have all watched our gay children committing suicide to avoid the bullying and social discrimination that dogged their lives. This time, Arizona said, "Enough of that."

We all see young gay women and men doomed to lives of rejection and ridicule for choices not their own, and people everywhere are beginning to say no to that.

We all remember Matthew Shepard's beaten and bloodied body hanging cruciform on a farm fence in the name of the one whose own crucifixion was due to his defiance of exclusion. And courageous people are now saying "Never again" to that.

So now, the exclusionists whose "religion" defies the very principles of the God who created the others as well as themselves are working again to sequester and silence those who are other than themselves. And all for simply wanting to share the services the rest of us take for granted in the public square.

So if they get the right to do those things, what will the future look like for the rest of us?

Well, if this new kind of exclusion becomes standard, beware of your own social fragility. If your Mormon grocer finds out that you drink, you may never be allowed in the store again. Or your Jewish restaurant owner finds out you eat pork. Or your Muslim gas station owner does not approve of women drivers. Or your Catholic pharmacist figures out that you take birth control pills. (Don't worry, Viagra will apparently be allowed.)

Just a thought.

"Oh, nonsense," do I hear you saying? "Those things couldn't possibly happen."

I hope you're right. I just want to remind you that people have been killed because they were Jewish, or black, or women -- or gay. So why not again? Why not here? Why not, if it's all legal?

From where I stand, I would caution against complacency about this issue. After all, there are already other states with movements to write "moral" discrimination into law under the guise of "religious freedom," among them, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah.

After all, the next time, you may be what someone considers "morally offensive to their deeply held religious convictions." Just as were Jews, Catholics and blacks to the Ku Klux Klan in the United States. Or gypsies to the Nazis. Or now, homosexuals in Uganda. All of them by very religious people, they tell us. The other kind.

Friday, December 06, 2013

With Francis, "The Message of Those in the Margin Has Been Heard in the Halls of Power"

Jeff Dietrich, who has been a member of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker for over forty years, has published in the National Catholic Reporter a commentary hailing Pope Francis that I find just excellent.

Dietrich praises Francis for speaking with the authority of the Roman Catholic Church itself what the Catholic Worker people have been living and proclaiming from the margins for decades.

Below is the entirety of Dietrich's piece, including the following picture that NCR posted with it.


Pope Francis leads a meeting with the poor in the archbishop's residence Oct. 4 in Assisi, Italy. The meeting was in the famous "stripping room," where St. Francis stripped off his rich clothes, gave them to his father and began a life of poverty dedicated to Christ. (CNS/Paul Haring)

I have never expected to be affirmed for the work that I do. So it was shocking and a little disorienting to receive affirmation for my often-less-than-appreciated efforts from the very last place I would expect: the highest authority of the Roman Catholic church.

I have been working at the Catholic Worker soup kitchen on Los Angeles' Skid Row for over 40 years. I have published articles and books that have criticized prelates and politicians. I have occupied the cardinal's bell tower and his bulldozer to protest the exorbitant expense of a new cathedral. I have blockaded the mayor's bathroom, calling for porta-potties for the homeless. I have laid my body under city dump trucks to protect the personal property of the homeless from confiscation by city officials. I have gone to jail twice with the Occupy folks, protesting the excesses of Wall Street. I have always taken the part of marginal people, suffered the ire of the powerful, and felt the sting of being on the margins myself.

So I was thrilled to read Pope Francis' manifesto sharply criticizing the excesses of capitalism, calling for "a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets." This is not the church I have known since my days at St. Mary's Grammar School. It sounded a bit like what I have been doing for the last 40 years. I felt like the spy who came in from the cold, the voice in the wilderness suddenly propelled from the margins to the center of the very church I have spent my entire adult life criticizing.

Now for the first time in my life, I could hear a voice within the institutional church that echoed my own. Pope Francis' two fundamental issues are the same as mine: "the inclusion of the poor in society and ... peace and social dialogue." His is a strident voice calling for priests to leave the confines of their cozy rectories and secure sanctuaries and head out to care for and defend the victims of unmerciful financial markets. It is a voice that is not afraid to attack the only true "religion" of our era: capitalism. He tells us that "everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless."

While I do not agree with every papal utterance, especially those regarding women and sexuality, this may be a revolution in rhetoric only with no official policies to make structural changes within ossified church structures. For instance, I don't expect the pope to sell off the treasures of the Vatican and give it to the poor anytime soon or to fire all of the conservative prelates appointed by his predecessor. But in the meantime, I don't care.

This is a pope who cooks his own food and refuses to fly first class, live in a papal palace, ride in a limousine or wear the royal trappings of his office. This is a pope who is the solitary world figure with institutional authority that has the temerity to speak out against the idolatry and misanthropic nature of the world capitalist system. This is the only world figure to speak out boldly against the systematic starvation of the poor.

This is a pope who occupies the bulliest of all bully pulpits in the world and has radically moved the discussion of Catholic theology from what happens below the waistline to what happens in the streets. And if nothing else happens, he has removed theological justification from every parish priest or bishop who wants to build an extravagant, unnecessary church or purchase sumptuous satin vestments. He has prevented Catholic legislators like John Boehner and Paul Ryan from wrapping Ayn Rand capitalism in the mantle of Catholic social teachings. He has ripped the mask of rectitude from the leaders of the developed world who can no longer preach trickle-down capitalism as if it were the gospel of salvation.

But most of all, he has given hope to the poor as well as to the lone voices in the wilderness, "bruised, hurting and dirty" from their thankless work for justice on the streets. They can now speak not only with the authority of Jesus and the Gospels, but with the authority of the Roman Catholic church itself. Finally, the message of those in the margin has been heard in the halls of power. As one of my favorite poets once said: "The times, they are a-changin'."

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

If Pope Francis Puts People First, They Will Reform Deficient Doctrines

In an important new article in the National Catholic Reporter, Hans Kung -- the theological nemesis of every pope since Vatican II -- suggests that (1) the current head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has not bought into the pastoral outreach which Pope Francis has emphasized pretty much daily since his election, and (2) that, on the pope's specific outreach to divorced and remarried Catholics, the CDF has already taken steps that aim to prevent it.

Because Joseph Ratzinger headed the CDF under John Paul II and then incorporated CDF's conservative positions into his own papacy as Benedict XVI, Kung used to find himself criticizing the CDF and the pope simultaneously.  But with the election of Francis, a pope he clearly treasures and finds much more agreeable, Kung now gets to champion the pope against the CDF.

Beyond divorce and remarriage, Kung lists several issues on which Pope Francis and the CDF now seem to be pulling in opposite directions.

The significance of this cannot be exaggerated:  although this pope's instinct is to tackle pastoral outreach and pay as little attention as possible to "settled" church teachings, the CDF is not inclined to let him do that.

But in that stance, the CDF may actually be doing Francis and lay people a huge favor:  because the insistence of Vatican II, especially in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, is that the signs of the times and above all the lived experience of ordinary people must be allowed to reveal deficiencies in church doctrines and ways those deficiencies can be corrected.

So if he continues the inspired course he has followed since his election on March 13, 2013, Francis sooner or later will have to face the fact that pastoral outreach -- which means taking lay people seriously -- will lead inexorably to new teachings that will put new limits on the teachings they replace.

As my doctoral dissertation argues, this process is precisely the way church teachings change over time.  If the pastoral outreach does not lead to better teachings, then lay people will not have been taken seriously and the pastoral outreach will be regarded as bogus.

Francis has given every indication that in fact he does take lay people seriously.  Let us pray that he understands where this conviction must lead, and that he will have the strength and courage to lead us there.